TMW: A Year in Statistics

statgraphA break from all things esoteric or literary, today is about serious business–statistics, demographics, and highlights from the past year.

This blog began on April 13th of this year, and since then the post count has climbed to 49–not a shabby number given that we originally intended to only post once a week. This blog has seen all kinds of posts, ranging from poems to short stories to essays. Initially staffed by a group of five writers on a 5-week rotation, TMW grew in August with the addition of contributing writer myladygrey.

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Most of our visitors hail from the United States, while the United Kingdom and Canada account for the other two majorities. In all, TMW has had over 2700 visits since its inception in April. What’s more, TMW has 30 followers–subscribers who receive automated updates every time we publish a new post. Brave souls… 🙂

The “Most” List

Most Viewed Post: Silence – A Fable

Most Commented Post: Here’s a Speed Bump for Your Summer

Most views on a single day: June 4, 2013. Bringing Back Shakespeare

Most active day: December 20, 2013. Books for Christmas, Mary Poppins vs. Nurse Matilda

Most trafficked month: July 2013. The Dark Side of Gaming, Ah! Summer and others

See you in the new year!

Jack M.

The Dream of St. Nicholas

While writing this short story, I came across an article about St. Nicholas.  As many people know, St. Nicholas was a bishop in the 4th century who is remembered as the source of many of the traditions that Americans observe every Christmas—hanging stockings, giving gifts, and more.  Furthermore, our modern gift-giver, Santa Claus, derives himself from St. Nicholas.  Though the names don’t appear to have much in common, the encyclopedia informs me that the German name for St. Nicholas was “Sinter Klaas,” which, when spoken quickly by excited children with poor elocution, sounds like “Santa Claus.”

But, if the legends are true (and legends are about all we have on the matter), St. Nicholas was more than just a jolly old gift-giver.  For one, he purportedly attended the Council of Nicea (pronounced nigh-see-ah) in 325 A.D., a council where leaders in the church refuted the heresy being taught by a priest named Arius.  Arius denied the full deity of Christ, claiming that Jesus was just a man.  For Christians, this was (and is) a problem, because if Jesus is not fully God and fully man then there can be no salvation.  To counter this heresy, the Nicean Council wrote what is now known as the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of the central truths of Christianity as found in the Bible.  While this creed is not inspired and while nothing may be added or taken away from Scripture (Revelation 22: 18-19), it is nevertheless a handy way to remember the central tenets of Christianity without having to memorize multiple Bible verses for every one (not that that’s a bad idea).

That’s all very well, but what has this got to do with St. Nicholas?  Well, according to legend, St. Nicholas reportedly became so indignant over Arius’s heresy at the council that he went over and slapped him!  He was almost stripped of his position in the church for doing this, but he was forgiven after apologizing.  This story, though we don’t know that it’s true, no doubt reflects the true beliefs of St. Nicholas—that the Gospel is not to be trifled with.  Christians must take the truth of the Gospel very seriously.  With his apparent passion for the Truth, I wonder what St. Nicholas would think of the Christmas season as it is today…

The Dream of St. Nicholas

What follows is a fictional snapshot commentary of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Yuletide season

St. Nicholas organized his voluminous red-brown robes, straightened his bishop’s cap, and sat down in a large, throne-like chair.  He was dreaming—he could tell by the way the chair kept jumping up and down and making grunting noises.  When he sat down, the chair stopped moving and became silent.  St. Nicholas was sitting in a small amphitheater, and a play was about to begin…

Scene 1

In a bedroom of a cozy carpeted house with green and red decorations everywhere, a mother was talking sternly with her nine-year-old son, “Zeke, Brandon’s mother tells me that you told him there isn’t a Santa Claus.”

Zeke shrugged his shoulders.  “Well, there isn’t, is there?”

Zeke’s mother frowned, “That’s not the point; if Brandon wants to believe in Santa Claus, you shouldn’t spoil the magic by telling him otherwise  He’ll find out eventually, but for now I want you to remember that he’s your younger cousin; it’s your job to support him.”

Zeke nodded, “All right.”

Just then, Zeke’s grandmother yelled from another room, “Dinner time!”  Zeke and his mother joined the rest of the family around the dinner table.

“Come and sit down, Brandon,” said one of the parents. “It’s time to eat.”

Brandon, a serious-looking six-year-old said, “May I sit next to Zeke?”

“Hmmm… Only if you say please,” said Brandon’s mother, smiling.  She knew how much Brandon liked his cousin’s company.

“Pleeeeaaaase?!!” said Brandon.  His mother nodded.  The family sat down at the table, and the grandfather prayed a short prayer.  After this, everyone filled their plates with all sorts of food—roast beef, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, and cranberry sauce (Brandon passed on the cranberry sauce).  Halfway into the meal, Brandon’s grandfather—Grandpa Jim—looked up from buttering a roll and stared intently at Brandon through his bifocals, “So, Brandon, what did you ask Santa for this year?”

Brandon looked down at his green beans, picking at them, “Santa’s not real, Grandpa.”

“Oh, he’s not?” said Grandpa Jim, smiling and looking at Brandon’s mother.

“Yeah,” said Brandon, “Zeke told me so!”

At this, Zeke’s parents gave him a stern look.  Looking over at Brandon, Zeke said, “No, Brandon, Santa is real.”

“But you told me he was made-up,” said Brandon.

Zeke shrugged his shoulders and attempted unsuccessfully to smile, “You were right; he is real.”

 

St. Nicholas frowned, “These Christmas celebrations are getting out of hand.  A lie for the sake of magic and innocence?  These people should know better!”

Scene 2

The next morning, light streaming in the windows, everyone gathered in the living room to open presents.  Grandpa Jim opened a package of cookies.

“Ginger snaps!” he said, “How thoughtful.”

Brandon’s mother—Grandpa Jim’s daughter—gave her dad a hug and said, “We knew you’d like them; we remembered from last year!”

Alone in a small room in another part of the house, Zeke and his father were having a talk, “You need to come and spend time with the rest of the family, Zeke,” said his father, “Stop pouting and be grateful for what everyone gives you, even if it isn’t exactly what you want.”

“I am grateful,” said Zeke, “but everyone else got what they wanted.  If people are going to get me presents, why don’t they give me what I ask for?”

“They don’t have to give you anything,” said the father.

“That’s right,” agreed St. Nicholas heartily.  He sat up in his chair.  “What a delightful play!”

Scene 3

Several hours later, Grandpa Jim and his wife were the only ones left.  Jim, sitting next to his wife in the living room, surrounded by mountains of torn wrapping paper, passed his hand over his eyes and sighed happily, “This was a good Christmas, eh Mary?”

Mary smiled and nodded, “Yes, Jim, it was.  I was glad to see that Shawn had a talk with Zeke, though.  He can be so ungrateful sometimes.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much.  He’ll probably grow out of it, just like Brandon will grow out of believing in Santa,” said Jim.

“I wonder sometimes why we started teaching that nonsense,” said Mary.

Jim nodded in agreement, then said, “I guess we should start cleaning up now.”  He picked up his box of ginger snaps.  “Would you like these, dear?”

“Don’t you want them?”

Jim smiled sheepishly and shook his head, “Shawn and Marie got some for me last year, and I didn’t want to be ungrateful, so I told them thanks and I ate a few… but the truth is I don’t really care for them.”

“Oh, you old fool,” said Mary, giving Jim a kiss, “Of course I’ll take them.  I love ginger snaps.”

 

St. Nicholas smiled and said, “Finally a fellow who is thankful for anything he receives.”

            The scene changed.  It was early on Christmas morning again, and another family woke up to celebrate Christmas…

Scene 4

Two little brothers crept up to their parents’ door and knocked loudly.  It was Christmas morning, and they had been awake for over an hour, discussing what they might be getting for Christmas.

“What is it?” yelled a voice.

“It’s seven o’clock,” said Carl, who was the oldest, “You told us we could come and get you at seven so we could open presents!”  Carl and his younger brother Joe heard some yawning and then a thump as their dad got out of bed.  Opening the door, Carl and Joe’s parents came out into the living room, where the Christmas tree stood twinkling.  The tree didn’t interest Carl and Joe this morning though—they were interested in what was underneath the tree.  Joe pointed excitedly to a large package under the tree, “This one says it’s for me!  Can I open it?”

“Not yet,” said the boys’ dad, “We have to read the Bible first.”  Then, opening his old, tattered brown leather Bible to Luke chapter 2, he began reading.

 

St. Nicholas sat contentedly for a long time, listening peacefully to the words that the man read.  As the man drew to the end of the passage, the scene began to fade.

Leaping out of his chair, St. Nicholas cried, “Don’t stop NOW!”  Then, seeing that the play was ended, he gathered his robes about him and straightened the cap on his head once again.  “Ah well.  I see now the Truth may still be found.

Smiling faces, rosy cheeks, and season’s greetings,

Peace on earths and silent nights and many meetings

Presents, trees, caroling; ornaments and ice,

The snowflakes and the silence, above them all is Christ.

And he shall reign forever, the only door for Man.

Forget all else, and celebrate the triumph of the Lamb.”

And with this, St. Nicholas awoke.

Mary Poppins vs. Nurse Matilda

Poppins

Picture this:

Your father has died before your tenth birthday, leaving your mother alone with three girls to support. She asks you to be a darling and watch your younger sisters while she goes and drowns herself in the creek behind the house.

Do you:

  1. Cling to her skirts?
  2. Get help from a neighbor or friend?
  3.  Hug your family tight and start praying?
  4. Make up stories to soothe your sisters fears?

I would have gone for option 2, but P. L. Travers chose option 4. Thus her Mary Poppins series was born from a child’s fear and the need for stability in her life.

What surprised me most about Mary Poppins (the book, not the Disney musical) is how callous the eponymous nanny seems. She’s vain, bossy, snappish, deceitful, and shows no compunction about manipulating and bullying children or adults. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find her standing over one of the sleeping babies with a knife and then barking at the other kids to go back to sleep. This is who Travers thought would make the ideal guardian as a child?  And why did Walt Disney spend so many years trying to get Travers’ permission for an adaptation when he’d basically rewrite the entire story and characters’ personalities?

Possibly Mary Poppins’ personality evolved as Travers herself changed. At least, I hope those younger sisters heard about a kind guardian as they waited to hear the splash in the back. Ugh. Anyway, after watching this documentary, Mary Poppins’ less attractive qualities seem to have been the author’s.

I’ll stick with Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda series, thanks. It too has a bossy care-taker and contains just as much violence, but Nurse Matilda (or Nanny McPhee as she is renamed in the movies) is genuinely kind and seeks to improve her charges’ behavior and character rather than trolling the entire family.

Matilda

Books for Christmas

Christmas is a special time of year that calls for special kinds of books.  I have too many book recommendations for this season to be able to write individual reviews for them, so I have created a list of some of my favorite Christmas and wintertime books to read.  Most of these books are picture books, which makes them great read-alouds.  Some of these books are favorites in my family, but others are ones that I recently discovered.  Of course, above all of these books, I recommend reading Luke 2:1-20.  I hope that you will enjoy reading these books during the Christmas and winter season.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas – Spiritual

1. The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Donna W. Payne and Fran Zenzo

Handel's Messiah Family Advent Reader

2. Christmas Spirit by George Grant and Gregory Wilbur

Christmas Spirit

3. Take Joy by Tasha Tudor

Take Joy

4. Papa Panov’s Special Day by Ruben Saillens

Papa Panov's Special Day

5. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

  1. One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham

One Wintry Night

  1. I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge

I Saw Three Ships 002

Christmas – Not Necessarily Spiritual

8. The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by Jan Brett

The Twelve Days of Christmas

9. Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett

Trouble with Trolls

10. Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett

Christmas Trolls

11. The Hat by Jan Brett

The Hat

12. Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin

Cranberry Christmas

13. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

The Nutcracker

14. Winter Story by Jill Barklem

Winter Story

Lessons in Lifeskills from “Learning in Wartime”…

London-Blitz-007Taking the lives of close to 70 million men, women, and children, tearing countries apart, and sucking the world into turmoil for 6 brutal years, the second world war is a checkpoint in 20th century world history that will never be forgotten. It was during this war that C.S. Lewis gave his speech titled “Learning in Wartime” in which he discussed the place of scholarly learning, particularly in the context of wartime. Towards the end of the talk, Lewis lists the three enemies that face the scholar which, being a scholar of sorts myself, I found very  insightful and helpful. They are excitement, frustration, and fear.

Although Lewis gave his speech within the context of the second world war, I think that his warnings concerning excitement are just as valid for us today as they were for the young men listening 70 odd years ago. Speaking to the excitement/distraction that the war caused, Lewis says, “The best defence is a recognition that in this, as in everything else, the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one […] If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work” (60). I have not lived through any wars that distracted me to the extent that WW2 distracted the populace of Europe, but there are plenty of things that go on in my life, and everyone’s lives, that keep us constantly busy and stressed out. Lewis simply states that the only people who have (and I would say this is true for all human history) achieved anything great “are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable” (60). People put their time where their values are.

The second enemy that Lewis describes is frustration. He uses this word mainly to refer to the feeling that there just isn’t enough time to finish the work that we have begun. Rather than bemoaning our lack of time, or regretting that projects may not be finished, Lewis states that “A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands […] Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord’”(61). I know that this is one area where I really struggle, often letting faithful daily service fall to the wayside as I worry about the future, and I find Lewis’ reminder to use our gifts and abilities day by day ‘as to the Lord’ very helpful.

41BxPZLdryL._SY300_The last enemy is fear -particularly the fear of death. Lewis says, “We think of the streets of Warsaw and contrast the deaths there suffered with an abstraction called Life. But there is no question of death or life for any of us, only a question of this death or of that -of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later”(61). While I at first thought that fear might not be as applicable today as it was during Lewis’s given the context of the speech. However, I then remembered the nursing homes where many elderly people are sent, and the ‘painting over’ of abortion as “not really killing people,” and realized that death is just as present, if not more so, in American culture than it was 70 years ago, and people are afraid because they wouldn’t be trying to hide and forget it otherwise. Lewis rightly points out that war does not really change the nature of death, we are ALL going to die, the attrition rate is one hundred percent, and it cannot go any higher. That being said, war places death in a place where we cannot ignore it, and that is one of the things that makes it so fearful. Lewis says, “War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessing by most of the great Christians of the past”(62). We might can ignore an unwanted elderly person in the nursing home, or a baby still unborn, but we cannot ignore the violence that war brings. Fear often paralyzes people, but we cannot let fear paralyze us or our work.

The three enemies that Lewis mentions are only a small fraction of the treasure present in the whole speech, but I found Lewis’ warning against excitement, frustration, and fear to be particularly applicable. So, in the knowledge of what Lewis has said, may we all go forth better equipped to do the work which our Heavenly Father has prepared for us, and may we do it ‘as unto the Lord.’

 

References:

Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. Print.

A Christmas Ode

Inspired by Philippians 2: 1 — 11

With wallet, cash, and cards endowed

The shoppers fill their carts

A time of love and Christian cheer

Seems far from many hearts

With urge to spend unearned money

Fighting over the latest toys

Starting assaults over something shiny

Some crazed shopper a tazer employs

Far from the thoughts and hearts it seems

Is God’s Incarnate Son

The very reason to celebrate

Is oft called passe and done

But in Him alone is comfort and love

Affection and sympathy

Let us shift our eyes to Heaven above

And to Christian bonds of unity

Pearl Water of Oahu

“Pearl Water of Oahu” is a poem I wrote in remembrance of the attack on Pearl Harbor and those who lost their lives.

Pearl Water of The Gathering Place,

Wai Momi on Oahu.

Peace and quiet shrouded the harboring place,

The town was all at rest.

One quiet moment in morning,

Was the last with which some were blest.

–––

A mist of safe contentedness

Hung o’er Wai Momi.

One last thread of false security,

One last second of silence

Before the peace was broken,

The veiling mist torn in two.

–––

Wai Momi was still for a moment,

And naught was heard but the waves

As the sea heaved one sighing breath

And beat sadly at the quays,

As the silence was shattered,

As dark bombs descended with death.

–––

Sprung upon on a Sunday morn,

Smoke and death Pearl Harbor did adorn,

Cries and bombs shook Oahu’s Pearl,

And death, America, Japan,

Townspeople and soldiers of different lands

Were caught in the deadly turmoil.

–––

Many died that dreadful day,

Many breaths were stilled,

And upon Pearl Harbor there lay

Bloodied bodies, broken quays,

Sunken ships and smoky haze:

Wai Momi’s people were killed.

–––

That dreadful day 72 years hence,

On December the seventh ‘41,

Was a day not soon forgotten,

The beginning of a war not easily won.

–––

Yet remember as the years roll by,

Like the sea upon that fated town,

That those soldiers in Wai Momi

Died for you and me.

Surrealist Scribbles

First, a warning: I, like the rest of mankind, suffer from hypocritical tendencies.  I am quite ready to admit that I am inconsistent.  My tastes sway back and forth, and are often decided by my feelings at each individual moment.  But I still generally have over-arching principles that guide my tastes, and this rather opinionated essay is the result of those values.

Next, a confession: I went to the “Surrealist Visions” exhibit at the J. Wayne Stark Galleries knowing full well I probably wouldn’t like what I saw.  I’ve never had much use for anything falling under the genre of “modern art” (though admittedly that is the vaguest of terms).  But they say college is a time to “broaden your horizons,” and so I decided to do so.  Besides, this struck me as the sort of art that my grandparents (on my mother’s side) like, or at least “appreciate.”  With that in mind, in the hour and a half between my morning Political Science class and lunch, I betook myself to the Stark Galleries.

For the benefit of the reader, I will try not to wax poetic on the merits of the Stark Galleries.  I will simply note that the rooms’ walls are white and smooth, the air cool, and the hardwood floors make one’s footsteps unusually echo-y.  Thus, the atmosphere had the necessary cathartic effect on me, enabling me commence viewing the art with a (fairly) open mind.

In some way, I should like to say that I exited the exhibit with a new outlook on life, or at least with an appreciation for “Surrealism.”  But in reality, I walked out of there with my distaste for “modern art” fully intact.  Good taste prevents me from directly quoting what I thought of 90% of the art, but suffice to say I did not like it.

So, what is Surrealism?  According to the large placard (which I actually read: Mom would be so pleased!), Surrealism is influenced by Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, and Friedrich “Is Dead” Nietzsche.  I must admit my guard went up slightly upon reading the last two, as both are philosophers I have little use for.  But, I persevered: Surrealism is, in general, dedicated to giving visual life to the subconscious “as defined by Freud.”  Other placards throughout the exhibit said the movement was about “self-discovery, with no moral or aesthetic preoccupations.”  (“So,” said my picky inner-voice, “self-indulgent, crass, and ugly, you mean?”)

The first picture I lingered over was “From L’Enfance d’Ubu,” dated 1975, by Spanish artist Joan Miro.  The little label next to it was also very particular in noting the paper was “signed in pencil.”  (Said the same picky inner-voice: “I’m sure this is a sophisticated statement about the non-permanence of life, and it also makes it easy for me to erase the signature and sign mine.  In pen.”)  The large placard fronting that portion of the exhibit said that Surrealists “found methods of interchange between people about matters that were previously incommunicable.”  Well, here’s what I want to know: I want to know why a deformed elephant is such a profound matter so worthy of communication.  That’s what the picture was, really: an elephant trunk, with large eyes surround by a thick pair of glasses hovering over a sort of body, which was floating in faded background, surrounded by a border that was childishly scrawled in black, green, yellow, red, and blue.  (Interjected the picky inner-voice: “I make drawings like that when I’m bored, but I don’t put them in frames and call for all to admire them.”)

I moved on, to a suite of water colors by Salvador Dali (also Spanish) on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  I must admit I liked some of the colors, especially the ruby pink and cool blue and lime green.  I even liked some of the pictures, like the one where Alice’s arm is reaching out the window.  But as a whole, I consider the set to be more Alice’s Adventures in Horrorland.  Most of the lines and figures were grotesque and nightmarish, and unlike the rest, the caterpillar and mock turtle were terrifying in their realism.  What’s more, what is with the figure on the frontispiece, which also appears in all twenty paintings?  It’s a thin, “artistic” silhouette of a tall girl with long, full skirt and flying hair, apparently in the process of jumping rope.  I just…I don’t understand.  All I know is that I don’t want to give my children that edition of the book.

After this I wandered from frame to frame.  I did actually see one tiny little picture that I really did like.  It was a little mouse’s head, in pen and ink, artistically portrayed in patterns and lines.  The background was a rosy wine color.  It was a cute little drawing, odd without being senseless.  Quirky.  It lifted my spirits for a bit…

…Until I came to the final wall of art.  And here, I encountered the drawing that had me actually burst out laughing (quietly, lest the attendant at the desk be perturbed).  The piece was by Jean (Hans) Arp, a Frenchman.  This art was lines, randomly drawn, like the artist was bored at a meeting and started trailing his pen over the paper (like I do in class sometimes).  I could forge the result right now in a minute.  It was called “Untitled.”  It did not even posses a name to which one could ascribe some quasi-philosophic significance.  It’s the sort of thing any chap on the street could produce, but this one is special, because someone stuck it in a frame and nailed it to the wall and called it art, and requested that we ooh and ah it.

See, here’s the problem I have with Surrealist art.  According to one of the placards, Surrealism is all about the “objectification of the irrational.”  Well, look, fellas: the world is rational.  God made it that way, and you act it out every time you pick up a bottle of paint.  You mix blue and yellow and it makes green.  You mix blue and red and it makes purple.  This will always happen, without fail, and I take issue with a movement that is entirely devoted to praising chaos.  To be sure, I recall reading that one Surrealist artist tried to make the movement a vehicle for social change, but his attempts were poo-pooed by other major artists.

But Surrealist artists in general have very little purpose, it seems to me.  They are not setting out to educate, or enthrall, or add beauty to the world in any way that I can see.  They don’t even use their talents (and yes, some of them are talented) to make people aware of the ugliness in the world so that it may be cleansed.  Instead, they childishly scribble nonsense with little regard for principles.

All this made for a mildly depressing viewing.  But, as I went on one of the last days of the exhibit, this scribbles will soon be removed, and some other display will take its place.  In the mean time, I am left to meditate on that verse in Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.