A Reflection on Busyness, Part 1

If you’re like me, you’re probably caught yourself saying “I’d love to (fill in the blank,) but I just don’t have time.” Our lives have become so incredibly busy over the last twenty years as technology and informational availability rocket forward on a seemingly infinite trajectory. Our finite minds struggle to keep up! There are so many news stories available, so many social networking sites to interact with, so many movies and television shows to watch and games to play and so on.

Not my favorite artist or work, but it seemed apropos.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

There are so many things that exist that demand our attention, making as much noise and bombarding us with as many bright colors and flashing lights as they can to hold our ever decreasing attention spans long enough to…do what, exactly? Improve our lives? Sell us something, or someone? Distract us from what we really ought to be doing? This is going to be the first installment of some reflections on busyness.

I can’t help but feel that while people in the Western World may be busier than ever before, we’re becoming less productive as a general rule. I can’t help but remember the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s Time from The Dark Side of the Moon, with its melancholy lament over how much we waste this completely unrenewable resource. This intuition of increasing lost time is mostly aimed at Generation Y and subsequent generations — the generations who have had it better than in any other time in known history.

Take for a contrasting case in point, my beloved grandfather. My Pappaw grew up in the back woods around West Monroe, Louisiana and was dirt poor as a child. Often, he spent his spare time hunting or fishing in order to supplement his diet. If he didn’t do that, he sometimes didn’t get enough to eat. As a result, he spent time with friends out in the woods learning survival skills and developing an appreciation for hard work that he still holds today.

And yet that sort of hardship and suffering, while it still exists, has been mostly shielded from American life a scant two generations later. I know how to hunt and fish, but not because I had to learn. I learned because my father and grandfather insisted that I learn how to do both. I had a much easier childhood than both my father and grandfather, but I feel like I missed out on a lot. I feel like I’m only now coming to understand things that they knew at a younger age than where I am.

I fully recognize the irony as I type this, but I find myself becoming something of a Luddite as I age. I dislike social media as a general rule because there’s very little that I would call important being shared on those sites. I don’t need to know about what anybody ate for lunch, nor do you need to know the ins and outs of my day unless you ask me about it in person or over the phone. Ultimately, nobody cares about your thinly-veiled attacks on another person’s character, or about what your reaction is to a television show. Most people’s opinions (and I include mine here) are not as important as we make them out to be. Social media is just another outlet to make ourselves the centers of our own little universes, allowing us to maintain the self-perception that our opinions matter and we have copious amounts of “friends,” even if we never talk to those people or actually care about what’s going on in their lives.

But that’s an easy target. Let’s try one that hits a little closer to home for me: Netflix instant streaming. We have the technological marvel of being able to watch almost any movie or television show that we want on demand. The esteemed John Piper had this to say on the topic:

One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

Imagine how many people will be standing at the judgment of God, having said in their actions, “Meh, I had better things to do. Gray’s Anatomy was on Netflix!” I shudder to think about this in my own life. And don’t get me started on how much time I have spent on video games, I’ve covered that one already.

There are so many things worth learning and doing that lay undone due to distraction. The time is there, but the will isn’t because learning and doing are hard. The distractions are so much easier and so much more comfortable, just as Uncle Screwtape commented to Wormwood in his letters. To think that by now I could have mastery of Spanish and German, or picked up a productive hobby that could net me some ancillary income. But instead, distractions. To think that by now I could have a more productive walk with God and be more transformed by the renewing of my mind. (Romans 12:2) But instead, distractions. To think of the work I could have done for the community around me. But instead, distractions.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to turn off the computer/Xbox/whatever else, and do something useful. Being busy is not enough, we must be productive. We must not only have something to do, we must have something worth doing. I implore you, examine your life to find the time eaters and do those things you have always wanted to do but didn’t have the time for. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go practice German with Duolingo.

Never! (Till I Feel Like It) (Part 1)

Chapter 1: The Beginning

Once a year for the last six years it had happened. The same exact thing always occurred. As sure as dragons devouring princesses and griffins gobbling knights, she would come. Sure enough, on the seventh April first, that red-headed, green-eyed “emissary” marched through the castle gate. Unaccompanied by any sort of entourage, she crossed the courtyard and didn’t even glance at the great hall’s splendidly carved doors as she heaved them open. It seemed that she purposely tracked mud all over the costly crimson velvet carpet, and when she finally halted, it was at an indecently small number of feet from his very own throne.

“No, thank you,” he responded to her annual question. The courtiers sighed with relief. Now she had only to say, “Thou shalt repent of it, my lord,” and she would depart. That girl made them nervous. It was uncanny how dignified she acted while wearing such a shabby cloak.

But this year, she didn’t move. She just stood there. The ladies and gentleman coughed, trying to inform her that it was time for her to leave. She ignored them, and remained fixated on the king. “My lord, my exalted mistress’s offer is of the best. She is assuredly as goodly a lady in person and character as ever thou hast laid eyes upon. She would make a most excellent wife to thee.”

“No, thank you,” the King replied. “I am rather advanced in years and wish to carry on like I have always done. A wife would only disrupt me. Thank you.” He tried coughing himself. It didn’t work.

“My lord, thou wouldst be advised to consider thy choice before fixing it. My mistress, the Queen, is very wealthy, and wouldst indeed bless this poor kingdom of thine.”

The King glanced helplessly at the Prime Minister seated at his right hand. The Prime Minister rose, his magnificent, diamond-encrusted midnight robes making impressive what was otherwise merely tall and thin. He spoke: “Ahem…um…my-dear…um…what-did-you-say-your-name-was?”

The girl was occupied in smiling sweetly at the Prime Minister’s handsome young son. With mortification the Prime Minister noticed that his son was sweetly smiling back. After a moment she shifted her attention to the Prime Minister. “Odyssey, sir,” she replied.

“Ahem…you-see…um…my-dear…um…Odyssey…um…your-mistress…um…with-all-her-charms…um…you-see…um…we-are-not-in-such-a-financial-situation-as-to-require…um…we-cannot…um…we won’t…”

“WE WON’T HAVE IT!” stormed the Head War Leader. He pounded his massive fist on his chair arm, cracking it, and leapt to the King’s side. The Head War Leader addressed the assembly: “WHO IS THIS ACCURSED WITCH-QUEEN TO SEND HER INFERNAL MINION TO TORMENT US WITH OFFERS OF MARRIAGE? WHAT NATURAL WOMAN WOULD ASK A MAN FOR HIS HAND? IS THAT NOT OPPOSITE TO TRADITION, TO ALL THAT WE HAVE KNOWN AND HOLD DEAR? WHAT FOREIGNER FOR QUEEN DO WE WANT? WOULD YOU HAVE A ALIEN TAKE OVER OUR NOBLE COUNTRY, AND INFEST IT WITH HER NEW-FANGLED NOTIONS? DO YOU MEN? DO YOU?”

“Hooray!” came the half-hearted cheer. Odyssey’s mocking face had grown darker and darker. Now she fixed her gaze on the king and spoke to him, and to him alone.

“Very well. Thou hast refused my mistress’ proposal. Thou hast sealed thy fate. Thou shalt assuredly be plagued and plagued until thou shalt agree to marriage with my mistress. Thou art forewarned.”

“No, I will not, never, thank you,” answered the king.

“I…um…I-think-it-highly-doubtful,” murmured the Prime Minister.

“WE SHALL NEVER GIVE IN! NEVER GIVE IN!” bellowed the Head War Leader.

“So be it,” replied Odyssey. She turned on her heel (ruining that bit of carpet) and stalked out the door.

Genealotrees

By the waters rushing down,

Near the streams of liquid life,

They spread their roots deep and wide,

Stretch to sun and shade their young

One new year, one new band, uniting them forever

Green in spring and green in snow, they weather this together.

A million years, and a thousand bitter frosts, they grow and sprout and spread and change.

And when you chop, they splinter, fall, but count their rings and understand:

Never in a million years did they break the band,

Never in a million years.

Soaring in the Sky

 

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence.  Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark, or ever eagle, flew;

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

–“High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

 

“I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed,” wrote World War II poet John Magee in a letter home to his parents.  On the back of the letter was “High Flight,” a sonnet that has become one of the most famous wartime poems ever.  John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was born on June 9, 1922 in Shanghai, China, where his parents, John and Faith, were serving as missionaries.  Leaving China in 1931, Magee moved to Britain and attended St. Clare preparatory school and Rugby School.  While at Rugby School, Magee’s love for poetry began to develop, and in 1938 he won the school’s poetry prize.  A year later, Magee came to the United States and earned a scholarship to Yale; however, war broke out in Europe, and in late 1940 Magee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a pilot.  In July 1941, Magee traveled to England for combat duty.  While airborne over England one day in August 1941, Magee composed “High Flight.”  The imagery, rhythms, and sounds of “High Flight” by John Magee reveal that the poem is about the joy of flying.

The imagery of “High Flight” expresses how exhilarating flying is.  Magee describes himself as dancing the skies.  His plane has “laughter-silvered wings” (2).  When painting a picture of his ascent, Magee calls the sky “the long, delirious, burning blue” (9).  Three times Magee personifies objects as being active and cheerful, calling his plane eager, the clouds mirthful, and the wind shouting.  All these examples of personification show the objects as being happy and create a feeling that Magee’s personal joy during flight is overflowing into everything around him and making his plane, the clouds, and the wind as joyful as he is.  Every action in the poem is alive.  Magee utilizes vivid verbs to further express his joy:  slipped, danced, climbed, wheeled, soared, swung, chased, topped, trod, and touched.

Magee’s communication of the joy of high flight goes beyond imagery, though; even the rhythm of the poem articulates the theme.  For the most part, the rhythm is iambic pentameter.  This provides the lines with a sense of fullness and makes them flow smoothly.  If Magee had used shorter rhythms, the poem would have been agitated, and if he had used longer rhythms, the poem would have been heavy.  As it is, iambic pentameter allows the poem to flow naturally and lightly.  This rhythm mimics the fluidity of flight and makes the poem read easily.  When Magee varies from iambic pentameter and uses trochee in the poem’s third line, the emphasis on the first syllable pushes us in the direction the word describes:  “Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth” (3).  In line five, Magee uses the accents of the rhythm to make the words feel like what they describe:  “wheeled and soared and swung.”  Each of the verbs has a heavier accent than the conjunction and this gives the words a see-saw or side-to-side feeling, mimicking the wheeling, soaring, and swinging motion.  The way in which Magee uses punctuation also causes the rhythm to communicate the joy of flight.  When he writes, “Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue,” he includes commas in the list of words describing “blue” to create a feeling of the length of the flight and its delightfulness (9).  The commas create pauses which give Magee time to savor the ascent.  Then, when Magee wants the poem to slow down as he focuses on the sacred joy of flying, he puts a comma in a list of descriptions again:  “With silent, lifting mind I’ve trod” (12).  This comma puts a brake on the speed of the poem and allows the reader time to reflect.

Even the sounds of the words of “High Flight” reveal the joyfulness of flying.  The alliteration in “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” creates a smooth feeling, like it is a relief to slip from earth to sky (1).  In the line “And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod,” Magee uses assonance to aid the quieter feeling the words create (12).  The long “i” of “while,” “silent,” “mind,” and “I’ve” slows the words down and makes them longer and heavier, while at the same time the short “i” of “with” and “lifting” gives these words a light, airy feeling that directs one’s attention upward.  Magee’s words thus create a picture of his excitement slowing down into a contemplative and reverential joy that turns its eyes from the material features of high flight to its sacredness – of being in “the high untrespassed sanctity of space” where one is closer to God (13).

Only a few months after penning “High Flight,” John Magee entered into an even higher and better sanctity of space than can be found in the sky.  On December 11, 1941, Magee’s Spitfire collided with another plane during a training flight over England, and he died in the crash.  No more would he dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings or climb sunward or chase the wind or fling his eager craft through footless halls of air.  Magee’s days of serving God on earth as a pilot and a poet were done, and he was at last able to enter into the joy of which he had experienced a mere glimpse when he slipped into the skies, trod the heights of space, put out his hand, and touched the face of God.

____________________________________________________________________

Works Cited

Armenti, Peter.  “John Gillespie Magee’s ‘High Flight.’”  The Library of Congress.  3 Sep. 2013.  9 Mar. 2014.  <http://blogs.loc.gov/catbird/2013/09/john-gillespie-magees-high-flight/&gt;

United States National Archives and Records Administration Federal Register Office.  “Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations.  1989.”  Bartleby.com.  9 March 2014.  <http://www.bartleby.com/73/603.html&gt;

Reflections on Caldecott Books of 2014

Caldecott Medal

For those with question marks over their heads, here is a short explanation of the history behind the medal. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

All caught up?  Good.  Now, on to the individual titles.

  • Brian Floca’s Locomotive: received the medal and deservedly so.  Floca teaches about the science and mechanics involved in a steam engine and the history of the First Transcontinental Railroad at the same time.  The use of second-person usually feels artificial to me, but Floca makes it flow so well.
  • Aaron Becker’s Journey: my favorite of the four.  Becker’s meticulous attention to detail and variety of perspectives tell a wonderful adventure without words.  He also manages to make the journey feel dangerous yet not gruesome.  When does his next book publish?
  • Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo: feels like an animated feature in the best ways.  The characters are expressive and believable without any text.  The only negative I see is the physical book.  With such light, delicate paper for the flaps it will be damaged within a few months.
  • David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles!: an original concept impeccably drawn.  A testy cat attempts to catch an aliens’ spaceship while the insects and aliens make First Contact.  This too is a story without text (well, unless you count the aliens’ incomprehensible speech bubbles) that works perfectly.

Usually there’s at least one title that makes we wonder what on earth Caldecott/Newberry/National Book Award Committees are thinking, but not with this stack.  I’d recommend any of the titles to both children and adults.

EAT CARDBOARD!!!

Great comics, much to my chagrin, seem to have been dominated by the secular. Whether it be artists, storytellers, or publishers. I have often felt that comics, much like any medium that is hip (like rock ‘n roll, filmmaking, etc..), has been left with the world leading the way, and Christian storytellers largely following along in their wake. However, if first impressions are anything to go on, Doug TenNapel is one Christian storyteller who may be changing that. I recently read one of his graphic novels (one of the many he’s written), and really enjoyed the story, artwork, and worldview of the comic.

 cardboard_PanelsTo begin with, TenNapel weaves an interesting story. His books are predominately aimed at boys (4-9th grade), and offer adventure, humor, and heroism -all the things that I enjoyed when I was younger (and still enjoy, for that matter). The story follows a construction worker who has lost his job, and is struggling to make ends meet. On his son’s birthday, the only gift that he can afford is a giant cardboard box -which he knows is pretty lame. However, events turn interesting quickly when the cardboard man that the father and son make comes to life -and the story rockets on from there. The story shows the value of family and the destructive power unleashed when we let the past hang over us and dominate our future. However, one of my favorite themes deals with the destructive nature of sin. Throughout the story TenNapel shows how sin not only is self-destructive, but also hurts those around the sinner. Sin is like a nuclear bomb -fallout will always occur from the initial explosion.In summary, the story is largely geared at younger boys, and promotes the values of biblical families, loyalty, and forgiveness. However, although the primary audience is younger boys, I personally found it very entertaining even as a college student, and TenNapel includes some plot-lines and themes that offer depth that adults may appreciate.

As far as artwork goes, the book is very well done. TenNapel managescardboard3 to create a cartoon-ey and highly exaggerated style that keeps violence from ever becoming too graphic, but the images are still very effective in communicating characters’ feelings and emotions. TenNapel does an excellent job in visually designing his villains to make them -one of whom has pinkeye -very grotesque (don’t forget the target audience is boys). The panels are well laid out, and the action and dialog read smoothly throughout the pages of the book -making the reading experience enjoyable and engrossing. The comic is very well executed from an artistic and technical standpoint, and I can only applaud TenNapel’s skills.

Finally, worldview. Doug TenNapel approaches his stories from a Christian perspective. However, this story had a noticeable lack of any overt religious references. That being said, far from being a negative, I think that this gives the graphic novel a wider potential audience, and the lack of overt religious overtones does not mean that Christian ideals and values are not being expressed. TenNapel has themes of forgiveness and turning away from evil throughout the story, both of which carry strong Christian ties. He also has a plot line dealing with the need to move on from past events and living out our purpose in the present.

cardboard_Panels2

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel offers a blend of humor, adventure, and Christian values that any boy (of whatever age) will enjoy. From the entertaining plot, to well-executed artwork, to themes of forgiveness and change, TenNapel weaves a very effective graphic novel. So, if you’ve been wanting some wholesome and entertaining reading, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of TenNapel’s Cardboard.