The Eagle and the Hawk

Seeing a career peak during the 1970’s, John Denver wrote songs with signature acoustic accompaniment and subjects dealing with nature and relationships. Songs such as ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads‘, ‘Rocky Mountain High‘, and ‘Sunshine on My Shoulders‘ put Denver on the charts during the 70’s and remain classics to the present. Characterized by optimism in his music, even more serious songs contain hopeful timbres, and make for excellent easy listening music.

Take Me Home, Country Roads
Rocky Mountain High
Sunshine on My Shoulders
The Eagle and the Hawk

Sing a Song for Springtime

Green leaves unfold, flowers blossom, and songbirds line the tree boughs and flit in the bushes and on the ground.  Every day, the world seems more intensely green.  Driving home on winding highways that dip through forest tunnels and by meadows of cows, I sometimes see entire fields that are so covered in yellow blossoms that they glow like a splash of sunlight.  Without a doubt, winter has withdrawn, spring is here, and soon summer will arrive.  To celebrate the season, I thought I would share with you some choral music that reminds me of spring.

Immortal Memory: A Burns Night Celebration by Paul Mealor is a delightful album with beautiful choral arrangements and recitations of songs and poems by Robert Burns.  To give you a taste of the album, here’s the song “Immortal Memory.”

Acclaimed choir director and composer John Rutter teamed up with harpist Catrin Finch to create the lovely album Blessing.  The songs on this predominately harp album range from lullaby-like to peppy and leave me with a smile on my face.  Who would have thought that harp and bassoon could pair so well together?

And to finish with two lovely songs arranged by John Rutter, here are “What Sweeter Music” and the upbeat “Sing a Song of Sixpence.”

Are you an enthusiastic traveler or spring-cleaner who likes to belt out favorite songs while hard at work?  What are some of your favorite springtime songs?  Please share in the comments.

Review: Captain Marvel

Due to the shortness of time, I am re-posting my review of the film, Captain Marvel, from our sister site, Flint & Bone’s Comic Reviews, today.

Flint and Bone's Comic Reviews

Drumming up an original introduction to yet another Marvel movie review requires more effort with each review. What original words can be said about this one that have not already been said in some combination regarding the myriad of predecessors? Has the franchise passed its prime? That is the question I concern myself with, probably too often. Is there an original thread to be plucked, or thought to be explored that hasn’t been already?

This is popcorn fare. Designed to bring crowds to the theater, satisfy the faithful comic-book readers as well as those who casually keep up with the films. Glitz, glamour, extensive action set pieces. It’s practically rote for Marvel films at this point.

And speaking of Marvel, Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel. Through a series of flashbacks, Carol’s story is revealed. It’s a sad, happy tale that includes a not-so-ordinary cat named Goose and a younger…

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A Dash of Grammar

I was banging my head against the figurative wall of writer’s block as I became more and more frantic for a spark of inspiration for today’s post—when it suddenly hit me.  Why not conquer two birds with one stone?  1) Satisfy my grammar-loving curiosity by looking up an answer to a punctuation question that I’ve been meaning to investigate for some time and 2) share my new knowledge with my dear readers.

The hyphen (-), the en dash (–), and the em dash (—).  You may not have realized this nuance existed, but there really are three versions of the “dash,” and these punctuation marks have their own sets of distinct rules.  While they all connect words and ideas, they do so to different extents that in some ways relate to their lengths.

Hugging Hyphens

The hyphen is meant to connect extremely close ideas, often compound words (daughter-in-law, user-friendly, etc.).  As an article on The Chicago Manual of Style Online explains, “The hyphen connects two things that are intimately related.”  This little line performs an extremely powerful function in language because people can use it to combine several words in order to create an entirely new word.  Hyphen originally came from Greek words meaning one, together, and in one.

Going the Distance with En Dash

Like the hyphen, the en dash connects ideas, but these connections are usually related to distance, either in time or space.  Here are two examples: “From September–May, most children are in school” and “I have to read chapters 23–30 by next week.”  The en dash functions where the word “through” would normally function when describing a range.  An interesting rule regarding the en dash is that they are meant to be used when connecting “a prefix to a proper open compound: for example, pre–World War II” (“Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes”).  The origin of en dash is that the dash was the width of an N in printing.

Breaking and Filling with Em Dash

em dash examplesLike parentheses and commas, the em dash indicate a break in thought and is used when adding a side-note or additional thought to a sentence, as I used in my opening sentence for this post.  In my experience, the closeness of the idea determines whether you should use a comma, em dash, or parenthesis to set off the extra information or to indicate a disrupted thought.  The closest ideas work best set off by commas, while very tangential ideas should be enclosed in parentheses, with the em dash falling somewhere in the middle.  Another function of the em dash is to indicate that something is missing.  An unfinished bit of dialogue might end with an em dash (e.g., “What is that—!”), and it can also serve as a placeholder for curse words, for people’s names (think Austenian novels), and more.  Like the origin of en dash, the term em dash comes from the fact that the dash was the length of an M in printing.

Now, next time you want to invent a new word, describe a range in time or space, or build suspense as your reader wonders whether your character has just been eaten, you will have just the right tools to accomplish your task.


Works Cited

“Em dash.” American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.  2011.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, www.thefreedictionary.com/en+dash

“En dash.” American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.  2011.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, www.thefreedictionary.com/en+dash

“Hyphens.”  American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.  2011.   Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, www.thefreedictionary.com/en+dash

“Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes.”  The Chicago Manual of Style Online,            www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/HyphensEnDashesEmDashes/faq0002.html

How Victor Hugo Writes Transitions

Writing effective, natural transitions is difficult, as anyone who has ever written an essay, agonizing over how to move from “Firstly,” “Secondly,” “Thirdly,” and “In summary,” to more original expressions, knows.

So how does a classic writer approach paragraph transitions?

I am reading (slowly) Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, right now – the 1976 Norman Denny translation – and think it is interesting how Hugo tackles transitions (aside: Norman Denny seems to have updated some of the English to be more readable to a modern audience, but cross-checking the below excerpt with Isabell Hapgood’s 1887 translation seems to confirm that the paragraph structures are still similar). Below is a passage, and alongside the passage I have explained my understanding of how the transitions function.

Hugo Transitions

What we see is that Hugo uses ideas to transition. The progression of thought between paragraphs is apparent—the topic or concluding sentence of the previous paragraph can be used as a springboard to guide the reader into the following thought (the topic of the current paragraph). Focusing on transitioning between not the bare words on the page but the underlying thoughts make the paragraphs blend together more naturally.

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Addendum

This transitioning technique is on display in the quoted excerpt, but I also chose the passage because of Hugo’s insight here into the realities of being a thought-worker. My profession as a software developer is very much a thought-worker position. I do write, and there are real outcomes to the work, but unlike roofing a house or fixing a toilet, the real brunt of my profession is done in the mind. This is true of writers, scientists, and many other vocations in today’s society. As a result, this passage from Hugo – also a knowledge-worker (or “brain-worker” in Hapgood’s translation) – is apropos.

Stop and Smell the Daisies

“Have you ever heard this group before?  My wife and I go to their concerts every time they’re performing within 300 miles of us.”  I had just sat down at the Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem concert when the elderly man to my left spoke up.  I explained that I was unfamiliar with Daisy Mayhem, and we began to chat about the group.  When the lights dimmed, the audience fell silent, and the four performers walked onstage.  In the concert that followed, I discovered that in rare instances I do actually like bluegrass/soul/American folk music.

While I enjoyed many songs in the concert, my favorite piece at the time was the Appalachian song “Singing in the Land.”  The style of the song was wistful, for it was about wanting to go to heaven.  All four musicians stood around one microphone, and Anand Nayak accompanied on acoustic guitar.  Arbo started the singing alone, and the rest of the group began harmonizing.  Then, bass player Andrew Kinsey, percussionist Scott Kessel, and Anand Nayak each sang a solo.  At one point, Kinsey performed alone on a wind instrument that had a mellow timbre.  When the singers sang about heaven, the music was higher in an example of word painting.  The song ended peacefully with the guitar fading out right before the last word.

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem group
From left to right: Scott Kessel, Rani Arbo, Andrew Kinsey, and Anand Nayak

Since the concert, I have gone back and listened to several Daisy Mayhem songs, and my two regulars now vie with “Singing in the Land” for top spot.  The first is “I Love This City,” which is a beautiful depiction of how a person can become fond of a city—in this case New Orleans.  The song is lovely and resonates with my sentimental affection for my hometown (word of caution: there are occasional curse words in some of the group’s songs, including this one, but it tends to be for dialect purposes).  My second Daisy Mayhem top hit is “Roses.”  Arbo explained that this song was about a friend of her mother’s who began a rose garden in New York City years ago near one of the churches.  The friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer later in life, and when she asked her oncologist whether she should start spending her money, he told her “yes.”  So, she went on a cruise in Scandinavia.  A European couple on the cruise mentioned that they had visited New York City, and the woman asked them how they liked it.  While the husband had loved the city, the wife said that she didn’t really like it—except for this particular rose garden near a church…the very one the friend tended!  When the friend returned home, her oncologist told her to stop spending her money after all because her cancer was in remission, and she lived for several years longer.  This story combined with the music and lyrics of makes “Roses” a special song.

Many concerts finish with on a rousing note, but Daisy Mayhem closed with a meditative song called “Crossing the Bar.”  The lyrics are from a poem by Tennyson, and Arbo explained that her mother-in-law quoted the poem on her deathbed, leading Arbo to write a melody for it.  Arbo described the poem as an expression of “conscious dying.”  I think this conclusion to the concert represents a lot about what makes the group unique.  Their songs are often personal, tender, and haunting.  Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem’s music brings out the beauty, character, and joy of everyday life and reminds their audience of the seemingly unimportant moments that make life special.  Not only do these songs encourage you to stop and smell the roses, but they also encourage you to enjoy the daisies—humble flowers that have their own kind of beauty too.


Note: I originally wrote parts of this review for a music appreciation class but wanted to share it in an updated form so that perhaps others can enjoy the music too.  For those of you who aren’t usually fans of this mix of genres, I encourage you to give it a try because, like me, you might be surprised.

Do not forsake me oh my darling

The battle between William Kane and Frank Miller in the movie High Noon epitomizes what makes good Western films powerful: the struggle between duty and chaos, good and evil, and self-sacrifice and selfishness. Through the movie’s one hour and twenty-five minute runtime, the audience is given a glimpse into the many motivations that lead men to take what doesn’t belong to them, live in apathy, or stand their ground in the face of insurmountable odds. One facet of the movie that sticks with you long after you leave is the main theme which is interwoven throughout:

 

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along

I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Oh, to be torn ‘tweenst love and duty
S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon

He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death but oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
You made that promise as a bride
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, don’t think of leavin’
Now that I need you by my side

Sporting a solid cast with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, High Noon was, and still is upon recent re-visitation, one of my favorite Western films of all time, and well worth a watch if you enjoy tales from the old west.

 

Lyrics:

Read more: Frankie Laine – High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

 

Some thoughts on Out of the Silent Planet

Having recently finished reading Out of the Silent Planet on holiday, two quotes from separate, but closely tied, passages struck me especially. Not having read the book since high school, almost 8 years ago at this point, most of it was new to me in terms of the ideas presented and general plot; and as is often the case of most ‘first time’ read-throughs where only the veneer of ideas is genuinely discovered, mine was no different. All that to say, even having just finished it, the book already entices me to read again and see what other worldview and cosmological tidbits Lewis has sprinkled throughout this first in his space trilogy.


Quote 1: On Death

“Many thousands of thousand years before this [talking to Weston], when nothing yet lived on your world [earth], the cold death was coming on my harandra. Then I was in deep trouble, not chiefly for the death of my hnau [creatures] -Maleldil [God] does not make them long-livers -but for the things which the lord of your world, who was not yet bound, put into their minds. He would have made them as your people are now -wise enough to see the death of their kind approaching but not wise enough to endure it. […]The weakest of my people do not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maledil you would have peace.” (Lewis, 138-139; Chapter 20)

Quote 2: On Bent and Broken Men

“I see now how the lord of the silent world has bent you. There are laws that all hnau [creatures] know, of pity and straight dealing and shame and the like, and one of these is the love of kindred. He has taught you to break all of them except this one, which is not one of the greatest laws; this one he has bent till it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a little, blind Oyarsa [king] in your brain. And now you can do nothing but obey it, though if we ask you why it is a law you give no other reason for it than for all the other and greater laws which it drives you to disobey. […The bent one] has left you this one [law] because a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one.” (Lewis, 137-138)


I like the above conversations between Oyarsa and Weston. Prior to and during this conversation, Weston has waxed eloquent about how ‘humanity’ must be perpetuated at all costs -even if it means sacrificing their physical form, the lives of individuals (like the protagonist), etc. Through this whole dialogue, Lewis demonstrates mankind’s propensity to try and mentally block out and avoid what they know to be their ultimate end. In Weston’s specific case, Lewis also makes an interesting statement that a bent man is more capable of evil than a broken one. A man driven by greed, for example, will only cause so much harm, and is no longer so much a man as an animal since he no longer operates under any pretense of ‘law’ but simply carnal desire. However, the tyranny of the moral busybody, the man who will go to any extreme for a ‘good’ end, can be the most destructive, and Lewis understands this because he saw many such men in his own day, as we do in ours.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” -C.S. Lewis

Peculiar Planet

Back in the day, and by that I mean less than a month ago, I was in a position where I had a fair amount of “dead” time on my hands. And, somehow, I honestly don’t recall how, I stumbled upon this zany little website that is now my official recommendation for a time killer: “Amusing Planet,” or www.amusingplanet.com.

Best described by its Twitter bio, “Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff,” this offbeat website is a collection of blog style posts, accompanied by plenty of full-color photographs, detailing the bizarre, extraordinary quirks of planet earth, both natural and manmade. From “rocks that give birth” to decorative Japanese manhole covers, it’s all here.

You can simply scroll down the list of articles, or you can browse by sections: Natural Wonders, Historical Oddities, and Art, and you can view posts by country too, if that floats your boat. As I might write in a work email, “please see below” for a list of just four of of my favorites, aka the ones I remembered without too much effort and could find easily without exerting a ton of patience:

Whether an internet tourist looking for something diverting, or an actual tourist looking for sightseeing inspiration, there’s sure to be an article for you. While today I am the former, perhaps, one day, I’ll visit the Museum of Bad Art myself.

A Pleasure Remembered

Life is much like a story -a series of relationships and events that interconnect and develop into something much bigger than the sum of its parts. Similarly, the pleasures of life are not insular -they do not exist as merely singular points within a human life but are rather best appreciated and understood through memory.

At least, that is what C.S. Lewis is saying through a conversation in his book Out of the Silent Planet. Although not a theme by any stretch, in fact it only consists of about a paragraph’s worth of text, the idea hit a major chord with me. During the back and forth between the protagonist Ransom and a hross (ie ‘alien’), Ransom questions why the hrossa, if they find the begetting of children pleasurable, would not seek to beget lots of children, and the hross’s response is quite interesting:

“A pleasure is fully grown only when it is remembered […] What you [human] call remembering is the last part of the pleasure […] When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then -that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.” (Ch. 12, p. 74)

Here Lewis is painting a story-driven worldview through his characters. Denying the popular stance that life is largely a random collection of circumstances, and pleasure in its various forms is to be the ultimate pursuit, he posits rather that pleasure is most accurately found in the memories of the life/lives shaped by the event.

However, this idea is not original to Lewis, but rather an expression of his underlying Christo-centric worldview. A divine author over all things means that there CAN be a larger narrative, and seeing Him as sovereign over all supports the idea that the happenings and relationships of day to day life have a much greater long-term impact than the individual events themselves. No doubt Abraham took great pleasure in the birth of his son Isaac. How much greater, though, is the pleasure he has from seeing the faithfulness of God in the lineage that continued from Isaac to Jesus of Nazareth, and thereon to two thousand years of the gospel being proclaimed to Jew and Gentile? The Bible is full of examples of this, as are all of our lives. Let us remember the pleasures we have been given and be thankful for how much more beautiful they are over a life’s time as God has used them.