Jesus in the Ashes

Ash Wednesday was two days ago, and I took this webcam picture of myself as a part of the annual #ashtag fun. You basically take pictures of yourself after recieving ashes and post them to social media.

This was mine:

 #ashtag2014

A friend of mine on Facebook sees an image of Jesus on the Cross in the ashes. Others, myself included, can see Him also. A miracle! (Just kidding.)

Please, no need to make pilgrimmages to my forehead, the ashes are long gone.

Kinda neat to see such things. I wonder what they mean?

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Strange “sightings” in Church

While at Daily Mass this morning I saw someone who from behind and to the side was a dead-ringer for a friend I knew from kindergarten through some college. Same Mr. Spock-inspired haircut and shade of black hair, same physical build. It wasn’t JJ, who passed away from leukemia in 1995. But the similarity in appearance was amazing.

This brings up something else, a phenomenon I’ve noticed at my home parish, and nowhere else: Every so often I see people who bear a striking resemblance to someone from my old, hometown parish, either a physical similarity, or “something about them” is reminiscent. Odd. It would be one thing if I experienced this at other parishes, but that has not happened, only where I attend Mass now.

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Reading and writing is cool, when you think about it in an odd way

The very idea that you can inscribe, whether scribbling by hand or banging away at a keyboard, little squiggly things called “letters” that together make things called “words” that in and of themselves stand for ideas is fascinating.

Weave these words together in some rational or artfully irrational manner and you can tell a “story.”

And that someone else can use their eyeballs and scan theses squigglies and interpret their patterns and decipher their meaning, called “reading,” is even more fascinating.

The very idea that someone else, in some far off place and time can “read” these squigglies on a page (paper or digital) and derive enjoyment or get angry just turns the fascinating into something awesome.

Writing can be quite the responsible and exciting thing, when you think about it. I mean, just ponder the wonder of it all.

I got the above idea once by just imagining “reading.” I envisioned some sort of light beam emanating from an eye to scan words on a screen or paper, and seeing the words just fly up into the eyeball and thence into the brain. And once there creating pictures and scenery and the like.

It is interesting to just think about the commonplace and wonder. I just think that the act of reading is taken for granted, and we forget its awesomeness.

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On Martyrdom, Truth and Moral Absolutes

It is the day after Christmas, the Feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr. He was the first person recorded to have died for the Faith.

Martyrdom has several connotations, mainly that of extreme belief. Either you were killed for your Faith, or you kill for your Faith (and in the process, die also). Christians in general get killed, and are not killers of others.

However, the idea is that there is something greater than yourself worth dying for. Something that you are willing to surrender your existence to.

The very notion is insane to those who hold that there is no absolute Truth, that Truth cannot be known and that morality is situational and relative to your circumstances.

I do believe that there are moral absolutes, and that Truth is a known (Jesus). This kind of certitude is a comfort, and in general renders me free from major fear and anxiety. Not that I am blissful and serene, but I roll with things a little more easily than most (except for certain small things that have a tendency to annoy the heck out of me).

I think that if you meditate on this notion, you gain a few steps in wisdom. What are you willing to die for? This assumes that you feel there is something you would trade your life for. This is a major step towards self-identification, i.e finding your true self. Once you identify your moral absolutes and discern what Truth is, you establish yourself in relation to those. How valuable are they to you? Is your life worthy of them?

Sometimes the chasm is very far to cross. That means that your instinct for self-preservation overrides your willful belief in Truth and the Absolute. The fear is too great. Faith (i.e. Trust) helps to fill in the chasm. A growing and developing Faith is necessary in finding who you really are, and in what exactly would you lay it all on the line for.

Something to ponder during the season in which we celebrate the nativity of Jesus.

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The Artistic Temperament is a Disease

“The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, the very great artists are able to be ordinary men – men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art.” ~GK Chesterton, Heretics, 1905

A Facebook friend (and one from whom I learn much) posted this Chesterton quote in a debate thread.

It explains a lot (the quote, not the debate). I find it healthful to “utter the art from within;” however I fail to utter more often than I do utter. I aspire to write, and do so, but I don’t write more often than I do write. Such is the tired refrain of many so-called and self-referenced “aspiring writers.” We want to write, but don’t, and perhaps from that comes this “artistic temperament,” one of “vanity or violence or fear?” Vanity: the desire for the “writing life;” violence: the resulting self-loathing and esteem-reduction from failing to do what you’re supposed to; fear: fear of failure, that of discovering that you are horrible at writing, and maybe fear of success?

The funny thing is that I find writing to be therapeutic. I feel better after having done so and thus become the “sane man” when I “utter the art from within.” This partly stems from a feeling of accomplishment. “Hey, I wrote today!” Partly it comes from just the emotional and psychological release.

Perhaps this is a successor to my alcoholism. I knew I should stop drinking and why, but I feared doing so. I also lacked the strength or will to stop. I only did so because no other choice was offered. I was unable to physically go and replenish my stock and thus found myself in the hospital with DT’s. If I continued, I would die. So maybe the choice was helped along.

The parallel to writing? “No other choice but to write.” I have to develop the “sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in” my “being.” And I have to associate this need with sanity and survival.

I am a writer, it is what I (should) do, and to not do it is a type of death.

Interesting notion; now let’s see me put it to use.

From Isaac Asimov:

“I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.”

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”

Posted in Blogging, Catholic Writing, Me, Writing | 8 Comments

Happy New Year!!! Plus some odds and ends…

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new Liturgical Year in the Catholic Church. A day of new beginnings and preparing for the Lord’s coming! Also, with the secular New Year a month away, an opportunity to “warm up” for whatever changes in life one has planned com January.

New Years are just a artificial temporal construct, I mean, one day is much like any other along the calendar. Seasonal changes aside, when we actually start marking a new journey about the Sun is arbitrary.

But, it serves a useful psychological purpose. Like new starts and such. For example, my oft-repeated plans to “blog more.” :P

The short fiction I mentioned in For the first time in about a quarter century… was rejected. I think I got a form-letter rejection email. I will submit it elsewhere, perhaps after reviewing it again. If it gets rejected again (I am unsure as to how many more times I’l try) I may self-publish the piece through Smashwords and Amazon for $.99, even though I said in a comment to that post that I wouldn’t.

The awesome writing website, Writing-World.com! has The Writer’s Year Datebook & Planner for 2014 as well as a submission tracker. They offer free spreadsheet versions to download. Don’t let the word “spreadsheet” be intimidating, it’s easy to write in and to keep to-do lists/journals/notes and keep track of story and article submissions.

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For the first time in about a quarter century…

… I may be submitting a short story for publication.

I last did that back in the 1980s, without success. I forget how many stories I submitted, but it was a single digit number.

If this is surprising given all my talk about my writing aspirations, let’s just say that I probably expanded the frontier of reasons for “not having written,” at least successfully.

The last time I actually submitted anything for consideration was a spec script for the TV series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1991. I am not counting that in my quarter century mark as it wasn’t an original short story of mine (original story idea, yes. But not original to me as Star Trek is someone else’s universe.) The script wasn’t purchased by the Star Trek people, obviously. If so, life would have taken a very different path. But it was rejected and I subsequently became distracted by trying to achieve self-reliance and a decent income with real day jobs while living in Southern California. After 4 years I left, then basically gave up writing for over a decade. I also drank for most of that time. Writers stereotypically are noted for being drinkers. Leave it to me to give up writing and take up drinking, or take up writing while NOT drinking. ;-)

Earlier this week I awakened from a nap with a vision and an opening line in my head. I decided to take and run with it, and the result is an 1800ish-word short fiction piece which I think is suitable for the online magazine Daily Science Fiction. I spent a considerable amount of time reading the stories they’ve already published (they’re archived) and I honestly think that “Cold Creations” is a fit, and is comparable in writing quality.

Nevertheless, I am faced with the raw, naked terror of doing this. What if it’s rejected? WHAT IF IT’S PURCHASED?!?!?!?!? At long last, my dream of finally being called a professional writer, and a science-fiction one at that, may be achieved. My heart may not survive the shock of the pent-up decades-long wait. ;-)

Daily Science Fiction is a fine online magazine for people who enjoy reading good science-fiction, fantasy and all related subgenres. It’s free to read, either online or email subscription. They also pay well, $.08 a word.

Posted in Me, Short stories, Writing | 6 Comments

It wants to be a novel

That short story/novellete that I’ve been working on, “Listening to the Lost Voices” has informed me that it wants to be a novel. And so I went through and did some major copy-and-pasting and inserting-of-pages for all the major scenes and sections.

Now it has been percolating, but I should be spending much more time on it, what with a three-day weekend coming up in North America. The weather for my area is calling for rain for all three days, which means extra time to write. (No yardwork.)

As I have been working on it, it seems to be requiring longer exposition of certain things. And I have come to the realization that for me to do it justice, I think a novel is called for.

I read somewhere that stories fall into the category they are best suited (short story, novella, novel, screenplay, stage play, whatever).

OK, off to do some rereading. ;-)

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Letting a plot develop in the subconscious

I’m going to kill off my main character in Listening to the Lost Voices. This is going to be a tricky operation as it will be rife with symbolism and meaning, and he deserves to die well.

I also have no clue yet as to how to go about doing it.

And thus I will place it in my “pondermatic” where it will incubate and develop on its own. This works for me. When I am not certain what to do with the story, into the pondermatic it goes and maybe in a few hours or days I have a glimmer of what happens next.

While the pondermatic is incubating the plot point, I will work on another story. I want to write, and don’t want to waste the desire. This is insurance against the dreaded “writer’s block,” which I mentioned in The writer as a god. I suppose I could do others things, but I am afraid that my new-found dedication to write is still fragile, and so I will write even when I am clueless about the current main thing I’m working on. I’ll just turn to something else…

To give credit where credit is due, I got the term “pondermatic” from my friend Sean McGaughey, the “Ductape Guy” over at For the Sake of the Song and Catholic Roundup.

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The writer as a god

Being a writer is like being a god.

OK, I’m not advocating idolatry, just the idea that a writer can create entire universes, planets, people, places and situations. (I know, “Tell us the obvious, you hack!”)

And this is the kicker point in what turns out to be a series of posts on the creative process: the writer sees the whole story from beginning to end, as a whole. Like God does human history. He sees all of history, from the Beginning to the End, all at once. And naturally, He can see individual parts…

And in this creative process, the writer can do whatever is wanted, I don’t have to write the story in its chronological order (start at the beginning, then proceed on to the middle and finally wrap it up). I can approach the story in any part, scribble new stuff, edit older parts, and even rearrange things.

From a person who has had a bazillion hang-ups concerning writing, and who has really taken to the idea of “writing as therapy,” this is liberating.

As a side note, it can be a solution to “writer’s block.” My typical approach to preventing writer’s block is to have multiple fiction projects going; if I’m stuck on one, I can move to another. The differing parts of a story can have this same affect. Stuck on what to do in one section, move to another section.

I have the idea that “writer’s block” may just be a fear; a fear of completion, of success or failure. A fear of facing the writing process and thinking “Oh, crap, I can’t do this… I’m not good enough.” Hang ups get in the way and the creative process is stopped. I don’t know, I’ve never really experienced the phenomenon, my historic excuses for “not writing” never included it. But I’m thinking that if you “just write,” regardless of how you feel, and have multiple things to do, then it shouldn’t ever be a problem. (Remember the Hemingway quote. )

A god doesn’t get “blocked.” ;-)

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