Category Archives: Inspiration

A Potter Prologue

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“Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets” –LFO, “Summer Girls”

I love writing sonnets.  I crave the structure of the fourteen lines, find freedom in the pentameter.  I love rhyme schemes and limits–I find them liberating.  Yes, there is something wonderful in writing as you feel, the freedom to create your own, make your mark.  Free verse is beautiful, but I find creativity in rules.  The more that I am restrained, the more I have to work to create, must try to find originality and my voice.  Sonnets are delicious.

As I watched Order of the Phoenix today to get psyched for Deathly Hallows tomorrow, the first lines of this snuck up on me.  I know that I am no Shakespeare.  Lord knows that kind of genius comes but once.  But today I was inspired, and goofy, so I went with.  I remembered how much I loved to write, how I miss structured creative writing (is that even possible?).  So here it is, for all the world to see and mock, because I can and want to.  I needed to write, so I did.  And I love the majestic sonnet, so I used it.  And I am flooded with Harry nostalgia, so I let it inspire me.  In honor of both the Bard and the Boy, here’s my creative mess of the day:

Four houses, all alike in dignity,

In fair Hogwarts, where we lay our scene,

From Magick Most Evile breaks new atrocity,

Where muggle blood makes pure-blood hands unclean.

From forth the fateful scar of He-who-lives,

A connection, to He-whom-we-name-not,

Frightful insight into evil ‘s mind it gives

And drives Rowling’s colorful, winding plot.

To friends and foes they make along the way,

The fearful passage of their fights to live,

O.W.L.s, spells, dragons, and Headless* Nick’s death day,

Through seven tomes, your full attention give.

The “witch” if you, with open mind attend,

What here shall miss, magic shall strive to mend.

“He was not of an age, but for all time!”  –Ben Johnson, To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

*”Nearly-Headless Nick” would have thrown off my rhythm, but I know better than to call the poor ghost headless!

“Survived the madman’s dream…”

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” –attributed to Edmund Burke

I cannot place the beginning of my fascination, for lack of a better word, but I am captivated by stories of the Holocaust.  I understand that this is a somewhat disturbing statement that, at best, requires a caveat, but it’s nearly impossible for me not to read an article or watch a show that I stumble upon about the subject.  There are two things that simply boggle my mind with respect to the horror. 

The first, and perhaps greatest thing that intrigues me is that is happened, plain and simple.  I was chilled the first time I watched footage of the infamous Milgram experiments to show the power of authority and peer pressure.  (For a rundown, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment.)  I know, that on a much more mundane and miniscule scale I have gone along with my peers and failed to question authorities that I may not agree with.  I can see how good, honest men and women were swept up in the Nazi movement– to an extent.  There comes a point, however, that I like to believe my humanity would kick in.  I think that I would draw a line and stop my obedience before it got too far, if I were involved.  But I cannot say this for sure.  There is such an unimaginable darkness to the actions of Nazi soldiers, but there is a part of me that really can comprehend how it got so out of control.  Especially when it came to protecting their lives.  This does not make the whole reality of the hell that developed any less astounding.  And it happened fifty years ago.  Not centuries past, in barbaric times.  My Grandmothers were alive to see these days.  This is what I cannot wrap my mind around. 

“The children of Israel survived the madman’s dream…”

In honor of those lost, on behalf of those who live on. That we may never forget, and never allow this again.

The second thing that simply astounds me with respect to the Holocaust are the superhuman acts of bravery that took place.  The amount of hope and determination and strength that it took to endure the torture is beyond what any human could be expected to muster.  People are simply amazing.  Stories of survivors, stories of those who protected, stories of those who remember.  It is so inspiring.  That is the paradox of the Holocaust: it was literally the darkest period of human interaction, and the most glorious.  People slaughtered others with indifference at best, hatred at worst.  And people survived hell, proving that “The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it  (C.C. Scott).”

My interest has not extended to everything on the subject.  In fact, there are many great stories and accounts that I have not yet encountered.  However, I would highly recommend the following films, simply for the inspiration they have given me: Everything Is Illuminated (based on the acclaimed novel), Life Is Beautiful (who wouldn’t recommend this one?), Paperclips (a moving documentary about children learning about the Holocaust), Forgiving Dr. Mengele (an unbelievable documentary on a survivor’s decision to live a life of forgiveness) and The Children of Chabannes (about schools smuggling children to safety).  There are so many others, more than I have seen, but these are phenomenal and I highly recommend them. 

I know that there was not a whole lot of reflection or insight in this entry.  It was not poetic or eloquent.  But after visiting the memorial this weekend,  this is on my mind, my heart, so here it is.

“I have reflected many times upon our rigid search. It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. Like you say, inside out. Jonathan, in this way, I will always be along the side of your life. And you will always be along the side of mine.”  —Everything Is Illuminated

“I’m feeling very Olympic today.”

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“They’ve done everything you’ve asked of them! And they did it with all of you laughing in their face. Hey, it doesn’t matter tomorrow if they come in first or fiftieth. Those guys have earned the right to walk into that stadium and wave their nation’s flag. That’s the single greatest honor an athlete can ever have.”Cool Runnings

Though the story is sports legend, I think that the film Cool Runnings is incredibly underrated.  I’ve loved the film since it came out, leaving its mark on my childhood.  The underdog story, redemption and determination, cliché as they may sound, cannot be told enough.  It is also difficult to call the film cheesy because, by and large, it happened.  But this is not a defense of the comedic stylings of Doug E. Doug.  It’s about what is striking me as I watch the Olympic figure skaters glide across my television screen.

Every time I hear Irv address the committee that disqualified his team, defending the men that he coached and telling them about the pride that comes with representing one’s homeland, I’m overcome with the image he presents.  While the opening ceremonies tend to be tedious and long, the men and women marching under their nations’ flags always gives me chills.  There is so much hope and excitement, so much joy to be known as American, Canadian, Swedish, Peruvian, Kenyan, or wherever they come from.  No matter the state of the world and politics abroad, these athletes somehow transcend the mess that they may come from.  They stand proud, representing the best that their home has to offer.  They are work and pain, perseverance and perfection.  It is only rivaled, perhaps, by the awarding of medals.  As the athletes wrap their flags around their shoulders and the arena is filled with their national anthem, it brings tears to my eyes.  There is recognition and fame that comes to the athlete, but it’s also something bigger, something that their entire nation joins in.  They do not stand alone at the podium, march alone into the games.  They bring a people with them.  I cannot begin to imagine the overwhelming pride and humility that must battle within.

And then there are the medals.  The ultimate sign of success, a symbol of excellence.  No other award, no matter the prestige it carries, can quite compare.  There is something different, definitive, immortal about an Olympic medal.  However, more than any other award, more than any nomination or contention, I think that the bigger honor comes from being included.  To train, which seems such an insufficient word for their efforts, and reach Olympic qualification is, itself, a victory.  To be among the best on earth, the elite, is itself honor.  I do not think that any athlete would refuse a medal or try not to win, but I would think that being a part of the games, being a part of history in that capacity, would be surreal. 

I’m not sure what it is about the Olympics that gets a person like me so revved up.  I don’t watch the Super Bowl, let alone other sporting events on television.  I’m not a sports aficionado.  However, every other year, there is something magnetic about the athletes converging and competing.  There is something beautiful and peaceful amidst the fierce rivalries.  There is hope.  Hope is palpable, emanating from the tv.  There is hope for the athletes, to see the reward for their faithful labor.  There is hope for the nations, to have their children bring honor and victory home.  There is hope for humanity, that we can come together, win together, cry together, lose together, and simply be together. 

“Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”Cool Runnings

“Dump Me In The River”

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“Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up.  I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.  Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery.  People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap.  Who wants flowers when you’re dead?  Nobody.”  —The Catcher in the Rye 

Despite, or perhaps due to, his reclusive life, J.D. Salinger is still a fascinating piece of the literary world.  His death is tragic because, though he lived a long life, he is one of the eternal “what if?” writers.  This is typically ascribed to the young who are just beginning to grow into their talent, who are rising into fame.  He, however, showed his capability.  He shared his talent.  He changed American literature.  And then he stopped.  He pulled the plug on what may have been a prolific, lengthy, lucrative career.  He took himself out of the spotlight.  In a society that craves its fifteen minutes of fame, that will go to any length to achieve “celebrity,” he literally ran and hid from it.

The more I learn of his personal life, the more I see that he probably is not someone to look up to and idolize.  However, reading The Catcher in the Rye my Junior year of high school completely changed me as a reader and writer.  There are a handful of books that have made this kind of impact on me through the years, but the book turned on a light.  The distinct, engaging and painful, awkward voice he created for Holden was unlike anything I had ever read before.  He spoke to me in a way no narrator or character ever had.  As a moody teenager, he said what I thought, articulated so much of the frustration and angst I had swirling around in my sixteen year-old mind.  His voice and style is still something that writers are compared to, a “modern-day J.D. Salinger” being one of the biggest compliments an author can have printed on their book jacket.  From A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to Choke, the icon Salinger created echoes through literature that followed.  Both of the aforementioned books I love, mostly because of their narrators, strongly reminiscent of Holden.

On top of changing the way that I look at literature and, in turn, writing, The Catcher in the Rye strikes me as classic, as so loved, because of what Salinger sees in kids growing up, and grown-ups who still feel like kids.  Holden’s aching desire to protect the innocents, clearly because he has grown out of that stage, struck such a chord with me at sixteen, and does now at twenty-four.  I watch my younger brothers, both now in their twenties, and I want to protect them from everything.  I refuse to think that they struggle with anything more difficult than who to invite to their birthday party or what video game to buy.  Forget about love and girls and stress or alcohol or drugs or depression.  Even as I write that, it seems so absurd.  I doubt that I’ll ever see them as anything but little boys, ones that I was charged to protect the days that they were born.

There is so, so much more that still lives in my mind, quotes and ideas that woke me up almost a decade ago.  I have read some of his other writing, and enjoyed it, but nothing has had the impact that Catcher had.  For the ways that I grew, the ideas he inspired, and the love that he kindled, I am forever indebted to Mr. Salinger.  I’m sure this is the last thing that he would want, one to shrug off fame and adulation, but with his passing, Mr. Salinger is reminding us all what we loved about his art.  While he may have wanted to slip quietly off into the next life, it is impossible to ignore what he did in this one.  I only hope that he can forgive us for all the flowers on his grave.

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”  –J.D. Salinger

A Season of Giving

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“Little baby/ I am a poor boy too/ I have no gift to bring/ That’s fit to give the King/ Shall I play for you?…”  –The Little Drummer Boy

 

I have had so much swirling around my mind this Christmas season.  I really wish I had been more disciplined and written more, but so life goes.

Each time I hear the Little Drummer Boy on the radio I am deeply touched by the song.  I know that it can be annoying, with all the “pum-puming,” and is a staple of Christmas pageants, so the song is nothing novel or especially noteworthy.  However, each time I hear it I get chills as the final verse starts.  The image of wanting to honor God, with nothing to give but your talent and passion, is inspiring. 

This year I have worked less and earned less than in years past.  I found as I started my shopping for my family that I couldn’t afford to buy much for them.  I’m not quite so worried about the amount of money that I can spend as I am that I feel limited.  I want to get them more.  I want to give them more.  I see things all around that remind me of them or that they would enjoy and I want to be able to give them.  I know that they are not expecting more or asking for more, but I like giving more.  I like letting them know that they are far away but on my mind.  I know that my words can do that, but presents seem to speak a little louder. 

The image of giving in the song is so powerful.  Honoring Christ is all that matters.  With no wealth to spare, his ability to drum is all the boy can bring to a child much like him.  I was deeply moved the other day and listened to this song.  It was such a humble request: Shall I play for him?  He asked permission to give the baby something.  I know this isn’t a true story, but an image of the scene was so strong in my mind.  New parents, tired and scared and excited and probably overwhelmed, are approached by strangers bearing gifts to their child.  Now, with baby showers, this is so common, but I wonder if it was at that time.  People come to worship your new little baby, including a dirty, poor little boy.  I imagine Mary indulging him, not really wanting the drum played, but letting him do it anyway. 

The emotion of the simple song always strikes me.  The boy plays his “best” for the baby.  It is such a childlike thing to say, so pure and innocent.  I realize that this is all that is asked of us.  We wonder what it is to bring glory to God.  We ask what we can do for others, how we can give and follow Christ.  We can play our drums.  We can take the little things that we have, the gifts we have been given, talents we possess and passions we hold, and give them.  We can give them the best that we can.  We can offer what we have and are now, not what we earn or will be or make happen. 

That’s the essence of Christmas.  God gave Himself.  He gave His love, His grace, His simple presence.  That’s what we celebrate.  It’s so simple.  We complicate the holiday so much, make it so busy and hard.  It’s as simple as asking, “Can I be me for someone?  Can I give what I’ve got here and now?” 

In the end, what the boy brings is enough.  It is powerful and celebratory and glorifies the baby.  God smiles at him.  I can’t imagine what that feeling would be.  God smiles at him for what he has brought, for being himself.  Being himself brings God glory and pleases Him.  Being himself is enough.

“Give what you have to somebody.  It may be better than you think.”  –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

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“The flower is the poetry of reproduction.  It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life.”  –Jean Giraudoux

 

One of my favorite things to see is a small plant that I pass on my way to work.  I have no idea what it is, but it grows right out of the cement where a traffic sign is planted.  It starts small and gradually grows taller than the sign.  It is so striking, the bright green against the gray of the sidewalk and metal sign post.  It’s a tired symbol, the life sprouting from the dead concrete, but it’s no less moving.  Despite the strength and sheer volume of the pavement, this small plant emerges.  Life finds a way to go on, no matter how hard its circumstances are.

I also walked through the mall today.  There is a wall that usually is covered in beautiful vines.  The powers that be cut down the plants to small stumps, leaving a long stretch of empty wall.  The plants grow beautiful pink flowers and delicate leaves.  I love walking past the bushes, despite my usual hurry, and missed them when they were cut down.  However today, as I walked past, I happened to look down at the little stumps.  The wall still stands empty, but down by the ground, less than a foot tall, stand new green vines and a handful of flowers. 

I don’t know what it is about flowers that makes people so happy.  Sure, there are the colors and and the genius of their form and symmetry.  But I can’t explain why we bring them inside and admire them, cultivate them.  There are only a few whose scents I really enjoy.  Real flowers, that withstand the trials of the average garden or field, not those grown to be identical in greenhouses, typically are full of insects and holes.  Nibbles are taken out of leaves and stems don’t stand straight.  And then flowers die.  They sag and wilt and shed their leaves and petals.  Flowers don’t last.  I think that is also part of their allure.  They are temproal, fleeting.  The only way to enjoy a flower is to enjoy it in the present.  You can’t put off flowers until the budget is balanced or school is done or whatever excuse fits your purpose.  The flower won’t wait around for you. 

However, the brevity of flowers isn’t the only thing that is refreshing.  In fact, it’s the cause of something I think we also love about them: flowers come back.  Their buds bloom and drop and their leaves wither and die, but in time, they bloom again.  They grow up each spring and thrive again after pruning.  In fact, they require the cutting and dying and hibernation to bloom and flourish.  I find it comforting that in the short weeks since my vines were cut down new ones have taken hold.  Sure, we share this world with other humans and animals, but there is something awe-filled about plants.  Their life and resillence are so simple– they don’t need jobs and families and skills to hunt or farm or find shelter.  They simply are.  They live and grow and die and grow again.  They do not worry or stress or fear or envy.  They are life at its simplest and, in some ways, most beautiful.  They are humbling. 

“Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.”  –John Ruskin