January 29, 2007

Going Berserk

I am a lover and a student of language. Reading and writing are to me like Bonnie and Clyde, like peanut butter and jelly, like crime and punishment. I love synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, anagrams and even momanems. Playing with words, lighting linguistic pyrotechnics, teasing out multiple meanings, even ignoring correct punctuation and following the rules to make my diction gooder interests me.

One idea in particular, and it is not particular to just the written word, is the concept of form and function. That a particular passage says what it does, or perhaps more correctly it is what it says. Killing the two proverbial birds. There is perhaps no better example of the successful synthesis of form and function than these lines from Alexander Pope’s An Essay On Criticism. Pope is implicitly talking about form and function

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And smooth the stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rocks vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o’er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.

I have often thought that Pope and some of the other poets who specialize in the rhymed couplet would be good source material for some of today’s hip-hop artists. How’s that for a mental picture, Dr. Dre rapping The Rape Of The Lock! Sorry for the digression. I have often explored this concept (form and function) in my own writing and hopefully there are several examples in the excerpt below titled Berserker:

Two boys fishing.
Two hungry boys cast through the mid day shadow of the rusted green foot bridge trying, hoping to lure a perch or two out of the South River. The murky muddied water flows by embracing only a small circle of ripples as their lines dip into the cool depths. The mirror surface is nearly smooth, marred only by the drops of vomit.

The family grilling.
The earth grounded public grill still smokes. Under the canopy of cool leaves a cheap ragged black and red baseball cap on a man with shiny black shoes, thin black socks anchoring pillar stone white legs. Iridescent Bermuda shorts and a too small faded green tee shirt with a cheap neon airbrushed green and yellow heart with their names, that refuses to stay pulled down over his white hairless mole speckled belly that heaves from lungs tainted with asthma and pollen. A yellow tinged woman skinny with breasts that look like golf balls in a sock, chain smoking a pack from the first light. Daughter cutting through the rolling freshly mowed green aiming for the white, brown primer spotted Pinto station wagon in the black lot. Son unruly teetering on the brown bank crumbling seeking destruction. The man tells the woman that he knows that haggard boy there on the bridge. He looks just like someone he used to work with. He cannot remember the name.

Roared like a bear.
The vile spewed into the air as anger and sickness. Vision twirling in royal maddening kaleidoscope purple and gold music. Heavy shirt, changing shape. Lost inside and out. Trapped in time and memory bowing to the gods inside.

Free at last.
The dark flat rock, wrenched from its prison, free from the hand. It arched out over half the river then touched down wetting, skimming free curving up again and down only to rise again and down into an ever descending series of arcs before settling down and through, resting, trapped in the deep bottom.

Out of your depths.
She glides through the slow water smooth and true, instinctively relishing the coolness. Time and again she dives deeper and deeper seeking the coolest place, the coolest water. Ahead she sees it, bright and shiny. Interesting, caught somehow in still motion in the winding water. She goes closer, irresistibly drawn to its strangeness. Suddenly without forethought she reaches. The hook pierces into her lip and she is drawn out and up into the glistening suffocating sunlight.

This selection is the middle section from a much longer narrative. Following the classical five act form, it is an exploration of the same moment in time from multiple points of view, much like cubism in painting.

I chose the title Berserker for several reasons. It is a word and a concept that comes from the Norse culture and I am fascinated by the Vikings. And I just like the way it sounds. The modern word probably comes from the Old Norse words björn (bear) and serkr (shirt). To put on a bear shirt was to become the bear. Berserkers were frenzied warriors believed to be invulnerable in battle. The irony is of course that the boy is anything but invulnerable.

The boy, he would be about 13 or 14 years old, is on a bridge, stuck between being a man and a boy, between reality and hallucination, between life and death. Around him two boys are fishing, a somewhat unusual family is having a cookout and someone is skimming rocks on the river. All disconnected events yet bound together by time and space.

The reader is drawn into the river in the opening paragraph then (hopefully) down into the depths before being unexpectedly yanked out at the end much like the fish. In a sense the reader is the fish, fascinated by the lure.

I know this is a bit different from my usual drivel and if you have read this far thank you for your indulgence. I know I am word geek but I make no apologies. Thanks for reading.

January 28, 2007

Likewise Have We Been Taught

Chapter LXVI.-Of the Eucharist.
And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body; "and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood; "and gave it to them alone…

Chapter LXVII.-Weekly Worship of the Christians.
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

From the first Apology of Justin Martyr (Written in the second century)

January 27, 2007

In Faith Let Us Embrace Humility

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Philippians 2:8

“If there is a moral quality almost completely disregarded and even denied today, it is indeed humility. The culture in which we live constantly instills in us the sense of pride, of self-glorification, and of self-righteousness”
Great Lent: The Journey To Pascha
Fr. Alexander Schmemann

When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am,
I tremble at the fearful day of judgment.
But trusting in thy loving kindness, like David I cry to thee:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.

Through parables leading all mankind
to seek amendment of life,
Christ raises up the Publican from his abasement
and humbles the Pharisee in his pride.

We see the exalted honor that comes through humility,
and the grievous fall that comes through pride.
Let us, then, emulate the good actions of the Publican
and hate the evil sin of the Pharisee!

Every good deed is made of no effect through foolish pride,
while every evil is cleansed by humility.
In faith let us embrace humility
and utterly abhor the ways of vainglory.

Misc. from the Triodion

January 24, 2007

Two Lives

I attended two funerals in three days.

The first was a well-attended affair, the culmination of a life well lived. The second was a sparsely attended affair, the end of years of suffering.

The first funeral was held at graveside for a man who lived long enough to have two full careers. The first working for the railroad, the second as a magistrate judge (an elected position). There were more than 200 people in attendance, judges, lawyers, cops, city and county officials, a fair cross section of the county. I was at the funeral because I knew the judge professionally.

The second funeral was held at a local parlor for a young lady just 20 years old. Hers’ was a life lived in private, any chance at a career cut short by time and circumstance. There were about 40 people in attendance, mostly family, friends and neighbors. I was at the funeral because she was my neighbor.

The judge was the proverbial pillar of the community, a man well liked and respected. So much so that two years prior to his death at the age of 91 his was feted at a lifetime achievement ceremony attended by a former governor of the state. Those who spoke at his funeral said he was no respecter of person, that everyone one who came before him was treated fairly no matter their social, financial or legal status. A small wiry man he was recognizable by the hat, a vestige of older sartorial tastes. He was also known to tell colorful stories from his long colorful life. Everyone who knew him had a story to tell.

Alyssa was not a public figure. Her life did not follow a slow graceful arc to the grave. She lived her adolescent and adult years in the throes of severe mental illness. Her death came after she wrecked her car on the interstate, crashing into the trees and breaking her leg in several places. In the hospital the expected healing did not take place. Eventually, after multiple complications, her life ended. It was not a peaceful end. It was a gut wrenching emotional ride.

The doctor who delivered her eulogy spoke of the stigma of mental illness. He rightly said that we must not be afraid to speak of these things and of the terrible treatment that many with mental health issues endure in our society. Treated as second-class citizens, as somehow intrinsically flawed, as less human. As beings worthy only of scorn, of derision, of apathy. We forget that behind the mask of pain, beneath the surface scoured by grief, was a lovely young woman created in His image.

The others who spoke remembered her struggles, her despair. They spoke of the years before the illness, told stories from her childhood. They acknowledged her humanity. Even after all the rage, all the battles, all the brokenness, still someone’s daughter, her mother’s little girl. Not someone to be scorned or mocked, or ignored. A little girl to be embraced, to protect against the monsters.