Die, nemesis! Die!

To be perfectly honest, there is a deeper purpose behind my motivation to write. I do hope to convince people of something. Recently, it was well illustrated to me by an incident that happened at work.

During a reading I was giving of Annie Dillard, the point was made that she couldn’t be much of a Christian if she didn’t “take anything on faith.” Behind the guise of courtesy and understanding, I didn’t pounce on this little, gray-haired woman and say, “Of course, she doesn’t take everything on faith, you twit! She isn’t a mindless ninny like you!” In my better moments, I am able to reserve such rancor for the ignorance behind such comments, and not the commenters themselves. Fortunately, I controlled myself and agreed that if Dillard was raising too many unanswerable questions for everyone, we might read something else. A few more people agreed on the grounds that it was fairly thick reading so early in the morning, and we decided to move on to the “something else.”

But this is just the kind of thing over which I have trouble not hopping up on a soap box. The motivating force behind my writing is often this very questioning process that writers like Dillard reveal. And often, if my own search isn’t providing sufficient inspiration, the denouncement of small-minded Evangelical foolishness makes an acceptable stand in. It’s such a temptation to go on a holy crusade to ferret out the proof that the truer Christians are committed to working out their faith with fear and trembling–and the narrow-minded, faith-clingers are the ones responsible for the sad state the church finds itself in today, irrelevant and dying.

But no. I can’t insist others question and probe all things since I certainly don’t (though I aspire to). And if the Bible offers sufficient answers for some people, who am I to judge? While faith does require doubt, it is also not the natural equivalent of ignorance. But I struggle with this. I want to shake up, uproot, shock and frighten others into deeper understanding of the light because of its awesome, vital, and ineluctable weight on my own faith journey. When I read Dillard, I get a sense of running out of words, of finally being able to see beyond the barriers to the truth of life and art and music and beauty where all things intersect and God stands waiting just beyond my reach. And when others don’t see it—or even judge my worship as faithlessness—it is not my place to be self-righteous and judge them back. But there isn’t much that makes me want to start cracking heads more.

Because, on the other hand, can passion for God exist when His unknowable mystery is simply accepted on faith? Seekers are passionate because they realize their weakness, and the inescapable insufficiency of faith. Maybe those with stronger faith don’t need writers like Dillard. But for me, the knowledge of my fragile, incomplete understanding makes me eager and humble before God. I realize I do not possess the faith that can move mountains. Mine is the approximation, and often the masquerade of unswerving faith. I attempt to nudge up to greatness through borrowed words and unwieldy descriptions of the mystery with my stolen powers. And my passion may be mightier, but my heart is paper. And it’s the shame of this weakness that forms the central impetus of my journey.

Could it be otherwise, would I wish it so? It’s hard to say. At times I think it would be nice to feel the assurance of the thing hoped for. But more often, I realize that if I had that, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate Dillard and Buechner and the great faith tradition of seekers who came before me. And I realize that would be the greater loss.

Geeky Writers Unite!

I admit it: I’m sort of strange. I’ve got over-active imagination disorder. I’m a bit of a geek and all my experience as a self-conscious, self-focused teenager is hard to shake. I realized recently that I tend to be protective of my geekiness as though it entitles me to eccentricity and wearing mismatched socks and being standoffish. I don’t know if it’s something Paxil could fix, but I’m not exactly comfortable with it. It’s hard feeling selfish and guilty for being the way I am all the time.

But I think it would help if somehow all the geeks who are like this could come out and admit it and band together to proudly declare that we forfeit our right to coolness. That would be very healing, I think, for a lot of us. Then the cool people could have their shallow world and we could just go about our own geeky deepness in peace.

So here’s the call to throw out your psychological damages and the scorecards you’ve been carrying around since junior high and just give it all up. You know what I’m saying.

Now all I suppose I have to do is go out and find some cool people to surrender to…

Tracking Weblog Services

Okay, this is so big brother it will freak you out. Or if it doesn’t, you’re just more comfortable with the whole Internet-looking-over-your-shoulder thing than I am. I just found out about this, so if I’m a bit slow to the party, bear with me here.

There are a number of sites out there listed as referers on my hits count page that are these active-tracking services that are essentially this big database of linked-up information. Any search term you can think of will bring up a number of blogs and the search term that’s listed in them. Type in “Catcher in the Rye” I’m listed on that page. That just sort of freaks me out a little. If you ever saw Seven and remember the part where Morgan Freeman’s character pays “Stinky Man” under the table for the library records of John Doe–okay, so it’s not exactly the same. But this is definitely a thin barrier between public and private. So if you’re publishing a Weblog, you’re prety much fair game, I s’pose.

And to all you crazy kids publishing dirty, inappropriate stuff, this should mean be careful, buddy. You best decide what’s public info. And quit checking out dirty library books…

Speaking of that, have you ever taken your 19-month-old daughter to the library while her mom’s out of town for the weekend and get up to the counter with a bunch of Teletubbies videos and some random Fellini film from 1972 with a half-clad lady on the cover, and the nice, matronly lady looks at you as though wondering if you’re the one she saw on the wanted poster and if you’ve kidnapped this poor innocent child to lock in your basement and force feed cheesy poofs to through a slit in the iron door? Maybe it’s just me inventing things again, but I could swear that was what happened to me on Saturday. It tells you something about the place I live if a guy who looks as ordinary as I do can be suspected of such things so flippantly. I mean, I must have dreamed this up.

It’s probably that overly self-conscious part acting up again. I just hate feeling watched.

Mr. Mommy-Daddy

So far, I haven’t said anything about myself or what sort of life I lead, not wanting to focus undue attention on the trivialities of my oh-so-exciting existence (I guess I mentioned I was an associate editor yesterday) (and there’s enough of that stuff on my bio page).

But today I want to share some things about writing as a parent. My daughter, Ellie, is 19 months, and has a somewhat limited speech repertoire, but this stuff just always makes me smile. There was this special word we couldn’t figure out–“Nackeys”–that was her favorite for a while. We had no clue what she was saying. My wife, Sheri, finally figured out it was necklace; I never would have. I figured it held some mysterious corelation with the “obadonoes” video and at least a familial resemblance to “tapee-suff.”

Being a parent of this age child, most of your work is guesswork. You do the routine feeding and clean-up, but there’s so much that goes on in a given day you have no idea how to respond to, it’s like trying to give someone from another country a tour of a city you can’t adequately explain, and the whole time you can’t understand what he wants, thinks, feels, or needs. Until you learn his language, you’re out of luck trying to please him. I find myself saying “What. What is it!” multiple times throughout the day, and I’m not asking it as a question, I’m demanding an answer. “Just tell me what you want. For the love of St. Obedono!”

This weekend, Sheri’s off with the girls in Santa Fe, leaving me to play Mr. “Mommy-Daddy” and figure it out. It was time. She hasn’t had more than a 6-hour stretch away from her since she was born. So she’s due. But that didn’t keep me from threatening to let the old couple downstairs babysit–the ones from Florida who favor using the fireplace in the middle of summer and coming up with new definitions for the term “partially clothed.” Hey, she doesn’t need to get the idea she can stay away too long when she’s obviously the better mommy of the two of us. Just to prove it, while Ellie calls her Mommy, I am Mommy-Daddy, unmistakably the second-tier parent in that lexicon. She knows I’m the stand-in who doesn’t know the score and lets her eat cookies for dinner and go to bed with arm-loads of toys. If you saw me right now, surrounded by toys, blocks, books, puzzles, juice bottles, a talking telephone, and wearing a rainbow-colored, plastic necklace that I apparently have to wear while I’m typing, you’d know I wasn’t kidding.

Seeing her language develop is incredible and something I have trouble not taking advantage of. Before I had kids, I told myself I’d resist the urge to call elephants “buggie-magos” and underwear “giggle-britches” and stuff like that. But now that I have the chance, it’s too much fun not to.

It’s bathtime now, so I’ll have to cut it short tonight. No words of wisdom tonight. Well, okay, maybe just this: keep your kupah on the baw and your eaw to the gwoun because it’s a hup, thkip, and a jimp to ganmuh’s house the oduh side of the wivuh.

Just remember that.

WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!

Being an associate editor is kind of like little Mikey on the Life cereal commercials, always handed the stuff no one else wants because Hey, he likes it! He has to like it. He’s the littlest. It’s a bit annoying. There’s only so much you can take.

Actually, there’s only so much of most things you can take. I can’t really think of anything–okay, well, maybe one or two things–that don’t get tired by about the 4th or 5th round. And we’re supposedly creatures of habit and routine. So why do we all tend to resist doing the same thing over and over no matter what it is?

Well, some of us don’t. I’m listening to Rachmaninov. It’s the London recording of the Ampico recordings made in 1979, “Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov.” (Who else should he play?) So it’s actually him performing his seriously unbelievable music (and some rearrangements of familiar pieces). Some future Jeopardy contestant is out there thinking, But Rachmaninov wasn’t alive in 1979. That’s true. He died in 1943. The Ampico was an original “player piano” presented in America in 1913. The recordings were made from one of these specially-adapted concert grands. All of this is in the liner notes for any inquisitive freakoes who actually care. But it’s incredible to think of the time and energy spent developing this system to keep original performances of this music “alive.” Obviously, it wasn’t made just for Rachmaninov, but I can understand that impulse to commit day after day to bettering one’s piano proficiency. But the technicians who assigned themselves to the tedium of developing a better system for recording and reproducing the music, working for so trivial and secondary a goal to the actual art being preserved, it seems less worthwhile a role to carve out for oneself in history. Yet they had to because it was there, much like climbing the mountain. And it’s a good thing they did, because we would have never heard Rachmaninov play his own music the way it was meant to be played. It truly is a glorious thing to hear.

What the heck this non sequitur silliness has to do with any of my earlier points is that these men dedicated their lifetimes of learning to this endeavor because it was there, it was possible, and it hadn’t been accomplished before. It strikes me that this has been going on for some time now, since the first caveman saw the first mountain and thought, I’d be willing to wager that of yet, none of my cohorts has ambitioned to scale that eminent massif. . . (Okay, it was probably more a series of impassioned grunts and club waving, but you get the idea.)

Want to know what I think? (You’re reading, aren’t you?) I think the entire human race is doomed because that old saying Mom was fond of saying about following your friend over the cliff just because he jumped is actually our inescapable human instinct. We can’t help but push the button on that nuclear warhead because it’s there to be pushed. It’s what so many authors and philosophers and musicians and artists throughout the ages have been saying: Not only can we not save ourselves, we will be our own ultimate demise. We won’t have to wait for Armageddon because if Jesus doesn’t come back and defeat Satan soon, we’ll beat Him to it. The button is waiting to be pushed, God, in case you didn’t notice. I don’t mean to be pushy here, but we keep climbing the mountains, advancing, and pushing the buttons, and pretty soon there won’t be any more to push. The longer we live, the further from fine we be.

And if that isn’t reason to be writing your ever-loving guts out, I just don’t know what is.