Tag Archives: Conversation

Advent Reflection Notes (Week One)

Earlier today I finished doing a novena to Mary Undoer of Knots. It’s a specific way of doing the rosary that really underscore’s Mary’s power as an advocate for us with God. I also started taking an online Advent retreat. These are some notes I took from the videos I watched.

1: Jesus is why I can smile and cry at the same time.
-One of the videos talked about finding happiness, and the speaker talked about how so many people are, or at least seem to be unhappy. Happiness is a weird thing because it doesn’t mean being gleeful all the time. It’s hard to define it, but I think it’s about feeling real or authentic, at least in part. The other day I was praying, and I remember telling God, “This world isn’t satisfying.” That’s not to say I don’t like things in this world, it’s just that I know there’s something way better available.

2: Can I give Jesus an hour every day? What is my best time?
-I’ve been doing the rosary every day for a while, so I know I can pray for at least a solid twenty minutes. I don’t always pray at my best time, and sometimes I pray as a way to procrastinate instead of actually scheduling devoted time for God. I’m not entirely sure this is really the way to go, though. I feel like conversation, which is what prayer should be, should be more spontaneous.

3: When praying, let God speak first.
-I definitely don’t do this. I often pray when I need something or I’m feeling bad about something, so especially when nothing in particular is going on, I need to let him start the conversation.

4: “I’ve been praying for something for twenty years, so I’m beginning to have hope.” St. Padre Pio
-That’s definitely something to think about. I’ve been praying for something really important for several years now, and it hasn’t happened yet, but for one thing, I think the waiting has made me more patient, and maybe more persistent. I’d like to know more what St. Padre Pio meant by this because it’s counter intuitive.

5: God sometimes leads us by rejection. Rejection allows us to be alone with God.
-I’ve actually started to realize this on a personal level recently.

6: I worry about what I think I can’t do.
-Jesus asks of us what we can do, not what we can’t. What I forget is that what I’m capable of often surprises me. More to the point, what God is capable of through me will probably always surprise me.
-“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

7: If you assert something enough, does it at least sometimes make it true? Can I start to trust God more simply by telling him that I do?
-This was a question that popped into my head while watching one of the videos. I think the answer is, “no.” Trust is a choice.

Anyway, these are just some musings I had while watching the videos. I’m hoping to post something like this once a week for the remainder of Advent. Hopefully they’re at least interesting, if not particularly insightful. I did write in my last post that I want to give Jesus more room, which I think ultimately means giving him more time. This is certainly one way I’m trying to do that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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Conversation

Awhile ago I found a little green book on the coffee table in our living room. I picked it up and started looking at it. It had a picture of someone hanging onto a cross in a heart on the cover and had that old book smell that I can’t resist. It was filled with super old poems meant to help people through doubt or fear or what have you. I read a couple of them. They weren’t really “my thing,” so I put the book down and left it alone, but I kept thinking about it. Why did we even have it? Where did it come from? I asked my dad, and he said he had bought it a long time ago in a used book store. He just happened to be looking at it on a whim. It seemed like a pretty weird thing for my dad to buy. I was never really under the impression that my dad would be interested in this kind of thing. I decided to “borrow” it, but I didn’t look at it again for weeks.

For several weeks now I’ve been trying to finish the third story in my mythology. It’s a very short story, but it’s complicated because it’s about how death enters the human realm. In my mythology, the spirits in various realms are the equivalent to gods, though there isn’t much of a hierarchy, and they don’t interact much with humans. In this story Death personified tricks Wisdom personified into allowing him to accompany her and the soul of a little boy into the human realm. I won’t spoil exactly how the story ends.

This story was hard to write partly because the main focus of most of it is the exploration and musing of a spirit cartographer named Anthes, and also because I wanted to write an origin of death story in which death isn’t humanity’s fault. I think it was hard for me to write because of what I believe in. Another reason, however, has to do with the action of a character in a previous story who created a barrier between realms that is very difficult to cross.

Every week my friend and I have Story Time on Sunday nights. Several weeks ago we began watching “Once Upon A Time” on Netflix. I can’t even explain how much we both love this show. It’s such an insane, complicated, fun, magical story that takes place across multiple realms. The stakes are high. The characters have depth. The funny thing is, it’s often predictable, and often not. The writing, meaning the actual script, isn’t always totally perfect, but I can’t expect it to be, and most of the time, it’s good or great.

My friend doesn’t usually have work on Mondays, and I can sleep late, so we usually stay up insanely late. We are addicts, but at least we admit it. This Monday he did have work, though, so he left early… early here meaning midnight. I wasn’t tired when I went upstairs, and my mom said she wasn’t either, so we considered watching a movie, but I could tell God wanted my attention, so I went to my room.

I don’t remember everything we talked about, but after a while he told me to open the little green book. I opened to a random page and found a poem written by an anonymous author. The first stanza was this:

Body and mind have tried
To make the field my own;
But when the Lord is on my side,
He doeth the work alone.

I don’t really even know why, but this did a lot for me. I spend so much time in fantasy land, whether I’m writing or playing a game, or what have you. Sometimes it’ll suddenly occur to me that though I love stories of every kind, and as scary, unpredictable, and chaotic as the “real world” is, and as powerless as I am, I want this world because the God that I know and love is in this world. While we were talking he said, “I redeemed you. I’m helping you.” I needed to hear that. I know it’s not just that he’s helping me with my story, and that’s not really the only thing I was thinking about. Sometimes he interjects things into our conversation that don’t exactly make sense in context, but end up being exactly what I need to hear.

I read an article about really listening to God. I’m not sure I’ve ever audibly heard his voice, but I can tell when he’s speaking to me. Sometimes it’s through song lyrics. Sometimes it’s through other people. Sometimes it’s something the priest says at church. Sometimes it’s through my own thoughts. Other times it’s more abstract. Communication doesn’t just happen through words. Most of the time we recognize it through body language or the way a song makes us feel. Sometimes God speaks through sunsets or moonlight or thunder or bird song (or maybe my bird being weird).

The truth is, God tends to be fairly quiet, but what he does have to say is important, and sometimes earth-shattering. It’s important to listen because he will let people ignore him. After Story Time on Sunday, I wanted to just watch a movie with my mom, but I could tell he was saying, “Please come hang out with me. I have something important to tell you.” I didn’t hear words in my head, but it was a feeling, and it was easy to put into words. It’s sometimes easy to forget that God wants people to just spend time with him. I’m learning that sometimes that means just sitting around and talking about stuff.

What does any of this have to do with fantasy stories? I love the idea of magic. I grew up on Harry Potter. I still love to have in-depth discussions with my friends about Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. God gave me the stories that I love. After Story Time, though, I often get that now fairly familiar feeling that translates to “Katie, can we hang out for a minute?” God gave me so many of the stories I love at his own expense. Sometimes I get so sucked in that I forget to thank the one who led me to the stories in the first place. The point is, God is ultimately the writer and creator of everything good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Complementary

I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing. Our conversation, of course, started with small talk, but for some reason, we both felt very comfortable with each other, and I found out in a fairly short amount of time, that this person was also Christian.

The interesting part of this is that she and I had very different views of things like science, philosophy, mythology and logic going into the conversation. It also turned out that she and I came to faith through very different means, had different upbringings, and were part of different denominations within Christianity. All this being said, I want to explain, in particular, my view of science and logic, as well as some broader sociological issues from my personal Catholic point of view.

As I mentioned in a recent post, there was a time (mostly through middle and high school) when I was Catholic in practice, but Agnostic in belief. I went through the motions without actually knowing what any of it meant. A lot of this has a lot to do with where I grew up, who I hung out with, and what my education was like.

I grew up in a suburban town in Massachusetts where the political standpoint on many issues tends to be relatively liberal, and the line between church and state is drawn boldly. When I was a kid, the most important things in my family’s life were our extended family in Maine, and my education, including the cultivation of my imagination. Often, these things superseded God entirely, so our church attendance was infrequent, and we didn’t really talk about God at home.

My education as a kid was delivered from an atheistic standpoint. I went to public school, and no one, kids or teachers, talked about God. Therefore, my initial understanding of Truth was from a scientific and mathematical standpoint. 1 + 1 = 2. The Big Bang created the Universe. God was there somewhere, sure, but at the time it didn’t really matter to me. Then when I got what you might call the equidistant of an internship in high school developing a disability advocacy program, I ended up working with a devout Jewish guy, my brother’s age, and a Muslim woman,  who I’d guess was in her twenties, and it was interesting to work with people of other faiths who were also far more invested than I was.

Then I went to a Christian college, as I have previously mentioned. Although we were saturated with the culture and Christian worship, I ended up taking a few philosophy classes where the whole point was to think logically and atheistically. All of this comes back to my conversation a few weeks ago. My acquaintance was surprised that I put so much faith in physics, for example. However, this also relates to another question she asked me. She asked, “So how do understand Greek mythology, since it was once an actual belief system?” I told her that this was a belief system based on what was inferable and observable at the time. I put faith in science because it can prove what is inferable and observable to be true. I also explained that I have never thought God and science were at odds, and that God often works through, natural, scientifically verifiable means.

One last thing I would like to add is that I have come to understand that a belief system has stages, and is personalized invariably by everyone. What I mean is that the primary stage of one’s belief system informs their secondary, their secondary informs their third, etc. Specifically this refers, in my case to my understanding of science through Christianity, my understanding of politics and culture through both, and my understanding of economics through all three. In other words, certain beliefs hold priority over others, but they all inform each other to some degree. If science can help me understand what God is doing, then great.

Defend The Faith

 

I’m not gonna lie, it kinda drives me crazy when he does stuff like this.

Me: Lord, I pray that your people, especially my friends, would come to know you and would choose to be with you. (for the eight-thousandth time)
Him: Defend the faith.
Me: I’ve been trying to do that, but I feel like I’m just saying the same things over and over and no one’s listening. How do I get them to listen?
Him: That’s not what I said.
Me: What?
Him: It’s not your job to get them to listen.
Me: Wait… what?
Him: You can’t make them listen. That’s their choice.
Me: I’ve been trying to find a way to say what’s right in a way that’s going to make sense, but I can’t change the message.
Him: Right. Good. Don’t stop. Just don’t stop.
Me: Oh…

The Intensity Of Head-Space

Today is Star Wars Day, so of course I have to write about it. There’s so much I could write about. Realistically, it’s an absolutely amazing story. It has so much longevity, and as far as I know, it’s the closest we’ve got to a parallel universe. What I mean by that is, for one thing, it exists in several genres. Regardless of the quality, one can read, watch, and play Star Wars. This has been true since the very beginning. The universe exploded with A New Hope, and it’s still expanding. What is also significant is that is the amount of contributions from fans. The people who love this story shape what happens in its future and in the parts of the galaxy we wouldn’t otherwise see.

The latest RPG I’ve been a part of is a Star Wars rendition of Dark Heresy. We decided to go this route because we understood and cared about that universe. The time period our game takes place in is the height of the Empire (between Revenge of the Sith, and A New Hope), far away from where the “main story” is taking place. Before this, I had been part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I hastily threw together my characters, not thinking too much about who they really were, what they cared about, or where they came from. This time I took time.

My character’s name is Sky Turin. Before becoming a Jedi padawan she lived with her father on the lowest level of a planet similar to Coruscant, though this was not where she was originally from. Her parents were from the Sky, which was the wealthiest part of the planet. Think of Cloud City. The Surface, where she lived for most of her early life was the poorest. Her parents were what would probably be the Star Wars version of missionaries, working to empower the poorest people on the planet. When Sky was nineteen she rescued a Jedi, not much older than herself, who crash-landed in her neighborhood while in pursuit of a Dark Jedi. Dark Jedi, if you don’t know, were force-users who were not directly allied with the Jedi or the Sith. They generally minded their own business, but the few Jedi who remained after the Empire took most of them out pursued them, either to bring them over to their side or detain them if they could.

While Sky was helping Val escape, Val discovered that Sky could use the Force, though she didn’t know what she was doing at the time. Sky went with Val to the remaining Jedi–none of them officially masters–and was permitted to learn the Force and become a Jedi herself, as the Jedi were desperate for recruits. After some preliminary training with a light saber, Sky and Val went to a planet similar to Earth to investigate a possible meeting of Dark Jedi in a mountainous area, similar to the Rocky Mountains. While they were there they were ambushed and captured. Their captivity didn’t last long, however, because Val was extremely powerful with the Force. They were able to escape, but had to leave in separate ships. When Sky returned to the Jedi council, she discovered that Val had not returned. The council would not permit her to look for Val, so she left and began searching against their will. This is where I entered our campaign. While I don’t know the specifics of where the story is going, I do know that Sky is assertive, hates the Dark Jedi, hates the Empire, and mistrusts the Jedi themselves. She has been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and will lead to her own destruction, but she’s so obsessed with finding Val that she will most likely not always stick to the Code entirely. She’s also impulsive and will probably make some stupid decisions.

I considered writing Sky’s story in full detail. In fact, I tried, but she’s too distant from me, for lack of a better way to say it. Ironically, I think I have trouble creating a story in an already existent universe. My novel takes place in a future version of the U.S., but almost everything about that world is my own. It feels awkward to me to write about a universe that someone else made, even if I’m inventing most of the details of a story that is otherwise original. It feels weird to talk about the Force and the Empire and the Jedi as if they were my own. It feels invasive in a way, like I’m invading someone else’s creative space. At the same time, the Star Wars universe has always seemed very inviting when it comes to original ideas. I think what this ultimately comes back to is that I’m much better at coming up with characters than I am at coming up with plot. I’m great at writing their past, but when it comes to writing their present, I often get stuck.

I’ve written two hundred pages of my novel thus far, and I’m about fifty pages into Part 2. Part 1 was a lot easier to write. So far I’ve had to write two battle scenes. I think they were both okay, but they both need work. I have trouble with timing and intensity. Right now I’m working on a captivity situation. I have to deal with the head-space of a character who has just been captured and is about to be interrogated by an evil government. This kind of scene is slower, but I think, just as intense, and I’m much better at writing this kind of thing. I think Star Wars is a very action-oriented story, and maybe this is why I have trouble writing in that universe.

One of the greatest stories I’ve ever read is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of that story takes place in dialogue and internal thoughts, which one might assume would be boring, but it’s anything but. Solitude, in particular, can make for some seriously intense character and plot development. Head-space, while mostly metaphorical, is still space, and in that space, anything can happen. In that space, a character can go insane or overcome impossible odds. A person’s psychology makes them who they are, and plot can’t exist without characters. A world without people in it doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen some great and some terrible post-apocalyptic movies. I’ve noticed two things regarding these, and regarding my story. First, the movies that are good have more people in them. It’s hard for a story to maintain its momentum when no one is around to keep things going. Second, what I’ve noticed, and sometimes want to smack myself for, is that I keep creating more characters. My story takes place over a very large area–basically the entire United States. I’ve noticed that the space in which a story takes place tends to correspond with the number of characters that are needed to keep the story going. Sometimes great movies or great stories take place in one house, or even one room. Sometimes there are only two or three characters involved, and these stories can be great. Some of the most intense scenes in my story are conversations or even internal monologues.

Interestingly, in the case of Star Wars, we really don’t get to see too much of the characters’ head-space, at least not directly. Their personalities come out in how they react and adapt to various situations. This is clearly effective because we know and love characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca, who never even speak a word of English. However, I think to get to know characters in this way, there needs to be constant action. There isn’t a lot of time, or even good reason to slow down. Finding a happy medium is definitely difficult. I think the few exceptions are the exchanges between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi, but even these are short and almost invariably turn into light saber fights. The thing about dialogue is that it has to be executed well. There are far more longer exchanges in The Phantom Menace-Revenge of the Sith, but they’re often not well written. They’re either boring or cheesey. If there had been less talk and more action, I think they would have been better movies.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Stop Telling Us We’re Inspirational!

I remember reading a post by a mother a while ago, talking about her disabled child. Basically her post was saying that it annoys her when people say her child is “amazing” because they can do interesting, “normal” things despite their disability. At the time I think I agreed with it because it was well written, etc, but I didn’t really think much about it.

Last night I read a poem by a 16 year old girl who was paralyzed from the chest down. The person who posted it explained how she got paralyzed, etc, and then said how amazing it was that she managed to live a happy, fairly normal life despite her disability.

I have decided that this kind of thinking irks me. I don’t often think about it too much, but I do sometimes get comments about how inspirational I am for doing seemingly standard things. In fact, my dad sometimes gives me the “you’re amazing” talk. Don’t get me wrong, I do think I’m amazing and wonderful, but it’s certainly not because I can manage to be happy. I just like myself.

I have probably mentioned this before, but I’ve been disabled since I was born. I have Muscular Dystrophy, which makes my muscles week, and for some reason I can’t extend my arms or legs all the way. I also have epilepsy, which is mostly taken care of by my medication, but I still get symptoms occasionally. I have pretty terrible eyesight, too. Quite frankly, none of this has ever bothered me too much. I mean, it’s inconvenient in some respects, but I have far more important things to worry about.

I’m not special because I can write coherently or read stories, or critically analyze movies. I’m not special because I’m good at racing games. I’m not special because I’ll get up and sing in front of people. I’m not special because I learned to play guitar upside-down. I’m not special because I’m going to college. I’m certainly not special because I can manage to be happy. I choose to be happy. There’s nothing particularly different or amazing about that. It’s not that hard. Anyone can choose to be happy. It just makes life easier.

Saying that “people like me” are special because we can manage to be happy and functional is actually a bit insulting. It implies that we should pity ourselves and let the world run our lives for us because we have the right to. I have no interest in doing that. I sometimes pity myself. It’s true, but it’s certainly not because I can’t walk. Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t ever been able to get a date and why it’s so difficult to get gigs as a newbie musician. Then I stop worrying about it and move on because worrying solves nothing. And yes, I do complain about some of that stuff on this blog. This is where I do my worrying about it.

We’re just people. Maybe we look a little different and our bodies or our minds work differently, but at our core we’re no different than anyone else. I met a man this past semester who had no arms and no legs. He seemed very nice and I didn’t get to talk to him very much, and it only occurred to me after our conversation had ended that he was somehow driving his wheelchair with no arms or legs. I asked his sister about it because she is a classmate of mine, and she said because he lost his limbs when he was young, he was able to develop muscles in his elbows that most of us don’t use. I thought it was cool because I learned something new. It’s a testament to how adaptable humans in general are. This man was not inspirational to me, however, because he wasn’t trying to be. I liked him because he was friendly and interesting. He was just a normal person to me because I expected him to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad some people can find “people like me” inspirational. They would be wrong, but it doesn’t cause them too much harm. What I would ask is that they keep it to themselves. Be our friends. ask us about what we’re interested in. Argue with us about philosophy. Treat us like you would treat anyone else. Just stop telling us how amazing it is that we’re happy.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!