Tag Archives: Friends

Who Are You?

One day this past weekend I hung out with a twelve-year-old kid who lives on our street. He was playing in his driveway with his six-year-old brother and their five-year-old friend. I was going for a walk and I heard U2 playing. The two little kids left after a little while, and one thing led to another. The kid in question plays, as far as I know, four different instruments, and is a much better guitarist than I am. He also knows how to use protools, which is an audio engineering software that professionals use. I can’t decide if it’s laughable or annoying or scary or what. Anyway, we had fun. He’s a really polite, pretty mature kid, for his age. After the little kids left I actually scurried back to my house and got my guitar so we could mess around for a while. I have no rules about who I’ll hang out with, as long as they’re cool.

I didn’t used to be like that. When I was in high school especially, I hated kids. I don’t think that’s an understatement. Kids were annoying and stupid, and that was it. Of course, at that time, a “kid” was anyone under the age of eight. Now I refer to the high school freshmen I teach as “kids.” It’s kind of disturbing. I think I used to have a much higher view of myself. I used to think I was the queen of the universe. It was entirely undignified to associate with such plebeians as children.

I think I understand kids better now as a writer, too. Kids are much more willing to believe things, so long as their capacity to listen holds up. I think you have to be able to believe something in order to enjoy it. You have to be able to pretend, and be willing to enter into a different universe.

A friend of mine who is older with kids once asked me what I thought about allowing his kids to read the Harry Potter books. He’s Christian, and he wasn’t totally inclined to let them because magic is seen as the highest power, and the battle between good and evil is entirely up to human ability. There is no mention of any kind of God (though the Christian holidays are mentioned offhandedly), and though there is a general sense of morality, like in any fantasy story, it isn’t directly spelled out. For example, I’m re-reading the series now, and I’m actually surprised at just how much the characters lie. Ultimately I advised my friend to let his kids read the books because it’s simply another universe that isn’t governed by the same rules as this one.

As I reread the Harry Potter books, I find myself laughing a lot. I’ve seen the movies a thousand times, but they’re not nearly as good as the books, and I’m finding they cut out a lot of humor. Maybe my sense of humor has changed too, but I think the movies tried to make the story too dark in places where it didn’t need to be, and not dark enough where it’s really creepy. I’m excited because I’m almost halfway through the fourth one now, and it’s after this one that things get serious, and in my opinion, the series gets more cohesive from book to book.

I don’t want this to turn into an analysis of the Harry Potter series, so I’ll make my point. I like these books. They’re meant for a younger audience, but I don’t care. My dad taught me a rule when I was in high school, and I have faithfully lived by it: growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. I used to get thoroughly annoyed with myself when I did something embarrassing. I used to think I was so dignified. I have no idea why. I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m clumsy and silly. I spell things wrong and say ridiculous things. I make dumb mistakes. My friends laugh at me about this stuff, and that’s okay.

Mistakes are part of life. Messing up is part of life. Silliness is part of life, and being wrong is part of life. I’m writing this down because kids used to annoy me for the same reasons that my friends laugh at me (not in a mean way). In the past several months my mom and I have been listening to audio books in the car. We started doing mostly contemporary realistic fiction and moved, really by accident, into science fiction. We went for a few weeks without a story because I know she’s not a huge fan of sci-fi, and we couldn’t think of what to listen to. Finally I suggested The Brothers Karamazov. We just started it yesterday.

My point is that it’s okay to love Dostoevski and Rowling. It’s okay that my favorite foods are fancy pasta dishes and fried buffalo chicken wraps (for the record, yes, I also eat healthy food). I’m getting comfortable joining in events at my church where most other people are at least in their fifties, and hanging out with kids on my street who are under ten. The teenagers I teach think I’m kind of weird, which is probably at least a little true, but that’s okay. Lately I’m becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Weird is more fun, anyway.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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Continued…

In my last three posts I talked about my hope to be a consecrated virgin. Things are moving as they should be. I’ve been praying a lot and looking into better ways to pray. I met with the vocations director this past Friday. She was nice and gave me good advice. She told me the most important thing to do was to find a spiritual director who will help me figure things out, and to slow the heck down.

Yesterday I helped teach eighth graders about death, which was kind of hard, not because I find the subject depressing or awkward, but because they do. We had to talk about heaven and hell and purgatory, and I guess it’s just a lot for fourteen year old kids to digest. I also finally told Father Patrick about what I’ve been thinking about, so now everyone who needs to know does know–that being my parents, the two priests at my church, and the people who are helping me along. Also, one of my friends knows, but I don’t think I should tell anyone else until I know more what I’m doing.

Anyway, my mosaic still isn’t finished. These things take more time than one might think. I keep reassessing it every time I work on it, which I guess is normal for every art project. I added a design piece, and I have a few to alter. The bottom half of the background is just about finished. The reason it’s taking so long is because I have a lot of small parts in the design that are hard to work around. I’ve also started working on an idea for my next project.

I’m actually hoping to make several mosaics that share a common theme: Who is God? This mosaic is symbolizing the moment of creation: God is our Creator, so the actual design is an abstract representation of the Big Bang, but there’s parts of the design that are meant to show that the Universe was created out of love, and there’s parts of the design that are meant to show that even at this moment, God knows there’s sadness to come.

My next mosaic is going to show God as Savior. I haven’t worked out the design yet, but I think I have to show that to save us, he had to be a victim, a conqueror, and a friend. In this case, I actually do think friendship is the most accurate way to describe it. I’ve got an idea of the materials I want to use, but I think I’m not going to know how to design it until I have the pieces.

My third mosaic is going to represent God as Guide through this life. I have absolutely no idea how I’ll design that one. Probably what I’ll do is look at some motifs from the New Testament, play around with some of my own ideas, and take it from there. I could also use some stuff from other stories I know. I think I’ll also want to use brighter colors for this one because for the mosaic I’m working on now, I’m using somewhat dark materials. That’s actually why I’m replacing a bit of the material I have on this one. The red glass I’m using is too dark, so I got some slightly more orange stuff at the store.

I gave up TV and movies for Lent. It’s actually been fun, and I’m learning a lot. I’m rereading the Harry Potter books, as well as some spiritual stuff, and I started working on a new song. My mom went out, and my dad went to bed early the other night, and I realized just how much time we waste watching TV. A week ago, Tuesday, My friend and I watched more of Once Upon A Time. He freaked out when I told him about my TV fast. What I didn’t know, and what my Godmother informed me of, is that you can break the fast on Sundays, so we’ll just have to make that work until Lent is over. Yesterday I did watch the second half of a documentary called “Everything and Nothing.” It was so confusing that when it was finished I had to take a two-hour nap. I did watch a few hours of Once Upon A Time with my friend last night, too, but I’m being a good puppy.

Incidentally, Easter falls on April sixteenth this year, but my family always goes to the Easter Vigil the night before. My birthday is April fifteenth, which means I’ll be celebrating Christs’ resurrection on my birthday, which is ludicrously epic.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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.

The Moment Of “I Love You”

I’ve tried to write this several times over and haven’t been able to. Partly, I haven’t known where exactly to begin, partly I haven’t known what to include, partly, I find this kind of thing a bit cliche, and partly, it’s a bit of a novel. All that being said, I’ve decided to start with a preface. As I said, More often than not, I find a lot of “coming to faith” stories at least somewhat annoying. A lot of them have the same, or at least a similar notion that the writer was so terrible before, and drastically better, morally speaking, immediately after their conversion. I also find it problematic when a person shares their story and neglects basic rules of writing style, spelling, and grammar. While it may be more important on some level to simply get the story out, the neglect lessens its credibility. More could be said, but I think those are issues for another post. Now I will share my story.

I grew up Catholic, largely because of a promise my mom made. When I was a year old I was diagnosed with a kind of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that would kill me by the age of five if I was lucky. I don’t really know the time frame for all this, but when my parents got the news, my mom started praying like a maniac. I had tests done, and the news continued to be bad. I need to pause for a moment to explain a Catholic peculiarity here. A common misconception is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The truth is that she has a very high place of honor, being that she is Jesus’ mother, and we recognize that her prayers are helpful and influential. Now to get back to my story, the news was bad, and eventually my mom gave up. Rather, she stopped praying to God, and asked Mary to pray for her because if anyone in the world knew what it was like to lose a child, it would be her.

Circumstances continued like this for about six months, if I remember correctly until one day my dad called my mom. He had taken me to an appointment and inexplicably, things had drastically changed. What had seemed like a ritual reiteration of a death sentence for six months had suddenly turned to a promise of life. Somehow the test results had drastically changed. I had a kind of MD, the effects of which were not entirely certain, but I would grow up, go to school, and do “normal kid stuff.” I did mention that my mom made a promise. When she asked Mary to pray for me, she promised that she would raise me as a “good Catholic girl,” so CCD was included in the “normal kid stuff” I ended up doing.

The truth is I have always been a believer in the sense that I want things to be true; I’m a bit gullible; my natural impulse is to trust people. As a child I believed in God, but when I was very young I knew him only vaguely as the Creator of the universe, and even then, not necessarily one who had a conscious mind or paid any attention to us. Eventually that changed. I came to believe that he paid attention to us, but mostly like someone watching an ant farm. As an older child, particularly in my middle school years, I just lost interest in God. I got busy doing more “normal kid stuff,” as does everyone.

In particular, my friends and I became very busy defending Mythic Island, an invented universe that was under siege from the wolf demon Agorauth. One of my friends and I created a comic for the school newspaper. I wrote the story and she drew the pictures. Every Friday night we would all congregate at my house, eat terrible pizza and play Star Wars Battlefront. Of course, since it was middle school, it wasn’t all fun. We can only assume that our group was comprised of the most unpopular kids in school. We all got picked on in one way or another.

High school changed things drastically and quickly. The summer before our Freshman year, we ended our Mythic Island adventure. That same year, one of my closest friends got incredibly busy with sports, so much so that we could hardly hang out. He also got a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than just friends. Towards the end of that year I got a guitar who I named Francisco. You can probably imagine why.

At that time, I was still in CCD, and for a reason that was inexplicable at the time, I was hating it less and less. Most of my friends’ parents had allowed them to drop out years earlier, but my mom was not going to break her promise. CCD classes in ninth and tenth grade were structured towards getting students ready to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, should they choose to receive it. A “Yes” signifies that a person is an adult and active member in the Church. The odd thing was, though I was becoming more receptive to what we were learning, there was little emotion in it. It was just another class.

Another friend of mine was enrolled in the program after his parents divorced in the middle of our Freshman year because his dad thought it would be helpful for him. He hated every second of it. He had changed after the divorce. It had made him a completely different person. He was dispondent and reclusive. He stopped doing homework; wouldn’t hand in projects; intentionally failed tests. He was also rather disrespectful to our teacher in CCD, which I did not appreciate. I only mention these details about my friend because in part, I think it made me want to make up for it, so I participated more in class and I really listened. I wasn’t passive during that time.

We completed the Confirmation class at the end of our Sophomore year. It concludes with an all-day retreat at which we had discussions, weird spiritual activities which I didn’t exactly understand, and a mass, if I remember correctly. There was also a lot of free time, and my friend and I spent that time silently playing cards. At the end of the day we were given a letter written by our parents. I don’t remember much of what mine said. I do remember them saying they were proud of me, and that from this point on, my spirituality was my business. Finally, we were asked, “Will you be confirmed?” I said I would.

At the beginning of my Junior year I went through the actual ceremony, and I did keep going to church, but had I been asked at the time, I would not have been able to tell why. For the next two years I can, I think, accurately say that I was a Catholic in practice, but an agnostic in belief. I still didn’t really know who God was. I knew what he did, but that was it. During that time, I had begun to feel an increasing sense of loneliness. One of my friends had already had a girlfriend and a break-up. My other friend had been in a relationship for three years. I had never dated. However, this loneliness was more complex than the desire for a partner. I constantly needed to be around people. If I couldn’t find someone to be with on Friday nights, I would sit alone and cry. I felt unneeded, and I hated it.

Inevitably, we all graduated, and my friends went away to college. Because I need help with a few basic things, I commuted to school and lived at home. It so happened that I applied to two schools, and was only accepted to one, so that’s where I went. I had hated the school search. The whole thing felt wrong to me, but something about Gordon was different. Their campus was really nice. The people there were really nice. They had a creative writing program, which sounded really nice. I somehow felt at home there. Gordon is a Christian school, and I think normally I would have had reservations about that, but unlike every school I looked at, it just felt “right.”

Starting classes at Gordon was like stepping into a whole new universe. We started classes by praying. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, and I enjoyed it. People freely talked about having a relationship with Jesus. This was all great, except that it made me more lonely. The one thing I hung on to was that my classmates and teachers and chapel speakers had taught me to pray in a way my church hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve been Christian for five years, I appreciate and use the more formal Catholic prayers quite a lot, but first I had to learn how to talk. It was shortly after we had begun classes in mid August that I had begun praying that God would help me find someone to love me. I prayed this almost every night before going to sleep with increasing desperation.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I can conclusively say I truly became Christian one night in October, 2011. I was lying in bed, and I was crying. I was praying from the darkest, lowest, smallest, loneliest part of my being. I don’t know what would have happened had it passed like any other night, but for some reason I said, “I love you,” and I felt an overwhelming sensation of comfort and peace and warmth, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in the best possible way. It was spontaneous, and my only explanation is that he was saying, “I’m not going to find someone for you. I love you.” A lot has happened since then. I almost left the Catholic Church, but have since fully embraced it for a number of reasons, which I won’t explain here. I’ve never dated and have become perfectly content being single. What was sparked at the moment of that “I love you” has turned into a real relationship. I have a writing career, and am studying theology independently. I don’t necessarily know where it will go, but I trust God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

Give Him A Chance

It’s getting cooler around here. The fall colors are slowly coming out. I’m savoring the last few weeks of warmth in the air while I can. Usually, come November, it gets too cold for me to wander around outside much. Today I took a wander and my friend’s mom and his dog were outside. For whatever reason, his dog practically worships me. I don’t get it. She’s old, and has very bad arthritis, and apparently I’m one of the very few people she’ll even get up for. I feel bad. I suspect she’s coming to the end of her rope.

I hadn’t intended to, but I ended up talking to his mom for quite a while. I’m teaching three CCD classes this year, and she suggested I consider teaching as a career option. Truthfully, I’m better at it than I thought I’d be. This is my third year doing it. One of my classes is fourth grade. I’m realizing it’s hard to translate a lot of what Jesus taught into kid language, but the experience is teaching me stuff, too. I could be a teacher. I’d prefer to teach high school, though. The thing is, becoming a CCD teacher was initially a spur-of-the-moment decision, and then I discovered that I’m fairly good at it. I would have to get certified as a teacher, and I just don’t know what’s involved. I don’t want to go back to school–at least not yet.

After I left there I called my grandmother just to talk. When we hung up, I headed for home. Before all this, though, my mom and I had taken one of our neighbors out to lunch. Without saying too much, she has some serious mental health problems, and isn’t exactly well liked. She’s a perfectly lovely person, but she’s very strange. She was telling us about some of her problems and I said, “I don’t mean to be pushy, but you could try praying about some of this stuff. I know from experience that God is a very powerful friend.” After I hung up with my grandmother this conversation came back to me. I thought, “I just wish people would give you a chance, God.”

That gave me two ideas. I don’t know a lot about “safe spaces” and the problems and arguments they may or may not cause, but the point is, they’re supposed to be “all inclusive.” Everyone is supposed to be welcome, at least from what I understand, and that led me to wonder if, for one thing, Catholics are welcome in those spaces and, for another, if God is welcome. The other thing I thought of is an analogy. I do think of God as a very powerful friend. He’s like a very influential friend who has a lot of power, but likes to do things behind the scenes. People kind of know who he is, but they’ve made up all kinds of gossip about him and his friends, so they don’t invite him to their parties, even if his friends are invited. I just want people to give my friend a chance to show them that he’s not the freakozoid that people say he is. Really he’s a very nice, creative, helpful, loving person.

Random Banter

Humans, as I write this, you should see my hair. My bird is sitting on my head, my hair is all over the place, including in my eyes, and he has made a nest. Every time I go to move it out of my face he growls at me. I am harboring a demon bird.

Anyway, spoiled animals aside, I have good news. I started a new medication a few weeks ago to better deal with my epilepsy, and it really seems to be working. I’ve had two or three little problems within about a month, which is nothing compared to what it had been. The beautiful thing about it is that I can do things I couldn’t before. Before I literally could not be hungry without having problems. Now I have to be pretty famished to have any trouble at all. I can also turn the water on as hot as I want in the shower. I don’t know why the hot water messed me up, but now I don’t have to worry about it.

The other good news is that I’m going to start working with another songwriter and producer in the near future. She and her boyfriend are working on a project centered on love and, in her words, “positive energy.” The nice thing is that, I asked, and worship music is totally on the table. I’ll do a little bit of everything. I like to be subtle when I write worship stuff anyway. I haven’t done a whole lot of songwriting lately because I’ve been reading and writing everything else. It’ll be fun to get back into it. I don’t expect this to be a super serious project, but the style of music is one I usually don’t delve into, so I think it will be good in general to get outside my comfort zone. Plus, you have to write to defeat writer’s block. Go figure.

I don’t really have much else to report. I’m kind of in that weird position where I have too much and not enough time to kill. My dad should be home soon, and my godmother is coming to stay for a few days, so that should be good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Say It Anyway

Sometimes I find myself about to write about something, whether it be about God, faith, my family, creativity, writing, or what have you, and a little voice in my head says, “I’m sure people have heard that a million times from a million different people.” Then another little voice in my head says, “Say it anyway. Maybe you can say it a little bit different so that it will click for someone in a way it hasn’t clicked before. Maybe hearing it this time is the last time they need to hear it for it to make sense. Maybe hearing it this time will help them to understand it in a different way. Even if no one listens, say it anyway because it may not matter to anyone else, but it matters to you.”

This happens to me a lot. Have you noticed that good stories never get old? I have watched Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars movies a thousand times by now, and I could easily watch them a thousand times more. Every time you read a good story or watch a good movie, you pick up on different ideas or different symbolism. Different things take on different meaning and more significance. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging when I say I can quote quite a lot from the Gospels because there’s just so much there and I’ve read them so many times.

The other night I was at Adoration at my church, and sometimes while I’m sitting there I just “talk,” and I don’t remember exactly how we got to this, but eventually I just stopped and thought, “You know, you’re a story-teller. You told and tell a lot of stories. Could you tell me a story? It doesn’t have to be anything new. It could be something I’ve heard before.”

Immediately I started thinking about all these different ideas about light. I remembered things like: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” and “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Then I remembered that while working on my novel the other day, I had a segment where Aven, one of my main characters is in prison, and he has a weird experience where he sees darkness, and realizes that this is what he’s seeing. This is significant because he’s blind. He realizes that there’s a difference between being blind and seeing darkness. Finally, I remembered a story I’ve been working on recently just for fun where the main characters have to find the Soul of the Light to break a curse that has been on their kingdom for hundreds of years.

There’s a part in Lord of the Rings where Frodo remembers he has the light that Galadriel gave him. He has sent Sam away because he’s been tricked by Golem, who has left him to die in the spider cave. Galadriel gave this to him saying, “May it be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out.” When Frodo lights it up, he’s in panic mode. He’s desperate. For him, all other lights; all hope, has gone out. I really don’t think Galadriel’s gift is meant to be taken only literally. Hope is often symbolized by light, and light is even sometimes symbolized by other things. At the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy the shire appears bright, beautiful and peaceful. At Bilbo’s birthday, there are fireworks, there is light. When they leave the shire, they are cast into a dark forest, and are followed by the black rider. There are many juxtapositions of light and dark in Lord of the Rings, particularly in reference to specific places. Where there is death, in particular, there is darkness.

Eventually, though, even Galadriel’s light can’t keep Frodo out of danger. Even that light goes out, but Sam comes back. Forgive the sentimentality, but Galadriel’s light could not keep Frodo out of danger. It failed, but Sam’s loyalty didn’t. Sam’s loyalty was a light that really couldn’t go out. For those who might argue, Sam did not leave by his own free will. Frodo told him to leave, and in fact, he held to his loyalty to such a high degree that he obliged. He knew that many of Frodo’s decisions and judgments were wrong, but he allowed his friend to make those choices, determined to protect him while he could. Truthfully, the more I watch Lord of the Rings, the more I think Frodo isn’t a very good friend. He has his reasons. His task is not an easy one. Regardless, Sam is seriously devoted to him, and in the end, it becomes clear that Frodo is appreciative.

The point is, Loyalty has to be mutual, and it takes perseverance. Frodo and Sam do not have an easily relatable or translatable relationship because yes, they are friends, but they have slightly different social status. Sam is Frodo’s servant. By the end, it seems like this slight status difference is gone between them. This is only possible because of what they went through together. At the end of his life, Jesus says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father, I have made known to you.” Being a friend of Jesus changes our position in the Universe, whatever that may be.

I took a long time thinking about two things in particular. What does it mean to be full of light? What is the difference between being blind and seeing darkness? I think both have to do with one’s outlook on the world. We spend a lot of time, when thinking about external spirituality, trying to figure out our position on X, Y, or Z, or wondering whether a particular practice is appropriate in worship. Internal spirituality is often much more abstract and simple. We spend our time praying or listening to music or simply musing. I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about how God actually views the world, and how, as his friends and followers, we’re meant to view the world. This is important because our outlook on the world affects our actions in the world, and our internal spirituality. If we have a generally negative outlook on things, we will lose hope. The hope we have; the light we have is, therefore, at risk of going out.

This also relates to loyalty in that our outlook on the world is connected to our outlook on people in general. A positive outlook allows us to be more trusting, more open, and more loving. It allows us to live more freely as God would want us to live. Often, we don’t openly talk about God or faith or spirituality in general for fear of judgment. If we have a more positive outlook, we will be much more likely to trust, and much more able to forgive when our trust is taken advantage of. This obviously does not mean that we should throw caution to the wind in every situation, but being more trusting and forgiving also allows people to trust and forgive us.

To see darkness is different from being blind. To be blind is often a metaphor for being unaware. Seeing darkness is to know that there is light or hope, and not know how to find it, or to see it and refuse it or give it up. I think a tangible example of this might be in one of the final scenes of Return of the King. Sam is trying to help Frodo get to where he can get rid of the ring. He tries to give him hope by reminding him of home, but Frodo says, “I’m naked in the dark with nothing, no veil between me and the wheel of fire…” In response, Sam says, “Then let us be rid of it. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”

Sometimes we do have to carry people until they can see the light again, or maybe even for the first time. That can mean a whole lot of different things, and sometimes it just means making sure we pray for them. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Sometimes people can only rely on God to carry them, but there’s no one more trustworthy, no one more loyal, and no one more capable. Jesus says these things with certainty and authority. They’re true and unchanging.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

A Shared Story

When my mom and I got back to our neighborhood from running errands, my friend was outside his house, so I had my mom drop me there. We hung out in his yard for a little while, and then we went for a wander. Somehow we ended up talking about Mythic Island. It had nothing to do with what I’ve posted over the past few days, but by the time we got back to our neighborhood we had decided to go back. We used to play Mythic Island with a huge group of friends, but we’ve decided to keep it between the two of us. We’re going to treat it both as a story and as a real, significant world, as if it really does exist. After every adventure we’re going to talk about what happened and record our conversations so we can post it as a podcast.

This got me thinking. When we played Mythic Island, we treated it as real. We would bring things from this world into that world and vise-versa. We agreed that it would probably be a bad idea to allow things from that world to come into this one. This is really just for logistical reasons. We want to be able to shut the game off, as it were. We didn’t close the door to this world when we were in middle school, so we would often see dragons flying around on the highway and such.

For weeks now I’ve been trying to get my friends together to play through a D&D campaign I’ve been working on. We just can’t seem to get everyone together at the same time. I suspect I will be in charge of coming up with a lot of the Mythic Island story because I have more time, and I think I can use a lot of the same ideas. I’ll probably have to alter the plot quite a bit because my friend and I are largely coming up with the new chapter of the story together, and we’re basing it off of where we left off about ten years ago. Can you feel the nostalgia?

The idea of my D&D campaign was that several hundred years before the characters even come in, there was an epic war. The children of two brothers who were very prominent nobles became the rulers of two opposed kingdoms, and at one point, one of the kids killed his uncle. His father cursed him and created the Darkness. That kid’s soul was then tied to the Darkness and was not allowed to die. The ultimate goal of the campaign was to first find out that there is something more abstract called the Light, and then to find out that there is a soul tied to the Light. Once they learned this, the goal of the campaign would be to find the soul of the Light. That soul would then lead you on a mission to either destroy the Darkness along with the soul that is attached to it, or to convince the soul of the Darkness to befriend the Light, thus destroying the Darkness, but not the soul.

Of course I’m over-thinking the whole thing. I think the idea of playing a story instead of simply writing it is strange to me. When we played Mythic Island as middle school kids it was only natural. It’s like it’s foreign to me now because I haven’t done it for so long. I’m going to have to get used to it again.

We stopped playing this when we went to high school. That year I took an acting class, and I felt like I was terrible at it. I guess I never equated playing the story with acting, and if I had, I still don’t know how I would have graded myself. Granted, in that case I was playing myself in an imagined situation. D&D definitely has an aspect of role-playing, but we really don’t try very hard at it. We spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what the heck we’re supposed to be doing. I think the Mythic Island scenario will be interesting because we’re the Dungeon Masters as well as the players.

When we played it as kids we spent a lot of time running from the bad guys. We made our own lives difficult, but that made the game more fun. We know what’s going on in Mythic Island now, and once again, we’re intentionally making our lives difficult. The battles will be harder, and the bad guys will be scarier because we’re older, more sophisticated, and more creative. Of course this also means our solutions to problems and our schemes will be more complex. I’ve been wanting to do this and I’ve been trying to talk my friends into it for a year now. I’m so happy we’re going to be doing it.

I’m still going back and forth a little on how I feel about keeping it between the two of us. At one point in time we had a small army of friends with us. At the same time, we were the most invested in the story, and sometimes our other friends didn’t take it seriously enough. The nice thing about it is that this friend and I don’t often hang out without other people any more. The truth is, we really don’t have that much in common other than our shared obsession with Star Wars and our history with Mythic Island. The game started with just the two of us anyway. I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that I started thinking about this more, lately.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Look At The Sky

The other day I realized just how much I stare at my phone. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I realized that for the longest time, I had not looked at the sky. After realizing this, I realized just how much I don’t pay attention to as an adult that really seemed to matter when I was a kid. As a kid I would just sit and stare at the sky and think about a million things and nothing. It seemed like there was so much more in the world. I didn’t notice when I stopped doing that. I didn’t notice as the world became smaller and faster.

I’ve been trying to make a point to look at the sky now. I still don’t always remember. I think it’s important. I used to see pictures in the clouds. I don’t see pictures anymore, but I still think the sky is beautiful. I think it’s important to appreciate the things God made. If it wasn’t important, he wouldn’t have made things beautiful. The world could have been black and white. As an artist, I don’t always know why I make things or write things. I just can’t help it, and even though I don’t have an explicable reason for them, I love the things I make. I imagine God feels the same way, particularly about people who can love him back.

It’s funny that a lot of things in the world can keep you alive in one case, and can kill you in another. I like fire. At one point in time, fire was integral to the survival of the human race. In fact, for several years we’ve heated our house with a wood stove through the winter because it’s been cheaper. Fire is something I can still stare at for hours and think about nothing and everything. I like to play with fire. I like to watch stuff burn (yes I know that sounds weird) because it’s interesting and beautiful.

I’ve said this before, but I have over one hundred cousins of various removes, etc, so I just call them all cousins. Anyway, at camp this summer my mom had to explain to one of my cousins who has some form of developmental problem that he couldn’t touch fire. He understood that it would hurt him, but he thought he could run to the lake and put it out before it got too hot. Like me, he thought fire was beautiful and interesting and just wanted to understand it better.

Two years ago, when we had a record-breaking winter, my dad went hiking and made a video. It was snowing and sub-zero on the mountain, but my dad had the time of his life. He loves cold and snow. When I was a kid I liked it. Listening to the weather forecast and hearing seventies and eighties instead of eighties and nineties makes me a little sad these days. At the same time, a part of me is hoping for another record-breaking winter. If it has to come, I’d rather it come in full force. When we got Seamus, we tried to give him some snow to play with. He was afraid of it. He’s a really stupid bird.

I wonder if it’s easier to appreciate things when you think about how you relate to those things, or when you project yourself into a story or an idea or a situation. In my last post I talked about Mythic Island. There was a specific way in which to get there. You had to build a fairy house. Fairies would show up and live there, and in return for building them a house, they would do things for you. In particular, they would create a magical portal that would allow you to get to Mythic Island. A fairy house is a tepee made of sticks and leaves and things. The better the fairy house, the more fairies it would attract. The more fairies you had, the more they could do for you. When we hung out in the woods as kids we would think about these things, and we would build fairy houses just to be nice. We had more of a reason for being there.

I think it’s harder to relate to the world when our worlds are our computers. On Facebook and WordPress and wherever else we “exist” we create the versions of ourselves that we want that particular world to see, and we see the manufactured versions of everyone else. We can look at pictures of clouds and fire, but they’re no substitute for the real thing. When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, it was like going back to Mythic Island. At the time, though, things from Mythic Island would come into the “real world” and we had to help dragons get back home. I guess maybe that made the world seem a little bigger, too.

What I didn’t realize as a kid was that the world is really big. It’s just my little piece of it that’s small. In Mythic Island we could ride our dragons hundreds of miles in a day, we were powerful, and time didn’t make sense. It was our world, and that’s why it seemed so much bigger than the “real world.” I guess I just kind of miss being amazed by the sky. The world really hasn’t changed. I’m just more easily distracted, and ironically, I think I’m less patient in some ways. For the longest time I didn’t want a cell phone. Everyone my age (eleven or so) had one, but I didn’t care. Then when smart phones became a thing my mom practically had to force me to get one. And a few days ago I realized that I forget to be amazed by the sky.

Don’t forget to be amazed. Even if you’ve looked at something a million times, look at it again. Listen to that song you love again. Smell those flowers. Climb that mountain. Eat that cookie. Go back to Mythic Island.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!