Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Desire to Write: From Drawing to Writing

    My choice to be an English major, and with that, a writer, wasn't an obvious one. When I was growing up, I wasn't always caught with a book in my hand. I drew all the time. I loved buying packs of printer paper and going through the sheets as I came up with picture after picture. I remember loving those giant artists sets with all the different color pencils and water colors and markers. When I was older, I would buy a new sketchbook from Walmart and work through it and decorate the outside. Drawing was a true passion of mine. Up until about tenth grade, I took it pretty seriously. Slowly, though, it transitioned to where I could hardly come up with an original picture but I could copy an image very well, my best achievement being a drawing of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from the poster of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Impressed by my picture of Jack Sparrow, I drew a couple of pictures for friends from photographs in ninth grade. In fact, with a few exceptions, that's what I got the most praise for as I was going through school until I got older. People knew I could draw.

    But my passion, not for art, but for creating art of my own was gone by the time I was 17 years old. I specifically remember having an art class in 11th grade and how I had enough skill to impress others and feel pleased with myself, but my heart wasn't in it. I thought my lack of  interest was just a phase, and I had a lot of sentimental ties to the idea of myself as a person who liked to draw. I had this longing to create new pieces, but knew I didn't have the desire anymore, and likely not the talent, to make them possible. As this separation from the old self was happening, seeing others get attention for their art when I had let my talents go was uncomfortable, and even made me sad, but at the same time, part of me knew I didn't care anymore. Looking back, I can see where my interests were transitioning from the visuals arts to the written word, but at the time I really didn't see it. I didn't decide to major in English until I was about in my second year of junior college. I remember still thinking about being an animator or a graphic designer and looking at colleges with good programs in art. I see now it didn't make any sense.

    New passions were thankfully being created as the old ones were dying. Two essays I wrote for my A.P. English class in 12th grade stand out in my memory as some of the first pieces I wrote where I really enjoyed the process of writing. One was on 1984, and the other was on The Glass Menagerie (cheery material). I remember sitting at my desk reworking the essay on The Glass Menagerie and using my mom as a sounding board for my ideas and how I enjoyed the process of organizing and editing and rewriting that paper so that it came out really well. I remember feeling like I wanted to take little risks with my writing, maybe even before those essays, thinking, "hey, if the teacher doesn't like it, I do, and this doesn't fit the little academic mold, but I'm doing this anyway." I think with one or both these papers, my teacher banned us from opening the essay with the author's name and the title of the book. You know the drill: "In George Orwell's 1984, the author..." He made us write a hook instead. We had learned the rules so we could break the rules. Now I was thinking about moving the reader emotionally. I was forced to open differently, but I remember I felt like I took little risks with the endings of those papers as well. With 1984I ended it in a way that was emotional, writing about the glass paper weight breaking and it being a metaphor for Winston and Julia's world breaking apart. With those two essays I felt I had opened and closed them in a way that was coherent and meaningful. And I felt a sense of accomplishment with writing that I wasn't feeling when I drew. I think that's why those two essays stand out to me; that sense of accomplishment. I enjoyed having something to say and saying it well. Some people can get at something meaningful with their paintings and drawings. I got to a point where I couldn't anymore. I was beginning to realize that writing would offer the satisfaction of creating something meaningful.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Are You Really Asking?

    Of course, as we go through life, there are going to be times when we want something from someone else. As children, it makes sense that we're not going to be sensitive about how we ask for those things that we want out of immaturity or sheer helplessness. But as we grow more mature, and we realize the world doesn't revolve around us, we have a choice about how we approach someone when we want something of theirs, whether it's some material object, their time, their help, or something else. We can ask, or we can demand. I think most of us think that we automatically know to ask, and not demand. But I think our attitudes when we approach the other about the thing that we want show that maybe we weren't as innocent as we thought we were.

    Here's the key difference: do I think the thing I'm asking for is truly yours, or do I think it's mine already? If I really believe it's yours, again, whether it's your time, or energy, or object, even intangibles like respect and approval, then my approach is a lot different. I will come to you knowing that the thing that I want belongs to you, and that the rights to that thing belong to you. You don't have to give it to me. If I believe I have a right to the thing that I'm asking for, if I look at your situation, and I make the judgement call that it wouldn't hurt you to give me the thing that I want, I feel entitled to it, and I really don't believe it's yours. In my mind, it's mine already. I'm just waiting for you to hand it over. This also produces impatience. We're going to be a lot more irritated at waiting for something that we think is ours than something that we respect as belonging to someone else. That leads to the other key difference: how do we respond to no, or the possibility of no. If I know the thing being asked for is yours, no may be met with disappointment, but also humility and respect. If the thing being asked for is something I feel I have the right to, no is met with anger, and resentment. Obviously, if something truly belongs to us, and someone won't give it to us, it would be unjust. But what if we were wrong? What if we forgot that the thing we asked for isn't really ours? I think there's many times when we think we're asking, but we're really demanding. We don't really believe what we want belongs to the other. We are out for the taking. Our wills are trying to dominate a situation. We aren't respecting the will of the other. It's terrible when we demand from another human being, to try to override their will. It's incredibly preposterous, when we think about it, that we demand from God rather than ask him. And I have realized that I do that very thing.

    For me, what made me see this, to unravel all of this, to see the difference between demanding and asking, was my attitude towards the possibility of a no from God about what I want. I have done this in the past and I am fighting doing it now. It's hard for me not to get mad at God when I think about not getting what I want. If there's anyone to be able to give the possibility of no to, it's God, because if he says no, it's with our best interest at heart. Here's another thing. I said before that with another person, if I'm demanding from that person, I'm making the judgement call that I know better than that person about what to do with the thing that I want. I do this with God. I think I know what he ought to do with people and situations that are his. So much pride. While there may be cases where we might actually know better than another human being about something, and we have to relent out of respect for their will, of course God knows better than us. Perhaps all of our troubles come down to thinking we know better than God. I think there are times when he says no, that he might be doing it so that he's not giving in to a brat. The same way you don't give a child candy because they throw a fit, God won't give in to us when we throw a fit. He's not going to indulge our pride. He wants us to trust him.

    But the reality of it isn't so simple. What if we have to ask when the stakes are higher? What if we have to ask rather than demand that God intervenes and saves our house, that he saves our relationship, that he restores the health of our child? Of course we want to demand. The more we value something or someone, the harder it is to accept the possibility of no, the harder it is to accept that they belong to God, and not to us. The fear is high. But thankfully we have a merciful, good, loving Father, one who understands our anger and pain and headache when we want something from him. And I believe if we bring these feelings to him, if we're honest about where we're at, he can help us know how to ask rather than demand from him.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To Jesus (and for those who relate):

I feel like I too often have been in the habit of respecting Your rules, and admiring Your attributes without actually being with You. I do it without even realizing. I am the person who thinks highly of You but doesn't spend very much time with You. I am the person who gets in the habit of admiring You from afar but doesn't sit and have lunch with You. I am the person who treats You like the CEO of the company I work for Whom I respect and admire, and not a friend, or a father, or the love of my life. Your presence is intimidating. Your power is intimidating. But why should I be scared of You? Why don't I treat You like we're intimates and not business partners. Maybe I don't know You as well as I thought I did. I'm not saying I don't know You at all. I do. And I have been in Your presence. And I know you well enough that I really trust You. I trust You with my most beloved things. Mistaking knowing about You, and respecting You and everything You represent, for knowing You is a habit I've unfortunately gotten into. All of a sudden I stop and realize that I have thought about You without letting You in. I'm glad I have all this knowledge, but I'm relieved that I remember to be in Your presence. And I hope to remember it more. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Paint and Soul Mates

    Target sells paint now. Not a big paint section, but I was surprised to see it there along with the brushes and rollers and trays that go with it. It's really only that they're featuring this particular brand of paint called Devine Color, a fairly expensive one at that, sold in the store in these odd little 2.6 quart containers (a clever way to avoid the sticker shock of one gallon). Nevertheless, the very limited selection of colors were all pretty and I was interested enough to look up the brand online and their website.

    I nerded out enough looking around on the website that I watched this little one minute video explaining something Devine Color calls Color Discovery Cards. It's basically a white card about the size of printer paper with a square hole or as they say, window, in the middle surrounded by 10-12 dots of paint around said window. You're supposed to look through the hole at the things in your room and look at the different colors from the paint collection around it, seeing what works and what doesn't. Oddly enough, the things said in this little one minute promotional video work strangely well if you think of it as dating advice. You are the room full of your own colors trying to find the right paint, so to speak.

    From the video: "Go back and forth between what you see through the window and the colors you see on the card. You will see colors that easily connect to one another. You will see colors that will emerge that you didn't see before. Or you might see colors on the card that are not in the room, but will surprise you by choosing you."

    I think there's something to learn from these Color Discovery Cards, and from thinking about color in general. Many people like to think about choosing someone to marry as the search for their soul mate, that one perfect person. Instead, I think we should look at it more like finding a paint color, primarily with this point in mind: there's more than one option that works, they just work differently. Different colors bring out different things in a room, and accentuate some things and downplay other things, just like different people bring out different aspects of your personality, and will help you grow or hinder you in different ways. Yes, some work better than others. Some are truly horrible together. But in general, there will be strengths and weaknesses about each choice, not one that is far and away better than the rest.

    And just like with color, whether you're painting, putting together something to wear, or matting a picture,  sometimes things work together that you never thought would work. Not only do I think people believe in the myth of the soul mate, but I also think they get a little closed minded about what will work and what won't. This isn't to say we shouldn't have standards or non-negotiable things that we avoid because they aren't healthy for us, but we need to be open to being surprised. Girls and guys like to create lists of what they want in a perfect mate made up of things that are not really that important. This list, in turn, often fuels the search for the mythical soul mate that will fit the qualifications. These same people will then marry someone completely different from the list because they met someone different from what they thought they wanted and fell in love with them anyway. To go back to paint, you may think you always wanted to paint your dining room a mossy green, and then you hold up the paint samples and you're not that into green. You consider other options, and surprise yourself when the room ends up a vivid teal, and it works!

    Instead of a puzzle piece just waiting for that one other piece that will perfectly fit you, be a room finding a paint color! Or if I quit being so annoyingly/humorously metaphorical, be a person who realizes there is more than one kind of soul mate.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Fall and Restoration of Bucky Barnes

     It's probably a reflection of my nerdy Christian/English major tendencies that one of the things that I like to do for fun is look for Christian themes and symbols in the movies and TV I watch. The fun part for me is that I'm sure in almost every case, the symbols are not intentional, and yet they're there and it can be amazing how well they match up with Christian beliefs. Once I saw how often they show up, mostly in the presence of a Christ figure, I look at it like a puzzle, matching the characters in relation to one another to certain figures and ideas. And so, when I saw Marvel's latest installment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was bound to look for and maybe find something. After watching the movie with my family, I went to my cashier job, and during one of the more boring parts of my day when my mind was free to wander, I found some interesting things.  


SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen the second Captain America and you don't want to know what happens, don't read anymore. Or go watch it, and then come and read.


     First and foremost, one of the things I learned in a class I had in college is that if it's a superhero movie, that superhero is symbolically bound to be a Christ figure. And so right away, Captain America, Steve Rogers, is our Christ figure. What do I mean by Christ figure? A Christ figure, as far as my short definition goes, stands in for Christ because the character has qualities or does things that are like Christ in one or a combination of ways. Usually it involves a character's sacrifice of themselves, a character's superhuman qualities, or a character's destiny to save others from harm. Steve Rogers hits all these marks. And as he became the Christ figure in my mind, his relationship to Bucky Barnes, revealed to be the Winter Soldier, became symbolic of greater things. So if you're in for a ride, here's how I see it: Steve Rogers is Christ/God, and Bucky Barnes is us, and their realtionship to each other can represent humanity's fall into sin, and Christ's sacrifice in order to bring us back to having a relationship with him.

     Steve and Bucky were best friends until Bucky fell off a train in the first Captain America installment and was believed to be dead. After this fall, the real villains of the movie, HYDRA, found him nearly dead and experimented on him turning him into their personal fighting machine and fried his brain to where he can't remember who he used to be. In a confrontation with the infamous Winter Soldier, Steve is shocked to see that it's Bucky and saddened by the fact that his closest friend is now one of his greatest enemies. He knows that it may come down to him needing to kill Bucky and he's not sure that he can do that. He does end up fighting him in order to get the targets off the 7 million people that HYDRA wants to sacrifice for the complete control it desires and he succeeds. In the process though, Steve does something that shakes Bucky to the core. As the Helicarrier is about to crash, Steve tells Bucky that he's not going to fight him, and tells him, as Bucky had told him years earlier, that he's with him 'til the end. Steve's actions stir Bucky so much so that while nothing is clear to him yet, he rescues Steve out of the Potomac River after they crash, and then disappears.

     Maybe you can already see where I'm going with this, but to explain, just as Bucky had a close relationship with Steve, our Christ figure, before the fall off the train severed their friendship, humanity's fall into sin separated us from closeness with God, closeness that is seen in Adam's relationship with God in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the picture. And just as Bucky's mind was reprogrammed and corrupted to where he fought against everything he stood for before and forgot who he was, sin corrupts the design God had in mind for us and further separates us from him. Steve longs for Bucky to remember who he is even as Bucky fights against him as the Winter Soldier. Christ desires to have a relationship with us even as we work against him and what he stands for, and don't recognize or acknowledge him. What is it about Christ that surprises people and shows God's love for us? What is it that stirs us? Sacrifice. And it's Steve Rogers's sacrifice of himself, the shocking proposition that in the face of death, he's not going to fight Bucky in honor of their friendship that is unsettling to Bucky in the best way. Why would anyone do such a thing except for love? At the end of the film, Steve tells Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, that he's going after Bucky. He's determined for Bucky to remember who he used to be. To continue the symbolism, Christ not only sacrificed himself for us, he continues to pursue us. He doesn't expect the sacrifice in and of itself to restore the relationship. It opened the doors for the full restoration of the relationship and of ourselves that is to come.

     I stayed though the credits figuring that like the other movies, this one would have one last scene. Indeed it did, and it was of a guy with the hood of his black sweatshirt  up over his head looking at the Captain America exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum shown earlier in the film. From a new angle, we see that it's Bucky, trying to remember who he is as he puts the pieces of his old life back together. And so I was thinking about what the story arc of the three Captain America movies will be together as there is sure to be a third. We know that Steve is going to look for Bucky and that his sacrifice planted a seed in Bucky's mind that has made him curious about his past. While there are heros and villains, and Steve Rogers's adjustment to modernity, and the whole world in harm's way, the main arc of the story seems to be one that I believe is very much like each of our own stories, the fall and restoration of Bucky Barnes.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Forging My Path

    The path- the obvious metephor for life. It helps us understand how we're feeling about where we're at, and reflects our anxiety about where to go next when it isn't clear. Familiar phrases and ideas show it's significance. A fork in the road. The pathway to success. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. The straight and narrow. We come to points in our lives where the familiar questions, "am I on the right path?" and "where do I go next?" become very relevant.
    In my own life, I remember very well feeling like the path had run out when I was in junior college. I went there for different reasons, but one of the reasons was that I wanted time to figure out what I was doing next. I hadn't decided on a major, I didn't know what college I was transferring to, and I didn't know how I would come up with the money to transfer. When I was in grade school, junior high, high school, I sort of knew what was coming next. I knew what was ahead on that path. I didn't know the details, but I had a basic idea what it would look like. After high school, I felt like I had wandered into a strange new land wondering how I got there. Sometimes during that time at junior college, I felt a little like the single path had run out and there were about 10 other options ahead of me and it was confusing trying to get the information I needed to decide which was the right one. A lot of the time, though, I felt like I had come to the edge of a cliff and there was just nothing. I had come to the end of what I knew and I couldn't even conceive what the other options were. I think it was mainly because I didn't know what I wanted and it took some time to figure out what that was. Finally the pathway formed and I knew what was ahead the next couple of years. I was focused on transferring and enjoying my new school and finally getting my Bachelor's degree.
    It seems like when we have big goals up ahead, like getting a degree, we get so focused and anticipate such relief when we get there that having to move past that point in the path and keep going, like we all must do, is destined to feel strange. It's like the movie kept going past the satisfying ending. Now what? For me, I got that degree last year, and life afterward was not as strange as I anticipated. Summer, after all, is when you're supposed to be out of school. Fall, I felt a little sentimental not going back but enjoyed not having to go. Birthdays and holidays gave me something to think about and plan for and do at the end of the year. Even more, 2013 was not kind to me and put me in crisis mode. Life is more day to day in such times. You're not looking ahead down the path very much because it's too scary. Now things aren't quite as dire, the holidays are over and I have started a new job, and so I'm starting to feel that strangeness. I think the feeling was just delayed.
    Saying that life is weird after we graduate college isn't an original idea. It's anticipated. It's written about. It's given a name: quarter-life crisis. I don't know if the concept of the quarter life crisis is the best explanation of where I'm at, but I am definitely in unfamiliar territory and what's next isn't so easily predictable. So if I want to have fun with this metephor game, and give a picture of where I'm at right now, I'd say that I've wandered out past the distinguishable path and it's just dry dirt under my feet in open territory with no distinguable landmarks. And I'm feeling some anxiety at the thought that I'm walking in the wrong direction going nowhere. Is this even the right metephor? I also feel this burden to form my own path, like if I don't start creating something for myself, I'm just going to be on a formless path in formless surroundings. I have to put time and effort into the relationships in my life. I have to make an effort to meet new people. I have to insist on doing what I want career wise and not let life just sweep me along. I have more say-so in what that path will look like. Some of it will form itself, and it will tumble along once I have my own family, but right now I've got to start building. I've got to take shapeless land and draw two parallel lines. I've got to plant the plants and build the structures along the path.
    Let me concede. As a Christian, I believe God is ultimately in control, and that I'm not having to build alone. Perhaps hardly at all if I had the big picture. And if we want to have a nice nerdy discussion about free will and predestination and whether we're forging the path, or just appear to be, we could. But whatever the case, I feel like I have more responsibility in what's ahead. I suppose it's a priviledge, though a scary one at times. I will not always get this much choice in my life. And I know better how to trust God along my way. Where's my shovel?