Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

A few months ago (probably on a Literary Friday, because that’s when I really tend to go overboard with this kind of thing) I got the idea into my head that I wanted a picture of William Faulkner to hang on my wall. So I Googled pictures of him for about thirty seconds before I fixated on this one. I’m not completely sure why–maybe it’s just the great light/dark contrast, or maybe it’s because Faulkner appears to be outside and unmistakably (stereotypically even!) in the South, which is fitting for an author whose work is so inseparably rooted in Place–but in any case, I liked this particular photo and I decided I wanted it on my wall (at home? In my office? I confess I had not got that far yet).

My first inclination was to ask my mother to draw it or me. For years she did portraits for everyone we knew for Christmas, and she even painted a portrait of my beautiful and sexy wife and me on our wedding day.

But then it hit me: Shit, I thought, I can draw. I should just draw it myself.

So I got started, and I worked on it here and there throughout August and September while I read Go Down, Moses, which turns out to be just a fucking amazing book and without a doubt one of the most powerful novels (and it definitely is a novel, not short stories) he ever wrote, second quite possibly to only Absalom, Absalom!.

I took my time, but when I realized today was William Faulkner’s birthday, I knew it was time to buckle down and finish it. So I did. And here it is.

Copyright by me. Don’t steal. But I hope you like it; I’m awfully proud of it.

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No one is without Christianity, if we agree on what we mean by that word. It is every individual’s individual code of behavior by means of which he makes himself a better human being than his nature wants to be, if he followed his nature only. Whatever its symbol — cross or crescent or whatever — that symbol is man’s reminder of his duty inside the human race. Its various allegories are the charts against which he measures himself and learns to know what he is. It cannot teach a man to be good as the textbook teaches him mathematics. It shows him how to discover himself, evolve for himself a moral codes and standard within his capacities and aspirations, by giving him a matchless example of suffering and sacrifice and the promise of hope.

from an interview with Jean Stein in 1958

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I have been thinking about that widget over on the sidebar that shows my most popular posts. The problem with it is that it’s based on what people have been looking at over the last 24-48 hours, which means it is representative really of what google searches bring people here, and not what my best writing is. So I think I am going to add a new widget that indexes what I think are my best pieces of writing.

I’ll put it up later today, but for now, here’s my tentative tracklist for the “Best of Byzantium” album.

Postmormon Sexual Ethics
Shout at The Devil: Satan, Heavy Metal, and the Great God Pan
Say A Prayer For Lefty, Too
One Way Or Another: The Bacchae
Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian
Eating Is Sacred
My Own Goddess
Aura Salve

Any of my readers think there’s any really good posts I have overlooked?

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Hansen’s moody historical novel chronicles the events leading up to the murder of Jesse James at the hands of his friend, Robert Ford, and then continues to follow the events of Ford’s life until his own murder years later.

That said, the book is not primarily a story. First and foremost, it is a dual character sketch of James and Ford. Hansen works hard to get into each of the title characters’ heads, and the results are powerful and stunning. James and Ford are starkly different–it is significant that in a scene where Ford names off all of the ways that he and James are alike, nearly every fact he mentions is superficial and ultimately laughably meaningless.

The book’s sole necessary evil is in the second chapter, where the narrative breaks and goes into a historical account of the life of Jesse James up to the book’s present. It’s good–for straight history it stays quick and pithy–but it is a bit of a jarring break from the semipoetic narrative of the preceding and subsequent chapters. The high point, however, of the history, is the focus on James’s relationship with his wife, Zee. It is sweet, romantic, dysfunctional, and heartbreaking. Jesse James was clearly madly in love with his wife, but he was also madly in love with himself, and as a result his wife spends her life in his shadow, and so after his death, is left with almost nothing.

The most striking thing about the book is how Hansen zooms in to sensory details–he draws attention to a gouge left by Robert Ford’s pistol on a chair, for example, so vividly that it is almost as if like Hansen is draping and weaving the narrative around these particular pointed, concrete details.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is not encessarily a quick read, but the book is not overly long either, and it has a way of drawing you in and keeping you there. It’s a poetic, psychological historical character sketch about two fascinating outlaws, and I recommend it.


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I was navigating through my WordPress dashboard and once again I noticed the list of unfinished drafts sitting there. The familiar twinge of guilt came, followed by the old, habitual “You’ll get to it eventually” lie that I tell myself. It’s time I faced the truth: I am probably never going to finish writing those posts. That being said, there is no reason that the unposted ideas should simply die.

Therefore I have decided to do them all in one go, as “stubs.” A list of rough ideas for posts I never got around to actually writing and that I probably never will write, alsong with any bits of them that I think are particularly worth sharing.

So without further ado:

Are Wiccans Really Pagan?: After the hubub following the Parliament of World Religions, this is sort of a dead horse. My opinion is that labels are mostly just semantic, but they do matter because they influence how we think about things, how we generalize, and thus how we interpret the world. Despite the fact a Hellenic polytheist may pay lip service to some of the same gods as a Wiccan, I do not think that Wicca and Reconstructionist Polytheism are even in the same category of religions. The term “earth-based” gets bandied about a lot, but I think it’s bullshit rhetoric. What does it even mean to be “earth-based,” and what makes a religion “earth-based?” In what way is your religion (or mine, or anyone else’s) “earth-based?” It has been taken for granted by most that all of the disparate religions and spiritual paths that congregate under the broad umbrella of “Neopaganism” actually belong together, but it is my opinion that they do not. I think that Neopaganism as a conceptual category is a net negative: by thinking of all of these religions as related, it causes people to treat them as if they are related, and it pushes their adherents to practice them as if they are related, and in the end, I think that is bad for everyone involved. I think that a Hellenic polytheist without a neopagan background has a lot more in common with a Hindu than he or she does with most Wiccans or neo-druids.

BYU vs. The Bakkhai: Last year, Brigham Young University canceled a performance of Euripides’ The Bakkhai, because it had “adult material.” I think that’s lame for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it is a kind of religious censorship. The Bakkhai, as originally conceived and performed, was a part of the Dionysian theater festival. It wasn’t entertainment; it was religion. By not allowing the Bakkhai because of its content, BYU actually censored the exprsssion of another religion. BYU is a Mormon university, so I guess it can do that if it wants, but it’s the kind of thing that strikes me as a petty and desperate form of ideological control. The best part about it is that one of the central messages of the Bakkhai is that by denying the place of Dionysus–by denying the wildness and the transgressory reveler within us–we give rise to tragedy. Our Dionysian natures will have their expression whether we want them to or not. We either drink the wine and dance with the maenads in a controlled and ultimately harmess expression of our untamed natures, or we try to deny them, and subject ourselves to savage backlash. And that is exactly what BYU has done, and exactly what Mormonism does: by trying to deny the Natural Man completely, Mormonism only invites him to come back and haunt us in far darker and more destructive ways.

Rolling Stone Is Kind Of Lame: I subscribed to Rolling Stone because I am a music enthusiast and because it was inexpensive, but usually I find myself irritated and disappointed by every issue. As long as the magazine sticks to music, it’s decent (although sometimes unnecessarily snide and nasty, as they were with the Taylor Swift cover story), but every time it ventures into politics and society, it does so ridiculously. News Flash, Rolling Stone: knee-jerk partisan support for the Democratic Party platform is not rock and roll rebellion.

I May Be A Civilian But I Will Never Be Civilized: My end of term of service date with the National Guard came and went, which means I am no longer even an active reservist. Getting out at that time was practical and prudent, but not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was back in. I had some bad times in the Army, but I had some incredible times, too, and for the last three years, being in the Army has made me happy. My heart aches to be a soldier again., and if I can figure out a way to make it happen, I will.

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Radiant Lord Apollo, god of the borderlands and leader of the muses, fill my mind with divine light and awaken the energy of my imagination that I may write poetry worthy to claim your inspiration. Lend me a portion of your glory that I may use it to compose poetry that glorifies you in turn.

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I mentioned a few posts ago that I was considering shutting down this blog. The fact is that I have had a great deal of things developing on the religious/spiritual front for the past several months, but I have been reluctant to blog about them for a number of reasons. When I stand back and think about that, I seriously consider whether there is a point to this blog anymore. From the beginning, my intention was to chronicle, in an admittedly incomplete fashion, my search for God. Thus the “sailing” motif–my search for the holy city.

However, over the past year it has become increasingly the case that I have had important spiritual milestones, breakthroughs, significant thoughts, interesting developments, and just not blogged about them. One reason is that, frankly, the more personal and spiritual something is to me, the more vulnerable it makes me feel and the more I am reluctant to talk about it. I can talk about religion in a detached, intellectual fashion all day, but when it starts to get personal and real, I clam up. I’ve always been that way. Ask my parents.

So in other words, I am developing spiritually without writing about it in what was intended to be my online spiritual journal. Why is that? I can think of several possibilities. First, a lot of people are reading this blog, including a lot of people in know in real life, and a lot of people in my extended family. Most of them don’t comment, but they have told me that they periodically check my blog. At no point did I intend for this blog to be a place to write anonymously, so when things come up that I don’t necessarily want to share (for fear of real-world rejection, fear of real-world judgment, and just plain not wanting to offend or hurt real-world peoples’ feelings), I leave them out. That obviously defeats the purpose of the blog.

Second, a related point, is that the more personal and dear something is to me, the less I am inclined to want to feel like I have to debate it or justify it to other people. I have made a lot of friends in the blog-o-verse, and a lot of them have vastly different opinions about religion. Furthermore, a blog with open comments necessarily attracts strangers, hit and run commenters, or people just eager to debate their pet spiritual points. But the more meaningful my religious experiences, the less interest I have in debating them. Again, this is a kind of self-censorship that makes me question whether there is much point to the blog. If I’m censoring the real meat of my spiritual journey, then why chronicle my spiritual journey?

Third, I may just be too lazy to write. If that’s the case, it’s not really a good excuse. fair enough. But hey, if I don’t want to write a blog, I don’t have to. I have had some really nice comments from people lately telling me that my blog has helped them. I’ll be honest–that kind of thing is really touching and makes me want to keep it up. But really the point of this blog never was to help other people. This blog was always first and foremost something for me, a place to work out my own thoughts and feelings. Other peoples’ needs–at least in terms of this particular blog–have to come in at a distant second.

Fourth, I may simply be at a point where I no longer have the need to blog about my spiritual thoughts and feelings. When I started this blog, it was a useful tool because it helped me think things through, investigate options, and the driving need to write kept me from growing complacent about my spirituality. I wanted to have something to write about, so I did a lot of thinking, reading, and investigating. It was important and formative for me, but if I no longer feel the personal need to write about my spiritual life, then the blog simply may have outlived its usefulness.

All of that, however, is a lot less important than this final, critical point: I believe that I am done sailing. I actually think I have landed ashore, spiritually speaking, and I can no longer claim to be searching. I have had a series of experiences over the past few months in the wake of which I no longer feel comfortable claiming that I am still shopping for religion. I’m not saying that I have found the one true truth, but I have been given something mysterious and important, and I have decided that it is more than I have been expecting, and I have decided to commit to it.

I admit that I have a fear of spiritual commitment–once burned, twice shy. And I struggle with my “tomorrow morning this will probably seem stupid” hesitancy. But from the beginning, I laid out the conditions under which I would be willing to commit myself to a spiritual path, and those conditions have been more than met. So I’m at a critical juncture. I believe that if I second-guess myself now, I will never find what I am looking for. If I am going to ignore powerful, intense spiritual experiences in favor of “sailing on,” then I am really making an affirmative decision: the journey in favor of the destination. And while I think the journey is important, and in some sense the journey never really ends, I also have a powerful hunger for the divine. It is a hunger that I yearn to fill, and I am certain that it will never be filled by Sailing to Byzantium, but by Byzantium herself.

So where does that leave me? I have considered starting a new blog, focusing on where I am at now, and one that would allow me an amount of anonymity that I feel is necessary at this point. On the other hand, I sort of tried that last year with my Dharma Bum blog and it turned out to be a silly blind alley. I’ll admit that I am worried that this will be another blind alley, but I am determined to commit–like I said, I am actually kind of tired of sailing.

In any case, I do not intend to continue to chronicle my spiritual journey here on this blog. I won’t delete it, because I feel like the archives are useful, and every now and then I get a wave of hits from Google which means someone out there is looking for what I am writing about. And it’s not like it’s costing me anything. I may even put a post or two here every now and then, especially if I do not start a new blog, because it’s nice to be able to post stuff that I want to tell the world about, and honestly I like my blog better than I like my Facebook profile. But in terms of this blog and my spiritual journey, well, like I said, I’m furling my sails and setting down my anchor, because I have some exploring to do.

NOTE: I ultimately wound up changing my mind.

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I’m thinking about starting to blog regularly again.  One nice thing about blogging my spiritual journey was that in a way, the blog actually helped propel me forwards.  When I came to a new conclusion, or something stuck in my craw, the blog helped me reify the former and work through the latter (or in some cases, see that it couldn’t actually be worked through).  Since I’ve stopped blogging regularly, I’ve made some decisions and come to some new conclusions, but in some ways they haven’t made much of a difference because I haven’t done much about them.  Blogging would be a way for me to make my experiences real, and commit myself to my decisions by announcing them publicly, if that makes sense.

Also, having a blog is a way to, simply put, make sure things that interest me happen in the blogosphere.  Other people’s blogs are fine, but there’s a give and take, an ongoing conversation that is lost when I don’t blog myself.  The conversation suffers, I think.

On the other hand, I have some moderate concerns.  I’ve come a long way since I stopped blogging regularly, and I’m not sure if I would try to catch up, or just kind of pick up where I am now and fill in important details as I go.  I guess the latter is more realistic.

I also wonder if the public nature of the blog isn’t more than a little narcissistic.  Would my needs be better served by something like a diary or a journal?

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