November 28, 2010

Slice of PIE: “We Don’t Pray About Eclipses…”


I am a fan of CS Lewis’ writing.

If this surprises you, then you haven’t been to my blog very often! Even so, I have spent years reading through his works. Of COURSE, I started with CHRONICLES OF NARNIA when I was about thirteen. My great-aunt Leola Danielson and her husband Ed (who smoked a pipe and snored like a Mac truck without a muffler) had to hold the place of my grandparents for most of my life because my real grandparents lived in California and never came to Minnesota. They also loved Jesus and held Him as Lord and Savior and spent time evangelizing all of us kids. In my case, that began when Aunty Lula (what we called her) let me take the hardcover copy of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE home to read and eventually to keep.

Since then, I’ve read one massive biography about Lewis as well as uncounted articles and as many of his writings as I could handle (I have never tried his literary criticism!).

Several months ago, I read LETTERS TO MALCOLM.

You should know this about me: when I read anything non-fiction, I take notes. Not copious notes (unless I’m planning a review or planning on using the book for some other purpose), but enough so that I can take at least ONE thing from it. After reading LETTERS, I discovered that it was fiction – and I here I had written down three things from it as take-aways!

*sigh*

*grin*

“Lewis” in the book, wrote to his young friend “Malcolm”, the following sentence: “We don’t pray about eclipses…”

I am sure it was embedded in a deeper discussion, but the rest of it wasn’t what struck me. It wasn’t what had staying power with me. The rest of the paragraph or conversation was not the hammer that made the bell in my head resonate and spark other ideas and thoughts.

This phrase did a couple of things for me. It made me realize that the only things I pray about are the things that are uncertain. In addition to NOT praying about eclipses, I don’t pray about my heartbeat (though some people DO); I do not pray about sunrise; I do not pray about temperatures (though some people DO); I also do not pray about ocean depth, Solar fusion, fingernail growth, the stability of my houses’ foundation, Christmas tree lights, grass growth, deer populations, the flow of electricity through high tension power lines, gasoline combustion, Interstate concrete, the composition of salt remaining constant, the Periodic Table of the elements, or whether the Universe is expanding at a significant portion of the speed of light.

Why DON’T I pray for those things in addition to eclipses?

I believe CS Lewis used hyperbole to make a point: God will take care of eclipses. They don’t require our prayerful intervention to happen. We simply assume that God is taking care of those things. By implication though, I need to trust that He is taking care of the smaller details: Liz’s strength, Mary’s living arrangements for next semester, Josh’s job, Laura’s education, Noah and my parent’s health and my writing career.

The Bible has said this eloquently already in Matthew 6: 27-29: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.”

Lewis reiterates it for a “space age”, the age in which he was living.

The age in which I live.

This holiday season, I promise (I can’t make a vow!) to rest more completely in the care of the Savior whose birth and promise we now intensely celebrate!

image: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/08/photogalleries/solar-eclipse-photos/images/primary/1_solareclipse_461.jpg

November 25, 2010

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 19: July 10, 1946

This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

Tommy Hastings curled around his hand and moaned. A second later, he went limp.

Freddie Merrill screamed, “He’s dead!”

Charlie, who was almost eighteen rolled his eyes and hopped up on the flatbed truck and put his hand on Tommy’s chest, looked up at Freddie and said, “He’s not dead. He’s just out cold.” He frowned. “But I think he busted his hand.

“What?” Freddie exclaimed. He looked down at Tommy and then back to Charlie and shouted, “This is all your fault!” He lunged at Charlie, but the other boy was not only older, but quicker. He sidestepped, tripping Freddie, but snagging the back of his pants and holding him up instead of letting him fall face-first into the heavy, full milk cans. Hauling the younger boy back, Charlie said, “We’ll take him to my uncle.”

“What? He the sheriff?” Freddie said, “You gonna get us arrested?”

Charlie frowned. “No, Uncle Chris is a doctor in McGregor.”

“Where’s that?”

“Forty miles from here.”

“What?” Freddie exclaimed. “How we gonna get there? What if Tommy dies before we get there? What am I gonna tell his dad?” He paused and his eyes got big as saucers. His voice a hoarse whisper, he said, “What am I gonna tell my dad?”

Charlie snorted and jumped from the truck. “You stay here with your buddy. We gotta stop in Glen to unload the milk then we’ll go see my uncle.”

“How long’s that gonna take?”

The truck roared to life again. Charlie stood up and shouted over the rumble, “First we gotta drop the milk off. That’ll go faster if you help.” Freddie nodded slowly, kneeling down beside Tommy. Charlie added, “Give it a half hour.” He dropped into the truck and this time when it started, Freddie noticed how smooth the older boy was in his driving the rest of the way.

Uncle Chris was a kindly old man who had a surgery in his house and muttered while he looked Tommy’s hand over. “If I had an x-ray machine, I could take a picture…stupid machines! I’ve been practicing medicine for forty years and I’ve never needed an x-ray machine before this!” His hands were strong and he held Tommy’s hand firmly, but he didn’t let the boy get away with grunts. “No, you have to tell me if this really hurts. Don’t be a fool like your old man and pretend it doesn’t. If you’ve really broken something and it doesn’t heal right, you’ll be a cripple by the age of eighteen and need a major amputation – probably from the neck down – by the time you’re twenty!”

In the corner, Charlie grinned.

Tommy’s eyes bugged out and Freddie near fainted away, but Tommy cooperated after that, wincing and “ouching” appropriately through the rest of the exam.

Finally Uncle Chris stepped back, held his chin with his left hand and his left elbow with his right hand. He hummed, scowled then said, “It’s not broken as far as I can tell.” Tommy looked at him like he wasn’t sure whether he should cheer or protest.

Charlie cheered then bit his lower lip when his uncle cast him a wicked mean look.

“It hurts worse than anything that’s ever happened to me!” Tommy finally said.

Uncle Chris nodded. “You bruised it – all the way down to and including the bone. How’d it happen?”

Charlie, Tommy and Freddie shot wild looks all around until Uncle Christ snorted. “I see how it is.” He looked at Charlie, “I’m sure it has nothing to do with Charlie’s driving too fast. If it did, I’d have to talk to my brother again and I can guarantee he wouldn’t be very happy to hear something like this from me.”

Freddie exclaimed, “He didn’t do anything, Doctor Chris! Please don’t tell his dad!”

Two young men and one old man stared at Freddie, who flushed scarlet. Uncle Chris nodded slowly then picked up a wide roll of gauze and slowly wrapped Tommy’s hand then hung the hand in a sling, saying, “You can’t use it for at least a week.”

“A week!” all three boys exclaimed at once.

Uncle Chris nodded slowly. “If you do, it might actually break a bone – and then all the things I predicted might easily happen.” He fixed each boy with a dark gaze, one after another. “I think you two should stay with Charlie and my brother while Tommy’s hand heals.”

“A week?” Tommy said in a small voice.

“A whole week?” said Charlie in an even smaller voice.

“A week,” Uncle Chris said and added, “As long as you don’t want to become a cripple?” Tommy shook his head fast. Charlie did the same as did Freddie. “You can tell my brother you’re traveling to see family in Duluth.”

Tommy blinked in surprise then nodded.

image: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/features/hibakusha/archive/news/2009/images/20090304p2a00m0na006000p_size5.jpg

November 21, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Hurried People and the Half-Time Sprint

Every morning on the way to work, driving at or near the posted speed limit, I am passed by cars sprinting five to ten miles per hour faster than I am. Sometimes these people weave in and out of traffic. Sometimes they lay on the horn at me, as if I am the sole cause of their need to hurry.

Putting aside my own level of irritating and conveniently overlooking the fact that some people drive the speed limit just to bug other drivers, I find myself wondering if going five or ten miles per hour over the speed limit really makes a difference. On the other hand, is going those few miles an hour like a sorcerer’s stone going to work a wizardly miracle of arriving on time to work despite leaving my house late?

To find out if wizardry is possible in this case, I turn to the science of physics. The following simple algebraic equation is something every ninth grader who comes through my science class will learn first semester: the speed of a [car] is equal to the distance [the car travels] divided by the time [it takes to reach your destination]. More simply; s=d/t.

But that’s not relevant here. We want to find out if TIME will get less if my speed is faster. Simple. We rearrange the equation getting [the] time [it takes to get somewhere] is equal to [the] distance [you go] divided by [the] speed [you go]. Again, more simply: t=d/s.

To get the results, we simply plug numbers in. We need to establish something here though. I need to know how fast I drive to work. There are nine stoplights and stop signs on my way to the school I teach at; the speed limit also varies over that distance (which remains a constant eight miles.) So I FIRST need to calculate my average speed. To do that, I’ll also tell you that on a usual morning, it take me twenty minutes to get to work. To do this right, I have to say that twenty minutes is 1/3 of an hour. In decimal, that’s .33 of a hour. So, to math:

s= d/t = 8 miles / .33 hours = 25 miles in an hour (or 25 mph). So my AVERAGE speed, stoplights and different speed limits and all is 25 mph. Now we can get down to business!

Let’s say I bump up my speed 5 mph to an average of 30 mph (which means ROUGHLY that in the SPEED LIMIT 30 zone I drive 35 and SPEED LIMIT 35 zone, I drive 40. HOW MUCH TIME WILL I SAVE?

t = d/s = 8 miles / 30 mph = .27 (remember, that’s .27 of an hour, so I have to times it by 60 minutes: .27 x 60 = 16.2 minutes. Speeding 5 mph faster, I magically save 3.8 minutes! WHEW! What a shave! Hmmm…not what I was hoping for.

All right! How about I get serious here? TEN mph faster! Move my average speed up to 40 (consistently 15 mph over the posted speed limit.)

S=d/t=8 mi/ 40 mph = .2 x 60 = 12 minutes! There we go! I’ve saved EIGHT ENTIRE MINUTES OF MY TIME! (Of course, at those speeds, I’m likely to come to the attention of law enforcement authorities eventually and the ticket for speeding might negate some of the financial gain I receive by being to work consistently on time even though I leave late…)

Ahem.

How about greater distances? I used to go to college in Moorhead, MN. From Minneapolis to Moorhead is 233 miles. Driving the speed limit (which AVERAGES 65 mph including potty breaks, slow downs and yelling at the kids in the back seat…) s=d/t=233/65= 3.58 hours. Speed up to 80: s=d/t=233/80= 2.9 hours for a savings of 42 minutes. Of course, 80 mph is my AVERAGE speed. The “sometimes slow” translates out as potty breaks, so my typical highway full speed travel is roughly 90 mph. Which once again can translate into close encounters of the law enforcement type…)

How about REALLY long trips? I must save time there! NYC to LA: 2784 miles. s=d/t=2784 miles/70 mph = 40 hours.

Speed it up to 80 mph: s=d/t=2784/80 = 34.8 hours. I save 5.2 hours. Hmmm…OK, but not really impressive.

Let’s REALLY speed it up to an average speed of 100 mph: s=d/t=2784/100 = (obviously) 27.84 hours. Savings: 12 hours. Half a day. Maybe worth it, but I can’t imagine my Toyota Sienna van maintaining a steady speed of 100 mph. Plus traveling consistently at that speed seems likely to evoke a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT effect as I pass like a flash from county to county and state to state.

So the only wizardy that happens here is in my mind: I’ve convinced myself that driving a couple miles an hour faster will MAGICALLY and dramatically change the time it takes to get somewhere. I will SWEAR EMPHATICALLY that the above math can’t possibly be true and that I have had personal experience with the wizardry of driving just a little faster, cutting off just a few people and running just a few red lights and stoplights. I KNOW it makes me get to work on time if I leave late!

My only choices are to continue to test the theory until it fits my perceptions, apply to Hogwarts and put on the choosing cap – or slow down and take it easy.

image: http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSCA91KLJXEzoP24QEmdHyaYFtcwSOBLG6Mxdh6DH0kFuTdk0YZFg

November 14, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 10 – Once and Future Wisdom

Nathan Bransford was once a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For nine years, he wrote a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ve looked at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) influenced my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog which has started to evolve but which I still highly recommend go to http://blog.nathanbransford.com/.

We come now to the last three bits of advice, and while they are important, they aren’t really that entertaining! He collected a glossary of publishing terms: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/book-publishing-glossary.html, a writing advice database: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/06/writing-advice-database.html, and FAQs: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/08/faqs.html.

These are fine and dandy, and the links are here for your delectation, but I can’t say they had any impact on my writing. HOWEVER, I am going to take a bit of advice from this set of FAQ. I sincerely hope I need it someday. On meeting agents face-to-face, Bransford says:

“First up: don't be nervous. Seriously. I don't bite, attack, make fun, disparage, or karate chop…don't feel like your chances of being published are hinging on what you say. They're not. So don't be nervous…if we don't get a chance to speak, just e-mail me. I'm sitting in on a pitch session on Sunday, but other than that, it's not the best idea to pitch stuff to me verbally in the halls. Not because I'm not interested in what you're working on (I am), but I need to see the writing. What it sounds like verbally doesn't really matter, I'm always going to say the same thing: ‘e-mail it to me’. If it comes up in conversation, great. But if you're looking for me to say whether it's a good idea or not -- I won't really be able to tell for sure without seeing the writing. Also, the pitch session is a good opportunity to ask any questions you have about the industry or about your writing -- I'm happy to help!

After sending out dozens of “cold” query letters and receiving from every one a “no”, while all were polite, my impression is that I am merely one of thousands of supplicants at the altar of publishing. They don’t know me from Adam and while my letters are “correct”, they have obviously made only a minimal impression. I HAVE received a few “please send more” responses, but each one ended with a polite “no thank you”.

*sigh*

We don’t have the money to chase agents around at conferences across the country, and to be truthful, most do not invite agents at all. SCBWI in California (and in Minneapolis) does. WorldCon SF convention in whatever city hosts it does; but other than that, where DO you meet agents?

I’d really, really like to test Mr. Bransford’s advice as I can no longer approach him now. He has resigned from the agenting business to begin a career as a technology reviewer for CNET, an online tech review site. Good luck to him. I am keeping an eye on his site carefully to see if he is able to maintain the traffic level now that his services are no longer available.

image: http://grongar.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/once_and_future_king1.jpg

November 13, 2010

Connected to AUSTRALIA!

I googled POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS this morning and have a look at where I popped up:


Kinda cool, huh?

November 11, 2010

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS 18

I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

Christopher Jon Hastings studied his mom as she drove. She was biting her lower lip, a sure sign she’d done something about which she was having second thoughts. He said, “What’s wrong, Mom?”

“You sister was pretty clear about neither of us going after her, right?”

“Yeah.” She didn’t say anything for a long time. CJ said again, “What’s wrong, Mom?”

“She’s the ‘super-hyper-major-genius-babe’, right? I’m just her adoptive mother. I can’t compete with her, but…”

“What’d you do, Mom?”

“I called a private investigator.”

CJ stared through the windshield as they drove home. He felt Mom look at him. When he finally spoke, he said, “Mr. Bates asked if I was gonna be on Math Team this weekend. It’s the final rounds of the district tournament.”

“And you said you’d be there?”

“Yeah. I didn’t think I was grounded any more.” He paused. “I’m trying not to do too good in school too suddenly now that I can read.’

Mom glanced at him, “It’s made that much difference?”

He nodded. “I get stuff now that I didn’t get last week. Some of it’s OK to learn. Like some of the stuff we’re doing in Civics seems OK, like government and stuff.” He glanced at Mom and caught her smiling. “Not like I’m gonna like school all of a sudden or nothing.”

She snorted softly then said, “So you think it’s OK I sent a private investigator after your sister?”

CJ shrugged. “I don’t know if anyone can find her if she doesn’t want to be found.”

“You found her when she ran the first time.”

He shrugged. “It was her first time. Now she knows what she’s doing and it won’t be so easy to catch her.” He paused. “Though I could probably find her.”

Mom pulled up the driveway once they reached home and got out. They didn’t speak until they were inside again. Then Mom said, “She may be a genius, but she’s still not that experienced. I’m going to leave the PI to find her – if he can.” She glanced at CJ a smiled grimly. “I’m still worried about her and now it sounds like she’s going to be breaking some real laws.”

“Yeah, but that douchebag Dr. Chazhukaran…”

“Christopher Jon!” Mom exclaimed.

“It’s what he is, Mom!” She pursed her lips and grunted. CJ continued, “Dr. Chaz-what’s-his-name isn’t the genius here. Mai Li is. He doesn’t stand a chance.”

Mom leaned back against the kitchen counter, staring off into space. Finally she said, “You’re probably right,” she glanced at him with a faint, mock scowl, “On all counts. But I’m going to leave the PI.”

“And you’re gonna let me got to the Math Team meet, too, right?”

She sniffed then said, “Yes.” CJ leaped and punched the air and was about to shout in victory when she added, “The attitude starts to change now.” His attitude stayed to same, when she added, “If nothing else, Mai Li taught you that you can change. She taught you to read in a few hours. You can change your attitude without her help.” CJ opened his mouth to protest when she cast a dark look at him. He closed his mouth. “You’re as smart as your sister is now in some ways. I expect you to start to show it.” Her eyes narrowed, “If you want to take the Math Team to the state championship.”

CJ’s eyes got bigger. They locked gazes for some time before he finally nodded and said softly, “Deal.”

*

When the PI showed up at the Math Team tournament, CJ was positive he’d never find Mai Li. He looked like a Secret Service agent standing at the back of the gym where the competition was taking place…

image: http://www.sunglassesguy.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/will-smith-sunglasses.jpg

November 7, 2010

Slice of PIE: “Operation Annihilate”

One of my all-time favorite STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES episodes has the same title as this blog entry. I’ve never been sure why I liked the episode, except that it was clearly filmed on location at some very futuristic looking college campus somewhere (actually, the Redondo Beach, CA aerospace HQ of the defunct TRW Corporation). To my young mind, it looked exactly as a colony on an alien world should look – neat, clean and full of people excited to be establishing a Human presence is space – with just enough alien threat to make it interesting.

Yet recently, the episode came to mind as a parable of my journey with the Holy Spirit. The “neural parasites” that attack the colony on Devena infiltrate the Human nervous system and force them to work for them by building ships so the hive can spread. When one of them attacks Spock and fills him with its nervous system, he must constantly fight to resist its directions to do the bidding of the hive mind.

This is a perfect metaphor for my struggles with the Holy Spirit.

I have surrendered to Jesus and experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit. But God is NOT a slave driver. The Father and the Son are NOT a hive mind. They will NOT overwhelm me to destroy my free will. Instead, they remind me of their presence in every choice I make and they seek to influence me to do God’s will.

As Spock fights the alien hive’s influence, I know I struggle against the Holy Spirit’s influence. Oh, I stop at times, during worship, especially or when I’m down, want something from God, when I’m in over my head, I back off and let the Holy Spirit control me. I used to characterize it as my “struggle against Satan”.

I’ve recently come to realize that my struggles are not so noble. I struggle instead against the influence of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s words: “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 17: 22-25)

I’d always interpreted these words to be about my noble, righteous, God-loving, worthy struggle against sin and the power of evil. But I’ve learned that the Hebrews didn’t necessarily see the world as spirit on this side and flesh on that. Theirs was a world of unity. So even though Paul speaks as if the two are separate, his words might just as well refer to my vulgar, self-righteous, God-ambivalent, sin-crusted, struggle against God’s will and the Holy Spirit in my life.

My everyday danger is that I discover, like Spock, a way to destroy the influence of the alien; the Holy Spirit living in me.

Like Paul says in verse 13, “May it never be!”

Image: http://www.wired.com/images/slideshow/2007/11/gallery_star_trek_monsters/tmneuralparasite.jpg