Search

 

 This site is a group of like-minded people sharing their thoughts together on one site. Peruse, join the conversation by comment, and enjoy. 

For a description of this society's purpose and forming click here but not here.

Follow us on Twitter @Ink_Society

Tuesday
Dec302014

Ambler, No. 36 [On Advice to an Aspiring Writer]

A contended mind enlargeth the dimension of little things. -- Sir Thomas Browne

No. 36If one wishes to someday be an avid writer, the last thing he ought to do is aspire to be a mere writer. Let me explain by way of example. Roughly three years ago, I first realized the truth of this paradox. I was in a room with six or seven other literary-minded folk, and a professor. I remember not the point, nor many details of the activity but that each student was to quickly jot down a potential occupation we wanted. In my literary-minded spirit, I wrote down the occupation of a writer, while a colleague wrote that of a juggler. Now, never mind that he probably had little to no inclination of actually becoming a juggler. Never mind that he would probably make a very poor juggler. Mind that a story about a man juggling poorly is certainly more fascinating than one about a man writing, even a man writing very well. There is a very real reason why men pay to see jugglers juggle and why no man -- not even my scribe -- would pay to watch me pen this post. It is the same reason why few books have bookworms for protagonists and those that do do not subject us to watching them read. In fact, the bookworms in books usually literally end up in their books, which themselves have nothing to do with bookworms. In any of the world's finest novels -- Crime and PunishmentThe Pickwick Papers -- men are not lounging around reading books. They are out murdering old women or erroneously placed in debtor's prisons.

Just this past week, I was faced with a similar dilemma. I sat alone at my place of residence, The Ole Midshipman, reading a fine novel by Kipling. Yet I was rather restless. There comes a time in a man's life when he needs to do something, and something that morning had to be done. If all one does is read, he never ends up like the men he readers about. He never rides on the backs of panthers like Mowgli. So, I grabbed my smoking-bowl, as Kipling would probably call it, and I headed for the river. I was rather under-dressed, for the winter winds produced a chill that pierced the marrow. Now, as I aimless sauntered by the waters, I kept a fresh eye out for a nice place to begin my smoke. The clouds that day were a light gray that seeped through the leafless trees, and upon hitting the waters, did not bounce as the sun does but rather folded into the already brown waters. Gray skies hitting water die quickly, and the only other colors signifying any life were the evergreens and pines across the way. I could not help but notice, however, their green seemed faded, if not by the cold than by the harsh winds.

I too was fading in the cold as I stood by the banks with one bony hand clutching my bowl and the other thrust into my pocket. I scoured the shore and decided to maneuver myself over to a nearby tree. The tree was one of those interesting sights with the bulk of it over-hanging the lazy river and its lower trunk creating a chair-like little nook. It was no easy feat making my way over to the tree, for I am a scholar, and I had to hoist my limbs across branches while artfully balancing the smoking-bowl between the teeth and keeping it lit. Nevertheless, I managed, and i was pleased, for the tree offered some relief from the wind. And thus I sat and pondered, and it occurred to me that though I was rather alone, God may not have meant "solitude is bad" when he said it isn't good for man to be alone. I think there is something of sanctification and holiness in solitude.

*****

Now, if I was to have a companion that day, I would choose someone who could explain to me the mysteries of the wild. For any faithful follower of these ambles well knows I have little notion about nature. And if I have learned anything this past year, it is that writing well on subjects you are ignorant of is altogether difficult and often painful for the audience. But that is the whole point of this post. I sat with my back to a tree I couldn't identify (I believe it was an oak), hoping to see a water-snake I couldn't name. I mused at some carvings in the trunk of another tree, but couldn't tell a soul how they got there. I listened to birds who would not tell me their story. Yet in all this, I sat contented (but for the increasing cold). And I was contented because, perhaps for the first time since I became an avid reader, I realized I was beginning to understand the true nature of becoming an avid writer. And that is to stop wishing to "be a writer." It is to be a human and then write about it. That is, one man writes because he likes toe idea of being a writer. Another writes because he sees something of the world he lives in that harkens to something outside. One man need make an adventure and then write about. Another man lives in a perpetual adventure and cannot help but write about it. The first man is too busy trying to fit heaven into earth. The second sees that the world contains multiple clues about heaven. The ambles of this past year have taught me that even the dullest of the dull days is a small whisper from the other side of eternity.

*****

Much of the modern problem with reading and writing classrooms is that everything is inward focused. Students may as well write about themselves and read themselves into books, they say, than to not read or write at all. You may as well tell a blind man that staring into a mirror for eternity is better than being blind. The truth is that a blind man sees further than many an American student today. And the trouble is, moreover, that if students do nothing but write about themselves, they never learn to write about anything outside themselves. The trouble is that writing is, for many, a way of escape just as is reading. It is a mighty attempt, and one often failed, to make the personal ventures of one's everyday life exciting and relevant to an outside audience.

*****

Thus, I sat there lazily like a modern-day Huck Finn, smoking my pipe and aimlessly musing. Eventually, the wind became too much, and I ambled my way back to my car, continuing to smoke, and I gazed at the solemn trees full of humming birds. To my left, the cornfields were perfectly shorn, displaying their calculated rows. Likewise, the trees were stripped for all to see the inner-workings of their limbs. I think back now that even the natural cycle of life, the death of a tree, has a breadth of eternity in it. And that is what this week reminds us of -- the end of the year forcefully proclaims the end of a cycle. This week forces us to reflect on that cycle, to reflect on whether it wants changing or meaning. I say, though, that the face that it is a cycle is quite obviously evidence for meaning. I say, one might be perplexed (and a little depressed) to find a random ambler in his inbox one day. I say, that man might begin reading, and if he hated it, leave it and go on his merry way, forgetting the thing ever occurred. But I say, if the poor chap came back for the next forty-five weeks or so and discovered all thirty-six, he may begin to believe some ghostly spirit had it out for him. Well, I say, he may be depressed to hear that the cycle won't change. The ambles will continue. Though perhaps, it will be of some comfort for him to know that that ghostly spirit is always working toward being less of a writer and more of an ambler.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written with a common pen,
Olathe, Kansas
December 26, 2014

Transcribed by the Author,
Longing for the return of Adam,
December 30, 2014

Painting: "A Little Boy Writing"
By Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
Oil on canvas, n.d.

Tuesday
Dec232014

Ambler, No. 35 [On the Light of the World]

In this virtuous Voyage of thy life hull not about like the Ark without the use of Rudder, Mast, or Sail, and bound for no Port. -- Sir T. Browne

Ambler, No. 35

The silvery smoke was nearly the only light guiding my path on a cold evening this past week. As I strolled past the towering smokestack, I paused for a few moments and gazed at the billowy smoke. Any of my colleagues would have cursed it. I was grateful. For that shivery evening--indeed, the wind made its way to my old bones--the lights in the building I had been working went out. As I made my way out, to my dismay, the streetlights were also out, and the short road had little to light the way. It is indeed interesting how a man can see a place in an entirely new light once all lights have been snuffed out. I made my way to my automobile, casting glances at the silvery smoke pouring out of the industrial building next to my own, and I reflected. I fought the frost and looked further past the smoke to the lesser lights beyond. And though the world on that short road had little light, I considered the setting and all its discomforts to be very good.

*****

A modern apologist may declare that discomforts are good because they remind us to be thankful for what we have. This is the same thing as saying discomforts are good because materialism is good. But discomforts are not good because they allow us to be thankful for a thing that has been taken away; discomforts are good because they remind us of a world that once was--that is, a better world free from the comforts of modern technologies. Discomforts remind us not that we have much to be thankful for but that much of what we thought would make us happy or joyful actually leaves us quite depressed. One might even say discomforts bring us closer to a world that was pronounced good; that is, they bring us in closer communion with that Creator.

Take any comfort you can think of and apply it. The man whose care breaks down at the same time his phone battery dies is the man who gets to travel these lands on the feet God gave him. He's like a modern day Davy Crocket or Zebulun Pike. He is not bound to his two feet; he is freed to his two feet. He is freed from that evil invention, the internal combustion engine, which does little but spread death, destruction, and depression to mankind. But an even better example of a discomfort that frees us from modern morbitities is the case from above. When a man is sitting in his study and happens to observe the lights flicker, joy should enter his breast. This is especially true if he is engaged with some electronic device that must be plugged into the wall. When the lights go out, he is altogether giddy, for he must light a candle to find his way.* Indeed, the best moments from a man's childhood are those moments when the lights of the modern world are snuffed out--when the entire family is forced to huddle around one single candle and listen to the sounds of their own voices.

And these moments are best when experienced in the northern states where snow frees us from the modern world for a few days. In times like these, creativity is bred, for the house becomes a type of haven from the frozen world. I think, moreover, that this creativity is bred from lack of options. On any particular day, a man can go out and chew the fat with his neighbor or friends or relations. He can zone the entire world out watching T.V. But when the blizzard comes, and he's locked inside, he must buck up and get along with whomever may be present. Better, he must get alone with whatever may be present--that is, his options are quite limited to the tiny kingdom of his house, and he sees this new place in a new light, the light of his candlestick. This truly is the answer to the riddle of modern nihilism. One may sees life as a never-ending array of random, meaningless choices that cycle year-in and year-out until his brief candle goes out. Another man subjects himself to his house and walks around as if he has discovered some untouched island. Yet another does this every day. And when this third man does leave the island, the wide world is more even more grand and mysterious than he previously imagined.

*****

It happened, as it should every Christmas season, that I was out last week with friends gazing at Christmas lights. Now, Christmas is the one time of year when grown men become children again, perhaps in celebration of the one time God became a child. These men do altogether silly things, such as singing carols, banging bells, or telling people to be merry. They even go so far to light the more useless place in their house: the outside. Lighting the outside of your house is entirely useless and opposite of what men should do. It is like wearing your skeleton on the outside of your skin. Now, I say, the problem with modern comforts is this: That though the comforts begin as toys, they end as utilities. It would not surprise me one bit if the first train conductor sat up in that front car blowing his horn with the giddiness of a child at play. It would not surprise me to find out that the first thing Edison did with the lightbulb was amble around his house making discoveries in the dark. I would be altogether flabbergasted to hear that Edison, upon creating light, only used it during the day, to see more clearly what he already saw quite adequately. So the whole notion of Christmas lights is altogether refreshing. For in this ceremony, men play. In this ceremony, the lights have no utility, and because they lack utility, they gain meaning. They trumpet the coming of the light of the world to a very morbid and dark world. And perhaps this is why our Creator said that even the dark was "good," for light is most appreciated against a black backdrop of nothingness. Indeed, the night sky is nothing but many houses lit for Christmas, offering hope to a dark and depressed world.

One house in particular caught our attention that evening. As we entered the subdivision, blazing blue trees, like stars, flashed before us as the angels did to the terrified shepherds. As we could not yet see the house, we drove near out of curiosity and turned the corner to get a view. It is at this moment that memory begins to fail. For the star that had led the wise men to the baby had landed in that lawn, and its brightness overtook me. The same blazing blue lights on the trunks of the trees were wrapped around every nook and cranny of the large home, and the glory of the blue trees was merely the feeble voice of one crying out in the desert. That blazing blue house looked as if it was lit on fire with scorching flames against the blackness of the night. Its glory, in comparison to the glory of the trees was that between a waning moon and a midsummer's sun. But I cannot help but imagine that those jolly men who put the lights on the outside of the house were enclosed in darkness on the inside. I do not refer to a darkness of ill deeds or sin-nature. I refer to a darkness of discovery. I refer to a darkness that makes everything bright. A darkness that takes unending joy in the little light of a candle, a joy manifested in the light of the bright morning star. Better, a joy manifested in the light of the Sun.

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at Kansas State University,
Manhattan, Kansas
December 19, 2014

Transcribed by the author
Yet in a jolly mood,
Olathe, Kansas,
December 22, 2014

Painting: "Candlelight: Youth Lighting a Pipe"
Godfried Schalcken,
Oil on canvas, n.d.

___________________________

*The candle should be used, not a horrid flashlight.

Monday
Dec222014

The Art of Rest

THE ART OF REST

The musician masters it
in the elision from play
to silence,
lift of bow hair from the string,
mouthpiece drawn away from lips,
the metronomic count
no one can hear, the exactness
in the next note sounded, a cycle
of forgettings and remembrances.
 
Or to be among those included
only as an afterthought, unnamed,
an auditioner passed on for a role,
a contributor fallen short of standout effort,
any who linger on the fringe
of limelight, who long to bathe
in a citrus glow.
 
Or relaxation’s elusive sidekick,
more potent than the strongest drug, the want
of every life. In death, of course, the tables turn—
that familiar stone engraving, the rip
from brain and blood and beat to join instead
with peace, where the living wonder
if it is, indeed, history,
or something else entirely.
 
We might think of sleep
as the oldest instance of the form,
the challenge greater before the first mattress
of leaves, straw, skin.
There are those who retain that skill
of ancient times; those of us awake hear
the rosiny scratch of dreams in the pitch
of every breath,
the song of it all,
the marks of the composer.

Bryn Homuth

On a sleepless midwinter night

December 19, 2014 

Image: "James VI Asleep at Church"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
John Ritchie 

Monday
Dec222014

The Jolly Janitor: An Imitation on Christmas

The following is an imitation of G.K. Chesterton's prose.

The more a modern American student progresses in his studies, the further away he gets from common sense. The closer he gets to the specific knowledge of academics and astronauts, the further away he moves from the common truth known by gardeners and garbage men. The judge may hold the mallet in his right hand and the Law in his left; the common juryman holds his keys in his right and the Home in his left. He has the keys to the kingdom of his home; he has the keys to the kingdom of his family; he has the keys to the kingdom of common humanity. Some may even say he has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It might be truly stated that the whole heavenly sense of a matter is summed up in the general truths of gardeners and garbage men—the gardener sees the beginning of a matter; the garbage man the end. But the modern notion is that because the gardener does not know the science behind his gardening, that the gardener really knows very little about gardening; that the garbage man is unfamiliar with the sociological aspects of modern dumps, he truly knows nothing of the reality of taking out the garbage. But it may be that the less science and sociology a man knows, the better he can know a thing. The botanist may barge in on the gardener planting tulips or turnips; he may proclaim some scientific fact about the tulip and give a sociological panegyric on the turnip; he will almost certainly fail to realize that a tulip is a colorful mitre on a green stick and the turnip a court jester—each shouting philosophical truths as they shoot up from the ground.

The truth is that a tulip is not meant to be studied as much as it is to be wondered at. It is the cold botanist who has facts before faith who cannot see that faith must precede facts. The common gardener knows enough to plant the seed; he may wonder enough at the cycle of plant life to buy the botanist’s book; but he will never be so ignorant—and might I say arrogant—to leave off wondering where the first seed came from. He is not so interested in answering the question of whether the seed or the tulip came first. He is amused that either came at all. And thus it is with nearly every facet of life, that the more a man knows a thing, the easier it is for him to explain away its existence. And the more we begin explaining away the existence of tulips and turnips, the easier it becomes to explain away the elk and the elephant—the easier it becomes to explain away the monkey and the man. The fault of the modern is not that he seeks answers; the fault of the modern is that he is content with the answers he does find; the fault of the modern is that he lives in perpetual discontent.

We hopeless moderns have placed so much hope in science and sociology that we’ve even explained away hope—we’ve socialized it, if you will. Like every other word, we’ve redefined hope to mean not placing trust in something unseen but in something seen. It may be said that the rhetoric of the modern is distrustful of that which he cannot see. And to live in distrust of what one cannot see is that same as to live, not just without hope but in disdain of hope. It is to live for the physical and not the spiritual; it is to live for the present and not eternity; it is, in short, to live for turnips and not court jesters.

It happened one day as I was sitting at my desk that the new janitor arrived to collect my trash. It must here be noted that the common notion that janitors make up the lower end of society is both false and contradictory. A modern will preach that money is not important and then berate the janitor for not making money; he will preach that cleanliness is not next to godliness but is godliness, and then tell the janitor to envy his boss—to stop making things clean and instead make them dirty. But the truth is janitors are faeries among us, waving their wands and making all things clean. If all janitors took the advice of sociologists and scientists, the trashcans would never be taken out; more importantly, their intellectual trash would never be taken out. Instead of telling the janitor to stop cleaning, we ought to applaud the fact that he is the one soul among us who actually does clean. For the janitor is not just a man who cleans the floors and takes out the trash; he is a great buttress to truth. He may know little about the demographics of socioeconomic class or the science of his cleaning solution; he does know that when a thing is dirty, it ought to be cleaned.

And this is perhaps why janitors are often happier men than academics. For as the janitor ambled into my office to take out the trash, I could not help but notice the smile on his face as he asked me how I was doing. I answered and then returned the question, receiving his common reply:

“Every day is Christmas.”

Christmas may be last the defense to a hopeless world. It may be more like a modern to proclaim that everyday is Halloween; it may be that a postmodern Christmas is the most depressing day of the year. But one thing that will never escape the common man—of which I associate my janitor—is the fundamental meaning behind Christmas. For Christmas signifies the dawn; it signifies new life and the joy of birth; it signifies the invasion of the King in the guise of a carpenter; it signifies, in this, the whole heavenly sense of common tasks like carpentry or cleaning. Christmas, one might say, is that one day of our morbid modern world which still holds on to the ideal that all men are created equal. It is the day when Scrooges buy turkeys for their clerks; when Tiny Tims become great moralists and philosophers; when pessimists can be optimists and janitors, mayors. It is, in short, the day the world was flipped upside down. It is the claim that a God became a child, that God, in effect, chose to wonder. It cannot be explained away but is itself a thing only to be wondered at. And the whole modern world lives from day to day in this denial. For the botanist to say he comprehends the tulip is the philosopher saying he comprehends the incarnation. It is precisely the philosophers and scientists who make such claims; janitors do not. And in this it may be said that philosophers cannot comprehend the incarnation because it makes no sense and janitors do comprehend the incarnation because it makes no sense. It may be said that modern philosophers cannot believe even what they see and that janitors believe in the unseen because of what they see. It may even be said that janitors alone can wonder, that janitors, consequently, are the true optimists among us. And in my pessimistic modern ways, I asked my janitor that if every day was Christmas, what day was Christmas

“Why,” he answered with a smile. “It’s Christmas.”

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written by the dreadful way of the computer keyboard,
Manhattan, KS
Some day in October, 2014

Painting: "The Custodian,"
By Harry Rutherford,
Oil on canvas, 1947

Friday
Dec192014

The New Name

To him that overcometh, I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.— REV. ii. 17.
 
I say, in brief, the giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man. It is the divine judgment, the solemn holy doom of the righteous man, the "Come, thou blessed," spoken to the individual. 
 
In order to see this, we must first understand what is the idea of a name,— that is, what is the perfect notion of a name. For, seeing the mystical energy of a holy mind here speaks of God as giving something, we must understand that the essential thing, and not any of its accidents or imitations, is intended.
 
A name of the ordinary kind in this world, has nothing essential in it. It is but a label by which one man and a scrap of his external history may be known from another man and a scrap of his history. The only names which have significance are those which the popular judgment or prejudice or humour bestows, either for ridicule or honour, upon a few out of the many. Each of these is founded upon some external characteristic of the man, upon some predominant peculiarity of temper, some excellence or the reverse of character, or something which he does or has done well or ill enough, or at least, singularly enough, to render him, in the eyes of the people, worthy of such distinction from other men. As far as they go, these are real names, for, in some poor measure, they express individuality.
 
The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the being, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man's own symbol,— his soul's picture, in a word,— the sign which belongs to him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is, or even, seeing what he is, could express in a name- word the sum and harmony of what he sees. To whom is this name given? To him that overcometh. When is it given? When he has overcome. Does God then not know what a man is going to become? As surely as he sees the oak which he put there lying in the heart of the acorn. Why then does he wait till the man has become by overcoming ere he settles what his name shall be? He does not wait; he knows his name from the first. But as— although repentance comes because God pardons— yet the man becomes aware of the pardon only in the repentance; so it is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it, for then first can he understand what his name signifies. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completion, that determines the name; and God foresees that from the first, because he made it so; but the tree of the soul, before its blossom comes, cannot understand what blossom it is to bear, and could not know what the word meant, which, in representing its own unarrived completeness, named itself. Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name.

 

George Macdonald
Excerpt from Unspoken Sermons 

Illustration by David Sankey