Monday, January 16, 2017

Always Ask Why

Good Monday morning.

If you are in the unfortunate position of not spending Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at home in your pajamas, my deepest condolences to you. Dr. King was a staunch proponent of nonviolence, which is why it's only fitting the children & I have today off because were that not the case I'd be pummeling someone. Even in death Dr. King quells violence.

Last week, prompted by a student's inquiry, I told you a little bit about why I write. Once again I'm going to share a few thoughts with you today that originated in my classroom - bastion of knowledge that it is - thoughts that bleed heavily into the process of editing & rewriting that has dominated my thoughts & my time this last week as my editing deadline drew ever nearer. Today, this very day, is my deadline to email my edited book to my editor. I haven't done it yet. I'm going to post this, fret over a few things for a bit longer, & then send the email. 

Before I continue, let me set the scene.

Henry's been sick the past few days. Trey left for a deposition in Jackson around six Friday morning so he wasn't home to help me get the kids dressed & ready for school. Cue scurrying & sweating. Couple Trey's absence with the fact that a long weekend was ahead & it was pretty much a guarantee one of the kids would get sick. I thought Henry had pink eye because there was gunk in one of his eyes, so Friday morning he spent a couple of hours in my classroom with my older students who, unlike his young classmates, know not to touch other people's eyes & then rub their own. 

My mom picked him up mid-morning & took him to the doctor that afternoon. He was declared to be free of pink eye but was pronounced seriously congested. His white count was fine so no antibiotic was prescribed. He's been coughing & running a little bit of fever since Friday, in the clutches of something presumably viral. His eyes still look tired & sick. It remains to be seen if he'll join me & Reagan at school tomorrow; I have a grandmother lined up if necessary. I say all this to let you know that Henry's illness, a side effect of which is clinginess, befell him at an unfortunate time for me. 

It gets better. Yesterday morning around five Trey left to drive to Houston. Unlike his trip to Jackson Friday, this trip was not business related. He drove to Houston & back in one day to go listen to some symphony. I am not kidding. Now, sure, it's wonderful to be married to someone brimming with so much culture, so much appreciation for the arts, that he'd drive to Houston & back in one day in order to hear a symphony. It's less exciting when one of the kids is sick, the other is, as always, diabetic, & you have an editing deadline approaching. Let's just say soon I'll be sitting on one of my new barstools wearing my new boots. Trips to Houston can be expensive, you know. 

Despite the setbacks, the time I thought I'd have to work over this past weekend that was denied to me, I think the book's nearing acceptable shape. I received my edit email, to which the edited book (& all the scary edit notes) was attached, right before school resumed in January. For the past few weeks I've been editing the book & combing through Lewis's The Screwtape Letters so that I might share some of its wisdom with the seniors. In undertaking these two endeavors I have learned a few things that I will now quickly share with you.

First, you should always reread things, especially books, be it one you read before & loved, one you read before & hated, or one you wrote yourself. Y'all. You've no idea what you miss the first time. I think this is my second time to read The Screwtape Letters. I may've read it in college, I am certain I read it with my book club a year ago, & I just, on Friday, finished reading it again. 

Last week a student asked me how a non-Christian literature teacher would approach Lewis. My first thought was, "Well, probably not at all." It's a shame, too. He's a giant of a figure in British literature, in my opinion. The Screwtape Letters is, among other things, narratively fascinating. The letters invite you inside the mind of a demon. In fact, I blogged about the benefits of seeing yourself as a demon does around this time last year because I was reading The Screwtape Letters with my book club. Yes, what's presented is Lewis's idea of the mind of a demon; the book is not scripture, but it is a stunning presentation of the intricacies of the forces of good and evil, and of human psychology.

I believe last week I told a student I'd link to what I'd written re:The Screwtape Letters, & in addition to the blog linked in the last paragraph, there's also this one.

On Friday the seniors' journal prompt was this: 

"He cannot ravish. He can only woo." Screwtape says this of the Enemy (God) in Chapter VIII. 
What does this mean? Why would ravishing be antithetical to God's plans/desires?

As you might imagine every class period began with a discussion of what antithetical means. I haven't read their answers yet. I didn't give them many clues, other than to go read it in context, & certainly to look up any words about whose meaning they were uncertain. There was some mumbling. Usually their journal prompts are along the lines of, What is your favorite color? We're going to discuss it further in class soon, although if they're reading this some of them will have a leg up on their classmates. 

He cannot ravish. He can only woo. These seven words sum up so much. I love the quote. I don't recall it striking me at all when I read the book a year ago. I think there are two reasons it jumped out at me this time. First, I am not teaching a monolithic block of students who share beliefs about, well about anything, but certainly not about the existence of the traditional Christian God. I know because I asked them. I asked them to answer a handful of basic questions I think are pertinent to how one approaches something like The Screwtape Letters, & they were honest with me & I am thankful for that. I don't love anyone any less after having read their answers. I only harbor ill will toward those who badmouth Hemingway or wear Alabama sweatshirts in my classroom. 

So, anyway, I asked them about this quote because it does two important things. It addresses not only how God will make Himself known, but why that is the case. It addresses His motive, & as I've made my way through my book edits, the word MOTIVE has been constantly at the forefront of my mind. 

I recently read this quote by the late Carrie Fisher:

No one is good or bad - but a hearty mix of both. 

I've been wrestling with some decisions my characters make (or might make . . . decisions TBD). What is at the root of figuring it all out is what is her motive? You cannot arrive at a decision about whether or not a character would or would not do something by asking if she is a "good" or "bad" person. If that's how you make decisions as a writer, you're not writing a three-dimensional character, you are writing a caricature, a flat, predictable stereotype. Who's the best gray character ever, EVER? Severus Snape, obviously. Why is he so appealing? Why do you want to reread the entire series to specifically pay attention to his scenes? Because, in time, his motives are revealed. 

So, back to ravishing & wooing. There are two dictionary definitions of ravish. 
(1) (archaic) seize & carry off someone by force
(2) (literary) fill someone with intense delight (enrapture) 

God can ravish. We know He can, that it is possible, because there are countless Biblical examples of Him ravishing. Why does He no longer ravish? A full answer to that question is not something I'm going to tackle in the remaining minutes I've allotted for the typing of this blog, but suffice it to say, given the plethora of evidence at our fingertips that points to God's existence, there is no need for Him to ravish, in my opinion. Go sit in on an ultrasound. You cannot stare too long at the screen & not think, God. I am not a scientist or a doctor or a theologian, but I can say with certainty that it is an impossibility that the human form & all its inner workings fell together. No one picks up their iPhone & laughs haughtily at the notion that Steve Jobs had anything to do with its creation. The human body boasts of a Creator. 

I think the main reason God does not ravish is that would leave men no choice - absolutely no choice - but to fall to their knees. You know what motivates God? Men & women who come to him freely. He wants us, but He will not force us. Soon, the Lord & my nerve willing, we're going to talk about free will in my classroom. Many are the people who cannot bring themselves to believe in an all powerful God who sits idly by while atrocities unfold all over the world. I understand this sentiment, I do. I don't think it is evidence that there is no God, or that God is unfeeling, but rather it is one of the many ramifications of God allowing men free will. He is motivated by His love for us, & by the joy it brings Him when people come to Him of their own accord. Thus, He does not ravish. 

As Austen says in Pride and Prejudice, The distance is nothing when one has a motive. 

There has perhaps never been a greater distance than the gaping maw that opened up between God & his most precious creation, man, when man sinned. God counted the distance as nothing because He was, & remains, motivated to provide a way to plug the gap. He watched His Son die a cruel death; He did not intervene, knowing the price for sin must somehow be paid & death defeated. That's a better story than Snape's. At the heart of understanding both stories is, of course, today's word of the day: motivation

This all takes me back to my youth when I had few responsibilities & spent a lot of time with Jack McCoy. McCoy knew not to approach a jury without a motive for the crime. People want to know why. I think McCoy would cosign what we've learned today: (1) Reread things. (2) Hunt for motive. 

I'll close by saying I am an idiot. On Saturday I posted some pictures of Reagan on Facebook & shared my feelings about the third anniversary of her diabetes diagnosis. After I posted, something felt off. I shook it off, thinking, No, you're only thinking she was diagnosed on January 16 because that is your editing deadline.

After a discussion with my mom on Sunday morning & a consult with a 2014 calendar, my misgivings on Saturday night were correct; she was indeed diagnosed three years ago today on January 16, 2014. Sorry for the misleading Facebook post. Here she is on Saturday on her date with her daddy. The plan was for Trey to take Reagan out & my mom to take Henry out while I edited. That plan fell through & so I was at home juggling a sick Henry & my laptop. 

My empty pantry, my loud children, & my editing deadline are all the motivation I need to bid you farewell. 


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