Friday, November 22, 2013

7 Quick Takes Vol. 23

Still hosted by Conversion Diary.

1.       Blogging hasn’t received much priority over the past week or so; I’m much more focused on fiction writing and just haven’t done a whole lot else. Lost City is finally starting to move!

2.       Well, that and I discovered Netflix has Chuck on view instant. Maybe I’ll solve the above problem by blogging about that, because man that’s a great show!

3.       In addition to stepping up my writing, I’ve been carving out more reading time, since that’s fallen off lately. Right now I’m tackling a bunch of books at once, as usual: I started Marlowe’s Faustus last night, I’m still plugging along through the monster that is Witness, I’ve resumed my study of the Summa, am casually re-reading Chesterton’s The Catholic Church and Conversion, and have recently gotten back into Monster Hunter Vendetta, the second book of the very fun Munster Hunter International series (if you want to know what those books are like: the part I read this morning had the hero getting into a pit-brawl with a gang of gnomes for calling one of them a lawn ornament). Whew! As you can see, I really need to allot more time to reading to get through all these.

4.       The above makes it sound as though I’m a lot smarter and more active than I really am. Let me clarify; I’m reading these books in the same sense that I’m keeping my apartment clean: I get around to it maybe once a week if I don’t get too distracted.

5.       Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis (also Aldous Huxley and…someone else, right?). There was an embarrassing moment earlier this week when, with all the coverage going on, I ended up thinking it was on the 19th and posted on Facebook to that effect. Well, in my defense, when half the internet spends the whole week leading up to the date of Kennedy’s assassination talking about it, it’s sometimes hard to pick out which date specifically they mean to commemorate (especially if you’re skimming for the more interesting bits).
Anyway, my carelessness about facts notwithstanding, today we ought to do something to commemorate the passing of one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth-century by reading one of his works. If you have time, plunk down with Screwtape (the audio book is only about four-and-a-half hours). If not, peruse a little in The Weight of Glory or The God in the Dock for his essays (one of my favorite is a very brief sketch where he imagines an argument between his soul and body: “That’s soul all over; give me an order and then blame me for obeying!”).  

6.       In violin I’m starting to try to learn vibrato (that thing where you wiggle you fingers to get a trill on the full and half notes). It’s really difficult! As in ‘how the heck do people do this?’ difficult. Basically, it involves quickly adjusting the amount of finger touching the string, without jerkign the whole violin all over the place. Or, to put it another way, you move the hand/arm in question in such a way that the only effect is that the finger holding down the string moves slightly. Yeesh! Still, I’m making some progress; I have the foggiest idea of how it’s supposed to work now, which is an improvement over last week.

7.       This weekend is my birthday! No real plans yet for the day itself, but I’m taking Monday off and planning on doing two things; going down to the shooting range and writing at the coffee shop for hours on end. Huzzah!

Vivat Christus Rex!

Memorization Sample:

First, imagine a cruise ship with two decks:
                On the lower deck, Dr. Destiny grabs a gorilla, which knocks over another gorilla who slides on floor wax, hopes over a ferret baring its teeth, then peaks through the floor of the deck above. There Mr. B Natural prances by, followed closely by his clone. An anaconda gives a ‘wtf’ look to the camera, then looks up to see three color-swapped clones of Dr. Destiny parade by, one of whom slips on a banana peel causing the Crypt Keeper to laugh briefly until Mr. B returns, eliciting another alarmed take to the camera from the anaconda. Mr. B the slides the length of the hall, crashing down the stairs to the lower deck, which interrupts Dr. Destiny’s attempt to apprehend the gorillas a second time, sending the second gorilla sliding on a banana peel, leap frogging the same bitey ferret, and once again popping into the upper deck. By this time, Mr. B and his clone have started waltzing, the Anaconda throws up, and the Drs. Destiny start to parade past, but the anaconda and its twin slam the door after only one escapes. Brother Anaconda stretches himself out a bit, only to be bitten by the bitey ferret popping its head up from from the lower deck, which quickly ducks back down and high-fives its brother right before Edna Mode smacks them both. Dr. Destiny then ice-skates passed, then zooms straight up the steps and skips three times along the upper deck. One of the gorillas punches upward through the floor from the lower deck, then the Crypt Keeper joins in the two Mr. Bs in dancing before the Anaconda holds up a ‘please kill me’ sign to the camera, then Dr. Destiny comes skipping by again, three times, and the gorilla tries to punch up through the floor again, then the Crpty Keeper parades past, followed by the two Mr. Bs and the Anaconda face-palms with its tale. Then Edna Mode does three cartwheels down the hall, Dr. Destiny chasing after her, followed by the Crypt Keeper and Mr. B. The Crypt Keeper slips on the waxed floor, sliding the length of the hallway until the anaconda whacks him with its tale, but Mr. B springs by, scooping the Crypt Keeper up in the process and followed by Dr. Destiny, who slips on a banana peel, falls into a hole to the lower deck, bounces off of one gorilla and is knocked aside by the other. The Anaconda mugs in surprise right before Mr. B comes skatting the length of the hall only to be slow-motion clothes-lined by Edna, who does a quick hop and a kick to Dr. Destiny’s back, who is knocked into the Crypt Keeper, who falls onto Mr. B, then bounces off and slides the length of the hall before the Anaconda again hits him with its tail and Mr. B scoops him up and sends Dr. Destiny onto a wet patch, which sends him down the stairs onto the gorilla, whose friend punches him to the ground. The anaconda faints and the gorilla does a chest pounding dominance display.

What the heck was that, you might ask?

That is Hark, the Herald Angels Sing for violin.

Vivat Christus Rex!

Friday, November 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 22

1.       So, if you’re coming here from our hostess site at Conversion Diary (where you can read about psychopathic centipedes and the people who love them) you might notice that you’ve been directed to a different blog than all my previous Quick Takes. That’s because this week I came to the decision that I really shouldn’t be trying to maintain four or five blogs at once when I get to them about once a week, so I’m consolidating all my blogging efforts (movies, religion, my life, and sarcastic comments on current events) into this one blog. So, if you’ve never been here before, welcome to The Catholic Nerd!

2.       By the way, if for whatever reason you care to browse my archived Quick Takes or Reviews (my sarcastic political commentary has all been deleted, because it wasn’t very good and I’m much better now), you can go here and here.

3.       I registered with the Catholic Writers’ Guild this week, thinking it’d be a good networking opportunity and chance to swap tips and tales with other Catholic wannabe writers. But, after making my password and paying my dues, I find that I “don’t have permission” to visit any of the forums or, well, do anything really. What? Then what did I just pay you guys for?
To anyone whose dealt with the site before; is this normal? And is it worth trying to deal with the problem?

4.       Speaking of Catholic Websites that Extort Money by Preying Upon Your Deepest Hopes and Desires (apparently, a surprisingly large category), my Online Dating Experience has been picking up some. I’ve had fun posting jokes in the forums, and I’ve actually communicated with some lovely ladies. Nothing’s ‘clicked’ yet, though, but at least the experience has begun to yield actual results (and after only about five months of trying!).

5.       I’ve started working on a mnemonic sequence for memorizing music, now that I actually know the names of the different notes (what? The really important part is “first finger on the third string,” not “B Natural”). So far I have the whole First (G) String (G natural = Lowland Gorilla, A natural = Augustus Gloop, etc.) and half of the Second (D) and Third (A) strings. Then it’s just a matter of linking them up in my mind and putting them together in bizarre ways to accompany the music! For instance, if the notes are E – B, I can imagine Edna Mode (from The Incredibles) slapping Mr. B Natural (you…don’t want to know) with a rolled up newspaper in time with the melody.

6.       On the writing front, I’ve been kind of scattered; Lost City of the Dimetrodons is making some progress, but I keep worrying that the leads are boring and that I need to make them more interesting. In my head, the male lead/main protagonist is a quiet, introverted musician and the female lead is basically a pre-Christian-Jewish-shepherd version of Lizzy Bennet, but I keep feeling like they’re not coming across. To deal with this, I starting working on lists of character traits to help me get a better grip on them.  
On the other hand, yesterday I got to write a fight scene between a ceratosaurus and a (juvenile) tyrannosaurus, so that was good.

7.       I’ve noticed an odd paradox this week; I’ve been working on embracing my introversion, and I find that the more I do, the more relaxed and out-going I become. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that the less I feel like I have to leave the house/strike up conversations/be liked, the more willing I am to do it on my own account. That, and I give myself lots of ‘me’ time in the process (I figure; grab it while you can, because if this Catholic Match thing works out, it’s all going bye-bye).

Vivat Christus Rex!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Saints Are Like Pagan Deities

                A frequent objection by our Protestant friends about the Catholic practice of honoring the Saints is that it is overtly reminiscent of polytheism, with the various gods dedicated to different aspects of the world replaced by the various Patron Saints of the Catholic calendar.
                And, in this, they’re quite right. The Saints are indeed fairly closely akin to the gods of ancient Greece, Rome, and so on. Where Protestants are mistaken is in thinking that these gods were at all akin to God. It’s more a confusion of language than of concept really; we use the same word for the pagan deities as for the Blessed Trinity, when it'd be closer to the truth to use the same word to describe the pagan deities and the Blessed Saints and Angels.
                It’s easy for us to forget, because we’ve grown used to the idea of an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent God who transcends nature and time because He created both, that the pagan gods had none of these qualities. Zeus was the king of the gods and the ruler of the air, but he was not omnipotent (he had to fight a ten year war to earn his throne) and he did not create nature. Quite the reverse; Mother Earth is his grandmother and the Sky is his grandfather. Odin likewise was fairly far removed from the birth of creation, his grandfather having been licked out of the primeval ice by an ancient cow (it’s paganism; get used to it). He helped make the world out of the remains of the giant Ymir, but obviously there was some sort of ‘world’ going on with Ymir, the cow, and all that ice. Nor was he omniscient (he needed his two crows to bring him news).
                See, the pagan gods were more like stewards of creation, or at least, like ruling princes who schemed and inherited their way into dominion of a world that they were just as much a part of as humanity. The gods of Greece and Rome and Babylon were, in short, a part of nature, just like the sun or the stars (sometimes they were the sun and the stars). They had their own roles to fulfill, and as such wielded much greater power than human beings, but they were ‘creatures’ just as humans or animals were ‘creatures.’ They were not the Prime Movers, nor were they being itself. They, as much as humanity, answered to a higher authority than themselves.
                Now, as you can see, exalted creatures serving a higher authority and helping to order and steward creation is indeed a fairly decent description of the Saints and Angels in Heaven. So, yes; Catholic Saints are pretty similar to Pagan deities (without all the womanizing and warring and turning things into other things in a fit of temper). It’s the Catholic God that is beyond the pagan gods. Think of it less as “you’re just trying to revive paganism” and more “the True God is so far above the false gods that we who serve Him become like in power to the false gods.”
                Actually, that understates it; the Saints are more powerful, more worthy of praise than pagan gods. Pagan gods, as noted, could be tricked, manipulated, injured, and even killed in some cases. The Saints are subject to none of those limitations. The Saints don’t have the petty, easily-tweaked personalities of the gods. Yet the Saints can do pretty much anything the gods could do; heal diseases and illnesses, control the forces of nature, inspire human creativity and virtue, foretell the future, and so on. They do all this because of their union with the One who can do all things.

"Our dead are more powerful than your gods; what do you suppose that says about our God?"
Vivat Christus Rex!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blogging Overhaul

I'm going to put this short and sweet; I don't blog nearly enough to justify maintaining four or five different blogs. I'm spread too thin, dealing with too many different fronts, and meanwhile I think some of my generals are planning to assassinate me...sorry, that metaphor kind of got away from me.

The point is that I've decided to shutter all my other blogs and simply post all my material (with the exception of my fiction) here. Reviews, life-updates, musings on religion and culture, all of them are going on Catholic Nerd. This is going to be my one and only public blog from now on, and as such it'll be getting a bit of an overhaul in the coming days/weeks to make it more suitable to be the single basket that holds all them eggs.

I'll keep the other blogs up and link back to them (since I don't want to clutter this one up with all those archives) but won't be adding to them. If you've subscribed to them, you should change over to this one.

Vivat Christus Rex!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why I Saw Ender's Game

I went to see Ender's Game last night.

It was pretty good: it's not gonna be one of my favorites, but it was definitely smarter and more thought-provoking than almost any other of the teen-fiction-films we've had to date. In fact, it almost serves as a cutting subversion of the genre, with its teen hero deliberately put through hell in order to forge him into a master commander. It was also good to see Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley in actually decent roles for a change (Ford in particular hasn't had a role this good since...well, a long time). I also appreciated that the film kept the bold twist ending from the book, which certainly isn't the kind of thing you expect from a big Hollywood picture (I haven't read the book, but I was aware of the twist going in. It still was shocking).

But honestly, I didn't go because I was particularly interested in the film. I'm glad I saw it, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't on my 'must see' list.

I felt like I had a moral obligation to go because of Orson Scott Card:the book's author. I really know nothing about him except for two facts; one, he wrote Ender's Game, one of the most acclaimed and popular science-fiction books of recent decades. Two, he opposes 'same-sex marriage.' In the world we live in, the second is apparently more important than the first. Card's lost business because of his stance; he's been fired from writing gigs (including a Superman issue) because of protests and angry letters. It seems like almost every review of the movie felt the need to mention Card's views. Keep in mind, none of this has to do with anything he wrote: nothing in Ender's Game deals with homosexuality in any way (except, possibly, a brief line where a blowhard sergeant threatens to 'neuter' any cadets who are found in the opposite sex's bathroom). It all has to do with his personal views. His, let it be said, entirely reasonable personal views.

I felt an obligation to pay to see his movie, not just because I agree with him (again, the issue don't really come up in the movie). But because I too am a writer, and hope to one day make a profession of it. If I do, I fully expect to meet the exact same vitriol and hatred as Card has, and for the exact same reason. So, I think I need to offer him such support as I can, knowing full well that I'll probably need it myself one day. "Do as you would be done by: this is the Law and the Prophets."

Vivat Christus Rex!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween.

Halloween is, to me, a celebration of a primal human need; the need to, for lack of a better term, play: to hold mock-battles, to imaginatively incarnate the evils and trials of the world into villains and monsters so that they can be slain. You can’t beat up lust or anger, but you can beat up vampires and werewolves. It’s tough, and they’re dangerous and all, but you can do it. If not, there’s always silver bullets, wooden stakes, big honkin’ shotguns and other monster-killing paraphernalia.

The point is, the impulse to create monsters and horror – to scare ourselves – is a good and healthy one (though, like all things, it can be perverted). It’s fun to be scared by a ghost story or a horror movie, just like it’s fun to jump out of an airplane with a parachute on. Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Kharis the Mummy, and so on wouldn’t be any fun at all if they were chasing us for real of course. But in fiction we enjoy the shiver of dread as we watch the stiff, painfully-rehearsed way Dracula pours the “very old wine,” all the while keeping his eyes on his victim. We like being creeped out by Kharis’s glittering black eyes (or, for the more discerning tastes, the creaking menace of Imhotep). Monsters like that not only scare us, but they comfort us as well; they take up residence in our consciousnesses and serve as endless sources of jokes and knowing references.

It’s play and story-telling; two of the most ancient of mankinds weapons against evil. They help us to make sense of the senseless; to trap it in images and make it vulnerable, rather like how Nancy pulls Freddy from the dream-world into the real-world, forcing him to fight on her terms (man, I love Nancy!). Stories and games can make us braver, more resilient to the trials and temptations of life.

See, the trouble is that real evil is something that is both very like nothing (indeed, there is no such thing as pure evil, because evil is only a negation or corruption of something good) and, as such, it is very subtle and impossible to pin down. The devil can take any shape or persona he likes. Stories, and especially horror stories, are attempts to ‘pin him down:’ to force him into a specific shape for the duration of the story so he can be defeated. This helps us build ‘habits’ for defeating him in the real world. The more and better stories we ingest, the more monsters we vicariously defeat, the more horrors we imaginatively endure, the more ‘trained’ we become to face him.

That’s one part of it. The other is that a really good horror story will showcase something of the ‘bad news:’ the fallen nature of humanity. Take Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for instance, in which the good doctor discovered just what was lurking inside his own soul and lost himself to it. Or The Picture of Dorian Gray, about a depraved young man’s inability to escape his own conscience. Or Halloween, about the irrational evil lurking beneath the surface even in the most ordinary of places.

C.S. Lewis (who knew how to write horror very well) said that Christianity has nothing to say to people who don’t think they need to be saved. A good horror story helps show just how deadly and universal evil really is, and how foolish we are to think that we’re “okay just the way we are.”  No, the world has too much corruption, too many spiritual dangers and temptations for us to think of ourselves as ‘safe.’ Being confronted with zombies or ghosts or werewolves invites us to look at ourselves and the world we live in, to see the darkness lurking just out of sight, and so to realize just how scared we ought to be.

Of course, fear doesn’t have the last word; we don’t live in a world of Lovecraftian elder gods, but of the One God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ and died to save us from that very evil that so frightens us. We can enjoy imaginary fear and danger all the more because we know that, in the real world, we don’t have to be afraid.

Vivat Christus Rex!