Posts Tagged 'Books'



Willing to Be Bad

I’m reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In fact, I first read it years ago. Maybe you’ve heard of it, if you’ve been involved with the artsy community in any way. I think I bought and read it maybe fifteen years ago.  The book’s subtitle is “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” and its tagline is A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.

It has some good stuff in it, but also lots of weird stuff, for though she talks about God and seeking out the “Great Creator” to find one’s own creativity, this is not a Christian book. And years ago, I only made it  about halfway through before I got too annoyed by all the New Age gunk and put it aside. Later I took it to the used bookstore.

About a month ago, I got down the journal I’d kept during that time, one that goes with the “course.”  Part of that course is to do morning pages — three pages of handwritten, stream of consciousness material, done first thing upon rising every day — and this journal had some of those morning pages, plus a lot of quotes from the book as page decorations. I was surprised by how doctrinal they were. Here’s a couple, in italics, with the verses that say the same thing (not italicized).

“I am a channel for God’s creativity and my work comes to good.”

“I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to execute for His good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

“My dreams come from God and God has the power to accomplish them.”

“Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Ps 37:4,5

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 2 Co 9:8

“There is a divine plan of goodness for my work.”

“I am willing to let God create through me.”

“Faithful is He who calls you and He will bring it to pass.” I Th 5:24

You get the idea. Having recently been shown that God is able to use evil priests (like Caiaphas) and donkeys (Balaam’s ass) to communicate truth, and having experienced His ability in using unlikely sources to speak to me personally, I decided to buy a second copy of the book and give it another shot.

And today, in reading an early part of it, I found this:

“Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one.”

Whoa!  Did that bring back memories! I know this. I know it from painting and I know it from writing.

Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird :

“Why I encourage really, really awful first drafts is because this is how every single real writer I know writes. My students have this illusion that good writers sit there as if they’re just taking dictation and it’s coming out fully formed. I believe that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor and the enemy of the people. It makes it impossible for us to get anything down. As soon as you can break through that need, and just let yourself write whatever comes out, knowing that no one’s reading over your shoulder, knowing you can go through and start to shape, cut stuff out, save it for other projects… winnow out what the real structure and the real story is that you’re attempting to capture, then you’re home free. Sort of.”

I saved this quote in a special book along with a number of others from other writers, all advocating the same thing. You must be willing to let it be bad.

In that vein of thought I realized that by trying to get everything in the story and the world and the characters worked out and logical and ready before I could move on in Chapter 1, I had hamstrung myself. That’s not even how I work. The moment I gave myself the permission to just go forward, letting it be awful, illogical, with stupid dialogue, lame characterization, inscrutable or nonexistant motivations, inconsistent, arbitrary world building elements… something seemed to release inside me. My interest perked up. Is this the key? Is this what I needed to see?

I don’t know. I’ll know better in the morning. But things suddenly seem hopeful. I am SOOO sick of laboring over the first three pages of Chapter 1, the whole of which is already written, albeit, ahem, badly. The thought of just leaving it and moving on is rather exciting.

Thoughts from Black Hawk Down

I was going through some papers in my office the other day and found the following, which I pulled from the Afterward of the book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, which I read many years ago. I remember this section surprising me at the time; now it seems profound in its truth , a very clear elucidation of the human condition with respect to volition and something worth recalling and reflecting on from time to time:

“It was a watershed,” says one State Department official . . . “The idea used to be that terrible countries were terrible because good, decent, innocent people were being oppressed by evil, thuggish leaders. Somalia changed that. Here you have a country where just about everybody is caught up in hatred and fighting. You stop an old lady on the street and ask her if she wants peace, and she’ll say, yes, of course, I pray for it daily. All the things you’d expect her to say. Then ask her if she would be willing for her clan to share power with another in order to have that peace, and she’ll say, ‘With those murderers and thieves? I’d die first.’ People in these countries — Bosnia is a more recent example — don’t want peace. They want victory. They want power. Men, women, old and young. Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and the killing continues because they want it to. Or because they don’t want peace enough to stop it.” (pg 334-335)

And then a little later, this from p 345:

“Every battle is a drama played out apart from broader issues. Soldiers cannot concern themselves with the forces that bring them to a fight, or its aftermath. They trust their leaders not to risk their lives for too little. Once the battle is joined, they fight to survive as much as to win, to kill before they are killed. The story of combat is timeless. It is about the same things whether in Troy or Gettysburg, Normandy or the Ia Drang. It is about soldiers, most of them young, trapped in a fight to the death. The extreme and terrible nature of war touches something essential about being human, and soldiers do not always like what they learn. For those who survive, the victors and the defeated, the battle lives on in their memories and nightmares and in the dull ache of old wounds. It survives as hundreds of searing private memories of loss and triumph, shame and pride, struggles each veteran must refight every day of his life.

[snip]

“Many of the young Americans who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu are civilians again . . . They are creatures of pop culture . . . Their experience of battle, unlike that of any other generation of American soldiers was colored by a lifetime of watching the vivid gore of Hollywood action movies. In my interviews with those who were in the thick of the battle, they remarked again and again how much they felt like they were in a movie, and had to remind themselves that this horror, the blood, the deaths, was real. They describe feeling weirdly out of place, as though they did not belong here, fighting feelings of disbelief, anger, and ill-defined betrayal. This cannot be real . . . To look at them today, few show any outward sign that one day not too long ago, they risked their lives in an ancient African city, killed for their country, took a bullet or saw their best friend shot dead. They returned to a country that didn’t care or remember. Their fight was neither triumph nor defeat; it just didn’t matter. It’s as thought their firefight was a bizarre two-day adventure, like some extreme Outward Bound experience where things got out of hand and some of the guys got killed.

I wrote this book for them. “

The Andromeda Strain

Recently I reread Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. I first read it not too long after it came out in 1969 (at least the paperback), which would have put me in high school or college. I kind of think high school because 1) I had no time to read any novels during the 4 years I was in college and 2) I remember not really having much of an idea what was going on in it.

As a result I did not read Crichton again until Jurassic Park came along in 1990. I had no problems understanding what was going on in Jurassic Park, in fact, I loved it and went on to read almost all of Crichton’s novels until his death. Now I’m going back to catch up on his early work.

Re-reading The Andromeda Strain I certainly understood why I might not have grasped what was going on the first time, since it’s heavy on the science/medical stuff which I had no frame of reference for in high school. This time I had no problem with any of it, because almost all of it was familiar.  The funny part was how outdated it was combined with the pervading tone of  “Wow! isn’t this new computer technology mind-blowing?!”  Now days all that stuff is clunky and slow, and the “weird” new technologies are commonplace.

What was even more interesting to me, and what I now see runs through almost all his work, is the idea that science is fallible and subject to the effects of ignorance, stupidity, naivite, arrogance and thus — my conclusion here — not to be worshipped.

He starts in the “Acknowledgements” which is actually part of the story, and says:

“This book recounts the 5-day history of a major American scientific crisis. As in most crises, the events surrounding the Andromeda Strain were a compound of foresight and foolishness, innocence and brilliance. Nearly everyone involved had moments of great brilliance and moments of unaccountable stupidity.

To the list he adds fatigue, minor but not uncommon malfunctions of machinery, and incorrect but logical assumptions born out of pre-existing mindsets that affected the investigator’s perspective and direction of inquiry. All these combined in the story to hinder and dangerously delay their arrival at the truth of what the Andromeda strain was and what it did.

I found it a treatise on the fact that man is not and never will be omniscient. There will always be vast areas of truth he will never comprehend. In fact, I believe there are some things we will never be capable of figuring out — or of truly understanding even if God flat-out tells us. After all, He’s already flat-out told us He is three persons in one essence and we don’t really understand that. Nor how Jesus Christ could have borne all the sins of all time in His body on the Cross in just three hours. Nor how He can be God and Man in one person forever, the two natures separate but inseparably united…

But I digress from the book. Because it seemed that these conclusions were everywhere. Case in Point:

“Biology… was a unique science because it could not define its subject matter. Nobody had a definition for life. Nobody knew what it was, really. The old definitions — an organism that showed ingestion, excretion, metabolism, reproduction and so on — were worthless. One could always find exceptions.

The group had finally concluded that energy conversion was the hallmark of life. All living organisms in some way took in energy — as food, or sunlight — and converted it to another form of energy and put it to use.”  [Emphasis mine]

One of the characters then presented three objects as rebuttal to this definition: a black cloth that absorbs heat, a watch with a radium dial, and a piece of granite which he challenged the other team members to prove were not living.

The cloth absorbed heat, seemingly to no purpose, but how can we say that for sure?  The watch showed decay in process, and the production of light, but again how could it be said for sure there was no purpose in it? Finally the granite, which he claimed was living, breathing and walking, only at such an infinitesimally slow rate we can’t see it. To the granite we are like flashes in the light. I loved this. Made me think of God, though of course He does see us, and has revealed Himself to us. He has not left us at the mercy of our limitations of sensation and rationalization, only of our volition.

The scientists finally conceded

That it was possible they might not be able to analyze certain life forms should they arrive…might not be able to make the slightest headway, the least beginning in such an analysis.

I loved this for the elemental humility that is in it, for showing the limits of science and man and drawing parallels (though not explicitly) to God, who is not only an “alien” life form, but the source of life.  And we cannot analyze Him, not in full, even with His word. Delving into questions like these should make us sit back and realize that.

As a culture and a civilization, we’ve spent so much time and energy and man-hours of effort trying to analyze our world, trying to figure out how the Lego pieces fit together, as it were. We’ve “invented” and produced a lot of things that supposedly make life easier and safer and healthier and cleaner. But… I do not believe we are any happier than any other generation of people. Because the only one who’s really worth all that time and effort to understand is God who is the only source of true happiness.

Early Warning

Over the weekend I started reading a book called Early Warning by Michael Walsh, who used to be music critic for Time magazine. (It shows – he sneaks in all sorts of musical references, like naming a character after a character in the opera Turandot or using Elgar’s Enigma Variations to introduce a discussion about cryptology). The biographical material at the back of the books says Walsh was born on the US Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, comes from a long line of American servicemen dating back to the Spanish-American War, and grew up among veterans and intelligence officers in duty stations around the world. Which grants him a degree of credibility for what he’s writing about.

Early Warning is a “Jack Bauer novel”… that is, its set-up is very much the same as that of 24 — the hero, supersecret operative “Devlin” is part of a supersecret security agency buried in the National Security Agency, a man who pretty much answers to no one but himself and has direct access to the president whenever he wishes. I’m only about a third of the way through, and the story is apparently a continuation of earlier tales, but it seems Devlin may have as traumatic a history as Bauer has ended up with. Anyway, I’ve been enjoying it.

And then on p100 I came to a part about wiretapping, which is no longer about faux telephone servicemen connecting wires in boxes, but is in fact, more like the Kraken released from its lair (we saw Clash of the Titans recently)… a many tentacled beast far beyond our ability to control. I knew we were on our way to this situation; I did not realize we were there.

Here’s what Walsh says, writing in the thoughts of one of his characters, the director of the NSA:

“The Black Widow was the in-house nickname fo the NSA’s Cray supercomputer at Fort Meade. Forget privacy — no matter what the sideshow arguments in Congress were about the FISA laws or civil liberties, the Black Widow continued to go remorselessly about her job, which was to listen in on, and read, all telephonic and written electronic communication, in any language, anywhere in the world. It was the old Clinton-era “Echelon” project writ large, able to perform trillions of calculations per second as it sifted and sorted in its never-ending quest for key words, code words, patterns…

[snip]

“…The Black Widow not only heard all and read all, she could sense all: the technology had advanced to such an extent that the Widow and other Cray supercomputers like her — including the Cray XT4, known as the Jaguar, and the MPP (Massively Parallel Processor) housed at the University of Tennessee– could read the keystrokes of a given computer through the electrical current serving the machine. And all linkable.”

Well at that point I put down the book and went Googling. I’d thought the Black Widow might have been made up but what about the Cray XT4 Jaguar?

Real. Even has its own Wiki article here.

The Massively Parallel Processor?

Also real.

And so, to my surprise, is the Black Widow. Here. And here.

Note in both of these  latter references, one of which is the Cray Press Release, there’s nothing directly said about spying, other than the fact that these highly advanced supercomputers are provided to the government… presumably for research, since that’s all that’s mentioned in the release.

I did find some references to spying in a book review in the Baltimore Sun by David Wood. Reviewing The Shadow Factory by James Bamford, Wood says,

“Most convincingly, Bamford guides the reader through the NSA’s greatest challenge: staying ahead of the explosive growth in volume and types of communications.

“Voice traffic alone increases 20 percent a year. Digital cell phones and fiber-optic cables vastly complicate the eavesdroppers’ job. Today, the NSA’s colossal Cray supercomputer, code-named the “Black Widow,” scans millions of domestic and international phone calls and e-mails every hour. That’s harder than it sounds: For purposes of speed and encryption, many of these communications are transmitted in fragments. The Black Widow, performing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, searches through and reassembles key words and patterns, across many languages. Storing all this data, Bamford reports, is already an enormous headache for the NSA.”

Full article here.

Since this was not an article on the NSA but a review of a book about the NSA, and since it seemed these words were only here reported as having been written by Bamford in the book, which I’ve not read, I went looking for corroborating information.

And came across ECHELON : ” a term associated with a global network of computers that automatically search through millions of intercepted messages for pre-programmed keywords or fax, telex and e-mail addresses. Every word of every message in the frequencies and channels selected at a station is automatically searched. The processors in the network are known as the ECHELON Dictionaries. ECHELON connects all these computers and allows the individual stations to function as distributed elements an integrated system. An ECHELON station’s Dictionary contains not only its parent agency’s chosen keywords, but also lists for each of the other four agencies in the UKUSA system [NSA, GCHQ, DSD, GCSB and CSE]”

So it does seem to be credible. I found the above link through Elizabeth Pratt’s blog The End Time where in one post she writes about Echelon and the computers and how easy it will be for a one world dictator to force everyone to carry the mark of the beast. With GPS and satellite surveillance, with the government having the ability sift through all electronic communication…they will be — maybe already are — able to keep tabs on everyone, and I would even guess using satellite surveillance and/or infrared they could find those without the mark (since they’d show up as a warm body without the proper signal from their implanted microchip”) so they can round them up for “beheading”. Elizabeth quoted from Rev 20:4 “…And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand…”and when I read it, I thought, Does it really say beheaded? Indeed, it does.

Well, I can see how a preference for caves and paper communication might develop in such times!

In any case Ms. Pratt has a lot of interesting thoughts and information, charts, maps, etc, so if you’re interested in seeing how close we are to being able to keep track of absolutely everyone as well as everything they are saying to each other, electronically, at any rate, I recommend her post

Thankfully, all who’ve believed in Christ won’t be here for the actual Tribulation where they’ll be forcing everyone to get a Mark, but it’s amazing to see things that 50 years ago were unheard of, developing right in line with Biblical prophecy.

The Barbary Pirates

Today as I was researching embassies on Wikipedia, I came across mention of the Barbary Wars I’d just encountered mention of in The Last Patriot. Curious, I clicked on the links and read about them, or at least the first one. Seems there were some muslim North African states (called the Barbary States) — Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli — who’d been preying on the shipping traffic in the Mediterranean, capturing ships and crew and holding them for ransom, then afterward demanding tribute from whatever nation the ships were from for safe passage. At first American ships were protected by the British Navy since we were a British colony; during the revolution the French took over that job. But once we won our Independence protection of our ships was rightly deemed to be our responsibility.

Not having much of a Navy this was problematic, so Congress voted for funds to be allocated to pay the tribute to the pirates. In 1783 our Ambassadors to Britain and France (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) were sent over with the money and the charge of seeking to negotiate peace treaties with the Barbary States. Unfortunately the price for a treaty was more than the tribute money Congress had approved.

 Two years later, Adams and Jefferson tried again, this time in Britain where they sought to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy to London.  When they asked him on what grounds his nation took it upon itself to attack other nations who’d done it no harm, his reply, according to Jefferson’s report to the US Secretary of Foreign Affairs, was that…

“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.   [From “American Peace Commissioners to John Jay,” March 28, 1786, “Thomas Jefferson Papers,” Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827, Library of Congress. LoC: March 28, 1786 ]

And I just found that fascinating. Rush says sometimes that for most people history begins the day they are born, and everything before just doesn’t exist. I can see a lot of justification for the statement. I did know that Islam began in the seventh century, that the Ottoman empire had dominated the Middle East for six centuries (1299 to 1923), a sort of Islamic version of the old Roman Empire… but that was “over there”. And we were over here. So it really surprised me to find out the United States had already had interaction with fundamentalist Islam, more or less at its birth. And now it’s back again. Which I believe is something Jefferson warned about, at least according to The Last Patriot: “Jefferson was convinced that one day Islam would return and pose an even greater threat  to America…”

And so it has.

The  painting above is of the burning frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli in 1804, painted by Edward Moran in 1897.

Award Voting Starts Now

Voting for the Clive Staples Award begins today.  You may recall that last month I posted a notice that The Enclave is one of nineteen reader-nominated entries for this year’s Clive Staples Award (Clive Staples, you may or may not know, is what the “C” and the “S” stand for in “C.S. Lewis” who was something of a pioneer in Christian science fiction and fantasy)

The contest administrators have asked that I post the following regarding how to go about voting should you wish to do so:

Please read these instructions carefully, then proceed to the ballot by clicking on the link below.

CSA is not a popularity contest. The award has been established to recognize the work of fiction which readers designate as the previous year’s best. Consequently, voters must adhere to these basic rules.

  • You MUST have read at least two of the nominations, the complete list of which is available HERE.
  • You may vote only once for a first, second, and third choice.
  • You may not vote for the same book as your second or third option that you voted for as your first choice.
  • Your votes for second and third options may not be for the identical book.
  • You may mark the “none of these” option if you do not have a second or third choice.
  • Voting will close September 1, 2010.
  • Second and third choice options will only be considered if a clear winner is not determined by the first choice vote.

To vote, click here and answer all the questions.

Clive Staples Award Nomination

Last year a group of readers, writers and fans of Christian Speculative Fiction came together to institute an award for the best book in that genre selected by readers of Christian Speculative Fiction. 2009 saw  the inauguration of the award, with the first presentation going to Donita K. Paul for her novel Dragonlight.

This year there are nineteen nominees chosen by readers, and The Enclave is one of them. Because they do not want the award to be a popularity contest, reflective only of which author network is the largest, but rather the outcome of readers who read in the speculative genre making informed choices, the award administrators are requiring this year that voters  read at least TWO of the nominated works. To aid prospective voters in meeting this requirement, they’ve designated July “Read Christian Speculative Fiction Month.” A simple list of the nominees is here.  If you’d like more information, introductions including cover pics, plot summaries and what other readers have said, are here (arranged in reverse alphabetical order by title).  Anyone can participate in voting, but, as mentioned they must have read at least two of the nominated works.

Voting will begin in August and will be conducted as a “survey”—really, your ballot—so votes will be private as far as the public is concerned. You’ll need to check back at the site or here at Writing from the Edge to see when the voting begins so you can sign up. (Or you can sign up now at either place to receive posts by email)

They are hoping to make this award one of significance similar to the Hugo awards given out by the secular science fiction/fantasy community and decided by vote of the members (attending and supporting) of the annual WorldCon (major SF/F convention).


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