Dog of the South Quote
"My new plan was to become a high school teacher. I had accumulated enough college hours over the years for at least two bachelor's degrees but I had never actually taken one. I had never stayed long enough in any one course of study. I had no education hours at all but I did have some pre-law at Southwestern and some engineering at Arkansas. I had been at Ole Miss too, where I studied the Western campaigns of the Civil War under Dr. Buddy Casey." (The Dog of the South by Charles Portis)
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Monday, December 6, 2010
Growing up in Monroe, Louisiana, the power company was Louisiana Power & Light or LP&L (now Entergy), and LP&L trucks and billboards were commonplace. So when I first went to college all the way across the country in Moscow, Idaho, I was more than a little surprised to spot this book called Louisiana Power & Light by John Dufresne (Norton, 1994) in a used bookstore. Young and far from home, I was struck and intrigued by a title so familiar it was almost comforting. I should have bought it, but for whatever reason didn't, and yet I kept thinking about it and finally went back to get it, only to find it was gone.
What I didn't know at the time was that it was a novel set in Monroe and that our church secretary and her husband even made an appearance in its Prologue: "You should read this story with your eyes closed. You're out on Herb and Marilea Bryant's front porch, let's say, and it's dusk." I later ended up working for Herb Bryant* one semester (in 1997, I think) as a student worker in the English Department at the University of Louisiana Monroe, during which time John Dufresne visited (from Florida International University) and gave a lecture and Q&A that I attended with excitement. I asked him whether it was more difficult to write short stories or novels, and he said short stories, because you still have to have everything all worked out in your head - characters, place, plot, etc - but you don't have pages and pages to develop it.
At the time, I read his collection of stories, The Way That Water Enters Stone (Norton, 1991), but I never really read Louisiana Power & Light until now, living in Fayetteville, Arkansas - where he happened to do his MFA in creative writing here at the University of Arkansas (graduating in 1984). What led me to revisit Dufresne now was a friend in Monroe who mentioned on Facebook "two great weeks in the winding-down of [his] last semester. Highlights: a poetry reading by Jack Heflin (Local Hope) and another poetry reading by Davis McCombs (Dismal Rock)." I audited a creative writing course taught by Heflin back in the day, so I was naturally interested in his new book and, looking it up, saw a blurb for it by John Dufresne. (And strangely enough on the other poetry reading my friend mentioned by Davis McCombs... he currently directs the creative writing program here at Arkansas.)
A few weeks ago, another friend (whom I got to know in Idaho and who now lives in Florida, where he teaches high school and writes fiction) asked on Facebook, "What is the most generous, life-affirming poem of all time?" My first thought was Donne's "Death be not proud," but I knew there had to be a better answer, and I Googled generous+life-affirming+poem for more ideas, which led me to a volume of poetry called Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times (edited by Neil Astley; Bloodaxe, 2002; Miramax, 2003). Reading through its table of contents and looking for poems that jumped out at me, a couple poem titles by R.S. Thomas caught my eye. I looked up R.S. Thomas and learned that he was not only a celebrated Welsh poet (1913-2000) but also an Anglican priest, and what little of his work I found online made me want to read more. So I searched for him in the public library last week and found one volume, Poems of R. S. Thomas, published - of all places - by the University of Arkansas Press (1985) here in Fayetteville.
__________ * Incidentally, Herb Bryant was also a Lay Eucharistic Minister and Lay Reader at St Thomas Episcopal Church, which I later attended for a bit in 2005, with spiritual direction from Father Errol Montgomery (now Pastor Errol, having returned to his Lutheran-Missouri Synod roots).
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Sunday, August 9, 2009
Gilead Quote on Covetousness
Today's Epistle reading mentions covetousness, and I was reminded of this quote from Gilead which made me look at covetousness from a different angle:
I don't know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else's virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it. That's interesting. There is certainly a sermon there. "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me." That would be the primary text. I hope I have time to think it through. (188)
(Matthew 11.4-6: "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.")
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Friday, July 24, 2009
Home Passage on Prayer
"She was less inclined to pray that she had been once. In her childhood, when her father, a tall man then and graceful, had stepped into the pulpit and bowed his head, silence came over the people. He prayed before the commencement of prayer. May the meditations of our hearts be acceptable. It seemed to her that her own prayers never attained to that level of seriousness. They had been desperate from time to time, which was a different thing altogether. Her father told his children to pray for patience, for courage, for kindness, for clarity, for trust, for gratitude. Those prayers will be answered, he said. Others may not be. The Lord knows your needs. So she prayed, Lord, give me patience. She knew that was not an honest prayer, and she did not linger over it. The right prayer would have been, Lord, my brother treats me like a hostile stranger, my father seems to have put me aside, I feel I have no place here in what I thought would be my refuge, I am miserable and bitter at heart, and old fears are rising up in me so that everything I do makes everything worse. But it cost her tears to think her situation might be that desolate, so she prayed again for patience, for tact, for understanding―for every virtue that might keep her safe from conflicts that would be sure to leave her wounded, every virtue that might at least help her preserve an appearance of dignity, for heaven's sake."
Gilead Walking Vigil Quote
"People are always up in the night, with their colicky babies and their sick children, or fighting or worrying or full of guilt. And, of course, the milkmen and all the people on early shifts and late shifts. Sometimes when I walked past the house of one of my own families and saw lights on, I'd think maybe I should stop and see if there was a problem I could help with, but then I'd decide it might be an intrusion and I'd go on. [...] It was on the nights I didn't sleep at all and I didn't feel like reading that I'd walk through town at one or two o'clock. In the old days I could walk down every single street, past every house, in about an hour. I'd try to remember the people who lived in each one, and whatever I knew about them, which was often quite a lot, since many of the ones who weren't mine were Boughton's. And I'd pray for them. And I'd imagine peace they didn't expect and couldn't account for descending on their illness or their quarreling or their dreams. Then I'd go into the church and pray some more and wait for daylight. I've often been sorry to see a night end, even while I have loved seeing the dawn come."
―Reverend John Ames, in Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, p. 71
Marilynne Robinson, Home
I haven't read much Trollope. I borrowed The Warden twice from the library and honestly can't remember if I finished it. (I tend to think not, but maybe so. Guess I need to check it out a third time in either case...)
I read and enjoyed all of Howatch's church novels (the Starbridge series and St Benet's trilogy). A while back, I listened to the first few chapters of Robinson's Gilead on tape and just couldn't get into it at the time. I'll eventually give it another try. But I'm thinking of trying Home first.
Here are two articles that have whetted my appetite (thanks to Pastor Tom Clark of Tri-City Church & Academy in Somersworth, NH):
Koontz on Faith & Writing Odd
From "Chatting With Koontz About Faith" (Tim Drake, National Catholic Register, March 11-17, 2007):
Spirituality has always been an element of my books. People who see it as a sudden development were just not perceiving it previously, when it was less central to the story. I write about our struggle as fallen souls, about the grace of God, but I never get on a soapbox about it. I'm first and foremost an entertainer.
While I was working on The Face, a line came into my head … "My name is Odd Thomas. I lead an unusual life." It had nothing to do with The Face, but suddenly I began writing longhand — which I never do — and finished a first chapter of Odd Thomas. That book, from beginning to end, was a flow-state experience of great joy.
In the Odd Thomas series, the overriding theme is the beauty and power of humility. The first three Odd books were gifts to me, and I can't wait to write the fourth. Alone at the keyboard, you find that writing is meditation, sometimes even prayer.
Odd Relationship Quote
"In spite of all that we had been to each other and all that we hoped to achieve together in the years to come, I had been able to hurt her―Why're you afraid of sex?―when she pushed me too hard about my fear of guns. "A cynic once said that the most identifying trait of humanity is our ability of be inhumane to one another. "I am an optimist about our species. I assume God is, too, for otherwise He would have scrubbed us off the planet a long time ago and would have started over. "Yet I can't entirely dismiss that cynic's sour assessment. I harbor a capacity for inhumanity, glimpsed in my cruel retort to the person I love most in all the world."