Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another issue emerges

Here I am again, watching as the sixth issue of Seek goes out into the world. I feel like an empty nester, sending my child off to college--will it be well received? Will people give it a chance? Did I give it everything it needs in order to survive? Will people actually take it seriously and dialogue with the articles? Will they absorb it thoughtlessly, or write it off completely? Did I impart enough of my wisdom and the insights of others that it has something to offer to a broken world?

I won't know for quite a while . . . and actually, I may never know.

But I am so proud of this issue! I think it might be my favorite so far. Take a look if you please--and be sure to check out Seeking more, too, where we go more in-depth with the issues discussed in Seek. Heck, fill out a survey if you want.

Just promise me this (and I'm mostly talking to you Brethren in Christ people): you don't have to be nice to Seek, or even to me . . . but take it seriously. Invest in it as you would a young adult that needs the guidance and wisdom of others in order to reach maturity.


"I pray because I can't help myself.
I pray because I'm helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me
all the time, waking and sleeping.
It doesn't change God, it changes me."

--C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands (1993)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

On editing

She was a middle-aged woman, slightly pudgy around the edges, with a critical air about her. Her dark-rimmed glasses rested just where she wanted them on her nose, and her clothes, though soft and simple, had been carefully and particularly selected.

Leaning in toward the round dinner table so she could be heard above the conference din, she pronounced with a knowing smile, "You're an editor, aren't you?"

"Why yes." I probably didn't actually say it quite like that, but it's my story and I get to write it however I want to.

Her co-worker, who sat next to her, looked astonished. "How did you know that?" she demanded.

I was about to answer that perhaps she had read my nametag, since it seemed to give away just about all the details of my life, when the first woman answered.

"We editors are born."

Feeling that I had just been linked to some sort of elite editing aristocracy, I shifted uncomfortably and changed the subject.

Was I carrying a red pen, or correcting someone's word choice? What was it that gave me away? After all, I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a good editor. But she could tell.

Later that night, I got to thinking, and it seems there is something about me--call it perfectionism, being anal retentive, whatever--that is a huge asset to me as an editor. I'm very particular, and each time I miss the mark, I try again--harder--to improve.

But that impulse is not unique to editors. In fact, I think that as a follower of Christ, I'm called to be an editor--to humbly approach and revisit my life, each day making choices that are closer to what God wants them to be.

So in that sense, yes, I was born an editor. But then, so was everybody else.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Everything is illuminated

This is the kind of film title that really appeals to me. It's exaggerated; I mean, how often do people (other than me) go around saying things like "everything is illuminated"? It's bold; it's intense; it's a little much, really. But until today (when I finally saw the movie) I was dying to know just what was illuminated.

To all those who didn't see the movie because you thought Frodo's glasses were absolutely ridiculous, get over it and add it to your Netflix queue.

I'm really struck by the concept of the collector, a central theme in the film. In case you haven't seen EiI, the protagonist (Jonathan) collects photographs, false teeth, pendants, sand--anything that helps him remember his family, who are survivors of the Holocaust--in Ziploc bags. He's withdrawn and his impulse to collect borders on the insance. But when you fully realize how close his family came to disappearing completely from anyone's memory or records, Jonathan seems like the only sane one--the only person who realizes the true value of the strange artifacts that are pinned up all over his walls.

But of course, because Jonathan is simply a collector, the movie is not actually about him; he is only the vehicle for another Holocaust survivor to remember. I guess at this point I should post a spoiler warning. I just really feel the need to process, so don't read any further if you haven't seen the film yet.

Here is my question: what does Baruch's death mean? Does he kill himself because of the guilt he feels about abandoning his faith, and as a result being one of the only people who survived? It would seem, from the significant transformation he undergoes, that he is at peace when he dies--yet his is not a peaceful departure from life. Does he feel that he needs to die a bloody death in order to be united with his family and fellow villagers? Can suicide provide any kind of relief at all?

Clearly, for me, not everything is illuminated.

But what an amazing movie. The title line of the film provides such a different perspective on history than we're used to:
"Everything is illuminated in the light of the past, which is inside us looking out."
This is the most optimistic, yet honest, approach to the past, present, and future that I think I have ever heard. Especially for those of us who are living in the shadow of the turbulent, bloody 20th century, it is easy to over-focus on the past, wishing humankind hadn't made the mistakes it has, when we really need to live in the present with the knowledge and memory we glean from the past.

This all seems very half-baked right now . . . maybe I'll post more after the second viewing, when my thoughts are better gathered.

But for now, all I can say is that this is truly a premium film.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Le voyage de camping

Don't you just love it that "camping" is the same in almost every language? Apparently, it's the one thing that's common to us all . . . or maybe it's just a highly assimilate-able word.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, we met some friends in Tennessee for a wonderful camping trip, with great times had by all. Unfortunately for you, we were having so much fun that we left the camera out of the equation most of the time, which means that we have no photos of our dear friends, or of the catastrophic but delicious "spicy sausage and scout bread on a stick" recipe we tried. Let's just say that, if you really want to cook a whole bunch of things together on a stick, go ahead. But wrap it with foil first to save yourself the trouble of it falling apart before you even get it on the stick. Nor do we have a photographic record of the glorious campfires, and of course there's no way to capture just how crisp and comfortable the weather was.

The best moments are never caught on film. Why would they be? When you're really, really happy, why would you want a camera between you and your loved ones?

But here are a couple of shots.

In their element

We went hiking. Not as much as we would have liked--and not nearly enough for our rock-climbing puppy--but it was good to be out there, tackling mountains. We were in Roan Mountain State Park--quite posh by our state park standards, by the way--which boasts an interesting assortment of "balds"; that is, mountains that have clearings or gaps on top. There are lots of theories as to why they are the way they are, of course, but none as interesting as those concerning dinosaurs and aliens.

The state park isn't just a natural haven; it's preserving some interesting remnants of human civilization, as well. Every time we visit the Smokies and the areas nearby, I'm fascinated with how people lived and traveled there. Getting around isn't easy now, and it was hundreds of times more difficult 100 years ago. This is a photo of a mill inside the state park, as well as some flowers planted outside an unbelievably isolated (but beautiful) farmhouse that's no longer inhabited, but still standing today.

Posted outside the campground bathrooms and ranger stations. Except to give it context, there is little I can add to this image; it is truly a work of genius.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Of pluots and plums

After not really having slept all night, I woke up at 5:30, then again at 6:00, 7:00, and eventually at 8:50, when I decided to stop kidding myself that I was ever going to make it into work. So I'm at home today, resting and putzing around . . . it's nice to have a day at home, but of course it's hard to know what to do (and what to avoid).

So far the highlight of my day was that I ate a pluot. I'm not sure what it was supposed to taste like, but I quite enjoyed it anyway. When I bought it at the grocery store, I had a nagging fear that it was just the French word for plum, and that was why the pluots were $1 more per pound than the plums. But thankfully, wikipedia has allayed my fears: pluots are a cross between plums and apricots. That would explain why it was so sweet (and $1 more per pound, too). Apparently, they're usually only 25 percent apricot, so they're mostly plums. But dang good ones.

And that makes me wonder: are there regulations governing the declaration of all new fruits (or vegetables or other plants, for that matter)? Because if a pluot is really mostly a plum, isn't it just an interesting hybrid plum? And if you call it a pluot, instead of a hoity-toity plum, won't suckers like me be more likely to waste their money on it? That pluot may have been wonderful (and the pit ever so small and unobtrusive), but there's a conspiracy out there, and somebody's got to stop the market from being flooded by truckloads of "new" produce. Maybe they could call pluots "plums reloaded" or something like that. That would at least be more honest.

But then, I never would have bought pluots, and had the delightful experience of tasting this speckled, very un-French plum that is subtly enhanced by the supersweet flavor of the apricot.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Albums I'm listening to

Putumayo presents Mali (various)

This album contains some of the weirdest and most beautiful music I have ever heard--vocally and instrumentally. There is a sort of French hip-hop/African traditional fusion going on, something that's not too unexpected. But what you wouldn't expect at all is the way the harmonica and accordion are used. This is groundbreaking stuff, and frankly I think some of these musicians from Mali are putting blues and polka players to shame. Props go to my Dad, who turned us on to this CD. I recommend buying it at 10,000 Villages, but it's on Amazon.com, too.

The best of Van Morrison (Van Morrison)

Few singers have experimented with so many types of music, throughout so many eras, and still managed to stay afloat. I'm not saying Van's for everyone, but you just can't say that "Domino" is any less than a timeless classic that rocks the casbah. Given Van's colorful (and lengthy) career, it may be a little on the eclectic side (to the point of giving some people musical whiplash) but I just can't get enough of his Beatles-esque "Gloria" juxtaposed against his later "Bright side of the road."

Speak for yourself (Imogen Heap)

Ahh, you didn't see this one coming, now did you? Apparently, as of sometime last winter, I am into electronic music. I guess, when it really comes down to it, I believe deeply that anything can be used as a musical instrument; it's just that very often, when people experiment, pretty bad things happen (remember the electronic experiments of the 70s and 80s?). But Imogen Heap is a master of this genre, and she knows how to combine the natural, raw tones of her voice with the otherworldly synthesized sounds she creates and produces herself. It's bizarre, but brilliant.

August musings

Since I haven't posted anything for the entire month of August thus far, I thought it was time to return to this good ol' blog. I really missed it (and all of you who read it)! The past month--and indeed the entire summer--has been a blur, which could just be chalked up to working too much and worrying too much. I need to relax a bit, I guess, and August is probably the best time of the year to do that.

Why, you ask, is August so conducive to relaxation? After all, aren't the months and the years--and even the number of days we have in each week--arbitrary ways of measuring and marking the passage of time?

Yes . . . but as with many designations that were once arbitrary, August" as we know it has become a slack-off month. Not for everybody, of course, and in this workaholic culture, it can be a little difficult to perceive. But if you want to slack off in August, you can. After all (in this part of the world at least) it's unbelievably hot and muggy. So why should you move quickly?

With September will come fresh starts and fresh air--but until then, shouldn't you get some rest? June and July may be vacation prime time--when your e-mail is set to auto-reply and your voicemail directs the caller to a string of other people who could possibly help them if everyone weren't on vacation at the same time. But in August, you're putting in time; you're just not working at your usual breakneck speeds--you need to pace yourself.

So since most of us already treat it this way anyway, I declare August "national slack-off month."

And I am hereby slacking off. Won't you join me?