Pygmalion – An Overly Ambitious Incomplete Poem That I Am Sharing Despite My Better Judgement

This poem is incomplete. I’ve been tossing this idea around for 3 months now and been itching to make a blog post about it for 2 months. The idea behind this poem is one that greatly excites me, but clearly this will be one of those projects that takes far more time to settle.

So I’ll present this ‘pre-alpha’ draft, and then I’ll make some comments on what this poem has to do with Hebrew poetry, Greek myth, Christian anthropology, and Anime Waifus!

Dallying dust cloud,   adrift in wind,
Faring formlessly,   flutters; scatters.
Ill-conceived image   of lifeless ivory,
Formerly feminine,   floats now hopeless.
Her face was fair,   bright and unfeeling;
Her lips so lush    got lifeless kisses;
Her cheeks cheerfully   chiseled, unblushing;
Odes were rehearsed    to unhearing ears.

Her figured fulfilled    a private fancy:
Pygmalion molded    this maiden of grey.
With heart hard as rock,    he hated those girls
That charged him “Change!    Share! Show charity!”

Swift currents swept    his sweet words away,
Uttered to earthen    ears, and his gifts
Of flowers grew pale,    pedals faded,
Rings to rust yielded – misspent relics.
Formerly famed,    he floats now hopeless,
His face grown pale,    complexion faded.
He lingers alone,    lifeless in mind,
A dallying dust cloud,    adrift in wind.

While I generally prefer poems that are uplifting, this is a monitory tragedy. The subject is Pygmalion, which is a Greek myth about an uncultured Cockney girl who gets adopted by a linguistics professor…
My mistake, that’s the other one. Pygmalion is a craftsman who, displeased by the character of women around him, makes a statue of a woman to be the object of his affections. He falls in love with the statue, giving her all manner of gifts, and finally offers prayers and sacrifices to Venus that she might become real. Venus grants his request and Piggy and the Statch live happily ever after.

Pygmalion priant Vénus d'animer sa statue, Jean-Baptiste Regnault

By Jean-Baptiste Regnault, wikipedia

So, admitting my religious angle, this story makes me super uncomfortable. Judaeo-Christian tradition holds that God created humanity in his ‘image’ (a word carrying contested implications, but the statue analogy is relevant) and forbids devotion to derivative works made by human hands (aka ‘idols’), the logic being that Images of God (Humans) already exist and therefore we don’t need idols. Blah, blah, theology. Agree or disagree, this is what I’m thinking when I read the Pygmalion story.

(Coincidentally, earlier today I read Psalm 135 which says of idols, “They have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear… Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!” Cf. Psalm 115)

idol

When the ideological arithmetic is all done, reworking Piggy and the Statch as a didactic tragedy is obvious. Where I really wanted to be clever was in execution. I had been reading a lot about biblical Hebrew poetry so it occurred to me that this would be a great time to try baby’s first chiams.

Chiasms are basically structures where a series of images, ideas, or words are reflected and ordered symmetrically out from the center. 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1; for example. Maybe butterfly wings are a good analogy, or you can google it. I wanted to go for something more modest. Show the ruined statue, tell the story, show the ruined man. The ruined statue matches the ruined man.

And of course I had to try writing it in anglo-saxon alliterative style because it’s. just. fun. Generally, the second of the two versets in the line only needs to throw in that third alliterating lift to complete the line. I’m enjoying trying to sneak rhyming vowel sounds into the second verset just for fun, but it occasionally makes for some contrived wordings.

As a current popular application, we might take a second to think carefully about the way we treat fictional characters. Including but not limited to Anime waifus.

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Sorry, Currently Relevant Waifu!

This all, then, is the experiment. I’m not quite sure if I’m going to keep Pygmalion’s motive for rejecting real women as being that they would try to change him. I kinda like that the fear of one kind of transformation pushes him towards another, but maybe that’s making this project all too ambitious. I should also say that I’m sure there are more charitable readings of Pygmalion and that my experiment is admittedly born of gut-felt cynicism, but I still enjoy playing with these ideas if only as an exercise in trying to bring themes out of a story.

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Two Streets Formed by Two Loves (or “Doing Poetry and Theology Without Going Outside”)

Widsith spoke, unlocked his word-hoard,
he who had traveled most of all men
through tribes and nations across the earth.

Unlike Widsith, I have not traveled through tribes and nations and I really have no desire to do so. I do however envy his word-hoard, or admire it at least.

I try to look out for images from my day-to-day life that might be useful in writing. Keeping inventory of the images that seem the most powerful helps with finding inspiration. Less seriously, I like to come up with absurd “deep” interpretations of things around me that have no significance whatsoever. (One of my pens just ran out of ink: this represents my lack of motivation.)

Most of these analyses are dumb and silly and fruitless, but occasionally one will turn out quite interesting.

I live in a neighbourhood on a street that runs west to east and I’m between two major roads that run north-south (Think of a letter H shape).

locke

Locke in the summer

Locke, to the East, is a beautiful community. It features lots of locally and independently owned shops, a handful of cozy cafes and restaurants, and four churches each with very kind and welcoming communities. The neighbourhood hosts an annual festival on the street, and in the summer it’s an idyllic mix of greenery and beautiful old brickwork. I love Locke.

dundurn

Dundurn – Google street view because I don’t feel like walking two blocks to take the picture myself

I hate Dundurn. Walking down Dundurn is a chore. It’s not all bad but it’s obviously poorer and has no charm. It’s frequently littered, busy and noisy, and I’m especially nervous around the intersection that features a wine store, beer store, and marijuana dispensary all next to teach other. That street to the West is far from the best.

And then there’s where I and many others live: right in the middle. The residential streets that run between these two opposites are generally nice and peaceful. Quite lovely in the summer.

homewood

In between – Google again because lazy

I was thinking about this while reading about Augustine. One of his more salient themes in his writing explores how the world we live in is an overlap between the love of God and the good works of his children, and the brokenness of the world in all its destructivity. “Accordingly,” he writes, “Two cities have been formed by two loves: the Earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, and the Heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.” Caritas and Cupiditas: one that builds community and one that tears community apart.

Within my own neighbourhood (which is called Kirkendall; I’m pretty sure that appropriately means ‘church valley’) I find something of a parallel to Augustine. There are two streets formed by two loves and all of us live in between the two. It then becomes the mission of the church (or Heavenly City, or Locke-ites) to take the loving community we have found and move it into places where it didn’t exist before.

I’m not sure if that image is as accessible as Augustine’s, but I’ll stash it in my word-hoard and maybe use it later. And I didn’t even have to travel through tribes and nations.

 

Side note to potential Hamilton readers: we won’t read too much into how most of the residential streets are one-way. I don’t want to get into an argument about Calvinism.

Overthinking Poetry

I try to avoid commenting too much on my own work, mainly because I have a bad habit of apologizing for every little thing I perceive as a weakness. Though I may be taking this principal too far. It occurred to me that if I enjoy reading people’s commentaries on their own work then surely there must be others out there who would enjoy a peak behind the curtain. That said, I present a poem I wrote last month and a lengthy commentary.

This is part of my ongoing quest to achieve proficiency in the old Germanic style of alliterative poetry.

Flickering forth-march    of daylight, fading
To frost, falls from    seasons’ feast days.
Now, at mid noon,    the noxious bonds
Of dread darkness    dance blackly.

Light of log-piles’    crackling laughter
Blossoms brilliantly     in bitter chill:
Rekindled colour     beams out clearly,
The majesty of May    in dark days remade.

winter city

A friend told me that he had to re-read this several times before he could make sense of it, which is exactly the reaction I had hoped for. While I do want my poems to make sense and be accessible, I also want them to require the reader to slow down and consider the language. I hope that this one didn’t get to obscure, but I did aim for restraint and subtlety, to which the concision of the alliterative style lends itself well.

It is my opinion that any good poem will involve some kind of contrast, comparison, dichotomy, etc. At least two images or ideas must be put side by side. This one has three: winter, fire, flower.

I wrote this over the course of two cold days in late December. The first stanza was the product of an undirected exercise – simply playing around with words while I stared out my window. I decided to play with the idea of having the second hemistich feature a vocalic rhyme, which to my ear is somehow nicer-sounding than a perfect rhyme. (Note how “Day” and “Fade” feature the same vowel sound but “-light” and “-ing” make the rhyme imperfect.)

Enjambment (having the sentence or clause spilling from one line into the next) is often used to represent chaos or disorder. That said, it features well in the stanza describing the dark and cold winter.

There’s a mixed metaphor in these opening lines that bothers me somewhat. The Forth-march of daylight is military language. Perhaps it could also be parade language, but it comes across as a doomed or wounded army, marching either to their deaths or in retreat. (‘Doomed or Wounded’ is a great vocalic rhyme) In contrast, Feast days are times of religious celebration, particularly for a saint, and the most joyous time among the seasons is Summer, at least in poetic tradition. So the light of summer is both an army and a church. What a horrible combination. I might try reworking that imagery at some point.

fire

While the first stanza took about 5 minutes to write with only minor polish, the second stanza took me over an hour. I knew what images I wanted to complete the picture but I struggled with how to present it. My first attempts involved featuring a person lighting the fire. Somehow that didn’t work. I got the desired concision when I made it impersonal.

So I wanted to describe fire in a way that felt fresh and unique. Identifying and eliminating cliches is a good way to flex your creative brain. And I wanted to describe it in a way that evoked a multitude of senses. So what do fires do? They shine, they crackle, they come from wood… Light of log’s crackle.

Crackling laughter sounds a bit too much like “cackling laughter” for my taste, which evokes a different feeling. But Laughter was the best fit for the vocalic rhyme criterion, and I insisted on “crackle” because it’s a word closely associated with fire, and I felt that it helped to convey the intended image better.

And then my favourite part. The fire blossoms as the majesty of May from the wood. In Pangur Ban, the scholar Unravels riddles, a word that I hoped would recall how a cat Unravels balls of yarn. Here, I hoped that the fire blossoming would reinforce the idea that the fire is a kind of flower.

flower

A personal note: Wood (and trees, branches, etc.) is a prominent image in Judaeo-Christian tradition. The arc that survived the flood is wood, the staff that parts the sea is wood, the cross that wins salvation is wood, etc. That said, I like the connection between the fire that comes from wood and the flower that comes from a branch or a plant stem. Not especially profound, but I thought it an interesting note.

So that’s a lot, and I intentionally omitted some parts of my thought process. Here’s the moral: Language is awesome. I can write 800 words on an 8 line poem. Good poetry, and even my amateur attempts at good poetry, can make language do so much more than it usually does. And it can change the associations we make and thus change the way we see the world.

And now you know how I see the world: by overthinking everything.

Pangur Ban – An Alliterative Experiment

Pangur Ban is an Old Irish poem about a monk and his pet cat, which is all you need to know to recognize why it’s one of the most important works of literature ever produced.

Now I myself do not speak Old Irish – Yes, yes, you have every right to be shocked and appalled – But I am blessed to receive the sense of the poem through various translations and interpretations, some of which you can find here.

meow

A Cat (I think) in the Book of Kells. I wish my Bible had random animals in it.

I’ve been experimenting with alliterative verse lately, a simplified explanation for which can be found in my last post. Since then I’ve spent some time learning the more technical features of the genre.

It is hard and complicated but still a lot of fun to paw around with. Of course, I had to try making meow own alliterative interpretation of Pangur Ban. I’ve been editing it for over a meownth now trying to make it petter, and it may not be prrfect, but-

I’m sorry, I’ll stop. I’m sure there’s much room for improvement but if I wait until it’s perfect I’ll never get around to sharing it, so here goes.

Of ashen aspect,    agile Pangur
In cattish crafts    carries on always,
Mouse-mused pupil.    In manner of humans,
Foreign to felines     that follow cats’ ways,
I prowl through pages,    reclining on pillows,
Training in texts.    The tamed white lion
regards not my game;    his gift is enough.

Sport’s spirit thrives,    routine yet splendid.
We whet each our wits    in each our own way.
Pest-practiced hunter,    on paws crouched low,
Vaults valiantly    on vermin unwitting.
The mouse is mastered!    Meow! And he sleeps.
I ponder and prowl    perplexing writing.
My catches are curious    scurrying concepts.
From faded folios,    dusty they fall.

Little light figures    and letter-black strokes,
Lights or letters    in little points,
We watch on walls    or paper-white scrolls.
Unerring-eyed pet    stares at an image,
Fixed focus keeping    on fine shifting shapes.
From birth, bone-hued    keen-eyed beastling
Keeps closest watch    as my posture crumbles.
We jump, joyful both    when jobs are finished.

Each so is occupied,    I and pale Pangur,
When that we will,    and ever the while
We two unperturbed.    He at his trade,
And I sifting scripts.    Scholar is Pangur
In circuit-won skill    and I would excel
To unravel riddles    and render them clear.

pangy boon

If y’all haven’t watched The Secret of Kells, y’all really should.

I should resist commenting on my own poem, but I will anyway.

As I learn more about the structure of classical alliterative poetry, the more I realize that much of what I’ve written deviates from it. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Styles can be innovated, but I try to live by the saying “Learn the rules before you break them.”

“Scurrying” and “Curious” are two of my favourite words that I’ve ever accidentally put together.

“Unravel” is my favourite word in the whole thing.

I’ve rewritten the second stanza a dozen times and I’m still not satisfied with it.

Alliterative 23rd Psalm

We tend to think narrowly about poetry. Open most anthologies of English poetry and you’ll find a ubiquitous feature – it rhymes. Specifically, it rhymes at the end of each line and in consecutive or alternating patterns (ie. AABB or ABAB.) You could also rhyme within the line, or rhyme the end of the line with the beginning of the next line, both of which I’ve seen done. But those don’t make it into the anthologies.

That is far from the only way to do poetry. You may have heard the simplified accounts of far-Eastern poetry being about syllable counts (eg. Haikus) and Hebrew poetry being about “rhyming ideas/images.” And you can do even more. Classical Greek and Latin poets seem to love their meter.

And, long ago, poets of old Germanic tongues mastered alliteration! I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with alliterative poetry, reading the Alliterative Morte Arthure and some of Tolkien’s modernizations of Middle English poetry. I’ve been trying to teach myself to write in this ancient English form and I figured I’d share one of my earliest attempts (I hope one of the first of many).

I’ll add a couple comments at the end, but first just one quick note. When reading conventional rhyming poetry, you anticipate the rhyme at the end of the line. So how does alliterative poetry work? What do we expect? What gives it its form? It’s quite simple.

You got two half-lines we call hemistichs (like Hemisphere and Stick). The first hemistich has two alliterating stressed syllables. They can be at the beginning, middle, or end of a word but they gotta be stressed. The second hemistich (separated by a little space called a caesura) gives you one more alliterating syllable to round it off. Once you know what to look for, it gives each line a nice sense of resolution. Like with rhyming poetry, the poet can then subvert those expectations for varying effects. So here’s what that looks like in action.

The Wool-Ward – by Aaron Wilkinson

He who all holds   in His hand is my herdsman.
I grasp not for gold,   my gullet to bloat with,
My needs are nothing,   I am never without.
I’ll want for no wealth,   never wish for more.

By freely flowing   waters refreshing,
And bath-worthy brooks,   bending rivers,
Clear courses bright,   falling through fields,
There I am found,   reclined by the banks.

I graze on green grasses,   enough on the ground,
In the Wool-Ward’s shade   through warmth of noon.
When my throat hisses   for thirst and hunger,
He finds where to feed   refreshing me fully.

When days grow dark   as though dawn was never
And hot sun is hid   by high mount peaks,
Down in the dark dale,   death’s dismal den,
I follow and fare well   knowing no fright.

My courage’s cause   is only your closeness.
I am rallied and righted   by your crook and rood.
In faces of foes   you fill up my table.
The froth of the mead   falls from my mug.

Fate has me followed   by favour and faith
All this loaned life   in the length of days.
The hall of the Holy   I will call home
And sit with the saints   in the seats of that hall.

A few end notes. Many will recognize this as the 23rd Psalm. Most of my experiments in alliterative poetry have been with biblical poems so far. It presents a series of interesting challenges and opportunities. What I’m trying to do is take a Hebrew text replete with Hebrew images and ideas and then describe it with language and images from the medieval English tradition. I’m not yet sure if the result is a funky fusion or a disharmonious mess.

In either case, what I think a new (or rather ‘forgotten’) genre of poetry allows us to do is innovate. Some of those innovations will be victories, others disasters.

A major occasion for such innovations is within the restrictions of the genre. You can’t just state something directly if the words don’t alliterate. I can’t use words like “Shepherd” or “Lord” if it doesn’t fit the context. So I have to invent new ways of describing things, sometimes speaking around or circumlocuting the subject of the line. This can give us all sorts of fun results like “Wool-Ward,” which is my favourite part of this little experiment.

And as a side note for those already in love with medieval English poetry, I do want to admit that I directly imported some language just for fun. Rood (a word related to “rod”) recalls The Dream of the Rood, the mead hall is a common setting especially in Beowulf, etc.

Kay, now go write your own. If you wanna get a better feel for this love-lorn genre, read Tolkien’s modernization of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The Shadow of the Valley of Text

I’ve been reading about Hebrew poetry lately and I’ve realized that I may have been reading Psalm 23 all wrong.

Over-familiarity is our worst friend when we’re trying to develop a deep understanding of a text. I’ve heard the words “The Lord is my shepherd” and everything that comes after so many times that I’ve come to take it for granted. It becomes an absent-minded recitation. While I think all of us who grew up in the church have a grasp for the basic ethos of the poem, I’m discovering that Hebrew poetry demands that the reader slow down to really unpack the parallel images and words that characterize it.

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard or sung this poem before. Shepherd, Green Pastures, Quiet Waters. This part makes me feel nice. Although the line “I shall not want” feels more like a wish than an assertion. When I see my friends getting promoted or engaged, I definitely do want. I could say a lot about how profoundly rebellious this statement is against an ambitious and consumeristic culture, but that’s not my main point.

The tranquil tapestry of this mellow meadow ends with this.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And then…

20180805_165603

New paragraph

A gap in the formatting of the text! Now we’re going to talk about a new idea. If this were a film, we might put a scene transition here. The tone is still optimistic but we’re no longer in that prior pastoral paradise.

But were we ever?

The way that the text is usually formatted suggests a shift that I’m not sure is meant to be there. Verse 3 and Verse 4 both use language of journeying. Being lead down the path and walking through the valley. Verses 1 and 2 show us images of stillness. Verses 3 and 4 get us moving. Unless the editors of the text are using the gap between the verses to symbolize a valley between hills, I think this break can be misleading.

Picture this: our scene opens on a young lamb, grazing on grass and sipping from a stream. We then see the lamb approached by a strong but gentle shepherd who signals to the lamb with his staff that it’s time to get moving. The lamb hops up and begins following the shepherd. As they go, they walk. They don’t run. They don’t hide. They walk.

Zoom out and we see that the two are, in fact, in a dark valley. Clouds thunder overhead and predators growl in the distance. Abandoned arrows, slash marks from swords, and spots of blood speak of some battle that was fought here recently. Warriors may still be crouching around the next bend. And there they walk, the sheep and the shepherd. Stopping for a break and a snack every now and then.

The green fields with quiet waters and the valley of the shadow of death aren’t two places. They are one. And Verses 5 and 6 will confirm this for us. How does the poem begin? Fields to graze in, water to drink, rest for the soul. Food, drink, rest. How does it end? A table in front of my enemies, an overflowing cup, goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. Food, drink, rest – not in some idyllic ethereal otherworld, but in the very presence of enemies and threats. There are always the enemies, the shadow of death, but also the shepherd offers provision and comfort.

What’s more, we’ve zoomed out even further. We began in the sheep’s little world: the grass, the water, the shepherd. We zoomed out to see what the shepherd is protecting the sheep from: the valley. Now we are in “The house of the Lord, forever.” We end in the eternal transcendent House (surely this encompasses all creation) and the enemies and valleys are left sandwiched – surrounded – between the immediate local provision of the shepherd and the eternal promises of the future.

I’m sure there are layers of this poem that I’m still missing. The Israelites were masters of poetry so I’m sure that there are layers that shine out much better in the original language. But this poem is dense even in English. It’s packed. The images are tied together brilliantly and even the subtle implications of a verb like “walk” are carefully selected to tell us something about the beautiful relationship that God has to his creation, and the relationship between his providence and our challenges.

I think we miss this when we treat the Psalms first as theology and as poetry second. When we slow down and read them as poetry, their theology becomes much more profound.

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Baaaa!

Creatively Holding Your Breath

Some may be tired of the analogy by now but it still holds truth. Creativity is like breath. You go through cycles when you’re inhaling, taking in other peoples’ works and and not necessarily producing much yourself; and cycles when you’re exhaling, creating a lot of work and perhaps wishing you had more time to enjoy that of others.

This was my experience going into university. I wrote short stories that I would share with my friends and poems that I would share with lots of different people. I would also look at other people’s work, be they peers or professionals, and I found it inspiring.

Having been out of university for over a year now, I’ve found myself in a rather frustrating state. I find myself unable to produce. Or, more accurately, the inspiration and passion isn’t there as it was at the end of highschool. The conventional wisdom is that you don’t wait for inspiration or passion to come. You just sit down and write. But write what? “Anything.” So I sit and stare at the white screen trying to think of literally anything and nothing comes. I am unable to exhale.

On the other hand, I find it very easy to lose an hour of my day going over Greek conjugation tables, learning about theology, reading poetry, learning about music, learning about literature, learning this, learning that, learning everything. When I sit down and try to do something creative – nothing. So what’s going on? It’s like I’m creatively holding my breath but I have no control over it. What gives?

And then I realized something. I was in university for four years. For those four years, I was constantly asked to exhale even when I had nothing to exhale. My lungs were empty, but I still had to write an essay about this that and the other thing. My capacity to produce was always on the verge of tanking. Not to mention that as the years went on, more and more was asked of me.

So if I was constantly exhaling work for four years, maybe I don’t panic yet if it’s been one year and I haven’t completely caught my breath yet. Especially if I can tell that it’s slowly catching up again. When you’re underwater and you come out of the water, it takes a moment to regain your breath. That’s me right now.

The frustrating thing is that creativity is a big part of my identity. It’s who I am. I’m a poet. I have been nicknamed “Scribe.” I went to university to learn how to write. There’s a bit of an identity crisis wrapped up in all this but I am confident that whatever I’m going through will lead to valuable discoveries and expand my skills in the end.

And maybe it will be something interesting to write about.

Patria

Canada Day has always filled me with conflicted feelings. I’ve never been much of a conformist and the popular trends and styles tend to elude me. While there are many things for which I’m grateful as a Canadian citizen, there are also many things I would desperately wish to change. Early on in my faith life, I was deeply affected by passages of scripture that say that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20) and that the kingdom of heaven is not of this world (John 18:36.)

Given my nonconformity, critique of Canada, and Christian citizenship I haven’t quite yet figured out how I should engage with Canada Day. Because of this I often feel a disconnection from the world and a yearning to find a sense of belonging I haven’t found yet.

It was with this yearning that I was introduced to Anglo-Saxon poetry in university, often characterized by a literary motif called “Ubi Sunt”, Latin for “Where are they?” or “Where are those who were before us?” In this motif, the speaker in a poem will lament the loss of their home, kinsmen, or king. Two characteristic passages:

“Where has the horse gone? Where is the rider? Where is the giver of gold?
Where are the seats of the feast? Where are the joys of the hall?
O the bright cup! O the brave warrior!
O the glory of princes! How the time passed away,
slipped into nightfall as if it had never been.”
– The Wanderer (if this sounds familiar, you’ve read Lord of the Rings for which Tolkien adapted this passage)

“The days are lost,
And all the pomp of this earthly kingdom;
There are now neither kings nor emperors
Nor gold-givers as there once were,
when they did the greatest glorious deeds
And lived in most lordly fame.”
– The Seafarer

So you see the clear themes of loss and memory and yearning. I couldn’t not immediately fall in love with this the first time I saw it. I can’t not think of the Christian belief in heaven and the fall when I read the Anglo-Saxon poetry on fatherland and lost days. And in hearing this sentiment expressed, I felt a connection to the writer. I thought, “Here’s someone I could sit down and drink mead with.”

What I found in the poetry was something I never found in Canada. Having a better sense of the feeling, I began to notice that I also felt it in other circumstances. On the rare occasions that I find someone with a similar taste in music, I find a sense of brotherhood. When someone has played the same games as me or watched the same shows as me, moreover has engaged with them and interpreted them in the same ways that I do, I find a sense of brotherhood. Today I played Terraria for the first time in a few months and hearing the music made me feel rather at home. I actually find that sense of fatherland and brotherhood in a fair bit, but not enough that it becomes the backdrop of my life and thus the individual instances stand out. Half of my vocabulary are words that I’m sure most people don’t know. It’s not bragging if it’s lonely.

My fundamental problem is that I chose to be my own person instead of assimilating into the crowd. People sometimes don’t understand why I don’t dream of travelling. I’m always travelling. This entire country, its customs, and its people are so incredibly odd to me that I don’t seek novelty, I seek familiarity (which would itself be something of a novelty.) The music is weird, the prevailing ideology is weird, and the social mores are weird, and I’m always on the lookout for people who are as lost as I am.

So while tonight everyone is out launching fireworks (those vile noisy things) I will be inside reading about theology and poetry. Early Christians were criticized by the Roman state for being antisocial. I am perfectly content to follow their example. But there are a few things that that should never mean.

– It does not mean that I’m ungrateful in enjoying the freedoms this nation grants me.
– It does not mean that I’m ungrateful for our peace and stability.
– It does not mean I disengage from my community and ignore my neighbours’ needs.
– It does not mean I cave into the red underline on my screen and spell “neighbours” in the (wrong) American way just to spite my country.
– It does not mean that I don’t find ways to serve my community and make it a better place.

What it means is that I don’t belong to my nation. I just happen to be in it. My real nation is comprised of members of every nation.

And it is the custom of our people to try to make our communities better places to live.

The Former Wanderer

I’m particularly fond of an Old English poem called The Wanderer. In it, the narrator speaks of his estrangement from his companions and from his home. The Seafarer is thematically comparable. The first time I read it, it resonated with me like few things ever have.

There is something comforting and validating about knowing other people whose predicaments are your own. Even if we don’t like where we are in life, we see others in similar circumstances and think “it’s okay for things to be like this and I’m not alone in it.” When I read The Wanderer for the first time in class (it had been assigned reading but I had been busy) I felt both a deep connection with the poet and newfound comfort in my own circumstances.

As grade 12 began, it became apparent to me that I would soon go to university and move out of my childhood home. I was mostly ready for this thanks to having been booted out the door to go to summer camp in many previous years. But I was still somewhat saddened at the prospect that I wouldn’t have a permanent home for a while.

So I moved between home and university and the summer camp I then worked at for years and years and years. Within university, I moved from dorm to dorm one year after another or sometimes even twice within a year. Then I lived in an apartment in my year after university, all the while knowing that it would be a temporary arrangement.

And then today happened. And I moved again into the downtown of my new city. And for the first time since before grade 12, I wonder if I might stay here for a while. Whenever something has been the case in our lives for a long time, there is a certain nervousness that can set in towards the prospect of things changing. We may be cautiously optimistic at best and cautiously optimistic is exactly what I am. Everything could work out for the next year, two years, or more. That would certainly be lovely.

But no matter what happens, one thing will stay the same. I love The Wanderer. I’ll always love that poem that spoke so clearly to something that was such a big part of my life for a long time. It’ll always be something I take with me. Even if the grand scheme of the future is uncertain, there’s one thing that won’t change.

Moving still sucks though.

The Other Perfectionism

“There is no art delivered to mankind that hath not the works of nature for [its] principle object, without which they could not consist, and on which they so depend as they become actors and players, as it were, of what nature will have set forth.” – Philip Sidney

I’ve never been a perfectionist in the sense that I’m totally content to show my work when it’s not quite done or ready. I’ve long believed that if you wait until you’re ready then you’ll never get anywhere. Even if I had been a perfectionist then school would have taught me otherwise.

I almost never had the time to reread assignments before I submitted them. I had just enough time (sometimes not enough time) to write something, anything, and hand it in. So I got very used to the red pen. The final grade meant less and less to me over time.

While I was never a perfectionist, I have always been a pedant for originality. If I was writing something and then I found out that someone had already done something like it, I would pretty much give up. I was quickly judgmental of stories with familiar ideas in them. Since then, I’ve developed a bad habit of abandoning any project that doesn’t have some exceptional idea behind it.

It’s good to push yourself but some standards are so high that you can never start working. Therein lies the difference between two types of perfectionism.

The first kind, the common kind, is the unwillingness to consider a work finished until it is absolutely perfect. This leads people to spend forever on a project that never ends. The other perfectionism, the one I have, happens right at the beginning. It’s a perfectionism of concept rather than a perfectionism of quality. It’s the difference between never finishing a work and never starting one.

Overcoming the first is easier, I think. All you need is to make a conscious decision to let go. Overcoming the second is harder because you don’t have a work to let go of. Rather, it takes a reevaluated attitude towards creativity. Artists cannot create ex nihilo. Very rarely will someone invent a new genre or create something that has never been created before, and even then those gifted artists build their work on nature.

The other perfectionism stems from a dissatisfaction with nature or its neglect. Artists can’t draw from much else. To myself and to anyone else who struggles with this kind of perfectionism, I recommend adopting a new humility towards their art. The best works of art are born of simple and understandable ideas.

There are some things that are common to almost all of us as human beings. That is nature, our subject and our inspiration. And there are ways we experience and interpret such things that are unique to all of us as individuals. That is our originality. When those two things come together you get an idea for a work that is perfect enough for the purposes of the artist.