Friday, 27 November 2009

The Pilgrim's Progress II

Most people, I think, have heard of John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress. I don't think the sequel is as popular. In fact, I only discovered it when I got halfway through my new copy of the book and discovered that it was secretly a two-in-one edition.

Given all of this, I doubt that Pilgrim's Progress II will be particularly mindblowing. That seems rather similar to the complaints I sometimes hear about modern movies, and I began to think about the similarities and differences of the book to more modern writing.

The most obvious difference is that it's the only book I've read that uses words like 'snibbeth'. The second most obvious is the way that dialogue is attributed twice - there'll be a play-like reference at the beginning of the line as well as a 'said Christian'. That, I think, might point to the fact that the work was 'self-published'. Bunyan asked his friends what they thought, and decided to get it printed. Perhaps self-publishing is not so bad as people often say, then.

On the other hand, if Bunyan had had an editor to take out the double references, it might have reduced the length of the book considerably. So I guess you can go either way (which is what I would have said at first.)

The thing that bugs me most about it is the devices Bunyan comes up with - particularly towards the end - to present his ideas. If I were his editor, I would tell him to go revise the second half of his book to make it more interesting. (That might mean I would make a terrible editor, of course!)

At the beginning of the book, we visit Mount Sinai (the law), the Slough of Despond, the wicker gate that is opened to those who knock and the house of the Interpreter. Those are all good an fascinating. We meet all sorts of curious people too: people who actually do things.

Later on, we encounter a most marvellous idea. Christian and Hopeful come to an Enchanted Land. To keep themselves from falling asleep, they fall into a great theological discussion. They speak in bullet points. If I'm honest, I skimmed over some of that.

I don't know if Bunyan lost inspiration as he went on, intended the book to be that way, or had some other issue. I'm pretty sure that the book could be made more exciting farther in. The interesting bits go on for long enough - and mostly, are frequent enough - that I was largely caught up in the story, though.

Bunyan has some interesting insights and some ideas that I disagree. He's worth reading, because on the whole he makes me think.

Also, he introduced me to the word 'snibbeth' and who can argue with that?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Being Thankful

Apparently, there's a country up to the North and the West of us that has a national holiday called Thanksgiving. I know a few people who live there, you see, which is how I know about it. Most people don't have that holiday, but I thought it would be fun to play along, since one can never be too thankful.

I'm thankful for my family. Even when they frustrate me or annoy me or just don't get it, they're family and they're there for me. Most of the time, they understand me better than anyone else too.

I'm thankful for online communities. It's so much easier to find people with specific interests when you don't have to take location into account.

I'm thankful that God has provided house, schools, jobs for next year. At the beginning of this year, none of that was entirely certain. I don't think everything's going to be easy, but God has provided and I can trust that he will continue to do so.

I'm thankful for challenges like NaNoWriMo and maybe even exams, that make me think and make me push myself to do better than 'okay'. (I need to write fifteen thousand words before the end of November to finish. I'm not giving up.)

I'm thankful for all the things I have that so many don't: clothes, food, shelter and so many relative luxuries.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Ctrl +F5: Force Refresh

It's weird having my mother back home; definitely good, but weird. Routines that got dropped by the wayside over the year she was away are suddenly back in place. Things we've begun to take for granted are not quite so normal any more. The strangest part is thinking that this is how life will be now.

At the beginning of the year, we all psyched ourselves for what was coming up. We didn't like it, but we knew we'd make it through and we planned accordingly. Now, at the end of the year, we've been stressing about exams and moving other things that people stress about. Having our mother back was certainly a highlight, but since it was a good thing, I don't think it's had much 'stress time'. In some ways, that makes the transition harder. At any rate, it's more surprising.

On an absolute scale, getting Mother back can't even be compared to saying goodbye, though. It is good. It's like somebody's hit 'Ctrl+F5' on the web page of my life and forced me to re-establish my reality with a few new elements. I don't think the page has quite finished loading yet.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Pre-Structured Posting

I should write proper blog posts. I will, when NaNoWriMo is finished, and we've done our packing, and I'm not stressing about schoolwork, and I don't have other commitments and --
There's never going to be a perfect time to blog. Fill-in-the-blanks is baby steps back to actually writing proper posts. So here goes.

(This one is from here.)

Outside my window, the sun is shining for what seems like the first time in days. I think my parents must be chasing it up here from Grahamstown.
I am thinking too much, at least about myself. It's far better to be Christ-conscious than self-conscious. The challenge is in really applying that.
I am thankful for my family, who will all be back together this evening. 2010 may well be the last year that we all live in the same town, and I want to appreciate the months we have now.
From the kitchen two things are certain: food and dishes. If I cook, it will probably mean ham carbonara of sorts. The returning parents may have different ideas, though.
I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt. This should not surprise you.
I am creating a novel. It looks increasingly like my planning for NaNo will strectch to the full 100 000 words of an actual novel, which excites me. If I finish and edit it, I might even try submitting it to an agent.
I am going to win NaNoWriMo (aka, actually finish it). I doubt I'll get through more than half my novel in November, though.
I am reading The Pilgrim's Progress. I think I enjoyed it more when I was about ten and didn't worry about metaphors or language. It seems to me that Bunyan was a better storyteller than a wordsmith.
I am hoping to finish my Christmas shopping before the Mad Panic arrives. It's especially complicated this year, because Christmas and goodbyes are all mixed up.
I am hearing birds: not just the birdsong, but the flutter and swish as they pass my window. I like birds. They have a sense of peaceful industry about them.
Around the house things are looking a little tidier than usual. This is absolutely not because Mother will be home today.
One of my favourite things is the literature community on deviantART; there are not enough people who appreciate the value of semicolons.

A few plans for the rest of the week:
I want to hit 50k on my novel, which I know I can do if I'm disciplined about it. We're also going to start packing in earnest, I think.

Here is picture for thought I am sharing:

Gidleigh Goat by ~3-hares on deviantART

Friday, 20 November 2009


Some people say that they don't write because they don't know what to write. Quite often, they call it writer's block, which makes it sound official and excusable. I don't think I've ever experienced that. I think I have the opposite problem: I have too many ideas and spend so long trying to choose one to write about that I don't get to the actual writing. Unfortunately, I can't call this writer's block. (If I sound kind of sceptical about writer's block, I am, although not entirely. But that's another post, which is precisely where I'm not supposed to be going.)

Now, it's possible that the way Terry Pratchett describes ideas in Discworld works out on Roundworld too. An idea seems to be a kind of subatomic particle - and certain people attract ideas far more than others. That seems to fit the observational evidence, but it lacks a certain scientific rigour.

I think that lots of ideas are a result of learning that 'why?' is a good question to ask. I think there may be a fair amount of luck involved in being taught this, or figuring it out for oneself, but it's something anyone can do. Very often, life is about being practical, to the detriment of being wonderful (in the most literal sense). We learn facts for exams, rather than understanding concepts, because we only need to pass. We do things because people expect us to, without stopping to think about why. We follow routines that get us through the day, even when we forget the meaning behind them.

Those things aren't altogether bad. In their own places, they're useful. The problem comes when they take over the child who says, 'Daddy, why?' If the child doesn't stop asking, then Daddy is awesome.

Why is the sky blue?
Why is the earth round?
Why do I have to tidy my room?
Why does it rain?
Why is the moon not made from green cheese?
Why is Shakespeare famous?
Why is it bad to put magnets in the computer?
Why do people smoke?
Why are flowers pretty?

There's so much that we only begin to answer in high school, or towards the end of prep. school. Some things we don't even answer then. The sad thing is that there's nothing on the list that a five-year-old can't at least begin to understand. We so often squash the 'why's.

But if we don't, or if we unsquash them, there are hundreds and thousands and googolplexes of ideas just waiting to be found.

Because did you know, the moon used to be green cheese, but it was petrified due to the pressure of empty space? So actually, the moon is a green cheese fossil. Clearly, it was a Swiss green cheese. How else did the craters get there?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


I wrote Calculus yesterday, which means that my Summer holidays have technically begun. It's really great (I read an entire novel yesterday afternoon, after a whole month without one), but also a little strange.

Part of me keeps thinking I need to study. If I didn't have a certain amount of inbuilt laziness, I might even be revising the subjects I've just finished with - I'm quite glad I'm not that studious. Still, I have to keep reminding myself that I'm allowed to do other things now. I have 'most all the time in the day to read and blog and work on my NaNovel.

There are chunks when I'm working or doing useful things around the house, but there's a lot of new, unallocated time too. It's surprisingly difficult not to stress because I haven't studied. Consciously I know it's not an issue, but subconsciously, I guess it's going to take a while longer.

Now I'm going to go and do things just for fun, because I can. Like catching up the wordcount on that novel.

Saturday, 07 November 2009

Shakespeare Saturday: School

Until my exams finish, I'm going to be a little focused on school. It always impresses me that Shakespeare's schoolday was almost certainly several hours longer than a typical schoolday today. He didn't study Calculus or English Lit either. Still I'm not sure much has changed when it comes to
the whining schoolboy with shining morning face.

I think if Shakespeare had known that his work would be studied in schools, he would have been most surprised that a subject like English Lit existed. Most kids aren't taught Greek or Latin, but they do read novels and plays at school. What the Elizabethans watched purely for entertainment, we watch for education, although the entertainment aspect hasn't been lost entirely.

It makes me wonder what will change in the school system in the next few hundred years. Maybe students will be expected to analyse the Beatles' songs or whine about the ancient blog posts they're expected to read. Maybe Literature will be studied as art instead of language. Maybe there'll only be a few schools that offer the ancient language English.

I wouldn't be surprised, though, if there turn out to be whining schoolchildren with shining morning faces. Some things don't seem to change.

Friday, 06 November 2009

Friday Five

I would love to post a beautiful three-hundred word essay to my blog every day. Unfortunately, there are other things I would love more, like passing Calculus, writing things that aren't blog posts, and correcting my brother's spelling tests. Well, technically I don't love doing that last one, but it does take precedence.

Since I can't have that on my terms, I'm settling for trying to post something reasonably meaningful to my blog most days. I am hoping that more-or-less avoiding structure on some days will make the process possible. Hence, I present to you my Friday Five.

1. My last exam is on Tuesday. That means the summer holidays are nearly here, which is awesome. Having just three days left to study is not so awesome. I'm fairly confident that I'll be okay with this one, though.

2. I made a rosary! I won't pray the traditional Marian rosary, since I'm not Catholic, but I think something like this ecumenical rosary might work well. The repetition and tactile notions of praying with prayer beads really appeal to me, so I would really like to make a go of using them as a prayer aid.

3. Summer has definitely arrived. It's hot and sunny and if my Calculus book didn't look so accusing, I might go swim. I'm definitely looking forward to holidays, especially once our whole family is home together.

4. My brother has devised a method of studying that involves thumping his book. I'm quite glad there's not that much studying for Grade SIx exams, actually.

5. I may be utterly mad for attempting NaNoWriMo during exams, but so far, writing brainlessly during study breaks is working okay. I just have to remember that editing comes later.

Wednesday, 04 November 2009

The Hardest Part is Going Back

Although perhaps the hardest part seems to be wherever you are right now. That could also be true.

There's a path that we're all supposed to follow through life, although we step off it at an alarmingly high rate. Once we've found the path, though, it's not always difficult to realise when we're stepping off. We can take one small step back and end up where we should be.

Other times, the false paths are more deceptive. And when you've pushed and struggled along the path for days and weeks or even years, it's difficult to accept that you were going the wrong way. All that work must have counted for something! The only thing it seems to add to, though, is how far you have to walk back.

It's just as well there's somebody to help us on the way back, because I don't think we'd manage to turn around every time if there wasn't. It's difficult enough as it is.

So tonight, I'm pulling out my map and compass. I'm looking for the path. I'm pretty sure this blog is on my path, in fact. It's funny the things He uses to show us when we're lost.