December 3, 2012 by Matthew Mason
More Wallace Stegner, this time from Crossing to Safety, his final novel, one rich with descriptions of landscapes so vivid you can sense them, his virtuosic use of list sentences, and insights into writing, friendship, and what makes, and cripples, marriages.
In late middle age, Larry Morgan looks back:
What ever happened to the passion we all had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute. We did not care about the rewards. We were young and earnest. We never kidded ourselves that we had the political gifts to reorder society or insure social justice. Beyond a basic minimum, money was not a goal we respected….But we all hoped, in whatever way our capacities permitted, to define and illustrate the worthy life. With me it was always to be done in words; Sid too, though with less confidence. With Sally it was sympathy, human understanding, a tenderness toward human cussedness or frailty. And with Charity it was organization, order, action, assistance to the uncertain, and direction to the wavering.
Leave a mark on the world. Instead, the world has left marks on us. We got older. Life chastened us so that now we lie waiting to die, or walk on canes, or sit on porches where once the young juices flowed strongly, and feel old and inept and confused. (12f)
And, as he reminisces about a paradise of friendship and rural retreat, this hint of impending disaster:
Eden. With, of course, its serpent. No Eden valid without serpent.
It was not a big serpent, nor very alarming. But once we noticed it, we realized that it had been there all along, that what we had thought only the wind in the grass, or the scraping of a dry leaf, was this thing sliding discreetly out of sight. Even when we recognized it for what it was, it did not seem dangerous. It just made us look before we sat down. (172)
January 6, 2012 by Matthew Mason
Now for something a little different, inspired by my older daughter’s latest literary craze, because reading is for pleasure and wannabe theologians need to learn how to write.
Now he really is going to eat me, Sophie thought.
The Giant sat down and stared hard at Sophie. He had truly enormous ears. Each one was as big as the wheel of a truck and he seemed to be able to move them inwards and outwards from his head as he wished.
“I is hungry!” the Giant boomed. He grinned, showing massive square teeth. The teeth were very white and very square and they sat in his mouth like huge slices of white bread.
“P…please don’t eat me,” Sophie stammered.
The Giant let out a bellow of laughter. “Just because I is a giant, you think I is a man-gobbling cannybull!” he shouted. “You is about right! Giants is all cannybully and murderful! And they does gobble up human beans! We is in Giant Country now! Giants is everywhere around! Out there us has the famous Bonecrunching Giant! Bonecrunching Giant crunches up two wopsey whiffling human beans for supper every night! Noise is earbursting! Noise of crunching bones goes crackety-crack for miles around!”
“Owch!” Sophie said.
“Bonecrunching Giant only gobbles human beans from Turkey,” the Giant said. “Every night Bonecruncher is galloping off to Turkey to gobble Turks.”
Sophie’s sense of patriotism was suddenly so bruised by this remark that she became quite angry. “Why Turks?” she blurted out. “What’s wrong with the English?”
“Bonecrunching Giant says Turks is tasting oh ever so much juicier and more scrumdiddlyumptious! Boncruncher says Turkish human beans has a glamourly flavour. He says Turks from Turkey is tasting of turkey.”
“I suppose they would,” Sophie said.
“Of course they would!” the Giant shouted. “Every human bean is diddly and different. Some is scrumdiddlyumptious and some is uckyslush. Greeks is all full of uckyslush. No giant is eating Greeks, ever.”
“Why not?” Sophie asked.
“Greeks from Greece is all tasting greasy,” the Giant said.
“I imagine that’s possible too,” Sophie said. She was wondering with a bit of a tremble what all this talking about eating people was leading up to. Whatever happened, she simply must play along with this peculiar giant and smile at his jokes.
But were they jokes? Perhaps the great brute was just working up an appetite by talking about food.
“As I am saying,” the Giant went on, “all human beans is having different flavours. Human beans from Panama is tasting very strong of hats.”
“Why hats?” Sophie said.
“You is not very clever,” the Giant said, moving his great ears in and out. “I thought all human beans is full of brains, but your head is emptier than a bundongle.”
“Do you like vegetables?” Sophie asked, hoping to steer the conversation towards a slightly less dangerous kind of food.
“You is trying to change the subject,” the Giant said sternly. “We is having an interesting babblement about the taste of the human bean. The human bean is not a vegetable.”
“Oh, but the bean is a vegetable,” Sophie said.
“Not the human bean,” the Giant said. “The human bean has two legs and a vegetable has no legs at all.”
Sophie didn’t argue any more. The last thing she wanted to do was to make the Giant cross.
“The human bean,” the Giant went on, “is coming in dillions of different flavours. For instance, human beans from Wales is tasting very whooshey of fish. There is something very fishy about Wales.”
“You means whales,” Sophie said. “Wales is something quite different.”
“Wales is whales,” the Giant said. “Don’t gobblefunk around with words. I will now give you another example. Human beans from Jersey has a most disgustable woolly tickle on the tongue,” the Giant said. “Human beans from Jersey is tasting of cardigans.”
“You mean jerseys,” Sophie said.
“You are once again gobblefunking!” the Giant shouted. “Don’t do it! This is a serious and snitching subject. May I continue?”
“Please do,” Sophie said.
“Danes from Denmark is tasting ever so much of dogs,” the Giant went on.
“Of course, “Sophie said. “They tast of great danes.”
“Wrong!” cried the Giant, slapping his thigh. “Danes from Denmark is tasting doggy because they is tasting of labradors!”
“Then what do the people of Labrador taste of?” Sophie asked.
“Danes,” the Giant cried, triumphantly. “Great danes!”
“Aren’t you getting a bit mixed up?” Sophie said.
“I is a very mixed up Giant,” the Giant said. “But I does do my best. And I is not nearly as mixed up as the other giants. I know one who gallops all the way to Wellington for his supper.”
“Wellington?” Sophie said. “Where is Wellington?”
“You head is full of squashed flies,” the Giant said, “Wellington is in New Zealand. The human beans in Wellington has an especially scrumdiddlyumptious taste, so says the Welly-eating Giant.”
“What do the people of Wellington taste of? Sophie asked.
“Boots,” said the Giant.
“Of course,” Sophie said. “I should have known.
Sophie decided that this conversation had now gone on long enough. If she was going to be eaten, she’d rather get it over and done with right away than be kept hanging around any more. “What sort of human beings to you eat?” she asked, trembling.
“Me!” shouted the Giant, his mighty voice making the glass jars rattle on the shelves. “Me gobbling up human beans! This I never! The others, yes! All the others is gobbling them up every night, but not me! I is a freaky Giant! I is a nice and jumbly Giant! I is the only nice and jumbly Giant in Giant Country! I is THE BIG FRIENDLY GIANT! I is the BFG. What is your name.”
“My name is Sophie,” Sophie said, hardly daring to believe the good news she had just heard.
(From The BFG by Roald Dahl.)
December 18, 2010 by Jason Hood
SAET is committed to encouraging pastors to “to writing and scholarship” in order to push theology in an ecclesial direction. Mike Bird has commented more than once on the strange phenomenon of American doctoral students in theology and biblical studies who profess that they have no interest in writing after earning their doctorate. Some skills may be transferrable, but if the primary thing one is learning is to research, weigh evidence, and then write, shouldn’t that be put to use?
Dan Reid had some thoughts on this back in 2008. He cited David Brooks (and I think this insight was later picked up by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers–or perhaps he is responding to Gladwell):
Gail [Collins], you know one thing I didn’t get a chance to get into in that column was the theory of 10,000 hours: The idea is that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at anything, whether it is playing tennis or playing the violin or writing journalism.
I’m actually a big believer in that idea, because it underlines the way I think we learn, by subconsciously absorbing situations in our heads and melding them, again, below the level of awareness, into templates of reality. At about 4 p.m. yesterday, I was working on an entirely different column when it struck me somehow that it was a total embarrassment. So I switched gears and wrote the one I published.
I have no idea why I thought the first one was so bad — I was too close to it to have an objective view. But I reread it today and I was right. It was garbage. I’m not sure I would have had that instinctive sense yesterday if I hadn’t been struggling at this line of work for a while.
Dan, an editor at IVP, comments: “[T]hat’s the way it is with writing or editing. . . It takes time to get good at anything of real value, and the subconscious absorption of situations, patterns, outcomes and what not amounts to a value gained that is more than the sum of its parts. You look at a manuscript and say to yourself, ‘This just isn’t right.’”
Dan applies this insight to academic writing and editing and doctoral work:
“One way to look at the Ph.D. is to think of it in terms of the 10,000-hour theory. At root it’s a way of trying to get some kind of leverage on whether a person has “10,000 hours” of disciplined experience in making considered judgments in a subject area—in its methods, history, context, texts and ideas more generally.”
Of course, there are “no guarantees. But there is some reasonable expectation that they will have developed some important intellectual instincts in the field (depending, of course, on their mentors!) that we value and need.”
(HT: Dan Reid)
I don’t think that I was a terrible writer before doing a doctorate, but I can confidently say that there were things I wrote that I would be embarrassed to see now, including at least one of my first two dissertation proposals (my actual topic was my third). Not to say some of my present efforts are not still embarrassing; but I can usually catch them the first time I read through what I’ve tried to put on paper.
I think that Dan is right–doctoral work is a helpful predecessor to some academic writing. The discipline and skill-building required are a great precursor to all kinds of writing, in my judgment at least. He also mentions the importance of studying with the right people. Michael Bird and Howard Marshall were selected by providence, not by me, so I cannot take credit for working with them. But it made an enormous difference having guides who believed that doctoral work was not just a nice hurdle but an apprenticeship to something more than having a few more initials or a title.0 Comments