Living in the Shadow

As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 103:15-16

My eyes burned from lack of sleep, because Hugh, the old man beside me in the truck, had insisted that early in the morning was the best time to fish, even if that meant getting up hours before the sun. Still, I was glad that we’d started before the roads got busy. Despite Hugh’s waning eyesight, he had to drive because I was unfamiliar with handling a stick shift, so the road became an obstacle course where the lives of men hung in the balance. I made peace with God on the way.

We traveled without speaking, Hugh’s waning hearing making conversation ungainly and impractical on the highway. Eventually, we pulled onto a dirt trail; the predawn Kansas sky was stained the color of my dark blue jeans while the sounds of nature were drowned by the rumble of Hugh’s F150 as we barreled toward our unseen goal. Finally we crested a hill overlooking a triangular lake, descended, and parked along the far side, which was a dam of dirt and chunks of concrete. Hugh tugged a rod from the truck bed and plucked a lure loose from a metal tackle box.

When I asked what lure I should use, Hugh tacitly pointed one out—he was there to fish, not teach—before he shuffled toward the water, the squishing sound of saturated earth under boots silencing the noise of nearby insects. He must have been my height at one time, but the vertebrae in his back had compacted on each other, shrinking his frame. I watched him for a while; Hugh had no patience, like a child, which was why he used lures rather than bait. As he meandered along the shore, each cast was a precise motion directed by years of experience, infused with precision and cunning. Even the sages among the fish were naive before him, yet Hugh’s steps were short and heavy, like those of an infant learning how to walk for the first time. Continue reading “Living in the Shadow”

3. Pride and Prejudice

For those who have known me and my love of books for a long time, there’s a burning question, perhaps an angry one: Why is Pride and Prejudice now number three on my top ten list after nearly a decade at number 1? Rest assured that my affection for Pride and Prejudice has not diminished; in fact, it’s probably grown over the years.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • If I were to teach a class on dialogue, Pride and Prejudice would be my text of choice. What Jane Austen does with dialogue is stunning. We are entertained and amused by the conversation. We learn about characters and their personalities as they speak. We learn about plot through these interpersonal exchanges. Yet not once while reading Pride and Prejudge have I ever stopped and thought, “People don’t talk like that,” which is the ultimate test of dialogue. The dialogue is believable.
  • Pride and Prejudice is the closes thing to a perfect novel humanly possible. Length, dialogue, setting, character, etc. they’re all perfect. There are very few changes that could improve the story. The only point of improvement I would suggest is that Jane Austen should have put more of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s engagement scene in dialogue. Austen’s dialogue is superb, but at this one critical point she fell to telling rather than showing. The way the 2005 film captures this scene, using dialogue, highlights this one failure. Beyond this one mistake, the book is practically perfect.
  • Pride and Prejudice is transcendent. It was written in the 1800s, but it could have been written yesterday. I expect that people will feel much the same way in another two hundred years because the human romantic experience doesn’t change that much. We are all still living with our own pride and prejudices, while compromise and growth are essential parts of romance.
  • Pride and Prejudice makes the reader feel happy, which stands is stark contrast to many other romances like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karinena, Gone with the Wind or even the more recent The Time Traveler’s Wife. Pride and Prejudice is romance without tragedy. This is a complex story that leaves readers feeling good.
  • I identify with Mr. Darcy. If you’re into the whole Myers Briggs personality test, I’m an INTJ (Introvert, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging), a type that includes 2% of the population. Famous INTJs include C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and Jane Austen. Fictional characters, supposedly, include Gandalf, Severus Snape, and Fitzwilliam Darcy. All that being said, Elizabeth is great, but I understand Darcy, flaws and all.

So why is Pride and Prejudice only at number three on my list? The answer is simple. Atlas Shrugged, and The Count of Monte Cristo are simply more epic works. Take length alone: Atlas Shrugged is 561,002 words, The Count of Monte Cristo is 389,180, and Pride and Prejudice is 160,993. For what it is, Pride and Prejudice is near perfect, but to put it on the same playing field as the other two works would be disingenuous. However, if you want one final proof of my affinity for Pride and Prejudice, let me simply point to the name of my first born child, Eliza, and the middle name of my second born child, Austen.

Chapter 9: The Annals of Gray Illnesses

Growing up in a large family meant reliable exposure to sickness of one form or another. With five boys and four girls running around, even mild illnesses tended to resemble plagues as multiple members of the family would contract the illness at the same time. While the diseases and injuries were rarely enjoyable, they did keep life interesting, much in the same way typhoons broke up the monotony of the tropical year in the Philippines. Besides, amongst the kids, bouts with sickness and scars gave one a sense of distinction.

3 ring circus coverThe most heralded virus in Gray lore began with a piece of candy, a piece of candy from strangers no less. These outsiders were local children beyond our fence who happened to have hepatitis. Esther, who was only three, contracted the disease when they generously shared their candy with her. At the time, Esther also had an affinity for the taste of toothpaste, an addiction that she fed by making her toddling rotation around the house, perusing the bathrooms where she sampled each accessible tube, regardless of brand, flavor, color, texture, or expiration date.

Normally, this odd craving was harmless, if rather disgusting, but once Esther was infected, her compulsion provided a medium for the pathogen to spread. Before long, every faithful hygienist in the family joined the club of sallow skin and amber eyes. My parents naturally contracted the severest cases, and eventually Dad was checked into a local hospital. Every other member of the family who was of teeth-brushing age caught a milder case, everyone that is except for Enoch and me. We never got hepatitis; we didn’t brush our teeth. This is likely the only story in existence where not brushing one’s teeth actually pays off. Continue reading “Chapter 9: The Annals of Gray Illnesses”

The Albino Asian Cookbook Update and Answered Questions

I continue to work to wrap up this first edition of The Albino Asian Cookbook. I’ve finished my final testing on the recipes. After almost a decade of experimenting, I’m finally happy with my General Tso’s Chicken, and I just put the finishing touches on the Seafood Curry, which is probably my favorite seafood recipe yet.

From this point on, it’s a lot of editing, registering an ISBN, and doing all the behind the scenes work to get the book launched.

Where can I get a copy, what will it cost, and will there be a physical version? Continue reading “The Albino Asian Cookbook Update and Answered Questions”

4. Peter Pan

Why is a children’s book ranked fourth in my favorite books list? It’s simple really: Peter Pan isn’t a children’s book, much as Gulliver’s Travels isn’t for children. Unfortunately, when most people hear the title of J. M. Barrie’s book, they think of the Disney animated rendition, or worse the movie, Hook.

I fell into this camp until a little over seven years ago, content to keep my knowledge of Peter Pan purely theoretical. Then I started talking to, flirting with, and dating this young woman whom I later persuaded to marry me. Abigail was planning to do her master’s thesis on Peter Pan (though I think choosing to write a thesis on something indicates both that you love it and don’t want to love it anymore). Of course, I did the one thing any intelligent suitor would have done; I located a copy of Peter Pan and started reading. Continue reading “4. Peter Pan”

The Compliment I Rejected

I was given the compliment during a nonfiction writing workshop in my senior year of college. The class sat in a circle of tables and chairs, with the elderly, bearded professor, Douglas Atkins PhD, seated near the doorway while the early afternoon sun lit up the room. I wasn’t the best writer in the class or even the second best; I fell into the competition somewhere after those two positions. Still it was my turn to be critiqued.

Having my essay analyzed by my peers felt akin to how I imagine the nude model for an art class to feel; I felt exposed and wanted to hide behind the furniture. It wasn’t that I felt my writing was bad, though the essay was far from a masterpiece. Rather, I cringed inside at the idea of having such intimate thoughts and feelings, my thoughts and my feelings, captured on paper and revealed to others.

Then something happened that I didn’t expect. One of my classmates compared my writing to E. B. White, and others, Dr. Atkins included, agreed. It was something about the sentence structure, the reflective tone, and the fascination with nature, they said.

Inwardly, I rankled at the comparison. I even took insult, not that I let on, and immediately dismissed the comment. White and I were nothing alike, save perhaps our love of nature. If I’d considered White further, I probably would have concluded that he was a pretentious rambler convinced that each of his thoughts was riveting. Continue reading “The Compliment I Rejected”

In the Cool of the Evening

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

Part 1: 2012

Midnight prayer walks are my favorite part of the summer. I was in high school when I initially began meandering around our neighborhood late at night and praying. Much to my parents chagrin, I’d slip out the front door as they were heading to bed, though when I informed them that I was praying not prowling, they were hard pressed to criticize. Kansas summer heat is tenacious; even at night, long after the passing of the sun, the ground exudes warmth. Still the shift in temperature makes evening ideal for such an activity. Lightly dressed and often barefoot, I’d pad through the darkness, skirting lamplight, seeing less but feeling more: the caress of a breeze, the gravel between skin and sidewalk, the brush of an ungainly insect.

Mornings have seldom held any appeal for me—to me, waking is like dying—while something about the end of day and human activity renews me. Though weary in body, my mind revives and creativity comes out to amuse anew. Emotions I haven’t had a chance to sift through drift to the surface, and thoughts, unfinished and unfettered, are reborn. From a young age, I was taught that God, while Creator, is also our friend. Accordingly during my late night ramblings it’s been perfectly natural for me to share my reflections with Him—at least normally. Continue reading “In the Cool of the Evening”