Aristotle Shares His 7 Writing Tips

Okay, I have  a confession to make:  Aristotle never compiled a list of rules for creative writing. If you didn’t realize it by now, Aristotle lived in the 4th century BC, which was a significantly long, long time before “first novels” like The Tale of Genji (1010) or Don Quixote (1605) – and I don’t think there’s any debating that it’s impossible for anyone to foretell the rules of the literary art by 1300 years, even a man as brilliant as Aristotle.

. . . Or is it? Is it, really?

In reality, these are Aristotle’s “Seven Golden Rules of Storytelling.” They’re meant to apply to the visual arts of storytelling; in particular, Greek theatre. But as a writer, I’m always translating advice on any art into a context that fits my own; and I discovered that Aristotle’s rules actually translate into surprisingly accurate and well-rounded elements of writing.

1. Plot

Plot means different things depending on who you ask. We could have interesting discussions just looking for the nature of plot. Some say a story is nothing without it. Some (take Stephen King) “distrust” it. But we’re all agreed that it’s a thing, and that all proper fiction has some form of it – and typically, it’s your first step to a story.

The plot is the “what” of a story. If you’re writing, you’re bound to write about something happening; that’s your plot.

2. Character

Now that you have a plot, you need characters to populate it. No writer will tell you different.  Characters are people, and there’s no story without a) a person to tell it (you), and b) people to live in it. There’s simply no getting around this one. And I don’t know about you, but I like it that way.

3. Theme

Why are you writing your story? Why is the story happening? Why are the characters doing what they’re doing? That’s your theme, honey.

This is another place where writers don’t always agree. Some say Yes, every story has a theme, if you don’t have one you’re missing something; some say No, don’t do the thing, that’s gimmick not story. Most writers (and I can include myself here) will tell you something in between: every story has a theme, yes, but every theme doesn’t have a story. If you start with a theme, it will become your gimmick. If you tack on a theme, it will become your gimmick. If you let the theme grow organically in your story in whatever nooks and crannies it chooses, you’re doing something right.

4. Dialogue

Talk is cheap . . . except when it’s not, because it’s one of your most valuable tools as a writer. Verbal communication is thousands of years in the making, please of all the mistakes you may make do not butcher it by making your characters talk like rocks. They can talk like rockers – or aristocrats or scientists or cockneys or rednecks – but please please please remember they have to talk like human beings.

So far so good. Everything obviously applies to writing. We have four elements no story can go without. Now let’s see what else Aristotle has to share . . .

5. Chorus

In the Greek theatre, the chorus was the part where the actors came out to sing and dance, and to perorate on the nature of the play’s moral. It was a kind of commentary, description, or exposition; and I don’t know what kind of grades you got in your elementary school spelling tests, but to me that clearly spells P-R-O-S-E. This is the only place where writing itself intersects with Greek theatre.

Good plot, bad plot, no plot, you can still have a story; good prose, bad prose, but there has to be prose to be a story. (Unless you’re Paul Fournel. But have you ever heard of him? There might be a reason for that. It’s this: You’re not French and you’ll never be as cool as the French.)

So don’t stint here. You have a compelling plot, complex characters, theme, strong dialogue; it all falls apart if you can’t write it down and do a good job of it. You have to write words good.

6. Decor

You’ve seen a stage: it’s a big platform, usually made of wood, with great big curtains and arcane mysteries behind them. But when you watch a performance, you don’t see the stage; you see the library in a British country villa, or the streets of New York, or the Opera Populaire. Thanks to the decor, you don’t see a stage: you see a setting.

Your story needs to happen somewhere. It could be on Main Street in a rural Minnesooota town, or it could be on Mars. It just needs to be somewhere you can get excited about traveling to, so you can be the tour guide to make your reader excited about being there.

7. Spectacle

I’ll tell you what. I’ve given this one some thought, and I’ve interpreted it in my own way; but I’m not entirely sure about this one. What I’d like you to do is learn a little about the spectacle, the opsis in Greek theatre, for yourself. Make your own interpretations, figure out what you think it means for literature, and then come back for my opinion. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

. . . Ready? You want to know how I interpret the opsis? I think it’s just this:

Action!

I hope you don’t feel cheated. But I’m serious; just hear me out. I really think this is the most pivotal of all the seven rules.

The action is what the reader really wants. Whether they’re reading James Patterson or Charles Dickens, readers crave action. It’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction: nonfiction tells about something that happened; fiction shows something happen. Characters have to do something. Plot is what happens; action is the happening. I think Chekhov says it best:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov*

Nonfiction will tell you the moon is shining, and when the moon shines and why. Good fiction will tell you what the moonlight revealed, what the moon meant to the person seeing it shine, what the lovers did in the moonlight, and what they learned in the moonlight.

 

* Supposedly, Chekhov never actually said this. You probably noticed the similarity to a quote credited to Mark Twain. It seems that somebody took Chekhov’s words and rearranged them to sound like Twain’s (supposed) words.

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What do you think? Do Aristotle’s commandments apply to writing? What was your interpretation of the seventh rule?

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5 Things I’ve Been Up To (or, 5 Things Every Writer Should Do)

Dear readers,

I’m back . . . again! I’ve been accidentally on hiatus, trying to avoid the internet, and keeping myself busy with other pursuits (and procrastinating, maybe there was some procrastinating involved). But today I decided it was time to get my rear in gear and get back into blogging (again!).

And in celebration of my return – and I know that you’re celebrating, of course you missed me more than you can say – I’m going to share some of what I did while I was absent, and tell you what a few of the things I did taught me about writing:

Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc  (altered)

Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc (altered)

1. Write a Novel. If you haven’t already, you should. And with NaNoWriMo coming up again next month, there’s no better time to get that great idea down on paper.

That’s what I’ve been working on lately; my fourth novel, and a little on my fifth, and a lot on my sixth, and here and there on my ninth and seventeenth and thirty-eighth. (No, if you’re wondering, I don’t have them planned out quite that accurately. My methods are a little more on-the-fly.) My next novel won’t be about Leo Westmacott and the gang, but they will be back, don’t worry. As for what it is about . . . I’ll keep you posted, but I’m not going to talk about it too much just now, as it’s still got a long way to go before being published. But I’ll tell you this: It’s about a golem, there are a few Judaists involved, and it’s set in Spain.

2. Write with a workshop. It shouldn’t be hard to find one in your area, whether you live in New York City or some podunk town nobody’s ever heard of. (Even if you live in Monowi, Nebraska – which of course you don’t, unless I’m talking to Elsie, in which case I would be honored – or somewhere similar.) And if you can’t find one, you could always start one yourself.

Or, for the antisocial types who want to write from the comfort of their own homes, I would recommend either A, you get some guts because it’s important to be fearless in writing and ready to go out and show the world what you’ve got, or B, find a group online. There are plenty of online writing communites you can get in on, sometimes in the most unexpected places, so don’t be afraid to look around.

Personally, I don’t trust those online workshops that ask for a few hundred dollars in return for a chance to listen to some “author” who’s never even polished a bestseller’s shoes talk about what he thinks makes a good story, so I’d avoid those if I were you. But if you feel differently, there are plenty of those around.

And if nothing else, you could always start up an online community yourself. (Which, I confess, is what happened to me a couple years ago, although it was only part choice and mostly chance.)

For the past few months I’ve been writing another anthology with the Ambage, my informal online writer’s workshop. This anthology our theme is crime fiction, and we’re a couple weeks, maybe another month from publishing. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.

(By the way, if you think you’re up for an improfessional workshop full of close-knit writers who get together to produce short story anthologies once or twice a year, you’re welcome to join us! We’re always eager for fresh meat – uh, blood – uh, talent.)

3. Try out other forms of storytelling. Poetry, songwriting, screenwriting, playwriting, comic writing – they’re essentially similar to the prose we’re used to, and yet very different in execution, and they all have important lessons to teach us about writing and telling stories. Even entirely different forms of art, like music or painting, are worth exploring.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with a little poetry, playwriting, and songwriting – even some comic strip writing.

4. Read. This is a given. Read, read, read. Always read. Read with every spare moment you have to yourself. It’s relaxing, it’ll make you a smarter, nice, more attractive, generally better person, and it’ll teach you all the essential things you need to know about writing and then some and then some on top of the then-some.

One of the things I finally got around to reading over the winter was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Masterpieces, don’t you think? I can’t believe I waited this long – these books were written for me. (You know what I mean, right? When a book touches you deeply, which is what any good book is written to do, then logically, it was written for you.) I’ve been inspired, so much so that I’ve started turning some old ideas for surrealist, literary nonsense stories into words.

That’s one of the best things about reading. It’ll give you ideas – plenty of ideas.

5. Take up new interests. I can’t emphasize this enough: artists are just people who know how to live and how to express life, and insatiable curiosity and a sense of discovery are essential to living. You never know what you could do that might be fodder for your next story. Skydiving? Bear wrestling? Extreme ironing? Or maybe keep it local – go out to the theatre or take up running or go birdwatching. You never know if you might like something until you’ve tried.

And if you’re the extreme introvert who doesn’t even want to step outside, I have an idea for you, too: STEP OUTSIDE AND SEE WHAT YOU’RE MISSING. But a more sensitive suggestion would be – go researching! Just find a topic you’d like to learn more about and start reading everything you can find on the subject: blogs, wikipedia articles, any material you might happen to have on your bookshelf, and anything you can find at your library (or on your Kindle).

Bonus. Blog! Personally, I sometimes see blogging as a distraction. But let’s face facts: if you’re a writer, what you do is write, and blogging is writing. Maybe it’s not the same kind of writing you’re used to – and that’s why it’s important! It’s just another form of storytelling, and I’ve already told you what I think about challenging yourself to experiment with different forms of storytelling. Blogging also gives you the unique opportunity to have direct communication with your readers, and there’s a lot to learn from that.

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So what have you been up to lately? Do you have any habits that help you keep your writerly mojo fuelled?

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blogging F.O.R. a Reason: Getting Back Into Blogging

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Time to come clean about my five-month hiatus and what caused it.

I’m lazy.

All right, it’s not quite that simple. Ultimately, that’s the answer, but it’s more involved than it sounds. Let’s delve into this, and we’ll call it . . .

Blogging F.O.R. a Reason: Getting Back Into Blogging

Because people like to remember things this way, and because it works, you guessed it, F.O.R. is an acronym for remembering the three elements of my new blogging mantra.

(It might also have been the FORD system for introverts who aren’t comfortable bringing up dreams with strangers, and if that was your guess, it wasn’t a bad one. Even though it was wrong. Shame on you.)

And yes, I just came up with that acronym on the spot and oh-aren’t-I-clever (never as clever as I like to think).

F is F.O.R. Fear

Laziness. What is it? It’s a fear, I think. Some might say a fear of hard work, but I believe it goes deeper than that. I believe laziness is the fear of failure.

Don’t try and you can’t fail, right? That’s how it feels sometimes. Blogging (or writing of any kind) can feel futile sometimes because it’s almost like writing a message in a bottle. For one thing, the bottle might just sink. Or it might end up in the hands of somebody who has no use for the message. The chances are really incredibly slim that your message will reach someone who can use it.

You’re afraid of those who don’t want your message, the ones who don’t know how to use it and will scoff at you for throwing it into the sea. When you think of these people, you can just hear them: Keep your message to yourself. Nobody wants to hear it. Nobody will listen to you.

So you don’t throw the message. Instead, you just stay stranded on your little island, alone, stationary. You’re not going anywhere, but at least you didn’t stick your neck out and fail, right?

Wrong.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said: If you try, you might not succeed, but if you don’t try, you can’t possibly succeed. Well, believe it. It’s true.

It can be tough to put yourself out there and tell the world what you’re thinking. You’re always wondering if anybody will listen or if anybody will care. You don’t have the answers. You’re always doubting.

The first step is recognizing what you’re afraid of and why. The second step is remembering why you ever started blogging in the first place.

O is F.O.R. Objective

Surely you had a reason to start a blog? Of course you did. You had something you wanted to say. You had a message you wanted heard.

No, wait, sorry. You have something you need to say. You have a message that should be heard.

If you keep it to yourself, it won’t be. You have to put it out there.

Take me, for instance. I have a message that should be heard, but until today, I forgot what it was. I had to read the Who Am I? section of my own blog to answer that titular question. This is what I discovered:

“I write because it is my passion. I write as an act of religious devotion. I write because I want this world to be a better place.”

Because I want this world to be a better place. Because I want to search and understand myself and to encourage others to do the same and help them in that effort. Isn’t that worth sticking my neck out for?

Chances are that something like 99% of the people who find my blog, won’t care what I have to say. They won’t listen and they might misunderstand me. Sure. It happens.

But I write for that one out of a hundred, that 1% who will hear my message and will care. Because no matter how many people there are out there who won’t give a flying fart, there’s always the 1% who will be touched by what you have to say.

I discovered that recently when I received an email from some one who’d read a comment I posted on an article across the internet. They googled my name and found my blog, and my email, and got in touch with me to tell me they appreciated what I said in that comment.

I posted that comment a couple of months ago, and I almost didn’t post it at all, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to stick my neck out. But I did, because I felt what I had to say needed to be said. And somebody found my comment, and it meant something to them, enough that they sought me out to tell me so.

And just think: if they hadn’t sought me out, if they hadn’t stuck their neck out, it might have been months more before I found the courage to blog again.

They reminded me why I do what I do. This is your invitation to remember why you’ve read this far into my article. Remind yourself why you started blogging.

R is F.O.R. Resolution

When the idea for this article hit me, I almost said, Nah, I’ll write it later. Tomorrow. Tomorrow’ll be a good day. I’ll do it then.

No. I won’t. I knew I wouldn’t.

It’s now or it’s never. No matter what your objective is, it’s nothing but an empty good intention until you act on it. You have to take action. You have to resolve to blog.

Maybe your New Year’s resolution was to start a blog or to post every week or every day. By now, you’ve probably failed that resolution. Try again. Maybe you want to abandon it. Don’t.

Think of what’s at stake. Your voice risks going unheard. Your message might never reach the person it could touch and inspire. If you don’t take action, nobody will ever hear what you have to say.

So go. Go! Sit down at your typewriter and bleed. Cry if you don’t want to do it. Shake if you’re afraid. Just don’t let anything stop you. Never forget why you’re in that chair typing away on that keyboard.

You’re blogging for a reason.

Get Into Blogging

I assume, if you’ve read this far, you have a blog, had a blog, or intend to start a blog. If you do, great, keep it up; if you had one, get back into it, or start a new one if that’s your inclination; if you intend to start one, yes, God yes, go do it.

You need to be heard.

Just remember: Never fear. Focus on your objective. Resolve to take action. Fear, Objective, Resolve, because you’re blogging F.O.R. a reason.

And it’s a pretty good reason, isn’t it?
Do you have a message you want to share with the world? Go share it.

Do you have a message you want to share with me? Comment below, or contact me.

Categories: Imagining a Better World, Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Quoth C.S. Lewis: Made for Another World

 

 

In context, this quote from Mere Christianity probably refers to a soul yearning for God and His kingdom. (I say “probably” because I haven’t actually had the pleasure of reading that one yet. Seriously recommend Screwtape Letters though. I digress.)

However, I also think it refers to creative people, yearning for things that don’t exist in this world, and creating them.

Or, you know, it might mean psychopaths who traipse around town in their everyday clothes with regal robes and gold crowns thrown on. I’m leaning toward the heart of creative people personally, but hey, if you like that interpretation best, whatever paddles your canoe.

Categories: Wise Words | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Artist and the Scientist, and the Secret of Balancing Them

There are many sides to writing. It can’t be confined. Some call it an art; some call it a science. So which is it?

Writing requires creativity and vision. You’ll need open eyes to look at the world, to see what it looks like on the face of it, to see what it looks like underneath, and to see what it looks like inside of yourself. An artist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of stories to write, because all around them everything they see has a thousand aspects, and a million ideas inside it. You need to be able to look at things from all these different angles. Sometimes, writing requires some degree of omnipotence to keep an eye on all the thoughts coming together—and sometimes you just pull back and let them flow into place.

Writing requires dimension and precision. You have to know what you’re writing about, and how; you need to understand the subject and how to effectively approach it and describe it. You need to know what you’re seeing and how to get it down on paper according to your vision, to use that vision to its fullest potential. You need to know how to produce an effect. A scientist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of subjects to categorize and monitor, because they could identify every tree and weed and bug and bird and spend the rest of their lives recording their lifecycles and the changes wrought in them by the seasons and the years.

The fact is, writing is both an art and a science. You’ll need balance—more than anything. You’ll need to know when to think and when to feel. You’ll need to understand when to let your tender, sentimental nature take over, and when to be cold and calculating. Give yourself over completely to the artist and you’ll end up with chaos—yield to the scientific side and you’ll end up with sterile, insipid chaff.

Basically, you have to be pretty schizophrenic. But it knew that, didn’t it, precious? Yesss . . . we knews it, precious, we did . . .

The Scientist

This is the part of you that was taught in schoolrooms to bleed literature dry of every nebulous interpretation of meaning that they can fabricate. This is the part that tends to function as a spellcheck while you’re writing, or critiques your plot, and probably it’s the one muttering, “This is crap, this is crap,” while you’re trying to write. If you’re experiencing writers’ block, you can count on it that the soulless, unfeeling scientist in you is to blame.

It can get be a hindrance at times, can’t it? Unfortunately, you still need it. Believe it or not, you do need a little logic and rationality when you’re writing, and the scientific part of you keeps that in check. By the traditional myth of brain lateralization, this would be the left brain; reason and critical thinking, all the technical and scientific aspects of the writing process.

The Artist

You know when you’ve come to that exciting part, and a little voice is going, “Oh boy! oh boy! oh boy!” while you’re writing? Yup, this is that voice. And when you’re killing a character or letting them find true love at last, the artist is inside you, crying. This is the one that’s putting the scientist’s stores of knowledge to good use, hitting on unlikely combinations and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is the little genius in you, the one that flies into a frenzy and writes like mad when you finally break through that creative block. The artist is the one who appreciates the beauty in things.

Unlike the scientist, the artist isn’t taught. This part of you isn’t developed in the schoolroom, unless your mind is wandering from the lesson. Typically, this part is developed in the woods, or on a busy city street, or other places where you’re “alone,” that is, away from the distractions of your everyday life. The artist is an autodidact; it learns. Nobody can teach you to be an artist. Really, being an artist is something you’re born into. But I do believe that there’s an artist in all of us: it’s just developed sooner in some than others. If you can discover that part of yourself, open yourself to it, free the artist within and let them learn, let yourself dream, then you can learn any art you’re called to. Even if it’s not something traditionally viewed as an art—if you bring creativity into it, anthing can be an art.

How to Balance Them

If you’re up against writers’ block, a good way to get around it—and a good way, in general, to avoid it—is to stop thinking and start feeling; suppress the scientist, and let your artist free. Just write—let the scientist take over in revision.

At least, that’s what people say.

Me, I don’t believe in it. Sure, it works, but that’s not a solution—it’s avoiding the problem. It’s the easy way out, and for a lot of people, that’s great. So yeah, if you want the easy way out of it, there you go. More power to you. Off with you, go write something.

But you want to know the secret? I do have one up my sleeve here. I’ve already said that writing is both an art and a science; well, I can reduce it to just one word. Writing is a discipline.

That’s right. Being a writer is like being a Jedi. Or, you know, a master of the martial arts. You have to be in touch with the techniques; but also with the spirit of the thing. But above all else, writing is about balance. Letting the two sides take turns at dominance isn’t balance. Balance isn’t fifty-fifty, it’s hundred-hundred. Give free reign to both sides, give them both power and control, and let them work together. This can only be achieved through practice, determination, and discipline.

You’re just a writer. I am too, and I may not be a master, but I believe this: To become a master of my art, I have to become something higher than human, something that transcends the everyday. I have to become an artist, a free-thinker; I have to dare to look at the world in ways no one else will, ways they’ll tell me aren’t there. Sometimes, I have to look like a lunatic. But inside, I have to be a monk: I have to find a way to work with both my mind and heart.

What do you think? Am I a genius, a philosopher, an artist—or a lunatic?

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A Walk with Roses and Discoveries

by Karen Arnold

by Karen Arnold

A few days ago I took a walk. My favorite park for strolling and taking in the scenery is a five minutes’ drive.

Did you notice the irony? I drive to some place so I can take a walk. Huh. Never occurred to me until just the other day, but that’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it, isn’t it?

Get in the car, drive somewhere, what’s so strange about that? I hardly think about it. It’s totally normal. What could be more natural?

Maybe . . . walking?

On the one hand, I wanted to walk in the park, not in the city. So I took the fastest, most efficient way to get through the tedium and reach the pleasure quicker. That’s not really cutting corners. I have a saying: Walk fast so you’ll have time to smell the roses when you get to them. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

But on the other hand, what else am I missing, along the road between my home and the park? How many restaurants and shops that I’ve never been to, never thought of as more than a blur going by? How many people I’ve never met? How many experiences I simply haven’t had because I’ve never even thought of them?

At least once a week, I go to the same park to escape the “rat race” of the city and get “back” to a more natural setting. I go there to get away from all the stress of work, home, family, you know, all the routine. Only now, that freedom has become a part of my routine. It’s just another way I’m giving in to the habit of habit. Another missed opportunity for exploration, discovery, and growth.

So I’m faced with a choice between the familiar, assured gratification of a simple pleasure, or the prospect of an opportunity to have unforeseeable experiences.

I’m not entirely sure what this post is about. Seems to be about several important things. All I know is that I’m probably going to take a walk tomorrow, and leave my car at home. And maybe read Thoreau’s Walking again. Familiar with it?

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Philoseophia Venereum: Ignis Amor Patriæ

Ignis Amor Patriae

Boom.

It began.

Bang.

The sky was instantly filled with fire and smoke. Down below, shouts and screams joined the din of the bombs bursting above. A distant dog barked and somewhere a child was crying. The breeze carried the smells of various burnt substances–probably fireworks, charcoal, and hamburgers.

“Our first fourth,” I whispered, fourth punctuated by another ear-thrumming pop.

“That’s not true. We’ve seen fireworks together before.”

“Sure, but not as a couple.”

Wikipedia

1936 – Credit

“I still remember our first ever.”

“I remember either our first or our second,” I said. “Red shirt with a glittery flag, braided hair, red-white-and-blue bow?”

She shrugged. “I don’t remember what you were wearing.”

Boom.

“Ha, ha.”

She giggled.

Bang.

“Ooh!”

“Ah!”

“Did you know,” I said, “that fireworks were originally conceived as an Independence Day celebration for their resemblance to flowers laid on fallen patriots’ graves?”

“No, I’ve never heard that. I thought they were just meant to be like, you know, ‘bombs bursting in air.'”

Zing. Pop. Crackle.

“Eh, you’re probably right. I only made that up.”

She laughed.

Pop. Bang.

“Wow! Did you see that one?”

“Amazing!”

In the background, a stereo playing The Star-Spangled Banner shook the ground.

“Did you know the anthem was originally written by a soldier during the Battle of Saratoga? In the middle of battle he wrote down half the lyrics but died before he could finish them. His friends finished it in his honor, and General Washington got wind of it. The rest is history.”

“Is that true?”

Zing.

“Yeah, not at all. I think the anthem was written past 1800.”

Boom.

She trilled. “Well, aren’t you an encyclopedia of imaginary information?”

“For example,” I said, “Betsy Ross got the inspiration for the American flag as we know it today when she was watching a fireworks display during the War of 1812. There was a shortage of explosives due to the war, so they only had three, which happened to be red, whi–”

Bang.

She groaned. “Okay. First, Betsy Ross didn’t design the flag we know today, a high-schooler did in the 1950s. Second, as the legend goes, it was in 1776 that Ross designed the first flag. But third, it really wasn’t Betsy Ross who designed the first flag. I think the basics were given by congress, and there were actually a lot of different designs all over for a while.”

“Is that true?”

“Fact by fact. At least, I‘m pretty sure.”

“You have my admiration.”

Zing. Pop.

“That I did know.”

Crackle.

I sighed. “My knowledge of American-themed trivia facts is pretty sad.”

“You have the right spirit. Flowers in commemoration of fallen soldiers, and a songwriter who died for his country . . . I don‘t think the facts count so much when you‘ve got the right spirit.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well . . .”

Bang, bang. Boom.

“So you don‘t remember who came up with celebrating with fireworks, or who designed which flag. You were still thinking about the things that matter–the people who fought and sacrificed themselves so we could sit here today and watch fireworks. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. You and I might never have met. They fought for that. They didn’t fight for facts or dates. That’s not what patriotism is about.”

“It‘s about love?”

“Yeah. Love for your country. Exactly.”

Our conversation was interrupted as the finale lit the sky. I watched in hushed awe, marveling at the display, and out of the corner of my eye, at the woman beside me.

When it was over, and we had clapped our hands and cheered ourselves hoarse, she shifted on the picnic blanket beside me. She rolled onto her side to look me in the face.

“Ah,” I breathed, “now that’s a spectacle.”

She giggled. “Charmer.”

“Charming.”

“So,” she said, “you were surprisingly quiet about philosophy tonight.”

“You did that pretty well for me.”

She beamed. “But I was sure you‘d be bound to go on and on about symbolism in all the shapes of the fireworks, or what it meant to be sitting here watching them, or how there was something meaningful about lying on a picnic blanket instead of sitting in a chair.”

“I was just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, I was thinking about the anthem. We sing it so often that we don’t think about it much, and it begins to evoke nothing but fireworks and football. But as I thought about it, I realized there wasn‘t much I could say that would be more beautiful or meaningful than, well–O say, can you see . . .” I looked at her. “Sing with me?”

She nodded, and closing her eyes, sang in a seraphic soprano: “By the dawn‘s early light . . .

We rose our voices together in harmony. Here and there around us, other voices chimed in as we serenaded our love to our nation:

“What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
“Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
“O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

The End

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To all my fellow Americans,

I think that far too often we’re too busy complaining about what’s wrong with our country. I know, I do that a lot, too. Sometimes political problems get in the way and we forget to appreciate what’s right with our country. Days like this, we celebrate those things. There are a lot of them.

I hope you had a happy, fun, safe Independence Day!

Categories: Philosophia Venereum | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quoth Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee’s got a lot of the uncommon sense that a lot of common people could sure use. Very inspirational.

Categories: Imagining a Better World, Wise Words | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Short Story: The Job

A light rain was falling but I walked anyway. Maybe what I needed was to soak my head.

I pulled up my collar and pulled my hat down over my eyes and started down along the street. I probably cut a suspicious figure like that but I didn’t care. Let people think I was anything they liked.

I’d never had to do anything like this before. I ran a hand over the lump in my pocket. Could I do it? That pocket was worth a lot of money, but even more if I did my job right.

With each passing car I was doused by a spray of water, but personal appearance was the last thing on my mind.

By the time I reached my destination I was soaked to the skin. I felt cold and shivery and shriveled. Each step was heavier than I could carry, but I’m not sure it was just the weight of water. I was miserable—no more miserable than I had been for the past few days.

The rain pounded down around me, sparkling under the streetlights. Cars roared through the water on the roads as they crawled back and forth. I looked across the street at the square of light overhead and the figure standing in it.

Target spotted.

Watching her silhouette, I asked myself again if I was doing the right thing. The right thing—maybe, but who for? I reached into my pocket, opened and closed the casing, fingered the little circle that would finish this whole business soon.

I had to do this.

Ready, aim, fire.

Just cross the street.

I’ve done it a hundred times before.

Climb the steps.

Take a deep breath.

Ring the doorbell.

I reached into my pocket one more time just to remind myself it was there.

A large, broad-shouldered man opened the door.

Deep breath. “Good evening, Mr. Jones. Is your daughter home?”

 

The End

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Categories: Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Elements of Forgiveness

Dear Readers,

Something dawned on me recently. It taught me a lesson that I realized a great many of us could do with learning, and all of us should be reminded of. So I’m going to share this experience with you.

The Elements of Forgiveness

by Ed Yourdon

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon via Compfight cc

Recognition

A couple years back, I hurt someone—even the best of intentions and the highest hopes can fall in disastrous ruin if executed poorly, but that’s another article entirely. The offense in question was mild, not serious at all, but of the kind that ends up getting blown out of proportion, and it was purely personal between that person and myself, so it won’t be mentioned. The point here is that I hurt them, and so they hurt me in return.

It’s not that they were consciously out for revenge, mind you—but they were hurt and they showed it, and that hurt me. They treated me coldly and unkindly, and that hurt me. I had not intentionally done anything to hurt them, but I had hurt them anyway, and that hurt me.

I felt guilty, I felt horrible, and even as soon as the next day dawned I knew I had to make it right—but I wasn’t given the chance. It would be a long time, nearly a year, before I would be given the opportunity, which I took at last and apologized, and did everything I could to make amends. Well, it came out right in the end—I was forgiven.

But I had carried my shame and my guilt for a long time before that happened. I had to deal with that. Sure, everything came out all right, I apologized, I was forgiven. I bore all the guilt and all the responsibility, I never once tried to shirk it or pin it on my friend, I never blamed them outwardly or inwardly. It was my fault. So I fixed it.

And life carried on, but without even realizing it, I was still hurt. To be fair, I had been treated unjustly. I had been hurt too. There was a lot that my friend could have done a lot sooner; like give me a chance to make things right, which was much more in their power to gave than it was in mine to create. Just to speak fairly, they could have done the human thing and met me halfway. Granted, they never knew how much they had hurt me, too—but couldn’t they have made an effort, like I did? Just a little?

I never blamed them though. I carried all the guilt and all the responsibility, and I never once let myself blame them.

At least, that’s what I thought.

 

Confessing your Anger

And then only recently, I realized that I was still hurting, but I didn’t quite know why. And, well, I realized it was because I was still wounded a little by what had happened; I’m a writer, I’m an introvert, I’m sensitive, and I value all my relationships highly. Well, this was a valuable relationship, and it was wounded for a while, and it healed, but I didn’t—yet.

And and that’s when it came to me: I was angry. I was bitter toward my friend for the pain they had caused me without ever as much as an apology. But I had never been willing to admit it until that moment. I had never been able to let myself think a thought of blame against them. And then I saw that that was my mistake.

I denied my anger. I bottled it away in my heart so tight that it began to poison me from the inside. I lied to myself. I told myself I never blamed them. But secretly, unknown even to myself, I hated them for everything: I hated them for the way they had treated me, I hated them for their blindness, I hated them for their hypocrisy, I hated them for leaving me so long to suffer on their behalf. In the core of my heart, of course I still loved that person; you can hate and still love. But somewhere in my heart, I did after all hate them.

I just never let myself believe it. I shouldn’t have done that; I should have been honest with myself and accepted that anger and that hatred. I should have opened myself to it, recognized it, and admitted to my disbelieving self that it was, after all, there. I hated them, and I should have confessed it a lot sooner.

Now, if this was a romantic relationship, if I had loved this person that much, I would have confessed to them personally that I felt that hatred for them. Without that pure, open-hearted honesty I can’t believe in the strength of a relationship that intimate and that sacred. With a woman I loved, I would have worked it out with them. I would have gone through the same process I’m about to describe with her. I would have asked her to help me learn from the experience and find a way that we could both, in future, be more considerate of each other. (And to be realistic, it might have ruined our relationship. But if that’s true, then obviously we didn’t have a relationship worth preserving anyway.) But in the case of this particular friend, it was not necessary for our relationship to have that close a bond. We didn’t have to live with each other, and thank goodness. So this didn’t concern them. This was something I had to work out for myself.

And so I had to confess my anger, let it go, and do the one thing that I had never done for them, because I never thought it was possible or necessary: forgive. I never forgave them because I never admitted that there was anything I had to forgive.

 

Cleansing Yourself

And then, when I accepted that I hated them, I didn’t want to hate them anymore.

I realized that my bitterness was selfish. There was no good reason for it. It was unnecessary and unhealthy.

Step one was letting the anger take control of me. I let that happen. I let myself hate. And then I felt dirty. I was filthy with hatred, and I didn’t like it. The next step was to clean myself.

That old, half-forgotten pain, the resentment, the anger, the hatred, all of it: I washed it away, I washed it right out of me and let it flush down the drain. I let it go. And the miraculous thing was, then, it was gone. I didn’t hate them anymore.

Like dragons starved in their cages, I had let my emotions free; they came out, strong with desperation, hungry for escape, eager to unleash their fury. I let them ravage until they had tired themselves out, I let them consume until they had their fill, and I let them destroy until they had destroyed themselves. When their energy was spent, I slew the dragons. They died, and with them, all the anger and all the hate they had fed on was dead with them. It was over.

Then there was only one thing left to be done. Repair the damage.

 

Healing

I had to forgive my friend for what had happened. I had to let go of the past, and accept that what had happened, had happened, and it didn’t matter anymore.

People make mistakes. But you love them anyway. I had made mistakes, and after all, I had been forgiven. They still loved me as much as I still loved them. Sure, we’d hurt each other, but that’s a small thing between friends. Anything either of us did was nothing compared to all the good things we had done for each other; forgiveness was just another one of those natural things friends do.

I didn’t blame them. Not because they hadn’t done anything wrong, not because I was taking all the responsibility, but because we had both done what we thought was best to make up for it, in our own ways. I really didn’t blame them now—because there really wasn’t anything to blame them for.

 

It Can Be the Little Things, Too

I used a large-scale example, but sometimes we let little, everyday annoyances push us a little further than we should, too. Forgetting is good, but forgiving is better. It’s a positive stance, rather than a merely neutral one, and it can be the turning point in a bad day. The everyday mistakes deserve to be forgiven, and they can be forgiven in the same way.

People can be frustrating—they can do the stupidest things. So now you’re angry with them, and don’t try to tell yourself you’re not, don’t try to suppress the feeling; admit you’re angry, admit that they’re an idiot. Kick a table—it’s the idiot, tell it so, hurt it (and possibly your foot), admit it’s an idiot. Even if it’s not physical, make that admission.

Then, let it go. Your anger is spent, now wash it away, breathe it out. Get rid of it. Now forgive; maybe they’re just having an off day. You have those too. So they’re an idiot; you can be an idiot in your own ways too, you know. They’re only as human as you, they’re no more an idiot than you are, and they deserve to be forgiven as much as you do.

 

by Luc De Leeuw

Photo Credit: just.Luc via Compfight cc

A Few Reminders

Counting to ten really does help. Patience is important. Not to overlook and to forget, but so you can calm down and take a step back to remember all the reasons that you’re being unfair.

Take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror. Think about how little you’ve done to earn forgiveness yourself, and yet how much you still deserve it—simply because everyone does.

They’re not seeing from your perspective, but their own. Things may look different from over there. That’s why communication is important. Most of the time, people don’t even realize they hurt you unless you tell them. Showing it, on the other hand, usually only makes matters worse, because they may not understand why you’re suddenly treating them so coldly.

Sometimes it’s best to forgive and move on. Especially if it’s a first-time offense, just forgive it and let it go. There’s no reason to make a big deal out of it if you don’t have to. You don’t always have to talk it out.

Bear in mind, God forgives. If they’re worthy of His forgiveness, you would put yourself above Him and say they’re not worthy of yours?

 

One Last Lesson

And I think something else to be learned from this parable. It was good of me not to shirk the responsibility for my actions, and to own up to my own mistakes; but to shoulder as much guilt and shame as I did was really very unfair to myself. It’s hard to learn from an experience when you’re spending all your time wishing it had never happened. I blamed myself impractically, blowing my own crime out of proportion, and I blamed myself too long. I never let go, I never moved on, and I never forgave myself.

It’s wise to take responsibility for the mistakes we make. And if it’s in your power to make it right again, you should. There’s no hiding from that. But that’s part of letting go and moving on. You did wrong; that was an accident. Now you’re doing the right thing. Forgive yourself, and trust yourself to make good.

———————————————————

Categories: Imagining a Better World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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