Writing Thoughts

Christ is risen!

I’ve been thinking about writing today. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about writing and being sensitive to other people’s difficulties. I was wondering about this, after wondering how I might be a better writer. How might I have written better in the past, and, by projection, how might I write better this coming year? My biggest shortcoming as a writing just now is, so far as I can tell, the way in which I very often use my blog as a way to extend the range of my own personal confusion and angst. That’s mhy sometimes I put up posts for a couple of hours, and then hide them — I’ve written something which I later decided is not a post, properly speaking but simply myself talking to myself… just to hear the sound of my own fingers. That may well be what I’m doing right now, though I’m hopeful because I like reading the thought processes of some of my friends, and hope at least a couple of those friends feel likewise (otherwise — sorry!).

I would have done better in Alaska to spend less time on Teacher Angst and more time on the comedy of being a foreigner in rural Alaska. More time on waddling about from house to house; on off-key Yupiik/American hymns from the 1930s; on meeting moose hooves sticking out of cardboard boxes; on promising to film the K-300, and then botching it dreadfully; on having sledders sleep in the school, and playing cards while trying to keep an eye on the teens with cameras and crock pots of chili; on holidays, houses, and curmudgeonly old men playing guitars with bright white apple stickers on them; on the first flush of cell phone enthusiasm and nearly adult girls staying at my house because they weren’t sure they would make up on time for first period and qualify for the basketball game; of girls sent out of the village for huffing gasoline; of sitting about waiting for bush planes and standing outside in -40 weather burning a candle under my lock in January because it had frozen shut; of the wild shrew I caught and kept for a month or so… I should have written about Alaska stuff, of living on my own for the first time, and of the comedy of life. I should have ignored educational theory as much as I possibly could. I think that it was good I wrote about the oddity of culture and education — of trying to keep both European/American education and Yupiik culture, though they conflict and contradict all the time — of the oddity of trying to impose education from the outside, when I had always grown up with a very close agreement between culture and books — though I wish I had written on it better.

In Santa Fe I would have liked to write on the little domestic melodrama I was sometimes living, but couldn’t and be a nice friend — I couldn’t very well even admit it to myself as comedic and not feel like a very mean, insensitive person. So I don’t know that there was anything to be done about that.

That my life has often been a comedy and has never been a tragedy is true — and for all my chestertonian confidence in the existence of pious laughter (and even after listening to a pastor and friends I respect a great deal laughing over memories of learning to bury the dead), I often don’t know how to say, or write, or even think on the humor of our follies and oddities in good conscience. I’ve never taught a class on my own that was altogether serious or studious, and certainly not inspiring or important; I’ve often taught classes that were charming and funny, but it’s hard to say that — what will their parents think? What will my employer think? How does one laugh kindly? How does one show life (and one’s work) as a comedy, but usually a happy comedy — especially when one is naturally more sincere than witty? If education trainings aren’t grievously offensive, then they’re funny, and my reaction to them is too. “Research shows that all children can learn.” I give my sixth grade class notes about how to do the bellwork — they crumple it up and use it as a soccer ball, If I’m not angry about that (and I can’t do angry, even when I try), then I may have to laugh, and remember never to give them anything I really care about. The middle school teachers I’ve met aren’t sentimental — they can’t afford to be. People who do well in junior high seem to mostly have the consistency of rubber — they’re tough, bounce back, flexible, but keep their shape.

So, anyway, writing. The problem with living something of a comedy is that there are people suffering, and I wouldn’t every want to hurt them. That’s why I couldn’t write on the comedy of my first attempt at living with housemate last year. I’ve read books based upon the writings of the saints that warn against laughter. How do I hear or see or read something and the something is just… crazy! Absurd! or simply incongruous — I suppose it might be safer not to say anything; usually I don’t say anything, and write on theories instead, or public blogs and articles. But seems that there may be another possibility — I suppose that to be true in large part because I grew up reading Chesterton and laughing at my favorite books. I remember knowing the difference between people who loved a book and laughed at it, and those who laughed at it in derision — the latter being considered in very bad taste.

So, a quote from Chesterton (the end of Orthodoxy):

The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.

Because — Christ is risen!

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3 thoughts on “Writing Thoughts

  1. Only tangentially related, but reminds me of a quote I found randomly on the Internet once by Horace Walpole: “Life is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.

    I am one who feels (a Bronte rather than an Austen), and so when I write, I feel drawn to tragedy, but perhaps a thinking writer would be drawn to comedy. The comedy Chesterton talks about, from joy, is quite different than the comedy of irony or satire, and I think would apply to people who feel and people who think.

    • Hmm… I’m not sure I know what that means. The quick and cheap distinction between comedy and tragedy I remember learning is that, generally speaking, a tragedy is about the mighty, who would be noble and admirable except for a tragic and necessary flaw — and it ends in a death (or the death of most of the principle characters, as in Shakespeare) — and comedy is usually about ordinary folk, and ends in a marriage. That’s why, iirc, Dante’s great poem is “The Divine Comedy” — because in Christianity the whole of space and time ends in a marriage, and the poem ends in paradise.

      Temperamentally — I suppose one would say, to go with that, Dostoyevsky both thinks and feels, and so he writes tragic comedy (like Notes from Underground)?

      But I had thought that Chesterton’s point (which sounds similar to a point Fr John sometimes makes) is that, ultimately, whether life looks like a tragedy or a comedy (in Dante’s or Aristotle’s sense) is not so much a matter of temperament as of philosophy. The difference between whether a classroom drama is tragedy or comedy, for instance, would depend upon whether one is hopeful that we’ll all get over it, and nobody will be permanently harmed.

  2. point taken…my fictional less-lazy alter ego will look up how Walpole used the quote originally. I assumed “life is a comedy to one who thinks” meant that if you think about bad things, there is often a twisted humor about it. Perhaps could it mean something else, such as one who thinks can guide their life away from tragedy?

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