Up the White Road

Up the White Road

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
T.S. Eliot
"The Waste Land"
v. 359-362


This is a good quote from a book I just read.

When I was a sophomore in college, I took a linguistics class. I remember watching this weird video from the '70s about how amazing language is - that you can create out of thin air an idea that no one has ever thought of before. The sentence they gave as example went something like this: Hitler's mother screamed while tossing the green canary. Like I said - it was weird.

But I always think about that movie whenever I read something I think is particularly creative in a book I read. Here is one such quote, posted for your amusement. I don't think I'll be able to go to a college campus again without chuckling.

"Student's cruised by on skateboards, bikes, and rollerblades, wearing backpacks, headphones, and earbuds, wrapped in fleece blankets, carrying stuffed animals and cradling laptops. Many were still dressed in nightclothes under their coats: T-shirts and sweatpants, flip-flops or clogs. They looked like refugees from a country that favored audio technology, impractical footwear, and personal transportation. - The Dragon Heir, p. 397 by Cinda Williams Chima


Book Review: Twilight Saga

I wanted to post this review I wrote about the Twilight Saga. I've been having lots of conversations about the books since the movie came out and I think these comments boil down why I think this series is amazing and why so many women of all ages love it.

*Spoiler Alert* If you have not read these books, especially Breaking Dawn, you might not want to read this review.

1. True love - Edward (the hero of the series) loves Bella (the heroine) despite the fact that she is pretty ordinary on the outside. He is able to see her character (how she loves and protects people and how strong and determined she is) in a way that no one has seen or appreciated before. This appeals to most girls concerning what it means to truly be loved.
2. Sex - Though he finds her beautiful and desirable, they have a decidedly chaste relationship. He is unwilling to tarnish either of their virtues and refuses to sleep with her until they are married. What is so appealing about this aspect of the novels is that Stephenie Meyer does not portray them are prudish, but rather that their physical relationship is more valuable because of how Edward protects it.
3. Family - These books are stronger than than the usual young adult fiction because Bella not only loves Edward, but his entire family. His "family" (the Cullens, seven vampires who have committed to each other and the disciplines in #4 below) have a deep love for each other and they welcome Bella into their circle with open arms. When she chooses Edward she is also choosing a family and a whole way of life.
4. Discipline - The Cullen family is special because unlike the usual evil vampires, they choose to forgo eating humans and instead satisfy their need by hunting animals (though the vampire nature to hunt humans still resides within them). They live lives of carefully cultured discipline which allows them to be civilized and bound by love rather than by animal instinct (sinful nature?). They stand in stark contrast to other vampires who are described as hunters of humans and animals, and even as animalistic.

I believe the deeper reason why these books have caught on so quickly is a spiritual one. Stories like the Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and Superman Returns are engaging because they are great stories, but on a deeper level, they tell us about who God is and how he relates to us. The descriptions of Edward use similar language to the language John uses to describe Jesus in Revelation. There is also this sense that Edward gives Bella so much more than she could ever return. This is a huge conflict within her and quite a beautiful moment when she realizes that he still loves her unconditionally, though she can never repay him and all she can really do is accept that love and enjoy being with him.

I think that Carlisle, Edward's adopted father, is also a picture of God. He creates four of the members of his family because he wants to have relationship. He is a doctor and spends his time healing people. All the family members he has changed are given the choice - to live in peace with him as a family, or to go off and become animal-like hunters of humans. Edward describes how he feels he has started to look like his father - "My features had not changed, but it seemed to me like some of his wisdom had marked my expression, that a little of his compassion could be traced in the shape of my mouth, and hints of his patience were evident on my brow." I love that picture! Though he is an adopted son, he has made it is mission to become like his father and has seen the transformation take place on his face. It is Carlisle's love for people that keeps his family together - he is the glue. As the Cullen family grows, it is a picture of community, of the church. All these people live together, first because of Carlisle and the vision of family he has created, but also because they all deeply love each other.

Stephenie Meyer also creates an interesting picture of heaven. All the preparation and suffering that Bella goes through in her human life prepares her for her immortal life. She adapts quicker than most people after her transformation because she was so focused and prepared (I think this reflects the idea that somehow our lives in heaven will be affected by our actions on earth). There is also a fear in her that she will not feel like herself once she is transformed but she is willing to go through that to be with Edward. To her surprise, she finds she was made for this second life. Everything is more real, more beautiful and she is able to be more herself. When she tries to think back to her old life, her memories are happy, but they are blurry in comparison to how much more real her new life feels.

The fact that these books are causing such a strong response in girls is actually a positive one I think because they relate to our deepest desires - to be unconditionally loved by God, to know God and to be in heaven with him. The question for me is - do the women who read this realize that is what they truly desire or are they going to go off and try find an Edward Cullen to marry? That is why these books are so great - they offer a opportunity to talk about these longings.


Why Fiction Endures

In 1914, the Endurance Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton attempted to land on Antarctica, which had yet to be explored by a human being. Before they could reach their destination their ship was wrecked on Elephant Island. Shackleton set off with two other companions to climb the glaciers of South Georgia island in order to get to the populated whaling villages of South Georgia Island - there he hoped to get help for his stranded crew. They traveled through the night, backtracking several times in order to get to the whaling station that would be able to help their crew. In his account of the journey Shackleton wrote: "I have no doubt that Providence guided us…I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers it seemed to me often that we were four, not three."

T. S. Eliot wrote in a footnote to The Waste Land that "at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was
one more member than could actually be counted." This led him to write:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you.

-V. 360-363

This image has always haunted me - walking on a vast expanse of snow and feeling out of the corner of my eye that someone is there.

I feel the same way about myth and story. In each one of us there is a longing to be loved unconditionally, to be part of a great story that is leading to that most wonderful of locations - the place where you become who you were meant to be. I believe that the almost universal longing to be a part of such a story is proof that we were made for something more - that we were made to be a part of that story. In that way, God is revealing himself out of the corners of our eyes what we long for and wish was true.


Fiction Matters

Story is important because we can identify with it in a way that we can't with real life. Let's take Lost and CSI for an example.

CSI spends every week (now I have never watched an entire episode of CSI so I may be speaking incorrectly) talking about some bizarre murder and then it gets figured out at the end. Now, seriously, how many of us can identify with a story like that? Not many of us have had loved ones or co-workers die in bizarre and unnatural ways. But take Sawyer from Lost- he watched his mother and father die and he carries around a letter with him because he cannot let go of the pain and rage he feels for the man who caused that death. What is important in his story is not that his parents died but that he has been carrying that grief (literally in the form of that note), around with him for 20 years.

Now I can look at CSI and the result will probably be for me to continue to avoid dressing like a skanky ho and to stay away from the tracks. But if I look at Sawyer's story, my response will be something like, "Wow, look at how messed up he is and how much he has missed out on because he has never let go of his desire for revenge. I wonder if I am carrying around anything like that that is ruining my life?"
As humans we experience so much happiness and pain and grief and suffering and disappointment, and it is only natural to compare what you have experienced against another person. Fiction, if you enjoy reading it, stays with you longer than a real story because it's applications are so broad. You don't have to compare yourself with another real person when you read fiction. It objectively helps you process through your character and your experiences.



I was thinking about how much I like to quilt today as I was looking at the reflection of my bed in my bathroom mirror. I made this quilt for J for our wedding. As I was looking I was thinking about all the other projects bouncing around in my head that I have started.

Whenever I start thinking like this, I get a bit worried. There are a lot of weird women out there who have made 100+ quilts. I look at their websites where they have taken pictures of said quilts - hanging from fences or clotheslines or spread out on their living room floor. They are kind of like a Monet, - usually look ok from far away, but when they zoom in on the fabrics they have chosen - they are a bit scary - what was she thinking? I can usually overhear these women in fabric stores talking about how quickly they threw their quilt together. Maybe that doesn't sound like a bad thing, but for me, a quilt is a piece of art that I create. The thought of throwing something together defeats the purpose of why I quilt.

So at this point I have made between 15 and 20 quilts. Most of them are really small but I remember each one of them. And when I look at one of them, like I was today, I remember the whole process of creating it - choosing the fabric, cutting it out, sewing it - but the more important thing that I remember is where I was and who I was with. Specifically, the quilt on my bed - I started making it the two months before my wedding. And I remember working on it in a friends basement, hanging out with my mom and sister, while they were folding paper cranes for our wedding decorations.

I am really bad at printing pictures. I love taking them, but I usually forget to print them and put them in albums - I haven't even printed my wedding pictures yet and it's almost been four years. But whenever I think about that quilt, I think about what I was doing when I was making it - so printing those pictures is not as important to me as it might be to others. I have that quilt. It makes me happy to think that I will have these physical reminders in my house as I get older to remind me of what has happened before.