shakespeare and co

When we first set foot in Paris, it was hot, we were dragging our luggage, and we didn’t know exactly where our hotel was.  But I didn’t care.  My first impression of Paris as we stepped out of the train station, despite the stress that my parents felt, was untainted.  I took in the cyclists, and the cafes, and the lampposts, and the trees planted every so often, and the effortlessly elegant natives that crossed the street with us.

There are a lot of beautiful people in Paris.  It’s sort of unfair, how attractive they are.

We finally caught a cab, and I cobbled together a sentence in French from my crash course and knowledge of Spanish, much to the delight of our cabbie.

We wandered that day to the Louvre and down to Notre Dame.  I think we walked the whole way, since we hadn’t bought our Metro passes yet.  It was gorgeous, and I loved it, even though I was incredibly out of it.

This is where my favorite discovery came.  I ended up going here twice.  Shakespeare and Co, an English-language bookstore in the heart of Paris.  My professor had mentioned it to me before and it sounded fascinating – who wouldn’t want to visit a bookstore that famous expats of the 1920s had frequented? Seriously.  Just imagining all of them converging on that one city, creating, thinking, writing… Ugh.

(On a related note, I saw Midnight in Paris shortly after I got home… OH MY GOSH.  It was brilliant.  I actually threw a pillow across the room when T.S. Eliot popped up.  But I’m getting sidetracked…)

This bookstore.  It’s… it’s one of the most incredible places I’ve been.  And that sounds odd, having seen monuments and architecture and museums.  But I cannot even describe the atmosphere there.  For a book lover, it was absolutely mind-blowing.  Books were organized enough to be found but not enough to give it an atmosphere of sterility… The whole place was just breathing.  Everyone inside that store was there because they wanted to be, and nobody was in a rush.  A love for books just permeated the whole place.

I could have stayed there forever, and I mean that.  I really do.  My family had to drag me out of the shop.  Everything about it was perfect, and I’ve never been anywhere like it.  It’s almost entirely classics, and the atmosphere is… homey?  There are signs, and little sections you can visit.  Hanging above the stairs is a sign that reads “Be not inhospitible to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”.  They have a section called “BEAT” and one simply titled “LOST” for Joyce, Hemingway, and their whole generation.  There’s also a well in the floor labeled “FEED THE STARVING WRITERS” and a cell filled with poetry.  Did I mention the entire Shakespeare section?

The best part about it, though, was the way that they encouraged reading and, further, writing.  They fostered creativity in that spot.  Upstairs, they had two reading rooms, a chess board, a piano, a typewriter, and the kid’s section.  There are so many places where you can write, though.  By the typewriter and the YA section, you can just leave notes, scraps of paper, and bits of prose and poetry, tacking a little bit of yourself up on a Metro ticket or shoving your soul into a crack in the wall.  A mirror in the poetry section also urged you to leave your own poems.

It was beautiful, and alive.

And so began a new adventure, which was chronicled with just as much love and affection as the last.  More later, maybe.

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a confession

Hear this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpI5tJoncS0  <<Pertinent and on repeat.

Okay.

Lately…

I’ve been feeling a certain unrest in my soul.  By lately, I don’t mean the-past-week lately, although it’s certainly been resurfacing within recent weeks.  I want to do something important- something that matters.  I was talking to my friend about this, and she pointed out that that unrest wasn’t necessarily a bad thing- that in those moments, we don’t become complacent, but instead notice the things that we need to change and fix.  And I completely agree.

But I’ve been entirely too hard on myself.  I beat myself up all the time for not doing anything important, for not doing as well in school as I think I should do, for being less than others are.  I want to be great, and that sounds terrible as I type this, but this is a confession of sorts.  As I read these fantastic authors’ work, Dostoevsky, Keats, Joyce, Dickens, Shakespeare, Eliot, Donne, Lewis… I can’t help but want to join them in some way.

Is it bad that I yearn for greatness, to make a difference, to be known or remembered?  Not necessarily.  But my motives bear an explanation.  What has been driving me to such distress?  Do I crave this because God has placed it in me and because I want to say something important, change people’s hearts, and speak his truth as an instrument of his will?  Or do I simply want to make a name for myself, draw attention to my own talents and abilities, and be remembered by humanity for my skills and intelligence rather than the Holy Spirit inside of me?

I want to know I’m doing something important.  I want to have a purpose in this life.  And yes, I know my purpose is to praise God in whatever I’m doing, but it’s frustrating not knowing what he’s created and formed me for.

Comparing myself to others to gauge my own worth or progress isn’t helpful, either.  In fact, it’s terribly detrimental.  Whenever I try to measure myself off of others, which is something I struggle with every day, I can never come close.  I end up feeling stupid, out of place, and worthless, and that’s certainly not a good place to be.  I read the work of these beautiful, fantastic, amazingly brilliant authors and think to myself almost every day, I will never measure up.  I could never create such a thing of beauty as they have already, so why try? 

I focus in too closely on myself and let this selfishness grow until these worries consume me, pull me down, and pull me away from the problems of other people.  I could be showing them the love of God, but instead, I tear myself down from the inside out with worries about the future, about my calling, and about what I do with myself right now.

And… here’s the thing.  I’m not writing the next great American novel right now.  I haven’t produced anything radically world-altering or brilliant.  I don’t do something every day that would be considered successful in the eyes of the world… and that’s okay.

Trusting that God will guide me is hard, because I’m fallible, and I’m human, and I doubt and forget what he’s done for me every single day, getting mired down in stupid things.  But I’m trying.  Scratch that.  I don’t have to try, because nothing that I do could get me any closer to God.  He’s already done and given it all for me.  In my weakness, I rely on His strength.  And I’m not saying that I won’t relapse, or that everything will be fixed tomorrow.  I will, and it won’t.  These are things I struggle with all of the time, doubting and idolizing my intelligence or personal glory above God and His power and plans.

But He is changing me, and will show me what He has planned for me in His timing.  That’s a beautiful thing.  And although it’s dreadfully hard to rest in this uncertainty, He makes it a possibility.

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Read this: “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.” Hamlet, V.i

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will” V.ii

We’ve been in Hamlet for my Shakespeare class (it’s GREAT, I have a minor crush on him… problematic?), and he’s got a lot to say about fleeting greatness and God as the orchestrator of fate.  Well, he gets there.  Eventually.

self-portrait of an artist…

Although it’s a fabulous novel by James Joyce, this post doesn’t actually have anything to do with dear, searching Stephen Dedalus (although he may be referenced in the future).

In my Irish literature class a few days ago, we discussed O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of a Nation”.  Basically, some Irish soldiers are holding British soldiers, but they’re friends with them.  Eventually, the Irish recieve the order to execute their “chums” and regretfully do so.  The interesting part is this:  Frank O’Connor’s real name was Michael O’Donovan, and he gives the name “Donovan” to the most detestable character in the story.  That Donovan is ruthless and actually looks forward to fulfilling his duty of killing the two British soldiers.

When O’Connor was in the Irish army, there came a point when he did not fulfill his duties to his superiors.  Was this self-portrait a mark of regret, or disdain for himself?  Or was he simply drawing from past experiences?

When we talked about this in class, it triggered several other memories of artists inserting themselves as less than flattering characters:

In his Persistance of Memory, Dali inserted himself as the centrally-located melting face.

In the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the disgustingly vulgar, self-centered, and lustful patriarch is named Fyodor.

Caravaggio painted himself into several of his works, including a broken and prayerful St. Francis (painted after Caravaggio himself killed a man) and as both David and Goliath.

Michelangelo painted himself into the Last Judgement as nothing but a flayed skin held by St. Bartholemew.

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So what does this tell us about these artists’ souls?  They were quite aware of their own mortality, that’s certain.  Is this a sign of humility and an admission of their own brokenness and need for salvation?  Does this show us that, despite their greatness, they are nothing more than men?  Are they projecting to the world, “I am fallen, and sinful, and not like you think I am?”

I’m not entirely sure.  But it’s very, very interesting.  Thoughts?

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Read this: “Guests of the Nation”, Frank O’Connor ; The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky ; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5