on revolutionaries

I’ve been a little bit obsessed with revolutionaries since seeing Les Mis, and although it’s waning now, I still wanted to examine why I felt so strongly for those who give their lives for what they believe in.

The revolutionary is otherworldly.  Men rarely follow mere mortals into death, but they will fight for stronger and more lasting things – ideas and the Divine.

I know that the trope of the revolutionary isn’t realistic, that revolutions today are bloody and futile and rash when there are other ways to revolt.  They’re desperate. But still I think that there is something attractive in the strength of ideals, because we are drawn to those who know for what they fight.

They have to be fighting for the right things, of course, because when you’re a revolutionary, you lose yourself almost entirely.  You become a man consumed, and at such a price, you’ve got to be sure that what you’re fighting for is worth the toll that it will eventually take on you, even demanding your life.

Something had unsettled me about Enjolras’ appearance in the Les Misérables movie, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I realized the last time I saw the movie that Aaron Tveit’s (marvelously acted) Enjolras was both the youngest and the oldest looking that I’d seen.  His extreme youth reminded me that the Revolution of 1832 was indeed a student’s revolution where the boys who died for their beliefs were hardly older than I am now.  It also contrasted so heavily with the ancientness of his spirit that it shocked me.  Enjolras is a tired old man in a young man’s body, and sometimes, as the revolution consumes him, his weariness begins to show through the cracks, and I began to fear that revolution would rip him apart and burst through those seams.

In The PreludeWordsworth speaks of this same condition in his friend, Michel Beaupuis, the pre-Jacobin revolutionary in the French revolution of the late 18th century:

“His temper was quite mastered by the times,
And they had blighted him, had eaten away
The beauty of his person, doing wrong
Alike to body and to mind”

Wordsworth notices that the revolution has stolen his friend’s youth.  And yet,

“a kind of radiant joy
Diffused around him, while he was intent
On works of love or freedom”

This is why we love them.  We admire the ones that turn their words into actions, whose lives are so transparent that there is no discrepancy between their beliefs and their deeds – a life without hypocrisy that seeps from the heart to the external.  When someone can live their beliefs out, as Wordsworth would say, “truth is more than truth”.  As a side note, we want to love someone like that, too.  Love isn’t really love when it exalts the other into an obsession; instead, we want a partner in a shared love, someone that we can love as we are both consumed by a greater passion.

The revolutionary, in his purest form, rejects himself in order to serve others and even to die for them.  In order to create a better world for his people, he gives his own life to make theirs worth living.

I know that this is a common theme with me, but I don’t think there is harm in repeating it: we are all men consumed.  The question is, by what? And is it worth the toll that it’s going to take on us?

If we’re truly living out our faith, we should be as radiant as the revolutionary, and the love of Christ should be ripping out of our hearts in order to touch those around us, breaking us apart in the process.  We look to the most revolutionary act of history for our hope – Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8)  He gave his life to redeem ours and to change the fabric of our world from that moment on.

And that’s something worth both living and dying for.

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Read this: all aforementioned works.

Hear this: In a bout of revolutionary fervor, I unashamedly give you this: SING

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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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the poet

The Diviner

Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions.
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

~Seamus Heaney

Excuse me while I try to form my feelings and hazy ideas into something that makes sense.

So the week before Spring Break (two weeks ago, I suppose), we were talking about Seamus Heaney in my Irish class.  I adore Heaney, and his poetry is beautiful and meaningful and very much a living thing.  Among all of the things that he has to say about life and Ireland and all the rest, something that struck me the most was his talk of the role of the poet.

Now by poet, I don’t mean strictly someone who writes poetry.  That sounds funny.  Let me explain.  I mean “the poet” in a broader, more ancient sense, one that encompasses more than rhyming or what you may normally associate with poetry.  I mean the poet as a sort of epic hero, who brings truth to his people, sometimes painfully.  This is the traditional Irish view of the poet, or senchaí: someone with great power that speaks the truth, even to the king, and that some fear.  He has the power of sight, and can use his words in satires against his enemies.

Or like the Oracles of Ancient Greece: someone who is chosen to be a mouthpiece of the divine, someone who is spoken through. Which brings me to the most important parallel to the poet, the true calling of such a person: the prophet, someone who carries the truth from God to the people.  Although this brings to mind the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke with God (how amazing!), you can still be a prophet today.  Anyone that God uses to speak through is a prophet, and God most certainly still speaks to people.

And around this time in my class, as we’re talking about poetry being made up of partly scop, or craft (being a good writer), and partly vates, or prophesy or vision, speaking the truth, I start freaking out.  Really freaking out, and zoning out of some of the discussion or being way too much into other parts of it.  I can feel myself getting excited all over again as I type this.  I’m looking at my paper right now, and I have little notes scrawled all over it, like:

my heartbeat shakes my whole body in trembling rhythm with the hand of God,

Or this overly-excited realization of the poet’s job:

poet as a go-between!
a translator of truth!
a diviner!
a mouthpiece!
a prophet! an oracle!
a tool in the hands
of He who holds all Truth
a liminal, ferried between
two worlds,
granted another sight by the
Everlasting

poet as messenger
of the eternal, birthright
of an oracle
why am I almost twitching?

a mortal body and an
eternal soul,
like all the amphibians of humankind.

and I am suddenly restless,
yearning, churning, swelling
with a feeling I don’t know
and a desire for something past
this mortal coil.
My heart is beating with desperate purpose.

So, I was freaking out.  And still am.  Because I couldn’t, and honestly can’t, imagine a greater purpose than being spoken through.  The lump in my throat tells me that I desperately want that, to have a purpose, to have this purpose, but I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.

We read another poem that day called “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” (click), where a bird makes a nest in St. Kevin’s hand and he is responsible for their lives and can’t move until they leave.  I talked to my professor about the role of the poet and such things after class on my way to study for my calc exam (that was easy to focus on after all of this).

I wrote down all that I could remember of what he said.  He looked at me and told me that the calling of the poet is not an easy one to accept.  He asked me to remember St. Kevin.  What did he do?  He went out to the wilderness and hid away from everyone else.  But God found him anyway.

You were made with a purpose, and you’re here for a reason.  I watched the movie Hugo a few days ago (which I heartily recommend), and was nearly moved to tears by certain parts of it.  There’s one part in there where Hugo and Isabelle are talking about purpose.  Hugo looks at people like machines and wonders if they too become “broken” when they lose their purpose.  It’s beautiful.  And then he says this:

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason too.”

You are not an extra part.  I really identify with Isabelle.  I wonder what my purpose is, too.  But I know that I have one, because God has given me one.  We were each made for something.  And I trust that He will help me find that something.

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See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcdEXHIuTxw  Seriously, watch this movie.

an interchange

the scene: an at&t store.

employee: Well, why are you here?

me: My phone is cracked… and broken… and doesn’t work very well.  But I don’t technically need a new one.

employee: There are some great smartphones…

me:  Honestly, I just want a phone that can text and call.  And take notes.  Do you have those?

employee:  Uh, no… not really…

me: (after hearing about the iPhone) I just… I don’t know!  I just don’t really want an iPhone.  I don’t want to have the internet with me constantly, because it’ll get distracting and waste too much of my time.

employee:  Can I ask how old you are?

me:  I’m eighteen.

employee:  **visibly surprised** You’re the only eighteen year old I’ve ever met who doesn’t want a smartphone… This is new.

me:  O.o  **WHY AM I SECRETLY OLD**

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antiquing

Hello again!  Sorry I’ve been absent so long.  I was visiting my grandparents this past week for Christmas, and it was lovely and wonderful seeing everyone (I even interviewed my grandfather about his life, which was cool), dancing with cousins, and going antiquing!

My grandparents collect and sell antiques, which is something that I never appreciated until very recently.  I remember being dragged into countless antique stores as a child, my little brother and I bored out of our minds as our parents and grandparents scoured the store.  Old chairs.  Bottles.  Lunchboxes.  Who cares?

The best was when there were Persian rugs in the back.  That made for some fun times when my brother and I climbed the stacks, ran around, and leapt from stack to stack, being adventurers until our mother or the store’s owner angrily dragged us down.

And although I still don’t understand the lunchboxes or salt and pepper shakers as much, I’m a total sucker for old books, jewellry, and clothes.  I just love old things!  I bought my friends Christmas presents, and I also got myself a few marvellous things that I stumbled across…

My favorite finds (in hastily taken, poor quality pictures!):

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1.  The book.  I stumbled across John Donne’s sermons.  Whose previous owner had handwriting that looked like the Burmese written language.  In a book from 1932.  NO BIG DEAL OR ANYTHING.

2.  These jewellry pieces, my dear readers, are scrimshaws.  Sailors used to carve them out of ivory or whalebone and send them back to their sweethearts.  I passed the case at least four times and stared at them (especially the pin) every time.  They’re simple.  But so… romantic?  Intensely personal?  I don’t know.  I started writing out a short sketch of who the previous owner might have been, and it ended up as a seven-page story about an Irish sailor and his chestnut-haired girl.

And this is why I love old things.  This is why they matter to me.  Because each of these pieces holds generations of stories and has witnessed so much life, love, tragedy, and history, and it’s now witnessing mine.  Thinking of who might have owned it first, made it, loved it, or cherished it gives a certain weight and beauty to each piece that could have been considered plain or “old”.  This is how my story ended (with me finding the scrimshaw):

The girl will see in the detailled lines of the plain whalebone the care and love of a sailor and the struggle that he and his love endured.  And she will find it beautiful once again.  The scrimshaw will finally be worn again to gain a new life’s story to remember.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.  Another year rolls by, and we’re one step closer to becoming antiques ourselves.  Cheery?  Not at first glance.  But think of the stories you will possess by the time you’re as old as some of these pieces.

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monet

Last Friday, I spent a good five hours in an art museum, and it was beautiful. Fantastic. My goal was to find somewhere to “study” (and I did do some work in the café/ impressionist portraiture room), but the works in the museum were amazing as well. I was going to go back today, too, but the rain that had been threatening all morning finally arrived in all its dreary glory, and walking thirty minutes in the rain sans umbrella didn’t seem like the best idea.  So about an hour of Mock the Week later (funniest things…), I’m still indoors… Back to art.

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Anyway, I was privileged enough to see a triptych of Monet’s water lilies and ended up sitting in front of them for a good, solid hour.  Just looking, and then writing:

At first, I couldn’t really tell if I was impressed by the art or the artists’ names – by my own judgment or the opinions of others.

But this… this is strange.

I’m sitting in front of Monet’s Agapanthus, and the longer I look, the more amazed I become.  The colors, the strokes, the size… and suddenly, I have an enormous lump in my throat, and I’m astounded and a little confused.  I don’t know what it is.  But in this moment, I am dwarfed by the painting and his artistry.

It feels wrong to do work here.  I was thinking about it… but no.  This… the thing about art is that it preserves a tiny piece of that person who created it for everyone else to see and observe.  Looking at these pieces made by long-dead hands, I feel somehow connected to these men of different cultures and eras.  When I saw that van Gogh made those paintings right before his suicide, I couldn’t help but be moved.  That poor, dear, underappreciated man.  But he left behind a part of himself- a piece of his soul­- for us to know him.

And almost as interesting (if not as interesting) as the art are the people around me looking as well.  Passing through, changing, milling about.  Since I’ve been sitting in front of this work, the room has already changed almost entirely several times.

There are a lot of couples who seem interested, or are trying to be.  Some listening to the guided tours.  Several elderly folks who truly appreciate this beauty – more than I do, I know.  One solitary old man who looks like he’s stepped straight out of the impressionist era minus the straw hat.

And the ones who just stop and stare, smile, gasp, point, trace with a finger in the air the curves of the art to their children, their other, themselves.  I’m witnessing the power of this dead paint to move someone.  Of course it’s not the paint, but a capturing and reflection of the soul who placed it there.

There’s still a lump in my throat.

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Read this“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”  ~John Milton.
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