Friday, April 26, 2013

Rewatching "Once Upon a Time"

The first season of "Once Upon a Time" is on Netflix, and I'm indulging myself with a rewatch.

Guys, I'm having so much fun. 

I love how the writers had the guts to actually state their themes. Over and over again, you hear the characters say:

"You always have a choice"


"I will find you. I will always find you."


"Any curse can be broken."

OR (the biggest theme?):

"Magic always comes with a price."

I love, first, that the show has such strong themes, and I'm just in awe of the boldness of the writers in actually putting these themes into words and then actually putting the words into their characters' mouths and - most of all - totally getting away with it.

Because it works. I don't know how it works, but it works. And I really, really want to learn how they're doing what they're doing so that I can do it myself.

Actually, I take that back: I think I do know why it works.

It works because the characters' actions back up their words.

"Magic always comes with a price," intones Mr. Gold, over and over and over again. But you see that truth in the plot line every time he says it. Someone uses magic - takes the impossible solution - but they pay for their power. They pay for it by losing a child or losing a relationship or losing a valued object or - most strikingly of all - by losing their integrity. You hear the theme stated, but only after you see it play out.

Come to think of it, it's also a method that fits the genre. "Once Upon a Time" is a take on fairy tales, and fairy tales and fables have traditionally come attached to a moral-of-the-story.

The one exception
In the story the writers are telling, the only theme more important than "magic always comes with a price" seems to be: "True love conquers all". And as far as I can remember, no one ever actually says this. The closest anyone comes is Prince Charming, with his refrain of "I will find you; I will always find you."

But it does seem to be implicit: it's the whole theme behind Emma, the main character. She's saving the world, and she can do it because 1) she's the product of true love, and 2) she has true, unselfish, sacrificial love for her son. All the other lessons of fairyland seem to be warnings: be careful, you can choose that, you can take any path you want, but you'll pay for it later . . . except for the lesson of Emma. Which is: true love conquers all.

But maybe, being a Disney product, you're just supposed to get that. Maybe it's the one theme they don't have to state. Maybe it's the one that's so true, so good, so important, that it can just be shown.

Not a conclusion I'm completely satisfied with  - I'm interested to see where this goes, as I continue my rewatch.

But, boy, I'm enjoying myself.

-Jessica Snell

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Links: Routines, Book Covers, Bathrooms, and more

"Learning to Love What Must Be Done":
Once we have created a workable routine, another challenges becomes clear. How do we maintain momentum, energy, stability and peace? At least part of the answer comes from Goeth: we should love those things we must do. Once our daily tasks become beloved tasks, the routine become less routine. This, I believe, is something we can pass on to our children, like an attitude, for Goethe is encouraging a mindset not an activity. If they see some measure of joy as we cook, clean, mow and repair, they are apt to find it easier to love (in a manner of speaking) clearing their plates, bathing and doing homework. Strange as it is, they usually grow up to be like us.
"FOLLOW THE HEART: Behind the Cover with Designer Kirk DouPonce" - a step-by-step look at how a book cover is designed - fascinating stuff!

"The Theology of the Bathroom": I can't pull out just one quotation from this one, I'm sorry, but it had me helplessly amused, and thanking God for Simcha Fisher. Because: yes. Very much yes.

"Severus Snape Does Not Deserve Your Pity":
Can I say this out loud? Well… here it goes: it really bugs me when people get all weepy about Severus Snape and his somber, torturous tale. As a Harry Potter fan I usually keep this to myself because Snape fans are a little rabid and also he’s played by Alan Rickman on film, and speaking poorly of any Rickman-played character is probably a criminal offense in most countries.
But it really does bother me. And maybe not for the reasons you would assume.
"Helpless and Vulnerable":
Having to live in this season has made me realize that I still have choices to make within it. How am I going to react to these feelings? I could choose to ignore my vulnerability, shoving it away from me in denial, putting on the brave face to act tough and strong. Or I can be truly brave and let my vulnerability affect me. I can let it open me up to my deeper feelings of grief and fear—yes—but also feelings of compassion, tenderness and love.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Notes: "Fragments", by Dan Wells

Fragments (Partials, #2)Fragments by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable sequel to the post-apocalyptic YA novel "Partials", my favorite part of "Fragments" was the setting. After introducing us to the war-and-disease ravaged city of New York in the first book, Dan Wells dives even further into his world-building as we follow the heroine, Kira, on a desperate search across the abandoned and decayed United States.

I loved seeing both how consistent and how novel the world in this story was. Consistent, because all the destruction followed logically given the disasters of the plot, and novel because the disaster had affected all the different parts of the country in different ways. After being introduced to the looted and overgrown city of New York in the first book, this time we got to see the half-sunken city of Chicago and the acid-rain decayed metropolis of Denver and all the crazy countryside in between. Loved it!

In the beginning I didn't care as much about the mystery of the plot as the main characters did, which was too bad, but it was still interesting enough to push the story along, and it really picked up steam by the end. Meanwhile, I was enjoying the tour of the re-imagined United States too much to abandon the story. I think the third book will probably take us back to New York, but I have a kind of forlorn hope that for some reason the characters will have to cross the Pacific or Atlantic in order to find out the result of the plague on other continents. I'd love to see what Wells would do there.

View all my reviews

-Jessica Snell

Friday, April 19, 2013

a few more thoughts on "Real Beauty"

1. A friend passed me this link on Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign, and I thought it was excellent: Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry.

2. Another friend, in correspondence, shared her take on the "Real Beauty" ad, and also had smart things to say. I asked her if I could share it and she said yes. Here's her thoughts:
There's a lot wrong with the ad, but there are some things that are right. If those things that are right are the first step towards people finding healing, then I support that. That seems to be what the ad is doing for many women, and I don't necessarily (from the comments I've read, anyway) think it's leading them astray.
One of the things I was struck by in the ad was actually the fact that even the "pretty" pictures aren't drop-dead gorgeous, just more realistic. So people are getting the reality check they need to see their current appearance in a more real light. 
I don't think that says that everyone is beautiful (though many may be more beautiful than they themselves think), that beauty is insignificant, or that we can or should rely on our beauty for anything. I think it just says that we don't accurately perceive our own beauty, and that the misperception can cause unnecessary and soul-harmful pain, especially in our culture.
Her view's  not quite mine, but she's not the only friend who saw real value in the commercial, and she put it so well that I wanted to share it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Links: the Boston bombing, virginity, and a giveaway

I know my links are a real mix sometime, but this post's title really takes the cake!

"Boston Marathon Bombing – Ten Rules for an American Crisis":
Rule Number Seven: I will remember that this crisis is not about me, but about those suffering, and I will pray accordingly.
Rule Number Eight: I will recall to pray for my enemies. No hate, but justice.
"Tim Keller, Rachel Held Evans, and the Virginity of Young Christians":
When you are in high school and college, sex is the prime locus of the fight for sanctification. It is the battle that is appropriate to the age.  
Finally, Carpe Season is hosting a giveaway of Margie Haack's book "The Exact Place". Here's a link to my review (spoiler: I liked it a lot) and HERE is a link to the giveaway. It ends this weekend, so go enter!

-Jessica Snell

Not Perfect, But Better

"Not perfect, but better."

It's my new mantra.

The kitchen floor after I've swept it? Not perfect, but better. My manuscript, after I've spent an hour editing it? Not perfect, but better. My relationship with my kids, after I've sat down and read stories with them? Not perfect, but better. My heart, after I've stopped and prayed? Not perfect, but better.

So often I look at the list of things I have to do, and feel defeated before I start. Why bother, if I'm not going to get it all done? More than that: if I'm not going to get it all done and get it done well?

But that's a lie. And despite how depressed it makes me feel, it's a tempting lie. It lets me think, for one thing, that perfection is something within my - mine own, my very, very own - grasp. Uh-huh.

But slowly, slowly, the Lord is helping me learn the truth: it's not my job to be perfect, it's my job to be faithful. Which I can only do with His help.

So, having faith that He can make up my lack, I start. I put in some time. And you know what? Whatever I'm working on usually gets better. Not perfect, but better.

And better ain't bad.

-Jessica Snell

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

One more thought on beauty . . .

I was corresponding with some friends about this ad, and I figured out what really bugs me about it:

I think beauty is both more important and less important than the ad implies.

1) Beauty does have a huge impact on your life. If you're born with it, you've got a leg up on the competition. It's a lot like intelligence or athletic ability or good parents or inherited wealth in that way. You didn't earn it, but it is extra ammunition in your pocket. Pretending it's not one of those unearned advantages is disingenuous, at the very least. And sort of insulting. (This book is an interesting take on the subject. And this is an interesting mini-series on a closely-related subject.)

2) Beauty's not gonna get you all the way. Again, much like intelligence or athletic ability or good parents or inherited wealth. It's not going to make you a good person, it's not going to get you into heaven, it's not going to make you pleasant enough to live with, it's not going to make you happy.  And even if you have it, it disappears quickly. If you rely on it in youth, you're going to be sunk in old age. (Hence the frantic American quest to retain their youth through all manners of surgeries and gimmicks.)

So, the ad lies because,
1) Those women aren't actually all just as beautiful as every other beautiful woman in the world.
2) Having an assurance of their beauty isn't actually going to make them happy.

But . . . that said, from the reactions to the video, it's clear it strikes a chord, and that many women really can't see the loveliness that really is there, and that even if beauty doesn't make them  happy, perceived lack of beauty makes them profoundly unhappy. That . . . that part I don't have an answer for. (Other than the one Hopkins gives.) For that, well, maybe the sketch artist experiment actually is helpful. I don't know. It is at least the gift of a new perspective, and I don't doubt that's a real gift.

-Jessica Snell

p.s. Also, talking about beauty this much makes me feel the way I do when I've eaten too much candy. There's something profoundly un-nourishing about this topic, isn't there?

tl;dr on the Dove "Real Beauty" ad

Since apparently I can't be succinct the first time around. :)  Here's what I was trying to say:

1) When beauty's present, it's okay to appreciate it, because it's part of God's good creation.
2) The beauty of someone's personality changes their face into something even more beautiful - changes even an ugly face into something beautiful. This is a reflection of reality, and shouldn't be taken as an illusion. The intangible has a real effect on the tangible.
3) Beauty fades, and that's okay, too, because God keeps all good things in his care, and we can trust him to take care of what's good in us. I guess: The Lord gave, the Lord takes away, and blessed be the name of the Lord. (And so don't rely on whatever beauty you happen to have; cultivate what lasts instead.)

And, perhaps most of all:
4) Don't trust beauty product companies who try to make philosophical statements about beauty; they're still trying to sell you something.

-Jessica Snell

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dove's "Real Beauty" Campaign - Wisdom is Early to Despair

So, did you see the new Dove "Real Beauty" video that's floating around Facebook, ubiquitous as the flu virus? If you missed it, here it is:
It's a clever idea, but it seemed a bit off to me somehow.

AND HERE'S MY BIG FAT DISCLAIMER: If this commercial made you cry, you might want to stop reading this particular blog entry right here. I don't want to poke at anyone's sore spots and I'm really coming from a different place on this.  But if this commercial made you a bit uncomfortable? if it felt a bit off to you? well, I have thoughts, so read on.

So, anyway, I read this feminist critique of the ad, which I didn't wholeheartedly agree with, but that seemed to get somewhat close to what was bothering me about it. Unlike that blogger, I do think there's a place for humility and modesty in feminine beauty but, on the other hand, I don't think she's far off when she says:
There is no room in Doveland for women who know they’re hot . . . There’s no room to tell the artist about your thin jaw even if you see and love it. The only confidence that’s acceptable is halfhearted: “Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m pretty, but I’ve been told I’m wrong, so maybe I am a little.”
What do I agree with here? The idea that it's okay to honestly like your own face and body. Why wouldn't you? God makes good things.

Where I'm Coming From 
(ETA: this is the boring, personal context part. Skip to "The four loves - or at least two of them" if you want to get right to the meat of this article.)

It's hard for me to talk about feminine beauty without getting personal, and I know my experience isn't every woman's. Still, my first reaction to this ad was very personal, and it was, "Unless you caught me on a pretty bad day, I don't think I'd be describing an ugly woman to that sketch artist."

Here's the really personal and particular: I've been describing myself to myself - and that favorably - since I was a teenager. I've been writing fiction all my life, and like most writers I started out with very Mary-Sue-ish heroines who resembled no one so much as me. (Me-as-a-space-princess, but still me.) Narcissistic and immature? Yes. But it did teach me to see the good that was there. Later, my focus broadened, and I started describing the good in everyone else, too. Now it's habit.

Then, in adulthood, I've lived with a husband who smiles whenever he sees me. That's a grace that makes it hard to hate myself.

And I guess there's a third piece of it: I like my body for what it can do. In my twenties, I managed to break both my arms at once, and got a small taste of what it's like to rely on someone else for every daily need. Competence is probably a fleeting part of my physicality, but I surely do appreciate it at the moment, even if it may be gone in a few more decades. I know part of my self-image is formed on the fact that I've been lucky so far. That's probably young and immature and I wouldn't be surprised if it changes. (Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if a LOT of what I talk about in this entry changes; I'm not all that old and wise and virtuous yet. So - if you do read on, please do it with a grain of salt, yeah?)

None of these things are general though. I'm just giving them as context for where I'm coming from on the subject.

A Christian view of beauty? at least in marriage? (okay, maybe this is only sort-of-general . . .)
Here's the not-so-personal part, though: I couldn't help but think of the Song of Songs as I looked at that video and read that critique.

In the Song of Songs, the woman knows she's beautiful. Her lover praises her, but she praises herself, too: "Dark am I, but lovely."

And in poems like Christina Rossetti's "A Birthday", you see the beloved triumphing, trumpeting, insisting on her own glory: "Raise me a daïs . . ."

And even if the woman in the Song of Songs was a queen and deserved a throne, well, isn't this rejoicing of the beloved in her lover's rejoicing at her beauty sort of a universal experience in romance? I think in That Hideous Strength there's a moment where someone reads a passage about something similar. Argh - can't find it at the moment. But, anyway, beauty is a good thing; God made women beautiful. Delighting in beauty isn't inappropriate, especially not in the context of love. It seems like a natural part of the whole deal, in that context.

But is beauty the most important thing about us? No, not even close. And we're not to rely on it and it's important to nurture our virtues and not our vanity. But there's a difference between acknowledging something and paying inordinate attention to it. (Is vanity paying inordinate attention to your own beauty? I think it might be. Hmm, have to ponder that one some more - this blog entry might have a sequel.)

The four loves - or at least two of them
But even aside from romantic love, I think there's a proper place for caring for your body and a proper reason to avoid false humility.

Let's start with the last first: false humility is bad. Why? Because lying's bad. And honestly, that's really all I mean by that; nothing more. Lying does bad things to your soul. Don't be the pretty lady telling the sketch artist you're ugly. (Be more like Cordelia Vorkosigan: "It was a good face, suitable for all practical purposes . . .")

But what's the love you should have for yourself? Well mostly, firstly, I think it's storge. It's affectionate love, it's fondness. Your body is familiar, your face is familiar. Be easy with your appearance like you're easy with every other homey, normal, everyday good. Like you love that well-seasoned frying pan that lives on the corner of your stovetop, like you smile at your aunt's familiar jokes, like you feel comfort when you curl up under that old knitted blanket you keep folded up on the couch. Your body is not just a good thing God has given you, it is part of you, and He's given you stewardship over yourself. Treat your body well, use it properly, and be grateful for it. Your body is a good thing.

(This is St. Francis' "brother ass" bit: the body as a good, stubborn, sometimes-frustrating beast of burden.)

Appearance and Community
But there is some good in that video, though you have to reach to get to it, and it's this: your face brings joy to the people around you.

Know that. Believe that. To the people you love, your face is one of the most beautiful things in the world. AND THEY AREN'T WRONG TO THINK THAT. Even if you're not objectively gorgeous. No kidding, seriously, I mean it. People are their bodies but they are also MORE than their bodies, and our bodies are the weakest, most mutable part of us. The loved is beautiful both because it is loved AND because it is beautiful, and those two don't cancel each other out, they build on each other and seriously, really, really, yes, seriously, really.

I talked about the fact that I've been describing myself to myself since I was a kid. But I largely grew out of that narcissistic focus of adolescence, and now I describe everybody to myself. It's habit. I'm an author, and an artist, and it's my job to observe and articulate. That's what I'm for.

And as someone who observes, habitually, the appearance of others (among other things), I can tell you this: people are beautiful. And the most beautiful people? Are my friends. Every one of them. And the longer I know them, the older they get, the more they walk with the Lord, the more heaven shines out of their countenances. The objectively lovely - and many of them are objectively lovely - is suffused with the beauty of their personalities. They're stained glass windows that the light of the Holy Spirit shines through.

(I kind of think we might each have a job of appreciating both beauty in general, but also of appreciating beauty in particular, in our own families, our own friends, our own city, our own home.)

There is such a thing as real, objective beauty. And not everyone has it. I'm not arguing about that. I know people who are ugly, too, everyone does. And I'm ugly sometimes. Everyone is. And I'll get uglier. Everyone does. No one can escape the ugliness of sickness, of stress, of sorrow. The immaterial stresses put lines on material faces and mar and weaken physical bodies. It comes earlier to some than to others, but no one gets to be young forever, no one gets to be well and happy forever, and so no one gets to be perfectly beautiful forever. It's against the laws of the universe. Physical beauty is fleeting, Agar's mother was right about that. And so if you rely on it, well, sorry, you're sunk.

So, appreciate it while it's here. Why not? don't you appreciate the flowers that fade and the grass that withers? Sure you do. It's inhuman to ignore them.

But it's foolish to count on them; it's foolish to value them at more than their worth.

And maybe, in the end, that's what's wrong with that commercial. It pretends not to, but it still makes physical beauty all too important, raises it way, way out of its proper place - and of course it does. For all their disclaimers, Dove is still trying to sell you things that make you feel beautiful. So they're very earnest about it, very intense, and they're LYING, LYING, LYING because they still very, very clearly say that physical beauty matters - and that it matters much more than it actually does. There's something false in that commercial, just because it's pretending so hard to be true, to have pure intentions.

They're right that some women see themselves inaccurately. They're wrong to imply every woman does. They're wrong to imply they're the arbiters of what we see and they're wrong to pretend they have no stake in the definition of what beauty is. And there might be a further, weaker implication that every woman is as objectively beautiful as every other woman and, again, LYING HELPS NO ONE SHUT UP DOVE.

But you can't give beauty, you can't create it, and you can't keep it. Beauty may be virtue in you, but it's not your virtue. It's all gift.

But here, here's what you can do with it: you can give it back, you can give it again, you can hold it with open hands. Here's something better than all, all, all my endless blathering on the subject, and here's where I'm ending it:

The Leaden Echo And The Golden Echo
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
(Maidens' song from St. Winefred's Well)

How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, ... from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there 's none, there 's none, O no there 's none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age's evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death's worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there 's none; no no no there 's none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun's tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth's air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever's prized and passes of us, everything that 's fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty's self and beauty's giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

Retconning Christina Perri's "Arms"

So, I have a very abashed love of Christina Perri's song "Arms". I've listened to it more times than I care to admit, but always feel a bit goofy doing so because it is so very, very angsty.

Why do I listen to it so much? Well:
1) The music is very pretty.
2) The line: "You put your arms around me and I'm home." Yep. That.

But then you get to lines like:

"I can't decide if I'll let you save my life or if I'll drown."

Le adolescent SIGH.

 But! wait! Adam and I totally figured out a way to save this song from its own teenaged melancholy.

What if you take it literally? What if - what if the singer is actually a SUPERHERO and her boyfriend is a SUPERHERO too, and so when you get to lines like:

"I hope that you see right through my walls"

it's because he has X-RAY VISION and -

oh, wait. That's totally creepy. But WAIT. What about the next line:

"I hope that you catch me, 'cause I'm already falling"?

That's totally Superman-and-Lois-Lane stuff right there. It's perfect.  Other great lines in the song that take on totally different meanings if it's about a pair of superheroes:

- "The world is coming down on me" (because a super-villain is collapsing it with a doomsday device . . .)
- "I never thought you would be the one to hold my heart" (eww . . .)
- "you knocked me off the ground right from the start" (stupid Hulk . . .)
- "I can't make you bleed if I'm alone" (eww, again, but kind of reminiscent of Rogue)

Eh? eh?

Still, if even after all that fan-fic-ish revision you still need a palate-cleanser from all the moping, here's "Cheer Up, Hamlet":

Better now, right? :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Collect

Praying for those in Boston.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

(Collect from the Book of Common Prayer.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Links - Lent, Ruined Plans, & Humility

"2013 Lenten Lessons": I'm not quoting from this one because my very favorite quotation is at the very end, and I don't want to spoil it. But go read, go read!

"When Life Doesn't Go According to Plan":
One of the pieces of “sage” wisdom—which is different from hunter green or celadon, as we all know, and not even close to kiwi—that I give young moms is “Write your schedule on your calendar in pencil. That way it won’t be so annoying when you have to erase it because of the kids’ flu/ear infection/pink eye/head lice/field trip/allergy appointment/soccer tournament/snow day.”
I usually say it in fewer words, but the point is that I got in the habit early: Consider everything written in pencil, because it rarely stays the way you thought it would.
(Jess' note: this link is not only a good read - though it is that; Cynthia Ruchti is awesome - it also includes a pretty cool giveaway. Click, click!)

"my talk at IV this evening":
Paul is asking that we then, who have had the great burden of self lifted up and healed and loved, that we do this for one another.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

it's the little things

Sometimes it's the little things - like sharpening all the colored pencils in the house so they're ready to be used by eager little hands - that are the most satisfying parts of housekeeping.
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Yarnalong: baby blanket and Heyer's "The Reluctant Widow"

My friends I made the Star Trek dress for aren't the only people I know expecting this spring, so now I'm working on a more traditional baby gift: a snuggly basketweave blankie:

The book is Georgette Heyer's "The Reluctant Widow". Despite its generic cover, it's quite good. A bit of a send-up of Gothic novels (always fun), a bit of an intrigue, a lot of a likeable heroine valiently making the best of the bizarre situation she finds herself in . . . as this review points out, Heyer's so good that even her implausible novels are a lot of fun.

And good and fun is exactly what I'm in the mood for right now. I'm busy tearing apart my own fiction down to the raw materials and building it back up again, and I've found the task leaves me in no mood for any novels except old favorites. Heyer, Bujold, Lewis . . . that's about all I want right now: just the really, really, really good stuff.  I'm so annoyed at my own faults, I've no patience left for anyone else's.

That sounds terrible, but I guess what it is is that when I read for fun I want to read something that doesn't ring my Editor Alarms at all. And when I read the people like Heyer . . . I can just relax. There's nothing in Heyer's books - or Bujold's, or Lewis' - that I would even think about wishing I could change. I open up one of their books, read the first paragraph, and let out a sigh and feel my shoulders slump in sweet relaxation. Perfect. In the hands of a master. BLISS.

What's doing it for you in the literary world these days?

More yarn-and-book-ish goodness can be found here, at Ginny's blog, Small Things.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Links: Christian Fantasy, writing "the end", Oxford Martyr's Shrine, and more!

"The Christian Fantasy":
Look at the masters. Tolkien and Lewis weren’t only fanboys (though they certainly were that by the standards of their time). They were scholars, and scholars at the top level. Tolkien’s work was the fruit of decades, not only of storytelling, but of mastering his source material. All those rich passages in The Lord of the Rings, and in the collateral works, spring from his profound knowledge of European languages, a subject he may have known better than anyone who ever lived. It all started with inventing a language. The story grew from the grammar. The depth of the man’s scholarship is like a rock foundation under every sentence he wrote, every name he bestowed on a character. The books feel real because he knew what he was writing about.
"The Rescue":
Did you fail Lent? Did you do a terrible job, and were you halfhearted in your penance, and did you resist change? Did you flounder away from the lifeguard and ignore all the warnings? Are you still, even now, drifting away from the shore? Are the voices of your friends and family getting faint, and is your body getting cold? Are you wearing out?
 He will save you. That's why He's here. He wouldn't have bothered to come if you didn't need saving, if you weren't doing a terrible job. Just hold out your arms to Him, and He will draw you out, and hold your head up, and take you to the shore, where the ground is firm, where there is air and light.
"Reading the Scripture Fixed and Free":
It seems that the Bible was intended to nourish the entire person, not merely shape our beliefs and guide our behavior. Otherwise, the poetic and literary nature of the Bible is purely superfluous. Yet, most of us never take a break from studying the Bible to read it.
"The End!":
Lots of articles focus on creating compelling openings; few discuss how to end the story, yet The End is important. Why? 
Because the beginning of a story sells the current book, but the ending sells the next book.
"Counsels of Perfection: Spiritual Reading":
When I was college age I used to read lots of books about how to write. A lot of them said something along the lines of "Just show up every day; apply your seat to your desk chair. Inspiration may not come, but at least you've provided the ordinary conditions to receive it"
 Most spiritual practices are like that, I think. God is always there desiring to give us what we need. But we have to do our part, even if that part is a small one. That is true of any relationship. Even a completely helpless baby has a part to play in his relationship with his parents and siblings.
"At the Oxford Martyr's Shrine":
Be mindful of these bones
Be mindful of these bones
Wash them
Cradle them
Lay them in the earth
Till they lie
As thick as glacial rock
In the twinkling of an eye
They will be changed

Finally, Archbishop Cordileone's take on gay marriage is one of the most thoughtful and gracious I've seen, from either side of the issue. I really do think that this sort of reasoned, kind discourse is one of the best legacies of  the Roman Catholic church.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, April 8, 2013

Knitted Star Trek Dresses (and a few other FO's)

So, I finished a few projects over Spring Break, including a baby gift for some dear friends who are (it might be possible?) even bigger sci-fi geeks than Adam and I:

(Conversation when this was given:
Giftee: "You're dooming our baby!"*
Me, protesting: "No! No! It's a Uhura dress!")

The problem is, I didn't check gauge when I made the dress for their eagerly-expected little girl, so my first attempt ended up big enough to fit an eight-year-old. Which means that my eldest ended up with a new Star Trek dress too:

Happy accident! These two dresses ended up using up a lovely bunch of stash, and were such a kick to make! I used a free pattern off of Ravelry for the dress, and winged the insignia after looking up some pictures using Google image search.

I also finished a pair of socks for me:

And the first of Adam's kilt hose:

One down, one to go!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*Google "redshirts".   :)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy Easter!

Just wanted to drop a note here saying that I am indeed continuing my blog break through Bright Week. Holy Week was awesome (the choir directoress and I exchanged a high five after the Easter Vigil service because we were so excited that we got through our first Holy Week without totally messing up or forgetting anything in our respective ministries), but I am exhausted, the kids are sick, and we Snells are just in need of a very quiet week at home, recovering.

But I'm collecting links and writing posts as I stumble across interesting stuff, and am looking forward to getting back to posting as normal next week.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Bright Week! Enjoy this time of feasting and light and thanksgiving, in honor of the Lord Jesus' glorious resurrection!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell