I finished reading Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason, which is a scholarly rant about and brief history of the anti-intellectual state of the nation. If a person who had never been to America read the book, he would conclude that Americans are a bunch of lazy, ignorant slobs who prefer to sit in front of television and video games and be talked down to by figures in power and laughed at by leaders of other countries.
But I don’t think Americans have necessarily gotten stupider or less intellectual. It seems to me that the steady mental diet of instant entertainment, instant cooking, instant bank transactions, instant… well, pretty much everything, has made us impatient. Fewer and fewer people have the time and patience to concentrate on reading a book or doing anything that might bring about a slower reward. Even college, formerly the ultimate practice in delayed gratification, has been shortened—maybe you’ve seen those billboards about getting a 4-year degree in 2.5 years at ECPI. Rushing through daily life only makes us more stressed and unable to settle down and enjoy the journey toward something that cannot be obtained instantaneously.
Jacoby made the point that, although books and reading are one way out of the anti-intellectual slump into which the country seems to have fallen, publishing companies have been “packaging” books and mandating that books be written in a predictable “formula” to guarantee sales. This has been going on since the days of Nancy Drew and the Goosebumps series (and even before that), but Jacoby argues that this “packaging” is seeping into young adult/new adult books for college-bound kids, who, in her mind, should be reading things that will actually prepare them for college. She uses the Gossip Girl series as an example; the material in books like those is nothing more than the content of reality shows and trash TV in a different format. Jacoby seems to believe that not even the pages of a book are safe from being infiltrated by mindless garbage.
Then she went on to discuss blogging and how a “conversation” on a blog is not a true conversation at all, and that blogs themselves “spew forth, in largely unedited form, the crude observations of people who are unable to express themselves coherently in writing…” Ouch! I disagree with that; all the blogs I read are well-written, and I have learned quite a bit from reading and commenting on them. I get the feeling that Jacoby has been looking at too many Tea Party blogs, which are often plagued by illiterate commenters swapping conspiracy theories about political events they don’t fully comprehend, and too many CNN comment boards, which consist of trolls ranting unintelligibly and one-upping each other with sarcastic comments and bad puns. Anyway, I don’t believe that blogs can fill the need for real-life conversation or ever be an adequate substitute for it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The blogosphere is not an asylum of unintelligent buffoons ranting away… at least not all the time.
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin… So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” –Matthew 6:27–28, 34
It’s easy to fall into the trap of worry. To watch the news and hear about all the devastation in the world, the latest government scandal, or the most recent “scientific” discovery that nothing we eat or drink is safe anymore. To notice the changing seasons and wonder what the point of life is and worry that you may not accomplish what you’d like to before you pass away. Or to log into Facebook or some other social site, see your friends’ carefully curated (and often exaggerated) stories of success in life and, whether consciously or unconsciously, compare yourself and your own achievements to theirs.
Worry turns us into frantic squirrels, dashing from tree to tree, gathering nuts and storing them in some obscure hole in the ground, and forgetting where they are during the long winter when snow and ice blunt the sense of smell. We dart through life, from work to doctor appointments to meetings to kids’ school events, storing up accomplishments and shiny trophies and amusing anecdotes, all in a panic that our life might turn out meaningless if we do not reach a certain lofty goal or make enough money.
Enjoy life. Slow down. Don’t be a frantic squirrel.
This year, the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo is in April, but I don’t think I will participate, even with such features as custom word count, cabins of fellow writers, and a very attractive website.
The main reason I’m not participating is because work on STEPHEN has come to a standstill. I realized I cannot go forward with the narrative unless I look backward, and to do that, I had to unearth character backstories from two years before the actual events of STEPHEN take place. Because STEPHEN is the first book in the series, it is in a way the most important, because it will set up the events of the second book, third book, and so forth. You know, laying a strong foundation and all that…
In essence, I am compiling all the information about this series that I have accumulated over the years into a story bible. I’m also writing out a long, in-depth summary of each book in the series and how the plot and characters change. This is helping me see where I’m going (and where I had once gone before and written myself into a corner). At this point, I’m more or less going backward and forward through the series at the same time.
Doing all that digging gave me the inspiration for a few other stories, but I don’t want to write an entirely new story until I have figured out all the others I have already written. If anything, I’ll wait until the traditional NaNoWriMo in November before I attempt anything new. I’ve already got enough on my plate as it is.
In real life, I’m a wimp. Instead of giving my honest opinion, I will often waffle and sugarcoat things so that other people’s feelings don’t get hurt and so I don’t wind up being the only person in the room with the unpopular opinion. Of course, I realize later on that my reluctance to stand my ground and my urge to tell white lies are not helping the other people at all, and it’s certainly not helping me as a communicator.
But in writing, I try to be honest and tell it like it is… or how it really would be if the story was true. If you’re telling a story, even a fictional one, everything should be as believable as possible. Your characters shouldn’t agree on one issue and disagree with it three pages later (unless there’s a compelling reason related to the story for them to do so). You shouldn’t sanitize the language or be politically correct. You shouldn’t care if you don’t have an equal representation of characters from every gender, creed, and color. You shouldn’t write in accordance with some predetermined formula that the publishing industry wants you to follow or else your work won’t be marketable.
So… be honest. Offend people. You’re going to be doing it anyway because you can’t please everyone.
For Catholics and members of some other Christian denominations, today begins the season of Lent. When we go to church and receive the ashes on our foreheads, we remember that we are mortal and our bodies are mere dust. We remember that earthly objects and desires will all pass away and that we can take only our souls into the next life.
Often, we give something up for Lent, most likely something that ties us to the world, like our favorite TV shows, foods, or time spent pursuing idle pleasures. The time that would be spent watching TV or playing video games or staring at the Internet can be spent in prayer. Or the money that is saved by not eating meat on Fridays or by giving up certain snacks can go to the poor.
Your life should be affected by your Lenten sacrifice. It should have enough of an impact to cause you to really reconsider your faith and the direction you’re headed toward. There are thousands of things in our everyday lives that distract us from the fact that we are souls who inhabit bodies. To me, Lent is removing some of that distraction in order to get closer to the One who created our souls.