Home and Humanity

In one of my favorite novels by Charles Dickens, Bleak House, there is a character named Mrs. Jellyby, a woman living in London who devotes herself to philanthropy in Asia and Africa. She is respected -and even adored – by her philanthropic colleagues.

There’s just one problem.

When the main character, Esther, arrives, Mrs. Jellyby’s youngest has his head stuck in a fence and her oldest is ragged with no skills to take care of herself. The entire novel deals with the social issues of the day in London. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jelly is happily occupied writing a letter of purported import for Asia or Africa in her study.

Needless to say, Dickens is critical of this absentee philanthropy, and later authors George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis note the damage it can create as well (At the Back of the North Wind, There and Back, and The Screwtape Letters). All three seem to agree that there is a hypocrisy in tending matters abroad and neglecting things closer to home.

Which brings me to last night.

When our brothers and sisters in Paris were attacked by terrorists.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been following a case in my hometown of Oklahoma City involving former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who stands accused of 36 counts of felony sexual battery, rape, forcible oral sodomy and stalking against 13 black women in front of an all-white jury. These women appear to have been targeted not only because of the color of their skin, but also because of socio-economic status and past indiscretions that would make them fearful contacting law enforcement about the assaults. If you ask me, that’s a special kind of sick: a deeply broken man taking advantage of a deeply broken system.

Then, yesterday, one of the victims showed up to testify, and tested positive for PCP, so you know the defense and media were all over that, as if it changed what Holtzclaw (who is the one on trial) has done.

For me, this has brought up the emotions of the Phillips, Gothard, and Duggar scandals that have exploded in the conservative Christian homeschool movement over the past two years – men who will not stand trial because of the statute of limitations and men who continue to be esteemed in the movement in spite of their horrendous crimes.

So when I heard about Paris, my mind and heart were on something closer to home, in more ways than one. Something I can’t imagine, and can, all at the same time.

My heart broke when I heard about these violent acts of terror, the likes of which France has not seen since World War II. It aches to see the life of such a vibrant city ripped up by explosions, that dancing is turned to mourning today, and that’s the opposite of what should be.

And that this is a moment of pride in some circles, this devastation of life, sickens me – that there are people who rally around this banner of death and celebrate it. It’s so anti-humanity.

But in my fierceness about Paris, I cannot forget my Oklahoma City. Nor, in my being in Oklahoma City, can I forget about Paris. Of course, I can do more here.

But it doesn’t have to be on or the other; in fact, it should not be one or the other. There is room to remember, to activate for for both the victims of a police officer and the victims of a bomber. They all matter.

Humanity is here and humanity is there. And that, my friends, is what I am ultimately concerned about. People.

 

 

 

 

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Literary Influences

A few weeks ago, a writing friend asked who my author influences are, and more specifically which authors most influenced writing The Field.  It made me realize I have been influenced by a lot of authors in my lifetime, not just as a reader, but as a writer as well.

My dad introduced me to authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, George McDonald, Brian Jacques, and David and Karen Mains.  My mom introduced me to authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Charles Dickens.  My oldest sister introduced me to John Bunyan, Michael Bond (Paddington Bear), and Beverly Cleary (Ramona).  Somewhere in there J. K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman were also introduced, and I independently discovered Margaret and H. A. Rey, Peggy Parish, Sarah Dessen, Stephen King, (and I’m going to make a BIG jump here) Ayn Rand, Mary Shelley, Rainer Maria Rilke, Joyce Carol Oates and Doris Lessing.

Not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty well-read and broadly-influenced.  Whether I like it or not, who I read influences what and how I write.

I have always aspired to be like the authors my mom introduced me to.  In the tradition of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and Jane Austen, I’ve been writing stories about sisters from the get-go.  I love exploring the dynamic of sisterhood, and it’s something the aforementioned authors do really well.  I also love (love, love, love) Charles Dickens’ take on humanity and his stellar character development, and I’ve always desired to emulate that in my own work.

Much as I enjoy the authors my dad brought into my life, it has never been my goal to create new worlds in my writing.  And I certainly never intended to be a writer who used another world for the purpose of allegory or parallels to our own world.  And yet, The Field is an allegory that takes place in a different world.  Being honest, my writing going forward will be taking a similar vein.

Now, I still don’t have the subtlety of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or the comprehensive nature of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and I wouldn’t want you to think that I do.  That’s the beauty of where I am as a writer, though, right?  I’m just starting out; I have a lifetime (however long that may be) to develop my craft through many different stories and books.

If I had to choose an author that most closely and clearly influenced The Field, it would be David and Karen Mains in their Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance.  I hadn’t read these books in years until this week, hadn’t even thought of them until this question came up, but I correctly remembered them being deeply allegorical.  They are more marketed to children, where The Field is intended for a more mature audience, and the two have different characters and storylines, but I think the overall purpose and message are very similar.

Thing is, allegory is not everyone’s cup of tea, just as not everyone likes Dickens or poetry or science fiction.  I think that’s okay, but that’s also why I don’t intend to market The Field too terribly specifically, but rather to minds that can see parallels in the characters and conversations to real-life philosophies and occurrences.  For that reason, The Field will never be wildly popular, like Harry Potter, Narnia, or The Lord of the Rings.  Even if only a handful of people like it, it will have been well worth my while to write it.

I look at Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance.  I’m betting most people who regularly read my blog have never even heard of them or if they have, they might only vaguely remember them.  Me, I remember them vividly from having read them many years ago.  They got under my skin and impacted me.  Along with a colorful edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, these stories are what got me interested in allegory.  Ultimately, that interest is what prompted me to write The Field.  And this is about what I expect for The Field – niche interest.

Now don’t get me wrong, someday I hope to be an author who writes an allegory so compelling even people who hate allegory won’t be able to put it down, but as Aragorn says (in the movie), “This is not that day.”  I’m just starting to flex my fiction writing muscle: I expect it to strengthen, book by book.  I know that a few years down the road I’m going to have written bigger and better things than The Field, but I will always be glad I wrote it and had the courage to put it “out there” at all.

That’s how the authors I’ve read have influenced me!