Snapshots

Update on everything


This blog will no longer be updated; as of May 2015, I have changed username to pricklypoetess and moved sites to https://pricklypoetree.wordpress.com/

Thank you, everyone who followed and read; it has had a good run. I felt that my graduation from college merited a change of scenery and a fresh start.

This blog will remain up as an archive.

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For the Long Haul


Creativity: That Which I Lack

Lately I’ve been writing. But it’s different this time. In the midst of the six-page papers and the frequent (or not-so-frequent) blog posts, I have finally started a novel. The story’s almost complete, though I still need several tens of thousands of words more to make it long enough. That’s okay though. Writing stories takes time.

The story started out as a brief image–the final scene. Then it became a short story. The original final scene was retained in spirit, but its form was less blatant. After that, some friends work-shopped it in class and gave me some helpful suggestions. They didn’t really care for the ending as it stood, so I changed it again, making it more subdued. But the story wasn’t right yet. Too short. Not enough detail. My main character begged for more time, more pages to make his case and tell his story. So I prepared…

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Science+Fiction


Often literature is posited as in opposition to more technical disciplines, such as science, math, and technology. However, opposition amongst disciplines almost always leads to loss of knowledge and beauty. The wedding of science and literature–science fiction–has been used to great effect over the past century, in such stories as Frank Herbert’s Dune series (which also welds political theory), Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, Isaac Asimov’s brilliant Foundation series, and countless others.

Christians have written very little good science fiction, mostly because we often espouse a sharp divide between imagination and reality. In practice, though, we should be of those who are best at wedding the seen and the unseen, the known and the mysterious. What little has been written is not very good–because the Christians who write and the Christians who understand science, math, and technology are of two different sets.

Christians who write must lose their fear of science, and Christians who love science must stop clinging to pragmatism.

The 21st century needs good science fiction, along the lines of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy.

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Cave Draconis


“That’s horribly species-ist of you,” said the dragon.

Princess Louisa Verdantia Primavera Pastellori de la Rosa blinked. Then, as if to rectify her committing such a common action, she blushed. Coquettishly. Although she wasn’t quite sure what coquetting was, she was relatively certain it was something princesses did. “I beg your pardon?”

“Your assumption that I would kidnap you simply because I am a dragon and you are a princess, and that is simply what dragons do with princesses. I find it horribly species-ist. Perhaps I should assume that because you are a princess, you will squeal and carry on and faint at the very mention of blood?”

Louisa blinked again, trying to quell the nausea. “Of course not. I do not squeal, nor carry on, nor faint. I am a princess. At the most, I might swoon at the sight of– of blood.”

The dragon cleaned his teeth with one of his claws. “Well, that’s good to know. If I plan on killing anyone gruesomely in front of you, I will kindly ask you to shut your eyes, then.”

“Well, th-thank you, I think.” Louisa replied faintly.

“May I ask why, exactly, you thought it was a good idea to try to get kidnapped by a dragon?”

“Oh, that. Well, since my father went bankrupt fighting his brother for the crown, it’s been impossible to get any suitors. Mother suggested creating some sort of situation from which I needed to be rescued, and hoping that he didn’t ask too many questions until after the wedding. That’s how she landed father, after all. And a dragon seemed like the most economical answer, given our lack of funds and conveniently high towers.”

The dragon blinked, this time. “Wait, I’m just a path to a good marriage?”

“Yes.”

“You decided that a fifteen ton killing machine without morals and with a reputed taste for human flesh and a well-known greedy streak was the best way to land a good husband?”

Louisa almost second-guessed herself, but she was a princess, and princesses do not back down. “Yes.”

“And you weren’t,” the dragon whispered, “For one second, worried that it might have detrimental consequences to yourself?”

“N-no.” she whispered, desperately trying not to gibber insanely because princesses don’t gibber…

The dragon snorted. Then he laughed. Then he collapsed on the floor, heaving with uncontrollable laughter.

For the third (and final, if she had anything to say about it) time, Louisa blinked. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh… oh,” the dragon wiped the tears from his eyes, “I was just thinking… you really would make a better dragon than a princess.”

“Oh!” Louisa gasped. “I would not!”

“You’re probably right.” the dragon said. “A dragon would have been smarter than to walk unarmed into an enemy’s home.  But then… dragons are never unarmed.”

Louisa took a few steps back.  “Yes, well, if you’re not going to kidnap me or anything I guess I had better be going…”

The dragon raised a scaly brow. “Who said I’m not going to kidnap you?”

“But… you said…”

“Just because you are species-ist doesn’t make you useless… or inedible, in fact.”

Louisa whimpered.

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A Ghost Story, Part 3


~

I couldn’t wait a minute longer than I had to. As soon as my parents were asleep, I crept downstairs catlike, grabbed a few things out of the kitchen, and snuck out the door, quiet as you please.

The old lady was back in her chair, still rocking, still watching. I picked the rocker up one last time, and carried it off the porch, quiet as you please. The wind was whistling gently through the leaves. It sounded like the old lady’s breathing. Once I got her far enough away from the house, I pulled out my bounty: a box of matches and a jar of kerosene.

I doused the rocker in the kerosene—I never saw any of it go through the old lady, but she stayed as dry as a raisin through the whole thing. It just sorta slid around her. Then I lit a match.

It blew out instantly.

I lit another—the same thing happened. Now, I was bound and determined that I would burn this rocking chair before the night was out. I lit five at once, and threw them at the old lady. They were out, just like that.

Then I got an idea. I had seen something like this when I went to a movie with my cousin in Chicago—the bad guy had used some dynamite to blow up a bridge. I carefully lay the rest of the kerosene in a line leading back towards the house. It was still there, under the eaves.  After I got the last drop out, I struck another match, then dropped it there. I watched the fire lick its way towards the chair, wavering in the wind a couple of times; then the chair went up in flames. I had won.

Then she started screaming. I couldn’t look away—she was in agony. I had never thought that she could be hurt—only that I had to get rid of her. I was transfixed, hypnotized, watching her shrivel and blacken.

My parents must have smelled the smoke, or seen the fire, or something, because all on a sudden I heard them yelling. It was enough of a disturbance that I could wrench my eyes away from the sight to see what they were yelling about.

The house was on fire.

We all watched in our nightclothes as the house burned to the ground. The old lady was screaming all the while. She didn’t stop until the last ember went out. I remember my parents asking me why I had done it, why I had burned the house down, but I couldn’t speak. She had screamed until she had stolen my voice.

We tried to find someone’s house to stay in for the night. Apparently, no-one wanted the crazy little firebug anywhere near them. I don’t really remember that much. The next thing I remember clearly, I was lying in a makeshift tent pitched next to the ruins of our house. Peeking under the edge, I could see the spot where I had started the fire—where the old lady burned to death. Except she was already dead. Wasn’t she?

As if dreaming, I found myself standing over the charred spot. I reached down to touch it—to make sure she was gone— And all of a sudden she was there, still all on fire, still screaming She grabbed my wrist, and I thought she was going to take me with her. I could feel my skin burning, burning, burning—

And my dad grabbed me, pulled me back from the spot. My mother was standing there, face white. They never did tell me what they saw, but they never blamed me for the house burning down, either.

We never went back to Tennessee. My parents somehow scraped enough together that we could afford to go back to Chicago. The marks from where she had grabbed me never faded away. I went back eventually, found the records for that house. The first owner of that house had had a son named Luke, who had gone off to fight in the War Between the States. I found a picture of him in his uniform. We did look an awful lot alike. He never came back, and I guess the old woman was just waiting for him still, until she met me.

So you can believe what you want, son, but I know that ghosts are real.

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A Ghost Story, Part 2


~

That was a cold winter. We didn’t go out unless we had to; I spent a lot of days at the kitchen table doing school. The old lady preyed on my mind; what was she doing out there in the cold? What if she came in? I never could hear her rocking over the snow and wind, and I never saw her. I was getting stir-crazy, of course; too long cooped up in that house. I thought I would go wild. When the thaw finally came, I was dying to get outside and do something. I finished my school and chores double-quick that day; when my mother finally told me I could go out, I near flew out that door. I was whooping and hollering and generally raising a ruckus, when I saw her.

She was still sitting there, still rocking. And all on a sudden, all the terror of that year froze inside of me, and I hated her. I hated her so much. How dare she make me be afraid in my own home? Who did she think she was?  I swore to myself at that moment that I would get rid of her if it killed me. I didn’t want to do it when my parents were around, though; I was just sane enough to realize that they would think I was crazy if I started trying to kill an invisible old lady.

Come to think of it, that does sound pretty crazy.

Well, my parents had cabin-fever, same as me. Pretty soon, they went to our neighbors for a day. It wasn’t hard to get them to leave me behind. This was my chance. I snuck out onto the porch, and looked. She was still there; still rocking. With a roar like an angry bull, I charged that rocking chair. With my eyes half-shut I grabbed the rocker and dragged it off the porch—with her still in it—it was uncommon light, as if there was no-one sitting there. I was yelling every time I had breath all the way to the hayfield, trying to make myself forget she was right there. When I got to the field, I put it down and sprinted away as if all the demons of hell were after me.

When I got back, she was sitting on the porch again. Still rocking. It was as if I had never moved that rocker.

I roared again, all unreasonable, and hauled the chair off in the other direction. Same result.

I didn’t want to touch the old lady; but I was sure if I could move the rocker far enough away, she wouldn’t come back.

By the end of the day, it had been all over creation, and the old lady was still rocking on the porch.

I gave up. I dragged myself inside, collapsed by the stove, and just shuddered. I couldn’t get rid of her. She was going to send me to the grave, with her incessant rocking, rocking, rocking–

Which had stopped.

I sat up and listened to the silence, unconsciously backing up to the wall. There was a creak from the porch. Then another. Then another–and the old lady’s silhouette appeared, framed in the kitchen door’s window.

I stopped breathing.

The knob turned–slowly–hesitant, as if she had forgotten how to open a door. It opened, though. I couldn’t look; I scooted back the few inches it took to get behind the stove. I heard her walking across the floor, but she stopped before she reached me. Then she spoke.

“Luke, you come out here,” she said, and it was the most natural-sounding thing I had ever heard, as if my own mother were speaking to me. I half-expected Luke to come out from—well, wherever he was.

“Luke, you come on out here right now.” Where was that darned Luke? She obviously wanted him real bad. I kind of had a suspicion rising in me, that maybe, maybe she thought—but that was impossible. Wouldn’t she know who her Luke was? The floor creaked. I peeked out to see what she was doing, and almost smacked my face on her knees. I screamed, and jerked back, banging my head hard against the stove.

“Stop that hollering, Luke.” Was the last thing I heard before blacking out, confirming my suspicions and withering my courage.

Next thing I remember is my parents standing over me. I didn’t have a real good explanation for why exactly I had hit my head on the back of the stove—I knew well enough that “the ghost lady made me do it” was not going to fly. After my mother spent hours fussing over me, they finally sent me to bed, with instructions to let them know if I felt dizzy. I must have hit my head pretty hard, ‘cause I didn’t care. In fact, I was deliriously happy.

I finally had a solution.

 

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Normal


On an ordinary night near the turn of the millennium, a young man and his very pregnant wife trudged into the small town of Bethlehem. When I say the word ‘small’, I don’t mean ‘oh how quaint’ small. I mean ‘doesn’t merit a dot on most people’s maps’ small. It maybe could be called a suburb of Jerusalem on a nice day. In reality, it was the place that they stuck the sheep and shepherds during the year when they weren’t needed for Passover.

‘Suburb’ really means ‘ghetto’.

It wasn’t really the nicest place. It wasn’t the best place to take your wife, and it definitely wasn’t the place you wanted her to go into labor.

So, of course, she promptly did.

………………

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

–John 1:46

Mary lived in Nazareth. In all likelihood, she was born and raised in Nazareth. Joseph also lived in Nazareth.

Jesus’ parents were hicks.

And it came time for a census, and they had to go to where their families used to live. So Joseph took Mary, his incredibly pregnant wife of three months, to Bethlehem, Jerusalem’s ghetto. And there was no room for them in the single inn that Bethlehem possessed.

So they stayed in a barn that night.

Of course, she went into labor. And Jesus was born in a barn, with cows and donkeys and sheep as the witnesses. Amidst the stench and the sounds of the animals, the hope of the whole world descended from Heaven. The indignity of humanity He accepted freely, and the discomfort of infanthood was His.

Babies are loud things. And messy things. And ugly things. There is nothing in a baby’s face that makes it beautiful; entirely objectively speaking, babies are ugly.

Jesus was a baby. There was nothing to recommend Him over other babies; probably you couldn’t pick him out of a group unless you were His mother. He was as normal as a baby could be.

Jesus had dirty diapers.

Normality is strange. Jesus was God incarnate; He should have been unusual, at least a little bit, shouldn’t He? But He wasn’t. As a child, we are never told that He preached to the children of Nazareth. He did not raise any of his friend’s pets from the dead. He did not make earth-shaking pronouncements of power.

He obeyed His parents, He worked with His father, He did His daily chores.

Normal.

Who’da thunk it?

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The Color Blue


How do you explain the color blue?

Saying “It’s the color of the sky” really means nothing. The sky? What is the sky to one who cannot see? There is nothing tactile, nothing tangible that one can say, “This. This is the sky, this is blue.”

You could say, “The sky is where the sun is.” But the sun is simply a sensation, warmth, as close as your skin. It doesn’t live far distant, but wraps itself around you every time you step out the door.

How do you explain the sky? Or stars?

“Stars are light.” But what is light? It has no scent, nor sound. When you have never known anything but dark, you cannot even call it darkness, because it simply is. Light and darkness are meaningless, to one who has never seen. And a star? A star is not warmth. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” and what does twinkle even mean? A song for children, full of nonsense words. What is a star?

Or night? The rhythm of your day, unquestioned, yet arbitrary–for night is simply “when we go to bed,” and day, “when we play.”

A common language, rendered–not incomprehensible, but not-quite-comprehensible–by the absence of one key clue.

A language permeated with sight, with colors and light and darkness and things that can be neither tasted, smelled, heard, or felt.

And I weep, because no matter how far I try to go, no matter how much I try to understand,

there is still that one, impenetrable barrier

erected every day

when I greet her:

“It’s good to see you.”

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My first Free Verse experiment


The group over in the corner is disturbing me.

I think they’re fomenting revolution, perhaps. Or at least–

They’re talking about Hitler, now. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about that.

And now they’re laughing. That’s just typical.

I wouldn’t laugh about such serious topics. At least not where others could hear me and judge.

And is that an accent? Ugh, from Texas, too. She’s talking about feminism.

I thought she was one of those. She has that sort of self-satisfied air. At least I–

I don’t look down on people for their learning, or assume they know less than I just because I disagree.

I’m better than that. (better than her, I mean.) Sitting smug in her boots and just drawling away.

And divorce? Someone said something about it;

Probably positive, those sinful libertines.

“As soon as I have a computer, I’ll give you your criticism.”

Ha! They don’t even like each other. Rather, they don’t, at least

Speak civilly, like decent people do; normal people

Don’t plan their criticism; are not so free with their hatred.

(I wonder when was the last time that man shaved. He’s disgusting.)

And those things really should not be said

In public. Don’t they know that children could hear? How crude.

Those things do happen, but I don’t want to hear about them

Here, where I order my coffee and get my breakfast bagel.

It’s unsettling. Who do they think they are? To air dirty laundry in public, unashamed,

To speak of wounds in everyday voice. At least I don’t–

Don’t speak of my wounds above a whisper;

Don’t laugh at my pain; don’t make a sound;

Don’t let the world see my weaknesses,

Don’t rail at the darkness,

Don’t make

A

Sound

And they laugh. Out loud.

They’re disturbing me.

That group over in the corner.

They’re too alive. Too loud. Too honest.

They call themselves poets; I know what they are,

Mockers and slanderers, liars and filth.

I’m not like them, at least–

I’m clean.

“For it is not the well who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Pass by that haven; they’re too happy there.

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My History with Poetry


The very first creative thing I ever wrote was a poem. It was based on Little Bo Peep, with whom I had always been very irritated. It seemed to me that she didn’t look very hard for her sheep if the moment she stopped looking they followed her home. In consequence, I wrote a poem chastising her for her lack of common sense.

The first thing I memorized, outside of Scripture, was a poem. It was ‘The Land of Counterpane,” by Stevenson, and I memorized it simply because I could. (The second thing was the first page of The Hobbit.) After that moment I flew through my illustrated copy of Mother Goose, memorizing poems, making them into dramas, forcing my younger siblings to listen as I declaimed about the house that Jack built, or the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. Poetry set my mind afire: not only could stories be interesting, they could sound good. My earliest notebooks are full of childish scrawls with attempts at rhyming and meter—painful rhymes; decent meter, for that age.

In that vein, I have always had a better grasp of meter, I think, than anything else about poetry. In my music as well as in writing, the best thing I have going is my intuitive grasp of time, which falls apart almost every time I deviate from a four-beat (or four-stress) system. Before I even knew what iambic tetrameter was, I wrote in it.

When I was about thirteen, my mother had me do a one-year poetry course. That course opened my eyes to the possibility of different poetic feet; I am still trying to write a halfway-decent poem  in dactylic pentameter. It also enlightened me to the wider world of English poetry: ‘Tyger, Tyger burning bright…” and “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold.” My poetry devolves there a bit; I was so fascinated by the interplay of words and rhythms, and the enormous variety of tropes and tricks that could be used in poetry, that I often sacrificed a good poem on the altar of cleverness.

The most recent swing in my affair with poetry is thanks (oh-so-surprisingly) to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. The poetry of Middle-Earth made me once again see poetry as not just a display of cleverness, but a vehicle for story and a descriptor of beauty. It also gave me a longing for more Norse and Anglo-Saxon poetry, with its alliteration and swaying meter.  C.S. Lewis, in Till We Have Faces, helped me to see the relations between poetry-as-art and prose-as-art. I learned that language can and should be beautiful no matter where it is used, and that part of the beauty of language is communicating exactly what is intended, without both excess and dearth of words.

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