Between here and then.

Man, that last post was a downer. Have I always written such melancholy thoughts?

Probably so. I think the lighter thoughts aren’t making it. It’s clear that Velivolans v.2 is taking on a more serious tone than Velivolans v.1. The days of shooting the breeze in my blog are over: I no longer have much desire to write about miscellany and random thoughts as I did before. It could be that I just don’t think such thoughts anymore. Or if I do, they don’t feature enough on my consciousness that I’m driven to talk about it.

Or, I simply don’t want to share them with you. My relationship with you the audience has changed. It’s not personal. But the Net is no longer my place of confidence.

I had been speaking a lot in the years I did not blog. Speaking to a bodied, familiar audience is not at all like writing to a disembodied, anonymous audience. And that bodied audience has become more important when it comes to personal confidences. I’ve always said, I write more for release than for memory. Once I’ve exhaled those thoughts out of my system, that’s done, there’s no need to express them elsewhere. Most of the thoughts that were once shared in a blog have now been transferred to friends-in-body.

(Hm. In those years, I had also been dealing with — and overcoming — fragmentation of personality and continuity. I think this change of attitude towards blogging is an outcome of that. Well, good change, I say.)

I’m still figuring out where I want to take this blog. Writing in a public setting to a disembodied audience who has no continuity or relationship to my life doesn’t quite fit anymore. Perhaps like outgrowing a set of once-comfortable clothes. Even after writing the posts below, my words feel awkward and a bit clumsy. How did I write in the past? Where has that muse gone?

It appears that this blog is going to be an archive for those in-between thoughts. Thoughts worth recording, but not in my paper journal. Serious thoughts that I may not feel like sharing with friends-in-body. Book reviews and other such things that haven’t yet found a physical audience to hear.

I’m not sure how many light-hearted thoughts may make their way in here. Usually, those happy thoughts find an audience long before they get down to a blog. I may be thoughtful and melancholy, but I’m certainly not like that all the time. (Well fine, maybe I am most of the time, it’s just expressed differently. Hard to convey expressions in writing.)

Truth is, my life is happy. Has its ups and downs – whose doesn’t? – but it’s mostly upbeat and cheerful nowadays.

We’ll see where this blog experiment goes.

Lives in passing.

Now that I have close access to it, I’ve been reading the paper over lunch break. My current events feed has been entirely from the Net for a good number of years, and “reading the news” has always been my way of finding out what’s going on in the rest of the world beyond the borders of whichever state or nation I happen to be living in. (I wonder what it suggests about me, that I’m least interested in current events happening at closest proximity. Hmm, have to think about that.) While I’m glad that the local paper is able to fill in that neglect in my knowledge, I’m quite ambivalent about the current state of journalism. It is by turns monotonous and exasperating, and sometimes I feel justified in going on the Net for my current events. (But, another day for my thoughts on current events reporting.)

So I always end up in my favourite part of the newspaper: right at the back, in the obituaries. Continue reading Lives in passing.

Code Geass, and looking for anime recommendations.

I’m super-picky about what anime I watch. Not much can top Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Cowboy Bebop, in my opinion.

But lately I’ve been itching to watch a new anime series. It has to be a good story, and I have to like the artistic style: two very important criteria, especially with the varieties of anime artform out there. Finally settled on Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion: it seems like the right mix of anachro-futuristic epic saga that I’m fond of. And I’m not averse to this variety of CLAMP’s artistic style.

I finished the first collection (episodes 1-5) today. This is winding up to be an interesting saga. The setting has been descibed, most of the important characters have appeared, and some intriguing clues of identity and motive have been dropped. Lelouche is a most fascinating protagonist. While his motive and actions can be construed quite simplistically, I suspect that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Time to find out more…

Okay, I’ve been sucked in to Code Geass and want to watch more. But my two local libraries don’t have any more of the series… time to go twist some arms nicely ask some university friends if they can borrow it from their library for me.

Samurai Champloo is probably next. (It would’ve been first, if I was able to get it.) Other anime that look promising (somewhat in order): Macross, Full Metal Panic!, Bubblegum Crisis, Serial Experiments Lain, The Vision of Escaflowne, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Rurouni Kenshin, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, and RahXephon.

Should also get my hands on Appleseed and Battle Angel Alita manga. And EGADS — I believe my local library has the complete Akira. I may actually get to finish it after all.

Being the hero of my story.

Tigana is a story of a people reclaiming their inheritance. Guy Gavriel Kay has ensorcelled me with his mighty tale. But more on the book later.

Apropos of Kay’s novel and Doug Wilson’s exegesis on Psalm 2 (disparate sources, but that’s how my mind works)—

In the last few years I’ve found myself drawn more and more strongly to the heroic, the mythic, the legendary. In stories, music, and imagery, they are all clarion calls to my heart and stir up a longing for the ineffable. For something wondrous I can see, that stands just beyond me and beckons me to come. In the midst of life that sometimes feels like an endless ploughing of the earth, seeing nothing but the dirt in front of me — the legends cry: Look up!

Look up at the sky, look up to the far mountains. There is more beyond this life! And even greater: there is more to what you are doing now, even if it is just earth and fallow dirt before your eyes. Don’t you see that you are in the Promised Land, and because you ploughed your ground with faithfulness, it shall one day cover the whole world?

I’ve just begun reading the tale called the Love of Christ; but I’ve been in this other book for at least a couple years already: the tale of God the Master Storyteller.

Psalm 2:7-8—
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.

Why are such fantasy novels so powerful and moving? Tigana, Riddle-Master, The Lord of the Rings… the heart of these stories are of Alessan, Morgon and Aragorn discovering their true natures, and reclaiming their inheritances and lordship. So it is with us: so we read those stories, and long for what we have lost.

Mighty though those tales are, they are only shadows of the reality. Even more glorious is the story that God first told in his Son, and is now telling in his Church, in individual lives. Don’t we all want to be heroes of our own stories? And so shall we be. But who is telling the story?

The heroes in the story never know where they are going or how it will turn out in the end.

It may suffice for fantasy novels, but in the story of life all authors fall short, including myself, for we know not the end or how to get there. But God is the Master Storyteller, he knows the beginning from the end for he wrote it first in Jesus, and he knows how to get there — and tell an amazing yarn in the meantime. And just like his own story, our lives will end in glory, perfection, and full inheritance.

Even as the heroes journey through the dark, fraught, perilous times, we the readers know how it will end. People of God, whose lives are still being written by the Master Storyteller: can we possibly look at our own stories and see the same ending?

Ever since I had this revelation, I’ve had more and more peace, gratitude and wonder in my heart, that overcomes fear and anxiety about the future, the unknown. Life is wonderful! In the great deeds and small details, God is telling a good story in me. And when the days just seem like I’m staring at and ploughing the ground before me, I can still raise my eyes to the mountains and look to the sky, and that yearning in my heart tells me that there is more to be written yet.

One touch.

I’ve been learning a lot in faith lately.

One revelation that has been unfolding for the last couple months has been the love of Christ. The fierce, fiery, unrelenting, violently passionate, wholly possessive, willingly and joyously sacrificial, love of Christ for the Church his bride. This is no mere human love; this truly is divine love.

It is not a common revelation amongst Christians, even in most churches. Because it is not a comfortable revelation. It’s easy and relatively safe to contemplate a benevolent love, even a Fatherly love, for a measure of distance can be maintained. It is terrifying to imagine the passionate love of a lover for his dearly beloved. Because it renders your vulnerable, it strips you naked, it exposes everything in you. Who can face such intimacy without fear?

In this world of flagrant bodily exposure, the heart has never been more shielded. Small wonder that we shy away from the burning love of Christ. It turns the world upside down.

Oh, why remain in shallows of vapid love and meaningless sexual gestures? The deep is terrifying. The deep is exhilarating. Once you taste from the deep, nothing else will satisfy.

To go deep, you have to drown.

Jesus, for a moment you touched me that white-hot love, and I am irreparably scarred. That one draught will sustain me for forty days and forty nights; that one touch is enough to set my heart longing for your courts and your glory.

You said, I will fill your cup to overflowing. So Lord, pour it out.

Last night’s adventure.

I dreamt an adventure last night. I forgot most of it upon waking; let me try to remember.

As most of my dreams, I was not in it, but was “watching” it like a movie. Several adventurers were on a quest to find leaves of a certain plant/tree that bestowed healing or magical properties. They needed it to save something — a kingdom, or a queen, I don’t remember. It was a “it’s our only hope! you’re our only hope!” scenario. The leaves were found only in the possession of the gorilla king (or some sort of great ape), who lived across a span of water.

The adventurers set out from the green, verdant kingdom. Continue reading Last night’s adventure.

Paean to the maiden city.

My church is reading the entire Bible through this year in personal devotionals/studies. I’m currently in the midst of the Psalms, which pass through my mind like water: refreshing, but so hard to grasp once it flows into the past. But one psalm stopped me in my tracks…

Psalm 87
A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. A Song.

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
    the Lord loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
Glorious things of you are spoken,
    O city of God.   Selah

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
    behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
    “This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her”;
    for the Most High himself will establish her.
The Lord records as he registers the peoples,
    “This one was born there.”   Selah

Singers and dancers alike say,
    “All my springs are in you.”

Most of the Psalms, both petitions and praises, use rather concrete language that addresses their subject matters directly. So I paused at Psalm 87 because its language seemed a bit more oblique and metaphorical than the others. The subject is different too: instead of praising God, it praises Zion, the new Jerusalem, the City of God. The language is unusual, almost mysterious, and intimate in its mystery.

I wondered, What is so significant about being born in Zion? But I consider:

Hebrews 11:16—
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

I wondered about the last verse, which seemed such a cryptic ending. But then the answer came:

Psalm 46:4—
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.

Revelation 22:1—
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city…

One day the pilgrims will arrive at the New Jerusalem. One day the nations will say, This one is from the City of God. There they were born, born again.

Come to think of it, the city of God is constantly “anthromorphized” in the Bible. The bride of Christ, New Jerusalem. Hmm, how curious! This makes for a rather nifty world-building scenario…

Book Review: Reading the OED

I am one of those lunatic logophiles who will read — and enjoy — a dictionary if it’s in front of me, so I was pleased to find a fellow dictionary-reader in Ammon Shea, who wrote Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,370 Pages. It is partly a memoir of reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary, and part wordlist of curious, obscure words that are “both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless.”

Of course, I was excited to see what a fellow logophile would pick from the vast menu of the OED, but I swiftly discovered that Shea and I are different kinds of logophiles. And I mean vastly different. Continue reading Book Review: Reading the OED

In rain and mist.

I.
It rained today.

As I stood at the train station, I looked up and, for a moment, saw a different world. A world that was washed by the rain: simultaneously saturated and greyed out, as if seen through a glass or in a water reflection. An image that was a little blurred in the details, as if the water had blurred the colours just a little.

II.
From the train on the way home;

The sky was completely overcast from horizon to horizon. Clouds heaped upon each other in fluffy mounds, or smeared out in long banks. The sky was entirely grey, but in greys of all shades. What a sight, that this monochrome colour, so plain on its own, can be so varied and vibrant when in a spectrum. How beautiful.

III.
I love mist. Not the fog that stifles sound and blots out vision, but the gentle, demure mist that blurs details and veils colour. The City of Dragons, which I once lived in, and Burn City, which I now live in, are both misty cities.

I love mist, because it is a portal into an alternate reality. With a blink of the eye and a sidestep of my thought, I pass from the familiar world as I’ve always seen it, into a dream-world next to it. The mist is the door, and I stand in the doorway, in between, neither here nor there, but in both.

Recently Read: Un Lun Dun, Amulet, Decoding the Heavens, and others…

Mini-reviews for things I’ve recently read.

I’ve been (slowly) reading through China Miéville’s oeuvre in a roughly chronological fashion for a number of years, and have finally reached Un Lun Dun, his juvenile/young adult novel. Now that I’ve read more and tasted sterling fantasy prose, I’m not as enamoured by Miéville’s writing as I once was. Nevertheless, his distinctive narrative style is quite suited for this novel, which is a light-hearted, youth-oriented variation on the New Crobuzon of his Bas-Lag novels. In fact, I’d say that this is Perdido Street Station turned juvenile fiction: the plot progression is virtually the same, and UnLondon is weird, wild and wonderful as I’d come to expect from Miéville’s fertile, off-beat, yet peculiarly sensible imagination. The characterization wasn’t much to speak of, but given the world was the main character, I expected this too. Un Lun Dun is simply a fun, off-beat romp.

I re-read Orsinian Tales while waiting for my library books to come in. Like said in my book rambling, Ursula Le Guin’s stories are endlessly captivating, and this collection is no different. It’s less overtly fantastical and more magical realism… and there’s actually no magic here except that which comes from imagination. Which is the whole point: these stories only serve to ignite the reader’s imagination, which is where the true story unfolds. All the Orsinian Tales are lovely, but I really bought this collection solely for one of the stories, titled “Conversations in the Night”, which I plan to write about later.

My latest graphic novel foray is the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, mastermind behind the Flight anthology. A juvenile/YA story, this series is filled with lovable characters and a perilous adventure, illustrated in Kibuishi’s light-hearted, lushly coloured style. I’m now engrossed in the story and have read until volume #3. There are 5 volumes so far, and Kibuishi is working on the 6th. Ah, that’s the trouble with starting an ongoing series — I have to wait for the author to finish!

The non-fiction on my TBR list have been sorely neglected; it’s time to make some dents in it. I’ve just finished reading Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant, subtitled “A 2,000-Year-Old Computer–and the Century-long Search to Discover Its Secrets”. It’s a “popular science” account of the discovery and decipherment of the Antikythera mechanism; I love clockwork and analogue machines, so I’m especially interested in learning more about the mechanism. Marchant’s account was uneven: I think it tried too hard to be both historical and conversational/biographical, and ended up reading stilted and inconsistent. Some of the descriptions of persons involved seemed just a bit too colloquial, even emotionally biased. It was also difficult to follow the chronology of events, I found myself often wondering when certain discoveries were made, and having difficulty finding dates. Finally, a huge shortcoming was the lack of images to support descriptive writing. My engineering/mechanical knowledge is rudimentary, so I had difficulty following and visualizing Marchant’s written descriptions of gear positions and arrangements. A diagram would have been extremely helpful. Ah well, that’s what the Internet is for! In all, this was a good introduction to the Antikythera mechanism, and I appreciated Marchant’s meticulous research into all the people involved in deciphering its function, how the various theories were reasoned out, and finally the current prevailing theory and significance of the mechanism to history, archaeology, engineering and technology.

Currently reading the non-fiction book Reading the OED by Ammon Shea, with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay upcoming. Kay has been on TBR for years — at last, the day of reading him is coming soon!