Category Archives: Journal

Peace on Earth

Peace

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Praise god or the gods, the unknown,
that which imagined us, which stays
our hand, our murderous hand,
and gives us still,
in the shadow of death,
our daily life,
and the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.

Denise Levertov

No Longer Alone

Alone

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

Whatever it is that you’re feeling, recognize it. In that instant of separation and acknowledgment, … use your imagination to recognize that there are other people on the planet at this very moment feeling just like you feel. You are no longer alone.

 

Lama Kathy Wesley

Learning from Plays and Films

This Blog was written before the Corona virus arrived in the U.S.  In fact, I had several blogs already prepared when our world fell apart.  I have considered whether to set these next few blogs aside and write solely about what we are all thinking and talking about, but I’ve decided that it might be a relief to think about, talk about something else.

Hammer

Photo by Moritz Mentges on Unsplash

As a fiction writer, I have long turned to plays and films to learn about story.  I find them almost as important—and sometimes more transparent—than the novels I parse and absorb and enjoy.

Because the truth is that fiction is not so much an imitation of life as it is an imitation of other fiction.

No one learns to write stories once and for all.  Every story presents its own challenges.  And every challenge seems to require different answers.

So I am always, consciously and conscientiously, critiquing technique wherever I encounter story.  And the less perfect the technique, the easier it is to carry lessons back to my own work.

If a story is exquisitely put together it is difficult to examine the bones of craft that support it.  It’s the moments when the bones show through that supports my own understanding.

Certainly one of the reasons plays and films work better for me for that purpose than novels is that they are more spare and thus show their inner workings more readily.  Also, I’m less apt to learn from a novel’s bad example simply because it’s easier to put a novel down when the bones begin to show.

In any case, I have come to treasure plays and films for what they teach me.

Recently I watched Hidden Figures, a biographical drama about black female mathematicians who worked for NASA during the space race.  It was an easy film to watch.  Knowing the story was based on real women and their all-too-real experience with racism made it especially compelling.

But the film reminded me again and again of the difference between drama and melodrama, a vital distinction to carry back to my own work.

Drama rises out of character from within.  Melodrama is imposed from outside.

In drama, a character acts because of who she is.  She does exactly what she would truly do and can’t be forced to serve the story.  In melodrama, the train comes roaring toward any beautiful maiden who happens to be tied to the track.

Again and again, the film Hidden Figures converted the long, slow grind of racism into bursts of abrupt physical action.

For example.  A Black woman, a brilliant mathematician upon whom the project depends, is not just shut out of the White-men’s meeting. After she has delivered the information that will save the project, the door slams in her face.

Another.  No Negro restrooms are available when this same woman is moved to a different division where she is needed for more important work.  Thus she is repeatedly shown running full out, carrying all her work with her, notebooks flying out of her arms for extra effect, the camera sped up to enhance the effect, to a distant part of the work campus to use the facilities.  Always this marathon is performed in high heels.  Sometimes in drenching rain.

And when her supervisor finally understands why this brilliant mathematician is missing from her desk for so long each day, he doesn’t just change the rules about restrooms.  He takes a sledgehammer and knocks the “Negroes Only” sign off the wall while everyone stands by watching.

Yes, I know.  Films are, of necessity, visual.  Much can be told in a novel.  With words on the page a character’s thoughts can even carry us forward.  In a film all must be converted to action.  The question is, though, what kind of action?

A flicker of expression passing across a face is visual, too, and sometimes an expression can register more powerfully than a slammed door.

By the time the closing credits were rolling, I had noted a lot of over-the-top moments in which action obliterated nuance.

Moments that will stay with me, I hope, next time I’m tempted to send one of my characters dashing in high heels through drenching rain, notebooks filled with classified material flying in every direction.

Or the next time I forget who my characters are and reach for the strong moment, the obvious moment for the effect I am seeking.

 

Life’s Most Painful Event

Sorrow

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

What you say of your life—that its most painful event was also its greatest—that is, so to speak, the secret theme of these pages, indeed the inner belief that gave rise to them.  It is the conviction that what is greatest in our existence, what makes it precious beyond words, has the modesty to use sorrow in order to penetrate our soul.

 

Rainer Maria Rilke

Lockdown

Carolina Wren Singing

Photo by Ryk Naves on Unsplash

Yes there is fear.

Yes there is isolation.

Yes there is panic buying.

Yes there is sickness.

Yes there is even death.

But,

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise

You can hear the birds again.

They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

The sky is no longer thick with fumes

But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi

People are singing to each other

across the empty squares,

keeping their windows open

so that those who are alone

may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland

Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know

is busy spreading fliers with her number

through the neighbourhood

So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples

are preparing to welcome

and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting

All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way

All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

To how big we really are.

To how little control we really have.

To what really matters.

To Love.

So we pray and we remember that

Yes there is fear.

But there does not have to be hate.

Yes there is isolation.

But there does not have to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying.

But there does not have to be meanness.

Yes there is sickness.

But there does not have to be disease of the soul

Yes there is even death.

But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.

Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic

The birds are singing again

The sky is clearing,

Spring is coming,

And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul

And though you may not be able

to touch across the empty square,

Sing.

 

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

March 13th 2020