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As a little detour today, I thought I’d take you on a trip inside my world, from an imaginative perspective.
That is to say, I am one of a dying breed in my country and generation, so I think I ought to be documenting myself, you know for posterity.
All joking aside, I’ve slowly realized I have a very unique perception of life, thanks to the very mixed and assorted influences in my formative years, and current years, and it’s given my an ability to exist in multiple settings with a sense of belonging there.
You see, on the one hand, I am exposed to pop culture, the news, and the influences thereof. I can quote vines and memes and songs like most people my age, and use the lingo of the West Coast that has permeated the internet thanks to those sources. Not a big accomplishment.
I actually have to study pop culture, weird as it may sound, because I write characters who are supposed to be savvy in it, and they know more than I would know. Oh, the trials of a writer that we willingly inflict on ourselves!
On the other hand, I was raised with no TV for the first 10 years of my life or so, and limited access to movies for almost as long, I didn’t go on YouTube frequently till I was 12 to 13, and I don’t have Social media to this day in any significant form. So, I get references from books, old movies, old shows, and old songs that mostly “Boomers” are supposed to get.
C. S. Lewis wrote a book “Surprised by Joy” that described how his moral and imaginative life formed, while G. K. Chesterton wrote a good deal in “Orthodoxy” about how his imagination and passion led him to Christianity, and how they were shaped by fairy tales, and fiction, and nursery rhymes.
Reading both these accounts, and others, led me to realize I may be one of the only people in my age group who could even understand what an “imaginative” life in their sense of the word even is, they don’t just mean fantasies, like we mean “wish fulfillment” “sex fantasies” and all that crap. They mean fairy tales, and romance in the older sense of the word.
Romance used to mean, and still technically means, a way of looking at life, that focuses on the feelings associated with certain ideals, and actions, and beauty. It’s dramatic, often nonsensical, serious, playful, and powerful. It’s also virtually unheard of in modern fiction, shows, movies, etc.
If I had to pick a modern example of Romance writing, I couldn’t even think of one more recent than Madeleine L’Engle’s science/supernatural fiction stories, A WRINKLE IN TIME, A WIND IN THE DOOR, and A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET. I think those are 20 years old at least.
Perhaps more exist, I just can’t think of them. “Beauty” by Robin Mckinley, is like it, and this other story I once read that was a retelling of “The White Bride and the Black Bride”.
The point its, I actually read the old classics, not all of them, or I read books that explained the classics, or imitated their style, so that I was introduced to it in way I could swallow, since like most people, I find classics hard to follow with their older language.
I have read actual Shakespeare though, and it’s not as hard as people think if you have a good vocabulary, as I always have. Thanks to having parents who read to me and had big vocabularies themselves.
And the best preparation for understanding classic is of course, the Bible, as most of the classics of European literature heavily involved biblical imagery and language.
It helps that I stick to the NKJV of the bible, (sometimes I read others, I just like the language better).
All this to say, I have very diverse influences in my life, and I am still adding to it. Being 22 now, and in college, I don’t read as much for fun as I sued to, but I still reread my favorite books at least once a year, and try to check off one or two new classics at least, plus other books I can find. So slowly I am still building my store of knowledge and experience.
I didn’t understand this until the last few years, but I have been very lucky to have that path. Funny, it wasn’t one i chose initially.
When I was about 7 or 8, my mom had already read The Chronicles of Narnia to me and my sister, all the way through, The Little House series, and some other books, and she set me on the path of classics when I asked her if we could read those books again,and she told me I should just read them myself. They were above my age reading level at the time, at least by school standards (flip school standards), and I wasn’t confident in myself yet, I’d never read a chapter book, but that was the day I started. Soon, I could go through them as fast as my mom had read them to us, I am now the faster reader in my family, I’ve read a 300-500 page book in one day, and can read a 150 page book in a few hours, if it’s an easy read.
I could read a 30 page textbook chpater in the hour and a half before class I somtiems left myslef (too little, but I could get away with it).
The experience of a child with no TV and a large library is so different from what’s normal now, that most people, I bet, can’t even fathom what it would be like.
It really wasn’t bad. I feel like I missed very little. i don’t think I’ve ever once expressed regret, even internally, or not being able to watch a show when it was on TV, all the shows I like are usually ones that were out years before I saw them, and the great plus of that is I never had to wait for a new season. Plus, being older, I understood the shows better than a kid would have. I watched the Justice League animated series when I was 10-14, and it was much better being able to understand the harder stuff in it, though I still appreciate even more now.
The idea that you watch a show one time is ridiculous to me, I always reread any book I truly loved. Reading or watching something once seems flaky to me, like a one night stand. You don’t really get intimacy with the material like that, and it seems flippant, like saying you could understand it all the first time. (Bad books, on the other hand you should never reared, understanding more of it is just further punishment)
I think TV shows foster a one night stand attitude in children because they are released episode by episode until it’s exhausting to finish it, and you don’t want to go back an repeat the experience for years to come. Though, some shows are exceptions. Children tend to like repetition more than adults, however, but the habit starts in childhood.
The reason I am laying all this out is to explain why it was different for me. Without TV, getting new entertainment was hard so I reread, or went to the library. I always preferred to read stuff I knew I liked already, so I tended to stick to one author, one series, and one book. Even now, I’m still reading new stuff for the first time from old authors because I liked familiarity so much.
As a homeschooler, I read what was age appropriate from a moral standpoint, my mom never told me a book was too hard for me. I could stop reading it if it was, but I usually didn’t. Up till my teens, I finished almost every book I started, because I had nothing to distract me from them. I now finish only half the books I start usually, unless I give myself less to begin with.
It’s the opposite now. I was talking to my 13 year old cousin last week, and he told me about a book “In The Graveyard” he had to read, last year, I think, and he questioned if it was age appropriate because of the content, not the language, but books are more likely to be assigned based on reading level than content now. I can’t understand why “Diary of a Wimpy” kid is acceptable literature, but “Huck Finn” often isn’t.
I didn’t watch R-rated stuff till I was 20, mostly. My 8 year old cousin has seen more R-rated movies than I have.
It’s a different world, even int he last 2 decades, that’s for sure. But, being homeschooled was also just different.
It’s not being sheltered the way people think it is. I was exposed to hard subjects, sometimes earlier than kids now are, at least, I was exposed in a way that asked me to think about them, not just mindlessly consume them. The stuff I read, and later watched, used moral questions to kids, either directly or indirectly.
My mom never purposely planned that, she just had me read well known classics that would be safe reading, and watch old shows, and the rest was up to the material.
My mom was not a very involved teacher in most of my curriculum, if you could call it that, so I was self motivated. She’d buy books according to my interests, and I’d absorb it all.
In then end, I ended up with a vast array of knowledge about many subjects, even if it was only a little knowledge. I have the ability to join almost any conversation… unless it’s about something that just happened in the present. Go figure.
People tell me I ought to stay informed, I’m too busy delving into the knowledge of centuries ago to waste time on this current century’s unreliable news sources. Just give me the highlights.
I do think it’s important to know what’s happening, but you’d be surprised how much I can learn form getting the highlights, and putting them in a historical context.
I just last week learned that COVID was not the first epidemic in this country or the world that caused circumstances like this, the Media won’t tell you this, but there was a thing called the Spanish Influenza. Arguably, it was more dangerous than COVID because everyone was at risk from it, medicine was less advanced back then, so people dropped like flies. They had quarantine, lock-downs, churches closed, they even wore masks, and were told to get out to the country and stay away from other people.
Yep, it all happened before. I keep hearing people say it never has, and that’s just not true.
My homeschool plan was something called a Thomas Jefferson Education, or TJEd, for short. Basically it consists of teaching students to love learning, and having them read classics, and add disciplined study only much later on. I tied to explain this to my older cousin too, he said he’s never heard it put that way.
It worked for me, I was college ready and then some.
The effect classic fantasy had on me was that I see the world in two ways. I see the world as it is, sort of. As much as one human can see something as vast as the world. I also see the world through the lens of how others have seen it, or wished it to be, or even cynically claimed it was.
A student who lives the average life of a public-schooler now is informed by their parents, their school, and pop culture.
I was made aware of that difference when I was helping my younger cousin with her social studies homework. It was a good assignment, one I would have expected to find in college even, probably a little more complicated though. (You know what the difference between complicated and complex is? Mostly connotative meaning.) The book asked her to explain how people might use stories to tell about things.
In the context, it might be like mythology, we don’t know what happened, so we make up a story to explain it.
People who call Christianity a mythology are not entirely wrong, in that is has mythic elements in it, but if you read the Bible it is not written at all like a mythology, anymore than the Iliad is. It tells about God without using flowery language in its most serious parts, and it’s most poetic when talking about loving and obeying God. Interesting, since people often get that backwards if they get lost in semantics.
While trying to explain to my cousin what a myth was, since she’d had to read one to answer the prompt, I hit a wall. She just didn’t get it. I thought, how could I explain it to her? All the books I could reference, she hasn’t read. All the ideas I have about it is stuff she’s not heard much in her secular household. Finally, I broke it down to brass tacks and had her pick a thing in nature (a tree, if you want to know) and try to imagine what someone who didn’t know what it was might come up with. She said to me “I would know it was a tree.” I said “What if you’d never seen a tree?” She said “I’d ask someone who knew.” I said “”What if no one around you knew?” She said “I’d look it up.” I think she even added “that’s what Google is for.” or something like that, but maybe that was a different conversation. So I said “What if this was the first tree ever and no one had ever seen it before and there was no internet.” She thought for a second, then shrugged, “I don’t know.”
So, I fell on visual aid as a last result, I’m happy to report, after looking at an actual tree, and me suggesting some stuff, she came up with her own idea, and I think she even understood myth a little bit finally. She’s a smart kid, catches on fast.
But, I thought to myself, my little 8 year old cousin could have just summed up our modern approach to knowledge. We think, wither we know, or someone around us knows, or we can look it up. There’s a general feeling that there is not much left to be discovered in this world. And if there is, it’s too advanced for us mere mortals.
Thanks to the GPS and satellite, we no longer have any unknown continents or islands on this planet. Thanks to space tech, we now know what’s in the heavens far beyond our galaxy. Thanks to encyclopedias, internet, and media, we now can hear about anything in less than 5 seconds, if we type in or even ask a key word. There’s nothing done that hasn’t been done.
At least, it feels that way, doesn’t it?
Yet, as Lewis thought, when we get to where we seem to know everything, that is really where we must go back and rediscover the truths that are always there.
The great thing about Christianity, and the reason it has revived so many dying cultures (don’t believe secular history books, Christianity is what keeps cultures alive int he first place, all other cultures die out in a few centuries usually, or are not worth preserving even if they endure longer) is that it is always knew. No matter how many people have climbed up that mountain to find God, every one of us is still he first when we do it. What God says to us is different than what He says to anyone else. God is not repetitive. He never does anything quite the same way. Why would He need to? The course of all creative energy is God, He surely never runs out of inspiration.
Christianity, in my opinion, is the only dam slowing the flood of deadness in this culture, and that dam is never going to break, but people who choose to ignore it are going to get swept away.
Mental illness isn’t going to get any better as long as we cut off all the things that prevent mental illness. We really haven’t learned from history. History tells us that the rich and pampered are often far more given to insanity that the poor and humble. Living in the pressure of the spotlight and having to be both the servant of the people, and yet be served by them almost as if you were untouchable, has driven many rulers insane throughout the ages.
Now, all of us can maybe not be famous, but social media gives everyone who use sit at least the illusion of attaining that goal. It’s not anything like true fame, but it’s just close enough to create the same problems, with none of the potential benefits, unless people truly try to use their power for good.
We can’t all be rulers, but we ca all post our opinions into places where people will only echo them, much like a ruler. We make social media, the comment section, and likes our cheering crowd of peasants. We don’t know their names or faces, but we crave their approval.
You see? It’s not new, it’s just more widespread. And rulers cracked under that pressure a lot, and we’re cracking under it the same way.
I see so many artists and YouTubers owning up to poor mental health. The smart ones take breaks. Others push themselves to exhaustion.
It is what it is. We can’t get rid of this stuff, but not all of us have to rely on it so much.
You might wonder, though, why I think it’s really so important to read, and understand myths, is that stuff really worth the time and effort, it’s not real.
I will say most of it’s more real than people on the internet will ever be. Myths tell hard truths that people won’t own up to when they want likes or subs, or whatever.
But, more importantly, it would save us, if we let it.
I know other people besides myself who have drawn strength from stories when nothing else would help them. God often uses stories, Jesus used them all the time. Stories are powerful. They get inside us.
And good stories only come from the minds of people who choose to look up at the world around them.
It’s important that my cousin only got my point once she looked at a real tree. Just picturing a tree didn’t do it for her. There’s something about the REAL that inspires us more than anything else can.
I was raised on fiction, but it was talking about real stuff, in a language I could understand before I even knew what it really was about. Fiction is the equalizer that makes adults and children able to communicate without barriers. A story can speak to any age, any IQ, any language even.
I see the world through stories, and it’s made it possible for e to draw connections between things that seem unrelated, I have such a rich mental life because of all the way I can connect the dots. I can glean one thing form one book, and it helps me understand the next one better, or retroactively, a new book sheds light on an old one. I can’t say I’ve had that experience with TV or movies. it’s just not the same.
What I believe the difference is, is the TV is too easy, and yet too hard. You see, hear, and it’s handed to you. But it’s so colorful and intense, you miss little details. When it’s spelled out on a page, you catch things that you won’t normally. Your mind interprets it in a way that makes sense to you. You get drawn into the world of the book.
While you can be drawn into a film and show, it’s never as complete as in a book. A book also keeps you conscious of your own experience a way a movie doesn’t. We’ve been warned that our brains accept everything we watch as real while we are watching it, even if we know it’s not real. In a book, that does happen, but you are more aware of it while it is, and you can withdraw more easily.
In the end, I still watch movie and shows, and I believe they are important. They still give you something a book doesn’t.
But for the purpose of fostering a real imagination, you need books. The reason art is so bland and repetitive now is all artists are drawing inspiration from movies and shows. Which just can’t be diverse like books, partly because producers control too much of what gets out there.
Books, though still controlled, are wild cards. You never know where a really good idea will jump out at you even in a mostly bad book. You imagination has to work harder when reading, so of course it gets stronger.
One page of a Lewis book, and I’ll think of 6 different story threads I could write. That’s how good reading is. A show, I might think of one. not bad, if its the one I need, but, I can’t deny what’s better.
I usually turn to books when I hit a creative dry spell. A few chapters is usually all it takes.
The point of this post is , I guess, to read. But the bigger point I was getting at is that we need our imaginations back. They keep us from apathy, depression, and even from fear sometimes. I used to escape fear with imagination, before I learned how to do it with God.
God is still better, but often He has used this method, so, it’s all of a piece.
I hope you enjoyed this post, it was a little all over the place, but that’s kind of fitting. I noticed I lapsed into higher language a lot, I think this topic just brings it out in me. I don’t use a thesaurus when I write, that’s another thing book learning did for me. (And that stupid Grammarly app can suck it. Just read a dang book, don’t let the internet write for you!)
Until next time, stay honest–Natasha