Monday, May 27, 2013

A World Altering Author

I have been very impressed with the works of Charles Dickens since high school.  I have since then finished reading every novel he wrote and in finishing the last one I felt that his spirit was very near me, congratulating me as it were and also had a bit of advice for me to take.  This post, though fictional in many respects is possibly the most brutally honest and personal one I have ever written.

MichelleBreathing heavily and voice trembling.  Well, here we are again on MVSB Radio, and with us is a very special guest.  Blushes, stammers a little, swallows and finds it difficult to meet the gaze of her guest.  Mr...Charles...Dickens.

Dickens: It's a pleasure to be here.

Michelle: Voice still trembling a little. We are very honored to have you. Pauses, then shakes her head as if clearing her mind. I should look at my notes. Looks down and blushes.

Dickens: With a free and easy smile.  Shall I start, then?

Michelle: Laughing a little.  Yes, I think you'd better.

Dickens:  In your earlier communication, you mentioned several aspects of my writing that you had found gripping.

Michelle: Finally regaining her composure.  Indeed.  Your literature has been absolutely spellbinding for millions of people.  Not one of your novels has ever fallen out of print, and you have this kind of overwhelming talent that tugs on people's heartstrings in a miraculous way.  Your work not only as a writer but as an activist made tremendous changes possible in the British government.  Tell us a little about the man behind the literary miracles.

Dickens: Well, as most people know, my father and family were thrown into debtor's prison when I was young.

Michelle: Which you condemn immediately in your first work, The Pickwick Papers, and many other works besides.  Your youthful trials certainly set a foundation for your writing and perspective later in life.

Dickens: At the end of all things we need to be grateful for our trials.  Had I not suffered what I did I would not have been as driven to fight for the changes I did.

Michelle: And I understand you had a remarkable way of envisioning and thus describing people very vividly in your work.

Dickens: Laughing.  Yes.  I looked like a madman.  I made the contorted faces myself, rush to a mirror, and then write down what I see.  I also took long walks, and, as I'm told, would start muttering to myself in different voices.  This helped me focus and bring these characters to life. 

Michelle: It certainly worked.  I'm afraid I have to go very quickly from one topic to the next because there is just so much to say about you and so little time. Your passion for...shall I call it religion?  Is remarkable.

Dickens:  I tried to walk away from organized religion in my writing that I might speak to a wider audience without the barriers between the various sects getting in the way.  But I always sought to emulate the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Michelle: As I can well see.

Dickens: I was very impressed with your religion, by the way.

Michelle: And took rather a good swing at it in your American Notes as well. Smiles.

Dickens: I sport when I like someone.

Michelle:  Mr. Dickens, I have to ask you about a conclusion to which I have come and in which I find myself standing alone among your biographers and most researchers.  They generally come to the conclusion that you abhorred the United States.  I can't believe that, judging from your treatment of it.

Dickens:  You are correct, and I say that point blank in my American Notes.  I expose those practices in my own country that I dislike and did the same with the United States.

Michelle: So you loved the States enough to want to reform it?

Dickens:  Absolutely.

Michelle: I highly appreciated your beautiful argument that the United States was hypocritical in calling itself the home of the free while we continued to own slaves.  Very moving.  Now, Mr. Dickens, as we come to a close here, I have one further question for you.

Dickens:  Smiling benignly. I think I can guess.

Michelle:  So I finished reading all your novels and was left feeling like a literary orphan, like "what now"?  Where in the vast expanse of literature do I belong?

Dickens: Leaning over and putting one arm around Michelle's shoulders while pointing forward with the other hand, as though looking toward the future. Go on to better things.

MichelleLooking alternately forward and then back at Dickens with a smitten look in her eyes.  Then, in affectionate incredulity. Better?  Is that possible?

Dickens: An orphan has the entire world to explore, and nothing to keep her chained to one place.  Go forward and explore greater things than I can give you.

The scene fades out with Michelle and Dickens once again across the table from each other in intense conversation.  Michelle is looking intensely into his eyes and appearing like she may well swoon at any moment. Signing off until next time.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Wild Man Versus the Mormon Prophet

Dedicated to Mark Byrnes, who has asked me repeatedly to do this.  

Michelle: Welcome back to MVSB Radio.  This is a very special interview tonight, firstly that it is at the direct request by our listeners, and secondly that it involves a true prophet of God.

Thoreau:  I see I'm outnumbered today.

Michelle: I'm a Mormon and I am also a great fan of your work, sir.

Smith: Smiling. We aren't fighting against each other, Henry.  We are just sharing ideas at our interviewer's request.

Michelle: Besides that, I can't help seeing so much in common between the two of you.  Mr. Thoreau, you are a true outdoors man, building your own cabin in the woods and living there alone for quite a long time to study how much a man really needs in order to survive.  This project is really so needed as a scientific experiment and I think we can all learn from your experiences.  President Smith -

Thoreau: I can't say I love titles.

Smith: Smiling good naturedly. People usually call me Brother Joseph, anyway...when they aren't tarring and feathering me.  Then they call me less respectful names. 

Thoreau:  You know, if more people took long walks - real walks, mind you, they wouldn't do things like that to other people.

Smith:  Nature has a calming effect on the human soul.

Thoreau: You've got it!  We spend so much energy fighting each other and that energy would be so much better spent in enjoying the world around us, and remembering what is most important.

Smith: I was praying in a grove of trees when God first showed Himself to me in a vision.

Thoreau:  I can well believe it.  It's the most holy place on earth - raw, beautiful nature.  Your temples are beautiful, as buildings go, but there is nothing like the cathedral of the forest with sunbeams drifting earthward through the branches like heaven's light through the most perfect of stained glass windows.

Smith: God is the ultimate architect.

Thoreau: I'd rather have a swamp than the most expensive manicured garden on earth.

Smith: Chuckling.  Then I'm afraid you won't be too pleased with me.  The state of Illinois gave the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a swamp in which to live.  We drained it, built a city upon it and called it Nauvoo the Beautiful.

Thoreau:  Perfect waste of a swamp.  I don't know how people like you sleep at night.

Michelle: If I may interject, both of you have spent time in prison and it has been a point of interest to those who have studied your ideas.  Mr. Thoreau, you spent a very short time in jail, I believe.

Thoreau:  I wasn't about to pay a tax that supported evil practices.  I wouldn't have had it paid either, but my friends paid my account without my permission.  I was making a point by being there.

Michelle:  And Brother Joseph has spent a great deal of time behind bars.  Would you care to comment on that, sir?

Smith: Sighs.  Well, the short answer is that I was not trying to make a point.  I told the truth honestly as I knew it and people didn't like what they heard.

Thoreau:  I can certainly sympathize with that.  People in this world are often blind and deaf.  They close their minds to the obvious truths around them.  Say, are you really a divinely appointed prophet of the Most Holy and Perfect Creator of Heaven and Earth?

Smith: Grinning.  Yes sir, I am.  Would you like to go outside and wrestle?

Thoreau: Raises eyebrows.  Pauses.  Thinks.  Then grins.  Yeah!

Smith rises and shakes hands with Thoreau and Michelle.  Thoreau also shakes hands with Michelle and the two men exit the scene, shoulder to shoulder, eagerly discussing sports and the overall benefits of excellent physical prowess.  Smith turns briefly around with a smile and nod to Michelle before disappearing out the door.

MichelleLooking a little defeated but smiling.  Somehow, I just knew that was going to happen.  Just knew it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Rebellious Musician

My readers will note that I am taking a break from the deeper level conclusions I generally describe on this blog in order to relax a bit and do something fun.  I have often daydreamed about having conversations with my favorite historical characters.  We tend to think of Mozart as this stiff, classical, serious composer and he was really anything but.  He was in truth perhaps the wildest musical rebel of all time.

Michelle: Welcome back to MVSB Radio!  Tonight we have with us one of my favorite musical artists of all time.  Here is a man who rocked royalty as a young child, stood up without fear against kings and emperors as an adult, and harbored a romance with his first cousin.  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Mozart: Pulls down his sunglasses and winks. Call me Wolfy.

Michelle: Laughing.  Wolfgang, it's a pleasure to have you with me tonight.

Mozart: I adore being here!  And I'll try to keep my language clean.  I understand you don't like that kind of thing.

Michelle: Smiling. Thank you. Now, Wolfgang, I don't imagine there are many people in this world that do not know your name and no one contests your greatness as a composer.  How do you feel about that?

Mozart: Ahem...it's wonderful...

Michelle: And about time, too, yes?

MozartLaughing.  I wasn't going to say it, but yes.  After being brushed aside for lesser musicians, living in poverty and being dumped into a mass grave with the rest of the commoners, yes.  It's refreshing.

Michelle:  Now, I have had the opportunity to read your letters to your family.  Interesting and extremely affectionate.

Mozart: I kiss you a million times!

Michelle: Smiles. Exactly.  I can see how you have so much passion in you that you even romantically fell for your cousin.

Mozart: Grins. She was gorgeous.

Michelle: And that passion is, I think, part of what makes you so special.  You are a this intense ball of energy and creativity.  I mean, composing a full opera when you were eleven!

Mozart: Sometimes you just need to listen to your own heart and follow it in spite of anyone else.  Follow your own heart, feel your own passion, find your own destiny and let it shine through.  Listening to other people tends to water down the passion inside.

Michelle:  You certainly stood your ground against your critics.  Your choice of opera librettos was rebellious to the extreme!  Set in a brothel, revolutionary against the nobility, and then there's my personal favorite, Don Giovanni.

Mozart: Bursts out laughing.

Michelle: Wicked!  How many women did he seduce in Spain alone, again?

Mozart: Smiling. One thousand and two.

Michelle: I can't help thinking that you died so young because you lived with such vigor and passion.  No one knows how you died.  Do you have any conclusions?

Mozart: Puts finger to his lips and winks with a good natured smile. Let's keep it a secret.  At the bottom of all reasons, God just decided it should be so.

Michelle:  Perhaps the world couldn't handle your direct window to heaven's inspiration anymore.  We certainly haven't been able to exceed your genius in composition yet.  Wolfgang, I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed this little chat.  You and I will have to meet up again sometime.

Mozart: We'll do lunch. Kisses her hand. I kiss your hand a thousand times!

Michelle: Laughs. Well, my friends, there you have it.  Remember to stay tuned to MVSB.  Our next show, at the continued request of our most constant and truest fan, Mr. Mark Byrnes, we will have an interview between wild man Henry David Thoreau and Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith.  Until next time!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Lively Conversation with a Dead Guy

*I came upon this idea while reading Poe's work The Poetic Principle.  I found myself arguing with him on certain points in spite of my respect for his poetic talent and wanted to do something creative with these thoughts.  

Michelle: Welcome to our show here on MVSB radio, and a very fond welcome to our guest this evening, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.  Very glad to meet you,  Mr. Poe.

Poe: Very gratified to be here. Thank you for having me.

Michelle: Mr. Poe, your work has livened the imagination of generations of Americans and Europeans alike.  Your name has, since your death, become a household word and an icon in many respects and I can't help but wonder as to your secret to such inventive and beautiful poetry.  Furthermore...ummm...Mr. Poe, is that an ear you have hanging around your neck?

Poe: Hmm?  Oh, yes.  Ol' Vincent let me have his other one.  It's something of a good luck charm.

Michelle: Turns a little green, but smiles.  Of course.  You and Van Gogh must have much in common.

Poe:   Absolutely.  Leans back in his chair.  In fact, we have a mutual understanding which refers back to your interest in my secret to beautiful poetry.  No secret, really.  A person would have to devote himself to beauty and hold that as the most important principle in order to really write a poem.  

Michelle: Surely poems exist when the poet has not held this philosophy.  You do not consider these works legitimate poetry?

Poe: No.  Neither is there such thing as a long poem.  Poems must be short in order to be real poems, and to create the fire within a reader that real poetry excites.

Michelle: Milton's Paradise Lost is one of the most famous poems -

Poe: Don't even get me started.  Paradise Lost isn't a real poem by any stretch.  There are some passages that are very beautiful and moving but you cannot take the whole in one sitting and be moved by it.  It is a conglomeration of many poems together.  It's the same with the Iliad.  Don't tell me that people actually sat down and listened to the whole thing at once - it must be read piece by piece, and that doesn't make the whole epic a true poem.  But Milton has a worse vice in writing about Biblical themes in the way he does. He - but have I upset you?

Michelle(Swallowing hard but smiling.)  No sir, it's just that (points)...Your entrails, sir, they're seeping out of your ribs. (Takes a deep breath).  No matter.  You were saying?

Poe: Ah, yes.  That does happen from time to time.  But Milton has this inexcusable habit of attempting to combine truth and poetry.  The two cannot happily coexist.  Poetry is about feeling and to tell the truth requires being clear, brief and terse. 

Michelle: I assume then, that the reason your poems are so resonating in the sense of beauty is because you purposefully exclude truth.  You are indeed therefore a master of immediate gratification, which is why your poetry creates such fire in the hearts of those that read it, but inspires critical judgement due to the topics you choose.

Poe: If truth happens to walk into the poem, then fine.  But my purpose, and the purpose of any poem, is to enlighten the soul and cause it to feel. 

Michelle: Well, Mr. Poe, we are about out of time, but I wanted to let you know of a project I have in mind due to your extremely compelling style and talent.

Poe: Smiling.  Do tell.

Michelle:  I am going to attempt to learn your technique and employ it to a heavenly purpose.  I am going to try to marry the passion of poetry and the truth of God.

Poe: Chuckling. Well, good luck.  That's about all I can say. 

They shake hands.  Poe rises from the table and turns to leave.

Michelle:  Thank you for being on the show.  I understand that there was an idea of you coming back and doing a second segment one day.  When shall we expect to see you again? 

Poe: Turns halfway around with a sparkle in his eyes and a sarcastic smile on his lips.  Nevermore!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

There are Heroisms All Around Us

In reading Thoreau's Walking recently I came across a passage that made me catch my breath.  It indicated that this was the time of great deeds.  He was talking about how America at that time required much exploration and improvement and that later generations would come to admire the improvements his contemporaries made, but it came to my mind that right here, right now in 2013, is also the time of heroic deeds, and perhaps the most heroic of all the history of mankind.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says in The Lost World, "there are heroisms all around us."

Never in the history of the world has stakes been so high.  We walk daily through a battlefield of right and wrong, of giving in to what the world tells us we ought to do and what we really feel is the right thing, and if you are like me, you often face the issue of trusting your instinct in spite of what most people would deem logical.  I have found myself walking on faith so many times, and even chancing my life on what I could not see that in some cases I have to some extent forgotten there was such a thing as doubt.  I find with sorrow that many people turn to hide behind the shroud of forgetfulness that society weaves around them.  I hear people setting up their own barriers, such as saying "a man and a woman cannot be merely friends.  There has to always be a romantic intention on one side or the other" or "a messy divorce has to end with the ex husband and wife hating each other without any kind of friendship."  Let's prove such ideas wrong, shall we?  Let us dare to forgive an offender, or to reach out of our comfort zones to welcome a social untouchable or stand up to one who would treat others with contempt.  If we do not, what difference do we make with our lives?  If we merely accept the status quo in all things, are we not already walking about in a stupor of death day by day?

I would not share this if I did not feel impressed so to do, but I will render a personal example of what I mean.  Many years ago I suffered a great deal of persecution from a boy in my school.  His persecution was constant, daily, degrading, and often physically injuring.  This continued for years with no sign of repentance.  In high school I began to rise in the social scale and he fell out of range as to popularity.  No one knew who he was anymore and he became socially powerless.  I found myself often praying for him.  On the night of our graduation I determined to approach him in friendship but he was gone before I could find him.  Over a decade later I searched for him on Facebook and sent him a friend request.  He readily accepted and I told him that I had spent much time praying for his happiness and his personal success for years.  Perhaps this was not according to what is generally acceptable in the social realm, but miracles never are, and heaven is not captive to the laws of wicked earth.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What Do Mormons Do For Fun?!

I heard a story sometime ago of two people walking down the street together.  One was wearing a shirt that read "I can't.  I'm a Mormon."  The other wore a similar shirt that read "I can't.  I'm with a Mormon."  We Mormons tend to laugh hysterically at stories like that.  We generally have a very good natured sense of humor about ourselves, and in fact there are several movies such as "Singles Ward" that are made by members of the church that somewhat make fun of traditions and eccentricities that we tend to have as a people.  Others tend to define us by what we do not do, such as drink alcohol, but we delight tremendously in those things that we can do, and usually do well.

So what can a Mormon do for fun?  Well, as stated, we tend to be very excellent onstage, whether that be drama, music, or public speaking.  We are admonished by the church to develop our talents, so it isn't uncommon to find excellent artists, writers, photographers, designers, chefs and the like among our ranks.  I don't know about you, but I love a good game of volleyball, especially on the beach.  We are encouraged to learn and explore the world around us, so many, like myself, are avid travelers.  Get most of us on a dance floor and we will tear it up.  Dancing was the primary entertainment for Mormons as they crossed the American plains into the Salt Lake Valley, and we carry the tradition forward.  Most of my weekends during high school included church dances, and it was often remarked "Well of course all Mormons know how to swing dance!"  (Swing dancing, for those who don't know, is Benny Goodman type stuff - check out the Christian Bale flick "Swing Kids" for further details.  It's fun and also rather dangerous.)  Mormons also tend to be very social creatures and we are used to reaching out into the community and being a full participant of the events therein. 

So what do Mormons do for fun?  Anything we want!  Hiking, fishing, sports, and the single people are masters of creative dating.  I know a couple who decided to randomly have a picnic in the median of a busy intersection.  Another couple had a starlit dinner on the roof.  One guy in high school asked me out by sneaking into my bedroom while I was gone, covering my floor with Hershey kisses and left a note that read "Now that I've kissed the ground you walk on, will you go to Winter Formal with me?"  That kind of thing is actually pretty typical.  He and I weren't even romantically involved.  We just went out as friends.  Now, sure if you want to get sloshed, forget everything you did all evening and like go right ahead.  But if you want some real fun, go find yourself a Mormon!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Positive Coping Mechanisms

About a week ago I was discussing something with a cousin of mine when she said "I was going to say 'don't let it get to you', but nothing ever does get to you!"  I'm glad I show that kind of positive attitude.  Not true of course.  I'm only human.  But I have made a very long term and serious study of positive coping mechanisms and I observe them enough that apparently the world at large doesn't generally see it when I am frustrated.  Allow me to share some thoughts on that subject with you.

My first, last and foremost coping mechanism is prayer.  Everything else comes in second.  Nevertheless, there are tools that anyone, religious or not, can employ.  Firstly, listen to your body.  It can help heal your mind, and it knows what the body can do to help.  What is one's initial reaction when angry?  Punch something, right?  Exactly.  Go to the gym and take it out on weight lifting or kickboxing.  This releases the energy that is pent up and irritating you.  What does the body do when nervous?  Pace?  Jump on the treadmill or engage in other forms of cardio.  It has a tendency to clear the mind of anxiety.  Can't let something go?  Stretch it out and release tension with yoga.  One of my favorites is coping with depression, and it is because of my coping strategy when depressed that people think I am constantly happy.  When I am depressed I look for good in others and tell them I appreciate them.  I serve others.  It seems counter intuitive, but it reverses the very self centered poison that feeds depression.  My fear I turn into becoming profoundly positive and outgoing.  It is difficult for anyone to harm you when you are complimenting people left and right and everyone thinks you are terribly sweet.  It helps a person cope and is extremely disarming to anyone else who may wish to cause trouble.  Now, I am not saying that this is the only reason I have a positive attitude.  Usually it is very sincerely positive.  But there are times when my outward positive attitude stems from pain or sadness. 

I have to revert back to the subject of prayer because there are times when all of this together will fail to release the negative energy a person has locked away.  I turn to the Lord and express my honest willingness to do anything, sacrifice anything, to have peace restored to my soul.  Sometimes the Lord sees fit, even after countless hours on my knees, to let me hold on to whatever negative issues trouble me.  At that point, I have to ask, "what wouldst Thou have me do with it?"  And I promise that when we leave no stone unturned, give our whole souls to seek peace and still peace doesn't come, there is always a reason and God will fight our battles for us.  Some years ago, a situation became so rough that I had no choice but to face confrontation, which is always my last resort.  At that moment I felt the power of the Lord with me and I leveled an accusation at the other person that surprised me out of my wits.  It was not at all the reason I was frustrated.  Nevertheless, I felt powerfully that this was what the other person needed to hear.  I spent much time pondering that experience and later, as I came face to face with this person again, dynamics had shifted ever so slightly and a light bulb flashed on in my mind.  I realized that had I used my own words, it would have made the situation much worse and left me flat.  The argument I employed had hit a mark that I hadn't even realized was there.  As I turned to the Lord after that I felt much impressed as to the reason He had left that frustration with me.  The answer came to my mind "This was never your argument, or your battle to fight.  It was Mine.  You were just the instrument." 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Watched a Man Die in Houston

I don't generally employ this blog as a personal  journal in the sense that I write about what is currently transpiring in my life, but this time I felt it right to include among my posts something powerful that happened within this past week.  Flying back from seeing my extended family in South Carolina my sisters and I had a layover in the Houston Bush Airport.  We chatted and decided to indulge in a final farewell dinner together where we reviewed the events of the past four days together.  Upon paying the check and rising from the table I turned to see a man laying prostrate just outside the restaurant with a frantic group of strangers trying to revive him.  One had a cell phone and a very distressed look on her face.  Immediately I ran to see if I could be of assistance.

When I saw this man's face, distorted though it was in his unconsciousness, I knew immediately that this was a very strong man of God.  The light in his countenance shone even through the final agonies of life.  A friend of mine asked me to never tell the disturbing details of this incident again so I will take her advice and forebear.  I opened a binder he had dropped in search of some clue as to who he was and sure enough, the first thing I saw upon opening it was notes to a sermon that it seemed he was preparing to give.  As I watched I felt this man's spirit rise and leave his body.  My sisters felt the same.  Later, as we waited by our gate my eldest sister turned to me and saw my usually stoic eyes filled with tears.  She likely thought I was sad or distressed at the situation.  Not so.  I told her that I could feel the great joy of those who had gathered to welcome him home.  I could feel the outstretched arms toward this man who had touched the lives of so many, and it testified to me that death, the great leveler of this world is, to those who live well, a joyous release into something so profoundly better that our present finite understanding cannot comprehend it.

My friends, this man was without a traveling companion.  No one knew who he was save for the identification we found on him.  Yet I know that no one who has lived well truly dies alone.  This man had multitudes awaiting him, surrounding him on all sides and welcoming him into a beautiful and glorious rest.  It brings me to mind of the last time I traveled to South Carolina to see my family, to attend my dear cousin Roger's funeral after a very unexpected and "lonely" death.  Thousands of people on this side gathered to bid him farewell and I cannot help but believe that many more than that stayed by his side and carried him home.