Saturday, September 9, 2017

Thanks, Mom!

A shout-out to my mother, who surprised me today in more than one way, all of which put a smile on my face!

Thanks, Mom, for all you do, and just for being you!  God bless you!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Counting My Blessings

Yesterday I had my most recent trumpet lesson, and I was able to hit a high G--which, according to my instructor, is a significant milestone, because it opens up a lot of tunes that don't go any higher than that.

He said that I should be proud.

I'm very grateful to the Lord for my skill with the trumpet, and for this instructor of mine.  I tend to be my own worst critic, and so I tend to need to hear when I'm doing right, and not just when I'm doing wrong--because I tend to notice what I haven't done, or what I haven't done right.

And if this is a significant milestone after less than seven months of instruction (and about 7 1/2 months since having it), and as seasoned a trumpeter as my instructor is (he's been playing for many years) said so, that really makes me feel good--and confident that I can continue to improve as I practice.

That's been one thing I've loved about the trumpet right from the start: even when it's been difficult, I have not let frustration defeat me.  I've only seen it as a challenge to overcome.  Yes, I take breaks as I need it, and I try not to do more than I'm capable of (there is such a thing as trying to go too far too fast)--but the point is that I don't feel reluctant or resentful when it's difficult.

I'm also grateful to my instructor for teaching me how to maintain my trumpet: it turns out it's a lot easier than I thought it was.  He gave me some grease for my slides, and he was so right in that a little goes a long way!  I used one drop on each surface, and even after two weeks they're as slick as I can remember them being--and for a contrast, I did need to oil my valves again (even after one week without oil they start sticking a bit).

And that removes a big part of the burden of having a trumpet.  Even when I thought it was harder, I felt up to the challenge because it was only once a week at most.  But now I know that it's even easier than I gave it credit for, and I'm so happy for it.

Thank you for sharing part of your day with me.  God bless you.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Last Night

I have to thank the Lord again, because I was inspired last night to look into something more closely, which is now prompting me to have a better idea for a plan for my future.

I was looking at some notes I'd taken about my various sub-creations (to use J. R. R. Tolkien's term), and I noticed a pattern: with regard to the specific media, I tended to take an interest in it and produce works in that medium for about 9-10 years before losing interest and no longer producing them so much.

That happened with pencil comic drafts of anthropomorphic animals, with novel drafts, etc.

Given that, I want to apply this idea to what I'm interested in the idea for now: poetry, music, and the horror genre.

What I mean is this: I want to wait until some 9-10 years have passed since I got the ideas into my head to look into those (I'll be in my early 40's by then), and then look back at what I've done with them and look forward at whether I'm still interested.

If it gets to be later than that and I have been prolific with such works, and I still find myself interested, I will take that as a sign that I can commit to such things more easily than the media I've gotten away from by now--and so only after that might I look into something along the lines of taking college courses in those fields, or something like that.

On the other hand, if I've spent all that time only dwelling on the idea of them, and I don't find myself as interested anymore, I will take that as a sign that these are just other examples of passing fads for me, and I'll look into whatever I am genuinely enthusiastic about by then.

Of course, those things that I'm interested in now are all creative endeavors except for performing music: singing and perhaps playing drum or other percussion.  And I haven't had lessons in percussion of any kind--nor have I had singing lessons, but I've had experience singing, and now I'm a cantor at my church, which is the best kind of singing there is.  So I'm definitely going to continue with cantoring in the meanwhile.  (There's no instrumentation in the Byzantine Rite and I don't think drums or percussion would be appropriate during a Mass anyway.)

The point is, I don't plan on making any of those things my bread and butter.  I plan to have a day job that I'm enthusiastic about, and that hopefully will facilitate these other interests.  And so far I have my eye on working at McDonald's.  I haven't been hired yet, and so I haven't experienced it firsthand yet, but I'm eager to get some experience, so I can better know if I'm a good fit for it--and if so, then given the above, it would be a lot easier for me to say with all sincerity what an interviewer would want to hear when asking "Where do you see yourself in five years?".

At any rate, I know I'm good at singing, so I have a good mind for music and song--which could extend to songwriting.  And I know I've written verses that others have told me are publication-worthy, and that I enjoy myself as much as if someone else had written them.  And I've set some of those to tunes.  So while I don't intend for it to be my job title, perhaps being a singer-songwriter is something in my future?  Only the Lord knows for sure.

Thank you for sharing part of your day with me.  God bless you.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Pray for the Victims of the Hurricanes

This blog post is a prayer request.

My friend Eric and his family are at risk of Hurricane Irma.  Please pray for them, their protection and comfort, and all who are in the paths of these hurricanes.  I will do so as well.

God bless you.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

For the People of Texas

My prayers are with the people in Texas who have been in the path of the hurricane.  I have family who have been in its path, and am concerned for their safety--and everyone else are people with families, just like mine.

I'm truly inspired to see how widespread the relief effort is for the hurricane.  It's when we are tested that our true colors come out, whether for good or for ill.  During our trials and tribulations we can discover virtues that we didn't think we had, because the situation never came where we needed them; we can also discover flaws that we didn't know we had, because it's often easier to be virtuous when everything is going well (though sometimes that results in complacency rather than virtue).

I have prayed for everyone in the path of the hurricane at Liturgy, and I hope everyone gets the aid they need.  And thanks to all who have been providing aid, whether material or spiritual.  God bless you all.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Praise the Lord!

I haven't been having the best week, but today something happened that really uplifted my spirits and is getting me excited about the near future!

As has happened many times in the past, I've been overthinking things and in the process overlooking the obvious.

I'm referring to my fantasy mythos, specifically the tale I used to call Young Blood.  It's been over a year since I worked on it to any significant degree, in terms of the actual writing (rather than outlining, worldbuilding, etc.--actual words, I mean).  And even though I've felt that a logjam was broken as long ago as March 11 this year (was that really 5 1/2 months ago??), I had neither successfully revised that draft nor begun anything substantial in the way of a new one.

But now I think perhaps the final nail in the coffin of my block might be gone, and it might be that all that's left is for me to actually start writing!

It was, of all things, The Lord of the Rings that inspired me.  This will be a bit long, but please try to follow my logic:

I've known for some time that the central tension of The Lord of the Rings is NOT the destruction of the One Ring.  If that were all it was, then the book was written terribly--inexcusably terribly for someone of J. R. R. Tolkien's education and skill.  In particular, if that were the case, the book was excessively long.

Out of 62 chapters total, here's how the One Ring relates:

Not until the 2nd chapter do we even learn what the Ring actually is.

Not until the 3rd chapter do Frodo and company set off with the Ring.

Not until the 14th chapter is it decided that the quest is specifically to destroy the One Ring by casting it into Mount Doom in Mordor.

The 23rd-33rd chapters, and the 44th-53rd chapters (21 chapters total) don't focus on Frodo or the One Ring at all.

After the chapter in which the One Ring is destroyed, there are still a full 6 chapters left before the book ends (and originally there was going to be a 7th).

If this were the central tension, we would learn about the One Ring in the first chapter, and by the end of that chapter, perhaps Frodo and company would have set off with it already.  Also, the nature of the quest would be clear sooner, perhaps in the same chapter.

There would be no chapters that neglected to focus on Frodo and the One Ring--not even one.

At most, there might be one chapter (if that) after the chapter in which the One Ring was destroyed--one for denouement winding down to the "The End" end.

Similarly, while the most obvious plot point in my story involves Eli, the central tension only relates to him tangentially, and I want to preserve that.  Nevertheless, I compared my story to The Lord of the Rings and found that last year's draft was taking even longer than J. R. R. Tolkien took!  I mean, I wrote an entire novel's length of words before Mina and company even get out of the city of Panthos!  That would be the equivalent of the first volume of The Lord of the Rings being set entirely in Hobbiton, before Frodo and company even set out with the One Ring--never mind learning the true nature of the quest.  In the actual book that took only two chapters--1/11 of the first volume!

I think it has helped that I've waited a year--not just so that I can look at my story with new eyes, as though I were reading it for the first time, but also because in the meanwhile I've made several changes to it conceptually.  When reading my own story feels like a chore, I know I'm not starting it correctly.

I've made several conceptual changes already, all of which I think are to the good, but the one I've decided on today may just be the final nail in the coffin of my writer's block: I am now convinced that I began the story too early.

What I realize now is that the parts before Eli enters the story were giving me the most difficulty--but until today, it didn't occur to me to just cut those out and solve the problem that way.  I can still have enough exposition to make it clear that that's not the true central tension without writing dozens of pages before the story proper even begins.

Or rather, it did and it didn't occur to me to cut them out.

A bit of background: Young Blood began life in 2014 as a sequel to Your Health!, which I drew as a pencil and colored pencil comic draft.  My first two drafts of Young Blood were done in the same medium: pencil comic panels, not text.

And here's the thing: both of those drafts began after the ending of Your Health!, but--until now--not a single text draft of Young Blood did.

I first novelized Young Blood in November of 2015 for my first NaNoWriMo ever.  But in that draft and in my next draft (my most recent one), I began the story before Your Health! ended, and in fact rewrote the ending to Your Health! in the process.

But in so doing I added several elements that I couldn't figure out how to keep relevant in the story proper, even though I kind of liked some of them.

While I don't intend to start the final draft exactly where I started my second pencil comic draft, it will probably end up being closest to that--so that the inciting incident will involve Eli, or possibly his pregnant mother, perhaps at the end of Chapter 1.  That tosses out the window LOTS of the headache that this story has been giving me for almost two years now!

What's more, I looked back over the timing problems that I thought I had with this narrative.  With few to no exceptions, I have now ironed those out, thank the Lord!  There is now little left standing in my way, that I can see, except to actually write--and as needed, revise--before I query my story!  (This does not, of course, refer to real life events which must always come first, but only to aspects of this story.)

It's taken being patient, but now I'm getting excited to start it soon, perhaps as early as next month, September of 2017!  We'll see!  Certainly I feel more confident about this being my NaNoWriMo project for this year, November of 2017, especially if I haven't started writing before then.

At the same time, however, this whole experience is making me desire all the more to have this project behind me--partly because I love it and think it's good, and have gotten positive feedback from others, and I want to share it; but also partly because I want to wash my hands of it and move on to other things.  This saga represents a transition in my life, between where I was at when I began, and where I want to go after I finish.

With the possible exception of adding more to this mythos, I have no plans for the foreseeable future to write or publish any more novel-length original fiction, nor any more fiction in the fantasy genre.  Outside of this mythos, I would consider it just as well if I were finished with this length, form, and genre of storytelling.  I don't know what the future will hold (I didn't plan to write these either!), but I want to move on: I want to focus on oral storytelling (including through song), telling shorter stories in the horror genre and possibly the religious fiction genre--and mostly telling actual folktales, such that the closest thing to originality on my part would be that I'd set old familiar favorite stories to original songs.

Only God knows what the future has in store, but I'm becoming excited and optimistic again!  Please pray for me, and I will pray for you as well.  God bless you, and thank you for sharing part of your day with me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us!

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation.  The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary was first established as infallible in 1950 by Venerable Pope Pius XII.

This is also the 100-year-anniversary of Our Lady's appearances at Fatima, Portugal.  October 13 (less than two months away) will be the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun, probably the most viewed miracle in modern history (seen by 70,000 people).

At that time, Our Lady said that in the end, her Immaculate Heart would triumph.  We need it, if the recent violence and hostilities in Charlottesville, Virginia are any indication.

I didn't originally want to say anything about it, because I didn't want to invite nastiness on my blog, as I've seen in comments on the blogs of other people who have spoken on the matter.  I want to keep a level head on my shoulders, and most importantly a loving heart, rooted in Jesus Christ, for all the people involved--which necessarily means hating what they think, say, and do that is endangering their souls.  And I know I've had trouble keeping my temper in the past--I don't want to put myself into a near occasion of sin.  I want to pray for everyone.

But then I found this very inspiring, beautiful blog entry on the matter, to which I refer you:

Praise the Lord, that Mr. Joseph Pearce converted from neo-Nazism to Catholic Christianity!  And if it happened for him, it can happen for those involved at Charlottesville, and we should pray for them that it does.  If we do not, are we not guilty of judging them, the very thing of which their enemies accuse them?  If you judge someone as irredeemable (especially with evidence to the contrary), how then do you justify not desiring their deaths except on an impersonal principle?  After all, if they can't be trusted to convert, you either let them do as they're doing or you stop them--either by a life sentence in a maximum security prison (and jailbreaks can happen, and have happened) or by killing them.

The main reason, though, that I wanted to link to that blog entry is because I have a similar story to tell, but from the opposite perspective.

Until 2010, I would have firmly agreed with the counter-protestors--ignoring, denying, or rationalizing away their evils (and any non-evils among their enemies).  So I do understand where that side is coming from.  I even once went so far as to look up a Marxist website, thinking that "real" Marxism might actually be a good thing if it were to have been carried out uncorrupted.  I thought that Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong had corrupted this "real" Marxism, and possibly that Vladimir Lenin had done the same (though possibly not).  I never outright joined any Marxist group or registered as a Communist, but I grew up thinking "left wing = good; right wing = bad".  And until 2012, I was a registered Democrat and identified as a liberal (and I had once considered joining the Green Party).

I was not aware of Christianity as such being mocked or sneered at, but I now realize that even in the schools I went to, it was taught in a relativistic sense, as though religion were simply part of a culture (which, ironically, is the same thing that fascism teaches), rather than a way to acknowledge our Creator and unite together with Him and through Him in an intimate relationship of love.  I thought of the Church as a constantly-"evolving" entity that had come to realize the mistakes of the past, and would do the same in the future (in other words, a la Marxism, I was predicting the future without recourse to the supernatural).  I wasn't antagonistic towards the faith into which I was baptized--not consciously or deliberately so, anyway--but I seriously considered converting, that it wasn't the right faith "for me".  And yet, I didn't think Christianity would become irrelevant so much as that it would be "purged" of what I thought was "tainting" it.

But before I returned to the Church, while I never did anything desperate, I reached a point to where I greatly feared and mistrusted authority figures of every stripe.  I feared where the world might be headed--even during my lifetime!--if left to its own devices.  And I feared there was nothing I could do about it.  Nor did I even pray to God that we might be spared what I was fearing--only tried on my own to find out what I could do to survive (and warn people), if there was nothing I could do to save the world myself.

It is true that I was seeking an identity for myself, not only as an individual but as part of a group.  When I learned that my last name is Sephardic (Jewish), after becoming interested in the history of the Jewish people (even after the time of Christ), as well as what I took to be the Jewish religion, I thought it was a sign that I was to "revive the faith of my ancestors".  I came close to converting: I never got in touch with a rabbi or went to a synagogue, but I did tell my parents I wanted to convert.  That's as close as I ever came to anything desperate.  And even then, I rationalized it away: I told myself that I wasn't rejecting Jesus but embracing His people.  I even thought I could combine the two, as a "Messianic Jew"--practicing "Judaism" but acknowledging Jesus at the same time.

When I returned to the Catholic Christian faith, it was precisely how logical, how reasonable, the faith turned out to be (first monotheism, then Christianity, then Catholic Christianity), that prompted me to believe it was true--especially since I didn't trust authority figures in the Church who (I thought) had a vested interest in getting people to convert, and so (I thought) couldn't be trusted to be objective.  To that extent I agree with Mr. Pearce.

My only concern about what he said may ultimately be a wording problem.  When people are governed by their emotions, especially selfish desires and hatred, introducing reason to them makes me think of what happened to Piggy in Lord of the Flies.  But as Mr. Pearce rightly suggests, reason must ultimately be rooted in love.  Otherwise it becomes the opposite side of the false dichotomy: a cold, calculating reason that doesn't care about anything or anyone, only following what's "logical", which prompts people to regard them the way Bones regarded Spock (only a lot more so).

I don't know that I perceived love as readily as Mr. Pearce did, and so it took reason to reach me first--maybe because I have Asperger's Syndrome.  I know that I failed to see the love that my own parents had for me, especially when we moved to the house I live in now (which was shortly before I returned to the Church later that year).  So it was a desire to belong, and to know the truth and be right in what I was doing, and to use logic and reason as my guide in that regard, that led me back--not the love of the Church, or of Christ, or of God (at first I wasn't even sure God existed).

But once I did come back, little by little I began to realize firsthand that there was something in it.  I didn't feel judged when I came back to Mass for the first time in years; I found myself finally feeling the motivation to try stopping some long-ingrained bad habits, where I had previously feared that I'd gotten so used to them that I wasn't strong enough to overcome them and would only get worse; I started feeling calmer, and happier, and being nicer.  And since then I've concluded God's Presence in my life in many arenas--especially this year, where I'm really trying to take leaps of faith for once.  Trying to trust, rather than acting on my gnawing desire to know (isn't that what Adam and Eve did?).  Even now I'm nowhere near where I could be, want to be, think I should be--but I'm a lot closer now than I was seven years ago.

As for my sociopolitical beliefs, even before I returned to Catholic Christianity, I was trying to keep an open mind.  Even before then, I concluded that I could not simultaneously support "sex change" operations and oppose cosmetic plastic surgery--any argument I made for one position could be made against the other.  And going back further, as early as late 2007 (three years before my return to the faith), I first seriously considered switching to the Republican Party, after seeing a documentary and learning about Ron Paul for the first time (a man with whom I was deeply impressed even then).

But it wasn't until 2012 that I really began to change my views.  The presidential election that year prompted that, combined with my desire to root my entire worldview in the Catholic faith, rather than judge the Catholic faith by values of the modern Western culture.  As a result, I was finally able to make sense out of what had seemed like anomalies before: why the Church and the Left had always seemed to be enemies in the past.

Even then, I fell victim to the opposite side of the same false dichotomy coin.  That is, I came to feel that monarchism and conservatism and patriarchy made sense, especially given Catholic Christianity but even without going solely by the faith but looking at other factors (including some that I had known for years but not thought about the full implications of).  But when I looked for bloggers and websites that said things that I thought were both true and important (precisely because they're still controversial and even hated in a day and age that claims "tolerance"), I often found people who hardly seemed Christian at all.  Certainly I was reticent to let them know I existed (though I did let some of them know by commenting on their blogs)--but they didn't seem like people I wanted to hang out with.  That left me feeling all the more lonely, and all the less like I belonged anywhere--especially when I concluded that even the human element of the Church (even the clergy) weren't safe.

I never flirted with neo-Nazism or white supremacy or the KKK at any time.  (I'd be a hypocrite to do so anyway, as I'm ethnically Jewish with some American Indian blood.  Plus I'm Catholic.)  The closest that I came was that I began to feel like I understood what such people really believe and why (as opposed to the propaganda against them by their enemies in power).  I also came to conclude that just because someone is labeled a "racist" or "anti-Semite" or "white supremacist", even by the mainstream media, doesn't make it true.  And I came to realize that two groups can consider each other their worst enemies...and still both be evil.  (And that the hypocrisy of doing and saying the right things but without love is even worse than doing and saying the wrong things sincerely.)

Hence I appreciate what God has shown me in the last several months.  I now believe that one of the Devil's biggest lies to us in the present day is the idea that objective morality is mutually exclusive with, and in fact at odds with, caring about real human beings.  That's a lie that has borne much rotten fruit--but worst of all is that people who believe it interpret it in opposite ways: some renounce objective morality (and therefore bodies like the Church that stress such a thing) in the name of "caring" about real individual human beings (or at least the groups they identify with); on the other hand, others use the name of objective morality (and worst, the name of God Himself) to keep real human beings (individuals and the groups they identify with) at arm's length, regarding them as "other" and not truly caring about them at all.

I'm grateful to the Lord for opening my eyes thus, lest I fall victim again to one or the other side.

And I'm also grateful that I'm coming to believe in Him more strongly than ever.  Otherwise, in light of Charlottesville, I might fear getting caught in the crossfire between the two groups.  (I guess we haven't learned the lesson from Romeo and Juliet, have we?)  Either that or that I might betray Christ and give myself over to one side or the other.

Certainly it wasn't until eight months ago that I stopped trying to predict the future.  But I still believe Our Lady when she said her Immaculate Heart will triumph.  That's not even an "if", only a "when".  And it's up to me--to all of us--to strengthen our relationships with God, through Mary, that we might unite in love.

And today is especially a day to give us hope in this regard.  Outside of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God incarnate, Mary was the first (and so far, only) human being ever to be raised from the dead in glory, and to be assumed into Heaven alive, body and soul alike.  This gives us hope that the same can happen for us.

Granted, Mary was without sin, unlike the rest of us, but part of the Nicene Creed which we repeat at every Mass says "I expect the resurrection of the dead".  That's a doctrine that existed with pre-Christian Israelites.  But that resurrection of the dead has already begun, now in the Christian Era: first with Jesus Christ, and then with His Blessed Mother Mary.

And if we abide in Christ, then by His grace we become children of Mary as well as children of God, as He alone is by nature.  Not only can we be forgiven our sins and have our souls go to Heaven when we die, but we can be raised from the dead on the Last Day and assumed into Heaven alive, body and soul alike, for all eternity.

But we can only do that by loving God and neighbor--and that means desiring for others what we want for ourselves.  If we would deny Heaven to others, we are rejecting it for ourselves.  We must pray for the living and the dead--especially our enemies.  As Christ said in His Sermon on the Mount:

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  (Matthew 5:43-48)

I'm especially inspired by Mark Heyer's example, the father of the woman who was killed, Heather Heyer.  He specifically mentioned Christ's words on the Cross: "Father, forgive them.  They don't know what they're doing." (Luke 23:34)  And he determined to forgive his daughter's murderer.

God bless Mr. Heyer!  That cannot have been easy.  And just as we pray for her soul, and for his comfort, we must also pray for her killer as her father's example indicates.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas and Protectress of the Unborn, pray for us!

Thank you for sharing part of your day with me.  God bless you.