O mortals, how long will you be heavy-hearted? Life has come down to you, and are you reluctant to ascend and live?
-Augustine of Hippo

the rare virtue of interior spaciousness

‘It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

‘But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few are vast as the whale!’

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

(I made this into a bookmark, if you’d like one, too {<–being a link to a special bookmark file}. It’s about 7×3 inches cut out: I printed on cardstock with my printer set to high resolution paper. The image above links to the bigger file without the whole quote, if you prefer a screensaver. This is really not pride about my whale, who turned out a little odd, I think: just my assumption that everyone else loves Moby Dick, too.)

a book is born

Today an old friend sent me a photos of Autumn leaves through microlenses.  The red and green cells were shattered with so many anfractuous veins of light.  It reminded of Psalm 84, and how in our hearts we know the way home (‘Blessed is the human who finds strength in you — highways are in his heart’, v. 5).  I think our heart-maps must be a tangle of shattered colors and tortuous light-lines.

But this post is meant to announce that I have suddenly finished work on the Six Swans!  I wanted it be done in time for the release of the fairy tale retelling that is coming out with Propertius Press, but I enjoyed working with a more typical picture book size so much that the publisher kindly let me have another few months to put West of Moonlight, East of Dawn into a more traditional picture book format.  I wound up making this story as a free flipbook to ‘show my work’, instead of trying to push people to buy something.  I’d rather let words speak for themselves to whoever wants to hear them. We write for someone, and we write in faith that someone will hear — or I don’t see what we have to say to one another. 

The flipbook will eventually be featured on Story Warren when West of Moonlight is available for pre-order.  Meanwhile, here is a poem about coming out West.  (I feel honored to have a poem in this issue — I copied quite a maze of light-lines into my notebook to try to keep.)

old words

I’ve been reading Barlaam and Josaphat, translated by Peggy McCracken.  Strangely, it keeps reminding me of The Little Prince — something about all the dialogues in this poignant parabolic light, the brightly colored simplicity of the words, and the sudden touching candor — where here and there, it says just what it means.

I don’t think our world outgrows old words.  A really eternal life, I read elsewhere this evening, is not only a quantity in length but a quality in depth.  It is easy to lose this understanding and grasp at every scant elongation along a {radically & inescapably} curtailed plane as the essence of ‘life’ — at the cost of life’s depth. Perhaps this is even easier in a technologically advanced age, where extension of self is possible along all sorts of undimensioned surfaces.  Barlaam and Josaphat is about life as a ‘quality in depth’.

This particular candid statement (set in the ‘featured image’) struck me, centuries later — true, if I can receive it.  But it was difficult to receive centuries ago.

a real book

One of my favorite of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales is about the adventures of a pompous little beetle.  This tiny personage sees the emperor’s horse being shod with golden shoes and stretches out its own legs to be illustriously shod.  When no gold beetle-shoes are forthcoming, he flies off in a huff, out into the great world, to prove that he is every bit as valiant as the emperor’s horse.

I have been experimenting with how to illustrate this one and am going to make and bind a physical book of big rice paper sheets, with text printed directly on them.  The ‘title’ was just an experiment, which I messed up in various ways (and I was not happy with that look for the beetle: I think I finally got the right look for him in the sketch. He *must* have little mustachios …).

I think I will also approach the swans story this way.  I love working with large sheets of rice paper.  I love hand made books.  My favorite memories of art museums are the old illuminated pages, individually drawn and lettered, of which only single copies exist.  There is something about the texture of the love with which they were created, of love’s illuminated rarity.

It echoes in my mind from how the Word became flesh — something, the apostle John says, that our hands could handle. Our age has increasingly moved away from enfleshment.  Even our contact with one another is often (especially now) ‘virtual’. The reasons for this are many-dimensioned, and have their advantages: I understand readily that personalities and work can extend over a wider mass, the less each separate thing is limited to its embodiment. God incarnate taught large crowds, but they were much smaller than lots of people’s twitter audiences.

But I believe in the precious rarity of enfleshment.  I will go on making my small efforts to cherish it.  Perhaps a single copy of this particular beetle-tale is all that will ever exist (and I doubt it will turn up in a museum; I’m no Michelangelo) … but maybe its adventures as a ‘real’ book before it decays will include the touch of someone who needs to feel the fragile grain of rice paper. Who needs to feel something of Love become finite, bound in edges — with molecules slipping away, with texture to the touch.