Monday, August 31, 2009

Enno (Part 4)


This is the last segment, and a somewhat unkind conclusion. Next week: something different.

(Part Four)

It had been a long night. Together we ushered in the new year, drinking, singing, laughing. A purple ridge of clouds painted the horizon, awaiting the coming of dawn with a quiet patience. All above remained a crystal, chilled blue. The trees appeared decorated with powdered sugar and globs of white frosting. An unbroken blanket of fresh snow carpeted the hillside.

We drove carefully till at last we arrived at his apartment.

"Sit. You will stay for one more, won't you?"

"I've already had too many. Let me go now."

"It won't do. Open another beer. You know where they are."

I refused to take off my coat, holding my gloves in my left hand, unpocketed keys in my right.

"Oh go on, then. Look at you."

The day was already ruined. I knew that. But I was afraid that if I sat down I wouldn't get up.

"Have I ever told you the story about Jose Cordenio?" Here it was. Fresh bait. A new story, if I would stay.

He never admitted to loneliness. Never owned up to a human feeling at all on that score. To what great lengths he would go, however, in order to keep me around.

"Jose Cordenio the writer? Friend of de Unamuno and Bunuel?"

"The same," he said.

"When did you know Jose Cordenio?"

"After the war. In Zurich. A strange man."

"Spanish, right?"

"From Barcelona. Left his homeland when Franco came to power. Had a Jewish wife who was taken by the Nazis when he was in Paris. The war did him terrible."

And so it was that I removed my coat and remained with him for the duration of two more beers. I drove home in silence, accompanied by an image of Jose Cordenio painted in tragic hues across the canopy of my soul while the crisp, brilliant sun -- reflected with such brightness that my eyes were stabbed with it -- illumined my way.

Happy New Year.

Depressing above all is this: the feeling of futility associated with all my efforts to achieve something worthwhile. Is my labor in vain?

Now seated on the emerging threshold of a new year, I see the expanse of time uncoiling before me and I ask myself, What? Which? How do I determine what is worthwhile and what is futile? Is it for love or money that we pour ourselves out?

At certain times our conversations gave me the feeling that I was standing poised on the rim of a mammoth crater, a terrible cavern of the soul that had been left vacant through some diabolical and catastrophic event in a former era of this man's life. He gave me glimpses of it, in the way he held his head, the compressed line of his mouth, in his words, his mannerism, his stillness. Then there were the glimpses when the shutter of his eye flashed horizontally and I saw, with clarity, but for an instant, the terrain of his heart, the whole devastated landscape, my vantage point being the rim of this terrible hollow crater, immensely deep, wide.

I would never have asked him to speak of it, but it was evident the time had come when he raised the matter himself. Like all other topics we examined, he would begin falteringly at first, backing into it by accusing me of not being interested in yet another tale of his, chiding, almost childishly, my disinterest. When at last I would concede, he would put me off further still, until I was torn between begging and giving up. Crazymaker he.

Now here it was. He would tell of the scar which time had never healed. He would speak of it plainly. He would tell the story that had never been told. Together we would examine his sorrow.

"So what is the truth?"

"Oh. This again," I said.

"I want to know why you created me."

"I don't know. I had a need, I guess."

"And now you never visit me. You went away and haven't been back in more than a year."

"Life goes on. I have other friends now."

His hand ran up to the side of his head and over the top, mussing his hair. "Is it a woman?"

I stared at the floor, my palms flat against my thighs.

"I don't like the way this is ending," he said. His voice was soft, resigned.

"It's best," I said. "I wanted people to know you, but now... I have a life, too. I have to get on with things."

"Where will I go? What will I do?"

"Does it matter?" I said. "You've been captured on paper and you will live. That's more than I can say about my own life. You will be remembered. I will be forgotten. That's just how it is."

"Oh, you'll be remembered," he chided. "You get the byline."

"Get out of here," I screamed.

It sounds harsh, but it's a writer's right, isn't it? I created him. I had grown tired of him.

It could have ended differently. I didn't torture him or shoot him or hang him or have him suffer through a long illness. I suppose it was cruel to neglect him and I've been feeling crummy about it. At last, he's finished. No nursing home. No intensive care. No hospital bills.

I'm waiting for some other character now. Someone who smiles a lot, with a mouthful of nice teeth and a sense of humor. I'm a bit weary of heavy, complicated characters. Someone funny would be great. Or maybe a talking animal. Hopefully we'll get along. Writers tend to develop their characters better when they care about them.

In the meantime... Enno... wherever you are.... I'm sorry. You're part of my past now. I needed to move forward.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

"Completed a short story last night: How To Fix A Color TV --- needs a better title, but the essential story is down, and I am pleased with some of the effects. Needs to be shared to get feedback on a couple spots, but overall I like what I've done. Am beginning to learn what 'show, don't tell' means. Am learning more about creating effects without cliches. (I hope!) Am also learning, hopefully, how to tell a story, how to establish pace, etc. I imagine I will again be criticized for not developing my characters. Need to make people see them visually. Have enjoyed getting it out on paper... 'vamos a ver.'"
Journal note, July 2, 1990

This is a journal note from a period in my life when I was attempting to find my voice as a fiction writer, striving to produce "serious fiction." I learned a lot about writing during this phase of my development, especially as it relates to story telling. Writing fiction improves one's non-fiction as well. The relating of anecdotes, the attention to detail, taking abstract observations and capturing them with a vivid concreteness... all these and more help improve one's work.

Following many years of short story writing I got bit by the Hollywood screenwriter dream after having appeared in the film Iron Will as an extra, 1993. (Probably the one film Kevin Spacey prefers left off his resume.) By the time I'd finished the third screenplay my Hollywood ambitions were played out, but those years of studying the process of story telling in film were quite instructive.

It's one thing to watch a movie, to get lost in its dream, and another to analyze how the director created the effects, built the characters, managed the tension, paced the plot development.

A co-worker who is a student of film (not scholastically, but through longstanding observation and a passion for excellence in the theater) told me last week that Inglorious Basterds is a film of such quality that it will be studied in film schools in the future. Hearing such high praise made it a "must see" film for me. Such praise is also a challenge because your expectations have been raised.

Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs is a cult classic, the first film where I covered my eyes in a scene since Kaltiki the Immortal Monster when I was eight. It's vulgar and violent, but told in a truly original style that brings it into sharp contrast with typical linear story telling. (OK, Kubrick did it in his first film The Killing, but 99.8% of the audiences who saw Dogs never heard of that.) When Pulp Fiction became a mega hit Tarantino, who once just worked in a video store, could do whatever he wanted. He was living the dream.

Obviously the guy loves violence, a seemingly constant theme throughout his work as exemplified in films like Death Proof, Grindhouse, the Kill Bill flicks and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, which was based on a story of his. (Woody Harrelson took a break from being Cheers' sweet Woody to take a walk on the wild side.) In short, Tarantino really enjoys finding new ways to splash blood onto the silver screen.

The thing is, this guy really knows how to tell a story. In point of fact there are scene so incredible in this film that I agree with my friend who says this film will be studied. The opening takes place at the home of a rural dairy farmer in Nazi occupied France, 1941. We see a small detachment of Germans driving up the winding road to his house. In real time the vehicles approach, the farmer telling his teenage daughters to get in the house. The Colonel, who it turns out is nicknamed "The Jew Hunter", acting magnanimously toward the farmer, sits at his table, shares a smoke and easy conversation. But there is no ease in the farmer. We feel the mounting tension, and initially suppose it relates to concern about his three daughters. As the scene slowly, ever so slowly plays out, we ourselves discover what the Colonel already suspected. There were Jews being harbored in the house.

Like Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino takes his time, allows this opening scene to play out, shows no urgency in moving the story forward. The cinematography in this case is as gorgeous as a panaramic Barry Lyndon/Kubrick landscape. The tension as pronounced as a shower scene in the Bates Motel. The acting spot on. And a bigger than life fairy tale has been set in motion.

Brad Pitt is superb as leader of the Basterds, a group of American soldiers who have been dropped behind enemy lines to unnerve the Nazis through especially brutal forms of viciousness. Taking scalps is the name of the game.

One variance from Dogs worth noting. I don't think there was any bad language used throughout. Violence is there in creative abundance, but I personally think the film was not hurt by this omission.

Much more could be said, but you can glean plenty from reading the many other reviews out there. I have to mention that the scene in the bar where Pitt's Basterds rendezvous with actress Bridget von Hammersmark is one of the most incredible scenes in film history, so simple, so smart, so unpredictable, so nerve-stretching and delivered with such patience. People will make a lot of whoop about the big finale no doubt, but it is the subtle development in scenes like this one that give a movie viewer real satisfaction.

For what it's worth, the story referenced in my journal note above ultimately won first prize in the five state Arrowhead Regional Arts Fiction Competition in 1991. The plot twists may not be as numerous as Tarantino's Basterds, but you might find it an entertaining read. One difference is that Tarantino's story is a fairy tale and mine, The Breaking Point, is true.... sort of, in a fictional kind of way.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Will Dylan Help You Find Direction Home?

How would you like to be together through life with Bob Dylan? I mean, when you’re driving in your car and you don’t know which way to go, you can turn on the GPS and, hey, you’ve got company. Yes, to drive beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, sillouhetted by the sea... heading on out to Highway 61, or wherever.

Oh where have you been driving my blue-eyed son?
Oh where have you been driving my darling young one?

Dylan created a stir the other night by mentioning on his BBC radio show that he's been in discussions with not one, but two sat nav companies as a candidate to be The Voice that leads you home.

The idea isn’t so novel when you discover that other celebs have already been actively directing peoples' drives, from John Cleese and Mr. T to a Sean Connery knock-off and the real Homer Simpson. (I don’t think I want to hear a “Doh!” every time I make a wrong turn though.)

My guess is that once the novelty wears off you won’t care too much who’s chattin’ at you as long as the directions are accurate. Whenever we stopped to ask for directions in Mexico they almost always said the same thing: “Todo derecho” which literally means, “All right” but we took to mean, “Just keep going straight ahead” because that’s where they were always pointing. Which meant the directions were usually useless.

The Dylan comments seem to have created quite a buzz, though. Was it a trial balloon to see how much interest there would be in the idea? Rumor has it that six other rock stars made similar comments on the air this past two months and not one story appeared in print afterwards, proof that Dylan’s still got pull and a lot of others are still just wannabes.

Journalists are having fun with the story though. I liked this one from the London Telegraph with the subhead “For anyone lost on their way to Maggie’s Farm, this might be just the thing.”

Then there's the guy in California, Jonathan Mann, who already wrote and YouTubed a "Sneak Preview" spoof version of what the new Dylan GPS system will sound like.

Actually, this guy Mann seems pretty clever. What Julie Powell did with a year's worth of Julia Child recipes, he's attempting to do with a year's worth of songs... writing one each day, turning it into a music video and airing it on YouTube. To get exposure he's been playing off the news, and is evidently getting a following.

Side street: Several years ago when podcasting first came into its own, a woman from the Dakotas podcast a song which she recorded each day and ultimately, by month's end obtained a $900,000 recording contract from Sony. I guess when you live in the middle of nowhere, you get exposure any way you can.

Back to the main road: Dylan in the news always becomes an occasion for me to share one or more of my Dylan paintings. The two pictures on this page were taken earlier thi month using the green sillouhette background which which was a foreground for my original Dylan profile. Or vice versa.

Heading down another side street... if you could have anyone in the world giving you directions on your GPS, who would it be? I can picture my brother choosing Cary Grant. He's smooth. But there are plenty of other pretty distinctive voices out there. Jimmy Stewart might be fun. Paul McCartney. How about Marlene Dietrich? "Dahling, I believe you just missed your turn."

Disclaimer: The comment about six other rock stars was strictly fiction.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Born Standing Up

Why do stand up clubs have a bright light facing the stage with the rest of the room dark? Why do people laugh? Why did the eggplant cross the road?

Answers to the first two questions will be found in Steve Martin's seriously interesting autobiography Born Standing Up. I first read this book when it came out two Christmases ago (yes, it was a Christmas gift) and just finished listening to the audio version this week. Martin reads it with a suitable mix of charm and gravity.

When I read the book two winters ago I was making my own fledgling first steps in stand up comedy. Before I even started down that path I knew I was not going far. Though I was born feet first, I was not born standing up. But I enjoyed the experience (comedy, not birth) and learned a few things about myself, and comedy, as well.

Martin's book shows how very difficult the climb will be if you are seriously seeking fame in the entertainment field. It is much more than being at the right place at the right time, as some suppose. One must be prepared and that preparation takes years. Martin learned the rudimentaries of entertainment as a teen selling magic tricks at Disneyland. He worked in one of those little slots where the guy does tricks to attract an audience, then sells the secret along with the trick. The patter, the timing, the confidence... it doesn't all come together in six hours in front of a mirror. Entertainment of all kinds involves audience response, and usually a venue.

Stand up comics seldom have a perfect venue. There is always background noise, other activity going on and sometimes even hecklers. Learning how to deal with these distractions is all part of the prep.

The book, however, is also about a guy from a family with a sister, a mom and a dad. Without dwelling on it, early in the book he shares the degree of abuse he endured from his father. In summing up this chapter he writes, "I have heard it said that a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts. I tell you this story of my father and me to let you know I am well qualified to be a comedian."

The many anecdotes about other comedians, television personalities and musicians whose lives criss-crossed his own all help to place Martin's story into a context. But the family stories are important because in the book's summing up, there is closure with both his mom and dad. And he uses this experience, and the wise words of another friend, to remind readers that life is short and the opportunity for closure will not always be there.

For people who find this wild and crazy guy to be funny, the book spells out the philosophy behind what he was trying to achieve with his humor. If you did not always get it, it might be because sometimes there was nothing to "get".

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview with James D. Nickel on Mathematics: Is God Silent? (Part 2)

This is the second part of an my interview with James D. Nickel, author of a book intriguingly titled Mathematics: Is God Silent? I still have my dog-eared original copy of his first edition with its silver book jacket. Straight up you could tell the theme had been thoroughly researched, and I especially liked the preponderance of illustrative material. But the 400+ page 2001 edition incorporated such a quantity of new information and research that the first, weighing in at a scant 126 pages, almost feels like an outline.

If you are a home school teacher, math teacher or simply someone who has not had your last spark of interest in math crushed out of you by the public school systems, this book is worthy of your attention. You can order it today at

Now, back to the interview.

Ennyman: Who have been your biggest influences?
JDN: As mentioned earlier, Dr. Glenn R. Martin of Indiana Wesleyan University. His life is an example of mentorship at its finest. He took an interest in me in 1979 and, in the subsequent years, he always had a “word” of counsel and encouragement for me. When he passed away in 2004, I felt like I had lost my right arm. Other men of import are reformed theologian and educator Rousas J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) and Roman Catholic historian of science Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009). Both of these men took the time to answer my personal questions and to encourage and exhort me in my work. Dr. Rushdoony was responsible for getting my book published in 1989. Jaki liked talking to a “Protestant who thinks.”

Authors who have influenced my worldview thinking are Abraham Kuyper, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, Vern Poythress, Albert M. Wolters, and Greg Bahnsen. In mathematics, the authors I really appreciate are Morris Kline, Stanley L. Jaki, Harold R. Jacobs, Carl Boyer, Eli Maor, Paul J. Nahin, Howard Eves, Calvin C. Clawson, Jerry P. King, Rózsa Péter, I. M. Gelfand, A. P. Kiselev, Edward Burger, Michael Starbird, and David Berlinski.

Ennyman: What is the biggest challenge for Christians who strive to communicate a Biblical worldview into the secular disciplines?
JDN: The biggest challenge is to communicate the distinctiveness and absoluteness of Truth (i.e., the propositions that conform to the nature of reality). The deconstructionism of postmodern philosophy is infiltrating every aspect of our culture (even the evangelical world is succumbing to it; read any of the “cutting edge” emergent authors for some relevant examples). Although postmodernists retain some form of “truth” commitment (albeit entirely of the personal nature or “we will know it sometime in the future”), deconstructionism dulls the sharp knife of objective truth (trans-cultural and trans-personal) to such an extent that it cannot cut anything anymore. Francis Schaeffer’s analysis in the late 1960s and 1970s has prophetic application today. He said, “Absolutes imply antithesis.” There is thesis and there is antithesis (there is Truth and there is Falsity). Either God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture (this is the sharp blade of Truth) or He is not. Postmodern emergents reject antithetical thinking by saying, “We really cannot know what God has revealed about Himself, in terms of propositional Truth, because, since you must ‘know’ that everything is radically perspectival, we cannot ‘know’ the objective meaning of Scripture.” Do you see the logical conundrum, i.e., using an absolute to deny an absolute?

Our world today thinks, not antithetically, but in terms of the Hegelian dialectic. There is thesis and there is antithesis. But, Truth (with a capital “T”) is no longer a matter of embracing the thesis and rejecting the antithesis. It is accepting both as valid with the knowledge that truth (lower case “t”) will eventually evolve in some form of synthesis. Unfortunately, for such dialecticians, synthesis produces synthetic seed that will bear no tangible and lasting fruit.

Biblical Christians must start with what the Bible reveals about the nature of Truth, the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, and the nature of ethics. The Bible answers the foundational philosophical questions: (1) “What is the nature, purpose, and destiny of the cosmos?” and (2) “What is the nature, purpose, and destiny of man?” The answers to these questions, as are the answers to every foundation question (e.g., “Why does mathematics work?”), are theological. Either we start with God as He is revealed in Scripture or we start with man. As the playwright T. S. Elliot (1888-1965) once said, “The end is in the beginning.” Since God is the Alpha and the Omega (and all points in-between), to start anywhere else is the antithesis of wisdom. Biblical Christians must know what they believe and why and what they do not believe and why. Then, as we engage in the disciplines of life (mathematics or anything else), we must seek to master the discipline, master Biblical Christian starting points (called presuppositions), and then seek to reinterpret the discipline under study in terms of Biblical Christian starting points (or Biblical Christian perspectivalism). To quote Dr. Martin, “Reinterpretation is hard work, but a required work of the Biblical Christian scholar.”

Ennyman: Do you have another book you’re working on at present? What’s next?
JDN: Since 2001, I’ve been working on several books (all, unfortunately, still incomplete … the requirements of living sometimes get in the way of writing!). I’ve written nearly 1500 pages that currently form two books, “Mathematics: Building on Foundations,” and “The Wonders of God in Arithmetic.” I am posting quite a bit of this written work on my web site ( as a form of peer review. I am also working on another book to be entitled “Tapestries of the Incarnation.” It is a study of the historical backdrops of Matthew 1 and Luke 1-3.

Ennyman: The new projects sound intriguing. Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Interview with the Author of Mathematics: Is God Silent?

I met James D. Nickel at Bethany Fellowship in 1976, a Missionary Training Center in Bloomington, MN. We were both amongst the older set of freshman who came in that year, have been through college and a bit more seasoned by life, which added value and perspective to our experience.

In those days we called him Jim. At 6'6" with brillo pad hair he was someone you looked up to. I did, especially, as the shortest member of our Bethany Men's Quartet, which we originally called The Glory Boys, along with 6'5" Jim Towner and my 6'2" room mate Ken. With Jim Nickel's great bass voice (I chimed in at high tenor) we'd sing in the stairwells (the acoustics were terrific), in the dining hall, and eventually at a number of churches around the Twin Cities. Those were fun memories.

A major feature of the school's training was a research paper called the Senior Project. I remember reading a draft of Jim's paper and being impressed with his lucidity on this topic. Eventually the seeds of that research led to his commitment to complete a richly insightful book called Mathematics: Is God Silent?

Rather than break this interview into three segments, I will violate the principle of keeping blog entries brief and dissect the interview in half, the rest to follow tomorrow. Please read it all because James offers a wealth of insight here.

Ennyman: When did you first take an interest in mathematics?
JDN: High school, the result of the influence of my Algebra/Geometry teacher Wilbert Reimer (1965-1967). Unlike most high school math teachers, he was a mathematician and he knew what he was doing. He was tall, thin, reserved (when something excited him, he merely “raised his eyebrows”), and possessed a quiet, yet sparkling wit. He would give extra credit questions on his math tests like, “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” and “When was the War of 1812 fought?”

In college, I decided to major in math (simply because of all the subjects, I liked it the most). My freshman Calculus instructor was Larry Walker, a former World War II B17 bombardier. I remember him connecting math to the parabolic flight of bombs as they are released from the bomb bay … unforgettable images!

As the course material advanced beyond differential and integral calculus, it seemed like I had entered into an n dimensional domain of transcendent abstract analysis, aimed not at the Elysian fields of delight, but at the specter of the null and the void. On graduation day, I made an internal vow, “I will never open another math book again as long as I live.” I had the opportunity then to go into graduate school but why study the void? I chose a more practical and financial rewarding route … computer programming (where I spent nearly 25 years of my working life).

After college and entering the work force (1973), my interest in mathematics waned. I was seeing it connected to something tangible, though, because of my work for the United States Navy (I had to write code dealing with three-dimensional coordinate systems tracking F14A Tomcat test flights).

In 1976, I traded work (and its mathematical connections) for missionary training. I never thought I would ever be involved with mathematics again, but, as part of my training (1978-1979), I found myself teaching a year of high school math in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (with Youth With A Mission). In this tropical paradise, my interest in mathematics was rekindled after meeting, in April of 1979, Dr. Glenn R. Martin (1935-2004), professor of history at Indiana Wesleyan University (then known as Marion College). In a series of profound lectures, he affirmed that all knowledge is understood in terms of presuppositions and that mathematics needed to be studied (and, more importantly, reinterpreted) on that basis. These lectures formed a catalyst that brought mathematics back under my purview, but this time on a foundational and thereby highly motivating level! I began a long and pleasurable journey of rethinking the subject, a study that eventually culminated in the publication (first printing in 1989) of Mathematics: Is God Silent?

Ennyman: What were the most surprising things you discovered as you studied the lives of great mathematicians while working on your first book, Mathematics: Is God Silent?
JDN: I had never known anything about the lives of the great mathematicians, especially the key ones … Galileo, Kepler, Newton, etc. In the early months of 1982, before leaving the States to work as a Christian schoolteacher in Australia, I read Morris Kline’s Mathematics and the Physical World (1959). In it (p. 119), he had this quote by Kepler from The Harmony of the World (1619), “The wisdom of the Lord is infinite; so also are His glory and His power. Ye heavens, sing His praises! Sun, moon, and planets glorify Him in your ineffable language! Celestial harmonies, all ye who comprehend His marvelous works, praise Him. And thou, my soul, praise thy Creator! It is by Him and in Him that all exists. That which we know best is comprised in Him, as well as in our vain science. To Him be praise, honor, and glory throughout eternity.” Astonished, I thought, “I never learned this in school!” Thus, during my years in Australia (1982-1987), I researched the lives of many famous mathematicians and scientists. I spent countless (and highly enjoyable) hours at the library of the University of Adelaide combing through stacks of books, both off the shelves and from its special loan section. The most surprising discovery that I made was reading Kepler. He would write page after page of math equations and then, overwhelmed by what he was seeing in them, pause to write a psalm of praise to God! Then, he would continue with his equations and, a few pages later, stop and compose another paean!

Another fascinating mathematician I learned about is Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), a man whose gift of systematics enabled him to explore and expose a multiplicity of “unities in diversities” within the structure of mathematics. Euler, the mathematician, was also a gifted teacher (you cannot always equate the two). He wrote one of the first textbooks on the Calculus and every succeeding Calculus textbook (approaching “infinity” as a limit!) owes Euler a substantial debt. Everyone should read his fascinating “Letters to a German Princess” (1768-1772). As a committed Christian, Euler often received the vitriolic “wit-wrath” of Voltaire and other French atheists. One of them, Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827), encapsulated Euler’s influence on mathematics, “Read Euler, read Euler, he is the master [i.e., teacher] of us all.”

Kline and a host of other mathematics historians are naturalistic in their presuppositions. To them, the devotion of Kepler (and others like him) to God form an anomaly. Science historian Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009) amplifies the reason why, “When historians are baffled by ‘the religious convictions that formerly motivated some of the finest research,’ it is because they have never experienced what it means to look at the world as the product of a personal, rational Creator” (The Road of Science and the Ways to God, p. 47).

Not all of the scientists and mathematicians of the 16th to 18th centuries were thorough going and consistent Christians, but all of them, Christian and non-Christian, were doing mathematics in a framework or cultural ambiance built upon Biblical Christian truth: (1) God is a Wise and Rational Creator and (2) His creation reflects His wisdom and rationality. Hence, we can expect to find, via mathematics and science, laws that are “commentaries” on the “language fabric” of creation.

Ennyman: Why is it that so many people seem to be intimidated by math, especially the higher levels like trig and calculus?
JDN: Primarily, the intimidation comes from two sources: (1) the symbology and (2) the disconnect with wonder. Mathematics is a unique language and, in order to appreciate its wonder and power, you must first master its grammar. Many math teachers (and textbooks) do not know how to teach this grammar in a way that engenders mastery. Professor Warren W. Esty of Montana State University has written a wonderful text that attempts to fix the problem: The Language of Mathematics.

In the 1960s, Morris Kline said, in effect, that math teachers know little of how to connect mathematics to the physical world (i.e., science). Since then, nothing much has changed (but there are some splendid exceptions … see the textbooks written by Harold R. Jacobs as an example). My daughter’s College Calculus teacher just taught the “mechanics” of the subject. He never connected any of the concepts to history or physics (where the methods of the Calculus really “shine”). More students would get excited about math if a teacher taught it in a classroom with “walls open to the outside world.” Topics of biography, history, and elementary physics are portals to wonder. For one example of how to do this, see my essay on the rainbow.


As one who both loved and burned out on mathematics during my school years, I find these thoughts inspirational. Come back tomorrow for the rest of this valuable interview.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I think that I shall never see...

Most of us are probably familiar with Joyce Kilmer's famous ode to trees that begins thus:

I think that I shall never see
a poem as lovely as a tree.

One of the few poems of greater fame in this century might be Robert Frost's Two Roads, or the schoolyard ditty, "I'm a poet, and I know it." Though I am not precisely sure where the rest of that one goes.

What got me thinking about Kilmer's poem was an article I saw titled 10 Reasons Why Social Is Your Future SEO Strategy.

You're probably wondering what the link is between SEO marketing and poems about trees, but it's not much of a stretch from where I sit. Let's step back and look at the Southwest. Ansel Adams comes along and is utterly fascinated by the play of light on the western hills. Another family comes along with four teenage boys who see it as a recreational playground for their off-road vehicles. Another artist paints, and yet another writes inspired poetry. Then the entrepreneur comes along with a team of geologists. "This looks like the kind of rock that houses copper," or whatever. He raises a team of investors and they do exploratory drilling.

In other words, different people bring different perspectives to nearly everything. Artists and entrepreneurs are often at opposite ends of the spectrum here, but the most famous artists were usually pretty good business people, or got in league with them.

So it is with the Internet. In the 90's (the Middle Ages of Internet) the lay of the land was being transformed rapidly as countless settlers entered cyberspace and built web pages. These explorers were soon followed by eCommerce entrepreneurs who indeed saw dollar signs and reaped a harvest of them.

In what is called Web 2.0, the social networking spheres have ascended to prominence. In 2004 these were spurned by many entrepreneurs as time wasting distractions... like doing business in a bar. (I suppose it would depend on what kind of business you were doing.) MySpace and FaceBook grew into giants and other social networking siblings like Plaxo, LinkedIn and Twitter followed. Most of the people on Facebook and MySpace were initially simply fulfilling a natural human need: to socialize. Many were looking for like minded friends and others serious relationships. Ultimately, entrepreneurs recognize a market when they see one and now we have a horde of them scratching their heads trying to figure out how to crack this new nut.

10 Reasons is a pretty good article for eCommerce professionals. It all starts with one critical component: Content.

Did I forget to mention the link between the article and trees? It was this. One man looks at a tree and sees a poem. Another gets inspired to paint a picture. A third wishes to climb it and hang a rope on it for a tire swing. The fourth chops it down to make rocking chairs. (Hopefully he is growing more in its place.)

In the meantime, don't lose touch with your aesthetic self. After all, we're human, with hearts and souls.... not machines.

by Joyce Kilmer

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day, 5
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain. 10

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Enno (Part 3)


Part 3

One wonders.... I wonder, if our hatred of things in others is chiefly due to our fear of discovering them in ourselves? I cite weakness here. When I’m not guarding myself I find myself intolerant of weakness in others. Stupidity, too. I hate stupidity. Do I fear being considered stupid?

It's not an obsession, but maybe I fear I am lazy as well. I won't allow myself the luxury of rest and diversion. We live but once and have but one opportunity to leave our mark in time.

I remember when I first learned that Marco Polo was not the first to find a road to China. His name has been preserved only because he had the ill luck of being forced to share a prison cell with a writer. Writers love good stories. It gives them something worthwhile to practice their craft on. This was how Enno had impressed himself upon me. He would be the object of my art.

Immortality was a recurrent theme in our talks. He claimed that the true immortals were those who most fully understood and embraced the futility of their lives and their work.

But it is not so much the quest for life as the fear of death -- the void and Nothingness -- that drives us. Anything, anything to escape the solitariness of our passage through time toward the predetermined end.

He questioned me about my own work, but I couldn't help feeling my answers did not interest him.

This was only natural, of course. He existed in a world of his own. I frequented that world, sought to experience it, capture it, record, it, but could not expect him to have the same interest in mine.

When I expressed interest in his stories, his experiences, he clucked and trilled like a bird, twittering with delight. If, because of some temporary melancholy, I were somewhat less enthusiastic about hearing his autobiographical discourse, he clammed up, even turned on me, accusing me of hating him.

"I am not interesting enough for you, eh?" he said bitterly. My protests would finally win out.
The game -- we both knew it to be as such -- required two players. His role was to act insulted, mine to abase myself. It's a curious thing, these interpersonal dynamics. The eagerness with which I seek the worm position, prostrate, ashamed... And for what reward? The friendships it provides, I suppose.

Was it love or fear, however, that brought me here to seek Enno's company? It would have been easy to say love, my concern for a crusty old man who had no one else save me.

But the truth, always less comforting when faced honestly, remains quite otherwise. Was it not loneliness that compelled me? In my selfishness I needed a companion, lest my earthly sojourn be a tad bit too solitary.

At one time his presence in a room produced a dominating impression upon people, no matter how large the room or how many the people.

Today, he is half a man. His physical stature has so deteriorated that he can barely sit up at times. Thus I force him to eat, to take regular meals. "You need nourishment," I say. "Your strength is down."

"I forget how good it is to eat."

He neglects everything but his music. Beethoven, Sibelius, Grieg, Bach. "Bocchhhhhh," he declaims with an exaggerated guttural display.

And if I let him, he neglects me as well.

Slats of light paint a zebra hide across his features as he tells me again of his escape during the war. Only this time I question in more detail. Times, places, distances, dates. His memory is hazy and he chafes at this probing for details. Suddenly it appears I am too interested. There is no middle ground.

"I am wasting your time," he says dismissively.

"No, I'm interested. Please, tell me the story again of how you escaped to Switzerland."

"I was working in a small town in western Austria--"

"What was the name of the town?"

"I don't know. It was a small town. It's too small to be on any map. It was a very small town."


"Somewhere near the border. Less than a mile from the Swiss border."

"How far from Vienna?"

"No, no, no. Vienna is not anywhere near Switzerland. Must you be so stupid?"


Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Response to Post-Modern Relativism

“To understand a philosopher’s metaphysics, look at the morality it leads to.” ~Nietzsche

For a more penetrating look at this topic I commend to you Dr. Peter Kreeft's A Refutation of Moral Relativism about which one reviewer wrote, "Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, examines the definition, history, and importance of moral relativism. He makes an impeccable case that the current controversy over the nature of morality -- that is, whether it be relative or absolute -- is THE most crucial debate of our time.

"The book opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking about Western culture. We are so conditioned to believe that morality is relative that such conditioning affects our thinking, our language and diction, our schooling, our media, and (obviously) our morality -- our very way of life (and thus, maybe, our afterlife?). Kreeft makes the case that, with so much at stake, we cannot afford to be wrong."

The book has been written to be entertaining, not simply erudite. Check it out. Or at the very least, check out the reviews.

EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. Feel free to click on images to enlarge.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sitting Bull

“Only seven years ago we made a treaty by which we were assured that the buffalo country should be left us forever. Now they threaten to take that from us also.” ~Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (Tatanka Yotanka) was the great chief of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux who is credited with defeating General Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It could be argued that Custer destroyed himself, but this might diminish Sitting Bull’s role as a great man and for me I wish not to do so.

Chief Sitting Bull is on my short list of great men from whom lessons in leadership can be gleaned.

The relationship between white settlers and the robust tribal peoples who once populated this continent is certainly a tragic episode in history. It isn’t just the slaughters that took place, the misunderstandings, the broken treaties, the disease which ravaged the native populations… but rather, the loss of a way of life that was meaningful to those who valued it.

In the tribal cultures a chief did not attain his stature by a college degree or pedigree or appointment from some higher authority. And even if he had done so, no one would follow him or obey him unless they respected him. Thus, when the Sioux Nation gathered in Montana in the largest assembly of tribal peoples ever, it could only mean that the chief to whom these natives had been drawn was an exceedingly respected man. Respect was the coin of his worth.

By way of contrast, Custer was an ambitious, impetuous, arrogant jerk. But he was general and in U.S. military fashion his men were to fear and obey him. His wife spent thirty years writing books attempting to mythologize his greatness, but a simple reading of the details of his life paints a pretty clear picture.

I offer up my Sitting Bull portrait as a tribute to a great man. The expression is grim for he sees the future for his peoples. Yet, there is a dignity in the features, and if you can find the time to read his story, there are many lessons there on being a leader and a man.

EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. Feel free to click on images to enlarge.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tina Mion’s New Year's Party In Purgatory For Suicides

Dealing with the suicide of a friend or loved one has to be one of life’s greatest challenges. Like nervous breakdowns, it’s one of those phenomena we don’t fully understand. It frightens us a little, and the added burden of guilt associated with our failing to recognize any clues or properly interpret them weighs on us. Add to this the heaviness associated with eternal judgments that leave us confused about helpless… and you have a messy stew of unresolved grieving that has no clear cut resolution.

Because of the number of suicides or suicide attempts that my brother and I had known while younger, we discussed the possibility of a writing a book to increase awareness, comfort the hurting and perhaps discover answers for ourselves regarding unasked questions. There are, however, other ways in which people deal with the issue of suicide.

On the way to the Grand Canyon this past spring Susie and I stopped to see that corner in Winslow Arizona made famous by the Eagles in the song Takin’ Is Easy. Though the famous corner makes a memorable pit stop, the real treat for people passing through Winslow is La Posada Hotel, a few blocks to the east. La Posada is a National Landmark and officially the last great railroad hotel, built in 1929 for the Santa Fe Railroad. The life span of this historic structure was less than thirty years before it went dormant in 1957. Forty years later, a pair of new owners brought it back to life as a museum piece and hotel among other things.

I mention this only by way of introduction to the wonderful artist we discovered there.

I’ve never met Tina Mion, but for sure I am in awe of her work. Her portraits of first ladies are remarkable. Her life story itself is quite remarkable as well, as much as I can glean from the bio on her website.

So it was against the backdrop of my own interest in suicide (as a subject) that I had my breath taken away by my encounter with Tina Mion’s 7 x 18 foot painting A New Year’s Party In Purgatory For Suicides in which Liberace makes a guest appearance down from heaven just for the hell of it.

For me the painting made an impression because of the significant people who were present there. (The darkly amusing title also helped.) Artists, writers, musicians… all famous, all victims by their own hand. I was taken in, and wished we hadn’t been in such a hurry. Fortunately, an interactive version of the work is accessible online where we not only identify the names of the partygoers, but can also read about each of their suicide stories.

This here above is just the center portion of the painting. The actual painting is much wider with a far more comprehensive guest register. I recommend you visit her website to take in the full breadth of her remarkable work. An art school dropout, she set about to follow her own muse and not the conventions of her contemporaries. Very recently her work has achieved deserved recognition by the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. where she has a room of her own as one of five women defining 21st century portraiture.

I was personally impressed by the intellectual depth, accessible imagery, dark humor and sensitivity expressed in her work. Please take your time and get engaged. She’s both thought provoking and poignant. Thank you, Tina, for sharing your vision.

About the piece, she writes:

In the summer of 2003, I was feeling out of step with the art world, so I decided to throw a party to lift my spirits. The guest list and seating chart were rewritten all summer. By autumn, I began to paint, and the guests began arriving, all of them suicides except for Liberace. As the festivities got underway, I ran about nightly like a frazzled hostess until I finally threw up my hands and let people seat themselves. Some guests were no-shows and others arrived unexpectedly. The party took on a life of its own. No longer the master of ceremonies, I took a seat among the revelers — that’s me blowing a noisemaker.

Early in the 14th century, Dante Alighieri placed suicides in the second lowest level of his Inferno. Many major religions likewise condemned suicides to hell; my feeling is that this only adds to this pain of the families and shuts the topic behind closed doors. By taking an empathetic view of suicide, I chose to herald them into purgatory, and throw them a New Years party. Since a suicide defined the end of each guest’s time on earth, a party that marks the passage of time seemed somehow relevant. The guests bear the reminders of their final act: Sylvia Plath wearing potholders, Arshile Gorky with a noose necktie. This painting shows celebrities, friends, and people I knew. Liberace did not commit suicide but loved a party, especially one with so many interesting people, so he is visiting from heaven. One of his poodles sits on his lap, thus answering the question, “Do dogs have souls?” I’ve included all kinds of suicide: death by substance abuse, unbearable grief, a sudden deadly depression, a rational end to pain, a loss of hope, overwhelming loneliness. I do not condone suicide, but it has touched all our lives, mostly in silence. It is so prevalent in our society that it deserves to be depicted and discussed.

I hope this painting helps.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Julie and Julia

Last night Susie and I went to a theater to see Julie and Julia, a delightfully original story involving cooking, writing, blogging and relationships, starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and a lot of wonderful foods. We were celebrating our 30th anniversary (yes, such things are possible these days) and so we began, appropriately, with dinner. We’d intended Italian but ended up with Mexican, sharing a delicious bowl of molcaheta. I also had a relleno a la carte. Yum.

Julie and Julia is a refreshing alternative to testosterone laden heavy-SFX schlock featuring aliens, explosions, and other characterless Hollywood fare. Director Nora Ephron assembled a film with original characters you enjoy being with. And food, gloriously appetizing, rich and tasty.

Amy Adams is Julie, a woman who decides to start a blog in which she intends to make over 500 recipes in 365 days, from the groundbreaking cookbook that put Julia Child on the cultural map. Julie’s story is woven back and forth with Julia Child’s story, and Streep is just plain fun throughout. The film is a great summer escape, or winter retreat if you wait for the DVD.

Writers might enjoy the challenges writers face in striving for publication. Child’s French cooking cookbook took eight years to produce (this was back when carbon paper was an essential) and not easily sold to the U.S. market. Authors will also recognize the challenges involved in collaborations, in renegotiated agreements with friends and co-authors as well when one is not pulling his or her weight.

The film is also a great insight into the world of a committed blogger. “Is anybody out there reading this schlock?” Julie wonders more than once. Yet she remains committed to her task, never compromises her commitment to high standards and is ultimately rewarded for seeing it through.

Even though both are true stories, one can come away with the impression that a year of blogging will land you in the New York Times resulting in a boatload of editors and agents seeking to get you signed.

Lucky Julie got her dream… the opportunity to write and get published, and to escape living above a pizza place in the Queens. Her husband comes across as a good guy, and maybe, just maybe she will end up on her 30th anniversary going to dinner and a movie based on a story by this here blogger, yours truly. Wouldn’t that be an interesting twist.

Good luck Julie in the rest of your endeavors.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Literature Elevates Us

In light of Tuesday night's presentation on Picasso, Storytelling and The Unseen Masterpiece, this seemed a suitable follow-up while being a nod to Throwback Thursday. This originally appeared on August 19, five summers ago.

In addition to the philosophy club which we host, Susie has been for ten years involved with a Barnes & Noble classic books club in which each month the group reads and discusses some of the world's great literature. The group has seen its share of ebb and flow but one constant throughout has been the classics, literature that goes beyond its moment in time.

What's the difference between a good book and a classic? To illustrate, I'll point to the business book Built to Last by Jim Collins. In Collins' analysis, the great companies are those that have dedicated themselves to the long haul. They hang their shingle on the word excellence at every level of the game. By way of contrast, and this was the plight of the tech bubble, many companies were being built to flip. That is, from the outside they looked like good companies but the management disregarded strengthening the foundations for the sole aim of getting bought out at a very high price, bringing profits the stakeholders.

So it is that writers have different aims when they produce books. The Jonestown Massacre took place the year I worked in a bookstore in Puerto Rico, in 1978. The Peoples Temple tragedy occurred in November, and to my utter amazement two books appeared on this topic before the end of the year. These books, long forgotten now, would not be deemed literature. They were rushed to market with the intent of exploiting the moment and are examples of a "built to flip" style of writing.

Books written to exploit the moment are not necessarily bad books, and can be informative, often timely and have a measure of value, though many are clearly written with the hope of making a buck, its only aim quite transparent. On the other hand, classics aspire to something greater. Classic fiction strives to participate in the great dialogue, our human story, bringing additional light into the great battle of light verses darkness. Unlike books on how to make a killing on Wall Street or how to raise your son to be a doctor, the great stories wrestle with ethical issues, the problem of evil and questions like Why am I here? Where did I come from? Who am I and what is my life about?

In other words, the great books deal with great themes.

Another factor in the great books is the writing itself. The importance of the theme motivates the great writers to strive for a perfection of language that is effective for higher purposes, laboring over his selection of words and sentences to more eloquently convey the ideas and the story. Hence the phrase belles letres, beautiful letters. The aim is not only a worthy theme, but writing that is worthy of the theme.

My view on these matters has been significantly shaped by John Gardner, who wrote, "Thus the value of great fiction, we begin to suspect, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations." (The Art of Fiction)

Gardner's high view of literature stems from a high view of humankind.

Leo Tolstoy had this to say about the writer's task: "The main purpose of art... is this, that it tell the truth about the soul, revealing and giving expression to all the secrets one cannot say in simple words.... Art is a microscope that the artist focuses on the secrets of his own soul, and that then reveals to men the secrets common to them all."

There are two metaphors I've frequently used regarding our personal stories, which help us not only understand our human condition but also help us to better understand God. The first is the image of a chandelier. Picture a large ball of cut glass (or jewels, diamonds, whatever) and in the middle is the light, which we cannot see, but which is reflected through each jewel. We are the jewels. Our stories, and transparency, make the light more vivid. We each make a contribution to the human story, and our role is to do it the best we are able, first in learning how to understand our stories and then fine tuning our ability to communicate the story.

The second image is that of a fly's eye. (Yes, I know flies are creepy to to people, but go with me on this.) The eye of a fly has two thousand faces, which enables it to see in multiple directions. These multiple images are then synthesized in the fly's brain into something coherent. So it is with our own manifold stories. Each contributes to the whole of our understanding of the human situation.

Remember growing up and thinking every family was like yours? Then you discover that not only families are different, lives are totally different based on where you are from, etc.

I'm out of time and will have to leave off discussing Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country or Andre Gide's Two Symphonies, Melville's Moby Dick or Dickens, Conrad and Twain.

If you write, aim high. In the process you will not only achieve more for yourself, but might lift others as well. Let your light shine and your story be told.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Woodstock Myths and Realities

For the past several weeks I’ve been planning to write something about Woodstock, simply because the theme seems obligatory at some point during the month of this 40th anniversary year. When I stumbled upon the article The backlash against Woodstock's 40th anniversary it seemed like a good start point.

Michael Lang’s article is mildly tinged with a cynical contempt for the overindulgent homilies to this symbolic moment in time. He begins in this manner:

Reaching the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival can only mean one thing: nostalgia. It’s been in plentiful supply during the past few months. Predictable retrospectives have been written. An obligatory Blu-ray DVD of Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 documentary Woodstock has been released, with a multitude of extras and a hideously tacky dashiki cover. Even the director Ang Lee is capitalising on the occasion with his portrait of Elliot Tiber, a key figure in finding the festival site, in the forthcoming feature film Taking Woodstock. While those boxes of remembrance have all been ticked, an official 40th anniversary concert is off the agenda.

I myself bought into many of the hippie ideals of the time, but I wasn't blind to the manipulations that were taking place as well. The notion of city kids dropping out and living off the land in communes was a fantasy no one in their right minds could expect to work for raising families, but there were a few kernels of value within the ideals, such as living more simply, sharing, the importance of community among others. Unfortunately, in a broken world these ideals tend to deteriorate in the face of rank selfishness and irritating pettiness.

Lang points out that the commercialism surrounding the anniversary has been part of the Festival since the beginning. He also addresses the co-opting of the Flower people by political machinations.

In truth, the rebellious flower-power spirit so closely intertwined with the American pop culture of the 1960s was in its death throes by the time Woodstock happened. The youthful push towards liberal politics, social unity and higher states of consciousness reached a peak in 1967 with the Human Be-In, in San Francisco, which popularised hippie culture, giving rise to the so-called Summer of Love later in the year. Subsequently, the term “counterculture” became a part of the national idiom, but the hippie movement’s rapid growth also signalled its dilution. In 1968, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the ensuing chaos at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, left political reformists floundering. The slaying of Martin Luther King Jr further polarised the civil-rights movement between nonviolent protesters and the growing “by any means necessary” contingent. Meanwhile, the nationwide unrest over the escalating Vietnam conflict grew ever more pronounced. Perhaps most damning for the hippie populace, however, was Nixon’s victory in the 1968 presidential election — something he achieved, in part, by appealing to that “silent majority” of the electorate who viewed the counterculture as an ugly blot on the American landscape.

The article is worth reading only as a balancing act against the nostalgic hype, though frankly it (the hype) has been much less than I expected actually. Forty years is about the right amount of time for nostalgia to come to fruition. Barbie and Slinky each made a brief comeback at forty.

For an alternate view of how the rock festival scene played out, check out the film Gimme Shelter, a documentary which follows the Rolling Stones who went on tour in late 1969, culminating in the ugly out-of-control free concert at Altamont Speedway in Oakland. Not pretty. And the Isle of Wight festival that followed was even more harrowing.

Hopefully idealism among youth will not be a passing fancy. I'll be more disappointed if we find our young people to be cynics from the getgo, attracted more to apathy than to dreams of a better future for those generations to come.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Enno ~ Part 2


Every story begins with a seed, since only God can create ex nihilo. This story was written at a time when I was taken up with the idea of being the next Hemingway or Fitzgerald, the seed being Fitzgerald's The Crack Up. My guess is that I have been a much happier man having not achieved such fame. Hemingway's life ended in an intimate experience with a shotgun, and the author of the Great Gatsby drank himself to death. Being celebrated does not necessarily correlate to happiness. Nevertheless, having written this during a period when I believed serious literature had to be grim to be serious, I adopted the coin of the land.

Part 2

Life is essentially tragic, he was fond of saying. I did not accept this thesis at the time, that is, in the beginning, but events persuaded me and in the end I was forced to bow to his undeniable conclusion. "What took you so long?" he asked me when I finally came around. The forked query found its mark and perforated the cloak which served as my last refuge from myself. For you see, it was from myself that I was fleeing. And in Enno, the mirror would not go away. How strange the progression as I was drawn in, at first magnetized, then bewildered and, at the end, humiliated and shamed. It's funny how we never understand the real meaning of our lives until it is too late to do us any good.

When things are going well with us we forget how tenuous is the strand that holds us above the abyss.

While I was having the nervous breakdown I learned how helpless helplessness really is. Enno visited me in the hospital then.

"How long will you stay?" he asked.

"This is really the end for me. I don't see how I can face anyone after this."

"You made your bed."

"Yes, I made my bed."

"What are the doctors saying?"

"They are trying to sort out all the lies I have been telling myself. I sound very convincing. The worst is certain to come out," I said. "I don't think I can handle it."

"You can't run away now. You have a family to take care of."

I had no strength to reply.

The reservoirs were full, but the dams high and strong. The dry valley waits in vain for the rains of spring.

I can no longer understand why I feel so stonehearted. My heart is not a shell capable of being cracked open, but rather a steel bearing, solid throughout, and inanimate. Not a living organ, but rather granite, basalt, and lead.

Enno's third visit to the hospital (his second visit found me inaccessible) was the first in which we discussed the story I had written about him for Modern Maturity.

"You have created a fiction and called it fact. These are lies," he shouted. "Now what are you going to do about it."

"Show me which part is not true."

He made no effort to answer.

"Show me," I said. "I really want to know. Your name is spelled right, correct? And you are from Poland. These stories, these atrocities you experienced... not true?"

He stood tight-lipped, leaning against the table, his chin thrust forward mercilessly.

"Is it the treatment you don't like?"

"The treatment, the treatment. Dammit, you make me out to be a hero. I am no hero, godammit." He threw out his hand as if violently pushing curtains away from his face and said something in German.

I half wondered why he ever told me these stories. He told me himself that people always said his experiences should be recorded in a book. I had recorded them. Was he going to hate me for this?

"I'm not seeking immortality. Maybe you are, but I'm not. Leave me out of your damn books."

But he knew I wouldn't and I knew he really liked the idea of it.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Five Minutes with Racer/Writer Roger Deloach

I remember once reading an interview with a literary agent who used to believe that every person had a book in them, but after reading so many bad manuscripts she changed her opinion on this belief.

Personally, I think every person’s life has a story, but it takes a certain level of skill, panache and courage to make that story interesting enough to be a book others will read. Roger Deloach’s He Calls My Name is just such a book.

My path crossed with Roger’s at two intersections. He attended the same church we attended when our kids were teens. And he raced stock cars at the same race tracks that I frequented here in the Northland.

I know what’s involved with writing a book of any kind, having written two unpublished manuscripts myself, but telling your own personal story is a special challenge. As Annie Dillard once noted, the most difficult part of any memoir is deciding what to leave in and what to leave out.

He Calls My Name is an autobiography about a man who loved racing, but came to love his Lord even more, putting even his greatest passion on the altar for a higher purpose. Roger’s story is a fun, fast read and even has a bit of romantic tension in it.

I found it amusing that he felt a little unsure about having me read his book because writing is my profession. I assured him I would overlook any shortcomings. After a thoroughly enjoyable read, I felt his book worth sharing with a wider audience, hence this interview. Thank you, Roger, for making an effort to assemble in words your experience and the things that were in your heart. And thanks, too, for the great advice you offer here to other beginning writers who desire to tell their own stories.

Ennyman: Your passion for racing appears to have grabbed you quite early in life. How did you become an author?
Roger: My desire to write grew out of wanting to share with my grandchildren. They are too young right now to sit down and share the kind of spiritual truths I would like to share with them. I felt this would be a great way to be sure I could tell them some things that were on my heart in case I wasn't around when they are of the age that it would mean something to them.

Ennyman: You write in a style that makes the story easy to get into. Any tips for others who want to write their own personal stories?
Roger: This was my first attempt at writing a book. I didn't really think about how I should write, I just sat down and began telling some stories. The first draft flowed rather easily and developed the story line. I was not concerned about producing a literary work of art. I wanted to tell the story as if I were speaking it. After I was finished Susie sat me down and put me through school. She introduced me to Roget's Desk Thesaurus and the Handbook of Grammar & Composition. She explained some simple truths about the art of writing. We worked together on some sections and then she left me alone on others. Of course I consider myself a real novice, but once I understood some simple techniques it became a welcome challenge to rewrite the original text.

The only advice I can give someone else about writing their story is to first tell it from the heart. Share it in a way that you desire to share it. The next ten times you go through it, write it in a way that you believe will make it something someone else will want to read. I have found that writing is like anything else, you get better with new found knowledge and practice.

Ennyman: In this book you are uncommonly transparent about the things that were going on in your life. Were there other things you felt you could not write about?
Roger: There were many other things in my life that I chose not to include in this book. I have always had the philosophy of "leaving them wanting more". We do that with Christina's music ministry. Her concerts are never over an hour in length and we try very hard to do the best we can do within that hour. I felt the same way with the book. I wanted to share just enough to get across the simple spiritual truths that I believe God wanted me to share in the book. Time is valuable, and if someone is willing to spend some time out of their life on something I have done I don't want to waste their offering.

Ennyman: What was the biggest challenge for you in writing He Calls My Name?
Roger: Being willing to say "it's not done yet" was my biggest challenge. The entire project was far more work than I ever thought it would be. Susie kept me on track by leaving notes like, "rewrite this", "find another word to describe this", "I don't understand this, make it more clear". Being willing to have someone you trust edit your work and be honest with you is half the battle. There is no question that her honesty has made me a better writer.

Ennyman: What will your next book be about?
Roger: I told myself the entire time I was writing this book that I was sure there was only one book in me. I couldn't imagine what else I would write about. With the passing of time though I realized how much I enjoyed the process. I asked God if there was more to do and He gave me an idea. I have begun working on that idea, not knowing if it will end up being a book or a writing exercise. All I can say about the next venture is that it will be fiction and will share more spiritual truths and insights I believe God has laid on my heart. I have a lot to learn about this craft and I will take the time needed to try and learn it well.

To purchase a copy of Roger Deloach's He Calls My Name, or for more information about theministries he is passionate about, contact:

Roger Deloach
CDM Productions
P.O. Box 161401
Duluth, MN. 55816

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