Monday, December 23, 2013

A few photographs of a festive hedgehog

A lot of my time and attention is currently directed at my studies, on prep work for a writer's conference/workshop and on a project that will become public around or on the New Year. So I don't have a blog post at the moment. In the meantime, here are some photos I took last night of my hedgehog, Quigely.

Enjoy! He's actually quite photographic.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

BBC's Sherlock: Cloaked Personas [Sherlock & John]

[Warning: probable spoilers ahead. If you haven't watched the whole series, read at your own risk.]

I've recently watched BBC's Sherlock again, having convinced a friend to finish it. So of course we watched it together.

This time around (3rd-ish), I was dually impressed with how Sherlock's and John's clothing reflected their personalities.

Yes. Impressed.

This is one more detail of the show that has been worked out brilliantly.

With the exception of Sherlock going to the palace in nothing but a sheet (stubborn, stubborn man), he's always well-dressed. Even when spearing a dead pig. Now, considering that he has no problem with taking the tube all covered in pig blood and carrying a spear, I had to wonder, why is he always dressed nicely? Why not jeans and a polo once in a while, or a t-shirt?
It couldn't just be how the costumer cast him. Not just a trademarked look Moffat wanted him to have, though I believe that's part of it, considering the fact that bringing a classic character into a whole new century is risky business. Giving him a classic style helps keep him timeless. 
After another episode or two and some more thought, I realized the other reasons why.

Sherlock reads people like most of us read books. "I didn't see. I noticed." 
He knows the person that does likewise is rare. But that doesn't make much difference, because everyone picks up clues from other people's appearances, consciously or subconsciously. So he dresses to show who, and what, he is. His clothing choices reflect the observations he wants people to make about himself.
What does he want them to see?
He values (in himself and others), among other things, logic. Intelligence. Competence. Professionalism. He also has a superiority complex and would rather die than look foolish or stupid. Insanely prideful. Close-lipped about personal things, which lends a flair to the mysterious.

Professional dress in simple, classic colors exudes authority, intelligence, and professional competence. So suits and button-up shirts in solid colors make sense.
The long trench coat, scarf, and flipped-up collar? A nod to the classic Sherlock, and the flair of mystery the modern Sherlock loves. It also (at least, to my mind) gives off an air of self-preservation: the long cut of the coat, how he turns up the collar, and how the scarf is wound snugly around his neck. It's a physical demonstration of how he keeps most personal information/thoughts inside his own head, closed off and protected from the looks and confusion he's gotten in the past from being more open.

 Now, on to John! 
He is a very practical man. Intelligent, caring, and trustworthy. A good doctor and a good soldier. While he doesn't have the mental training to make the same logic leaps as Sherlock, or observe as many details, he is smart, thinks things through in a linear fashion, and typically thinks with his head more than his heart. He also employs a liberal usage of sass and sarcasm, which I personally find very enjoyable and endearing. 

While kind and very much a doctor, he is also very much a soldier with nerves of steel. Abducted off the street? No problem. Sass the abductor. New flatmate goaded to swallow poison by a wacko cab driver? Not a problem, either. Shoot the cabby through the head--from another building, no less--at the last possible moment. Friend overly rude and inconsiderate? Tell him to shut up once in a while and give him some pointers at acceptable social interaction.
He's the kind of friend everybody wants to have.

His jacket is a hunting coat, which is a nice nod to his soldiering days. It's serviceable, practical, and sportsman-like. Most of his shirts are patterned button-ups (traditionalist) or comfy sweaters. Sturdy, comfortable pants and shoes. 
He doesn't seem to worry about the persona he exudes, but does pay attention to if he is dressed appropriately for the occasion. He's comfortable with himself and doesn't try to put on airs. 
Everything about his style suggests practicality, comfort, and quality, which I think fit his personality very well. 

The saying goes that clothes make the man, right? In my opinion, whoever designed the wardrobes for these two fantastic characters took this to heart and did a brilliant job. Their clothing doesn't just protect them from the elements. It gives us, the viewers, greater detail into them as people and fleshes them out even more. 

Kudos, BBC. The details woven through this show make it a pleasure to watch multiple times. Each time I pick up something new.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Humans & Hedgehogs

I am now the bemused owner of a hedgehog.

He belonged to my manager and was the "clinic hedgehog." But the veterinarian life didn't suit him well, so he was replaced with two guinea pigs.

His name is Quigley. Cup your hands together and the little ball of prickles fits in there quite well.

Most of the time, he throws a fit when you pet him. He'll spaz, jerking and making a spluttering hiss -- "I'm a dangerous hedgy. Hear me roar." -- hilarious, but not very intimidating.

After five to fifteen minutes of being out of his cage and being handled, he'll uncurl and start sniffing. Exploring. Let you pet him without exploding into a mammalian version of a puffer fish.

He'll leave his fuzzy, spine-free legs, face, and underbelly exposed.

Over the short span of time I've had Quigley at my house, I've realized something: a lot of people are a lot like hedgehogs (and no, I refuse to digress into how John Watson is like a hedgehog and Sherlock Holmes is like an otter. Thanks for those amusing comparisons, Sherlockians.).

Many of us are--or can be--prickly. Not necessarily mean, or on the offense, but we curl inside of ourselves, protecting our soft underbellies and tender hearts with hisses and jerks whenever anyone touches us and tries to get through our defenses.

To my fellow hedgehogs: Uncurl and sniff around, guys. If you're like me, you're introverted or ambiverted, and thus have a definite people-tolerance and space bubble. That's cool. People are definitely tiring, even though they are also amazing. But don't be a ball of hissing prickles all the time. It's not very fulfilling. ;)

To those of you who have no idea what it's like to be a hedgehog or don't know what to do with a fellow hedgy: Be patient with us. I promise you that underneath our hissing and sometimes aloof nature, we think and feel and love and hate and geek out over things just as much as you do. And that, like you, we're pretty darn cool. Sometimes it just takes a while for us to be okay with letting you close enough to see it all. :)

Go pet a hedgehog. It's a very enlightening experience.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

God, a Hobbit, and a Time Lord

God used a Hobbit.

No, this is not a post drawing grand spiritual analogies from Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who. This is not a post contemplating Tolkien's beliefs or his reasons for writing about Middle-Earth, or the beliefs and reasonings of Davies and Moffat. This is in no way a "technical" post.
This is a post about God, a girl, a Time Lord and a Hobbit.

With that said, God used a Hobbit to help me through a very rough time. Frodo's journey and struggles were, for me, a mirror of sorts. He fought and struggled. Doubted. Lost some and won some. Had people turn on him, and had people that never gave up, never stopped pulling him onward and upward even when he wanted to lie down and quit.
God used that epic of good vs evil in my life to show me that adventures -- that life -- is sometimes about Rivendells, sometimes mountains, sometimes breaking. About celebrating and Elves. About crying, lost, in Mordor, the ring too heavy to bear. About a Sam pulling you up, or you being Sam to another Frodo who's browbeaten and weary and pulling them up. That often, the biggest heroes are the most ordinary of folk.
Sometimes life is about not being strong enough, but walking anyway because walking is the only choice you have.

God also used a Time Lord.

He used a regenerating humanoid alien know as the "Doctor," who travels through time and space in brilliant blue police box that is actually a TARDIS with a broken chameleon circuit. 
He used that oft-times ridiculous science fiction series full of wibbly-wobbly-timey-whimey stuff to show me that believing in the impossible isn't always crazy. That compassion and justice are worth fighting for. That fighting for those ideals will always hurt, so at the end, to be able to say "Nobody died today, Rose. For once -- just this once -- everyone lived," is hard-won.
He used it to show me that heroes aren't heroes simply because they do things others don't. Heroes spread hope and instill courage. Heroes have their hearts broken, lose everything, and at the end of the day -- even amidst tears -- they don't stop living. Even when they die, what they left behind still lives on.
Heroics don't always involve guns and gore. Sometimes heroics means pausing and turning around because a child is crying. Sometimes heroics is simply knowing when to let go, because holding on is destructive. Letting Rose go meant saving earth's universe along with a parallel universe. Donna, the most important woman in the universe, was let go because letting her go saved her life. Holding on would have meant the memories and knowledge jammed into her brain during Ten-Too's generating process were going to kill her.
He used something the Doctor said, and the way the Doctor acted, to illustrate in a very tangible form that there is no such thing as an unimportant person. And that maybe, just maybe, part of being a hero is recognizing that.

What about you?
What books, films, or TV series has God placed in your life right when you needed them?
What did they show you?

- Hannah

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Slough of Editing

Oh, hello, there, lovely blog-reader.
If anyone reads this blog anymore. I know I've been terribly absent.

For anyone that's interested, I do have a valid set of excuses. Moving out of state in stages, for one. And editing.

Editing--the breadth and scope of it--is something I don't think many of us young writers really grasp when we dive into the wonderful world of world-building, characters, plots, and ink smudges beneath our sleepless eyes.
I know for sure that I didn't fully realize what editing meant. Now, honestly, I'm just beginning to realize. It's been a long time in coming. Four+ years and five novels.

At the moment I'm slogging through the slough of time-consuming, intense editing. Draft 3, to be precise.

Draft 1 -- I polished some. Prepared it for the contest in the little time I had available.

Draft 2 -- Scared. I didn't know what in the world I was doing, even though I had amazing feedback from the contest judges and some friends.

Draft 2.5 -- After asking an older, wise OYANer who has been faithfully editing her (gorgeous) novel off and on over the course of several years for advice, I read over my manuscript and made a ton of notes. Seriously. Pages upon pages of notepaper now have my chicken-scratch running across them in various charts and such. Terrified but more prepared, I dove in headlong and made a ton of changes.

Draft 3 -- More of the same. Yay! I have a bajillion-and-one sticky notes (okay yes I exagerate) plastered to the inside of my binder (filled with notes), Word documents with feedback from friends, and floaty little half-ideas drifting through my brain. The sticky notes are decreasing. The feedback documents are turning yellow as I highlight the changes I implement. More people want to read it (eep!). Very shortly I'll call it a draft and send it to my next round of readers.

Then I will go over my judges' notes again, my readers' feedback, and (the plan is to) read one or more of Jeff Gerke's books on editing. After filling those pages up with sticky flags I'll hit the pages of my manuscript again and wade back into the slough. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Okay so maybe "slough" is a bit of an extreme word. Some of the editing is fun, honestly. Backstories. Descriptions. Plot bunnies! That kind of thing. Some of the other stuff isn't quite so fun, like the nit-picky grammatical changes. Necessary but (in the words of Sherlock) "Boring!"

Upon this I am now also adding the final stage(s) of my out-of-state move, college prep studies, seven kittens, GISHWHES (gosh don't get me started on that. I'm nervous!), job hunting...
Maybe life's the slough and not just the editing!
It's all good, though.
Crazy at times, but good.

I love Hosanna House. Really. It's my baby. I'm so excited to see it slowly become more polished, more cohesive, more real, even when going through those moments where I never want to fix another plot hole again.

Well. There you go, blog. A new that sounds more conversational than my usual style. I need to brainstorm and come up with more things to blog about, because not blogging isn't good, my life isn't always the most entertaining thing to blog about, and geeking out over my book again and again gets repetitive (maybe a different geek post is in order. Maybe a fangirl post about the wonderfulness that is BBC's Sherlock. Or Numb3rs.).

Until the next post,

Rak Chazak Amats! 

- Hannah

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Here's a tiny taste of what's been mulling through my head for well over a week, a large tangle of half-thoughts that need corralled and pinned down.


We are global. Spread throughout the world, the continents, the countries, states, and provinces.  And yet, we are connected. The epitome of our connectedness is when we congregate under the Kansas sun.
                It’s amazing, the threads of love, kindness and acceptance that weave through this group.
                No, we aren’t perfect. Yes, we have issues. Spats. Differences. Flame-wars. But beneath that—in spite of that—God is working in, around, above and through us. One analogy of life is that of a tapestry, and as God weaves our own personal tapestries, He’s running threads of each one of us through this tapestry called “OYAN,” and through our tapestries, OYAN winds its way. It looks tangled, crazy, far-fetched and sometimes painful from the view we see now. Someday, however, we’ll see it right-side-up, and it will be stunning.
                My deepest friendships exist because of OYAN. Much of my life since 2009 has been shaped by this beautiful mess of quirky people.
                I wonder if our teacher and his wife, both our mentors, ever imagined this happening. Did Dan and Carrol Schawbauer envision their box of three books, stack of DVDs, and web forum would explode this much? That they would be known affectionately as “Mr. and Mrs. S” to hundreds of young people that look up to them like a favorite aunt and uncle or a second set of parents? Did they know that their first tiny workshop hosted in a hotel would expand and take over an entire college campus? That teens from around the world would flock to their workshops year after year, coming to deepen their talents, friendships, and that in doing so would also deepen their relationship with God?
                Did any of us ever imagine that a writing curriculum would rock our world?
                I didn’t.
                He cried that last night, Mr. S.
                I did too, in the prayer circle, the muggy Kansas summer surrounding us like a hug, the sky overhead a soft black. People praying aloud, praying for Mr. and Mrs. S. and their newest dream, a creative arts foundation. Praying for each other and that praying morphing into singing—hearts praying as hymns and worship songs rose above us and melted into the night.
                It’s amazing. Amid the classes, the craziness, the costumes. Amongst all the baggage we carry, the tough things life has thrown into our teeth. In the middle of us—of our mess, this knot of fragile misfits with a love for the stories inside of us and a desire to share them—inside of all of that, it’s beautiful.
                We are beautiful.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Little Things

Anyone that knows me probably knows I tend to be impatient, sometimes pessimistic, and that I hate getting stuck behind slow vehicles.

This morning I got stuck behind a pickup pulling a fertilizer tank. At first it annoyed me because the driver was being so slow. I watched the liquid fertilizer slosh around inside the tank of opaque plastic, tapped my hand against the steering wheel, took a swig of my cappuccino, and wondered if I should risk passing him.

Then I realized, no, I shouldn't. I was a mile from my house, not in any hurry, and that it was good for me to wind up creeping along behind this farmer.

It's a mind-game I make myself play sometimes. Try to find the good points inside of the frustrating, annoying, things that come up, in hopes that it will help me regain a sense of optimism.

Anyway, the good that I discovered while out-and-about this morning...

 - Going beneath the speed limit meant that the farmer was being careful. He didn't want to have a wreck and spill potentially flammable material all over the road/catch his vehicle or other vehicles on fire.

 - His being on the road in the first place meant our nation's farmers are growing the crops that help keep this country stable and fed.

- I was being forced to be patient.

I kept going...

- The ache in my neck meant my chiropractor is doing her job in correcting my spine.

- The money spent at the appointment meant that life isn't meant to be a free ride, that hard work and paying people what their skills are worth is good.

- Taking a slight detour due to traffic near a poorly-placed gas station exit meant that the economy, while depressed, is still chugging along, and that people have jobs to go to and business to conduct.

- The cappuccino in my hand, the gas in my car, and the phone in my pocket meant I am capable of earning money, holding down a job, and paying a number of my own expenses.

I felt a lot better after realizing those things. that time, I was home.

What good can you find in the next inconvenience that comes your way?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ghostwriting Life

This probably isn't the post I was going to write.
I actually didn't know what I was going to write, just had a vague idea.

Ten seconds ago, however, while staring at the screen, I realized that Raine (my MC in Hosanna House) and I have been learning one of the same lessons.

Being: you have to find your path, your direction, and follow it. Don't let other people control who you are or what you will become.

People, beliefs, and circumstances take hold of Raine and try to force her into a mold not of her choosing and try to melt away her identity and her freewill, like taking a rock and smelting out the gold, then throwing the gold out and keeping the stone.

People, intentions, circumstances, and sometimes myself have taken hold of me and tried to make me someone I'm not, a person I was never created to become. Tried to put me in a cage, to wrap a choke-chain around my neck. It nearly killed what makes me, me.

Today my mom and I were talking and she said, "You're different than you were even this winter. You know what you want in life and aren't going to let anyone stop you. Not in a selfish way, just, you've found your own path now, instead of trying to go along with other people's paths." 

I don't completely know myself yet, but I know myself much more than I did five, even two, months ago. I've learned that this life is my life. For better or worse. God is the author of my story, but He lets me ghostwrite. He sets up the outline, then hands me the pen.

I'm ghostwriting my life's novel. I've looked at what I can see of the outline -- who I am, the talents I posses, the passions and things that inspire me -- and that is where I am directing the plotline.
While the people in my life do throw in a twist here or a word there, I can't turn my pen over to anyone else, or allow anyone to take it from me, and let them do the writing.
While the people in my life encourage and support me, or let me down and stomp on me, whichever happens (and both have), I have to "Keep Calm & Carry On,"  keep writing.

I have to ghostwrite my own story, walk through and rise above. 
Nobody can do that for me, or make it happen for me. They can help me, but they can't live my life for me. I can't do that for anyone else, or make life happen for anyone else. I can help people, but only within a limited sphere-- I can't live another person's life for them. People cannot completely fulfill my needs for love and validation and worth, and I cannot completely fulfill those needs for others. We may be able to come pretty darn close, but in the end it's only the Creator that can totally fill the created.

Regrettably, I had to learn this the hard way, but I'm better for it. Now the only things standing in my way are my own tendencies to procrastinate/lose drive (and algebra. algebra stands in my way. it will be exterminated.).  
When you reach the point where you know what you want your future to look like, and you know how to start going about it....when you know your path, when the only things holding you back are within yourself and surmountable...when you choose your direction for the sheer love of it...
It's not easy, but it's amazingly freeing.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
 - E. E. Cummings 

Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire.
 - St. Catherine of Sienna

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.  
- C. S. Lewis

Every man dies. Not every man truly lives. 
- William Ross Wallace

We're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?
 - the Eleventh Doctor 

And now I think this post has actually morphed into the sort of thing I had originally hoped to write.
Imagine that.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Of mustache cups and memories

Today I spent several hours hanging out with and helping my 91-year old great-grandmother.
She lives by herself, in a two-story house.
She is surrounded by things she loves.
But she gets lonely.

So we went out for lunch and argued over who was going to buy the Hershy's bar for dessert (I won). Then I helped her take down, wash, and put back at least fifty pieces of her huge knick-knack collection.
She didn't want to do it by herself, she doesn't like climbing up on the ladder anymore. I'm so glad she asked me to help. Otherwise, I would have been worried sick about her falling.

I'm also glad because we got to spend time together, just the two of us.
She told me stories.
 Stories about her past, tales and details about the pitchers, plates, teacups, and various other items we cleaned.

I learned what "flow blue," Russian-cut glass, and German pickle jars look like.

I heard the story of her grandfather's favorite brother, who died when he was 17, and held the mottled blue and brown pitcher that he had given his mother. Heard the story of when her grandfather snuck said brother's beloved horse into the house to visit him when he was sick with diphtheria. 
I learned about her great-grandfather, who came from Holland, bringing with him a gorgeous white pitcher with blue windmills. It's cracked, fragile. 

Today I heard a lot of stories.
Today I heard so many facts about pottery, china, stoneware, and glass that I began to wonder if my grandma is the Sherlock Holmes of collectible dishes, knowing every random little piece of trivia and fact about them that can be known. Which led me to telling her about BBC's Sherlock, and her telling me she doesn't like the TV show, "Elementary," which is apparently a Sherlock-ish show.

Today I once more realized just how much I love my tiny, precious, spunky great-grandmother. How much I'm going to miss doing things like this with her.

If you have these kinds of opportunities with your grandparents, well, with anyone you love, don't waste them.
They are so special. Even if all you do is go to Arby's, clean antiques, and ramble through a hundred year's worth of subjects munching on Hershy's. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Storm Heroes

It's 10:44pm. I'm feeling the need to write, but it's getting too late to work on my novel or a short story, because work comes early tomorrow.  

The weather here in Indiana is finally feeling like spring. This evening, we had our first proper rainstorm of the year.
Pounding, pounding against the glass, the rain came. A few flashes of lightning, off somewhere I couldn't see, but the thunder pealed across the miles.
It sounded beautiful. The pounding of the rain against our house and fields, the grumbling rushes of air coming to fill in the burnt holes in the sky.

I love thunderstorms. I love listening to them, watching them, and looking outdoors after it's all over.
After the storm is over, everything seems so clean, new, and bright.
Yes, the wind can knock things over, and the rain leaves puddles and mud. And yes, I complain about the mud. I'm a farmgirl, and mud, well, it gets in the way.
Yet the wind brushes through the leaves and grasses, like a comb. The rain feeds every growing thing, washes the dust off of buildings, plants, trees...settles the dust back down to the ground, where it belongs.

Storms keep the world, at least the land-locked portions, from drought. We had a drought last summer, and good grief, it caused a lot of problems.
 Without the rain, without the storms, everything collapses. Just think of the Dust Bowl. Of past droughts ten times worse than the one that swept a lot of the nation last year.

Where there is no rain, nothing grows.

Where there is no wind to fight against, trees fall.

Where there is no rain, no messy, mud-creating rain, no wind to fight against, no wind tearing at the things die.

Storms in life threaten to drown us, turn our life into a giant muddy mess, the chaos doesn't sound like thunder, lightening strikes all around, and the winds of change, pain, suffering, they batter.

Sometimes the rain is a gentle sprinkle, the stress is manageable. Other times it's a downpour and we wonder if it will ever end. Slogging through the mud against the wind and against the rain is just too hard.

But just like the earth needs an occasional flooding, and the trees need a struggle, we humans need it too. Think of your heroes. No, not celebrities or band members.


Think Amy Carmichael. Theodore Roosevelt. Gladys Alward. General "Stonewall" Jackson. Florence Nightengale.

People who poured blood, sweat, tears, and years upon years of walking against the wind, into their lives and the lives of those around them.

Where there are no storms, no struggles, no victories against those struggles...there are... heroes. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Happily sad, sadly happy.

First, a quick update...
I'm alive.
Just been incredibly busy and not motivated to write.
I've changed a lot since I created this website, so Sword of Ink may very well morph right along with me. I don't know quite what that will entail, but I would imagine it will focus less on articles about specific aspects of writing. But in any event, I'm hoping to be writing more consistently.


A lot has happened over the past year.
I've lost my two best friends, had my heart drug out and stomped upon, by a person I thought I knew, who I apparently didn't know at all.
I've been through a whirlwind relationship that didn't end like I had hoped it would. It broke my already-sore heart.
God, with His amazing timing, brought three wonderful, precious friends into my life that I wouldn't trade for the world.
He's given me a new best friend I'd trust with anything, and strengthened a friendship with a girl I swear could be my twin.
I've befriended sweet, funny couple old enough to be my parents, that are quietly spreading Christ's love and peace through their corner of the world via the mediums of coffee, smalltalk, and music.
My novel, Hosanna House, took second place in a novel contest. My baby. My story born out of anger and sadness. It's a rough little diamond, one I'm working on polishing. I'm so afraid I'll damage it.
I've watched friends go through some incredibly difficult times, walked with them the best I could. Watched them experience amazing highs and horrible lows, just like me. Watched others seem to glide through life as if it were a smooth stream, wondering if what I'm seeing is real or if they're just really good at wearing a mask.
I've fought, and am fighting, against truth that hurts, depression that clouds, stress that tears, and physical manifestations of stress that wears.
Now, I'm getting ready to move out-of-state. Away from my home of the past twelve years. I feel like Frodo, ready to go on an adventure, yet...slightly apprehensive, all the same.

It's been one heck of a ride. One that's convinced me several times I really just don't like this world at all. Then something happens that makes me realize, hey, it's not so bad after all.

I've learned that even the hurt is important. Even though life sometimes takes you to hell and back, even though you fight until you feel like you're going to drop, bleed out, that you want to die or just quit fighting and let the overwhelmingness of your problems kill you, that pain is important. 

The legalism that dodges your every step, the "friends" that backstab, the family that leaves, the relationships that crumble. The depression that sucks the light away, the priorities you just can't get straight, the anxiety and stress that wears you down until you feel like a burnt-out match lit on both is important.

I am a stronger person than I was at this time a year ago. Hopefully a better one. Right now I'm worn out, but I know that deep down, I'm stronger.

My friends, too, are stronger. Even if they can't quite see it yet. Yes, you are. I'm thinking of several of you by name. You wouldn't believe me, because you feel cracked and broken. But I've known you for a while and you've grown so much. You're a beautiful person, even with because of those cracks and scars, and I love you.

Happiness, joy, peace, contentment, ecstasy, fulfillment, strength, courage, love... all these ideal emotions we strive for.
But what are they if we don't know the opposite side? How can we really know the depths of the positive emotions if we've never experienced pain, cowardice, sadness, apathy, restlessness?
I really don't think we can.
Life can really suck. I know that. I've been there. Some days, I'm still there. But the awful side of life? It's deepened my appreciation for the good side. It's forced me to be more courageous, to realize some hard truths, to do what I know is right even when it hurts so much it kills me inside, to see just how amazingly wonderful a true friend is.

The sunshine is more glorious after walking through a starless night, the spring after starving through the winter.

Above all shadows rides the Sun,
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done, 
nor bid the Stars farewell. 

- Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thoughts on Frankenstein

“Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded.”[1]

Frankenstein. Popular culture has connected that name with, most frequently, a hollow-eyed humanoid monster, visible stitching tracing its skin and electrical probes protruding from its neck.
In reality, however, Frankenstein is so much more. Frankenstein—Victor Frankenstein—is the name of a scientifically-minded man, and a book title. The brain-child of authoress Mary Shelly, not the name of the creature he created.
I finished reading the unabridged version of Frankenstein yesterday, and goodness, it was brilliant and I can’t get it out of my mind.
Shelly didn’t give Frankenstein’s “monster” a name, so to avoid too many long handles or too many pronouns, I’ll call him “Creature.”

Victor Frankenstein started out as curious. He simply wanted to understand how the universe and the creations in it, worked. He wanted to know how life was formed. That is all well and good; curiosity and a thirst for knowledge are wonderful things. The problem began when Victor decided to take his research a step further, and apply it to imbuing the essence of life to an inanimate humanoid being he himself had fashioned.

No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. . .Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time. . .renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption. [2]

He worked for nearly two years on his quest to create a new species.
Then it finally happened.

I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open. . .
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? . . .I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black. . .his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips. . .
For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room...[3]

Victor’s Creature disappeared, and for a while, though plagued with the thought of having released such a being out into the world, Victor believed his problems were over.
But they had barely begun. To avoid as many spoilers as possible, I’ll leave it at, that through a series of sad events, Victor and the Creature meet again.

I find it interesting that neither Victor nor Creature are clearly a hero or clearly a villain. Creature commits a series of crimes that Victor vows to avenge for by destroying the being he created. He beings to feel like a monster himself, that he had ever ventured upon the task to create another life. I think these song lyrics are fitting for the state of mind both characters experience at times:
I feel it deep within,
It's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I
Feel like a monster
I hate what I've become
The nightmare's just begun
I must confess that I
Feel like a monster
I feel like a monster

My secret side I keep
Hid under lock and key
I keep it caged
But I can't control it
‘Cause if I let him out
He'll tear me up
And break me down
Why won't somebody come and save me from this?
Make it end![4]

Both characters contain basic human goodness, and the selfish, sinful depravity that has invaded the world since Eden. Both are capable of kindness and evil. Both are angry, confused, lonely, and wishing for their respective lives to turn right-side-up and stay there. Due to their actions, both inflict irrevocable harm upon each other and upon people Victor cares for.

I didn’t root for either Victor or Creature, nor love one and hate the other. In fact, I felt profoundly sorry for both of them. Victor set the first boulder in their landslide of misery rolling, but Creature is by no means faultless himself.

Victor just wants his simple, quiet life back, without Creature haunting his every step.
Creature wants to be loved and understood for who he is, instead of being an outcast because of his physical appearance.

Both of their desires are, in of themselves, perfectly good things. Yet, due to the courses they have set themselves upon, seemingly impossible to attain. Anymore on that, however, will leak spoilers.

Upon finishing the book, I was asked what theme I found in the story. After thinking for a moment, several themes—brilliant themes—came to mind. Whether or not Shelly consciously put them into the story, or if they were just a natural outworking of the tale, they are wonderful because they transcend culture and era. They are, in their essence, incredibly applicable to life, no matter what century you were born in or what the popular culture is like.

One is the importance of life, that it is not something to be taken lightly, neither in the taking nor the giving. Human beings such as ourselves have no business trying to create life in a laboratory, because we do not have the necessary wisdom and strength to handle the responsibility that comes with such actions.

[Y]ou, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life?”[5]

            Another is how much our thoughts, and the thoughts of others, shape who we become. Self-esteem, peer pressure, bullying, culture, popular opinion, even in people with strong characters, these things still have an effect: to tear down or build up. And on the mind of someone who is very impressionable, the results can be incredible.
            For Creature, it destroyed him. Because of the first impression he gave—his ugly appearance—people consistently reacted out of fear and disgust, without giving him the benefit of the doubt (with the exception of a blind man), and confirmed his fears that because he looked horrible, he was horrible, by changing his attitude from one of curiosity, affection, and helpfulness, to one of wrath and destruction.

“I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers—their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” [6]

“Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?
“I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge.”[7]

“I have good dispositions; my life has been hihtherto harmless, and in some degree beneficial; but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster.” [8]

“You, who call Frankenstein your friend, seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. . .he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured. . .For while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. . .still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal when all human kind sinned against me? . . .I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.” [9]

            I will not reveal the ending of the story, but I thought it was both sad and fitting. It was not a perfect Hollywood ending. There wasn’t a huge showdown between Victor and Creature. It didn’t end with one “beating” the other. Yet it was still a fulfilling conclusion to the story.
            This book, while not very long, is one well worth the time spent reading it. It’s not all black and white, there isn’t a clear hero and a clear villain. There isn’t even a pristine clash of ideals. It’s a story of human nature, of revenge, of the possible consequences of “playing God,” and the juxtapositions people find inside themselves.

                        “You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment when . . .that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more.” [10]

[1] Frankenstein, Chapter X
[2] Frankenstein, Chapter IV
[3] Frankenstein, Chapter V
[4] Skillet’s Monster
[5] Frankenstein, Chapter X
[6] Frankenstein, Chapter XII
[7] Frankenstein, Chapter XIII
[8] Frankenstein, Chapter XV
[9] Frankenstein, Chapter XXIV
[10] Frankenstein, Chapter XXIV 

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