The Masks We Wear

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Willbb234 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D
When I was in junior high, I remember The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was assigned reading. It made no impression on me. I was familiar with the cartoon adaptations and narrowly interpreted the tale by that silly standard. It didn’t help that Stevenson kept Hyde’s experiences vague, which for the inexperienced reader gave no indication of the true brutality of Hyde’s actions. The look in his eyes, the fear in the eyes of those who chanced to come upon him surrounded him more with mysticism rather than sketching out a real person. He took on the child’s impression of a mythical monster instead of a corrupt human being. As a young teen, I might have judged Stevenson’s attempts in creating Hyde as rather poor. As an adult, I can read the reality right into the script. Descriptions, actions, speeches don’t need further explanation for me to gauge the type of life Hyde was creating for himself. Stevenson was writing about one of man’s worst fears—the consequences of developing an addiction to self that exchanges love for fellow man with a desire to control them covertly. Dr. Jekyll knew what the end would be. That extreme self-love, the disorder known as narcissism, subdivides a person into two very different entities.

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by George Hoden

When the reader meets Dr. Jekyll, he is a nonentity, hiding and unsocial. He wants no attention and seeks no help. He has given up. He’s a tattered mask awaiting the moment Hyde will rip him away and toss him aside, never to be worn again. And he is looking forward to this death with relief.

The promises of Hyde are very appealing to Jekyll at first, but they are empty promises because the pleasure that comes from Hyde’s sprees are short and never enough. They grow emptier as Hyde grows hungrier and more desperate. Hyde is the captor who doesn’t realize he will ultimately capture himself. Hyde has no ability to stop himself; he merely uses Jekyll as his security, believing he can stop whenever he wants.

Stevenson created a character that seemed wildly absurd at the beginning, but by the end he brings the truth home. We stare at the masks every day, sometimes others’ and sometimes our own. The question is: who will win? Jekyll or Hyde?

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The Spider – a lament

spider-web
Image by George Hodan

Worthy was I of purest love;

He loved me not at all.

His schemes wove tethers ‘round my wrists;

He watched my fences fall.

 

Drop by drop, he plied his pen

In lies yet unrevealed;

A spider weaving glit’ring web,

His stings were yet concealed.

 

In desperate straits, but steadfast still,

I could not but perceive;

My virtue lured him like a fly;

His web I could not leave.

 

To friends he painted fallacies,

Sincerity his guise;

‘Til silence, my worst enemy,

Convinced my soul to rise.

 

In vain I begged for mercy;

His coldness was as ice.

He had no conscience to restrain;

He made my love his vice.

 

The spider took the coward’s path,

He heeded not my cry.

He drained me of my last defense,

And forced my hope to die.

 

The door, it loomed like Cerberus;

I slipped away by night;

I climbed the steep Mount Tartarus,

And did not slow my flight.

 

My tired soul found haven:

A cell, a squalid shore,

Where I battled in reflection,

My fevered mind tried sore.

 

I searched; I found no comfort.

I slept; I found no rest.

I ate and took no pleasure in it.

My spirit sore oppressed.

 

I reached to enfold my loved ones,

A solace amidst my pain;

I grasped at salve for my malady,

To stand and live again.

 

But there was none would help me;

Both judge and friend drew near;

They praised the sinner, claimed him saint,

Denying I’d aught to fear.

 

They said if I would go to him…

They told me to forgive.

“This lord, this man of good rapport,

Commit to him and live.”

 

My spider had betrayed me

To mother, sister, friend.

Denied even by the bishop,

Who claimed hell was my end.

 

Hear the words, oh humanity;

Spoken from the Divine:

For God hears the cry of the innocent;

The Lord says, “Vengeance is Mine.”

 

*Inspired by Samuel Richard’s Clarissa Harlowe, or the Story of a Young Lady

3 Points of Writing & the Universal Rule

My brother, a musician, named three properties that become his focus as he works to craft a piece of music. They are: the key of the piece, the tempo, and the kick pattern.

“Making sure the song is in the right key is essential,” he said. “You would be amazed at how changing the key of the song can change the entire feeling.” He talked about some songs we both knew and how they didn’t work the same way with a key change. “This especially goes for songs that modulate for a build at the end. It can be catastrophic for certain song structures.”

“The second thing I experiment with is the song’s tempo. I have songs I struggle to keep from being too slow or too fast.” He talked about one of his slower songs, Give In. “I played with the speed of that one for quite a while. Any slower and it lost its intensity, but playing it faster took away from the serious mood.”

“The last thing will probably sound shallow, but it’s not. It’s the kick pattern. And I’m not talking about the beat of the drum so much as the pattern in the listener’s head. You want them to anticipate when the drum is coming, even when the sound isn’t there at all. The listener needs that. But you don’t want the pattern to be predictable, either.”

As he talked, I realized the method to his music was the same method I use to improve my writing. Instead of using chords in a key pattern, I’m focused on the structure of the setting. The setting of the story houses the mood, the atmosphere, the foundational guidelines of my piece. Without it, my work has suffered from being too ambiguous or lifeless. I’ve changed the setting suddenly, and it’s ruined my whole story.

Tempo is obvious. I’ve discussed the importance of keeping the pace of a story in the forefront of a writer’s mind—not letting the characters slip into reveries or flashbacks at the wrong moment, making sure there is a goal the story continues to move toward. Even the simplest digressions can have an impact on the way your reader perceives your work. Some digressions bring your reader into a closer connection with the experience you’re sharing, and some digressions confuse, and even polarize, your reader.

Lastly, there is a pattern created by the writer in every story. Sometimes it’s called the voice or the style of the work. But it’s more than that. It’s that unspoken rhythm of thought the reader recognizes and latches onto. This is comparable to the kick pattern of a song, I think. Certain stories ooze personality, the story’s own flair, from the first word. Tolkien had a beautiful sense of this. Mary Shelley played around with it in Frankenstein. (Personally, I think she overplayed it.) Maximum Ride held readers with a snarky, hard-edged flow–not just the dialogue, but the storyline itself rattled with that teen angst pattern. These three examples are easy to pick up on, but all literature of length sits within a pattern that the reader subconsciously recognizes and expects to continue throughout the work.

My brother opened my eyes to this universal rule of the artist: We don’t mold the message alone; we mold every pause between. From the dead spaces to the underlying matter, we orchestrate and riddle out the kinks, so the listener can get to know the work without needing to know why it resonates.

Snuffing Out the Thrill of Anne

Fan Grief. That’s what I’m calling it. It started with the Pride and Prejudice knock-offs (most of which should have been knocked off and buried before they aired), followed by the fairytales that underwent extreme makeovers. The old cartoons were revamped. Then the Muppets. (I just want to erase the Muppets from my memory forever because I hit an all-time low with the new Muppets.) The sitcom comebacks came back and left again to my relief.

And then this: a little girl named Anne Shirley talks about sexual things she doesn’t comprehend, and it’s supposed to be amusing. It’s not. I’d be shocked, but that stage of my grief has been burned away by the constant barrage of terrible ideas coming from these revisits. Yeah, I know moral integrity was lost long ago by the major movie and TV companies who are making this tripe. That doesn’t make the horror go away that they have taken my childhood friend and smashed her innocent little face in the mud with the Boot of Demoralization. It doesn’t lessen the indignation I feel.

Fan Grief, this sense of losing someone close, causes me anxiety, confusion, and anger simultaneously. Can we acknowledge Fan Grief is “a thing,” or is grieving over the loss of an imaginary person too unrealistic? We shouldn’t have feelings for anyone but real people, right? Book characters continue to relate to readers in ways and at susceptible moments when a real person couldn’t get through to us. Is it really so silly that we fans take imaginary characters seriously? Never mind that the worlds of imaginary characters change us, influence us to grow psychologically, open our minds to new perspectives. They aren’t real, so they don’t count. Are any fans mollified by this line of reasoning? It’s not working for me.

By L. M. Montgomery, M. A. & W. A. J. Claus [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
L.M. Montgomery, the writer of Anne of Green Gables, wrote about seeing the beauty of life in the toughest situations and learning to rise above. She focused on joy through innocent Anne’s eyes. Later, as Anne grew into an adult, Montgomery used sorrow to create strength and vision to teach me to cling to love and goodness. Those of us who grew up scouring bookstores for Emily and Kilmeny and Marigold and Jane of Lantern Hill (before the Internet was an option) are now being punched in the gut. Our beloved Anne is a crude composite that some writer skimmed off the surface of Montgomery’s tale, tacking on to her all sorts of ugliness.

What if someone re-manufactured the Teddy Bear by pouring dirt into him for stuffing, then touted him as the Teddy Bear I grew up with… and laughed with… and cried with? What if, in my excitement, I presented the new Teddy Bear to my excited daughter, who wanted to relate to my fond memories and stories? She would take the filthy bear in her arms, and he’d puff out his filth on her. Trying to connect with the experiences of her mother, my daughter would receive the gagging refuse the fake Teddy Bear left on her! It’s a sorry replacement: a fake Anne stuffed with sexual innuendo from a brutal past. This re-invented Anne suffers from flashbacks of abuse. She goes into a panic attack when a baby cries and relives being insulted, slapped, and beaten. She has a self-inflicted bruise along her forearm—because she’s “pinched herself a thousand times.” Maud Montgomery certainly depicted loneliness and even depression, but not in a masochistic manner. If she had written Anne in this grimy way, child readers would never have connected with her like they did. Adults – adults who have been through the horrors of abuse and neglect and brutality – connected with Anne because she inspired them to look on the bright things of life with new eyes.

I can’t believe for a minute this is actually flying with fans. What fan is so unobservant and disloyal that she can’t see someone has just glued a picture of her favorite character onto something completely opposite in integrity to that character? Fans aren’t that stupid.

In the throes of my disappointment, I turned to kindred spirit friends for support. These were their comments:

  • “I am currently reading through the Anne series again…to see if the newest remake had any basis for its claims. In chapter 17 of book 5, Anne is talking to Captain Jim… She says her time before Green Gables wasn’t happy, and Captain Jim says, ‘Mebbe not – but it was just the usual unhappiness of a child who hasn’t anyone to look after it properly. There hasn’t been tragedy in your life, Mistress Blythe.’ So, right there you have it from the author’s mouth that the horrid version has no basis.”
  • “This [version] is an insult to L.M. Montgomery. It’s my opinion that a story should stick with the original, but this goes beyond that with changes that are agenda-pushing and/or change the personality of the character.”
  • “If I wanted to watch a story with troubled teens, I’d just watch Lifetime.”
  • “Yeah, if I wanted reality, I’d watch Teen Mom.”

I’m sickened! Yes, and I’m disgusted! And I admit that this strong reaction surprises even me. I’m surprised to find I’ve been wounded by a TV show. I don’t want the next generation to grow up thinking the book friends of my childhood even slightly resemble this rot.

Thwack! – By M. A. and W. A. J. Claus (https://archive.org/details/cu31924013243963) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I want the next generation to know the wonder of the untarnished original, set in the thinking of the time, not a writer’s mind-child tattooed with anachronisms that ruin the whole experience! Didn’t that time have enough of its own problems; does it really need this era’s propaganda? Why do writers use historical TV programs to pick at the scab of modern day issues, preaching pet political opinions and spouting banal platitudes? It’s nauseating. I have a mind to put strychnine in the well these writers drink from because there’s no slate heavy enough to inflict on their heads the fury I feel over their senseless behavior.

Happy at Hartfield

We almost moved this month. We found a house that is the mirror image of the house we’ve been renting. It was the one. Well, I thought it was the one. Turns out it was overpriced, according to the appraiser. We couldn’t pay more. The seller didn’t want less, so we had to walk away.

“…that so long as her father's happiness…required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise.”
“…that so long as her father’s happiness…required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise.”

I had these plans for “my house.” I was there during the inspection, quietly assessing and picturing our things in each room – which is a tad discombobulating when you’re used to the flipped version of a floor plan. I began to be attached. It was going to be our home, after all.

And now it’s not.

Oddly, I’m not disappointed. Like Emma, when she realizes Frank Churchill was only pretending to be interested in her, I feel like I should be upset. But I’m not. I feel relief. I guess the house wasn’t meant for us. We’re happy where we are. Are you happy where you are?

5 Books with Family Personality

People have personalities. Families do, too. Being part of a family affects people – what they do, what they say, how they act. During Thanksgiving this year, I listened in on various family conversations and found a prevailing train of thought. It began something like this:

“I’m thinking about going into…”

“I’ve been considering a new…”

“This coming year, I really want to focus on…”

These statements caught my ear because they said something about my family that I’d never noticed before. They are future-thinking, goal-oriented, action-bound statements. You don’t often hear these from a group of people who have shared a long past together. We like to revisit the past at family gatherings. We like to discuss the present, too, catching up on what’s been happening. But families who share their dreams for the future are special. Their talks are woven from threads of hope, trust, and encouragement. They have something to look forward to. They are not weighed down by something to keep hidden. Oh, they have their fights and trigger topics, but they enjoy divulging their plans because past experience has shown them they will be supported and loved regardless.

Sometimes families get in a communication rut. They forget why they are together and how much being together means. Church families can be the same way. Families can be inhibiting or they can wrap you up in the feeling that you are truly interesting, wanted, and needed. It’s amazing how quickly group personalities can change with the addition or subtraction of people. Just one person can stir up a habit or thought that will put the whole group onto another track.

Thinking about family personality had me considering the books I read. Do you know how few books I’ve read lately that even have a central family in the story? Kids books sometimes do, but the middle school and young adult tend toward the dysfunctional family dynamic. The adult books hardly attempt to draw from family unity at all. So, what opportunities do we readers have to see the family in action? I can think of five books that exhibit obvious family personality.

1. Life with Father by Clarence Day

2. Cheaper by the Dozen by Gilbreth and Carey.

3. Another book I would love to get my hands on is My Philadelphia Father by Biddle/Crichton. At least, I think I’d like it.

4. Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series.

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Everyone of these are based on real families. I haven’t come up with a fictional family yet. What about you? Can you think of a book that really exudes family personality (fictional or truth-based)?

 

A Day of R & R: Rest and Remembrance (Genesis 2:1-3)

20130701aIs there anything as satisfying as completing a big project? When I begin writing a new story, there is this glowing sense of discovery and challenge, like a bright light on everything. But when it’s done—when the last line is penned and the story sits before me, whole—there’s a dreadful lull that undoes me. Something that smacks of dissatisfaction haunts me as I look at my finished tale. It may be complete, but it needs work. I edit and polish it, and others edit and polish it. I’m still not satisfied. That’s when I have to let it go. I could spend the rest of my life trying to improve my child of script.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

When God completed Project Heavens and Earth, He wasn’t worried about having left out a crucial element. He had no dread of being dissatisfied. Everything He made was perfect.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

The picture of an all-powerful Being resting after His work is odd, isn’t it? It’s not like He’s exhausted. The point is: He finished the project. It was done, and it was done right the first time. No need to touch-up or amend anything. He sits back and enjoys His completed masterpiece.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

This is the third time in seven days that God blesses something. Bless is a tough word to my Americanized eyes. Its first meaning is to kneel for a gift, and my society rarely kneels for anything. The second is to grant the gift. In later passages, the patriarchs bless their sons by placing their hands on them, signifying that it is a bestowal and not something the sons can just take. (For more, read about Israel blessing Joseph’s sons.) First, God blesses the animals of the sea and sky. Second, God blesses mankind. Now, God is blessing something I can’t see or set in an alcove of the study to match the curtains. He is blessing a day of the week! The pattern of blessing takes a definite shape: Each time God blesses something, He gives a task or purpose associated with that created thing.

When He blesses the sea creatures and air creatures, He says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters and seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” He tells mankind the same thing in verse 28: to be fruitful and multiply. He adds another task or purpose for mankind, to “replenish (fill it full) the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over [all the animals on the earth].”

He gives the seventh day a task, too. Its purpose is to remind me that God finished His Creation in six days, and He stopped working on the seventh because it was done, complete, perfect. God later establishes the ceremonial observance of the seventh day, known as Sabbath, for the Israelite nation under the law of Moses. The word Sabbath is derived from the word for rest, shabath.

He also sanctifies the seventh day. This is the first time sanctify is used, and I’m curious about its meaning because this word gets tossed around in religious terminology all the time. God is teaching this concept to a nation of people in their own primitive language, so it can’t be too complex. Sanctify means “separated for a purpose.” That’s it. So, basically, I can sanctify my hairbrush—meaning, I can announce it is my hairbrush and only my hairbrush, and any man, woman, child, or dog who attempts to use my hairbrush for anything other than to comb my hair will be swiftly rapped on the knuckles with that hairbrush. Sanctified isn’t a mystical concept. Anybody can sanctify something. It’s the one doing the sanctifying that makes all the difference. When God sanctifies something, it will stay separated for the purpose He gives to it.

God established the purpose for the seventh day, and He has the power to uphold it, just like God has the power to uphold all the laws He established. I didn’t exist when He created all the laws that make the world go ’round. I can’t even look back and observe, “Oh, here it is: the beginning of the phenomenon called the Law of Gravity.” Or, “I’ve pinpointed where the Law of Biogenesis came into existence!” Not possible. But God was there, and He talks about how crucial it is for me to believe that He was there at the beginning and that He is the Cause that effected this habitable, beautiful world.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. – Hebrews 11:3

Keir-Collection-Moses-Red-Sea
Moses and the Red Sea, Public Domain Image from Keir Collection

The Greek word aion is translated ‘worlds’ in this passage, and it looks a lot like our word ‘eon.’ It can mean the material universe, and it can mean the eras, the on-going passage of time. It tells me that every period of history that God has had recorded and preserved is a faithful account. It is a true and unfabricated testimony presented by an Eternal, All-Knowing Witness. My faith will not be strong enough to comprehend the nonmaterial components of this world that God has made if I can’t believe He’s telling me the truth. The understanding of concepts like salvation, love, penitence, the heinousness of sin, or the hope of a heavenly reward is not going to resonate with me wholly. Genesis 1 is a simple, this-is-how-it-happened narrative. The rest of the Bible builds on this foundation, so that, when I’m faced with the why’s and how’s of Jesus Christ being both the Son of God and Son of Man centuries later, I will have a solid grip of the material to establish the nonmaterial. If I find the first chapter in the Book questionable, what prevents me from continuing to reword and revise everything God is trying to teach me in the rest of His book? I’m going to miss what He’s trying to tell me.

Here is the message He wants His creation to know about the world and the humans He created: He made it right the first time. He didn’t make any mistakes. So, all the problems and the scars and the wars and the destruction that I see today were not because He messed up. The wise King Solomon knew this and counseled, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV).

He made mankind beautiful in his time, in the fitting moment. I am the one who must choose to be or not to be what God meant me to be. I am born into a world of men and women who were given the opportunity and chose not to be the way God meant. I, too, chose the ugly route, putting the beautiful things God created to their worst use. That choice affected me; it continues to affect me and others. But God offered me—and everyone—that pristine beauty again through the perfect, sinless life of His Son. I can choose God’s good beauty, but I have to believe He’s telling me the truth and nothing but the truth. Because, one day, He’ll accept me as fully and completely as I accept Him and His truth, and I will enter into His rest, an everlasting shabath.

This is the final update of the “Touching Creation” series. You will find a complete list of posts in the series here.