“…we Christians do combat, not against, but in favor of laughter.”

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mardigras

It seems incongruous to speak of Mardi gras in a theological meditation, because it is at best only indirectly a time in the Church year. But are we not somewhat schizophrenic in this regard? On the one hand, we are only too ready to say that it is precisely in Catholic countries that Mardi gras is most at home; on the other hand, we nevertheless ignore it both spiritually and theologically. Is it, then, one of those things that as Christians we cannot condone, but as humans we cannot deny? In that case we should ask: just how human is Christianity? Granted, Mardi gras is heathen in origin: fertility cult and exorcism merge in it. But it was the Church that had to step in and speak the exorcism that banned the demons who do violence to men and destroy their happiness. Then, after the exorcism, something unexpected, something new appeared—a merrymaking that it wholly exorcises. Mardi gras is to Ash Wednesday a time of laughter before the time of penance, a time of lighthearted self-irony, whose laughter speaks a truth that may well be closely akin to that of the Lenten preacher. Thus Mardi gras, when it has been exorcised, reminds us of the words of the Old Testament preacher: “…a time to weep, and a time to laugh”. For Christians, too, it is not always a time for penance. There is likewise a time for laughter. Yes, Christian exorcism has routed the masked demons and replaced them by the laughter that has been exorcised. All of us know how far removed from this ideal our present Mardi gras often is; how frequently it is mammon and its henchmen that reign there. That is why we Christians do combat, not against, but in favor of laughter. To struggle against demons and to laugh with those who laugh—these are inseparably united. The Christian has no need to be schizophrenic: Christian Faith is truly human.

—Joseph Ratzinger, from the book Co-Workers of the Truth

Method Addiction

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If you’ve ever been part of any subset of society that shares similar end goals, you often find that for some people—maybe even yourself at times—the method that gets you to the end goal can become an end in itself if you let it. As a designer and artist, I see it among people who swear upon certain specific grid systems or interpretations of the golden ratio. As a Catholic, you find it among people to adhere to specific spiritual practices: charismatics or traditionalists or advocates for Divine Mercy, etc. Adhering to a particular method is of paramount importance, and anyone who doesn’t see the brilliance of that method is doing it all wrong.

Why is this? I think it’s because we all trust personal experience more than anything else. Our personal experience tells us that this method works for us, hence it is valid. The other methods—many of which we may have tried, many other which remain abstract in our minds—do not work as well. But leaning too hard on our own personal experience can lead us to forget that other people don’t necessarily have the same minds, personalities, work habits, or spirituality that we do. What works as a method for us might not for someone else. They have their own personal experiences.

That’s when we should remember the end goal. Is it beautiful design or artwork? Is it sanctity? Is it healthy habits? If someone’s method is working toward that end goal, that’s all that should matter. In fact, trying to get someone to embrace a method they aren’t suited to may end up damaging their ability to achieve the end goal.

Another thing that can happen if you’ve become a method purist is to elevate that method to actually represent your end goal. Then if you end up failing to follow the method to the letter, you’ve failed in your faith, or gotten sloppy in your work, or fallen off the wagon health-wise. Not so—reexamine your actual goals.

This doesn’t mean that methods should be downplayed or abandoned. I’ve found many great methods for working, praying, drawing, designing by reading books or articles by people who are enthusiastic evangelizers for their favored method. But at the same time I think it’s important not to feel hurt when a method that works for you ends up not working for someone you’re trying to help, or if you hear someone saying that one of your favorite methods didn’t work for them.

Here’s to achieving goals!

Well, well, well

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Here is a picture of a cool dog.

Here is a picture of a cool dog.

Here goes, I guess. This is my new “base” on the internet, complete with state-of-the-art slow hosting. I’m assuming this is because quality hosting requires the bytes to be hand-delivered by mustachioed hipsters dedicated to recreating the artisanal spirit of web surfing circa 1995.

I plan to keep this site updated at least once a week with new writing, drawing, and such. Check back in for regular updates. I’ve got some ideas in the hopper.

I leave you with this:

An insanitary nuisance

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“Nothing is a masterpiece—a real masterpiece—till it’s about two hundred years old… Look at Christianity. Just a lot of floating seeds to start with, all sorts of seeds. It was a long time before one of them grew into a tree big enough to kill the rest and keep the rain off. And it’s only when the tree has been cut into planks and built into a house and the house has got pretty old and about fifty generations of ordinary lumpheads who don’t know a work of art from a public convenience, have been knocking nails in the kitchen beams to hang hams on, and screwing hooks in the walls for whips and guns and photographs and calendars and measuring the children on the window frames and chopping out a new cupboard under the stairs to keep the cheese and murdering their wives in the back room and burying them under the cellar flags, that it begins even to feel like a religion. And when the whole place is full of dry rot and ghosts and old bones and the shelves are breaking down with old wormy books that no one could read if they tried, and the attic floors are bulging through the servants’ ceilings with old trunks and top-boots and gasoliers and dressmaker’s dummies and ball frocks and dolls-houses and pony saddles and blunderbusses and parrot cages and uniforms and love letters and jugs without handles and bridal pots decorated with forget-me-nots and a piece out at the bottom, that it grows into a real old faith, a masterpiece which people can really get something out of, each for himself. And then, of course, everybody keeps on saying that it ought to be pulled down at once, because it’s an insanitary nuisance.”

— Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary.

Memory and Sensation: Feeding the Imagination

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reading

“Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savor of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God.”
G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

The happiest memories I have from childhood revolve around rich sensory experiences. Certain songs, smells, tastes, or images will trigger those memories, bringing back a flood of reminiscences. Some examples: my father used to pull out one of his favorite records, start it up, and then half-walk, half-dance around the dining room table, kids following behind and mimicking his movements. Silly and fun. Now that I have children of my own, I do it occasionally as well, marching around the sofa in our living room.

In the evenings, my mother would read to us. A ritual eventually developed: brewing some tea, setting out a plate of home-baked digestive biscuits (called “diggy biscuits” by us, after a line in the movie Gaslight), and then settling down to read. Mom read everything from fluff like the Hardy Boys to classics by Dickens and Twain. We read through The Lord of the Rings, Nicholas Nickleby, E. Nesbit’s fantasies, the Chronicles of Narnia, and beyond. Some of the children would fidget or play with toys instead of listening clearly, but the words were still there and available to absorb… READ MORE

Creativity, Art, and the Symphony of Truth

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A few weeks ago, I took two of my children to the Legion of Honor museum here in San Francisco. My oldest, age six, is on the autism spectrum. We’d been to the museum before. Last time he had been so quickly overwhelmed that we had had to leave after twenty minutes. I was hoping that this time he would fare better.

The museum has a large collection of Rodin’s sculpture. His towering, roughly hewn figures are almost overpowering, and I was wondering how my son would take it. In the entry to the Rodin gallery are side displays showing his small plaster mock-ups and models that would serve to guide the large works.

Since it was a weekday, artists and art students were all around the museum, setting up easels and sketching with pen, pencils, and pastels. In the Rodin gallery a woman had already begun her sketched copy of a bust.

My son took it all in. At each sculpture he stopped and looked intently. He looked again at the plaster models. To my embarrassment (he doesn’t really understand the concept of “personal space”) he began to lean against the artist making her copy and peered at her sketch pad. She was good humored about it, as most people are with him.

My daughter, age five, was more interested in the paintings, especially the still life paintings of fruit and flowers. We went downstairs for a snack, and then back up to see more. At my son’s request, we ended up in the Rodin gallery again.

Later I realized that one of the things that attracted him to the sculptures was that he had been able to place them in context…. CONTINUE READING

Plateaus and Gaps: How to keep growing creatively

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When I first started working in graphic design, there was one book in particular that I wanted to design a cover for: Manalive by G.K. Chesterton. I even created some mock covers that have thankfully vanished in the mists of time. I wasn’t ready at that time to design a cover for that book. I was still at the stage where the majority of my design work was frustrating for me to look at, because it didn’t look right. It looked as if I had described what I wanted to a sub-par lackey and he had returned with a bizarrely inadequate version of what I had asked for.

It was hard to describe what that feeling was like. Recently I discovered this quote from Ira Glass, the host of the radio show This American Life… KEEP READING