Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wisdom from Chesterton

This morning I read a wonderful, soothing post from one of my favorite online/blogging friends. She took a trip to the Pacific Northwest. In her blog writing, it is easy to feel the largeness off her soul, the richness of her inner life. In her post, she quotes from a G.K. Chesterton essay. I went hunting for the essay, it was so compelling. I found the following two paragraphs. So rich! I've high-lighted sentences that are especially delicious to me.

"Romance seeks to divide certain people from the lump of humanity, as the statue is divided from the lump of marble. We read a good novel not in order to know more people, but in order to know fewer. Instead of the humming swarm of human beings, relatives, customers, servants, postmen, afternoon callers, tradesmen, strangers who tell us the time, strangers who remark on the weather, beggars, waiters, and telegraph-boys — instead of this bewildering human swarm which passes us every day, fiction asks us to follow one figure (say the postman) consistently through his ecstasies and agonies. That is what makes one so impatient with that type of pessimistic rebel who is always complaining of the narrowness of his life, and demanding a larger sphere. Life is too large for us as it is: we have all too many things to attend to. All true romance is an attempt to simplify it, to cut it down to plainer and more pictorial proportions. What dullness there is in our life arises mostly from its rapidity: people pass us too quickly to show us their interesting side. By the end of the week we have talked to a hundred bores; whereas, if we had stuck to one of them, we might have found ourselves talking to a new friend, or a humourist, or a murderer, or a man who has seen a ghost.

"I do not believe that there are any ordinary people. That is, I do not believe that there are any people whose lives are really humdrum or whose characters are really colourless. But the trouble is that one can so quickly see them all in a lump, like a land surveyor, and it would take so long to see them one by one as they really are, like a great novelist. Looking out of the window, I see a very steep little street, with a row of prim little houses breaking their necks downhill in a most decorous single file. If I were landlord of that street, or agent for that street, or policeman at the corner of that street, or visiting philanthropist making myself objectionable down that street, I could easily take it all in at a glance, sum it all up, and say, “Houses at £40 a year.” But suppose I could be father confessor to that street, how awful and altered it would look! Each house would be sundered from its neighbour as by an earthquake, and would stand alone in a wilderness of the soul. I should know that in this house a man was going mad with drink, that in that a man had kept single for a woman, that in the next a woman was on the edge of abysses, that in the next a woman was living an unknown life which might in more devout ages have been gilded in hagiographies and made a fountain of miracles. People talk much of the quarrel between science and religion; but the deepest difference is that the individual is so much bigger than the average, that the inside of life is much larger than the outside."

Clearly, I need to investigate Chesterton.

All of this rings true to me; it resonates like a chapel bell, calling my soul to the truth of it. We do live too rapidly. We do pass by each other -- even in our families! -- to quickly. We don't care to notice the wonder of another's soul.

I find this true in myself also. About 6 or 7 years ago, I found myself with less to do. I was homeschooling 3 children, but living at my parents' home. I had less housework, was living in a quiet, rural area. It took about a year, but then I started to write. And I wrote and wrote -- short stories, sonnets, a novel. The creativity inside me bloomed and bore fruit.

And when I started working again, it all stopped. I just can't work and create simultaneously. I've heard that Robert Frost found his college teaching posts to be stifling to his creative genius, and I understand that. Again, I find myself with less to do this year. Again, I'm not teaching. This time I'm really only homeschooling one bright 11 year old. I have oodles of time. Much of my mental energy is taken up with worry, but there has been some left over for writing again. I find it such fun; it's satisfying and nourishing, perhaps how some people find gardening -- a labor in which the gardener both gives and receives. This time I'm writing a novel, and I'm 10 chapters in. I'm wondering whether I should just "publish" it online -- here on my blog, or maybe on a second, "writing" blog.

The inner life is very rich. If yours feels dull, flaccid, starving, make a change. Slow down. Quit something, so that you can take up something better. Remember how fleeting life is -- savor every moment. Train yourself to watch others, and learn to listen to another human without planning how you will answer him, or (worse) escape the conversation.

And isn't his description of the little houses, "breaking their necks downhill" absolutely marvelous?

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