Head screwed on?

This comment thread on why software programmers claim a dispropotionate slice of the earth’s weirdos is full of insight.

If my wife ever wonders what’s going on in my head sometimes, this is a clue!

Software types are more analytical, (either as a result or as an cause of them being in their field). As such they see things that Joe Random doesn’t even notice.

When the waitress says “If you need anything else, my name is Betty” Joe Random grunts and takes a bite of his meal.

Programmer dude wonders what her name is if he DOESN’T need any thing else.

Balancing minds

Snagged via Gyler’s The Company They Keep (p.215):

Much was possible to a man in solitude…But some things were possible only to man in companionship, and of these the most important was balance. No mind was so good that it did not need another mind to counter and equal it, and to save it from conceit and blindness and bigotry and folly.

-Charles Williams, The Place of the Lion, p.187

Gonna last longer than your friends

Choose your enemies carefully ‘cos they will define you
Make them interesting ‘cos in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends

-U2, The Cedars of Lebanon

Art needs community to thrive: find some

You can’t buy this stuff:

There is one myth about writers that I have always felt was particularly pernicious and untruthful — the myth of the “lonely writer,” the myth that writing is a lonely occupation, involving much suffering because, supposedly, the writer exists in a state of sensitivity which cuts him off, or raises him above, or casts him below the community around him. This is a common cliche, a hangover probably from the romantic period and the idea of the artist as Sufferer and Rebel . . . I suppose there have been enough genuinely lonely suffering novelists to make this seem a reasonable myth, but there is every reason to suppose that such cases are the result of less admirable qualities in these writers, qualities which have nothing to do with the vocation of writing itself . . . Unless the writer has gone utterly out of his mind, his aim is still communication, and communication suggests talking inside community.

-Flannery O’Connor

(Via the front flap of The Company They Keep by Diana Gyler)

This was probably the best part of guitar  studio and music school in general – being pushed forward by peers performing all around you. Writing has got to be the same way I think.

Along these same lines, Gyler quotes Karen Lefevre:

There will always be great need for individual initiative, but not matter how inventive an individual wants to be, he will be influenced for better or for worse by the intellectual company he keeps. On top of Mt. Mansfield in Vermont, there are thirty-year-old trees that are only three feet tall. If a tree begins to grow taller, extending beyond the protection of the others, it dies. The moral for inventors: Plant yourself in a tall forest if you hope to have ideas of stature.


Narrowing the list of books you’re allowed to read

Since Lewis viewed Praise as an indication of good mental health, it is not surprising that he defined good literary criticism as that which is fundamentally positive: “The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read”

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.49 (Quote from Lewis in Reflections

Sounds like much of the reformed blogosphere… cough cough John MacArthur cough cough Phil Johnson cough Challies, cough…

One thing I like about reading Robert Webber is that he doesn’t automaticaly assume someone with really different theology than him is worthless. He can still be eclectic and dig up good stuff from folks with all kinds of legitimate problems. Christians from different groups still being friends. How ’bout that?

The Inklings: Cultural architects?!

Shortly before Lewis died, a guy named John Wain wrote about the Inklings. He saw the Inklings as “a fairly uniform group with common ideas, theories, moods, created worlds, approaches, patterns and sources.”

In his book, Wain claims that group members shared on single outlook. He writes, “The group had a corporate mind”, a mind both “powerful” and “clearly defined.” And its nature? “Politically conservative, not to say reactionary; in religion, Anglo- or Roman Catholic; in art frankly hotle to any manifestation of the ‘modern’ spirit”. Wain takes the matter a step futher and claims that the group’s strong focus was not only radical but quite intentional. He describes the Inklings as “a circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life.”

Wow. All kinds of Christian leaders would be thrilled to have someone describe them as such. See Brant Hansen’s recent comments on the Catalyst conference.

On the other hand…

Lewis read [Wain’s comments] and he was outraged. He published a rebuttal..seeking to set the record straight. Lewis states in no uncertain terms, “The whole picture of myself as one forming a cabinet, or cell, or coven, is erroneous. Mr. Wain has mistaken purely personal relationships for alliances.

Gyler continues:

The claim that the Inklings gathered together under the banner of some “incendiary” purpose cannot be substantiated.”

Right. I think Lewis is right. They didn’t see themselves as being “impact your world” cultural architects, “planet shakers”, or whatever else. They were just passionate about certain kinds of literature and worked really hard. It happens that their views on many things were highly Christian while still being remarkably creative.

I gotta say though, 60-70 years in hindsight, I think Wain’s comments can NOT be written off. Lewis’s theology is incredibly influential throughout the western world now. Tolkien wrote THE novel of the 20th century and it spits in the face of modernism like nothing else could. If they were overtly TRYING to change the world with Christian ideas, they couldn’t have possibly done a better job. In fact, maybe if they were “trying to change the world” they would have written crap instead. That’s more likely.

Perhaps, just maybe, the greatest work you can do for God is some sort of trade or seemingly “secular” discipline. The Inklings were not men of the cloth, but name a man of the cloth who left such a mark? Do not despair in your endeavor.

Along these lines (I think), read Michael Spencer’s recent biographical post that ties into this.

A warning when studying literature

Gyler mentions this early on in her book on the Inklings:

…comparing texts and finding similarities creates a number of problems. For one thing, any measure of similarity is by nature highly subjective. As Goran Hermeren makes clear, “Our knowledge and expectations determine what similarities (or differences) we notice”…Studies based on this method of research tend to focus on the small and particlar: specific images, common characters, parallel events, invented names. Weightier issues such as purpose, theme, technique, and the like are much harder to compare by looing at textual features side by side. Sharles Moorman offers this word of warning “All to often, studies [of influence] are notable only for the amount of irrelevant minutiae they are able to uncover”

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.35

Wow. Scholarly research focussing on small particular things publishing mostly irrelevant minutiae. Say it ain’t so.

This same thing happens in Biblical scholarship too I think. When you use a language concordance to look up verses where the same word occurs and then patch together verses from all over the place to make your point. Chances are, those verses aren’t at all talking about the same thing. Context, context.”Purpose, theme…”, is much harder. Yeah.

Nice office = less work done

Thanks to Steve Hay’s comment (now a post), I’m still stuck on the Inklings for a bit. The Company They Keep by Diana Gyler is only a couple years old and full of insight.

Reading through it though, I’ve found the footnotes to be more interesting than her actual thesis (that the Inklings thrived off interaction with each other, despite their frequent insistence that they acted alone).

Describing Lewis’s room where the Inklings usually met, Humphrey Carpenter writes:

The main sitting-room is large, and throught certainly not dirty it is not particularly clean… Lewis never bothers with ashtrays but flicks his cigarette ash … on to the carpet wherever he happens to be standing or sitting. He even absurdly maintains that ash is good for carpets. As for chairs – there are several shabbily comfortable armchairs and a big Chesterfeld sofa in the middle of the room – their lose covers are never cleaned, nor has it ever occurred to Lewis that they ought to be. Consequently their present shade of grey may or may not bear some relation to their original color.

Here, Gyler stops to mention some research done on highly productive people:

In Organizing Genius, Bennis and Biederman point out that shabby surroundings are the norm, not the exception, in the groups that they studied: “For reasons still to discovered, creative collaboration seems to be negatively correlated with the plushness of the office or the majesty of the view. Awful places have come to be seen as almost a requisite for a Great Group.”

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.24

“for reasons still to be discovered” – or not. I’ll tell you what’s up with this: Guys who do great things spend all their time working, not buying gear and reading magazines. This is why any city has a thousand mediocre guitar players with beautiful $5k axes and $3k reverb units to go with their state of the art amp setup. They’re playing would sound great if they spent half the time practicing as they did on gear-enthusiast message boards.

The only place where this gear issue is perhaps worse is with photographers.

English grad students don’t actually write any books. They just talk about writing books and occasionally write about other’s books.

I think the messy office goes right along with this. If you spend your time and money on having a beautiful posh retreat to do your art, you probably aren’t producing much.

Chad Fowler wrote an excellent post about this here.

New son!

Been out for a bit… we now have a 3rd child! On Friday we adopted a 10-day old baby boy.

He’s doing great.