The tenth day of Christmas

On this tenth day of Christmas, I realize that I have taken most of the Christmas season off from blogging… which was probably healthy, even though not a deliberate decision. Having entered a new year, I believe that it is time to move forward, to consider where I have been and where I am going, and to make plans in hope and in optimistic Christmas spirit.

We had a lot of family time together for Christmas, which was good… although I also found it necessary to retreat from the crowd and regather my energy. One of my gifts was a splendid commentary on the book of Daniel, and I have already read more than half of it. Other books were also under the tree, plus I invested some of my gift money in books which are on their way to my house. I was asked a second time last month to speak at a funeral. The funeral took place on December 31, so I used the opportunity to talk about last days and about our Christian hope as we live in the last days and look forward to the new creation.

The last several months I have been writing essays on history, drawing upon lectures I delivered in the college classroom when I was still a college instructor, before COVID hit. I probably have about ten to twelve more of those to write, and I hope to produce one a week for the next three months or so.

Meanwhile, as I have been reading through my philosophy library the past couple of years and have finally reached the twentieth century, I have been developing ideas for a book about philosophy. My thought is that this book will contain some characters and plot and drama—a student working on a doctorate in philosophy while working part-time in a store, a bungled hold-up involving a shooting, then time for recovery, followed by a trial. This plot will introduce opportunities to examine truth—truth as seen from different points of view, and the effort to discover a genuine truth behind those perspectives. But what I will write and post first will be some comments about philosophy that (I hope) will become narrative and conversation in the book, as the main character explains why he is studying philosophy and how it applies to “real” life. My goal is to produce one post a week for this project, and we will see how it goes.

Aside from that, posts will come as they come. They might reflect current events, weather, holidays, or life in general, as the mood strikes me. If I continue taking a break from time to time (as I did in 2021), that will mean that I am busy with other things.

I wish each of you the richest blessings in this new year. May it bring us joy and peace and reasons for hope. J.

The clam in the middle of the storm

I have been absent from WordPress for several days, not because of a deliberate social media fast (a practice which meets with my approval), but simply because of the business of the season. In addition to the usual Advent and Christmas activities, some extra events have also been occupying my time. For one thing, I will be speaking this week at the funeral of a long-time church member; she asked me some months ago to speak at her funeral, and I promised to do so, neither of us knowing at the time that this would happen during the latter part of the Advent season. When her son called to let me know she had died and to repeat the request on behalf of the family, his words were tangled (as happens to most of us at stressful times). He wanted to say that the family would be honored to have me speak, but he kept saying instead that it would be an honor for me to speak at his mother’s funeral. Which it is, in fact, but I know what he was trying to say.

Last February, in the midst of a record-breaking spell of winter weather, two of my daughters moved into a new apartment. Most things have gone well for them in their new place, but this month they began finding that water was leaking into their apartment, soaking the carpeting and pooling on the harder floors. The apartment management sent repair specialists to find and fix the leak, but in a larger building with several units that task is harder than it is in a single-family house. As a result, we have been housing refugees this month—three cats and a dog, although the dog was only here part of the time. The dog managed to complicate matters, though, by breaking through a window because a neighbor of my daughters was walking his dog; this meant that my daughter’s dog needed time at a veterinary clinic, resulting in family being out on the road in the midst of several, tornado-bearing thunderstorms Friday night. All went well for my family, though, and we pray for those who suffered greater losses in those terrible storms.

Christmas decorations are going up in and around the house, although we seem to have more electrical problems than usual this year. The blue lights we string across the front of the house had segments that would not light. I suspect that many households that use this kind of decoration buy new strings of bulbs every year and do not try to store them and reuse them as we do. Then we had similar problems with the lights for the Christmas tree indoors. I was able to get one of three dysfunctional strings working. Another has a segment that will not light but is bundled together and hidden on the back side of the tree. The third one that refuses to work is being kept as a source for replacement bulbs, as a fair number of bulbs are burnt out. I assure them that I can relate. I shopped online for replacement bulbs, but they are hard to find; the only ones available include the bulb but no socket, meaning that replacement involves threading the tiny wires of the new bulb through the old socket. Cannibalizing the extra string clearly is the better choice.

And I have messages to prepare for other audiences, which is why WordPress sinks lower on my list of priorities. I was reading one message this weekend before sharing it and discovered a typo that Word’s spellcheck failed to notice. Speaking about the Biblical encouragement to rejoice (and I say it again: Rejoice!—Philippians 4:4), I described how that word seems sometimes like a commandment, like the commandment not to be anxious. Both these messages, I said, are promises and not commandments. We should not put extra pressure on ourselves, trying to rejoice, trying not to worry. Instead, we understand that Jesus has already fixed our problems. For that reason, we rejoice and do not worry. Speaking of the “peace at the center” that comes from having Christ at the center (of our lives and of our holiday observances), I wrote about the clam in the middle of the storm. There is potential for a great message based around that picture, but I haven’t had time to write that message; I simply changed the word “clam” back to “calm.”

As time permits, I hope to finish my series of world history posts, wrapping up the Victorian Age and carrying through the twentieth century—World Wars, the Great Depression, post-modernism, and globalization. But I have already created an outline for yet another book, one which will focus on philosophy, especially questions about truth and how we know what is true. Among other things, this book will acknowledge the possibility (popularized in the Matrix movies) that we are living in a simulated world and not in reality. Given current scientific understandings of general relativity, subatomic physics, quantum mechanics, and the nature of time, the simulation theory is not far-fetched; moreover, it may mesh nicely with a creationist, young-earth perspective. But that writing will not appear until next month.

Blessings to each of you in your Advent observances. J.

Giving thanks

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things.

I am thankful to have food available—tasty food, healthy and nutritious food, food in great variety, for a family feast and later a light supper and the next day delicious leftovers. I am thankful for clothing and shelter—shelter with flush toilets, with hot and cold running water, with control over the temperature of the air in winter and summer and every day of the year, and with a wide variety of entertainment available at the push of a few buttons. These are not the greatest blessings I enjoy, but they are blessings all the same, and I am thankful.

I am thankful to live in a nation based upon liberty, a nation that protects its citizens from violence, a nation that shows compassion to those in need. I am thankful to live in a nation founded upon ideas and not upon military victories or the power of one ruler. I am thankful for freedom to think as I wish, to speak as I wish, to write as I wish, and to gather with like-minded people. I am thankful for freedom of religion. I am thankful that other people are free to disagree, even to insist that we have too much freedom, and that such opinions can be discussed and debated among ourselves.

With that freedom of religion, I am thankful to know the God who created all things and still upholds them by his power. I am thankful to know the God who tells us why he made us, yet who pays our debt when we fall short of his plans and rescues us from evil, even from the consequences of our own rebellion. I am thankful to know the God who calls us to repent and to believe, then gives us power to do those very things through his call. I am thankful to know the God who gathers his people around his promises, keeps us in the true faith, and promises eternal life in a perfect world to all those who hold to that faith. These blessings outshine all others.

I am thankful that my employer pays me not to come to work Thursday and Friday but allows me to observe the holiday of Thanksgiving with family and with the congregation. I am thankful for a four-day weekend in which I can sleep late some mornings, accomplish some tasks around the house, do some reading and some writing, and maybe even start unpacking decorations for Advent and Christmas. At the same time, I am grateful for those people (including two of my daughters) who will be working during this holiday, caring for those whose medical needs do not take a holiday. I am thankful that professionals will be available if needed should a problem arise. I am thankful for the man who came to our house Thanksgiving evening several years ago because our carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alarm. He checked for gas leaks and other dangers, and he correctly determined that the detector was at fault. I am thankful that we were not in danger that day, and that we did not have to wait for the holiday to end before we knew that we were safe.

I am thankful that family will gather and will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving together, even if some members will arrive late to the celebration. I am thankful that we will be able to enjoy each other’s company and that we will also be able to contact those who are living elsewhere and share the joy of the holiday with them. I also am thankful that, when the weekend is over, the children will return to their various homes and living spaces and I will once again have a quiet house for reading, writing, and other leisure activities.

I am thankful for my online friends in the WordPress community, those who read my blogs and comment on my posts, those who leave their likes, those whose blogs I read and enjoy, those who share a piece of their lives online and are willing also to let me share my thoughts and experiences with them. May each of us, however we observe and remember this holiday, find joy in giving thanks and have a pleasant and enriching holiday weekend. J.

Books, books, books

This afternoon I have updated two pages on this blog. I have completely redone the “Books by Salvageable” page, removing the images of book covers and listing titles alphabetically (separated into non-fiction and fiction), each with a link to the book listing on amazon.com. I have linked to the text versions of the book, but the Kindle versions should be easily available from that page.

Also, I have added my latest book, Advent Thoughts and Christmas Musings. Long-time readers of this blog have seen the earlier drafts of the devotions in this book; current users can find those drafts for free by hunting back into the distant past. Otherwise, the book is for sale, edited and updated, for six dollars in standard book form or three dollars on Kindle. It consists of twenty-four devotional readings for the first twenty-four days of December. After an introduction that explains the historic significance of the time of Advent (a calm within the storm of Christmas preparations), these devotions lead the reader through the Old Testament promises and pictures of the coming Savior whose birth we celebrate each Christmas. Also included are twelve devotions for the twelve days of Christmas. These focus on some of the traditional festivals of the Christmas season, such as St. Stephen’s Day (December 26) and The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus (January 1).

I have also changed the Novella page to include only an excerpt of my novella, “To Tell the Truth (A Love Story).” A link to amazon.com is included for anyone who wants to purchase the entire novella in print or in Kindle form (six dollars paperback or four dollars Kindle).

Meanwhile, I have other books struggling to make their way forward. The next one to be published will be “Witnesses to the Passion of our Lord,” a collection of first-person accounts of what happened to Jesus on and around Good Friday, as related by such persons as Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, and the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus’ cross. Some of these accounts go back thirty years in preparation, but I am finally ready to assemble them as a book. I would like to bring together some of my recent posts about politics and economics into a manifesto, probably focused on the problems inherent in socialism, but with other reflections as well. I may try to assemble some of my most recent posts into a book on the history of western civilization. I want to start writing a book about love (from a Biblical and Christian perspective, covering not only romance and marriage but also family, friendships, love for our neighbors, and love for God). Finally, I have wanted for years to assemble some sort of approach to Christian philosophy (if there is such a thing).

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). J.

Civic planning at its finest

The main drive through town hosts a number of fast-food restaurants, as well as a variety of other shops—hair and nail salons, clothing boutiques, a car wash, a gas station, and the like. One of the places we used to visit sells hot dogs and frozen desserts, the latter consisting of frozen yogurt mixed with any desired combination of fruits, nuts, candies, and similar ingredients. We used to go there after supper once in a while to get a banana split or a chocolate concrete or a sundae, and we would sit outdoors and eat our treats and watch the traffic going up and down the road.

Three years ago some construction began right across the street from our favorite treat place. I felt a little bad about the construction because it was happening next door to a funeral parlor, or mortuary. I figured that the construction noise must be a disturbance to the families and friends gathering for visitations and visitation services at the mortuary. My dismay was relieved, though, when I saw that the new construction was designed to be one of those emergency medical clinics, the kind intended to replace hospital emergency rooms, able to offer quicker service because emergency treatment is all they do. What could be a more sensible partnership, I asked myself, than to have emergency medical treatment in one establishment and, if needed, a mortuary right next door?

The clinic opened and is getting lots of business. I have no idea how many referrals they are sending next door. But this summer, ground broke on another new building the other side of the clinic from the mortuary. I was interested, waiting to learn what would be joining the convenience line on that side of the street, and I recently found out that the newest establishment will be an orthodontist service. That makes a suitable neighbor to the medical clinic, especially since the long-standing business on the other side of the new orthodontist office is a school for the martial arts. So, if something goes wrong in martial arts class, they have an orthodontist right next door. If that isn’t enough, they have an emergency clinic next to that, and then a mortuary just beyond that. It seems like perfect city planning, the kind of row of businesses my children might have put into one of their SimCity exercises.

And what is on the other side of the mortuary, you might ask. Right next to their parking lot is a building with several offices, one of which is used by a law firm. So what could be better than to move from the martial arts school to the orthodontist, the emergency medical clinic, the mortuary, and then the law office? And, at any time in the process, one can always cross the street for a tasty hot dog and dessert! J.

More Heidegger

Last night I finished reading Martin Heidegger’s classic philosophy text, Being and Time. (That makes 98 books finished before the end of June 2021, which means I am on roughly the same reading pace that I was last year, but no one but me is measuring.) Heidegger’s mention of “falling prey” prompted me to write a recent post, which led to a comment by Slim Jim (whose blog I strongly recommend) that he would like to read some of Heidegger’s work. I was going to respond to his comment, but I think that instead I will share my impression of Heidegger with the world in general.

As a philosopher working in the first half of the twentieth century, Heidegger had a long tradition preceding him, one that had thoroughly inquired into many of the key questions that philosophy generally addresses. At the same time, many philosophical questions were beginning to be handed off to various branches of science—astronomy, physics, chemistry, psychology, anthropology, and so on. Heidegger found himself returning to some of the questions that many people considered solved already in the work of Plato and Aristotle: what does it mean for someone or something to exist? What does it mean to speak of existence? Is existence a quality like size or shape or color? The study of existence (technically called ontology) opened new doors for Heidegger to explore. His entire career consisted of various approaches to the meaning of existence and how a definition of existence shapes all the other philosophical questions we might ask about ourselves and about the world around us.

For others inclined, like Slim Jim, to go online or to the library and tackle some of Heidegger’s work, I have four suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Like most professional philosophers, Martin Heidegger used a carefully defined vocabulary in which some common words have very narrow and specific meanings. Other words you find in Heidegger’s work are used only by philosophers, and many of the words he uses, Heidegger himself invented. Philosophers do not write this way became they are trying to be difficult or to look smart. They do this so that, as they write, they say exactly what they mean, no more and no less.
  • Not only is the vocabulary challenging, but the sentence structure is also more complex in Heidegger and in most other philosophers than it is in (for example) a typical novel or newspaper story or Reader’s Digest article. The reason for such a complex style of writing matches that of the difficult vocabulary: Heidegger and other philosophers are trying to make sure that they write exactly what they mean, no more and no less.
  • Because of the difficult vocabulary and structure, the writing of philosophers such as Heidegger must be read slowly and repeatedly. Reading the same work five times is considered typical for the reader who wants to grasp what the writer is saying. (I will address this from a different angle in a few seconds.)
  • When you have taken the trouble to learn a philosopher’s vocabulary, to adjust to that philosopher’s writing style, to read slowly, and to read that philosopher’s work several times, you may find that the philosopher’s conclusions are startlingly simple. Perhaps they even seem like common sense. This does not mean that the philosopher wasted his or her time spent in writing or wasted your time spent in reading. The philosopher may have reached a conclusion that you already believed, but the philosopher has taken the difficult road to reach that conclusion. The philosopher’s conclusion is not a guess; it is based on long and deep thinking, consideration of many other options that never occurred to you, and considerable caution to make sure that no false steps were taken at any part of the journey.

My senior year of college, I was one of a team of students who came early to campus to help orient the incoming freshmen. College orientation means more than standing in the quad and pointing east. (The term, however, comes from the practice of observing the sunrise at the beginning of the day, knowing that the sun rises in the east, and using that information to identify north, south, and west.) During that orientation weekend, I had ten or twelve freshmen sitting in my dormitory room where we had a scheduled visit from their faculty advisor. Standing in my room, leaning against my closet door, this professor told the new students that they should consider college a full-time job. It was not enough to attend classes and do a little homework; they should expect to spend hours outside the classroom reading the assigned work, researching and writing, and thinking about what they were learning. One of the points he made was that, to understand a book well, one must read that book five times.

After the professor left, the freshmen asked me whether it is true that they had to read their books five times to understand them. “It depends upon the book,” I told them. I reminded them that this professor taught philosophy, where the five-times rule is generally true. Other books might be grasped in a first or second reading. With many more years to consider the five-times rule, though, I have come to the conclusion that any good book requires and deserves multiple readings. The books of the Bible require multiple readings—the five-time rule is a worthy guide for the Bible. Great literature needs repeated reading. Many science and history textbooks need more than one reading before they start to make sense. In our busy, hurried world, most of us read a document (on paper or on a screen) only once. Even our own writing, we often read once and then click “publish.” Good writing merits re-reading. When we want our writing to be good, we must read it again and again, verifying that we have written what we want to say—no more and no less.

Two little things (aside from “falling prey”) captured my attention in the last part of Heidegger’s book. One was his examination of conscience. Normal people (excluding psychopaths or sociopaths) have a conscience, an inner voice that warns us when we are wrong. Heidegger asks what we call that inner voice when it persistently reminds us that we have been wrong: is that a “bad conscience” or a “good conscience”? Stop and think about that for a moment. As a Christian, I have an answer Heidegger did not propose: a bad conscience reminds us of our guilt and keeps on warning us we were wrong but offers no hope to change our condition; a good conscience also reminds us of our guilt but leads us to repent of our sin, to throw ourselves on God’s mercy, and to trust his promise of forgiveness.

Dealing with the themes of being and time, Heidegger spoke about the items on display in a museum. We often say that we look at them to learn about the past. But, as Heidegger reminds his readers, we see them in the museum only because they exist in the present. Their meaning and significance may be altered now that they are displayed in a museum—they are not, in that sense, identical to what they were when they existed as everyday items in common usage. But they cannot bring us into their past because our being, our existence, our Da-sein, is seeing them only in the present, not in our personal past.

That’s enough deep thinking for tonight. J.

I dreamed a dream

I have vivid and memorable dreams, this year more than ever before. I have dreamt about family members, both living and dead. I have dreamt about friends and co-workers, both present and from the past. I have invented people, such as Lori the cheerleader. But last night’s dream was one to remember, as I got to hang out with the Beatles, as they were in 1964.

I met the four of them in the audience section of an otherwise empty theater, but then I took them home for lunch. The home I took them to was the house in which I grew up. We ate in the living room (which is odd, upon reflection; my family always ate at the dining room table), and I gave them direction to the bathroom at the end of the hall. We ate lightly—deli meat on white bread, with lettuce and tomato on the side. But then the dream shifted, as dreams often do, and we were seated in a restaurant. I remember that we were served an appetizer of fried onions covered with mushrooms and gravy. But I was with the Beatles—John, Paul, George, and Ringo, just as we know them from A Hard Days Night and other film footage from that year.

In my dreams, I have sat and talked with Presidents—not yet with President Biden, but with most of the other Presidents in my lifetime. I have played basketball with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and the rest of the 1990s Chicago Bulls. (That dream was in the 90s; after I awoke, I concluded that I had taken the place of Judd Buechler on the team.) I have watched tornadoes, and I have fled from sinister forces that were chasing me for no good purpose. I have discovered rooms and entire levels of houses in which I lived, fully furnished and free of dust even though they had been forgotten for years. I have traveled roads that began with me behind the wheel of a car but ended with me following narrow trails on foot. I have climbed mountains and forded streams, although I do not recall ever following a rainbow. I have had cats and dogs speak to me.

But having lunch with the Beatles is an experience I will not quickly forget. J.

SCIENCE AND LIFE

The good thing about science is that it is always changing. The more experts observe the world around us and try to understand it, the more they discover and share with the rest of us. From the tiniest elements of creation—the particles from which atoms are made—to the vastness that contains galaxies beyond number, the universe is filled with marvels. New living beings are frequently found in the depths of the oceans, the hearts of the rain forests, and even in our own backyards. Health and disease, gladness and depression, the quality of our environment—they all matter to us, and they all are subject to study, observation, experiment, and the other tools of science. These tools help improve our lives and our care of the world around us.

The bad thing about science is that it is always changing. Coffee and dark chocolate and red wine are bad for us, except when they are good for us. The innards of the atom and the inhabitants of this planet require further study. What seemed true yesterday might be disproved today; what seems true today might be shown to have been mistaken by tomorrow. Science itself is a useful tool for our lives, but it is only a tool. Science lacks the authority and stability to be a foundation for our lives.

When I was young, my parents invested in several series of books. They bought Funk &Wagnall’s encyclopedia set, one volume at a time. They also bought reference books on their hobbies, photography and sewing, that came out once a month for a year or two. To top it all, my parents bought the LIFE set of books about science—those colorful volumes that could be found in many living rooms and studies a number of years ago. I did a fair amount of research in those LIFE books, both for school assignments and for casual learning. As an adult, I was able to obtain a set of the same books for my family library. They look nice on the shelf, but they are heavy to move, and the science in them is old. They are useful to learn the history of science, but they cannot compete with the Internet for up-to-date descriptions of scientific theory and investigation. This reality was reinforced this month when I picked up one of those LIFE books and started reading it from page one.

This book from the LIFE Nature Library, is called “The Poles.” At describes the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the Earth, detailing climate, flora and fauna, human exploration and inhabitation, and research endeavors in the far north and the far south. I was fascinated to learn that the South Pole is colder than the North Pole because of the continent Antarctica; the ocean under the polar ice in the north moderates the temperature of the northern region. Also, because the polar ice sheet moves and shatters and reforms, it is difficult to establish the location of the North Pole at any given time—a flag planted there this summer might be several miles away from the Pole in the future. This book, which was published in 1962, has much interesting information about the polar regions, but science has learned far more information in the past sixty years. For that matter, accounts of human exploration of the north have been reviewed and found inaccurate; Robert Peary did not reach the North Pole in 1908, even though the LIFE editors were still willing to hand him the prize as recently as 1962.

Even sixty years ago, scientists studying Greenland and Antarctica had uncovered evidence that these bodies of land once supported “warm forests and plains.” This led the editors of “The Poles” to write these words in the third paragraph of their introduction to their book: “Today we are entering an era of unlimited power, when science may be able to alter the temperature balance and convert the cold regions to hospitable, productive ones. To do this would require the greatest political courage, for the rewards certainly would not be equally divided over all political borders. But if it were done, the problem of containing and feeding future generations could be solved. Unfortunately we as a nation are not yet confronted with the problem and we give it only token attention; but the world storms generated by hunger are brewing.”

Need I say more? J.

No need to jump, part two

I have found a way to work my latest story idea into a long-standing unfinished novel that has been brewing for roughly thirty years. The main character, Roger Sorenson, will be the poisoning victim I mentioned in my last post. The story begins with his death and the beginning of the police investigation. It then jumps backward in time to the beginning of his relationship with Rose Gardner, his ex-wife who is a suspect in his murder.

Ernest Gardner had nothing in his life but his business and his family, and long ago he combined the two into one. His wife is long-gone, but all three of his daughters—Rose, Lily, and Violet—work at his florist shop. (Those names may be too cute, but for the time being they will work as place-holders.) Ernest’s florist shop is no small business at one end of a strip mall, ordering produce from chain suppliers. The shop occupies most of a city block, complete with greenhouses, showrooms, and office space. Ernest inherited the business before he was married, and his daughters have grown up with the business. Violet is still in school, but she works in the shop evenings and weekends. Lily is a full-time worker in the greenhouses. Rose, the eldest, has taken business classes and earned a degree; she is the company bookkeeper for Ernest’s shop.

For several years, Ernest has hired a student or two from the university across town to assist in the office with clerical work. He has never hinted this thought to any of his clerks or to any of his daughters, but at the back of his mind Ernest is always hoping to create a match. He would like to find a husband for his daughters, an educated man, but a man willing to take an interest in the family business. Rose is old enough and set in her ways; Ernest doubts at this point that any romantic match will come her way. Lily and Violet seem more eligible matches for the young men Ernest hires. Rose is strong-willed, firm in her opinions, and confident in her abilities. (Shakespeare may have helped a tiny bit to invent this character and her situation.)

Roger Sorenson is this year’s clerk. He is finishing his classwork to earn a doctorate in Philosophy. He has already begun contemplating the topic of his thesis. Most of his mind is focused on his schoolwork, but he appreciates the extra income from the clerk’s position. Moreover, Roger is a quick learner. In a few weeks he learned the basic tasks in the florist business; not only can he handle office paperwork, but he is also capable of serving in the shop, waiting on customers.

One day, when Roger and Rose are in the shop, a man enters and attempts an armed robbery. Roger heroically protects Rose from harm and disarms the robber, but not before Roger is injured. (I have fantasized this event in many ways over the years; the details will not be hard to write.) Because all his family is out of town, Roger is welcomed into the Gardner household to continue his recovery once he is released from the hospital. Rose is at his side as often as her schedule allows. Romance and marriage will follow.

Since Roger is studying philosophy, he will have many opportunities during his convalescence to explain the workings of philosophy to a skeptical Rose. To show the value of his discipline, Roger will begin with aesthetics—the question of what things are beautiful, and why. Rose must analyze flowers and flower arrangements according to structured thought rather than intuitive design. From that beginning, Rose will also learn about ethics and finally about the eternal questions regarding the universe—what is real, and how do we know? These questions become increasingly important as the accused robber and his friends present a version of what happened that fateful day in the shop which is dramatically different from the event as Roger and Rose remember it.

A jury hears the evidence, including the conflicting testimony, and it convicts the robber of attempted murder. He spends the next several years in prison, learning from his fellow prisoners about crime, making connections with other members of the local criminal community. His release from prison happens only a few weeks before Roger receives the package of poisoned candy. By this time, Roger and Rose have been married and divorced. Did she send him the candy, or was she framed by the man who once threatened her with a gun? Will the truth ever be found?

This story permits the insertion of various explanations of philosophy and its applications to contemporary life. One version or another of this book has been in my mind for many years. Like me, Roger Sorenson is a Christian, a fan of Kierkegaard, and an avid reader of western civilization’s classic works. Can he share this passion with Rose, or will the Great Thoughts be the nemesis of their relationship? J.

No need to jump

This morning I awoke from a dream in which I overheard the following conversation:

“Time to get up, get moving! Time to strap on a parachute and jump into an adventure.”

“No, thanks, I’m not planning on taking any adventure.”

“But you’re a writer! You’re supposed to be all about adventure.”

“No—I let my characters have the adventure. A writer—if that writer takes a flight in an airplane at all—is going to stay inside the airplane until it’s safely on the ground again.”

I’m not sure about all the words from that dream, but the final line is pretty much the way I dreamed it. And what I heard in my dream, I also endorse in my waking life. A writer’s job is not to have adventures: a writer’s job is to send out characters on adventures and then describe those adventures for the rest of us.

In the last twelve months, I’ve had enough personal adventures to keep me satisfied for a very long time. Over the weekend, I found myself on the Internet researching various poisons. What did the Russian government use against Alexai Navaly, and how did they acquire it? What common household items are toxic? What about plants in the house or garden? What combinations of various available chemicals are highly dangerous? Along the way, I read about the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Tom Petty, Prince, and a few others, even following the absurd rabbit hole of the “27 Club.” Then, to justify this research, I invented the plot of a murder mystery. A man receives a box of candy at work. After eating two pieces of the candy, he keels over, dead. His ex-wife is the primary suspect. The package had no return address, but the postmark indicates it was mailed from the post office nearest her home. From the time on the postmark, police investigators are able to view security footage of the package being mailed. The person mailing the package appears to be a woman of about the ex-wife’s build, but the mailer is unrecognizable, wearing a face mask, sunglasses, and a scarf over her head. Police chemists test the remaining candy and identify the poison—it can be made from ingredients available at the local Walmart. Obtaining a search warrant for the ex-wife’s home, investigators find wrappings from such ingredients lying behind her outdoor trash can, against the side of the house. A Walmart receipt is with those wrappings. From the date and time on the receipt, the investigators can view the shopper who bought and paid for those items—paid in cash, by the way, as that person also paid at the post office. The Walmart shopper wore the same mask, the same sunglasses, and the same scarf—which is interesting, since the purchase of those ingredients and of the box of candy happened two days before they were mailed. Is the ex-wife guilty of murder, or has someone gone out of their way to frame her for the crime? If she was framed, by whom? The only person with a motive to harm her in that way, is her dead ex-husband. Did he kill himself to get revenge on her? If so, who was his confederate, the person seen at Walmart and at the post office. That person was too small to be that man, but would any person have knowingly helped him in this crime? Or could he have tricked someone into the visits to Walmart and the post office, not telling them the reason he asked them to make those trips?

It’s an OK basis for a story, although it needs to be fleshed out with the personalities of the victim and his ex-wife, his reasons for possibly wanting to kill himself while framing his ex-wife for murder, and perhaps an additional red herring or two. I also had a subplot about the same man recently preventing a violent crime in a heroic manner, only to mutter afterward that he had hoped to be killed while performing that heroic deed. Maybe somehow the intended perpetrator of that violent crime had a way of getting even through the poisoned candy and framed the ex-wife only to draw attention away from himself or herself. The story could build from there, with perhaps an entire gang of terrorists plotting to frighten a city but thrown off balance by the random action of an average man.

I have several other writing projects stacked, ready to be written when I find the time to write. I doubt this murder mystery/adventure will be added to the queue. I might change my mind. It doesn’t have to be my adventure: I can sit home and write and send these characters out on their adventure. J.