Holiday Challenge Post

So, my deepest apologies. I was responsible for today’s post and between traveling and having Christmas with my parents and my brother’s family I completely forgot that a post had to go up today. So, I was originally planning to write a post about how to effectively apply some of the things that we’ve talked about, but instead I’m just going to give you all a chance to practice. So, for today’s post I want you to write a story set in your favorite holiday. The post doesn’t have to be about the holiday (think Gremlins or Die Hard more than The Christmas Story), but it does have to be set to the background of the holiday. Further, while it is the Christmas season, the holiday you choose doesn’t have to be Christmas, just your favorite holiday.

Make your story at least a 1000 words long, but otherwise the theme, genre, etc are up to you. Enjoy your story planning and writing, and if you want to link your story here I will be happy to read them (when I get the time).

Philosophical Challenge Post of the Year

bertrandrussellbigI hope that you’re all having fun with some after-Christmas shopping. Alayna and I are busy celebrating Christmas with my family. That being said, I’ve taken the time to come up with a philosophical problem for you to solve and write a story about. Around the turn of the 20th century a philosopher named Alexius Meinong posited a theory of being (not dissimilar from the idea used by Anselm in his ontological argument for God’s existence) that differentiated ‘being’ from ‘existence.’ Meinong argued that we can speak meaningfully of things that don’t exist such as a golden tower, a unicorn, a dragon, aliens, or the illuminati. These are all things that have being in a common vocabulary, even if they don’t have actual existence in the physical world. That is to say that you and I can argue about the abilities, physiology, habits, intelligence, and psychology of dragons even though there are no actual dragons in the world. For Meinong, as for Anselm, existence was merely a property of being, not an essential part of the nature of being, and thus a being that had the property of existence might be better or more perfect than a being that did not have the property of existence (thus, again Richard Dawkins, the God who created the world and exists actually is significantly better than the God who created the world and does not exist), but it is no less real of a being. He further distinguishes this from impossible beings, such as a square circle, or a non-existent existence, that are self-contradictory, arguing that these things can have no being because we cannot speak meaningfully about them.

MeinongHowever, Bertrand Russell, in his essay On Denoting, later argued that Meinong’s theory was deeply flawed. He argued that it was self-contradictory in that it wound up positing such things as that the present King of France both did and did not exist, or both was and was not real. He also argued that Meinong’s theory was ontologically promiscuous in that it would lead to a multiplication of worlds–Russell accepted the world of existence, and argued that anything that did not exist could not have being. Meinong and Anselm accepted a world of existence and a world of being, in which things could have being and reality without actually existing in the physical world. However, Russell argued that this move simply begged for a further move, such as the positing of a world of things that could not exist, or even beyond to more ridiculous possible worlds.

Over the last hundred years both Russell and Meinong have had their defenders, and now I’d like you to join them. I want you to write a 1000 word story that answers the following question in light of this debate: Is Santa Claus Real?

Enjoy!

santa-claus

On Holidays Part 2

It’s Christmas Eve. I’m sure that most of you are looking forward to opening presents in the morning, or to opening presents tonight, or possibly some of each. I know that Alayna and I will be enjoying our celebration with her family tonight. However, for the moment I want to get you thinking about the nature of holidays in your own writing: what do we tend to celebrate and why? In exploring this, I’m going to take a little bit to discuss the origins of the Christmas celebration, and then discuss some other major holidays.

As many of you probably know, Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ. Tradition tells us that on December 25th we celebrate the incarnation of God in flesh, an incarnation that would preach forgiveness, love, and transformation before being horribly executed at the demand of his own people, and then rise again three days later, thus defeating sin and death and opening a path to God for anyone willing to repent of his/her sins and submit to God’s will. However, tradition does not tell us that Christ was actually born on December 25th. In fact, it seems most likely that Christ was actually born some time in the spring, probably some time in early to mid-April, nearer to the Easter celebration than the Christmas celebration. So, why do we celebrate Christmas in December?

The December celebration of Christmas goes back at least to the 2nd Century CE (at which time it was apparently a common celebration, so it probably dates to several decades before this) though it was not universally celebrated on December 25th, but it was almost always celebrated in late December. There are several possible explanations for this, but one of the most likely seems to be that the celebration of Christ’s birth was intentionally set to be a Christian replacement for the pagan celebrations surrounding the Winter Solstice on December 21st or 22nd (a time when rituals to the gods were performed in many of the indigenous European religions). The original intent may have been to draw pagan worshipers away from their own celebrations to hear the message of Christ, but it seems more likely that the intent was to give coverts to Christianity a new celebration to replace their old pagan traditions.

Over the centuries the celebration of Christmas has been more and less ritualized, depending on the place and time, and there have been several points (including the modern era) in which it has lost most of its spiritual significance. It is quite likely that fewer people will be celebrating the birth of Christ tomorrow as will be celebrating the coming of a fat man in red pajamas with magical Caribou. The morphing of this celebration has a great many reasons, not least of which is the growing apathy towards Christian belief in North America and Europe, and the celebrations transition to societies that have no little or no historical Christian traditions (such as China or Japan). It has largely become a day on which we put up trees (real or fake) decorate them with flashing or colored lights, and spend (often too much) money on gifts for friends and family.

Similarly, the Christian celebration of Easter is a mix of traditions. The name itself is strikingly similar to the name of the goddess Ishtar, who was a fertility goddess (rabbits and eggs anyone?), but it is also broadly known as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Hanukkah has a similar origin, being the celebration of God’s preservation of his people through the Maccabean Revolt in 167 BCE. In fact, a great many holidays have a religious significance, even if it has been forgotten.

Similarly, many holidays have a national significance. For instance, the 4th of July is the day on which American’s celebrate their independence from Britain, and many other former colonies have similar national celebrations. In fact, it is not uncommon for governments to organize holidays to commemorate important or meaningful events in their national history, or to remember important national figures (such as Presidents Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day). However, quite often it seems that religious holidays are more broadly observed, have more staying power, and are overall more significant than nationalistic holidays.

Lastly, there are some holidays that people simply like to celebrate and remember, such as Star Wars Day, National Sock Day, etc. These holidays are more often limited to a select group of people who have a significant interest in their celebration, but some (such as Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day) gain a broader significance because they celebrate something common to everyone.

In our writing, and especially in our background writing, it is important to keep these concepts in mind. When you are developing a culture, consider their religious beliefs: what religious holidays or festivals might be observed in this culture? Similarly, consider their national history: is the nation a former colony that gained independence? Might they have a famous battle, significant event (perhaps a powerful magician once spared the nation from a disaster), or important person to remember? Lastly, consider their national character: what kinds of things do they enjoy? Obsess over? Might they celebrate the annual harvest? Or perhaps they are a culture that makes much of its money from the sea, perhaps they would celebrate the first catch of every year? Do they celebrate their parents? Or perhaps their children? Or perhaps they celebrate their ancestors? Is there a particular pastime that is worthy of special celebration?

All of these are worthy questions when we start thinking about what kinds of holidays the cultures in our own worlds might develop. And as I pointed out in my last post, while few people will likely miss them if they aren’t in your story, the inclusion of significant holidays gives your story and your world a level of depth that is otherwise unavailable.

The Story of Saint Nicholas of Myra

Saint_NicholasI’m not going to keep you long today. I know that everyone has presents to unwrap, food to get fat on, and family to love and annoy in proper proportion. However, the modern American conception of Christmas is fairly muddled. No one knows whether its about the birth of some esoteric Christian deity, a German fairy who rides around with a herd of reindeer, raw merchantilism at its worst, getting time off work, pretty light, etc, etc, etc. We have a few Christmas traditions, but we don’t generally know where they came from or what they’re actually about. Many people I meet don’t seem quite sure whether Santa Claus is based on a German fairy king (as many modern Christmas cartoons depict), on an ancient Christian saint, or is a creation of Victorian England (surprisingly I hear this one fairly often… no idea where it came from).

However, I actually love the story of Saint Nicholas, so I’m going to give you a little simple insight. It is worth noting that the ancients almost universally describe early Christians as generous. In fact, R.E.O. White points out even the staunch enemies of Christianity such as Julian the Apostate (Emperor until 363 C.E.), Lucian of Samosta (a Greek Satarist who died around 180 C.E.), and Pliny the Younger (a Roman author and leader who died around 113 C.E.) all describe Christians by their extreme generosity. In fact, Lucian’s greatest critique of Christianity, in The Passing of Perenginus, is that their generosity makes them extremely easy to take advantage of, and this they must be considered among the most foolish of people. The story of Saint Nicholas illustrates these points quite well.

Saint Nicholas was a Greek who most likely lived circa 273 to 343 and spent much of his life in the city of Myra in Turkey. He was known as a good and generous man who often provided for those in need, and indeed two of the legends about him that are most likely to be true are those of his provision. According to Adam English (a Professor at Campbell University), there is one myth about the Greek Saint that is almost certainly true. According to the legend, Nicholas discovered that there was a man living near by who was very poor, and who had three daughters for whom he could provide no dowries. In this time period, the lack of a dowry generally meant that a young woman would not be getting married, and an unmarried maiden would most likely either be sold as a slave (to pay debts) or have to find work as a prostitute. Even if the woman avoided these fates, they would most likely be assumed to work as prostitutes and thus would be pariahs in the community. According to the legend, Saint Nicholas secretly provided three bags of gold coins, either by tossing them through the window or dropping them down the chimney (depending on the version you read), to provide a dowry for each daughter.

74677_990x742-cb1387553136There are also numerous stories of Saint Nicholas providing aid to sailors. Sometimes this came in the form of monetary aid (such as when he purchased two years worth of wheat from a ship, but when the sailors reached their next port, they found the wheat back in their hold), and sometimes it is depicted as rescue from storms or from the depths of the sea. While at least some of these stories are likely to be true, it is unlikely that all of them are true. Unfortunately, English concludes that the story of Saint Nicholas resurrecting the three murdered boys dates to the late middle ages and thus is unlikely to have any truth to it.

So, I hope that you all thoroughly enjoy your Christmas day! I also hope that, if you had an confusion about who Saint Nicholas was, or why he mattered, then I hope that I’ve managed to clear it up for you.

Autumnal Inspiration

leavesFall is my second-favorite season, just behind winter. It inspires my creativity in ways summer and spring can never manage. However, for most of us, especially those in education, fall is also the busiest time of the year, with classes, midterms, work, grading, and so on. As a result, it can be hard to find time to write. I personally haven’t done any creative writing in over three weeks, which is downright depressing. I think it’s time to change that. So today, I want to leave you with a challenge: find an hour, or even thirty minutes in one day this week, and let yourself be inspired by autumn and everything about it. I don’t mean go sit in Starbucks and bury your face in a Pumpkin Spice Latte (although one of those beverages can be involved if you so desire). Instead, go outside. Take a walk in the woods. Sit on your front porch and watch a rainstorm. Relax under a tree and just look at the multi-colored leaves. Get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. Take a notebook with you, and after a few minutes of relaxation and inspiration, just start writing. It doesn’t matter what you write or how good it is. Just write until you feel the need to stop or until you run out of time. Give yourself the time to write and enjoy the Fall 🙂 I know I will. Feel free to share with us whatever ideas Autumn brings your way!

Sunday Picture Post

Well, it’s the beginning of February. You all know that we take Sunday’s off here at The Art of Writing. However, I wanted to find you a suitably awesome and yet tranquil picture to start off the month. Let me know how I did. Also, did you know that in Japan Valentines day is a day for women to do something special for the men they love? Usually homemade chocolates or something similar. A month later, on White day, men are expected to reciprocate by doing something special for the women who did something for them. I’ve always liked that idea, personally.

fantasy_island_abstract_peace_waterfall_3d_hd-wallpaper-269582

Closing the Blog

Well, we’ve had a good run, but I’m honestly just plain exhausted. Between writing, work, and some things going on in my personal life I really don’t feel up to running this blog anymore. I hope that it’s been a good influence for all of my readers, and I hope that you’re better writers for reading our work. I’m sure that WordPress will probably keep it up for a while, but I really don’t know how long. I just wanted to make sure that I said a strong goodbye to everyone. Here’s one last picture story challenge for all of you:

What's going on here?
What’s going on here?

 

P.S. If you honestly believe I’m closing the blog then you really need to check the date :D. Happy April Fools, and we’ll see you tomorrow.

Scene Challenge of the Week

valentines-day-wallpaper-01So, tomorrow is the big day! I hope that all of you with a special someone have something special planned! If not… well, then my hopes and prayers go out to you, and if you don’t have a special someone, then find someone else who doesn’t and make their day a little bit brighter! Your scene challenge today is obviously valentines day themed. You probably know the rules, but if not:  I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your rules: Write a scene that reflects your perfect valentines day experience. If your planning on posting the scene, or a link to the scene here, then please keep it clean and above board. Also, let your imagination go here, write about what you wish could happen, instead of what you expect to happen. No special rules for this challenge, just write a solid scene about your dream valentines day.

Christmas with the Family

Alright, it’s my day to post! However, honestly I spent the entire day driving, and I managed to miss a couple of exits, which turned a four hour drive into a six hour drive, so you can imagine that I’m pretty tired. I was hoping to put up something substantial today, but I’m just not up to that right now. However, I do have some great photos from my Christmas with my family… warnings, many of them feature my nephew, who is ridiculously cute. If you can’t handle cute babies, then I suggest that you close you’re browser now.

Oops,too late.
Oops,too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

011

 

 

 

 

 

 

My nephew and his mom in their Christmas crowns.
My nephew and his mom in their Christmas crowns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is called a cracker... it's an English thing apparently.
This is called a cracker… it’s an English thing apparently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The family, or at least some of them.
The family, or at least some of them.

 

 

 

Long Days, Short Years

I found this Left Behind-worthy picture here...
I found this Left Behind-worthy picture here…Credit to where it’s due.

Since the world didn’t end yesterday, I have the privilege of writing to all of you again. Indeed, with the end of the world behind us, Christmas is just a few days away. New Year’s is a week after that. Where has the time gone? I had an uncle who used to say that you know you’re getting older when days are long and years are short. At first I didn’t understand what my uncle meant, but time has revealed the truth of his saying. With increasing responsibilities and cares, individual days become long and heavy. But looking back over months from the vantage point of a holiday like Christmas or New Year’s, everything seems to have passed by so quickly.

Long days, short years – I think we tend to shrug off sayings like these because we don’t think they have any meaning or relevance. “For goodness’ sakes, they’re just sayings!” Ironically, we think they have no meaning not because they don’t, but because we can’t see their meaning at the moment. Words of advice like this are borne out of years of experience and reflection, and though my uncle wasn’t an academic or trained philosopher, he knew a great deal about life from having lived it.

This saying encapsulates a basic tension in life – a paradox: the tension between the urgent and the important, between the dull and the quickening, between the necessary and the interesting, between the mediocre and the beautiful. All of the foregoing adjectives describe the things that make individual days long and heavy. But all of the latter adjectives describe those things that we celebrate on holidays or commemorative occasions. The great bulk of time is occupied with the mundane, the unpleasant, the humdrum – such as chores around the house, work, school, errands, meetings, driving, riding the bus or subway, and the list goes on (everyone can make their own list, I’m sure). Only occasionally, and oftentimes at the least expected moment, do we experience the beautiful, good moments when life seems to be as it ought to be, when we catch a glimpse of the truth and there is rest – at least for a little while – for our weariness and striving.

One of the all-time best Christmas shows!
One of the all-time best Christmas shows!

Perhaps the goal of life is about finding that rest, permanently. It seems everyone is searching for that same rest in every way imaginable. St. Augustine famously said that we are restless until we find rest in God through Jesus Christ. At this time of the year, I simply affirm Charlie Brown’s complaints against commercialism and hope that this Christmas and New Year’s is more than presents and food and superficial, passing happiness. I hope it’s a time that helps us reflect on life’s goal and purpose; that will reorient our minds on what really matters. Just as Christmas is more than material presents, life is more than the routine and necessity of everyday. On this, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope we attain the rest we seek.