Album Review: Love Songs (Dan Fogelberg)

Love Songs, by Dan Fogelberg

I was looking at the discography of Dan Fogelberg while listening to the Very Best of Dan Fogelberg and saw that I already had listened to and liked nine of the ten songs that appear on this album on my Spotify and figured I would listen to the last song on the album that I had not already evaluated. In listening to this song and in reflecting to the rest of the songs on the album that I had listened to in the course of listening to the other compilation, I was struck by the fact that although Dan Fogelberg had a great many popular hit songs relating to love included on this disk (and others), those songs dealt with love in a variety of styles, perspectives, and even types of love, all of which makes this album a good deal more varied than one would expect from the title alone.

This album is relatively short by the standard of a compilation for Dan Fogelberg, given that the Very Best of Dan Fogelberg includes seventeen songs on one disk and nine of the ten songs that appear here. Yet the ten songs included here, if they are by no means a complete look at the singer’s career, even with regards to love songs, are certainly a representative sample of the complexity of Fogelberg’s approach to the subject of love. Heart Hotels, Hard To Say, and Lonely In Love all sound different in terms of their styles, but all present a rather melancholy to doubtful look at the stability of love. Make Love Stay reflects the singer’s desire to undo the mistakes of the past, while Seeing You Again reflects on the desire to recover a past relationship and Same Auld Lang Syne points out the awkwardness that often springs from seeing an old lover with whom the flame has died, even if a certain fondness remains. Similarly, A Love Like This and Longer reflect, with different styles, the appreciation the singer has for a love that the author wants to last for a lifetime and beyond. The other two songs expand the palette of love to include the love of a son for his father and their shared love of music in Leader Of The Band, and a love for a thoroughbred horse being bred to race in the bluegrass of Kentucky in Run For The Roses.

In the eyes of Dan Fogelberg, or the person who made this compilation, love is truly a complicated thing. And it should be noted that these songs do not by any means exhaust the complex attitudes that the singer had towards love expressed in his reflective and beautiful and often varied music. Yet before I fill this review with a long list of songs that I wish had been included to make it even more complete as a perspective of the singer-songwriter’s view of love, one reviews the albums that are and not those that could or perhaps should be. As far as love songs go, Dan Fogelberg has a lot of good ones, and ten of them appear on this album. There are more complete compilations if you like these songs, but you can certainly spend your time in worse ways than listening to these songs.

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Two Roads Diverged In A Wood

The internet is a fount of ill-considered opinions loudly proclaimed (a statement that sadly does not exempt some opinions I have been known to express from time to time). It is not my intention to talk about any specific brainless opinions expressed online that I have encountered, except to note that I definitely was inspired to think about this by looking at particularly ignorant opinions expressed by someone who is self-professed as wise and learned in dealing with various matters of contentious contemporary debate. I should say, rather, that I was merely irritated with the stupid opinion, but I was intrigued by the path which led to that dumb opinion from behavior that is itself not particularly wise but which, through the magic of cognitive dissonance, encourages further opinions along those lines.

None of us, least of all myself, are immune to the issue of cognitive dissonance. As human beings we all have the inborn tendency to wish to justify ourselves and our behavior, and this nearly universal tendency to wish to defend ourselves and our behavior from just or unjust criticism and censure is one of the surest paths that leads to changes of belief. It is not that we rationally come up with beliefs in a vacuum, but rather that very frequently our beliefs are shaped by the behaviors that we wish to justify. Proper habits encourage proper beliefs, and misguided practices lead us to mistaken opinions meant to justify and defend those actions from scrutiny and criticism. Where we find violent and hostile disagreements in opinion and belief, what we tend to find at the base of those arguments are divergences in behavior that need to be justified in the face of criticism, because we all like to justify ourselves and to tear down those arguments that are raised against our practices.

Indeed, one of the things that stands out as particularly obvious in any kind of discussion about those things which are doubtful is the way that people who hold their views particularly fiercely will be very assiduous in finding and sharing “evidence” that backs their strongly held beliefs and opinions and views. This is often done despite the fact that this evidence often seems laughably inadequate to those who do not hold such views, which makes such efforts frequently self-defeating at deceasing the amount of criticism that would attach itself to those strongly held views. Today, for example, I got an e-mail that sought to defend a view that spanking was necessarily evil (and should have always been seen as such) that made a pathetic appeal to mothers who had “always felt” that spanking was wrong. I am sure that I can think of at least one mother I know who would find such views ridiculous, no doubt influenced by different practices and different commitment to the views that animated those practices. I also saw a couple of videos posted by a Drake fan that sought to make the fallacious ad populum appeal by pointing to the musical favoritism of football players for the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos for Drake’s latest album as opposed to Kanye West’s album, a false dilemma if there ever was, given that I am not interested at all in listening to either album in this futile and pointless turf battle.

It should be notable that many of these attempts to justify our opinions involve local fallacies. Where we find stupid opinions online, or anywhere else for that matter, these stupid opinions are often built from rickety scaffolding involving terrible logic. Bad practices, justified by terrible (and often self-serving and inconsistent) reasoning, leads to terrible beliefs. If that path is stopped at all along the way, there is a chance to avoid beclowning oneself in public by expressing idiotic views. But once the process starts it tends to be self-reinforcing. All of us tend to have at least a few practices in our lives that do not withstand scrutiny, and this tendency to want to justify our actions leads us to adopt fallacious reasoning practices in order to avoid the difficulty of having to admit we were wrong. And this desire not to be wrong then leads us into wrong beliefs that serve to bolster and support those wrong practices that we are justifying with bogus reasoning. Feeling right often precludes being right.

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It’s Not Quite What I Expected, But Definitely What We Needed

Yesterday, as I write this, we had split sermons in Portland and both of them had some striking similarities in their approach that let me know that both speakers were motivated by their own (understandable) concerns about the moral bleakness of our times. The first message in particular was striking as it sought to demonstrate the hardness of the hearts of people, but both messages were a clear warning shot to the audience to prepare for the times that we find ourselves in. In that sense, they were close to my own concerns about the importance of being prepared for the likelihood of increased hostility towards biblical Christianity and biblical law and those who are vocal in supporting both.

When I tend to think of Atonement, admittedly most of my attention is paid to the positive side of day, namely the symbolism of sin and Satan being put away from physical and spiritual Israel and reconciliation of God with His people that results. That said it is well worth considering the other side of the picture. There are two sides to Atonement, just as there are two sides to Trumpets. I have discussed at some length the two faces of Jesus’ return as symbolized by the Feast of Trumpets, where the promised return of the Messiah and the establishment of his rule over earth is sought by some but feared by far more, alas. We find a similar picture with regards to Atonement. There are certainly a great many people who view the thought of being (coercively) reconciled to God as being a very terrible thing. It is the goal of a great many people to escape any feeling that one is under God’s authority, and the reality of a God that wants a close relationship with a humanity that is at best schizoid, and usually less favorable, to such intimacy is quite unpleasant to many people and will remain so up to the point in which it becomes an inescapable reality.

It is easy to think of the plan of God that is expressed through the Holy Days through the perspective of believers and not necessarily through the eyes of humanity at large (to say nothing of even larger concerns beyond humanity). The response of mankind to God has never been entirely straightforward. Adam and Eve tried to hide in the garden, Cain blamed God for punishing him more than he could bear when he was treated far more generously than his wickedness deserved after murdering his godly brother in cold blood. Israel was positively terrified at the thought that the powerful God who protected them wanted a close relationship with them. The mood of contemporary times is not too dissimilar from this. While there are certainly people who relish the thought of a God who desires a relationship with them, there are a great many people who find that thought to be terrifying and unpleasant. It is worth considering not only why that is the case, but how it is that such people are likely to react to those whose life and whose professions of faith indicate a desire to be close to a being whose laws and whose ways inspire such intense loathing and horror among the wicked and wayward. Jesus Christ reminds us Himself in the Gospel of John that people will react towards believers the way they think of Himself and of His Father. That is not always a pleasant thing to think about, but it is always worth considering and pondering and reflecting on.

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On Free Will And The Savior

As I write this, it is about four and a half ours or so into the Day of Atonement where I reside. One of the most relevant chapters about this day, one that I have heard cited at least a couple dozen times in connection to this day, is Leviticus 16. This chapter ends as follows in verses 29 through 34: ““This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you.  For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.  It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.  And the priest, who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place, shall make atonement, and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments; then he shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.  This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.”

For mankind to be close to God, they had to have their sins atoned for. Intimacy with God requires holiness, which is a standard that is impossible for mankind to achieve on our own. The lengthy and complex ritual of atonement was symbolic of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to purge believers of their sins, but the symbol was present long before the sacrifice itself took place. Indeed, the Passover lamb, by which the sacrifice of the Firstborn Son of God opened the way to freedom from sin, demonstrated the shadow of what would be made substance far into the future. The forgiveness of the sins of faithful believers from ancient times was made on a promissory note for the future sacrifice of the perfect lamb. Several biblical writers note that Jesus Christ was slain from the foundation of the world [1], in that His sacrifice was a necessity from the period of mankind’s fall, was probably foreseen ahead of time, and was prophesied as early as Genesis 3.

At the end of the lengthy novel War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy makes a lengthy comment about free will in which he disparages the idea. It is a trivially easy task to demonstrate that the choices that mankind makes are highly constrained by the limitations of our knowledge, of our character, of the strong force of habit on our behavior, on the weight of pressure that weighs on us from any number of external sources, to say nothing of our fallibility to various means of deception and trickery, to which none of us are immune. Yet although none of us is completely free, because of the pushes and pulls of our corrupt human nature, our wicked societies the depth of the ruts of our habits and personal and familial and community and generational and societal patterns of thought and behavior, we are nonetheless properly held responsible for the choices we make even with these various constraints and influences and pressures.

To be sure, Jesus Christ did not suffer from these same constraints on his behavior as we have that lead us along the garden path to sin, death, and corruption. Yet, as we have already seen, He was already under constraints based on the the commitment He had made to serve as the sacrifice for sin to reconcile believers to God, to wipe away the stain of sin and to open up the way for repentant believers to live in holiness and approach God, who cannot bear to be close to that which is tainted by sin and rebellion. Given that this will was set, and was clearly and repeatedly expressed in the moments of highest stress during Jesus’ earthly life [2], it seems rather pointless to speak of the free will of Jesus Christ. That will had been determined long before Jesus’ earthly life, a will that had been set from the foundations of the world to sacrifice itself to bring mankind close to God, to bring about reconciliation between God and His rebellious and wayward children, created in His image and likeness yet dwelling in futility and error. Since the sacrifice as the perfect lamb required the Savior to be without sin or blemish, it naturally follows that the will that had been set to act according to the will of the Father to bring sinful and fallen humanity into reconciliation with Him was also set into living without sin and offense in order to qualify as the perfect one-time sacrifice for our sins. Such a will is not free to sin, something that is admittedly hard for us to understand or relate to given the continual pull we have towards wickedness as a result of our fallen and corrupt human nature. But it does not follow that those things that are hard to understand or relate to are any less true.

[1] See, for example, the following:

Revelation 13:8: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

1 Peter 1:17-21: “ And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.  He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

Hebrews 9:23-28: “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

[2] See, for example, the following:

John 8:28-30: “Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.  And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”  As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.”

Matthew 26:36-39: “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.””

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I Acknowledge Your Suffering, Now Go Back And Suffer

I have been taking, in such limited free time as I have this month, a course from Hillsdale college on the book of Genesis that is about halfway done. Earlier today (as I write this) the third lesson of the course opened up and it had a lot to say about Genesis 16:1-12. Though the translation used by the instructor is different from the one I normally use, it is certainly a compelling and somewhat pointed translation that draws content and food for reflection out of a verse that one does not normally think of. The title of this entry is a paraphrase as I remember it from the lecture, and I will likely not have the book until after the Feast to look at, but I want you all to read through the New King James Version of this passage and see if you can spot what is translated as “I acknowledge your suffering, now go back and suffer” in the following passage: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.  Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.  So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.” So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence. Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.  And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”  Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” 11 And the Angel of the Lord said to her: “Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

This is a hard passage for contemporary sensibilities to understand. Twice in the Genesis account, Hagar finds herself despondently beside a well in the wilderness engaging in a conversation with the Angel of the Lord, presumably the preincarnate Jesus Christ, who gives her blessings but also some very hard words to modern ears. It is somewhat telling that Hagar is incorporated into Israel in her suffering as a slave to a cruel mistress in Sarah. It is intriguing that Hagar’s fate mirrors in many ways the fate of Israel at the hand of the people and rulers of Egypt. She is a slave, subject to the not always kind whims of others who view her as their property, to be disposed as they wish. She leaves slavery and finds herself in the wilderness in need of the help and blessing of the Eternal to have the water that is necessary to survive in that dry and inhospitable land where her son Ishmael was to become the progenitor of the mighty and powerful Arab people. And though contemporaries might be content to view her as the victim of history, her behavior here is certainly not wise. Having been raised from the status of slave to that of a secondary wife (many translations fudge it by calling her a concubine), she began to take on airs and looked down on Sarah because of Sarah’s infertility, which led to a predictable if lamentable outcome in terms of Sarah’s abusive hostility to being hit in her most sensitive spot.

Sarah herself does not come off well in this story either. It is well worth considering how differently she is viewed by the Bible and how she comes off to many people nowadays who think about this story in light of contemporary mores. The Bible considers her to be an example of a goodly woman who did not have to be afraid of her husband but was in fact a princess who retained her beauty and desirability long into old age. This story makes her out to be a tyrant of a slaveowning mistress who abuses a woman because that young woman can have children and she cannot. The way that she casually disposes of Hagar as a surrogate in bearing children for her husband Abraham, not seeming to care about Hagar’s own thoughts in the matter, come off particularly poorly. And yet Sarah is, despite the ugliness of this episode, an example of those who are faithful and who will enter into eternal life. The Bible does not fail to portray its figures in a light that is true to life, even when–especially when–that forces us to deal with uncomfortable matters about how slave owners can still be saved by God and heroes and heroines of faith, something that is entirely incomprehensible to many in our present generation of evildoers.

It should be noted as well that Abraham also does not come off particularly well here either. The translation that was being read from offers some startling comments that appear to be drawing explicit parallels between this passage and Genesis 3. The professor quoted the translation as saying that in the matter of Hagar Abraham heeded the voice of Sarah his wife. As a listener I could only take this to be a reference to Adam heeding the voice of Eve his wife in taking the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The professor did not draw this conclusion but I could not help but to do so when thinking of the similarity in the phraseology. Similarly, just like Adam, Abraham is keen on avoiding responsibility for the mess that he has helped to create, and his passivity reminds one of both Isaac’s own famous passivity but also that of Adam in placing Hagar–with whom he has just fathered a long-awaited child–into the tender mercies of his wife Sarah. Admittedly, he had no particularly good options here, once the decision had been made to deal with the long delay in Sarah’s bearing the promised firstborn son by fathering a son through a slave wife, but that is the whole point that solving problems like that by what seems expedient at the time usually has long-term repercussions that are painful and unavoidable, as our present world is still paying for this mistake in Ishmael having been a mighty nation but one whose hand is against everyone else’s where everyone else’s hand is also against them.

It is well worth considering, although we do not often do so, that God Himself does not come off particularly well here either, judging by human standards. The translation being read from today, in telling Hagar–a runaway slave who had suffered some serious abuse at the hand of her owner(s)–that her suffering is acknowledged but that she should go back to suffer, gives some very unpleasant truth about how it is that God operates. Repeatedly in the Bible, God acknowledges the suffering of His people but also tells them to endure suffering. We are used to thinking about this when it comes to ancient Israel, but it is also a consistent theme in the New Testament as well. Let me briefly provide two examples. 1 Peter 4:12-19 tells us: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now “if the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” And similarly, John says in Revelation 6:9-11: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.  And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”

Let us reflect upon this. It is our instinct, and an entirely understandable one, to avoid suffering and to view those who are responsible for suffering as the worst sorts of human beings imaginable. (In doing so, we must note parenthetically, we tend not to acknowledge the suffering that we bring to others but are especially sensitive to the slights we suffer in this cruel and unjust world.) Yet God told Hagar not to remain footloose and fancy free in the wilderness but to return to Sarah her (not entirely kind) mistress and to put herself under Sarah’s authority. God acknowledged her suffering as a young woman being tormented and bullied by a powerful mad woman but told her to go back into her role as a slave and suffer some more. And in not less fierce language we are told to glorify God in fiery trials because as long as we do not suffer as an evildoer, we are blessed because we suffer the reproach of cruel and evil and corrupt authorities, which have ever ruled over humanity and do so today. Similarly, those who are suffering the martyrdom of the end of the ages are told that they will remain unavenged until the full number of those consigned to the slaughter have been completed. This is hard to take. And yet God’s standards are not our own, and the sooner we realize that and accept that, the better things will be for us. For if we live in times of darkness and evil, at least we should do so to the greatest extent possible with clear vision as to the fiery trials that await us.

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Four Ways To Develop An Idea: A NaNoWriMo Prompt

I didn’t like the actual prompt for developing an idea for four ways, unsurprisingly enough so I decided to adapt the prompt to ponder some of the thought experiments I am doing for my upcoming novel plan for this November. I have the basic idea and some of the details (and even some of the dialogue) in mind for the novel already, but as always there is a lot of thinking about how the novel is to be framed and how the story is going to be told, and what the story includes. So what I would like to do is discuss four aspects of the book and what sort of questions are shaping how it is that I plan on reaching 50,000 words this November in an enjoyable but also typically Nathanish story.

  • Where To Start

The first of those aspects of story development that I pondered is where to begin this story. As is rather common in my writings, when I think about it, I am starting at the inciting incident and not including any of the leading information to the story. My main character, in particular, has a somewhat long backstory that is quite interesting and may be explored in later volumes (see the last part of this discussion), but this particular story begins with his arrival back home in North Yorkshire after the close of the American Revolution. His arrival home begins a cascading series of issues, including, but not limited, to his desire to find a wife, his taking up of the running of an estate and the title of viscount, neither of which he was raised for, and political issues relating to the fact that he is in charge of a rotten borough that he must distribute to some worthy candidate, to say nothing of the issue of his family connections being almost exclusively limited to his mother’s merchant side and not his father’s recent noble side, all of which leads to the usual complications. I could have chosen to begin the novel earlier and explore why it is that he delays his arrival in England to take care of the tail end of evacuating freed slaves in the American south as part of the British colonial effort, but if I cover that material (see third bullet point), I will do so in flashbacks or letters or something else of that nature.

  • What Perspective(s) To Include

One of the questions I am still pondering is how to organize the story. Most of the story I have in mind comes from the point of view of the somewhat Nathanish main character, which is easy enough to understand because it is fairly easy to get inside the head of a Nathanish character and figure out how he would work through the problems of his existence. Intellectually working through the problems of existence is not something, after all, that one is unfamiliar with. The question is, do I want to limit the story to this or do I want to include, at least partially, things that the main character would not be aware of. The question here is more of what limits I want to place on what material can be covered. I have pondered the use of a somewhat shifting free indirect perspective that slides from one character into another to portray their thoughts and perspective in a somewhat subtle way, but I have not fully decided on how many people will be included in that. If such things are included, then I will need to work out which characters need to be included in that, which brings us to….

  • What Subplots To Include

For a short novel, I have in mind at least a somewhat substantial amount of plot detail to work on. The main character is involved in a lot of interconnected issues, with health problems, family drama on his mother’s side, political and social issues relating to his own title and holdings, and his own longings and motivations and his desire to fulfill them all. Even the bare outline of this plot is somewhat complicated by the main character’s general lack of knowledge of what has been going on in England because of his absence from there for more than twenty years while he was growing up and spending his young adulthood as part of the British colonial administration in the American South. It is my opinion, at least, that this basic plot as I have thought it out so far offers sufficient complexity that no further subplots are really necessary, although quite a few of the potential subplots leave room for questions about…

  • Where To End/Prequels/Sequels

At least as I have thought about it, I plan on ending at the inevitable happy ending for the main character. This happy ending is set in a somewhat dangerous time, and the main character is certainly not immune to his concerns about the long term viability of his happiness (this character is Nathanish, after all). Even so, the sprawling nature of the story as I have thought about it leaves room for plenty of prequels and sequels, including a look back on the marriage between the character’s parents and their later departure from England to the colonial American south somewhere in the 1750’s or so, or the main character’s mother’s remarriage after the death of his father from apoplexy during the American Revolution, or the story of how it was that the main character got connected with helping runaway slaves escape to their liberty from liberty-loving Southern slaveowners, to a look at the future in a few decades for both the main character’s cousin/adopted daughter (one of the family drama aspects of the story), and potentially his future widow. Depending on how fun this story is to write, in other words, this may be the start of a lengthy and interesting series of stories relating to a family whose rise into nobility is tied to the rise of England as a trading and imperial superpower, with all of the questions as to the legitimacy of the global trade in tea, sugar, cotton, and to the administration of colonies and to one’s own household. I’m not sure how large the scope of this story is, but it is potentially very large if it interests me enough to write about the larger tale, including how it was that the Viscounts Lipton (as I have named them, somewhat tongue in cheek) rose in the first place.

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Understandable, Have A Nice Day

What is memorable and notable about mundane and ordinary interactions? Today I went to a place that I regularly go to in order to enjoy a nice meal and a good view of a football game, and as is often the case I was asked about what book I was reading and how far along in it I was. Since I had not seen the particular waitress/bartender in a week, I found it amusing that she was surprised that I was reading and nearly finished with a different book today than I had been reading last week. Alas, though, I am still behind on writing book reviews and have at least a dozen or so books that are piled up awaiting my writing about them, many of which are from very patient publishers who probably deserve me saying something about their offerings in a more timely fashion than is often the case.

Later on, when I was chatting online, someone was telling me a story about their playing a particular first person shooter type of game and I asked aloud what is perhaps one of those quiet parts of social interaction that I do not always manage to succeed at very well, and that is asking what kind of response was desired to the story that I did not understand nor particularly care about all that much. When the person talking just said that they were trying to tell their story I gave a reply and it was translated (accurately) as my saying: “understandable, have a nice day.” And I replied that summed it up pretty accurately, which led to laughter all around.

It is hard to be a good listener. I do not claim to be one myself, and I certainly see a lot of other people who are terrible listeners, but it is admittedly hard to be a good listener for a variety of reasons. One of the most obvious reasons is that we listen while looking for opportunities to talk. I know I get frustrated with people who just want me as an audience to pay attention to them and listen to them drone on about the same few things over and over and over again, something that I find very tedious and unpleasant and taxing on my time. At the same time, I know how much self-expression and having an appreciative audience is important to me, so it’s not like I lack empathy with others who have the same needs for an appreciative audience, it’s just I don’t like being asked to perform that role for other people who are unwilling to reciprocate with me.

It is not only that we want to talk when other people want to unburden themselves that makes listening hard. As a listener, one often has a hard time knowing what role others want. Are you wanted merely to passively listen to words so that someone feels that they are freeing themselves of the burden of having things in their heart and mind that they are unable to communicate to others? This seems to be the case often. To the extent that people want feedback or want help, these things are easy to find, since it is gratifying to a listener to be able to comment or critique what is being said or to be able to suggest solutions to problems. Most often, though, people speak not looking for others to talk back to them, but to listen to them and to act like what is being said is profound and interesting and intelligent, none of which is often the case. It is funny to me, at least, when people acknowledge that they simply want to talk and want you to listen, and at least make it clear what their expectations are.

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Short Library Book Reviews: Part Six

The Street Photographer’s Manual, by David Gibson

This book could have been better called the street photographer’s manifesto in light of the author’s perspective. This book is an example of why politics ruins everything. It is not necessarily a surprise to find out that a cliquish group of hipster photographers would struggle with the absence of children from contemporary streets and would have a lot of very ferocious and ultimately inconsequential debates about whether it is better to have projects or not, or to film in black and white or color and so on. What is surprising, and ultimately disappointing, is that this book is so heavy on leftist political ideology, demonstrating once again that a book that by all right should be an enjoyable book to read becomes far more tediously political than one would immediately expect it to be. And that is a great shame.

The Beginner’s Photography Guide: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Manual For Getting The Most From Your Digital Camera, by Chris Gatcum

This is an interesting book that may be both too basic and too advanced and too specialized depending on one’s own photography interests. It is quite possible that a variety of readers would take different lessons from this book, and it should be noted that the subtitle (and not the title) makes it clear that this is a book about digital photography. It is interesting that a book focusing on beginning photography would entirely neglect to discuss film cameras at all, but perhaps I am a bit old fashioned in that way. At any rate, there are parts of this book that will be too basic for all but the most rank beginner at digital photography, and other parts of the book that offer sophisticated advice on lenses and settings that are probably well beyond beginner, so as long as you know that this book offers more than the basics, it can probably benefit a fairly broad range of digital photographers, including many who may think this book to be more simple and introductory than it actually is.

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Whatever Happened To Sky Ferreira?

When I was looking up information about Sky Ferreira’s debut album, I was struck by the familiarity of some of the names of people who were writing and producing her music with her. One name in particular stood out, only because I happen to have seen his name while looking up another young woman who has broken out into pop stardom this year, namely one Olivia Rodrigo. The man’s name is Daniel Nigro. Now, many people will not be familiar with Daniel Nigro, because as a musician his career has been far less openly popular than that of other people, but as a songwriter and producer he is very well known and has worked with a substantial amount of people who are much better known than he is, being the co-writer and main producer for the entirety of Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour album, most notably.

We live in an age that is obsessed about identity politics, but one of the (not-so) dirty secrets about the world of popular music is that a great deal of what is sung by women and viewed as being the sign of feminine power has in fact been written and produced by men. I do not consider this to be a bad thing, by any means, but it is something that we must recognize. In the early 1800’s, Jane Austen complained that it has been hard for women to get a good hearing because the pen has been in the hands of men. And to a great extent this is still true. To be sure, there are certainly women who have been notable songwriters (Diane Warren comes to mind), but it is far more frequently the case that men are writing songs for men or other women, and pop singers are often performing what is written for them.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, for example, we had the phenomenon of Dionne Warwick singing “Heartbreaker,” a song written by the Bee Gees. We had artists like Laura Branigan and Cher singing songs that had been written originally by Michael Bolton before he became famous as a singer in his own right. We had the Carpenters, where a familiar division of labor made Karen with her wonderful and emotive voice the foreground while Richard with his instrumentation and songwriting and A&R and production served as the background. We had a similar situation in ABBA, where the two women were the lead singers but the men were the producers, backup singers, and songwriters, a situation that would continue in later Scandinavian acts like Roxette and Ace of Base. That is to say, there is a pattern where the voice of women as it is heard in public, and the image and persona of women as they appear have been strongly influenced and shaped by important men as songwriters, producers, and musicians, even where women are receiving attention as the visual and audio focal point of the group.

I do not say this to criticize it, but merely to point it out. There are a great many people, for example, who would like to see Sky Ferreira release a lot of new albums again. The people who helped to write and produce her music have largely moved on to other, more successful acts. Sky Ferreira is not some independent do-it-yourself star who has shown comfort in writing, producing, playing on music without having a large studio backing, and her music did not prove to be popular enough to maintain that backing over the long haul. I think this is to be regretted, but if she does come back and try her hand again at making popular music, she would need a team behind her, a team that includes songwriters and producers who are likely going to be men who have their own history and connections within the music industry. This is by no means unique to her, but is the general fate of a pop artist. Popular artists, in general, and for a long time, have had other people writing and producing their music while they served as the face of operations. It is time we spent more effort understanding what was beneath the surface.

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Album Review: Night Time, My Time

Night Time, My Time, by Sky Ferreira

While I was doing a rankdown of underrated songs, Spotify played another song by this artist in addition to the one that was on the rankdown and I figured it would be worthwhile to review the only studio album from an artist who seems to be well-beloved by those who know about her but largely unfamiliar to most audiences. This artist is what could be termed a cult artist, who has never achieved mass appeal but has a massive amount of popularity with those who are fond of her as an artist. I have long been puzzled by this disconnect personally, as her name comes up often as someone who deserves more popularity than she has.

This album begins with Boys, a song about someone who gives the narrator faith in boys again after a period of disillusionment. This is followed by It Ain’t Your Right, which looks at the negotiation between people who want to be with each other but not to consider themselves obligated to the other. 24 Hours has a driving beat and reflects on the relentless passing of time and her devotion to a partner. Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay) has another driving beat and deals with the failures of reciprocity in communication, and has an ominous feeling about it. I Blame Myself is a chilling song about the parasocial nature of fame and abuse and its repercussions to the present day that is definitely relatable in an unpleasant way. Omanko is an urgent song that seems to reflect an obsession with Japanese culture. You’re Not The One, the most popular song from this album, is gorgeous and a somewhat unexpected ode about someone not being the one. Heavy Metal Heart reflects on the way that love helps one’s hearts, with another driving beat. Kristine reflects on the unmourned fate of tormented young millionaires. I Will revels in the singer’s unpredictability. Love In Stereo reflects on the singer’s love for someone who just wants to be a friend. Night Time, My Time has an ominous feeling to it, almost like a soundtrack song about a vampire.

It is admittedly hard to reconcile the critical favor of this album with its popular obscurity. As a listener with little prior familiarity to the album, this album strikes me as a 4/5 or a 4.5/5 album, with the production generally solid and the album generally good and occasionally superb, as in the standout tracks like Boys, 24 Hours, I Blame Myself, and You’re Not The One. What a critic hears as a middle finger to a corrupt music industry seems to alienate the people who bring an album to the masses–those famously corrupt record labels and radio stations and the like. This is an album that you will likely appreciate if you see Sky as singing what you feel concerning the frustrations of life and love and the worthless coin of the attention economy. If you think she is singing to you, you will probably feel less fond of it.

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