Spreading Happiness

A modern version of Karen’s and my song, which I post with best wishes to my son and his wife Bethany, who he married on June 13, 2009, which was meant to be the day I posted this, but I’m on the road where I never can get things done. Karen and I celebrated our 25th in Boise, where we spent five years (96-2001) with some of the best people on earth.

I can’t see my loving nobody but you…

Wouldn’t it Be Nice?

This song was already in oldie in 1983, but it well-expressed my feelings toward you, Karen, when your brother David was turning onto the Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto with us in the car (was it his Mazda?) and it came on the radi0. It turned out to be true too. It’s Nice. And in 6 days we can celebrate 25 years of niceness in Boise!

Pudewa and Kern on Writing!


Nancy tells me that some seats remain available for this writing workshop on July 22. If you have hesitated to sign up, now’s the time! Don’t delay.

I know I think too highly of myself, but I also know that I can’t think too highly of 1. what I have learned from my superiors and 2. Andrew Pudewa.

Therefore, I am convinced that this is the writing event of the year in classical circles. Let me know if you know of something better.

July 22, 2009

Andrew Pudewa and Andrew Kern On Writing

Visit our web site for information (look on the right side).

How Christians can approach classical literature

Jacque-Benigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, in a letter to Innocent XI

Logic and morals serve to cultivate the two principal operations of the human mind: the faculties of understanding and willing. For logic, we have drawn from Plato and Aristotle, not so as to serve vain disputes about words, but to form the judgment by solid reasoning, and we have restricted ourselves primarily to that part of logic that is used to find probable arguments, because these are the ones used in affairs of state. [NB, Bossuet is describing the curriculum for royal persons].

For the teaching of morals, we have mined the proper source: Scripture and the maxims of the Gospel. We have not, however, neglected to explain the morals of Aristotle, adn that admirable doctine of Socrates, truly sublime for his time, which may serve to give faith to the incredulous, and to make corrupt men blush.

Yet we have at the same time noted what the Christian philosophy condemns in it, and what she adds to it, what she approves, and with what authority she confirms the sane maxims of Socrates, and how she is superior to them, in such a way that the philosophy of Socrates, as grave as it appears, compared to the wisdom of the Gospel is but the infancy of morals.

As to philosophy, we have cleaved to those maxims that carry with them the certain character of truth, and which might be useful for the conduct of human life. As to the systems and philosophical opnions that are subjects for the vain disputes of men, we have limited ourselves to reporting them under the form of an historical recital, for we have thought that it was fitting to the dignity of a young prince to know the diverse and opposed opinions that have much occupied the great minds, while equally protecting the parties and refusing to share their enthusiasm or their prejudice. The one who is called to command should learn to judge and not to dispute.

Yet after having considered that philosophy consists above all in recalling the mind to itself in order then to raise one’s thoughts to God, we have first sought self-knowledge. This preliminary study, by presenting us with fewer difficulties, at the same time offers our researches the most useful and most noble end: for, to become a true philosopher, man must study himself, and without losing himself in the useless and puerile attempt to learn what others have said and thought, he need but seek into and ask questions of himself, and he will thus find the one who has given him the ability to be, to know, and to will.

Bossuet provides some provocative ideas in the foregoing. Things to think about, which isn’t why people visit blogs, I know. But take a few minutes some time to print this passage and reflect on it. You’ll grow doing so. It will benefit your students.

Things that make life worth living

Karen, I love you. And you love me too. So simple. Let’s keep it that way! In one week, we’ll have been married 25 years. Thanks.

Elvis does a nice version of this too, but I couldn’t embed it. 

And yes I remember the day you took my hand.

Was it at Sears? That store in Oak Park, anyway, at the end of the mall with Katie’s candy store. Tootsie was at the theatre, remember?

The mark of an educated man

“It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits;”

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Here is one of the most important principles of thought ever expressed and one that has been universally neglected in our day. We look for scientific precision in our study of literature, for artistic judgment in math and spelling.

When we assess, we look for statistical variation of immeasurable matters.

Why? Because we don’t know the nature of the subjects we are studying. Until we do, we should ask more questions and make fewer assertions.

Only the classical curriculum resolves this problem for the simple reason that Aristotle, who was wrong about things for which he lacked tools, saw into the nature of the subjects and elucidated them for us. Because he paid attention. He looked closely and steadily at reality. He didn’t exclude the bits he didn’t like, as the naturalist and the spiritualist do.

May we who seek to restore the classical tradition take confidence in its enormous achievements and not settle for anything less than the attainment of this “mark of an educated man.” It will require a curriculum that reflects this principle and a mode of teaching that honors it, but with courage and wisdom we can get there.

Learning The Craft of Writing

In my earlier posts on What is Writing, I suggested that we have to attend to two elements of writing to become something like a great writer. Let me qualify that statement. Even if you want to be a good writer, it will happen to the extent that you attend to these two elements. They are drawn from a definition I proposed for writing that goes like this:

Writing is the overflow of the soul into a pattern of words encoded in visual symbols (letters or hierogliphs) for the purpose of communication

I argued that the first half of this definition is just as crucial as the second half, but that a writing program really can’t deal with the first half. Writing programs teach the craft of writing, not the personal qualities or experiences that make someone a great writer. Picture Hemingway writing without his experiences. It wouldn’t have been him. He wouldn’t have been Hemingway. He might have written what he wrote well, though I question even that, but what he wrote wouldn’t have mattered.

It isn’t enough to learn the craft of writing.

On the other hand, it isn’t enough to have experience either. Plenty of big game hunters have mumbled through sentences around the campfire failing utterly to capture the drama of the charging elephant with its ivories flashing, feet stomp-trampling the brush, mammal-sweat-and-leather scent flooding the hunters flared nostrils, the click of the trigger and the flash in the pan deciding who is god and who mortal because they didn’t know where to put a comma.

The craft of writing teaches the writer how to match the form with the content; “to suit the matter to the word, the word to the matter,” to adapt my master.

You cannot escape the need for practice. I know personally because while  I was a fairly talented writer growing up, I didn’t practice the craft as I should have, thinking it was a matter of inspiration, not practice.  If I did want to practice, I only knew how based on what my teachers had taught me or what I experienced of story and reading.

Happily I was brought up in a very verbal environment. My brothers and I yelled at each other all the time. My parents read to us a lot. It is to this reading by my parents that I believe I owe 90% of all my love of learning.

Both of my parents loved stories, as do all unmalformed humans. But you can see that this means that they filled up my soul. There’s plenty there to overflow. Lots of Narnia, mythology, Perelandra, folk tales, Proverbs and proverbs, Shakespeare, Dumas, etc. etc. This was a gift, one of the best they gave me.

And all of that made writing easier for me because it gave me a taste for good writing and an impatience for boring, unimaginative, badly formed, mechanical writing. It all made me a little afraid to try writing stories on my own. I’ve always loved imaginative writing, but until recently I’ve been intimidated by it.

Recently I’ve discovered the craft of writing through classical rhetoric. I can’t begin to describe what it meant to me to read Aristotle’s rhetoric as an adult. I know that isn’t about telling stories, though he includes a bit about the “statement of facts.” But he did identify the thought process a rhetorician (speaker or writer) always has to go through to write or speak. Identifying this process makes it possible to consciously and deliberately imitate it. Nobody had done that in writing before Aristotle!

Having his handbook is a help, but it isn’t enough. A writer also needs a coach. I am still an undisciplined writer. I know that. I pay close attention to everything I read about writing, but I will probably never overcome some of the bad habits I’ve developed as a writer. But I’m beginning to surround myself with coaches, especially in the apprenticeship.

I’ve also begun to dream about joining a writer’s workshop, like the one in Iowa. My path is strewn with obstacles and a few pits, but someday I’d love to get that high level of coaching for fiction writing.

Let me return, however, to my point, hopefully illustrated by the foregoing. Writing, the craft, requires coached practice. Students need to learn the tools of the craft (grammar, punctuation, schemes, tropes, etc.). They need to practice using them and to have their exercises assessed. They need to be corrected and instructed by masters.

Then, when they have souls filled with matter, they’ll know how to suit the word to the matter.

Proserpina has ascended

Proserpina has ascended from Hades, set free from her cruel husband, the lord of the underworld.  Ceres, her mother, is rejoicing and her singing makes the flowers bloom, the grass green, and the sun shine forth with all his mighty heat.  Mourning is over for her, the goddess of crops and fertility, and so the seasons of death are behind us for now.  The earth no longer lies hard and frigid, covered with dead tree litter.  The tears of the sky fall no longer frozen and white, but wet and hot, steaming back up from the earth they hit. 

So held the Romans – riveting but misguided.  Jehovah spins the earth and He colors it with seasons, white, brown, green, and golden.  He said it Himself – “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).

At this point in our journey around the sun, we are enveloped in warmth.  We acquaint ourselves once again with the sea, plopping down on her sandy shores – umbrellas, chairs, and coolers at hand.  We make castles on her doorstep and splash just within her threshold, knowing that her doors will never again be unhinged, upon her Maker’s promise.  And so, we play.

When the earth’s great candle burns too hot, we flee to the mountains, escaping the sun’s heat by huddling closer to him.  Leaving the many comforts of home, we live simply for a time in the woods, encamped on flat land between hills, finally enjoying firelight and the sight of the stars again.  On those few days we excitedly rejoice in flaming marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate and graham crackers.  Technology holds no sway at such altitude.

Summer is here – heat, sun, storms, waves, and mountains, all gifts given from the hand of the Father who alone spins and keeps the earth.

There are things that only God knows

Here’s one of them, Karen. I don’t think this can be overstated. 8 days to 25 years. 5 days to David and Bethany’s wedding!

Let me give my life to you

I think this might be my favorite pop song. I’ve seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and touched so many beautiful things in my short life, but nothing compares with your soul, Karen. I love you. You have filled up my senses for, in nine days, 25 years.

Do you remember the night’s we’ve spent in forests (Yellowstone, Gatlinburg, Door County, Inverness, Albermarle) or the mountains we’ve seen in spring time (Appalachians, Rockies, Blue Ridge), or the sleepy blue ocean when we were in New Jersey in 1983 (it was actually rather green and we walked to the wrong beach).

Do you remember picnicking beside the Forks of the Credit, at Niagrara on the Lake, beside the Yellowstone River when the kids were dispersed among family, in northern Wisconsin with your parents, at that park in South Carolina.

I do.