Category Archives: Writing

Milanote — A Nice Project/Mood Board Web App

So far I’ve been impressed with Milanote — it’s a bulletin board / mood board web app. Although it’s subscription-based (which I usually don’t like, but makes sense since they’re hosting information), there is a free account which wants you to have fewer than 100 notes at any one time. Currently, you can’t view or edit your information offline, but that’s a feature they’re planning to implement. It reminds of me of Evernote, except designed by designers.

If you sign up for a free account by this link,
they will give me another 20 notes on my allowance. Yay!

If you do sign up, one of the first things you might want to do afterwards is click on the grey dot in the upper right corner and use < account settings > to turn off e-mail notifications.

80% of the Bible

From the biography of poet & actor Rob Lacey:

Rob had commissioned Rachel Taylor-Beales to work her way through the entire Bible systematically, noting the general style of literature for every chapter and verse. The result was: 51% story, 29% poetry, 20% exposition. This became one of Rob’s favourite facts. A huge 80% of the Bible was made up of narratives, plots, characters, lyrics, metaphorical musings, meditations and fun. How could such a wonderful collection of sixty-six books be rendered so culturally dull?

Lacey, Sandra & Steve Stickley, People Like Us: Life with Rob Lacey, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010, pp. 207-208.

Becky Chambers, A Closed & Common Orbit

Becky Chambers’ new book is a stand-alone sequel. Her first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was frequently likened to the Joss Whedon’s cult TV series Firefly — and with good reason. There were none of the trappings of space western that made Firefly so visually appealing, nor was it packed with sly sarcasm-flirting-with-cynicism humour. Instead, it had elements that readers/viewers like me crave — intelligent writing that knows where it’s going; characters who genuinely like and respect each others’ gifts and are learning to like other people and are embarking on something just a bit audacious and counter-cultural; an understated but undergirding sense of justice and optimism.

The new book is called A Closed and Common Orbit and it has these things in spades. I read it alongside watching the first season of TV’s The Expanse based on Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck’s series of books, published under the pen name James Corey, starting with Leviathan Wakes. What a contrast! Expanse has just enough of the above elements to keep me from giving up, but the universe of Expanse is filled with strife and unspeakable terror. It has the feeling of tragedy — there are good people and they will go down fighting. But they will go down. Good can stave off evil. For a while.

The universe Chambers’ characters occupy knows of evil and repressive economic systems, for sure. But it is good that is irrepressible, even against the odds. Where Corey is a space opera version of Edgar Allen Poe, Chambers is a modern, street-wise Isaac Asimov.

The novel tells the intertwined stories of two sentient beings: one is an artificial intelligence who, against the rules, has been given a body that looks just like a human, and has to learn to cope with what it means to be a person rather than a thing. Oddly, that’s the same thing that the other character has to learn — except that she is a human, though a clone, created and raised as a thing — a slave in a huge waste-reclamation factory. Her escape from that facility kicks off a fight for survival and identity.

Perhaps what’s best and most telling about the difference between Chambers and Corey is that A Closed and Common Orbit is not the story of a struggle against something terrible, but a struggle towards something good. How refreshing and encouraging a book it is. Highly recommended.

Scrivener for iPad (and iPhone)

Scrivener has been released for iOS. Formerly only available for Mac or PeeCee, Scrivener is software designed for authors. When I’m writing a short document and know what I want to say, I use Pages. When I’m starting a writing project, and I’m not sure exactly what I’ll say in what order. I want to use Scrivener. It allows me to plan and organise by more clearly breaking the single larger whole into smaller chunks, some of which might or might not be included in the final submitted document, though still part of the project. Scrivener makes it very easy to see a useful overview, and also makes it very easy to zero in on specific chunks.

Having Scrivener on my iPad is, quite simply, wonderful. There are some compromises, in style and feature-list, but nothing too drastic — this is unmistakeably Scrivener. Through Dropbox, I found syncing with Scrivener on my computer a very simple task (though not automatic), and so far it has worked flawlessly with both new projects and ones that I’ve had kicking around on my computer for years.

And I also now have Scrivener on my iPhone. As a comprehensive tool, Scrivener + iPhone is quite frankly less useful. The ability to see an overview on such a small screen is severely compromised. But, with a Bluetooth keyboard, the phone’s screen is plenty big enough to usefully type in first drafts of sections, and it is great to be able to enter those drafts directly into Scrivener projects and have them there waiting for me when I return to the project on a larger screen.

If you write things, you really owe it to yourself to look into Scrivener. There is a learning curve, especially if the only word processor you’ve ever used is MicrosoftWord, but there are also free trial versions for Mac or PeeCee that should give you enough time to try it out and see how it frees up your writing. (Scrivener is not yet available for Android.)

Better than Good

“So here’s something odd,” he said, the thin, crisp page crinkling between his thumb and forefinger as he flipped back and forth.

She said nothing, but waited for him to continue.

“All through, right?, God’s been looking at it and saying it was good.”

“….. mmm…..?” she said, tilting her head.

“But then there’s something God looks at and it’s not good.”

“….. right …. the snake and apple, obviously,” she said, not quite impatiently.

“No — that’s the thing — before that,” he said, “before they disobeyed, before everything went wrong…. Like: while everything was still perfect, something wasn’t good.”

“What?” she asked, despite herself.

“It is not good for man to be alone,” he read.

She looked pointedly around at the dorm room he shared with Adrian, wrinkled her nose, then chuckled. “Well, duh…” was all she said.

“No, but think about it. God created, it’s good, then he improved on that. There was a point when Eden was good, but not perfect. Maybe would have continued improving and improving.”

Her nose wrinkled again, perplexed this time, “By adding more and more sexes of people, that’d be weird.”

He laughed, “Maybe just more and more women for Adam,” he said, then, “No, I’m kidding, who knows how, but maybe…”

“So heaven, too?” she wondered “Is it like heaven is perfect, and everyone sees that it’s good, but then 10 billion years into it, God will snap his fingers and say ‘y’know what this needs?’ and add cushions or something?”

He smiled and shrugged, “Who knows,” he said.

After a pause he continued, “Maybe it’s too simple to think that what happens is that we’ll ‘return to Eden’ or ‘go back to what we were originally intended to be.’ Maybe it’s going to be better than that.”

She nodded and said, “Ok.” Then, “What are we doing for dinner?”

He laughed out loud then, and put on his James Earl Jones voice, “You humans!”

Help thou my unbelief (Mk. 9:24)

This story is full of tricky things! The father of the demon-possessed boy famously says “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” That’s a good translation: the first pisteuw is a verb, the second, the negation, is a noun. And it’s a wonderful declaration of the human condition: we don’t always want God, but we want to want God.

Again, though, I’ve run into difficulties because of my prior decision to translate pisteuw as trust rather than faith or belief. I still think it’s a good decision, it just isn’t the easiest to work with. English has no word for untrust: both mistrust and distrust are actively negative, unlike unbelief, which just indicates a lack.

But in any case, “help my unbelief” strikes me as intolerably awkward English. “Help my lack of trust” is slightly less odd, but still not good. I’m resorting to something like paraphrase here:

Jesus: “Everything is doable for the one who trusts.”

The man: “I have trust and I don’t have trust; help me.”

It’s recognisably English, but I’ve sacrificed the verb-noun contrast, and the object of the help as the unbelief rather than me. And yet it does highlight the profound internal deadlock between trusting and not trusting and the need for God to break that deadlock.

All things are possible to the one who believes (Mk. 9:23)

The most elegant Greek passages are sometimes the hardest to translate. I’ve been chewing over Mark 9:22-23 this morning. It is an absolutely fascinating story and just full of implications. A guy tells Jesus that the disciples couldn’t cast some demon out of his son, and he says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, please have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus, who acts pretty miffed with the whole situation then answers back “If I can??” And then the Greek has a four-word sentence that I seem to need at least twice as many to begin to translate: panta dunata tw pisteuonti. The traditional translation is very much along the lines of the RSV’s “all things are possible to him who believes” which is 8 words. The panta does easily translate to all things … which is marginally better than everything since panta is all, not every (insofar as those are distinguishable from each other). The verb to be is missing / understood in the Greek sentence, which is not unusual. To translate dunata as possible, however, misses a shade of meaning. I’d want capability in there. In context, the dispute has been that the disciples don’t have the power or strength to do the business (v. 18; the word there is not dunamis/power, but a form of the word for strength). Here in 23, the word is related to power and the dative construction that follows (to him who believes) confirms that the things are possible not because of the things themselves but because of the person attempting them. The point is, I think, not that everything is possible to the believer, as if the things are in themselves possible and belief helps you see that, but rather, when you’re equipped with faith, everything becomes doable.

Ah ha! “Doable” is a word that really fits the implied narrator — the Mark I’m reconstructing — it’s a word I can imagine him loving.

Now the second part. “to the one who believes” is standard, but I’ve made a decision overall to use trust for pisteuw rather than belief. The point is faith, and I think throughout most of the New Testament, the relationality of faith is more the issue than intellectual or doctrinal faith.

This has left me with this translation: “All things are doable, for the one who trusts”. Nine English words for four in Greek. I may yet switch to Everything because All things sounds unnatural.

As well as the translation, of course, I’m hugely conflicted about the interpretation. This healing was not doable for the disciples and it’s not unlike Jesus to question and criticise the faith of the disciples. And yet, if he meant it as criticism why the singular “to the one who trusts” and why the definite article instead of simple dative and a three-word reply? Is the tw meant to parallel the panta? See? It isn’t “All things are possible to all who trust” or “to trusters”. This passage thus seems to me to perhaps relate into an old chestnut argument about whether we are saved by faith in Jesus or by the faith of Jesus.

Paraphrasing Mark; Challenge No. 37

John the Baptist, John the Baptiser, John the Dunker, John the Drencher, John the Immerser, John the Immersionist, John the Soak, John the Water Guy, John the Wetter, John the Soaker, John the Washer, John the Wash, Washing John, Washday Johnny, Ol’ Wet John, John the Saturator, John the Saturationist, Immersion John, Immersion Johnny, Johnny the Soak, ‘Down ya Go’ John, ‘Hold your breath’ John, John the blblblub. *sigh*

An Embellishment I Won’t Use

I’m still chipping away at my paraphrase of Mark’s Gospel and thought of a great embellishment that … well … it’s not really part of the text, so even though I love it, I won’t be able to put it in the text or perform it…. It’s in chapter five, and comes in the next to last paragraph of the story, which would then make the very end of the story come to life in a new way:

Mark 5:35-43 with embellishment

Dimension Dementia

Many theoretical physicists believe that when the universe came into being, there were twenty-seven space-time dimensions. But, somehow or other, all we seem to have left now are four: three of space and one of time. There is quite an argument about how so many of the others got mislaid, but most scientists are unfazed by the loss, given that they also have trouble finding their socks, the pencils that they bought yesterday, and the expenses forms for their research assistants. Easy come, easy go.

Personally, I seem to now have also mislaid even the one dimension of time that we had left. I know I had it a little while ago. I guess it’s not that it isn’t around, it’s just that I seem to have lost the hang of it. The whole ‘flowing’ business takes me rather by surprise. Only yesterday, for instance, there were whole lakes full of work about which I was saying “Ah, I don’t need to worry about any of that til next month!” and now suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, it is next month! And another thing: somehow I never seem to get any distance from last month. How I should love to be able to say “Ah, I don’t need to worry about any of that anymore, that was last month!” Instead, all the stuff from last month seems to follow me around as if the whole cosmic dimension were collapsed into a room the size of an understair cupboard with a hoover and an old electric fan in it.

So I am planning to start a campaign to bring back a couple of the lost dimensions — at least one or two more of time, so I can get some of that reading done, and one more of space, so that I have someplace to shelve the books the cubic second that I’m done with them. The only worry is, with yet another dimension of space, it’ll be even harder to find my missing hyper-pencils.

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