Once More, With Feeling…

Taking a break as Sunday evening winds down, and what better way to take it easy but to watch some Buffy?  And lucky me, my favorite episode ever just happened to be next in the queue.  “Once More, With Feeling…” is one of the most original episodes of television I’ve ever seen.  A whole episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer set to music.  What could be better?  The juxtaposition of broadway-style music with vampires and action scenes is bizarre yet brilliant.  Emma Caufield and Nicholas Brendon provide the show’s most charmingly funny scene with their duo “I’ll Never Tell,” but Joss Whedon also provides more than a few painful and touching moments as well.  Another fun bit of trivia?  Whedon (the show’s producer and creative genius) actually learned music in order to write the episode.  Pretty impressive.

Speaking of the best of Buffy, how about best TV episodes generally?  That would be an interesting top 5 list.  Any suggestions?

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Good Writing…

Alan Lenzi has a funny little post on a writing exercise for his fresher* class.  As he notes, the kind of uber-structured writing he is forcing them to do is “boring and formulaic” but it’s also the only way to get people to write well.

Writing is one of those things that people, for whatever perverse reason, think you should be able to just sit down and do well.  You hear all kinds of nonsense about writing “from the heart” and how writing shouldn’t be structured.  The fact is, however, that good writers are like good musicians.  The only way to make free, improvisational, artistically expressive music is to practice fundamentals until your fingers bleed.  Nobody picks up a guitar and “just plays” jazz improv.  Thousands of hours of practice go into “just playing.”  Same deal with writing.

Want to be a good writer?  Then go read Alan’s post, and practice until your fingers bleed.  Only once you can work through a pedantic exercise like the one he’s designed are you ready to “just write.”

This is a point driven home particularly well in my single favorite book on English grammar, Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax.  Learn the rules, and then learn how to break them.  That’s what great writers do.

*I’m picking up on the British use of “fresher” instead of the gender-exclusive “freshman” you find in NA.  HT to Mark Goodacre.

This Too…

I’ve been listening to Derek Webb again today.  His song “This Too Shall be Made Right” off of The Ringing Bell did what it always does to me; it took hold of me, shook me, beat me, and embraced me all at once.  Here are the lines that cut the deepest, for me at least:

There’s a time for peace
There is a time for war
There’s a time to forgive
and a time to settle the score
A time for babies to loose their lives
A time for hunger and genocide
and this too shall be made right.

Oh I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
And I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life
And that’s not just murder it’s suicide
and this too shall be made right.

The world in which we live is broken.  I am a part of that brokenness.  I am a collaborator.  I don’t want to be, and I try not to be, but I am.  Even that wasn’t really true.  I try to try not to be.  I want to try to try not to be.  You get what I mean.  That’s where this song cuts.  But it heals as well.  It heals with an honest belief in the possibility, the hope, that the God who made the universe still cares for it, and that he has determined that his creation shall be made whole.

This is the tension of true apocalypse.  I’m not talking about Left Behind garbage, but about the late prophetic and early apocalyptic literature of the Bible.  Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Daniel, and Revelation (among many others).  This is the message of the writers of the apocalypses and the so-called proto-apocalyptic literature.  God will intervene.  Not just will, but must.  The world is irrevocably and intrinsically broken, and though we try, and we try to try, and we want to try to try to fix it, to reconcile it, to be reconciled to God himself, we are unable.  So he does it.

An honest appreciation for this biblical literature, and an honest attempt to hold it in tension with the rest of the canon, leads to the kind of paradoxical but true sentiment of Webb’s lyrics.  The world is filled with horror.  We must be conscious of it, we must act against it, but we must also understand that it is God who will, in the end, bring it to an end.