Winter Issue 1
You Do Have Something to Say
A Renewed Invitation to Submit
By Jolene Nolte
It’s a new semester, so time for a fresh renewal of the invitation to write for the Et Cetera.
I don’t have anything worthy to say, you might be thinking.
But I say unto you, Poppycock!
Well, you’re a writer, that’s easy for you to say, you reply.
No, actually, it’s not. I’m driven to write out of necessity—the necessity of deadlines and of sanity. I often feel I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. I’m a writer because if I don’t write, I wither. I sit down, and in the act of writing, sometimes discover to my own surprise that I am saying something. I was freed considerably by the gradual realization that writing is a process—I don’t have to and indeed cannot achieve the final goal immediately upon starting. I use myself as the nearest example, but this applies to you, my fellow students.
Poet Scott Cairns says of his writing students that they “will develop most readily if they shed the idea that writing is primarily a way to express what they think they already know, and come to trust, instead that writing creatively is primarily a way of knowing.” Don’t get hung up on trying to brilliantly communicate illustrious insight. Maybe sometimes you will start with a flash of insight you want to share, but sometimes you just need to begin. In The Writing Life Annie Dillard compares the writer’s pen to a probe. You explore, new things open up by means of the writing itself, and you keep going to discover what you may otherwise never have found.
Let’s explore together. Sit down and see what happens.
I firmly believe you have something to say—you just might not know it yet. If you want to share the results or even if you want help in the process, my inbox is always open.
By Steven Gomez
On the night of my sixteenth birthday party Dad said, “There’s something about your mother I never told you.”
I was grabbing myself a drink from the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter, his arms crossed, just staring into nowhere.
“What is it?”
He opened his mouth to answer me, but the laughter in the living room crescendoed at the same moment and he just smiled. “Nothing,” he said. “Just celebrate for tonight. You can always grow up tomorrow.” He’d gone upstairs to bed before everyone went home.
I stayed up tossing and turning. My mind had become a food processor, churning what Dad had said around and around, blending waking dreams and possibilities into nothing more than a sludge. Mom had died five years before, deep enough in the past so that I could think of her without crying for hours on end, but also when I was young enough to not really know her as a person. I could remember her moods and her personality — what could make her laugh, what upset her. But when it came to outlining her biography I was at a loss. I didn’t know anything about her life before me or Dad.
There was a certain excitement to it at first. Here was a secret that I not only got to unwrap, but had never even known existed. I went back in my memory, searching for clues about Mom’s past that may have been dropped in conversation.
I knew she’d been born in the early Sixties; maybe in her teens she had been a hippie or a beatnik, a commie carrying a picket sign. A picture from my Social Studies textbook came to mind, of a woman at a protest wearing bell bottoms and a hemp vest. She had hair past her waist and was burning a bra. Maybe my mother had been arrested for the cause, or even possession with intent to distribute.
Or perhaps she and my grandparents (who I’d never met) had had a huge fight when she was young, and she ran off to join the circus. I could picture her as a prodigy in the big top. The lion tamer, the magician’s assistant, the tightrope walker, the trapeze artist—that was it, a trapeze artist. I really could see her swinging back and forth, flying through the air over everyone’s heads.
The weight of endless possible pasts eventually sank me down into unconsciousness.
When I woke up the next morning, Dad had already left for work. This didn’t usually happen until 10:30 or so, and I always saw him at breakfast. As the day passed, the more certain I grew that whatever Dad wanted to tell me was going to be difficult to hear.
Maybe there was something about the accident they’d all kept from me for some reason. It wasn’t an accident at all. She’d been murdered—by whom? She’d committed suicide—but why?
She wasn’t my real mother.
She was my real mother, but he wasn’t my real father.
I was the fruit of an unfortunate affair; Dad would have forgiven her.
Mom had been married before and I was her first husband’s kid.
They adopted me because Mom was barren.
Dad had said that I would get to grow up. I could almost feel it happening. I made a list of all the possibilities I had dreamed up, and added hundreds more. With each one I saw a different maturity before me. Each past with its own future.
Years later, when I was in college, I would learn about quantum mechanics, and Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment. Put a cat in a box with a device timed to release cyanide. Ten minutes later, you look into the box—is the cat going to be alive, or is it going to be dead? Common sense tells us the latter. But there are so many different interpretations about how these things work. One theory holds that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time, but we’re only able to perceive a single state. Another determines that the universe splits in two the moment you open the box, and in one the cat is alive while in another the cat is dead. And still another tells us that we aren’t even supposed to ask, just leave the lid closed. I dropped the course fairly early in the semester.
I still have that list I wrote when I was sixteen, all the superpositions and split universes, all the people I might have become depending on which was true. All of her possible pasts. All of my possible adulthoods.
I was writing it until Dad came home. Ten full pages. When I heard the car pull in and the front door open, I listened for a moment, and thought I heard Dad talking—on the phone?—to someone with him?
Collecting myselves, I went downstairs to find out what kind of person I was going to be.
An Uncomfortable Epiphany
By Jolene Nolte
It’s a new year, a new semester. Some of you reading this are embarking on the totally new experience of arriving for your first semester at Regent. Some of you are coming back with fresh resolve, some are back as an exercise of perseverance.
January 6 was Epiphany, followed by my birthday. Another year older, I have the deepening epiphany that adulthood is about learning to face disappointments honestly, and rather than fight them, let God reveal himself in those raw, uncomfortable places.
I think of T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” which narrates the Magi’s journey and meeting the Christ child as one long disillusionment. An individual magus—fun fact: “magus” is the singular of “magi”—looks back on the journey years later, but what description he gives is fragmentary and symbolic. Take for instance, “Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver / And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.” The metonymy is unsettling, and the foreboding allusions gesture towards Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion. The magus narrator gives the understated report of meeting the Christ child: “it was (you may say) satisfactory.” What jarring ambivalence! It invites us to question along with the narrator, “were we lead all that way for / Birth or Death?” By infusing the poem with images of the journey’s difficulty, of Jesus’ coming death, Eliot presents a vision in which Birth and Death are intertwined not just for the Christ child but also for those who would follow him. This confronts us with the reality that the way of Christ leads to life only through death and suffering.
The poem was written shortly after Eliot’s conversion to Christianity. This is not the sound, however, of a triumphalistic conversion experience. When the narrator returns home, he is now uneasy among “an alien people clutching their gods,” but neither is the alternative comfortable. Following Christ is “hard and bitter agony.” It requires “Death, our death,” as a necessary part of the Birth to a very different kind of life.
I read Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing on my plane ride back to Vancouver. With his characteristic incisiveness, Kierkegaard insists that despite the multiplicity of our individual circumstances with its demands, miseries or joys, the choice remains the same for all of us: Do you will the good? Do you choose God? Are you willing to give all, to suffer all? Or in the words of Rowan Williams (summarizing St. John of the Cross’ theology), “What is it that you really want?” That is the question that confronts us with urgent clarity in suffering, but it is a choice that confronts all of us on good days and bad, all year, all life long. In suffering, we might have to face the hard truth that in fact we want reprieve from the pain more than we want God—and find that God loves us anyway. There is grace in that confrontation. Rather than living life anxiously avoiding pain, unknowingly hinging our faith upon things going well, we’re invited to trust that even in the hardest things we ever face, God is able to meet us precisely in those places. A mentor reminded me recently, “For there to be a resurrection, it first requires that there’s been a death.” God has a much higher tolerance for pain than I would like, and his presence is a disillusioning confrontation beckoning us to come and die—but so that we might really live.
Wherever this start of a new semester finds us, and whatever tasks, delights and difficulties await us in it, our role is simply one of response, of acting on the possibility of turning ourselves to God by his grace. I echo and share an excerpt of Kierkegaard’s prayer with you for edification (see below). May we have the clarity and courage to choose to turn toward our disorienting, disillusioning yet unimaginably good God.
A Prayer (from Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing)
By Søren Kierkegaard (translated by Douglas V. Steere)
Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee!
What is all that he knows,
vast accumulation though it be,
but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! […]
Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all!
So may Thou give to the intellect,
wisdom to comprehend that one thing;
to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding;
to the will, purity that wills only one thing.
In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing;
amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing;
in suffering, patience to will one thing.
Solution to Last Issue’s Crossword
Crossword by Embolus
7. Underhand team with new investment (5)
8. Star chain in order but preferring disorder (9)
11. Returned half of half or middle half of laugh (2)
12. Slime in new form of collective thinking (8)
13. Refusal to believe reports of francophone African river (6)
14. European high end car is sweet when the tailgate falls off (5-4)
18. Everyone’s invitation to Catholic Prelate’s final Papal party (9,6)
22. Former lover in natural setting for film that is not yet shot (9)
23. It is useless pole-dancing with heartless hen-party (2,4)
25. Well chosen from the menu? (8)
26. Small town in the central plains (2)
27. 12A and 15D representing 3,000? Count is timeless (9)
28. Special delivery service in West Orkney (5)
1. Experienced? We turned new tricks! (9)
2. Permitting young woman entry into dodgy joint (9)
3. Tim’s a malign man smitten with Fatal Attraction (6,9)
4. Alumnus with good measure of radiation (4)
5. & 24. President’s football team lost first three from Beijing. Great Leader followed secret number. (2,4,4)
6. Latin’s difficult for Georgian Joe (6)
9. Church establishment housing Ark of the Covenant? (5)
10. Books dispatched by rail right away (7)
15. A free market is not OK for him, but bazaar holding kiss is. (7)
16. Non-stop PE for sporting competitors? (9)
17. Keep treating iron as a drug. (9)
19. Can fresh air replace herbal remedy? (6)
20. She came without a design or a plan (6)
21. Dish Paul and I dished up (5)
24. See 5D