Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Review of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a novel of complex beauty that both repulses and attracts, provoking awe and bewilderment in the Reader. Annie Dillard reveals our world as it is from a close up look through nature, adding more details and complexity then is often allowed in our understanding of it.

In this novel, nothing happens. It is not a page-turner driving your interest by what will happen next but rather like an informative article that reveals information by stages because it cannot say it all at once. Though unfolding through the course of a year, through changing seasons and moods, all of these are merely descriptions as the world is – not how it was or will be but how it is and perhaps always will be.

Annie Dillard creates a snapshot of the world as seen through the lenses of an intensely observant eye that struggles to understand what he sees, offering possible interpretations that struggle to be faithful to every observation. Annie Dillard’s protagonist explores the world outside of human civilization, the world weather and landscapes, of plants and animals, and is overwhelmed and amazed by what he finds. The book sometimes reads like a science textbook, sometimes like a treatise on morality, God, and the nature of Dasign, but almost always like poetry.

Both the world described and the language used are grandiose in every sense of the word. There is no doubt that this work is impressive and magnificent, a work of meticulous devotion and personal expression. Sometimes however, the poetic underpinnings of Dillard’s writing that often align the beauty of the work with the world it describes, sometimes seems to be forced and interfere with the readers immersion into the subject of the book rather then the means of its production.

Some thoughts from reading:

It is interesting to me that this book was written by a devout Catholic. Dillard certainly never pulls out any religious dogmatics, or apologetical conclusions leaving many question open. I would love to talk to her, instead of her character, about the difficulties in understanding the divine in a world that is so complex, or from a certain perspective, flawed. Or, in finding the sublime in a world that is obviously never quite the way we see it, with conflicting elements of life and death always at work. Is there really something true and good amongst, or behind, the infinite complexity that is even bigger then all that we see?

I thought it was interesting to see Dillard talk about morality as the human domain. In conservative Christian circles, which I happen to frequent, morality is often strictly divorced from humanity, who must be too thoroughly tainted by original sin or their total depravity. Instead morality is God’s territory, and so, revealed to us more in nature then in humanity.

This idea of the innocence of nature is thoroughly problematized by Dillard, and she points to the library, the centre of civilization and human thought, as the point from which moral wisdom emanates into the world, be it a portal to the divine or the existential creation of it however is left open. Anyway, I liked that.

There was one point on which the protagonist was conclusive which surprised me. It is a point on which I had been leaning one way, and then came to the same conclusion as the protagonist, but which I am not honestly sure of. Is he really so conclusive? Annie, are you sure? Alright, I apoligize. I always want to leave everything till the end, like a mystery writer who doesn’t even tell you that someone has died.

Annie’s protagonist concludes that beauty and ugliness are in opposition. That both are out there, and while they are always mixed and together. He says “I am not washed an beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them…” (added emphasis is mine). About this I have wondered. How can he be sure that “corruption is not the heart of beauty,” one of beauty’s “deep-blue speckles;” That the “frayed and nibbled fringe of the world is a tallith, a prayer shawl, the intricate garment of beauty.”

I remember when I decided that there was a distinct line to be drawn between good an evil, voicing it for the first time on a mountain in the Crowsnest pass, but I is only a guess. The protagonist knows the words of Huston Smith, the truth of which every philosopher of right and wrong is painfully aware of: “In nature the emphasis is in what is rather than what ought to be,” and no follower of Christ can pass over this question too quickly for there is no resurrection without death.

Turning to another curiously religious writer, I think of the words of Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa: “Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that God and the Devil are one, the majesty co-eternal, not two uncreated but one uncreated…” Must we, as a character in one of Dinesen’s story suggests, learn to love snakes so that we can appreciate the gifts which God will give us?

There is more to think about in five pages of Annie Dillard’s work then I could possibly write here, so I will leave it at that.

“There are no more chilling, invigorating words than these of Christ’s, ‘Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.’”

“I wonder how long I will be permited to luxury of this relative solitude. Out here on the rocks the people don’t mean to grapple, to crush and starve and betray, but with all the good will in the world, we do, there’s no other way. We want it; we take it out of each other’s hides; we chew the bitter skins the rest of our lives.”

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Contest results and a broken jar of thanks

If your name is Ian and it is your birthday today, I hope you had a good birthday. I want to thank you for the concert last night. It was a wicked trip down south, and I really enjoyed the show.

For anyone who didn’t see The New Pornographers, you missed out.

This has been too long in coming. I am going to admit that this is not an objective method of judging, but honestly, I have been blessed by these pieces of advice. Thanx chums.

As I said, each entry will be judged by its practicality (can I understand how to put the advice into action? Is it more a platitude than a piece of advice?), specificity (is it advice for me and not advice that could be for anyone? why this advice? and why me?), urgency (how important is it? And how urgent it is for the benefit of my being, not being about something trivial?), originality (does this piece of advice bring to my attention something that I have not thought of? Something which I would be unlikely to have implemented in my life if not for the help of your words?); and finally, each entry will be judged on style (this is primarily the sensitivity and persuasiveness with which the advice is presented, but does not exclude humor or poetic qualities).

Here are the winners and the runners up.


“Here's my advice:

On Tuesdays, drink a steamed latté from Starbucks. While you are drinking it, read something by Ezra Pound and try to reconcile the following truths:
1. Ezra Pound was an anti-semite.
2. Starbucks is the epitome of capitalism.
3. Ezra Pound's poetry is beautiful.
4. Starbucks' steamed lattés are delightful.

Jeff K.”

Practicality: 8
Specificity: 7
Urgency: 4
Originality: 7
Style: 9
Total: 35

I perhaps should give Jeff some money. At the time I received the advice it was not as significant as it is to me now. I have actually been thinking more about art and the role that beauty plays in our lives. Additionally, I have not finished with the questions of worldly comforts vs. God given gifts. I will admit, I have not found any Ezra Pound, so I haven’t actually tried this one, but I have done many theoretical run-throughs, and I have pondered the works of Shakespear and the thoughts of Heidegger.

This advice was easy to put into practice, and good for me specifically being a philosophy, interested both in aesthetics and ethics. The elements were all original and I love Jeff’s writing but I was so bold as to fail him on urgency. I’m not sure if I can come to any conclusions, and I’m not sure where time spent here will take me. Thank you very much Jeff, and feel free to make an appeal if you want a share of the money.


“Jonathan, after reading your proposition, a scripture verse immediately came to mind: 2 Kings 10:16, where Jehu says: “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.” Now, I know the background of this verse is weighty but I don’t want to get into all of that here. Commentary gives Jehu a lot of slack for making that statement, but, I don’t want to get into all of that either. Jonathan, my advice to you is this: BE ZEALOUS for the Lord. Be tireless in your pursuit for wisdom and understanding, especially when you’re beginning to feel the pangs of apathy. Be boundless in your expressions of love to God and others and in further understanding how to be loved by God. Be urgent in your hunt for righteousness. Seems like a lot, but really what I'm trying to say is, never be lacking in zeal for the Lord, Jon. Hope to hear from you soon.”

Practicality: 6
Specificity: 5/10
Urgency: 9
Originality: 5
Style: 6
Total: 34

This one is hard to rank I admit, and I don’t think Amy will mind that it doesn’t fit into the contest very well. My biggest point against this is practicality, as I want to follow God, but my will seems delayed. If I really wanted to, I would just do it, so I must want to want to do it… and so it goes. Specificity is also an interesting point. The advice is advice for everyone, and yet here, I know, it is advice for me. So I gave it a split mark and figured I’ll go with the average or something.

It is, however, appreciated as an encouragement. I will come back and read this again and again. I will read all of these again, but there are a couple, specifically those of scripture, that may not always feel specifically relevant all the time, but that’s probably just because we don’t realize that they actually are. I am once again encouraged, emboldened. Thanks.


“I like contests, but I am not great at giving advice. But I think I have a pretty good chance of winning, because I am lucky when it comes to winning cash prizes.

My advice for you is, like so much of the best advice, stolen from someone else. In this case, it is a little bit ironic, because my advice is... well, I'll just tell you, and then you'll know.

"It only ever comes back to you making a rational decision based on what you want to do. (BUT I DON'T KNOW WHAT I WANT) If that's your response then my reply is simply; who else but you can make that decision?"

That's my advice.

Practicality: 5
Specificity: 8
Urgency: 8
Originality: 9
Style: 7
Total: 37

This advice mattered to me. It has made me work through things. It’s biggest trouble is that it speaks specifically to a subject that is difficult to speak to. In the end, it says to the person who doesn’t know what they want, “I can’t help you.” But that is important. It is important to know what you want sometimes, and when you do something, to do it with a whole hearted commitment.

This advice helped me realize that that is what I want, even if it doesn’t get me there. Thank you David, you will be receiving a cash prize of a currently undetermined amount.


“this is the best advice I have. It may not be original, as I stole it, and it may seem lame or cheesy if one looks at it with a sceptic's heart, but it has been the most valuable advice I have ever stumbled across. Hard to impliment, difficult to stick to, but there is great truth and reward if you make it.

See Psalm 27:13-14
"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD."

… …

that's what I get from this...

not surfacy peace, but real deep down peace. There may never be peace on earth, but here in me I have a little piece of peace while I am on the earth.”

Practicality: 7
Specificity: 7
Urgency: 10
Originality: 7
Style: 8
Total: 39

Thank you Michelle. This advice continues to be important to me as I wait on the lord. I am living, and I am not sure that I am following him, but I am living in his grace and waiting for him, and one day I’ll be swept away by his power and love as I run after him. Don’t be surprised when it happens…

Jillian said...


advice of jill (it comes with sadness because it thinks of your departure from vancouverland. but alas)...

go to the shell or the 711 and buy a disposable camera. take a walk up commercial and find a store that has a neat thinish notebook of your liking and buy it, and also a special pen (not too expensive). you should take pictures of random or significant things, places, or people from vancouver. maybe just places and things or moments to pause? then in your book, write all the things you've learned while being here, and maybe put things that you wrote and bits of things you created, recipies, words, really anything. and then develope your pictures and put them in too (maybe get doubles and you can put some on your wall at your to-be new home... *tear*)

the key is to have a treasure book of your short but filled-with-memories time here.

and also you could go to a nice coffee place nearby to spend some time with it and the reflective parts of your mind.

you are sitting at the kitchen table.


(writing your name backwards was my attempt at original style. i was going to write the whole thing backwards until i decided that i didn't want to do that anymore)

Practicality: 8
Specificity: 9
Urgency: 8
Originality: 8
Style: 8
Total: 41

So Jillian had the advantage of seeing me right where I was. I was at the end of a very short but significant point in my life. I was leaving Vancouver and I had many lessons that I had learned, and many things in my life that were teaching me and which were all about to be swept away in the rush of a life is familiar enough to overwhelm these things I only faintly grasped.

I wrote many things down, and I will reread them tomorrow. Thanks again Jill.

Alright, so that’s it, the contest is done. Prizes will be sent out shortly. Thanks everyone who participated.

And for anyone who read through all this, here is what I most want to say today. How do you pay someone back for something that they have done for you? I was recently blessed by a wonderful gift. It was something I never would have got for myself because I am bad at spending money on anything that would leave me with something to show for it. It is tiny and black and is a wonder of the modern age and actually changes the way the world feels around you.

So I have this thing that I will now use all the time, but even more then I like this thing, I am blessed that it was a gift. I am taken aback and I can’t think of almost any gift I have ever received that displays so much affection and commitment to me. I treasure this gift as a reminder of a friendship that is so much more important then any thing on its own could be.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A few unplanned

Alright, a couple things happened yesterday that I would forget if I didn’t write them down. At lunch I went to the bathroom in the Safeway, and while I normally tuck the straps of my Carhartts into the side of my pants so they don’t touch the bathroom floor, this time I didn’t bother.

Unfortunately, this was the same time I peed on the floor and soaked my Carhart straps in my own pee. Very unfortunately.

Then, this morning at 6 or so in the morning, when I was up trying to get circulation back into my arm which starts to tingle with shots of pain when I lie down for too long (so at least every night) and when I went to walk back into the bedroom – it was dark – I walked flat out into a closed door. I think I woke my roommates up.

Good night everyone. Sleep well and be funny.

Oh yeah, and one time Ashley was telling me about the class she didn’t want to attend. She said, “it’s about the sexual habits of primates.” Then I asked “so does primates include you and me?”

I'm not sure about the story about taking off my clothes. I started writing it but I got embarassed.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Back on track

Okay, I'm falling behind. I have many posts to write. I, like my
friend Jacob, have a to-do list, though mine is not quite the same.
Let's do a comparison:

Jacob's list: Account for all suffering

Jonathan's list: Tell the world how Jill gave birth to herself

Jacob: Calculate the probability of God's existence

Jonathan: Tell an embarassing story about taking off my clothes

Jacob: Come as close to a complete consistent set of beliefs as possible

Jonathan: Write a coded message about Harry Potter

So I discovered a secret fertility dance. It involves a lot of arm
swinging, and suprirsisingly, a fair amount of snaping. It looks
and sounds a little like birthing a child and is intended to take
advantage of the blessings that come from life of symetry. If the
dance is performed 9 months before conception of a child it greatly
increases fertility.

As you have probably already guessed, Jill performed the secret fertility
dance nine months before her own conception, but performed it so long
that in the end she gave birth to herself. That’s why Jill is so small. Not
that being small is that significant part of who Jill is, but it is fun to talk

I will really miss you Jill. I will continue to think of you and be excited
about life and all its often unnoticed intricacies and complexities and

Monday, December 12, 2005

Part II

That last post might have been a little... well... let's just say...
Okay, so here it is, I was pretty much pumped, because I suck at basketball, and only hit one in every fifty shots I take. And there I had it! right when it counted, when everybody was watching, drained a 30 footer from at least 15 feet from the basket.

So there I was, having just nailed that five foot shot, and feeling so good, joggin' back down the court to get on D and only slightly fazed by the previously mentioned chuckles. And one of the sideliners yells, "Hey, Jon! Missing something?"

Uh hello? I nailed that lay-up. But this is High School.

Have you guys read Daytona's post on washing pants? Well I, like Daytona (I'll take any chance I get to associate myself with that guy. Did I mention I work with him? And I'm reading the same book as him? Oh how I long for the day when he might put me as a link on his blog... sorry, back the the story) don't wash my pants very often either and so, since I try to change my underwear more frequently, there develops a lopsided ratio where the number of underwear I wear dramatically outnumbers the pants. With this many pairs of underwear floating around, it is ineivitable that eventually, one is going to get stuck in the pant leg of the pants that I am wearing. One might expect that this would be easily noticed, and the underwear would be removed from the pant leg shortly after putting the pants on, but one might be wrong.

So there it was, my dirty little gonch, lying on the shiny, well lit, hardwood floor, one hundred feet down the court from where I stood.

This is the perfect opportunity for an interactive polling session.

What should the little grade ten Begger do? Does he

(a) Sheelpishly walk the 100 foot walk of shame to actually pick up the underpants that have so recently droped from the bottom of his pant leg?
(b) Not touch them again, laughing off any association with the shameful knickers, and certainly not deigning to touch them again, and perhaps promptly leaving the gym
(c) Here you end the story. What does The Begger do in YOUR ending?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Part I

So I want to thank everyone for their advice (enter my contest! win MONEY!!!) and I will still be taking entries till December 24 so feel free to enter a second entry or tell your wisest friends about my contest.

As thanks for your help and to illustrate my need for advice:

So once I was in highschool. It was sometime in the late nineties, the part that wasn't completely dominated by Kurt Cobain's music, and when that crazy basketball fad was going. As a typical high school student I spent my lunch hour shootin' hoops and dreaming big dreams, wondering how the coach managed to miss my incredible potential as the team Pick Setter (for those of you who aren't basketball fans, the Pick Setter plays just South of the Point Guard).

One day I was playing B-ball with a bunch of friends, and on this particular day, a large portion of the jocks were watching. I dribbled down the court and gave myself a secret "high-five" as I notice that the d-man (that's the guy who was trying to stop me from scoring) was givin' just a little to much slack.

So easy breazy in goes my jump shot, as most of you who know me would expect and back down the court I go. Phft, big deal, I could hit that all day, my calm, unshakable game face only slightly fazed by a few chuckles from the knuckle heads on the sidelines...

To be continued!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Read the post before this one!

Today I was thinking, you know what, I'm sad. But then, hokey shi–zen! Have you ever felt blue and wondered if there was anything good in the world? Have you ever thought, I don't know if here is any real tenderness, and real companionship to be found out there. Well check this out!

Here I am thinking, this dog knows something I don't.

Oh yeah! And read my last post! Enter my contest! It's not hard! Win money!