Aftermath of Lent

This year for Lent, I gave up music as I usually do. I also gave up excessive Internet use, which was fairly easy because I’ve been so disgusted with almost everything online these days. I also picked an unusual goal: giving up complaining, because I realized that I complain almost all the time about almost everything,* even if it’s not really a serious gripe.

I failed miserably.

As a matter of fact, I think I complained even more during Lent than I usually do outside of Lent. Or maybe I just grew more aware of how much I complained when I was actively trying to reduce the amount of complaining.

Even though it’s the Easter season now and I can technically start complaining again, I’m still trying to quit. What I learned about the whole matter is that I have to actively try to think positive. Find the humor in something that went wrong. Instead of complaining, find something to be grateful for. It’s OK if something’s not perfect or doesn’t go my way. Even my personal journal tends to be a bunch of bitchery and self-pitying melodrama, so I have been trying to write about positive things only, or put a positive spin on what I perceive to be negative things. At first, it felt unnatural, like I wasn’t being realistic or honest with myself, or like I was trying to be a happy, bubbly, super-enthusiastic person who’s all “Happy Monday!” and uses fifty million exclamation points at the end of every sentence.

Later on, the happiness started to sink in and my journal felt less fake. I remembered the old mantra that goes something like “You may not be able to control the situation, but you can control your reaction to it.” So I have tried to react more positively to things, or at least not immediately launch into Bitch Mode™. The most helpful thing has been to actively put in place what I should have learned in elementary school: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. (Or at least wait until you’re calm to say something. Don’t just say the first impulsive thing that comes into your head.)

Anyway, here’s to an Easter season full of happiness!!!! (Ugh, I still hate multiple exclamation points.) 🙂

*Maybe it’s an inherited thing. Or a New York thing. I’m not really sure. Doesn’t matter where it came from; all that matters is that it needs to be stopped.

Books vs. Movies vs. Video Games

Reading fiction is constantly portrayed as a Really Good Thing™. Books engage your brain by forcing you to create the images for yourself in your own mind and interpret the deeper meaning behind the author’s words. Books are supposed to make you live longer because they keep your brain working. (If that’s true, then I’ll probably live forever.)

But is reading fiction better or more worthwhile than other modern forms of entertainment, like watching movies and playing video games? When I read fiction, I do it to relax and get lost in a story. (Sometimes I do it to study the author’s technique.) I don’t necessarily read fiction to give myself an intellectual workout or ponder the meaning of life, unless the book lends itself to those kinds of themes and ponders those questions. I don’t actively seek to deeply study the fiction I read.

It would seem like watching movies is more or less the same. Most people don’t watch movies to study them. They just want to relax and be entertained. Movies are supposedly more passive than books because you’re not envisioning the events yourself—it’s all right there for you on the screen. But I suppose that when you’re watching a movie, you’re doing the same as you would with a book: trying to anticipate what the characters will do next and possibly trying to analyze characters’ true motives or some deeper meaning.

Video games get the worst rap out of any form of entertainment. They are seen as complete garbage because many of them involve gratuitous violence, and they can suck you in for hours at a time. A movie lasts for 2 or 3 hours at the very most. A book lasts anywhere from 2 to 8 (or even more) hours, depending on how long the book is and how quickly you read. A video game can last for months, depending on the depth of the adventure, the number of side quests, and how long it takes you to figure out the game’s mechanics. Some video game veterans can beat complex games overnight, but for the most part (from what I’ve experienced), you can sink hundreds of hours into certain video games and not really have gained anything that is useful outside of the game world. Do video games cause you to ponder the workings of the universe? For me, no.

Many argue that because video games are games, they keep your mind working because you’re trying to figure out the rules of the game, develop a strategy, and complete the quest. Games teach problem-solving skills, but do they do that in the same way a book or movie does? A book or movie wraps up the problem neatly at the end (in the best case), but a video game leaves that responsibility to the gamer. You are in charge of your own destiny in a video game, so perhaps video games are more valuable than they seem.

I suppose it all depends on what kinds of books you read, games you play, or movies you watch. A deep fiction book like something by Faulkner is obviously more valuable than Grand Theft Auto V. A thought-provoking movie like Inception is more worthwhile than one of those cheap regency romance novels, and a video game like Myst or a similar strategy game is superior to a movie like Fifty Shades Freed. I would argue that any movie or video game is better than any book supposedly written by a reality TV star. But “better” or “more worthwhile” even depends on the particular person reading the book: a certain person may get deeper meaning out of Doom than from Love in the Time of Cholera, and the video game may honestly be a better use of time for that person.

Books will always be my favorite. I get so little out of movies and video games most of the time—I guess I’m not really a “visual” person in that sense. But that doesn’t mean that books are inherently superior. What do you think?

Not So Good, But Necessary

CAUTION: This post may contain spoilers.

A good Christian novel is hard to find. Most of the ones I’ve read tend to be sickeningly sweet, have goody two-shoes characters, or have really unrealistic romantic subplots.

What’s even harder to find is a good Catholic novel, so when I picked up Pierced by a Sword (Bud MacFarlane Jr.), my expectations were high. The paperback was 571 pages in fairly small type, but it was written in a James Patterson–esque style with two- and three-page chapters, so it moved quickly. The author clearly had a lot of knowledge of Catholicism, history, and random trivia, which he scattered throughout the book to good effect. The result was a novel steeped in theology that made sense and coordinated with Church teaching. It was refreshing to read a novel that didn’t make fun of Catholicism or that isn’t ignorant about it.

However, as much as I appreciated the author’s bravery in writing the book and tackling some tough, controversial subjects, I didn’t like the story or the writing style as much as I thought I would. The plot was a typical save-the-world, action movie scenario, where a group of young Catholics band together against the forces of darkness in a relativistic world gone mad—a world eerily like the one in which we live today. The novel explores the historical Marian apparitions, in which Mary (the mother of Jesus) has warned the world of impending doom because people have turned from God and refuse to repent and believe in the Gospel.

I tend to dislike these “epic” novels because they are often gimmicky. Character development is shallow, plot elements are ones you’ve seen before in tons of previous action movies and thriller novels, and so on. I think Pierced by a Sword suffered from that to a great degree. I wished that it had been a bit closer to home and not on such a large scale.

The characters were simultaneously easy to relate to and difficult to like. Many of them were converts (or reverts) to the Catholic faith after living far less-than-holy lives. A drug dealer has a conversion and becomes a priest, a womanizer sees the error of his ways and becomes chaste, and a hardened Jersey girl finds her softer side. I loved that these Catholic characters were not portrayed as perfect or goody two-shoes types. But I didn’t really like or relate to any of the characters after their conversions, because it seemed like once they found the faith, they never faltered and never committed any major sins. In real life, finding faith is just the first step. You fail and fall over and over again and you’re still the same sinner you were before, just with hope that you’ll get better with God’s help and continued reconciliation and penance.

Thankfully, the author managed to avoid deus ex machina. Many Christian novels fall victim to situations where the main problems in the story are solved totally by God and not the characters. In this book, God (and Mary) was never far off, but the characters solved the problems on their own and recognized the extent that God could help them and what they had to do to help themselves.

The strangest thing about the book was that it was initially published in 1995, then was updated and revised in 2007. However, the person or people who did the updates did not do a good job, because the book was supposed to have been updated to take place in 2007, but it still felt like the events were occurring in 1995. The Internet is never mentioned, and hardly anyone uses a computer. At one point, it mentioned 9/11 and the twin towers, and in the next moment, one of the characters made some reference to being in the 90s. Even more strange, many of the characters talk as though it’s 1950. I’ll be honest; had the book not included Catholic themes and had not been written by a Catholic author, I would have given it a worse review because of those careless and easily avoided errors.

The overarching thought I came away with upon finishing the book was that it was good only because it was unique and needed to be written. It presented a view of a better, more holy world, and a much more healthy view of marriage, community, and spiritual warfare than we are accustomed to in modern America. People need to hear the messages the author proclaimed, but the messages were not presented in the wrapping of good writing, which was a shame. I learned that Pierced by a Sword is the first in a trilogy, and my first thought was that I wanted to read the second two books, just to hear the message of hope. But the sad thing is, I’m not expecting good writing.