On finishing

From Robin Sloan, who is always entertaining and sometimes serious:

  • When you start a creative project but don’t finish, the experience drags you down. Worst of all is when you never decisively abandon the project, instead allowing it to fade into forgetfulness. The fades add up; they become a gloomy haze that whispers, you’re not the kind of person who DOES things. When you start and finish, by contrast — and it can be a project of any scope: a 24-hour comic, a one-page short story, truly anything — it is powerful fuel that goes straight back into the tank. When a project is finished, it exits the realm of “this is gonna be great” and becomes something you (and perhaps others) can actually evaluate. Even if that evaluation is disastrous, it is also, I will insist, thrilling and productive. It’s the pump of a piston, preparing the engine for the next one. Unfinished work drags and depresses; finished work redoubles and accelerates.

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EMM 1958-2022

I’m Al Brooke, from Jacksonville, one of Ellen’s “cousins-in-law.” I’m married to Katherine Davis Brooke, the oldest of the Davis sisters.

Ellen Melinda Morgan Lefevre had a hard life.

In the last ten days Katherine and I have caught ourselves over and over saying “poor Ellen,” and really she did suffer much over the years.

Ellen grew up in Kerhonkson, NY, as an only child just across the road from the big Davis family farm and the four children — Katherine, Holly, Margaret, and Peter. While she was in the big family, there was also a sense in which she wasn’t completely in the joyful and chaotic Davis clan.

Her mother was a large personality, and her father, much older than her mom, was an — eccentric — personality. It was, in some ways, a difficult childhood.

Around her high-school graduation in the mid-seventies she was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, a chronic incurable condition in which her pancreas would not produce sufficient insulin. It was not a death sentence, but it changed the way she would live for the rest of her life.

After college, she moved to Connecticut and lived with Katherine for almost two years. They found a wonderful church and Ellen had a good job with The Hartford insurance company. When Katherine moved to Texas for school, Ellen remained in Hartford.

She remained on her own in Hartford until the mid-nineties. Early in the nineties her father passed away, and then the next year, surprisingly, her much younger mother died of a sudden stroke and fall.

In those years before remote work, there was no option to move back to New York, so in short order Ellen had to ready her parents’ house for rental and had to return to Hartford and her job.

Having moved all of the beloved family heirlooms to Connecticut, Ellen’s apartment suffered a fire which destroyed everything she had kept. Furniture, pictures, everything.

In the late nineties, Ellen moved to Atlanta and married, but her husband left in just a few years. Still, she continued to work in the insurance industry and loved her work and her church.

Without her own family, she still had her cousins and importantly her uncle Phil, who made sure she was included in all of the Davis family events, and took her on several trips as well.

As the years passed, Ellen suffered repeated — and increasingly severe — health issues, and in 2015, she lost her foot to diabetes. A couple of years later she suffered her second amputation, and had to retire from her job, which she had loved.

In 2019 she had to begin dialysis — kidney failure is a major risk for diabetics — a painful burden. She continued dialysis until last month.

So you can see that Ellen “had a hard life,” and you can see why Katherine and I found ourselves thinking “poor Ellen.”

But . . . .

The apostle Paul wrote: “. . . we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. . . . we do not lose heart.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16a.

That was Ellen, wasn’t it? She did not lose heart, but was amazingly resilient and cheerful, considering what she was experiencing. She lived what she believed. And continuing in the same passage “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 16b-18.

Ellen believed that, absolutely.

Ellen had joy in this life, particularly in her friends, and family, and church. She spent her days in hospice visiting and talking, praying and singing, with all those who were important to her, including many she had not seen in years.

Ellen saw what she was living through as a “light, momentary affliction” which was preparing her for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

When her preparation was complete, she left the clay vessel that was her body and stepped through the gate of heaven where she has now been robed in an “eternal weight of [Jesus’] glory.”

This life does not compare. She was not “poor” — she is “rich”!

Would that we may learn Paul’s lesson through Ellen’s life, that we might live faithfully in this transient world in preparation for that which is eternal.


Sarah Willard, “Come Ye Sinners,” Blind Mule Blog (Aug. 11, 2022) [link]:

What is endlessly comforting to me as a Christian is that the first step in God’s provision is emptiness. What qualifies you for Christ? Need, lack, want. These are things I have, so this is good news. A lack of love and strength is exactly what I can bring to Christ.

In her winsome, humble way, Sarah writes about on why feeling tired and empty is not necessarily bad place to be. A wise young woman.

Freddie DeBoer, “Hard Work is Only Sometimes Necessary and Never Sufficient, But What Else Can You Do? (yes, the system is rigged, but you’re in it all the same),” FdB (Aug. 15, 2022) [link]:

Life’s not fair. But that doesn’t mean that you get to just opt out of it. And you know what? Congrats to that guy who doesn’t work hard and enjoys more success, seriously. Te salut. Bottom line: hard work can’t ensure your success but a lack of hard work can ensure your failure. 
                             * * * 
[B]eing a socialist never entailed a belief that nothing we do matters or that we were exempt from the need to work. The fact that so many people have come to believe that the only options before us are a witless rise-and-grind work fetishism or an utterly fatalistic belief that nothing we do matters… it doesn’t say good things about our culture. Personally, I blame capitalism. 

That last bit is tongue-in-cheek, if the post title didn’t give it away.

Alan Jacobs, “Tolerance,” Snakes and Ladders (Aug. 15, 2022) [link]:

[Washington is saying] I . . . do not offer “toleration” to you and people like you, because it is not in the power of some Americans merely to tolerate the exercise of other Americans’ rights. To be an American is to be on the same footing with every other American. This is the view that Yenor rejects: he’s explicitly pursuing an America in which Protestant Christians have the power to tolerate of others, and the liberties of those others depend upon the sufferance of their Protestant rulers.

If I may take this one more (theological) step, those who believe in the Imago Dei should not view others with toleration (as those who are permitted to be wrong) but almost with reverence (as those who are called to choose). C.S. Lewis has something to say about this, too. [link]

And finally, one more from ayjay if you are at all interested in the technical aspects of music recording: Alan Jacobs, “untitled,” Snakes and Ladders (Aug. 12, 2022). [link]

Essay questions from the Primer

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995):

  • “[He] began to develop an opinion that was to shape his political views in later years, namely, that while people were not genetically different, they were culturally as different as could be, and that some cultures were better than others. This was not a subjective value judgment, merely an observation that some cultures thrived and expanded while others failed. It was a view implicitly shared by nearly everyone but, in those days, never voiced.” pp. 16-17
  • “[A]s many first-time fathers had realized in the delivery room, there was something about the sight of an actual baby that focused the mind. In a world of abstractions, nothing was more concrete than a baby.” p. 150
  • “[T]he difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” p. 256

Each of these is thought or voiced by one of the father figures in this novel. Discuss among yourselves.

October reading

We all know that it is the worst of times . . .

If I vote for Biden, I will be complicit in abortions on a mass scale.

If I vote for Trump, I will be complicit in cementing a worldview in which the ends justify the means, power replaces truth, and thus the very truths by which we define and understand ourselves as human are at stake.

Karen Swallow Prior, “Voting for Neither,” Christianity Today (Oct. 28, 2020) [link].

Here’s your semi-regular reminder: You don’t have to be there. You can quit Twitter and Facebook and never go back.

Alan Jacobs, “it’s time,” Snakes and Ladders (Oct. 28, 2020) [link].

but it is also the best of times:

There have been many men on the court who seemed deep and were celebrated for their scholarly musings but were essentially, as individuals and in their conception of life, immature. But this is not a child, a sentimentalist, an ideological warrior. This is a thinker who thinks about reality.

Peggy Noonan, “Everyone Has Gone Crazy in Washington,” The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 15, 2020) [link].

Sad tales are generally accepted, but when you share joy it is likely that someone somewhere might be hurt by it, especially in a year marked by such sweeping stress. We are all secretly afraid that there might not be enough happiness to go around, and that we will perpetually be that kid that gets left behind.

Sarah Willard, “Reader, I Married Him,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 27, 2020) [link].

and indeed, it is like all times:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one

T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” The Four Quartets [link].

It is not how we vote, or what we read, or who we support or oppose, or even how well we love. We live in a comedy, not a tragedy, for there is One to rescue us from ourselves.

There is One who does good, and the world is certainly in his hand. He will judge and he will redeem.