The Notre Dame de Paris Fire

Hey Everyone,

 

Well the hits just keep on coming.

I guess that’s life.

I want to talk for a little while about the Notre Dame fire that burned for nine hours yesterday (4-15-2019). I was absolutely devastated at the news that the Notre Dame de Paris was burning. I’m neither Catholic nor any other denomination of Christian so the potential loss of relics and other holy items didn’t strike me particularly hard. But they, like the rose windows, the statues and gargoyles, and yes, the iconic spire that fell early in the blaze, are cultural items of extreme importance even to those of us who don’t practice the religion. Perhaps that’s because these things are centralized in Western cultures, but I doubt it. I’m sure an awful lot of Muslims would have been devastated to hear that the Crown of Thorns had been lost. I can’t find the clip (Google! You have betrayed my trust) but I can’t help but think of Hasan Minhaj talking about his deep love for both Jesus and Mohammed, and remaining Muslim because he could love and respect both prophets under Islam, but not Christianity. Thankfully the major artifacts, and most of the art, was saved. We don’t have to live in a world where that history, culture, and faith, has been lost. Even as a non-Christian, I am thankful for that. It may not have hurt as much for me to think of those artifacts being lost, but it certainly hurt. So I must, first and foremost, thank the French government and the many first responders who handled the situation skillfully and made the salvaging of so much precious history and creation possible. Thank you. Your efforts won’t ever be forgotten. Merci.

Early in the fire I feared the worst. Not knowing how hot the flames would be, or how much flammable material the cathedral contained, I imagined nightmare scenarios where the blaze reached sufficient heat to begin cracking the stone, collapsing not only the roof, but the iconic towers, and the rest of the building with them. I wept realizing that the best known of the rose windows was gone, worried that critical relics and texts and artifacts that cannot be replaced or rebuilt would be lost. I felt a deep empathy for Catholics and Christians across the globe, and an especial pain for the people of France, who were in limbo as they waited for word about the extent of the damage, to find out how much rebuilding would be needed, how long the fire’s scar would mark one of France’s  most well-known landmarks. I knew that that empathy, and the sympathetic pain that came with it, could not compare to the pain of the people most closely and deeply affected by the fire. Later in the day, upon learning that the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem also burned while Notre Dame was alight, I feared that we would, someday soon, learn that these fires had been deliberately set in an act of global terrorism. Thankfully the preliminary investigations aren’t finding indications of arson (More Here).

But as it became clear that the fire was less destructive than I feared, as videos and images of large streams of water being poured on the worst of the blaze contained the heat and spread of the flames, I have to admit that my mind turned to other concerns. Fires happen. We’ve lost and re-built cathedrals and mosques before. Sometimes the contents can’t be replaced, but we got lucky. Some glassworker, or more likely a team of glassworkers, are about to be hired for the job of a lifetime, carefully and passionately restoring the grandeur and majesty of Notre Dame’s stained glass windows. Artisans will be brought in to assist the restoration and cleaning of any damaged statues, Christians and non-believers like myself have already banded together in mutual mourning and determination. People across the globe remember their past trips to Notre Dame, or plan for new ones when the Cathedral is restored and re-opens. I can’t imagine what the French people are going through, but I hope that their mutual determination to rebuild reminds them, and the rest of the world, of their cultural and national greatness. That French pride is hard-fought and well earned and always has been.
My strongest reaction, however, was a need to create something beautiful. Notre Dame de Paris is and has long been a cultural symbol of incredibly beauty. It is, in small part, a monument to skilled and thoughtful craftsmanship and artistry. A symbol of productive passions made manifest, and the capability of thousands of humans working together. Other artists clearly had the same feeling, resulting in viral works of art like this one by Cristina Correa Freile,

Quasimodo holding notre dame

Instagram here.

One of the stories of cathedrals, and of landmarks and world wonders that have survived to present day is our persistent determination to rebuild them. The rose windows I so mourned when I first heard the news were themselves reproductions. The cathedral was in the middle of renovations and restorations which is why so much of the critical art from the lost spire was out of the building when the fire broke out. Many in my immediate social circle, and elsewhere I’m sure, immediately began comparing this fire to the loss of the Great Library of Alexandria. I was one of them. Yet, this isn’t the Great Library. We’re in a position to repair and recover in a way humanity simply wasn’t when the knowledge of the Great Library was lost. As a kid I day dreamed about Cleopatra in Alexandria, largely thanks to a Royal Diaries book, Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile by Kristiana Gregory (Found here.) knowing, even as I imagined dry papyrus scrolls read by the light of a candle or torch, that not only could I never go to the Great Library, but that the papyrus I imagined might have been unique, and permanently lost. Notre Dame, by comparison, has been photographed literally thousands, possibly millions of times. It’s blueprints are available. It’s visual and acoustic qualities are well known. Short of acquiring 14th timber and stone for the reconstruction we can rebuild almost exactly as it was. But the intensity of the pain we are all feeling, the deep mourning many of us found ourselves in yesterday, and that we are still working through today, should be seen as a sign of how important and valuable works of culture and of beauty are to human society and consciousness. I say nothing of faith since I don’t share it, although it should not be ignored that Notre Dame is a great locus of the fervor and passion of the faithful. That millions of humans who have never even been to Notre Dame de Paris felt such a strong connection to that place should tell us how powerful such places are, how much they elevate us.

More than anything I hope that this reminds us that we can all create something beautiful, and motivates more of us to do it. Create art. To quote bad department store home decor, “Live, Laugh, Love”. Grieve. Cry. Mourn. Feel sorrow and joy deeply and honestly. And even if pen never touches paper, if you never open a tube of paint, or melt an ounce of glass, know that living and feeling is art all its own.

 

Yesterday I mourned. Today, I will be trying to turn toward hope. And I hope you’ll join me.

 

-R.

Checking In: It’s been a while

Oh hey there! Happy Friday!

So… you may not know this, but I disappeared for a while. I went from February 5th to March 15th without posting a single thing on this website. I know, I know, “big deal”, right? I’ve only had this site since 2016 and am I’m only starting to use it regularly now. Plus, I’ve posted two new things since that gap. I get it. But, this was part of a major commitment to myself to start having a real, tangible, presence as a writer. Blogging is probably the easiest and most beginner-friendly means of getting your voice as a human out there. And yet, as I have discovered, it is not in fact easy… Why? Well, mostly because life happens. When life happens, if your blog, like mine, is not a part of your income, it’s really easy to let it fall to the wayside.

Part of that, I think, is because we tend to treat blogs as journals. That’s pretty much what this post is about. Here in a moment I’m going to talk about what’s been going on in my life that stopped me from posting for that month. But I want to talk about what I’ve been thinking about in that time first. This blog is pretty much intended to be my personal social commentary platform. I’d like to monetize, and I’d like to start vlogging or podcasting, but all those things come with start-up costs and I don’t want to waste my own time and money (or your time and attention) with the monetization process until I can prove to myself that I can and will stick to this. Part of this is a continuation of my personal distrust of myself and my own motivation, but a lot of it is that I’m a pretty cautious person by nature. Social commentary is both socially risky and exists in a glutted market right now. In my social circle I can open up Facebook pretty much any time and get a LOT of social commentary from my friends. It’s valuable stuff, but that makes it harder to carve out a digital niche for the kind of content I want to produce. I still think that speaking up and out is valuable, I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise, but that also slows down the process of transitioning from creating content to making money from that content.

Why bring this up in a catch-up post? Well, it’s important to me to be transparent not only about what I think and what I’m doing as a content creator, but also to be transparent about the thought process behind it.  I want to monetize. I want to write consistently and to have this blog be a regular part of my personal internet conversation with the world. And, for a month this year (which we aren’t even half way into) I didn’t do that.

So what happened? Well… a lot. Early in February I got hit with a double whammy of a resurgence in the depression that comes with my PTSD. Late winter / early spring has been my least favorite season since I was a kid. Everything outside turns brown and gray and I live somewhere that usually stays muddy for months on end. We get just enough snow to stay in a pretty constant state of melt without getting to enjoy the soft white stuff blanketing the landscape. I also have a vitamin D deficiency significant enough that my doctor thinks I may be mildly stunted, which makes some sense since my brother is a giant. He’s also a redhead, and the recessive gene that causes redheadedness also comes with a change in the way our skin produces vitamin D, basically making it so that you get more vitamin D compared to the quality of sun you’re exposed to. It’s cool stuff. But he got the magical hair and the greater than 6 foot height and I got dishwater blonde hair and strictly American average height. Between the weather just being generally unpleasant, my PTSD, the vitamin D deficiency, and the fact that I live in the northern hemisphere, I am more susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Basically I get the winter sad, and it usually hits in February.

I’m also long-winded. I’ve been told. Please don’t stage an intervention.

This February I found myself questioning whether writing was a viable or reasonable path for me. I have a lot of people supporting me who think that going for my dream is a good idea, but I am plagued by the Gifted and Talented trap of constant imposter syndrome. People have always expected me to do well, and the fact that I have always done pretty well academically and creatively feels like a lie. Like most people, I look at the things I produce and can easily compare the actual product with my internal conception of what it could have been. That imaginary picture is always a better version than the final product. Because I can see those flaws there is also a part of my brain, lets call it the creativity-killing Gremlin, that thinks that the positive reactions of others are pitying lies. I was questioning whether I could justify trying to make money off a less than perfect end-result. I know how silly that is, I used to work for Comcast for goodness sake, and ain’t nothing there is perfect. I know. You know how I know? I spent eight hours a day hearing about how not perfect everything about Comcast is. But they are still a HUGE highly successful multi-media corporation that not only provides valuable services but also influences our interaction with fundamental parts of our lives, like the internet. Unfortunately the Gremlin isn’t great at logic, so reminding it of little things like ‘nothing is ever perfect’ doesn’t actually put it back in it’s crate.

Just as I was starting to come out of that funk, largely thanks to my wonderful partner and supportive friends and family, I was in a car crash. I was hit by another vehicle in a parking lot, my little Volvo hatchback was totaled, and I got a concussion. My partner was also in the car. Thankfully they are okay. So is the other driver. But, between the concussion and the suddenly precarious position I found myself in thanks to the totaled car, my depression came surging back. It’s been a few weeks now, and I still don’t have a car. We’ve looked at a lot of vehicles in our price range, but all of them have had some pretty major issues that would require urgent repair. I’m less in control of my own negative mental processes than I have been in a long time, in part because my brain’s ability to regulate it’s own chemical process is even more challenged than normal.

In the meantime I also have college. This semester has been better for me that school has been in a long time. I enjoy my classes, the material is interesting and the professors have new insight and analysis that fascinates me. My grades are also higher than they’ve been for a long time because I’ve been able to stay on top of my work and produce higher quality work than previous semesters. The concussion put all of that at risk for a while (although I’m mostly out of the woods now).

So, between my natural depression, college, a concussion, and the general stress and shakeup that comes with a crash like this, things have felt really out of control and impermanent recently. I had just recently put a lot of money into the maintenance on that car, my partner’s truck is older than either of us and needs some work before it’s drive-able. We also live about 40 minutes outside the nearest city, and there aren’t really any closer small towns. So we’re currently reliant on the transportation of our roommates. We’d carpooled for a long time, so it’s not really an issue, but our freedom to run errands, make appointments, or even just to do general chores is severely limited.

I talked earlier about how I think we tend to treat blogs like journals. I treated this blog like a journal because all of these other things became more important to me than posting here. I didn’t stop thinking about things I’d like to write and post, particularly in the political realm as the Democratic race for 2020 has started to heat up, but I didn’t write up those posts. Or, when I did start writing, I didn’t finish the piece, or decided that it had taken long enough to write that it was no longer relevant to the political conversation. I’m trying to second-guess myself less on those kinds of things. It’s literally impossible for one person without a research team to keep up with the 24-7 news cycle, so I’m trying not to hold myself to the impossible standard of by the minute relevance. I’m also trying to tell myself that the goal is to produce quality content, even if that content isn’t coming out immediately after something happens in our world. I also know that sometimes life has to come first. I’m not mad at myself for not posting, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge it. This blog isn’t a journal, and it needs a higher priority in future.

Wow this post got long. Thank you for sticking with it, and sticking with me, while I forage my own path toward this lifelong goal. I can’t promise there won’t be more bumps in the road. In fact, I can pretty much promise that there will be bumps aplenty. But I will do everything I can to be transparent and honest and real.

Whelp. That’s it for today folks. I’ve got ideas for some new content, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more soon. Let me know if you want me to talk about anything in particular in the comments, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

-R.