Knowledge Is Power. France Is Bacon.

Last week my friend and nemesis John Barber posted a very funny story that first appeared on Reddit ten years ago, posted by a Lard_Baron in response to the question, “What is a word or phrase that you totally misunderstood as a child?”

When I was young my father said to me: “Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon.” I understood it as “Knowledge is power, France is bacon.”

For more than a decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two. If I said the quote to someone, “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon,” they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, “Knowledge is power” and I’d finish the quote “France is bacon,” and they wouldn’t look at me like I’d said something very odd, but thoughtfully agree. I did ask a teacher what did “Knowledge is power, France is bacon” mean and got a full 10-minute explanation of the “knowledge is power” bit but nothing on “France is bacon.” When I prompted further explanation by saying “France is bacon?” in a questioning tone, I just got a “yes.” At 12 I didn’t have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I’d never understand.

It wasn’t until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.

My other friend Carolyn Givens asked “does this qualify as a mondegreen?” I didn’t know what a mondegreen was, so I went down a rabbit hole…

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Season 3, Episode 17: Lancia Smith Serves the Whole Writer

Lancia Smith is the founder of Cultivating, a quarterly online magazine, and the Cultivating Project, a nurtured community of writers and artists committed to pursuing spiritual maturity and creative excellence. Lancia writes about brilliant people doing brilliantly good things related to faith, character formation, and the creative arts. She is also a photographer and portraitist. In this episode, Lancia and I talk about the relationship between editing and discipleship, the balance of sensitivity and maturity, and the habit of cultivating wonder.

Ordinary and Clichéd: Not the Same Thing

Last week my son William sent me a link to this conversation between George Saunders (whom I have mentioned several times in the last couple of months) and Jason Isbell, one of my very favorite songwriters. If you have 54 minutes, I encourage you to watch the whole thing. If you only have 43 minutes, I encourage you to watch the whole thing at 1.25x speed.

About six and a half minutes into the conversation, George Saunders asks Jason Isbell where his song ideas come from. Here’s part of what Isbell has to say on the matter:You train yourself to look in the corners that everybody doesn’t think to look in, and you train yourself to hear the conversations that most people aren’t paying attention to, and you get better at pulling those threads out.That’s great advice, whether you write fiction or nonfiction or poetry or songs. For that matter, it’s great advice for those areas of life that don’t directly relate to writing. Pay attention. Notice what other people aren’t noticing and show it to them.

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Objectivity and Subjectivity

Objectivity and subjectivity are terms that get used in so many different ways and with so many different agendas that one is tempted to give up on them. But I think there’s still some goodie left in these terms: they can be especially helpful for a writer trying to figure out what to write next, as we’ll see in a minute. But first, a preface and some definitions.

To speak of objective facts is to appeal to realities that exist outside our own heads. Reality, as I have often said before in this space, is that which continues to exist whether you believe it or not. But as every sophomore has learned, all human knowledge is filtered through the individual’s subjective experience. That is to say, your perception, understanding, and interpretation of reality is unavoidably different in some degree from my perception, understanding, and interpretation of reality. In its least nuanced, most sophomoric formulation, this idea is stated thus: “All truth (or, perhaps, morality) is subjective (or, perhaps, relative).”

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Season 3, Episode 16: Steven Roach Invites You to Be Creative

Stephen Roach is a poet, musician, speaker, and creative coach. He hosts the Makers and Mystics podcast and is the founder of The Breath and the Clay, a creative arts movement. His latest book, a collaboration with Ned Bustard, is Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity. In it, Stephen and Ned make the case that creativity isn’t just a talent given to the chosen few, but an invitation extended to all, an essential part of God’s design for partnership for humanity.

Hiking. Sauntering. Meandering. Strolling.

Yesterday I found out that my wife and I will be hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park later this summer. (Pray for us in the hour of our need.) Yosemite being John Muir’s neck of the woods, I thought about a quotation about hiking that is often attributed to Muir:

“I don’t like either the word [hiking] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike!

“Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

This quotation doesn’t actually appear in John Muir’s writings. It comes in an anecdote told by an Albert Palmer his 1911 book, The Mountain Trail and Its Message. But it got me to thinking about where we got the words hike and saunter and other walking-related words.

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We’re All Unreliable Narrators

In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders discusses “a particular Russian form of unreliable narration called skaz.” He cites the critic Robert Maguire, who writes that the skaz narrator

has little formal education and little idea of how to develop an argument, let alone talk in an eloquent and persuasive way about his feelings, although he wishes to be considered informed and observant; he tends to ramble and digress and cannot distinguish the trivial from the important.

Perhaps the easiest way to grasp skaz narration is to imagine what would happen if Dwight Schrute were the first-person narrator of a story. To quote Maguire again, for the skaz narrator, as for Dwight Schrute, “enthusiasms outrun common sense.”

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