Category Archives: Non-fiction

On Beauty and Being Known

We often spout off lines about the unimportance of beauty, or at least its subservience to other, greater things. We say things like, “Beauty is only skin deep” or “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

But I want to ask: Is this really true?

Certainly we would say that a person who cares only about physical beauty and disdains knowledge or understanding of the interior is a very shallow person indeed. We would probably go so far as to say that they are “not a very good person at all.” However, concern for physical beauty does not necessarily align with the all-or-nothing approach. A person might care about physical beauty (in themselves and in others), though this is not all they care about or the primary thing that they care about. My question is not only, should we care about physical beauty? but also, is it possible for us not to care about physical beauty?
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Experiencing Art

In writing reviews, I look for films that hold some deeper resonance or artistic merit, something I can latch onto like a thread to further unravel, forming a reflection. Yet there are some films which resonate with me so profoundly that it is a struggle to think of translating them in some way or shape into the medium of language. This reveals, in a sense, the divide between the image and the word, and the limitation of language.

The image is what gives a movie its special power and significance. An image can strike and affect us in a way unlike anything else. Think, for example, of the face of a suffering person: perhaps a close family member or friend you saw going through a hard time, or even the face of a complete stranger you saw on the news in connection with some calamity. Such a face can remain in our minds with almost a haunting endurance. Of course, images can be evoked by good writing as well, and when I think back on many of my favourite novels, I am reminded of a particularly potent image of a scene between characters or of something that occurred in the plot. Yet this is still different from the way in which the image confronts us so boldly in the course of a film. Sometimes the sharp detail of this image affects our emotions in an immediate and powerful manner we are unable to describe.
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Valentines and Value

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and so I thought I would write a post in preparation. I suppose I could have written a piece and released it on the actual day itself, but I want to look at this holiday from a slightly different angle and suggest an idea for something that each of us could do on February 14th.

When I was thinking about what to write that might suit this theme, the usual ideas came to mind: of love and relationships, of being alone and finding trust in a period of waiting, or of being with another while maintaining one’s own identity and self-respect. And yet I realized I was confining myself to topics revolving around romantic relationships, which we typically associate with Valentine’s Day. The origins of Valentine’s Day, however, do not suggest such a restriction. The holiday began in honour of St. Valentine, a Christian martyr in 5th century Rome, and associations with romantic love were not forged until the 14th century under the influence of Chaucer and his courtly circle.

In our contemporary society, Valentine’s Day seems to be defined by its connection to romantic love, or conversely, to the opposite of romantic love: that is, singlehood. We are burdened with images of romantic love, but also with catchy slogans about how it is okay to be single and how a person does not need another person to complete their life. It is probably not possible to dissipate these now tightly held associations, and I am not trying to suggest that the erasure of such links would be a good thing. But, what if Valentine’s Day did not have to be just about one or the other?

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The Failure of the Mind

I am a creative person and have often defined myself by my creativity. But sometimes I experience what I might call creative erasure. My mind, formerly filled with ideas and dreams, words and stories, becomes a blank slate. The prior rush of passion and ambition slows almost to a still.

I think that self-definition based on the mind is a habit into which we often fall. We speak of the body, of the heart and soul, but when we attempt to isolate the most fundamental aspect of self, we tend to focus on the mind. We ask, “what is it that makes me me?” and thus confront the question of personal identity. What makes identity secure? What allows it to endure over time so that we can say we are the same person now as we were a year, a month, a week before? Perhaps we have the same body, or possess a soul that is pure spirit and so superior to matter, or perhaps our psychological experiences are the key to self-discovery.

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Recognition and Existence

One of the greatest indignities is to be treated as though you do not exist. Being is the most fundamental aspect of life and of self, one that precedes and is presupposed by all other aspects. To be something (smart, beautiful, kind, fearful, lonely, weak) is first and is always to be. If someone tells us, then, that we are beautiful, smart, good or noteworthy in some way, we are gratified, flattered, affirmed, perhaps happy. But if that same someone lets fall the thread of our being after the words have ceased their echo, those former words lose their meaning.

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Places to Be

I entered quickly, through sliding doors that parted like a shining sea. The aisles were well-stocked with food, aggressively proclaiming freshness and appeal. For a moment I was stranded, adrift among the stands, which formed a maze winding to the end of the store.

But it was only a moment.

Some shoppers were consulting lists or studying competing brands intently. Others darted from row to row, accumulating piles of produce; others still were probing vegetables and fruits, in pursuit of that elusive unblemished product.

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2015 in Review

Although the dying days of 2015 are gone and 2016 is already a week underway, the New Year is still sufficiently new that I’d like to take a look back at the journey of jensul.ca so far and at what is next to come. I officially launched this website at the end of September and since then it has been up and running with approximately three to four weekly posts for 15 weeks.

I am so grateful to all of the people who have read any of the posts at jensul.ca and those who have subscribed to my weekly newsletter (if you haven’t done so and would like to, just enter your email address in the box at the top right of the site). All of the feedback I have received is so meaningful and encourages me to keep writing and sharing my thoughts in this forum.

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The Game

It’s hard to recall my first encounter with hockey. I have memories of watching the game when I was young. It was background noise then but in a comforting sort of way. My dad would lean forward, eyes focused on the screen, and I would glance up occasionally from my book to catch sight of the tiny figures darting back and forth from one end of the rink to the other. The rules were irrelevant to me (in other words, I didn’t understand them). I simply tried to follow the progress of the puck, though sometimes a black speck on the surface of the screen looked so convincingly puck-like that it prevented my fulfillment of this goal.

When my older brother started playing hockey, I became his number one fan. For the ten years that he played, I don’t think I missed a single game. In the early seasons, I was admittedly oblivious to much of the action on the ice. I arrived at the arena with my fully stocked bag of books. But even then, something about the rink was so alluring. I don’t know what it was about the cold hard bench or the loud echo of the boards, or the angry buzzer that announced each period’s end. I don’t know why I felt such joy as my voice blended with the other fans to give a rousing cheer, or why I waited so proudly for my brother to emerge from the dressing room after each game, his hockey bag draped over his shoulder. As my family walked to the parking lot, I had the honour of holding the hockey stick, and it was like a waving flag. I don’t know what it was, but somehow each little detail melded together until the rink felt like home and the game- the game was ingrained in my nature.

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Orientation

For this week’s Advent reflection, I want to do something a little bit different. It has to do with an “O Antiphon,” and if you’ve never heard of this before, don’t worry: because I hadn’t either until my brother recently explained what it was, and shared with me the beauty of these sung prayers. Antiphons draw on religious texts, and enter into the liturgy throughout the church year. Traditionally, from December 17th to December 23rd (the final days of Advent), seven special O Antiphons are sung. The ‘O’ is an invocation, a direct address made to the one who is coming: they all look towards Christ’s Advent, using different names for Christ from the Old Testament.

Here I have included the text of the O Antiphon for December 21st, both in the original Latin and in a translation found in poet Malcolm Guite’s book of Advent reflections, entitled “Waiting on the Word.” Whether or not you know any Latin (I myself am in the process of learning), I would encourage you to read it aloud or to yourself as best as you can, at least to hear the musical and prayerful sound of this ancient language. You can listen to my audio recording of the O Antiphon here:

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The Lost Art of Reading

There are few pleasures in this world equal to a good book.

I lean into my chair and fold back the cover. The initial pages pass slowly, as I become acquainted with the voice to whose thoughts I now have access. However, as the story accelerates, I am immersed in this new sphere: the colourful sea of vivid emotions and depictions of reality all contained within the book.

In reviewing the opening sentence of this piece, I wonder if I have chosen wisely. I described a book as a pleasure; reading is then by extension a pleasurable activity. This may not seem controversial, coming from a bibliophile, but the more I think about, the more I believe I have erred in my word selection. Reading is pleasurable, of course, but the word alone is insufficient to encompass the pursuit as a whole.

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