“Melancholy Jack” and the Miracle that is Smashwords

Today, I discovered the awesomeness of Smashwords. If you don’t know, Smashwords is basically an online distributor of ebooks. Why am I excited about finding it? Its massive collection of free ebooks. No matter what stage of life you’re in, “free” will always be music to the ears, especially in a world where the prices for the smallest of things are quickly shooting through the roof. So, this Smashwords is now my latest obsession. I just finished reading a post that turned out to just be a 15 page sample for a book that is to be coming out this fall. It is titled “Melancholy Jack” and is by teacher, author, and blogger Diane Bixler. I’d never heard of her before reading this sample so I checked out her website/blog at http://www.DianeBixler.com. According to that, she only has one other book titled “Murder in D Minor” (not particularly sold on the title, but I’m kind of loving the cover art). Will I read it? We’ll have to see. Let’s get into this weirdo, Jack for now.

 

So, “Melancholy Jack” appears to be about, well, an oddball named Jack (the sample reveals his full name to be Johnathon Daniel Ardon). He’s introduced as a shy, highly intelligent and socially inept 6 year old by his mother, Nina. He doesn’t seem to have any friends and, for some reason, the adults in his life have a pretty big problem with this. With a mother as overbearing as Nina seems to be in her section of the sample, I probably wouldn’t want to talk to people either. But, what’s really wrong with him is not given. He just seems to be the average awkward intellectual until you get to see him from the perspectives of his best friend, Jason, and his therapist, Dr. Ellen Foster where they talk about him in later stages of his life. It’s clear that there’s something not totally “right” with Jack, which slowly bubbles up to the forefront in the therapist’s section of the sample. There’s a section of the sample that is told from the perspective of his wife Allie, but, in my opinion, it’s the least important of the four sections given. Actually, I think the curiosity that this sample builds up about this Jack character would be more strongly developed if the therapist’s section was presented first, followed by Jason’s and the mother’s, without Allie’s even being included unless it’s changed in a way that really moves the story along (like, if she were pregnant – read the sample and you’ll see why I think this would work better – not dishing any spoilers here). I, personally, think he’s got a violent streak that boils just below the surface as to go unnoticed by other people (maybe something along the lines of a Dexter kind of crazy). Either way, there’s definitely an interesting story brewing here, and despite the occasionally awkward wording in the sample, I expect that the final product (scheduled to be released this Fall) will be a pretty good read. Check out the sample for yourself and share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

http://dianebixler.com/meet-jack/

Here’s the link to Smashwords for the reader on a budget:

https://www.smashwords.com/

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Oedipus Rex, Free Will and Carpe Diem

So, I’ve been struggling to decide on what I wanted to write about. It’s only been a month since graduating with my bachelors and I suppose I’ve been a little written out (Having been a lit major, the last thing I wanted to do with my first taste of freedom fresh off of Hell Week/Finals Week was more writing). But here I am on a hunt for inspiration, which ended up with my digging through old notebooks and reading through old papers. I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I do not like to read my own work, let alone work that has already been picked apart and criticized nearly to death, but I actually came across some writings that had me thinking “Hmmm. This ain’t so bad. I think I can work with this.”

One such paper that grabbed my attention was on Oedipus Rex and the idea of free will and whether our life paths are really of our own making or that of some higher being sitting on a cloud somewhere watching their will be done. There are many who believe in one or the other, but I think that it’s a bit of both. Whatever being you choose to believe in gave us free will. By incorporating free will into the lives of men, this higher consciousness is still, however indirectly, determining our fate. With the innumerable possibilities regarding the outcomes of our lives, whatever beings we believe in still know the path that they want us to follow, acting more as an aide to guide us to our ultimate destination just like in, you guessed it, Oedipus Rex.

If you don’t know and don’t care to find out for yourself by reading it, Oedipus is finally confronted after several years of living in the lap of luxury as the foreign king of Thebes by a previously made prophecy about his fate as well as the fate of his biological family. Blissfully unaware that the prophecy had actually been unfolding despite his best efforts to prevent it, he curses the person responsible for the misfortune that had fallen upon his followers. When he finally realizes that he himself was the cause of the downfall of Thebes, Oedipus willingly takes responsibility for his actions and accepts his fate as was predicted at his birth. From his grief and shame he decides to blind himself before exiling himself from Thebes to become a simple wanderer who will forever be hated for his misfortune. At this point in the play, Oedipus declares that the god Apollo “brought my sick, sick fate upon me. / But the blinding hand was my own!” making it clear that while he does believe in the control that the Greek Gods and Goddesses were believe to have, he also understood that his own choices also influenced his ultimate undoing. (11. 112-13)

To me, the story of Oedipus proves that free will and predetermination are really just two halves of a bigger picture as far as who controls our fate. That the people of Thebes, including Oedipus, even believe in Apollo shows their use of their free will because it is their choice to believe in him. Not once does Apollo actually appear and demand that everyone in Greece worship him. We actively determine the various situations that we get ourselves caught up in with free choice while the “Creator” anticipates and acts as necessary around them to ensure that we get to where we’re meant to be. I like to think of this in terms of a classroom: A teacher on the first day of class tell the students that some will pass with As and some won’t. The teacher then describes the things the students will have to do in order to be in the group who will pass with an A. At the end of the school year, just as the teacher had said, some students got As and some didn’t. Since the teacher more or less knew the end result from the beginning, does it mean that he caused each individual to either pass or fail and there was nothing they could do about it?

One of the most interesting things that I came across related to this topic is that the coexistence of free will and predetermination (and spiritual tolerance) can be found in Christianity. While there are definitely quotes in the Bible that promote predetermination (“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” – Joshua 1:5 NIV), there are also quotes that support free will:

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
(Joshua 24:15)

I think that there is something to be said about living your life to the fullest in this. Oedipus’ fate had been decided before the beginning of his physical life. While he tried to prevent the predestined sequence of events that would lead him to his ultimate destination, he still came face to face with his fate. The play suggests the futility in trying to “change” our fate and that any choices we make will still bring us all the closer to the path that was already paved for us, leaving this world under the control of the Created, under the supervision of the Creator. So, if we’re going to end up where we’re meant to anyway, why not have the most fun that you can on the way there? I suppose what I’m getting at is that, if all of this is planned, then take more time out of your day to revel in those things that make your heart beat a bit faster, make you laugh a bit harder, and make you smile until it hurts. Because, really stressing over every little decision is for the birds.