Friday, October 16, 2009

Paradox of One

I'm going to make a slight detour in getting to the writing oriented theme this week. First, I'm going to explore a concept that captured my imagination earlier this year: The Paradox of One.

Five years ago a young, energetic teacher arrived at my children's interdenominational, multi-cultural (that's politically correct for "poor") school with a vision for developing the best music program in the city. He started with a handful of band students and a choir made up of willing girls and boys ordered into the program by the principal. Four short years later we took sixty-eight of the school's seventy-five high school students to Anaheim, California to the Heritage Music Festival where our band and choir students took first and second place respectively and garnered Gold festival standings.
In April of this year we again attended a Heritage Festival, this time in Seattle. The school's high school science teacher fulfilled the role as tour chaplain. Every morning at devotions, he read a scripture verse that explored a scriptural paradox. A paradox is an apparent contradiction. Such as, die to live, first is last, and many are one. You ask, how can many be one if they are completely different things?
But if you think about it, life is filled with this simple mathematical paradox. In our Christian faith, the most obvious example is the Trinity. One God. Three persons. Each wholly God and yet indivisible. One. Another is Paul's reference to the Christian community of believers as many parts, one body in Corinthians 12. In John's gospel, chapter 17, Jesus ties the two previous concepts together, exhorting believers to be one, like "we are one."
Christians share in the universal (or widespread, if you prefer to be postmodern about it) belief that in marriage, two people become one.

We don't have to look far to see how many can become one. Examples abound.

And for our students at the Heritage Festival, they were a living example. As one of the parents crazy enough to be a repeat chaperon, I've seen these awesome individuals, these kids who come from every economic background with parents who have come from every corner of the earth, become one voice or one melody as musicians.

At the end of the music tour we held a poetry contest. The objective was to kill several hours of a ten hour bus ride and to (hopefully) spark some creativity to share with the ten or so students left behind. Among the silly, profane, and profound, two students submitted the following Haiku that beautifully illustrates the paradox of one:
Singing softly now
We play our hearts, all as one
Lifting praise to God.
(by Nicola D. and Sophia B.)

Now we leave my meandering thoughts to come back to the topic at hand.


How is "one" a paradox in the crazy world of fiction literature?

Before I decided I would turn my incessant need to write stories into a potential career, when I saw an author's name on a book I believed the myth that writers were solitary creatures who toiled alone to produce their manuscripts. And once the writer had reached "The End" publishers and the world at large waited with welcoming arms to receive that worthy masterpiece.
And then I submitted my first complete manuscript and received a prompt rejection letter, a single paragraph proceeded by a salutation, "Dear ____________," the whole lot, company logo included, photocopied at a squiffy angle on the page.
What I've learned in the years since is that the "one," the author's name, is truly made up of many, many individuals who work with the author to bring her story to the masses.
The first "many" an unpublished writer should meet are other writers. In this crazy, fiercely competitive business, writers band together to offer each other support, teach each other craft, critique each other's work, and promote other writers. Yup. That's a paradox in itself. Writer's supporting their competition. Crazy, huh?
So, why do they do it? Why do writers help their competition? My theory is that because the industry is so difficult, because writing is, at its core so solitary, and that because good writers need readers to become better writers, writers need other writers not only to survive, but to thrive.
Of course, there are also the agents, editors, and marketing professionals who take a writer's words and polish and package them so that readers can enjoy them.
In this age of "me" and "I" it is an amazing thing to be part of a business that doesn't reorganize every five years on the latest workplace organization trends. We don't go flat only to become cellular only to come full circle into business unit silos. Through the miracle of the internet, we writers find each other and work together on a common dream so that some of us (it is statistically impossible that all of us) might succeed.

The next time you pull a book off the shelf by your favorite author, turn to the acknowledgment page. My bet is you'll find named some of the "many" behind the "one" name on the book cover.
It's a paradox. And yet in the best paradoxes we find not only a contradiction, but a gem of a mysterious truth.
Please, share with me your favorite paradox.

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  1. How about "less is more?" I think that's a pretty good paradox...usually I think it when I smell someone before I see in they're wearing too much perfume/cologne! I'm sure there are other uses for that phrase but that was the first example that popped in my brain! LOL!

    XOXO~ Renee

  2. Renee,
    Thought-provoking post! Thanks!

    You must spend to gain!
    I've certainly done that in this fledgling writing career. Will it pay off? Watson, that is the question.


  3. Become a bondservant to the Lord to gain freedom.

    Hey Wenda, great idea. I think it's sinking in now and I'll be thinking of this a lot. Thanks for including the haiku. I have a feeling that the lessons they learned in the choral group will stay with them forever.

  4. Love, love, love this post! So much truth to chew on, in both parts.

  5. Hmm... I was thinking "to save the best for last" which is true usually when people are eating. You'd think you would want to eat the dessert first but usually it's last.
    Maybe... "ignorance is bliss".
    Here's a good one from C.S.Lewis that he said to his godchild who he dedicated The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to: Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.


  6. Great post. Makes you think harder.


  7. Wenda, I know your post would be one-derful. :-)


    What first came to mind was "self-made man." No man makes himself. No man achieves success on his own. No man can rise unless he has a step to step upon, and someone has to build/create/share that step.

  8. Lovely post, Wenda. I love the acknowledgement that many people have worked on our stories, and what a blessing that is. Body of Christ in action.

    Thank you! Lots to think about.

  9. Wenda, I like the Paradox of One. I too thought writing was very solitary. It's very much a community effort, at least to do it well, I think, and certainly in this day and age.

    One more thing... since when did "multicultural" become politically correct for "poor"? Not all multicultural organizations are also poor entities, anymore than all poor organizations are multicultural. Shame on whoever believes this.

  10. Interesting concept, Patti. Thanks for sharing. I love the Haiku! Does anyone else hear Japanese music in their imagination when they read Haiku?

  11. What great paradoxes!

    Thanks so much for sharing. I love the CS Lewis example. It just shows what a wise, and yet young, man he was.

    And Patricia, you are so right about multicultural not being poor. In my city, "multicultural" communities are the ones made up of new Canadians struggling to establish an economic foothold in a harsh climate and often unkind enviornment. But here we find another paradox. Because what appears to be poor in dollars is rich and vibrant in spirit!

  12. Great post! Made me think of a paradox that is a new favorite for my hubby who works with computers. "The truth is version 1.0". When you think of it is so true because the truth is the original and then others will make up their own versions of the truth like the politicians love to do. This post really made me think.


  13. Thanks for this wonderful devotional on paradoxes.

    On a lighter note, I wanted to say my favorite paradox (Pair of docs) are Dr. Welby and dreamy Dr. Kildare! LOL Sorry for the old joke!

    crmcc at setel dot come

  14. Wenda: What a beautiful post. I'm looking for your name on the screen play about your kids and their journey to the Festivals.

    I always think of the paradox of giving to receive. It works, too. The more you give, the more you receive. God is indeed wonderful. And paradoxal!


  15. great post, please enter me into the drawing as I love books.


  16. I love paradoxes. They're the best. I have a lot of paradoxes in my new book which I just wrote in six days which is why I'm just now getting around to commenting on this blogpost.

    Sometimes people try to pin down paradoxes and logically explain them and they ruin them. You gave some great examples of paradox of one without destroying the mystery, wonder, and beauty of it. The poem was amazing.

    Last year the isolation of being a writer slammed me hard. Then I got involved with groups like ACFW, Hiswriters and Inkwell Inspirations. It's made all the differnce.


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