Best of Dallas 2019

Life is exciting! Life is changing! Life is for the man who plucks the fruit of the will and says to himself, “I am going to eat this”. I was that man this August when I got the chance to write  a few articles for the Dallas Observer. I have six contributions, but two of them were lost in the editing process. I will add them at the end because although they did not make printing, they are important to me. Here are my contributions:

Shopping

Food

Sports

Food (Continued)

  • Best Sandwich Shop: Eatzi’s Market and Bakery

     3403 Oak Lawn Ave; 5600 Lovers Ln; 6025 Royal Ln.

Ladies, put on your beret. Gentlemen, replace your loafers with walking shoes. I’ll venture to make the assumption that reading about the best of Dallas signifies not quite enough time, energy, or money to find yourself on a light amble to lunch on Saint Germain Boulevard or treading through the Parc Floral; with a lover, a loaf of bread, and an ancient wheel of cheese and wax. Fear not! Eatzi’s can provide all of the above (minus the lover, sorry). Any business diversifying their range of foods made and sold faces the possibility of having a mediocre inventory. The strength of a market and bakery like Eatzi’s, however, is in the exceptional variety and quality of food. If a failed market and bakery is a jumbled menagerie, Eatzi’s is a well curated art exhibit- the centerpiece being the sandwich. After all, what is the marriage of a market and a bakery if not a sandwich? For those confident in their palette, the sandwich line is a good way to explore. For everybody else, the kind and knowledgeable employees are always happy to find and make the best sandwich for you.

  •      Best Fried Chicken: Street’s Fine Chicken

     5211 Forest Ln.

Though the name may suggest a white tablecloth establishment whose customers shy away from checking their bank accounts the next morning, Streets fine chicken is easy on the wallet but hard on vegetarians. The appeal of Street’s Fine Chicken is that they bring great chicken to a casual atmosphere. Though I am inclined to reserve all judgements (a matter of infinite hope), I was pleasantly surprised from the first bite. This authentic southern cuisine has a little something for everyone; though the buttery and fried chicken is the star of the show (street’s offers a choice between Crispy tenders and French-fried chicken), Street’s offers healthier options: savory toasted chicken and an herbal roasted chicken. Spice up your order with tender maple Brussel sprouts or antebellum grits that will not disappoint.

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Thomas Wolfe and an Affinity for Poetic Prose

On a recent tour of my bookshelf (a personal library in miniature), a friend asked why I had chosen to read these specific books and not others.

Though each book should be independent in some ways, it is also important that there be an integrity of sorts shared among all of the books present in a library. Glancing over weathered copies of those books assigned by others and those assigned by myself, I came to the conclusion that the unifying factor (and thus the ultimate good) of my miniature library is that it rides the line between poetry and prose.

This realization begins with my own writing: when I compose poetry, I find that it tends toward a narrative structure. On the other hand, my normal writing is a little more poetic than I would expect. This reality continues into the authors I have chosen, my bookshelf housing the likes of Fitzgerald, Calvino, Wolfe, and Keats.

While reading the first book of Thomas Wolfe’s of time and the river, a novel I could only hope to finish before graduating college, I was struck with wonder when I came across this iconic description of a locomotive arriving at a train station. Among other things, it is pages like these that keep me returning to literature time and again:

     “But now the train was coming. Down the powerful shining tracks a half mile away, the huge black snout of the locomotive swung slowly round the magnificent bend and flare of the rails that went into the railway yards of Altamont two miles away, and with short explosive thunders of its squat funnel came barging slowly forward. Across the golden pollenated haze of the warm autumnal afternoon they watched it with numb lips and an empty hollowness of fear, delight, and sorrow in their hearts.

And from their sensual terror, the ecstatic tension of that train’s approach, all things before, around, about  the boy came to instant life, to such sensuous and intolerable poignancy of life as a doomed man might feel who looked upon the world for the last time from the platform of the scaffold where he is to die. He could feel, taste, smell, and see everything with an instant still intensity, the animate fixation of a vision seen instantly, fixed forever in the mind of him who sees it, and sense the clumped dusty autumn masses of the trees that bordered the tracks upon the left, and smell the thick exciting hot tarred caulking of the tracks, the dry warmth and good warm wooden smell of the powerful railway ties, and see the dull rusty red, the gaping emptiness and joy of a freight car, its rough floor whitened with soft siltings of thick flour, drawn in upon a spur of rusty track behind a warehouse of raw concrete blocks, and see with sudden desolation, the warehouse flung down rawly, newly, there among the hot, humid, spermy, nameless, thick-leaved field-growth of the south.

Then the locomotive drew in upon them, loomed enormously above them, and slowly swept by them with a terrific drive of eight-locked piston wheels , all higher than their heads, a savage furnace-flare of heat, a hard hose-thick hiss of steam, a moment’s vision of a lean old head, an old gloved hand of cunning on the throttle, a glint of demon hawk-eyes fixed forever on the rails, a huge tangle of gauges, levers, valves, and throttles, and the goggled blackened face of the fireman, lit by an intermittent hell of flame, as he bent and swayed with rhythmic swing of laden shovel at his furnace doors.

The locomotive passed above them , darkening the sunlight from their faces, engulfing them at once and filling them with terror, drawing the souls out from their mouths with the God-head of its instant absoluteness, and leaving them there, emptied, frightened, fixed forever, a cluster of huddled figures, a bough of small white staring faces, upturned, silent, and submissive, small, lonely, and afraid (22-23).”

A Day at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.

Psalm 24:1-2

I had the privilege of visiting the Atlanta Botanical gardens with a friend earlier this week. The forecast showed signs of rain, but it never fully broke through. I rarely turn down a trip to a garden because I think natural beauty genuinely changes the course of a day. Being in a garden on a good day makes the day even better; going outside on a tough day lightens burdens, clarifies confusion, and dulls ill will.

Because the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, God is in all creation. Admiring God’s creation is a way of worshipping him. I’ve added a few photographs from my outing to give glory to God and honor to the hard workers at the botanical gardens.

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Italo Calvino on Elusive Literature

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Today it Rains, By Matthew Jordan

“Reading is a discontinuous and fragmentary operation. Or, rather, the object of reading is a punctiform and pulviscular material. (254)”

I would be hard- pressed to delineate a standard procedure of how pieces of a bookstore end up in my personal library. If I had to make a guess, aside from the aesthetic of the font and the dust jacket, my primary motivation for purchasing a book depends on it being at the right place at the right time. And so it came about that as I drove back east this May from my university that I glanced into the seat beside me to see Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, the product of a rare splurge on an adventure weeks before. As the San Gabriel mountains faded from view and the void of the desert greeted my steel- colored tahoe, I wondered what the book might bring me. On the shelf, the book would flaunt its perfect dimensions. At the public pool, it would elevate me with its nostalgic font. On my end table, the rich yellows and burgundies of the cover would provide a good contrast to the deep oak. Because my summer classes afforded me little leisure, my natural reaction was to be an accountant by day and a human by night. That is, I began reading this strange book.

If on a winter’s night a traveler is elusive fiction. The protagonist of the book battles frustration as he comes across a sequence of books that, for a variety of reasons, break off at their climax. A few chapters into the book, our reader discovers another reader, the attractive Ludmilla Vipiteno, who joins him on his journey of reading. Similar to the reader, I too was frustrated when ten different stories left me wondering what would happen next.

There is much to be learned from unfinished and arcane literature, so I have picked out some passages from the book which I think provoke the most thought.

From Cimmerian writer Ukko Ahti in the chapter Leaning from the steep slope:

“With a written language it is always possible to reconstruct a dictionary and a grammar, isolate sentences, transcribe them or paraphrase them in another language, whereas I am trying to read in the succession of things presented to me every day the world’s intentions toward me, and I grope my way, knowing that there can exist no dictionary that will translate into words the burden of obscure allusions that lurks in these things. I would like this hovering of presentiments and suspicions to reach the person who reads me and not as an accidental obstacle to understanding what I write, but as its very substance; and if the process of my thoughts seem elusive to him who, setting out from radically changed mental habits, will seek to follow it, the important thing is that I convey to him the effort I am making to read between the lines of things the evasive meaning of what is in store for me. (61)”

Writing in a dying language, Ahti reflects that other readers will have a more complete language, a written one. On the other hand, it is as if he is shouldering the intentions of the cosmos, with its obscure allusions and meanings between the lines, and attempting to write them down. Below is a passage from a professor of Cimmerian literature in the fourth chapter who reflects on the benefits and losses of Cimmerian authors:

“Books are the steps of the threshold… All Cimmerian authors have passed it… Then the wordless language of the dead begins, which says the things that only the language of the dead can say… Cimmerian books are all unfinished”, Uzzi-Tuzii sighs, “because they continue beyond… in the other language, in the silent language to which all the words we believe we read refer. (71)”

A transcendent language into which Cimmerian literature is a gateway. The possibility that no book is unfinished; that they only continue into the language of the dead. This is quite a bit to think about, but we move on.

Our reader makes a visit to a publishing company in an attempt to gain definitive knowledge on the authors and names of the books he has been reading. He finds the knowledgeable Mr. Cavedagna, who remarks:

“What does the name of an author on the jacket matter? Let us move forward in thought to three thousand years from now. Who knows which books from our period will be saved, and who knows which authors’ names will be remembered? Some books will remain famous but will be considered anonymous works, as for us the epic of Gilgamesh; other authors’ names will still be well-known, but none of their works will survive, as was the case with Socrates; or perhaps all the surviving books will be attributed to a single, mysterious author, like Homer. (101)”

The confusion the reader is experiencing is not new. Though it would seem that a reader is entitled to know who the writers are of the books he is reading, Cavedagna thinks the entitlement is simply a product of the enlightenment assurance that we can know and the categorization of the medieval. It begs the question: what have we lost by gaining knowledge of writers and their context? Does the ideal reader scorn history and read exclusively the ideal model- from the author “who produces books ‘as a pumpkin vine produces pumpkins’? (189)” These days, it would seem that people would want to know even the origin of the pumpkin they are carving. What details of nature can be enjoyed without peripheral knowledge?

From the journal of writer Silas Flannery in the eighth chapter:

“I see that one way or another I keep circling around the idea of an interdependence between the unwritten world and the book I should write. This is why writing presents itself to me as an operation of such weight that I remain crushed by it. (172)”

“I read in a book that the objectivity of thought can be expressed by using the verb ‘to think’ in the impersonal third person: saying not ‘I think’ but ‘it thinks’ as we say ‘it rains’. There is thought in the universe- this is the constant from which we must set out every time.

Will I ever be able to say, ‘today it writes,’ just like ‘today it rains,’ ‘Today it is windy’? Only when it will come natural to me to use the verb ‘write’ in the impersonal form will I be able to will I be able to hope that through me is expressed something less limited than the personality of an individual. (176)”

Here Flannery reflects on the possibility that writing can come from something more than a man. He wants to write the unwritten world, to be a scribe for the cosmos, but feels crushed by the weight of responsibility. He wants to inflate his personality beyond individuality, for writing to be as natural as the wind and the rain. At this point, we reflect on the existence of a transcendent language in the fourth chapter and a transcendent writer here. These are both traits of elusive literature. We continue with Silas Flannery’s Journal:

“It is only through the confining act of writing that the immensity of the non-written becomes legible, that is, through the uncertainties of spelling, the occasional lapses, oversights, unchecked leaps of the word and the pen. Otherwise what is outside of us should not insist on communicating through the word, spoken or written: let it send its messages by other paths. (183)”

Flannery suggests that the threshold from the written to the non-written is a barrier of medium- that it is simply impossible to communicate in writing the language of the dead. This begs one of many questions: should and how can one communicate with “what is outside us”? Never mind that question; we press on into the author’s journal:

“Apocrypha (from the Greek apokryphos, hidden, secret): (1) originally referring to the “secret books of religious sects; later to texts not recognized as canonical in those religions which have established a canon of revealed writings; (2) referring to texts falsely attributed to a period or to an author.

Thus the dictionaries. Perhaps my true vocation was that of author of apocrypha, in the several meanings of the term: because writing always means hiding something in such a way that then it is discovered; because the truth that can come from my pen is like a shard that has been chipped from a great boulder by a violent impact, then flung far away; because there is no certitude outside falsification. (193)”

Flannery’s use of the dictionary presents a haunting proximity between the secrecy and the falsehood of apocrypha when he accepts all meanings of the term. An important question to ask would be: to what extent should writers play with secrecy and falsehood?

And the ideal reader? An officer in literary censorship, who knows an astonishing amount about the protagonist, speaks to our reader about Ludmilla in the tenth chapter.

“For this woman,” Arkadian Porphyrich continues, seeing how intently you are drinking in his words, “reading means stripping herself of every purpose, every foregone conclusion, to be ready to catch a voice that makes itself heard when you least expect it, a voice that comes from an unknown source, from somewhere beyond the book, beyond the author, beyond the conventions of writing: from the unsaid, from what the world has not yet said of itself and does not have the words to say. As for him, he wanted, on the contrary, to show her that behind the written page is the void: the world only exists as artifice, pretense, misunderstanding, falsehood. (239)”

Miss Porphyrich is the transcendent reader, obviously corresponding to the transcendent language and writers mentioned above. On several occasions she refuses meeting writers and editors as to keep a distant and imaginary relationship with them. She reads as a child would pick the pumpkin from the vine, as a man would gaze into a cavity in the rocky shoreline after centuries of waves thrashing the pumice. Ludmilla listens for what is least expected, whether or not there exists a transcendent language or author. She is an ideal reader because she uses the chief tool of readers everywhere: attention. If there were a means to discovering the realm of the unwritten, to tiptoe across the Cimmerian threshold, the golden bough of entry would be nothing but attentiveness.

On Prayer and Prudence

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Intermission: Lucia di Lammermoor, by Matthew Jordan

At the end of last year, reading Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics stimulated much thought about the nature of habit. This thought culminated in a twenty- one day exercise of daily prayer with specific attention to how it relates to virtue. The result of this discipline was new insight into prayer. I found that prayer can be categorized under the virtue of prudence, which Aristotle talks about in book VI of the Nichomachean Ethics.

There is something intuitively spiritual about walking around one’s college campus in the middle of the night alone in prayer.  The moonlight glistening off of the automobiles in their parking spaces and the occasional Stan Getz playing in my headphones was beginning to mold a spirit of earnestness and thankfulness.

While praying, I was able to intercede for the good of other people. This habit fits inside Aristotle’s intellectual virtues because it stems from thinking about the other person and hoping for their well-being. Prudence also has to do with action; this is consistent with prayer in the actual speaking that takes place. To the Christian, prayer for others is not wishful thinking but instead talking to God about the other person; seeking their well-being based on the promises we have in the word of God. Prayer exists with knowledge of the particular and universal goods of the other; often prayer requests come out of a particular problem or wish; one should pray with an eye to how the specific request relates to their neighbors’ well-being. No doubt, prayer consists of more than this, but prayer seems to be at least part of prudence.

Thinking of one’s life in relation to Aristotle’s view of the world may not be an impulsive reaction for anybody but the philosopher and the restless college student. In this process, however, I was able to see how the great mind of Aristotle actually gives a valuable perspective on the Christian action of prayer. Additionally, prayer grounds the intellectual virtue of prudence in reality. It makes it meaningful. It sews it to the body and mind of the one seeking the good.

Ode to Rocabar, Hermès:

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Light-winged Dryad of the Fields, by Matthew Jordan

What follows is a semi-poetic appreciation of Rocabar, one of the founding fragrances in the history of Hermès. Perfected in 1998, the fragrance is the first scent that I loved. After receiving it for Christmas, I decided that an olfactory ode would be fitting for the fragrance:

Unseen and all-seeing muse, breathe onto my transient skin

the timeless song of mankind’s prize.

Rocabar, lift me above the cavernous bars

and the cellophane trenches in which I slumber. Under your spell,

I find myself in the saddle beneath the waning sun. My limp feet brush against

the golden stalks of wheat. Luxurious gifts have I brought my love.

I peek once more at my mountain juniper and the salt from some far seashore

stowed away in my overtly leather sack, leather that persists, leather that understands.

The burgundy sun leads me to our barn where she prepares beds for man and beast.

What used to be detailed forms of nature are merely ponderous contours.

Burnished images of hilltops confront a peach backdrop, my lofty origin revisited.

Determined, wind- beaten timber shields us from the nocturnal gusts.

My ancient and checkered fly sheet reminds me of the weight of ancestry.

Earthy ambrosia smeared on her sweet skin lingers long after our attention has retired.

 

Fall 2018 Pull Questions

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The Messenger, by Matthew Jordan

The Torrey Honors Institute by no means encourages mastery of a book. While this outlook on reading can be comforting, it can also lead to a sort of perpetual sluggishness that would make my college life a post-lunch stroll. The youth, I believe, takes a bit too much pleasure in saying: “Well, I read the book and that’s how it is. All memories and annotations are paused eternally between the front and back cover.” This is where the pull question comes in. I think the name of the question is fitting- it’s an uncomfortable name for an uncomfortble activity. The pull question is defined in the syllabus as such:

“While much of your Torrey work (reading, session, and notebook) is primarily exploratory and expansive, Pull Questions are a key opportunity for you to tie down your opinions and practice the craft of writing. Tutors ask Pull Questions at the end of every session, and their questions are writing prompts that help you pull together your thoughts from the book and session. Your semester’s detailed reading list tells you the exact Pull Question requirement, usually one per book.

Pull Questions are written responses to the tutor’s prompt, typically 300-600 words. You should answer the question well, with an eye to the book that prompted the inquiry.”

( http://academics.biola.edu/torrey/academics/syllabus/writing/#pq )

Pull questions help the student to pull their thoughts and experiences from the book together into one page. Some look like a session reflection while others are the student’s chance to talk about something he thinks was skipped over. Regardless, it is an uncomfortable activity for those who find writing uncomfortable. I count myself in that group. You may, then, ask why I am writing this. If you asked me that, I could not give you a good answer. I guess it depends on the day.

I’ve included a list of the questions I answered this semester because I am proud of them. However, I feel that including all of the questions as well as their 400 word answers would make the post far too long. If you find one of the questions particularly interesting, I would be happy to email it to you.

  • Homer’s Iliad: What is it about getting what he wants that teaches Achilles to respond differently to Priam (than Agamemnon did to Chryses)?
  • Homer’s Odyssey: Is home completely a place of truth-telling?
  • Sophocles, Antigone: Why is it important that Antigone is a woman?
  • Sophocles, Oedipus the King: Is there self-knowledge you don’t want?
  • Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War: What is Thucydides’ view of Justice?
  • Plato, Meno: Does Socrates have a method? If so, how does he use it?
  • Plato, Symposium: How do the first five speeches prepare the way for Socrates?
  • Plato, Republic: Would the gods favor a just man or an unjust man who gave good sacrifices?
  • Euripides, Bacchae: Would Dionysus contest any of Plato’s images of the order of the soul?
  • Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics: Pick out a habit that it would be good for a college freshman to put into practice. Do this for 21 days. What virtue is that habit tied to?
  • Genesis: What are the similarities between the story of the garden and the tower of Babel and how does this shed light on the problem Adam and Eve create?
  • Exodus: From who and with what are the Israelites purchased?
  • Leviticus: What is the significance of understanding that rescue precedes commandments and how does that help you understand the law?
  • Numbers: How do you remember God’s holiness in your own life today (given God’s frightening holiness in Numbers)?
  • Deuteronomy: Why does the promised land carry a blessing and a curse?
  • Joshua: What is the significance of the monuments in Joshua? Do we have similar things in modern evangelical life? Should we?
  • Hebrews: For the rest of the day, practice God’s presence and see if that makes a difference in how you approach potential times of suffering.