9/28/2017: Thoughts on Portals in Narrative

A portal threat (in a narrative) seems to assume that danger is only external to one’s own world. It’s just not realistic. And it has more in common with a simplistic and separatist worldview—that we will cordon ourselves off from all threats in order to be safe—than a truly good one (a godly one).

In the good one, the hero enters into the darkness and faces danger, even at her own expense, in order to save the rest of them. Or to save the ones on the other side of the portal. Or simply out of faithfulness to a godly call, which is just faith working through love.

In the good one, the hero assumes the threat we already pose to ourselves—that even with portals closed, our doom remains—and the need to dialogue with philosophical and theological opponents in order to grow.

And so there is no, “We have to close the portal!” There is only, “Enter the portal! Enter all the portals!”

I am convinced that God delights in our continued and ever-broadening engagement with his creation. And I suspect the answer is never separation. At least not fully or permanently. It’s always connection.

1/19/2017: Thoughts on Inner Dialogue

I’m not sure if I want to have it or not. Tolkien doesn’t have a strict routine with it, though I believe he does have some commentary on things. Rowling also uses inner dialogue.

It seems that you can do a better job showing the progression of learning and feeling in the protagonist if you show not just how he or she acts but also how he or she thinks and feels. It’s a strength of writing that you can do this. It seems like it’d be a more fertile soil for showing the changes in the character, which is what the story is all about, really.

Are there any benefits to not having inner dialogue or commentary? It seems like it’d be harder for the reader to interpret what’s going on in the POE character. Readers would have to spend more thought on doing so, even if I wrote subtext masterfully (yeah right).

Perhaps one benefit would be greater show-don’t-tell and the effects it brings. It’d be like putting readers in the scene but not being players in the scene (even though I try to only show what the POE characters perceive anyways—just without their commentary). Whereas telling readers the POE characters’ thoughts is like giving them a view of the inside of the characters. What comes to mind is “Hills Like White Elephants.” But something to be pointed out is how hard it still is to know what’s going on there. You can do it, but you either have to be a good interpreter already, have that topic on your mind, or spend a lot of time and thought trying to figure it out (like me, and I still didn’t get it without help).

So this again brings up the topic of how intellectual should I try to make this? Assuming I could do it well enough, would it be better to make this more accessible or to make it more “masterful?” The latter seems a bit pretentious. I shouldn’t make something of the harder-to-do-and-harder-to-get without a good reason for doing so, and I think the reason that matters most to fallen me is because it’s the harder (and more prestigious) way to do it. At the same time, I do like the challenge, and it’s challenges that make me a better writer—“What’s the least that I could say with the greatest effect on the reader?” That’s always been a goal of mine, though I tend to still make things inaccessible to non-interpreters. Even trained interpreters have trouble with my stuff—even my professor. And that should say something (probably that I suck at subtext).

I really don’t know what to do.

Perhaps the answer is to have inner dialogue but to have action that speaks for itself, as if the inner dialogue wasn’t there. It seems like it’d be easy to use the dialogue as a crutch and to avoid trying to show through the POE character’s action at all. I think this would be a mistake. Indeed, it seems like I could do some interesting things with telling his thoughts and feelings and then having him act apparently other things—shows subtext.

Movies come to mind for showing through action only. I haven’t seen any (that come to mind) that use inner dialogue well. But there are many that do well without it. But a key difference is you get to see body language and facial expressions and you get to hear tone, which indicate a lot about inner dialogue, and which would be difficult to show without some kind of interpretive language being added concerning how they speak and act (in written form). This is actually something that came up a lot when writing my first draft. It’s hard to say how a person looks mad without having that interpretive description (or something like it or an interpretive metaphor for it), “mad.” It’d be lots of cues that could be interpreted a lot of ways, making it really hard to interpret. Doesn’t fit into “clear and concise” for any but the most patternistic and interpretive of persons. Not good.

Another thought. It seems common to think that persons naturally identify with the protagonist—they get carried through the protagonist’s journey and in some sense experience it as if they were the protagonist. It seems only natural to need to know what the protagonist is thinking as part of that experience. And again, for all but INTP literary persons, it’s much easier to know what he’s thinking to have his thoughts on paper rather than having to merely interpret them from actions and dialogue. I guess it depends on my audience, though. But I don’t want only literary types.

It seems like having no insight into the inner dialogue of the protagonist would work better in situations where readers weren’t supposed to identify with any single person, or something.

Another thing. It seems like readers would gain an intimacy with protagonists by learning their thoughts, whether those thoughts concord with the characters’ actions and words or not. And that’s a very good thing.

But I think I’ve stumbled into a muddled dichotomy. Writing an inner dialogue and revealing a character’s inner dialogue are not the same thing. Correlative–not causative. To the degree that a person masters subtext, and to the degree that readers can interpret subtext, an author can communicate a character’s inner dialogue. So regardless of which path I choose, 1) I need to get better at subtext (and never stop getting better at it) and 2) I need to think about what audience I want to pursue and what level of interpretive powers I should expect that audience to have. This second one is true of any communication. Duh, Patrick.

Another point, which came to mind while reading the final bit of this: https://janefriedman.com/internal-dialogue/

I have a lot of practice writing my own inner dialogue. I am doing it now. It seems wise to put that practice to use.

Try it. See if you like it better. If not, get rid of it. It may be more work, but that’s okay.

1/19/2017: Writing As Relationship

I was reminded this morning that life is all about relationships. I tend to get focused on knowledge and action, and I tend to try to dominate those things.

And it dawned on me that a more appropriate metaphor for my interaction with both knowledge and action is relationship, rather than domination. I don’t cow them into submission; I invite them to join me. 9/5/2017: Or, perhaps, I ask to join them.

It’s much the same as what I’ve been writing about. Magic, in my world, can be dominated or loved, and it’s the latter that’s better.

Esther Meeks has a book about knowledge that uses a similar metaphor, apparently.

And perhaps the best concrete example of relationship that I can use is my relationship with my wife. Think of spending time with her, having conversations with her, getting to know her, having fun with her, working with her… If I manhandle her in my attempt to do these things, and working together comes to mind the most, not only will she resist me, but I fail to love her. And excepting that she, in love, turns me around, our relationship will turn sour. It will die. And until it is again injected with life, it will remain dead.

Relationship takes time, forgiveness, learning (growth), flexibility, relaxation, fun… If it’s all work, and the only goal and guideline of the relationship is to get work done, the relationship breaks down. Relationship is all about love—loving each other, loving God, loving others together…

Yesterday I was having trouble writing. All I wanted to do was veg (I am in the middle of breaking my media addiction, so the cravings are intense sometimes, and my motivation for good things is often low, and I’m a grump). This is almost exactly like I have been with Mysti at times, especially when I was more into video games. I would want to play, and the time that I had to spend with her when I wanted to play was terrible. We couldn’t connect because I just wanted to be elsewhere. And yesterday a similar thing happened with writing. I made myself write instead of vegging. But I couldn’t connect with it. There was no chemistry. It wouldn’t come to me, and I kept averting from it. And the harder I tried to make it work, the more aloof I felt, and the less writing would respond to me (low quality stuff, writer’s block, language just not coming out). Because there was no desire for relating with writing, no warm connection, no real desire for connection other than for accomplishing my goal of 1) not vegging and 2) producing, the relationship was dead.

As soon as the warmth between you and whatever it is with which you are relating goes away, the relationship breaks down. And whatever you attempt to do with that thing will be as stifled as your feelings.

But I imagine it goes the other way more. If you only work on a relationship in order to make it of more utility, it seems… dead. But maybe that’s wrong. It’s like people with whom you work. It’s difficult to actually have a relationship if the only reason for doing so is the work or goal you share. The relationship really blossoms when you actually like each other, when you want to relate not only for the common goal but more for the relationship itself.

And I guess that’s what the goal of writing has been for me. The whole Bill Hendricks search for a vocation. I wanted to find something with which I would click. Something with which I would have chemistry. I feel like finding writing was like matchmaking. And if me and writing get on well, if we like each other, and the relationship continues to grow, it’ll work out long-term. I can commit to it with surety that things will work out.

This actually reminds me of my writing class. I thought of it the same back then—that learning to write was like starting a relationship. I guess I forgot about that.

But it’s not just writing. The more we healthily relate to anything, the more natural our common work with that thing will be. The more we try to dominate anything, the more it will break down—if not immediately then eventually. Domination only ends in death. It’s unlike God. It’s the difference between trying to control and feeling free enough not to have to.

So how to relate to writing from here; some ideas:

  1. Spend regular time together. And if it’s been a while since you have, don’t expect things to be warm and cozy right away. It’s regular time that nurtures a relationship.
  2. At the same time, sometimes it’s good to spend brief periods apart. Relationships take effort—especially at first. Give yourself a break from time to time.
  3. Fun helps: just as you go on dates with your wife, do fun things with writing. Those warm feelings go a long way.
  4. Try new things together. Learn together. Working on some common goal with writing. That’s what the healthiest level of the relationship is anyways—to not only relate with each other but to relate with others together.
  5. Learn more about writing. “Dialogue” with it by learning about it and then putting what you learn to practice. Listen to others who have studied it. Study others’ writing and see how they relate with it.
  6. If you have a bad day, figure out what you did wrong (if anything), make it better, and try again.
  7. My characteristics when I attempt to dominate: feeling the need for control (“It just won’t do what I want! Do what I want!”), feeling pressured for time or quality, wanting to force writing into those goals, frustration, lack of motivation,
  8. Relationships take time.It takes a while to internalize what works and doesn’t work for that relationship. Time and practice. “Brick by brick,” as they say. It probably won’t be magic right away—especially as you work through your addictions, which draw your desires elsewhere. I am still learning to relate with Mysti after almost eleven years of marriage. It’s waaaaaaaay better than it was before, but growing closer really never stops. Or it shouldn’t.
  9. If writing just doesn’t respond to you, no matter how well you try to make the relationship work, maybe it’s a bad fit. Likewise, if you just hate spending time with it, and you’re doing a good job at trying to relate with it, maybe there’s just no chemistry, and you should try something else.
  10. With that in mind, some key characteristics to look for in a good vocational pairing:
    1. Does it forgive you? Do you forgive it? After the dust settles, can you go back to it and the relationship be warm or get warmer? Or does it remain sour and defensive?
    2. Does it respond to you? When you try to work with it, does it work with you?
    3. Do you ever click with it? Those times when things just fall into place.
    4. Does it give you joy, or is it a burden (think of this on a scale)?
    5. Do you share common goals?
    6. Does it have a future? Can you see yourself committing to it?

12/21/2016: Free To Act Pt. 2 (cf. Phil. 2:12-13)

The wisest things I could ever say would probably start with, “I’m pretty sure I have no idea what I’m talking about, but…”

All salvation is by grace through faith in Christ.

Present salvation comes in the form of “sanctification”—putting to death the deeds of the flesh and showing the fruit of the Spirit. It is a change in character with a resultant change in deed.

I recently wrote/recorded that I don’t think God wants us to wait until we have pure motives (as if we could even determine that…) before acting but that he wants us to act without fearing that we will fail to act purely. I won’t restate my reasoning here. But let me assume that it’s true.

Thus I act. If what I do is good (which includes having good motivations), then it came from faith, from grace. If what I do is bad or has bad motivations, or if I fail to do something that’s good, then I have acted from my own sinful flesh, and the Lord will discipline me in love, if he chooses to, in his goodness.

Even believing that God wants me to act without me knowing what my motives are or knowing for sure that what I am doing is right (something that’s probably motivated by the fear of failing anyways) is character change and a product of grace.

Recognizing my lack of faith and stopping it is an action. Reminding myself that God alone can change my character is an action. It could come from faith. It might not. If it’s good, it will have come from grace/faith. If not, it won’t have. But it’s an action, like God wants me to take, and it seems to line up with the Scriptures (“Be anxious for nothing…” “Do not worry about tomorrow…” “By grace you have been saved through faith…” etc.).

When I first started being liberated from my legalism and worry, I did this often. At the time, I wondered if my legalism had just morphed into disallowing myself from thinking about right action. But perhaps it was action from faith. Could have been either one, I suppose.

Likewise, strategizing a break from addiction is an action. Breaking addiction is an action. It could come from faith. It might not. If it’s not, God might deal with it. But that doesn’t mean don’t take action again. Whether it’s from faith or not, the action is still an action, even if it looks perhaps a bit different.

Still to be continued.

12/12/2016, 1/12/2017: On Art As Relationship, As Subcreation

If I read others’ work merely to learn to create my own, then I am missing the weight. I miss the relationship—like I did in so many classrooms, whose professors were nothing but talking heads. These are persons. These are the things they care about, the things they learn and think about. Through these works, I interact with them. I also learn about the Creator, the worker of Cosmos from Chaos par excellence. If the works of others reveal truth, then it is God who has revealed it to them and through them. Likewise, if it is beautiful, and if that beauty accords with God, then it is beautiful because of God.

Artwork, like relationships in general (for artwork is an aspect of relationship), has utility, but its bulk is not utility. Its bulk is relationship.

Jan. 11: The weight of art is not in the artist’s skill. Because art is rightly love, its weight is in authenticity, vulnerability, compassion, fellow-suffering, acceptance, hope-giving, cosmos… it’s in the sharing of humanity and the pursuit of its betterment. It’s in the cooperative pursuit of what is, ultimately, God, and such takes many forms, depending on the faith of those who pursue him.

Jan. 12 (I began editing the first bit to make it clearer): And to the degree that others elucidate or create cosmos from chaos (as Madeleine L’Engle calls it), they subcreate (as Tolkien calls it) on behalf of the Creator, the Artist of Cosmos from Chaos par excellence, and the source of all that isWe subcreate because that’s for what he fashioned us—for reflecting, in our finitude, in our dependence, his infinite creativity, his Life.

Thus if our works are true, then God has revealed truth through them (though we often fail to recognize his agency in doing so). If they are beautiful, if they are just, if they are lovely… We do not produce these things from some wellspring of our own, as if imperfection could ever arrive at perfection, as if what is intrinsically dependent could ever arrive at independence, as if death could ever arrive at life.

This was a more edited version of the above ideas from 1/12. I’m choosing not to finish it, but it has some developments on the above, so I’m including it here: 

If I read others’ ink-on-paper or see others’ paintings or hear others’ music merely to sharpen my own, I sever their weight. They might as well fly away with the wind.

These are persons. And what they give us are the things that shape them, the things they create and cultivate (as Andy Crouch calls it). They speak through their work. And in speaking, they share who they are. Thus by reading, watching, hearing, and making, we dialogue.

And what is dialogue but the medium of relationship, of love? It belongs in no other context.

Art, like all relationships, has utility, but its weight is not utility. Its weight is love.

12/10/2016: Free To Act (cf. Phil. 2:12-13)

You are free to act.

God doesn’t tell us to wait on him to give us pure motivations or authentic motivations (pure motivations would be authentic…), he just tells us to do because it’s him in us working to will and to work his will. And he corrects us when we do wrong. And that’s it.

Something tells me he doesn’t want me to not do just because I might do wrong. Something tells me he will take care of me when I do wrong. That I have the freedom to act, knowing that I’m safe, that he loves me, that he works on me when I do wrong. And though those things may hurt, it’s good. So there’s a safety net, of sorts, in doing wrong. I am free to act because I could do right and because doing wrong is not the end.

To be continued.

(8/14/2017: I have since written a more nuanced explanation of what I’m talking about here, to be published later on. This is much too short to be of use to anyone. But this LBK was the first big movement on this topic that I had had in years.)

12/8/2016: To Teach Or To Learn

The desire to write something that someone learns from, in an abstract sense, seems as steeped in pride as anything else in my life. I want them to learn because I want to be mighty enough to teach.

The true teacher doesn’t want to teach in an abstract sense. They want to help those whom they see as not having learned. I have felt that at times. And when, at my best times, I speak with someone who needs information I have been given, I try to give it, and I do so with as much grace as I can so that 1) they learn and 2) they aren’t belittled by not knowing. Typically, only when it seems like reasonable teaching has not led to their learning (and without an apparent, valid reason for it not doing so, like age) do I become annoyed.

The desire to impact persons seems similar. Is it? Do I desire to impact them with my profundity, with my wit and craft? Or do I desire to explore God and his cosmos with them, that it might impact us both? To subcreate, that it might enrich our common reality—that is, theirs and also mine, but not as individuals but as the community of man.

Should I then seek to be taught in my works as much as to teach others? It would seem so. And at my best times, I feel like this is the case. But just as we are simultaneously sinner and saint, the other side sits at the same table.

This made me think of something else, though it’s just a breath in my mind. I thought of it while doing dishes, forgot it, then remembered fragments of it. The reason the separatist church cannot create art is because they do not see themselves as a part of greater humanity. They see themselves only as teachers of humanity. As Not Humanity but something greater. Not part of the community of man, and perhaps even its enemy. Not someone who walks beside man and seeks with him the truth but someone who has it and speaks it down to man.

True teaching is not the desire to share one’s own greatness, insight, information, wit but to help an ignorant person (in the neutral sense, not the pejorative sense) or persons in need. I feel I should correct this. “True teaching” is not enough. The pursuit of truth, perhaps. Perhaps that is enough. And not just the pursuit of truth but the pursuit of moving the community of man toward the truth. We teach, and we listen to teachings, as long as both move us all—all whom we can—toward truth. As long as they move us toward faith and hope and love and toward God most of all. (1/19/2017 It’s relational, as I’m reminded again and again all good things are).

Likewise, art, as the desire to express oneself and to further the progress of the community of man, cannot come from a place of superiority. It comes from a place of communality and vulnerability. Tolstoy says, “…the purpose of our human existence is to afford a maximum of help towards the universal development of everything that exists.” I agree, and I believe God does as well.

By grace through faith.

The production of writing can become its own idol. I have written all this about how writing is basically an act of love, an interrelation between me and the world, and I have failed to connect the progenitor of love with writing’s production.

2-26-2017
Found this quote somewhere. Seems to fit.

“When I teach my brother it is not really I who teach him, but we are both taught by God. Truth is not a good that I possess, that I manipulate and distribute as I please. It is such that in giving it I must still receive it; in discovering it I still have to search for it; in adapting it, I must continue to adapt myself to it.” – Henri de Lubac

 

12/5/2016: On The Fear of Death

Is the fear of death, or the reaction against death, the impetus for all of our actions?

“‘The tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness,’ wrote J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter in 1957.  He would often tell interviewers that The Lord of the Rings ‘is about death … and the search for deathlessness.'” (Not sure where I got this, but it’s not mine).

Surely Satan and Sauron seek power and dominion, and I had developed in my great antagonist a similar bent. I had concluded that their search was one of pride, one of seeking to surpass the Almighty, to become Almighty themselves, to be truly Independent. That is, they forget or disbelieve in their dependence on the One and step into faithlessness, into disobedience. Adam does this as well, having adopted the Serpent’s philosophy. Milton shows that Lucifer sought something higher than what he was given. He assumed independence, having become dissatisfied with God’s provision (without cause). Again we find lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, boastful pride of life.

But perhaps that’s not enough. For that’s probably how it starts (if I can even imagine what it’s like to have no sin nature and to make a sinful decision from a neutral state)—how it starts prior to one’s fall (or at its inception, rather, after which all things change). But after a fall, we all have death, the separation from the being from whom all life flows. And having death, do we not all seek to remedy ourselves, to recreate ourselves, to conquer the death that is in us and that we feel at all times, to conquer the death in the whole world? Does that not drive all of us into all that we do? If that’s the case, a being’s desire for true independence becomes one of self-preservation, which necessarily correlates with a separation from the Life Giver. No longer is Independence sufficient, or Independence for the sake of Supremacy or Mastery, but Independence to the end that we are safe and complete and whole, without requiring any other for any of our needs and/or desires (should they not match). But I suspect that our method of achieving this escape remains in the same vein to the fall, us having lost our connection to Life. We seek to recreate ourselves by means of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.

Of course, fear and false confidence are the two sides of pride. And to be sure, we feel both, sometimes even simultaneously. It is likely that it is not merely the flight from death that propels us but also the periodic belief that our swords and shields can defeat the dragon of death. Both drive us toward the same goal—to be independent. To be sufficient in and of ourselves.