1/23/2017: On Editing LBKs

How should I edit my Learning By Keyboard documents prior to posting them?

The temptation is to appear to know all things. To be a superlative thinker and writer.

I read through these things I dealt with months ago, I find things that I have since corrected (in my thinking), and I want to change them to represent what I think now. I don’t want to appear like I don’t know something.

But aren’t these documents supposed to reveal my inner dialogue to others? And isn’t their purpose, when writing them, to learn? And in learning, isn’t the assumption that I don’t know?

Even now, posting something new, I should assume that I will post some falsity. Else I’ll never post anything, since to the degree that I progress, I will always find mistakes.

And again, isn’t my foray into the public in the vein of dialogue? Relationship? That means vulnerability—people seeing me as less than perfect. As human. (10/17/2017: Not a brand).

My tendency is to (attempt to) set myself apart. Or above, rather. I want to surpass everyone else. At least in whatever things I have been convinced matter, which ranges from video games (now defunct) to my ability to figure things out. But I’m learning, or perhaps relearning or developing, that humans were designed as a community of individuals. It’s both, so I don’t believe in the diminution of individuality. But to the degree that you’re set apart, you’re removed from the community.

It’s the difference between standing above and standing beside others.

And if Christ’s example teaches us anything, we stand beside each other. With each other.

So what does this mean for my posts? I don’t think it necessarily speaks directly to the editing. But it speaks to the ground-level desire to appear knowledgeable. And I wonder if I should deny the desire to edit old mistakes or to qualify them with commentary merely to deny myself this desire.

Of course, if these posts were didactic, I would have reason to correct them before posting in an effort to protect others from what I know (or think) are mistaken ideas. But that’s not my intent, really. I want to also show my process of thinking and learning. If someone learns something for the things I learn, great.

This reminds me of something else. I think a much better approach to interaction with others—from the closest circles, like my family and church and work, to the furthest, which is the world and even what might be beyond—is to walk beside them. To seek truth and love and beauty, and ultimately and primarily, God, beside others. To learn together, rather than to learn on my own (as if that were really possible) and then to disperse my golden wit to the street-rats of lesser faculty (!). I have already written about this.

I need growth in this area. And perhaps by posting things that reveal my fallibility, I will grow. And if anyone learns from what I learn in the writing of these, we will learn together.

Furthering this idea—this is little different than posting things that I am thinking through now, like this very document, and knowing that I will later make corrections upon them. The same principles go for all writing, all dialogue, all interaction with others. The same correction—that I should seek what’s good alongside others—applies both to the present and the past.

Another thought. If I wrote something that I now know is wrong but didn’t write the correction to that thing in a later document, to protect others from believing that thing, I could add a commentary.

Am I neurotic or what? Goodness. Ha.

So, how should I edit them?

  • Fix grammar/typo issues if it makes things too hard to read. Keep it to a minimum.
  • Add commentary if something isn’t developed in a later document and needs to be corrected for others’ benefit.
  • Be a human with others.

For further: How to keep writing my thinking documents in the same way that I always have (in order to learn), knowing that I’ll probably post them.


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?

12/8/2016: 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.

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


11/23/2016: On Being A Good Writer

It’s not writing that I’m geared for. I guess I’m not really a “writer,” if that’s the case.

My friend talked about having the muscles/strengths necessary to be a good writer, and you can learn the craft of writing even if you don’t have the strengths to be a good one (6/13/2017 Good as in above average, having whatever it takes to make such a writer worth reading in comparison to other writers). That is, those muscles include things like thinking metaphorically, being able to find and make complex patterns, being able to imagine scenes and sensory items, and a desire to create and share emotive things. Writing is just putting those things into words and different arrangements of words and different arrangements of arrangements of words.

Both parts can be improved by learning and practice, but it helps if either one comes naturally. I think the strengths are probably more important because it’s those things that will make the writing worth reading (think Harry Potter).

But I guess, if I were in my right mind and not worried about not being a “writer,” I could have seen that. I never wrote growing up—not exclusively. I tend to go from thing to thing. I like learning new crafts.

11/22/2016: On Ambition

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m worried about being a good writer. Or really even just being “a writer,” as if it’s some special breed of human. Indeed, it seems like most articles raise them up, along with other artists, to a pseudo-deity, much the same as celebrities. It draws all my ambition.

A godly man would view fame and wealth as all but worthless—at least for the normal reasons I pursue them. Tolstoy did, but only after discerning their worthlessness from experience. They are utility. Reach more people. Help more people. They carry the responsibility of the Talents, much like my education. Without these, they are merely the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is as much an idol—identifying myself as a writer—as identifying myself as, or making myself, a good person was in the past. I take the question “Who am I?” as impetus for becoming praiseworthy. But such is the flavor of my sin nature. And it seems that, like in my character perfectionism, God has forbidden me from attaining my desired identification. I fall into intense insecurity long before I succeed. It is my Babel Tower toppling. Baal failing to light the fire. God disallowing me from feeling independent of him.

And just as in the case of wanting to be and know that I am a good person, being and knowing that I am a good writer are bound by God’s will and thus dependent upon his grace, just like the toppling of the tower. That is, God could let me continue to build my tower. He could let me succeed. He could let me take credit for it for the rest of my life, just like he does for so many successful persons (according to worldly standards). But in grace, he reminds me that I am indeed dependent upon him. And not only does he remind me, but in grace he gives me belief. That is, if he does. I cannot force his hand in this, else it would not be grace. I cannot manipulate his timing. I am helpless to change my independent assumptions, and therefore all of my motivations for things that accord with independence, by myself. These things usually involve some measure of personal greatness: christian character, artistic skills, creativity, intelligence, good looks.

A few thoughts:

First, I don’t have to know that I am a good writer to be a good writer, even though I imagine it would help in determining my vocation. I say this because I feel particularly down at the thought that I might not be good—a product of my insecurity at the moment. But I guess this is just me trying to reassure myself according to that same system (of being a good writer). At the same time, perhaps I just want to know what the best use of my time is right now, and I assume that the best use involves doing what I do well (or the best). But I wonder if that’s the best criteria for choosing what to do. In and of itself, choosing to do what we are best at has little value. Choosing to do what we do best in order to help people has merit, but of course such purity requires character, which requires grace. But perhaps choosing to do what God has put before you is best. Or perhaps my worry about what to do involves another fear—what if I choose the wrong thing to do? Just another branch of the insecurity vine. In any case, I cannot outignorance or outevil the sovereignty and goodness of God. Choose what is in my head and heart to choose.

Second, there is a measure of clear-mindedness in spite of the fear of not being a good writer to determine that I am at least good enough and interested enough to pursue writing. Such has been the conclusion so far, though the fear persists. Again, it seems like I just want to assure myself that writing is the best path. It may be. Why I want to assure myself of this—perhaps because of my insecurity. See above.

Third, all sanctification is by grace through faith. Being a good, loving writer—the goal worth having—is by grace through faith. Trusting God and being humble (contra insecurity) are also goals worth having. And in God’s grace, he may topple my tower of writing well (agnostic of love) in order to teach me writing in the slums. Or he may forbid writing altogether. It’s up to him, and it’s good.

I want to write well primarily because of ambition (right now anyways). I have not wanted to write well to enhance my ability to reach people, to build the world—at least I have not noticed that motive. I believe that desire is in me, but it takes second seat to my pride. Tolstoy moves from the first to the second as well: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/16/leo-tolstoy-purpose-diaries-youth/ and https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/11/20/tolstoy-on-motives/

If this will change, it will be by grace through faith.

And in the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep writing. Until the next time God topples one of my towers.

If I end up being a professional writer, I wonder if I will always bounce back and forth between purer motives and ambition.

I was reminded that Lewis wrote about what tempts me. I think it was in The Great Divorce. He wrote about the artist who became more enamored with the craft of painting than about that which he painted, though he was initially interested in painting because he wanted to capture a bit of the beauty he saw and share it with others. While reading those articles on Tolstoy, I realized that I have become fixated on the craft of writing—I imagine because I believed it to be the quickest route to praiseworthiness. But the sincere writer records himself, not just his skills, not just his interesting thoughts. He records his emotions, and so his values, his beliefs, his struggles, his flaws. And he shares himself with the world. He connects with it. Perhaps in hopes that he can help it along its way. Perhaps also in hopes that it can help him. Or perhaps just because he’s part of it, and our grand design is to proliferate, to create, to cultivate, and he wants to contribute to humanity’s effort toward this end. I think it was realizing that I have failed to do this that my insecurity began in this episode. I failed in this regard, God made it obvious to me, and I fell apart, having come to depend upon being a good writer rather than upon God. I sell my loyalty for trifles.