3/15/2017: On Success

If artistic success, and indeed Christian success, is not measured in dollars, then what is success? What would success be for my pursuit of writing?

A life of love is a success. A life spent, poured out, in service to God and others. And what does that look like? It looks like quality relationships. Dialogue. Humility. A corporate and cooperative search for truth. It looks like learning, like recognizing failures and doing what I can to make up for them. It looks like depending upon grace and extending that same grace to others.

Art is the same. Art pours itself out in service to others. It works to heal wounds. It encourages. It questions wrongs. It seeks what’s right and invites others to do the same. It stands before others in vulnerability, asking to either be part of their lives or to be set aside or to be demolished. It relates.

Thus artistic success is using my craft in relation to—in relationship with—others. And not just to the nameless masses—that plumb-line of success I tend to follow and I think that much of the world around me tends to follow. It is in relation to others in the same way that I am called to relate to others in all of life. I am called to love those who are in my sphere. If I abandon those persons in my sphere and seek to share my work with other spheres, where does that leave me? Surely not love. My desire for other spheres couldn’t be a loving one, given that plenty persons exist in my current one.

Thus my art should begin with persons I know. And it probably ends there, too. But I haven’t developed in my understanding that far, yet.

And if success isn’t measured in dollars, how do I make enough money for my family and still art? Do I just jam it in the cracks, like after the kids go to bed? I guess it depends on whatever time God affords me. Right this second, I have enough time to write freely. At least for the moment. After this, I don’t know. (2/20/2018: Not anymore I don’t. I’m currently pulling the cracks as wide as I can and cramming it in there.)

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2/28/2017: On Earning A Living

Sorry. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s been super busy.

I wonder if we approach commerce from the wrong direction. I write, or whatever it is I do, to give, to love. What recompense I receive is also someone’s gift. That’s the interdependence inherent in love. And in this way a community should function. I realize this is not the way of the world, it having fallen from love into karma. But God hasn’t fallen into karma, and God still steers the thing.

Thus I shouldn’t think of it as “How can I make myself deserve to be paid?” but rather “How can I best give?”

The natural question that arises, then, is at what point do you make a living? Or how do you provide for your family?

(2/12/2018: I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out what I was saying in this next part. It’s been so long since I’ve posted that it’s been a good reminder about the purpose and guidelines of these posts. But I figure this is a touchy-enough topic that I should probably try to figure it out.

So perhaps I refer to the precedence of grace before action and to us being called to good work without being able to control grace—something about the dependence inherent in faithful work and thus the disconnect between a faithful, dependent worker and a goal corresponding to independence. Or I may have had a couple ideas rolling around in there.)

This seems similar to me to the question of grace and faith. If salvation is by grace and grace alone, at what point does a person act, or respond, as it were? At what point does a person have faith? And in the case of present salvation, or sanctification, at what point does the person take action? There seems to be some kind of disconnect between cause and effect. I wonder if the answer lies in my misconstruing the effect. Is salvation the properly desired effect of faith? Of good action?

Doesn’t the faithful person already assume salvation—that is to say, dependence—and in his godly dependence seek primarily things other than what the so-called independent person still requires? 

Is earning a living the properly desired effect of giving to others? I suggest no. And I think my adherence to the question is symptomatic of my so-called independence.

I remember hearing something from someone at some point that went something like this: Give, give, give, and if you happen to get, give that too.

The focus isn’t on not having. I’m not an ascetic. The focus is on giving. And I think we have enough correction by way of Jesus on receiving. That is, don’t depend upon it, for God takes care even of flowers and sparrows.

What about one’s family? Surely providing for others is a gift, and we work in order to earn those things that others need to survive. Yes, but money is not all. There are things more important than money. For instance, learning to give. Giving alongside you. Serving others. Depending upon God. All of those things are more important than merely possessing.

And that term, earn a living, is just wrong. Earn, as in karma. A living, as in those things that make us alive. How graceless and anti-metaphysical is that? As if food and clothing and housing make us alive. As if breathing, alone, is living.

Further, how often does the term actually mean to earn indulgence? We’re on the escalator of indulgence—our horizon of living goes up with every notch of the crank.

Of course we should try to keep breathing. God gave us life, time, and it’s best spent with care. But to what end? To indulge? Or to give?

Thus, we breathe to give. We keep breathing to keep giving.

2/27/2017: Local Writing

If you can’t love the persons already in your life

Not that getting to the place of writing to the masses is the thing to pursue.

Love those who are in your life, and you may be given more persons to love, like the parable of the talents. But because you love—because you aren’t just wanting to be loved by the masses—you will think of the masses not for fame, like you tend to think of them when not loving, but as recipients, as companions. In loving those available to love, the prospect of more persons is only a reward insofar as the scope of your love increases. Celebrity is not the reward. Expanded love is. Or can be. Some persons are called to love from prison cells.

It’s the whole issue of wanting to be good all over again. I wanted, and still want sometimes, to be good because it will secure me as being what I believe is praiseworthy. But actually being good results in not caring about being praiseworthy. The method of achieving your desire robs you of your desire (thank God).

So I should write for persons already in my life. Art is a means of communication, of dialogue, of relationship with others. So my art belongs to persons I already know. These are the recipients of my love, thus they are the recipients of my writing.

That’s not to say that I can’t write to persons I don’t know. Just like I can introduce myself to a stranger at a business conference, teach a new class in Guam, help a missionary I’ve never met before… The scope is one of spheres. Who’s in your sphere, and who’s at the edge of your sphere, and who’s outside of your sphere? And with things like Twitter, where you can, to some extent, connect with just about anyone, spheres are versatile things.

I have already thought about writing vignettes for persons in my life. I could also just write letters. I don’t have to stick to fiction or to poetry. I could even write something for different persons I admire or follow through Twitter.

Also, I have been asked to write a devotional for my church. That’s a big duh. “Hey will you love us by writing for us?”

Another thing I should note. I’m an introvert, which means a few, deep friendships. That’s not to say I can’t interact with many persons, but I shouldn’t expect myself to just go crazy and write love letters to every one of my Facebook friends. I have a friend who’s just writing a bunch of funny nonsense on his feed. It doesn’t really seem directed at any one in particular, but at the same time, it’s for no one else but those persons on his feed.

2/21/2017: On Celebrity

First off. Yeah right. Get over your anonymity, Patrick. The shadow of success ever keeps you dependent.

But if it did happen. Doesn’t celebrity, at least to some degree, mean that you match the world’s idea of what’s valuable to consume? And doesn’t the world typically want to consume those things that are not good? So wouldn’t celebrity be an indication of your valuelessness?

That’s cynical.

Plus, that kind of goes against my ideas about being able to seek truth and beauty and the like alongside the world.

But there is a difference between media junk food and thoughtful material. The former is usually considered celebrity-worthy, but not always. Tolkien and Lewis are two thoughtful examples that are also widely praised. They just happened to be both—to have something good to say that also appealed to the masses. Of course, the latter only matters because it increases the range for the former to travel. Tolstoy, or maybe it was Dostoyevsky, talked about that.

What about “Christian” celebrity? Chris Tomlin. Ann Voskamp. Mark Driscoll. Have these persons just fit whatever standard Christians have set for what’s acceptably junk-foodish?

2/19/2017: On Twitter

Most of my follows are persons who follow just to get follows. I have one friend (with whom I speak regularly) who uses Twitter. The rest of the persons I follow are news outlets or blogs I like or writers or friends who don’t really post but whose posts I would read.

I won’t play the follow game. If I follow 30k people, my feed won’t have anything worth reading. Just self-promotion. I will lose my “curated content.” Likewise, all who follow me will be persons who don’t want to read my stuff but just want to self-promote. No thanks.

I want my social media interactions to be… interactions. Not screaming into a screaming crowd.

The connections I make should be relationships, as far as I’m able. Even if it’s the relationship of the artist to the reader, as is the case with so many content creators that I follow. The same would be the case for anyone who followed me who actually wanted to read my stuff.

I don’t foresee making friends on Twitter, but who knows. It’s difficult enough for me to make friends, given the time and temperament required for me to feel comfortable enough to connect. I require extended conversations, really.

At the same time, there is a benefit from having a public-facing outlet. For one, it helps desensitize me. I will continue to be afraid to be myself openly if I never engage with potential readers. It’s similar to sending work out to publishers. It’s good for me to practice public authenticity and transparency.

Twitter also gives me an opportunity to relate with others in an interesting context and often over interesting topics, even if it’s just in passing. I don’t think the focus in these interactions should be in gaining followers or even being heard for being heard’s sake (in fact I don’t think this should ever be the focus), though that’s the temptation (the reason for which, I suspect, is because followers masquerade as proof of legitimacy). As is the case for all human interaction, the focus should be the interactions, themselves, or the mutual effort toward other interactions. It’s just love: the commandment par excellence, the seminal commandment, the single guideline of all work. The interactions, and to the degree possible, the relationships—they are what’s important. If someone happens to want to continue interacting, great. If not, great. It’s like a giant room of persons, you wander to different groups, contribute to the conversation from time to time, maybe find someone who has something interesting to contribute from time to time. It’s all about the interactions, not about the followers. (10/18/2017: The focus should be on the persons, and the interactions serve as the bridge between them and me. I do not mean that interactions matter more than persons but that my continued interaction with persons matters more than gaining followers.)

And what interactions matter but real interactions? Mutually wanted interactions, wherever you can find them, or at the very least, polite ones.

Twitter has its limitations. But it’s like Instagram for writers. Post a quip instead of a squared photo. And it’s the smallness that makes it accessible and casual enough to facilitate interactions. Maybe not conversations, though. Which is where links and blogs come in.

2/9/2017: On Whimsy

I’m reading Harry Potter. And perhaps the thing I like best about Rowling is her whimsy. Now, the temptation to emulate someone I like is fairly standard and something I am aware I should generally avoid. But I think something needs to be said about feeling free to be silly. I don’t have to be so serious all the time.

I’m almost always silly with persons I love. Either silly or surly. Sometimes just sarcastic or ironic. But rarely serious, unless I have been moved to be such, and then only insofar as to communicate that thing about which I am serious. This of course doesn’t include times I am afraid or angry—those are the times I get quiet.

When I write, it’s often as if I’m anxious or angry (I imagine the former). My humor finds no place. I focus more on “what I should say” rather than writing recklessly. I’d rather write recklessly. Joyously. Playfully.

But I imagine it comes with feeling comfortable and free in my communication to others. And I imagine this will come in time. I have written about writing being just another form of dialogue, another aspect of relationship, and I still believe that. And like any relationship, comfort comes with time. And with comfort comes silliness.

Which is more reason to write publicly every chance I get. Not only will it help me break the ice, but I will practice and learn all those other things that I need to learn to be a good, godly person-who-writes. This also includes the other things I have started. Everything that gets me interacting with people.

But at the same time, I think there’s merit to making an effort to let loose in my writing. Much more so than holding back. So I’ll just have to add this to the endless and impossible list of things to be mindful of in my day-to-day, moment-to-moment.

I found this effort helpful during “Fettered Fett,” for my writing class. It was fun, and it only came after I clustered and ended up with the bubble “Write what you like.”

Perhaps I can start making an effort to write fun-ly during my warm-ups, for starters. But I suppose I should at least cognitively make this an option while working on my book.

At the same time, I do have serious times that are not anxious. When I’m moved by something, I communicate to others about that thing, and I do so with emotions pertaining to my being moved. I often write about things that move me, and it’s appropriate to do so not whimsically. But I think there’s a  problem if all I ever write is serious. Such would seem to indicate that I only care about writing those things that move me and not any of the “lesser” things that occupy so much of my in-person time.

1/31/2017: On Productivity

I just read this: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/02/22/henry-miller-on-writing/

Miller echoes much of what I’ve read elsewhere. Namely, don’t write according to “Do I want to write right now?” Write according to a schedule or system, what he calls a program. Professional writers don’t wait around for inspiration—they work, and all that.

To some degree, I have done this. I did it more so when I was working on my first draft, when I could set a daily goal (2000 words). It’s more difficult now. I suppose I could set time periods. But this is difficult given that I write only when there’s nothing else to do. Writing always takes second seat. But perhaps this is better than the flip-flop I’ve been slipping into. It’s also more difficult to devote two hours a night to it, after having child #3. And I write better in the morning anyways.

My upper standard is to always work. Always be productive. And most of all, work on the book. My lower standard is just to avoid those things that addict me, like video games and movies. Somewhere in between are things like what types of productivity are acceptable: honey-dos, chores that I have to do anyways and can’t do when I’m at home, learning of various kinds. I’m sure there’s others.

But sometimes, like right now, I get afraid of my book. I’m not sure what it is. Probably a fear of sucking at it. Or maybe a fear of fear. And at those times, I slack off by finding other productive things to do. And perhaps as a result of feeling like I’ve failed my standard, I just want to slack off more and more until I want to slack off by hanging around social media.

I’m not sure if that’s really the answer. And I think it’s better if I don’t fixate on finding it. I have a feeling I just want to get my work right because of some level of idolatry, when I should be depending on God for whatever character and productivity are good. More than that, I should work toward loving God and others rather than meeting whatever level of work makes me feel good about myself. The goal is to write for others. Not for me. To serve others always, including when I write. It’s just an aspect of life.

Slacking off, avoiding that work, is not loving at all. I should write that again. Slacking off—vegging—is a lack of love toward others. Even productive things that I take on but do so to avoid loving others (looking for a house too much is a sign of this attitude; looking isn’t bad, but looking only as a way to avoid serving others is, like cleaning the house when I should be playing with my kids). Only acts I carry out in order to love others fall into the same category as loving others in my writing. But since I am convinced that I should find what ways I serve best, and since I think writing might be one of those ways, writing comes first, as far as I can make it, until I find something else that fits me better.

What about rest time? Akin to a Sabbath? It was instituted not for vegging but for true rest. Refreshment. Rejuvenation. Vegging doesn’t accomplish that. What does? Prayer. Reading Scripture. Taking in good lessons. Good conversations. Manual labor can even help one accomplish these.

What about books? Good movies? Documentaries? Things that challenge me. I feel like those would be kind of like learning, kind of like dialogue. As long as I don’t use them to veg, to avoid service. And perhaps time allotment serves this function best.

And while I’m at it, it seems like this first book is as much about learning how to be a writer (and artist and member of humanity and dependent-on-God and father and husband and IT guy and house owner and goodness what else…) as it is writing a novel. I’m kind of glad I didn’t get into writing when I was younger. I would have ruined it with the same immaturity with which I ruined music. Not to say I’ve reached the goal, but I am clearly more mature than I was.