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.

1/25/2017: Writing as Living

Writing is just living. Trying to do what I can to love others. Its success, if it can be called that, is not in how many people respond well to it. Its success is the same as asking “Is it a successful life?” And what is a successful life but a good life, and a good life but one that comes from the life giver, from God? One that lives for God and for others? That is a good life. And thus, that is good writing. To write for God and others. To write with 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: 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?

12/12/2016, 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.

12/8/2016: 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