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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2/27/2017: 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.

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.

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.