All, magically resumes
With little discussion like a huge habit reshaping
Justifying the shortest gap of our deaths
Fiction has long been a part of my life. There have been books historically which i have read and re-read incessantly throughout my life. When i was a child and a teenager, most of these tales took the form of fantasy or science fiction. Even fancied myself a bit of a fantasy writer at one point, and i still feel as though i could set down a rather rousing epic if i put my mind and (more importantly) my heart to it. Some period of time into my early adulthood i started shifting my reading and writing interest to more “literary” fiction, whatever that nomenclature signifies. i have begun and left unfinished no fewer than five novels, having never caught sufficient steam or momentum, or perhaps having never had the requisite discipline, to see these projects through to completion. My reading in this arena has been, for a time, rather diligent at least, and there is certainly a tremendous and nameless appeal that the fictive voice holds in my heart. It is not out of the realm of possibility that i may at some point dig up from under the earth of time and business these efforts and breathe life into them anew.
Poetry has also competed for dominance in my aesthetic sensibilities, and though i have not quite had the patience to study it as thoroughly as i ought, there are still times when it seems that the only mechanism which will do a subject justice is the poem, thus as you can see i have written my fair share of them. Most of them are at the very least elementary, and some even go so far as to be downright terrible and asinine.
Recently, however, despite my traditional attachment to these slightly more artistic forms of communication, i have begun to suspect that perhaps my gift really lies in the area of non-fiction. i have never written very much of it, save on this particular blog, and even though the bulk of my posts here can be classified as non-fiction, they still feel fictitious, at least in the sense that they are driven by narrative rather than by research. i must confess i owe at least a portion of this suspicion to my wife, who first pointed out that she found my non-fiction to be my best work. Lately i have toyed with idea of working more exclusively in this domain, and it is starting to gain sway for me. i suppose what always steered me away from writing non-fiction was a lack of qualification. i am an expert in precisely zero subjects, save perhaps the subject of myself. But perhaps this is enough. Perhaps there is enough of a story in my life – and i suspect there is, not because i have lived a particularly adventurous or meaningful life, but because i have lived a particularly rebellious one – to merit its writing. After all, God has written a rather amazing story already, having provided for me time and time again despite my unwillingness to receive that provision. i think perhaps i will stay away from fiction, at least for the time being – God is, after all, a better story-teller than i will ever be – and stick strictly to writing about my experiences with Him and the recovery He has seen fit to mercifully bring into my life. Maybe in this, at last, after a year of dabbling in essentially every variety of writing and succeeding at none, i have found my calling. Time however, will tell.
The well-known adage “truth is stranger than fiction” has a less-familiar second clause, which i find even more profound than the first. “It is because,” Twain says, “fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” If you had asked me 30 months ago what i dreamed would be “possible” for the coming years, for my personal and spiritual life, for my career, and for my marriage, i would not have been able to even begin to guess at the current shape each of those elements has in my life. i believe that the purpose of writing is to provide insight and wisdom into the life of another, and by doing so, be a force for peace, for reparation, for reconciliation. Fiction gives us a certain view of truth through its exploration of possibilities, and poetry another through its propensity for ambitious metaphor, and both can provide some measure of universality, and thus each may, in part, accomplish the objective of establishing commonality. But God has written a truth, full and glorious, that no human word can sufficiently capture, and in my case, as it is for many of us, that truth is more compelling and more exhilarating, and thus ultimately vastly more unifying, than any story or device which we have ever conceived of or read. These stories, our stories, with all of their ugly and rambunctious and supercilious components, are the stories which people most need to hear. These are the stories that will heal, because ultimately they are not about us at all. Tell yours, and i will do mine.
i won’t ask
(this bag of
that i carry
on my back
only few meager
and is already
so i won’t
don’t need to
why you are
as long as
please just stay,
These words stumble out slowly, like 2 am bar patrons, steeped in a forgetfulness wrought by intentional neglect. Productivity is always the fruit of a well cultivated garden, and this one has gone unweeded and unkempt for weeks.
Watched a movie the other day (which is the lazy man’s reading). Protagonist was a 30-year old stoner who still lived with his mother. Believe it or not, this actually appeals to me: there is a certain muck of the effortless life that one can rest in, and though it is sad and empty it is also safe and unburdensome. On some level, it’s not as bad as it seems. After all, the struggle to find meaning perpetuates, whether one is by worldly standards a success or a failure. If you don’t believe me, read Ecclesiastes.
Rambling, i know. i’ll get to it soon. This is what happens when you don’t write for a while: your efforts become unfocused, undisciplined, scattery blasts hoping that what they lack in precision they make up for in force, unaware that in many cases, precision is force.
There’s some saying about idleness. Devil’s workshop or somesuch. Chicken or egg situation here, as i see it. Not sure whether idleness gives room for the devil to work, or whether he uses anxiety and uncertainty to produce idleness. “Produce idleness” is a stupid phrase, oxymoronic and imprecise. A month ago i would have cared about that.
The question, i guess, is whether idleness is the root or the fruit. This is always the question, with any behavior. My guess is fruit, since it corresponds to the assertion that productivity is also the fruit, although one could argue that they are somewhere in the middle. Branches or vines that carry (or, more often, don’t) fruit, dependent on nourishment themselves but not ends, not terminal. It makes little sense to think of productivity as a fruit, since by its very definition it must produce in order to be itself. But just as it is not terminal, it is not original either. i know this because my own has been deeply pruned lately.
Lots of things i could blame. Sleep. Work. Nice weather. Video games. It has been mostly a question of energy. I have put more into work lately, and God has seen fit for a time to bless this work with success, and my store of energy is not infinite. Not really sure how people manage to have hobbies, jobs, and children all at once. Seems to me that even trying to juggle two of the three is a mere impossibility, and for many of us even one demands more of our energy than we have. Nice weather prompted me to spend more time outside recently. Can’t argue that this is a bad thing, really. I’m pretty pasty if i don’t, and it has been my only relief from idleness.
Video games. Wish i knew what it was about these that appealed to me so strongly. i suspect it is the element of the vicarious. Somehow by being even more idle, even more unproductive, i can still experience the thrill of being a hero, eat from the gift-basket of dedication, all without ever putting on pants. In the last few weeks i have made 20 million dollars, won both the World Series and the PGA Championship, and slain at least half a dozen dragons. What have you done?
Company coming tonight, which meant last night was cleaning night. Somehow the cleaning itself is not only not miserable, but almost enjoyable. The hardest part is getting up off of the sofa and getting started. Once that mountain is climbed, the actual activity is mostly descent, a slow stroll down into a lush meadow.
We’ve given it the innocent, innocuous name sleep. i guess this is because rheum is too abrasive a term. My eyes have been full of it lately, and it takes an hour or two before i can get them clear. Calling it sleep distracts us from the fact that it is actually mucus, and an overflow of this into our eyes usually indicates that we are congested, even infected. No wonder we changed its name.
Waking happens in an instant, and yet not. I am awake now, and shaking the congestion. It will be sometime, though, before i can see clearly again.
Very nearly, I sunk. I went so far as to even write a send-off post. Some nonsense poem about plunging over waterfalls. Inspiration has been at a minimum lately, and writing has felt like a chore rather than a joy. It seemed like the only thing I could write about was how I couldn’t write about anything.
Perhaps it was a prayer I prayed a few days back, or the encouragement of my wife and siblings, or the chapter in Keller I read about the idol of success. Most likely it was some convergence of the three, some joint and collective energy that was strong enough to peel the scales from my eyes. God used these these things to show me that I had fallen prey to the allure of success. I awoke, as if from an unsettling dream, to the realization that my sole focus lately, the only factor driving me, has been my goals of publication, monetization, acclaim.
When I first started this, my stated purpose was to use my writing as a way to tell my story (and the occasional other story) in a way that was a blessing to other people. Somewhere along the way I started to believe something different. It started innocently enough: I had an idea for what I thought would be a killer novel. So I began investing resources in this project. I bought and read books on characterization, subscribed to newsletters about the craft and daily prompts to catalyze my efforts, mapped out the book in entirety, researched its themes extensively, and began writing and re-writing drafts of the manuscript. Before I knew it I had spent nearly a month doing this, and had paid almost no attention to my blog. Now of course, if my main goal is publication, then this makes sense. But where along the way did this, rather than impacting those around me for the Lord, become my primary goal? When had it become about my glory, and not His?
As any tree, when my root structure failed so did the flourishing fruit. The writing dried up, fell flat, stagnated. For months I was getting up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, reserving that time for the discipline of writing. For the last two weeks I haven’t gotten up at all.
Sin comes by degrees. Rarely do we falter by making complete 180s in our course. Most often it sneaks in by minute adjustments in our course. It is only when the net result of this slow turn is calculated, much later, that we realize we are drastically lost. It wouldn’t be so appealing, after all, if it was presented to us like a complete reversal of everything we value. But if, slowly and amblingly, we are turned ever so slightly each day by small fractions, by miniscule percentages of difference, then it can arise in us very easily, because it looks so deceptively like the thing from which we are turning.
I thank God for my wife, for my community, and for Tim Keller for helping me to see this in myself.
I may still write a novel someday, I don’t know. But it is crucial that whether I do or not, whether I am published in the New Yorker or only ever on my own blog, these things are not only out of my control but also irrelevant. I have not been called to a new career. I have been called to something more: to be a new man. And this requires my full attention. I haven’t time to dabble with such mud-pies-in-the-slums as fame or awards or publication. Christ is famous enough for both of us.
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. - Hebrews 2 : 1
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. - 2 Corinthians 5 : 17
not every thought is destined for
setting down firmly in
carefully selected words
trimmed and pruned for
devastating effect, growth,
titanic impact; and though they
cry out for enumeration, explication,
most will remain unspoken,
never leaving generating home — pent,
rapt, glued to muted televisions, slouching
permanently, sadly down on
overworn inadequate couches, and will only always
wonder what it might be like
to have a voice, to echo in
canyons and open spaces, to be
trapped by pinna, resonated by
malleus and incus, to shake loose
the untilnow passive fluids in
semicircular canals, and to at last
electrify in a cochlea, transmit through
axons and dendrites into web of
gray matter, and there translate into
the quickening pulse of
someone else’s heart –
Best i can muster right now. Forgotten but not gone. - r.e.w.
for no other reason than because i must, i begin writing (what i see, the content) lest atrophy and wither these muscles (digital, cranial) that scream out for use. he is awake next to me now, who so recently slept comfortably, unabashedly, in daylight and storelight, in the old musted likelynotcleaned bookstore chair. i cannot do this, midday as he: sinus and snore forbid the act, engagement bars the attempt. he though (now contentedly reading), fearless, qualmless, appoinmentless, scheduleless, can. i am fascinated, fastened as i am to wheres and nows and thingsimustdo. a sigh escapes him, and these can say wordless so much. might be it speaks of comfort: old joints, bones finding settlement, peace in worn and weathered upholstery. could it be post-work, post-effort, cramped lungs spilling out muddy and carbony, yearning to be oxygened, replenished again. or it perhaps is (as this is, this whatever, this thinkless, imprecise utter wander) a breathful, mournful expression of abject need: perhaps it cries of want, of frustration, of doubt, of hunger, an anxious heart expiring out, expunging in airy gasp a manifesto of whatwemustbecome. i, still clinging to last green branches of youth’s autumn, and he having long ago forsaken any claims to such: perhaps there is more between us than first i guessed. now, for no other reason than because i must, i entertain this philosophy (what i otherwise feel, think, believe allowed to peaceably die) lest develop and flourish these sensations (difference, solitude) that are, at root, lies made of earth: cold statues left from ancient craft of man, features worn by time and wind and all corruption, no longer suitable as works of art, unique, brilliant and new, but rendered now hideous and unintelligible, exposed by erosion for what they truly are: simulacra, stiff and grey and dead.
looking up from this i know i must reach out to meet, shake hands, introduce: but his eyes have closed again, lids drawn curtains shutting me out from domiciles within.
Each morning, almost without fail, i see here at the local shop at least one group of men meeting. Sometimes there are two, sometimes more. Sometimes they are older, sometimes younger. Almost universally however, regardless of background, motivation, economic status, or any measurable demographic, they are meeting here to encourage one another in the faith. i have never seen, to my knowledge, men meeting together intentionally to tear one another apart. It seems a rather dull and obvious observation, but whether or not we know it, men need one another if the walk through life is to be successful. Whether it is genuine psychology or just a popular conception, masculinity is often associated with rugged self-reliance and stoic independence. It is the woman, popularly, not the man who asks for directions when lost. i can say with no qualms that i don’t give a hang about common notions of masculinity. i need others in my life. Badly. On my own, i am pretty much inadequate to every task.
When i first moved to Austin, i left almost every friend i had behind in Houston. Granted, it wasn’t too long before i met a few people, mostly through work, but though i got along perfectly fine with them (when i wasn’t being a jerk), one cannot make life-long friends in a day. Those who remained in Houston had been my friends for years: we had gone to school together, and weathered many a storm at each others’ sides. Obviously i did not have this shared history with my new friends, so while for a season they were the people with whom i spent my time, as soon as my work situation changed, so did my friendships. I have changed jobs three times now since moving here, and the number of people from each of those previous jobs with whom i am still in contact is miniscule. it was a very long time before i began to develop connections that were as profound as they had been in my hometown, and when i finally did, i wasn’t even ready for it.
Recently, however, i have been living in quite a wealth of friendships, and interestingly it has only happened because it was not the objective. It is really no trick to make friends when all you care about is making lots of friends. It is another thing entirely for people to treat you as a friend even after you have been deceptive and hurtful to them. As many of you know, there have been some rather rough times in my life, mostly self-inflicted. i had many “friends” during those times, people who i saw every day, hung out with at every opportunity, people who i thought would be in my life forever. Almost none of them are still around. The people who are around, however, are not the ones with whom i was honest, with whom i was “myself” so to speak, but the ones i lied to the most. The ones who were most hurt by my actions. Those who have remained to help clean up the mess. And this is why i feel so blessed.
i have only gratitude in my heart for these few people, and for God’s placement of those people in my life. i would not be making it through this aftermath were it not for the support of my true friends, the ones who, for whatever reason, loved me in spite of my faults. They have truly shown me what it means to love others as they love themselves. It is no fault to be in need of brothers in this life, nor to admit that need. It is, in fact, a strength to be able to confess that alone we are insufficient. After all, the only thing in creation that God said was “not good” was for man to be alone. The next step in this process, now that i have been so richly blessed by others, is for me to smash that sponge dry; to take all of the love that i have been fortunate to soak up in the last few years and squeeze it back over those who gave it to me. Only then will they truly be my brothers.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10 : 24 – 25
fatigue that is
deeper than bones
in wiry old strength
last night’s snow. more is
delivered fresh each morning,
white, new, heavy with the
weight of ice and
hidden dust. on the private stage of
grey-blue sky, each crystal
dances its own path,
shaped in lonely ways of its
own choosing, its flutter
choreographed to some music
that he cannot hear. but once they have
settled, lain down, capitulated,
he cannot see their differences:
fused by melt together they
conspire to make obtrusive mounds.
they cannot now
in graceful repose recline
nude upon the finger, nor
dissolve deliciously on the tongue,
but are fit only to be shoveled,
displaced, moved from the path but
never eliminated, piled on the side,
lingering in sight as he passes,
coasting, sliding in his wake like
ancient icebergs silently back into the
treads left by old tires.
i was surprised
when i looked up “connectivity”
in the thesaurus
it did not list
as an antonym