Housekeeping

 

 

images

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i don’t think of myself as a perfectionist. i’m too off-the-cuff to worry about perfection. i do tend to think of myself as an idealist, though, and i feel that this has played itself out in an interesting way on this site. For the most part, i have no desire to ever write anything that isn’t in some way artistic. i want each post to be revelatory, insightful, incisive if necessary, droll where appropriate, poignant where pertinent. Thus i have largely steered away from writing about the day-to-day occurrences of my life, and though i certainly don’t mean to impugn the work of those who do specialize in this particular diarial brand of writing, it has never been a strength of mine. My tendency instead is to think that, frankly, no one gives a d__m about the particulars of my everyday life. i do not live a tremendously exciting or interesting life, especially lately. Don’t misinterpret this for a gripe: i am thrilled that most of the artificial excitement of the life in motion is behind me, and grateful that God has seen fit to enable me to lose the gravity with which i once held certain more adventuresome habits in orbit. Most of my life is fairly repetitious at this point, fairly mundane, fairly ordinary, and i am quite happy about it. i do not travel to unique places, i do not often meet new people, i do not seek out new music, i do not seek out new life and new civilizations. All of this is absolutely alright with me.

This lifestyle, however, has not been a kind muse of late. Not only has inspiration been somewhat nonexistent, but time for writing for pleasure has as well. So in reaction to this, partially as an exercise in disrupting this natural bent, i do want to talk about one of the latest developments in my life, because it might be an experience from which other writers could benefit.

Somehow, through a rather diligent search and no small measure of God’s generosity, i have managed to land my first professional writing contract. i do not tell you this because i want pats on the back, because believe me, the writing is hardly commendable, i am sure. i do say it so that anyone who reads this would know two things.Ffirst, if you are a person who has enjoyed this blog (and i hope you are not reading it if this isn’t the case) then know that it is not abandoned. i have every intention of keeping it alive, albeit this may be via life support for the time being. Although it is an exciting and challenging opportunity for me, my moonlighting is demanding a fair percentage of my time, so i am rather focused on it right now. i shan’t be for long distracted. It is nice for my writing to be functional, utilitarian for once, for someone to be able to use it in a marketplace transaction. But it is not where my heart is, ultimately: my heart is here, peeling off layers of sin and falsehood from my ragged soul, exposing the lies and guilt i have carried in my innards, and testifying to God’s grace through (possibly insert: “attempts at”) more artistic varieties of writing. i am hopeful that this will be a reality again soon, and already feel an unspeakable draw back toward this site. It it the way i feel upon seeing the face of someone who i think i know from years past, but can’t be sure; the way i feel when a piece of music plays that i had once played, but now do not know the stops.

The second reason i bother to tell this story is as a simple encouragement. Most of my readers are also writers, and many of you perhaps long for the day when something like this will fall into your lap. i only want to testify that it can. i do not promise, of course, that it will, but if it something that you are seeking feel free to ask any questions and i can tell you how i went about it. Again, i do not want to romanticize this. It is hardly winning a Pulitzer; it is hardly even good writing, at this point, i am sure, but it is a step toward those things; it is a step toward writing becoming more than a hobby for me. i am struggling a bit with word choice and tone here (clear evidence that my writing is, as i say, not really very skillfully done), but the larger point is, there are opportunities out there. Certainly not all of us will be able to follow our dreams professionally, and as i say, this is hardly “following my dreams” at this point. But one of the main reasons that people, and especially writers and artists, do not succeed is because they just don’t try. So more than anything, if you desire it, seek it. You may or may not find it, but at least you will not regret having made decisions out of cowardice and fear. These have been the impetus for many of my choices in life, and as most of you know, many of the choices i have made in my life have been rather poor. Thank God He has seen fit to redeem those decisions and lavish even more grace upon me.

***

Check yourself (you know the rest)

***

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

 

some thoughts on productivity

Unknown

***

Not sure that i have ever felt quite this way before. i am profoundly stricken today with the sense that i have done something wrong, or at the very least, exorbitantly wasteful. i took the day off today, partially because i could, and partially with the motivation of spending the entire day writing. i have done this once before, and had a highly productive day. Such was not the case today. i struggled all day to get into a groove, and wound up accomplishing very little on the writing front, nor did i even manage to do any reading. i am left wondering if there was a certain threshold that i failed to reach. Was there a magic number of words that would have made a day off “worth it?” If there was, i didn’t make it there, and now that the day is nearly over, i am quite disappointed in myself. Now i know there will be responses to this with the character of encouragement or empathy, but that is truly not what i am fishing for here. i am not, in fact, seeking a response at all, merely musing on my own inability to be disciplined. If nothing else, i am merely writing this to have a sense that i have at least accomplished something today, and although that something is rather paltry, i am hoping that it at least assuages some part of the sensation of guilt at my own sluggishness. Count it a confession, to which no response is necessary. If you are reading this, consider it an encouragement unto discipline and productivity. i have lived today as if my time were infinite, and the result in my heart is rather strikingly sad. i pray that tomorrow God will grant me a more willing and diligent spirit, and though i realize that i have not “disappointed” Him per se, i have disappointed myself. These lessons are good, at times: they remind my heart that work is, in fact, a gift, a blessing. i pray this translates into a grateful attitude towards my work tomorrow.

***

Prometheus, i bid you come

Unknown

***

Maybe i just didn’t make myself clear. After all, asking for a “sign” could very easily be interpreted as asking for a “sine…”

Or maybe blogging just isn’t my thing. In fact i know it isn’t, ultimately. It’s not that i don’t enjoy writing. (“Enjoy” is really the wrong word, but i am at a loss for a better one. Perhaps i could insert “fight through laboriously hoping the reward is worth the effort while,” but that seems verbose.) To some degree, i am in intense rebellion against the online culture of blogging. i can’t get into the whole wandering-digitally-around-liking-miscellaneous-posts-just-to-get-traffic-on-yours thing. Or maybe i’m just bitter because my stats peaked in June and i haven’t gotten more than a sniff since then. That’s fine with me i guess, since it means i can write anything i want here and no more than five people will ever see it.

i have said all along that it wasn’t about the popularity to me, and truly it isn’t. But it is about impact, and right now mine is about as powerful as a pillow dropped into a pool of marshmallows in a low gravity soundproof room. i have a few suspicions about the root cause of this. First of all, i have definitely lost my fire a bit in terms of commitment, and with the overwhelming amount of posts out there if you aren’t doing it every day then you practically aren’t doing it at all. It’s not as if i haven’t wanted to, i just haven’t had much to say lately. Also, though i haven’t seen every blog that exists out there, i have seen quite a few and many of them are quite consistent in their approach. This monstrosity, on the other hand, is a bit of a wandering nightmare, thematically, stylistically, and creatively. Basically the net result of this is that one day you may stumble upon a jewel that speaks to you greatly, packed with wisdom and snippets of joy and inspiration, and you may impulsively hit the “follow” button. A week later either you are going to see nothing posted, and just forget to ever check again, or you are going to see some turd of a post that has nothing to do with anything, similar to this one, and you will quickly lose interest. How to make sense of a blog that has no consistent schedule, theme, style, or mood? One day a stream-of-consciousness rant, the next some crap about baseball, the next some half-thought-out poem that has the sharp edge of an anciently dull butter knife.

i’ve lost my way. (cf. Brief instructions) And as i said in my very first post, no one is interested in following someone who is perpetually lost. Looking back over my own posts, i am sometimes staggered at how much passion and inspiration and creativity i seemed to have in earlier months. i am not saying this equated to my blog being “good” per se, but at least it was impassioned. i was convinced, absolutely persuaded that writing was my calling, not just a hobby. Now it seems to have been relegated to the category of “things i do whenever i am bored with Facebook.” i suspect that these things come in waves, but i haven’t been doing it long enough to know whether or not this is true. i only hope that it is; that this is merely a wide low trough on the way to a sharp spike of inspiration and success, and when i get to that place i will look back and know that this time was absolutely necessary, that it made me a stronger, better, more dedicated writer.

i very nearly ended this post with a sarcastic quip, which might have met with rave reviews but if i am to be true to the mantra “impact not influence,” i am forced to admit that sarcasm does very little except make you sound like a mildly clever jerk. The truth is, the difference between my writing now and when i started is source. i started this thing as a project to tap into God and His purpose for me, and since then my commitment to writing (and consequently my success at it) has waned in equal measure to my commitment to being near Him. He is, after all, the source of all good things. My feeble human brain will only produce so many relevant pieces of work, if any at all. But if i am sourced in Him, if i am absolutely committed to being in and with and near Him, then if this endeavor is supposed to meet with success, it will. In several ways, this is really the lesson i have been learning lately, a topic which i will explore more thoroughly in my next post, which will happen later today. Or tomorrow. Or maybe next week or something. Dang, now i’ve gone and used sarcasm anyway. Can’t win ’em all, i guess. This one’s a loser for sure. On to the next, then…

***

Who are these jokers, anyway?

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Today the Baseball Writers Association of America had their annual vote for potential Hall of Fame candidates. Out of 37 candidates on the ballot, 24 of whom were on there for the first time, the BBWAA failed to elect even a single player. The prevailing issue at stake during today’s vote, and the controversy that will loom over many future votes for these and other eligible players, was the use of steroids. Many of the eligible players, most notably Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, are alleged to have participated in the use of steroids during their time as a player, so their accomplishments are in question.

I have no idea whether these players are guilty of PED use. What I do know, however, is that there was at least one person on the ballot whose character and performance has never been in question: Craig Biggio. Of all the players on the ballot today, he came closest to receiving the requisite percentage of votes, falling short by less than 7%. I suppose my question to the 32% who did not vote for him would be, “What in the dickens are you thinking?”

His stats speak for themselves. He was an All-Star seven times, often leading the league in multiple categories, including stolen bases, doubles, runs, and defensive assists, and consistently ranked among the top ten in many additional categories. He was the recipient of four Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards. Reaching the 3000 hit plateau is very nearly enough of an accomplishment alone. Of the players who have done this, only 4 are not members of the Hall of Fame. The first is Pete Rose, whose notorious gambling activities have rendered him ineligible. The second is Rafael Palmeiro, one of the more highly publicized players connected with steroid use. The third is Derek Jeter, who is not yet eligible because he is still active in the league. Biggio has numerous other statistical accomplishments as well, but no success is more notable than his refusal to participate in steroid usage despite its prevalence in the league. Granted, I may be a bit biased here: I grew up an Astros fan, and remain one to this day, despite the doldrums they find themselves in currently. But that does not make his accomplishments any less significant. Many, many times I can recall Biggio saying, “I just got out there and played the game the right way.” And he did. He was a selfless team player, even unto the point of moving to center field to accommodate the acquisition of Jeff Kent, not to mention being willing to literally “take one for the team” (he is second all-time in hit-by-pitch). He hustled, ran out every ground ball, was a clubhouse leader, and perhaps most importantly no one has ever had even the slightest inkling of a notion that he was a steroid user.

I can only guess at the motivations of the BBWAA voters, and of course each of the writers had their own reasons for voting as they did. The vast majority of speculation in the sports talk world is that writers wanted to make a statement about PED use in baseball with this vote. And they certainly did that. Many of the other eligible candidates did not even scratch the surface of the 75% necessary to get in. Bonds and Clemens both finished with about 37%, McGuire with 16%, and Sosa with only 12%. While I do applaud the integrity of the BBWAA in this regard, in my opinion, they missed a grand opportunity today. In an age sullied with accusations of cheating, failing to elect a man of exemplary character, a man who persevered through the age where many players around him were using PEDs to get ahead, is an absolute travesty. After all, what better way to send a message to cheaters than to elect on the first ballot (a rarity these days) a player whose reputation remains unsullied?

I have no doubt Biggio will find his way into the Hall of Fame eventually, perhaps even next year. I am just puzzled a little by the particular tendency among the voters to refuse to elect someone on the first ballot. After all, it is not as if his stats will improve from this year to next. So let’s get it together, jokers. You dropped the ball today. Next year let’s get it right.

***

trying to turn the tide

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in and out

we should be giving thanks

for this breath, even if we are using it

to do all this cursing.

***

i sure wish there was more happy art out there. It seems that every poem i come across on my reader (and mine are likely no exception) sound like this:

the twisted path of splintered shards

driving icicles, ravenous ravens, devouring

whole my scarred charred marred heart

Blah blah blah. It gets old. And again, i am not exempting myself from this. i am equally, if not more, tired of hearing myself whine about things in vaguely poetic form. Granted, pain is a very common impetus for art, and has historically produced some very good poetry, but it should by no means be considered the only source. True artists, of which i am not one, are able to express the entire gamut of emotions, including the ones we often think of as positive. In many ways, expressing joy or peace or contentment subtly and meaningfully through writing is much more difficult than expressing pain or sorrow. This is true for me, which is why i find myself only turning to writing when there is a darkness that needs revealing. But not only should i also be sharing moments of illumination and pleasure with others, i think ultimately i should be doing that much more often than the alternative.

***

i am sometimes prone to wagon-falling. Let’s see how long we can make this last. For the forseeable future, i am going to break out of the mold and follow the advice of saying nothing if i do not have anything nice to say. Let us hope this leads to positive posts, and not merely the lack of negative ones, and let us also hope that it helps me maintain originality and leads to sentences with less than two cliches in them, as the previous one had. If anyone cares to join me on this foolish quest to redeem poetry from the doldrums of gothic self-deprecation, i would love to hear from you.

i do not believe art needs to be wounded and limping to be good, and i also do not believe that merely because something is wounded and limping that it is good art. In fact, i think what passes for a painting of a rose in many cases is merely spilled blood, and is no more worthy to be considered art than children’s cartoons are considered theater. Bad art is easily masked by genuine pain. It is easily detected when trying to convey positive emotions, however, which might be why there is so little of this variety of art.

Let’s all do our part

chip in to save art!

If you like to write

then make something bright!

See? Terrible art is instantly recognizable when it’s happy.

Go out and write something grateful, something joyful, something that loves being alive. And if you can’t find this in you, then get up from your couch, put on pants suitable for the public, grab a light jacket just in case, go out your front door, lock it, and start walking until you see mountains. Then try again.

i am interested to see if anyone can muster this up. i am certainly going to try.

***

sucker pun

to hell with

doom and gloom

(get it?)

***

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.   – Phillipians 4 : 4 – 8

embers

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Recent attempts at writing, some of which have been posted here, have highlighted two very important facts in my life which i have been struggling to come to terms with over the past week. First, i have come to think, mostly because i feel like i am stumbling around in the dark as far as longer fiction is concerned, that i am probably going to need to return to school in order to effectively hone this dastardly evasive art. This is a bit discouraging to me, for a few reasons. i have done that a few times in the past and failed, and it seems a bit embarrassing to admit that i am considering doing it again, and also, though i know this is entirely irrational, i feel that i am starting to be too old to begin that journey anew. Additionally, i had rather hoped that i might be able to make a legitimate crack at vocational writing on my own due to what i felt was my natural bent. Obviously, these reasons can all be chalked up to pride. i am too proud to admit i need to study with those who have more knowledge and expertise, and too proud to start my education over. But that is precisely where humility steps in and sets my thinking straight. “When i have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner i admit this and go back and start over again, the faster i shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity) i do not know how i am going to proceed from here, but if i have any intentions of writing seriously and professionally, it is going to require more than mere talent. Ashamed as i am to confess it, my confidence in my abilities was roughly the equivalent of a man with a strong arm who can drive a nail into wood in one stroke declaring that he is going to build a house. Obviously, to the onlooker, the construction is going to require more than raw strength; even if that is a helpful place to begin, it is hardly sufficient to make one competent.

So clearly, my road is not going to be as rosy as i first thought, and may require not just a few months worth of kitschy blogs but genuine work and dedication. And this is the second fact about my life. Just the mere thought of going to school or studying for several more years not only causes my pride to bristle, but frankly, if i may confess, makes me want to chuck the whole idea. i am not sure why i expected it should be otherwise, and now that i am seeing plainly it surprises me that i ever had any other idea of what this would be like. But it obviously makes no sense to give up just when things appear difficult. No one who ever accomplished anything of worth did so without trial. in fact, it is only through trial that virtue or skill can be sharpened at all. i forget the original source, but i am relatively sure it is Lewis who asserted the following, though likely more succinctly and poignantly. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather that which causes us to act bravely in spite of it. Likewise, perseverance cannot be the absence of the desire to quit under duress, but it is the thing which compels us to go on despite lacking the will. Up to this point, i have not had to demonstrate perseverance or dedication, because i have just been popping out tiny nuggets of writing based on simple thoughts i have stored for months and years. But this is mere kindling: it will not burn hot enough nor long enough to warm us. At some point, once the fire is begun, we will have to step out into the dark and into the foreign forests to find hardwood, and this obviously involves leaving the comfort of the small fire we have already started. But if we do not do so, we shall only find ourselves in the cold dark that much sooner.

i am not sure how from here i will proceed, whether it be school or some other means of study. i only know that i will proceed, despite the fact that the odds may not be as highly stacked in my favor as i first imagined. Perhaps, this was what God intended me to learn all along.

***

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.  – E.E. Cummings

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.   – Winston Churchill

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”   – Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird

Holding Fast to a Sinking Ship

***

While scanning through the comments of another blog, i found what appeared to be a calloused remark. The blog, it should be mentioned, was comprised almost entirely of original poetry, which some of you may have noticed is also, of late, my preferred vehicle of expression. The comment was this: “No one reads poetry anymore. Write a real novel and get paid.” i am forced to wonder at the motivations of the commenter. Were they truly expressing a disdain for things poetic? Were they attempting to help the writer by telling a hard truth? And what precisely constitutes a “real” novel? Does this imply that somehow poetry is fake? i will first concede that his point is mostly accurate. A fairly comprehensive resource for writers, Poets and Writers (despite the word “poet” being of first prominence in its name) nevertheless lists only two literary agents in the US who are willing to accept poetry manuscripts unsolicited. In comparison there are hundreds for fiction. The poetry section in my local bookstore is comprised of only two shelves, one of which contains mostly duplicate copies of The Iliad, and is tucked discretely into the most remote corner of the store. i would be surprised if even the employees knew it was there. Nearby, there are multitudes of shelves for fiction, so many in fact that several sub-categories are more abundantly stocked than poetry, most notably, “Teen Paranormal Romance,” which itself contains three packed-to-brimming shelves.

So the commenter’s point is valid, to some degree, though it was made as tactlessly as possible. But it certainly exposes that there are at least two philosophies about writing. The first is this commenter’s position: writing is a business, one in which certain strategies are viable and others are not. It is not wrong, and not impractical, and truly if someone wishes to pursue writing merely as a means to “get paid,” then there are obviously genres that are lucrative and those that are not. Poetry being the latter.

But i do not tend to hold this philosophy myself, for a myriad of reasons. Primarily, i have never seen writing merely as a means to an end, which is, i believe, what this particular theory reduces it to. It becomes no more than a task we perform, lumped alongside countless other efforts from which our heart is detached yet we perform nevertheless because the period at the end of that sentence is a dollar sign. i also believe that writing is art, not business. Again, there are many varieties of writing that are business, but poetry is not among them. No honest poet (and frankly no honest novelist either) does what they do for the money. Certainly if it becomes possible to make money from one’s art then it does not make one disingenuous for taking that opportunity. But if it is the goal from the outset, then something has been lost, chiefly, the point of writing in the first place. i find that i do not write for what i may get out of it, but ultimately for what it may get out of me, and for what others may gain through my writing. This, i think, tends to produce ultimately better writing, and the mark of what is better is not measured by my bank balance. It is measured by factors as nebulous and mysterious as the art of writing itself: great writing is that which is inspired, and that which inspires. It is that which cannot not be written, because both the writer’s soul and the world need it.

The world needs poetry, even if it doesn’t know it. It is a form, though commercially unpopular at the moment, that has existed for centuries, and will exist for as long as people write. It is the only way, sometimes, that man can express meaningfully the stirrings of his heart, and thus i will press on. Though it may not enable me to “get paid” as regularly or as much as i might wish, i cannot give it up simply because it does not thicken my wallet.

Though there were only two shelves, the poetry section contained work by artists that have been dead for centuries. Homer, Shakespeare, the anonymous writer of Beowulf, all are immortalized on that shelf. No book in “Teen Paranormal Romance” was published more than ten years ago. And ten years hence, a few may still survive, but i have my doubts.

Money comes, and is spent, and then is no more. Poetry, good poetry, will remain, and generations and people for years to come, God-willing, will be reading it and gleaning from it. So write on poets. It is you, and not those suspect chroniclers of lycanthropy, who will be remembered, for it is you who are touching the eternal.

***

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  – Matthew 6 : 19 – 20