Fiction is a Fiction. (or: Fiction is History)

photo credit: Huffington Post


Let’s begin with a limerick, because they’re fun:

There once was a young man from Austin

who wrote stories one could get lost in.

But the actual cost:

‘Twas the plot that got lost

And his readers just wound up exhausted!

I have decided that, at least for now, I’m going to give up on writing fiction. There are a few reasons for this, but the most notable one is that I am really not good at it. This is not to say that I couldn’t be good, if I were to continue practicing, which I might do in my spare time, but I don’t think there will be much posting of fiction, at least on this blog. (Readers rejoice.)

My writing gifts (modest as they are) lie much more in the realms of non-fiction (read: short opinionated essays that require no research) and poetry, so I think for the most part I want to concentrate on these.

Fiction still appeals very strongly to me, but I have to confess a great deal of this appeal comes from the possibility of selling a work of fiction and reaping either financial rewards or notoriety. Neither of these should be goals of mine, at least not if I am writing purely for the sake of writing. If they end up being ancillary advantages, I wouldn’t turn them down, but if they are an objective, if they are an intent, then my work will be tainted, even if it ends up being well-respected. I have talked before about my feelings regarding bandwagon fiction, and though I am hardly alone or revolutionary in this outlook, I nevertheless feel that the perversion of writing (or the co-opting of it, perhaps) simply for the sake of financial gain leads to phenomena like this, and shortly thereafter what would previously have been called “romance” novels completely overwhelm the “Fiction and Literature” section at the bookstore.

I don’t want any part of this, and I do not wish to be a writer who succumbs to any emotionally dishonest trend. But let’s be realistic: I was light-years away from this objective anyway. The first step in making marketable fiction is to write something that interests people, and I haven’t done that yet, at least not in my fiction. But regardless, I want to at least nip in the bud the proclivity for sacrificing art, sacrificing the potential to make something truly meaningful, on the altar of success.

And just as a disclaimer, do not think I am of the opinion that all writers who have achieved a level of financial success or critical acclaim are doing something wrong. I am reminded of this verse, though it is perhaps only loosely applicable:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”  – Matthew 19:23-24

I think the same is perhaps true of people who are truly following a calling. Perhaps it is not impossible to remain artistically uncompromised following success, but it sure is freaking difficult. That’s why I don’t even want to start down that path at all. Instead, if you want to find me, I’ll be in the (pitifully meager) poetry aisle.





there is not very much room left in

this notebook now. (who uses notebooks anymore

anyway?) i have used it much for

various things; it is close now to filled, scribbled with inks of

different color, different density, different

viscosity i suppose, though i never studied inks

enough to know if that word applies. on some pages i was

taking notes in classes (the

subject matter of which i no longer need for my

profession), on others outlining books that i

never completed (in some cases

never even began), even occasionally dabbling in

drawing, though art was never really much of a

strength for me.


you read sometimes of some lost journal

found among the tattered belongings during the

post-wake post-media cleanout of some famous artist’s house.

Inside could be scribbled lyrics left sadly sans music perhaps; or the

manuscript of some great play that never quite

wandered its way to the stage; or even a passionate discourse on

some pertinent topic, like human rights or something

important like that.


this notebook is destined to be

no such journal. its sad white gyri are bloated full, their

contents distinguishable only by the mercy of

narrow blue sulci, deep cavities dark and secretive like

unexplored caves by

the shore of the

dead sea.


“write something today.

just…something. anything.”

this probably isn’t good, but i am out of practice. we shall see if that can change.


praying bernhard reimann was wrong


we’ll see how this goes. whimsy often betrays.



last night i was certain

that i wanted

some scorching black drink brewed

fresh and only for me


and when it was done and

all the grounds were coursed through and

all the oils and sacred secrets had been

sucked out i

poured it into a cup and

set it somewhere new, different,

seemingly benign


heat scores and

time wears and apparently

together they conspire to draw

rings in unsuspecting innocent wood


at last when

undeft fingers clumsily looped into

ceramic rings to

rescue planks of ancient trees it was

too late


and already carelessness had

spent its fortune on

making some mark that

no one but me would

ever see


i hoped, more

dearly than i hope that

euclid was right, and that five hundred

billion years hence no one


will have heard my name



it’s been a while. challenges are welcome. please, shout to the heavens the horrors of this poem. it will, in all honesty, be appreciated.

Stranger, and more beautiful


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.


some thoughts on productivity



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.


an episode of “survivor”





stopped at a light, on my way to

somewhere I wish I already was,

the curve of the windshield seems today flat,

like a muted television in a department store

tuned to some episode of

reality TV, while I am

shopping for something else-


nearby a woman sits cross-legged on

naked concrete median, packing

spare clothes in freezer bags-

she mumbles to herself,

taking inventory of her

ragged rugged pack, which

contains all that she owns-


in two dimensions

she laughs to herself at some joke that

none of us can hear-




at dinner my friend explains his

brother’s experience as a

cast member of this or that

reality program.

“Everything he said,”

he tells me, “was entirely

scripted. He is actually

nothing like that.”

We laugh and take small bites of

twenty dollar entrees.




the light turns green and

we all drive on. The flatscreen shows now

pristine white shopping centers, as if I

changed the channel to

programming I could understand and

think about later while falling asleep

in a warm bed-


Prometheus, i bid you come



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…


Underdogs Unite


I have never spent much time in the book of Judges. In fact, before recently, i would have been hard pressed to recite even one story from the book. In a way, Judges is one of the underdogs of the Bible. It is not oft quoted. Generally speaking, there are no artsy cursive-script pictures hanging in kitchens with scriptures from Judges. It is probably possible to have a very intimate relationship with God and the Bible without ever setting foot in Judges. But this is fitting, because as i have spent some time in the book recently, it seems to be a running theme therein that victory is not always for the strong. And though i didn’t see it coming, my perusal of the book has definitely enriched my understanding of the Word as a whole. Here’s why:

i have a tendency to err on the side of disqualification when it comes to service to the Lord. i look at my life and my past and see too much litter there, too much garbage and brokenness in my history, for me to be of use to God. And this is where Judges is a great affirmation to me. Even in the earliest days of the Israelite nation, God was already trying to guide His people to act in ways and follow precepts that, frankly, were just different, counter to the reason and logic of the world around them. Of course, this didn’t begin with Israelites. All along he had been using unlikely characters to further his designs. Abram, promised that he would be a great nation, was nearly 100 before he had any descendants at all. Sarah, his wife, was a barren woman before this point. Throughout the next few generations God is constantly using youngest sons and barren women to continue Abraham’s lineage.

He seems to take this to a whole new level in Judges. First off, the whole point of the book of Judges is that Israel was intended to be a land of which God himself was the king. They were to be surrounded by enemies with powerful kings, but were not to be a nation with a king, but rather a nation ruled by Judges. God intended to use this political structure to indicate man’s proper place before God, and to demonstrate this to the world. To drive the point home, consider just a few of the people he chose as judges:

Ehud – “a left-handed man.” (3 : 15) His left-handedness was significant because the right hand in Israelite culture was the royal hand. Consider that Christ sits at the right hand of God. Also, he was from a tribe, Benjamin, whose name means “son of my right hand.” And yet it was his very left-handedness that allowed him to be victorious. (vv. 15 – 30)

Shamgar, son of Anath – (3 : 31) Shamgar is not an Israelite name, and Anath was the name of both a Canaanite god and a Canaanite city. So by most indications, Shamgar was not an Israelite, and yet God chose him to aid His people.

Deborah – a woman. Need i explain why this is significant? In many cultures, women are still considered second-class citizens, and the effects of that attitude still echo in cultures where it has long been (at least according to law) eliminated.

Gideon – one of the few stories from Judges we are familiar with. In this case it is not Gideon but his army that God chooses to be an unlikely victor. He whittles the fighting force down from 32,000 men to merely 300, so that they would know it was not their strength but God’s that delivered them.


I could go on and on, because this theme does not stop in the Old Testament. God chooses a virgin and a carpenter to be Christ’s parents, old barren people to be the parents of John the Baptist. Jesus chooses fishermen and tax collectors for his disciples, some of whom go on to be leaders of the early church and powerhouses of faith and spirit-filled preaching, and none of it has to do with their personal backgrounds of learning or exemplary faith. He chooses a murderer antagonistic to the faith to be his messenger to the Gentiles, etc. etc.

The point is, i look at my history of sin and rebellion and depravity and hear a tiny malicious voice that discourages me from speaking about Jesus. They will never believe you. You are not educated enough. People will think you are crazy. You are not faithful enough. You should not be so bold as to brag about something you are not worthy of.

There are a hundred ways in which my doubting heart and mind twist these facts into excuses for being cowardly about the gospel. But when i read books such as Judges, i come to realize that it has nothing to do with my capabilities anyway. i am not being asked to convince anyone of the truth of the gospel. It is only the Spirit that can do that. i am only being asked to tell my story, and to tell Christ’s story, and tell them faithfully and truthfully. God will use my words as he will, as he uses barren women and bones and stones and virgins and rapists and thieves and murderers and liars and adulterers and a whole host of unlikely, impossible anti-heroes throughout history. What makes the Word believable, and thus the gospel as well, is not that everyone in it is perfect and acts rightly all the time. In fact it is quite the opposite: it is that everyone in it is broken and weak and flawed in some way so that by the end of it, it can only have been God who brought everything about. It can only have been God who turns sticks to snakes and raises people from the dead and stops the very forces of nature, and in my case it can only be God who makes anything i say land on fertile soil.

God is both capable and qualified, and that is all i must believe. When i start to worry about my own qualifications and abilities, then i am only getting in the way, blocking the view: eclipsing the one true sun.

i’ll step aside now, Father, and let you shine through. That’s all You were asking of me in the first place.


But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.   – 1 Corinthians 1 : 27

Powers (Richard and otherwise)


Richard Powers is arguably my favorite novelist. His ability to hybridize science and art and to weave such disparate languages into a unified whole is unparalleled. i do not think, however, that he is the greatest novelist living. He absolutely has the potential, but one thing stands in his way, i believe: himself. If you are not familiar with his works, stop reading this and go read at least three of his books immediately. Don’t expect to chug through them in a week either. Anticipate needing at least two weeks for each, as his language is thick and challenging and laden like no other writer i know. This is his greatest asset as a writer, but at times it is also his greatest fault. Many times his message is extraordinarily powerful and even necessary, and yet it is possible to find oneself halfway through a novel having no idea what it is about. His message has gotten lost in his craft. Gertrude’s advice for him would be, at times, “more matter with less art” (Hamlet, 2-2). {Side note – this is not intended as criticism of his work, as he is undoubtedly far beyond my level of expertise, and i will be extremely grateful if i can ever produce even one work half as brilliant as his worst.}

i have referred to this very phenomenon a few times myself, though not quite explicitly. (See Concision and micropoem.) Here’s the story: i have a novel that is sitting at about 20,000 words, and not a single thing has happened yet. It is 20,000 words of exposition that is still just introducing exposition. Perhaps novel writing will not be my calling, i do not know. But the point is this: as my writing goes, almost invariably so goes my spiritual life. Or rather, the converse is true. My writing is actually a symptom of my heart’s condition. And most often, that condition is verbosity. This stems quite simply from self-indulgence. It is not enough simply to be an instrument of truth, a channel for a positive message, my heart also needs desperately to be recognized for being that voice. Thus i add line after line of pontification to works that should otherwise be brief, and ultimately what i am attempting to say gets lost in how i am attempting to say it.

It was a message on 1 Corinthians 2 : 1 – 5 that reminded me of this today, and it was precisely what i needed to hear. In my writing, in my speech, in my activities, in everything i do, may i always remember that it is not me that needs to be seen or heard, but Him. For it is in His Word that the power lies, not in mine. There have been many instances lately where i have been tempted to use my craftiness to try to make the gospel sound appealing. This is incalculably dangerous. Firstly, because i am most likely doing this either out of self-preservation (so people don’t think i’m a kook) or out of self-love (so that people know i am super-knowledgeable), depending on context. This is obviously unacceptable. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is just unnecessary. The gospel is intact, and lacking in nothing, thus in adding to it i am really only subtracting. People are going to accept it or not based on it’s own merits, and this is how it should be, else if they have accepted what i have said about it instead of it for it’s own sake, then they have probably missed out on the gospel altogether.

Perhaps this whole exercise in writing has been an elaborate way of teaching me that no matter how crafty i believe myself to be, i am still powerless without Him. And if this has been it’s point, then i thank Him for the lesson, and pray that i will remember it this time.


And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom…so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.     – 1 Corinthians 2 : 1, 5

the pipeline: a confession


Some of you may have noticed (the five of you that are paying attention to this blog) that it has been a while since i posted anything. There is a very simple reason for this: i have had nothing to say.

When i first started this blog, it had been many years since i had written anything, and in that time i had learned many hard lessons. For years i had been, in a sense, filling up, and, as the title of this blog suggests, it was time to start pouring back out. i had been entirely a creature of input for a long time, and was bursting at the seams with ideas and truths and inspirations all of which transferred themselves onto the page (or the screen, that is) with fire and fury. But for the last week or so, the pickings have been on the slim side, and i have felt fairly tapped out. The cistern that in March was full to brimming was now poured out and dry, and there was not even a drop to be squeezed from its sparse and needy confines.

It is my firm belief that the physical realm teaches us a great deal about the spiritual one, and thus i do not think it an accident that in order to have energy to function and contribute in society we must do certain things, some of which are even somewhat unpleasant. We must eat, we must drink, we must care for our bodies by cleaning them and maintaining them with exercise and visits to physicians. These things are no accident: they are the world God has made. Had He chosen to, He could have made it so that these things were not necessary, but He did not. While i do not presume to understand His wisdom fully, i do believe that at least one reason the physical world is structured so is because the spiritual one is exactly the same. In order to have anything useful or pertinent to contribute to others’ souls, we must continually maintain the state of our own soul. And just as i have felt dead in my writing of late, so have i felt in this regard as well. i have had nothing to give lately. i have been extremely short on patience for sin, both my own and others’. i have been bled dry of wisdom, reason, understanding, love, and mercy lately, and being able to recognize this only heightens my disappointment about it, thus creating a negative feedback loop that is proving difficult to escape from.

Man is as one link of pipe: alone, he is empty and useless. Connected to the source, he then becomes an outlet for what flows into him. Connected on the other end, he then becomes fully integrated and useful, and what flows out of him flows immediately into those around him. It is only in this state of connectedness that he may be continually and newly full. Disconnect at either end, and it isn’t long before his is either learning but letting his knowledge dump out onto inert earth, or not learning at all and attempting to give to those around him without anything left to give. i have been in this second state lately, and i am realizing that it is not sustainable.

Again, the answer is simple: if i am dry, then i must return to the source of water. In this case, that source is Christ. It is no surprise, given the lack of time i have spent with Him lately, that i feel disconnected and disenchanted. And since writing pours out from the soul,  it is no surprise that i have had nothing to offer in that regard either.

i only wish by this post to accomplish one thing: to acknowledge that i have been running on fumes lately, and profess that i must return to the fuel source to fill up my tank. Heck, even that metaphor is ugly and overused, and demonstrates quite effectively that my writing is starving to death right now. i, too, am starving inside: i have given myself no reason not to be.

But fortunately i do not have to produce masterpieces every day for there to be a purpose in writing. In fact, it is probable that God may be glorified more when my own ability is faltering than when it is strong. Confessionals such as this may, in the right context, be actually more valuable than masterfully crafted pieces, because they are true and unpretentious. They are naked and vulnerable, and do not attempt to make much of little. They are content with being little. And that is why i write them: not so that everyone will see how expertly i have done something, but so that someone, the right someone, will benefit from it even if they are crafted rather poorly, as this one is.

Rambling done. i do hope that at least one person finds in my frankness some nugget of truth that resonates with them, and that by this we are all encouraged to remember how desperately sick and dry our souls are when we do not seek the One who gives us life.

In the spirit of 12-step programs everywhere: thanks for listening.


Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”    – John 4 : 10