Category Archives: Inspiration

All for writing

So how was your Thanksgiving? Mine was a lot of fun. I’m really fat. Shouldn’t have eaten so much, but I didn’t want to worry about it. So I didn’t. I ate tons. My estimate was about 20,000 calories in just under 4 hours. It’s probably not a record, but it’s a small wonder I didn’t explode. Went for a walk afterwards and I definitely “ambled” better than usual…

But even in my chubby state, all the time I was wondering if any of it was usable for the book. It was a holiday; I wasn’t supposed to be “working.” But that’s always the way. Pretty much every waking moment gets scanned. It’s sort of always been this way—this compulsion to preserve everything. And even the things I know aren’t particularly worthy. Like this: These are cool characters on Word 2004. ❧ 龤 They probably don’t come through in html, but that’s not interesting, is it? No. That’s useless babble. It isn’t even particularly interesting. But…

But to me, that’s what good writing is. It’s like breathing, so natural and unchecked you don’t even question it. It’s impossible to write well if you’re thinking about writing well. We have to get past all the self-censoring thoughts and the idea that everything has already been said much better than we could. Of course it’s already been said better—in a way. But the way you would say it is also significant. Remembering that is crucial, and often the first task of writing. It’s a battle of continually choosing the self-important idea that you have something of value to share.

Your way of seeing and expressing familiar ideas is significant. That’s who you are, you little narcissist. And people love to see who you are, how you see things, your ideas, your self. They like to experience your insights because in everything is the reflection of themselves: the books they read, the screens they watch, the children they bear, the gods they serve. They want to see it all created in their own image, for their pleasure and edification. It can be seen as sinister and deplorable, or it can be seen as a beautiful aspect of human nature. We all live within the paradox: wanting to know we’re unique, special unto ourselves, but also that we’re not alone in the world. Someone else sees it, feels it, knows it too.

There’s the conflict that keeps me scanning my whole life for fodder. All of us are completely alone and yet we’re all made of the exact same stuff as everyone. It’s both our curse and our asset. Of course, we don’t talk about it on the page, but maybe that’s one of the benefits of blogs. It’s there—in our writing and our daily lives. Meaning is experienced through relationships, both in affirming and denying our individualities. And it’s experienced through writers’ eyes in the same way…

It’s all interconnected. And to me, it’s a beautiful, terrifying thing.

Thanksgiving as a theme

It’s a short week, so I’m going to be blogging only a couple times. I’ll try to make them count.

Chapel today. Can you believe I’ve been attending regular chapel since I started preschool. I’ve probably mentioned it. Not that I’m particularly proud of the fact, but I just like to remind people, in case my calloused attitude sometimes comes across. I really don’t mind it so much anymore. It’s actually pretty fun now I get paid for it.

Thanksgiving chapel today. The President of the Focus Institute spoke briefly on the original Pilgrims, who following that first winter when half of them had already died, they stayed and watched the Mayflower leave the shore. There’s a painting by George Boughton called “The Return of the Mayflower” silently depicting the moment and preserving it for history. I went to a private Christian school, so I know the great sacrifices our forefathers made to establish this country. But it was an excellent reminder to me of why we “do” Thanksgiving (besides the gorging, bickering, and football), and also of the power and impact of art, especially art that depicts a greater theme.

Sometimes I feel so coddled it’s pathetic. Comfy, I guess. And the worst part is that I aspire to be such a paragon of self-denial. Pppfffff! The truth is, I’m as “American” as anyone. It’s a real problem too, when you’re trying to write a book. You’ve basically got to throw out the television, Internet, Playstation, and whatever else you’ve been consumer-conditioned on. I’ve been given everything I have. God’s hoping it will wake me up, I’m sure, but I sincerely hope I don’t obscure the fact that while I’m “called” to do something as a writer and editor, I don’t think I’m entitled to it. It’s something I can never live up to, but it gives me purpose and hope and joy, even in my failings. You know what I mean?

But I think that’s kind of the point of Thanksgiving. It implies we have things to give thanks for—and someone to be thankful to. Gratitude requires humility, like just getting down on your face and saying, “God, you can’t know. You can’t know”—and just knowing He does know. Repentance is the same way. I want my art to be full of them both. Thanksgiving requires us to forget about present wants to focus on supplied needs. And it has the added bonus of removing the focus from ourselves—always a blessing for self-conscious, introspective word people. The more you practice the posture of thanksgiving, the better your art will become. I wish I could point you to chapter and verse, but in so many words, it’s there.

With this year’s election pundits in a tizzy to figure out what “bigger reason” there is for how so many Evangelical Christians were voted in, it’s fun to think of all those “values voters” leading by silent example this season to bend a knee to the One the original Pilgrims wouldn’t be persuaded to abandon. This fall, we witnessed the power of a voice in the face of the typical hopelessness, destruction, and despair.

This Thanksgiving, may we reflect the source of that power in our words—and our silence.

Revolution: True faith

I’m a Clark Kent editor. I’m really a writer. Know why? Because when I was in high-school, I read a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I didn’t understand half of it, but I experienced something I couldn’t explain. It changed me. I’ve had the experience more than once, and more than once with that book. I’ve had the experience with all the books in the right column at one point or another, some over and over. They are the books that convinced me to write. I was convinced to edit for an entirely different reason (and that’s a topic for another post).

I also write because I’m totally conflicted about life, existence, faith, and God. I don’t know how to live, let alone see or hear. I have no answers to teach anyone how to live. The fact is, when I’m writing, I often don’t even know if I’m getting anywhere, let alone saying something that could help anyone. I’m a regular story-teller and I don’t know how “teaching through story” really works.

I’ve heard it said so many times—I’ve even said it myself—that writing is inherently egotistical and selfish. Some say there isn’t much more pompous than thinking others are entitled to your opinions. That’s probably true. There’s a passion to writing that’s all about convincing others. For instance, Nina from work, my nemesis, the one who can’t handle reading Annie Dillard and Philip Yancey for our morning devotions because she can’t understand how they “can’t take anything on faith,” I want to write something to make her understand. And Carl downstairs who’s on the heart transplant list, and smokes like a demon until it seeps through the floor, and who tells me jokes about bathrooms and pirate’s testicles, I want to write for him. And Sheri’s cousin who is grieving her stillborn child after a 50-hour labor that produced only an emptiness that will never be filled. I want to write for her.

Do I write from a need to confront these people? And do I honestly think I have something to say to them? Their unanswerable questions, the pains endured, these are the very things that create my desire to write. What can I possibly be thinking? If I don’t write, will they somehow miss out on life? Will they not experience the world beyond what they’ve already experienced?

No, I’m not worthy, and yes, I am conflicted about my passion to write. I think it’s critical for all writers to be conflicted at their core and to feel that conflict and to nurture it. We can’t afford to take one side of things or take anything on faith if we haven’t first put it to the ol’ pen and ink test. Loving God with all our minds and working out our faith with fear and trembling, these are the things Christian writers have been called to. And probably for no better reason than that they’re more ignorant than most.

My 22-month-old daughter thinks I’m God. I see it in her face. The Bible doesn’t offer her the answers to everything she needs to know; I do. Her faith in me is unswerving. And that terrifies me and emboldens me all at once. But my powers can’t save her from disappointment. Her ignorance is not really faith, is it? Ignorance no more makes me God than saves me from my sin. Ignorance is death and want and starvation and lack of love. In many ways, ignorance must be the opposite of faith which is life, joy, and hope.

So what is the difference between faith and ignorance? How should I know? I haven’t written enough about it yet. Faith is the assurance of things unseen, and yet I could be assured of my own Godhood and be wrong. The Christian writer can never take the world on faith, but he must accept his need for faith every time he sits down to write. Do you see a conflict? She must never accept stasis, never stop at tragedy, but she must always be aware of her unworthiness and fleshy incompetence as a vessel of truth. Paradox? She’ll stand in the place others fear to stand and take the doubt and fear as common evils, but suffer along in her own ignorance, while speaking the Word in the darkness. These are inescapable mysteries that will never be solved no matter how much you write.

So either we’ve got a complete impossibility or inexhaustible source material. I guess we have to take our pick.