Category Archives: The craft

It isn’t about you

Recently, I met up with the Christian artists at the annual Image/Glen Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Greg Wolfe’s invitation to come and pelt him with questions concerning the new Creative Writing MFA at Seattle Pacific. Sheri, Ellie and I spent the morning driving down and after finding a place to camp, we drove up to St. John’s college and talked to Greg about the effort involved in starting a program like this, and the long time in coming it’s been in finally getting it pulled together and approved.

My main concern was whether the program would reveal the authors in my particular tradition—whatever it might look like. I recognize a tradition exists that consists of many dead and living writers. The idea is so basic, it barely seems to need expressing, but too many writers and artists today know too little about the history to which they’re contributing. I’m not complaining in some high-minded, “They’re-such-a-shame-kids-today” sort of crotchety way. In “Tradition and the Individual Talent” T.S. Eliot said, “the historical sense [is] nearly indispensable to any … poet beyond his twenty-fifth year.” Young geeks, we need to study the geeks who came before.

In books (and any art), the past is present. Good books—those you might call classics—are no older the older they get. And they build off of one another. When you have seen this, you can’t be content reading crappy fiction. Of course, you don’t have to work hard to find plenty other reason to be discontent with modern fiction. But this building happens in all arts and across disciplines. Movies borrow from music. Music borrows from painters. Painters borrow from books. Everyone can think of a favorite example of an artist/director/musician/writer borrowing from another. God started it—borrowing from himself. “Yeah, I say that dude’s alright. His rib might make a nice lady.”

The point is, if you want to be a respectable geek in your own right and not a fly-by-night, flash-in-the-pan, wanna-be-poseur, you gots ta pay respect where it’s due. That’s what my little “What to Read” list is over there. I’ve been influenced by these books in profound ways, strong enough to consider them a part of my foundation. There are many more, but these are books I recommend to others since I think they have such significant things to say. Their themes will never die. The spirit behind them will be forever young.

Hey, I think that might be a song.

Experience

Fellow self-proclaimed geeks, is our alienation unavoidable?

Is it a part of our “rite of passage” that every one of us must pass through this stage of only being able to create familiar and obvious expressions? Is it something we simply must pass through in order to realize our intelligence and talent, and stop blaming the Neanderthals’ jealousy and small-mindedness?

Experience tells me that most our opinions and ideas, former dreams and underdeveloped talents are just sad, pathetic pieces of dookie to the shining examples of beauty they will one day be. You’ll see my journey toward ddeper understanding on this blog because I think it’s okay that we’re all like this. At least it’s real dookie and not just unshared potential. Eventually it won’t be dookie anymore if we keep at it and accept it and move on. Whether we’re struggling over poetry, fiction, photography, film, paint, dance, basket weaving, or whatever, it’s a stage in our development and we shouldn’t shy away from it. Get it done with. Just don’t go submitting it to contests and publishers too soon. You simply aren’t the geek you will one day be. That’s fine. Keep at it. Soon—and probably sooner than later—you’ll have much more than the common clichés and familiar characters. Soon enough, once your technique has been developed and your geekiness sufficiently honed, you won’t be hounded by the same problems of being such an obvious, inexperienced geek.

Soon, you’ll be an obvious, experienced geek. And isn’t that like a hundred times better?

Story for story’s sake

Apologies for the quick post today. Haven’t much time.

But I found this post from Dave Long’s site (faithinfiction.blogspot.com) so intriguing, I couldn’t resist the chance to commandeer it and use it here. He’s talking about the state of Christian fiction, but he may as well be talking about the church, every Evangelical ministry in America, and anyone who’s ever picked up anything with a distinctly Christian flavor and sensed there was something rotten in Denmark:

“I hurt myself today, to see I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only that’s real…”

“All around gloomy guy Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails wrote that in his song, ‘Hurt.’ He’s on the other extreme of us, the guy who could use a shot of hope, a snug pair of fuzzy bunny slippers. We have to realize that we can become just as desensitized as Reznor if all we do is feed ourselves pablum endings. We need the good and bad. The yin and yang. The perfect sunsets and crappy, terrible days.

“We need, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, some folks to come to a bad end.”

Happy endings in your typical Christian fiction are emblematic of the smiling veneer that passes for Christianity these days. What is a story without truth? What good does it serve? What redemption can be found if it sacrifices reality for nice, neat, and comfortable. And what, for that matter, does any of our “thinking of things pure and lovely” do for people when to do it, we sacrifice relevance with the larger culture?

To write a story for story’s sake is to live your life in a such as way as to be truthful to the work and not sell out to the idol of comfort and tasteless “pablum.”

Greg talked about this in his editorial this month, which covered Paul Elie’s book The Life You Save May Be Your Own: www.imagejournal.org/current/editorial.asp.

The status quo can change, but only if you want it to.