Real Life or Nothing Like It

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I think blogging is about 4 times removed from real life.

Live is dimension 1. Writing about live is dimension 2. Typing on computer, bypassing hand to paper, is dimension 3. And typing into the little box to post on the web is probably somewhere down near 4 or 5. Even if we don’t just assume it loses a generation between every permutation, it does somehow seem to become less substantial with every step away from live. If we all lived our experiences and wrote our ideas out long-hand (rather than sitting in front of the little sanitized box on the blog service trying to think of what to say), wouldn’t that make the entries more “real?”

That’s one of the modern crises that makes Luci Shaw’s new book The Crime of Living Cautiously seem so important. Catch this thought from Chapter 7, “The Risky Adventure of the Unknown”:

As Jesus’ contemporary followers, we are offered two alternatives: to continue merely existing in the dull, assumed safety of what we think we know, a stagnant pond of sameness, remaining blindly complacent about our unfruitful, conventional (though still uncertain) little lives, or to dive into the unknown and unexpected, trusting God to carry us along on his rushing river of living into the freshness of new realms, larger horizons.”

I’m commandeering her a little to relate her thoughts to what’s currently happening with the desensitization and destruction of real life. But this “crime of caution” seems to have bearing on the pervasive escapism in our present culture. I don’t ordinarily go in for this Chicken-Little fatalism about the world going to hell in Jessica Simpson’s Arrow handbag (though it is), but many of us are in real danger of forgetting what “real live” is. Raised understanding that Dick Clark giving his “live” New Year’s Eve special was really recorded earlier, we’ve lived our lives multiple times removed from the physical situations and places that populate our existence. Though we know live is somehow better, somehow more important, we’re not entirely sure why. And maybe it’s simply because of how rare it is given that the majority of life is experienced through instant replay after the moment has passed, captured and wrapped in film. We don’t even have to go so far as Neal Gabler’s thesis in Life, the Movie. When the present becomes the past, it’s safe. We can forget about it. All that matters is what’s to come.

This homogenized, sanitized, packaged version of life is the opposite of real. And it doesn’t help when friends and colleagues seem content to “live” their lives behind the glass. Industry standards have a way of downplaying personal preference and individual experience. Maybe it’s just the way things are. Maybe it is for a higher cause to elevate our immediate experiences into universal (salable) packages. But what is the price?

I’ve recently experienced an undeniable coalescence in Luci’s book, arriving just in time to cast a soft, sepia-toned filter on this new phase unfurling in my family’s life. The influence of her ideas has affected me and I realize it will cost me something to accept it. But how much greater is a life lived, knowing every second is unalterably influencing events, your life experience deepened by everyone else’s around you, your contribution made greater by everything with which you come in contact? In reading this book I’m infected by an ancient philosophy passed down through Luci’s father’s mentor’s mentor’s mentor, past the traps and pitfalls of sanitized phony life, all the way back to Abraham’s hope, looking up to the sky and seeing the shining pinpoints of you and me and all of us twinkling a hopeful promise that real, risky life would not be discontinued. For him and all our ancestors, we were the risky unknown to come, the unfulfilled glory yet to reveal.

For those who’ve noticed a certain distance between them and real life, I urge you to slowly digest this small book. It’s been an antidote for me against common forgetfulness. Wisdom is proportional to actual experience. I can’t manufacture it or pretend it’s the same thing 4 times removed. It isn’t, and that’s why I can’t simply review this book, recommend it, and move on. A review of this book would be like trying to rate a pregnant woman on her high-diving form or absence of splash. It doesn’t really work. It’s too big, too substantial, too full of potential. I want only to recommend the wisdom herein, not the presentation, the binding, the pretty turns of phrase (of which there are many). Each succinctly told tale, each poignant thought leaves the impression that one could spend all day meditating on that single patch of ground and not fully explore its depth.

I’ve often had this feeling, a sense of present history in a place. I imagine it’s near-palpable in the Holy Land. There can be an overwhelming presence and weight of the lives and events that took place in a particular spot, under the trees, on the stones. Luci Shaw’s thoughts have that kind of presence, as though in reading them, you’re in a place where history has weight. Of course, all words existed long before we came to them. Yet the wonder of ancient truths, captured by succinct, efficient prose seems far less a rarity in Luci’s world.

It’s no surprise then that she admits she’s always written more “from enthusiasm than from discipline.” The idea that duty and commitment become irrelevant when you’re controlled by the words and phrases and connections bubbling up within. It’s an interesting antidote to the near-proverbial wisdom often repeated at writers’ conferences by career writers. Certainly, there’s room for balance between the extremes of patiently hoping the muse will show up, and chasing her down the street to pounce on her. Writing regularly ensures I’m gaining experience. But without living in the moment, bound to the risk of “real live” experience, no amount of writing discipline is going to make me worth reading.

In the end, I think her “definition-in-process” of faith sums up pretty well the gravity of these thoughts on living life fully (echoing 1 Corinthians 2:10-16):

”Faith is a widening of the imagination. Imaginative faith takes off the blinders, moves beyond pinched, linear thinking into the wide, unfathomable possibilities into which the Holy Spirit invites us.”

I’m looking forward to the on-going discovery of transposing the spiritual insights in this book to the daily practices of the writing life. I’m sure I’ll have more ideas to share soon.

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8 thoughts on “Real Life or Nothing Like It”

  1. Wow.
    Wow. Wow.
    Mick, you prophet philosopher, you. My thoughts are doing the Virginia reel–spinning and changing partners faster than I can follow. But I’ll try.
    A poem has been percolating in my brain today. I didn’t really have time for it, but the first line finally gave up whining, slapped me, and said, “Listen!”
    It was simply this: “There’s a rhythm to living.”
    That’s all. But it won’t leave me alone. So now I have to wait for the rest to come and explain.
    “Faith is a widening of the imagination.” That quote could serve as the one-sentence theme of my novel-in-progress. Imagination gives faith wings. It lifts us to the heavens. Without it, we’re earthbound.
    I will read Luci Shaw’s book. And all of yours, as soon as your imagination opens the cage and lets them fly.

  2. Mick,
    Great post. I love it. That’s been an unbreathed prayer of mine for some time now, that I would inhabit each moment. It’s hard to do when I’m plugging away at novels, but I do believe it’s possible. The Apostle Paul wrote, but he also engaged. And I find my writing much more gritty and real when I’ve spent time with folks–in the moment.

  3. This post is going to stay with me a while.
    You said:
    “But without living in the moment, bound to the risk of “real live” experience, no amount of writing discipline is going to make me worth reading.”
    It’s just way too easy to be an observer in life, to fear adventures, even the ones God sends. By natural inclination, writers tend to be observers, but we have to be engaged in life before we can really write anything worth reading. I think I need to find this book. :)

  4. Great entry. I agree with what everyone has said. Two days ago I watched Don Cheadle on ABC’s World News Tonight’s report on their night walking children in Uganda. And felt so unattached to the real things that are going on in the world. I want to began writing with that yearning for tapping into what’s now and I thank God that I must be on his right track now, since others are thinking along the same lines.

  5. Something occurred to me as I read these comments: good writing makes us want to engage with this gritty earth. I remember reading Christy for the first time and LONGING to hang with the mountain folks. She painted those characters so vividly that I wanted to go to the Great Smokies and look up Mountie. But then my longing became, I WANT TO BE SO ENGAGED WITH FOLKS THAT I COULD PAINT THEM THIS WAY WITH WORDS.
    That’s what good writing does. Yes, we connect first with folks. Then we translate our love for people onto the page. Then, by God’s grace, others catch wind and want to know the people in our stories. And then, perchance, they long to connect with all people in such a way as to crawl into their skin like we have.

  6. A nice bit of writing here, Mick. Did you do longhand first? =0)
    Good thoughts, prettily packaged.

  7. yes, i needed to hear this tonight but the reality of my life today is very unpalatable and i hesitate to even convey it. how much less will others want to read it then? i don’t know. it really isn’t for me to know, that much i know.
    an engaged life, unmedicated, unenebriated is a tough road. the falls hurt more, the aches roar, but the softness of silk and the sweetness of love is worth every agonizing moment.

  8. Hey there! I just ran into your blog here and love it! So much to digest and relate to…I definitely need to read Lucy Shaw’s book. Your writing is so engaging and GOOD.Keep it up.
    Meanwhile, mind if we hook up? (exchange links, that is.)