Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: August, 2011

When Your Story Isn’t True

    I was stuck.

    Ever been stuck?

    On a creative project?

    It’s not writer’s block. It’s something different. Something elusive and singularly frustrating. A large, pulsating tumor of Resistance.

    This particular Resistance was centered around a certain section of the story. It pricked at me because I knew exactly what needed to happen. I tried every strategy I had heard of to break it.

    I tried outlining it to death. Useful, but the Resistance stayed.

    I tried leaving it and rewriting other parts of the book. Productive, but the Resistance stayed.

    I tried reading lots of fantasy books to jump-start my inspiration. Fun, but the Resistance stayed.

    I figured it out last night.

    I was bored. Restless. Distracted.

    That meant my story wasn’t quite true.

    You see;

Every good story is true. Even if it never happened.

So if the story is not good, it’s not true. And there are two possibilities when you find that your story is not true.

    (a) You have added false things to your story. Is there something false about your plot, characters or world? Falseness stands out in a story like the sound of nails on a board. Find the false and cut it out.

    (b) There is some important truth missing.

    It was (b). There was something missing. Once I realized it I immediately knew what it was. Scenes. Characters. An entire sub-plot. It’s a lot of stuff. Maybe ten thousand words of stuff. Or more.

    Now, if this was any other job I’d be upset about it. I’d be tempted not to add it, because of all the work it’s going to be. It could be a full two weeks of writing. And that’s if all my writing sessions are good ones.

    But I wasn’t upset.

    I wasn’t discouraged.

    I was elated.

    It doesn’t matter how much work a good story needs. I’m not too upset that George R.R. Martin took 5 years to write A Dance With Dragons. It was a good story. A true story. It was worth 5 years.

    And my story will be worth however long it takes to write.

    Will yours?

On Starting a Commune

I first starting thinking about it after leaving college. Because dorm life was so fun. It was so fun that I just couldn’t understand why we quit doing it.

My wife thought the same thing.

So why live alone? Why create a single-spaced hole when it’s just so much more fun to live with others?

So we took a step forward. We convinced a friend to move in with us.

It was glorious. It brightened our lives.


We’re taking the next step today.

Three families. One apartment.

A test of intimate community.

A sounding of life-rythms.

For life is a journey that no family needs to walk alone.

Back to dorm-life.

Back to Acts-living.

People look at me funny when I tell them. I guess I understand that. Living in community is so very rare on this side of the ocean that people automatically assume things about poison kool-aid and stuff. It’s too bad, though. Because sharing life tends to give birth to a more abundant type of life. A deeper, realer life. A more natural life. Because we have not evolved to live sequestered away in cells, cut off from our fellow-man. No. We are made to be together. That’s one of the reasons why, I think, we suffer from so much anxiety and mental stress in the West. We are alone in this artificial sea of people.

Is it frustrating to live in a community? Is it hard to balance the life-rythms of others? Is it difficult to adapt to the strange habits and personalities of complex people? Yes.

But it’s better than living alone.

Because when there are people, there is love.

And nothing beats love.

Ariel’s Story #10 – Attack

     The army proved easy to acquire.
     The first to join me was a young man with a fire in his eyes. He called himself Barnaby and told me he had often wondered about the Man pushing the Bride down.
     “But whenever I thought to bring it up,” he told me, “the elders and teachers would push me down.”
     “Why would they do that?” I asked.
     “They didn’t believe me. They said I was being rebellious to even suggest such a thing.”
     “But did you not point to the Man? Could they not, even from shore, see clearly that the Bride is being abused and the Man is not who they think he is?”
     Barnaby shook his head. “They said that perhaps the Man was disciplining the Bride for some sin. And they would allow no further conversation on the point. They brought it to an end and have since watched me with dark eyes.”
     And those dark eyes began to rest upon me as well as I tried spreading my suspicions that the Bride had been taken by someone who was not the Husband. More than once I was taken aside and rebuked by one of the elders. Gently at first, but firmly. After a time I was forced to carry on my recruiting under cover of darkness.
     The atmosphere seemed ripe, though. For I encountered many who had wondered about the Man as I had. I even took a chance and stole into other sections of the cistern to recruit brothers who lived beyond the other gates. We began meeting with one another at night and in any gate that seemed empty at the time. Emotions ran high as our numbers swelled. Each new addition brought stories similar to the one Barnaby told. We were united despite our different backgrounds. We grew into a formidable force. We became ready.
     We planned to attack at midday. Each of us from the section we associated with would, in unison, stride into the cistern and lay hold of the Man by force. And, by force, we would tear him from the Bride and drag him from the cistern and cast him without. And, should he not be cast, we would drown him in the end.
     The day was bright and hot. The sky was cloudless and dry. It was the perfect day for the attack. We rose early, said our prayers, and took to the water.
     It was a glorious sight, I think. All of us from our different traditions and following the Bride under different signs. United in the goal to bring down the Man and his oppression. Those who stayed behind got to their feet to watch, looks of uncertainty upon their faces.
     “Ho there!” called an elder from my group. I did not turn back.
     “Wait!” called a leader from another.
     “Where in the bloody hell do you think you’re going?”
     The voices grew agitated and angry as we approached the Man with murder in our eyes. They were spiced with fear and anger.
     We arrived.
     The Bride was as I had seen her last. Eyes mostly closed. Barely breathing. In a pathetic state of near-death.
     The Man looked at us, bored.
     “You are not the first,” he whispered. His voice was like velvet, dark and soft.
     “You will leave this place,” I said, setting myself up as the leader of the army.
     “No,” he said.
     “We will make you leave.” Shouts of agreement rose around me.
     “You will not.”
     We attacked.
     As I lay hands upon him I could feel my strength ebb. It was like grasping an icy rock, so cold that it saps your power as it digs deep into your bones. From the looks on the faces of my army it seemed they felt something similar.
     But no matter! I thought. We are many and he is but one. “Together!” I cried out. And they yelled a battle call. And we pulled on the Man. We tugged at his arm and we tugged at his head. Some beat upon his face and some tried diving under the water to trip up his feet.
     It was like pulling on granite. Icy, rigid granite.
     “Your friends are coming,” the Man whispered to me as I tried to gouge out his eyes.
     I turned and my heart died within me. My brothers were coming. As were the faithful of every section of the cistern. They wore masks of anger, but their fury was not directed at the Man, evil and powerful. They were directed at us.
     They fell upon us with sticks and books and flesh. The Man shook and we fell from him. And, thus, we were driven out of the cistern. And they pursued us through the park and down the roads. Into the buildings and out of the gates. Up into trees and down into ditches. And we were scattered and alone.
     I found a place beside a dumpster behind one of the high-rises. I was alone. I was weakened. I wept.

Thoughts on a Cup of Tea


     Just for a minute there.

     It’s not that you’re doing it wrong. I don’t really think there is a wrong way to do it. But maybe there is another way. A way that will be better for you.

     First, don’t pour the water while it’s boiling. Let it cool down a bit first. Just a minute. It’ll still be hot. And the taste will come out better.

     While you’re waiting, think about something lovely in the room you’re in. Smile at it.

     Now pour.

     Watch it for a bit. See the colour seep from the bag and stain the water. What did you use? Black? Green? Herbal? Try green. It’s good for you and, if you make it the way I do, it’s not even a little bitter and tastes like something divine.

     How long are you going to let it steep? Try steeping for three minutes or less. It won’t be as strong, but it won’t be bitter, either. That’s the best kind. It’s not strong, but it’s not afraid of being weak, either.

     Are you just going to drink it? Just like that?

     Try sitting on the floor. Cross your legs. Put your cup in front of you. Is your room quiet? Can it be made quiet? Can it be made still? Just for a minute. Take your cup in two hands. I know you can lift it with one, but two is better. If you only use one, you’ll be tempted to multitask. And multitasking does not lead to peace.

     Bring the cup to your mouth, but don’t drink yet. Don’t smell it, either. Rather, breathe it. Slowly. Breathe it again. Can you taste it already? Can you feel it’s warmth in your chest? Nice, isn’t it? Close your eyes and breathe it for a minute.

     Put it to your lips, and take a sip.


     That’s how to have a cup of tea.

No ‘scuses!

     I’ve been gone for a long time.

     Not just offline. Haven’t made much progress on any projects for about two months.

     Want excuses? I got tons. Good ones, too. Excuses that would make you shake your head and mutter, ‘Gosh, poor Matt.’ Especially if I could tell you my excuses in person. Because I can sure spin a story.

     And I can still work on new excuses, too. There’s always something going on to take my mind away from my work. I have enough excuses lined up to put everything off for the rest of the year, really. I could do it. Don’t imagine I haven’t thought of it. It wouldn’t be hard.

     And I would do it, too. And you wouldn’t blame me. My excuses would leave you with nothing but sympathy for me. Wouldn’t that be nice? To play the role of the martyred writer, desperate to tell my story but, alas, the universe is working against me. Was a gloriously tragic tale! How romantic! How pathetic! How … common.

     That’s what every failed writer/artist/musician/dancer/chef/yogi/spiritualist/humanitarian/idealist does. And their dreams are stillborn.

     Sympathy is a pat on the head. Nice. Kinda warm. But giving birth is better on every level.

     Your sympathy is not worth nearly as much as my story.

     If I give in to the excuses that call me, I’ll get a friendly pat on the head.

     If I flip the bird to the excuses, climb the obstacles and write my stories, I’ll give birth to a world of characters and emotions and stories and lives.

     And, who knows? I might even get that pat on the head anyway.

     I’m back. See you around.