Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: December, 2011

Writing with Mom

     I’m going to a writer’s conference in May. I went last year. It was a blast. You should come.

     I went alone last year. It was fun, but I wanted company this time. So I called my mom. That’s right, my mom. I can hear the snickers from all those cool guys who never brought their loci of identity inside.

     I feel bad for those cool guys. Because it’s never very fun to be cool. When you’re cool you can’t be yourself. When you’re cool, you can’t hang out with your mom. Because hanging out with your mom is decidedly uncool.

     I’ve wondered why. Why don’t people hang out with their parents? I mean, sure everyone gets together around holidays and stuff. But I go to coffee shops and conferences with my mom and I go camping and hiking with my dad. We hang out. We do stuff. Like buddies. I get the impression that other people don’t do those things with their parents.

     I can’t say for sure, because I’ve only had one set of parents, but I think mine are just generally more fun than most. My mom is into literature and geocaching and fiction. My dad is into computers and film and outdoorsy stuff. It’s just fun to be with them. And I think that all us siblings feel the same way.

     Remember that time when all the kids were trying to get to Jesus and the oh-so-serious bystanders were trying to stop them? Ever wonder why the kids were trying to get to Jesus? Do you suppose they were thinking, ‘Hey! This is a great teacher who comes bearing the message of light and love.’? Naw. There’s only two ways to get a kid to come to you. One is candy, and I doubt Jesus had much. The other is fun. Jesus must have been fun.

     So after looking at Jesus and my parents, I realize that it’s wildly important that my kids think I’m fun. So I’ll play DDR 2 with my son (though I guess I’d play that even if I didn’t have kids). I’ll colour pictures with my daughter. I’ll build a snow fort. I’ll wrestle on the ground. I’ll stand in the frozen park across the road watching my kids play on the monkey bars. Whatever it takes to make it so that when my kids are 29 and they want to go to a writer’s conference or a weekend trip, they invite me. Whatever it takes.

Cloak and Dagger

     My wife blew my mind with this year’s Christmas gift. She bought me a cloak. It’s amazing. It’s a woolen, brown winter cloak that reaches to my ankles and is warmer than any coat I’ve owned. It’s the perfect thing for winter. Best gift ever.

     But not everyone thinks so.

     You see, when you dress funny, people stare. I’ve always dressed a little funny, but I’m getting the impression that the cloak crosses a line. The stares are pretty blatant now. And not all of them are amused.

     So what do I do? What do I do when I walk through the grocery store, cloak flowing behind me, and kids start laughing? When old men roll their eyes? When people stare with that look that says ‘What’s wrong with that guy?’

     I smile, give my cloak a bit of a flourish, and move on.

     Because I wear clothes for only two purposes: Function and Fun. I don’t dress for strangers. I don’t care if people think I look like an idiot. Wearing a cloak is fun. You know it is! Everyone wishes they could wear a cloak. But nearly everyone is too afraid.

     Fear is dirty. Fear cripples every good thing you wish you could do. Especially creative things like writing and clothing.

     For a brief, tiny moment I wondered if I shouldn’t wear this cloak outdoors. But I knew that since I loved it, I had no choice. Because all the harsh stares in the world are nothing compared to the suffering of the man who makes his decisions based on what others will think of him.

     So I wear a cloak when it’s cold outside. And I write my book the way I want it written. And I live my life the way I want to live it. Anything else is dishonest. And woe to the man who is dishonest to himself for the sake of pleasing the world. That man lives a shallow life. That man lives a boring life. That man wastes his life. That man needs to read this comic from xkcd, pour his true heart onto a piece of paper and get himself a cloak.

The Solace of the Solstice

     The Night looked upon the world and laughed. For he was winning.

     He descended and walked through the streets of a tiny village, clothed in darkness and a sharp chill. The sun had long been buried beneath the earth and the stars could not shine through the clouds. The moon was hidden and the only lights were the tiny rebellious lamps in windows. And even those stood lonely and weak.

     It is obvious now, the Night thought. The battle is over. I have overrun the Day. She cannot recover from this depth of darkness. It’s only a matter of time before the sun refuses to rise in the morning.

     A noise arose from the centre of town, just as the darkness gathered to its deepest. The Night smiled and walked toward it. He found the townspeople, marching down the market street. They were cheering.

     At the head of the train were men and women on horses, blowing trumpets and carrying banners displaying a blazing sun. Behind them marched drummers, dressed gayly and pounding out a cheerful rhythm. Behind them the entire town marched. Men and women, girls and boys, all dressed in finery and dancing through the streets. Some carried lanterns on long poles. Some shook bells and tambourines. Some carried massive puppets of sprites and woodland creatures, so large that they needed three men to manipulate. Behind it all was carried a massive wooden figure – a hand, thirty feet tall, clutching a heart. The hand was encircled with dancers who swung fire on torches and ropes.

     The Night frowned. He followed the parade in the shadows and scowled at their merriment. The crowd marched through every street in the town, gaining followers as townspeople left their homes and closed their shops.

     They came to the green in the centre of town and placed their giant wooden idol upon the yellowed grass. And they set up shops and booths and put on mummer’s plays and sold warm ale and cider and meat pies. And fools in motley sang ballads about the victory of the Day while bards and minstrels sang songs of like theme.

     And the fire dancers wove a dervish around the idol and all the people gathered to sing and dance and clap and watch. And, in sickening unison, the dancers bowed low to the idol and set it ablaze. And the people rejoiced as it was consumed.

     “No!” the Night called out. The townspeople stopped their merriment and turned to see him step out from the shadows.

     “What is the meaning of this?” the Night demanded. “I have won! Why do you make merry? This is the longest night there has ever been! It is my zenith! The height of my power! How can you find strength to rejoice on this, darkest of nights? Tell me!”

     The crowd stood silent before him, for he was fearsome to behold. A child pushed her way through the crowd and stood before the Night. She curtsied and addressed him.

     “Sir Night,” she said, “We rejoice because this is the darkest night.”

     “Why would you rejoice over that?”

     “Because, sir Night, there are no nights darker than this. Tomorrow will be brighter. And the next day will be brighter yet. This is the night of your greatest strength. And we have lived. So there is nothing but hope for us.”

     “Hope?!” the Night screamed. “You hope? I’ll show you that I have not yet begun to wane! I will blanket this pitiful town with ice and snow and darkness. And you will regret wasting your fuel on this dance and fire!”

     So the Night retreated to his ethereal domains and opened his storehouse. He took his vials of snow and ice and frost and poured them out upon the earth. And the next day the village was buried. The lake froze and all the grass on the green was covered. The townspeople retreated indoors and burnt wood to keep warm.

     But the night was a little shorter.

     The next day the Night poured sleet and icy rain upon the village. Houses were damaged and an old man died of chill.

     But the night was a little shorter.

     Day after day, the Night devised new ways to torment the village with his icy powers. Livestock perished, food ran scarce, and men and women began to die.

     But the nights grew shorter.

     Until one day, the Night went to his stores, and saw that they had all perished. His vials of ice and snow had melted. His jars of sleet and frozen rain had evaporated. He looked down on the village and saw, to his horror, that the power of his rival, the Day, equalled his own. And the people in the town were holding another festival.

     The green was, once again, green. The trees were alive with blossom. Men and women and girls and boys danced outside without coats and gloves.

     And he saw the truth in the words of the little girl. His reign had ended on the night of his greatest triumph.

     In similar manner, on the darkest night, a Boy was born. And then he died. And the world grew cold and raged against the light of his love. And genocides and wars and hatreds abounded. But his birth was the great Solstice – the Solstice of Solace. And his kingdom shall come.

Dirty Words

There are some words that put my teeth on edge. I guess everyone has words that do that to them. My list is pretty unique, though. I hear these words nearly each day. I’d love to stamp them out.

  • Can’t. This is the f-bomb for Matt Cook. I would rather my kids use profanity than hear them say ‘I can’t do this.’ or ‘I can’t be that.’ Can’t is a cage. Can’t is a poison. Can’t is a lie. The dirtiest kind of lie. Can’t is the abuse disablers throw at the people who drop keys for beautiful, rowdy prisoners. Can’t says that the God-spark in us is weak. And that’s blasphemy, as far as I’m concerned.
  • Never. This is the slightly more subtle cousin of can’t. He’s a bastard, too. And arrogant. Never is a closed door that claims there is nothing on the other side. Never is the unjust hyperbole a man uses when arguing with his wife. How many conversations have turned toxic when one person says ‘You never help me. You never listen. You never…’ Never is a hammer. It’s useful in precious few situations. In most cases it just hurts people.
  • Hate. If never is a hammer, hate is a bomb. When you tell me that you hate olives or cheese or Justin Bieber, you are telling me that everything in your soul is set against that thing. You are telling me that, if you could work your will, you’d destroy that thing. And I would weep if you succeeded at getting rid of the world’s olives, even though I don’t care for them. Because some people do. Because Justin Bieber, despite whatever you think of his music, is a human soul, shining with the light of God. Because there is almost nothing in the world so vile that it is worthy of hate. In fact, one of the only things we have to hate, is hate itself.
  • Stupid. When a man refuses to use understanding when dealing with a difficult idea or person, he runs to this word. And he gets used to using it. Suddenly everyone is stupid. Trouble at work? Boss is stupid. Trouble in the government? Politicians are stupid. Trouble in the wide world? All those strange cultures and philosophies and religions are stupid. Suddenly everyone is stupid. Except me, of course. I’m clever as a fox.

Consumerism, Goats and Vile Persecution

     Tis the season to be whiny.

     Sorry, was that negative? I didn’t mean it to be.

     But it’s hard to miss during the festive seasons. Which is too bad, because I was raised thinking this time of year was about the greatest gift we ever got: Love in the shape of a baby.

     And I can’t really point at anyone else and blame them for the complaining that marks December. It’s my own tribe. And there are two things you’ll be sure to hear us whine about until the new year.

     First, we’ll whine about how the rampant consumerism has utterly destroyed the message of Christmas. We’ll complain about the sex-driven ads, the ridiculous rushes at the malls, the blatant love of stuff and money.

     All the while, we shop with the rest of them.

     If malls are temples to the great and terrible gods of commerce and materialism, the folks in my Christian tribe are just as devout as anyone.

     My wife is using her wild, love-filled i117 project to fight consumerism. She’s buying goats for widows in Pakistan to help them get enough income to feed their families. Go to her facebook group or send her an e-mail if you want to help battle Christmas consumerism with her!

     Second, we complain about how no one says ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore.

     Seen this comic before? It floats around every year. Of course, no one ever gets sent to the Principal’s office for saying Christmas (sidenote: notice how the two on the left are dressed like punks and the poor, persecuted Christian boy is oh-so-spiffy?). Doomsayers have been predicting this kind of ‘persecution’ since the 80s, but it still hasn’t happened. And, no, the elimination of the state-sponsored promotion of Christianity does not count as persecution.

     Guess what? Jesus is not threatened by folks who celebrate other holidays around the Solstice. He’s just not. He’s more secure in himself. And I’m not threatened by people who wish me a happy holiday. I say thanks, and wish that all their holidays are happy, too. Whichever holidays that might be.

     Because the cause of Jesus (love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance) is not furthered by us whining about how good our religion used to have it back when we ran the show. It’s furthered by rejecting consumerism and intolerance both.

     And now I’ll quickly hang a lantern on this post and acknowledge that I’m whining, too. But, at the very least, I’m whining about something different.

Now go buy some goats!

Who’s Versatile?


The talented K.L. Schengel over at My Random Muse has just awarded me with The Versatile Blogger Award. It’s a sexy little thing that’s running around the Internet, helping bloggers share their favorite blogs. Here are the rules that come with winning:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you. Thanks!
  • Share seven bits of information about yourself.
  • Pass the award to fifteen blogs you have been enjoying lately and let them know.

My Seven Things:

  • I value love and understanding above everything else.
  • I’m a vegetarian.
  • I have stretchy skin.
  • In high school I was in a club whose only activity was watching anime during lunch in the art room.
  • My wife and I still watch anime.
  • I’ve lived in rural Pakistan, speak Urdu and have delivered a baby water buffalo.
  • On a camping trip I have tried sewing my own wound with fishing line and a safety pin. Didn’t work.

The Blogs I Like to Read:

Things That Make Me Creative

Things that aid my creative spirit:

  • Quiet. Peace. Silence. Stillness. There is something holy when you are alone and still. And when things gets holy, wild stuff happens.
  • Noise. There is even more holiness in noise! The bustle of a coffee shop. The movement of traffic downtown. Kids in a park. Noise is a product of life and it gives some of the best creative energy I’ve tasted.
  • Mysticism and Meditation. I’m a spiritual person. When I retreat into prayer and mindful meditation, I connect myself with the Divine. Sometimes I verbally pour out my spirit. Sometimes I merely sit and breathe with mindfulness. Sometimes I use a mantra. Whatever path I take, touching God is a beautiful, energizing thing.
  • Wandering. Literally. I wander around the house. I wander around my neighbourhood. No plans or goals. No thinking. Just wandering. And, as I go, my muse starts walking beside me. I say ‘hi’ to her. She says ‘hi’ back. And suddenly she’s telling me about all the neat things she’s been thinking about.
  • Tea. Green. Steeped for two minutes in 80 degree water. Any longer and it’s bitter. Green tea does wonders for my soul.
  • Diet. I cannot do anything creative or useful after eating something deep fried. A (relatively) consistently healthy diet has energized all my creative endeavors.
  • Reading. I can’t produce if I don’t consume. All the great writers disagree on how writing gets done, but they agree on this point: If you don’t read, you won’t be able to write.
  • Doom II. Quick, mindless, plotless video games. I unplug for ten minutes and come back to my work refreshed and sated.
  • Yellow Notepads. When I’m stuck, out comes the notepad. Things become unclogged when I’m scribbling and drawing arrows and lines and plotting things out.
  • Sleep. Sometimes it’s not about laziness or a lack of drive. Sometimes I’m just tired and I need a nap. And I refuse to feel guilty about it.

What drives your creativity?

The Next Tolkien

     I don’t want to read him.

     Not even a tiny bit.

     It would be like watching Aladdin 2. It would be like watching the live-action version of Blood: The Last Vampire. Why would I do it when the original is better in every single way possible?

     So why do writers want to be rehashed greats?

     If you ever, in your creative journey, imagine yourself to be the next Tolkien or Hemingway or Lewis or Eliot, stop. Stop right there. Don’t write another word. Because you’re doing something horrible.

     The world does not want another Hemingway. We have him. He’s immortalized in the things he’s created. We don’t need another. We need you. We need your thoughts. Your ideas. Your love and wit and stories.

     Don’t aspire to be like anyone you’ve read. Aspire to be yourself.

     This is why so many urban fantasies seem exactly the same, today. Too many people want to be the next Meyer. And that’s why there were so many young-kid-turns-wizard books a few years ago. Too many people wanted to be the next Rowling. Not nearly enough people were brave enough to strike out on their own, find their own voice and stories, and pour themselves into their work.

     You remember those bracelets people used to wear with WWJD on them? Good advice for life, to be sure. But some people are tempted to put on WW(insert favorite author here)D when they are writing.

     But what would you do? What would you write?

     Write that.

Good and Bad Similes

A dented yellow and black taxi weaved like an epileptic snake in and out of traffic through Karachi’s dense streets.

     I admit it. I wrote that. My first novel was an unpublished practice run called The Foolishness of God. It was about life, religion and culture found within the blossoming romance of a Canadian guy and a Pakistan girl. Sound familiar? It’s never seen the light of day. And I wouldn’t let it, either. Not without some major rewriting, at least.

     Because it’s chock-full of bad metaphors and similes like this one.

     A metaphor or simile is supposed to connect the reader to whatever it is you want to connect them to. In this sentence, I was hoping to communicate the idea that driving in Karachi is whack. Instead, I manage to completely distract the reader by making them wonder what a snake with epilepsy would look like. By the time the reader figures it out and tries to apply it to the taxi, he or she is completely disengaged from the story. Bad simile, Matt. Baaad. Here’s one that seems a tad better (though significantly grosser):

I can hardly stand the food, and the stuff I do eat rushes out the other end like a garden hose.

This one works better because everyone is very familiar with water coming out of a garden hose. So when the garden hose is applied to the character’s digestive system, you get a very clear, and overly graphic, understanding of what the author wants to communicate.

     Most of the similes I used when I started writing were large and elaborate. Maybe I thought big, original similes showed people how clever I was. It tainted my writing, though. It tires the reader. So, in honor of bad similes, I made a list for myself so I can remember to keep my similes powerful and useful.

     Rules for similes:

  • They must be connected to human experience. That’s why the epileptic snake fails. You’ve never seen one. But everyone has seen a garden hose.
  • They must fit your voice. If you were writing an off-the-wall comedy, then maybe there would be a place for epileptic snakes being compared to driving. But The Foolishness of God was not a comedy.
  • They must not be trite. It’s trite when it’s overused to the point of meaninglessness. And trite is always bad. So never say ‘She blubbered like a little girl.’ or ‘He ate like a horse.’ Boring!
  • They must be more effective than simply stating what you want the reader to hear. If your simile or metaphor is so complicated that the reader has to scratch his head over it, maybe you should just say ‘She was sad.’ Yes, it’s always better to show her sadness, but if you can’t, just tell.
  • They must not be bound up by rules. If your muse demands it, throw all these rules away. I just made them all up, after all. Writing is like a puzzle with unlimited solutions.

What are some of the worst, distracting similes you’ve ever seen?

When Was the Last Time You Played?

When was the last time you listened to a favorite song and pretended you were the lead singer?
When was the last time you built a fort?
When was the last time you wore something silly just because it looked silly?
When was the last time you talked to a stranger?
When was the last time you danced in public?
When was the last time you played with a toy boat in the bath?
When was the last time you drew a picture with crayons?
When was the last time you played with Lego?
When was the last time you climbed a tree?
When was the last time you jumped from couch to chair, pretending the floor was lava?
When was the last time you pretended to be a dinosaur?
When was the last time you played in the rain?
When was the last time you did a cartwheel?
When was the last time you ate something weird?
When was the last time you jumped in a puddle?
When was the last time you had a pillow fight?
When was the last time you imagined you were someone else?
When was the last time you dyed your hair a ridiculous colour?
When was the last time you wore something because you liked it, instead of because everyone else dresses that way?
When was the last time you believed you could change the world?
When was the last time you were entranced by a trick of light?
When was the last time you read a joke book?
When was the last time you went to bed excited about the upcoming day?

When was the last time you refused to let society define what it means to ‘act your age?’
When was the last time you played?