Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: January, 2012

Honestly

     Without honesty, you’re dead.

     Trust me, I know. I used to lie to everyone. Everyone. It was tough. I would cry myself to sleep. Well, man-cries, at least.

     It took a while to find someone I could be honest with. And then I found him – myself. It was a bit of a shock, really. Because I knew me to be a pretty judgmental fellow.

     I had been lying to me for years. It was a little scary once I gave myself permission to tell the truth. But, man, it did great things for me.

     A weight came off my shoulders. I know it sounds cliche, but I can’t think of any better way of putting it. I was free. Suddenly the future looked brighter. And, better than that, the present looked bright, too.

     Then I looked to my right and saw my wife. It turns out she had been standing there the whole time, ready and willing to hear my honesty. So I gave it to her. And she was gentle with it. She touched my honesty as I held it out to her, and smiled at it.

     “I’m on a roll,” I thought. I looked around to see who else I could be honest with. I looked up and wondered about God.

     I’ve have a very complicated relationship with the divine. I’ll tell you about it one day. But I figured it was about time to get honest with God. I went to find him and let him know how I really felt.

     But God was not where I had left him. The lock on the door was smashed, you see. It fell apart the day I started being honest with myself. So my concept of God broke free. And God has been leading me on a merry chase through the universe ever since. And he’s been blowing my mind.

     I’m honest with a bunch of people now. It’s nice. It’s freeing. Sometimes it’s dangerous and leads to anger and confusion, but that’s okay. Because most of the time, people look at your honesty and smile. Because I’m free inside and the burden on my back is light. One day I’ll be honest with everyone. One day I’ll be honest with all you wonderful people who read these silly little posts. Not today, but one day.

     Are you honest with you?

The Life You Always Wanted


     You’ve screwed up. So have I, I guess. That’s the way it goes, sometimes. What are you going to do about it?

     Usually we re-live it. We put our minds there and run through the screw-up again and again. So instead of screwing up once, we screw up everyday. The same screw-up. It sucks.

     Keep it up and you’ll die full of regrets.

     Ever wondered what it would be like to know you were going to die? People talk about the choices they’d make if they found out they had a terminal illness. People say they’d call up old friends and right old wrongs and tell off enemies and live life the way they’d always dreamed of living it. I don’t really get that.

     Because I am dying. And so are you. We’ve all been diagnosed with a terminal illness – mortality. No one beats it. 100% casualty rate.

     You know what I’d change in my life if I found out I had terminal cancer? Not much. To be honest, I’m already living the way I want to.

     I have a family that gives me nothing but joy. I am slowly but surely working toward my creative dreams. I am just about the happiest person I know.

     Because I know I’m dying.

     So I don’t pay much attention to the mistakes I’ve made. I don’t re-live them. I don’t whine about not having enough time to follow my dreams. Because I don’e have time to whine. I’m dying. And there’s nothing like living like you were dying.

Your Life is a Story

Source: xkcd

     Your life is a story.

     Is it boring?
Would it make the Reader yawn and want to skip pages just to get to the end?

     Is it irrelevant?
Would it make the Reader wonder why he bought the book in the first place?

     Is it selfish?
Would it annoy the Reader with its blatant narcissism?

Or

     Is it heroic?
Would it make the Reader cheer as you go about your quests for justice?

     Is it authentic?
Would it make the Reader look at his own heart to see if he is living an honest life, like you are?

     Is it lovely?
Would the Reader smile with joy as he seems the world in the shining light that you see it in?

     Is it important?
Would it change the Reader and make his world a better place?

     Everyone you meet is a Reader. Do they believe your story?

Beautiful, Wonderful Criticism

     Usually I don’t like getting advice. Mostly because I think I’m already the cat’s meow. I guess most of us are like that.

     But when it comes to stuff I write, things are different.

     Most of my beta readers have started getting back to me. And every time I find one of their reports in my e-mail or glance at the hardcopy they’re marking up, I get chills of happiness.

     Some writers might not feel that way. Some feel slighted when a reader crosses out half their adverbs or doesn’t click with the protagonist or thinks your hero’s name sounds silly.

     Those writers are shooting themselves in the foot.

     I love criticism in my writing. And you should, too. Here’s why:

  • It makes you a better writing. We get upset at people correcting us when our pride is higher than our desire to excel at whatever is being corrected. And when it comes to writing, my pride knows its place – in the back, whispering encouraging things when I need it, and shutting up at all other times. I’m willing to sacrifice much to be a better writer.
  • It makes you a better person. Even outside of writing, it’s important to learn how to deal with and process criticism. Criticism looks at what you’re doing and suggests something different. It’s useful. It’s everywhere. You’ve got to get used to it.
  • It connects you to your audience. There is not much difference between your beta reader and the eventual people who are going to buy your book. So when a scene connects with them, it’s authentic. And when it doesn’t connect, you still have a chance to change it so it does. They are the beta readers. The prototype readers. Listen to them!
  • Criticism is encouraging. I would be afraid of getting a manuscript back unmarked. Unmarked, it either means it’s absolute, slobbering genius. Or it’s so bad there is really no place to begin the critical analyses. Guess which one is more likely? Criticism tells you that you’re not there yet. But you’ll get there.
  • Criticism makes you step outside. Until now your book was hidden away. Now it’s taking its first steps into a scary world. Now you get to see what others thing of your monster, while you still have a chance to shove him back in the lab.

Can You Spell SOPA?

     Wikipedia’s down. xkcd, too. Go see if you don’t believe me. A lot of web sites are protesting this bill called SOPA. It’s creating a lot of on-line tension.

     Protests like this tend to produce knee-jerk reactions. Have you noticed that? Do you know what SOPA is? Or PIPA? Odds are, you don’t know the ins and outs of it. Most people don’t, unless you count a quick glance through a wikipedia article. But that didn’t stop you from forming an opinion as soon as you saw people protesting about it, did it?

     Maybe it did. Maybe you’re one of those rare people who thinks things through and gathers information before you decide to oppose or support something. If you are that kind of person, I thank you. You are saving the world.

     But let’s be honest, most of us don’t do that.

     When the Occupy Movement was at the height of its power, most folks did not take the time to understand it or its goals. They just rejected it (if they leaned to the right) or fully embraced it (if they leaned to the left).

     The same thing happens at most elections. Folks just vote for the party that has the honour of being listed in the ‘good guy’ section of their brains. And they are opposed to politicians and preachers who are in the ‘bad guy’ section.

     It’s hard to be informed, though. Most issues are complicated and it takes more than a quick skim through a web site to get an honest grasp on things. No one is obligate to get informed, of course. But I just think that if I can’t be bothered to understand things, I probably don’t really have the right to argue with people about them.

     I think SOPA is a bad and dangerous idea that will hurt the Internet. But don’t take my word for it. Read about it yourself. And then take action.

Stuff I Like

  • Crunchy snow on a black night
  • Bollywood music
  • A book that makes me care
  • Honest, open, vulnerable conversations about spiritual things
  • Dressing funny
  • Mill St. Organic Lager
  • Anything Joss Whedon makes
  • Colouring books
  • Pad Thai
  • My son’s passion
  • Puzzles
  • Solving a difficult problem on my own
  • The sun
  • Singing in the car
  • Role-playing games
  • Avocado and tomato sandwiches with a slice of havarti
  • Dreams
  • My daughter’s stories
  • Large-scale battles with cardboard weapons
  • Flow
  • Khan Academy
  • New ideas that would change the world if only we weren’t so scared to try them
  • Everything Jesus said
  • Churches with large sanctuaries
  • Staying up all night laughing with people I love
  • My wife’s empowerment
  • My itty-bitty notebook
  • A good BM
  • Sencha fuka-midori
  • Change
  • Witty remarks
  • You

What do you like?

Subway Evangelists

     A Muslim evangelist approached me while I was waiting for my subway today. He handed me a book and tried to get me interested in his religion. I told him I had lived in Pakistan and he thought that was pretty cool. He told me that Pakistan, in his opinion, was not a good example of a Muslim country.
     “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “They have great family values there, unlike here in Canada.”
     “Okay.”
     “But the problem is all the Hindus.”
     “Oh. Wait, what?”
     “And Afghanistan used to be a good Muslim country, until the Americans removed the Taliban.”
     “Huh?”
     “Now only Saudi Arabia is any good.”
     “…”

     My train came and I made my getaway. I flipped through the book he gave me. It was about how capital punishment is merciful and condoms deny women the honour of motherhood.

     I threw it out at the next stop.

     Getting on the bus, I started reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants. She talked about a high school health teacher she once had who spent a day educating the class on how to recognize and avoid homosexuals. Because they are ruining the world, of course.

It’s the Hindus’ fault.
It’s the gays’ fault.
Blah blah blah.

     I remember giving myself a tour of my son’s elementary school. I saw a poster on the ground, obviously torn off the wall and defaced. It had named the school a safe zone for people of all races, religions and sexual orientations. I guess some people don’t like the idea of making the world safe for people who walk different paths.

     It’s all so silly, though, isn’t it?

     Every group claims they want to see peace on earth and goodwill toward men. But only on their terms. Peace, so long as you become us instead of them. Peace, so long as you stop being so gorram different.

     I used to think that the only way to peace was if everyone in the world stopped being whatever they were, and became more like me. My religion. My sexuality. My philosophies of government and economy. It was straight, Christian, conservative, capitalism or bust. And I spent many, many hours trying to get people to switch sides.

     But what if we put these labels aside and recognized each other as fellow humans, first? Instead of blaming the Hindus or homosexuals for whatever problems we see, what if we just shut up and gave peace a chance? What if we all just got along?

     Cliche? Simplistic? Maybe. But I heard a clever guy once say that we should, so far as it depends on us, be at peace with everyone. So I’m not going to blame out social ills on this religion or that lifestyle. Instead, I figure I’m going to be the change I want to see, open my arms in fellowship to everyone, and be at peace with all people.

     Blaming other groups is easy and cathartic. But it does little more than generate more hate and animosity. And we have enough of that in the world, already.

The Writer’s Home

     When thinking about the best place to write or do whatever our creative spirit moves us to do, there are phases.

     First, we picture the perfect environment as a place of seclusion with ample lighting, classical music in the background and an expensive mahogany desk. Or something like that. Probably something with a bunch of quotes on the wall. And maybe a poster. And an espresso machine.

     If we’re unlucky enough, we might even be able to manufacture such an environment. And we sit there, in our expensive chair made from baby cows, and frown.

     Because it didn’t help. Writing is still hard work.

     Then we figure that the environment counts for nothing. We force ourselves to adapt to every and any situation. We try to work at home, despite the screaming kids. We try to work at coffee shops, despite the noise. We try to steal a few hours at work on the night shift, despite the eerie silence and darkness. And things get better.

     But it’s still hard work.

     Since we’re versatile at this point, we end up doing our work in a variety of different places. And, if we’re mindful, we start to notice that our productivity levels are higher at certain places / times / settings. I, for example, discovered I work best in a public place, surrounded by people who don’t know me.

     And then a temptation arises.

     Because we suddenly realize that there is an ideal writing environment. It’s just a little counter-intuitive.

     This is a dangerous realization to touch, because it tempts us into thinking that all our bad days are due to the place we sit.

     My life does not allow me to sit at the coffee shop every day. If I’m lucky, I get there a couple times a week. And my work is certainly best there. One day at the coffee shop is worth four normal days. That stat makes me look at my normal days and question why I bother with them at all.

     But that thought fails to take stock of the inter-connectivity of … well, everything.

     What I do during the week touches my coffee shop weekends. If I spend the week in discouragement and idleness over my inability to transport my coffee shop environment to my night shifts, what sort of energy will I be passing on to the weekend? I’m pretty sure that the moment I neglect the hard, inefficient grind of the weekdays, I’ll start to fail even at the coffee shops.

     Because the writer’s home is not a room or a desk or a shop. It’s where the story is.

Thoughts on Starting a Novel

     You might be tempted to think that a writer deserves a break once he or she has finished a project. I don’t really think so, though. Writing is a habit. And there’s no reason to kick a habit in the shin once it’s started to pay off.

     So I started my next book already. It’s neat to stand here, staring out at the ocean of blank pages to fill.

     It’s scary, too.

     I’ve got amazing plans and visions and ideas. A billion of them. They’re everywhere. And they scare the shiong mao niao out of me.

     Sitting down to write a book is like deciding to procreate. It’s generally a pretty easy process to get started. But it’s a terrifying one to see through. Getting ideas is as easy as having sex. But turning those ideas into a good and true story is as hard as raising a son or daughter to fulfill all the infinite and beautiful possibilities they are born with.

     So, yeah, I approach this new book with a healthy amount of trepidation.

     But if writing a book is scary because it’s like raising a kid, then it’s exciting for the same reason.

     My kids are wild. Ask anyone who knows them. They are bursting with personality and ideas and that wild, creative spirit that makes them little snapshots of God. And they have hardly even begun to show the world what they’re really capable of. I try to guess what they will turn into, and I can’t. Sometimes I think it’s blasphemy to even try. So I sit back, tweak things here and there, and let them run free.

     Starting a novel is like that. The idea was mine. The initial acts were mine. And I retain control even as the story progresses. But, in the end, it goes wherever it wants. And I’d be a fool to hinder it.

     So I stand on the brink, looking down at a virgin world, and wonder what will grow there when I start plowing and planting. It scares me, because I could screw things up royally. But it excites me, too, because the possibilites are endless. And I know, deep down, that if I just let the story be what it is, it’ll turn out fine.

Thoughts on Completing a Novel

     I’m done.

     More or less, at least. My novel has been through three full revisions and stands strong at 175,000 words. That’s about 455 pages in paperback. It’s good. I like it. It’s done. It even has a title: The Chronicler and the Bard. Soooo sexy.

     So now what?

     I feel…

  • Light. As a novel grows it gets heavy. Doing that final revision late last night was cathartic. It was as if the book was a big bird on my shoulders that finally decided to fly.
  • Satisfied. I’ve opened Scrivener a few times this morning just to look at what I’ve done. I feel like a man who’s just finished building his house and is ready to move in. And it’s a house I can stand beside. I feel no reason to be falsely modest about this: the book is good.
  • Encouraged. This is my second novel. Do you know what that means? I’m a freakin’ novelist. That’s right, I’m kind of a big deal. And if I can do it twice, I can do it again. And again. And a-freaking-gain.
  • Sober. Storytelling is sacred. The storyteller creates worlds and, thus, mirrors God. It’s a holy thing, when it’s done right. I look at my work and am glad that I never took it lightly.
  • Hopeful. The novel is done, now I need to make it fly. I entertain thoughts of book tours and signings and meeting all my nerdy celebrity heroes. I think I’m allowed those dreams, too.
  • Thankful. I’ve always thought that creativity comes from outside. I’m thankful for that elusive Muse who’s been buzzing around and flirting with me. She led me on a merry chase, and pissed me off more than once, but she eventually gave me the whole story. Thanks, Muse. I’m also thankful for my wife, who has always encouraged me. When my busy work week is done, her first thought is how she can enable me to write more. She’s my hero. This book is for her.
  • Excited. What comes next? What do I write from here? Whatever it is, it’ll be something new. And that’s a wild thought.
  •      That’s how I feel. But what do I do? What do I do the day after I’ve completed a novel?

         Start the next one. Duh.