Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: March, 2012

Kierkegaard on Christian Scholarship

“The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

― Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

An Open Letter to my Muse

     Dear Muse,

     We need to talk.

     I want to start by saying that I’m really grateful. Honestly, I am. You’ve given me some amazing things. Two novels, dozens of stories, and so many ideas that I’ll never be able to use them all. It’s great, really.

     And those moments when you come right beside me and we really churn out the goodness? Nothing is better than that. Remember the time we sat in that coffee shop in the dead of winter? There was that chapter that we just couldn’t deal with, then suddenly, boom! There it was! Five thousand words in, like, an hour! Good times, eh?

     So, I’m totally thankful. You know I am.

     But we still need to talk.

     There’s no doubt that the work is best when you’re there doing it with me. You are the talent. You are the flash. Without you, it’s all dull and flat. No doubt at all. But, here’s the thing. I show up everyday. Every single day. I’m here while I’m working and I’m here on my days off. I’m here when I feel like it and I’m here when I don’t. I’m here whether I have the time or not. Because I treat this thing seriously.

     I really wish you’d show up more often. Because I feel like I’m doing my part.

     Now, I’m not trying to blame you or anything. I don’t know much about what a muse does when she’s not helping mortals create. Maybe you’re busy. Maybe you’ve got a family or something. Maybe there’s some muse day job that you need to deal with. I get that. But I have a family and a day job too, y’know?

     You know I love you and your work. I just wonder if maybe we could work out a schedule so that we could get together at the same time. That way we can avoid those awkward moments when you show up just as I’m drifting off to sleep or driving in the car.

     And if that’s not possible, I totally understand. If the way it is is the way it’s gotta be, I can accept that. I’m willing to work around your schedule. Just wanted to throw that out there.

     Anyway, I’m still your biggest fan. Thanks for the great run around you gave me this morning.

     Sincerely,
     Matt

Thoughts on Being a Goofy Dad

     I spent an hour jumping on my bed yesterday.

     I could pretend that I was doing it just so my daughter would feel love and attention. I could pretend that I didn’t enjoy it and I was just putting in my ‘daddy time’ until I could go and read something mature and venerable. But that would be a lie. I freaking love jumping on beds.

     When we were done, I played video games with my son. That was a bit of a serious thing. We’re about 70% through Lego Star Wars and we’re eager to get the 10x Power Brick. I couldn’t pretend to just be going through the motions on that one. It was clear on my face.

     I’m a goofy dad. Almost every day I put on ridiculous music and dance like a ten-year-old with my kids. They seem to enjoy it. I sure do.

     There is something very freeing about being goofy. It allows me to do things that most people would feel self-conscious about. Like dancing in public, wearing silly clothing and chasing my kids around the playground with wild abandon.

     It also helps me connect with my kids. All kids are goofy, and that goofiness tends to fade as they grow up. It just never really went away with me. I don’t know why, but I’m glad it didn’t. Because I know exactly why my daughter loves jumping on the bed and making fart jokes. Because I also love jumping on the bed and making fart jokes. And I also know exactly why my son loves getting every achievement in video games and making fart jokes. Because I also love those achievements and I still love fart jokes.

     “Act your age.”

     Screw that. I’m going to act fun. Three, thirteen or thirty, I’m going to act fun. Because I think that when I stop having fun, I’ll die. And I don’t want to die.

     So I’ll jump on the bed and make my fart jokes. I’ll run and scream in the playground. The kids will laugh and smile with me while a few oh-so-serious parents look on with frowns. I don’t care. I love life. And jumping on beds is a part of life.

Thoughts on Starting a Novel

     The Shadow’s Daughter is done. A couple beta readers are pouring over my final revision and I can’t wait to deal with their considerations, but for now, it’s done.

     When I started The Shadow’s Daughter, I had no idea where it was going. I was doing two strange projects at the same time. One was about a very typical rag-tag group of adventurers off to find a mystic artifact (blaaaah). The other was a series of romantic serials I was writing for my wife. Both those stories died, and from their ashes rose The Shadow’s Daughter, first book of The Chronicler and the Bard.

     Yay, and stuff.

     So now that The Shadow’s Daughter is done, I turn my eyes to the next installment.

     I had forgotten how it felt to start something new.

     I once heard that writing a novel is like walking through a dark wood with a lantern. You only get to see a couple steps ahead of you, but you can get through the whole forest that way.

     Whoever said that didn’t mention the most obvious characteristic about walking through a dark forest with only a lantern.

     It’s scary as hell.

     Seriously, what if you get lost? What if you lose the path? Worse, what if the path is so well travelled that there’s no point in walking it? What if you’re going the wrong way and you never should have entered this stupid forest and why didn’t you wait until daytime and OMG I’M FREAKING OUT!

     So, there’s that.

     It’s also lonely.

     You don’t get to write novels in tandem. And when you try to talk about an unborn novel, it never goes right. People look at you as if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Because, frankly, you don’t. Not yet. You’re still wandering around in the woods.

     Scary and lonely.

     Which is why I’m glad I believe in muses.

     The muse is that strange spiritual critter who tells you the story. She’s the lantern you’re carrying as you wander through the woods. She’s Navi from Zelda who keeps saying “Hey, listen!” And while she may annoy the hell out of you sometimes, she knows the way. She knows the story that she wants you to tell.

     She’s the one who won’t let me get side-tracked or lost. She’s done this before, too. For a jillion years her and her kind have been whispering tales into our ears. She knows what she’s doing. And that’s nice.

     So here I am, just entering the woods again. I’m holding my lantern high and peering into the darkness. I take a step forward, and the lantern’s light stretches a bit further. It’s going to be okay. No, better than that. It’s going to be freaking awesome.

An Open Letter to the Makers of The Lorax

     Dear folks who made The Lorax,

     Thanks.

     Seriously, thanks.

     As I walked my son out from the cinema, he started talking. He said how sad it was that the boy lived in a place where a few people were rich and happy while the rest of the world was dead and grey. He thought it was stupid that everyone listened to the rich man and blindly bought his bottles of air. He asked me if something like that could ever happen in the real world.

     “It is happening, Joe,” I said.

     That made him sad. He asked how he could fix it. I asked him what the boy did in the movie.

     “He planted the tree, even when the boss told him not to,” Joe said.

     It led to a great talk about how we can be responsible for the planet and the resources we have. It led to a great series of questions that most kids don’t get to deal with.

     “What should you do when someone in charge tells you to do something that you think is evil or wrong?” I asked.

     “Don’t listen.”

     “What do you do if I tell you to do something wrong?”

     He paused. “I’m not going to listen to you.”

     That’s my boy.

     So thank you, folks who made The Lorax. Thank you for showing the dark future my son will inherit unless my generation starts caring and making changes. Thank you for encouraging my son to care. And thank you, most of all, for fostering a holy rebellious spirit in his heart. He’ll need it.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

When Someone Leaves

I’ve never been that good at saying goodbye. I tend to watch those people who get all tearful in airports and wonder what it’d be like to feel that way. It’s not that I’m stone-cold or anything. I just feel the leaving of loved-ones in a different way, I guess.

When we’re at the airport, I’m still with them. As they walk away, I can still see them. When I get back into my car, I can trick myself into thinking I just dropped them off at work. Even the next day I can imagine they are still living in my house. Maybe they stepped out to get milk or take my kid to school, like they always were willing to do.

The loss grows over time. I’ve heard about amputees getting a ‘phantom limb’ sensation. It feels like it’s still there, until you try to grab something with it.

Ruth and I woke up pretty late Sunday morning. The kids were already up. I felt the first bit of phantomness. Jodi’s door was open and her room was dark, cold and empty. No one was making tea. I looked at the kettle for a bit before making the pot myself. I could not remember the last time I made my own pot of morning tea. It was weird.

Sunday was a busy day. Lots of moving. Lots of noise and activity. But it felt so quiet. Despite the fact that my house was filled with all the beautiful people I live with, there was something missing. I guess that’s what happens when you say goodbye to someone you love that’s been living with you for … almost two years? Wow. Doesn’t seem that long…

I’m not good at saying goodbye. But I’m good at being with people. I guess that’s what counts. Just like a man’s last words don’t matter nearly as much as all the words and deeds that came before them.

I found a message on my phone late last night. It was from Jodi. She’s home she says. That made me pause. Of course she’s home. Abu Dhabi is her home now, right? Right. It is. It’s where she lives.

But home is also where the heart is. So her real home’s in her chest. Te he.

But home is also where the heart is. So her real home will always be with me and Ruth and all those other people who love her. Welcome home, Jodi. We’ll see you again soon.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius

     Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gave a great TED Talk about where creativity comes from. Watch it.

     For years I have thought that genius and creativity was from the outside. The artist does not generate her art, she translates the whisperings she hears onto page or canvas or sound.