Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: May, 2012


     It’s that time of year again.
     The heat seems to come from below, bringing sopping air with it. The smells are pungent and human. Sweat. Dirt. Exhaust. Rooms with air conditioning seem sterile while rooms without seem dirty. It all awakens in me a desire I thought was fading.
     The country has not treated me and mine well, of course. But I’m longing for it again. Why? I can’t figure it out.
     I would lose family and friends again. I would miss out on all my geeky conversations. I would lose my financial stability. I would suffer ridiculous heat. I would trade my own powerful and comfortable culture for a foreign one.
     But I’m yearning, still.
     I could do it, of course. I could start packing and be gone when my lease runs out. There is nothing stopping me. I could get a job teaching English or raise money for some humanitarian project. And then I could live there again.
     I could soak in the poetic Urdu. I could walk through fields of cotton and mangoes. I could drink chai with shopkeepers.
     But do I want to?
     So very much.
     And not at all.
     At the same time.
     It’s not Doublethink. It’s Doublefeel.
     And while I’m doublefeeling about being there, I’m also doublefeeling about being here.

What do you Doublefeel about?


     And just like that, my anti-addiction struck. And it struck hard.

     I’ve been addicted to a few things in my day. Some good. Some bad. I used to be addicted to cigarettes. And anyone who’s been on those will tell you that it’s not a matter of the intellect that gets you to smoke. It’s a deep, passionate and physical need. I knew it was hurting me. But the hurt from smoking was not as bad as the hurt from not smoking.

     I’m still addicted to some things. Food, for example. If I even go half a day without food, I feel a pain in my body and mind and soon it’s all I can think of. There are a few other things like that in my life. Water. Air. Third-wave ska. Stuff like that.

     But my present addictions are nothing compared to my anti-addictions.

     If an addiction is a physical / mental need to do something, then an anti-addiction is a physical / mental need to not do something. Ever had that? Here’s how it works:

     You sit down to do something very good. Maybe to paint a picture or plan a party or spend time praying or meditating or get moving on your ridiculous novel. Suddenly you feel a deep well of hate rise up within you. You look at your computer and you scowl. You can feel your whole spirit rebel against the idea of doing that good thing. It’s all the symptoms of an addiction, except it’s pushing you away. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. I call it a serious, life-stopping pain in the ass.

     When you feel the resistance, there are only two ways of success, so far as I can see. First, you can try to plow through and have faith that the road will clear in time and you’ll soon stop hating the thing you love. This is the best way.

     But sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes the resistance, strengthed by negative distractions and attidutdes, is too strong. The demons pull at your creativity and piss all over it. Some demons can’t be cast out with hard work alone. Some demons need prayer.

     I’m a spiritual person, though not really religious. And I believe in the power of mystic prayer. So when the resistance is hard, I stop. I turn off the screen. I pull my legs up and close my eyes and breathe. I let my thoughts leave as I become mindful of my breaths. In. Out. In. Out. Breathing in I calm my body. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know it is a wonderful moment.

     And my mind and heart calm. The demons stop screaming long enough for me to cup my hands to my face and utter the sacred words with deep mindfulness.

     “Our father which art in heaven,
     Hallowed be thy name.
     Thy kingdom come.
     Thy will be done on earth
     As it is in heaven.”

     And they flee. My spirit soars and touches the source. I float on the goodness of the great compassionate source of the universe.

     And when I’m done my communion I open my eyes. I can hear the story being whispered in my ear now. I say “Thank you, thank you” and take the story and put it done on paper.

     I win.

A Billion Stories to Tell

     I’m about 18,000 words into book two. And I’m dry inside.
I had another idea for a book. A great idea. Just as good as the series I’m on now. So I thought that my dryness in the sequel meant that my muse wanted me to write the other idea first. I got 2,800 words in before I turned dry again.
     Then I had another idea. And another. And then I remembered.
     The muse has a billion stories she’d like you to tell. And she couldn’t give a rip which one you do first. If she had her way, you’d be somehow writing them all at the same time. And then you’d have a nervous breakdown because muses don’t care much about human frailties and the like.
     I haven’t written much in about a month. Maybe more. And I’m starting to feel it.
     When the creativity doesn’t seep out, things get stale inside. It’s like a pool with no stream running out of it. It stays still and grows stagnant. And it stinks like poop. It needs to flow or else nothing but mosquitoes and parasites will live there.
     Stop blogging, Matt. Go write a story. Write about the Bard and his wife. Write about the Chronicler and his god. Write about the people of the Expanse and call their tragic stories into existence. And when you feel the wells of self-pity rising up within yourself, think about the blinded Skotons and the doomed men and women of Al Ryaal. And count yourself lucky.
     Write, Mr. Cook. It is your calling. Your well-being is at stake. And the world wants to hear your story.

On The Subway

     A young Indian or Pakistani couple sits down beside me at the next stop. I know they are either Indian or Pakistani from their language. I think it is Urdu or Punjabi or something. I speak Urdu because I married a Pakistani. But I can’t understand them much. They speak too fast. And I’ve been away from Pakistan too long. The girl keeps looking at my computer as I play my game.
     I’m playing Limbo. My character is stuck at a difficult part and I keep dying.
     She turns to the man and says something. I think it’s Urdu, but I can’t understand. He laughs. They talk in low voices. The kind of voices you use when you’re talking about someone nearby. I try to understand them, but they talk too fast and low. I play in my mind what they might have been saying.
     “Ajeeb game xaylraha. Dekho, vo bar bar neechay girjata.”
     “He’s playing a strange game. Look, he just keeps falling.”
     “Han. Vo kyun computer game xalraha hai? Kya vo baccha hai?”
     “Yeah. And why is he playing a computer game anyway? Is he a child?”
     And then I could have said, “Baccha nahin hun. Bas, yeh bara dilchusp game hai. Lekin meh pusgya yahan.”
     “I’m not a child. It’s just that this game is so interesting. But I’m stuck in this part.”
     That would have been nice. But I can’t hear what they were saying. And maybe it’s not even urdu that they’re peaking. Maybe it’s Punjabi or Sindhi or one other those other languages that sounds kinda the same.
     They keep laughing at their secret joke. I get embarrassed and put my computer away. I take out my book to read.
     The Indian couple gets off at the next stop. I miss them. They seemed happy. I wish I was on a bus. That way I could have called my wife and spoken Urdu to her in front of them. Then they would have probably talked to me. It’s not everyday you meet a white guy who speaks Urdu, after all. But everyone knows there’s no cell signal underground. Maybe if we were at Islington where the train gets above ground…
     A pretty blonde girl sits beside me when we stop at Younge. The train is crowded. I never mind when it’s crowded. Even when I have to stand. It’s nice being around so many people. It’s powerful. She sits really close to me because of the large man beside her. My arm touches hers. She brushes against me every time she takes a drink of her coffee. She never looks at me.
     Why is she drinking coffee so late at night? Maybe she works nights like I do. She doesn’t look like that kind of person, though. She looks young and well-off. You don’t choose nights if you’re well-off. Unless she’s a doctor or something. I think they work at night. They’d have to. What if someone got hurt at night? But she doesn’t look overworked, and I hear doctors work a lot. Maybe she’s a student, working nights to help pay for her tuition. I will still be doing nights when I start at U of T. I can do most of my homework and reading at work.
     The large man shifts in his seat. I’ve seen people do that trick when they sit beside people who look nice. You move a bit and pretend not to notice that you’re touching the person next to you. But the pretty girl notices, so she shifts in her seat. Now she’s crowding me. I don’t mind. I don’t mind crowds. Even before I lived in Pakistan I never minded crowds. Crowds are powerful.
     The large man and the pretty girl get off at Dufferin. Most people are off the train, now. I have the bench to myself. I don’t really mind that much, either. I take my computer back out. I try playing Limbo again for a while. My character, a silhouetted little boy, stands on the roof, looking out at the grey cityscape. He can’t go backward. And to go forward puts him on a steep stope that he slips down. I make him jump before he falls off the edge, but there’s nothing for him to land on, and he dies. I try again. I jump further this time. As far as he can go. He hits the spinning saw and is torn apart. I try again, this time I don’t jump. I just let him fall. And he dies. If I make him try his best he is torn apart by the saw. If I let him slip, he hits the ground and dies. In the end, is one death better than the other? I’m the only one watching to judge.
     The man across from me keeps staring. He doesn’t look happy. Happy people are more powerful than sad people. But he’s not sad. He looks annoyed. Or angry. Some angry people are powerful. The happy angry people. But his mouth says that he’s rarely happy. I wonder what kind of life he has, that makes him want to scowl at passengers on the subway. I wonder why he scowls at me. Some people don’t like it when you use a computer in public. Or maybe he doesn’t like my hair. I once had a man spit on me because he didn’t like my hair. Or maybe he was just crazy.
     (Can you be just crazy?)
     It was at Pape Station, where the man spat on me. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked at him. He glared back at me, as if I had called him a dirty name. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. When you don’t know what you should do, it’s usually best to just keep quiet and watch. So I turned and got on my bus.
     But this man across from me isn’t spitting on me, so that’s easy. I could look up and smile at him, but angry people don’t like smiles. Angry people don’t like anything. Unless they’re happy angry people. Then they like change. Then they like action.
     I was a happy angry person once. I still am, sometimes. Though mostly I’m just happy. At least when I’m not working. It’s hard to be happy or angry when you work all alone and at night. Because it takes energy to be happy or angry. And energy comes from people. That’s why I like crowds. But when there is no energy, you mostly are just sad. It doesn’t take any energy to be sad. Sad is the easiest.
     Does that mean sad is the natural state?
     No. Because we naturally have energy. So being angry or happy or both is more natural.
     The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Preachers say that means you shouldn’t go to bed mad. I think it means you should always stay mad. And not let the sun set on it. Not let its sun go down. Not a dark anger. A shining one, because you’re not letting the sun set on it. The kind of anger that burns against the things that make darkness. The kind of anger that you can hold and still be happy.
     We arrive at Kipling. The doors open. I sling my satchel over my shoulder and get off.

Thoughts on the Guy Next to Me Who Looks Just Like Me

     To the guy sitting next to me on the bus with my face.
     Wow. Look at you. You look exactly like me. And not in that superficial way in which anyone with an unkempt beard and strange, long hair looks. Your face looks like mine. Your eyes look like mine. Dude, you look like me.
     Wow, we dress the same, too. Both of us wear rotting shoes and over-worn pants. I bet you own as few clothes as I do. And that’s a nice satchel you have. Did you get it at Goodwill like I got mine?
     And I can tell that you see it, too. You keep looking at me, pretending not to. And I keep looking at you, pretending not to. And I think we’re both clever enough to know what we’re doing.
     Alas, neither of us seem strong enough to walk up to the other and say, “Hey, nice beard,” or “Dude, nice satchel.” That’s all it would have taken, I bet. And then we’d start talking to each other. And it’d be cool. Because we look the same. And it’d also be cool because, well, what’s better than talking to strangers?
     But neither of us were brave enough. So we sat there. I played with Twitter on my phone. You listened to music, but only with one earbud, leaving room for me to start a conversation.
     What would it have been like if I had done it? If I had turned and said, “Hey there”?
     The worst-case would have been an annoyed look. But I don’t think you would have done that. You look friendly. And so do I, for that matter. Why didn’t we risk it?

Ontario Writer’s Conference 2012

     I asked my mom to come with me to the Ontario Writer’s Conference this year.  Not because it was Mother’s Day.  Just because I like hanging out with my mom.  So there.  My brother came as well.  Because I like hanging out with my brothers, too.  I’m one of those strange people who enjoys sitting around with each and every one of my family members.  I think that’s nice.

     The conference was gold, of course.  I did a workshop with Canada’s premier sci-fi author, Robert Sawyer.  I listened to a passionate talk from Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner in Tehran.  I chatted it up with other people in varying stages of their writing walks.

     Before arriving, though, I was a little apprehensive.  I’ve been writing steadily since 2005.  I’ve been to conferences and read many how-to books.  I had that deliciously arrogant thought that maybe there was going to be nothing for me to learn at the conference this year.

     Now, it wasn’t that arrogant for me to think that.  Most writing resources are pretty much identical.  They give you a list of things to do or things to avoid doing.  Avoid adverbs.  Use descriptive words.  Avoid telling.  Use showing.  Avoid flowery, complicated words.  Draw from life experience.  And then, at the end of the list, the last point is always to ignore the rules and write free.  Which is kinda like saying, “I have no idea how you should write, but I needed something to blog about today.”

     And it’s not just blogs.  Most books on writing are just the same thing repackaged and dusted off.  Except, of course, for Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write.  Those books are the cat’s meow and every single writer and artist ought to read them.  Like, now.

     So I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of the conference this year.

     Thankfully, it turns out I am just a very arrogant dude and there is still a good deal of stuff for me to ingest.  I came away from the conference with a notebook full of ideas and a burst of optimistic energy.  Because this sort of conference doesn’t give you lists of dos and don’ts.  Conferences give you real people who are doing what you do, only better and for a longer time.  And talking with people who do what you do is always helpful.  Even when you can’t make a list of why it was helpful.

     Thanks, OWC!  It was a great time!

My Wife

So here I am, sitting in a dark room in the wee hours of the morning.  I just got back from seeing The Avengers.  IMAX 3D.  Mind blown.  Joss Whedon is a god.  I was thinking about writing up some lovely review about the cinematic masterpiece.

But, for some reason, I find myself thinking about my wife as I settle down to sleep.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe images of the greatest humans we can think of just lead my brain to thinking about Ruth.  So before I turn in for the night, I figured I’d let you know some of my favourite things about her.

  • Fluidity.  She is not the woman I married.  Which is fine, really, because I’m not the man she married.  She has never reached a point in her thinking or living where she has said “Ah, now I’m done growing.  The way I look at the world now is the right way.”  She reaches forward, always bettering herself.  Always testing new ways of looking at the world and new things to do.
  • Empathy.  She can relate to anyone.  She can feel the pain or joy of anyone’s heart.  Even when she watches cheesy movies with stilted characters, she feels them.  And so she has always managed to understand me.  Even when I fall into those dark places that I cannot trust anyone with, she gets it.  She touches me there and helps me out.
  • Trust.  She’s willing to take risks.  For me.  For her own conscience.  For love.  She trusts that it’ll work.
  • Hope.  Life is great right now.  And she believes it’ll get better.  She’s right.
  • Forgetfulness.  I get to watch all my favourite movies as often as I want, because she somehow forgets what they are about a month after watching them.  And, better than that, she forgets the negative things that others do to her.  When I make boneheaded comments or fall into one of my vices, she forgets about it quickly and moves on. She hasn’t the memory to carry a grudge.  And she wouldn’t try, even if she did.

Yeah, so I like her.  She’s kinda my hero.  Maybe that’s why I was thinking about her so much tonight.