Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: July, 2012

The Slippery Slope

Beware that slippery slope!  It’ll change your life before you even notice it!  I speak from experience, friends.

I once made the mistake of dabbling with the written word.  It was ill-advised, I know.  But I didn’t think it would go anywhere.  Honestly, I didn’t.  I thought it would only be ‘this one time.’  But it never works out that way.

Slowly, the dabbling grew.  I wrote a wee poem.  A small short story.  A larger short story.  Then, one day, I stood in my room holding my first novel.

“What have I done?” I whispered.  I had never thought it would go so far.  And now I was tumbling so fast down that slippery slope that I couldn’t stop.  I had another novel done in a couple years.  And now, I say it with shame, a third is well on its way.

Beware the first step!  I could have avoided all this productive creativity if only I had pushed down those nascent urges.  I could have been satisfied with a mediocre life of working, eating, pooping and sleeping.  But I didn’t have the wisdom.  I felt the sinful urge to create and I obeyed it without thinking.  

Be careful, friends!  Creative energy has a will of its own.  If you let it touch you, it won’t let you go.  And if you start today with just a little bit of dabbling, you may just find yourself sweating out a novel in a few years.

Be mindful.  Be on your guard.  The universe wants to take your ordinary life and make it extraordinary.  Cling to what is familiar if you hope to avoid it.  Push the light out and close your eyes.  If you are resolute, you will be able to get through life without making any waves.

It’s too late for me, as the slippery slope has made me an addict.  But there’s still a chance you you.  Good luck.

Better Than a Good Night’s Rest

There’s not much better than a god night’s rest, eh?  Not much better then that satisfied feeling of haivng gotten enough sleep.  That feeling of your eyes being wide open.

I don’t feel that right now.

It’s been days since my last good night’s rest.

Because some things are better.  Some things beat a good night’s rest.  Some things are just worth more.

  • Beaches on warm summer days are better than a good night’s rest.
  • Laughs with friends are better than a good night’s rest.
  • Wrestling matches with children are better than a good night’s rest.
  • Video games with your wife are better than a good night’s rest.
  • Sneaking into a public pool on a warm summer’s night is better than a good night’s rest.
  • Making out is definitely better than a good night’s rest.
  • Good talks are better than a good night’s rest.
  • Taking your children out for coffee and chocolate milk is better than a good night’s rest.
  • Blasting through your daily writing quota is better than a good night’s rest.
  • Cooking food your family loves is better than a good night’s rest.

Because of all these things, it’s been a while since I’ve had a good night’s rest.

I’m glad.  Because I’ve been too busy touching people, creating things and living great experiences to sleep right.  And that’s just fine by me.

What is more important than sleep to you?

The Number One Thing You Can Do Right Now to be a Better Writer!

Stop reading about how to be a better writer.

Go write.

That Is Why You Fail

     I found out why you keep failing.  Why you can’t seem to get the things done that you want to get done.  Why you can’t pull yourself out of bed on time.  Why you can’t stick to that fitness routine.  Why you can’t write that novel.  Why you can’t reach that spiritual goal.  Why you just can’t.

     You believe the lie.

     You believe the lie that says you aren’t good enough.  You believe it so much that you continually tell it to yourself in some misguided attempt to make things better.  It’s killing you.

     It kills you because you set yourself up for failure every time you try.  You tell yourself that you’ll fail.  And your body and spirit takes it as a command.

     It kills you because it stops you from taking initiative and innovation.  Since you’ve always failed there’s no reason to believe that this time will be any different.

     It kills you because it pushes you down and kills all the impulses that want to lift you up.

     It kills you because it calls the positive ideas and motivations inside you vain, arrogant and even sinful.

     It kills you dead, friend.

     And it leaves you open to the real beast of getting things done.  Resistance.

     Resistance always wants to stop you from doing your work.  It pushes you down, slaps you around and tears at your heart.  When you agree with its accusations that you aren’t good enough, smart enough or skilled, you do the work for it.

     Don’t agree with Resistance. Agree with me. Because I believe in you. Seriously, I do. I think you can do great things. I think you can create worlds. I think you can commune with God. I think you can get healthy.

     Yes, you’re messed up. Sure, you’ve got problems. But I’d be willing to bet that your issues are not nearly as bad as you think they are. Stop convincing yourself to fail. Go win.

Tragedy of a Satisfied Soul

     I’m happy with the things I’ve done. I’m happy with my first novel. But, reading it over, I found I was not satisfied. I had to write another. So I did. And I am happy with it. Much happier than I was with my first. But still not satisfied. So now I’m a third of the way through my third novel. I like it. I’m happy. But I won’t be satisfied. Oh no. Never.

     Satisfaction kills art. I wonder if that’s why Prometheus and the Star Wars prequels could come from such great minds yet be such disappointments. I wonder if Mr. Scott and Mr. Lucas looked back on their amazing accomplishments and thought, “Well, I’m obviously great. No need to push myself on these new films. They’ll be great, too.”

     I love my most recent novel. It’s precious to me. Just like my daughter was precious to me when she was first learning to talk. I was happy that she was experimenting with words and I smiled when she said things like “I ate-ed my food.” Happy. But not even close to satisfied.

     You see, if she were to talk like that for the rest of her life, some of my happiness would fade. She wouldn’t be reaching her potential. She wouldn’t be expanding her potential. She wouldn’t be living the fullest life she can live. So I encouraged her to push herself. To learn more. To express herself more. To be who she really is.

     I’m happy with my work. I’m happy with the levels of love that I’m pumping into the world. I’m happy with my spiritual life. But not satisfied. Not even close.

Because I have no idea how strong my love is.
Because I have no idea how powerful my spirit is.
Because I have no idea what wonderful things I can create.
And until I see these things born in their full glory, I’ll always be reaching.
Always be pushing.
Always be groaning.
Always be shunning the tragedy of the satisfied soul.

A Word to Rush Limbaugh

Have you heard, this new movie, the Batman movie—what is it, the Dark Knight Lights Up or something? Whatever the name of it is. That’s right, Dark Knight Rises, Lights Up, same thing. Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in the Dark Knight Rises is named Bane. B-A-N-E. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran, and around which there’s now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time, the release date’s been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?
– Rush Limbaugh, July 17, 2012

     Just so you’re aware, Mr. Limbaugh, it’s a good idea to do a little reading before you accuse highly-anticipated movies of being liberal conspiracies. I mean, I guess it’s possible that Bane, created in 1993, is little more than a ploy to bring down Romney… I guess.

     But, Mr. Limbaugh, seriously, you need to stop. This has been going on for a long time. You’re making conservatives look stupid. Now, I’m not conservative, but I have a lot of conservative friends. And they’re not stupid. We have good conversations. And as fun as it feels for a leader on ‘the other’ side to say stupid stuff, it really doesn’t get anything worthwhile accomplished.

     So, from those of us on the left, please stop saying such ignorant things. You’re popular, you have, like, 15 million listeners. People call you the biggest voice in conservatism. That’s a lot of responsibility. But instead of sparking interesting and useful dialogue, you create anger and kill dialogue. You make people look at your stupidity instead of looking at the real and complex issues that ought to make up political discussions. And, for heaven’s sake, go to wikipedia before you say … anything.

Refusing the Chicken

     I was tired. That’s the first problem. Tired and so very hungry. We were eating at a neat hole-in-the-wall west indian place. The food was great, for meat eaters. For vegetarians, there wasn’t much more than a veggie chow mein. An insipid, cold chow mein. Yums.

     I couldn’t stop looking over at the chicken leg my son was not eating. It was fried and tender and perfect-smelling. It wanted me to eat it. I swear, it did. I picked it up and looked at it. It looked back at me. Remember the scene in Hichhiker’s Guide where the mutant livestock was excited for Dent to eat him? That drumstick seemed to be doing the same thing to me. I was on the edge. I opened my mouth to take a bite.

     “Papa, are you eating meat?”

     My son’s voice was not accusatory. He wasn’t judging me. He was just curious. I could have eaten and he would not have thought any less of me.

     He asked me, so long ago, why I didn’t eat meat. I gave him the simplest answer I could: I refuse to partake in any violence. Any. No violence in defense of myself or my country. No violence in instruction or teaching. No violence to satisfy my taste buds. He understood it. He sympathized with it. Sometimes he flirts with vegetarianism because of it.

     But now his dad is holding the leg of a dead chicken, ready to consume it. He doesn’t even realize the real questions he’s asking: “So you’re not as big on the whole non-violence thing as you said, eh? You like non-violence until you’re hungry or tired, eh? You walk the path of peace so long as you feel like it, eh? Good to know. I’ll remember that.”

     I put the chicken down. “Naw, man,” I said. “I don’t eat meat.”

Serial Mondays: Siddarta’s Ashram

     The bell rang. The universe shifted. Like a raging lake that grows calm as the sun sets.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The mantra was breathed out. This was not the austere chant of the films. Nor yet the flippant hurried prayer of the youngsters. It was the finger that touches the pool in the perfect place so as to still the ripples.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The monk sat in the lotus pose. His shoulders were relaxed. His chin high. His eyes half-closed. He had no incense to mask the stench that covered the city. He had no fellow devotees chanting to hide the primal noises that drifted over the walls. And he needed neither.
     Om mani padme hum.
     He was mindful. Each breath was intentional. Each heartbeat. His powerful mind took note of every sensation, kissed them, and bid them farewell as he fell deeper into his meditation. The anxieties of life were dismissed without judgement or regret and his consciousness faded into the great universal mass.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The energy of the universe crept up into his body from the earth he sat upon. Blue and electric, it climbed through his legs and up his spine and flashed in his brain. He took note, then passed beyond. Beyond notions and appearances. Beyond concepts and metaphors. His selfness drained into the infinite sea and time’s talons released him.
     The bell rang. He pulled out. He opened his eyes.
     The sun had been hidden when he started, but now it was above the horizon, bringing its humid heat with it. Sensations flooded over him, made all the more sharp for the mindfulness wrought through his meditation. They were not pleasant, and it was a struggle to touch them without fear.
     He unwrapped his legs from their lotus pose and stood, his bare feet kissing the stone floor, still cool from the night. He adjusted his orange robes and looked out the open door to the ashram.
     When he had first come to the ashram, so many years ago, it was a desolate place. The fields were unkempt and covered in angry thorn bushes. There was a pack of feral dogs, so full of mange that Siddharta had been surprised they were still living. The walls were crumbling and broken whiskey bottles littered the area, left there by rebellious teenagers who used the site to indulge in vices away from the prying eyes of their elders.
     Siddharta had worked hard with the Guru to turn the wild, clinging place into the ashram it had become. Within a year the dogs had moved on and the fields were cleaned and planted. A simple yet beautiful shrine was erected and the Guru began calling his disciples to live with him. A sangha grew. And it was not just Indians who came. There were Asians of the zen tradition who lived among them. Seekers from the West, American and Europe. Even those from other religions—Hindus and Christians and even Muslims and Atheists all sought for the peace and renunciation the Guru offered. It was a place of simplicity, smiles and devotion.
     Now, looking over the fields and the walls, Siddharta had to frown. The Guru was dead. Nearly all the seekers had fled while the outbreak was still in its infancy. The fields were full of weeds and no walls could keep out the sounds and smells of horror on the outside.
     It is good I am not a Christian, Siddharta thought. Then I’d have to ask why God had allowed this.
     The only two living people who shared the ashram with him now were Christians. At least, he assumed they were Christians. They were white, from Canada. Their Hindi was much better than Siddharta’s English, but that was not saying much. They could communicate basic needs to each other, but no more. Not enough to ask them what they thought of God now, or to help them hold onto the spirit of compassion and peace that the Guru had taught on. Not enough connection to keep the sangha alive.
     The day was quickly turning hot and Siddharta was sweating through his robes. He wanted to do his prayers for the city before the Christians woke up. He slipped on his sandals and walked down the well-worn path to the high wall that separated the ashram from the teeming city. How many times had he smiled at the children who pulled themselves up to look in at the monks and devotees? How many times had he wagged a finger, pretending to rebuke them?
     He climbed the wooden boxes he had placed there and pull himself up to look over the city of the dead.
     The street outside was full. It had been an important road in the small city. It was the intersection where the vegetable market and the religious market met. There were always people there, buying tomatoes and okra and images of the Buddha or Krishna. There were no people on the street anymore. But it was full, nonetheless.
     Siddharta had never seen a horror movie, so he had no ready word for the creatures that walked the streets of his city. His mind had touched on many of the creatures his mother had frightened him with during her bedside stories. Vetala. Bhoot. Dien. None of them fit.
     He had never heard the word zombie before.

Kids and the Raising Thereof

     I’m no expert. But that’s okay, because neither are you.
     You might disagree. You might think you’re an expert. Maybe because you’ve read all the guidebooks that other ‘experts’ have written. Maybe because of your devotion to your religion. Maybe because your kids do whatever you say or get great marks or have good careers. But you’re no expert. And those folks who wrote all those books? They’re no experts, either. No one is. In the end, parenting is a grand and glorious experiment.
     But I’ve learned stuff along the way. Some of it is obvious. But a lot of it is so counter-intuitive that it blows my mind.

  • Breaking your child’s will dangerous and stupid. I was always told that strong-willed kids need to be broken. But that’s about as dumb as saying a clever kid needs to be turned stupid because she is a smart-ass. My son is just about the strongest-willed child I know. And I love it. I want his will to be stronger, in fact. A strong-willed child grows up into a strong-willed adult. And strong-willed adults change the world. A broken child doesn’t. A broken child can only follow.
  • Defiance and rebellion is sometimes a good thing to nurture. Because authorities are often wrong. Kids need to know that and they need to learn how to spot it. I often tell my son that if I ever tell him to do something unkind, he ought to disobey. He’s seven and he’s clever enough to know the difference between what is kind and what is unkind. He has permission to disobey me when his conscience demands it. People often tell me that they are worried my son might abuse that idea, but he never has. Ever.
  • Punishment is easy. Nurturing is hard. And since punishment is easy, its benefits are severely limited. All parents have that primal urge to lash out at a child who lashes out. We yearn to throw a tantrum at the child who throws a tantrum. But it’s so much more effective and life-building to stop, breathe and talk. Children are not stupid. Anyone who says that has never really sat down to talk with their child. I haven’t ‘punished’ my children in ages. There’s no need. I cannot remember the last time I had a conflict with my children that could not be solved by a good, mindful conversation.
  • Internal motivation trumps external threats. I have no desire whatsoever to have a child who obeys me because he fears what I may do to him if he doesn’t. Frankly, I’d rather him disobey. If I want my children to act in a certain way, I convince them of its benefit. I trust that they both have the mental and moral capacity to see the attractiveness of a love-filled life. And it works. Every single time.
  • Physical coercion breaks things. I know, I know, we’ve all been hit by our parents and we’ve all turned out fine. That’s what we all say. And we’ve got our Bible verses to back it up. But my road has shown me that demanding obedience by threat of physical pain causes anger and confusion. There is no violence in my house. Not even the socially acceptable violence of corporal punishment.

     But I’m no expert. I don’t think you’re a bad parent if your experiments have led you to different conclusions. And I’d never try to tell you how you ought to raise your children. I’m just sharing what I’ve seen. What have you seen?

A Stranger is a Friend You Haven’t Met

     I’m so sad that our culture demonizes strangers. We don’t talk to people on the bus, except to apologize for accidentally touching someone (because that’s a real big no-no I guess). We constantly encourage our children to be suspicious of every stranger, drilling the fear of them into their minds. And we’d never, ever, walk up to someone we didn’t know and start up a conversation.

     Thank God not everyone is like that.

     Some of my favorite people are folks I met because we and they were confident and loving enough to walk over and say “Hey there, what’s your name?”

     I love the word namaste. Literally, it means ‘bowing to you.’ But I’ve heard it said that the deeper meaning of the greeting is ‘The divine in me salutes the divine in you.’

     Everyone is divine. Everyone has a hunk of God in them. A shining, delicious hunk of God. A life full of hopes and stories and power. And we let the vast majority of these walking gods go their way without so much as a nod. For shame!

     We met some strangers in the park the other day. Within half an hour of saying hello we got an invitation to dinner. I’d never seen them before in my life. But we didn’t care and they didn’t care. We didn’t leave their house until the sun had set. We saw the divine in each other, and there was an instant spark of love. It was like an echo from Eden. A glimmer of the life humans were meant to live. A life where we stopped being suspicious of each other and, instead, put our hands together, bowed with a smile, and said ”Namaste.”