Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: July, 2013


MorningFajr wakes us up while it’s still dark.  We groan a bit to each other and thank God that our religion isn’t so loud so early.  But we don’t really begrudge it, I think.  The quiet minutes after Fajr, before we slip back into sleep, are wonderful.  Especially in the winter when we have heavy blankets to huddle inside while we listen to morning birds in utter darkness.  And especially in the summer when we sleep in the courtyard with nothing between us and the sky but a thin mosquito net and a sensually warm breeze.  Especially anytime, I guess.

The Great Collaboration

There is an invisible collaboration between the artist and the consumer. The band does not make the music. Your mind does. They encode their message in vibrations in the air, markings on a page. You decipher them.

I once asked a painter about the meaning of one of her paintings. She asked me what it meant to me. Because the making of the work—the coding of an experience onto a medium—is only half the art. The rest lies in the power of the beholder.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, it doesn’t make a sound.  Sure, it vibrates the air, but with an ear to sense the vibrations and a brain to convert them into noise, there is no sound.

In a real way, by hearing and seeing and touching, you are calling art and creation into existence.

Writing Mantras #1

I love mantras.  Not (just) those ancient words and sounds used in meditation, but the slogans or sayings that remind me of important things.  I used to paste them up on my wall at college in a valiant effort to get out of bed early and win life.  They’re handy little ways of fighting resistance and keeping myself on the path I want to walk.  Here’s an awesome writing mantra for you:

One step at a time.

Pretty simple, eh?  You’d be tempted to throw it out because it’s so simple and boring.  Heck, it’s so boring that you can’t even cite who said it first.  Everyone says it.  But it’s one of few concepts that has truly had a measurable impact on my writing, my family, and my life in general.

I’ve got a great imagination, and that lets me feel how huge a huge project is.  So when I sit down to write a 180,000 word novel, I can feel the weight of its impossibility.  And then I think about the necessary sequel.  And what after that?  Holy crap what am I doing?  This is too big!  I’m not up to this at all!

But a little work every day gets the work done.  One scene at a time.  One step forward every day.  I don’t need to feel 180,000 words on my back.  I’ll deal with 500 at a time.  At 500 words a way, the novel is finished in a year.  It works with pretty much everything, too.  I don’t think about raising my kids to be heros, I think about playing with them and being their hero today.  I don’t think about publishing and getting rich and famous, I think about getting this one scene done tonight.

One step at a time.  The best part is, it’s the only way to do anything anyway.

My Toronto Flood Story

The subway only took me as far as Jane, where shuttle buses had been called to stand in for the flooded underground. There were hundreds of us spilling onto the street, trying to see over each other’s umbrellas to glimpse any coming buses. The rain was not cold, so it didn’t bother me that I seemed to be the only one without an umbrella. It was a very Canadian moment, because we all seemed to be in reasonably good moods, considering. I smiled when I looked up at the dark sky. A woman made a joke as an empty bus drove by. Laughter rippled across the crowd.



Our shuttle arrived and we pushed our way on it with surprising gentleness. We weren’t a mob trying to get that last seat. We were a crowd banding together to weather a storm. And there’s something wonderfully fun about banding together with strangers.

The bus sped down dark streets that were usually alive with noisy lights. We pressed tightly against each other, forgetting how awkward it is to be around strangers. It was one of those rare moments where Toronto and rural Pakistan meet. The crowded bus. The dark city. The tightly-packed strangers. The absence of anxiety. When we had to detour because of flooded underpasses, we joked about it. When the bus began to stall and the lights flickered, we trusted our driver who told us that she would get us to Kipling, come hell or high water.

She got us through the high water. But we didn’t come up against hell until we arrived at Kipling Station.

Many of us needed to transfer to the 45. It pulled into the station just as we arrived. The crowd clustered around it had little of the positive energy the shuttle had. Even as the doors were opening to empty to bus for us, people were yelling and swearing at each other. There were threats of violence as people shoved each other out of the way to cram onto the bus. Being swift of foot and small of frame, I was one of the lucky ones who made it.

The ride was angry and long. The people were angry because the bus driver was late in returning to his seat. The bus driver was angry because people would not keep behind the white line.

“I’ve been waiting four hours!”

“I’ve been working six!”

Emotions escalated until the driver threatened to pull over and kick us off. That shut the noise off, but did nothing for the atmosphere. It was a different feeling as we crawled up the dark streets that time. We weren’t a community struggling against a storm. We were strangers fighting for limited space.

The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
– John Milton