Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: list

Imbalanced.

You only need to balance things when you have finite competing objects.

You need to balance time awake and time asleep.  Because the human body needs a certain amount of both.  Because you’re not going to exist forever.

You need to balance eating for health and eating for fun.  Unless you’re born already in love with only the finest and healthiest goodies in the finest and healthiest portions.

But there are a lot of things you think you need to balance but you don’t.

Like love.

You sometimes talk about balancing love between people.  Balancing your love of your wife and the love of your mother.  The love of a friend and the love of a stranger.  The love of the self and the love of the world.  As if you had a finite amount of love available!  As if one side could get too much love!  They only seem imbalanced when the love of one or the other is deficient or poorly carried out.

There are so many things we do not need to balance.  So many things that don’t really compete.

Love and practicality.

The mind and the heart.

Strength and tenderness.

Passion and purity.

Work and play.

Spirituality and practicality.

Skepticism and trust.

Silliness and maturity.

Giddiness and sobriety.

Pacifism and activism.

Love and anything else.

2011 Review

I got nothing for you this morning, friends. So here’s my favourite posts from 2011:

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?

Strange Things I’ve Learned About Writing

Some of the strange things I’ve learned about writing and all the sucky struggles that come with it.

  • Busyness does not even enter into it. When I first started writing I was working as an elementary school teacher. I taught two grades at once, every weekday. I received my textbooks a few months into the term so I was always very busy with lesson plans, homework marking, test writing, math re-learning and all that silliness. And within a year I had the first draft of a novel finished. The next year I was gloriously unemployed with nothing but leisure time. Despite my desperate yearnings, I wrote nearly nothing. The amount I write, I found, has nothing to do with how busy I am. Like Jello, there is always time for writing if I want it.
  • Multitasking sucks. Driving while listening to music. Cleaning while listening to audio books. Eating while reading. All these multi-tasking habits that I was raised on have been nothing but a burden to my craft. When I turn them off I have more success. So I’ll often drive to work in silence. I try to eat with nothing in front of me. When I read, I do nothing but read. When I work, I do nothing but work. And the mind is sharper for it. And the work is better for it.
  • The search for the ideal environment hamstrung my writing. Not because it was hard to achieve. But because when I finally got it (and I did), it sucked. A huge desk. An optional typewriter. Epic music in the background. It all served to distract. Now I try to write in places that are uncomfortable. I use the tiny ledge of a counter in the kitchen. If it’s too hot, I let it be hot. If I want a snack, I refuse to get it. Writing under perfect conditions is distracting because life is never perfect. And stories are elevated reality, not idealized reality.
  • Glorious things only look glorious from the outside. Remember Dragonball Z? Remember how in nearly every episode there was a scene of Goku flexing like a crazy person while golden flames danced around him and glorious power filled his body? It was always kinda inspiring. I used to figure the same sort of thing would happen in a perfect writing session. So I was always disappointed when it turned difficult. But look at Goku again! From the outside all we, the viewers, get to see is the fire and light and power. But look at Goku’s face. There is pain and effort and heartbreak there. The end result was wonderful, of course. But the summoning of the power was harsh and bloody and raw. That’s the way it is with writing. Pain and blood in the inside. Glory and beauty on the outside.
  • Writer’s block is a lie. Or at least a misnomer. It’s just what happens when the mind and heart turn lazy. And there are two good cures for laziness. Sleep and work. The situation dictates which one is needed.
  • Everyone’s process is different. Stephen King hates outlines. Brandon Sanderson loves them. They’re both right. There is not a lot of writing advice that is true across the board for everyone. Finding my own process instead of relying on the processes of others was one of the best things I ever did for my writing.
  • Resistance is everywhere. Crouching the the corners. Sneaking up from behind. It never leaves you alone. Best be on the lookout for him.

Six Years Ago…

Six years ago I married a funny girl from Pakistan. I count it as one of my better decisions.

I try not to brag about the things that I’m good at. Bragging does not tend toward good relationships. But if I am going to brag about one thing, it will be about the quality of my marriage. With no word of a lie, I have not encountered a marriage as fun, happy, peaceful and exciting as mine. And I don’t say that sentimentally. I mean it. We are good at marriage. And, as with anything you can excel at, we have employed tactics that have made our marriage the best we’ve ever seen. Here they are:

  • A center on Jesus-philosophy. Not just Jesus ethic. Not just Jesus spirituality. Not just Jesus community. Jesus everything. A Jesus philosophy of life. His ethic shows us how to be kind. His spirituality enables us to pull it off. His community keeps our relationship great. The sermon on the mount informs practically all our marriage-related choices. And it works.
  • Being undignified. Dignified people have crappy marriages. I’m sorry, but it’s true. A person with dignity won’t dance in the rain with his wife. A person with dignity won’t play in the mud with his kids. A person with dignity can’t apologize quickly. A person with dignity can’t be a servant. And if you can’t do those things, you can’t have fun with your marriage. Thankfully, neither Ruth not I have any dignity that I can see.
  • Owning each other’s dreams. I think I’ve talked about this before. It’s one of the most important, and most neglected, aspects of marriage. Ruth is passionate about some things. I’m passionate about other things. We don’t expect each other to have that same passion or understanding. But we are both willing to take ownership of the other’s dreams. We are willing to work and sweat for each other’s dreams. And that kills conflict dead.
  • Dancing. As a family we often crank the music up and dance till we collapse. And we discovered that you cannot really be upset at a person trying hard to moonwalk. You just can’t.
  • Laughing at problems. In the words of the Joker, “Why so serious?” Too much seriousness will cripple a marriage. Most spouses take themselves far too seriously. If you cannot laugh or be laughed at, you will find marriage hard. When you laugh at your problems, they tend to lose their power. Seriously, they do. Try it!
  • A refusal to be malicious. We have noticed roots of malice in many marriages. And, as far as we can tell, a marriage with malice is a failed marriage. If you let that demon into your house, it will eat your soul. Kill it. Or it will kill you.
  • Empathy. There are always struggles that Ruth will have that I cannot understand, just because I’m a guy, or because I’m dumb. And that’s fine. It becomes unfine when I refuse to empathize with the things I don’t get. Like when she jumps on the couch when she sees a mouse. I don’t get that. But I empathize with it. I imagine what she must feel like if she jumps up on the couch like that. And, even though I couldn’t care less about a mouse in the house, since it affects her, I take it on myself. And she does the same for the things about me that she can’t quite understand.
  • Discontent. That’s right, discontent. If you are content your marriage will suffer for it. Content means enough. Content means settling. And I don’t like to settle. My marriage is the best one I’ve ever seen. But I’m not content with it just yet. I’m not content with the level of love I’ve attained. I’m not content with the massive level of peace and joy Ruth and I share. I want more. And I mean to get more. And so I’ll never settle. I’ll never sit back and say “Ah, now I have what I needed.” More, baby, yeah!
  • Openness. Cliche, I know, but true. I can tell Ruth anything. She tells me anything. There is no judging in my house. There is never a time when Ruth thinks less of me for a thing I’ve done or an opinion I hold. And so I am safe in my house, as is Ruth.
  • I feel like I could go on forever. So many wonderful tactics have come together to make my marriage the best I’ve ever seen. Marriage, I think, is whatever you make it to be. A lot of people have called it hell. Mine is like a little bit of heaven, and every year is the best one. So no matter when you see me, you can know that you are seeing me during the best year of my life.

    Things I Wonder

    Sometimes I just sit there and I wonder.

  • I wonder what would happen if the Church today made a point of sharing all their resources and living in close quarters like the Church did when the Spirit and the Apostles were running the show. Would things be better?
  • I wonder what would happen if the Church stopped spending 75% of its money on buildings, pastors and insurance and spent it on fighting destitution like the early Church did. Would we really wipe out poverty like the economists say we would?
  • I wonder what would happen if missionaries dropped their titles and benefits and tried making disciples instead of converts. Would more people start following Jesus?
  • I wonder what would happen if I really did sell everything superfluous and gave it to the poor. Would my life really be permanently hindered for lack of things?
  • I wonder what would happen if I tried to embrace Paul as he says “You are saved by faith alone” and James when he said “You are not saved by faith alone.” Would my brain explode?
  • I wonder what would happen if we sold the church building and used the money to save starving kids. Would we still get together on Sundays?
  • I wonder if we stopped being missionaries, and starting just living in strange countries and, while there, spread love and Jesus around. Would that be enough?
  • I wonder if the many things I own are good for me, or bad. Would Jesus have bought all the toys in my house?
  • I wonder what would happen if I tried to live out the Sermon on the Mount instead of trying to explain why it couldn’t possibly mean what it seems to mean. Would that be so bad?
  • I wonder what would happen if I stopped wondering and put these things to the test. Would I win?
  • When You Don’t Want What You Want

    Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been overtaken by a dream so vast and shiny that it becomes nearly all you ever think about? A dream that is attainable, for sure, if not for that one problem you face every time you sit down to carry it out.

    You just don’t want to do it.

    And who can blame you? There are so many other things in the world that you could be doing. Reading books. Playing games. Sitting in a soft chair staring off into the abyss of the nether-realm. Lots to do.

    And the dream tickles and pokes you from behind. “Hey! Look at me!” it says. “You said you loved me, so where are you?”
    “I’m right here, I just don’t feel like drawing you into existence just yet,” you say as you fill your mouth with candy.
    “When, then?”
    “In a minute.” But in a minute you’ve passed out, and when you awake you have nearly forgotten your dream.

    What gives? Why don’t we want to do what we want to do? Or, better yet, how can we want it?

    I don’t really know, but I have some guesses. For whatever they’re worth, here they are.

  • Discipline is the price of freedom. That’s an old adage that has clung to me since college. The truth of it seems stronger every day. Without discipline, you’ll never get out of the chair. The trick is getting it. Wooing discipline is like trying to flirt with a nun.
  • Remind yourself of why you love your dream. When you can’t seem to work up the will to work, close your eyes and imagine the day when the work is done. In fact, take a second and do it now. Nice, eh? That could actually happen, y’know. Fall back in love with the dream.
  • Look at the next step only. I once heard that imaginative people are the worst procrastinators because they can very clearly imagine all the work required to finish a project. And that drains. So quit looking at the whole thing. Just look at what needs to be done today. Look at tomorrow’s stuff tomorrow.
  • Stay in shape. The body and mind and spirit are all woven together in a beautiful and frustrating dance. When one goes, they all go. So jog or something. And stay away from the donuts!
  • Do it now. Quit planning. You don’t need to plan nearly as much as you want to. Good plans are useful, but not nearly as useful as doing the work. So just do it. Now. Don’t worry, this blog will still be here when you’re done.
  • Don’t be perfect. They always say ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well.’ True enough. But anything worth doing is also worth doing is also worth doing half-arsed, too. Better a shoddy dream that lives than a perfect dream that’s dead. Besides, with most things you can always go back and tweak it when you’re done.
  • Stop talking to others about it. We want others to endorse our dreams. And so we blab and tell them. But the response we get is almost never what we’re looking for. In fact, it seems that most people can’t understand our dreams. And why should they? The dreams are yours and yours alone! So keep it to yourself, or a small group who thinks like you, and truck on!
  • Enjoy it. I often don’t know how to do this. But having it as a goal in my head seems to help a little. Enjoy your work. Enjoy building your dream. Heck, if you can pull that off, you won’t need to worry about any other strategy.

    PS – Congratulations to Eric and Alex Edwards who won the shameless contest. Send me an email letting me know which book you want and it’ll be shipped out to you pronto!

  • Three Seconds in Sanghar

    What do you get with three seconds in Sanghar? The same thing you get when you smell that fish frying on the skillet – desire.

    I want to go back to Pakistan, anyone want to come?

    I have never really understood why I like living in Pakistan. It’s not a very comfortable place. But, after thinking about it, I think I’ve found a handful of reasons.

  • Pakistan is real. Life is what it is. Sweat. Sorrow. Dirt. It’s not sterile or cut off from the natural world. It’s a part of it.
  • Pakistan is full of people. In Canada I get the feeling that people are incidental. Others just happen to exist. I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. But Pakistan is peopled. I cannot exist without deep relationships. I cannot built an ivory tower for myself.
  • Pakistan is raw. The problems are not superficial. There is no worrying about what to take to a dinner party. If there are worries (and there are) they are about what will be eaten tomorrow or how to get to Karachi this month.
  • Pakistan makes me strong. It’s harsh. The weather is harsh. The food is harsh. The economy is harsh. That’s good for me. That’s good for my family.
  • Pakistan is beautiful. I’m not talking about the glory of the mountains and northern places. I’m talking about the raw, rugged beauty of the arid wastes. The harsh farming fields where life-giving crops struggle and fight to live. The dance of live and death played out on a harsh landscape. There is something appealing to it.
  • Pakistan is loving. My province is a hub for sufism, which is the mystical, hippy-ish branch of Islam. And wow, the Sufis love. They love like mad. They love each other, neighbours and strangers. They even love foreign white folks like me.
  • I could think of other reasons, but that’s enough for now. You should visit.