Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: story

Your Life is a Story

Source: xkcd

     Your life is a story.

     Is it boring?
Would it make the Reader yawn and want to skip pages just to get to the end?

     Is it irrelevant?
Would it make the Reader wonder why he bought the book in the first place?

     Is it selfish?
Would it annoy the Reader with its blatant narcissism?

Or

     Is it heroic?
Would it make the Reader cheer as you go about your quests for justice?

     Is it authentic?
Would it make the Reader look at his own heart to see if he is living an honest life, like you are?

     Is it lovely?
Would the Reader smile with joy as he seems the world in the shining light that you see it in?

     Is it important?
Would it change the Reader and make his world a better place?

     Everyone you meet is a Reader. Do they believe your story?

The Solace of the Solstice

     The Night looked upon the world and laughed. For he was winning.

     He descended and walked through the streets of a tiny village, clothed in darkness and a sharp chill. The sun had long been buried beneath the earth and the stars could not shine through the clouds. The moon was hidden and the only lights were the tiny rebellious lamps in windows. And even those stood lonely and weak.

     It is obvious now, the Night thought. The battle is over. I have overrun the Day. She cannot recover from this depth of darkness. It’s only a matter of time before the sun refuses to rise in the morning.

     A noise arose from the centre of town, just as the darkness gathered to its deepest. The Night smiled and walked toward it. He found the townspeople, marching down the market street. They were cheering.

     At the head of the train were men and women on horses, blowing trumpets and carrying banners displaying a blazing sun. Behind them marched drummers, dressed gayly and pounding out a cheerful rhythm. Behind them the entire town marched. Men and women, girls and boys, all dressed in finery and dancing through the streets. Some carried lanterns on long poles. Some shook bells and tambourines. Some carried massive puppets of sprites and woodland creatures, so large that they needed three men to manipulate. Behind it all was carried a massive wooden figure – a hand, thirty feet tall, clutching a heart. The hand was encircled with dancers who swung fire on torches and ropes.

     The Night frowned. He followed the parade in the shadows and scowled at their merriment. The crowd marched through every street in the town, gaining followers as townspeople left their homes and closed their shops.

     They came to the green in the centre of town and placed their giant wooden idol upon the yellowed grass. And they set up shops and booths and put on mummer’s plays and sold warm ale and cider and meat pies. And fools in motley sang ballads about the victory of the Day while bards and minstrels sang songs of like theme.

     And the fire dancers wove a dervish around the idol and all the people gathered to sing and dance and clap and watch. And, in sickening unison, the dancers bowed low to the idol and set it ablaze. And the people rejoiced as it was consumed.

     “No!” the Night called out. The townspeople stopped their merriment and turned to see him step out from the shadows.

     “What is the meaning of this?” the Night demanded. “I have won! Why do you make merry? This is the longest night there has ever been! It is my zenith! The height of my power! How can you find strength to rejoice on this, darkest of nights? Tell me!”

     The crowd stood silent before him, for he was fearsome to behold. A child pushed her way through the crowd and stood before the Night. She curtsied and addressed him.

     “Sir Night,” she said, “We rejoice because this is the darkest night.”

     “Why would you rejoice over that?”

     “Because, sir Night, there are no nights darker than this. Tomorrow will be brighter. And the next day will be brighter yet. This is the night of your greatest strength. And we have lived. So there is nothing but hope for us.”

     “Hope?!” the Night screamed. “You hope? I’ll show you that I have not yet begun to wane! I will blanket this pitiful town with ice and snow and darkness. And you will regret wasting your fuel on this dance and fire!”

     So the Night retreated to his ethereal domains and opened his storehouse. He took his vials of snow and ice and frost and poured them out upon the earth. And the next day the village was buried. The lake froze and all the grass on the green was covered. The townspeople retreated indoors and burnt wood to keep warm.

     But the night was a little shorter.

     The next day the Night poured sleet and icy rain upon the village. Houses were damaged and an old man died of chill.

     But the night was a little shorter.

     Day after day, the Night devised new ways to torment the village with his icy powers. Livestock perished, food ran scarce, and men and women began to die.

     But the nights grew shorter.

     Until one day, the Night went to his stores, and saw that they had all perished. His vials of ice and snow had melted. His jars of sleet and frozen rain had evaporated. He looked down on the village and saw, to his horror, that the power of his rival, the Day, equalled his own. And the people in the town were holding another festival.

     The green was, once again, green. The trees were alive with blossom. Men and women and girls and boys danced outside without coats and gloves.

     And he saw the truth in the words of the little girl. His reign had ended on the night of his greatest triumph.

     In similar manner, on the darkest night, a Boy was born. And then he died. And the world grew cold and raged against the light of his love. And genocides and wars and hatreds abounded. But his birth was the great Solstice – the Solstice of Solace. And his kingdom shall come.

Plot, Character and Bags of Wit

     I recently finished The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. It reminded me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

     I think every Literature Major across the planet just shuttered.

     But hear me out.

     I was asked what the plot to The Sun Also Rises was. It took me about twenty minutes to answer. And I think I answered it wrong. I sometimes feel the same way when people ask me what The Hitchhiker’s Guide is about. There’s not really much of a plot to it. People complain about holes and the absurdity of every single character and story arc in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. But characters and story arcs are not the point. The story and the characters are just the skeleton to which the massive muscles of wit are attached. Just the bag in which the wit is stored. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a big, beautiful bag of wit. The wit is high and lovely. And if you understand that when you start, you’ll love the book and the lack of coherent plot won’t bother you at all.

     I feel like The Sun Also Rises is similar in a nobler way. The story is the characters. It’s Brett and Cohn and Jake. You cannot put anyone else in their place.

     Other stories are devoted to plot. Replace Harry Tasker with James Bond and you’ll still get a neat movie. But put Robert Langdon in Robert Cohn’s place and everything falls apart.

     Hemingway created real people. And real people don’t need plots and gimmicks to be interesting. They are interesting and beautiful and ugly and tragic and glorious all by themselves.

What Makes a Good Story

  • Good stories are convoluted, for life is convoluted. Anything true is deep and complicated. Every person is interesting and intricate. If these things are not true in a story, the story is lacking.
  • Good stories are beautiful, for life is beautiful. Without beauty the human soul cannot relate perfectly with a story. Without beauty something is missing.
  • Good stories are meaningful, for life is meaningful. In the deepest tragedies, in the most glorious victories and in everything in between there must be meaning. Otherwise why would I care about the story (or life) at all?
  • Good stories are difficult, for life is difficult. You cannot pull good things from life with wrestling. So it is with stories. They should not give up their treasures without a bit of a fight (but not too much).
  • Good stories are fun, for life is fun. A good story must entertain, because life is so very entertaining. If it were not so, why would we keep living?
  • Good stories are emotional, for life is emotional. The good story tugs on your heart, one way or the other. And it hardly seems to matter which way it tugs, so long as it tugs.
  • Good stories are epic, for life is epic. It could be the epic of a lone hobbit triumphing over the immortal dark lord. Or it could be the epic of an illiterate village girl finding, at the end of her life, a friend. The mundane can be epic. Indeed, it must be.
  • Good stories are fantastic, for life is fantastic. Fairies are wonderful things in stories. The fantastic, magical things that dwell in stories mirror the mighty wonders in our world that we cannot understand. Fairies are real, for they mirror something unknown and beautiful in reality. And if your reality is missing things like fairies, I wonder if it’s missing too much.
  • Good stories are truth, for life is true. I was once told that storytellers use lies to tell the truth. And that is the truth.
  • Good stories do not help you escape, for life does not. Entertainment that offers me an escape annoy me. I do not want to escape life, I want to live it more. A good story does not distract you from life. It shows you life. It helps you live life stronger and harder. If you want to escape, try drugs. If you want to live hard, read a good story.
  • You Can’t Define a Story

    People use the word Gospel a lot in my circles. We talk about knowing the Gospel, understanding the Gospel, defining the Gospel. I’ve heard many a preacher talk about how important it is to have a thorough understanding of the Gospel and a right definition of it. But, funnily, usually they don’t actually come through and define it for me. That always bothered me, y’know? Because, how the heck am I supposed to go to heaven if I can’t define the Gospel? Some people try, though. I’ve heard people say that ‘Believe of the Lord Jesus Christ’ is the Gospel. Remember that story? When the jailer wanted to know what he needed to do to be saved? But was that really the Gospel? Or was it just the answer to the jailer’s question?

    It hit me today, though. I figured out what the Gospel was. Are you ready for it? Here it goes:

    Good News (or story)

    We made up the word, eh? We couldn’t figure out how to translate the Greek word so we made up one. Clever of us.

    But, of course, I can’t leave it there. That would be cheating. Even though I know that the word Gospel is no more or less than Good News (or story), I still ought to figure out what that good story is.

    Boom! Epiphany! I’m on a roll today! I figured out what the Good News is! It’s right there in the beginning of the New Testament! What is the first book called?

    The Gospel According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

    What is the Gospel? The whole story. The whole deal. All of it. That’s why preachers stumble when they try to define it (and not leave out any of the details that, left out, will damn you). That’s why Jesus never even tried to define it. You can’t define a story. You can’t define a life. The Gospel is the whole Good News (or story) of Jesus and everything that he is.

    Good luck putting a tag on that!