Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: truth

The Song That No One Has Heard

     I’m kind of a sucker for devotional music from all sorts of religious traditions. I’ll shove John Michael Talbot, Yusuf Islam, and Krishna Das all onto a playlist together. They get along on iTunes, I wonder if they’d get along if they were all in the same room…
     One of Krishna Das’s best songs is Heart as Wide as the World.

I looked away
Your beauty too much to bear
Where could I run?
Your eyes,
I found them everywhere
All I want is to sing to you
The song that no one has heard

     I follow a lot of aspiring writers on Twitter and blogs. Sometimes it’s a tad discouraging because often they talk about ‘essential’ writing subjects like self-promotion, knowing the market and replicating past successes. Many good, talented, creative people just want to write a story that will sell.
     How low.
     I don’t know about other creative people, but I’d do this work even if I knew I’d never make a penny from it. I’ve been doing it for years and I’ve put time and money into it, but I’ve never gotten a cent back. Sure, I’d love to make some money. I’d love to be able to quit my job and spend my life writing. That’d be the cat’s meow. But that’s not ‘all I want.’

All I want…
… is to be a best-seller.
… is to be famous.
… is to get rich.
… is to be the next [insert successful name here].

     Low! Low! Low!
     I look up to the sky and to the infinite space it rests beneath. I look to the Hand that sparked it and all the glories that dwell within it. And all those petty desires fade like a fog when it is faced with the sun’s fury. One desire remains. One thought. One driving force.
     All I want is to sing to you the song that no one has heard.
     And I’m the only one who can sing that song.
     And you’re the only one who can sing yours.

Pacifism and My Violent Book

     I’m a pacifist. Not a passive-ist. A pacifist. I am against violence in all forms for any reasons. Strange, eh?

     I wrote a book that has a lot of violence in it. Bad guys killing and harming good guys. Good guys killing and harming bad guys. Alignment-unknown guys killing and harming … everyone. Blood and death and harm and stuff. It almost makes you wonder how I reconcile that with my beliefs.

     I also tend to enjoy media that has violence in it. Game of Thrones is probably my favourite show in TV right now. And if you’ve ever seen a more violence show, I’d be surprised. And I’d ask what kind of sick cable channel you are subscribing to. Most of the books I read have violence. Every video game I play involves blowing something up.

     So what gives, Matt? You some kind of ridiculous hypocrite or something?

     Probably. But not for that reason.

     I find violence reprehensible because of the suffering it causes and the damage it does to the violent’s soul. But I cannot deny that violence has been a part of the human experience ever since we crawled out of the goop. I’d be willing to bet that everyone has an ancestor who took lives through violence. It’s engrained in us. That’s one of the reasons most people find the idea of pacifism so repulsive.

     Art is not idealized life. It’s elevated life. Art (literature, paintings, performances, TV shows, etc) needs to show every true aspect of life. And one of the most basic and foundational truths about the lives we live, is violence and death. Like Hemingway said, “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”

     A writer, or any other artist, has no right to keep from his or her reader those things he disagrees with. That’s one of the reasons why I find it very difficult to reader Christian novels. They are sterile. There is no shit, only poop. And it’s not poop that ever hits the fan.

     I hate violence in any situation. But it’s a part of life, so it needs to go in the stories I make. Just like I hate malice and conflict and suffering and sickness and cancer. These horrid things are all around us. The writer who leaves them out of his book had better have a good reason for it.

Honestly

     Without honesty, you’re dead.

     Trust me, I know. I used to lie to everyone. Everyone. It was tough. I would cry myself to sleep. Well, man-cries, at least.

     It took a while to find someone I could be honest with. And then I found him – myself. It was a bit of a shock, really. Because I knew me to be a pretty judgmental fellow.

     I had been lying to me for years. It was a little scary once I gave myself permission to tell the truth. But, man, it did great things for me.

     A weight came off my shoulders. I know it sounds cliche, but I can’t think of any better way of putting it. I was free. Suddenly the future looked brighter. And, better than that, the present looked bright, too.

     Then I looked to my right and saw my wife. It turns out she had been standing there the whole time, ready and willing to hear my honesty. So I gave it to her. And she was gentle with it. She touched my honesty as I held it out to her, and smiled at it.

     “I’m on a roll,” I thought. I looked around to see who else I could be honest with. I looked up and wondered about God.

     I’ve have a very complicated relationship with the divine. I’ll tell you about it one day. But I figured it was about time to get honest with God. I went to find him and let him know how I really felt.

     But God was not where I had left him. The lock on the door was smashed, you see. It fell apart the day I started being honest with myself. So my concept of God broke free. And God has been leading me on a merry chase through the universe ever since. And he’s been blowing my mind.

     I’m honest with a bunch of people now. It’s nice. It’s freeing. Sometimes it’s dangerous and leads to anger and confusion, but that’s okay. Because most of the time, people look at your honesty and smile. Because I’m free inside and the burden on my back is light. One day I’ll be honest with everyone. One day I’ll be honest with all you wonderful people who read these silly little posts. Not today, but one day.

     Are you honest with you?

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?

When Your Story Isn’t True

    I was stuck.

    Ever been stuck?

    On a creative project?

    It’s not writer’s block. It’s something different. Something elusive and singularly frustrating. A large, pulsating tumor of Resistance.

    This particular Resistance was centered around a certain section of the story. It pricked at me because I knew exactly what needed to happen. I tried every strategy I had heard of to break it.

    I tried outlining it to death. Useful, but the Resistance stayed.

    I tried leaving it and rewriting other parts of the book. Productive, but the Resistance stayed.

    I tried reading lots of fantasy books to jump-start my inspiration. Fun, but the Resistance stayed.

    I figured it out last night.

    I was bored. Restless. Distracted.

    That meant my story wasn’t quite true.

    You see;

Every good story is true. Even if it never happened.

So if the story is not good, it’s not true. And there are two possibilities when you find that your story is not true.

    (a) You have added false things to your story. Is there something false about your plot, characters or world? Falseness stands out in a story like the sound of nails on a board. Find the false and cut it out.

    (b) There is some important truth missing.

    It was (b). There was something missing. Once I realized it I immediately knew what it was. Scenes. Characters. An entire sub-plot. It’s a lot of stuff. Maybe ten thousand words of stuff. Or more.

    Now, if this was any other job I’d be upset about it. I’d be tempted not to add it, because of all the work it’s going to be. It could be a full two weeks of writing. And that’s if all my writing sessions are good ones.

    But I wasn’t upset.

    I wasn’t discouraged.

    I was elated.

    It doesn’t matter how much work a good story needs. I’m not too upset that George R.R. Martin took 5 years to write A Dance With Dragons. It was a good story. A true story. It was worth 5 years.

    And my story will be worth however long it takes to write.

    Will yours?

Tell Me a Story

Stories are important to me.  You want to know why?  I’ll tell you.

  1. Stories can hold a lot more meaning and truth in a shorter form than mere preaching and info-dumps.
  2. Stories are an expression of the creative spark that God placed in every human.
  3. Stories can preserve, proclaim and process Truth.
  4. Jesus told stories.  Much of the Bible is devoted to stories.
  5. Stories, when properly enjoyed, are more fun than TV, movies and video games put together.
  6. Stories are able to tell us many things about many subjects in a very short time.
  7. Stories exercise our creativity.
  8. Stories last forever.
  9. Stories, when written well, can be a powerful force for good.
  10. I like stories.

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