In the palm of our hands fit the pinnacle of tech innovation - because it can do everything, and it has built into it the potential to expand indefinitely. More memory and more processing and more potential emerge with each successive jump. We used to read tales of intelligent technology and be terrified by them, and now we dang near murder each other on days once reserved or thanks for the smallest, most powerful versions of it to stick in our pocketsRead More
This is long and ashamedly rambly. I was just in quite a rambly mood today, I'm afraid. Please read it all, for I have several times and am not yet dead, but know that I won't be offended if you turn it off halfway. Not everyone can handle the burden of truth being poured onto them.** **That was purposely arrogant and inflammatory. I'm trying to catch your attention by being humorously cocky and reproachable right off the get-go. If that didn't work, here's some wisdom from Doctor Who, which should interest every single one of you:
"Have you ever seen monsters?" "Oh yes." "Are you scared of them?" "No. They're scared of me." - The Eleventh Doctor
Doctor Who and Introduction
It is without shame that I tell you I am veritably enthralled by the long-running BBC Television show Doctor Who. I cannot pretend to be a Who-hipster, for I was not alive when it started, nor can I say that I've been a member of the Whovian society for any long period of time. Quite the opposite, in fact: it has been only a few short months. But in these few short months, I have found myself doing very little besides reading profusely, writing (I figure now, while I have the time, means, and motivation, is when I should write that book), and watching the Doctor save the universe in countless situations infinitely more creative than my feeble mind could contrive, and in the meantime highlight the beauty of humanity and their intense dependence on something bigger than themselves.
In the section quoted above, a little boy caught in the middle of a crisis involving your run-of-the-mill otherworldy Who beasties is talking with the Doctor. He senses the threat and accurately gauges the immediacy of the situation, but asks, in a moment of seeking reassurance, about the Doctor's history of dealing with similar things. The Doctor, famous for having dashed alien hopes of universe-domination, foiled plans of genocide, and saved his numerous companions' lives time and again, responds with confidence and appropriate swagger, then characteristically smirks in the face of evil.
Confidence is praised nowadays; misplaced or inappropriate confidence is arrogance and foolishness. We see both in the lives of athletes, in the style of movie stars, in the words of introverted twenty-somethings on blogs on the internet. We are quick to call it "arrogance" in other people, but just as quick to call it "confidence" in ourselves. We are quick to think ourselves unworthy of either, and quick to overcompensate.
Perhaps it is that our mirrors are rather cloudy and dishonest. Perhaps it is our eyes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: I see a whole lot of loathing and so little efforts for improvement; I see a whole lot arrogance and so little preparation.
What This Is Not, and What This Is
I am not thinking today about image or self-confidence along those lines, necessarily, though those thoughts do come to mind. It deserves a whole spot of its own and is quite pressing, I'm afraid, though today is not the day for it. This is not about the back-end, or how you look at yourself in light of who you truly are, for that is only the second half of the problem. This is not about vanity or even necessarily physical things
What I am addressing is what I see when I look at the majority of my generation. I see a group of people content to be what the generation before them handed down, who can honestly say that apathy is a virtue. Who socially network rather than figure themselves out. I see a generation with access to more information and knowledge than any that has come before them, yet more ignorant than any about how to use it. I see boys seeing domination as strength and girls seeing beauty as worth. I see people who think doing something worthwhile means doing something worth Instagramming; I see people for whom thoughts are merely Tweets. I see an age of humanity defined by what somebody else has said rather than what they have worked for.
And I see so few confronting it. Too many of us see "comfortable" as a good thing. So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound.
We have lost all concept of self, because we have plenty of things to distract from it... and they are sneaky things, at that: the conception that you are what your Facebook says you are or that who you are is defined by your job. Instead of asking ourselves, "who am I?" we post pictures of ourselves and say, "this is who I am."
There is a discrepancy there, and it is extremely bothersome.
The Swelling Hurricane
I dropped a sentence a second ago as sort of preparation for where this was headed, as a gust to store up some energy in these sails. I'll say it again here: So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound. I spent a good deal of time in the Philosophy and Religion department at UTC (since I studied Philosophy) and noticed a particularly fascinating trend: that the grand majority of people involved in it were vehemently atheistic, both professors and students alike.
What happened is they started asking questions and seeking answers anywhere they could find them. And when they couldn't find them easily or the conventional answers of their small Baptist churches just wouldn't cut it anymore, they conceded defeat to the overwhelming pangs of despair. They looked at one group of people claiming Absolute Truth and saw a completely different group halfway across the world and 8 million people big claiming a completely different Absolute Truth and decided everyone was wrong. Or they succumbed to the problem of evil: If one of two contraries is infinite, the other is destroyed. God is infinite goodness; if there were God, there would be no evil. There is evil; so, therefore, there is no God.
The arguments against God are powerful and persuasive, indeed like monsters in the closet of an 8 year old are when it's dark and he's trying to sleep. But they're embedded everywhere, and we're trained not to fight them. We yell at characters in poorly written horror movies when they decide to go towards the creaking under the stairs or the moaning from the attic. We're embedded with a fear of evil and the desire to run when it's scary.
To keep a consistent theme, though: The Doctor tells us, "Never run when you're scared." (Rule 7)
There is a storm in the air, horesemen afoot, and the battle for belief is raging.
And we who believe are not winning.
The War Without a Winner (or, apparently, a study in alliteration)
Sam Harris wrote in his book Letter to a Christian Nation that it is religion, belief, "god" that has poisoned our world, incited wars, dumbed the people, and placated a mass of people to the point of wasting their lives chasing invisible friends and waiting on some future judgment that will never come. Christopher Hitchens calls belief irrational and destructive. Richard Dawkins calls God an unnecessary invention by people incapable of handling reality.
And more believers are believing them every day. The armies are being stacked in their favor, because believers are being convinced by faulty rhetoric that Christ and Reason cannot exist together. That metaphysics and God are equivalent, and that they have a place in haughty classroom discussion and nowhere else. But the thing is that the opposition is using recycled arguments to attack Faith, and Faith is using recycled arguments to respond. We're stuck in a loop with one side crying, "you're ugly!" and the other sticking their fingers in their ears shouting back, "la la la, I can't hear you!"
We've both become dull and insulting: the attackers of Faith have betrayed their god of Reason and the believers their God of Truth.
Here is the bottom line. Christians have become comfortable with their churches and their ideas that God is a exactly the thing that they imagine, so when something comes along and challenges the toy box they keep in their prayer rooms, they panic.
There is a fallacy in the study of logic called the Straw Man. It's basically as you would imagine: to "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. Unbelief attacks Christianity based upon the constraints it has put upon it. Based upon what Christians have made it. It attacks tradition rather than Truth, because Truth is contested only by fools.
Jesus said that His purpose on Earth was to bear witness to Truth, which is why the Jesus we have constructed that exists to ease pain and hug people crumbles under attack. Straw men have no backbone, no substance, and burn easily when touched with fire.
But Christians are doing little to counter it. Instead of arming ourselves, learning the things of God rather the things we've constructed of God, and worshipping Jesus as Truth, we trust in the easy thing - which is also the easy thing to attack, and the easy thing to lose faith in. With a faith in the same Straw Man that is easy to attack comes all of the terrible things we write eloquently to fight: we succumb to vanity and pornography and insecurity and fear and addiction the thought that our dirty pasts are insurmountable and we're not rescued by our god because he's warding off crows from crops. Misrepresentations of God are being attacked because misrepresentations of God are being followed.
So what are those of us who wish to counter unbelief to do? We must figure out what we stand for and then stand for it. We cannot be told answers, we must search them out. We can't be handed faith, we must work it out for ourselves with fear and trembling. We can't forget that something obtainable can be taken away, so we must grasp it ever tighter when the threat of its removal comes upon us.
We must stand with the confidence that we lack, because monsters won't shy from uncertainty. Confidence comes through preparation, and somebody who tells you that God will give it to you just because you asked for it is lying to you. God will do His part - He's told you that.
But the ability to fight a war doesn't come from lying in bed. We must take up arms and learn to use them, study the opposition's tactics to be able to counter them, and face the beasties in our closets atop their black horses and say, "I'm not afraid of you because I know you. You can't say something to dissuade me because I know what you will say. You can't take away my God because He gave you the Reason you think refutes Him."
Salvation is not through works - do not think that I'm trying to say anything of the sort. But it is true that the children of God will be known by their fruit. Take a step back and look at yourself. All aspects of it. Look at who you are at school, at home, on the internet, and tell me what is being glorified: you, your Straw Man, or God? It's one of the three, I promise.
Who do you carry that torch for, my young man, Do you believe in anything? Do you carry it around just to burn things down?
Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.
"You haven't a real appreciation of Newspeak, Winston," he said almost sadly. "Even when you write it you're still thinking in Oldspeak. I've read some of those pieces that you write in the Times occasionally. They're good enough, but they're translations. In your heart you'd prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words."
-Syme in George Orwell's 1984
What Words Are
I have an extraordinary interest in words, which makes it nigh impossible to enjoy things like news reports, political speeches, song lyrics, small-talk, and the vast majority of church sermons.
A word is the most potent poison known to mankind: it can disintegrate a man from the inside without so much as a mark on the skin to prove it was ever there. A word is the sharpest dagger that a human can wield: capable of backstabbing, dark-alley threatening, and trust evaporating; useful for flashing at oncoming threats and baring before impending fights. A word is the hottest fire to alight the torches of men: it can roast our enemies, warm cold hearts, light up cavernous rhetoric, and signal for help to anyone who will listen.
Yet we toss them around as if they were gumdrops.
Glance up at the top of this post at the quote from Brand New's song "The Archers Bows Have Broken" and notice what Jesse Lacey is saying: he conjures the image of a young man in possession of a fire, a weapon, if you will, capable of both harm and good, and asks "What are you doing with it? Do you just enjoy burning things down?" We don't let people drive who would be dangerous and destructive behind the wheel to those around them, yet we hand ill-suited politicians and celebrities and news agencies and filmmakers and religious leaders microphones and free passes into our homes without so much as bracing ourselves for collision.
We also forget that the same weapons that are used for attack are used to parry - we would rather cry in outrage than raise our well-prepared guard to block. We're an army upset that the other side has weapons rather than an army that trains to use our own.
Fall Out Boy puts it: "I am an arms dealer fitting you with weapons in the form of words." We sing from our childhood: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." We read that the Word of God is: "sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Aldous Huxley writes in Brave New World: “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
They're weapons. And yet we toss them like snakes on Sand Mountain and cry in bitterness when they bite.
Why Words are Dangerous
I mentioned that "Sticks and stones" little ditty above. It has always been a strange little saying to me, because honestly, sticks and stones hurt less and for a far shorter time than words do. Bruises heal, scars fade, broken bones are set again, but one mention of inadequacy haunts a man for a lifetime. One mention of "ugly" outweighs thirty mentions of "beautiful."
A brief lesson in something that interests me:
Take the word "tree." Write it, read it, speak it, think it. T-R-E-E.
We have learned that this arrangement of letters, when positioned next to each other, signifies some object "out there" in the real world. In semiotics-talk, the compilation of letters is called the sign and the object being pointed to the signified. Nothing about the tall, organic structure wrapped with bark, sitting atop a spider's web of roots and topped with slowly changing colored appendages is represented by the sign "tree." The word doesn't look like what we think of trees as looking like. It doesn't sound on our tongues how trees sound in nature. It doesn't smell of tree or taste of tree or feel of tree, yet we still link the two terms together because that is how wonderful brains are.
So words are more than weapons, they are (more innocuously or dangerously, I'm not sure yet) signs. It's not the word that holds any power. In fact, this is the part where I dismantle what I said before: words hold no power.
But they are capable of such destruction because of what they are. Signs are intensely more dangerous because they point to something inside of us that begs recognition in order to be effective. You can block physical pain, so I hear, after years of practice or repeated intense encounters with it. But the very act of comprehending words is enough of a crack in the toughest armor to let the flood in. They bridge physical stuff (sound waves, vibrating lips, facial expressions) and spiritual stuff (what keeps you awake at night in cold sweats counting revolutions of ceiling fans contrasted against an off-white stucco ceiling wondering exactly what they meant by "thunderously incompetent").
To reference the second quote above: It is not the word fire which burns, it is the thing that the word "fire" points to. But the word, after a good long time burning your hand in flames, would surely bring up some painful memories.
**Ignore this paragraph if you feel it is too off topic. I won't make it long. I think that it is a fun thing anyway (and I must work some understanding of God into all of this. That's the reason I write these blamed things anyway.) We humans are nothing but words, I think. Sure, we can punch one another and go to war and whatnot, which are quite physical acts, but I believe that we are not but signs to a higher signified. It's in the very beginning of the Bible - even the people who read it and get bored with it get to this part: "Let us make man in our image." Remember it? That word "image" is more appropriately "icon," which is nothing but a pointer. A sign. We were created with some kind of significance that points to the thing being signified. We were created to be little word-vessels that, when other vessels see us walking about and interacting with one another, they say, "God." But I won't ramble about this. Feel free to ask and I'd love to explain my thoughts on it :)
Why I Will Endorse Them Anyway
This is easy: I will endorse words because words are some of the most beautiful things we possess, and that is not just the English nerd in me speaking. Words accomplish more than we would ever give them credit for because a great number of people who are quite skilled at using them are also colossal, raging imbeciles and give things like "rhetoric" and "persuasion" dirty connotations. Words communicate to the soul, they pass instruction, they call attention to things not in the room and which have never before been seen: "It's around the corner about two feet down underneath a green box." or "The picture I'm talking about is the one where she is in the flannel shirt in her back yard and she leans towards whoever was taking the picture with this smile that fills you from the inside and makes you want to miss somebody."
Words are powerful little things not because of what they are, but because of what they represent. They can tear down governments and stop wars before they happen and tell somebody that they are loved. They connect the stuff of the brain and the soul with the stuff of the world, making it so that when I have a thought, I can share it with you. They can let you see me, and not just how I look, but who I am.
Of course, they can trick you too, or be as empty and vapid as the wind. You've heard it: "actions speak louder than words," and apparently a picture is worth a thousand of them. I wrote a short poem about them not too long ago which tries to address this - because things like words can't be captured simply with prose about them. They're half spirit anyway.
Syme and the champions of Newspeak (The Ministry's brutal shorthand) in 1984 lambast what they call "Oldspeak," which is simply English as you're reading it now, with its "vagueness and shades of meaning." It encourages thoughtcrime (crimes against the government that are thought, not acted upon) because they are precisely what enable it, and by ridding the language of all traces of words related to thoughtcrime, it could be eliminated altogether. Think of it: harboring something so deep-seeded and crucial to let out but not having the language to do so.
Silencing is the highest form of imprisonment, for it muzzles the soul; verbal is the hardest abuse to forget, for our spirit heals slower than our body.* Take away my liberty, that's one thing - but take away my voice and I am suffocated.
Verse yourself with the attributes and capabilities of words and suddenly slogging through political drivel and consumer culture is cake. The vast majority of preaching nowadays is exposed. Literature comes alive and bad literature becomes appalling. Interactions become more meaningful because you begin to abhor small-talk and flippant remarks and useless brandishings of what can be beautiful things now made profane.
Develop your voice or you waste it and you disrespect people who have sacrificed to give it to you. Build one another up, because the same tools that rip apart walls can construct sanctuaries. If you can, speak for the voiceless, stick up for the innocents imprisoned, and combat slavery wherever you find it, even if all you know how to do is yell loud enough to gather a crowd.
Share your heart with fire and it will be heard.
*I am not saying these things as an expert in any way on abuse or imprisonment or the atrocities of human against human unnecessary violence. I am drawing only from what I have been told and from my own experience, which is, thank God, extraordinarily limited. Being shoved in lockers and pygmy traps and eating pre-licked french fries and being called "freak" and other silly hardships hardly compare with the scope of what people have put other people through. My point is not that you forget the violence, it's the insistence that you are worthless that's harder to shake than it is for the skin to heal.
We depart for civilization in 6 hours and all I can think about is how dark it is in this room and how Andrew is in the bunk across from me hogging all of the sleep. Or: what is vacation, a place to get away or a place to get alone?
Or: what I need is fresh air and I need to dig words out of that dusty place I threw them when we got here. For some reason.
Words are stubborn when they've been wadded up. They crinkle a little in their unfolding and you have to flex them back and forth for them to be of any use. Go figure, you don't call for a week and all of the sudden they're mad at you like you did something wrong. You tell them you just didn't need them right now because you're trying to unwind and take a breath before the train hits again and they get all defensive cause they feel like you're using them. You forget that words have feelings too. And trust issues, I think.
I tell them, let's take a stroll, because we need to talk, and I figure the humidity would help with that.
I step outside and I can smell the ocean. I can feel on my skin the sticky hot Atlantic wind and the salt in the air makes me thirsty. When the air conditioner kicks off behind me I can hear the steady rhythm of the waves crashing to a meter that seems asymmetrical at first, but on longer listen is just a complex set of hits stretched out over an ambling, slow, incredibly steady tempo. We are waltzing, that sound and I. We're going nowhere in a hurry.
And now I'm asking something different. Something about what keeps sleep away. Something about what brings it in the first place. Something about the nature of things that comes alive on still hot nights like this.
I always related to Thomas the most, I think because I know I would have been the one trying to call Peter and the Beloved one out on their excitement until I actually put my hands in the gaping, miraculous, saving holes. I can look back on him and frown and ask him "how could you" when really I should just look at myself and mutter the very same words. Ask myself if I believe simply because I have seen, or vice versa. The curse of looking for reason and knowing that until you find it there will be sleepless nights. The pain in that place you can't touch when belief sometimes feels like a listing sailboat after a changed wind. When you wish you could be Elijah and call down fire from heaven not so much for proof but just to see something wet catch fire.
Sometimes even just for the proof, I suppose.
You can drown in your unbelief, and it does feel like drowning. Gasping, groping, frantically kicking your feet until your hands slide upon something already being rocked gently to sleep by the tide. When finally on the surface you realize that it is the surface itself that snapped you awake. Just when you started to think that your whole world was underwater and enslaved to wet, you burst to the surface and your lungs ache for more of whatever it is up here that just tastes so good. You realize there's way more up here than there was down there and you can see better too.
You can hear, somewhere in the distance, those waves pounding the shore being heard by a boy sweating and swatting flies on a porch in South Carolina.
The funny thing about them is that as they roll over the sand they pay no mind to us. We can build sand castles to try to stand in their way but the water won't have it. We can try to drown out the sound with music but they crash all the more. We can film them and stick them in a spotlight and draw attention to their beauty but they pulse humbly. We can mock them with barriers but they will power through them mightily.
They are constant. The same when husbands get fired and when brothers die and when babies are born and when teenagers get pregnant and when empires fall and when songs are written and when animals sleep and when it rains and when boys want so hard to just believe as fierce as the sea but let reason get in the way. These waves operate separate from reason. Blame it on rotating planets and spinning moons and shifting continental shelves and trade winds all you want and the waves will be there when you crawl back to simply see them. They represent something that goes on despite us. One way in a long list of ways God can shake us up to refresh our belief. One thing in a long list of things that proves that there is something besides us and our petty human problems.
They are beautiful to taste for a soul crying "why".
I believe this is all the thought I am allowed on this sticky summer's eve before my skin becomes fodder for a thousand hungry insects who will bite me no matter the vigor with which I question them.
Since apparently I've been on this "how is it you can't see what I see" kick, we'll keep going with it. It is disgusting how much of a sucker I am for good writing. When I read or see or hear something that just drips with lexical fluidity or a fresh voice or an appropriately complex story made to sound as simple as a front-porch fish tale, there's a small nerve inside my heart that gets caressed and rubbed back to life. People are unknowingly drawn to these sources of deep emotional warmth without realizing why, and can easily pick "good" writing out from "bad" simply because something makes it stand out from the abyss of modern culture.
There's a touch of something Real to it.
Obligatory Header Number One: Contrasting Examples In my line of thinking, good writing (and good guitar tone... but that's a different story altogether haha) reflects God, whether it means to or not. I drafted something like twenty sentences before settling on that one, because I figured there had to be a more eloquent way to put it... but I don't know that there is, and I think that the point of this post is to explain why.
I recently read the entire Harry Potter series over the course of like two months, and it only took me that long because I had a thousand other things that I should have been doing. Also because I drug out the last few chapters simply because I didn't want it to end (a technique I learned from my Grandmother). Because I'm a man, I don't cry at stupid things like dumb books </burly voice> but if I did, it wouldn't be because of any particular character that JK Rowling crafted or any exotic location she dreamed up, it would be because of the grace she employed in using "ordinary" circumstances to tackle heavy subject matter. It was the ease with which she dipped you into her imagination and the clarity that drenched her language. It was the fact that I disliked Harry's character, which I think was deliberate on her part, but found myself still rooting for his cause and touched by the loyalty of his friends despite their disapproval of his methods because they rooted for the same cause. It was the way that she had the entire series planned before publishing the first book.
It was the way that she demonstrated excellence at her craft.
For the complete opposite side of the coin and the source I will use as my second example, I recently played through, for the first time, the game BioShock. I started it out of curiosity because I had read a review online and I could get it straight from the Mac App store. What I found was a terrifying vision of a very possible future completely consumed with image-making, genetic alteration, and obsession with physical perfection. Where aesthetic is god. And this story captivated me.
Because my readers are less likely to be familiar with this than with Harry Potter, I'll side-chain briefly to give you the lowdown on what this game is about and why it is interesting. Hang on, because it gets kind of sci-fi. Years and years ago, Andrew Ryan, the embodiment of Ayn Rand's idealistic philosophy called Objectivism, built a city at the bottom of the sea where creation and self-perfection could be uninhibited by moral and social boundaries. He harvested stem cells from sea slugs that could be used to genetically modify specific parts of whoever ingested them. People gained the ability to produce electricity, fire, ice, etc. from their hands. They developed telekinesis. They thickened their skin, sped up their legs, strengthened their minds. But, like the businessman that he was, Ryan, completely controlled the supply of these gene "drugs". The rich could afford them and the poor became junkies for the stuff and like that a class war was waged. The city fell to the overwhelming amount of people fiening for more, called "splicers", and, in the alternate, dystopian, steampunked history of 1960, the story of BioShock begins.
Unbeknownst to the majority of those who play it, it is a story drenched in the terror of a Godless society. The imagery is abundant: the genetic modifiers are called Adam. The tonic you need to use more of the Adam is Eve. The city is appropriately called Rapture, and the welcome banner to the fallen Rapture reads: "No gods or kings, only men". The consequences are clear and the horror is palatable.
How Gamers and Nerds Got it (Partially) Right
Both of these stories, completely opposite of each other, can be used to illustrate what I'm talking about. I think about the intricacies of these creations, neither of which was written by people who claim to know the same Savior that I do, and, without meaning to, they both demonstrate qualities reminiscent of my God. Rowling and Ken Levine accomplished something most Christians pathetically overlook - excellence and intricacy. By pouring themselves into their creations, the final results were beautiful. By laboring over minute details which are simply packed into the Potter series, Rowling accomplished a masterpiece. By telling "simple" stories soaked to their roots with passion, they related the mundane to the supernatural. The story of persisting for good in the face of unspeakable (literally... they couldn't say his name) evil and the futility of playing God were told with fresh voices and beauty.
I am not going to turn this into another criticism of "God-culture" because 1) with the exception of a few areas, the content being produced has improved dramatically and 2) we are not here to create culture. What I am going to do is claim "popular culture" as yet another place we can see shadows of the face of God.
Go to the art museum downtown and get lost inside the level of achievement by the most diverse collection of men and women possible and tell me that you aren't overwhelmed with the presence of the Creator who gave those artists their brushes. Read Keats' Great Odes and simply try not to realize that when he is talking about the Spirit of Poetry (or the Nightingale or The Grecian Urn -- "Beauty is Truth"), he's getting at the very nature of God, and then feel sad that he never realized it himself. Surround yourself with city hippies and bands who just love playing music and tell me that the constant amid all of the chaos isn't the Source of music itself.
What I am going to do is claim that you don't have to be in a "Christian" environment to praise Christ. What I am saying is quit trying so hard to act like a Christian and instead act like someone grateful for an infinite gift they have been given.
While there is one very specific, narrow way to actually get to God, what I am saying is that today's age of agnosticism is unfounded, needlessly stubborn, and perpetuated by the blind. Unfortunately, I think that the same thing can be said about today's obsession with mediocrity.
So I wrote this post early this morning in a fit of unsleepyness at the end of a discouragingly long span of time since my last. And I figured that the middle of a "fulfilling requirements" class in between work and work was a fitting time to publish it.
Got sick of the marching band and lost my head I am the straw that broke the camel's back Sometimes you gotta let it all out
I see you talking but I don't hear words I'm just a gerbil in the wheel, caught
Sometimes you gotta let it all out
I finally got to see Lovedrug a while ago in the dingy basement of a record shop in Nashville. Michael Shepard and I spoke for brief moments next to their merch table (which he was manning) where I told him that he and his band inspired me and that he should keep fighting the good fight and that I would buy and have bought all of his cd's from eternity to eternity and all of that cliché nonsense that he has surely heard a hundred times before.
Phase 1: Inspiration Riding Triumphantly on her White Horse I watched and listened that night to songs I'd memorized as if they were new; I was inspired all over again. I wanted a James and a Thomas and a Jeremy to be equally as passionate about the things I am and to be pumped to play in a basement half full of 50 people who knew every word to our songs and to realize that's more special than an arena full of people who had just heard them on the radio before. I wrote and prayed and began looking for these people who could get excited with me about nerdy things like tone and music for the love of it and songs that were songs, not regurgitated formulas for a twisted commercial version of success (look at how hipster I sound right now).
Phase 2: The 100m Hurdles Nights like those are beautifully dangerous. They create a little bubble in the passing of time where you neither become tired nor regain awareness of the still-turning world outside of it until it pops. It lingers like remnants of a dream in the recesses of your chest so that you remember specific feelings rather than actual events that took place.
It takes a minute to readjust your mind's eye to reality. As it refocuses, people for a minute seem horrific like trees because they did not exist for the hour and half previously. Work reappears from the happy fog. The night air loses its shine and becomes humid and closes its gentle hands around your neck so slowly you can't feel it until it is too late and already choking you. You still have all of those papers to write.
However, the dream is still fresh in your muscle memory. It has embedded itself in that place where you won't and can't forget it, for it is all that tethers you to the moment that was suspended before you set out on your drive back to the desert of the real. But all of the sudden, upon arriving back home, the music will just have to wait until you turn in that portfolio and change that projector bulb and write those chord charts and collect that paycheck and run that mile a day in the spinning tire in your cage next to the water bowl and food bucket atop the bed of pencil shavings.
Phase 3: The Gerbil in the Wheel Months go by and you can't even so much as type words on the internet or scratch them out with a dying pen on paper. You can only hum other people's melodies. You never even pretended that yours were better or even good but they were yours. Stephen Crane captured the feeling perhaps better than anybody:
"In the desert I saw a creature, naked, bestial, Who, squatting upon the ground, Held his heart in his hands, And ate of it. I said, 'Is it good, friend?' It is bitter -- bitter,' he answered, But I like it Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart."
But eventually you can't even partake of it, for all of your running on the wheel. For all of your changing of projector bulbs and fetching coffee grounds and showing up at class not to learn but to be counted present and your checking your pockets for the words that used to flow through you but now dangle like the carrot in front of a donkey tied to a mill.
And all the while your legs, and your heart, pump furiously.
Phase 4: Dawn A thought occurs to you: the wheel only keeps spinning because you keep running. Your schedule is full but you take a chance anyway and all of the sudden you get new music (still not your own, but it's a step) and new people with whom to play it. People playing who love to play and people listening who love to listen. Your cage still functions without your constant treading on the rungs of the wheel and plus, now that rhythmic squeak from the joint is gone. You realize there is more to be attained.
The wildest notion appears as well: you don't even need that wheel in your cage. You just ran on it because it was there and now you question that decision in the first place. Don't get caught up with jogging on the treadmill if you want to run a marathon. If you were created to color, don't be content with the 12-pack of crayons. Don't even be content when you get the 200-pack with 12 shades of purple and twin sharpeners in the back. Don't be happy just because you get a bigger wheel - for it is still a wheel.
Horribly overused by teenage girls on Tumblr but relevant nonetheless:
"If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." ~Vincent Van Gogh
We were created by a creative God to be creative, not complacent. Complacency is a slap in His face. You were given something that you love to do, so for the love of Him who gave it to you, do it. Don't write because you crave fame, write because unless you write you feel incomplete. The same goes for crunching numbers and hugging strangers and feeding orphans and smiling and teaching dogs how to jump rope.
If we focused half of our attention on the things we were created to do than we do on comparing ourselves to everybody and everything around us, think of what we could accomplish. Beauty cannot be found in magazines, it must be pursued. Beauty is felt, not seen, and anybody who tries to say anything else is sadly lost to a generation full of people trying to be something that they are not.
I have heard people who claim to love the same God I do tell me they are not good at anything because they can't draw pictures or play the piano or make a really really good milkshake like somebody else they've seen. They are envious not of possessions but of love. They have fallen into the trap that says unless people are listening they are not successful... even though the people they envy couldn't care less if people are listening or reading or tasting or not. We must stop treading our squeaky wheels in our cages and being content with it and we must start doing what we love because we love doing it, and we can feel the Almighty smile when we get it done. Play your guitar not so people can hear you, but because you must play it.
I can't help but think that God would feel closer to us if we'd quit running our individual acts of worship by people first.
I stole a moment only to not know what to do with it. I can sit in silence and admire it as one admires a painting of fruit. I can fill it, as I would a vase or a box, with something physical and hold onto the thrill of the act of saving for a time very soon when I have time for nothing of the sort. I can use it as an opportunity to develop an idea or a concept that could blossom into something marvelous. I could read. I could write. I could waste it in front of the TV, where it filters away like water through a strainer, leaving me only the imperfections as I move on to the next large thing in my path.
I am in-between. An appointment and a rehearsal. A paper and a production. A departure and an arrival.
And I have time to breathe for this one stolen moment.
And all I can think of is how deafening silence is after sound, how guilty I feel for sitting down, and what to do that will not waste this moment I have deftly purloined from the American Dream. And how as soon as I make up my mind, it is time to leave again.
Since coming back from break, I have felt like a kid on roller skates holding on to an unravelling rope behind a train with a deadline to keep. I don't know what drowning feels like, but I can't imagine that the gasping, helpless breaths full of water feel a whole lot different. There is an onslaught of things coming up in my near future. Awesome opportunities. Papers, books, due dates, discussion questions, orchestra rehearsals, youth and college bands, tech weeks, opening night.
This train is hurtling forward, its incredible inertia dragging me along like the cans attached to the bumper of a recently nuptiated couple. (Yes, I make up words. Get off it.)
And all I can think about is this: not only is this train not the only one; not only are these tracks underneath the heating wheels of my rocketing roller skates not the only tracks; not only would other routes take me to the same train station, but there is no law that says I have to go to that station. Nobody even told me that I had to wear these skates or hold onto this fraying rope or expect to arrive somewhere at a certain time, I just assumed that this is what I have to do because everybody else seems to be doing the same.
I apologize. I feel slightly metaphorical this morning.
What I am trying to say is that I, like everybody that I know, am a fly caught inside this elaborate, encompassing, intricate, ever-expanding web when there is a whole field of grass around me and an entire sky of flight above me. I am the ball in a well-lubricated roulette wheel that is locked forever in its spinning, with people expecting me to land on their number and getting mad at me when I don't when there is a vast casino just over the wall.
I am completely missing the point, and perhaps you are too. Instead of kicking furiously and trying to get your groggy arms to coordinate and propel you to the surface, hold your breath for a moment. Feel the weightlessness of underwater. Stop grasping desperately at the rope connecting you to the thing you were told is your destination. Fly high enough to avoid the spider webs glistening with morning dew. Defy gravity.
This does not mean that I am dropping out of school and driving from city to city with my guitar telling people that I will play for them if they give me dinner. It doesn't mean that I will give in to the sometimes overwhelming and often stifling frustration of a city (state?country?world?) full of guitarists calling themselves musicians. I will not pretend to have it all figured out.
It does mean that I will find joy in the search. It does mean that I will lean more heavily on my Father's support and the promise of a plan.
It does mean that I will quit my furious struggle to surface and instead breathe deep the air that greets my lungs as my body floats naturally up. Instead of my white-knuckled grasp on the worn rope behind that hurtling train I will relax and trust the harness around my waist, and if the rope breaks I will feel the grass underneath my wheels and smile as I coast to a stop in the middle of an untouched meadow, chuckling as I watch the next train come.
I've always been kind of a sporadic writer, only allowing myself to do it when I felt like I had the time or topic. Well, WordPress is doing this really cool thing for all of its members where it gives them the option of joining one of two campaigns. The first campaign, which, by the nature of this blog would be nigh impossible, is Post a Day. That would mean that I am pestering all of you every single day, forcing myself amid a slammed schedule to write something worth your time and sacrificing quality for quantity. I'm not about that.
However, the second option is a little more doable, and one that I am going to try to commit to. So for a year, I will be joining a community of people who are striving for the same thing: to post at least once a week. This means that you have a responsibility as well.
63 different people read yesterday's post from the time I went to bed to the time I woke up this morning, so the odds of one of you having questions or arguments or disagreements is great. For any old reason, any old time, whenever you want, just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll figure it out. Topics, ideas, poems, essays, it is all welcome. If there is anything that I want it is to inspire thought in YOU.
Share with friends things that you think are good. Send nasty emails for things you think aren't. Click the little "thumbs up" button below this if you like something and the little "tweet" button to share if you feel so inclined.
This is a group effort; I cannot carry it by myself. I think we can make this happen!
Let's incite a revolution of thought. Let's change the world.
As one whose name is writ in water, I thank you for the time you give to reading these thoughts: the somewhat monotone ramblings of a kid working his way through the exact same stuff you are. It is not the writer that makes a point hit home, but rather the reader and his ability to comprehend, interpret, and apply it to himself. "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." Although a blog (and particularly MY blog) is by no means a work of genius, what Mr. Emerson has to say about it is valid in every situation, and is not just limited to what he calls "genius". Just because you didn't write something doesn't mean you were incapable of doing so. There is nothing somebody can tell you that you haven't, in some fashion, thought about before. By reading, you validate the writer, making YOU the important party. I am here solely because I love words and I love using them to figure things out. Without you, I speak to a void. Let's do this together.
I know I have a slight propensity to wax philosophical, become preachy, wordy, unintelligible, or meander you through the river of my mind as though you cared, but it's all in love. If you have questions, I'd like you to ask. If you're struggling through something, odds are I am too and I'd love to exchange thoughts on the matter. I don't have answers to everything, nor will I find them, but at the very least we can learn something along the way.
In other words, I'll keep doing my thing and you keep doing yours - because it's my job to write a dumb blog on the internet and it's your job to change the world.
>No, I'm not running away from this paper.
Why do you ask?
Have you ever felt the pangs of inspiration in your stomach so deep and so intense that you have to lie down to keep the blood from rushing from your head too quickly to nurse the growing creation inside of you? Pregnant with inspiration. I think it could catch on.
It won't happen when you need it to, just be prepared for that. If you have a story due in a day I promise your head will be as empty as the day Lindsey Lohan tried to sue for defamation of character. You couldn't write the words if somebody handed them to you. You couldn't paint it if you were provided numbers. You couldn't play it if it were on tape.
On the other hand, if you will just wait for the one week you have absolutely no time to do anything resembling creativity, it will sneak up and sock you in the kidneys. It will grow like spores on your brain, it will be the melody stuck in your head or the image printed on your mind. It will consume you and paralyze the other facets of necessity that you absolutely have to get done.
I have been reading letters that the poet John Keats wrote to various people and I believe that he felt the same way about this sort of thing. He could tell when the creation was forced (and consequently ineffective) and when it flowed naturally. The most important thing about the creation is the message it attempts to get across - the thing towards which all art should strive: that it "should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself - but with its subject." "How beautiful are the retired flowers!" he says. " How would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, "admire me I am a violet! - dote upon me I am a primrose!"
The dude has a point.
The finest art should come to the reader or observer or listener "as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance." How can you communicate something like this if it is not natural for you? So are we to only write when we are too busy to write? Are we only to paint when we have a million other things to be doing?
If I said no, this blog would be a lie, for the majority of the things I have written came when i wish they hadn't, when I was too busy to breathe. in media res. But seeing as how 21st century America prefers their cubicles to their imaginations and hands somebody who paints pictures when they should be crunching numbers a prescription for Ritalin, I think that the little bursts are the most somebody like me can ask for. A man's gotta eat, right?
>The only lamplight at the end of the street
>listen to the voices
as they lie into your ears
with the soft facade of peaceful sleep,
abating lucid fears
listen to the cadence
of ten thousand pulsing fists
with the liars mixed amongst the sane
and saints with masochists
listen to the rise and swell
of thoughts inside your head
while they toe the line of manic / fixed
hating you instead
listen to the space around
what's left of what was yours
with the shiny words that glimmer from
their numbing, dulling swords
listen to the whisperings
of formless, talking heads
implanting what you think and feel,
not feeling it, instead
I don't know. Maybe I was just bored haha
>It blows my mind how drained I get during the school year. I have lost that spark of creativity, although I can feel it peeking out from around the corner, waiting for the smoke to clear from the decimation of my brain by papers, exams, drama, and stagnancy. I don't believe that it has completely gone away, but rather that it simply can't stand all the nonsense it has to put up with throughout all of the formulaic essays and encroaching deadlines that are (unfortunately) synonymous with life. I can feel my knowledge growing and my wisdom expanding and my general thirst for enlightenment becoming more and more unquenchable each day but I have noticed a simultaneous decline in outlets for it. I funnel all of the erudite energy into four papers due within a week of each other and I find it completely sapped. I understand why Thoreau had to disappear into a cabin that he "built with is own hands" to create his musings at Walden, why Kant found excuse to shut himself in his room for weeks at a time as an excuse for his physical deformities, why Poe resorted to maddening fits of drug-induced hysteria to draft some semblance of a cohesive story or poem or whatever he was writing.
On the upside, I had a series of conversations over the past week over vats of coffee and abundant shivering in the recently onset cold of Chattanooga that gave me hope for the reinstatement of the drive I had not three months ago for this album in production. I also am in talks with the roommate for creating in the first week or so of Christmas break the perfect work environment for writing the most epic masterpiece of our century, filled with sticky notes and devoid of personal hygiene, regular sleep patterns, and inhibitions of creativity. Perhaps I'll journal through that experience and share it, but for the most part I feel kinda bad about leaving you guys in the dark as of late, but I shall validate it in my mind with the assurance that you are all as busy as I am.
And I am open to suggestions about new formats for this thing, instead of a clump of words. Should I express these things in iambic pentameter to allow for ease of reading and comprehension? Haiku? Sonnet? Should I record audio versions and speak them over a background of soothing harpsichord melodies? Should I take up photography?
Should I become the leader of the Free World?
>Living with perhaps the two most creative individuals I know, engrossing myself in thought-provoking film, learning the art of tasteful music, and the onset of fall have all influenced this work that I have coming. It's funny how being around the inspired inspires you as well, and I have been inspired indeed. I'm going to take this fall break when I'm not catching up on sleep I don't get during the week and see if I can't crank out something kinda different for me. Of course, Salem is still a work in progress, with 6 of the 13 tracks now finished... but this new thing is going to take me on a break from that momentarily. I need the sidetrack so that I can make the absolute most of my sudden spark.
Much like working out, if you only work out one muscle group day after day after grueling day, that group will be strong up to a certain point, and then the work will begin to deteriorate it. You need to strengthen different groups to give each one time to recover, which is better for the body as a whole. Well this is kind of what I'm doing. I've been so focused on solely music for so long that I've been hitting more blocks than I usually do... and this is, I think, the solution. I'll be taking a break from writing music to focus on writing words, and cranking out this story that's swimming in my head after saturating my brain with Plato and Dante and Dostoevsky and Shakespeare and Virgil and men who have been, themselves, inspired, as well as inspiring to countless others for centuries.
So look for something new and different and probably different than you've ever read before. I can't tell you right now if it's going to be long or short or good or bad or any of that, but I will let you know when it is done and you can decide it for yourself.
Thanks for keeping up with this little blog thing, for those of you that do... it really means a lot to me :) I have been using this Google Analytics thing and it is really mind-blowing to me to see the different regions that my readers are from, really from here to Florida to that one hit I got from Alaska. Ha all that makes me think is that the random little life update entries like this are too boring to deserve an audience, but it will mean something to a few of you.