Tag Archives: Fiction

This One Thing

I haven’t been sleeping well this week. It happens from time to time. Sometimes it’s for no particular reason, and sometimes I’m just thinking or worrying too much about something. I just keep waking up ludicrously early and something pops into my head, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Two or three days ago a really disturbing question popped into my head. Helping the poor, the sick, and the needy is a big deal to Jesus. I don’t even drive a car. I have to ask for assistance to get basically anywhere unless I’m going to one of my friends’ houses or church, and even then, getting to church by rolling there takes time.

I feel bad about inconveniencing my parents, and I don’t make any of my own money right now, so I can’t even donate to charity. I teach three CCD classes, and I pray for people who need help, and I write stuff here, but is that enough? If I’m not actually there in person to help out, in other words, If I’m not doing what Jesus said to do (according to how my mind works), am I actually Christian? I have no idea how this popped into my head. It was dumb, but I had to get an answer. So, like usual, at 6:00 in the morning (which is WAY earlier than I like to be awake), I was researching on my phone.

Before even looking, though, I prayed, and I tried to find a concrete answer somewhere in scripture. I wasn’t sure where to look, so I ended up searching for what made someone a Christian somewhere else on the internet. I found an answer pretty quickly that really seemed to make sense. To be a Christian, someone has to believe in Jesus, and try to do what he did. Jesus doesn’t expect us to do more than we’re able. This is so simple, really, but I think the simplicity of it makes it easy to forget.

I’ve talked about my hero complex before, and I’ve realized something more. Sometimes I wonder why God made me the way he did. Sometimes I wonder why he made me so I can’t drive myself around or fully control my epilepsy, and therefore, can’t get a normal job. I think part of the reason is so I can’t feed my ego. If I was able to do things the way I want to do them, I might not be so interested in helping. The fact of the matter is, I don’t like being dependent, and if I were totally independent, I probably wouldn’t be so empathetic towards people who are also dependent on others.

I realized something else through that whole experience, though. When I woke up with that horrible question in my head, it terrified me. I realized that my entire identity rests on the fact that I am Christian. I could write a substantial list of qualities that contribute in some way to who I am, but they’re just not important to me. I never fully realized this until my identity in Christ came into question. It was like questioning whether I exist or not.

Realizing this has actually made me feel pretty good. I know who I am. I’m not sure how many people can confidently say that. For many, I think it’s hard to track down one’s true identity. I used to think the fact that I was a fantasy writer was my true identity. The problem with identifying myself so much with that was that there were so many questions and variable factors. Am I actually any good? Is anyone going to like my book? Am I ever going to get published once I finish this thing? Is this thing just totally crazy? Is it only ever going to make sense to me? How long is it going to take to finish this? Am I always going to be writing fantasy? Even if this does go well, what do I write next? This is so complicated, and I have so many ideas! Some days this is so fun, and some days it’s such a drag! Luckily, none of that really matters. All that matters is that I believe and I’m trying.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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Kids And Stories

Last week my year with the fourth grade CCD kids ended. On Sunday I’ll be finished with the high school Freshmen. I think the break will be nice. This was my first time teaching younger kids, and next year I want to have a better idea of how to manage things, so I’ll take a couple of days, or maybe a week or so this spring or summer to figure out a good plan. I’ll be teaching the fourth graders again next year, and I’ll also be teaching fifth grade, so I might have some of the same kids. I’ve decided to move on to tenth grade, too, partly because my cousin will be in tenth grade, and I think I’m his confirmation sponsor. Honestly, I forget if that’s what we’ve all decided.

A couple of days ago a little boy and his friends across the street saw me coming home from my CCD lesson, so I went over to say “Hi.” I don’t know how it came to it, but we ended up talking about an imaginary world my friends and I invented when we were in middle school. We didn’t have time to “go there” on Wednesday, but I promised them I’d come back over as soon as I could and we’d build a fairy house so the fairies could take us there. So today I spent about an hour playing in an imaginary world that I haven’t visited in nearly ten years.

It was an odd experience because their idea of Mythic Island is not what my idea of Mythic Island was. Granted, my friends and I had six years on these kids when we came up with the idea, but it’s like I’m blind there now. It’s sort of disorienting. It’s not that my imagination’s going. I can proudly say that I have more imagination than most people can handle. I guess maybe part of the issue is that when we were there, there was a wolf demon to contend with. Part of it, too, is that these kids don’t understand that co-mingling stories is a bad idea, and they want to bring Star Wars into it. The writer in me cringes at the thought.

Anyway, all that aside, we had fun. We ran around, found some dragon eggs, and I told them some stuff about magic I made up off the top of my head. The weather should be nice this weekend, so they’ll probably want to play some more. I’m hoping this doesn’t become an every-day thing, though, because I’m going to get nothing done. At the same time, having to come up with stories and ideas for these kids on the fly might prove to be helpful in coming up with stuff for my Mythology.

Speaking of which, This past week, I finished one story, and am getting a lot done on another one. The one I’m working on now is pretty dark, but certainly not as dark as the next one I’m going to do. I’m realizing that several of my stories are darker than I had originally thought they were going to be. It seems like a lot of mythology is like that. Still, I’m going to try and find ways to get some happier stuff in there, and some of my darker stories do have happy, or somewhat happy endings.

The kid who I was playing with earlier and his mom actually watched my bird while my family and I were in Florida last month. His mom is friends with my mom, and she told my mom earlier that her son keeps asking her for “bear stories” every night, and it drives her crazy because she feels like she’s not very creative. Stories have always come fairly easily to me. Sometimes I get a little stuck, but something always comes along. I’m not sure what it is.

Life would be so boring without stories. When I was a kid I wanted to be anywhere but the real world. I feel differently about that now. The worlds of my favorite stories are a lot scarier than the real world. Harry Potter has to deal with Voldemort almost constantly. Frodo has to deal with the Ring of Power and the Eye of Sauron constantly. The Jedi have to deal with the power of the Empire and then the First Order, and the overwhelming power of the Dark Side.

Granted, we probably have some pretty freaky stuff going on in our world that we don’t even know about, not to mention the spiritual warfare that’s often hard to see. The thing about those other stories though, is they don’t have God in them–not just a god, but the God. They don’t have the God-who-is-Love who’s got our back no matter what; who’s willing to go as far as to die for all of us. I’ve thought about that a lot as a writer. Every time I start to think I’d rather be anywhere else but the real world because something bad happened or I might have more control, or something, I realize, “Yeah, but in that other world I wouldn’t have God.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Sneak Peek

Ladies and gentlemen, I have finished the first version of my Creation story–the first story in my mythology. I just couldn’t resist sharing it with you all, and while I most likely won’t post any other actual material from the book on here, I’ll be sure to update anyone who’s interested on my progress. It’s still rough, but I’m pretty happy with it, so without further ado…

Creation

In the beginning there were only spirits. These spirits inhabited the realms few humans understand, far fewer have traversed, still fewer dare to, and some that no one has even heard of. Many of these spirits lived together in peace, governing their lands according to their nature, and living out eternities in mutual understanding. We have heard from the mystics that in the beginning, there were far fewer realms than there are today, and the ones that did exist were, and still are mysterious, deep, and inaccessible to natural forms.

In the beginning the spirits inhabited the Spirit Realm, the Realm of Light, the Realm of Peace, The Elemental Realm, and the Transient Realm. These are the ones we know of. It has been told that the Transients and the Elementals were not content to live in harmony as the other spirits were. It is unclear when their alliance formed, nor when the Great War that broke the worlds occurred, for the spirit world does not exist in measurable time. Some surmise it must have been millennia ago. Others believe that it has simply changed and that it is an endless war that continues to create and break new realms, new creatures, new spirits; a never-ending struggle that plunges all Existence deeper into the Abyss.

Some believe that it was the Transients, whose nature is fleeting, who turned the Elementals against the other spirits. Others believe that Inferno, the Fire Elemental, whose rage is unmatched and unquenchable sought dominion over the tranquil spirits of the Realm of Peace. This in turn necessitated an alliance among the spirits of all other realms. The Elementals are powerful, and the Transients are deceitful. Truthfully, not even the spirits of other realms know the exact cause of the War, but its end is legendary among all intelligent beings. It was the War of Creation, and the catalyst to all other wars.

It was Flint, the Earth Elemental, who met with Efell, a spirit of the Realm of Peace in secret to bargain for a cease-fire. Never before had two spirits, especially not from different realms fallen in love. Their union was a turning point in the War. Their love transformed them, creating the Sanctuary; a place that can only be reached in love and in secret. It is their sanctuary, and any being, mortal or immortal, who attempts to reach it, never returns unless accompanied by a kindred soul. It is a place of deception. Those who know how to find it alone go and are trapped. It is thought of as an escape from death, but the cost of this life is eternal solitude. This is the only reachable place in the Realm of Secrets, and can only be accessed by way of the Kindred Realm.

Almost nothing is known about the Realm of Secrets, but it was after the union of Flint and Efell that the Kindred Realm was formed. The Kindred Realm was, and is, like the Sanctuary, only accessible by peaceful souls. In the beginning, it was not much more than a bright expanse. That is how the spirits who have traveled to its outer reaches still describe it, and it is ruled by the purity of unmuted, unapologetic love. For some time, the Kindred Realm remained a secret, but eventually its existence could not be kept hidden.

The Transients and the Elementals, who had been allied for so long turned against each other, formed other alliances, and strove for access and dominion of this new Realm that they would never reach, and their anger towards each other only grew. If realms can be created out of love, they can be created out of hate. Many weaker realms, the names of which we can never know were destroyed, and out of these were created the Dead Realms, the Realm of Darkness, and the Realm of Fear.

The War continued into eternity, until finally it ended. It was out of one of the mysterious Dead Realms that the Exile came. It was clear at the moment of her coming that she was an outsider. She spoke in riddles and in truth, and confounded all who encountered her, except those who understood that Death was not the reason for her coming. Many did not. Many assumed that this was the end, not of the war, but of existence itself, for she came from beyond what can be understood even by spirits. She was an Exile, even from those realms. Her nature was unlike that of any spirit that had yet been encountered in any realm. Some saw her as free, some saw her as shackled, some saw her as an answer, and some saw her as wholly dangerous. At times she was pursued—cautiously sought after, and at others she was avoided, even to the point of being chased out. She was, in many ways, a contradiction.

The Exile wandered through the realms, sometimes in flight, though as a peacemaker whenever possible. She grew tired as eternity dragged on and peace seemed so impossible, for her nature, strange as it was, could not withstand the fear and desolation of an endless war. She yearned for companionship; for a soul to accompany her to the Kindred Realm where she would be safe. She confided these feelings to Flint who agreed to speak with her after some persuasion, but their meeting was in vain, and had dire consequences. Efell, though he was a spirit of peace, did not approve of their meeting. He feared for the safety of his beloved, and believed that if it were known that she had met with the Exile, she herself would be scorned, or even exiled. Efell sought a meeting with the ruler of the Realm of Peace, and convinced him that the Exile was much more dangerous than she appeared. He convinced the ruler that her nature was deceptive, and that she shared many more similarities with the Transients than with the spirits of peace. And thus she was exiled from the Realm of Peace.

Again she attempted to meet with Flint, who seemed to be her one remaining friend in all the spirit worlds, but the earth elemental had submitted to the will of her beloved and the two had retreated to the Sanctuary. The Exile was now utterly alone. Not only that but she had been demonized by every spirit dimension. Eternity appeared bleak. There was nowhere for her to go, let alone be accepted. Something inside her was shattered, and as she realized this, she realized that it was her heart that had been broken—the heart she never knew she had. Never before had there been a spirit with a heart. A heart had to be given to be remade. She knew this, and she also knew there was no one to give her heart to. She pondered this as she thought of Flint and Efell and grew to understand that they were kindred spirits and nothing more. They protected each other. Their love was deep, but it was the love of friendship. The Exile could protect no one, but she could end the war. Her broken heart would be the Barrier—what we now know of as the Outer Realm.

At a moment in eternity the Abyss shattered and twisted. There was darkness and light. Reality broke and solidified. In a moment the Realms broke apart and in their midst arose solid ground; the sun and the moon; the stars; plants and animals; creatures of all kinds, and at this moment, the Exile died. The ground we walk on was once the heart of an outsider. It is because of this Heart that spirits cannot travel from one realm to another without the help of a human with a kindred soul. It is also because of this that there has never been another known spirit war. A heart must be shared to protect and create and save. That heart was shared with an entire world.

Our Cockamamie Quest

Yesterday I worked for several hours on the first leg of a journey my friends will soon embark on. I’m going to be the DM for my friends while my brother’s at school. I think I have some fun ideas to work with. It’s actually kind of terrifying being in charge of a little universe, and working on this kind of story is very different than working on my novel. I can only plan for so much because they might do something I didn’t see coming at all. I’m starting them off with a fairly obvious premise, but they do have to figure a lot of stuff out.

I’ve been having kind of a hilarious email exchange with my cousin. It started several weeks ago and our initial question was whether or not Jesus likes little kids. It was just a silly, hypothetical debate, but it’s since moved into some actually serious questions. It’s awesome because my cousin lives in Canada, and since texting country-to-country is expensive, we don’t talk much except for at camp and at Christmas. The whole thing is funny because we’ve been simultaneously having a Star Wars debate about whether or not the Dark Side of the Force is inherently evil. My position is that it is not.

I also started playing Skyrim yesterday. Anything involving dragons is automatically epic in my book. I’ve thought dragons were awesome since I was five. I’ve also started reading the Wheel of Time series, which is a humongous monster, but a huge story is no longer intimidating to me. I read the Bible cover to cover. It took me ten months, but if I can stick to that, I can most certainly stick to a long fantasy series.

I’ve also been more seriously working on my book again. It would be simply unfair of me not to dedicate this thing to God because my strategy for dealing with writer’s block or simply for coming up with ideas has been to say, “God, I’ll type, you write.” Quite frankly, he’s written a lot of my book, whether literally or not.

The point of all this is that I am completely immersed in stories lately and I love it. The other night, my friend and I watched the first eight episodes of Stranger Things, which was so great because the main characters are a group of four middle school boys who play Dungeons and Dragons and get wrapped up in a very real extra-dimensional, good-versus-evil battle. It reminded us so much of when we were kids. When other kids were doing whatever it is normal kids do on Friday nights, we would ditch the “real world” and head for Mythic Island where we plotted and fought against the wolf demon Agorauth.

It’s funny. When I was a kid I wanted nothing to do with the “real world.” I made up stories and tried so hard to escape into those stories. I guess I like stories so much because I can predict what’s going to happen a lot of the time. The real world is much more unpredictable. I love stories for what they are. I love stories about different realities where dragons are real, but I love them as stories in the real world. They make the real world better.

For a long time I didn’t like my own story because I didn’t understand my own story. Maybe it’s cliche to call a life a story, but that’s how I think of it. I like my own story. It’s unpredictable, and the world it takes place in is scary, but the worlds of all the best stories are scary. Some of the best stories take place after the end of the world, or some catastrophic meltdown. Realistically, most of the stories I like–most of those worlds–are a lot scarier than this one. This one’s just the scariest to us because we’re living in it. What also tends to be true of my favorite kinds of stories is that humans (or other humanoid creatures, elves, etc) are more powerful than they are in the “real world.” Characters are a lot more capable of taking care of themselves.

In this world God says “surrender.” It’s the most counter-intuitive thing a person could do. Our instinct is to armor up, grab a sword and fight against whatever evil confronts us. We want to fight because we think it’s our job. We think we’re the main character. In Mythic Island, my friends and I were the main characters. In this world we’re only seeing our little pocket of reality in a finite blip of time and space. At the same time, we’re not insignificant. In church on Saturday we sang a song, the chorus of which was: “Long have I waited for you coming home to me and living deeply our new life.” We’re not the main characters in the epic story that is reality, but we all have an important part to play. We matter and what we do matters to the story. God made us because he loves us.

God says “surrender.” We have to surrender to something. We may not be the main characters in The Story, but we’re the main characters of each of our own individual stories that are significant to The Story. Ultimately, everyone has a destination and their own mission to complete. I like thinking of it that way.

Surrender means listening. Surrender means trusting. Surrender means embarking on the cockamamie quest that is your life. In the best stories; the ones that matter; the one’s that really influence you, the characters are asked to do seemingly ridiculous, impossible things, but these things are asked of them by someone they respect and maybe even love, and they wouldn’t be asked if it wasn’t of utmost importance. You’ll also notice that they aren’t told all the details at the start. They are presented with a problem, they are told what to do, and the details become clear as they move along. This is true in the Gospels. It’s true in real life. Jesus says “Follow me.” His first followers didn’t ask why. They didn’t ask where they were going. They didn’t ask what they were supposed to do. They trusted him. If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or a game like Skyrim, your character is presented with the same kind of scenario. You’re given something to start with, and as you move along, things become clear. Our first “quest” as Jesus’ followers is to learn to surrender; learn to trust.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Mom

Last night I realized something. I watched a movie with my dad, like I do most nights, and one of the main characters gets kicked out of her band because she’s pregnant. One of her band mates says to her, “Look, being a mother is way more important than being in a band.” I don’t ever want kids. Being a mother sounds to me like a miserable, thankless existence. You have to give up all your hopes and dreams for at least eighteen years (actually the rest of your life if you want to be a good parent) to cater to these insufferable nuisances we call children. It’s easy to see it that way if you look at it from a selfish perspective. I am selfish in that respect.

However, last night I was able to see it in a different light. Lately I’ve been fascinated by the Eucharist. Something in me knows that it’s the most important thing on Earth. I mean that quite literally. It’s the one thing through which humans and God can actually, physically touch, but it goes even deeper than that to a level that I can’t really even express. I’ve said this before, but I know that I want to find a way to give myself entirely to God. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do that. I’ve been rereading the Gospels–not that I haven’t done this several times before–but I haven’t spent much time on this one thing that Jesus says: “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.” I never put two and two together, but I’ve always felt like being a mother must be like some kind of self-death. It’s probably about the biggest sacrifice I can think of.

This also pertains to something else Jesus says: “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” Millions of women sacrifice comfort and happiness on a daily basis so their kids can have awesome childhoods. My mom loves kids. Even before she was a mother, she knew she wanted grandchildren. I know I will have to disappoint her. My mom is wicked good at what she does. She was meant to be a mother. Before I was diagnosed with MD, and before my family moved to Boston, she was making more money than my dad. She gave up a fun social life and a promising career to take care of me.

Sometimes God makes us give up something we desperately want or value very highly in order to obtain something better. We don’t always know what that better thing is. I also think that, in hindsight, what seemed like a sacrifice at the time, was really worth it. I know this because my mom is hard on my brother and me. I know she’s proud of what we’re doing, and she wants us to keep succeeding at what we do. She’s happy that I’m an artist. She wants me to be an artist. When I graduated, she told me not to look for a job. She said, “You’ve been making stories your entire life. Write a book.” I don’t think most mothers would say that to their kids. I was ready to “sell out” and she wouldn’t let me. That’s still crazy to me.

I don’t know the full extent of what my mom sacrificed when she decided to have kids. She’s said you can’t understand what being a mom means until you are one. I do know that what a mom does for vulnerable little kids, she does for God in some way. For a multitude of reasons, I can’t and shouldn’t be a mom. As I said, I don’t want to be, anyway. Still, until I put it into perspective with these two things Jesus said, I saw it in a completely negative light. It only seemed like a punishment one inflicted on herself for no good reason. Now I see it more like a dance or an intricate painting. I can’t pull it off, and I’ll never understand it, but I can certainly appreciate its worth.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been a little stuck with my story. I worked on it for several hours yesterday, and I did figure out how to fix one problem. I needed to better clarify something, and I think I did that, but true clarity won’t come until later on in parts that I haven’t written yet. I have so many external motivations to finish this thing, and at the same time, I don’t actually feel motivated right now. Ironically, Part 1 was so much more fun to write, even though Part 2 is so much more eventful. I have an ending, and I have a basic idea of how to get there. I just get hung up on the details. It’s also just such an enormous story, and the sheer scale of it is intimidating. Given that my mom specifically told me to write this thing though, I have to finish it.

“Me Before You”

I just read a review of the book Me Before You. I had never heard of it before, and the only reason I read the review was because a friend of mine posted it and the title of the article sounded interesting. Apparently there is a movie adaptation coming out in the near future, and based strictly on the plot presented in the article, this story sounds idiotic and evil. I don’t use the word “evil” lightly.

It’s supposed to be about a romance between a quadriplegic guy and his caretaker. He was paralyzed after being hit by a motorcycle and now hates his life. Apparently it is also over-emphasized  how people see and treat him differently. People are invariably awkward or uncomfortable around him. What’s even more problematic is that for one thing, he values himself so little that he is suicidal, and refuses to pursue what could be a loving, fulfilling relationship. It seems to me that he is largely portrayed as a burden or an object–at best, someone to be pitied and nothing else.

Normally I wouldn’t judge a story before I’ve seen the movie or read the book, but this really makes me angry for so many reasons. I was born with Muscular Dystrophy, and I developed epilepsy when I was eight, so my situation is different than that of Will’s (the character in the book), but the problems arising from this portrayal relate to disability in general.

I think it is true that the world sees people with disabilities differently. Sometimes people do pity us. Sometimes people are awkward around us. However, I noticed it a lot more when I was a kid. My peers were awkward. Sometimes I was shunned or excluded from things. However, I don’t think mature adults do this. Maybe it’s because I’m more comfortable with myself, but most of the time I don’t think people even see the wheelchair. They just see me. Often little kids look at me funny because they’re curious and they don’t understand, and I’m not offended. Their parents often try and get them away, so I make an effort to talk to them and act like a normal human being.

The fact of the matter is, disabilities are not something to be pitied. It’s just different. I can’t walk. So what? I am the first of my friends to graduate college. I’m the only one of my friends to have written and published music. I can write. They can’t. After reading the article this morning, I realized something else. If I was paralyzed, I’d have to be even more creative. This spring I took a few months of violin lessons. I don’t play violin the “normal” way because I can’t extend my arms enough. My dad made me a metal bar that fits into a hole in the side of my wheelchair and bends over my legs. I rest the violin upright on the bar, and play it kind of like a cello. My favorite thing is when people tell me I won’t be able to do X, Y, or Z, because I love to prove them wrong. I would love to hear about some of the creative things people with other disabilities have come up with.

I also love the question: “Do you mind if I ask…?” No one knows how to pose the question. They always trail off. I don’t know why, but I like telling people what Muscular Dystrophy is. Then I abruptly change the subject because my disability does not define me. This actually touches on a broader issue. I think, too often, people let small things define them. They sometimes put far too much emphasis on their own sexuality or the color of their skin or their gender or what have you. They do this because the world has done it to them for so long that it’s become second nature. It’s become their defining feature. I recently told my dad that when I was a little kid I hated the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never had an answer. He said they asked because they were trying to put me in a box.

Our culture loves boxes, and they hate it when one box doesn’t comfortably fit in another. I am not primarily a disabled person. I am not primarily a woman. I am not primarily asexual. I am not primarily white. I am all these things, but I don’t really care about them. What matters to me is that I write well and that I love people, and that means all people, in a real, significant, tangible way. It matters to me that I’m an optimist in a largely pessimistic or even nihilistic culture.

The fact of the matter is, my disability makes certain things difficult. It makes some things impossible. That does occasionally bother me. Because of my MD I will never be able to live on my own. Because of my epilepsy I will most likely never be able to hold down a “regular” job. That’s fine by me. It’s all the more reason to write a seriously awesome novel, followed by many more. Most of my main characters have some kind of disability. I don’t focus on those. I focus on their strengths and their personalities. My story is about how a diverse group of people work together to dismantle a very problematic, illegal government program. The problems presented by Me Before You are all the more motivation to finish this thing and knock it out of the park.

Lastly, I want to focus on something that is of utmost significance. God made me who I am. God made a Katie with disabilities. To tell the truth, I think my faith is much stronger than it otherwise would be because of this. It makes me realize how much I need him, and it makes me realize how close he is to me. It makes me realize how much he loves me and how much he loves all of us. I know for a fact I’d be a very different person had I not had my personal complications. I would probably have different friends, and I might be interested in different things. I’d probably be more athletic. I can’t even imagine all that would be different, and if I could see that version of myself, there’s no guarantee that I would like it. I like who I am now, and if I were offered a do-over, I wouldn’t take it.

To anyone reading this who feels like disabled people should be pitied: Don’t! If you pity us, you obviously don’t know us.

To anyone reading this who feels bad for themselves because of their disability: Don’t! Seriously! It’s a giant waste of your time! Be creative! Be productive! Be happy! There is always something to be happy about! Always!

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

I Have An Ending!

Yesterday I figured out how to finish my book. I’m rather excited about that. I’m not actually very close to the end, but I’ve felt like I have no idea where I’m going, and if I have a “destination,” I’ll be more productive because I’m writing more with a purpose. I’ve had several ideas for an ending vaguely bouncing around in my head for a while, but I didn’t really love any of them. Part of my problem was that I needed an ending that would allow my story to be a stand-alone thimg, while still allowing for potential sequels, and yesterday I figured it out. It’s hard for me to write about this because I can’t give the ending away before I’m even done writing it.

I actually didn’t get to write a lot yesterday, but I got a lot of scheming done, and I’ve realized that I’m a rather violent author. I keep doing mean things to the nicest characters. It’s not necessarily because I want to. They just happen to be the most vulnerable. I find them to be the most interesting, too, though. One of them also happens to be one of the most powerful psychics in the story, but she’s a little messed up in the head. The guy I’m presently being mean to is going to have his share of vengeance, but it probably won’t come about until the next book. I’m really hoping I get a chance to write at least one or two sequels. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with this story. It’s hard to write, but I love the characters.

I also still don’t have a title. Titles for songs are easy, but nothing seems to fit for this book. It’s still saved in my computer as “Fantasy Story,” and it ended up being science fiction. I feel like a title is the one last conclusive thing I have to figure out for this book. Now that I know how to finish it, I feel like I know, at least a little better, how to fill in the details. The title doesn’t really mater until it’s done, but I just want to be able to call it something other than “my story.” This whole process feels surreal to me. My dad and I were eating lunch two days ago, and I was talking about my most recent additions, and he started talking about making this into a movie. I haven’t even finished it yet. My dad says I’m too cautious with my art. He says I just have to run with it and assume I’m going to be the next great sci-fi writer. Yesterday, while I was eating lunch with my mom, she said “When this gets published you’ll be at book signings in Tennessee and all over the place.” Evidently, my parents have more confidence in my book than I do.

I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve written so far in just over two hundred pages. There are a few specific scenes that I think probably need work, but I mostly feel like I know what I’m doing at this point. I’ve given up on trying to predict how long it will be. I’m just really excited because I feel like I have real direction now. One thing I seem to have the most trouble with is timing, particularly when I’m trying to write intense, fast-paced scenes. It’s almost like my mind can’t keep up with the story. It’s hard for me to visualize large scale battles, in particular. I’ve only had to write one so far, and I think it turned out okay, but it’s definitely one of the things that need work. It had to happen the way it did in order to further the plot. I’m just not sure I love the style.

I think I’m going to have to get my friend to read this and tell me what needs fixin’ before I send it to any publisher. I’ve talked about my story to basically everyone, but I want to get a reader’s perspective. Something I learned in various classes, both about music and any other form of writing is that you have to figure out who your audience is and write for that audience. I found out by accident that most of the people who like my music are old… or at least my parents’ age… so old. From the beginning I decided that I wanted the audience for my story to be people like me. I wanted to write a story that I would read. This is partly because I took every creative writing class my school offered, and the closest I got to sci-fi was a (realistic) fiction class. I’ve come to understand that science fiction and fantasy are seen as illegitimate or unartful genres in the hoity-toity literary world, and I intend to change that. I will write a darn good, interesting, thought provoking story, and everyone will have to read it (evil laugh ensues).

The Intensity Of Head-Space

Today is Star Wars Day, so of course I have to write about it. There’s so much I could write about. Realistically, it’s an absolutely amazing story. It has so much longevity, and as far as I know, it’s the closest we’ve got to a parallel universe. What I mean by that is, for one thing, it exists in several genres. Regardless of the quality, one can read, watch, and play Star Wars. This has been true since the very beginning. The universe exploded with A New Hope, and it’s still expanding. What is also significant is that is the amount of contributions from fans. The people who love this story shape what happens in its future and in the parts of the galaxy we wouldn’t otherwise see.

The latest RPG I’ve been a part of is a Star Wars rendition of Dark Heresy. We decided to go this route because we understood and cared about that universe. The time period our game takes place in is the height of the Empire (between Revenge of the Sith, and A New Hope), far away from where the “main story” is taking place. Before this, I had been part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I hastily threw together my characters, not thinking too much about who they really were, what they cared about, or where they came from. This time I took time.

My character’s name is Sky Turin. Before becoming a Jedi padawan she lived with her father on the lowest level of a planet similar to Coruscant, though this was not where she was originally from. Her parents were from the Sky, which was the wealthiest part of the planet. Think of Cloud City. The Surface, where she lived for most of her early life was the poorest. Her parents were what would probably be the Star Wars version of missionaries, working to empower the poorest people on the planet. When Sky was nineteen she rescued a Jedi, not much older than herself, who crash-landed in her neighborhood while in pursuit of a Dark Jedi. Dark Jedi, if you don’t know, were force-users who were not directly allied with the Jedi or the Sith. They generally minded their own business, but the few Jedi who remained after the Empire took most of them out pursued them, either to bring them over to their side or detain them if they could.

While Sky was helping Val escape, Val discovered that Sky could use the Force, though she didn’t know what she was doing at the time. Sky went with Val to the remaining Jedi–none of them officially masters–and was permitted to learn the Force and become a Jedi herself, as the Jedi were desperate for recruits. After some preliminary training with a light saber, Sky and Val went to a planet similar to Earth to investigate a possible meeting of Dark Jedi in a mountainous area, similar to the Rocky Mountains. While they were there they were ambushed and captured. Their captivity didn’t last long, however, because Val was extremely powerful with the Force. They were able to escape, but had to leave in separate ships. When Sky returned to the Jedi council, she discovered that Val had not returned. The council would not permit her to look for Val, so she left and began searching against their will. This is where I entered our campaign. While I don’t know the specifics of where the story is going, I do know that Sky is assertive, hates the Dark Jedi, hates the Empire, and mistrusts the Jedi themselves. She has been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and will lead to her own destruction, but she’s so obsessed with finding Val that she will most likely not always stick to the Code entirely. She’s also impulsive and will probably make some stupid decisions.

I considered writing Sky’s story in full detail. In fact, I tried, but she’s too distant from me, for lack of a better way to say it. Ironically, I think I have trouble creating a story in an already existent universe. My novel takes place in a future version of the U.S., but almost everything about that world is my own. It feels awkward to me to write about a universe that someone else made, even if I’m inventing most of the details of a story that is otherwise original. It feels weird to talk about the Force and the Empire and the Jedi as if they were my own. It feels invasive in a way, like I’m invading someone else’s creative space. At the same time, the Star Wars universe has always seemed very inviting when it comes to original ideas. I think what this ultimately comes back to is that I’m much better at coming up with characters than I am at coming up with plot. I’m great at writing their past, but when it comes to writing their present, I often get stuck.

I’ve written two hundred pages of my novel thus far, and I’m about fifty pages into Part 2. Part 1 was a lot easier to write. So far I’ve had to write two battle scenes. I think they were both okay, but they both need work. I have trouble with timing and intensity. Right now I’m working on a captivity situation. I have to deal with the head-space of a character who has just been captured and is about to be interrogated by an evil government. This kind of scene is slower, but I think, just as intense, and I’m much better at writing this kind of thing. I think Star Wars is a very action-oriented story, and maybe this is why I have trouble writing in that universe.

One of the greatest stories I’ve ever read is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of that story takes place in dialogue and internal thoughts, which one might assume would be boring, but it’s anything but. Solitude, in particular, can make for some seriously intense character and plot development. Head-space, while mostly metaphorical, is still space, and in that space, anything can happen. In that space, a character can go insane or overcome impossible odds. A person’s psychology makes them who they are, and plot can’t exist without characters. A world without people in it doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen some great and some terrible post-apocalyptic movies. I’ve noticed two things regarding these, and regarding my story. First, the movies that are good have more people in them. It’s hard for a story to maintain its momentum when no one is around to keep things going. Second, what I’ve noticed, and sometimes want to smack myself for, is that I keep creating more characters. My story takes place over a very large area–basically the entire United States. I’ve noticed that the space in which a story takes place tends to correspond with the number of characters that are needed to keep the story going. Sometimes great movies or great stories take place in one house, or even one room. Sometimes there are only two or three characters involved, and these stories can be great. Some of the most intense scenes in my story are conversations or even internal monologues.

Interestingly, in the case of Star Wars, we really don’t get to see too much of the characters’ head-space, at least not directly. Their personalities come out in how they react and adapt to various situations. This is clearly effective because we know and love characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca, who never even speak a word of English. However, I think to get to know characters in this way, there needs to be constant action. There isn’t a lot of time, or even good reason to slow down. Finding a happy medium is definitely difficult. I think the few exceptions are the exchanges between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi, but even these are short and almost invariably turn into light saber fights. The thing about dialogue is that it has to be executed well. There are far more longer exchanges in The Phantom Menace-Revenge of the Sith, but they’re often not well written. They’re either boring or cheesey. If there had been less talk and more action, I think they would have been better movies.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Language Of Love

Words are very powerful. They can change our entire outlook on life. They can inspire us. They can make us feel good. They can change the world. Words spoken with authority make things happen. Words spoken with love can make you fall apart. Words can move us even if we don’t understand them initially. Still, sometimes words cannot express the beauty or tragedy of certain situations or artistic expressions.

I spent four years of my life essentially studying words. I learned how to write poetry and stories. I learned about the difference between heard and read language, and its emotional impacts, as well as its artistic value. I learned that words really can make someone immortal. I discovered my love for Seamus Heaney the year he died. His poetry is perfectly put together, even when its subject matter is ugly. It isn’t always fluid, but even when it seems stylistically cold or even rude, there’s some kind of life in it. I still find it beautiful.

I’ve been trying to make sure I work on my novel every day now, and I’m getting a lot done. I like what I’ve been coming up with, both in terms of where the plot is going, and in terms of style. There are parts of my novel that are intentionally very technical. Admittedly, I like sounding smart, but these very technical explanations are also simply necessary for the potential audience to understand what’s going on in the world and how things like psychic abilities work. I’m very grateful for what I learned at school, through practice, and for all the great writer’s I’ve been introduced to. Not all of them are well known. These include fantasy writers, movie script writers, and songwriters, as well as some of the “greats” I was exposed to at school. As a science-fiction writer, some of my greatest influences have been amazing, underrated movies.

As a songwriter, poet and composer, I’ve also come to realize that sometimes words have the most meaning in their absence. In my latest musical composition, there’s a lot of silence, but it’s certainly not dead space. The meaning is in the silences. Truthfully I haven’t thought a whole lot about it, but I think it’s evocative of the idea that we don’t realize how much value something has until it’s gone. The leading part of it is the violin. There is a part of this piece that is meant to be uncomfortable. All other instruments cut out and the violin part seems almost faulty, like a flickering light that could go out at any moment. The point is that the light doesn’t go out. The piece is called “Love For You.” True love doesn’t die. True love is immortal.

Over the past year I read the Bible cover to cover. From an artistic standpoint, it’s not pretty. From an artistic standpoint, it seems downright chaotic. If one were to put it into musical terms, it might turn out to be something like free form Jazz with lots of augmented and diminished chords. It would probably sound rather jarring. This is according to a strictly aesthetic reading. Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God. This is particularly important for someone who calls herself an artist and a writer. Quite frankly, I can’t stand Jazz, particularly free form. I don’t read the Bible from a strictly aesthetic standpoint. If I do, it sounds like free form Jazz. However, the Word of God isn’t simply what’s written in a book.

A lot of things about God, and quite frankly, about life in general are paradoxical. For one thing, spirituality is both objective and subjective. It is an individual striving for objective Truth and Beauty. In a Christian context, we believe that Jesus is alive and that he is the Word of God, and we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We also believe in the Holy Spirit who works in us individually and collectively. God is one nature in three people: Father, Son, and Spirit. The Church is the body of Christ, so ideally, it’s one nature in a heck of a lot of people.

What does all this mean for an artist, particularly one whose main medium of artistic expression is written word? What does it mean in a broader context? Language matters. There’s no way around it. We can’t relate to the world outside of language. We can’t really even think outside of language. I’ve noticed that Saint Paul emphasizes the impact our use of language has when relating to other people. We’re meant to speak wisely and not offensively. At the same time, we’re meant to relate to other people in order to teach by example who Jesus is. This presents an odd dilemma when it comes to writing my novel. Most of my language when I speak is pretty mild, depending on who I’m with. I hardly ever swear, and when I do, it’s because I’m making a joke and I know the person I’m with will find it funny. On the other hand, some of my characters have very dirty mouths.

In some ways I find myself in my characters. It’s probably impossible not to. In fact, I initially intended to model Kithryd, my first character, very much after myself. However, I think she had absolutely no intention of being me. At some point, probably even earlier than I could identify, she took on her own identity. She’s very assertive and vocally bitter about things, but she is like me in that she’s introverted. I find myself more in another character I had not even entirely intended to create. Iris has a great love for her friends and her little brother, and she greatly desires to work for the greater good. However, she deals with a lot of mental illness, which simply isn’t a problem for me. I find myself least in Tabby. Tabby has no real love for the world as it is, but does keep the greater good in mind. However, she’s a generally angry, pessimistic person. She’s also very impulsive and does not care who she offends. For some reason I find her to be one of the easiest characters to write.

I created Tabby. I created an angry, offensive woman. She came from me somehow. She is somehow part of my soul. All of my characters, in one way or another, represent some part of my soul. They’ve all lost someone or something very important to them. They’ve all been shunned for one reason or another. Some of them are angry. Some of them are scared. Some of them, like Aven, are peaceful and unafraid. My novel as a whole presents the world as a dark, scary, Godless place. I don’t view the world in this way, but I know a lot of people do. I’m writing this for a few different reasons. I’m writing because I can and because my parents told me to. I’m also writing because I think God wants me to, though why he wants me to write this particular novel I don’t know. “Why” isn’t a question he often answers. In some ways it’s a thought experiment.

I don’t know if we become our words or our words become us. Maybe it’s both. The same could be said for any art form. Jesus is the Word of God in the most literal sense. This means a lot. For the record, I’m stealing several of my next points from Bishop Robert Barron because he’s smarter than me. Jesus is alive. In other words, he is active in the world. What does it mean for the Word to be active? It means he is causal. He is authoritative. He’s making stuff happen. Two points that Bishop Barron brings up are that God’s Word is active by nature. God creates simply by speaking things into being. He also emphasizes the opening lines of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This means that whatever Jesus does and says is necessarily true in an active sense.

Words, like music are significant and often causal in their absence. The absence evokes ideas and emotions. In fact, we can’t have language without the absence of words. The Word of God is living language. It is the Language of love. What is significant about this is that a language can only be “alive” if it is shared, i.e. spoken among living people. Jesus said that after he went up into heaven he would send his Spirit. Bishop Barron suggests that the best way to understand the Holy Spirit is that it is the love of God, both between the Father and the Son, and between God and humans. This love can never die because it is shared in the Trinity. We don’t have to participate for this language to live. Jesus allows us to participate when he introduces the Eucharist. John 6:56 says, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me and I am one with you.”

Just before this, he talks about how one has to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. God is eternal and infinite. Jesus is God. If we share in the Eucharist we are one with him. We become one with him in the way that a family can be seen as a single unit, for example. If we are one with him, we have eternal life. If Jesus is the Word of God, i.e. the Language of Love, then by extension, the Eucharist is the Language of Love. I said that words can make a person immortal. The words of Shakespeare endure to this day. The difference is that Shakespeare’s words are not truly “alive” in the sense that they do anything other than entertain and perhaps inspire good writing. However, Jesus invites us to speak his language.

Language is not simply expressed in what we say or what we write. Ideas are conveyed through body language and actions. A principal I learned at school is that in good writing, less is often more. In order to convey an idea, we should show, not tell what a character is feeling or what’s going on in a particular situation. We know that certain facial expressions, for example, can be understood and translated into actual words, but they are not needed. Love is like this. A feeling or a spiritual prompting turns into an art piece or an act of charity. Love has no reason. It just is. Because of its nature it cannot simply be expressed in words. Love in words alone is empty. It isn’t love at all. True love entails action, and on some level, it always entails sacrifice. To truly love someone one must give one’s self to the other. This always means different things to different people at different times. John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Jesus is referring to his very literal sacrifice of love for all of us. However, because God’s Word is eternal, he is also telling us what we must do as his friends for the rest of humanity. Love entails some kind of sacrifice. Maybe it means sacrificing some comfort. Maybe it means sacrificing some excess money. Maybe it means sacrificing time we could be spending having fun. Maybe it means sacrificing our pride. As I said, it means something different for every person.

Love and life are synonymous. Without love, life is not worth living. The fact of the matter is that everyone is loved, and this is why it’s so important that people know Jesus. It’s not about where we end up when we die. It’s not about judgment. It’s not about religion or where we’re supposed to be on Sunday morning. That stuff is secondary. It’s about knowing that we are loved. When Pope Francis was visiting the U.S. a little kid asked him, “What did God do before he created the world?” He answered, “Before God created anything, he loved.” God created the world because he loved the world. He created each of us because he loved us first. That’s the message Jesus wants us to tell the whole world. That is the most important thing in the Christian faith. Without love, nothing else matters.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Language And Culture

Over the past year or so, as I’ve been writing my book, I’ve been paying more attention to characters that are underrepresented in popular media. The first I noticed were people with disabilities. We’re hardly even on the map. Hopefully my novel will help fix that to a degree. The other I’ve noticed are “normal” people who happen to be Christian. What I’ve seen in TV shows and movies is that Christians are generally represented in two ways. The stock Christian characters are almost always either Bible beating, ignorant jerks, or intellectually stunted, and thoroughly content.

When I was a little kid, my dad told my brother and me lots of stories–stories he made up, old Greek myths, as well as stories from the Bible. I learned about Echo and Narcissus at the same time I was learning about Adam and Eve and Noah. I grew up on mythology, science fiction, and fantasy, and I made it through the public school system intellectually unscathed. I learned (or at least tried) about Chemistry, math, biology, evolution, and physics, and I don’t question the facts regarding those subjects. The point I’m trying to make is that the largely agnostic and atheistic culture has a tendency to stereotype. I want to see Christian characters who are smart, funny, and nice, because a lot of us are.

I have a friend who is very into social justice–women’s rights, LGBT rights, race relations–if there’s a social disparity, she knows and cares about it. I admire her for it, but at the same time, she’s so militant and angry about it sometimes that it can get tiresome. Last night she was talking about how there is so much corruption in our country’s justice system, regarding racism and police violence. She has mentioned before that she is very wary of people in positions of authority, especially when those people have access to weapons. To be fair, at least right now, I feel like the people in authority in our country are kind of useless, but I don’t distrust them per se.

It’s easy to stereotype, and we all have a tendency to do it. While some authority figures are corrupt and untrustworthy, some, in fact I’d say probably most, are good people. The same can be said for Christians. People notice the jerks and publicize them because it’s easy and because they make the most noise. The truth is that most of us are reasonable and nice. I would just love to see a moment in a movie or TV show where something good happens because a Christian character was kind to someone or gave them advice, or because they prayed. It doesn’t have to be corny. It can be done artfully.

I will say that sometimes an issue I have with Christian culture is that it has a tendency to lag behind the culture of the Country in general. This is partly out of necessity. We can never deviate from the core teachings and beliefs of the Church, but we need to be more willing to adapt without compromising our faith. We’ve done it since the Church began, but culture changes with such increasing speed in the 21st Century, that it’s harder to keep up. One thing that I think should be an easy fix that the Church has largely neglected, however, is the language we use. For example, I still pray the ye oldie version of the Lord’s Prayer because that’s how I learned it: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” I mean it when I pray it, but it’s the only time I talk like I was around when Shakespeare was writing Hamlet.

How a person expresses him/herself has a large impact on how that person and their ideas are viewed. Many Christian ideas are considered cliche or uncool because we’ve been using the same language and motifs to express our beliefs since the beginning of time. It’s why I often can’t listen to Christian music outside of worship for an extended period of time. Artists just recycle the same stories, images, and metaphors over and over. This is due, in part, to the of fact that many ideas and images are taken straight from the Bible, which again, is relevant in a worship setting, but isn’t going to be helpful when it comes to bringing people to the Church, which I’m much more interested in doing, at least when it comes to music.

However, I think there aren’t many actually interesting Christian characters in popular movies and TV for similar reasons. I think part of the issue is that Hollywood at least is largely secular, and the people who make the best movies honestly just don’t know how to write good Christian characters. What would that character be like? Maybe they’d be like me–a dorky writer who  plays pen and paper RPG’s and teaches religious ed once a month. Maybe they’d be a physics teacher who chose that job to try and expand his students’ intellectual horizons. Maybe they’d be someone with psychic powers, trying to figure out if using those abilities encroaches on God’s authority, while at the same time, trying to save the world from certain doom.

A character’s religion does not dictate their entire personality. In terms of characteristics, it is equal to their interests, their profession, their education, their upbringing, and everything else that makes a person a person. It is another factor that makes them unique. I bring this all up because I’m tired of seeing Christian characters that are nothing more than the designated annoying Christian character. I just want characters that are interesting human beings who happen to believe in Jesus, just as I want to see more interesting characters who happen to have some kind of disability. I’m tired of factors like these being defining characteristics above all else. I’m tired of annoying stereotypes that put me in categories I don’t belong in.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!