Tag Archives: Fiction

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!

Characters

On New Year’s Eve I gave one of my friends a general synopsis of the first half or so of my novel. Then something occurred to me. I have a lot of female characters. It’s not so much the number that might end up being a problem when it comes to reaching certain audiences. It’s their personalities. I have more dudes in my story than ladies, but the ladies are beasts. With the exception of a minor character who I’ve already killed off, there is no “damsel in distress.” My girls all have their issues, but they don’t need a guy to sort them out. In fact, three out of my four main female characters have psychic powers where only two of my seven male characters have these abilities. None of this was intentional. My main characters almost completely invented themselves.

The real problem will most likely be my Super Soldiers or Clone Army, if you like. They’re all female. They’re barely human at this point, but they are female nonetheless. Admittedly, it was intentional. The evil army is always male. Why not make them female? The person they cloned just happened to be a woman. While it was intentional, I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, especially since the person who is in charge of the cloning process, and the highest in command, is a dude. I am quite positive that someone will hate this. Someone is going to whine and tell all his friends to boycott my book. It’s just kind of a bummer because I think it’s a fun story. Furthermore, the gender of my Super Soldiers really doesn’t matter. They’re basically mindless, and aren’t even going to appear until late in the story.

I’m more of a feminist than I used to be, and honestly, I think it’s because I see a lack of strong female characters in fantasy and science fiction. In fact, many of my favorite stories have very little female presence. It’s hard to explain because I don’t really mind, but at the same time I do. I have no problem rooting for male heroes. I will forever have a weird sci-fi crush on (young) Luke Skywalker. At the same time, rooting for only male heroes gets tiresome. Honestly, the only real reason I have is that I’m a girl, and I want to be able to empathize with a female hero. Sometimes it just makes it easier to get into her head space, if nothing else. Furthermore, I think it makes it easier to insert myself into a particular universe and make my own story if I have an easy starting point, even if it’s just that the hero happens to also be a lady from a boring town, or what have you.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons, and a game we adapted from Dark Heresy with my friends. I’m the only lady in the group. Most of the time I don’t care except that I eventually notice that, a lot of the time, there aren’t even that many female NPC’s (Non-Player Characters). Sometimes, depending on the DM, there aren’t any. It’s like I’m the only alien to escape from a desolate planet and land on Earth. I guess it must just be natural to make certain characters in certain roles be a certain gender because of factors like your own gender, your upbringing, tradition, etc. There must be a million different factors that contribute to this. I don’t blame my friends. More than anything else, I’m looking for an interesting story. If I’m the only girl, then so be it. I happen to be our group’s designated Jedi, so clearly I’m the best.

To be honest, it kind of annoys me when people get all up in arms about gender issues or race relations or what have you. I know there are still bigots of every kind out there. I just don’t entirely understand why. What I mean is that, I don’t think that stuff should matter. It just seems to me that sometimes people put far too much emphasis on their gender or their sexuality or their skin color. Sure, I’m a woman in a still somewhat patriarchal society, but that’s not the most important thing about me. In fact, I really don’t feel like my gender matters that much at all. I’d say, more than anything else, I’m a Christian and a nerd. I think those are the most defining parts of my personality. Literally anyone can be those things. It’s not particularly special.

I guess my sentiments about all this come partly from cultural automatics, but also from the fact that I’m a pacifist and an optimist. I live in an extremely tolerant part of the country, in an affluent, boring suburban town. Furthermore, it takes a lot to actually get me angry. Most of the time, my initial reaction to problems is “that can be fixed,” or even, “I can fix that.” As I’ve mentioned before, my story is partly a thought experiment in a few different ways, but it started as a fun idea I had while on a wander last spring. I don’t have an agenda. I have some strong female characters, and some disabled characters because I want to. Those kinds of characters represent who I am in some ways, and part of the point of fiction is to be able to make a new world for yourself. If people have a problem with it, it’s on them.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Happy Christmas!

Hey peeps! I just wanted to say happy Christmas to all of my readers and anyone else who might drop in! I wasn’t going to write today, but I’ve ended up working anyway. What can I say? It’s work and it’s fun! The fact of the matter is that our family tends to celebrate more on Christmas Eve. We party, eat foot and exchange gifts and then go to Midnight Mass.

This ended up being a super nice Christmas, but I can’t really put my finger on any particular reason why. It wasn’t really any different than any other year, other than the fact that we had a bitey little parrot in our midst. Seamus got a couple new toys, one of which he was afraid of. My bird is a bit of an anomaly because he’s a fearless little jerk sometimes, but he’s afraid of the most seemingly random things. He’s almost a year old now. Obviously we don’t know exactly when his birthday is, but it’s some time in January. I guess this is maybe a little bit like how parents feel. My boo isn’t going to officially be a boo any more! I’m a little obsessed with my bird.

In other news, I have enough chocolate to feed an army, which is kind of a problem because I have the tiniest appetite in the world. Luckily I have friends who can eat a ludicrous amount of chocolate. I’ve also acquired a certificate for four violin lessons, a day to sleep and be as lazy as I want without being bugged (which, let’s face it, I will probably never use), several Star Wars related things… namely a sign to put in my room and a travel mug, a wireless plug-in thingy for my guitar, and a few games. My parents always get me way more than I ask for.

I missed one or two weeks during Advent, but our priest has been really great, and the service last night was amazing over all. The music was good, the message was new and interesting because our priest is super interested in history and always manages to teach us something new, but the way I reacted to everything was almost weird–in a good way. At seemingly mundane moments I just felt excited. Right before we were going to take communion, when we were going through the motions like usual, a thought and a feeling just kind of came to me. There’s a difference between knowing something and feeling it. Of course I believe and intellectually know that Jesus is alive and coming again, but last night I felt it, and I just got super excited. That’s a good thing to get excited about. To be honest, I don’t often get excited about spiritual things like I get excited about a new development in a story I’m writing or reading, so when I really feel it, it’s the best thing.

As I said, I’ve worked on my story a bit today, and I’ll probably do a bit more. I wasn’t going to because I thought it would be more respectful or something, but I think God wants me to. I’ve been really feeling like he’s pushing me to get this thing done, not to meet a deadline or anything, but just to write an excellent story, and I kind of feel like when I write something good and say “thank you” for it, it’s a real, personal form of worship. People are coming back over later, but for now I’m just going to write until I get stuck.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Write Your Story

 

Over the weekend I went absolutely Star Wars crazy. I’ve already seen the movie three times. I’ve done more than my fair share of theorizing about the next one already. My friends and I have all been very nostalgic about the old movies, and are now super excited about where the story is going. I’ve imagined what it would be like to be a Star Wars character (Jedi or not), and I’ve wondered whether I would turn to the dark side. At the same time, I began to feel a strange, increasing feeling of seemingly misplaced guilt, or something like it.

Eventually I thought, “What gives?”

Then it came to me. “You don’t want to live in that universe. You may feel like you would have more agency; you might have more of a chance of being a hero, but planets get blown up in that universe. Billions upon billions of people die in a matter of minutes or hours.”

Still, this whole thought process wasn’t normal. I’ve done this before–the whole “what if” thing. I’ve imagined myself as another character in another world, living a different story and thought nothing of it.

So I argued. “I’m just having fun. Star Wars is just such a good, fun story. It’s obviously fictional, and no, I probably wouldn’t want to live in that universe. It’s just fun to think about.”

At this point I was convinced I was arguing with God. I probably shouldn’t do that, but it happens. He said, “Your story’s fun, too.”

Me: Yeah, but it’s not as fun as Star Wars.

Him: Make it as fun as Star Wars. It’s your story. You can make it whatever you want it to be.

Me: You mean my novel, right?

Him: Yes.

Me: I’ll try, but I need your help. It’s your story, too.

Him: I know. So you’ve told me. I’ll help you when you get stuck. I want you to write an amazing story, and I want you to use it for good. I know you can.

This is an actual conversation I had. Maybe it was with God, maybe it wasn’t, but answers were coming back to me in a way that made it seem like I wasn’t just talking to myself, and I’m convinced. On top of that, I ended up writing for around four hours straight yesterday, and I finally finished a scene that I was really nervous about writing. I’ve been agonizing and procrastinating because of it for at least a couple of weeks now. Yesterday it just seemed to come to me.

There are going to be two parts to my novel, and I’m very close to finishing Part One. I’m going to have a couple trustworthy people read it before moving on to Part Two, and I’m probably going to have to do a lot of editing, but especially in the past few weeks, for one thing, my style has been improving quite a bit. I seem to be getting back into the groove. I started writing this novel over the summer, and there was a time where I could write ten pages in a day. Then in October (I think) I hit a brick wall and went for several weeks without writing at all. Then my mommy yelled at me. Both my parents, but she especially seem to be convinced that it’s my destiny to write the next great Science Fiction novel. I hope they’re right. I’m falling in love with this story again, and yesterday, as I said, I wrote a lot. I’m going to try and finish Part One by next Monday because I’d like people to read it while they’re on vacation.

For reference, I’ve written almost 120 pages. That’s the most I’ve written ever, at least on one project. I’ve invented a futuristic drug trade. I’ve invented an alphabet. I’ve developed an evil, corrupt government plot (the details of which you’ll just have to wait for). In retrospect, I’m darn proud of this story. If nothing else, it’s complicated. Admittedly, there’s a part of me that wants to use this story to legitimize Science Fiction as a genre in the literary world. At school I took every creative writing class that was offered, but of course, that did not include fantasy or Sci-Fi. In many ways, realistic fiction lost its charm for me a long time ago. It has to be a really freaking compelling story for it to hold my interest. I live in this universe. Why would I want to read about it? If there’s no magic, no dragons, no space ships, no “what if,” then it’s no fun.

The argument, or so I’ve heard, is that sci-fi and fantasy are nothing more than entertainment because they are not relevant to real-world issues. That’s only the case if you let it be. You can absolutely use alternate universes to address issues of morality, power, politics, and spirituality, among other things, all of which come up in my story. What happens if religion is taken out of the equation entirely? What happens when the military has the most political power? What would happen if you brought magic into the equation? A friend of mine said something that i thought was quite interesting and true. She said that a miracle is something that we just aren’t able to explain yet. I’d like to explore that as well.

Anyway, I’m playing Dungeons and Dragons later, so I should get back to work.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

Celebrate Anyway

I’ve come to understand that some Christians do not celebrate Christmas because it has some traditionally pagan aspects, and because it has become too secular and too commercialized. I do not deny either of these facts. In fact, there are things about the modern, mainly Western take on Christmas that thoroughly annoy me. However, there are reasons that I feel Christmas should be celebrated anyway. At its core, the purpose of Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Christ, and to acknowledge and enforce the hope we have for his second coming. Strip everything else away, and it is nothing more or less than that.

Christianity entered Europe in the first few centuries A.D. They wanted to convert Pagans to their religion, but they were also interested in their traditions and culture. I have heard the argument that this is dangerous. Prying too deeply into non-Christian ideas might lead one to believe in those ideas. However, what one believes in is ultimately a choice. There are many aspects to faith. Though it would be easier if it did not, it usually requires some form of evidence for its truth, but this evidence almost always comes after an initial willingness to believe in the first place. It needs to be relational, meaning that ideas and emotions and even messages go both ways between us and God. Most importantly, it needs to be intentional. There will always be conflicting ideas in the world, and yes, it is possible to be tempted to question one’s own faith. It is the choice to stay steadfast that makes it real, and makes it stronger. Studying other religions and ideas is not dangerous as long as one is capable of discerning what is fact and what is fiction.

However, there is a difference between studying other religions and incorporating some of those ideas into one’s own practices. Admittedly, this can be dangerous, and I think, has honestly become detrimental over time. Though it is still celebrated by Christians, Christmas has become a largely secular holiday. There are several reasons for this. While some traditions were adopted with good intentions, over time, they morphed into new ideas entirely. Saint Nicholas, who was a real, historical person, and a saint in the Catholic Church, eventually became known only as Santa Clause to many people. He is nothing more than a magical dude who hangs out with elves and brings presents to kids once per year. I do personally believe that this particular aspect of the modern rendition of Christmas is a problem because it takes the focus away from Christ and puts it on this character who, for kids, is generally more fun.

Music causes similar problems, at least for me. Many so-called Christmas songs are only about the secular aspects of Christmas–giving gifts, partying, etc. This is a very personal issue for me. Music and faith are very closely entwined in my mind, and I dislike songs that claim to be about Christmas, but have nothing spiritual about them. To be honest, it’s also just a matter of preference. The majority of them are musically annoying, and lyrically stupid, and I can’t help being a snobby art critic. However, this issue, and the issue of Santa Clause are personal issues for me. If I had kids I simply would not play secular holiday music or introduce the concept of Santa Clause. I would still get a tree, give gifts and eat too much food.

You might ask why things like the Christmas tree or the practice of giving gifts are not problematic. I do not see these as problematic because they are passive. They can be and symbolize whatever you want them to. In contrast, music actively introduces and perpetuates ideas, as do stories and fictional characters. A Christmas tree can symbolize life–the life that Christ promises to us. The lights and colorful decorations can symbolize hope and joy in an otherwise dark and cold time of year. The list goes on. Jesus received gifts at his birth, so why shouldn’t we give gifts to each other? Jesus loves us, and God is within all of us. Inventing your own symbolism for old ideas and concepts is absolutely permissible, and is exactly what the early Church did with Pagan ideas. For example, they celebrated a festival commemorating the birth of the New Sun, which we recognize as the Winter Solstice. The early Christians took this idea and used it to commemorate the birth of Christ. This made it understandable and relatable to their early converts.

Lastly, I would like to say that I do not condone the exploitation of a religious tradition for commercial gain, nor do I think it’s something that is worth getting totally stressed out about. I do not appreciate the trivialization by Western culture in general of something that is so beautiful and meaningful. However, I do not condemn the people who do these things. What they do is their business. Furthermore, I find that condemning people for what they believe is right, or at least permissible, is not productive. It only creates divisions and perpetuates the same problems. Take the Starbucks cups for example. Every year a handful of bored, militant atheists get worked up because Starbucks puts snowflakes on their cups, which simply is not a religious symbol. This year, Starbucks didn’t want to deal with it, so they made their cups plain red, which pissed off a bunch of bored, militant Christians. The most productive thing for Starbucks to do would be whatever they very well please. The snowflakes are kind of festive and fun, so if they want to, they should put them on the cups. They’re not going to go bankrupt because a few people with too much time on their hands are annoyed with them.

It literally does not matter what Starbucks puts on their cups, so Christians should have simply ignored the issue. There are certain things we simply cannot compromise about, but this is not one of them. We can be friends with a-religious peeps and Atheists, and Agnostics, and Muslims and Buddhists and people of any other religion while still not believing in or adhering to their faiths and practices. In fact, I argue that it is our duty as Christians to lead by example, and show people what it’s like to know Jesus. We can’t do that if we’re constantly fighting about trivialities. To bring this back to my original point, I would like to say that I don’t think there is one right way to celebrate Christmas, but I do think it should be celebrated because of its true purpose. Its pagan and secular aspects are not things that we need to necessarily be worried about. As I said, some things are problematic for me, so I personally ignore them. If they are not problematic for you, go ahead and enjoy.

For whatever reason there seems to be a sentiment around this time that tends to lead people to good thoughts and nice actions, whether they are religious or not. That alone is a good thing, and most likely ultimately stems from the original purpose of Christmas, whether people know it or not. There tends to be an increase in charitable donations. People tend to be more generous and more patient. Friends and family who often don’t see each other for months get together and enjoy each other’s company. People can stop and relax for a while. None of this is spiritual, but it’s all healthy and good for society in general. If you couple the warm and fuzzy feelings with a spiritual purpose, they can become permanent–not unbreakable, but more clearly defined, and purposeful far after Christmas is over. Christmas symbolizes a beginning, but what it began is still in progress, and we are a part of it. We need to remember that beginning, in part, to keep in mind where we’re going.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!