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Monday, July 30, 2012

Politics, Religion, and Writing

The more I blog and think about writing, the more varied my studies and posts are going to get, it seems.  Please be patient with me on this post, as I think I will need to take a roundabout path to get to the point.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently finished Jon Acuff's book Quitter.  It has helped me reflect on just why am I writing, and whether or not writing is a part of an overall "dream" I have for the future.

Mr. Acuff spends time in the book discussing the importance of finding out just what your dream actually is, and I realized I am not sure what exactly I dream of doing and accomplishing with my life!  I am able to give decent canned answers to this if asked of course:  loving husband and father, man of integrity, one who honors God...  The problem is, my answers tend to be just a little ambiguous and do not get to the core of who I am and what I am really passionate about. 

I feel like I am passionate about a lot of different things.  I love computers and technology (my day job is as a computer engineer).  I am also very passionate about my relationship with Christ (and seeing those around me grow spiritually), my family, my friends, politics, TV, books, movies, relationships, and just humanity in general.  I struggle pinpointing my dream, because I love to consume myself with so many things that I easily get distracted and never really focus on anything.

Changing topics slightly...

This last week saw the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's final chapter of his Batman trilogy of movies.  With this release, there has been an abundance of political discussion on the internet related to the movie.

First of course is the shooting in Aurora, CO.  Our nation has been struggling to cope with this horrifying tragedy, and it is no surprise discussion of laws relating to guns, mental health, and protecting people has already started coming up.  I think we are faced with a big question:  can a civil society based on freedom and laws (or any society) prevent crime and terror of this nature?  What risks are there to freedom when we try and stamp out evil?

Second, there has been lots, and lots, and lots of commentary on the political themes of The Dark Knight Rises as a part of the many reviews of the film.  Christopher Nolan has discussed openly that the movie is inspired by Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which is a classic novel that discusses many political themes.

Now, I loved the movie.  I even saw it twice in a week.  I am a huge fan of Nolan's take on Batman.  All three movies dealt with different forms of terrorism and Bruce Wayne's struggle to do something good for the city he loves.  They are well written, well acted and just plain entertaining movies.  I believe these movies are significant, not only as entertainment achievements, but also because of the way they tackle difficult subject matters and encourage us to discuss them as a society.  Love it or hate it, I believe The Dark Knight Rises will be discussed for many years, regardless of the actual money it makes in the end.

As I reflected separately this week on Quitter and The Dark Knight Rises, I realized there is a connection between all my different passions and my desire to write.  As I write out Trezl's story, I become critical of myself as I want to write something that is not only entertaining, but is thought provoking as well.  I want to create something of significance.  I want to challenge myself as I write to look at the human condition, religion, politics, family, and technology.  I do not believe I will write the next classic like 1984 or Lord of the Rings.  But I want to be challenged to confront issues and topics that I might shy away from naturally.  Perhaps my writing will help others do the same.

"Politics and religion are the two topics you should never discuss with friends."  This saying really makes me sad.  First, I am extremely passionate about these two things, so I LOVE talking about them.  I am not motivated by a desire to proselytise and make everyone see things the way I do (even if my passion my get the better of me). 

I am honestly interested in hearing what people believe, and why they believe it.  I like being challenged by those that believe differently than I do.  I feel like it does a diservice to us all to hold back and not be willing to have honest discussions with our friends about the things that matter most.  Some of the most memorable times in my life are those moments when I participated in just such a discussion (though I will admit not all of them ended on a positive note!).

So, since I tend to get in trouble from time to time when I try and discuss faith and politics, I think perhaps my dream may be to explore those topics through artistic expression, particularly writing.  The best literature throughout time has been about just these issues.

I am curious to hear what you all might think on the matter.  Are spirituality/faith/religion and politics too dangerous to talk about with friends?  Do you feel uncomfortable or intimidated when they come up in mixed company?

What are your favorite books throughout history that have really made you think about life?  I would really like to know, because I am looking for good books to read and inspire me, so please post your suggestions in the comments section.

Thank you for reading!  I have more I would like to share with you specifically about Ryndaria and how it relates to all this, but it will need to wait until later in the week.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lessons from a Quitter

I've been doing a lot of reading lately, as you might tell.  I am currently reading a book called Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job by Jon Acuff.  I am enjoying reading it.

Jon worked in IT (and a number of other jobs) while looking forward and preparing for a dream job of blogging, speaking, and writing.  In the book, he discusses his experience while giving tips on what he has learned along the way.  Today, because of a number of circumstances, he no longer works in IT and is able to persue his dream full time.

I recommend the book if you are in a similar situation.

I read today a passage about practice in the book.  Jon noted that he blogged over 500,000 words before he ever was able to publish a book of 50,000 words.  Since having that first book published, he blogged 500,000 more words!

A major point of this anecdote was it takes effort and practice to get good at your dream before you might find success at it.  He blogs every single day to practice writing and to grow an audience for his books, conferences and speaking engagements.

I have been thinking about this and my own journey right now.  I need to ask myself why I am writing and what my goals really are.

One fear I have is that I'm not good enough right now to tell Trezl's story.  I feel like I need to be able to do it justice if I'm going to complete it and make it worth reading.  I don't mean to be a perfectionist.  I don't expect this to be one of the great literary works of all time or anything!  But I don't want it to come across in a way that is not compelling. 

So I am focused on practicing and putting the time in!  Right now, I practice by blogging and experimenting with my writing.  I realize there are other stories in Ryndaria to tell, so I am flirting with a couple of them while I experiment with my writing.  The different stories I have mapped out of this world are interrelated, so reading one might give you insight to the bigger story once it is done.

What do you think about preparing for a dream?  Should it be hard work?  Mr. Acuff learned that it was indeed hard work.  But I think he would say it was worth it!

Thank you for reading!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Experimenting with Description

I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis.  I love the Narnia series of novels and all of his writing on Christianity and faith.

  Lewis is known for having "rules for writing" that he shared with young writers in letters.  I've been thinking a lot about rule #4 from the link above when writing lately.  It discusses the use of adjectives.

  He tells the recipient of his letter to not tell the reader how to feel when describing something.  Instead of saying something is "terrible," describe it in such a way to make the reader feel terrified.  Using words like this is lazy and asks the reader to "do my job for me."

  I really like this piece of advice.  It is our job as writers to suck the reader into our world and help them imagine and relate to the look and feel of our world.  So I experimented a little bit last night with a bit of scene setting.  Please read this and then answer a few questions for me below.

  The forest made no sound.  No animals moved about; no birds chirped.  Though the trees grew tall, thick, and close together this deep in the forest, the light of the early morning sun fought through the canopy of leaves and branches above with soft daylight.  

  The air in this part of the forest smelled fresh and clean.  A gentle breeze coaxed the trees to sway their branches slightly to the east.  The wind and branches moved softly without making a sound.  

  The forest floor was clear of debris.  A short, soft grass covered the ground around the trunks of the trees, damp from the morning dew.  Not a single leaf or branch marred the lawn of the forest.

  A lone ray of sunlight shone down through the trees into a small clearing.  At the end of the light sat a single white flower, no more than six inches tall, growing up through the otherwise uniform grass. 

  Jairus could not remember how he arrived, but he felt oddly at home.

So now, time for questions.
  1. How does this passage make you feel about the forest? 
  2. What is missing that you feel you need to know, right now?
I am attempting to describe something that is peaceful and inviting, even if a little strange.  Jairus feels at home, but the scene will continue to describe why he is out of place here.

Thank you for any feedback!

PS:  If you want to know when the blog is updated, please "follow" my blog on the right.  I post to twitter and facebook, but if you are missing my updates, let me know and I can help you get emails when I update.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Close Call

While not exactly related to Ryndaria, I feel like I need to write down what happened to me tonight.  I had a little accident.  Now, I am fine, I only ended up with a few nasty scratches.  Still, I am quite shaken by the experience.

The wife and I near the end of a several month bathroom remodel.  We gutted the old bathroom down to the studs and even took out a wall to build a new one to create a larger space.  The room itself is nearly complete.  The plumbing and electrical work is done, the walls are up, drywall is complete, walls are textured and painted, and new tile is down.  It is time to install our new steam shower.

The shower is a self contained unit that must be assembled on site.  Since we completed all of the work, except the flooring, on our own to this point, we decided to take a crack at the shower.

The shower surprised me along the way with the difficulty of the install.  After a few long evenings of work, all of the walls are up and the roof is on the shower.  The next step is installing the door. 

The door is pure glass and is about six feet tall.  I'm sure you can imagine just how heavy that must be.  Installing the door is probably best done with three people, but the wife and I attempted the put it up with two.  While I held the door in place, my wife attempted to screw the door to the hinges.  The problem is, the hinges will not stay still.  We tried several times to attach the door with no luck.

Now, here comes the crazy part. 

My wife left the room.  She searched for some items we thought would help keep the door steady while we attached it.  I patiently held the door in both hands and waited for her.  I stood in an awkward position, backed up near the toilet, so I decided to move the door slightly.  I planned to shift around to my left to face the door to our bedroom and continue waiting.

I gently lifted the door slightly from the floor and set it back down.  I still do not understand what was different about this time than all the other times we moved the door around while trying to install it.  We lifted it, set it on the floor, lifted it some more, and set it on the shower multiple times.

This time gave different results.  As I set the large piece of glass' edge on the tile floor, it shattered.  I watched in horror as this large piece of glass broke into thousands of pieces as I held on to it with my bare hands.  The entire door sat suspended in the air for a brief moment. 

Have you ever watched a movie where time slows down during some dramatic effect on screen?  This moment felt like that.  I saw the perfect rectangle of the door outlining what had moments before been a beautiful sheet of glass.  The shape remained, but it contained an uncountable number of tiny shards waiting to be freed from their rectangular prison.  Usually, I would be captivated by such a sight, but instinct and fear took over.

I sucked in a breath and closed my eyes as glass rained down around me, scratching and cutting at the exposed skin of my arms and face.  A crash rang out as glass met tile floor and dispersed into every available corner of the room.  Some even ventured out into the brand new carpet in our adjoining bedroom.

I stood motionless and awestruck by what had happened as my wife raced around the corner and looked in at the spectacle. 

As I mentioned before, I am OK.  I've got one nasty scratch on my wrist that we bandaged.  All the other scratches look worse than they really are.  Even the kids did not wake up to the ear splitting crash of glass, so I guess some of the sound proofing I added to the walls during the remodel worked.

I realize it could have been a ton worse tonight, and I have learned first hand why safety gear is so important, especially when working with glass.

Thank you for reading!  I hope some of the techniques I studied recently in describing scenes came out in my description of one of the most frightening experiences I can remember.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ready to Roll

Two and a half months already...  goodness how the time flies. 

With coaching two little league teams and an extremely busy project at work, blogging and writing had to take a back seat for the last two months.  I apologize for staying away and not warning you.

But, baseball is over (my two boys had a BLAST), and the work project will be done in the next three weeks and I am ready to write!

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the plot and where I want to take it, and I've set a goal for myself to have a complete framework/outline of the plot complete before Labor Day. 

Thank you for all your encouragement.  In the next couple weeks I will be back into the swing of blogging regularly.