Monthly Archives: July 2008

Where the Hell is Matt?

As I like to remind my wife, there’s something about dancing that breaks us free from our routine.  Simple body movement energizes us, it connects us, it frees us.  For example, take a look at the following video.  It’s creative and funny and…somehow…touching.

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And a Little Satire…

A little political satire for us all…fairly nonpartisan and quite brilliant…

(Mainly, since I’ve been mocked for not posting enough)

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Problem Creation

So, it has been some time since I’ve written on this blog — which Brooke pointed out to me so eloquently yesterday. (I believe the comment was, “Update your blog, dude.”) In my defense, it’s been a busy past few weeks, as I’ve been in Vermont and Iowa for a week each, and had The Gathering garage sale sandwiched in the middle. But, for Brooke and the few others who read my blog, I will now resume my normal blog writing schedule of 3 or so posts a week, for the rest of my life.

Today, a quote from Dorothy Sayers’ Mind of the Maker, a book exploring the Trinitarian Creative God and humanity made in God’s image:

“Here, you!” he will cry, “you have some trick, some pass-word, some magic formula that unlocks the puzzle of the universe. Apply it for us. Give us the solution to the problems of civilization.”

This, though excusable, is scarcely fair, since the artist does not see life as a problem to be solved, but as a medium for creation […] If, therefore, we are to deal with our “problems” in “a creative way,” we must deal with them along the artist’s lines: not expecting to “solve” them by a detective trick, but to “make something of them,” even when they are, strictly speaking, insoluble.

Sayers argues that too often we look at life as a problem to be solved, rather than as a medium for creation.  Not only artists, but all creative types (which, if you ask me, means everyone) are called to create — to make new things — when faced with “problems.”  An example she gives is the “problem” of death, mainly that we feel a “resentment and exasperation” in the face of death — by the notion that anything in this world should be inevitable.  Our efforts are not directed to make something new out of the problem, but to “solve” the problem.  Of course, the problem of death is insoluble.  It can only be faced with creativity.

In closing today (I’ll expound in coming days) I offer a creative “solution” to death — a poet’s take:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Crossing the Bar, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

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More Top Tens

Alright, following the Top 10 Novels yesterday, here is a top ten of memoir/personal essays:

10. The Snow Leopard.  By Peter Matthiessen.  Simply because Tim and Kristi are in Nepal, and it brings Nepal to life.

9. Surprised By Joy.  By C.S. Lewis.  Studying his early life is rich, as are his thoughts on the ‘numinous’.

8. Naked.  By David Sedaris.  Because he’s just too funny not to include.

7. Blue Like Jazz.  By Donald Miller.  Sure, lots of people have read it.  But there’s a reason.  Another book that beautifully explores spirituality.

6. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.  By Alexandra Fuller.  Memoir Rhodesian style, both beautiful and startling.

5. Easter Everywhere.  By Darcey Steinke.  Spiritual and searching — and never preachy — it will expand your view of God.

4. Angela’s Ashes.  By Frank McCourt.  Great prose, a fun story, he captures writing from a child’s point of view.

3. Broken Vessels.  By Andre Dubus.  Essays ranging from baseball to children, yet always holding grace and frailty next to each other.

2. A Severe Mercy.  By Sheldon Vanauken.  Deep.  Moving.  A tribute to relationships and love.

1. Living to Tell the Tale.  By Gabriel García Márquez.  All fiction is auto-biographical.  Read it right after 100 Years of Solitude, and then go spend some time in Latin America.


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Top Ten…

Since I often have people asking me, “What books should I read?” I figured I’d put together a series of Top Ten lists. I’ll be rolling them out over the next few days, and please remember: these are my opinions. I imagine your opinions differ. Good. You’re not me. Let me know how your opinions differ; that’s the fun of these lists. It isn’t definitive, it’s personal. But, since I’m in graduate school for creative writing, I suppose some people look to me as somewhat of an authority, so here is a list of my Top Ten Novels.

10. The Alchemist. By Paulo Coelho. I would recommend this book to almost anyone.

9. Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad. The perfect frame narrative. Read it to taste the heaviness, experience possibility in Kurtz and fear in Marlow. Not to mention, Apocalypse Now is based off it, as are Peterman’s final words in The Chicken Roaster episode of Seinfeld.

8. Till We Have Faces. By C.S. Lewis. Darkness. Terror. Depth. Mystery. Narnia for grown-ups.

7. The Scarlet Letter. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. Because Hawthorne has to be on this list, and we’ve all read it and under-appreciated it at the time. Also referenced in Seinfeld’sThe Pick“.

6. The Brothers Karamazov. By Fyodor Dostoevsky. It took a couple readings, but it’s darkly funny, and wrestles with grace, guilt, religion, power — pretty much everything. And, it may have the most famous chapter of any novel, ever (The Grand Inquisitor).

5. The Power and the Glory. By Graham Greene. Politics, religion, and a priest on the run. Put it in the hands of one of the greatest 20th century writers and you’re doing pretty well.

4. One Hundred Years of Solitude. By Gabriel García Márquez. The style and language are about the best things going for literature right now. Plus, he has a great first name.

3. Les Misérables. By Victor Hugo. Two million people went to his funeral, for goodness’ sake. It’ll make you want to be a better person.

2. East of Eden. By John Steinbeck. If you have a hard-back copy, the picture on the jacket alone almost puts it in the top spot. Also, go spend some time in Central California after reading this.

1. Anna Karenina. By Leo Tolstoy. When William Faulkner was asked how to write fiction, his answer was, “Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina.”

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Tuesday Evening

It is Tuesday evening and “Law and Order” is on. I got home from Vermont on Friday and went to a party for The Gathering on Saturday and led the community on Sunday. Yesterday and today I’ve worked at The Gathering and done some writing. We have a garage sale this weekend; there is a lot to get ready. I have been busy, but fortunately not stressed.

Brooke is on the couch next to me; she loves “Law and Order”.

It is a moment, even with the television on, when we both can slow and let time move through us. Too often, we move through time. I think about this and see how much my life is based on time: I write for certain amounts of time, get to The Gathering at a certain time to meet with people, eat lunch or dinner at set times because my body is conditioned to get hungry at those times. During most of the day I move through time. I watch it and spend it and try to use it wisely.

But this evening, time moves through me; it moves through us. The clock does not matter. We only listen to and watch a mystery story, and after we will read or talk. We will not pay much attention to when we go to sleep and we have nothing left to do this evening — no demands or responsibilities.

I love sitting next to my wife at times like this. I think of how I love her like a man trying to run with a limp: imperfectly, with grit, with all of myself. Her feet touch my arm and they are cool on my skin. For a moment, time moves through us.

Tonight we sit together on the couch. We watch a story. We let time move.

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Five Fun Facts

Well, I’m back from Vermont.  It was a fantastic trip.  Each time I’m back there I get to know the people a little more, and it finally seems like I have real friends, people whom I might talk to even after I graduate.  So, that’s exciting.  

In order for you, too, to feel like you’re in a writing program I thought I’d post a few interesting things I’ve learned over the past week, in no particular order.

1) The first novel written in English is generally attributed to Mrs. Afra Behn, in 1688.  It was written by a white woman, in the New World (Americas), dealing with slavery.  Oh, and it was advertised as a ‘true history’ for all you James Frey haters out there (that includes you, Oprah…there’s a long literary history of calling whatever you write ‘true’ no matter how little of it is actually true…not that this completely excuses Frey, but I digress).  

2) Actually, Jane Eyre was originally published as a ‘true’ account in the first edition.

3) The fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood is a story to warn young maidens about sexuality.  The phrase ‘she has seen the wolf’ is archaic for a woman losing her virginity.  A ‘hood’ was a chaperone, or a madame today.  

4) The Brothers Grimm, who collected fairy tales in early 19th century Germany, originally did not incorporate the ‘evil stepmother.’  The first edition of their tales had evil mothers who tried to kill their children; later editions softened the plot to a stepmother.  

5) In 1665, Elizabeth Foster was born in Massachusetts.  She went on to have 16 children.  Oh, and she married Isaac Goose.  Elizabeth Foster Goose is often seen as the person who inspired “Mother Goose.”

Okay, that’s all.  A few fun facts about novels and fairy tales, since I went to a workshop on each.  

The final thought for today is this: Never hope more than you’re willing to work.  

A little kick in the butt for a writer.

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