unpublished drafts

Drafts of 16 posts written by my eldest son, William, remain unpublished in the list of posts that I’m able to see as the administrator of the blog I set up for my kids.

William is an excellent writer, and the unpublished drafts include works of fiction, poetry, journaling, and philisophical observations filled with honesty of emotion.  His mind engages his environment with insightful and introspective clarity.  I’m sincerely impressed, and not just as a parent-fan, and I’ve told him so.

He has a litany of reasons for not publishing his thoughts.  “It’s all crap,” he says.  “I can assure you it isn’t,” I reply.  He laughs.

I have had difficulty conversing with William, always, but more lately.  Arbitrary, superficial, tyrrany-of-the-urgent stuff usurps a dominating role in our lives, but that’s not the full explanation.

In the flash-flood of my all-too-often, anger-fueled lecturing tirades, he has struggled  to keep his head above the water.  I heard somewhere once that in spite of theatrical evidence to the contrary, it’s impossible to cry for help when you’re drowning.  Apparently, you can’t gasp for breath and verbalize your need at the same time.

William and I are quite alike in so many ways that I’ve often belly-ached to God for his cruel mockery of my weaknesses by having them appear so obviously in my son’s predisposition.  Of course, William also has been gifted in ways for which I’ve only wished and prayed.

I love him fiercely.  I’m often caught unaware by the depth of the emotion of it.

Unpublished drafts give me a window into his thoughts, those he portends with silent, desperate gestures as he drowns in my flood of words, or the expectation of them.

I wonder about the misunderstandings of so many relationships incurred by the inability of one party to gain administrative access to the unpublished drafts of other parties.

So much is left unsaid, unpublished.  So many misunderstandings persist, and become historical fact, under the constant pressure and pace of time, and our passive-aggressive ability to assume and impose motives and rationale on the empty spaces of conversations.

Imaginations run wild, offense is taken, defense is mustered, assumptions make what they will of us.

After going to bed last night with misunderstandings busily building mountains of molehills, it took 2 calls and 45 minutes this morning for me to hear my wife clearly, and to explain myself adequately to draw out her typically gracious response to my shortcomings.  “Thanks.  That helps,” she said.  That was an understatement of abundant grace akin to Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Lives become past-tense with unpublished drafts of real words divulging truth only to audiences who remain perpetually unaware of their existence.

God forbid, please God, that precious gifts and their days are wasted without notice on misunderstandings borne and sustained by silence.

God, please, make me a listener, especially to the silence.

And grant me, always, please, administrative access to unpublished drafts, or at least to the knowledge of their existence, so that I might, with love and grace, persuade their publication.

And thanks, God, for the depth of the well dug in William’s earth.  May it be a fountain of living water.  May your grace be sufficient for us both.

May your grace be sufficient for us all.

a novel idea

Have you ever tried to write a novel?

The trick of it, apparently, has a lot to do with figuring out where to jump into the story, and what to include in the details of the story.

Conventional wisdom (which may be a hideous oxymoron) is that when writing a novel you have to stick to the story and use nary a word that doesn’t participate in moving the story forward.  In addition, a novel-writer should refrain from being overly descriptive, which is only a slightly different principle, I suppose.

All of that, of course, reminds me of the scene from The Princess Bride in which Westley, having just been revived by Miracle Max from being mostly dead, is trying to understand why he, Inigo, and Fezzik are about to storm the castle gate, so that he can come up with the plan (which is the whole reason Inigo had to find Westley and have him revived).  Inigo, in a hurry to storm the castle and find the six-fingered man who killed his father, says to Westley, who is also in a hurry to storm the castle and stop the wedding of Prince Humperdinck and Buttercup, his true love, “Let me explain.”  Then he pauses, shakes his head, and starts again with, “No, it’s too much.  Let me sum up.”

Now, I realize that, as Christians, we’re uncomfortable with the idea of spending valuable time reading, much less writing, novels because we’re serious people about serious business, and novels, being make-believe and all, are hardly serious, unless of course, they are allegories and devoid of profanity and/or sexual references and/or sarcasm.

So, I suppose the same principles can be applied to nonfiction, or even creative nonfiction, based on the evidence presented in the Gospel of St. John, in which John himself confesses to leaving out some elements of the life of Jesus from his account, by saying in the very last verse of his last chapter, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.  Amen.”

I’m not one to criticize Biblical authors, but I have to roll my eyes a bit at John for that exaggeration about the whole world not being able to contain the books.  On the other hand, John’s awareness of the actual size of the whole world may have been a bit misinformed.

Nonetheless, I get his point.  He had to stick to the central story, as he saw it, either for lack of knowledge, lack of parchment, lack of time, or lack of the ability to otherwise keep the interest of readers.

Beyond all of that, though, there’s another point we have to consider, if we have to consider this topic at all.  We have to consider the idea of engaging the readers in the creative process in at least as much as they are translating the symbols we call letters into ideas and mental images of those ideas.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, the reader is going to envision the story based on his or her interpretation of the written words.

This is dangerous, but necessary.

In the same way that every reader has distinct fingerprints, and DNA, and odors, they will have a distinct interpretation of every element of a story.  They must.  And not only is that a factor for consideration in the writing, it’s a necessity.  You have to stick with the story, using words as economically as possible, knowing that readers will each have unique images of what you’re describing, and in order to keep them engaged in the story, you have to leave out just the right elements to engage their imaginative processes and envision whatever it is that will keep them interested enough to keep reading.

Or, so I’m told.

Too much descriptive information, and they’re sleeping on you.  Too much boring dialogue, and they lose track of the point.  Too many pages, with obscure, ancient maritime references, as I found with my most recent attempt to digest Moby Dick, and they put the books back on their respective shelves, probably in the wrong locations, with disgusted looks on their faces.

But – and that’s a very big but – this is of critical consideration for all of writing, reading, and life.

We are constantly editing in the process of writing, reading, and living.  Constantly.  Always.

Some of us are not good at this.  Others are better.  None of us are perfect.

Take a minute and look around the room in which you’re sitting.  Try to think about how you would describe the room.  Try to think about every detail and imagine putting words to it.

Or, take your experiences today.  Think about describing every detail of every step of everything you’ve done today to someone else who has no contextual reference for your life.

Yep.  I know.  Maybe John was right, after all, about filling the whole world with books, right?

We take a lot for granted.  We filter out a lot of noisy details without ever recognizing we’re doing it.  Our minds do this instinctively – constantly translating data perceived through our senses, imaginations, desires, and abilities of spiritual discernment.  It’s a necessity and we’re better for it.  We don’t, and can’t, consciously process every data point that enters our realms of experience.  Thank God, we don’t.

Of course, and here’s the rub, if we, either acutely or chronically, filter incorrectly, perceive incorrectly, or imagine incorrectly, in this incessant dance between writer and reader, transmitter and receiver, leader and follower, savior and sinner, we may alter the story to something that bears no resemblance to the author’s intent.

Our contribution to the story, even as writers for whom the prerequisite of all writing is reading, in more ways than merely literally, is absolutely critical.

Stick to the story.  Use words economically.  Balance description with room for interpretation.  Do so with precision and skill.

This is a nearly impossible task, which great writers complete with the illusion of ease.  I’m listening to the audiobook version of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens.  He’s a great writer, and his work is classic for that reason.

John was a great, or at least good, writer, and his subject matter makes up for any of his shortcomings, and that’s why his work is classic, even though he left out so much stuff.  I wish I knew more of that story, more of those unnecessary details.

As a reader, I can get distracted.  I skim, I skip, I rewind, I misunderstand, I misinterpret, I give up, I want less, and I want more.  I am also moved and inspired and enlightened and humbled.

As a writer, I write too many words, trying to convey an idea without risk of misinterpretation because I have difficulty trusting readers to get it right.  Then, I lose the story, and the reader.

See, I did it again.

I have to keep telling myself:  trust the story, trust the reader, trust the heart . . . trust the friend, trust the child, trust the vision, trust the author.

Trust the author.  Let the author tell the story.  That’s a novel idea.

writing and self-confrontation with Lefty and Rusty

“The act of writing puts you in confrontation with yourself, which is why I think writers assiduously avoid writing.” – Fran Lebowitz

Though I have on occasion written actual words, to characterize myself as a writer would be an awkward fit at best.  In the same way that, although I’ve been known to wash a dish or two on occasion, my wife would assertively attest to the fact that I’m far from what anyone could reasonably consider a dishwasher.

Yet, I am the actual writer of these words, at least, and the others connected to this production, and happen to find myself feeling the sharp point of the words expressed in the quote above, in spite of the awkward fit.

In any case, here I am, after weeks months away from this place, confronting myself in a relatively weak attempt to quiet the conflicting voices inside my head.

They yell back and forth at each other – the one on the left diligently enforcing the darkness of the soul’s self-imposed lock-down, and the one on the right screaming to throw the doors open to the light and revel in the freedom of expression.

The voice on the left – let’s call him Lefty – lives by the creed of writing wisdom proven generally applicable by centuries of lauded writing experience:  “Stop writing about yourself!  You’re not as interesting as you think you are!” 

When the counter-proposal, made in response to that piercing proclamation, is launched by the voice on the right – let’s call him Rusty – saying, “Fine, then we’ll write about someone or something else!”, Lefty spitefully, and with a venomous smirk across his thin lips, lobs the old standby cannonballs of self-deprecation:  “You can’t.  You don’t know anything about anything else!”; and “Why bother?  Nobody cares about your opinion, anyway!”

As you can imagine, I’m sure, Rusty’s heartbroken response to such vindictive and violent warfare is to tuck his tail and run for cover.

Yet, despite his wounds and anxiety, Rusty is haunted by the yearning – initially, fearfully derided as weakness and pathetic hubris – for the light of the open doors.  Rusty longs for the great outdoors, and the longing builds the fuel of a fire that burns reluctantly, but persistently.

Rusty finally concludes, with a twinkle in his eye and a skip in his step, that Lefty is just a big scaredy-cat.

Moved to rebellion by the physically-felt inspiration of all that’s holy and right in the world, Rusty builds enough momentum to crush the locked doors like so much aluminum foil and launches himself into the light of day, completely exposed for all to see, twirling with exuberance in the joys of freedom.

Right?

Well, not so much, maybe.

Rusty still has to write something.

Words are hard to string together in so cohesive a manner as to express the inexpressible depths – the thoughts that form knots in the stomach, that move us to tears, that inspire courage and action, that launch us into love with giddiness and recklessness.

Words are hard to string together.

The soul’s first language isn’t English, or any other language of men for that matter.  We’re always translating its transcendent cries into the broken words of men, filled with holes and tending to lose great portions of meaning in route to destinations unknown.

Realizing, again, that he’s come ill-equipped for the occasion, Rusty slinks back to an awkward respite just outside the destroyed gates of Lefty’s lair, realizing they can never fully contain him, but unwilling to venture too far from their safety net of darkness.

i haven’t quit

Just thought you should know:  I haven’t quit.

I mean, I have quit, temporarily, but not permanently.  And I wish the temporary quitting was over already.  Maybe this little post means it is.

At first, quitting temporarily is about needing a break and a bit of rebellion and a bit of gut-check as to whether I’m doing this (writing, not quitting) for the right reasons.

At second, quitting temporarily becomes about time and choices – get more sleep, get less crabby, spend more time with kids and wife, spend more time with other things that are piled up, or write.

At third, there are actually days I forget that I have ever written . . . but there are not many of those days.

At fourth, I crave writing – I spend several minutes staring at, and daydreaming about, the green-plaid-covered journal laying on the top of the Bible that sits by the lady in the row ahead of me in church.  I just want to hold it.  A journal with real pages and real ink is so much more romantically appealing than a monitor and a keyboard.

At last, words begin to look for places to escape from me, craving expression, regardless of value and means.  (Not to say that the actual value of the expression has ever been held in such high regard here at namesake.)

Now, I’m writing this little note to say that I haven’t quit writing, and I can’t quit writing.

Oh God, help me do this well, in the write right ways, at the write right times, for the write right reasons, with the write right words.

Oh Lord, please help me do this.

Oh Lord!