Dear Conscience (I’d prefer calling you Consistence),
Last time we talked, you asked a bit about what drives me. So don’t tell me to apologize when this is what you get. I might, though, have to apologize for the places where it seems like I am criticizing you. Please know that I only know your failures, because I know mine.
You want to know my philosophy of life?
The philosophical conclusion I worked on in my teenage years can be summed up in this; aim for, but do not expect. Similarly, survival is not an admirable goal. God loves danger, so why shouldn’t we?
We’re not empty shells. If we were empty shells, we would not want to write. The reason we do not write as much, is not because we are empty and have nothing to say. No, it is that we are scared.
Buck up. Put your shoes on. Embrace that you’re a failure. Recognize that all your peers are greater failures than you, and do it. Say what you want to say. And if you have nothing to say, then say that.
If you really want to be a writer, the most profitable thing to do is write. You have to be able to stand on your own, as a person, without any external distractions, aids, guides. You must be willing to be naked for a second and feel exposed. This eliminates any clutter around you, sets you up for proper criticism, and allows you to build. You are you in the purest form.
And when it comes to writing, exposing yourself is turning off your thoughts. You must think in writing. Turn off the part of your brain that creates meta-thinking. Turn on your fingers. Let them think for you.
I know it’s hard believe. It’s esoteric. It’s strange. But, it’s also euphoric.
This is a separate goal than writing academically or creatively. This is just pure writing. And you will stumble upon things you didn’t even know were in you. Expose this part of yourself. And show it to people you trust. They will help you and push you towards where you ought to be. Anyone can do this.
Are you unsure of what to write about? Like I said before, write your thoughts. Write about whatever comes around. There is so much floating in your brain and you don’t even know it, because you have not given it room to breath. You have never let it out.
Why would you not tell in writing? More importantly, why in the world would you show?
I feel like people think the best forms of art are when those forms look the most like other forms.
When critics describe novels, they will say, “He painted with such beautiful strokes” or with paintings “what he tells us here is so true”. Is our best praise about something declaring that it is not, in fact, what it is? That it has somehow transfigurated into something else?
In my opinion, the best writing will not transcend the form into another form. It will be a pure form of itself. It will be pure writing. What I mean by that is, the best writing will only tell. And it will tell you brilliantly. No showing. Showing is for images, moving or not. Writing is with words. Painting is with paint. Filming is with film.
Movies should not follow the methods of writing. They should follow the method of making movies. To be honest, I don’t think anyone has found out what that actually looks like. But, I hope we do figure it out. No one knew what the methods of writing were, until they dived in.
Painting, similarly, should not be like writing, unless it elevates the painting into a realm of pure painting. It should elevate the form to a greater representation of itself and not a greater representation of what elevates it.
I’m not saying that it should not tell a great story. It should. But, telling a story is universal to all art, while the methods of writing are not. People confuse good storytelling with good writing. They are not the same. What works for writing might not work as well for movies.
Writing is recorded speech in essence. Before writing, there was speaking. It’s like a child. It is glorious and different, because it freezes time. When you think that writing is simply recorded speech, it makes it far less weird that the ancients read aloud. As time has moved on, the methods have developed. We now read aloud for fun.
When writing, why would you connect ideas? If the point of connecting ideas is to let the reader understand, will they not better understand when they are forced to pursue it? The reader should find out the connections themselves. Make connections, but conceal them. Force the reader to uncover them. They have to do the work if they want any reward. Reading is not only exploration, but labor. It is okay to have the writing seem like disconnected train cars, given that the connections are lying somewhere in the railroad yard.
People assume that the train is moving when the reader is reading. It’s not going anywhere. It’s write there, in front of your eyes. You can get close to it and stare at it. Poke it. Give it a little nudge, although it won’t move.
A reader doesn’t make connections the first time he reads. He might get the big picture of train cars, but the connections will not be distinct. As he becomes more familiar with it, the connections should become obvious.
This is active reading, this is understanding. This is the ability to remember. None of this is possible, if you have already done it for the reader. Respect the reader. You might just make a follow…I mean friend.
What about style in writing?
The best style is one that is based on a good story, so that the interest is based on the story. Style is how you tell the story, not how you show it. That is to say, the most interesting form will be most interesting material. So, perfect and pure form is ultimately a perfect and pure story. Perfect writing or painting or filming is perfect and tangible storytelling.
The best writing, therefore, will tell the reader the story, so that they might show the story to themselves after two or three reads.
Isn’t it wonderful when you get to see a teacher’s vision? The teachers I have met recently are so amazing. They could not be more different, but are unified in their deep care for realized vision. The same truth manifests itself in the separate forms they explore. How could they not all be excited for the same thing?
The Latin teacher wishes that people more often saw the powerful connection between writing and Latin. The music teachers hopes for Christians to be as musically literate as they are in English. The theology teacher works ceaselessly to destroy dualism in the Church. And the rhetoric teacher wants his students to hear his rhetoric.
Bringing visions into reality is like dragging a heavy dead cat out of the ocean. It’s going to be bringing some stuff with it. Imagine you are on a desolate island and you’re hungry and you saw the cat under the water. Although it looked delicious then, it is likely not as delicious when you go and take a bite. Our visions rarely look like we expected. Reflections, dear Plato.
When we bring visions into reality, we get up close and personal with them. And although that’s exactly what we wanted, we find that we are not the only things full of it.
If this was false, an artist would be done with art after one masterpiece. If bringing visions into reality was as satisfying as expected, he would be content with one attempt.
No! We will never successfully do it. And that is the food in our belly. To continue going, to try to grab the thin piece of string attached to the disappearing kite. We ought to strive for perfection, knowing that it will come in due time, but not this time. Are we not called to be perfect? Do we not want to be?
And, lo and behold, we have stumbled upon the danger of not having visions. If people do not have visions, do you know what happens?
They do nothing. They don’t care. They’re horrible teachers and pastors. They sit around and stay the same kinds of people and eat Limon Cheetos and sit on the couch and watch football on television. Reflections, Edison.
I know that of all the faults most common to us, it is having a vision, but not bringing it into reality. That is frightening. But, please don’t mistake what is at fault here. The mistake is not that you have too many visions. The mistake is that you are not cultivating what you have been given.
Visions are always given, never made. We cannot feed ourselves. We were all born with silver spoons in our mouth and it’s Creation. We have been fed ambition ever since.
When we pursue something, we want to pursue it right. But that usually leaves us pumping the brake.
If you want to drive down a hill successfully, your last thought would be to drive very fast. Your first instinct would be to drive slowly, deliberately, and. Pump the brakes.
But you don’t understand what success is! Success is not errorless execution. Getting down the hill successfully is not the same as “driving down the hill without making an error, even within an inch.” Driving down the hill successfully means “you got down, like you were told. And you are not dead.”
Or are we?
If you are successful, you have to make errors.
At the same time, don’t pick a road that has a lot of speed bumps. Look for a smoother road. If you find that your community is rough and the concrete has dried, drive towards softer roads. At some point, proximity impedes community more than it strengthens it. Try a long distance relationship. They work best with long-armed people.
Now, before you find the loops in my logic, or the holes in my analogy, let’s go to a different topic.
I would like to talk about the importance of aesthetics. Not that abstract sort of aesthetic that prevents you from doing anything like a normal person, where you even make your tea with judgment. I’m talking about practical aesthetics.
Practical aesthetics pertains to things that will immediately affect you. I am talking about things like, are tablecloths important? What about curtains? Should I wear this shirt or that shirt? Should I pick up my room? Clean the floor? Do I buy the picture or not buy the picture? Where should I study?
I also think that hygiene falls, generally underneath aesthetics. Maybe someone would like to put it closer to ethics.
When you go to the store to buy things for your house, you might have some general ideas. Okay, you think, I need a table. I also need a place to sit. Oh, and another place to sit. And a place to put my things when I sit. And a thing to look at when I sit. And a thing to sit on when I sit. And a place to lay down. And a vacuum. On second thought, the vacuum can wait.
Once you have gotten all your cardboard furniture, you begin to watch them assemble. Just say the command – Boxes, assemble! – and whallah, you’re done. Sorry, I think that will take another ten years.
So, everything out of the box, you’re good to go. You got your carpet. You got your walls. You got your table and chair and ceiling.
And then what?
Do you buy the curtains?
To that I say, yes!
Did you know, that aside from your pragmatism, there are equally important things as necessities? Like paintings? A painting is just as important as a shower. I am not saying that you should get the painting instead of the shower. I am saying that decoration is not just ornamentation over necessity. Decoration is necessity.
You may ask, “Why are these things so important?” I have personal experience with why they are important. You do too, but you might not know it.
Have you ever been in a house that felt uncomfortable? Maybe just a little bit? Do you know why it did? It is their bad aesthetics, their disorder pushing you out. Yes, this includes hygiene.
Pragmatism only lets you be somewhere. Aesthetics, however, forces you to stay there. If there is a painting on the wall, there is a pin in your back.
I have found that I study better in an aesthetically pleasing environment. Studying well is not just about no distractions. If you locked yourself up inside a white cube to study, you would still be distracted. What, you forgot about your mind? Your mind can make up any distraction. You might want to get that looked at, by the way.
But, if you go to a really well-decorated coffee shop, you will get far more done. That’s because the aesthetics around you are pinning you in place. You want to be there and this desire and appreciation forces you towards your work.
It causes you to enjoy it more.
In a white cube, you would not be distractionless. Don’t think for a moment that you would. You would be anxious. You would try to claw and scratch your way out of it.
If you have not cleaned your room in a thousand years, it’s time to set the odious stench underneath your bed free. Release the dragon! Clean up your room and you will have a better time at focusing.
Also, open your windows and door once in a while. Are you trying to sleep and sin, or study?
As humans, we come pre-packaged with conditions. After we get taken out of the box-womb, some of the scratches we’ll get are observations.
Many people think that observations mean that you can articulate what you observe well. That’s not the case. Everyone observes the same thing, but they don’t know how to articulate what they see well.
Everyone sees evil, but it is not that they articulate what they observe differently. Unless their minds and hands act in accord with the will of God, they actually just have really poor articulations.
If we say that all people see evil, but just come to different conclusions, we muddy the water and eventually equalize every view. The varying views are not just different, they are false and dubious.
We all see the same thing. Those who want to say what they saw are said to be smart (people who know to brush their teeth, not feet). They are people who want to write. And they only become writers when they actually articulate what they saw well.
Therefore, Christians will and are and always will be the best writers and the greatest thinkers. Who here has looked at history recently? We have the numbers to prove it.
Every other dinky little worldview is about as laughable as the teenage writer who is so conceited and delusional that he thinks more metaphors will help, like an ocean that eats more land to grow, like a grandfather who tries to win affection by gifts.
You have to see something and because you observe, you have something to say. Will you sit on your thumb all day and suppress your observations? Or, will you take the first step and admit, “Okay, I’d like to try. I know I might not do well. Hold the stones. Throw the criticism.”
The best writers and thinkers are not people who come up with things to say. They are people who know what to say and how to say it. They are organizers, catalogers, editers, critical thinkers, synthesizers…
did I say organizers?
The worst writing – and the worst worldview – is one with clutter. Clutter is the enemy of God in architecture, in your room, in the ocean, in your soul, in trees, in rocks, and in communities.
Clutter does not equal fecundity. Clutter equals evil. Fecundity is when many things meet one. Fecundity is simplicity and complexity at the same time.
This is what Creation is, is it not? When we think of Creation in terms of simplicity and complexity, we mistakenly think of scales and time. We ought to think of cohesiveness instead. The amazing thing about Creation is not that there are simple things and complex things at the same time. The amazing thing is that it does not implode.
Creation is so organized, that it can actually hold everything it does. It is fecundity, because it is not clutter. It contains an endless amount of information, up to the set boundaries, and we can still view it as one thing. That is simplicity and complexity. That is what makes Creation so great.
To better understand, that is what makes great novels. A great novel – a masterpiece – will be full of details and information. But that is not all. It must also be viewed as one thing. It must be complex in detail and parts, but simple in grand scheme. The scale is not what I’m talking about, the cohesiveness is. That we can get it all…
The Bible. More importantly, history.
If someone comes up to you and asks, “Why should I believe in God?” do not mention evolution, please. You don’t have to mention the Bible. The first thing you should say is, “Because He organizes everything.” Then, you can mention the Gospel and how it is a great act of organization. Then, mention how belief in Him pares down so many difficulties and clutter. Belief in God and hope in Christ leads to the death of clutter.
He started this all off that way, for heaven and earth’s sake!
Anything we do is insufficient in capturing this. Our writing is either clutter or rote, even masterpieces.
I think it is important to organize your time on the internet. When we think of organizing our time, we think, “I get an hour for internet, an hour for writing, an hour for food, five hours for sleep, seven hours for internet…”
The issue here is that the internet is not one thing. It is so many things.
At its heart, the internet is collecting. We enter into the internet, so that we might complete a set of tasks. They’re not artificial, but they’re not necessarily healthy. When you complete the tasks, you get a little shot of endorphin, followed by a pit in the stomach. When you’re in it, you know exactly what you’re doing.
Once you get off the internet, however, you immediately forget what just happened. It’s like you’re brain damaged all over again. You didn’t get that looked at, did you? You get off it and you feel just as lazy as when you got on it. You got on it, because you wanted to do something. Once the current throws you onto the sandy beach of a sleeping leg, you ask yourself, “What did I just do?” The question is two-fold. One, what did you do? Two, why did you let the current carry you?
It’s the current thing to do, man.
Don’t just split up your time in life, split up the things that you split up. You will see a lot of interesting things. With the internet, divide up time between say, wikipedia surfing, social media, blogging, email-checking, video-watching, or whatever else. And record it all on a sticky note. Know the power of sticky notes. You can write books on them.
Practical aesthetics are related to this idea of organizing time and destroying the bane of God and Creation. The decoration of a room must be focused and concise, like the Seven Days. It should have a cohesive narrative. Any distraction is clutter and evil. It is chaos and it will fill your mind with destruction. Distraction is just another word for destruction.
Ambiguous plot-points are upsetting. When you’re watching a movie and something does not make sense, it infests your soul – sometimes for days on end. I remember the first time I watched “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I was fine, enjoying it as much as a seven year old can, when all the sudden police show up at the end. And the police arrest the main characters! Why did they come to arrest them? What does it mean? Where are they? When are they? Heck, how are they? I can’t tell you how much sleep I lost over it, tracing back the narrative of the movie. Only now do I realize that the movie is clutter.
I should make an exception to the problem. Clutter is evil, but it still plays an integral part in creation. For Monty Python, they use clutter to build up comedy. They have non sequiturs coming out the ears and there is nothing more funny.
For the story of Creation, clutter is evil and evil is clutter, but it is essential to the narrative because of its nature. Even though it has a purpose, it is just as evil as people condemn it to be. Interestingly, evil in this world should still be destroyed, but it will continue to exist as long as it has a nature. Death will die, but will evil ever die? Does evil end, or does it just get boxed up and sent in a package with hell-cured dry ice?
This is related to clutter in decoration. If you think that clutter in movies is upsetting and distracts you and pokes and prods you until you destroy or accept it, how much more will the clutter of the art you live with upset you? You can get away from movies to ponder them. With a house full of clutter, you are left with no means of escape and no time left to make sense of it…
unless you do something about it.
If you want a great study spot – and you want it to be your house – make sure that the place is clean and has a clear and focused dialog. Clutter in the room is clutter in the mind.
Community is always on your mind? You’re not getting enough. If you say that you wish you had more community, you must realize that more community will not make you happier. Only deeper community will lead to more happiness.
Surely, that’s what you meant.
I am not exactly sure what it looks like in your situation, but it is key to stop caring so little. If you cared more, you would go out and make community. Community does not get thrown on you like a warm blanket. You have to go and get it for yourself.
And when you pursue it, chances are you will get the warm blanket thrown on your back. But you must make the effort, not the community. How can the community make any effort, if you haven’t put yourself in it? That’s like asking God to bring you somewhere when you’re standing still. Expect nothing less than a whirlwind to sprinkle you all over America.
Now, there is the situation where you have consistently inserted yourself, but find that community keeps moving away or finds your company distasteful. Again, the problem might be with you. Have you looked in the mirror recently? Maybe ask community if you don’t smell good.
If the issue is with community, then again make an effort and call her out on it. It’s loving and ultimately leads you to deeper community, if you show that you are trying to build her up and not tear her down – and that you’re there for her, not the opposite.
Community is not a post for us to molest endlessly with questions about our standing, our interests, our passions, our. Us.
This is all general and metaphorical, but it also is not. Like translated visions into reality – which pursuit of community really is – actually being in it is nothing like thinking about it. You realize that you and others are sinful.
And at that point, you either stop thinking about community abstractly, or forget what your vision for it was. Praise God! You have matured into a good Christian. If your vision for community has been killed by your insertion into community, that likely means your vision has been translated into reality.
And you have gotten the more satisfying thing. You have not gotten more community – not even your vision – you have gotten deep community. And deep community is close. You don’t have time to think.
You are either silent or screaming.
Now, there are more levels above this for Christians to achieve. First, you have a vision for deeper community. Second, you pursue it to the point that you get deeper community. Third, your vision dies and you realize that community feels far more different than you expect, so you grow acclimated to depth. Fourth, you pursue a wider vision for community, since you have experienced depth and see that there is a longitudinal deficiency. Last, you die and understand that everything is actually going quite well.
In a word, know the trajectory and plan accordingly. Delight in depth when you get it and don’t wring your hands when you never get width.
After all, whenever great, world-changing, deep communities make an effort to go wide, they always fail every single time. You might be able to have a utopia with one other person, but it’s perfect. Try to apply that same depth, though, and demand it of one hundred people. You’ll get your head on a spit.
Postmillenialists, I’m talking to you. If you try to force-start the Eschaton by demanding every Christian around you to be better in everything and in all community, you will have Three Fingers pointing back at you. You can lead a faithful life and you can encourage others to do the same. But you cannot change the hearts of men.
God is coming and He’s bringing an ocean of a city. Relax. Take a chill pill or, at least, stop trying to give everyone else one.
The best way to obey the command to love one another is by being personally faithful. No one will want to listen to you if you are gross, if you’re full of clutter. They will walk away and never look back. They will go away from you, because you’re as thin as ice on a March day.
Besides, the more you pursue deep community with the people around you, the more likely a geographical web will form. And the closer you grow to people, the farther the community will reach out. And reaching out widens the depth of a grasp.
To give you an example of how deep community can and does exist, I had a friend come over last night. Randomly. Without reason. With food. We sat down, enjoyed a meal together, and talked.
He said that he was afraid I would tell him to go. He said, “Even the greatest people will tell you to leave.” And I assured him that rejection from a great person would really hurt. Then, I assured him that I would not reject him or tell him to go.
But, Joe! Thank you so much for stopping by. That does not just mean so much to me, that means so much. That’s a symbolic act. It’s also symbolic that you took me to pick up a coffeemaker later. It also means a lot that we spent time with the girls and then took them to KFC and Taco Bell. That all means so much and it’s all action. God bless community. Thanks for making the effort.
Other people are there for us. Community wants you to ask for help. So, ask her. And help her even when she doesn’t ask. Weed out your time to grow some visions and use her to dig into the dirt.
It is important to share ideas with her. I have talked about this in other places, so I won’t go into too much detail.
Besides the sacrifice it takes to share ideas, sharing ideas is also a great way to fight against crippling self-interest and introspection.
If you bottle up all your interesting ideas, to not share them with someone else means that you will be sharing them with yourself. Since you share ideas to interest others, sharing with yourself will only breed self-interest. It’s like putting the lid on a smoking candle.
It also helps the ideas air out and mature. If you have to articulate your visions, then you might see that they are not as clear as they were in your head. In some sense, when you articulate to someone else, you are articulating for yourself. So, if it seems like I give good advice, just know that it’s more a testament to our similarity than my wisdom. We give the best advice to ourselves when we give it to others.
I have been trying to clarify my visions for myself recently. The goal is to be specific, to give God something to disagree with. Be bombastic and sure of yourself. God will certainly have something to correct. You will more deeply feel His will when you exert your own. Turn a boat against a current and you’ll feel where it’s taking you.
I want to build a cathedral called St. Lewis (C.S.) somewhere in Illinois. Although I have a desire to travel, I feel like that’s more a result of my youth and not my goals. In the long run, I would like to settle down and live in Illinois. I want to start something there. And to ensure myself that it’s possible, I take examples of other people choosing places and growing things there. I want to fund the projects through as much work as I can. I want to settle down in Illinois, but that does not mean that I will be settled. I have no intention to settle. Actually, the opposite is true. But, I still want to grow something for those who feel the same way. I want a wife, but I also want a very particular wife. She needs to have the same mission field as me, or we’ll both be miserable. I will try to be as picky as I can be, until God comes and picks me.
Move your boat with the current. Recalibrate. You are in accord with His will when you don’t feel it. Your travels are quick and peaceful and blessed. You feel like the boat could sail itself.
I don’t want to be delusional. Strangely, after sharing all this with someone close to me, my visions took on a different flavor. I still have that flavor in my mouth. While I was passionate for them before, now I feel at peace about them. Currently, I’m worried that I might have spoiled something. But I think it must be my ego.
Sometimes, it is more humble to tell everyone about how great you want to be, rather than keep it to yourself and worry about how you might be delusional.
And isn’t that why we need community? To show others our delusions of grandeur? About ourselves? About them? About us? Who do we think we are?
It’s time for loving one another, knowing we are the reality of God’s vision.
So if you’re feeling lonely and self-interested, find someone old and look them in the eyes. Love them. Feed them. And ask if they have any orphans.
I’ll see you soon, Ruth and Calvin.