Sunday, March 1, 2015

The pain shredded


after Psalm 13

The pain shredded
his soul abandoned,
alone
left alone, wrestling
with sorrow
the burying alive
the heart entombed
with a sepulcher
of silence

he cried out

still the silence.

Remembering the blessing
he began to sing.


Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Good Reads


The meditations and prayers concerning ISIS continue, the need underscored by the kidnapping of more than 200 Assyrian Christians. But with all the darkness, there is still poetry, art, and music to remind us of our humanity and our “image-ness.”

Faith and Society



Defining Islam at World’s End – Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

Bring Them to Their Knees – Seth Haines.


The Courage of Men – Suzanne Wolfe at Image Journal.

Not Your Typical White Pastor – Nicole Symonds at Urban Faith.

The Rise of the Remedial Christian – David Zimmerman at Loud Time.

Killing Deconstructionists, Raising Culture – Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

Poetry

21 Sons and The Lovely Things – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

A Poem of Hope: Two Rows by the Sea - @marilyngard at Communicating Across Boundaries.

Tomorrow is Another Day – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The City Our Eyes Cannot See – Doug McKelvey at the Rabbit Room.

Photography

More Fern Studies – Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Music

Remind Me Who I Am – Jason Gray



Photograph by Jane Illnerova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mike Duran’s “Subterranea”


I read the nine stories that comprise Mike Duran’s Subterranea and I stepped into the Twilight Zone. Nine times.

Duran blogs at deCompose, and is a regular contributor to Novel Rocket, a site for fiction writers (of all genres, but mostly Christian). He also regularly challenges the sacred cattle of the Christian writing and publishing world.

He writes what’s called speculative fiction. His writing reminds me of T.L. Hines, who wrote in a genre dubbed “noir bizarre.” (Hines published five remarkable novels between 2007 and 2010 and nothing since then.) Duran isn’t “noir bizarre,” but he’s occasionally noir with a dash of bizarre (or perhaps vice versa).

Nine gripping stories, all dealing with underground themes.

A man is interrogated about what happened during a subway dig, during which several men were killed in an explosion. Without explanation, a man leaves his front porch and is later found floating in a pool. A group of college students set out to Mexico to disprove the existence of a mythological story. A bar scene that seems straight out the intergalactic Cantina in the first Star Wars movie (1977). Six men die because of a woman. A man recovers, or maybe not, from a horrific automobile accident. Demons chase muses to stop the creative impulse. An overweight man has to be removed from an apartment building. A priest projects compatibility of couples seeking to get married, usually ending with the couples deciding to go their separate ways.

Mike Duran
What Duran plumbs here is the “subterranea” of the human mind and heart. He’s using a speculative, almost Twilight Zone approach in much the same way the old Rod Serling television program did. The stories force you, through odd and unexpected circumstances, to consider motives and actions. The people see familiar; their surroundings do not. And it’s that juxtaposition of familiar and strange that provide glimpses into the human soul.

It’s not a pretty sight. But it’s a true one.

That’s what strikes me most about these stories – they read true. Duran knows his subject, and knows it well.

Related:

My review of Mike Duran’s The Resurrection.


Photograph by Marina Shemesh via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Travis Thrasher’s “Home Run”


I usually resist reading novelizations of movies. Often hurriedly written, based completely on a movie script, novelizations are often marked by poor writing and a story less than satisfying than the movie itself. I particularly resist novelizations of movies I haven’t heard of, or that I’ve heard of but haven’t seen.

Home Run by Travis Thrasher is a bad example of the point I’m trying to make. I hadn’t seen or heard of the movie. And it’s ostensibly about baseball; I’m not a fan of sports novels. But I read this book. And I read simply because of the author who wrote it.

Chicago-based Thrasher is a fine writer. I’ve read nearly all of his books. Sky Blue (2007) is one of my favorite novels (I’ve read it twice, and it gets better the second time.) He’s written across a number of fiction genres, and does all of them very well indeed.

So I trusted the author and read Home Run, based on the script for the movie of the same name. And I met a hero who’s one of the most despicable human beings you’re likely to come across.

Corey Brand plays baseball for the Denver Grizzlies. If there’s one thing Corey knows how to do, it’s hit home runs. It may be the only admirable thing about him. Arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring, disconnected from his brother and his family. Drives fast cars, and drives them fast. Endless streams of women.

And alcohol. Corey Brand has a serious substance abuse problem. He’s in a hitting slump, and it’s contract renewal time.

Travis Thrasher
His agent packs him off to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, his home town. He has to spend eight weeks in a rehab program. Even before he arrives in town, he totals his rental car and injures his brother in the process.

And in his hometown, Corey has to face and confront his past, including the dead father who’s verbal abuse drove Corey away and shaped him into what he’s become, good and bad. And he has to face and confront the girlfriend he left behind, the girlfriend who was pregnant.

Like I said, a pretty despicable human being.

But Thrasher tells a good story. He’s not content simply to pull from a movie script. He ads depth to the characters. He adds depth to the story. And what could have been just another thin novelization becomes a story worth telling and a story worth reading, about how a man learns forgiveness and finds redemption.

I was right to trust my gut about a Travis Thrasher story.


Here’s the official trailer for the movie (which I still haven’t seen, and I may not since I don’t want it to run the chance of it ruining the novelization).

 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The First Step in the Journey to Joy


I’m reading chapter three of Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears by Margaret Feinberg, and one line stops me cold.

She’s describing the first treatment of chemotherapy to deal with her breast cancer. She discovers it’s not as bad as she expected (the “bad” comes later, she says). But still there are effects, and she applies some wisdom to her situation, deciding the pile of colorful laundry doesn’t have to be done immediately.

She considers the Apostle Paul, and his affliction. Whatever it was, it was serious enough for Paul to keep asking God to take it away. God doesn’t. And it’s okay. “For Paul,” Feinberg writes, accepting his circumstances is the secret to being content in them.”

And then the line that stops me cold.

“The journey to joy begins with acceptance.”

My mind goes immediately to my work, the work that has brought me little if any joy in the past four years. The “little if any joy” has played a role in my upcoming retirement.

And I think:

Acceptance.

Joy.

Acceptance.

Joy.

I arrive at work on Monday, and am almost immediately hit with not one but two joy killers. One is a chronic and recurring event; the other is one I’d call acute and one-time.

Last Friday, I would have narrowed my eyes, frowned, and said something choice, if true. My blood pressure would have risen. I would have felt my back start to act up.

On Monday, after reading Feinberg’s chapter the night before, I paused. I considered. I told myself I had been beating my head against the same wall for years, with nothing to show for it except aggravation, indigestion and stress on my back. It’s one of the reasons I’m retiring.

Acceptance. Joy. Acceptance. Joy.

I let both situations go.

I made some suggestions, but I let them go.

If the world comes to an end as a result, I thought, well then, the world will just have to come to an end. Somehow, I think the world will survive.

Did I immediately experience my physical being flooded with warmth and joy?

No, I can’t say that I did.

But what I did experience was a sense of calm. I’ll take calm.

Calm is good.


Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading Fight Back with Joy. To see more posts on this chapter, “Three Simple Words to Set You Free,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.


Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Poets and Poems: Christian Wiman and “Once in the West”


Christian Wiman is an essayist, translator, and poet. For ten years (2003-2013), he was the editor of Poetry Magazine. He’s published four collections of poetry; the celebrated My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer; the equally celebrated Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet; and a translation of Osip Mandelstom’s poetry, Stolen Air. And with Dona Share, he co-edited the Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of Poetry Magazine.
 
His most recent collection of poems, Once in the West, is one of the five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, the winner of which will be announced March 12.

Wiman grew up in West Texas, and the poems of Once in the West find their source in the upbringing and that geography.


To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, February 23, 2015

On Being a Writer: Downsizing the Workload


The downsizing of my workload is coming.

In May, I retire from the day job. I’m a little on the early side, but it was just time to retire.

The decision started to be made about a year ago. The discussions with everyone involved (lawyer, accountant, etc.)  started about then. I told the company in June that I was looking at the spring, but I gave them a range of September to April. Early May is the final date.

Planning for retirement is work. Meetings, legal stuff, accounting stuff, financial planning stuff, medical benefits stuff, lots of stuff, paperwork, phone calls, emails. My wife has done most of the work, but all kinds of things have to be talked through and decided.

But now it’s starting to become real.

I will miss the people I work with. I am part of a digital team, and they are good, skilled, competent people to work with.

But I am not one of those people who have to be pushed out the door. For me, the door won’t open fast enough.

The next part of planning for retirement is planning what I’ll be doing. Writing, most certainly. Perhaps some volunteer work. Seeing more of the grandsons (with Number 3 coming in late May). Continuing to work with my online colleagues at Tweetspeak Poetry and The High Calling. Perhaps doing some freelance work in social media and speechwriting. Plus whatever the Lord decides to move in my way.

But my focus is narrowing considerably. And that’s a good thing.

Retirement may actually help me decide what I want to be when I grow up.

Ann Kroeker, in On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts (co-authored with Charity Craig), describes the experience of a friend who was gifted in both music and communication, but had to make a choice in college for her major. “She ended up choosing communication,” Kroeker says, “Everything else dropped down a notch. She had to limit herself to fully develop herself.”

That’s what I feel is happening with me right now. Retirement is in effect forcing me to limit myself, forcing me to focus, forcing me to answer some questions.

How serious do I want to get with poetry?

What do I do with all those Dancing Priest manuscripts gathering pixel dust on the computer? Michael and Sarah have a coronation ahead, right? And more children. And upheavals with both the church and the government. And then their children have stories.

Aside from those, another manuscript is waiting for me to decide what to do; it’s tentatively entitled Plain Sam. And an extended outline called Summer of Joe. And a novella about a musician and an attorney.

And the poetry. Always the poetry, bubbling, waiting, wondering.

This is where my heart is. And the time for focus and developing is imminent.


For the last several weeks, I’ve been discussing On Being a Writer by Ann Kroeker and Charity Craig. This chapter, “Limit,” is the last one in the book. Finishing it is like leaving a good friend. If you’re looking for a book about writing filled with common sense, experience and wisdom, this one is it.


Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.