Creativity Series: “What it is to be Us” by Kyle Burton

wfuth-kyle

From the moment we acquire as toddlers the capacity to interact with our world, the best way to understand it is to imagine. As children we play with toys—blocks, dolls, action figures—or, if without the luxury, turn a stick into a sword, the empty lot into a dessert, a few trees and a bush into the queen’s enchanted forest.

We intuit onto plain bushes, plastic, rocks the properties of grandiosity and wonderment. We project. Because we have no other means by which we can peacefully come to terms with the complexity of human existence.

Instinctively, we understand the futility of that bush, of that rock—of us—because though we may not have yet cohered finding a dead spider, furled up in the corner with the mortality of our loved ones, ourselves, we, instinctively, understand the limit of life. Our play, our imagination is one of the few processes unscathed, as a notion, by time. Of course, we may one day lose it—to disease, to the world—but to lose something is not to see it break.

The role of the creator is the role of the human. Whether one believes that to be a reflection of a Creator-capital-C or an exercise of coping, creation, if it is true, is something only of the most synchronized of us. Synchronized with self, with nature; with order, chaos, complexity, spirituality, reason, ideation; ambiguity; with phenomena, commonality; with beauty, empathy.

Creation is not something we merely stumble upon, nor is it something we can shape. It is Stephen King’s “fossil”. It is Emerson’s Intuition. The ability to capture the human experience, however one sees fit, render it wonderfully, and communicate it to one’s fellow man is a privilege withheld from many. Most, probably.

Unfortunately, not all people can write a captivating story, paint a stunning picture, or, more tragically, bare children. Obviously, such people are no less human. In fact, in large part, once we grow up and refine our sense of imagination near indistinguishable from reality—or a version of it—we tend to reinvent those very people. They allow for communication. They open bridgeways.

We do not exist for the purpose of our medium. Art did not exist before man. We create art so that we could continue to exist—so that, instead of telling another our experience, our feeling we can provoke in them what is to be us.

But let us widen the scope. Art is certainly not the only form of creation. Rather, the venues for imagination are innumerable. Wider still: “imagination” implies a degree of conscious decision making, which isn’t necessary. Instead, any activity in which we aim to make something new—or anew—is creation.

To create is to exert in about the only way absolute control over an element of your life. Unintended incidents (spilling paint on a canvas and being called postmodern, accidental pregnancy, etc.) do not invalidate that control. The acts of painting or sex possess an intrinsic element of control. We do not fault Sex for the baby bump, and we do not fault Painting for the tasteful splotches. We who participate are at fault, thus the term unintended. We failed to properly seize control in our choice.

Creation is how we ensure longevity—lineage or cultural. What does civilization value of a people? Its technology?—long forgotten, abandoned, or improved upon. Its politics? Its history? Its art? Any of the four, plus others, could be argued. Their connection: each has been created as a means of conglomeration, of understanding. Not history?

I once had a brilliant American history professor who told us that historians formulate a narrative around occurred events in order to assert over a historical era a relevance as they see best fit. Politics, then. Well, here in America, these disparate, hostile party lines politicians and news networks would have us believe unconquerable—they don’t much exist. Extremist identifiers—socialist, fascist, bigot, etc.—are tossed around as a way to also create narrative. Perhaps it’s an American thing, but goodness we love an arch with respectively admonished and beloved bad guys and good guys. In that, creation is equally accessible for bad and good.

As a junior in high school I lived in a good home, in a good suburban neighborhood, went to a fine public school, and could claim as my life’s greatest misfortune only moving from Minnesota to Missouri halfway through the ninth grade. Yet, I desired instability. I relished the idea of turmoil introducing itself into my world. I felt it necessary.

In eleventh grade English, when the rupture never came, I invented it. My teacher’d assigned us a personal narrative assignment. Perhaps, given the assignment’s title, cheating it with a lie is impossible.

Because I lied, hard. I fabricated a dramatic and powerful story of being attacked at a friend’s house and then rescuing a girl friend from being raped by one of the attackers. Our lives had been in substantial danger, and I happened upon getting us out of it. It was the type of story scoffed at, if presented as fiction, for absurdity. When presumed to be true, it scored wealths of tears. This was not a singular incident—neither in that class nor among close friends. It was exhilarating.

I envisioned the stories so thoroughly, they blurred with memory.

I confessed, to the close friends, not because I grew troubled by my envy of grim disturbance, nor by the guilt of lying. I confessed because I accepted that I didn’t feel all that bad. I do not at all like deceiving those for whom I care, but that’s not what the lies had been about.

I’d stumbled upon, within myself, a need for outlet. Reconnected, I should say, as childhood friends and I recollect now with profound nostalgia our games—unfilmed movies, really, where I essentially directed, and always played the villain. I feel a lot of power in destroying, and my writing reflects that. Part of it is a bleakness (surprise!), I can admit. But the greatest part is my impermeable belief that all of us are a sum of performances and that the sum is no less true than any offered opponent.

We may not all be conscious creators. But we all are a collection of creations, learned or constructed, and to mimic this formation, as is the role of the creator, is therein utterly of mankind. Cheers, my fellow players.


Kyle Burton lives in Missouri. He lived in Minnesota. He’d go back to live in California if either he could afford to or Oregon didn’t selfishly persuade him otherwise. He watches movies. He writes. He writes about movies (Imperfect Movies). And he watches some more. Perhaps one day we’ll say ‘make’. He graduates from Mizzou in May, and is waiting to hear back from MFA programs. He played football for a long time, his best friend is about to play in the NFL, and he will resort to fist-to-cuffs if anyone belittles Adrian Peterson’s greatness. Even his girlfriend. Who’s a loathsome Bears fan. If he were to try to sum up himself succinctly, he’d say: ‘I can’t. But that’s what the writing’s for.’ (Check out his Best of 2012 Compilation.)

Learn more about the “With Flames Upon Their Head” Creativity Series by clicking here.

Creativity Series: “The Active Creator” by Sam Mahlstadt

wfuth-mahlstadt

I am more writer than theologian, but neither by trade. However, as the concepts I learned during my education in the written word and my my experiences in the local church mingle, I’ve realized something quite alarming.

In writing, there is a great temptor and persistent foe called the passive voice. When a writer slips into passive voice, the subject of the writing is subjected to certain actions, as opposed to the subject of said writing taking action. The cat was chased by the dog, as opposed to, the dog chased the cat.

In passive voice, our characters are at the will of the world aroung them. In active voice, however, our characters are influencing and creating their own destiny. Unless you’re writing dialogue for Yoda, passive voice is to be avoided. Correct, that advice is.

What’s worse than passive voice, though, is passive living.

I’ve notived a tendency among comfortable Christians to be lulled into passive lives. When you are living a passive life, you cannot view yourself as a co-creator with God. It is impossible to create, actively, when you are reacting to life as it happens.

If we are to break out of our passive lives and join God in the renewal of all things, we must reframe our role. We must reclaim our place as co-creators. In Genesis, we see God create man and woman, and command them to take part in creation. One translation says that God told the man and woman to dress the garden. After the fall, however, we see the man and woman literally dressing themselves with the garden. It’s a shift from active to passive. And the implications of the fall, the transition from active to passive life, are felt in our lives everyday.

But the story doesn’t end with the man and woman standing in the East of the garden. Through the restorative work of Jesus, we can reclaim our place as co-creators. We can join God’s work of renewal. We can point to the Kingdom that is breaking forth into our world, by actively joining God in his work.

I’m not much of a writer or a theologian, but this I know: Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I can be co-creators with Elohim, the creative spirit that spoke our existence into being. You and I can shape eternity.


Sam Mahlstadt is compelled by the written word and the story of the Gospel. He writes at creativetheology.com, and recently released his first book, Creative Theology.

Learn more about the “With Flames Upon Their Head” Creativity Series by clicking here.

Creativity Series: “Tiny Glory” by Kolby Kerr

wfuth-kerr

When we read the Bible—if we read it well—we are never far from paradox. We are introduced to one in the opening act, just as God has set all the characters on the scene. We are informed that Adam and Eve, primordial man and woman, who have been culled from the newborn dust of the earth, have been made in the image of God.

They—and we, if we are brave enough to accept their legacy—were made to look like God. The form pleases God; He calls them very good.

You might recall a certain forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil and perhaps a certain smooth-talking serpent. And his line, so enticing to Eve and the conspicuously mute Adam: “You will not surely die…for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”

Yes, you ought to take the tempter’s words with a grain or two of salt but still in this we hear from the outset a pretty clear definition of sin: striving to be like God.

There’s a nuance here that feels too arbitrary, too litigious for this huge story, like gumming up The Lord of the Rings with an Elvish verb declension chart. The story requires specificity and we clearly see the stakes are high, but we’re already off and running again with narrative.

The Bible, pre-Paul, seems almost joyously unconcerned with getting its theology laid out neatly.

But we are talking about writing and the act of creation. And still I’m sitting with my back against the forbidden tree, wondering if it is my God-given right to stretch out for the upper bounds of the human experience, or if this is my serpent-side building Babels again? (We diaspora Baptists have special clearance to mix our biblical metaphors, thank you very much.)

Every time I write, the question creeps in again: Is this hubris or is this human? Am I, as has been quoted so often to me, “adding to the available stock of reality” or am I merely enlarging my own little metaphysical plot of real estate in the universe, increasing the acceleration of my sphere’s gravitational pull, slowly drawing all things unto myself?

But I’m not offered answers—I’m not sure I’m listening anyway. I can’t quit creating, and I don’t have the time or inclination to trace my motivations to their source. There are some strings you just don’t pull.

Let’s go back to the garden and God scraping dust, marshaling dirt clods into livers, spleens and spines. He hovers over the provisional creatures as he hovered over the formless deep. And then he breathes. The breath of God rivering into all that matter, filling it with the nonspace of wind, of spirit. It was the moment of inspiration.

And we putter around our four score or so, filling our days with respiration, the again and again reminder that we are made of stuff and something else, the physicality of flesh and the ethereality of air.

To speak a word, even our most unimportant one, we draw that breath again. We are presented with the humbling truth that we are not the closed systems our staunch corporeal presence suggests, but are at every moment contingent on the negative space of our landscape.

But having hauled in all that foreign gas, we aren’t even halfway home to speech. That breath fills our lungs, excites the infinitesimal alveoli who barter for the oxygen. Those same lungs compress the air metered by our trachea, strumming our manipulated vocal chords and loosing into the mouth, the cathedral arch of our hard palate.

Our tongue thrashes, teeth reverberate and lips press and burst to release the music of our speech. Every word we speak is spirit borne wildly from our flesh.

Poem, from the greek poiema, means simply a thing that is made. From the verb to make or create. It refers most often to a simple thing, say a piece of pottery. Something made with mud, clay, water. Something made with the slap of palms and sweat of brow. Something set to dry in the sun, becoming as solid and final as it is delicate and dependent on the care of everything around it.

What keeps me from resignation is a dogged faith in the material of language.

While we’re at it, let’s call our work what it is—recreation. As we write, we redeem what is around us by articulating undiscovered combinations—metaphors, images, wordplay. The writer’s craft is to see creation precisely as it is, but present it as new to an audience often inoculated to the curious splendor of stuff. We are creating again.

There may be a time when I am able to slice more exactly the moral nature of my impulses toward this recreation, when I can know if I am living as the image of God or if I am nibbling forbidden fruit hoping to take God’s place.

In the here and now, I’m left only with the simple joy of utterance, of finding the creation I’m capable of (language) and uniting it with the creation only God can tackle.

I’m left in childlike delight at the eclipse, the fleeting, perfect alignment of word to thing, when, as B.H. Fairchild puts it in his poem “What He Said”:

the white dove of genius
with its quick, wild wings has entered our souls,
our immaculate ignorance…
…And so is conceived and born
the thing said, finally, well nay perfectly

To write is to trust the stuff of us, even after Eden, and wait for that lucky wind to full our lungs. It’s to take—with our meager ration of gratitude—our given breath and make of it what we might, which is to say a tiny glory.


Kolby Kerr lives with his wife and son in the great state of Texas. He is a poet, Texas Rangers fan, and a high school teacher.

Learn more about the “With Flames Upon Their Head” Creativity Series by going here.

Creativity Series: “Three-Part Harmony” by Nancy Nordenson

wfuth-nancy

I.

In the beginning, you have an image, a question, a word that won’t leave you alone. It keeps coming back. Knock, knock; here it is again. You pull out a notebook and make a note. A day or two later you scribble something on the back of an envelope. On an index card. Scratch, scratch. A thought comes to you in the shower, an idea at the grocery store. You send yourself an Evernote note, an iPhone note, a to-do list reminder (“think more about…”). These memoranda are hydrogen and oxygen, carbon and phosphorus, nitrogen and sulfur, elements of life ready to ignite into something that never before existed. You mix this with that, stir and shake, shape and fill out. You concentrate and daydream. You write and write. You save and delete words at a ratio of 1 to 10. A paragraph, an essay, a short story begins to emerge. One day it will stand on its own. It will be a single united whole that would bleed if you cut something out. You will call it good as you put down your pen and pull back, waving and watching as it goes on to have a life of its own.

II.

But for now, you have further to go than your prowess with words can take you. You may be creating a paragraph, an essay, or a short story, a book or a novel if you’re lucky, but you are not the creator of the heavens and the earth. You pray a prayer of humility and proceed. Layers of created order draw you deep and high; clues beckon like golden keys waiting to unlock hallways through what calls to be explored. You strap on a light as you walk into the darkness. Now and always you ask, What’s really going on here? On one hand you write “mystery” and on the other hand “the known”; you want handfuls and handfuls of each, gathered together, mingling, heaped and overflowing on your writing desk. But the weight of discovery is not yours alone to carry. The Christ’s ancient promise holds: ask and you will receive. You empty your hands of what you’ve found and now hold them open. You listen for the still small voice that is not yours. You wait. It is not a secret truth that you seek, but a quickening, a veil dropped, even just the first breadcrumb of a path forward and through. When the word—the Word—finally comes you pick up your pen and write some more, stir and shake again, your eyes closed, your head bowed.

III.

The stakes just got higher. You jumped the track, caught a wave, launched skyward on the see-saw’s pivot. You’re not just creating a paragraph, an essay, or a short story, a book or a novel even, but something bigger. The words catapult you into the realm of participating in the ongoing creation, new hearts, new minds, the world as yet to be. Words alive in the eternal now, fruitful and multiplying, where will they go? What will they do? How will the words catalyze, how will the words comfort, how will the words change even you, the one who laid them down on the page? Theological debates rage on whether God’s creation surprises him or not, but indeed the words you’ve written surprise you. “This chokes me up,” a reader says. Me too, you think but don’t say. “After this, I see things differently,” says another. You nod, feeling the shiver. The words, no longer a product, become teacher, guide, and friend. “I don’t feel so alone,” says yet another. You nod again, walk away from the desk, and rest.


Nancy Nordenson lives in Minneapolis and writes about the intersections of thought, beauty, and faith in everyday life and work. She is the author of Just Think: Nourish Your Mind to Feed Your Soul (Baker, 2004), holds an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is currently finishing a book on the nature and experience of work. Her essays have appeared in Indiana Review, Comment, and Under the Sun, among others, and have received multiple “notable” mentions in Best American Essays and Best Spiritual Writing.

Her essays have also been anthologized in The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields (Cascade Press, 2010), and Becoming: What Makes a Woman, edited by Jill McCabe Johnson (University of Nebraska Gender Studies, 2012). When not scribbling on a creative project, reading, cooking, or daydreaming, she can usually be found earning a living at her medical writing desk. You can contact Nancy at her website, www.nancynordenson.com, or follow her infrequent tweets @NancyNordenson.

Learn more about the “With Flames Upon Their Head” Creativity Series by going here.

We’re just echoing awareness, not creating it.

elvistwitter

Pierce Gleeson wrote a short story titled “Four Million Followers” about an unemployed post-grad who starts writing and managing the Twitter page for a popular beverage company called Quark Cola.

More than a soft critique on corporate communication or Twitter, the story examines how our interaction becomes where, “We’re just echoing awareness, not creating it.” This leaves a lot of sad lonely people in the world. You’d think technology could solve a problem like this (*wink).

He was staring listlessly at the incoming tweets one Tuesday afternoon when a message appeared. Hey @quarkcola, I’m going to commit suicide tonight. Thanks for all the sugary memories. The icon next to the tweet was an ordinary self portrait of a young man. He checked the user’s page and found it had been active, intermittently, for more than two years.

He replied with three tweets in quick succession. The first was a link to suicide prevention hotlines in the man’s apparent country. The second: @gregorpegor You need to tell a real person before you do this. Just in case you are confused and they can help. Thirdly, he recommended the man read Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus.

There was no reply in the following days. The user was a very infrequent poster, and so the lack of follow up could not be considered proof of anything. He informed Samantha about the incident, and she submitted it to the legal team, who advised him to forget it, but to ignore all such entreaties in future. The very act of responding to such a message made you an active participant in what followed. Were a user to later kill themselves, then their family could potentially claim damages against Quark Cola for its interference. A non-reply could reasonably be interpreted as an unseen message, and would as such clear Quark Cola of any potential liability.

Two weeks later, during which he often agonised over his replies to the suicide announcement, he received a direct message from the user…

Facebook is the tool which represent the past (ie. yesterday’s pictures, last month’s vacation, that one crazy night, etc.) while Twitter represent the consciousness of the present. This is one reason why Twitter is utilized to analyze an audience reaction to a television show or a politician’s speech.

After Obama’s State of the Union address Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave his rebuttal and took an awkward pause to drink from a Poland Springs bottle of water. The Poland Springs marketing department must not exist. While Twitterverse blew up with memes and jokes, Poland Springs Twitter lay dormant.

Poland Spring Water hasn’t Tweeted since July, 2010. Right now, their rep is frantically trying to remember the password. #PolandSprings

— Jory John (@joryjohn)

Read the story because I imagine you’ll laugh and relate. But then also think about some of the broader implications of what it means to @reply, hashtag, and direct message. They’re more than ways of living or learning or being. And they have little to do with Twitter.


(story found via kottke, image borrowed/manipulated via ffffound)

Also read: A Series on Creativity.

As I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done?

zd30

The Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama Bin Laden is staying anonymous, but speaking out in a recent Esquire article (“The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed) about how he’s unemployed and afraid for his wife and children’s lives.

About killing Bin Laden, he says:

And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done? This is real and that’s him.

If you’ve watched the recent film Zero Dark Thirty then you already have a picture in your head about how this killing went down. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about how they found Bin Laden and how they killed him.

The movie ends with a similar sentiment as The Shooter’s above quote. In the last scene of ZD30, Jessica Chastain, who plays Mya the CIA agent who’s spent the last 12 years and her entire CIA career hunting down Bin Laden, boards an empty plane. In the last few moments before the movie ends something interesting happens.

After Mya sits down in the empty plane, she cries. It’s possible she’s finally shedding happy tears, or mourning the friends she lost in the war, or she’s simply having a cathartic moment. But I want to suggest an alternative interpretation to the moment, to the movie, and to the real life story that’s closely aligned to the questions of The Shooter.

I believe Mya is doubting whether it was all worth it. The years, the lives lost, the resources expended, and the eventual anti-climatic feeling of elation mixed with disgust.

Hunting down a man in order to kill him, regardless of his crimes, I think, will always force one to question the purpose of the particular/personal death, especially when the hunt comes at a great worldly cost.

Was this the best thing to ever happen to Mya? Or the worst?

I think the movie and the real life story want us to wrestle with the latter. In real life, Mya’s character did cry when she saw Bin Laden’s body. I think I would too if finding him was my life’s work.

This is not a question of whether or not a mastermind behind mass-murder should be brought to justice, that goes without saying. But the collateral damage becomes something more than ever imagined. It’s fair we ask the question. And then ask more questions…

Violence, in its many forms, raises for us questions about evil in our world that we would rather avoid asking. If we believe in a God, why does our God allow such evil to exist? If we believe in peace, when is it proper to resort to the violence of war? If we believe in a state of social equilibrium called justice, how do we restore it after violence has created chaos? (Tom Palaima, Higher Education)

As the Esquire article narrates, how does a Navy SEAL create a civilian/family life after war? As Zero Dark Thirty suggests, what’s a worthy life goal besides hunting down a man? And what we must consider about our own world, how do we restore it?

Spending your blogging self’s principal

David Sessions on “spending your blogging self’s principal”:

To be a fresh and relevant writer means, I think, that you have to be something like a fresh and relevant person, one who reads slowly and widely, has idiosyncratic interests, goes new places, meets new people, and regularly changes their mind. Feeling my own perspective plundered and empty over the years has pushed me to appreciate the value of, if we use Nolan’s terms, “building up the principal.” I don’t know any universally applicable way to do this, especially if you work in the media. Graduate school has played that role for me: being forced to read difficult books I cared about but would never have worked through otherwise, pushed to make new connections and learn about worlds and historical events I barely knew existed. The more you can be forced past your current perspective, and not just by other bloggers and journalists, the better. The more you can participate in something besides consuming media and blogging, the better. The more you can really learn about something the better; good writing can’t survive all that long on nothing but voice and other people’s reporting. (Patrol Mag)

Sine I don’t want to spend all my principal, but what to show that I might have some, these are the things I’m thinking and writing about.

  • The legitimacy of war. Mainly because of the Secretary of Defense and Head of the CIA Senate hearings.
  • Big Data. You know how the internet can take all this information? Well there’s so much information it’s hard to know what to do with it. Some bad things are happening, like some studies just use the data that helps their argument or study. The data is so large it’s hard to wade through it all anyway. Some cool things are happening, like how sports teams use data to help them make decisions. And what’s pending, is that we need data miners who can not only write code to help analyze and organize data, but who can also just analyze and organize data. Netflix uses data to recommend stuff and they used data to make House of Cards, which is Suhgood!
  • Hockey fights. I love watching and analyzing hockey fights.
  • The left and right of being a Christian involved in the political conversation. I’m a registered Independent so I can talk about the middle or lack thereof.
  • How living in Hawaii is strange. For example, racism, poverty, and crime.
  • A Failure’s Manifesto. When all you do is lose, how do you win?
  • Black holes.
  • Creativity. I have a series of creativity guests post I’ll be posting. Some great stuff for the “With Flames Upon The Head” series.

What are you writing about?

One of the cool things about being me is that I have a lot of really cool friends. Who also write books.

Strangely enough, a lot of my friends are coming out with their own books. I’ll share a few now and some more later.

Pursuing-Justice-Blog-Image
I really have been searching for a book like this for a long time. Go here to read a sample.



Tyler speaks for and to the millennial generation and produces a convicting book about an important subject everyone needs to hear. “Holiness is not just some fine ideal destined for generations past; it’s the unyielding pursuit that defines every Christian life.” Read more here.



After her parents are killed in a rare grizzly attack, the author is forced into a wilderness of grief. What? Yeah, go here to find out more.

One Day at a Time by Evan Kingston (Guest Post)

This Series is about the challenges writers face while working a day job and trying to make it as a writer.

Today’s post is from Evan Kingston. He lives in St. Paul, MN. He runs the frozen department in a grocery store, writes literary romantic comedies, and maintains The Oldest Jokes in the World, a blog about the relationship between humor and literature. He is currently the Fiction Editor for Red Bird Chapbooks.

writers-series-evan

Over the past year, I’ve received dozens of correspondences from agents and publishers regarding my first novel, Half Drunk. There’ve been short emails, letters on gorgeous stationary, and messily photocopied half-sheets; many have mentioned “the current state of the publishing industry” while others have taken a kind moment to draw attention to “the many admirable qualities” in my work. But they’ve all said, “No, we’re not interested in your novel.”

I usually read them right after I come home from my morning shift at the grocery store, when I check my mailbox and inbox before heading out to the library to write for the afternoon. And with each one I get, I can’t help but wonder why I don’t just stay home, to relax and/or wallow. It seems, for a moment, like giving up would be easier.

I worked hard for a long time on Half Drunk. The novel was my MFA thesis, and I composed its five drafts over the course of four years, workshopping it through a half-dozen classes before concentrating on it one-on-one for a year with my incredible advisor, Sheila O’Connor. In part, each rejection feels like a rejection of the time I spent on it, a letter letting me know all those lonely hours in the library were wastes of sunny days.

Even worse, they sometimes feel like rejections of a whole part of my life. A literary romantic comedy about addiction and recovery, Half Drunk is based loosely on my struggles with alcoholism. In detail, the connection to my real life is very loose: the plot involves magical strains of marijuana I’ve never smoked, a villainous rapper named Dr.MC I’ve never fought, and a 100 ft bike jump into the Mississippi River I’ve, thankfully, never jumped.

But the larger themes—my exploration of how we finds the strength to change our lives within those parts of ourselves that are ultimately immutable—are some of the few things I have from the drunken years of my early twenties that are worth sharing. At my most despairing, the rejection letters feel like a refutation of those hard earned lessons.

They really make me wonder why I even bother. But even when I can’t think of a good reason to, I go to the library and write anyway. I don’t need an answer; all I need to do is think of the alternative.

In my early twenties, I didn’t have a daily writing routine and regularly excused myself from the few commitments I made for myself. As I’d worked my way through a BA, my binge drinking grew steadily worse, but rarely so bad that it interfered with my class assignments. The moment I graduated, though, I stopped writing and took up drinking like it was my calling. I considered myself a writer, but was less interested in actually writing than in acting like I thought a writer should act: sometimes vain, sometimes depressed—but always drunk.

When I did manage enough time between hangovers and buzzes to sit down at my desk, I mostly just scribbled notes for novels I was sure would prove my genius once I found a little more time. Whenever I forced myself to make the time, I tortured a few sentences—dissecting and reassembling them with slightly different punctuation, just to change it back and see how it would feel if the main character had a different name—until, unable to find the perfection I thought would let me move on to the next paragraph, I quit to the bar. Once there, I drank until I could forget the work I should be doing so I could more easily brag about being a writer (though I often overshot and blacked everything out completely).

As fun as I tried to make it all look, I was miserable. I wouldn’t change, though, because I wanted something to change me: I told myself I would start a new short story once a magazine accepted the one I’d written as an undergrad; I would cut back on my drinking once I found a nice girlfriend; I would finish the first chapter of my masterpiece once inspiration hit me with a better first line. Chalk it up to addiction or immaturity, but I just couldn’t understand that no girl would want me until I sobered up or that I’d never know what the right first line was until I’d written through the first chapter, all the way to the end of the book.

I hope it doesn’t ruin the end of Half Drunk for you, but through a series of personal events I still don’t fully understand or remember, I finally quit drinking. In part, I think I realized I needed to be sober to make it through the school—but then I also remember looking forward to how much more authority my drunken rants would hold with an MFA behind them. It was more than just school: I’d thought of a hundred good reasons to quit over the years, and various friends had plied me with a dozen more, but I never lasted more than a few weeks. I’m still not sure why this time stuck. It involved a strength I was sure I didn’t have—a strength I still think isn’t my own—so all I can say is that God helped me, and besides that, I just tried to stay sober one day at a time.

As it is one of the few activities I’ve tried that is as hard as quitting drinking, I try to think about writing the same way. The part that is under my control is showing up to the page every day and doing the work. Whenever I skip a few days in a row, I can’t help but feel like I’m blacking out my chance to be great, rejecting myself before anyone else has the chance to. I know I can’t just wait for something to happen to me that will change my work into something publishable. All I can do is study my craft and be as present, honest, and exacting as possible every day.

I believe that, as with my will for sobriety, the inspiration that will make my work great needs to come from something greater than me, something ultimately out of my control.

In any event, it is totally out of the control of publishers and agents, so I don’t let what they have to say keep me from doing my part. They have their own part to play, and hopefully, one day, that will involve writing me checks instead of rejection letters. But I can only reach that day by writing one day at a time.


Also read: Writers Series: “Writing for a Living” by Amanda Fanger

Grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in
heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through
art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on
earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty,
and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for
evermore.

Thank you for this great and mysterious opportunity for my life.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,