Story Challenge of the Week

So, Alayna and I are exhausted at the moment. I’m actually sleeping better (meaning that the therapy is working), but I’m not sleeping very long each night. Alayna is at that point where the baby is dropping (or has dropped… or is about to drop… this is our first time doing this) and absolutely everything is uncomfortable, including sleeping… which means that she doesn’t much. Exhaustion makes everyday tasks, like work, reading, or helping a friend, much more difficult and it especially makes stress more difficult to handle. It makes you crankier, more easily frustrated, and less able to take a joke. It also makes it that much more difficult to do something that you just don’t really feel like doing. I bring this up because it’s your topic today. I want you to write a story about exhaustion in a stress-filled situation. You know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic. As before, if it’s in any way applicable, you should use this to try to develop your world a little more :).

Your Challenge: Write me a story about exhaustion in a stress filled situation. This could be a story about exhaustion makes stress more difficult to deal with or how it makes your responses to stress less likely to be appropriate. You could focus on the emotional, physical, or intellectual challenges of exhaustion and the impact that they can have on stress responses. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on exhaustion in a stress filled situation.

What’s in a Poem?

“Poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made out of words.”

Magnetic poetry
Image taken from user zaraki.kenpachi on Flickr Creative Commons.

You’ll have to forgive me, because I am a bit uncertain about the original source of this quote. Originally I had thought it was C.S. Lewis, but upon further research I think that either 1) I was misremembering, or 2) I may have read it in a Lewis work some time ago, but even Lewis was quoting someone else and not attributing the quote to himself. (I want to say it was in An Experiment in Criticism, but I couldn’t find it after briefly re-skimming the chapter on Poetry; I’d have to read more thoroughly to do so). In any case, upon a quick internet search this morning, I’ve found a few different sources attributing this quote not to Lewis at all, but to French poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé.

According to a literary magazine entitled The Paris Review: “Paul Valéry tells the story: The painter Edgar Degas was backhanded-bragging to his friend Stéphane Mallarmé about the poems that he, Degas, had been trying to write. He knew they weren’t great, he said, ‘But I’ve got lots of ideas—too many ideas.’ ‘But my dear Degas,’ the poet replied, ‘poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made of words.'”

Now, after opening with an inspirational-sounding quote, I may surprise you. Because I’m actually not going to take the side of that quote. In the above exchange, I’d put myself in the shoes of Degas, knowing that my poems aren’t always the best or deepest ones in the world, but saying (despite the rebukes of the more deep, artistic poets), “Sure I can write poems. I’ve got a lot of great ideas. That’s what it takes to write a poem, right?”

Yes, obviously, poems contain words, and they shouldn’t be just any words haphazardly thrown together, but words arranged in a specific way based on sound, structure, etc. And I realize that. But for me, a poem still starts with an idea. Every writer is different, of course, and there’s no one correct way to do everything, but for me a poem starts with an idea, a feeling, etc.–and it’s not until later that I can translate that idea into the words which make up a poem.

When I posted one of my poems earlier in the week, I mentioned that some people are talented enough that they can write a beautiful and poignant poem about almost anything–something in nature, a tiny episode out of their day, something they see just walking down the street, etc. Personally, I am not one of those people. In order to make a halfway decent poem (at least, one that I think is halfway decent), in order to really be inspired and care about what I’m writing, I need to base it on something important to me–a feeling, a life experience, something I’ve been going through or thinking about already, etc. It starts with an idea, a strong and powerful and weighty idea that is close to my heart, and I translate it into words later as I go along (sometimes over the course of two or three or more revisions).

I vaguely remember one poem I wrote in a creative writing class in college. It was about nature–something about winter, and the snow melting as spring begins to come along. I may have called it “Waning Winter Wonderland” or something alliterative like that. But I didn’t write it because I was passionate about it and I really felt a deep sense of inspiration to write about the snow; I only wrote it in response to an assignment or writing prompt for class. My professor (who I’m quite certain is a better and more experienced poet than I) seemed to like it, and wrote in a comment that I should “please keep working on this one!” But I don’t think I did. I’m not sure if I even still have the poem anymore or could find it again at this point. While it may have been wise for me to at least take my professor’s advice and continue honing my craft, the poem wasn’t one of my favorite ones, because it wasn’t one that was important to me at the time. It wasn’t born of personal inspiration. It wasn’t about something I was passionate about, and it didn’t really come from my heart.

For me, poems that I write have a very close and personal inspiration. I think that’s why I’ve been told–and I agree with this–that my poems are often like stories. They’re about things that happen or things that people deal with rather than just about things that one might see in nature, for example. Each one contains a story, or at least is born of a story in my mind. When presenting them or reading them aloud to an audience, I may often say something like, “So I wrote this poem at a time when [X] was going on, and that was kind of what made me want to write about it…”

In fact, I do believe that prose and stories are my forte more than poetry is, which is part of why I don’t write poems super often. And when I do, my poems are born of personal experience and personal inspiration. I don’t just sit down and write a poem arbitrarily (unless a college class requires it). I write one every so often when I have a feeling or idea or inspiration that means a lot to me and that I think would be worthy of a poem. Admittedly, it may not seem like the most literary or artistic approach compared to Mallarmé’s lofty philosophy. But it’s what works for me, and as I said, I don’t think there’s any one right formula that works for all authors all the time.

So which way works best for you? If you’ve ever written a poem, do you make them out of words? Or out of ideas? Or out of stories?

Poetry
Image taken from user Signore Aceto on Flickr Creative Commons.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

So, Alayna is an absolutely amazing wife. For a combined Father’s day/Anniversary present she got me a pre-order of the new game Total War: Warhammer (which comes out on the 24th). This is a game that I (and a lot of other people) have been waiting for someone, anyone, to make for around fifteen years. I still play a few video games, but I don’t generally play that many (I don’t have time to play that many…). I actually still haven’t gotten around to finishing Pillars of Eternity (though it is an awesome game). However, like I said, this is a game that I’ve been waiting for fifteen years to see someone make. I’m a little bit excited about it. Anyway, on a completely different note, something that I’ve been thinking about lately is American Christian attitudes towards money (on the individual level) and economics (on the societal level). I often see attitudes in the Christian church that do little to reflect the actual teachings of scripture. In general, these attitudes tend to follow the two common secular attitudes towards general economics: Capitalist Christians and Socialist Christians. Now, I should point out first that when I speak of Capitalism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in America, not the economic structures that you find in Columbia or Niger. Similarly, when I speak of Socialism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in Austria, Germany, or Canada, not the economic structures that we saw in Society Russia or Maoist China. A good argument can be made that extreme Communism is a form of Socialism. However, a good argument can also be made that the oppressive ‘free’ markets of South America and Central Africa are a form of Capitalism. So, for a good comparison conservative Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another and extreme Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another: that is that Soviet Russia should be compared to Columbia and Canada should be compared to the US.

That being said, I don’t honestly think that either Capitalism or Socialism effectively presents a biblical attitude towards economics. It is true that Adam Smith’s original theory (Capitalism) did make some use of the Christian concept of providence in the ‘Invisible Hand’ of the market. However, even in his original theory this comes across more as a statement that ‘God is in control so we don’t need that many rules’ (and in laissez-faire capitalism this tends to turn into ‘we don’t need any rules’). However, this seems to be a muted and generally empty conception of Providence, which must be combined with Sovereignty to have any meaningful content. Christian versions of Capitalist theory generally faik to acknowledge that the world is the Lord’s and all that is in it, but attempts to rely on the idea that God guides the unknowable forces of the free market. Instead of actually living in a world that is seen as meaningfully God’s, with all of the responsibilities (social and theological) that come with that understanding, it tends to adopt a Capitalist assumption that economic growth is essentially good (that is in Aristotelian terms that goodness is a necessary component of economic growth such that if it is not good it cannot be called economic growth, this would be opposed to an accidental and contingent goodness of economic growth which accepts that economic growth is good when it stems from good motives and is used for good ends). In extreme forms of Capitalism this assumption is used to justify over oppression and subjugation of vulnerable people groups. However, even in less extreme forms of Capitalism the assumption is present and generally leads to the rejection of regulations that are necessary to effectively guide the market according to God’s principles. For instance, consider the economic laws of the Old Testament such as the Sabbatical Years or the Year of Jubilee, the requirements against the charging of interest, etc. These laws existed to ensure that the economic growth of the nation of Israel protected and provided for even the weakest among them. The economic oppression and subjugation of the weak members of Jewish society was not acceptable under the Old Testament law, and throughout the Prophets this very economic oppression and subjugation is one of their primary condemnations of Israel.

However, on the other hand, Socialist theories tend to attempt to take regulation into the hands of man. They tend to reject the concept of the invisible hand of the market and the concept of providence that goes with it. However, this equally rejects the sovereignty of God. Scripture absolutely supported the equitable provision of opportunities, and this is consistently seen in the Law through the emphasis that the land could not be permanently bought or sold. Every Israelite family had the opportunity to develop their own land and thus prosper economically. However, scripture no where supports the intentional redivision of resources in order to provide equal income. What the Israelites did with their land was on them. Those who cared for their land well and prospered tended to have more and those who neglected their land fell into debt and sometimes had to sell themselves into indentured servitude (I use this term because it more accurately described the strictures of the law than ‘slavery,’ which has specific connotations in America that do not reflect the Mosaic Law). However, even in these cases their masters were to treat them well, and every fifty years slaves were freed and their original land was returned so that the family could start over. So, the idea that a universal $15 minimum wage is a moral necessity simply doesn’t see biblical support, nor does the excessive taxation of the wealthy in order to provide welfare services to those who could work, but don’t. However, the taxation of those who can and do work in order to provide for those who legitimately can’t (i.e. the seriously handicapped or very vulnerable) absolutely sees biblical support. As does the argument that the government has a responsibility to care for the poor (in fact, in the Old Testament it is most commonly the King, Judge, or Ruler who is expected to enforce the laws that provide for the legitimately poor, and it is the wealthy who are expected to leave some of their income in order to supply this provision).

Ultimately, Christian Capitalists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact of greed upon the economic structures of the nation while Christian Socialists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact laziness upon the economic structures of the nation. This is very general and the issue is significantly more complicated, but this seems to be an apt, if very general, description. So, here is my question for you: is there a third option? Some Confucian scholars have pointed to several area in the Far East (specifically Singapore and Japan) that are in the process of developing ‘Communitarian Capitalism,’ which stands starkly against the individualistic and often greed-focused liberalism of Laissez-Faire Capitalism, but stands equally against the thoroughly State-Led nature of Socialism and accepts the general idea of a free market that is, to some degree, self-directing. However, this is effectively experimental and, for Christians, likely falls into some of the same traps as I outlined above. If there is a third option, what significant underlying assumptions would it be founded upon?

As always, write me a story of 1000+ words that gives your take on the issue.

Plot Challenge of the World

Well, very slowly reading is getting done and I am getting used to sleeping five hours a night. However, if you’ve ever done something like this, it isn’t a lot of fun, and it takes some getting used to, so I’m afraid I don’t have a lot left for the blog today. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you today. I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to develop a part of your world based on what you see. It should be a setting that is believable in your world, and that has potential for stories in it. Here’s you’re picture:

bridges fantasy art cities_wallpaperswa.com_47

“Secret Identity”

Here’s another new poem that I finalized just recently and debuted at an open mic night this week. I’m calling it “Secret Identity.”

Question for discussion: do you prefer poems with a definite rhyme or rhythm (like this one will be), or ones written in free verse (like the last one I posted)? I feel like free verse is more “in vogue” these days, and so for a while most of what I wrote was free verse. But personally, I find that when I write for spoken word or specifically for performance (as I have been doing lately), I like to go back to consistent rhyme and rhythm if I can. Having a rhythm and a pattern or beat helps me to keep my pace when the audible sounds are the focus more than the written word.

Anyway, here’s “Secret Identity.” I hope you enjoy it.

——

Shirt & tie
Image taken from user jopperbok on Flickr Creative Commons.

My shirt and tie may cover me.

These glasses hide my eyes.

But still this outer man you see

is merely a disguise.

By day I speak on words and books.

Your minds I try to fill.

I may give disapproving looks

or tell you to sit still.

But underneath there’s so much more

than what you could dream of:

a soldier fighting holy war,

a heart that’s full of love

and far-too-idealistic hopes

in my heroic quest

to talk of more than tomes and tropes

but make your life feel blessed.

Behind the desk, behind the beard,

behind the endless puns

lies something more than first appeared:

deep care for broken ones.

I see you there, alone and lost

like sheep, a shepherd needing.

You don’t know I’d pay any cost

to simply stop the bleeding.

You’ll never know how much I care

or how I long to hold you

or how I wish I could be there

though outwardly I scold you.

Oh, how I longed to draw you near

like a hen unto her chicks,

to chase off every hurt and fear—

to shield, to heal, to fix.

Of burdens I would bear the brunt—

but alas, I am unable,

for I stand up here at the front

while you sit at your table.

For after all, I’m only one

flawed, finite, mortal creature,

and when it all is said and done,

I’m just a high school teacher.

But I’ll always be here on your side.

I’ll always be your fan.

I couldn’t save you if I tried,

but I’ll do what I can.

Clark changing
Image taken from user Porta-john on Flickr Creative Commons. Originally published by DC Comics.

Story Challenge of the Week

Well, my diet is over and I am officially in the maintenance phase of the program… during which I’m hoping to lose another 5-10 pounds or so :P. All told, at the moment I’ve lost somewhere around 32-33 pounds. I have another 15-25 that I would like to lose, but given the sheer amount of stress that Alayna and I are under at the moment everyone agreed that it might be best if counting calories wasn’t a constant worry. So, all in all I’m pretty happy. My goal is to keep myself under 200 lbs for the next 8 months or so and then, once the baby is born, we’ve moved, settled into our new place, Alayna has a job, I’m sleeping normally, and I’m beginning to get a handle on the Ph.D. program, then hopefully I can go back on a more intensive weightloss plan and lose the rest that I was hoping to lose–not exactly the norm for people in a Ph.D. program (usually they gain weight), but hopefully it will be possible. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you and you all should know the rules, but just in case: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your challenge: Choose one of your favorite scenes from a novel. After reading the scene a couple of times, rewrite it in your own style and voice. The characters and basic elements of the scene should remain the same, but the way it is written should reflect your voice and style of writing, rather than the original author’s. This can be very challenging, so don’t be too disappointed if you need a few tries to go it well.

The Wanderer’s Lament

I haven’t written much fiction lately, but I’ve been working on some poetry. And as our own Mr. Mastgrave reminded me this week, a poem can often be a form of telling a story. In my case, I certainly believe that that’s true. Some people are gifted enough that they can write beautiful poems about almost anything, but I can really only bring myself to write one when I have the right inspiration, usually when it has been influenced by something from my life—-a story, if you will.

Later in the week, I may write a post analyzing poems and storytelling a little more thoroughly. For now, I’d just like to share with you some of the latest ones I’ve written. The following is a work in progress born of an emotion inside me, but I didn’t really put it down in words until yesterday–so I reserve the right to edit and change it later on as I revisit it. (But I am planning to unveil it to the public at an open mic night tonight, so hopefully it’s ready enough for that at least!)

I have named this poem “The Wanderer’s Lament.”

———-

Home is not the mattress I sleep on

in a brick building far too uptight

to be anything more than a temporary dwelling.

Home is no longer the four walls

where I talked and laughed with two best friends

right up until everything changed.

Home is not even where my parents live, or my brothers,

or the simpler, more idealistic version of myself

I can still glimpse within my mind,

reading a book or doing homework

in that familiar house ten years ago.

Home is not a past that can never be repeated–

but neither is it the ever-fleeting present

or some hopeful future still in flux.

Home is not a grand adventure

6788260659_52e0a97b0d_n
Image taken from user Ciscolo on Flickr Creative Commons.

where I crossed the river to chase my dreams

and learn how to grow up a little more

and just maybe begin laying down some roots.

Home is not the winding halls

of the university I still love,

or the classroom where I spend so many hours

to earn a living and hopefully make a difference.

Home isn’t found under a steeple, in a pew,

or even a friendly living room full of smiling faces

with a Bible in my lap.

Home is not my friends,

the ones who have stood by me for years,

or the ones who so graciously welcomed me

into a strange new land.

Home is not any loving community that I’ve found,

or any that I’m likely to find in a week,

or a month,

or a year.

If one day I find love

and build up a family in a house,

if I hold a wife close to me

or cherish the sweet laugh of a child,

even then the home I long for

will still be far from me.

 

If I Find in Myself a Desire
Image taken from QuotesVil.com. Quote from C.S. Lewis.

Home will finally quench my deep desire

which nothing in this world can satisfy,

because, most probably,

I was made for another.

I don’t know what home will look like,

but I’ll see it when I go.

 

 

Story Challenge of the Week

Sometimes, in the words of Forrest Gump (or more accurately his momma), ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Of course, sometimes it’s like rooting around in a dumpster, and sometimes its like a work cubicle: small, oppressive, and boring. You never know what you’re going to get, and you never know how you’re going to react to it. Sometimes, people can have the worst reactions to things that should make them ecstatic, and sometimes people will react to horrible news with amazing aplomb. The key in the midst of all of this is remembering that we live in a real world that is not defined by our feelings, desires, opinions, or convictions. The concept of reality is one that, I fear, the Western world is slowly losing any kind of grip on. It is one of the most important concepts in life because, in the words of a Psychology professor I once had, ‘Reality always wins.’ Time spent delving into fantasy can be wonderful. It can be a time to decompress, relax, rejuvenate both heart and mind, and gain new perspective. However, our fantasy and fiction should also tell us something true about reality. This isn’t the same as saying that we need ‘realistic’ or ‘gritty’ fantasy. C. S. Lewis’ fantasies are far from gritty, but they do tell us something true about the real world. However, it does mean that our fantasy needs to be rooted in reality and that it needs to both offer a temporary escape and lead us back to reality in the end. Too many modern fantasies attempt to replace reality, and this endeavor will never end well. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you today. I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to develop a part of your world based on what you see. It should be a setting that is believable in your world, and that has potential for stories in it. Here’s you’re picture:

reality-illusion

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

So, Fyodor Dostoyevsky argued that if there is no God then anything is permissible. Philosophers such as Friedrich Nietszche and Jean-Paul Sartre generally agree with his general premise, though, unlike Dostoyevsky (who concluded from this that there must be a God), they thus conclude that anything is permissible if one believes that it is right or necessary. However, other thinkers, such as Aristotle, argued that there is a moral reality to which man is beholden, regardless of whether any god exists, and some have argued that any god or gods are also beholden to this moral reality. David Hume argued that moral principles could not be drawn from observations of the natural world (i.e. an ought cannot be drawn from an is–also known as the is/ought problem or the naturalistic fallacy), but also concluded that while morality is thus subjective, it can still be universal because all men are driven by the same subjective passions–even if they do resist or bury them.

So, I’ve had you all write on the idea of moral realism, both theistic and philosophical, before. However, in today’s challenge I want you to imagine that Nietszche and Sartre are correct. There is no God, and because there is no God absolutely anything is (at least potentially) permissible. What would such a world look like? Why?

As always, answer the challenge in a story of 1000 words.

Finish Stories

I was watching The Returned last night. For those who have not seen it, there are spoilers ahead. Though if you haven’t watched it, I’m not sure it’s worth your time. I’m still sorting it out.

Quick premise. In this small town, the dead come back to life, and they try dealing with a world that has moved on without them.

The show sets up a few character arcs. A woman who was nearly murdered finds a boy who she takes care of. The boy is psychotic and was murdered nearly 30 years ago. A dead girl comes back six years after her death and tries to fit in with her friends. A woman killed by a dam breaking is trying to drown the city, to purge it of its evil.

Overall, The Returned wraps up a lot of the stories. The woman with the psycho ghost boy leaves him behind and survives. Most people die when they let him go. The sixteen year old girl is sort of accepted by her peers, though one stabs her. The other one stabs her, but in that way you want to be stabbed.

Then there’s the woman who wants to blow up the dam to drown the city.

Keep in mind, they created plot hooks for season 2. They were in place. A few final episode reveals did an amazing job of setting up season 2.

So the crazy woman, she was actually clinically insane before her death, has all the explosives set. She’s fighting ghosts so she can light the fuse. She gets a match to light, and the match goes out. That’s the last we see of her.

The thing is, this is a plot arc that started a long time ago. Everyone during the final episode is on high alert because the dead are totally poking at the living that the dam is about to blow up. When one man has a vision that the dam is about to break, we cut to credits. What?

17899471_87efeaddec_z.jpg
Francis (c) 2005

This is why I don’t read single issues of comic books. It’s why I have trust issues.

Finish your story arcs. GRRM finishes his story arcs. In A Game of Thrones (spoilers), we find out Robert Baratheon has no kids and the twins are bumping uglies. In Clash of Kings, we watch the Stark kingdom fall.

Meanwhile the white walkers are the string that all the plots hang on. They are the long term story that will creep up from time to time until there will be some stunning conclusion. Thinking out loud. What if Westeros is abandoned? What if the white walkers win and Westeros departs to live in Braavos? That would be cool. Sorry, tangent.

Fortunately, if you want a traditional publisher, this is a slight that writers are rarely allowed to get away with, as compared to a series which is trying as dirty as possible to hook you into the next season. Even the worst novel I’ve plausibly ever dove into which had a traditional publisher still had a beginning, middle, and end, while finishing off the story arc it pushed forward.

So why say this? I’m warning you. Don’t get tempted. Finish your story primary story arc while placing bread crumbs for future stories.