Priorities

Well, I’m sorry about not having a post up yesterday. I’m sorry to say that insomnia got the better of me on Thursday night and I spent most of Friday a little loopy. Then we had some guests with us yesterday (Alayna’s baby shower is tomorrow… the baby is almost here, which is both exciting and terrifying), and so I generally have had a lot of distractions lately. I don’t say any of this as an excuse (honestly I don’t think I need one), but simply to explain why there was no post yesterday and to introduce my point here: it’s easy to lose focus of where our priorities should be.

I’ve done this many times in my life. Honestly, when I first started this blog my priorities were very out of whack. In the beginning I wanted this blog to be very successful (and given how many followers we have I think there has been some success involved), and because of that I was extremely focused towards attaining that goal. For the first year I wrote all of the posts for the blog myself, a post a day for a year is a lot for anyone to write (and if you’ve ever tried you know what I mean). After that I started bringing some other writers on board, but I was draconian about timely posting. I almost lost a friend over whether or not she published her posts on time.

I had certain standards, and standards, or so I told myself, are a good thing. I had been told that consistency is very important for bringing in reader, and I stuck to that and focused on consistently providing material of an accessible, but also high quality. I wanted to make sure that everyone who wrote for me had the same focus. This is where my priorities were off-target. At the time, especially in the particular situation I’m thinking of, I should have considered my friend’s feelings and what this particular person was dealing with at the time. I didn’t. All I focused on was that posts weren’t going up when they ‘needed’ to, and that was simply unacceptable.

At that time this blog was one of the few good things going on in my life. Academically I had hit what seemed to be a dead end. I applied to a number of programs, only to be rejected by all of them, and I had struggled to find a teaching job, only to then struggle to make enough money at the teaching job I did find to pay basic bills. Romantically, I had one short and painful relationship after another, and was shot down by most of the women I asked out in between them. Financially I had a mountain of debt that I didn’t see any realistic way of paying off. Spiritually I was in the driest point of my relationship with God since I converted, and while that didn’t last for more than six months, they were an extremely difficult six months.

When I started this blog, I thought it would be my ticket out of all of that (God had different plans), and I approached it as one might approach a life-changing career goal. However, since that time I have seem some (limited) success in my teaching job, I have started and finished a second master’s degree, gotten married, been accepted into two Ph.D. programs (still deciding which one), and Alayna and I are expecting our first child.

I say all of this to say that priorities are important. When I first started this blog I put an inordinately high priority on it, and was willing to sacrifice friendships for it. However, I think that in the past few years God has done a good job of refocusing my priorities. We’ve missed more that we did early on, and there is less focus on originality, quality, images, and timing. Things about the blog that used to be hard and fast rules have become only suggestions.

Other pursuits (school and family mostly) have taken precedence for me, and most importantly, I’ve learned to have a softer touch when others miss things, and learned to let some of them go myself. Four years ago I never would have allowed myself to miss a post. In thinking about all of this, I keep coming back to priorities. I treated this blog as though it was something that it can never be: a meaning for life.

Have you done the same with anything? I have said here before, and I still believe, that writing is good for us. It is important, healthy, and ultimately beneficial both for ourselves and for others. Some of you will probably make a career out of writing fiction, others probably won’t even though you want to, and some of you haven’t even considered it as a possibility. However, do you ever give your writing (however important it is) an inappropriate place in your life? It’s something worth thinking about.

So, I don’t know how many of you love either P&P RPGs or miniature models as much as I do, but I just backed this kickstarter. It looks to have a well-developed world, some great art, a fun system, and the miniatures are just beautiful. Take a look at it, if it looks like you’re kind of thing, back it with me. The basic pledge levels aren’t overly expensive and you can get some cool stuff out of them. That being said, I have a post for you. Anyway, I have a writing exercise for you today, but if anyone wants to chime in with ideas, please do. For today’s exercise I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to use it as inspiration to design one part of the world you’ve started. This could be fleshing out one of the nations that you’ve already come up with or it could be creating an all new nation or continent for your world:

med

Scene Challenge of the Week

Yesterday, I painted an ice troll. I think that he is the best piece that I’ve done thus far. Probably because he was a little bit bigger, and I got new brushes that are a little bit tighter. I also officially completed the first section of the Rosetta Stone for Chinese. Honestly, I need to write out all of the vocabulary from it on flash cards and just go over it again and again, and it would probably be good for me to go back through the whole first section, but hey one section out of 20-something down and lots to go! Anyway, I’ve got a scene challenge for you. If you can’t remember the rules, I’ll provide them: 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: I want you to write an busy scene scene. This should be a scene that not only makes me feel like your characters are busy, but a scene that actually makes me feel pushed and pulled in every direction. You should focus on developing a scene that feels crammed to the gills with everything that needs to be done. This is going to be similar to a rewriting challenge, and thus I want you to find something that evokes this kind of feeling that can inspire you. However, instead of simply rewriting the scene, I want you to write a scene of your own that evokes the same feeling. Your own voice, your own characters, your own setting. Everything should be your own. This isn’t a simple rewrite for practice. I want you to write a scene that reflects the same mood, evokes the same emotions, and handles plot in a similar way, but that is still completely your own work.

Story Challenge of the Week

Well, I spent the afternoon yesterday painting more miniatures. Also, I got a spear for my birthday (my father made it), so I’ve been looking up Sojutsu techniques for the past couple of days. I’m going to take some time and actually learn how to use the thing properly… this makes me very happy. Anyway, let’s get into it. You know the rules: I give you a picture and you give me a story of 1000 words or less (at least if you want to post it here) that explains what is happening in the picture. Remember the lesson from last time, stay true to the picture. Let the audience know what is happening in the background of the picture without actually altering any of the picture’s own details. Enjoy:

spear paladin

A different story

Hello, internet!

So over the course of the week I’ve been talking about how you can draw inspiration from video games, and how to use your in-game experiences as the beginning of writing your own stories. And I’ve been talking about the process that I sometimes go through of adapting my video game adventures into prose.

I promised you that’d I’d post a story today, to show you the results of that creative process. And I’ve been working on the story all week. But you know what? It isn’t finished. And I could rush to finish it, filling in the blanks and rounding off the conclusion in time to get it up for tomorrow morning. But what I’ve written so far is good, and I don’t want to rush the rest. I want to take my time with it and produce a story that I’m happy with from start to finish, with a conclusion that’s well thought-through. Even if it is too late to post it here, I’ll know that I’ve done it right, and that it’s the best story it could have been.

So today’s post is going to have to be something different. This week’s posts were supposed to be a trilogy, but now I’m going to have to imitate Pat Rothfuss and leave you all hanging after two instalments, without a satisfying narrative conclusion: only the vague promise of more to come, some time in the future.  I hope you can forgive me for that! I’m struggling to forgive myself. But sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves, as writers. Sometimes it’s okay to take a little bit longer on a project, to play around with it until it really feels finished. Because ultimately we shouldn’t be writing for money or acclaim or to meet deadlines. We should be writing because we enjoy it.

With that in mind, here’s a short piece that I enjoyed writing a few weeks ago. It was written for a Star Trek roleplaying game that I’m part of, and it’s only ever been seen by a small group of other players. It’s short, and simple – just an old man sitting at a bar, quietly contemplating – but I hope that you enjoy it all the same.


“Friends in low places”

Igreb's Taverna Non-Corporeal

The Romulan Neutral Zone, for all its sins, had been the basis of a lot of livelihoods. Xon had spent the last four decades of his life flying out of neutral ports on Nimbus III and other worlds where certain undesirable elements of galactic society could conduct their business without interference. In that time he had seen petty criminal empires rise and fall, he had dined at gunpoint with pirate warlords who ruled over failed colonies like feudal barons over their fiefdoms, and he had seen more greed and desperation than he could easily stomach, the kind of naked poverty and avarice that wasn’t conceivable to most Starfleet officers or ordinary citizens of the Federation. The black market economy of the Neutral Zone had been brutal and unforgiving to the people at the bottom of the ladder, but it had been stable enough in its own way.

The Treaty of Tarod had obliterated that stability. Spaceports that had operated for centuries as havens for malcontents were now no longer beyond the reach of Starfleet or the Romulan navy. For the first time in Xon’s long life, Romulan ale was no longer contraband in the Federation, and Starfleet was delivering Federation medical supplies freely in the other direction. The smuggling industry, with its proud heritage, was at its end. Whole criminal dynasties had been built upon the presumption that the Federation and the Star Empire would always be at each other’s throats, and now the rug had been pulled out from beneath their feet. The rock had been lifted, and the roaches had scattered.

So when Xon accepted a commission to work in the former Neutral Zone, he had been expecting to run into some old acquaintances. He hadn’t been expecting to run into Igreb.

Igreb was a sort of huge luminous quantum octopus who existed laterally in four dimensions at the same time, but he was also a very fine bartender, whose infamous taverna on Nimbus III had been as old as the colony itself. Xon had never been able to figure out if Igreb was a singular entity or part of a species that had evolved beyond corporeal form, but he had certainly never encountered any other sentient beings who remotely resembled him. If ‘resembled’ was the right word. Even after forty years, it was very hard for Xon to wrap his brain around what Igreb actually looked like. You could stare at him for hours and try to build a coherent mental picture of his appearance, but your thoughts seemed to slip away like water off a stone. Besides which, if you stared for long enough, Igreb would eventually remind you that staring was rude, and that you were sitting on a barstool that could be occupied by a paying customer.

Igreb didn’t talk, or even communicate telepathically, in the conventional sense. He just floated behind his circular bar, served you drinks that you didn’t know you wanted, and embedded vague concepts inside your head. Without exchanging words or specific thoughts, Xon had learnt everything about why Igreb finally packed up and left Nimbus. With the Neutral Zone gone, the power dynamics on the Planet of Galactic Peace had shifted overnight, and a full-scale civil war had broken out, with different pirate clans fighting in the desert for control of Paradise City. Igreb’s bar had been bombed during the opening hostilities. He had heard about Starfleet’s new outpost in the region and correctly presumed that it would need bartenders.

The new taverna seemed like an exact replica of the old one. It had the same pervading emerald light, the same pointless mechanical cooling fixtures spinning slowly overhead, the same garish entertainment consoles, the same NO PROJECTILE WEAPONS sign behind the bar. It was half bar, half cargo bay, or it would be when freighter captains started using the shelves and industrial transporters to auction their wares. Igreb had even brought his famous pool tables, where the balls floated repellently over an actual liquid pool instead of the traditional green baize, either a bad joke or the result of an unfortunate mistranslation. The only things missing were the grime, the dancers, and the scent of death, but Xon was confident that the grime at least would quickly accumulate as soon as Igreb started attracting more of his usual patrons.

Xon had the very real privilege of being Igreb’s first new customer. He was only drinking Altair water, but they had still toasted the new premises, and Xon had entertained some optimistic thoughts that the taverna might grow into Eden’s premier dive bar. Igreb had projected his gratitude. They had been sitting silently for almost an hour, having a lively and convivial exchange of ideas, when Xon heard someone parting the screen of chains that hung over the bar’s entrance. He turned on his barstool, and he was surprised by who he saw…

Plot Challenge of the Week

I’d forgotten how much I actually enjoy painting miniatures. Recently I’ve been thinking about painting up some miniatures that I’ve had for a while, and that are very nice, high quality sculpts. However, it has been years since I last painted anything. So, I went out and bought some good paints and some cheap Reaper miniatures (which are actually surprisingly high quality given what you actually pay for them) and I’ve been painting them. Thus far I’ve painted up a sarcophagus, a ruined well, an alchemist, and three Chinese soldiers. I have a few more cheap miniatures to paint, and I definitely need the practice, but everything I’ve painted so far has come out better than I actually thought it would. Still, my work is far from being professional quality. Anyway, I have an exercise for you. You’ve done this one a few times. Today I want you to sit down and write out your basic metanarrative. I don’t want you to building any settings or develop any characters, instead use what you already have and come up with an overarching storyline for a 1, 3, or 5 story series. Plan on these stories being between 10,000 and 35,000 words long and try to have a good flow. I want you to consider and decide on the following points:

1) What locations (i.e. cities, ruins, forests, temples, etc) is your story going to center around? What are the major powers (i.e. national or religious) forces involved and how to they currently relate to one another? How are their relations going to have changed by the end of the story?

2) What characters are involved? Who is your main protagonist? You supporting protagonists? Your main antagonist? Your supporting antagonists? How is each major character going to be different by the end of the story? Is anyone going to be dead? If so, who?

3) What is the introduction, the climax, and the epilogue of each story? What are the three pivotal events that the metastory itself focuses around? What are the major events that come in between them? Try to have a clear but general outline of your plot. Consider what has to happen in the story, and then consider what should happen in the story. Then you can start working out how to get from one to the next.

4) What are going to be your major trouble areas? What events or plot points do you just not know enough about, or are you simply bad at writing? Can you work around these trouble points? If not, is there something you can do to get better at handling them?

Story Challenge of the Week

Confident-MindsetIn Thomas Aquinas’ virtue ethic confidence is a part of the virtue of fortitude (as opposed to a sub-virtue like Magnanimity or Courage). Specifically, confidence is the measure of hope which drives us to attempt those great things that are in our power. If we think of fortitude as a motor boat then confidence is the engine that makes it run. I bring this up because it’s your topic today. I want you to write a story about confidence. 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 confidence. This could be a story about confidence towards a task, about over-confidence, or the problems that come from a lack of confidence. You could focus on the challenge of developing confidence, the power that confidence has, or the relationship between confidence and capability. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on confidence.

Plot Challenge of the Week

So, I’ve been teaching a class on leadership in missions, and this happens to be a class full of Pentecostals (literally… there is one student who is not Pentecostal in this class). The class actually shows the range of the Pentecostal church ranging from very literate, well-thought out, reasonable argument to off-the-wall crazy talk (I had one student explain to me that Protestantism and Pentecostalism are different religions, that all Evangelicals are Pentecostals, and that Baptists are a third different religion completely separate from Protestants and Pentecostals). I also find it interesting that the vast majority of the class is Pentecostal since, at the moment, the fastest growing and generally dominant Christian denomination in Latin America, Africa, and Asia is the Pentecostal denomination. That being said, the topic of miraculous gifts, and especially tongues, has come up multiple times throughout the class. The primary scriptures used to support Pentecostal teachings on tongues (and miraculous gifts in general) is 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. I was rereading 1 Corinthians 14 today in my devotions and the thing that struck me about this chapter is how heavily Paul emphasizes order. First, he speaks primarily of prophecy (which he defines as edification, exhortation, and consultation) and he compares it to tongues. Paul’s primary argument in the first half of the passage is that prophecy is superior to tongues because prophecy edifies the body by engaging the spirit and the mind of the church as a whole while tongues engages only the spirit of the individual. Further, in the second half of the chapter Paul then emphasizes that both prophecy and tongues are to be used in the church in an orderly manner. He sets forth specific rules as to how they are to be used, and commands those who cannot obey these rules to remain silent. I find it interesting just how much of the modern Pentecostal church ignores this section of the chapter almost entirely. 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:

temple-citadel-arena

Scene Challenge of the Week

Madame BovaryWell, I think I’m finally finished editing a paper and ready to resubmit it to a journal. Hopefully this time it’s accepted. I’ve found that the most frustrating (and often the most difficult) part of trying to get published academically is simply finding journals to submit to. I’ve started keeping a list of possibilities simply because the search often seems like The Neverending Story–which is a movie that I have hated for a very, very long time. 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.

Philosophy Challenge of the Week

One of the questions that is often brought up in discussions of legal natural law theories (i.e. the idea that law is an purposive power that should guide people to better themselves by rewarding those actions that are morally good and punishing those actions that are morally wicked) and legal positivist theories (i.e. the idea that law is a practical entity that can be good or bad in nature an it may reward or punish anything a culture chooses) is the question of whether a government can be trusted to train its citizens in morality. The argument can be seen in this way:

  1. A claim is made that the law should train citizens in morality by rewarding morally good actions and punishing morally bad actions.
  2. A counter-claim is made that a bad government could then make bad laws that would train people to be immoral, and thus it is better to pass laws in a morally neutral way that protect the liberties of all from gross violation.
  3. Proponent A (of Natural Law) makes the argument that a libertine idea of freedom (i.e. freedom means doing whatever you want) actually encourages immorality because people are likely to follow the easiest path to a goal (moral or immoral) unless taught to do otherwise.
  4. Proponent B argues that it is up to parents to train their children in the moral beliefs that they hold, not up to the government to determine moral beliefs for a nation.
  5. Proponent A then argues that this will result in a nation with many moral disagreements, which strikes at the basic fabric that holds any society together and makes the nation itself inherently unstable.
  6. Proponent B argues that a morally pluralistic nation can work if a no-harm principle (similar to John Mill’s–that one may act as one pleases unless this action directly harms another) is in place.
  7. Proponent A points out that an individual can be harmed by indirect action. For instance, if my children are taught in school to embrace moral beliefs that I am convinced are actually immoral (i.e. such as the idea that gay marriage should be either embraced or condemned–each view held to be immoral by certain parties) then I have been harmed. Thus, a society that seeks to be pluralistic in a libertine fashion is not actually pluralistic unless it openly embraces indirect harm to everyone in the society.
  8. Proponent B then introduces an expanded no-harm principle that considers indirect harm as well as direct harm (similar to John Rawl’s ‘original position’ in A Theory of Justice which proposes that justice can only be known from an entirely unbiased position that assumes [or pretends] that the individual making the laws is not yet a part of society and could end up being any part of society [i.e. a fundamentalist Christian, Ecological activist, Homosexual, Abortion Doctor, Rapist, Congressman, etc.]),
  9. Proponent A points out that such an unbiased position is likely no more than a figment of our collective imagination because it is impossible to entirely know or put aside one’s personal biases.
  10. Proponent B disagrees and argues that the scientific method involves doing exactly that.
  11. Proponent A points out that scientists never put aside all of their biases (for instance, they are biased towards the position that the scientific method is valid and their senses are generally trustworthy), and that some scientists rarely put aside any of their biases.
  12. Proponent B disagrees again, pointing to the great progress that scientific work has achieved and arguing that a belief in the scientific method is based on clear reasoning and thus not a bias.
  13. Proponent A points out that the belief that human reason is valid is, in and of itself, a bias.

I’m sure that you can work out how the rest of this goes. It generally gets less complicated rather than more complicated from this point forward and an agreement is rarely achieved. So, this is my challenge to you today: I want you to respond to this debate. You don’t need to take one side over the other, though you can if you want. In fact, your response can be an attempt to show that the entire debate is ridiculous. However, you should respond to the debate.

As always, your response should be in the form of a 1000 word work of flash fiction. Enjoy!