Friday, October 16, 2015

Back to School

I'm taking a course in Creative Fiction Writing.

That line took a lot of courage to write.

I like to write, but commenting on music, books, movies, family, politics, travel and the like is quite safe. Facts are easy and opinions about ephemeral or concrete things are - for the most part - innocuous enough. A little humor. A little "life observation". Some encouragement to try out a song, or a new food, or to see a place of interest - easy and safe. People can take it ot leave it. Not really a big deal.

Fiction should be safer - but it isn't.

My fiction isn't safe because it is so close to me. It is so close to my core. It feels quite personal and when others read it I feel very exposed. Some writers call their stories their "children". I think some of my stories may be my "demons". And because it's personal I want it to find someone who likes it and appreciates it because when they do I will know it is safe in their arms. Or being dealt with in their hearts. But rejection - that would be the worst.

Still, here it is. I'm in a group every week, and I need to engage to at least get my $160 worth out of it. So I'm writing a short story - although I turned it into a screenplay for a two and a half hour movie driving back from class on Wednesday. I do tend to get ahead of myself.

What have I learned so far?
I need to focus. I am learning to think the whole process through much more. To look at what is happening on the page from new perspectives. This is helpful.

I think I can demonstrate. This was my first opening line:

"Everyone thought it was strange - except for Piper."

I thought I had the hook there but no, not really.

This is the new opening line - and it may not survive, but I think I'm going in the right direction:

"The morning assaulted Piper."

Same story, but I think the second line is better at drawing the reader in. I am learning to write to help the reader enter the story more easily and more fully.

Not safe - to be so exposed.

Worth it - I pray.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Grandpa Stuff

We traveled today to see our grandkids and their parents (of course). Well, two out of three anyway. Damian and his little sister, Rowynne live in one city and their cousin, Colson lives with hsi parents in another.
When I was small we traveled to see family all of the time. Every four years was the trip to Ontario to see my mother's parents and her sister and her family. On an alternating four year schedule folks from Ontario would come to see us - so every 2 years we saw cousins, an aunt and uncle and grandparents.
my father's family was in Alberta, but much less organized. We saw them more, but it felt like it was almost by chance. At the very least, when things were convenient and schedules aligned we saw my dad's much bigger family.
It always intrigued me how we seemed to feel closer to the Ontario arm of the family as opposed to the Alberta clan. I think it had something to do with the intentionality of our visits. We could see the Munro clan almost anytime - but we didn't. It was hard to see the James clan, but we made the effort.
Susie and I made the effort today, and our son and daughter-in-law and their kids were really excited to see us. Well, OK, I have to admit that Rowynne still plays shy with me in person. She blows me kisses and fist bumps me online when we Skype, but she is much more demure in the flesh.
But we are being intentional. And that is the point, I think, To make sacrifices. To travel. To sleep in strange beds.To gather oneself up and go.
I am often challenged in keeping my relationships fresh and vibrant - my relationship with the Lord most of all. It shouldn't be hard. He is here always. I am a word away. A click of my phone to "off". A closing of my laptop. Turning off the TV and stereo and He is there all at once. And, so often, I ignore the availability and ease of keeping that relationship close, vibrant and rich.
I'll drive across the province or across the country to see my grandkids. Lord help me! So often I won't go to my knees to be with you.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Audio Nerdvana

So after a long hiatus I am back and live on the internets.
I will not close this blog ever again, because if what I comment on here is reason for people to try to do me real harm, then "bring it".

So I'm on vacation and I'm geeking out over some new audio gear. The two photos are of the system - pre-upgrade - and I'll post new pics as soon as the new speakers arrive. Some folks have guns. Some folks have planes, trains and automobiles. Some have boats. Some do art. I do audio/video/music/movies and tech.

Anyway, last night I was rediscovering some of my music through a pair of speakers I'm demoing and I discovered a hidden psychedelic gem of a tune by John Hiatt. It's called "Further Stars" and it's from his 2001 album "The Tiki Bar is Open" .

It's not what you'd expect from John if you know any of his hits like "Drive South", "Have a Little Faith in Me", or "Thing Called Love".

I recommend it highly. This live video doesn't do the studio version justice, but maybe you'll be intrigued.

While we're on the subject of unexpected sounds, Pentatonix, the 21st Century Acapella quintet Supreme, covered Gotye's "Somebody That I used to Know" and their rendition is amazing. Again, I highly recommend it.

This time the video is great. I think a hi-def download of this would be killer on a decent system.

And in closing, I seem to discover just how good something is when it comes up in a genius mix while we're travelling. I just can't seem to get enough of the pop/rock sound Neon Trees serves up on their album "Picture Show". Here is a guilty pleasure that I always crank right up. It's called "Mad Love". Audio only, but it's all you really need.
Enjoy peoples!

Monday, March 03, 2014

No Balance Wanted

I'm in paradise.  Mountains all around. The sky is clear.  The air is crisp.  I have no responsibilities before me except to be the best husband I can be to my wife.  For the next six days we will live idyllically in the Canadian Rockies.

We just left behind six months of increasing intensity, shot through with the occasional absurdity and/or insanity.  The last three months were fairly unrelenting. And we ended up exhausted. Spent. Emptied.

There is no balance in our lives.  We live in an increasingly impossible situation with an unreasonable neighbour who may or may not be a violent narcissist - frankly, we hope not to find out.  We work for two wildly different organizations/organisms that, objectively, are patently insane.  We will move our belongings for a third time in less than three years - and likely again within the same time frame.

And I am becoming OK with that.  I am releasing the unrealistic desire for "balance" and being taught to embrace the intensity that is our life.  I am pretty sure I don't want "balance" anymore.  If I achieved it, I wouldn't be in a beautiful getaway resort, with the woman who completes me, writing for fun, planning on reading for fun, and expecting a week of indulgent relaxation and recreation.  A totally "un-balanced" lifestyle if you were to do it for weeks, months, years even (some do, you know).

I read the Bible.  I know that the text omits much more about the lives of the people who were front and center on the work God was doing (and still is doing).  But, the gist of it is that life can be filled with high drama, life and death decisions, daring exploits and breathtaking rewards.  There is a time for everything under heaven, but stasis is not anything.  Balance entrenched is unbeing.  It is not LIFE.

So go look for your "balance" if you must.  I'll take the moments that come as God provides them.  Oh, you'll hear me complain.  I am given permission by the Psalmist to declare my discontent - not to mutter it under my breath, mind you.  But I am not given permission to disengage from struggle, life, adventure and wild exploits.  I know my exploits don't seem so wild, but try living totally honestly around other people and see if you don't end up in a few unsolvable conundrums of your own.  It may not be world war, but it can be as intense as anything. I all does make a time like this so much sweeter.

Balance - phah!

I want life! Life to the full!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Music

So I caved in and ordered HiFi on my Telus Optic TV subscription.  They gave it to us for free over Christmas and sure enough I was hooked like a weekend cocaine addict.  Marketers and Drug Dealers - soulless devils!

I basically subscribed so I can watch "Later...With Jools Holland".  Weekly he hosts an eclectic (truly worthy example of how that word should be used) line up of musical acts.

A couple of weeks ago the band whose CD art graces this blog were on.  So was Bryan Ferry - seminal leader of the '80's art rock mega-band Roxy Music.  I'm a big fan of Ferry and Roxy so imagine my dismayed delight when Two Door Cinema Club wiped the studio floor with them!

TDCC is a thoroughly up to date quartet who embody '80's pop sensibilities with 21st century skill and technical prowess.  Think Devo meets Metric and you might be getting warm.  The tunes are tight, precise, frenetic, crafted, ironic, jaw dropping in execution and fun!  It's a combination at once familiar and wholly unlike anything I've ever heard - and I've heard a lot!

So get your Google on and check them out.  Summer is awkwardly shambling towards us and we all need some tunes to bop the winter blues away.  TDCC could be your ticket to a summer double-feature fun-fest.


Where The Leader Won't Go

The second chair is a following chair.  I've read the book - "Leading From the Second Chair" - and it has helped.  But the truth remains that there can only be One Leader.

I'm totally cool with that.  Scripture teaches me that. I am giving myself every day to being more available and obedient than the day before to The One Who Leads Me.

That's the plan anyway.

And I'm being taught in so may ways.  All of them drenched in grace and wisdom from the Lord. He always teaches.  Sometimes his hand is heavy.  Sometimes it is light.

This one lesson has been repeated several times lately to me.  The followers will not go where the Leader won't go.  The followers will go to wrong places, but that's not the same.  When there is a destination that needs to be visited, the Leader must go....first.

It is sometimes frustrating to wait for the Leader to move.  It is sometimes painful when others see the destination and ask why the group is not going there.

I am convicted by my own unwillingness to enter those spaces that I must.  I wonder who is waiting for me to go past the barrier to the place we all want to be?

I watch and learn and wait.  I pray and read and work.

The lessons come.  They go deep.  I will be unable to forget them.

And should I one day be the Leader again, I will use them.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Morning Letters

Today the letter came.  Pastors get "Monday Morning Letters".  Invariably they are eruptions of frustration and festering discontent that range like downwind birdshot - indiscriminately peppering the relational landscape of the community.  They happen on Mondays because we have such outrageous and unhealthy expectations of Sundays - and the least little nudge can tip the balance and cause the emotional detritus to cascade forth.

People who write Monday Morning Letters always send them late Sunday night.  They let them loose after a day of stewing and festering, and because they can't sleep with the monster they have wrestled with - they exorcise it onto the page and release it.  I imagine they sleep well.  Their recipients won't for many days afterwards.

Monday Morning Letters are always beside the point.  Like pointing out Hitler was a vegetarian, or that Jesus was a carpenter's son.  What they aim at is hardly ever the real story.  But they do illuminate that something needs to be addressed.  What follows is often a singularly twisted hunt for relevance and truth.  And the conclusions that Monday Morning Letters precipitate are never as useful in the long run as they seem in the moment.

Monday Morning Letters are seen as a natural right of expression for the people who author them.  Never mind that, for Christians particularly, talking is always preferable.  Instructions, recipes, shopping lists, driving directions, general information almost always makes sense enough written down.  Emotional eruptions regarding unmet expectations and perceived inequities never make sense in prose.

For pastors these Monday Morning Letters are the "black marks" of ministry.  They get dealt with in the short term, but leave a lasting stain that hinders slightly.  Like that scratch on the fender of your car - too small to bother to buff it out, but eventually part of the reason why the car is no longer suitable to the owner's needs.

Monday Morning Letters carry phrases like "for a long time", "no idea", "what we are paying for", "doesn't understand", "can't know", "always been", "never been", "others agree", "should", "shouldn't", "huge", "big", "awful" - and it goes on.  The implications are always that something has been amiss for some time and the leadership has been collectively (often wilfully) unaware.  Something must be done.

Monday Morning Letters never offer solutions - yet they indicate that drastic measures are invariably needed.  Pressure is applied.  Something has to give.  Satisfaction is the ultimate goal! Never understanding. And reconciliation is as unlikely as it is unmentionable.

I have had a couple of small Monday Morning Letters in the 26 months I have been at this place.  Let me remember - one regarding preaching about stillness, solitude and contemplation of God and His word (I was too "New Age").  One about calling God "The Big Guy" - a term of endearment for me, not for some though.  A complaint about not protecting the "study hour" because we allowed an ad hoc choir to practice for Easter. And now today's Big Monday Morning Letter - two and a half pages, of which I was the subject of only the first two paragraphs. Twenty-five and a half months into my service here.

Monday Morning Letters start chains of events that their authors have no conception about.  They always start countdown clocks in ministry.  Countdown clocks to the end of the service of the person they are about. April 14, 2013 - and the clock is running on my service here.  How long it ticks until the alarm goes off will be determined by how many more Monday Morning Letters mark me.

No Shalam
No Shalom

Thursday, June 07, 2012

My Medicine for Melancholy

Ray Bradbury - August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012
I apologize Mr. Bradbury...

I'm sorry... Ray...

I just know you would have let me call you that. I borrowed your title "A Medicine for Melancholy" to title this post.  I believe you'd be OK with that. I just know that you'd be amazing, and encouraging, and joyful, and generous. Because everybody who met and knew you says you were. But I know it's true too, because that is how your stories are.






You were born the same year as my father, my adoptive father. Your stories walked alongside me like the shadow of a wonderful uncle, a bit mysterious, but trustworthy because family - real family - always is.

My name was written over and over and over again in the library cards of your few books that resided in the collection of Jasper Jr.-Sr. High School. It was just you and me it seemed. I tried to tell others, but no one else signed out your books. Maybe because I always had them. Sorry Ray.

I made up for my jealous hoarding years later when I would go to my kid's elementary school during parent reading week and read "Uncle Einar" to them. I still remember their faces - looking as I must have looked the first time I read "Golden Apples of the Sun" and "Dandelion Wine". Awe. Wonder. Glee.

Your inspiration resulted in my writing a script for a play that got produced in my high school and getting a poem published in the same school's yearbook in 1978 - the year I would have graduated. The dropout made it into the yearbook because he wrote something. I cherished that idea because it made me think of you and your unconventional educational path. Uncle Ray's shadow on my shoulder.

I dreamed of writing to you and asking your permission to adapt "A Medicine for Melancholy" into a one act, three-scene play. You had already done all the hard work. The story is 80% dialogue anyway, and your prose is all character development and subtle stage direction. It would - still could - be wonderful.

You made me want to write. I admit I don't have your diligence, your commitment, your fire. That's why you're published everywhere and I'm alone in the school yearbook and the cold corners of the internets. But I did end up writing - every week - for 8 years. And speaking those words. And you were - no you still are - right!  It's the best work in the world!

I can't meet you now. An entry gets crossed off my "bucket list". But I did meet you. In Green Town, Illinois. In the red dust of Mars. In the swirling autumn leaves of Anytown, Anywhere when the Dark Carnival came rolling in. I met you wearing a Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. I believed you when you said, "Have I Got a Chocolate Bar For You!". I knew if I asked you, you would send me spores so I could Grow Giant Mushrooms in My Basement. I stood by you in the African Velt. I saw your stories moving on the skin of The Illustrated Man. I was singed by the heat - Fahrenheit 451 to be specific - of your prose and poetry. I heard you call in The Distant Sound of Thunder. Together we lifted our voices to Sing the Body Electric.

Thank you Ray. I'll miss the idea of you being alive. I'll mourn the thought of your pen, typewriter, word processor being silenced. I'll grieve that you will never offer me a new window into your soul in eight to fifteen pages. I'll miss reading that new story and how it would create a reflection that shows me a new part of my soul. But I thank God you were a writer who wrote. I thank God you loved your art, your talent, your gift, your craft. I thank God people who loved you made sure you were published. Because of that, I won't miss you. I won't be able to. You'll always be a good cup of coffee and a turned page away. Your loving shadow on my shoulder always.

I believe in God, Ray. You know that now. I trust that He will let you keep writing. It was what He made you to do.