|“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”– C. S. Lewis|
|The Interrupted Life|
What is “real life”?
I’ve heard this phrase with increasing frequency, and I’ve used it myself on occasion. Sometimes we mean offline vs online, or routine vs unexpected. Sometimes it’s paid work vs unpaid work, like my “real” job vs a hobby or game. Sometimes we even use this to refer to our Monday to Friday life vs our weekend life or our spiritual life.
This is an artificial and harmful distinction. As C. S. Lewis points out in a letter to a friend, “real life” is happening all around us, all the time, whether we want it to or not. Whether we’re at work or at home, creating or consuming, scrolling social media or skydiving, our lives are happening, our story is being written, and we are making active decisions all the time about what that life means for us and others.
This has been a very hard month for me, for several reasons, and I’m struggling to get work done. There have been many interruptions, many painful distractions. This week I found myself longing to get back to “real life.”
Then I stopped and thought about what that meant. Actually, amidst the pain of tragic circumstances, of strained relationships and disappointment, this is life. I can rail against unwanted circumstances, I can try to use them as an excuse for hurtful behaviour or selfish choices, but I cannot deny that I am defining my real life right now. These events will shape me and my work, and my response to them will shape others. Do I look on them as inconvenient interruptions? Or do I acknowledge them as essential elements of the narrative of my life?
Jesus told a story once about a man hurt on the side of the road. Those who passed by probably weren’t malicious, probably never thought they were doing anything wrong, probably didn’t even remember the man on the side of the road. They were busy with “real life”—what they thought was real. But the one who stopped and showed mercy to the one in need realized his life was defined by the seemingly inconsequential choices around him.
There are no meaningless choices. Even what I eat for breakfast has an impact on the people who worked for that cereal company or that bakery. All is real. All is potentially sacred. There is no choice that doesn’t affect both you and someone else, whether positively or negatively. There is no choice divorced from “real life.”
Let’s treat life, every moment, as meaningful, as real, as part of the defining narrative of our lives, whether long or short.
Let’s live in the interruptions, instead of around them.
|“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” – Michelangelo|
|The Wonder of Work|
Last month, I wrote about the beauty of rest. This month, I want to celebrate hard work, because the necessity of one does not diminish the significance of the other.
Everyone we admire had to work hard for the things we respect about them. Maybe it’s a special ability, a character trait like integrity, or an excellence in what they do, whether it’s business, art, or people. (Being a great parent qualifies too!) Maybe they can run faster, jump higher, or skate harder than anyone else you know. And the truth is, many of these abilities are unique, a special talent that the average person might not have. Regardless of the erroneous belief that anyone can do “anything,” the simple fact is that I will never be a professional hockey player or a concert pianist.
Having said that, even worse is the idea that someone wakes up one day and realizes they’re Wayne Gretzky and they better go play some hockey!
Talent is not mastery, it is only the potential for mastery. Michelangelo was an extraordinarily gifted sculptor and painter, but if he’d never picked up a brush, never studied his craft, never poured hours upon hours into his work, he would never have achieved what he did. Discipline preceded mastery.
I believe that everyone of you has something to offer the world, something only you can offer. No one else. If you’ve ever read Jesus’ parable of the talents, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’re given something, use it. What is used is multiplied. What is buried, rots. I might never be a professional hockey player, but I can write and I have a passion for story. Therefore, it’s my responsibility to study my craft, hone it, and pour time and energy into being the best writer I can be.
For me, this requires saying “no” to a second job and all the financial securities that would bring. It means setting my clock every day for 3 hours, and not moving from my computer until I’ve put 3 hours of work into Scrivener. It means taking scary steps like sharing my manuscript or dealing with rejection and failure. Then going back and rewriting for the tenth time! I’m still a long ways away from where I want to be, but once when I got upset about my lack of mastery, a good friend very simply said: “How do you expect to get there if you don’t go? If you want that, you gotta work for it.”
Of course! But too often in this life of Google and drive-thru windows, we don’t allow for time between the desire and the fulfillment. We are like toddlers who haven’t learned delayed gratification. We don’t take time to study, we’re easily frustrated, we run from discomfort. This is to our detriment and the world’s at large.
In the end, we all have a choice in life. We can ignore what we’ve been given and do just enough to be comfortable and get by. Or we can commit to the hard work, the unseen hours, and the tough choices that transform talent into mastery.
|“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest.” – Mark Buchanan|
|Growing in Rest|
This summer I had the luxuriance of time to sit and watch the trees, to let them breathe, to be, to soak in the dappled light of summer until it washes deep down inside, into the resting place, the growing place. The special grace of time.
Life is not too short — but too fast. I’m convinced that the more we try to cram into our life, the less we truly enjoy it. There are season for muchness, but they must be balanced out by seasons of rest.
I have a peace lily that for a season grew ferociously. Then it slowed down. Then it stopped altogether. Then finally it began to yellow and die, one leaf a time. One day it got knocked over, and when I scrambled to retrieve the uprooted plant, I realized it was nothing but roots. It had filled up its pot to bursting. It had outgrown its habitat, and so robbed itself of soil, its bed — the resting place of a plant.
Do we do that to ourselves? Do we push our roots so hard that we fill up our life, robbing ourselves of good soil and room to breathe? No matter how busy our roots, if there’s no soil, any new growth we achieve will be stunted and yellow.
But in rest comes the things that make us “most fully alive” — tender love, deep reflection, peace, appreciation for what we have rather than grasping to have more, space to think and pray and be.
What would rest look like for you? As we leap into the fall season with its fresh routines of school and work and play, is there a new pattern of rest you can establish and protect? Maybe it’s saying “no” to something that will make you look productive (but produce no real growth). Or maybe it’s being more intentional with the down time you do have (putting away the smartphone and going for a walk instead, daring to look out at the world around you). Maybe it’s reading a book instead of watching TV (allowing your imagination to grow, and your senses to relax).
Whatever you do this fall, remember to give yourself room to grow.
|“Don’t write because you want to. Write because you must.”|
One day, a young man came to his local writer-in-residence. His arms were full of papers. His face was strained with anxiety. He stuttered at the door, barely able to speak.
The writer smiled and welcomed him. She had seen these sort before. “What can I do for you?” she asked.
The young man laid out his treasure on the desk and stepped back. “I’m wondering if I could get your opinion. These are some pieces of mine. Poetry. And some scenes from a book I’m writing. The thing is…well, I’m taking a degree in Creative Writing, you know, and the Professor seems to like it. She says I’ve got talent. I’m even getting a piece published in the school paper. The thing is, I’ve got this terrible feeling, every time I write, that it’s no good. No good at all. Besides that, my parents are worried I won’t make any money as a writer. I like to write. I really do. But what do you think? Is it good enough? Will people like it?”
The writer gently lifted up the stack of papers. She read the piece on the top. Then she read another piece. And another. After a few moments of agony, the young man leaned forward. “Well? What do you think?”
The writer nodded. “These are good. It’s a start. But that’s not the question you need to ask.”
“What do I need to ask?”
“A writer doesn’t write because they’re good at it, because someone said they had talent, or because they hope to get rich. They don’t even write because they want to.”
“Then why do they do it?” the young man asked, perplexed.
“Exactly,” the writer said. “Because they must.”
This is a little short I did for an Instagram writing prompt. The June 3 #authorschallenge2019 asked what my writing motto was. I had to think about it. A motto is something you live by, something that defines your actions and choices. I tried to think of clever and witty sayings I had heard, and while many of them were smart, and some had good advice, none of them defined my choices.
Writing is a funny thing. You sit alone in your room for more hours than you can count and hammer away at something made up. It comes out of you, but isn’t you, like a brain baby, pieced together from random insights and observations about the human condition. You can try to plot out an idea, but in the end, the thing that is birthed is far too complex to be completely in your control. It continues to grow without you, passed off into the hands of readers, both caring and uncaring. From time to time, it comes home for alterations, small as well as catastrophic. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, someone will pay you for this strange work. You don’t even try to compare the money to the hours, because you know it doesn’t scratch the surface of minimum wage. But you’re an artist. You’re prepared for this. Maybe one day the compensation will count as a job. And then back at it you go, to conceive of a new idea.
Why do we do this? This question could apply to any art form, and the longer I think about it, the more my reasons slip away. Simply, I must. This is how I was made. There is something in me that would shrivel if I didn’t write, a burning question, a need to look at the world, to discover it. The act of creation is like breathing. Without it, I suffocate.
Can you relate? Is there something you do because you must? I’d love to hear about it!
|“Walk lightly in the spring; Mother Earth is pregnant.” – Kiowa proverb|
|As I write this, I’m looking out my window on a drab and dirty landscape. The trees are bare, the cold mud cracks with ice, and the last dregs of snow are thick with gravel. And yet–stand for a moment and turn your face to the sun, and warmth will spill straight through you, right down to your toes. A promise. An expectation, like the first stirrings of secret life within a womb.|
Here in Winnipeg, winter comes hard and long, and the bitterness of February feels like it might just last forever. But the joy of the seasons is that it can’t. Soon enough, the green and growing things of the world will return.
I stumbled on this Kiowa proverb recently and fell in love with the imagery. It reminds me of gardening with my mom, of creeping through the early beds, and carefully, almost tenderly, clearing away the dead, decaying foliage. And there, peeking beneath the old, we’d find a tiny sign of life, a spike of green, a soft nub.
But not always. Sometimes, when the old was stripped away, there was only patient dirt. What then? Had the winter been too harsh? Had something trampled it? The unknown brought doubt and worry, and while I would like to say it was always unmerited, that wouldn’t be true. The tragedy of this world is that too often, vulnerable things get stamped out. I remember how my old dog, Hawker, would often tear through the garden in a fit of squirrel-madness. Promising shoots got snapped off, tender plants were crushed, little worlds of beauty were ended before their time. We’d have to salvage what we could, often in frustration.
And yet, despite these catastrophes, the garden lived on. Under my mom’s stewardship, it was always beautiful. It was always full and fertile. And sometimes, those bare spots of dirt would burst with life, or that trampled lily would re-emerge with promising new shoots.
Life takes time: young ideas, fresh starts, hopes and expectations. Walk lightly, tend the earth, water it, and watch it grow, and who knows what will flower in its season.
Greetings from the writer’s loft! It’s time for a serious post. It’s time to talk about one my favourite authors. It’s time to talk about Calvin and Hobbes.
Unfortunately, in a discussion of “great art,” humourists often get left out. But why? Humour is like sunshine for our souls, and one of the defining characteristics of humanity is our inexplicable sense of humour.
When I was a kid, I read Calvin and Hobbes with gusto. I loved Calvin’s mischievous spirit and wicked imagination. I was always the “good kid,” which is probably why Calvin fascinated me. He said things we all think, but never have the guts to say, and he got up to the best kinds of trouble. As I grew older, I found myself returning to these comics again and again, and I still thoroughly enjoy them.
I could go on at length about the wit and wisdom of Bill Watterson, but sometimes humour is best left to speak for itself. Instead, let us mourn the failure of the lucky underpants together with a moment of respectful silence.
Now, contrary to what I just said, I’m going to say something, because this is a blog.
I gave an appreciative chuckle when I saw this comic. Then, as is often the case with Watterson, I stopped to think about it. Do you ever have one of those days? I’ve recently had a few, and this sums it up perfectly.
Calvin’s day, for those unfamiliar with the comics, started with bright determination as he donned his best underpants and grinned triumphantly into the mirror. Then he proceeded to sit on gum, get bullied, fail his presentation, get left out during recess, suffer through an unappetizing lunch, feel stupid in class, get sprayed by the water fountain, miss the bus, and have to walk home in the rain.
The humour lies in the fact that we’ve all been there. We’ve all faced disappointments in life, both big and small. And we’ve all sat there staring out a window with a kind of helpless resignation, as if the world failed us despite all our best hopes and efforts. Hobbes’ response is necessary: it both sympathizes with us and mocks our efforts with delightful understatement. What else can we do?
We laugh because although those days seem overwhelming and sometimes, yes, traumatizing, we know it’s not the end of the story. We have a choice. We can let those days linger in our mind, saying we’re not good enough, or not successful enough, or just plain unlucky. Or we can–like Calvin–continue forward in stubborn joy. Another day means another opportunity, another chance. Tomorrow, we know Calvin will be back to his usual shenanigans, digging up treasure (worms), philosophizing during a freewheeling plunge through the forest, or dreaming up another brilliant episode of Spaceman Spiff. And I think we can learn from that. It’s not mindlessly ignoring our failures, but it’s knowing that failure and frustration don’t have to be the end of the story.
In short, we can turn the page.
Wow! I’ve been so blessed by the support of you, my family and friends. I’m really excited to pass this milestone. Yes, it’s a humble beginning. In the grand scheme of the publishing world, it’s not a Times Bestseller or an impressive-sounding literary award.
But it’s a start.
Meanwhile, as Shards of Law takes its first steps, I’ve been hard at work on Book Two of the Avanir Chronicles. The continuation of the story is going to be a wild ride! I’m currently about 40% of the way through the first draft of my rewrite. There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s nice to take a rest from the publishing business and return to the joy of writing: this unfettered period of creativity will always be my favourite step.
If you still haven’t gotten your copy, or if you think someone you know might like it, the paperback version of my book is available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers.
And if you’d like to read it without the commitment of buying, you can check out my Instagram/Facebook page (@ledereksen) and track down a copy in the Little Free Libraries of Wolseley. I’m also looking into getting a copy in the Winnipeg Public Library, so if that’s something you’d like to see, you can help me out by suggesting a library purchase here.
|“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”- Michelangelo|
|What is art?|
As a writer, this question hovers in the backdrop of my mind on a daily basis. What does it mean to create something beautiful? Something worthwhile? As a storyteller, is my goal merely to entertain? Or is there some other purpose to my struggle?
Ever since I was little, I was awed by Middle Earth. It wasn’t just the rich imagination of Tolkien, or the exciting story of triumph in the face of evil. For some reason, when I was in Middle Earth, I felt like I was reaching higher. Like I was seeing a broader vision of reality. Ideas like beauty and wisdom were personified, and they walked around wearing pointy grey hats and radiant elvish robes. Nobility dripped from the Halls of Edoras–nobility tinged with sadness for a people somehow less than they had been. Could they be their true selves again, redeemed in a last heroic stand against evil? And then there was the courage of ordinary people like Frodo and Sam, pushed by unexpected circumstances to do more than they could ever imagine–one step at a time, falling and getting up, and falling again.
Like other writers of fantasy, Tolkien sometimes faced accusations of “escapism.” Why was he bothering with imaginary worlds, made-up languages, and hobbits when he could be doing more practical things? Tolkien’s response was simple: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”  Trapped in one of humanity’s bloodiest centuries, Tolkien longed to reach beyond the horrors of “progress” to a place of true beauty.
This, I believe, is the meaning of art. All art, regardless of genre or medium, is an act of reaching beyond the mundane towards what Michelangelo called “the divine perfection.” Art is a mirror for our souls. It’s an eternal question: who are we, and why are we?
So that brings me back to myself and my own humble work. Why do I write? And how can I ever compare myself to great creators like Michelangelo and Tolkien? The simple fact is, I can’t. The point is not to copy any existing art–then it ceases to be art and becomes instead the shadow of a shadow. Instead, we each of us reach for the divine in our own way, sometimes clumsily, always imperfectly, but always in search of something higher and greater.
In the end, all we can hope for is a shadow.
 Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” (1939).
|… but Hope|
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering, ‘It will be happier.’
– Lord Alfred Tennyson
|So it’s 2019.|
What does the New Year mean for you? I find it strange, this arbitrary date around which so much turns. I’ve been reading a book by Winnipeg troubadour Steve Bell, the Christmas instalment of the Pilgrim Year series, and he remarks how it would seem more accurate to observe another year, as opposed to a new one. After all, what really changes? We make resolutions that fail by the end of the week. The news stories–both tragic and absurd–have not magically become more hopeful. Poverty is not erased. Work is not more fulfilling. Our bodies do not become slimmer or our aches vanish. So why new?
Because newness is essential to our lives. Because amidst the another-ness of life, we need to be reminded that things can change, even if it’s just us–becoming wiser, more patient, more open to the possibilities around us. “By definition,” writes Steve Bell, “newness is not dreary repetition. The mere suggestion of newness arouses anticipation born of hope for fresh possibility and even delighted surprise.”
Do you have the eyes to see freshness and delight? Perhaps newness is not so much an observable fact, but an attitude, a willingness to choose hope in the midst of evidence to the contrary.
Here’s a personal example. Last year this time, I was neck-deep in revisions to my first book, gazing at the parts of my brain-child scattered around me like the unassembled appendages of Frankenstein’s monster. I was tempted to despair. How many years had I been working on this story? How many times had I returned, over and over again, with the realization that something wasn’t working and needed to be changed… again?
And yet today, I’m celebrating the release of that book, together with some delightful surprises of praise from those who have already read it. The physical copy stands on my bookshelf, a trophy of perseverance. I look at it and wonder how it got there, and I’m reminded of not a single herculean effort, but rather a cumulation of small steps forward. The heavy sigh, as I returned to re-edit a scene. The courage of stepping out to contact a potential illustrator when three had already fallen through. Farideh’s patience as she agreed to do another revision. The discipline to file that tedious piece of paperwork. A gracious friend, willing to help with a technical issue. The small moments add up like pearls on a string, and slowly, the daunting to-do list dwindles.
I have many people to thank for that, not least the friends and family who encouraged me along the way and held me to my task. It was a hard year, but I know God gave me strength to start from a perspective of hope: not “if” but “when.” And as I remember where I came from, I can look forward with anticipation to the possibilities ahead.
WRITING UPDATE: E-Launch Friday, December 14th!
Christmas is coming, and so too is my book! I am excited to announce that my e-book is available for pre-order on Amazon, and will officially go on sale Friday, December 14.
But what about your print copy? Are you, like me, a lover of ink and paper? Don’t worry! I am eagerly awaiting my proof copy from the printers. (Any day now!) Then I will make my final approval, and the physical book will go up for sale in online stories. However, because of the busyness of the season, together with the Canada Post backlog, the printed book might not be available to wrap and stick under the tree. It will, however, be waiting for you in the new year.
Can’t wait? Head on over to Amazon right now and order your e-copy.