Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

Archive for January 2007

Freeway Hypnosis

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They say that one of the more common causes of traffic accidents on the freeway is hypnosis – the hum of the wheels across the pavement lull your mind to sleep, and you just don’t see that curve ahead of you.  Or the tree. 
I like to drive with the radio off every now and then, and when I do, I usually get at least one good idea for a story out of freeway hypnosis.  I got one yesterday, as a matter of fact.  And as I was writing it out today, I started thinking about just how bad first drafts really are.  So I had an idea…
I don’t plan on publishing this story just yet – it’s one of those I’m writing in order to get some closure over something that happened a few years ago.  But I thought about posting at least a portion of it here to ye olde blog, and doing a series of posts following the development of a story from first draft to final. 

Now, this assumes that the story I’m writing is any good.  I like to think I’m an impartial judge, but then again, this is still my stuff and there’s an inherent attachment to consider.  It’s like asking parents to decide which kid they love more.  So once I pass the initial drafts around and get some feed back, I’ll revisit this and let you know. 

Written by taj

January 29, 2007 at 10:59 pm

Posted in stories, Writing

Sleep, Writing, and Filet Mignon

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One of my professors during freshman year at college gave all his students an article to read that said the number one spiritual need on a college campus was – wait for it – sleep.

And I thought, excellent! But, sadly, it was not to be. See, when you attend bible college (and then do something really daring by actually taking it seriously), you’re in for a few late nights trying to hammer out scholarly research papers. The frequency of such nights tends to double, I’ve learned, when one of your profs earned his doctorate under one of the foremost rabbinic scholars in the world, and also happens to be your father-in-law.

Sleep becomes a very elusive prey under those circumstances.

It’s also quite elusive when you’re a writer. Writers will vary on the atmosphere they prefer. I mainly prefer a quiet room, lots of light, windows shut with the daylight fighting to get in, and total silence. But writing at night comes in at a close second. It’s the stillness common to nighttime that holds the appeal. At no other time in a single rotation of the earth is the air quieter.

Sleep is essential if you ever plan on writing well. The writer of that article I mentioned knew what he was talking about. Sleep keeps our bodies balanced; its chemicals and hormones doing their thing, which is already enough to drive us crazy. Why make matters worse, right?

But I don’t like to sleep, you see. That’s my problem. I like how it feels; I like the peace that comes with laying your head on a soft pillow, and drifting off to an empty, timeless place where the imagination can run unfettered. It’s good for me, just like flossing and brushing my teeth and eating my vegetables. We like vegetables because we know they do us so much good, except some veggies taste like cardboard. So I guess sleep is a vegetable that tastes like filet mignon. At least to me it is.

So, adieu. I go now to enjoy a warm and tender meal, whose spice is that of the cool underside of a pillow, and whose garnish is the stuff of dreams.

Written by taj

January 25, 2007 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Writing

This Fierce Little Fracas

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I’ve been watching a lot of Lost lately, and listening a lot to Sixpence None the Richer too. Mainly because lost is how I feel, and Sixpence has the dual benefit of providing me with a sound that I love that doesn’t sound like anyone else, and putting my inner thoughts to music.

My head has felt on fire for about a week now, maybe more, about things like purpose, conformity and non-conformity, and the institutionalization of church. About the wanton meanness people commit. About the wanton meanness we commit against each other in the church. And how that, if we can’t get our crap together within our hallowed chambers Sunday morning, we’ll never reach that pinnacle of relevance so many of us talk about, and so few actually achieve.

Central in my thoughts is my own role in this fierce little fracas. I’m trying to do my part, you know, and I’m relearning that in order walk, we have to begin on our knees. Literally and figuratively. For example…

The movie small group idea that first wrote about last July just might be coming to fruition here in the next week or so. The challenge is generating interest among 500 people, most of whom have kids in school, and about a third of which are involved in some kind of continuing education. It doesn’t leave a lot of time to meet and talk about the movies.

Then there’s the resistance. I haven’t heard any personally, but a friend who tried to start a similar group a few years ago told me about his experience. For some reason, many Christians have this dualistic approach to the movies—inwardly we think they’re really a bad influence, but we’ll still take a trip to Blockbuster every weekend, you know, just to have a look around.

And then we get upset when people call us hypocritical.

I even tried to assert my influence in the political realm yesterday, sending off an e-mail to one of my state reps. I think I said what I wanted to say, but the words were so guarded. It certainly didn’t ring with the courage of Churchill. But it was an effort at least. See, I have these things I believe, but my articulation needs a little work, at least I think it does. And that stonewalls my hopes at asserting any kind of influence in the larger world of things and ideas.

So I’m left here, searching and organizing; listening to the melancholy howl of an electric guitar, watching stories that say a surprising lot about the need for redemption and grace. There’s something in there that I can’t put words too just yet. But, as you can see, I’m working on it.

Written by taj

January 24, 2007 at 5:22 pm

Not that we didn’t already know this…

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It’s official. Google said so. And you know that if you find it on Google, it has to be true…

WASHINGTON –Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, hounded for months with questions about her presidential ambitions, gave a two-word answer today to voters: “I’m in.” [read more]

Thanks for clearing that up for us, Hillary.

Written by taj

January 20, 2007 at 6:30 pm

Posted in Politics, Prayer

Sequels That Shouldn’t, and the Difference between Good and Great

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Indiana Jones IV – I know, I know. We all love him. We happily reminisce about how he shot the guy with the sword. We can hum John Williams’s score in our sleep. But come on. How can a 60-year-old action hero possibly come off as compelling? I remember a bygone era when Spielberg and Lucas actually created. Now it’s all remakes and adaptations and forced allegories on the Iraq war.

Star Trek…what number are we on? – J. J. Abrams, one of the creators of my favorite show Lost, is going to resurrect Kirk. We just might find the captain sitting at the helm of the Enterprise, punching in an assorted group of numbers that somehow add up to 108. The creative well dried up on this franchise a long time ago—it’s dead, Jim! Please, just let it go.

Ocean’s 13 – That number has a rep to maintain, you know.

Hannibal RisingThe Silence of the Lambs endures as one of the more provocative and intriguing thrillers ever made. The franchise, however, has devolved to something less about story, and more about how much we can disturb and gross out the audience.

Are there any original stories left?

No. Not for a long time now. What sets great stories apart is not their so-called “originality,” but the colors used to paint the tale. We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet. James Cameron, however, set it on a boat with a well established—even mythic—history, and scored a 600 million dollar gross.

Star Wars follows the Joseph Campbell hero model step for step. But no one had ever seen a lightsaber then, or a ship that actually looked to be flying through the stars.

And Indiana Jones? He’s James Bond, set before the Cold War and prefers a whip over a Walther.

Stories are not hard to come by. Telling them well, however, takes a certain amount of work. There’s a reason it took Tolkien nearly twenty years to write The Lord of the Rings. The Shawshank Redemption works not because of its story, but because of its characters, and the clever sleight of hand dealt by the filmmakers in the movie’s climactic acts.

So, please pardon the small degree of cynicism held toward the films listed at the start of this post. I’m sure they’ll hold a certain degree of entertainment. For now, though, that’s all they are—good stories.

I long for great stories.

Written by taj

January 19, 2007 at 12:41 am

Posted in Movies, Pop Culture, stories

A Little Change

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Just a quick note to acknowledge a new template and a new header.

The blandness of the old template had finally started to get to me, so I started experimenting.  It isn’t much – at least it steers away from the flat tones of the previous version, and hopefully looks a little more pleasing to the eye.  At least it does to me .

Be back with more later.

Written by taj

January 18, 2007 at 9:19 pm

Posted in General

A Word on Editing

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Writing well means learning where to trim the fat.  One book I read calls this “turkey-carcass” writing, meaning that after the editor gets done with this delicious looking material you’ve just cooked up, all that’s left to print is…well, you get the idea. 

On that note…

I was told to get my latest writing assignment for work in under 500 words.  I turned in an early draft that fell somwhere around 450 and waited for the editor to get back to me with his notes. 

Meanwhile, I went on developing the story, and eventually finished a draft at 499 words. 

I got the notes and set out to make the changes and include those facets the editor requested, and soon found the piece measuring a little over 550 words.  Now, I couldn’t really drop any of the actual content, so I had to find a way to trim my word count without actually affecting the story. 

The draft I turned in today came in right at 500 – more material than the previous draft, and only one more word than before. 

I don’t think I ever understood the concept of what it means to find the “right word” until I made those cuts. 

Anyway, no real rhyme or reason to this; just felt like sharing.  Good night. 

Written by taj

January 11, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Posted in General, Writing