When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them, “I’m a writer.” This obviously sounds way cooler than it is, but it’s far easier than saying, “I’m a psychologically disabled veteran, who volunteers as a church youth leader, plays a lot of video games, and writes a blog – along with several volumes of unfinished fiction. Oh, and I’m fortunate enough to have qualified for enough programs in the VA to be able to support myself and my family without having to work a regular job – which I probably wouldn’t be able to do, even if I had to, because of the aforementioned psychological disability.
So, yeah. It’s much easier to just say, “I’m a writer.” For some reason, that statement gets a better reaction than, “I’m a disabled veteran”, and requires far less explanation.
But, I actually am a writer, at least in the strictest sense. I’m not published outside of the Internet, but I am (apparently) read in 138 countries across the world. And, I do have several unfinished fiction and non-fiction works sitting in my Documents folder. They will all get finished before the Second Coming… I hope.
I am a writer, and writers are supposed to have a process. Typically, you want to shroud that process in as much mystery as possible, so as to make it seem far more intense and professional than it actually is. I’m sure that successful authors – those who get paid for their work, or whose work is sought after rather than stumbled upon – have a really beautiful and ordered process. But, my process goes something like this.
I wake up and think, “I’m probably going to write today.”
I eat breakfast, do a little vaping, check my social media, brush my teeth, make a cup of coffee, kick my kids off the computer….
And then, I write. I typically have a few Internet tabs open, if I’m writing about a current issue. There are at least 3: one to tell me about the thing, one to give me an analysis of the thing, and the third to give me a refuting opinion about the thing. If I’m writing about more abstract topics, or topics that my knowledge base is already solid on, I’ll throw on some headphones and listen to something that’s either soothing or engaging – acoustic jams or hard rock jams, depending on what I’m writing about.
Other than that, I just write. I do kind of a stream of consciousness with appropriate punctuation, and then I go back and tweak some turns of phrase or word choices. I typically edit out about 90% of the profanity, leaving only the words that I absolutely feel are necessary for emphasis (this is a Christian blog after all, and I don’t wish to offend the Pollyanna crowd… much.)
I just spent 500 words explaining how I work, just to get to this point: I don’t spend a lot of time planning what I’m going to write about. When something happens that makes me absolutely need to write, I’ll either write about it right then, or I’ll wait a day to gather my thoughts. But, if I’ve reached a point in the week or the month where I think, “I need to write a blog soon, or I have to stop telling people that I’m a writer”, I’ll come up with an idea in the shower, or while attending to my morning ablutions.
So, while attending to my bowels and teeth this morning, I thought about what I might need to write on December 31st, 2015. I started this blog on the New Year in 2014, and so it feels symmetrical and appropriate to write on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day each year.
First, let me say that New Year’s Eve snuck up on me. This has pretty much been the MO of the entire month of December. I’ve written some stuff this month that I’m really proud of, and it feels like I should have been more aware of the month passing. But, it was just the opposite. The whole thing kind of passed me by, just a blur of personal remembrance days and a Federal holiday. So, when I woke up this morning and heard my wife talking on the phone about plans tonight, I thought, “Oh God, it’s New Year’s Eve.”
I don’t feel strongly about the day either way, other than the fact that fireworks are traditional (which means that my plans will involve noise-canceling headphones and a jittery dog.) But, for most people, the New Year involves the dreaded resolutions. New Year’s Resolutions are kind of a joke to most people, even to those who make them. Every year, I passingly say something like, “I plan to go to the gym for at least 2 days this year… in January.” Or, “I plan to drink more beer and exercise less this year.” But, lest you think I’m legitimately counter-cultural, I always silently add that maybe I do need to go to the gym more often, and I do need to drink less beer.
There is a sense that we need to be better people next year than we were the year before.
I thought about this for a little while, whilst I was brushing my molars, and I wondered, “Why is this? Why are we so set on being better people in the New Year, when we’re so okay with being crappy the rest of the year?”
Let’s face it: 2015 was a crap year. It was the year of an unending stream of police killings, mostly of young, black men (and more than a few young, black women.) It was the year of mass shootings, at colleges and clinics, at churches and movie theaters. It was the year of ISIS. It was the year of the Syrian refugee crisis. It was the year of terrorist attacks. It was the year of Kim Davis. It was the year of Trump.
2015 gave a writer like me plenty of material.
Why would we think we could be any different in 2016? Why would we even care?
Why are we so intent on being better people in the New Year than we were the year before?
After applying my brain to this problem for the length of time it took me to rinse my mouth out, I came up with an acceptable answer.
It’s Christmas. Christmas is what makes us want to be better people.
For those who are not Christians, it’s probably the presence of family, the spirit of giving, and the general warm fuzzies that everyone feels during the Christmas season. But, for Christians, this holiday is meant to have a significance that goes far beyond the warm fuzzies. Because, in our faith, something has happened that has changed the world forever.
Emmanuel has come.
God walks among us.
We have just marked the day that we celebrate the Christ being born. We have just finished singing Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and O, Little Town of Bethlehem. We understand, more than at any other time of the year, that the world has changed forever – and that we must change ourselves to match it.
We think of the Son of God, the King of Kings, being born into nothing – and we realize that we have been ungrateful for all of the things that we have. We think of the shepherds and magi coming to honor Him – and we realize that we have failed to honor Him in so many ways. We think of the innkeeper, denying shelter and warmth to the Mother and Child – and we think of all the ways that we have denied shelter, warmth, and comfort to those who need it the most.
We realize, more than at any other time of the year, that Jesus is most at home among the cold, destitute, and helpless. And, we realize that we are more often the innkeeper than the shepherds.
And, we want to be better people, as a result. We so desperately want to be the shepherds, the magi, the angels singing the Hallelujah chorus. So, we think of ways that we can better ourselves. We think of ways that we can be kinder, more giving, more temperate, more compassionate.
This is probably all subconscious in most people. Not everyone has the time to consciously think of these things and type them out in a structured format – most people haven’t earned their retirement by age 30. But, just maybe, this subconscious desire to be better (at least in those raised in the Christian subculture) stems from the way that the Christmas story seeps into our bones during the months of November and December.
But, then, our desires get confused. We start to think that the ways that we need to improve ourselves are external. Society tells us that we just need to lose a little weight, gain a little muscle, eat a little better, get a new car, get a new look, make some more money, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. And, we slowly give in to those persistent voices coming from the TV, the radio, and our close friends and family. We decide that these things will make us feel better about ourselves, that we’ll be better people if we do those things.
So, we forget about others. Our changes become purely about how they will make us feel. And, before we know it, we slip into the same patterns of behavior, the same patterns of thought, that made us so dissatisfied with ourselves in the Old Year, that we were so intent to change in the New Year.
Let me be clear: I’m not knocking good diet and exercise. I’m not saying that new cars, new clothes, or better pay is a bad thing. Some people really need those things. But, as I look at the past year, as I look at all the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that have happened, I think that what we need has far more to do with people’s hearts than with their bank accounts. As I look back on all the people that we, as a whole society, decided not to care about – the Eric Garners, the Tamir Rices, the refugees, the minimum wagers, the prisoners, the hungry, the homeless, the victims of guns, the victims of drones – when I look back on those people, I realize that we care far too much about how much time we spend at the gym, and not nearly enough about how much time we spend helping the oppressed, the dispossessed, and the powerless.
I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. For every word that I write to advocate for the oppressed, there are 3 words that I don’t say, for fear of offending the wrong person or getting into a conflict with someone that I love. For every dollar that I give to help those in financial need, there are 5 that I keep for selfish reasons. For every prayer that I say in intercession for those in danger, there are ten that I fail to say, because my privileged life is far too busy to take the time to pray.
So, to close out this long-winded piece of writing, I’m going to throw down some resolutions in public. I want to have accountability partners in 138 countries – people who are willing to call my integrity into question if I fail in these things.
1) I want to go to the mat with the powers and authorities. I want to stop being scared to speak out on issues that might offend friends and family members. I want to join the chorus of voices that scream, “Enough is enough” when faced with oppression and injustice.
2) I want to give more. I want to give $5 for every $1 I keep for anything beyond things that we need.
3) I want to leave my comfort zone, the safety of my computer screen and my mind. I want to walk out, physically, into the world, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people that I write about and for.
4) I want to care more. I want to refuse to shut my mind down when it gets too hard to care, when the emotional weight gets too much. I want to learn how to make my (spiritual) back stronger.
5) I want to pray more, and I want to stop mentally mocking the concept. I want to add prayer to my deeds, to daily remember in intercession those that I’m working and advocating for.
….and, it probably wouldn’t hurt for me to spend a few more hours in the gym this year.
What topics would you like to see me cover this year?
Where should my advocacy in writing be focused?
I wish each of you, of all nationalities and faiths, a very Happy New Year. May we all be better people in the New Year than we were the year before.