This Guy I Know (Name Withheld to Protect Identity)

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / Freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / Freedigitalphotos.net

For as long as I can remember I’ve been at his beck and call. One of my first memories is of him not wanting the toy he played with and making me get him another. He’s driven me the wrong direction down one-way streets—all in good fun, of course. Still, all these years I’ve grown to like him more and more. It’s odd, because to say he’s selfish and needy and overbearing would be an understatement. He never has enough money, he criticizes my work, and he believes his desires come before all others. It’s like some lopsided symbiotic relationship.

Yet I think more highly of him today than ever because I know he’s a good guy. Deep down, he is. At least that’s what I have to tell myself after pouring this much effort into him. To be honest, I love him more than anyone else in this world. But that’s exactly the problem. I’ve let him rule my free time. I’ve allowed myself to become his slave.

The only thing that’s ever worked, the only thing that’s ever quieted him enough to allow me some peace and quiet, the only thing that puts him in his rightful place….

Is when I stop trying to serve myself and start serving others.

Because I am my own worst enemy: a hard-hearted, self-absorbed, never-satisfied, jealous-of-my-time master. When I serve myself, I lack joy, complain often, and take criticism badly. I become impatient, inflexible, and emotionally inconsistent. I always want more. In my lust for comfort and security, I make an idol of myself.

The reason this relationship won’t work is that I will never be enough for me. I am incomplete. My desires will only grow, my compassion going only as far as my fingertips. In No Man Is an Island Thomas Merton says that “man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother.”

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Only when I see these two as inseparable orders, as one command, can I ever truly be happy. I can’t truly love God without loving my neighbor, I can’t truly love my neighbor without loving myself first, and I can’t truly love myself without loving the one in whose image I was created.

But when I get outside myself to serve others, my world expands. I stop living for me and start living for a creation loved by its Creator exponentially more than I could ever love myself. Merton believes “that the first responsibility of a man of faith is to make his faith really part of his own life, not by rationalizing it but by living it.”

Service gives me a reason to stop thinking about me.

And thank God for that; I’m exhausting.

Liberate Your Great American Story

Image courtesy nixxphotography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy nixxphotography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Goals. Deadlines. A to-do list that has nothing “to-do” with your current project. How many writers haven’t felt the stress these bring?

Some of this conflict is external (family responsibilities, professional expectations, a pack of starving wolves closing in on your writing cave), and aside from not leaving meat outside your writing cave you can’t always control it. But a lot of the stress probably comes from an internal desire to make good on your own drive and motivation. To feel that ever-elusive sense of accomplishment.

My immediate response in these situations is to rush. To pound out the words with a sledgehammer. To FREAK OUT!

Woosah.

Fortunately, when I take time to breathe, I find that the more my characters and their stories roll around in my head, the more my life and the world pushing in on it enhance the complexities of my plot.

Even so-called “simple” stories have complexity at their heart. Take F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, let me give you a quick story synopsis: A poor boy wants a rich girl, so he spends his life accumulating money and status just to find that it’ll never be good enough.

It’s simple. Archetypal. Yet the story takes on new meaning every time I read it because the author let his characters live in his head for years. His story “Winter Dreams” (1922) was a precursor to The Great Gatsby (1925). It also doesn’t hurt that Dexter Green and Jay Gatsby hold autobiographical significance. They come alive because Fitzgerald LIVED them.

If you’ve ever had a story in your head, you know that they never get smaller. They’re like some early-American immigrant family renting space in your attic. Before you know it, they have twelve kids and omnipresent extended family living with them (don’t worry, this isn’t getting racist). You can’t hear every word they say, but they stomp around, talk too loud, and never sleep. They drive you crazy, and sometimes you just want them out. But truth is, if you calm your nerves and listen carefully, you’ll find that the noise they make is from dancing, the loud words are cheers and stories of the old country, and the late nights are because they can’t bear to lose a moment. They can teach you a lot, and if you decide to let them stay, if you nurture them and allow them to take up permanent residence, there’s a good chance that family’s going to be a driving force behind a flowering story. Maybe even one that endures for hundreds of years.

So take a deep breath this Independence Day, and let your stories do the same. Give them time to put down roots so they can be truly free.

Writing, Self-Promotion, and the Gong Show

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My name is Tim Knopp, and I’m a struggling writer. (Now you say, “Hello, Tim.”)

Since I re-launched God’s call on my life to use words, I’ve come to realize three things: 1. Current writers, unless they have a team of paid promoters, have to do a lot of self-promoting to make it in the industry, B. I don’t have a team of paid promoters and self-promotion makes my teeth itch, and 4. I’m not very good with lists.

A very patient and down-to-earth agent recently told me that most first-time novelists need (among other things) an online following of at least 1,000 people. My first reaction was, “I don’t even know 1,000 people let alone those who want to ‘follow’ me.” But I understand why a social media presence is a prerequisite for agents and agencies to give writers a first chance.

However, one of the reasons I stopped blogging a year and a half ago—aside from the fact that newborns are surprisingly needy—was because I didn’t feel I had anything valuable to say and nothing to promote. Put down the phone; this is not a cry for help or a ploy for compliments. It’s an honest assessment of my state of mind at the time. I was afraid of adding more noise to the already raucous blogosphere. I didn’t want to be another voice shouting to be heard, posing like a celebrity, filling up friends’ walls with my inane thoughts.

(If you like Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec and have a minute, check out this very funny clip:)

To be honest, I was trying to avoid becoming what I don’t like.

Instead, I wanted to write and blog out of a fulfillment of what God had placed in me to say, and to do it out of love. I think of 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

To borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, the tool of social media can easily become “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” Really, if you haven’t already, watch the Nick Offerman clip above for an example.

My prayer is that I use my words to add value to people’s lives, that I speak from a heart close to Him who gives me breath, and that when I no longer do these things I’ll have the sense to hear my own “resounding gong” and pause the writing, the blogging, and the self-promotion (ugh, I reallllly hate that I have to think about it this way) until He gives me words again.

Manly Month

Image courtesy of Salvatore vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tomorrow is Flag Day AND Blood Donor Day, two holidays that just scream “Manly.” I don’t know how many men are like me, but I can’t remember dates to save my life. Because of this, the holidays I’d like to enjoy often skate by without me even knowing. To help my male readers (yes, both of you) and to entice ladies to share with the men in their lives, here’s a look at all the manly holidays in June. Thanks Edie for compiling a helpful list.

16 – Father’s Day (Nothing’s more manly than being a dad.)

18 – Couch Potato Day (No joke. I wouldn’t not make this up.)

20 – American Eagle Day (We’re talking bald eagles here, not overpriced clothing.)

21 – Take Your Dog to Work Day (Man’s best friend at the job site? Yes, please.)

24 – Fairy Day (How’d that get in there? Fairies are sneaky; I don’t trust ‘em.)

25 – National Catfish Day (It’s only manly if you catch it noodling.)

28 – Paul Bunyan Day (I may celebrate by buying an ax… or an ox. Can’t decide.)

30 – Log Cabin Day (Good thing I got that ax.)

So there it is. A few manly days to celebrate in a manly way. Celebrate one or all of them, except Fairy Day. Those evil sprites better watch their backs… somebody wants their manly baby teeth back.

Pull Your Weeds Ten Minutes at a Time

The girl's a pro

Hard at work

Each day after work, I stroll around our house with my wife and one-year-old daughter. We stack blocks in the driveway, tweet at birds, and wave at passing cars. Sometimes my daughter does these things, too.

But really we’re on a mission. Since three-quarters of the house’s perimeter is mulched flower beds or garden, unwanted weeds have a lot of room to show their ugly heads.

It’s my job to stop them (cue heroic symphonic music).

As I take ten minutes to pull unwanted weeds, my daughter mimics me, kneeling beside the mulch or the little garden. I teach her which plants belong and which need to be uprooted.

Although it’d be easy to let the weeds go for a while, I’ve learned that this daily routine saves me from hours on the weekends spraying poison, kneeling in the afternoon sun, and taking time away from my family. It allows me to focus on the important things, including the really big projects when they come up.

So how often do our lives fill up with weeds? How often do we let worry and bad habits and envious consumerism take root in our thought lives? Unfortunately the weeds that grow in our lives don’t pull out so easily. If we wait too long, if we let them take root, they can choke out the promise of the good things that should be in their place. Luckily a few small activities can save some big trouble:

Pray – Make it part of your daily routine. Before meals, as you go to bed, and on your way to work, a little quiet time with God can go a long way.

Read – The Bible is Round-Up for your soul. Let this be part of your daily walk and see if pesky weeds stand a chance.

Talk – Build in time to talk about your challenges with your spouse, your children, your spiritual community, and a few friends who will hold you accountable. There’s nothing like having someone ask you, “Have you pulled your weeds this week?” to keep you on track.

Ten minutes at a time these habits give me the focus, energy, and encouragement I need to tackle my weeds. The hope is that as my daughter watches me nurture my spirit, she learns how to tend her own as well. And that’s the kind of growth I think we’d all like to see.

So how do you pull your weeds?