Make The Best, This Carnival.

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I didn’t publish last week, I apologize. I was caught up in celebrating my girlfriend’s life and accomplishments with my family, and some of hers.

My schedule is back on track now. Enjoy, today. We get nothing else.

You know the feeling, the terrible yawning inside of your head, nestled in the back of your skull as you stare at something. A microwave, as your third frozen dinner this week rotates slowly around the turnstile. You know the feeling, staring at your low budget coffee maker drip slowly from the filter and fill up the pot as you stand before it, buttoning your shirt or reviewing emails. You know the feeling of staring, silently, at something. Feeling the expanse of space within your mind growing, distancing you from your own soul, somehow. It is only when the inevitable beep from the microwave timer rings through your dirty, unvacuumed one-bedroom apartment where your girlfriend is sleeping comfortably in your room, that you wake up from your daze. As if struck by a club the wind is knocked from you. Your Zatarain’s steaming in the center of the microwave, and still, as if pulled by a force you can’t comprehend, you still stare. Your mind still expanding and growing. Your eyes unblinking as each droplet of coffee hits the growing pool, you know that it won’t really help wake you up. You haven’t been awake in God knows how long, another cup of coffee, another blackberry Red Bull drink won’t pull you back.

You’ll button your shirt and pour your cup of coffee and in the blink of an eye you’ll be back home again, staring at your microwave, marveling at how tired you seem to be despite not having done anything taxing in days. You’ll write off your eleven-hour work days, you’ll yearn for a weekend at the beach, you’ll question the legitimacy of your coworkers asking you for coverage, so they can go visit their granddaughter. Each one of them are where you are. They go home, they stare at their microwaves, they gaze without passion into the depths of a pint of Squatter’s White IPA, sucking absentmindedly on a dab pen in a bar that is somehow listless and full of life all at once. It will all spiral around, and they will find themselves, just as you will find yourself, standing in your shower, wondering how you got to where you are.

It will come at least, once, if you’re lucky, you will only find yourself there a handful of times. You’ll only watching your paper plate stacked high with chicken nuggets rotate for a few moments amid a lifetime. If you’re really, lucky, you’ll never see yourself in that yawning expanse as you put your best foot forward and push on to the next task. The way your mind stretches in that time. Like the blade of fate is shaving so close to your soul that you can feel the cold shivers of the steel brush against your dreams.

I’ve heard it described by exactly two people, what death feels like. They both said roughly the same thing. A man who wrote a book and a man who wrote a forum post online who described death to the best of their ability. It is funny, that to each of them, death offered the same longing and stretched out yawning that I feel so often, staring at a blank page or a screen, my cursor hovering over the latest time waster I’ve adopted into my life.

They said that death is a bit like reaching the end of a carnival ride. You can feel the giant machine that had been pushing you forward slowing down. The hydraulic arms retracting slightly, aligning you with the take off ramp, but it won’t be your ramp to ascend again. You are getting off, and the slowly rolling coaster cart is pulling you home against your will. You want that ride to take off once more, to shoot through the glistening heights of the steel dragon you’ve spent the last forty years a part of. To feel the falling and the rising. To feel the hands of your best friend gripping your shirt in fear, because they are horrified that despite the ride being carefully groomed and cared for, there is still that sliver of despair that they won’t make it out of the ride alive.

That is the essence of life, no one makes it out of this ride alive.

It is funny to me that these descriptions of death were perfectly in line with the way I feel when I watch my food rotate in the microwave. The way I watch the last puffy piece of cereal dance around my spoon as I trace it across the surface of the milk in an effort to savor just one more bite, in an effort to avoid being wasteful. To, by the grace of God, make breakfast last just a few seconds longer.

If I can make breakfast last just a few seconds longer, perhaps the yawning in my mind will halt. Perhaps the way my mind stretches into infinity will be cut short, every few moments. The handful of moments I spend each day dancing with my last bite of cereal can stretch and stack together, into infinity. If I can spend just a few seconds each day outside of the confined task of eating breakfast, just to dance with my food for a moment, to let my mind be present on the act of chasing down the last anchor shaped marshmallow.

The ravenous desire to find anything in my mind that isn’t a cheap imitation of a better idea that I had come upon days before. The growling hunger inside my heart for defined purpose. The echo, as I call out, screaming with my head inside of a microwave, hoping that someone can hear me over the alarm.

It’s hard to get up some days. It’s hard to pull my shirt across my shoulders, shifting the weight of my world from one spine to another. We have all felt it, that sprawling moment of time just before our alarm sets off. Just before the bell rings. Just before the buzzer sounds. That moment, that we can stretch for just a moment. Five more minutes of sleep, ignoring my alarm, knowing how much it grates on those around me. Holding your students in class for a few more moments, to impart something worthwhile, to show them that this world is brutal and hungry, and we are the perfect mix of savory and sweet. To hold that ball as long as you can, to push the clock into overtime, to try, with all of your purpose for a few moments, to reach for another goal. Whether you’re winning or not doesn’t matter.

What matters, is that you can take those infinite moments, dancing with your cereal, dashing for the end zone, bracing the bars of the thing that locks you in place eternally and screaming at the top of your lungs…

“I am alive today. I am alive in this moment.”

This infinite moment.

It is all we have, some days. Those miniscule moments that flirt with infinity.

Once, a long time ago, a mentor told me that I define my purpose too broadly. That I put my all into everything and have nothing left for myself.

I think about that, while the timer on my microwave counts down. The fifth frozen meal this week spiraling in the center of the box while I wonder how long one could survive within a microwave. I think about the people who have difficulties eating. Those who force themselves to vomit after a meal, who are unsatisfied with who they are or what they look like. I think about the time a friend refused to work her shift because her eyeliner wasn’t even. I think about how frustrating it was to cover that shift, knowing that the staff knew why I covered. It wasn’t a secret. She wasn’t ashamed, to her, she was ugly.

What a horrible thing to be.

Ugly in your own eyes.

Lost, in your own eyes. I think about that as I watch my meal spiral still.

Once, a long time ago, a mentor told me that I paint my life with a broad brush, that I give everything for these projects and these people and save nothing for myself. I argued, as much as I could, but he quickly ended my protest when he told me that purpose isn’t defined by the broad-brush strokes. The large patches of color aren’t what make a painting beautiful. It is the small things. It is the tiny, fine details that seemed to have taken eternity to get just right. I didn’t understand until I saw a painting next.

Each broad color was accented with small strokes of laughter, of joy, of sorrow, of remembrance that these moments can stack together forever…

But will not be infinite.

We are given but one ride to enjoy, and in times where we meet the Yawning of Death, those moments where our mind needs to rest. Where we find ourselves at the cusp of a new day at the same job, doing the same things, seeing the same people, we have all of the power to look up and button our shirt a bit differently. To pick a new pair of jeans. To find some funny socks to wear beneath our slacks.

Those moments, right before the small things end, those are the best places to harvest life.

They last forever, and shouldn’t we be seeking something that will make our memory last forever when we are gone?

Will you be remembered much for staring at a screen, hoping for words to come, or staring at a loved one, hoping for the right thing to say? Will you be remembered for logging every moment in a digital journal, possessing yourself with your own caution, praying that you see a new day?

Or will you be remembered as the one who forced the new day to rise, to burn out every last second of that endless time, to wake the Yawning Death and remind Him…

You have so much further to go.

 

Don’t worry about the website today. Instead, tell a loved one what I’ve said here. Make sure that you use your infinite moments wisely. We don’t know how to control time, we must be a slave to it until one day, down the road, we become the masters of time and infinity will be always.

Life is not meant to be awful.

Don’t let it be.

Cut Up Towel

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Everything you do folds into everything else you do. Each moment of your life you are acting or reacting to other things, it is up to each of us to make the best out of what we have available to us.

The other day as my girlfriend and I were cleaning our house, we dragged a bunch of stuff out and cleaned up the bedroom, I worked on my office and we had decided to take a break, the following day in an effort to drum up some more inspiration to continue the cleaning project, she went to go clean my truck as how dirty it has gotten has begun to bother her. While she did this I went to work on some projects for Salt + Iron and she pulled this pink towel I’ve had for years out of a box. In it’s past life I’ve used it to wrap my consoles in when I brought them to other places. Since I’ve moved out and purchased a laptop, that isn’t necessary any more and It’s laid in the bottom of a backpack for a number of months. She asked if she could cut it up when she was cleaning and use the scraps as rags.

She went ahead and did it as I continued about my day and later that evening I went shopping with my mom, just to spend some time with her and talk about future plans for my life and my business and to get in some quality momma bear time. When we got back I invited her up to the apartment so that she could look over what we had been talking about and we talked about it briefly. Before she left, she noticed the towel still on the plastic table in our living room and turned to me. Her voice almost quivering as she asked me.

“Did you guys cut this up?”

I nodded and said yes, when she told me that it was a wedding present from her brother. 30+ years she had held on to that towel and the rest of the set he had gifted him, long after Montie had passed away and she had shared the stories of his life with her.

As she was explaining that it was a gift from my late uncle I felt a sudden burst of anger, a feeling that I should have known better. That I should have had my girlfriend rip up a different towel, or a T-shirt I don’t wear anymore. Anything but that towel.

I apologized immediately, furious with myself because I should have known better. There was a reason I dragged it around with me and didn’t ever get rid of it. I should have trusted my instincts. I didn’t, because I didn’t remember. I didn’t recall the importance of the towel, if any resided within the cotton still. I had no idea why I dragged it around, assuming at the time that it was just there because it was ratty and old and I didn’t feel a need to use it for drying myself off anymore.

Still, I apologized. Knowing how much small things mean to me, I could only imagine what it meant to my mother that these towels would remain intact. It was a physical representation of her brother and I had given my girlfriend the go ahead to slice them up.

After momma left the apartment I talked to my girl about it, she was really upset that we had ruined something that held so much intrinsic value to my mom. I was upset too, and somewhere in my heart there was this thing tugging at me, knowing the feeling of making a mistake as it clawed at the inside of my head.

I returned to my office to continue working and sat down at my desk, unable to focus on my work. It was a towel, of course, it was silly, but it wasn’t just the fact that it was a towel. Just like my grandfather’s pocket knife. It wasn’t just a knife. It was my grandpa’s. I try to take delicate care of those things in my life, because I know how much the memory means to me. I don’t often keep pictures. I keep fragments of memories that rest in shelves or in cases, between the pages of books that tell stories of my grandfather and my friends. The concerts I’ve been to reborn as bookmarks to keep the new stories I read wrapped tightly within memories. The shirts I wore to concerts worn down to slivered threads with each wash as I keep them and drag them to shreds, remembering what I did as I wore them. Hats and beanies my mother have made stick on a rack until I need them again to hold my unkempt hair together.

Memories surround me. The stone I keep in my pocket that I panic when I lose was given to me by my mom years ago. My tools a gift from my father. My words, each and every one, a composed structure that was given to me by my family. The small bead keychain I don’t keep on my keys because I’m afraid I will shatter it. The tickets from dates with my girlfriend and more all revolve around my life. Many of them hung and pinned to the calendar hanging above my main computer where I do my writing. All of them hung there as memories and keepsakes of moments in my life that I look back on often when I am lost and when I am afraid.

How could I have thought so carelessly about a towel? I wondered.

So I penned an apology to my mom. Promising that we wouldn’t cut it up and we would use it with great care in the future. When she responded, I didn’t expect the answer, though I know my mother well enough now to know that I should have.

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It made me think about my life and how I just use things. I use people’s kindness to my benefit when I need assistance. I use their trust when I want to gossip. I use the items I’ve been so graciously given by those in my life like they are just similar pieces to an ever-expanding puzzle. I allow things to come and go freely between my heart and mind without consideration of where it came from.

I thought about the weight of the towel as I held it in my hands the next day and realized that I don’t carry the weight of what we all do quite enough. Each word we say and each thought we entertain creates who we are. As time goes on, we become worn and battered, meant to be a gift to those around us. Not one to be squandered and tossed away. We aren’t impractical. If the life we share is a wedding. We are not picture frames, not ceramic vases. We are not these things that are meant to hang on walls and be looked at. We are so much more practical. We are towels to clean wounds, to rinse the rainwater off our friends. We are rags to soak up oil and we are much more simple gifts to one another. In their eternal search for purpose and meaning. We are a simple gift, sent from one home to the next to provide a service to them that they cannot get elsewhere.

Will a bookshelf soak the tar of life from the carpet of your home? Will a cell phone clean the wine stain from your dress?

Will an unused word grow the hope of another bride or groom, wandering the soil alone and searching for purpose?

No, it won’t. It never will.

Not until we look at one another as the truly simplistic and still incredibly complicated gifts that we all are. The gifts we all have to give are wildly unique and special. We cannot see it any other way if we want to live meaningfully, with purpose and most importantly, with immeasurable hope.

The next time you brandish scissors in your hand, consider your own use. Are you a gift, practical and useful in your application? Can you survive the next 31 years doing your duty, or will you wither on the shelf as you fill your soul with temporary decorations that can easily be destroyed by a rampant fire of pain or a few days without the water of life?

If your answer is the latter, consider my uncle’s towels for a moment.

Find your purpose.

Pick the scissors up if you need to, but whatever you do. Whether you slice apart the towel or not, consider what it came from. The life that it gifted and the worlds it changed so effortlessly with groundbreaking thoughts and compassionate speech.

Cut the towel, or don’t.

Whatever your life will have you choose,

Live it with a smile.

If you enjoyed this, consider checking out my website where you can see when I will be uploading next! (Every Wednesday + Friday.)

www.linmtba.com

The Mountain Of…

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I’ll tell you something. I hate repeated information. When someone tells me the same story forty-eight times it drives me crazy. My desire to hear you go on about the “super cute thing” your dog did last January for the third time this week isn’t actually at the top of my list of things to listen to.

I would much rather do any of the following.

Write

Stand in the rain.

Burn my house down.

Burn your house down.

Burn your doghouse down. (I wouldn’t let the dog be hurt, don’t worry.)

I would staple my own calf before willingly listening to the sound of your baby crying and then “ooh wait look what she does next” for what can only be a record breaking time. Somewhere in the millions that I’ve heard that child hiccup in the middle of a crying fit and begin laughing and to be honest with you it sounds about as warming and cheerful as a glass of kombucha I left in the sun yesterday would feel sliding down my throat.

Still, as much as I hate this thing. This incessant need to tell the same story to our loved ones sixteen million times, I also realize I do this same thing. It permeates everything, too. My blog, my day to day life, I write poetry on the same topics I’ve used the same concepts in personal writing, professional writing and recreational writing because I just like them so much.

If I were a greater man I wouldn’t go on about how they are “different” scenarios and so the pet peeve doesn’t matter for me, but it does. It really, really does.

It’s like, have you ever gone on a hike? I mean a real hike, not necessarily a nature trail. Although, you may see nature trails like I see hikes. Regardless, at the base of the hike you just see the beginning of the trail. One that springs to memory (not that I’m an avid hiker, or anything.) is this trail out in a canyon near my home. It’s not long, by the standards of a man who doesn’t drink six cans of soda and who won’t shamelessly down a pint of cheese dip covering anything he can get his delicate yet greasy fingers on. It’s only a mile or so, there are lots of switchbacks and the bottom of the path is ultimately deceiving. I ascended this path one day with my friends, assuming it would be a short hike and it would be over quickly. I didn’t consider that the path would climb into the canyon and suddenly become a sharp incline that I didn’t prepare for. I was in slip on Vans and skinny jeans when we set off. My pasty white ass burns in four and a half seconds flat and I didn’t have sunscreen, water, or appropriate willpower to tackle the path as it grew from meandering to downright threatening for a chubster like myself.

But I climbed it.

By the end I had to rest beneath a tree for something like an hour, hoping that my heart wouldn’t burst from how excited it was that I finally did something physical besides moving my fingers across a keyboard or flicking my mouse.

I thought the journey would be simple, that I could tackle it like I tackled everything before me. With nothing in my pockets and a heart full of confidence and an ego that just won’t quit.

Then it got hard and I wanted to turn back, so bad.

It became the same pattern over and over of climbing and resting and climbing and rubbing my calves. Wiping sweat from my brow and making sure I didn’t slip and fall down the cliff, because as I was about ¾ of the way through I decided something.

I was not going to let that mountain beat me. I was not going to give up, no matter what I did.

In that moment I would have rather:

Written.

Stood in the rain.

Burned my house down.

Burned the forest down.

Knocked down a beehive and let them take me prisoner to their terrible stings while I cried and asked random passersby if they had kombucha to spare.

When I reached the peak of that mountain though, It was freeing.

I still have the photo my friends and I had taken together. Arms folded across one another, and though you couldn’t see our faces we were all smiling.

I wanted to quit smoking that day.

I didn’t.

I threw away that pack I had though, didn’t change the fact that I bought a new one later that week.

As soon as I had made it home, I’m sure.

After I had overcome the path and shown it I was serious about reaching the top, I realized that it wasn’t that far of a climb, to be honest. It seemed so long because we stopped so much and because we had to backtrack and climb the switchbacks on the way up.

Each morning I look at that path again, whether I want to or not.

I’ve found that I pay special attention to it when I don’t think about it. I understand that the sentiment doesn’t make sense, but hear me out. More often than not, when we are ill prepared for something it takes that much more of a toll on us. It’s why it hurts so much more when children die as opposed to adults. We come to expect death with each year we age. Eventually, those of us lucky enough reach a moment where death will take us at any time. We are just waiting for him to catch his bus that’ll take him to our home. Children don’t have that. We expect kids to live long and full lives. We put our hopes and dreams into them and when they are taken by disease or ill fate, it hurts that much worse. We weren’t ready for that. It isn’t fair.

It’s the same with everything we can anticipate. I set money aside every time I get paid in case something happens. My car breaks, my appliances break. My clothing is stolen, whatever you want to assume, I try to be ready for it with extra fluff in my bank account.

I know that I don’t do this with relationships. Or, anymore, much of anything. I think it comes from not thinking about what I have in my life.

I’m pretty good at a few things. Writing, Vulgarity, exaggerating stories, making mountains out of mole hills and I consider myself to be excellent at doing nothing at all. I mean that. Nothing.

I can be content to lay in bed for six more hours than I should have been in bed just sleeping and rolling over, until my back hurts and my bones hurt because I have been horizontal for so long.

That practice bleeds over into so many things anymore, and that’s what I’m here for today.

The mountains I’ve made of nothing.

A few days ago, something around two weeks I had a pretty bad day regarding my time. I feel as if I don’t have time to complete everything. I want to write and game and spend time with my girlfriend. I want to see my parents and I want to go to work. I want to relax, and I want to spend time building my future. I want to learn, and I want to sleep and I need to eat and clean myself yet, it’s damn hard to do all of those things at once. Have you ever eaten a tuna melt in the shower? Beer is one thing but getting water on your bread is akin to blasphemy.

Consider your morning routine. How many of us spend it on our cell phone? Not that I’m disparaging the use of our black box brains but think about it. I spend roughly a half an hour on my phone before I roll out of bed. Sleepily liking things, I don’t want to like. Opening up comments on tweets and typing “qwefyhsssssssss” to a random internet personality for them to look at and question later, if they ever see it.

When I finally wake up I decide to do one of two things. Work, or Play. Each day I set aside time for both, and each day I make it a point to focus more on one than the other. When I play, I spend time with friends and family, gaming, what have you. When I work, I work. I sit down at my computer and go as hard as I can for as long as my eyes will allow, taking breaks to get dinner or to go do something useful.

I separate things in my mind to make them easier to process, but the fact is, not everything can be so cleanly separated from everything else. I need things to be linked together. Hang out with friends, play video games. Spend time with my girlfriend, clean the house. Whatever the case may be. I need to couple activities to get all of this stuff done at once.

Do you remember how mountains are formed?

It happens in a couple different ways, both of them equally important.

When two tectonic plates collide, the force smashes them together until one of them slides beneath the other and a mountain is the result, on the other hand, volcanoes that are formed end up warping rock layers above them and those mountains bend and become “small” mounds on the surface of the Earth.

Smashing activities together, trying to blend everything into one big mess is a lot llike folding mountains. We try and multi-task and end up cheapening the experience of both activities in most cases. Of course, Video Games were designed with multiplayer in mind, so that isn’t a great example but on the other hand, what kind of date consists of cleaning an apartment?

To most people I’d venture to guess that it doesn’t. Usually dates don’t involve cleaning grime off the kitchen tile. I don’t necessarily see it that way, but that’s another conversation for another blog. Regardless of the facets that we utilize to make the most of our time, generally we should consider cutting some things out. It’s healthy to say no. If you don’t want to go. Don’t go. If you don’t want to stay, don’t stay. I have a problem with saying no, one that I seem to have adopted overnight. I don’t like disappointing my friends and family and especially my girlfriend and yet it seems as though I do all of those things regularly. I am the master at breaking apart my time into easily manageable chunks and wasting all of it.

Of course, there is the other type of mountain, when the problems you deal with bubble up below the surface and despite how hard you try to hold it in, eventually, it will crack and when that pressure escapes there isn’t much anyone else can do but get away.

I’m guilty of both, frequently.

I regularly make simple tasks out to be these huge deals and act like I don’t have time for them when in reality, I have all the time in the world.

Which brings me back to repeating things.

I see myself often saying the same things to the same questions on the same days.

“Want to hang out?”

“Nah, gotta work.”

“Want to finish this novel?”

“I think I’ll go watch YouTube.”

“What are you watching?”

“I don’t’ know, want to get dinner?”

“What are you doing after?”

“Probably gaming.”

“Wanna raid?”

“Nah, Gotta work.”

“Want to finish this novel?”

You see the cycle?

Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap that we each so easily create for ourselves.

I give myself a few hours in a day to perform certain tasks and if they go unfinished I panic, as if I don’t have time for them later. I consider that this world spins around me, after all, so it should bend to my will.

Shouldn’t it?

No. It shouldn’t.

I am fantastic at making problems bigger than they need to be by repeating the same taglines I use to describe them. I use the same excuses to worm my way out of things. I use the same tactics to stall until the last moment to commit to anything. Hell, even when I pray I ask for the same things. Guidance, grace, hope, love, patience and so on. I’m not saying that any of those things are bad, but the fact that I find myself begging for them every single night should be a sign.

Instead of begging for an end to anxiety I should be asking and looking for ways to deal with it.

Rather than asking for hope, I should find the things that will make me hopeful.

Instead of asking to be loving, I should practice being loving, which, I’ll tell you, has been difficult for me for a while now.

If you saw the things I’ve said or the way I’ve said them, you would be surprised.

I am not me, tonight and I am not sure when I went away.

I think, I went to go climb a mountain.

If you see me out there, tell me to slow down. I have a mole hill to climb and get myself re-organized.

Don’t spin those small hills into giants that you don’t want to overcome.

You can beat them.

You will beat them.

Let yourself be tricked by the first few feet of your path. Let yourself believe it is easy, and when it gets hard, remember to take breaks.

Hang out with your girlfriend.

Game with your friends.

Read a book.

Call your mother.

Whatever you do, don’t ever let yourself forget that this mountain you are facing is colored with everything that you could imagine. This mountain is a million worlds wrapped into one, decorated with the souls of everyone you love and everyone you can’t seem to understand. It’s even home to those who can’t stand you. It doesn’t have to be a monolith, because I promise you, it is not the only thing in life. It is a mountain. Just like every mountain elsewhere. Painted to look like everything you fear and everything you hope. Some are tall, some are fat. Some are steep but all of them, every mountain…

Is the mountain of regret, hope, joy, luck, pain, sorrow, anxiety…

Life.

Don’t give up.

Thank you for May.

Dungeon Crawler

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I spend an exhausting amount of time each week writing, between the two to four hours I spend working on my novel in progress or novella or whatever big project I have, plus the writing I do for the blog, I also have been running a D&D Campaign that meets once a week. Despite what a lot of people on the internet seem to assume about D&D it is a time-consuming beast. Each session requires a lot of work to balance and create the session. Making sure that my players can survive the encounters, making sure I have resources backed up in the event they make a move I hadn’t anticipated and so on. Because I am a story-teller, I put a lot of effort into building the world around us and creating something that my players can vividly see within their own minds. Each character that I plan for the session is finely tuned, their personality carved out as well as I can carve it and each of them have their own separate goals and passions. Much of that comes from my desire to write a good story. Something that sticks with its viewer for much longer than I will. I build lore for my own work while creating D&D Campaigns as well, which tallies the full creation time up to quite a few hours each week.

Of course, I accept this as a fact and despite my numerous attempts at shaving off unnecessary work while planning I find myself still sucked in for hours and hours while I build this world for my players to dig through and discover. I think that’s most of the joy for D&D for me. I am creating a place for my friends to live out power fantasies about things we could never truly be. I am giving them the reigns to be powerful and destructive in a safe environment. I’m giving my players the ability to be anything they could imagine. Their ability in the world is only limited by the progression of their own ingenuity.

I think that same reason is why I have such an affinity for writing. I am allowed to do that same thing and make those same fantastical grandiose worlds for people to enjoy, albeit slightly different.

Still, with D&D and other forms of gaming it allows something more prominent to emerge through all the hours I may need to put in to get where I want to. It gives me an outlet to spend time with loved ones doing something that we all enjoy. The thrill of taking down a big boss or solving a puzzle that was kicking our teeth in for days is something that I will never grow tired of. But it is so much better when I can do it with my best friends.

What I’m saying is that for those of you who are workaholics like I am and spend as much time as you can working on something, consider taking an hour or so to do something with your friends every week. The longer you work the older you get, and the older you get the closer you are to kicking the bucket. So, make sure you’ve got a lot of good stories for that bucket before you go.

Thanks for reading my lil baby blog post today. If you’d like to see when the next stuff is up make sure you poke around my website, I’ve got a calendar there for you to see what’s new.

www.linmtba.com

In Search of Something, Desperation

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I find that more often than not, media that stems from my faith is dictated by a series of hidden puppet masters who inspect the content and make sure it is “Jesus approved” by a host of likewise sinful people who chose to cheapen a message by hiding it behind a mesh screen and chose to swing Jesus’ name around in the sky like a rickety bat instead of telling us why Jesus’ name actually matters.

Disillusionment is never the answer.

I will forever be honest about my faith, and I will forever be honest about how shitty I can be, how shitty the world around us can be.

This is about three things:

  • How Christian media presents themes you should respect and look up to, but does it in the worst way possible.
  • How Underoath’s return has broken my heart.
  • How I struggle with the fact that I am a Christian, writing fairly “un-Christian” books, and yet still find my purpose in writing them.

I told you today would be about a struggle within the context of my faith, and here it is. Why I strive to be the best version of the collected gifts I have been given. How I want, above all else, to be a Christian who will always level with you and understand you. Regardless of your faith. Regardless of your life. I want to be someone you can come to.

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Back when I first released “The Darling Bones” I had a friend from church who read it and afterwards, make some rather questionable comments to my parents about my faith. Among them, they claimed that my novel was not a “Christian” novel because in the book a character directly refutes God’s existence. They also suggested I seek guidance through prayer and scripture to get back on track amid my walk of faith.

Of course, when this news returned to me I thought it was ludicrous. For several reasons, chiefly among them, “The Darling Bones” is not a Christian novel. I don’t write “Christian” novels. If I wrote a Christian novel in the manner that many religious minds expect, it would be the worst one of my career without a doubt. Perhaps a useful tool for prompting other Christians to seek out clarity in their faith, but undoubtedly not something I would feel is worthy of advertising, let alone accepting as my own.

That’s a lofty claim to make considering I am whole-heartedly a Christian and I truly believe the only reason I am able to do what I do is because I was given the talent for it.

However, despite how talented I may or may not be at telling a story, no talent, God given or earned through dedication, will remain a talent without constant and difficult work. You cannot be a champion weight lifter without lifting champion level weights every day. You cannot be an Olympic swimmer without swimming with the charge of an Olympian. Why is it that Christian Media is any different?

I grew to understand this idea years ago when I met face to face with Underoath. Labeled by some as “bad boys” of the Christian music scene. Their lyrics were, by all accounts to a thirteen-year-old, dark and edgy. They screamed with passion and their music was heavier than much else out there. No offense to the likes of Toby Mac, but I just couldn’t get behind worship music for a long time. I followed Underoath as a band for years, using their radio station on Pandora to seek out other bands in the same vein where I found Demon Hunter, As I Lay Dying and more, all of whom stood out to me as a young man searching for his place in the world as strong Christian influences that proved I could be exactly who I was and still be a man of faith. I could have both worlds and I could live in them at the same time.

Then Tim Lambesis tried to assassinate his wife.

To be honest, that really threw a wrench in my whole ideology.

If you are unaware, Tim was the lead singer of As I Lay Dying, a band who for a while proclaimed their Christian faith and stood out among the masses as one of the heavier bands who stuck to their guns amid the metal scene, despite being a Christian group. To make a long story short, if you want to read more information on the story I’ll leave a link, but their lead singer got jacked on steroids and decided he wanted to kill his wife, so he hired a hitman who was actually an undercover cop. He went to prison and that was that. AILD was broken up and I was more than a bit disappointed.

As his trial approached, I came to follow the story closely and in one interview he made a comment that upset me much more than the fact that his band had broken up and he turned out to be a despicable human being. In this interview he had made a comment about how many of the current (At the time, 2016. Who knows what has changed since then.) Christian bands were honest about their faith. In various interviews, which gave all kinds of sporadic information in no sensible order and actually let to more confusion in the long run about his situation, he claimed that 1/10 Christian bands that AILD toured with were actually Christian.

For you to understand my frustrations you should understand that I was somewhat shielded from things. Not in a “My parents wouldn’t let me do anything.” kind of way, but more like a “I thought every story had a happy ending, even when it didn’t.” Kind of way. I think in my youth there was this idea in my head that it was impossible for bands and even to a small degree, individuals to lie about their faith. I just assumed that a Christian would be honest about their walk and that was all that needed to be said. Of course, this is bullshit because we inherently are deceitful creatures. Christian or not. We quickly learn to lie about things to hide our shame or to process our own pride. Regardless of our stance on God.

After the news broke about Tim Lambesis I went through a patch where I would obsessively research the backstory and interviews of the Christian bands I listened to, to try to uncover the deep seeded secrets they were hiding. As if my research and silent pleading would change their minds if they had stepped away from their faith. I clung to this idea of Christian bands that were good and not cheesy for so long that I never wanted it to end. I wanted bands like As I Lay Dying and Haste The Day to exist forever. I felt the same way about Underoath, who had broken up in 2013, then crowd funded the completion of a DVD and returned in 2015. Later to release their first album in eight years, Erase Me.

My thoughts on the album itself are separate from the content of this blog. To be truthful, I love the direction the band has gone in. Their music sounds refreshing and new to Underoath, but I perhaps think I’m such a fan of it because I have been a fan of Bring Me The Horizon for years, with their latest release That’s The Spirit being one of my all time favorite albums. If you aren’t aware, BMTH has never been religious, in fact they’ve been openly opposed to religion on many accounts. Which brings me to a comparison that I find ironic, if not disheartening.

BMTH has been making music for quite a while and you can hear Underoath’s influence on their sound with each album, with the release of TTS I fell in love with what they had done, and I considered it their best work yet. The same can be said for Erase Me regarding Underoath, musically it is great, and lyrically it is dark and difficult to listen to, but that relates to my passion for what Underoath was to me.

I had built them up to be some kind of monolith in my mind, that if those guys were a Christian band and were as grungy and real about life as they were, I could do the same thing in my writing. I had such a strong appreciation for Underoath for many reasons but chiefly among them it was because Christian music just seemed so… empty.

It isn’t that the music was without substance. Many of my favorite religious bands sand about things I would experience in my life or things that I would feel, worship music was worship music and it all served its purpose, but after I found Underoath and other bands in the same vein I realized that their music was not only rooted in the faith I shared with them, but it was just damn good.

Comparing Christian music and movies to secular music and movies you see a stark difference in content. Many of the “huge” Christian movies were rooted in deeper religious philosophy that was beaten over your head with a board at best, or at worst, simply created to outright disrespect non-Christians. (Looking at you, God’s Not Dead.)

I’ve always sat through youth group move nights with a bad taste in my mouth. It isn’t that Fireproof is a bad movie it’s just…

Actually yes, it is. It is exactly that Fireproof is a bad movie. The Left Behind series tried to be horrifying and apocalyptic, whatever else you want to plug in here tries its best to be a tear jerking story of salvation, but it is deployed so ungracefully that it ends up being stagnant and difficult to process. Especially when you sit through the whole movie feeling like you’re getting hammered with the Jesus Stick. Compare that to any secular movie with meaning and you will find yourself comparing the two and seeing what I mean. Put Fireproof, a movie about the struggles of a relationship and using pornography as an addiction, compared to a movie that you can compare, Don Jon, about pornography and the struggles of a relationship, you can see that one of them had a much higher quality of production, one of them allowed people to connect with the message, and one of them didn’t constantly use God as a cattle prod.

I use this as an example because this is the same sort of thing we see in Christian music. Obviously, regarding the two movies, a Christian production company is not going to allow anyone to portray pornography on the screen. That’s against a core value of the faith. Still, there wasn’t a better way to show the character’s struggle with the addiction? Fireproof, though I haven’t seen it in a long, long time was even one of the bolder movies at the time. I was shocked to see them tackle pornography in a movie that went to the big screen.

This heavy-handed mystery that Christian media tries to inject into their creations comes across as half hearted and difficult. Obviously, porn is not going to show up in a religious film and that is fine. There are other ways to show that struggle without displaying any film of it. I have critiques to both, but I’ll save that for another time. This Fireproof problem occurs just the same in music as it does in film, and it leads me to the final point of today: Why I am actually heartbroken that Underoath has stepped away from their Christian title, why “Christian” art gets a bad rap for what it is and what that means to me, as a Christian.

A few days ago, I listened to a quasi-interview with Aaron + Tim from Underoath as they talked about their new album and their past actions as a religious band. One thing came up that I’ve always been curious about. On an early UO album, there is a line in a song called A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black And White,

“Well, look who’s dying now
Slit wrists sleeping with the girl next door
I always knew you were such a sucker for that
It doesn’t matter what you say
You never mattered anyway
I never mattered anyway”

In the third line, “I always knew you were such a sucker for that…” the band members talked about how the original lyric was supposed to end with the word “whore” and the producer/label told them to cut it because it was a bit too edgy for a Christian band to be singing. For context, the whole song is likely about a younger couple, possibly teenagers, who are raised religiously and begin having sex and then the boy in question becomes addicted to sex with the girl. Not at all uncommon in the world of heavy Christian music. Back in 2007 they’d tackle a lot of topics that my generation was beginning to deal with. Relationships, Virginity, Drugs, whatever. While it seems cheesy to someone who is outside of these circles, this was real shit back in my day. I had friends who related ferociously to this song. They believed it described their actual life and their feelings towards the ex-girlfriend they went toe curling with two nights a week.

As I listened to the interview and looked into a few other lyrics I’d always had hunches about (I found nothing relating a label-oriented change in lyrics there.) Regardless, it echoes the problem I have with Christian Media.

It’s like they are afraid to be real with themselves and with their fans.

They create these images of real struggle but make them holographic and immaterial for the sake of saving face at their local worship meetings. I’m not here to lambast every single Christian artist in the world, there are so many who do such good with what they have and I’m not ever saying that this kind of artistry doesn’t have a place, but there is a huge difference between selling yourself as a Christian and selling your art as Christian. I think it is much better to be the former.

Life is real. It is disgusting. It is difficult. To my fellow Christian readers, there is some gruesome shit in the Bible. Last I checked, we didn’t get to gloss over the crucifixion, so we didn’t have to bear the image of what happened to Jesus. We don’t get to have the lashes of the whip and the spear through his side implied to us. It is all told. Explicitly, on the page. We don’t get to hide from the reality of the world just because we have faith to shield us. Moreover, we don’t get to push out half assed work for the sake of saving face. (To those of you who will process this like I’m sure many will, assuming I’m encouraging my fellow Christian readers to begin creating graphic torture porn, no. Stop it.) I’m not saying you must fill the lyrics of your songs with the explicit scenes of a child murder. I’m not saying your movie must have a rape scene. I’m not saying you must fold and abide by the rules of the ever-growing power play that AAA media is becoming. We don’t have to do things louder and bloodier to get our point across.

We must do them better.

If you were given a gift, a talent to create, then create. By all means. Create the best thing you can. Inspired by God, inspired by your imagination, we will attribute it to the same thing regardless. The only reason I am who I am is because I believe in God and I believe in the gifts He gave me. So, I’m calling you to do the same thing. Don’t falter your work because you think it isn’t Christian enough. If a character in your novel walks away from his faith, then let him walk away. Make it hard. Make it heartbreaking. Make it impossible for you to read to yourself aloud. Because that’s what life is like. If I were to walk away from my faith today, it would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done or ever will do. I wouldn’t just emerge from the other side of it okay.

Which is why Underoath’s resurgence as a non-religious band hurts me so much. Not because I’m some integral part of the band, not because I believe they are doomed now. Not because I want to see all my favorite bands in Heaven. It hurts because that band kept me focused on Christ in the darkest moments. I held on to the messages of their music for so long, knowing that every season of drought would end. I would listen to them when I was afraid. I would listen to them when I was unhappy. I would listen to them every chance I had when I felt distant from my faith or lost. Having that taken away from me is painful. It meant a lot to me that I could always seek Underoath for that. That there was a band out there who unflinchingly told things like they were. Yet, in the end, they turned away from their faith and walked away from the Christian label. I don’t fault them, to be honest. I would have walked away from labeling myself a “Christian” author too if I were in their shoes.

So, I won’t start labeling myself as such. I have no desire to cheapen the message of my work to make it clearer that I am a man of faith. My work is not “Christian” because it isn’t meant for a Christian audience. My work was penned by a man who believes in a Savior. That will not cheapen what I have to say, because I won’t be writing it behind a screen and pretending that I am immune from the struggle. If it finds you I will rejoice, but it is meant for anyone who is hoping for help. Anyone who is hoping for love. For those who are lost and need just a glimmer of hope. Those things aren’t exclusive to Christians, so I won’t be writing just for those in my same cloth. I decided long ago to write for those who need it. Those who are in touch with the darkness in the world and don’t have a light of their own. Who don’t know what to do, what to say, or where to go. I won’t pull punches in the telling of my story. I won’t pretend that I don’t struggle. I have been honest with you through this blog and through my writing every single time I’ve released something. At my core, I am born again and because of that I understand that I’m not shit in this world. I am a speck of dust that writes books, thinking he is important on a floating pebble, adrift in a sea of infinity and yet, I have a purpose. There is no reason for me to be loved, yet I am. By so many. There is no reason for me to exist, but I do. Because I was meant to. There is no reason for anything to care about me, but I am cared for by the creator of the very sea I float in.

For that, I will write.

I will write well and true.

That is that. My faith does define me. My faith is the only reason I exist today.

It is the only reason I am who I am, today.

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I’ll release my thoughts on the album itself soon. Until then, live well. Stay true to yourself. Ask questions. Answer some.

Live.

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www.linmtba.com

Separation Therapy

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Welcome Back

(Wanna see a schedule of the weekly releases? Cool, I thought you might.)

I find it most comforting that after a long day, I can come home and visit my girlfriend, relax and do whatever I please. I am blessed with the comfort of knowing I am taken care of. I am comforted knowing that I have a home. A place to sleep. A place to think.

I took some time after my birthday to just be, for a while. A lot has changed since the day I decided to put forth something worth consuming. I have spent so much time only soaking in things and I wanted so badly to put those things back into the world in a new way. I just didn’t know how.

Hell, I still don’t know how, but I’m building.

I’ve noticed a problem in my work pattern and my personal life that needs to be addressed publicly before I can really work on it privately.

I’m terrible at owning up to things. I am possibly one of the most passive aggressive people I know, I am cluttered, and I am messy, and these things make up a pretty spectacular light show failure as each connected bulb pops one by one.

I have a hard time committing to a schedule, even though I schedule things adamantly. I have a purpose, and in an effort not to let this block of text bore you into slumber, I’ll get to the point.

I have a purpose, but somehow, I don’t know what I want to do. I have so many things in my back pocket that I slowly chunk off one by one with each passing day. I work adamantly at everything that I do and I come tell all of you about it on the blog. But what is it truly worth? I’ve seen a decline in the way I’ve been behaving. Short tempered and obsessive. Things I am not, not truly.

I came to be a part of this world and not to simply absorb what others can offer me. This led to my break. After a rather impressive period of high stress and panic, my own insatiable despair mounting in a way I had not anticipated I found myself somewhat lost at the crux of this moment that I had spent so much energy preparing for. My birthday is often a big deal to me, something that I choose to celebrate all month long with my friends and family, as well as any fans I’ve picked up along the way.

I have lists and lists of birthday related projects that I want to work on with each new year, I have novels to write and poems to create and I know all of this consciously, but I realized that I wasn’t in quite as much control as I’m used to this spring. I was set to finish my latest work in progress in March, and I put it off every day for one reason or another. Spend time with friends, family, girlfriend, random dogs I find in the street, whatever.

As a creative I often find myself caught up in things. Things that vary in importance. I can spend hours looking up fantasy names for a D&D campaign and do absolutely no work. I can spend the night playing video games instead of sleeping. I can spend a day in a coffee shop reading instead of studying. I can do all of these things and I have this profound ability to waste time, but it is wonderful.

The fact that I have this choice at all, is wonderful.

I have been blessed with a monumental gift that I have often squandered. In most blog posts, I’ll tell you that I mean writing. Not today. That isn’t the purpose of this blog post. This is a reignited fire. A part of me that sleeps so frequently and finds itself awake in the midst of a torrent. A part of me that is alight with energy because I felt the presence of this wonderful gift that each of us shares.

We exist.

We exist and there is a clock on our heads. There is a moment where everything will run out and we will be gone forever, but between every ticking second, we have all of the time in the world. We have all the ability we could ever hope for to stop the clock and look around us. To make time stand still and really see what it is we get up and fight every day for.

I needed a moment to do that, so I’m sorry you didn’t get anything from me all through the last month. Then again, without that break I wouldn’t be here now, would I?

I don’t know. That’s the beauty of life.

I don’t know anything, and it is my job merely to learn and experience. Everything afterward is a choice of my own making and there are few things more beautiful than that.

Take a break today, rest the stress off. Play video games. Watch a movie with your kids. Just…

Live.

 

Untitled for 25 Years

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I’ve taken a short break after my birthday, sorry for the absence. I wanted to spend some time with my family and friends and girlfriend and think about what to do next, where to go and what mountain I’d like to climb soon. April will likely be scarce for blog posts because of this small break but I hope you’ll forgive me. I want to make the words I deliver to you better. I am trying to do that they best way that I know how.

My fundraiser for Polar Bears International is live on Facebook until the 14th, so if you have a few dollars and would like to help save the polar bears, please consider donating to them.

I can’t think of a better way to open the blog post this week.

There is a lot of pain in this world. There are so many things that we fight against daily. The physical and the mental tribulations that we go through can be a lot of weight. A friend of mine was hospitalized due to the failing of her kidneys a few days ago, she is better as of writing this. At the same time, I’ve just purchased a laptop to replace my current rig, which has dutifully served me for the course of the last seven years. I’ve grown attached to my friends and I’ve watched friends pass away. I’ve seen children brought into this world and I’ve had to buy new bikes because mine were broken beyond repair. I’ve been brought great joys from card games and friends have had their multi-thousand dollar collections stolen from their vehicles. I have been given jobs and had them taken from me. I have loved the abused and I have unknowingly abused the loved. Our life is a cycle and we repeat things whether we want to or not. Each movement in your soul, big or small, can cause lasting ripples that will change you forever. There is no greater joy than pure love and there is no more melancholy silence than the fear of death.

I found myself in a strange place after taking a short break from my business after my birthday. I wanted to maintain momentum but I had nothing to write about, I was floating on the sea with both paddles in my hand and too many docks to choose to land in.

So instead I decided to write without purpose and publish the results, good or bad, for you to see. I’m so excited for all of the projects I’ve undertaken, and I hope to expand on them in the future, but as my birthday came and passed this year I’ve reflected upon my life and the things I’ve chosen to do. Twenty-five is shaping up to be wonderful and I am by no means an old man yet, despite what some may say. I am excited for the future, even when I am lost.

Today I googled “How can I help?” As I was without something to write about in this blog post. I came across so many self-help books and meditation guides, religious institutions claiming a new way to save a soul and more I laughed to myself reading it all through. Not from sadness or despair, not even close. I was comforted that there were so many resources available to those in the world who haven’t found their purpose or who don’t know what they want to do. It was wonderful seeing so many different plans and places to guide a life when one feels like they have no guide. It can be difficult to choose a future and to pursue it. Trust me, I’ve chosen thirty just for myself.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I hope you’re well. Whether you are 25, 18, 48 or 71 I hope you are well.

I hope you are well and that you continue to be well for the rest of the time you have here.

I am blessed to lead this life with you in it. Thank you one last time for giving me another birthday worth celebrating.

This life is a gift, take the present. Unwrap it and use it. It is, after all, the only thing we have any certainty in.

Lifeisnotmeanttobeawful+

www.linmtba.com 4.18.18