CALEB JOSEPH WARNER

Three stories you won’t believe—or read!! 

The next story I am going to write is about an african penguin coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I would tell you the details of this story further, but in order to surprise you, let’s just leave you with that titillating premise. The working title for it is, “Out of the Zoo I Have Called my Daughter”. I am really excited about it. It’s inspired by the dream I had last night and the entire story just came to me. Plus, it works well with a bundle of short stories I am currently working on tentatively called, “Three Stories to Concern Us”. Yet with the advent of this story, I think I am going to kick out the one I have already written and wasn’t sure about to once more spend its time in the trash disposal. I am privileged to do this.

I am taking a break from working on my novel. I am certainly going to finish it. I have said before that there is only one short story I have never finished, called “The Peacock’s Blanket”. It’s about this mother and daughter who go into a yarn shop while they are driving from Delver, Illinois (a fictional place) to New York (another fictional place). I was initially really excited about the story! The way I have in the past generated stories is by counterpointing two premises. The two story ideas counterpointed there, unfortunately, were not enough to generate a good story.

My only way of fixing it was, I guess, to make it much more complicated than it ought to have been. I started imagining their slow progression into the yarn shop and then into the apartment of the owner as the three stages of the soul, blah blah blah. You can guess why it failed—because it sucked. I just wanted to write an honest-to-God love story, but it ended up being this subtle piece of realist schlock. And I kid you not, in order to have the ending at least be interesting, I asked myself, “This might be better if the shop owner is an alien in disguise, or like a wizard who’s going to curse them and keep them there forever. I mean he’s a lonely old creepy dude who invites this mother and daughter into his apartment, surely there’s some wacko thing up beyond just his loneliness.”

Once you get to the point of asking whether the antagonist in your realist story should be an alien in disguise, you need to stop. Just stop. Go somewhere else, be someone else for someone else. No one asked you to perform your song of C-chords over and over again. In fact, we’ll pay you to stop.

But none of this misery of course applies to my newest story about the penguin, I can assure you. This one is sheer brilliance! Plus what I like about it is that it has given me a concept to work with in the micro collection. The first story I am currently putting through the editing wringer is about these two brothers and the nephew who make idols for a living in this valley. The uncle is tired of living in the valley, though, so without further adieu I might as well tell you that they try to escape. Does it work? Ah no. Does that mean something significant? You bet your bottom dollar it means something that is double-dog-baby-Bad-News-Bears.

The next story is about the penguin that comes to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I won’t explain further, lest I spoil the excitement like I just did with the last one, but it does end with her on an airplane flying somewhere. Oh! Where? Tell me, tell me PLEASE!

And then the next story—which is totally a different thing entirely than the penguin—begins with a dude on an airplane flying to a far eastern country, in hopes that he will begin his vigilante career there. This story is based off a friend, actually, and I am not entirely sure what is going to happen in the story yet, but I do know how it ends. And I know vaguely what happens in the middle, but we’ll see how much I balance the fiction with the nonfictional raw material of my own experience and that of my friend’s.

When Novel is Spelled Ennui

Why am I doing all this, you ask? Because frankly, I have been working on the same novel-within-a-novel since October. It’s been lingering at around 50,000 words for like a month now and I am ashamed of going back to it. It is of a form and style so strange and unusual even to myself that I have thought about disowning the entire thing. Not just the entire thing, but disowning the entire mammoth collection that I have been working on for the past three years. You might think this is reactionary and a very unhealthy thing to do for someone with such a positively successful writing career so far, but let’s be honest: those stories need so much work.

The earlier ones, especially, within the collection. I might have been excited about the entire epic, ambitious thing one year ago, but as I have grown as a writer and in my taste and in my disposition, I have grown away from those stories. It’s almost like someone else wrote them. So if I get to heavily re-writing them in the next few months, maybe that will be of advantage to me. At the same time, maybe it won’t be. What’s worse, I made the decision of making the stories so interconnected and so linked together, such that if I were to take out the stories that I most enjoy and think are the strongest out of the collection, I am afraid that they will not stand on their own.

But don’t be afraid. I will finish the damn thing…just let me…do these three stories. And then after the enlivening fulfillment of having written, edited, completed, and published a smaller thing, with the sales and the money just pouring in, then I will be ready to return to my ancient ennui. Just not yet, Lord, not yet.

Despite it all, there’s still cheap brandy

In the meantime, in all that time in between work and this writing, I am either researching penguins (a recent development as of today. I am especially fond of the viral videos of penguins slipping on the ice, or the less viewed videos of african penguins clicking their beaks against cameras, one of which was so adorable, I almost got a little teary-eyed), hallucinogenic drugs (purely research, purely (I’m not kidding (I would call myself a psychonautic if I hated myself and loved fedoras))), SEO optimization, Patricia Highsmith (whose honesty about sexuality is enough to make a grown man not be interested I guess), and mixed drinks containing brandy. I have my sights next on the Porto Flip, which is made with port, brandy, and egg yolk—though one of my friends pointed out that it is not in fact egg yolk, but egg white. I don’t know the truth. The internet said.

Christian Internet Ethic (i.e. how to be in the internet), Part 4

If you have a job where the internet is necessary, then what can be done? Maybe set times aside where you lock your phone and computer up in a safe only your wife knows the code, too. Do it at night. As soon as you get home from work, put all technology in a safe. Read a book. Forget about digital connections for a night, bother yourself with physical ones.
If you can’t do even this, put your phone on silent more often.
The thing I’ve learned, having lived in the internet my entire life, is that you can get by with less than you think. You think you need to check your emails as much as you need to. You think you need to go on facebook. But, I know you would be happier with less. You would suddenly have more time to do the things you want. Few people I know want to spend all day on facebook, checking their emails. The people that do just do it are unaware they are being led by the secret desires of the mind, the insatiable craving for instant gratification and meaningless knowledge. It’s not good for the brain, if you go to it without focus or intention. But, it’s what we are all steeped in. We are strong tea.
If you come to the internet obscurely, with no plan, letting your mind wander, and let the links that look most appealing take you, what you are getting is not an internet ethic you yourself have formed, but rather an ethic the internet is forming for you. You are learning, by catechesis, that instant gratification is a good thing, that what looks appealing and takes you on the internet is actually appealing.
You are allowing your morals to be set. And this is a different ethic than I began talking about. A lot of the internet, a lot of the click bait on facebook, depends highly on your sense of right and wrong. We are, sometimes in equal parts, attracted to clicking on what looks wrong to us as what looks right. We are attracted to the dogs welcoming their owners home from the military and also attracted to learning about Caitlyn Jenner and “what the world is coming to”: a sort-of home-brewed conservative Apocalypse. Get over it. The internet wants you to feel these ways. How many songs by strong female singer-songwriters have been written about this? The blind following we have to the internet, consumerism, the media? We are the pieces in the machine run by Google. They know our every thought. David Byrne has probably written a song about it.
I am not one of those Christians who thinks that Christendom is going to hell in a Walmart bag, that we feed our children to Mammon, and that the only escape is distributism and community gardens in Detroit where the Lord’s Supper is Swiss Rolls and Triscuits. But, I understand the sentiment. The things our culture steeps us in are only poison when we fail to recognize the label on the bottle.
Do you see where I have gone with this post? I have come to a point where I sound like a fanatic. But, if I am a fanatic of anything, it is intentional living. Do not go living your life, unaware of how things are affecting you, failing to recognize what patterns you are following, what habits you are giving into. To be wise is not to know pithy one-liners. To be wise is to let knowledge change the way you live. So let the knowledge of your own life, knowing yourself, change the way you live. Form an ethic for everything you do. Don’t stress yourself out doing it, but be intentional. Enjoy it. Check everything you do. There are always ways to be happier, more satisfied, and these ways of pursuing happiness are directly related to your faithfulness to God and your relationship to the Father. Are you seeking him while you’re on the internet? Are you burying your talents in hours spent, not worshipping Mammon, but yourself? If your facebook causes you to sin, cut it out. Don’t be a slave to yourself. The internet is only dangerous, if we are not careful, if we let ourselves wander. To those who are pure all things are pure. How many more Bible verses do I need to paraphrase to prove my point?
The sum of the matter is this: you can live a more satisfied life, if you will take the time to think intentionally about the internet. Delight in the days of your youth–and know that for everything you put before your eyes, God will take it into account.
We can do better.

 

Christian Internet Ethic (i.e. how to be in the internet), Part 3

The internet is not the only distraction. People are the worst. I don’t know who I am kidding (myself) when I go to a coffeehouse, one where I know there are people I like, and sit down to “write.” I always end up talking to someone for hours about stuff and junk. It’s just not a good place to go. It makes no sense to go to a coffeehouse and write. Who does that? To be seen? The writer in the corner. They’re onto something…
The main point I’m trying to make is: I needed to get rid of the internet, because my desire to write is not strong enough to override my physiological repulsion from creation. I also needed to get rid of people, but that is an ongoing project.
How did I do this?
Since the beginning of this, I have been talking about place. And so I think it is very important to carve out a place where you can write. Don’t trick yourself and say, “Well, as soon as I get a place, then I can start writing.” The goal ought to always be writing. Writing should be enough, even when it isn’t. You can always go deeper. I can always go deeper.
But, if you can’t, you really need a place.
In my search for a place where I could write, I realized something life-changing: I needed a place without internet. Jonathan Franzen recently made a list of ten serious rules aspiring writers should abide by. #8 was: it’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection is writing good fiction. Stephen King still uses a typwriter.
As for me, I cut off internet at home. I don’t get internet at home. As I write this, I am sitting at home, internet-free, typing it into Evernote. I can’t check my emails, even if I wanted to. It’s delightful.
But, you ask, how do you expect to run a blog? Be up-to-date on emails?
The first is no problem at all. The second would be a problem, if I was an “important” person. Luckily, I’m not a chairman of any board.
Monday is my internet day. I have written out on a schedule (one I aim to cling to, but often fail at doing) what I am to do on Interneday. This is what I call Monday, at least for the summer. When the school year rolls around, I need to figure out what will be the new cadences of place, where I go and when. The rest of the week, I write every day. When Interneday comes upon me, I take a journey to the internet, go downtown to a coffeeshop, and then schedule all the posts for the respective days of the week. It really is quite easy. And I love this, because it offers my week a sort of purity that before it did not have. Before, my days would be odd mixes of activities. Now, I know what to expect and when before the week even starts. This is the benefit of a schedule, something I learned from monasticism. And who said monasticism didn’t apply to lay life?
Anyway, what I am working on now for myself is not only having an Interneday, but also coming to the internet with a to-do list. I don’t want to come to the coffeeshop I have discipled myself to (this sort of loyalty is valuable for a lot of reasons) and not have a place. I did that this week on Interneday and I was lost for six hours, researching internet outrage and public shaming. It was fascinating and I learned a lot, but I was quite exhausted by the informational gluttony. And I missed all the sunlight.
To be continued…

Christian Internet Ethic (i.e. how to be in the internet), Part 2

Most people who use the internet are addicted to instant gratification. Humans, it’s been said, are “informavores.” We crave information or, to put a more biblical spin on it, we thirst for knowledge. But, to the writing of books and the gathering of wisdom (though this is not all the internet offers), there will be no end. And there is no built-in end to our internet usage, until something in our life pulls us away from that labyrinth, that big sweaty metropolis with no street signs. The internet is a dangerous place.
But, so is Chicago. And that’s why I don’t avoid the internet entirely. There are bad neighborhoods, certainly, but the downtown is an “important” place to visit. It is important like chairmen of boards. They are “important.”
What I want is to be intentional about where I go and why I go. If you’re going downtown Chicago, have a point. If not, you’ll just be spending a lot of money. In this extended metaphor we’ve made, which will break down in about thirty-five seconds, the money we are spending is time. The internet is costly in time. Almost everything you need or want on the internet is free. And if it isn’t free, there are ways around that, too.
You might be asking yourself, “Okay, so what have you done?”
Before I tell you what I have done, let me tell you why I’ve done it.
I like to write. And when I write, what I need is complete focus. I enjoy having a bit of white noise in the background, but my taste in white noise has changed significantly in the past few years. In high school, I liked the white noise of coffeeshops and they were the only place I really could write. Nowadays, I like the white noise of a road, or maybe birds. A window fan (mine being unfortunately pink: the red box lied). I can only listen to music that I have successfully placed in my mind as “background music.” This is hard for me to do, because as soon as I relegate an artist I enjoy to this place, the thrill of listening to them on their own fades away.
I need some sort of extra thing going on in the background–more than just my typing–to keep me focused. It really helps.
What does not help with writing is instant gratification. Instant gratification, the option for it, is simply too great a thing for me to handle while I’m writing. I am always tempted by instant gratification right before I sit down to write. This makes sense, too. The most difficult part of writing is actually sitting down and starting. We have this built-in fear, a direct upgrade from the fall, of creating things. Secular writers call it Resistance (all rights reserved) and one even wrote a book called “Do the Work,” a book about fighting against this primordial darkness of Resistance. He argues that nature wants to stay as it is, with nothing unchanged. When we create something, we are fighting against nature, which sends Resistance after us. I guess.
Part of this Resistance is fear. We, or me at least, fear to sit down and make something. It is a physiological thing. It could just as easily be called laziness. And this laziness–or resistance, or fear–pushes us away from the work set before us to anything around that might consume our time, our motivation, our energy, our skill, our image-bearing reserves.
And when the internet is in the room, fear and resistance and laziness and distraction unite to bring even the most brilliant writer down.
Or me.
To be continued…