The Feel Of It

Yesterday, I received an eagerly awaited book in the mail. It may have been the first time I was anxious to get a book I’d already read through twice. Winter Light by Bruce Ray Smith is the first book released by my publisher. Somewhere between prose and poetry, it’s an exceptional work. But I wanted to see it and feel it as a foretaste of what I could expect with my own book. There was no disappointment.

Writing has been a hobby for a while now. Only recently have I gotten paid for it. And before a month or so ago, a book contract was of the same character as the moon for a young boy. I’d been encouraged to write a book. And I would sit on my front porch and wonder. But the imaginings in my head were as the echoes of someone else’s noise.

But now we are talking reality. Right now, there are men looking over my manuscript to make editorial suggestions. One day I’ll get a box in the mail. I’ll take a key to the wrapping tape, slide it and then pull the flaps back. Will there be those annoying packing “peanuts” in there?

I’ll pull out a copy. The book’s cover will touch against the ends of my fingers and the palms of my un-calloused hands. Like a black-jack dealer I’ll flip fast the pages and gaze at the back. The front. And then the back again. Lord willin’ it’ll happen. And then I’ll take a look at the front again.

I know… I know I’m not supposed to talk about these things. Calm, cool and collected is the order of the day. To act as if this is par for the course is the recipe. But I’m just too anything but. I actually tried it for a minute but it felt self-conscious. And it seemed to come off as if I was special when I know that isn’t the case. What is special is the case.

If Math Is Language

Those of you who know me will laugh at my writing about the subject which dogged me throughout my education. But a math teacher on Twitter challenged me to write something very quickly she could read to her students. This is the best I could do.

Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe. – Galileo

If this is true, then at the very least the Universe is itself speaking. It is saying something about all of reality.

It is saying something about all you see, whether mighty towering oaks or iPads. Roaring waves and tanned skin. It is saying something about all you see, whether the sound of traffic or the voice of a favorite singer.

Behind it all is a language the whole Universe whispers to those who will listen. Sometimes in whispers, sometimes in screams.

In the midst of what seems like chaos, the numbers and signs of this language remind us there is order and meaning. And this is as true for those in the midst of the war-like shelling in Libya as it would be for the fight over cancer in a small town in Louisiana.

The word problems and equations students frustratingly hover over at desks are but postcards carefully scribed from the center of all that has been made. And here is the mystery for those who will think deeply – the very language we labor to understand speaks of what and who we are. if we ignore this language as if it were spoken by a tribe in the darkness of distant jungles, we cannot know ourselves. We will only play at the edge of knowing ourselves like those who only step for a moment in the weak edge of the surf.

Some Writing on Writing

(Update: This post is now also on Writerly Life, a very good blog for writers.)

(On Fridays, I’m going to be writing about this writing and publishing process I’ve been going through. I keep bumping into and talking to people who are interested in writing and being published, etc. Hopefully this will encourage them and entertain others.)

Someone who is writing must inevitably say something about their writing. The way it is done. The feel of it. In the midst of it even. And the more this person is read, the more they will be prone to write about the writing and the reading. There are just too many writers writing about writing to confirm this.

I do not compare myself to these writers unless an ant compares itself to elephants.

But when God stretches out the hand of grace to lend a dream, the most tepid of internal waters will stir in the heart of the lowly even, to speak of it.

Yesterday afternoon I heard from the editor. Thankfully when I opened the email I’d no idea what the contents were, though the subject line should have made it more than obvious. If I had known, I’d have prayed before hand. My mind, had of course gone to the place where the worst of reviews and the best of reviews stood side by side trading places for primary expectation.

The deadliest was, “No one will read this.” With an eye-roll to boot.

The one making my heart soar was, “I love this.” Simply that. Maybe it is not good to tell you that’s what I wanted to hear more than anything. But it is true. So I lodged hope there, tucked it in and waited outside while it slept soundly.

Maybe all this comes from the past. It has roared into the present like a train into station.

All the writing started because Mrs. Derieux pulled me out into the hallway of W.J. Christian School after I told her I did not want to memorize a poem. I can remember the fifth-grade feeling the moment I said it. I might have said it was for girls. So fear. Also because I was shy (a year would cure this) and stuttered (still do) and recitation of something like a poem felt impossible.

Either after the rebuke in he hallway or during the rebuke Silverstein was put in my hands. And like a trout destined for an almond crusting, I was hooked. And forever thankful for it.

From then on, I began to fill notebooks of poems. For a time I would write poems making fun of other students. Then they became ‘serious,’ mimicking songs I heard lulling out of cassettes.

Once in HIgh School, I ignored my classes for them. A teacher found one of these notebooks and I expected him to laugh, but he just looked at me puzzled, which I preferred.

On into college I scribbled them down. Some long and some spread over dozens of pages. All terrible. But I took a creative writing class in which I languished and dreaded each day. I remember nothing but the critiques leveled like breathy daggers and paper bullets. I got a C. And it was most likely deserved. But I’ve written almost no poetry since. And rarely enjoyed writing anything till I finished Seminary.

So when an editor writes back and says more than what I could have hoped for, it felt like it needed to be written about. Not only was the content commended but so was the way it was written. I ruled cloud nine last night.

Not because it makes me anything special – many are writing and are far more competent than I am. Not because it means I’ve achieved anything yet – the book hasn’t even been released. Not because I think I’ll make much money doing this – I’ll still have to work of course. But because it’s the very thing I thought would never happen – and yet is happening.

Random Thoughts for Thursday

1. Last night I slept like a baby. Except I wasn’t in a crib and didn’t wear a diaper. And didn’t go to bed at eight. Or sleep till seven. Or need changing when I woke up.

2. Went to the beach. Ate shrimp about six different ways. Came back.

3. My son wanted to be like Han Solo. So he unbuttoned his shirt.

4.  Most people are not pastors and missionaries. Most recommended Christian biography is of pastors and missionaries. This is a problem.

5. Went to the beach. Ate bacon about six different ways. Came back.

6. Last Friday night I slept for over 11 hours. This will forever go down in Matt Redmond history as The Night of the Great Sleep.

7. Speaking of diapers, my 2 year old can walk around in just that in this heat. I’m jealous.

8. I’m not sure the bikini is for everyone.

9.  We drink Folgers. Take that hipsters.

10. Well, turned in my manuscript. Now what?

"Say Something Important"

I cannot remember how I got to this article on the publishing world but I’ve been “stuck” on it for a few days. The following quote is what kept bringing me back:

Do you want to break into publishing? Say something important, but more importantly, say it well. We don’t need more voices, and we certainly don’t need more celebrities. We need transcendent ideas. We need people that challenge us to see how the world ought to be, and inspire us to make it so. We need people who show us the best of ourselves, and call us to be that version, rather than the veneered version that seems so much easier to sell to our “friends.” Inspire someone, and you just may make a bestsellers list the old-fashioned way. Inspire important conversations and you may just stay there. But if you fake it, if you buy your way on, if you take the shortcut to significance, we’ll know, and we’ll ignore you. And that second cut will hurt.

Since I began this journey of writing a book, the need for a platform and 50,000 friends on facebook has unnerved. Not simply because I don’t have them. But because even if I did have those, I would want the focus to be on saying something important.

A Glimpse of My Dad

Father’s Day is coming up.

When you write, the temptation is to use a subject to display your writing. It’s real and powerful. And deadly to the soul. It’s the reason I have not written on some subjects and been careful when writing about others. So. Please believe me when I say that my desire to honor my Dad with a post each week is simply because of my respect and the joy of many memories where he is featured.
When I told my parents I was writing a book, they were not surprised and of course, wanted to know more. So I sent them the actual proposal sent to the publisher, along with the first chapter. A few days later, my Dad looked at me and shook his head in a way I have seen him do many times before. Actually he has two versions of this. One is the disappointment I saw after every report card.  It was usually a few days after I got the report card because we always got them on Thursdays – too close to the weekend. So I waited and would watch him shake his head on Sunday night. After he’d been working all day as a pastor. Brilliant Matt, brilliant.
But here I saw another kind of shake of his whitened head. He shook it like you would a “no.” But it was coupled with a wry smile telling you the opposite of the motion. This is the undeserved but far too common, “I’m proud of you shake of the head.” 
He said, “You are a great writer.” And then I was told they could not get over I had written it. They have always been easily impressed by me and my brothers. Especially by my brothers. And then my Dad – the man of a thousand pitches in the backyard – proceeded to tell me what I had written meant much to him. “My life is very mundane now. I cannot do much.” And he thanked me.
About 2 weeks before September 11, 2001 my father suffered a heart attack while playing tennis – the game he taught me to play before I can even remember playing it. During his bypass surgery, he had the first of many strokes. And these strokes have done their damnedest to do him in and break his spirit. But his kind heart and sharp mind still fight tooth and nail. And I mean damnedest in the theological sense. His sight is failing him miserably and his memory worries him. His smile charges on with the power and speed of a train bent on its destination.

He is one reason I write…why I cannot help myself. His poems are legendary for being part of our family gatherings. He used poetry to celebrate people and memories and times and places. And while not Donne or Hopkins, Dickinson or Whitman, they are made of fireside warmth and irresistible smiles. The way a Hobbit would have done song. You just won’t catch him with a pipe or pint.

My parents were always glad to read my painful poems. And buy me books and encourage me to read. They never questioned me and made me embarrassed about all the poetry I would read and write as a teenager. Their love for me has always taken the form of encouragement and the structure of praise. Even though I threatened to fail my classes and be a raving success at day-dreaming.

So these posts are for my Dad. I ask you to bear with me for the next month as I tell a few stories and give you a glimpse into the goodness of Robert D. Redmond. Dad to me

Random Thoughts for Thursday

Update: I guess they have become random thoughts for the weekend since the blog was down a good bit of yesterday and today

1. I saw a commercial for the kid’s show, Martha Speaks. The background music was Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon.

2. I now get emails, fb messages and tweets about bacon on a daily basis.
3. There is no subject known to man that my two oldest cannot relate in some way to Star Wars.
4. Started running again. And you would think it would be easier to start back 30 lbs lighter. But nooooo, that is not the case.
5. We are having Carnitas tonight. In other words, heaven and earth will collide for about an hour.
6. In the irony of all ironies, libraries attract those who have no inclination to be quiet.
7. Someone asked for my fax number and I immediately had a Duran Duran tune in my head.
8. In college I took creative writing. I got a C.
9. Angry Birds may or may not have something to do with my reading books so slowly these days.
10. Sorry, this has taken so long. Today, I had to sign and mail the paperwork to the Publisher…you know, for the book I’m writing. No big deal. Just a dream coming true.