A Habit of Friendship

I call this letter (and my podcast, and my membership site) The Habit because, to quote Flannery O’Connor, “I’m a full-time believer in writing habits.” To continue quoting Milledgeville’s favorite daughter,

You may be able to do without [habits] if you have genius, but most of us have talent, and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away.

Another word for this kind of habit is liturgy. Liturgy works on the principle that our outward actions shape our inward states.

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S3: Ep3: Matthew Clark Wants You to Synthesize, Not Analyze

This week on the Habit podcast, I talk with songwriter and storyteller Matthew Clark.

We discuss the many facets of Matthew’s mission to “make things that make room for people to meet Jesus,” his tour van that he calls “Vandalf the White,” and human creativity as a posture of synthesis rather than analysis.

Check out Matthew’s podcast, One Thousand Words.

The Stories Are True

I’ve been re-reading Prince Caspian for my upcoming Writing with Caspian class. I keep coming back to those scenes in which we first see young Prince Caspian—first with his uncle King Miraz, then with his tutor Doctor Cornelius.

Miraz tries to convince Caspian that his Nurse’s stories of talking animals and Naiads and Dryads and Dwarfs and Fauns are all baby stories, that the brutal, disenchanted world of Narnia under the Telmarines is the only reality there is. He tells the young prince,

Never let me catch you talking—or thinking either—about all those silly stories again. There never were those Kings and Queens. How could there be two Kings at the same time? And there’s no such person as Aslan. And there are no such things as lions. And there never was a time when animals could talk. Do you hear?

Miraz fires the Nurse who has been putting these ideas in Caspian’s head. But he makes a huge error: he replaces Nurse with Doctor Cornelius. And Doctor Cornelius thrills Caspian straight through when he tells the young prince,

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Let’s Talk About Reality

Friends, it’s time to talk about Reality. By Reality I mean that which continues to exist whether you or I believe it or not. We have somehow gotten the idea that truth is something that happens inside our heads, that if you believe in a thing enough, it must be true. But that’s not how Reality works. Reality is not a verbal construct. That is to say, truth doesn’t begin with words that people speak. Truth begins with external facts. A responsible use of words involves an honest effort to reflect Reality, or, when Reality isn’t clear (and it often isn’t), an honest effort to move toward it. 

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Michael Jordan and I Combined for 70 Points

In 1990, Michael Jordan scored sixty-nine points in one game, a career-high in a stunning career. The same night, his rookie teammate Stacey King came in late in the game and hit a single free throw. In the post-game press conference, the reporters buzzed around Michael Jordan. But Stacey King managed to squeeze in one zinger. He told the reporters, “I will always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined to score seventy points.”

That looks like a basketball joke. Actually, it’s a grammar joke.

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Goals and Habits for 2021

The year 2020 will soon be in our rearview mirror—not soon enough, you might say, and I won’t contradict you. I know the turning of the year on Thursday is just the turning of another day, but I’m grateful for this arbitrary demarcation, and the annual ritual of taking stock and thinking through which habits are working and which habits aren’t.

As you think about goals and resolutions for 2021, it might help to think about the distinction between goals related to end results and goals related to the daily means toward those end results.

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A Poem for Christmas

It’s almost Christmas. You don’t need writing advice. What you need is a poem. Then you need to hear that poem read in an Irish accent. Andrew Roycroft is a pastor and poet in Northern Ireland. This poem of his caught my eye a couple of weeks ago:

Bethlehem, Year Zero
This year none of the pieces are in place,
no finishing touch,
just the rush,
to make the best of things –
more make-do, than make-believe,
a clambering to retrieve
family under one roof,
to pluck some safety from the dragon’s teeth,
to make a place for joy again,
long looked for after labour pains,
the grace to hold our griefs
in one hand,
and with the other, just hold on.

This year has no precedent,
just more numbers from the government,
just more bitterness of argument,
sick hearts retching on hope deferred,
reading tight between the lines
for a Word
that might flare across the firmament
and speak deliverance.

But this year, we have made the best of things,
found shelter here against the odds,
adapted what has come to hand
rested in the grander plan
that underwrites this circumstance,
sees grace instead of blinded chance,
and lays in this manger ark
the Best beside the worst,
the Light amidst the dark,
the King among the filth.
And Mary cradles at her breast
the head of one who from obscurity
will carry heaven’s destiny
through thorn to crown,
dandles with her hand the heel
that, promised from eternity,
will crush King Death into the ground.

This year, we have no normal,
new or old,
but a different day,
a dawn,
a moment long foretold,
now here,
this year.

And here’s Andrew reading “Bethlehem, Year Zero”:

S2: Ep51: Renee Mathis Teaches Writing to Writing Teachers

Renee Mathis was (is?) a Jeopardy! champion. But that’s not why I had her on The Habit Podcast. I had her on the podcast to talk about her many years’ experience teaching writing and mentoring writers through the CiRCE Institute’s apprenticeship program.

We discussed her philosophy on mentoring teachers, the teaching methods used by Jesus, rhetoric as the pursuit of truth in community, and the still-relevant application of Aristotle’s principles of rhetoric.

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