Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

On Writing

Dear children,

Like most people, I realize that I am the sum total of a lot of different parts. One of those parts wants more than anything to hang out with you guys. It thinks that that would be the best use of what little time I have. But my other parts get jealous. Another part wants to sit alone in a room and read, and another wants to create something with the hands dangling at the ends of two arms, and still another wants to write out a piece of wisdom for you to enjoy long after all the parts have been gathered and presented to eternity. As you might discern, all of these parts are in constant competition and I, as the agency in charge, must supervise them like a good manager at the Waffle House night shift. But instead of making waffles, my team must make something else entirely. It must make me: husband, father, friend, pilot, provider, protector etc.

The part of me that likes to read has read one and a half of G. K. Chesterton’s books. The half-read one was a novel by the name of, The Man Who Was Thursday, which I found to be boring. .The book I completed was Orthodoxy. It, on the other hand, was quite the challenge. In my opinion, Chesterton’s field of eloquence was in discussing complex ideas and not so much in telling stories. Orthodoxy is a smaller book, as those sorts of books go, but it’s difficult to unpack. Still, I judged that it was worth my while to grapple with every line. And having taken the time to do all that grappling, I also discovered that there could be a sort of art to grappling with Chesterton, and so having developed an entry-level, amateur grappler-of-Chesterton inside of me by the time I had finished, I turned immediately to the beginning to see if I couldn’t make better sense of the first few chapters. I ended up reading the entire thing again. It was, in retrospect, a profitable endeavor.

But having invested the time I did there, I also found another nugget that stood out in that particular book. It was not in the actual writings of Chesterton’s but instead in the forward.  I thought it to be equally as profound as Chesterton’s own writing. The fellow who wrote this forward was an author by trade also I presume. Drawing from my memory, the part that struck me most went something like this: “I learned at some point that Chesterton did not write his books per-se, but that he dictated them to his secretary, and that what he dictated was printed with very little editing.” The writer went on to say: “When I learned this, I was too depressed to write for weeks.”

After reading Chesterton I related with this author’s sentiment, though I was not depressed for weeks. I’m still depressed. The thought that a man could dictate his complex thoughts, and juggle all the ideas that were required to dance around the main idea without resorting to pen and paper gives us insight into the genius of Chesterton. But it doesn’t take the genius of Chesterton to put me in a funk. I can read a no-name blog and fall in love with the way the writer paints his thoughts on my mind using nothing more than the brush of a computer keyboard, and get depressed.

All of this taught me something about a piece of knowledge that I had always deep-down known or suspected, but that I had never dredged up to inspect more closely. That knowledge is this: The evidence that someone is good at something is when they make it look easy when it isn’t. That piece of knowledge was probably kept in the depths for good reason, which is that it is so depressing. What is worse is when, not only do they make it look easy when it’s not, it actually is easier for them. After investing lots of time, energy and effort into a thing only to discover that you’ve only reached the starting point for some other soul is not encouraging, especially when you consider that you don’t have enough years of living left to press on in getting to the starting point of the talented.

So if you ever decide to climb a high, formidable mountain, and you invest effort, frustration, setbacks, tears, anger and time… lots of time, and then you finally pull your chin up just enough to see over the ledge onto that flat place at the top, and you see there a man sitting back having a cup of tea, almost uninterested in the fact that his natural habitat is the very place that you have scrapped and clawed to get to, you will have some clue as to what I feel like writing. I have this to say though, it has been worth it. Had I not experienced it, I would have no appreciation for God’s beauty displayed in his gifts of writing to some. Am I jealous? I’d be lying if I said that at least one of the parts that make up me was not. But in other ways I am blessed. I am convinced that the best of the best has a more difficult time appreciating what comes naturally to him in a particular field than the worst who aspires to be better, or even good, in the same field. And having no appreciation for one’s own talent, which I believe is the norm, is the reason that so many put their talents on a shelf, or forgo investing their time and effort into turning them into something beautiful.

There is a reason that textbooks cost a hundred dollars or more, and that they don’t tend to make a best-sellers list. They are cold, dry, and personalityless, and one must be forced to agree to be gouged in their purchase through motivations having nothing to do with the textbook’s charm as much as with college credit. They bear the beauty of the asphalt on the road that transverses the beautiful scenery of snow-covered mountains. But even that analogy falls short because there is beauty to be found in the talent that it takes to build a decent road on the side of a mountain. Yet, it is not the asphalt that demonstrates the beauty but the engineering upon which the asphalt lays. Textbooks serve only as a function by taking you places with ease that others had to brave the elements, dangers, and doubts to discover. But they are still just ugly asphalt that no one wants to buy and read for the mear joy of it. I say this because of my honest assessment that most of my writing is textbook-style writing. My chin has not even reached the top of the hill upon which sit a host of tea-sipping, no-name bloggers. But at least I can say that I appreciate their efforts, possibly even more than they do.

Orthodoxy could be called a textbook I suppose. It takes you through the mountainous, snow-capped terrain of ideas that resides in the depths of the thinking man’s soul. So we can know that it is possible to make textbooks enjoyable and beautiful, at least for the thoughtful. But it took a lot of talent to do it, and it’s a rare talent at that, and unfortunately, a talent that I don’t possess any more of than textbook writers. But I love trying. It’s one of the things that one of the pieces of me wants to do a lot of, to admire the beauty of the efforts of others and then to try my own hand at the same.

For the talented, I’m sure that a quiet place without distractions tugging at the mind is not a requirement. For me it is. I’m also sure that for the talented time is not an issue. Like Chesterton, they sit down and dictate through their fingers. For me, time is the major ingredient in any of my portraits. The older I get, and the further along I come with this hobby, the more I’m not even willing to try if I don’t have at my disposal this most necessary of ingredients. Along with this, I must be convinced that my efforts have merit. Age brings with it the recognition of the shortness of time. The rich man may blow most of his money on useless and wasteful enterprises and excursions, but after he has exhausted his wealth a little money becomes a lot more than it once was and he aims to make the best of what he has left. Such is time for the aged who managed to get a little wisdom in exchange for the years that were wasted.

All of this rambling is to give you some insight into your father’s relationship with his hobby of writing, which is a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, I can’t write and on the other I can’t not. In time I hope that you will suffer the same fate with reading your father’s ramblings.

Your father

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2 thoughts on “On Writing

  1. Hey, as Arthur Conan Doyle said, “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” Read more Chesterton! He’s lovely. I enjoy the Father Brown stories, but you might like “Heretics” better.

  2. I gave up on Orthodoxy (the book). I need you to translate it for me!

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