How Our Mindset Is Corrupted

We want him to be in maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy.

This is the advice the demon Screwtape gives his nephew, Wormwood in the book called The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis. Wormwood is a “demon in training” and his uncle’s advice is simple, when it comes to corrupting a man, one of the things you can do is make them either focus on the past or concentrate on the future. When you take an individuals mind off the present, that’s when things like uncertainty, suspense and anxiety begin to creep in.

We are anxious about how our future plans will turn out. Fearful that we will fail or face some kind of humiliation. We are uncertain if the mistakes of yesterday can be overcome tomorrow or if tomorrow will play out like we hope.

The mindset that doesn’t live in the Now is what the demon wants. When Screwtape mentions the “Enemy” he speaks of the good angels who are attempting to guide the individual towards the right path. Screwtape says that through suspense and anxiety, the good angels can be barricaded against. Meaning that when you aren’t living in the present, you aren’t following the righteous path.

He (“the enemy”) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

It’s in the negative “what if’s” where Screwtape would like our mindset to be. In this manner, when we continually imagine what could happen, what could go wrong, how we could be disappointed, how our actions could lead to pain, thats how we become stagnant, unengaging with life and with it, fail to grow as individuals.

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him–the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done,” and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of.

What the correct mindset should be towards tribulations and hardships is clear in this passage. It’s what the “Enemy” wants, according to Screwtape, which is to be patient and bear with dignity and grace whatever hardships you are going through. To view these hardships as obstacles deliberately laid down on your path for you to overcome and grow.

The incorrect mindset is what Screwtape advocates which is that we should be afraid of the obstacles, of the hardships and perhaps even waste our time complaining about how unfair our life is.

One can, therefore, formulate the general rule: In all activities of mind which favor our cause, encourage the patient to be un-selfconscious and to concentrate on the object, but in all activities favorable to the Enemy bend his mind back on itself. Let an insult or a woman’s body so fix his attention outward that he does not reflect “I am now entering into the state called Anger–or the state called Lust.” Contrariwise let the reflection “My feelings are now growing more devout, or more charitable,” so fix his attention inward that he no longer looks beyond himself to see our Enemy or his neighbors.

The mindset Screwtape wants is one where the negative feelings, harmful emotions are either acted upon or allowed to reign freely without a reflection or thought. Such emotions and feelings are those of anger, lust, hate, revenge, pain, essentially anything that you might associate with negativity. You can even put it simply as: The negative mindset is that of the demon.

While the opposite, the feelings or emotions of benevolence, charity, happiness, kindness can be associated with a positive mind. However, these can easily be corrupted when you attached the ego to it. As Screwtape suggests “fix his attention inward” meaning that when we start to act positively in order to boost our own image, to show the world how charitable or kind we are, it taints the positive actions and keeps you away from the good path.

When anyone speaks about Demons and Angels, it can instantly turn off some people. This is understandable, I’m not a religious person myself, however, there is a lot we can learn if we are able to look past that aspect of the text, if we don’t get lost in the weeds.

Demons and Angels may not be real but the consequences of a negative mindset and positive mindset are well documented. By associating the negative with the Demon influence it can snap you into attention. It makes this grey world we live in a bit more black and white, where how we should think, behave, interact with one another is made clearer when you attribute certain thought patterns with the Demon and others with the good Angels.

In this manner, life can be simplified a little bit.

 

Poem: How do you stay so still?

How we all try and understand you,

The greatest of minds man has to offer, are

At your feet,

How does your ego not inflate?

How have you stayed the same all these years?

The wisdom of philosophers,

Digging deep in you, trying

To see what you are,

The tools of the scientists,

Prodding, measuring, stealing bits

And pieces of you,

Trying to see what you’re made of,

The religious folk claim you,

Pray to you, want from you, take from you,

Yet you stay still?

Is that what Buddha understood?

How is it that all these wise men and women are deaf and blind?

Before we shackle the children,

They know and understand you,

Even in chains, your

Teachings slip through their laughter and wonderment,

Sweet life,

Sweet nature,

Sweet Gaia,

How do you stay so still when all over your robbed of your innocence?

Why We Tell Stories

Many aspects of storytelling are explored in the novel, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. In particular, whether or not a fictional truth can be greater than the real truth and secondly, perhaps more important, what’s the point of storytelling?

The storytelling technique Tim O’Brien uses blurs the line between what really happened and what is simply a story. This is achieved by naming the narrator of the story after himself. With this, the text can be read almost as a memoir instead of a fictional piece. For instance, the narrator, Tim O’Brien, considered his participation in the war to be cowardly because he did not want to be shamed by his parents and neighbors and other people in his town for avoiding the war. This notion is expressed in the story called “On the Rainy River”.

This raises the question if the author, Tim O’Brien, felt the same way and if not, then does that take away from the narrator’s feelings or does one simply accept the fact that similar notions of cowardice must have circulated the minds of other soldiers who ultimately accepted their enrollment in the army.

The narrator also goes through a transformation, from being an anti-war student with the hopes of going to Harvard, to wanting revenge on a medic who he felt wronged him in the story “The Ghost Soldiers”. When the narrator points out this transformation, one cannot help but think of how war changes the individual. No matter who you were prior to the war, you were going to be someone else afterward. To me, this transformation is made more real because of the author’s choice to blur the line between fact or fiction. Having read other war novels where the main character is changed due to the war, the effect does not seem as concrete as potentially having the author himself be changed. The novel does a good job at eliciting emotions that perhaps only a memoir can do.

However, what if all of it is just fictional? An exaggeration of what really happened. After all, the text is still a novel. The idea of truth is brought up in the novel and how the different ways of telling a story can have an impact on the truth. Can a story be truer than what really happened? If it didn’t really happen does that mean it isn’t true?

The feelings elicited by the stories seem to be real. When the narrator Tim O’Brien describes his first kill and the disfiguration of the Vietnamese soldier in the story “The Man I Killed”, one cannot help but feel sorry for not only the individual who has died but also O’Brien himself for by killing the soldier, he kills a part of himself. However, it is then revealed that the narrator never killed the man but rather he walks up to a corpse of the disfigured individual but to him, it was the same thing. He had played a role in the killing by participating in the war. However, by having described the scene as if he was the one who had killed the Vietnamese soldier, it adds an extra layer to the storytelling, a realistic coat and although we have two accounts of what happened, they both still feel real and both are believable. A soldier did kill that Vietnamese soldier and a soldier did wake up to find the disfigured body and have feelings of guilt and sadness.

The narrator suggests a true war story cannot be written, which calls into question the point of this war novel. Perhaps this is why certain passages are exaggerated, stories that come into the realm of fictional, that cannot be believed, maybe that is the only way to actually tell a true war story. One such story being the “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” where a soldier flies in his girlfriend from America and in the course of a few weeks, the girlfriend transforms from an innocent girl from the Midwest to a savage soldier who disappears in the Vietnamese forest. Such a thing may have never happened however, there were countless soldiers, innocent themselves, who fought and got lost in Vietnam. In that sense, the story about the girl is as true as anything else.

Or perhaps the only way to tell a war story is by shouldering the responsibility of the war and with it, the death of the soldiers. This can be seen with the death of Kiowa in the story “In the Field”. Several soldiers believe that it was their fault that Kiowa died. In the same way, the narrator believed that it was his fault that the disfigured Vietnamese soldier died. By assuming responsibility, one may be able to explain what happened, why it happened, how it happened, even though that individual was not at fault. In this way, the truth is different than the story however, the story could still be true.

Furthermore, the narrator explains why he is writing this story. To me, the narrator’s explanation seems to be the explanation of the author, Tim O’Brien for the reason behind the novel is that through storytelling, one is able to capture the soul of the individual who is not there anymore. In the story, that individual gets to live. This notion is expressed fully in the text “The Lives of the Dead”. The story keeps the soul alive. Which may be the reason why the author decided to name all the characters after people he knew. The soldiers that had passed away were still alive in this text. The girl that he loved when he was a kid is still alive in this text for in the story, she is dancing and laughing and the two of them can talk to each other. Perhaps the reason why the narrator is named Tim O’Brien is so that after the author has passed, his soul still lives on through this story.

Storytelling can then be thought of as a way to cope with our past. To explore and understand our experiences. To unpack the hidden truths and come to terms with them. To keep alive a part of yourself or someone else as time goes on and erases everything that has been and will be after.

Two Things That Have Made My Fiction Writing Easier

Writing fiction can be difficult, especially stories you wish to get published someday. The reason being there aren’t really any blueprints or rules to follow except for perhaps use an active voice and show, don’t tell. Yet, in all the millions of books published, you can find exceptions to even these principles.

So, your left with a vague idea of what to do and what not to do but at the same time trying to tell a story that you care about in your own way but also, keeping in mind what might be pleasurable for the reader. This juggling act often leads to mistakes and the balls coming bouncing off your forehead and your there rubbing your head where the mark from the ball reddens, thinking what went wrong.

I’m been there and still am there in many ways. One reason for such complication is because writing subjective. What works for one publication may not work for another. Plus you only have one shot to get it right with that story you send. If a month later you figure out something that improves the story you can’t resend it and hope it gets picked up.

A little too late for that. Go find some other place.

So, this process of rejection-editing-rewriting-rejection-editing-rewriting-rejection can seem never ending.

What to do when the sane individual would gracefully bow out and move to something less humiliating.

Simply put, you just have to stick with it. The awful non helpful advice. Just keep going. Something you might find on an inspirational poster of a cat climbing a ladder that seems to be going nowhere. Hang in there is another cliche you can throw at it. But these cliches have a kernel of truth to them.

It’s a process. A saying that’s famous in the sports world for they understand that developing skill requires time and effort.

And writing, like sports, is a skill.

By keeping with it, by dissecting your writing, by holding yourself up to a higher standards you come to formulate certain rules for yourself which gives your writing structure, makes it simpler, clearer, cleaner.

Here is where I’m at and there are two things I’ve come to understand which makes the process of writing simpler.

1) This is sort of cheating because it’s two things in one but that’s also a good thing about writing fiction, you can almost do as you please. But anyways, the first part is that conflict is key. That’s all there is to a good story. A character wants something but something is in the way of that want, which creates conflict, and the character must figure out a way to get to his want. This simplifies the act of writing. Gives it structure. If your scenes and interactions are lacking conflict then that is a clear issue. Something tangible to fix because no one cares about a story where nothing happens and the character gets whatever they wish.

What’s even better is when the conflict is created by another character. When the desire of one character is obstructed by another. This has been a great help. Essentially you just have two characters with the same goal but only one can get it and you let them interact and conflict arises. Here is where dialogue comes into play. The second revelation of sorts. Dialogue gives rise to compelling stories and characters because in order to have dialogue, characters must interact.

I have spent a lot of time running around inside the head of characters and writing monologue after monologue but it all read so fake, so bland. It wasn’t until I really looked at the books I enjoyed, stories I connected with did I realize that most of it is dialogue. It’s not about the brooding 20 year old sitting at home thinking but rather that 20 year old interacting with his parents, coworker, lover, strangers etc which gets the story rolling.

2) This one I’ll make quick and easy. If you stick with the process, you’ll discover your weaknesses and limitations. What a wonderful discovery. For me, my weakness is description, in particular, the use of senses in describing a scene. This is a severe weakness because without good description you can’t transport a reader into the story.

However, by knowing this about myself, I can then not allow the fear or self doubt to stop me from even starting. I know I can get the story on paper and worry about sense description in my edits. My limitation doesn’t have to be an obstacle. It can be something I focus on later while I let the conflict and dialogue and characters flow for now.

Well, that’s all I’ve got so far. I’ve learned other things or perhaps it’s better to say I’ve read other things about becoming a better writer. But what I’ve mentioned above is what has come to me through experience. Things I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Poem: Only you & you

That which you see in the mirror is all you have,

It’ll make you or break you,

Not them but that reflection,

What you desire, it

Can provide,

Your failures, it

Can cause,

It can give rise to your delusions, but

Also fans the fire within you,

It knows you better than any one ever will,

The smallest of insecurities,

Largest of hopes,

All within that mirror,

But until the crack are mended,

The distorted figure takes you down a distorted path,

To fix it,

Fix yourself,

To fix yourself,

You must see yourself for what you are,

To see that,

You must see it,

Staring at you,

The same eyes,

Looking into your soul,

That which needs fixing,

It can help you,

As you help it,

Only you can fix you,

As you fix it,

Only you and you.

Reflections On The Need To Be Aggressive

Aggression has many negative connotations to it. When you think of aggression you might think of recklessness, unintelligent, lacking self-control … aggressive behavior can be seen as a character flaw. This can be true. I am not talking about simply aggressive behavior, however. I’m more interested in implementing an aggressive mindset.

This notion comes from Jocko Willink‘s book Discipline Equals Freedom (I have covered ideas by Jocko in a previous post). When I read the short two and a half page passage on aggression I began thinking about two things: being passive and being active. In writing, being an active writer is not only encouraged, but it is almost a rule, as far as there are any rules when it comes to writing. Active writing is one where the character is doing something instead of things happening to the character. The latter being passive writing. Jocko is essentially speaking about this when he talks about keeping an aggressive mindset at all time.

You don’t want to be helpless, not in control, waiting for things to happen to you. That manner of existence is riddled with uncertainty. It is hard to imagine how, living in such a way, one can ever reach his or her goals or dreams or be prepared enough to take on some opportunity that will push them up the right path.

Instead of a passive existence, one has to be active. Aggression is not bad if used correctly. Being aggressive comes with being prepared. At all times. Ready for what comes at you. Ready to go after what you want. With an aggressive mindset, you don’t wait for the last minute to do something. You don’t wait for some opportunity to pass you by before changing. You don’t wait for others to improve your life. Waiting does not belong in this mindset. You are instead, actively seeking improvement, betterment, organizing and disciplining yourself and what you can control so that you are always ready and acting.

Far too many times I’ve been passive. Waiting at the last moment to study and getting mediocre marks because of it. Waiting too long to start sharing my thoughts and writings. Waiting for the right moment. Too many times I have considered something unlikely to happen without making an attempt at it first. There must be some fear of rejection or disappointment behind this passive way of existence.

Having lived in that passive manner, I know it gets one very little out of life. Being active on the other hand, being aggressive at all times, striving to take what you want, comes with a will to win rather than just a hope of participation.

Aggression can be friendly if used right. Aggressive mindset can bring order and control in your life. Formulate plans. Implement plans. Go after what you want and take a risk or two. Deal with rejection if that is the outcome of your aggression. Improve yourself from that point so the rejection is less likely to come again and go after it once more. Always being in attack mode because all I know is the other side of the coin is not pretty. Rather be aggressive than passive.

Poem: Father

I walk upon the desolation road,

The only road that was left for me,

I didn’t get to choose,

A choiceless existence for choices are made for me,

Each choice made narrows the roads,

Each choice lessens the possibilities,

Choices of my father,

Choices of my ma,

Choices of my wife,

And the choice to have my children choose,

All leave me with the desolation road,

I walk upon it in silence, in chains,

I walk upon it with heavy steps, pained feet,

But as long as they,

My love

My heart

My soul

Can choose to their hearts content,

Then,

I walk upon desolation road, smiling.