Probe: The Hyperbole is the Message

Billy Sunday preaching, which is not to assert that I agree or disagree with Mr. Sunday, but to illustrate that he understood how delivery and message worked together. Machiavelli is famous for espousing that the ends justify the means, by which he meant that the rightness or wrongness of an action is judged based on the out come, the greater good. As long as the outcome is positive, the wrongness of an action is probably justified. Some evangelicals use this approach in preaching and writing—the truth can be presented any way you want, so long as the truth is presented. We have terminology that illustrates our attitude: no-nonsense approach, unvarnished truth, tell it like it is. What this attitude fails to understand is that a message is altered by how it is presented. It can be extraordinarily hard to separate the message from the delivery. We remember both, but not necessarily equally. Delivery typically appeals to emotion, whether sorrow, joy, anger, fear or guilt. Emotions tend to have greater rhetorical resonance than logic or reason. So even if a message is technically true, how that message is framed will alter if not outright subsume the message. We typically remember by association, we will be unable to remember the message without the associated emotion.

The way we deliver a message always reinforces a narrative, and narratives are always rhetorical.

Life and Times Chapter 33

My birthday was on the 4th, so I am a few days late with my annual reflection post. But today marks the end of Spring Break, and I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last week that I was not able to do on my birthday.

The biggest change I have to report is that school is taking up more and more of my time. For my first two semesters I only took six credit hours each. I’m now halfway through my third semester back at school, and I am taking nine credit hours. This has kept me incredibly busy. And in the fall semester, I’m thinking about biting the bullet and becoming a full time student.

What strikes me as odd for this semester is that in some ways I feel it has been a waste of time and in others, it has opened up a new, exciting path. Starting with the negative, I was really excited about taking Introduction to Graphic Novels. And while I have learned some pretty neat things in the class, I feel like taking it wasn’t the best use of my time and money. This is the first semester the class has been offered as a semester-long class (previously it had been an intercession course). The teacher admitted that she is still in the process of designing the class. I think it shows. I think the problem is that the class could easily be a writing class or a literature class (in that it explores the history and influences of graphic narrative). But right now, it tries to be both. I’m not sure that a single class can handle both. One major problem with the class, a problem that is beyond the teacher’s power to resolve, is that there is no good anthology on the history of comics. (At least, not the way literature classes have them. The Norton Anthologies are fairly comprehensive, but no such anthology exists for comics.) It’s an odd thought that comic scholarship is still fairly new and, as a result, there are no comprehensive texts available for the teaching of comics as literature or comic history. Most of the texts seem to focus on how to write comics. I’m more interested in the former than the latter.

Now to the more positive part of the semester: I have decided to double major. I went back to school to get a degree in Professional Writing. Now I’m adding a Religious Studies degree to this. On a whim I decided to take Introduction to the History and Literature of the New Testament, and I have loved it. Historical and literary criticism is a lot of fun, and my teacher says I have a knack for it. (All those literature classes have paid off!) While some Christian students tend to struggle with historical criticism, I have actually found it to be quite freeing to my faith. The more I have learned about church history, the more I have seen that the American evangelical lens is just one way of interpreting scripture, and it is a way of interpretation that I have occasionally questioned. Historical criticism has helped me to identify cultural biases and re-evaluate some texts, which has actually given me a greater appreciation for what the Bible is and what the writers were trying to say.

Pursuing two degrees is going to be difficult. The Professional Writing program is a well-run, comprehensive, work-intensive program. The program was designed to focus not just on theory, but on practical aspects. Last semester I took Scientific and Technical Editing. We used Carolyn Rude’s Technical Editing book. The class was not designed to just read the book, discuss the theories, and do a few exercises. Instead, we read the book, discussed the theories, did the exercises, and went out into the community to find a client who would let us edit a fifteen page document. We learned about the Levels of Edit approach to editing and took our document through a total of six different edits. It was a busy class. It was often stressful. But at the end of the course, I had a professional portfolio that it would take some people months of on-the-job experience to develop. I had it after a few weeks after taking a class. More than any other class I have taken in college (and I have taken quite a few writing classes for my Creative Writing minor), Scientific and Technical Editing increased my ability to write and communicate ideas. When I graduate, it may be the one of the most important classes I have taken.

The Religious Studies classes will be difficult as well. I was talking with the graduate assistant in my New Testament class, and he said that the Religious Studies department has a reputation of being writing-intensive and occasionally difficult. But this is because they take the concept of creating scholars very seriously. Prior to this class, I had never taken an essay test that required me to cite sources from memory. It was difficult, but I did quite well. More to the point, I enjoyed the challenge and the subject sustained my interest throughout.

So, again, life looks to be busy in the future. This is a good thing because busy-ness keeps me from becoming discontent. But it is a sad thing because it means I must refocus my attention a bit. In writing essays, one of the best pieces of advice is to narrow your focus. If you try to say too much, if you pick a topic that is too broad, the subject becomes unmanageable. If you try to put too many ideas into a sentence, you end up with an incomprehensible run-on. Instead, it is better to break things up. It is better to refine your focus, that way you can do one or two things really well. I’ve learned to appreciate this advice in my writing. I had never really applied this idea to my life. We live in a media-saturated age. There are so many things we can do, so much potential in every moment. Often I feel paralyzed by all the options at my disposal. I have great swaths of procrastination and boredom because there are so many things that I want to do, but my brain cannot focus on all of them at once. I overload. I shut down.

For Lent I gave up Facebook. I shut down the account and walked away. I thought that having a Facebook-free life would give me more time. It didn’t. Either I didn’t use Facebook as much as I thought I did, or I found something to replace the habit. The point is that I must further reduce the demands on my attention. Already I have made the decision to put off doing a comprehensive review of The X-Files until after I finish my Doctor Who blog. Similarly, I am letting go of my hopes of watching all the episodes of Doctor Who before the 50th anniversary special (which is sometime in November). I’m going to take my time on this project and try to do good work. But it also means, much to the disappointment of a couple of friends, that I will be giving up my King Reads King blog. The goal had been to read through and review all of Stephen King’s novels. This is too big a project to accomplish in the midst of going back to school. It conflicts directly with my Doctor Who blog, and the Doctor Who blog has seniority. And frankly, I’m not sure my heart is still in King Reads King. I’m about 100 pages into The Stand, and I think it is well-written, compelling, and interesting. But I never want to pick it up and read it. I am going to commit myself to finishing it, but King Reads King is ending. And if I feel tempted to start another blog before I have finished with Doctor Who, I’m going to take the advice of McGruff and “Just say no.” (Okay, technically McGruff said, “Take a bite out of crime.” But he was part of drug resistance education and “Just say no” was a slogan of the war on drugs, so I’m throwing them into the same anti-drug pot for convenience. It’s artistic license.)

So these are the big things. As for smaller things that have happened this year:

  • I’m growing more apathetic toward DC’s New 52. At first I was so excited, but as time has progressed I have felt only Dial H and Batman, Incorporated are consistently good. Scott Snyder’s Batman has had moments of brilliance, but the whole “Death of the Family” arc seemed overdone and pointless. The Owls story was great, however. I’m hoping “Death of the Family” was just a low point.
  • I have become obsessed with tabletop role playing games. I’ve been ravenously consuming Role Playing Public Radio’s podcast and actual plays. Gaming is something that I would like to do on a semi-regular basis, but I have had difficulty putting together a gaming group. I would like some guarantee of this being a practical hobby before I start dropping the amount of cash that gaming requires. I am starting to wonder if I will have to hang out at game stores and meet new people if I want to have a regular game group. The introvert in me shudders.
  • I am still working through the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m over two-thirds through his non-collaborative work. I have become a total fan of Lovecraft, but his writings touch on something I have only recently realized I have loved all my life: supernatural investigation. Accordingly, I have also started to re-watch The X-Files, but for fun, not for writing purposes (as per what I said earlier in this post).
  • This year I conquered my fear of climbing up the ladder and getting on the roof. It sounds silly, I know. The thing is, I have an eight-foot ladder and the lowest part of the roof is about nine or nine-and-a-half feet. I take written instructions very seriously, and the stickers on the ladder clearly say to not stand on the top rung. Also, I weigh more than I should, which makes the distribution of weight on the ladder a bit dangerous. But I’ve been on the roof twice now, once to clean the chimney and once to unsuccessfully fix a leak. Climbing down from the roof to the ladder is the scary part.

To wrap up, it has been a busy year. It looks to be busy still. But the bottom line is that I’m narrowing my focus this year. Hopefully this will enable me to better cope with the commitments in my life and decrease the amount of stress, overload, and procrastination I have struggled with recently.

Writing, Blogging, Lost, and Doctor Who

My wife and I had an extended time in bed this morning and before you go there, no, it did not involve anything particularly sensual.  We were talking about Lost.  We were engaging in the routine discussions of how disappointed we were and trying to figure out what went so wrong on the show.

Over on Popgun Chaos, my friend Cody posted a few thoughts on the new show The Walking Dead, and one of his points is that he is trying to find a show that fills the void left by Lost.  I completely sympathize with this.  My wife and I have spent hours discussing the characters, the mythology, and where the show could (but inevitably didn’t) go.  And despite our disappointment with the ending, we don’t regret our time watching Lost, nor do we regret our time discussing it.  We keep wondering how the show will hold up when we go back to re-watch it, something we plan on doing, even though we dread re-watching season six.

I work just under 40 hours a week (I believe I hit about 37, but sometimes stay longer for store credit), which doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing.  As it is, I think I do about six to eight hours per week writing, and that is usually on one project, my Doctor Who blog.  I started that blog as a way to force myself to have content six days a week with a ready-made topic.  It is easy to watch a 25 minute episode, make notes, and write a review.  It has also been fun.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave me with time for other project (nor do I get any money from it, but that is another issue altogether).  Thus, when I hit upon the idea of a Lost blog that accomplishes the same thing as the Doctor Who blog, I was at once excited and overwhelmed.  I would love to cover the entire series of Lost, analyzing each episode on its own merits and how it fits into the meta-narrative of Lost.  I would love to point out unfulfilled expectations and plot-lines that go nowhere.  I would love to offer up suggestions on how things could have been tweaked and improved.  Sadly, despite being quite motivated to do this, I don’t think I have time.  Maintaining the Doctor Who blog takes up a good portion of my writing time, and since it doesn’t pay, I cannot cut back on my hours at work to devote to the Lost blog, which I really, really want to do even as I write about it now.  I’m certainly open to suggestions on how to make this come to pass, but at the moment I’m just venting my frustration.

And if you have any interest at all in Doctor Who, feel free to check out The Edwardian Adventurer.  Every episode of Doctor Who will be covered–in order.

Closing Tabs 2010.07.19

Lawsuits pertaining to “The Shack” – This is a shame as it will add more fuel to the fire for those who greatly dislike the book.  It is a shame when Christians sue one another.  But since this has been happening since the first century, I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising.

I learned recently that my state government was letting us vote on whether or not we would allow the federal government to fine people for not having insurance.  This may complicate the issue.

This is not a good thing if you have a lot of money in a British bank.

Which Famous Author Do You Write Like? – I’m apparently Edgar Allan Poe