A Caring God

When I was a teenager I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I was usually the Dungeon Master, meaning I designed the adventures – the goblin-infested castles, the dragon lairs, the haunted swamps – in which my friends played. The Dungeon Master is part referee, part storyteller, and part host, and if all goes well the game feels like a party with Doritos and polyhedron dice.

I was one of two principal Dungeon Masters in my little teenage gaming community in Providence, the other being my friend Evan. We were sort of rivals in that our games were often being compared. In my games, none of the players’ characters ever died. They were challenged, they were tested, but they were like heroes in a series whom the readers knew would always make it through to be challenged and tested in the next story.

In Evan’s world, characters died. He was an indifferent God. When the dice spoke, he and all the players listened, and if those dice spoke death, so be it. I played in his world once and I admired his indifference. The game was more exciting. Things seemed to matter more when the ultimate outcome wasn’t predetermined.

I would eventually adopt some of Evan’s indifference. Except it wasn’t indifference at all. I only wanted things to matter, whether it was a game of Dungeons & Dragons or a romantic relationship or a story I was writing. Life was better when you felt your decisions mattered, and so I would let the occasional character die for the betterment of all. Death in this way became the threat that was a gift, a focusing tool for the living, reminding them that the story is more alive when you know that it will end.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Blameless

I wrote the other day about the power of very good questions. Here’s an example of a not-so-good question: “What’s wrong with me?” Whenever I used to ask this question – which, for a time, was pretty often – it seemed like absolutely the most practical question to which I could put my mind. I only asked the question because something was wrong, by which I mean I was unhappy. If you’re a writer I don’t need to tell you what was wrong. It’s always the same for all writers – rejection and failure. These are not small and discrete problems, however. Their scope can be all consuming.

Which is why I asked this not-so-good question. I was an adult, after all, and as an adult when something is wrong, you fix it. The problem was that every time I asked myself – and by “myself” I mean my imagination, which answered all my questions, creative or otherwise – whenever I asked this question I got no answer. There was only silence, the void. It reminded me hauntingly of my worst fears about death. In fact, this thought of death seemed every bit like the life of failure, an endless absence of joy and discovery.

By and by (and by and by and by; I was a very slow learner with this one), I learned that whenever something was happening that I didn’t like, I would ask myself, “If nothing’s wrong with me, and if nothing’s wrong with anyone else, and if nothing’s wrong with Life, why is this happening?” I had to phrase it this way because I was sorely tempted to simply assign blame for my troubles. Blame stops all questioning without providing a real answer.

So I’d ask this question. It’s a good one, but you sometimes have to be patient with the answer. No matter. Just as I can sit quietly at my desk waiting for the next sentence to come, so too I can sit quietly in my car or at the kitchen table for that question to be answered. I could wait because now I wasn’t solving the Problem of Bill, now I was just thinking creatively, which is the happy pursuit of an expanded perception of life.

The answer, by the way, was always the same: I’d misunderstood. I mistook a rejection letter for my career’s death knell, feeling stuck with a story for a lack of talent. I’d made these mistakes and accepted them as reality. Do not accept death as an answer. The void is just a case of temporary blindness, of looking for what is wrong when there is nothing wrong and no one to blame.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Caring God

When I was a teenager I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I was usually the Dungeon Master, meaning I designed the adventures – the goblin-infested castles, the dragon lairs, the haunted swamps – in which my friends played. The Dungeon Master is part referee, part storyteller, and part host, and if all goes well the game feels like a party with Doritos and polyhedron dice.

I was one of two principal Dungeon Masters in my little teenage gaming community in Providence, the other being my friend Evan. We were sort of rivals in that our games were often being compared. In my games, none of the players’ characters ever died. They were challenged, they were tested, but they were like heroes in a series whom the readers knew would always make it through to be challenged and tested in the next story.

In Evan’s world, characters died. He was an indifferent God. When the dice spoke, he and all the players listened, and if those dice spoke death, so be it. I played in his world once and I admired his indifference. The game was more exciting. Things seemed to matter more when the ultimate outcome wasn’t predetermined.

I would eventually adopt some of Evan’s indifference. Except it wasn’t indifference at all. I only wanted things to matter, whether it was a game of Dungeons & Dragons or a romantic relationship or a story I was writing. Life was better when you felt your decisions mattered, and so I would let the occasional character die for the betterment of all. Death in this way became the threat that was a gift, a focusing tool for the living, reminding them that the story is more alive when you know that it will end.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Storyteller’s Dream

My dreams often float in and out lucidity, where, as when I am writing a story at my desk, one moment I am living in the dream as I would in life, and the next I am observing that dream and am aware of my manipulation of it—until I reenter it and am living it again.

I had perhaps the best dream of my life two years ago. I was with my youngest son Sawyer, and we were in a terrible place. It was a warzone of a city filled with armed men hunting down their enemies. In this dream, the armed men found us, and lined Sawyer and me up against a wall. The leader began drawing X’s on the wall behind us, to better help the executioners’ in aim. “We don’t have much time,” I thought, and became lucid, my eye a camera now swooping over the scene looking for my way out or how to disarm the men, when I heard Sawyer say, “Don’t worry. I know what to do.”

I was back living the dream, and the men aimed, cocked their rifles, and I understood the moment before it happened that it was Sawyer’s plan to let them kill us. The order was given, and the muzzles flared, and I felt the bullets strike me, and Sawyer and I were not in our bodies anymore. As I moved further from my body, what I was became nothing but a darker and darker shade of blue, which I now saw was the same color as everything else in the world. Soon the world and I had no form at all, only color. “We’re going into the blue, Sawyer,” I said.

And as my own shade reached its darkest, deepest blue, as there at last was no difference between Sawyer and me and everything that was, I heard, “This is the world without any stories.” You would think a storyteller like me would believe he was looking on hell, but it was exactly the opposite. No sooner was I given this glimpse of perfection than Sawyer and I were fading into lighter and lighter blue until we were back in our bodies and walking together in a world made friendly again.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Caring God

When I was a teenager I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I was usually the Dungeon Master, meaning I designed the adventures – the goblin-infested castles, the dragon lairs, the haunted swamps – in which my friends played. The Dungeon Master is part referee, part storyteller, and part host, and if all goes well the game feels like a party with Doritos and polyhedron dice.

I was one of two principal Dungeon Masters in my little teenage gaming community in Providence, the other being my friend Evan. We were sort of rivals in that our games were often being compared. In my games, none of the players’ characters ever died. They were challenged, they were tested, but they were like heroes in a series whom the readers knew would always make it through to be challenged and tested in the next story.

In Evan’s world, characters died. He was an indifferent God. When the dice spoke, he and all the players listened, and if those dice spoke death, so be it. I played in his world once and I admired his indifference. The game was more exciting. Things seemed to matter more when the ultimate outcome wasn’t predetermined.

I would eventually adopt some of Evan’s indifference. Except it wasn’t indifference at all. I only wanted things to matter, whether it was a game of Dungeons & Dragons or a romantic relationship or a story I was writing. Life was better when you felt your decisions mattered, and so I would let the occasional character die for the betterment of all. Death in this way became the threat that was a gift, a focusing tool for the living, reminding them that the story is more alive when you know that it will end.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Killing

I was talking to a gentleman the other night who, in addition to being an executive at a large corporation and a former figure skater, is also a public speaker. We found ourselves agreeing about the power and the necessity of silence when speaking to hundreds of strangers. If you ask a question, you must allow a pause for your audience to consider their own answer; if you make a point, you must pause to allow your audience to absorb it.

How tempting to fill the room with your words, as if any pause is an opportunity for your audience to escape your thrall. There is, after all, a certain deadly kind of restless silence that any public speaker, including authors on a book tour, comes to dread. It is the silence of an audience waiting for something else, preferably the end of the lecture. I have known such silences, and at those moments I understand why comedians say that when a show goes well they’ve killed, and when it goes very poorly they have died.

It’s brutal-sounding language, but accurate, I think, because to succeed as a public speaker, or as a writer, I must allow something to die within me so that I can become transparent enough to allow through what wants to come through. I can’t stand guard at the gates of my mind screening every word or thought to protect some idea of my public image. The image must die, at least for that hour or two that I’m trying to share something.

And if I can succeed, the audience might experience their own gentle death as well. I have sat in darkened theaters and known that death. Some speaker or actor or singer took me to a place where I could forget what I was afraid of and what I needed to protect, where I could forget how old I was and how long I had left to live, where I could forget what I’ve done and what I haven’t done, where I could forget all that was wrong with the world and my life and remember who I was.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

My Only Job

I wrote yesterday about how we already have everything we want. However, as a friend pointed out to me, feeling good by itself, which is all I believe anyone really wants, won’t buy you groceries. This is quite true. And it is also true that it is hard to feel good when you’re starving, or living on the streets, or in the middle of a war. So maybe feeling good is actually what comes after we’ve secured groceries, and put a roof over our heads, and the cannons have ceased their thunder. Maybe feeling good is only the payoff once we have dealt with the necessary business, not of living, but simply surviving, of not-dying.

Maybe. Except that while it is hard to feel good while starving, or living on the streets, or in the middle of the war, it is not impossible, and that makes all the difference. Somewhere someone has found peace in a warzone, has found safety while homeless, has found strength while starving, the same as somewhere someone can find their balance while standing on a tightrope strung between skyscrapers. Conditions cannot control how we feel, though they can challenge us. When we surrender what we feel to our conditions, when we make our wellbeing conditional rather than unconditional, we surrender the very life we are supposedly trying to maintain in our struggle for survival.

Which is why I love the arts. What if, I asked myself many years ago, I could feed myself and keep a roof over my head simply by doing what felt good? What if my job was to feel good? What if telling stories and inspiring writers and creative people would be all I needed to do to survive? What if this story – that feeling good is only what comes after the dirty business of survival has been dealt with – is a myth we’ve been feeding ourselves since the days in the caves?

I have to answer and answer and answer this question every moment of every day, the same as I must find my balance whenever I stand. Mostly, I live on level ground, but high ledges and balances beams and even tightropes present themselves from time to time. I’m going to fall; I have accepted this. No matter. My balance remains within me, there for me to find whatever the conditions.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Caring God

When I was a teenager I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I was usually the Dungeon Master, meaning I designed the adventures – the goblin-infested castles, the dragon lairs, the haunted swamps – in which my friends played. The Dungeon Master is part referee, part storyteller, and part host, and if all goes well the game feels like a party with Doritos and polyhedron dice.

I was one of two principal Dungeon Masters in my little teenage gaming community in Providence, the other being my friend Evan. We were sort of rivals in that our games were often being compared. In my games, none of the players’ characters ever died. They were challenged, they were tested, but they were like heroes in a series whom the readers knew would always make it through to be challenged and tested in the next story.

In Evan’s world, characters died. He was an indifferent God. When the dice spoke, he and all the players listened, and if those dice spoke death, so be it. I played in his world once and I admired his indifference. The game was more exciting. Things seemed to matter more when the ultimate outcome wasn’t predetermined.

I would eventually adopt some of Evan’s indifference. Except it wasn’t indifference at all. I only wanted things to matter, whether it was a game of Dungeons & Dragons or a romantic relationship or a story I was writing. Life was better when you felt your decisions mattered, and so I would let the occasional character die for the betterment of all. Death in this way became the threat that was a gift, a focusing tool for the living, reminding them that the story is more alive when you know that it will end.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Storyteller’s Dream

My dreams often float in and out of lucidity, where, as when I am writing a story at my desk, one moment I am living in the dream as I would in life, and the next I am observing that dream and am aware of my manipulation of it—until I reenter it and am living it again.

I had perhaps the best dream of my life two nights ago. I was with my youngest son Sawyer, and we were in a terrible place. It was a warzone of a city filled with armed men hunting down their enemies. In this dream, the armed men found us, and lined Sawyer and me up against a wall. The leader began drawing X’s on the wall behind us, to better help in their aim. “We don’t have much time,” I thought, and became lucid, my eye a camera now swooping over the scene looking for my way out or how to disarm the men, when I heard Sawyer say, “Don’t worry. I know what to do.”

I was back living the dream, and the men aimed, cocked their rifles, and I understood the moment before it happened that it was Sawyer’s plan to let them kill us. The order was given, and the muzzles flared, and I felt the bullets strike me, and Sawyer and I were not in our bodies anymore. As I moved further from my body, what I was became nothing but a darker and darker shade of blue, which I now saw was the same color as everything else in the world. Soon the world and I had no form at all, only color. “We’re going into the blue, Sawyer,” I said.

And as my own shade reached its darkest, deepest blue, as there at last was no difference between Sawyer and me and everything that was, I heard, “This is the world without any stories.” You would think a storyteller like me would believe he was looking on hell, but it was exactly the opposite. No sooner was I given this glimpse of perfection than Sawyer and I were fading into lighter and lighter blue until we were back in our bodies and walking together in a world made friendly again.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Dragon in the Garden

I sometimes wonder if the worst misfortune that could befall a writer is to be cursed with a life of excitement and adventure. How easy, even with your own life, to become transfixed by the glitter and drama of events and lose sight of the heart that beats steadily and hopefully beneath every moment. Life may dress itself in a tuxedo, but within that coat and tie is the same naked truth to which we are all beholden.

It is the only truth toward which anyone would write, and the only truth toward which anyone would live. And yet how tempting it is to discard life like one of our own aborted ideas. Not all of life, of course – only the dull bits, the hours spent waiting, the idle hours in front of the TV, the after-dinner conversations with a spouse, the drive to work.

I have felt at times as if I am drowning in life’s dull bits. How the dirty daily business of not-dying consumes my attention. If the dull bits are discardable, why then so am I, for hasn’t my life seemed to have descended into little else? Now I look out and see nothing but empty survival, now I look out and would crave a killer at my door, if only to make that same survival worthy of a movie or at least a mention on the evening news.

How the dull bits summon the specter of meaninglessness. Now a dragon has appeared in my garden, and I am running for my life. Slay me if you can, he’ll whisper, but death has always been my friend, filling your quiet hours as he does with the haunted fantasy of an end as meaningless as the beginning and middle.

I write this column for anyone who has ever felt the pain of his own discarded life. Perhaps you did not even recognize the dragon as you looked at him. Perhaps you called him boredom, loneliness, poverty, loss, bad luck, or abuse. The dragon has many names. To live as a saint, you needn’t renounce your earthly ways, tend the children in Calcutta, or hang yourself on a cross. To live as a saint you need only see what a saint sees, to look out at the garden where the dragon breathes and know that serpent has come to save you.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter