Tag Archives: practice

Zen and the Art of Slicing Virtual Fruit

I recently got the Fruit Ninja app a million years after it came out because it was free in the app store because I am a cheapskate like that. My toddler son, of course, quickly discovered this new game and wanted to play with me, so we sat, him in my lap, the iPad in his lap, slicing fruit.

He opened up a new game in Zen Mode, which is, I guess, just a bunch of fruit falling down that you have to slice for a while (which is, in a nutshell, every game mode in Fruit Ninja). However, my son decided to take this Zen Mode and turn it into legitimate, infuriating Zen practice. Every time I would try to slice a fruit, successful or not in my attempt, my son would quietly pause the game, and restart it. Over and over, he did this, and I found myself inexplicably frustrated beyond proportion. Why would my son not allow me to just cut the stupid fruit as it popped up on the screen?

And then I realized, how appropriate for a “Zen Mode” game. Every time I gave into my impulses (impulses conditioned over decades of gaming) to cut the fruit, to mindlessly perform an action without any real cause, reason, or understanding, my son would start the game over. “Again!” I could hear him say in an uncharacteristically gruff voice, forcing me to sit in meditation, watching the fruit fall, resisting the monkey mind to act and simply let the fruit fall.

If you have Fruit Ninja on your electronic whatchamacallit thingy device, I suggest trying this. Set your device on a stand, where you can see it clearly while seated in (half-)lotus position. Open Zen Mode. Let the fruit simply fall. Refuse to take action. Resist your monkey mind. If you are as restless and deluded as me, you will find this non-activity immensely and disproportionately difficult.

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Or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love the fanfic

Okay, this is not true in my case, unless you're my wife. But if you're single, this t-shirt just might work for you. Maybe.

Okay, this is not true in my case, unless you're my wife. But if you're single, wearing this t-shirt just might lead to some sexy times.

I’ve been working hard on my Calvin and Hobbes – Encyclopedia Brown crossover fanfic the past couple of days, and it’s been a fairly enjoyable experience (after a considerable writer’s block). In fact, it’s definitely been some of the most fun writing I’ve done in a long time.

I had started writing this on a whim (the genesis of the idea actually manifested itself in a comic form). I mostly did it for fun and to goof around. What I didn’t expect it to do was make me a better writer.

Fan fiction just has that aura of…amateur. There’s bad fiction, and then there’s fan fiction, which is the lowest circle of writer hell (with furry fan fiction, self-insertion fan fiction, and furry self-insertion fan fiction as the absolute bottom). When I began writing this fanfic, I specifically wrote it completely over the top with lots of Tom Swifts and ridiculous dialogue and even more ridiculous plot. It was, after all, a fanfic, and you can never take these kinds of things too seriously.

But the sheer lack of seriousness helped transform what began as a silly project into an incredibly helpful and insightful foray into fiction writing, and here’s why I think every writer should write at least one serial fanfic.

1. It gets you into the habit of writing

My habits as a writer waxes and wanes with the moon cycles. Sometimes I’m on fire and I’m producing page after page. Other times, I’m in a slump and the blog goes weeks, even months without an update (though I try not to go too long before I post something – anything!). The fanfic definitely experienced a prolonged hiatus, but before and after the hiatus, the fanfic forced me to be fairly regular in my writing. I couldn’t let it sit for too long because I knew it would start to turn cold, and, frankly, I like the plot I came up with, and I’m pretty determined to finish this one writing project through, so I’m forcing myself to trudge along, especially when a few of my friends confided in private that despite the fact that it’s a fanfic, they actually do want to know what eventually happens to Calvin and Encyclopedia Brown. This only encourages me to continue producing.

2. It gives you an excuse to write

I am not a strong fiction writer by any means. While most writers have the problem of describing everything in excruciating detail, I seem to have the opposite problem with fiction writing. I progress the story too quickly. There’s no build up, no suspense, and half the time people don’t know what’s going on because I described the scene so poorly. Because of this, despite the fact that I would like to write fiction, I never did because I told myself that I am a poor fiction writer.

But then I started to write this fanfic, and, you know, despite the fact that I’m a poor fiction writer, I didn’t care, because it’s fan fiction! It’s supposed to be atrocious and terrible! That’s half the fan fiction’s charm! It suddenly became okay, even accepted to be horrible at writing when you’re writing an open fan fiction, and suddenly it lifted my self-imposed bans on writing fiction.

3. It will make you a better fiction writer

Even though it started as a fiction with over the top dialogue, plot, and writing, as a writer you can’t help but endear yourself to the characters. The more I wrote, the more I started rooting for Calvin, even though I knew fully the hell I had planned for him before he could defeat his demons. And the more I started to care about the presentation of the story. This thing isn’t going to win any awards, but I definitely want to at least do a decent job writing this.

Every writer goes through this. You become incredibly attached to your creations, and, at least for me, you’re afraid to reveal them for the world to judge because you don’t want people to hate them. These creations’ flaws rest upon your own flaws, and how people view them reflects how people view you, or at least that’s how you feel. With fan fiction, you can show the world your loved characters, and when people tell me how one dimensional Calvin is, I laugh and say, well, of course, it’s fan fiction. No harm done. But if someone tells me that despite the fact that the story is stupid, they can sometimes relate to Calvin and his troubled grip on reality, I thank them and inside, I’m proud.

So I started to pay more attention to how I structure things. Parts nine and ten, as well as the future parts eleven and twelve, were actually one long storyline that, as I read it over and over again to edit it, I begin to rewrite and add parts, fleshing out one part here, explaining more there, setting a slower pace here, chopping up parts to speed things up there. I began to re-read the old “how to write fiction” books from my old college classes. I listened to the great writing podcast Writing Excuses much more carefully, and I began to obsess on how to improve. And as I continued to write my atrocious fan fiction and tweak things and practice and experiment, I could feel myself getting better.

Of course, the fan fiction is still over the top, melodramatic, Tom Swift-y and atrocious. But even if I’m purposely writing pretty terrible genre fiction, I become more aware of why what I’m writing is so atrociously bad. But even though I’m purposefully writing bad fiction, I have tapped into the daily routine of what successful writers go through. I’ve started to obsess over what will happen next, how will I present it, what will I reveal to the audience, and what will I conceal? In my spare time, even during the times when I’ve tried to meditate for zazen, the thoughts of my fanfic float into my head, asking me constantly, how will you write the next part? I’ve begun to think and evaluate my work the way successful writers do, all within the safe, accepted confines of bad fan fiction, and this room to experiment and to just simply practice writing on a massive scale is a great experience, one that every aspiring writer should try, if only so that you, too, can practice your fiction writing and not care if somebody thinks the writing is terrible because, you know, it’s fan fiction. I mean, my Gandalf x Captain Picard x Voldemort x Mr. Darcy fanfic is supposed to be terrible.

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“Un-professionalism” in the Church

I remember reading a blog post in the ‘nacle about how teaching is a professional skill that must be practiced and requires at least a little bit of training, and yet many people treat it so lightly in the Church. He made the example that you would never call someone to be an organist or pianist when they’ve had no training and expect them to play even decently the next Sunday for the whole congregation. So why do we do the same for teaching?

And why do we do the same for counseling, for that matter? I appreciate the great deal of work that bishops and stake presidents and branch presidents put into their respective flocks in making sure things run properly. They do it with little training and expertise, and for the most part they pull it off pretty well. But I know of many people in the Church personally who have been traumatized by a leader in the Church who, to give them the benefit of doubt, lacked any training in counseling of any sort and proceeded to advocate horrible ideas for any kind of psychological healing or closure. Sometimes they felt more committed to saving the Church face than addressing legitimate concerns, and other times they might have simply not known that their ideas or methods are outdated or can have disastrous effects on a person’s psyche.

I do believe that a person can be directed by the Spirit of God if that person is in tune. However, I do not believe a person should be subjected to have to perform miracles every day when it would be so easy to have someone trained in it step into place. For example, I believe the Spirit can, in incredible circumstances, inspire a person to perform some medical action that person might not have known about otherwise that saves a life. I do not believe, however, that person should then go into medicine and practice it on a day to day basis. If the Prophet needed open heart surgery, would the brethren get together and pray about which lay member should perform open heart surgery? No, they would find someone trained in open heart surgery (the best of the best, member or not) and have that surgeon perform the procedure. Even if that lay member has the possibility to be inspired by the Spirit to do the right thing, we shouldn’t take unnecessary chances in life. Even worse, suggest to a surgeon that it’s possible for a regular, untrained member of the Church to perform such procedures all the time under the direction of the Spirit and they will be livid. But when a counselor or teacher raises the same objections to the argument, suddenly they have no faith in their fellow brothers and sisters, nor in God. It doesn’t follow.

"Seriously, guys. I got this. I read the Church manual last night and prayed about it this morning. I think I can do this."

"Seriously, guys. I got this. I read the Church manual's lesson on open heart surgery last night and prayed about it this morning. I think I can do this."

So why do we feel that counseling is the same thing? Counselors go through schooling in psychology and sociology, are updated on the most recent knowledge in the social sciences, and now even learn chemistry and biology to understand how our physical bodies can affect our mental well-being. And while I respect all leadership in the Church for the great people they are and the sacrifice they provide for helping out in their roles in the Kingdom of God, I can’t help but wonder that, as a Church, we take unnecessary risks when it comes to delicate matters such as counseling and teaching. We have people who have received minimal training at best to play an important and difficult role, whereas in the world, such matters would require years of training and schooling before they are allowed to take on these roles. It’s as if we’re tempting God unnecessarily.

We require some form of training when it comes to playing the organ or acting as a lawyer representing the Church. Maybe we should start requiring some form of training for counseling and teaching as well.

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