A Mr. Holland Moment

Timing is a funny thing. When I set the mid-April date for the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for my middle grade adventure novel The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, I was mostly considering a few important calendar events. Halfway between Christmas and summer break, the campaign’s end allowed enough time to work through the production process and deliver books in early fall. And, thanks to the support of 417 wonderful people, that’s going to happen! Wahoo!

But, in one of those weird coincidences, something else happened as the campaign reached its tail-end. We reached full funding on Mother’s Day, which this year, also happened to come at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Still with me? Okay.

So, here’s why all this matters: among the flowers, handmade necklaces, cards, and other emblems of gratitude my wife received from the families of her Kindergarten students, she got a completely unexpected note from a high-schooler. “You probably don’t know me, but …” it began, then went on to tell her how much she enjoys watching the way my wife interacts with her students, loving on them, teaching them, day in and day out.

My wife was blindsided. Not that she doesn’t know she’s touching lives. But to hear about it in so unexpected a way was so meaningful, she was speechless. “I had no idea,” she said.

And we really don’t, do we? We have no idea how the lives we live are affecting others, or how our individual choices add up to something larger. Perhaps it’s a version of the poignant line from the play Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”

Sadly, if I’m any indication, we don’t. Not as much as I should, anyway.

The Kickstarter campaign brought with it a lot of unexpected realizations, about myself, about the world, about stories and people. Many of them I won’t really process until time has passed, and I’ve gotten perspective on the whole experience. But one that I’ve been pondering recently has to do with this idea.

Impact. Influence. The fact that “no man is an island, entire of itself; every man/is a piece of the continent,  a part of the main,” as John Donne wrote.

It’s so tempting to equate routine with mundane, and equate mundane with a lack of value. When I say it like that, it sounds ridiculous, but that’s how we think sometimes, isn’t it?

From the very start of the campaign a month ago, people – friends, college roommates, former students, and a whole bunch of “strangers” – reached out to join arms with me around this project. Not only did they back the campaign, they spread the word, they shared their enthusiasm, and some of them even told me they were checking the campaign homepage regularly. Every time I’d see them, they would give me a big smile and a thumbs-up.

So many amazing folks stood beside me, took my hand, and said, “We want this to happen. We’re grateful for you in our lives, we’re grateful for your risk. And we want your writing to take flight into the world.”

Wow.

*90’s movie alert

Maybe you’ve seen the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. I’m feeling a lot like Mr. Holland right now. Okay, yes his first name is Glenn. I get that. But also, he’s also a guy who comes face to face in the movie’s climactic scene with hundreds of reminders that his life has impact.

A college mentor of mine used to call this process “the touching of life to life.” We’re here for the touching of life to life. And that can happen anywhere. The checkout line. The day care. The soccer field. The hospital room. Wherever our life, our vocation, or passions, or just our day-to-day travels take us. We touch lives. Will I be aware, present enough in the moment, to “realize life” while I live it?

Maybe I’m a little slow, and it took me this campaign to see it, but I’m grateful for this little Mr. Holland moment. Now that the campaign is over, I’m thrilled to be dedicating myself to working with our team to make the best book possible. I’m also thrilled to be able to sit down this summer and dream up more stories from Rattlesnake Junction. You all deserve it. And I can’t wait to share them with you.

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Indiana Jones and the Baptized Imagination

A fifth grade birthday party: I was a few months past ten years old, crammed into a school cafeteria with a dozen other pre-adolescent boys, toting sleeping bags and snacks, ready for anything. Everything about that night likely would have drifted into the ash heap of memory, but for one major reason: Indiana Jones.

Someone popped in the videotape, the fluorescent lights flicked off, and I was transported deep into the South American jungle. There he was, Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., fedora and five o’clock shadow, plucking the golden idol from its place atop the stone pillar in the bowels of the earth and running for his life from the giant boulder. Then came the natives, the Nazis, the bullwhip, the one-liners, and the face-melting. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I left that party changed. The world was wilder and bigger than I had known.

Read More at Foundling House

Kickstarter Day One in the Books!

Click the image to be taken to the campaign page!

 

I PROMISE I will not be journaling every day of this Kickstarter campaign. Well, at least not publicly. However, as we reach the 24-hour mark of the campaign, I thought I’d share some beautiful words from my friend S.D. Smith that in the way that only he can, express what the past season in my life has been. It’s a wonderful metaphor for the sort of “daring greatly” which I wrote about a bit last week in the lead up to the campaign. I’m thoroughly grateful for all the support and love Tumbleweed has been shown. For now, though, here are some words from Sam. Here’s the link to the full post.

Give us a chance, and we will give you our hearts. We will expose our hearts to be shot at. It is a brave thing to stick your neck out in a world full of flashing swords. Few are brave enough to stick out their soft, supple necks, but everyone has a sword. Everyone loves to use their swords. Swords are easy to use. It’s easy to go around chop, chop, chopping.

 

He’s exactly right, you know. And if there’s one truth that this experience has taught me so far is that exposing your heart to the world, as Sam puts it, is  dangerous and stupid and necessary in making anything that matters.

But it’s also so, so beautiful.

So, thanks for Day One. And here’s to a lot more to get where we’re going on this crazy journey together.

 

Daring Greatly, Part Two: Waking Up on Mars

 

Note: In the days leading up to the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for my middle grade frontier adventure novel The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson on Tuesday, April 17, I’m sharing my story of how I ended up here. You can read the introductory post here, and Part One, “Into the Mist” here. Find out more about the Kickstarter campaign here. 

“I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape.”

So opens Chapter 3 of The Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantastic tale of John Carter, a Civil War soldier who staggers into a cave and awakens to find himself inexplicably transported across the galaxy to the planet Barsoom, also known as Mars.

It’s a helpful reference point for me these days. Because, if I’m being honest, the past season of life, I’ve felt a lot like our friend Captain Carter.

Yesterday, I wrote about the inspiration provided by a cloud of witnesses who nudged me out into the open waters of daring greatly as an independent artist. Today, I want to explain what that season of preparation has been like.

There are seasons in life when you awaken on Mars. You find yourself transported to a new galaxy, where the landscape is alien and you’ve got no idea where to go next. Home and the familiar seem a long way off. Sometimes, those experiences are not of our own making. We’re thrust into them like John Carter, blindsided by the transporting moments of disease or tragedy. Other times, we make choices which, though we don’t know it at the time, lead us to the cliff. 

But whether it’s a decision of our own making or not, we reach the precipice just the same, and realize that we’ve been transported to a strange land, and the only acceptable action is to embrace the change and accept the challenges afforded by the new surroundings.

And that’s where I find myself today.

I believe there is an Author to the story, the One whom, if we listen carefully enough, we can hear and see working through the people, places, and situations of our own experiences. The Author shapes and moves, and when we reflect and commune with Him, we gain valuable wisdom and perspective on our story, and our place in the Big Story. So it’s through contemplation and conversation with friends about the twists and turns of my own story that I see more clearly the significance of how I got here. 

Though it was more gradual than John Carter, I woke up on Mars just the same. I made the decision to strike out on the path of an independent artist, or entrepreneur, or both, which in a lot of ways is a life lived on an alien planet. I’ve got a “day job,” a family, friends, responsibilities to church and community. But I’ve also got this other life. Yep, just like Bruce Wayne, I’m walking around as a “normal guy” most of the time. But when the Bat Signal of obligation to this artistic life shines in the skies, it’s time to go to work.

After the decision to go indie came, many other realizations followed, dark, scary realizations. How does this story get Out There? What about the connections needed to make it travel? What about resources? And, the one I feel most keenly – what happens after I take the plunge? What happens after I dare greatly?

“Jump off the cliff, and learn how to make wings on the way down,” said Ray Bradbury.

I feel ya, Ray. As launch time beckons, I’m realizing there’s no way to anticipate what will happen after the plunge off the cliff.

Which brings me back to John Carter. Fortunately, blessedly, there’s one key difference between me and Captain Carter:

I’m not waking up on Mars alone.

That’s because, also this past year, friends have come out of the woodwork to join hands and wrap their arms around me in encouragement. They believe this story should be shared. They believe in what I’m doing. And, most importantly, they believe in me. Win or lose, they’re with me. That means a lot.

But isn’t one of the hardest things a person can do is to accept the affirmation and belief of another person during a time when they don’t feel it themselves? Even if it’s a belief in a gifting that I believe in myself. When it comes to leaping off the cliff and waiting for the wing-building, no amount of self-confidence or self-belief is going to suffice. Because the voices, the Resistance, whatever you want to call them, are relentless and hungry. They never stop picking you apart. But this blessed community is also relentless. And I’m choosing to let them stand in the gap for me.

That’s the difference. Daring greatly solo? Dead in the water. Daring greatly with your people around you? That’s the wind in the sails.

Here’s one final picture:

A spindly, wide-eyed 10-year old version of me falls asleep tingling with anticipation for the next day’s trip to Disney World. He’s in a bed approximately 20 miles from the front gates, and at the sheer nearness of the park, the wonders the next day will hold, he’s rendered an insomniac. Finally, blessedly, just as it seems his eyes have only the previous moment fluttered shut, he’s awakened by a whispered voice in his ear – “It’s time. Let’s go.” His dad shakes him on the shoulder, and his eyes flip open.

He remembers.

It’s time.

Let’s go.

These are the whispered words I’ve heard in my ear. The Spirit has awakened this slumbering dreamer to a vision of a new season of calling and creativity.

I didn’t go looking for Mars. But I found it.

And I’m ready to go.