Administrator’s Note: We here at TTAF are taking a break from blogging for the rest of the year. We feel that it is important that we take some time off to spend with friends and family, and also to relax a bit as the past year has been hectic for all four of us. We cannot thank you enough for reading, commenting on and sharing TTAF. We hope to use this time off to create more posts that we hope you will enjoy. While we are on hiatus we would still love to hear from you via the comments section and also by writing guest posts. We are looking for writers from all backgrounds, yes even women, to contribute to the site and if you are interested please send us an email. We are seeking to create a community experience with this blog and in order to do so we want to hear from you.
In the meantime we will be counting down the top fifty posts (out of 353) from this year. Once we are done with that we will get back to our regular blogging. As you read these posts feel free to share them on any number of social media sites with the buttons found below each post and above the comments section. Have a great holiday season.
-Matt, Drew, Josh, and Curtis-
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The Dark Knight Rises comes out today (or, came out last night at midnight, since that’s how we play the game these days), and I’m a little worried. Not about the movie’s quality, mind you. With Chris Nolan at the helm, I don’t see much chance of TDKR being anything but great. However, just about everyone I know is excited for it on one level or another, and that level of anticipation can be problematic. Let me explain: when we approach something we anticipate highly, be it a new album from a favorite artist, the finale of a beloved television show, or the final film in a blockbuster trilogy that helped revitalize a character who had been reduced to a laughingstock and redefine the artistic possibility of superhero stories, we tend to develop highly specific visions for what we expect to hear or see. These expectations are not bad things in themselves (there is an inherent thrill in anticipation, after all), but, as often as not, they have an irreparable effect on the experiences we have with those things we look forward to with bated breath.
So, back to my worry. I’m concerned that a lot of people are going into The Dark Knight Rises with so highly tailored a vision of what the movie should be, that they will be unable to judge the movie as it actually is. Why this concerns me is hard to pin down. After all, it isn’t as though other people’s perceptions of a movie affects my experience with it in the slightest. So why does it matter? I think the simplest answer is that I respect an artist like Chris Nolan to the point that I would actually feel bad for him if his most involved personal investment were judged on the kind of phantom criteria that ultra-high expectations tend to create. There’s a quote – from a critic, I think, but I fully admit the possibility that I’m butchering this – that goes something like, “Watch the movie in front of you, not the one you wish you were watching.” The message is simple: judge things on their own merits, not on your platonic ideal of what they should be. This is easier said than done, especially when we’re really looking forward to something. I’ve had to fight it when listening to new Radiohead or Arcade Fire albums and watching the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies, among many others. I’ll be fighting it this weekend when I take my seat for The Dark Knight Rises.
I’ve spent much of the last year praying for a change in circumstances: a new job, a writing-related breakthrough, anything that made me feel like I was more on the track I think my life should be rolling down at the ripe old age of twenty-six. I wanted my talents to be used to their maximum effectiveness, to push myself to finish projects and develop the discipline to transform writing from a hobby and fantasy into a vocation and reality. I felt motivated by an honest desire to get the best out of myself, and at no point did any potential success or glamour override the simple belief that I write better than I do just about anything else (please don’t think too much about the implications of that statement), and I should therefore be spending more energy and time developing, and hopefully realizing, that talent.
All of this sounds so humble and innocent that I could just about retch.
In the midst of this push for self-fulfillment, I developed a pretty hard-and-fast idea of exactly what my life would have to look like for all of this to happen. I’d have to stop teaching, because, as it turns out, being any good at that job demands a lot of energy, time, and takes up more than its share of mental real estate. I’d probably have to get a non-salaried job with flexible hours so I could set aside bundles of time to write. Ideally, I’d have to suffer a lot, because I’m a firm believer that suffering is the stimulant that leads to personal growth and self-actualization. (Plus, I’ve got to have something romantic to say at my Pulitzer acceptance speech, right?) In order for me to say with any degree of authenticity that I was “chasing my dream,” this is the life I would need to create. It should go without saying that I was watching a lot of TED Talks tagged “inspirational” during this period.
In the last couple of months, I’ve had to come to the realization that, as much as people say they respect teachers, very few people want to hire one to do anything but teach. Suddenly, my little plan started to crumble (and I was so ready to be a starving artist). Then, a short time ago, my wife and I were eating dinner with some friends of ours who have considerably more experience in the area of enormous, life-altering choices than we do. We tend to listen to these people, so when my friend apologized for how forward he was about to be and said, in so many words, that if I’d been praying for God’s will (I had) and that I really felt that to not make writing my vocational focus would be a waste of my particular abilities (I do), then it was probably time to face the possibility that God didn’t see my immediate future quite the way I did.
Few words describe God as well as “inconvenient.”
Without realizing it (mainly because I kept telling myself this story of my future in such a way that I looked like a self-sacrificial hero), I had suddenly turned my life into The Dark Knight Rises (minus the penchant for costumes, etc.). I had developed a highly specific vision for what should happen over the next few years of my life, such that I had left little room to adequately judge what is happening. Let me assure you that as troublesome as this kind of attitude can be when sitting down to watch an anticipated blockbuster, it presents exponentially more difficulties when you apply it to your day-to-day life. The main problem though, remains similar: we see our lives only through the lens of intense expectation (and of course, there’s nothing we anticipate more fervently than the next chapter of our own existences), and, as a result, are entirely unable to find joy in what we do, so convinced are we that something different should be happening to us. This is true even when what actually is happening to us has much to recommend it, even if it’s actually pretty fantastic. I feel sometimes like I’ve been in a bad mood for about a year because I couldn’t reconcile reality with my expectations. In this way, my “idealistic” vision for my immediate future was really just a well disguised set of chains that locked me into believing my life would be lacking something if it didn’t play out just the way I envisioned. That attitude kept me from growing just as much as anything else did. I think I finally might be coming out of it.
As you take your seat at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, try to watch the movie in front of you, not the one you wish you were watching. Do the same thing at your breakfast table and your office chair; behind the wheel of your car and in the recliner after a long day’s work; in the bleachers at your kid’s soccer game and when you sit down to dinner with a wise friend.
Enjoy the show.