Blue Valentines, back roads and building your book

We took a winding back road home from the accountant yesterday. I had no idea where we were, but my wife knew the way because it took us past a place that used to be a dive called the Charlestown Saloon.

That was one of a half-dozen or so places she once worked back when she was just starting out. She tended bar and waited tables at night to make ends meet until, slowly, she managed to establish herself in her day job. Building up your “book,” they call it — developing a reputation and a customer base substantial enough to pay the bills without 18-hour days of moonlighting at a second job.

This is a picture of me, wading through the flooded streets of Sea Isle City, about to do the best thing I ever did.

My wife is a licensed cosmetologist. She cuts hair and she’s really, really good at it. I’ll spare you my usual rant about Aristotelian virtue and craft. Suffice it to say she’s put in the 10,000 hours it’s said to take to acquire mastery and she has become a master at what she does.

I’m enormously proud of her. So are the dozens of customers in her now well-established “book,” who share that pride we all get whenever we’ve discovered a reliable master of any necessary craft, as though we’ve earned some sort of initiation into an elite secret society.

When we first started dating, after she had cut my hair for the first time, she asked me, half-teasing, if a bad haircut would have been a deal-breaker. I tried to tell her that what mattered to me wasn’t just that she had done a great job, but that she cared about doing a great job — that what mattered to me was how much it mattered to her. I tried to tell her that I wasn’t just impressed with her handiwork, but impressed with her.

I think I probably bungled that. I may have actually mentioned Aristotle or even, God help me, Alasdair McIntyre. Even now I haven’t yet mastered the craft of communicating to this woman how much she impresses me, or how very much I love her. But I’ll keep working at it, putting in the time toward my 10,000 hours. Practice, practice, practice.

And I do love this woman very much. That’s something you should know about me. If you don’t know that about me, then you don’t know me, because that is who I am. It’s an essential part of my identity.

This … thing here. This blog. This digital pamphleteering, this quixotic collection of secular sermons and sectarian politics and the whole virtual soap-box, pulpit, slacker-activist, gadfly, Hazel-Motes-at-Mars-Hill, evangelical expat in the progressive channel, pep-rally for the underdog, skeptical believer, believing skeptic, post-apocalyptic post-evangelical howling at the moon. This blog and its readers and the whole glorious Algonquin Round Table of commenters and friends I’ve never met. This is also who I am. This is also an essential part of my identity.

I am immensely fortunate and grateful not to have to choose between the two. But if I ever did have to choose, well, I’d miss all of this immensely. I’d feel that phantom pain that amputees describe, the enduring ache of a missing limb. But you can go on living without a limb. You can’t go on living without your heart. (Dick Cheney being the exception that proves the rule.)

I say all of this because it’s Valentine’s Day on Thursday. When you write for a living, you should write something nice for your spouse on Valentine’s Day instead of just sending flowers or chocolates. (Particularly since writing for a living tends to mean a pretty limited flowers-and-chocolates budget.)

But I’m also writing this because that back-road trip past the old saloon was a reminder to my wife of all the stress, strain, uncertainty and exhaustion of those long years when she was just starting out. It was her second such reminder yesterday, following that trip to the accountant.

My wife worked hard to get past all of that, enduring all the struggle of building her book, of juggling bills during months that always seemed a couple of days too long, of working to master her craft, to stay committed to it until that commitment could bear its own weight, all the while wondering if it ever would or could or if it wouldn’t be more sensible, more responsible, just to give up and find something else steadier and more substantial.

My wife went through all of that long before she met me. And she thought she was past all of that. But now instead of the rest and relief that she’s earned, she finds herself married to a husband who’s in exactly the same situation in his 40s that she struggled through in her 20s.

I’m building my book, trying to establish the readership and the reputation that would allow this thing here to bear its own weight.

And it’s working. Slowly but surely, it’s working. But still too slowly to spare my wife the stress and strain and uncertainty that she remembers all too well.

What that means, in part, is that now it’s my turn to pick up the double-shifts and moonlighting if I can find them. That’s something I’d resisted because I didn’t want to take away from my efforts here. I wasn’t sure how to calculate the opportunity costs, but the arithmetic has gotten much clearer and now it’s time. My commitment to you here is not to let that show.

Another part of what that means is that building a book will likely involve an actual book book. I’ve begun work on that (your D&D stories have been a great help, thank you), but I haven’t mentioned it here directly. This is me, now, mentioning it here directly, because that helps to make it seem more real and may help me to make it actually happen.

Yet another part of what building my book here means is that I’m going to have to get better at the marketing end of things. That runs against the grain of my skill-set and my inclinations, but it’s a necessary aspect of building one’s book, so it’s something I’m going to have to learn. Can I figure out how to do that without it seeming as crass, transparent, grasping and manipulative as everything I tend to associate with that word, “marketing”? I hope so. If not, I invite you to keep me in line if I ever stray too far in that direction. I invite you to let fly with honest criticism and honest mockery if you catch me clumsily urging you to “like” every post on Facebook or awkwardly begging for you to share every post via Twitter. (I also invite you to “like” every post on Facebook and to share every post via Twitter.)

And finally, part of what this means — speaking of crass, transparent, grasping and manipulative — is that I’d like to ask you, if you are able and inclined, to donate through that Tip Jar button crassly and graspingly located up there on the right.

Thank you if you can do that. Thank you if you can’t. And thank you for your patience with this uncomfortably personal post.

  • Simon

    Beautiful, just beautiful

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I’ve never “Liked” or “Tweeted” posts here before. I’m not completely certain why, but that, at least, is a behavior I can change. I promote your work in person, to friends I talk with, but I can do more. 

  • Kadh2000

    I’ve never donated here before.  It’s about time I did.

  • Madhabmatics

    I hope you do a kickstarter for the book, just make sure you look into what makes them successful. I know a guy who did a successful kickstarter, and he knows a ton of other people that have successfully kickstarted books, I can have ‘im email you if you’d like

  • Nirrti

     For me, who left religion behind several years ago, you’ve been sort of my “pastor”, for lack of a more appropriate word. I’ll probably never return to formal religion  again but the compassion and wisdom exuded in your posts have been worth more than all the 30 years of sermons I’ve gotten from church ministers or Sunday school teachers combined. You never write about how to get to heaven. You show us how to create it. If only the rest of the Christian Church could follow your example.

  • Magz Kam

    Dear Fred,

    1) Such a cutie pie you are, and I suspect your wife is just gorgeous.

    2) Thank you for all of your words and the work through the years. I wander through, marvel, wander off, stumble back and find more to marvel at …

    3) Two warm acquaintances of mine have a charming saying of agreement: ‘I like the way that you think and I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter.’ In this case, let me say this literally. Shill to me. Put me on the list to let me know what is coming down the pike. And if you don’t mind your posts being seen by a bunch of freaks, geeks, pervs, and Second Life roleplayers, I’m happy to Tweet up your work.

  • Lunch Meat

    I may have actually mentioned Aristotle or even, God help me,
    Alasdair McIntyre. Even now I haven’t yet mastered the craft of
    communicating to this woman how much she impresses me, or how very much I
    love her. But I’ll keep working at it, putting in the time toward my
    10,000 hours. Practice, practice, practice.

    And I do love this
    woman very much. That’s something you should know about me. If you don’t
    know that about me, then you don’t know me, because that is who I am. It’s an essential part of my identity.

    …You can’t go on living without your heart.

    Say it with me, folks–

    D’awwwwwwwww.

    (I try to share posts on Facebook, but I don’t always because it starts arguments. But I will make sure to tip when I get home (not putting my credit card info on my work computer).)

  • Jessica_R

    We’ve got Left Behind reboot teaser poster! I wish it was possible for us to arrange a Slacktivite con to sneak in tallboys and go see this together. http://thefilmstage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/left_behind_poster1-620×918.jpg

  • SisterCoyote

    Beautiful indeed – and I’m very hopeful, and happy, and… I dunno if there’s a word for it. Rooting for you? Praying for you? Anyway, happy for both of you, and hoping and praying that things work out.

    I don’t know when finances will stabilize for me – if finding those moonlighting, little service jobs works out in Ellensburg, if gas doesn’t skyrocket by a dollar or two in the next two weeks, if nothing goes horribly wrong, I will set up a reminder and add this blog to the weekly budget; it’s a thousand times worth it. In the meantime, hopefully, really hopefully, the drop-in-a-bucket will maybe be enough, and I can definitely start clicking the Share and Like buttons.

    (Also, I would buy your book, Fred, if it meant skipping meals for a week. I’m so glad you’re working on it, and really really looking forward to the whole thing, someday.)

  • Jurgan

    Don’t you feel that your wife earning more money than you has emasculated you and violates God’s prescribed gender roles?

    … hey, hey John Piper, how’d you get into my account!

    Seriously, this was very sweet.  In addition, I’ve never donated to you, but I would buy your book on day one.  Actually, your writing inspired me to write a book (novel, which I don’t think yours is), and if it ever gets done I plan to send you a copy.  Anyway, point is to keep up the good fight- I can honestly say your writing has changed the way I think about the world and about my faith.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’m going to go ahead and pledge a $5 donation for every Left Behind post, both in the future and retroactive. I won’t be able to afford it all at once, but please know that it’s coming.

    Mentioning it because I think others might like to do the same.

    Love you too Fred.

  • Hth

    Hearing Fred talk about his wife reminds me of a thing I’ve always noticed about QUILTBAG allies — they always seem extra-special in love, or rather, like they really *get* love.  I think you have to really *get* love to understand and be affected by the particular cruelty of demanding that other people give it up.  That only seems like a reasonable thing to ask if you…you know.  Don’t exactly *get* love.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    So…how does one go about actually sharing these posts on Facebook anyway?  I mean, apart from the standard copy/paste of the URL?  Clicking the “Share” button doesn’t actually appear to do anything other than increment the number – I’m not presented with the standard “Share” dialog box, and nothing actually appears on my timeline.

    I will happily do the copy/paste thing, but I’m just curious about the apparent lack of functionality for the share button…

    Also, money is on the way for me, so I will be passing some of it along in the form of donations soon.

  • Dawn

    I’ve been reading your work for years (even pre-Patheos) and shared many a post with friends. Thanks.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    I’ve sat here for about five minutes trying to figure out appropriate words with which to respond to the ones above.  I like to think I’m good at that, after all.

    I got nothing.  Nothing at all.  But just know that I’m a big ol’ softy who pretends to be hard and this post hit me right in the softest part of the softness.

    I’ll stand in line to buy your book.  And I know I’ve dropped money in the tip jar before.  I shall do so again.

  • Dawn Low

    I’ve been reading your work for years (even pre-Patheos) and shared many a post with friends. Thanks.

     

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GUFZNDXKK6JQGEIGV7VGXFUDKE c2t2

    Fred, you are painfully adorable. (As is the Slacktivixen, or at least the  back of her head)

    Even though I don’t do either Facebook or Twitter, I’m more than willing to buy anything you write.

    Now you’ll have to excuse me. Honest vulnerability, quiet sincerity, and wholesome cuteness all make me itch, and I think I’ll need the epi pen from the last post to avoid anaphylactic shock.

    (That was my prickly curmudgeon way of saying you’re amazing)

  • Lori

    I’m not sure I’ve ever been sorrier to be out here in the middle of nowhere, because a slightly buzzed slacker outing would be fun and also the only way I could possibly survive seeing that movie.

  • Seamyst

    This is a beautiful post and I’m so glad you shared it with us. Sent a few bucks your way, and I’m setting up a reminder to do so more often (since I don’t always click through from my RSS reader to view the comments, I kinda forget that the tip jar is there).

  • Lori

    I don’t do either Twitter or Facebook, but count me in for buying the book. I’ll preorder and everything. (If you do end up doing Kickstarter I’m in for too.) In the mean time, I’ll donate again as soon as I finish paying for the drug screen and the background check I had to pony up for to get my current job. I just wish that I could afford to give you what your writing has been worth to me. 

  • LL

    It’s cool, it’s your site, you can whatever you want with it. I don’t have a problem with you attempting to monetize it (a little). As long as I don’t get pop-up ads or crap like that. 

    Maybe you need to write about biblical manhood. That type of thing seems to rattle people’s cages. 

  • http://twitter.com/mattketchum Matthew Ketchum

    I’ve recently become an avid reader of this blog, and I share anything of yours I especially like on Twitter and Facebook. I just wanted drop in and say that I really appreciate what you do. I’m a big fan. As a grad student, married to a grad student wife, I can TOTALLY relate to these struggles you’re describing. I’ll do my small part when I can, and I’ll definitely keep reading. Keep it up, you’re doing great work.

  • Andrea

    I can’t often share to Facebook (ditto what Lunch Meat said about arguments), but Fred, if I could afford to fairly compensate you for all you’ve unknowingly done for me, you’d never have to work again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Tomorrow marks the 7th anniversary of breaking up with my last boyfriend.  This is not my favorite time of year.

  • SisterCoyote

    (Also: I’ll spare you my usual rant about Aristotelian virtue and craft. Noooo! No sparing! That is a post I would read the hell out of!)

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    And finally, part of what this means — speaking of crass, transparent, grasping and manipulative — is that I’d like to ask you, if you are able and inclined, to donate through that Tip Jar button crassly and graspingly located up there on the right.

    I would, believe me I would, but I’m kind of, sort of… what’s the word?  Broke.

    So I’m just hoping that people will donate through the donate button crassly and graspingly located up on the right on my blog.

    -

    I will recommend your book to people when it comes out.  I’m sure others will as well.  They say word of mouth is the best marketing, so if everyone who reads the blog talks about what a great book it is (and I have no doubt that it will be a great book) that might help quite a bit.

    I do recommend your blog to people.

    -

    You also might consider pulling a Whedon: If you liked this book tell someone.  Tell everyone.  If you didn’t like this book then now is a time for quiet reflection.

  • http://beholdconfusion.wordpress.com/ beholdconfusion

    I’ll order that book before it even comes out.  From an independent local bookstore no less.  And a kickstarter campaign would be awesome.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Fred, if I could afford to fairly compensate you for all you’ve unknowingly done for me, you’d never have to work again.

    Wanted to second this with something more powerful than a “like”.

  • Thette

    I don’t mind dropping a little something in the tip jar of blogs I appreciate, but since I read blogs via RSS, I don’t always remember they’re there. Thanks for the reminder, and thanks for the picture. It’s nice to get a face to go with the words I’ve read for years.

  • Will Hennessy

    So that is just an awesome picture of you, and it looks like it would be an equally awesome story. Keep this up, Fred. Speaking for many of us out here in the Slacktiverse, it is very good to know that we are not alone.

  • King Dededede

    Fred, if I could afford to fairly compensate you for all you’ve unknowingly done for me, you’d never have to work again.

    Just because it needs to be said again.

    I hopefully speak for a lot of people when I say that I would be much more bitter about the church and life in general had I not found this blog.  I wish I had the words for why.  I’d realized I was gay and had been raised in…a few different Evangelical/Baptist churches, we kept moving and they kept having fights and splitting up.  Anyway, I found those Left Behind posts all those years ago and I think they saved me in a way. There’s something in your words that hits lessons of the Bible that years in Evangelical churches never did but at the same time keeps me from hating the people of those places (usually).

    As for donations- when I saw your first post asking for donations, I gave happily.  I think it was around Christmas.  Then for some reason I assumed everyone else around me not only donated then, but kept doing it all the time.  There really isn’t a good model for blogs/donations like this, but don’t be afraid to ask, ok?  We kinda owe you one.

  • Dash1

    I am totally in awe of people who can do things with hair. I have a good friend who’s a hairdresser (and I also have a wonderful hairdresser), and the amount of science they have to know, combined with the artistic sense to be able to figure out what’s going to work with the particular structure and texture of one’s hair and how it grows and all of that–well, it’s absolutely astounding. Not to mention the psychological and counseling skills to figure out what a given individual is going to want. 

    I don’t know if the Slacktivixen reads the comments, but Janet Stephens, a Baltimore hairdresser, decided to give a try to recreating some ancient Roman hairdos that academics always assumed were wigs and couldn’t possibly be real hair. (If you have seen the hair of the average academic, you realize that they probably don’t know a great deal about the subject of hair and how it works.) She’s got some youtubes about reconstructing the ancient Roman hairstyles that are really interesting step-by-step explanations. Here’s the Wall Street Journal article about her. Fascinating reading. 

  • patter

    Well said, sir.  A tip to the jar, to thank you and to honor our mutual friend Dwight who many years ago told me, “He’s one of the smartest people I know.” 

    He was right.

  • Matri

    Huh. That poster of Nicholas Cage does not have fire in it.

    Which is odd.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That looks way more disasterlike than anything L&J possibly ever conceived.

  • Morilore

    Fred, thanks again for all of the great reads.

  • Hallie

    Just shy of five years ago, I found your blog while hiding out from a drunken party taking place in my living room (and the kitchen, and the hallway, and the adjacent rooms). Catching up on all the Left Behind posts got me through that night and the early hours of the following morning. Since then, whenever I’ve booted up my computer, I’ve always had a tab open for this blog.

    I’d love to donate (and I will when I can) but right now I’m a broke grad student, working on the history of creationism and intelligent design. That choice in topic is in no small part thanks to what I’ve read here over the years. For that I owe you as much as I owe any of the teachers who encouraged me on this path. So thank you, and I hope one day to buy your book.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Being long-term unemployed, I wish I could help more than I can. (I’m lucky in that my husband makes enough to get us through, but extras are sometimes tough. But I’ll try to get some to you when I can.)

    Will definitely buy the book, and even help with the Kickstart if I can (or get others to if I can’t – Mom, and some others I know, like to help out in that regard.)

    I am always recommending your blog and writing to people, even did so just recently to friend who seems to be trying to get out of the Evangelical bubble after 20 years inside. As many have said, if I could afford to fairly compensate you for all you’ve done for me, you’d never have to work again. (And by “all you’ve done for me”, I’m including all those rides home from rehearsals, yelling at me to put the cigarette out when I said I was quitting – which I have, by the way, keeping me sane when I wanted to beat the director over the head, and metaphorically beating me over the head when I was said director. Ah, another life it was then…)

  • Amaryllis

    Will Hennessy: “So that is just an awesome picture of you, and it looks like it would be an equally awesome story.”

    Fred Clark, July 27: “wedding vows are essentially a pledge to stick together and love one another come hell or high water, and it was nice to be able to check one of those off the list right there at the start.”

    Hth: “Hearing Fred talk about his wife reminds me of a thing I’ve always noticed about QUILTBAG allies — they always seem extra-special in love, or rather, like they really *get* love.  I think you have to really *get* love to understand and be affected by the particular cruelty of demanding that other people give it up. ”

    Fred Clark, July 27: “my anniversary today is a reminder of my happiness. And as such it is also a reminder for me of how cruel and capricious and fundamentally unfair it is that we continue to deny some couples their chance for such happiness.”

    Fred, February 13: ” building a book will likely involve an actual book book.”

    Me: Oooh. Let me know the minute I can get my hands on it. (Until then, I’ll try to contribute more frequently.)

  • flat

    Hello Mr Clark.

    In a way this is kind of awkward so let’s be honest here.
    This blog helped me about parts of the bible I found dificult to understand and helped me to become a better christian, But now I understand that we both live in a different place: you in America and I live in the Netherlands.
    And I can see it in some of the articles you wrote that it doesn’t concern me in the way it does to you (like the carfish for example).
    Or that there are things I don’t agree with you (i don’t give examples here because I don’t want to start a flamewar, sorry)

    I recommended this blog to a lot of people, but I have to admit I never used the tip jar button, sorry.
    Of those disagreements with you I hope you understand that there are some differences between you and me because we both live in different places and have different backgrounds.

    But Fred if you are gonna write a book I think you might make contact with David wong from cracked.com because he also wrote book and is a big fan of yours and and has done this before.

    You might also thank ellenjay for writing such crap that you felt the need to deconstruct that garbage, which in turn enhanced your writing skill that when you got laid of you had something to fall back upon instead of having nothing.

    I will buy your book, although I don’t know what genre it is going to be: science fiction, fantasy, thriller, romance, essays.
    So can you give us faithful slacktivites some more information about your future work of literature.

    My dream is that later in the future I go to tv tropes and read about the great literary masterpiece by Fred Clark that redefined christianity for the twentyfirst century. 

    My prayers are with you and may God bless you mr Clark.

    Thanks for everything

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericrboersma Eric Boersma

    I would preorder a Slacktivist book. Sight unseen.

  • Foreigner

    Write on, Fred. You are a constant reminder that people are generally better than you expect, especially when what you expect has been shaped by media demonisation. Carry on subverting those tropes, Fred.

    I really ought to get back to writing my book, too. Writing (it turns out) is hard work.

  • Dave Lartigue

    True fact, Fred, if you wrote a book about patterns of grout in untended showers, I’d buy it. I’m on board for whatever.

    (And on a related note, I’d love to send you a copy of my book, which I think you’d enjoy. Please let me know how I can do so!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    You might also thank ellenjay for writing such crap that you felt the need to deconstruct that garbage, which in turn enhanced your writing skill that when you got laid of you had something to fall back upon instead of having nothing.

    Yes, credit where credit’s due. :-D

    A real book, wow.  I’ll see you at the book signing!

    In the meantime, if you’re moonlighting, Walgreens could probably use the help.  It’s a good way to learn marketing.  They’ve got me pushing candy bars and gum all day.  Which is a far cry from what I should be doing.

    Excuse me, I have some resumes to send out…

  • Dash1

    Where’s the telephone in that poster??? (I hate it when the movie leaves out essential parts of the book!)

  • Dash1

    Just for the record, I for one appreciate the nudge towards the “Donate” button. One forgets, otherwise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    If Fred wrote a book about how I, personally and individually, am a jerk and a loser I’d still buy it. Because I really like his writing.

  • Peter Wartman

    I’ve been reading this blog for a long time without saying a thing. It’s become a part of my morning routine, something I look forward to reading with my coffee before getting started on whatever work demands today. 

    So thanks, Fred. Your writing is wonderful.

    I’ll go leave you a tip.

  • JT in SC

    Fred – I read here all the time, but rarely post.  I send your stuff to my friends and especially to my nearly grown (college aged) children, all the time, because you express things that I think so much better than I.

    I’ll try to kick in a little to the coffers from time to time.

    Hang in there!

    — Julia —

  • LMM22

    This is also who I am. This is also an essential part of my identity

    Thank you, Fred.

    And I’m waiting for the book; I have at least one friend who is getting it the instant it gets published.


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