Saturday, January 01, 2005

my year in review

Thoughts on writing and Relevant magazine

These last 365 days, I’ve tried to be a writer. I’m still not sure if a writer is something you try your hand at, or if it's just something you are. I don’t have an answer. I only have life.

Some time ago, I declared quite openly in the pages of the Huntingtonian how I wanted to write. Since then, it’s been a struggle. I tried my hand at sending a few literary submissions to agents who handled children’s authors, but only got a few, polite rejection letters. This past fall, I’ve tried magazines and periodicals, because I can’t seem to stop writing about current events. I figured someone might want to pay me for my troubles, right?

Wrong. No takers thus far. I feel a bit of a failure. I know I haven't been trying for long, but its hard to keep sending submissions when most places don’t even have the courtesy to say that I suck, let alone acknowledge that I even sent something in the first place.

But if I am to be a failure, I want it to be the most open and honest failure of all time. I want it to be a desperate failure; a failure of monumental proportions. I want as many people as possible to know how I’ve failed. How I shot for my dreams and missed by lengths of the sun.

What few people I know will remember how I failed, and look back on it, and remember how I wasn’t always a 7th grade history teacher or a district manager at J.C. Penny's. They might even encourage me to pick it up again, and re-piece the shards back together, just for the heck of it. And I will. Because if I'm anything, I am a sucker. But I will never hide the fact that I am. I will fail with the best of them, and rest easy in the fact that many of my heroes were failures, too. Oh yeah, failure will be like second-nature. And I will embrace it like a brother.

One magazine in particular though, hurts more than any other. And that’s Relevant magazine. My brother got me a subscription last Christmas, and I’ve been painfully following along bi-monthly for the past 12 months. But what makes it hurt so much is the fact that I can’t even get them to publish anything I right. Even on their website, where pieces go up with no monetary exchange. Your only reward is to see your name in digital print. Not even for free will they publish me. Go ahead, rub it in.

It hurts doubly because I mostly hate what’s in the magazine, but absolutely love the idea. The content is all trucker hats and pop culture and seeker-sensitive ideas on morality and mortality. It's Rick Warren for the Passion generation. It's Brian McLaren channeling Toby Mac channeling Ashton Kutcher. And it’s sick. But the idea, a magazine for young Christian men and women that isn’t crap, that’s what makes me want to write for them.

It began about a year ago, with the face of Bono on the cover. Seemingly implying that this was an interview with Bono. It wasn’t. This is a trend for the magazine in general -- covering people they’ve never spoken with. But it’s hard to fault an upstart magazine with this, because they don’t have the wherewithal to interview everyone they’d like to cover. But for future reference, they are a great many people who would be worth interviewing, regardless of their photogenic ability to sell magazines.

There have been many awkward moments during my brief relationship with Relevant. The summer music preview immediately comes to mind. As does their disastrous quote-unquote “political coverage” of the 2004 election, which set journalism for young adults by young adults back a number of years. But others items such as “Rock Stars on God", “Are Women Inferior?”, “So What if You’re Single? Get A Life!”, "Can I Believe in Evolution and Still Be a Christian?”, “What Is It About Starbucks?” have turned the magazine into a punchline of bad evangelical cliches. There's Dan Haseltine trying with all his might to write profound spiritual truths; lots of info for young, hip, single sub-culture-ites; and of course the subtle hypocrisy of rating albums according to their lyrical and spiritual content, but saying nothing of these things in the DVD section. Because f-words in movies don't count, I guess.

Even more serious articles such as “Putting a Face on Gay Marriage” “Got Church? It Does a Body Good” fail to explore relevant issues from all the angles -- to really delve into how murky it can be for young Christians to find biblical answers in the midst of a complex, fallen society. This isn’t rocket science. Let’s just do some quality research, interview a few people who disagree, and write an article with more space set aside for actual words than fun pictures with a trendy, post-college layout.

Not even the presence of my old CCM friend John Fischer can save the day. When CCM went to pot (or was it I just discovered that the music they covered was crap?), the magazine always ended on a high note because of Fischer's musings on culture and God. His last days at CCM were my last days as a reader. But not even my old soul-mate makes me want to put up with Relevant.

But I can’t help wanting to write for them. Not because of what they are, but because of what they could be.

There is plenty of potential. Interviews with Talib Kweli, Richard Linklater, Pedro the Lion, Soul Survivor and Chuck Palahniuk. A nice mix of music reviewed (even if they're rating system is a little too Michael Medved). And the occasional opinion piece from Don Chaffer, my favorite, long-haired, jam-band Christian.

So in the end, I don’t know what this magazine is about, and for some reason, I don’t think they do either. Sure, they have their mission statement, but over the past year, I’ve rarely seen it fulfilled. Ever since I first experienced Dave Eggers, and especially since Sideways, I’ve wanted to see a magazine like this where Christians write about things that matter, and they write well about these things. Good writing is hard to come by these days, I’m just one example of a glut of bad writers this side of the Atlantic trying to make good. Multiply me by a million, and you’ll see why so much crap gets put out, not just on the world wide web, but in actual, factual print media.

So to recap. I want to write, and I’m not afraid to fail at it if I have to. Relevant is awful, but it has the potential for so much more. Dave Eggers and Paul Giamatti are pure genius, and cover stories on Keanu Reeves movies are dumb ideas. One of these days, the voice of young Christians will matter, because we will finally have the right words to say what we’ve been trying to say for our still-so-awkward adult lives.

This is the new year. In fact, the newest year so far.

Let’s write.

(And there's more, this time on McLaren and the Emergent Church, over at Midwest Mindset. It's a two-fer-one day. Aren't I nice?)

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