How BIPOLAR DISORDER Affected My Storytelling

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If you read any of my fiction, you might notice—as I just did, for the first time—that the most pressing problems for all of my main characters are really all in their heads.

I don’t mean they’re imaginary. Just that the problems they face come from inside.

I can only suppose that’s a direct effect of my living with bipolar disorder—an emotional disorder that can sometimes lead to poor choices we in the church call “sins.” I don’t know the exact level of accountability I bear for some of those choices—in this life I’ll strive to resist them and let God settle the difference in the end. But that’s probably a whole ‘nother blog post.

The point is, my battles are invisible. I have been blessed with relative financial security all my life. I haven’t had to deal with the unexpected death of a friend or family member. There have been no great tragedies, no backstabbing friends, no threats of violence from nature or people. All the deepest fights in my life have been spiritual, emotional, abstract. Pornography, depression, loneliness, obsession—all in all, a broken, shame-drenched, misshapen mind warring with itself.

And so physical battles just aren’t as interesting to me. In my stories, a physical fight or action sequence goes exactly how I, the author, intend it to go, with the outcomes I, the author, have pre-decided. I’ve planned far in advance that Character A dies in Chapter 8, etc. I can manipulate any physical sequence to come out exactly how I want it to. And I believe it’s the same way with the Author of heaven and earth—He has our end in mind and knows when it will come. He is in control of all of that.

But spiritual battles, emotional battles—those remain very much in our own power. Everyone’s going to die someday, but not everyone will win the fight over their soul. That, I believe, is a far more pressing concern in our latter days and therefore what motivates me to write them.

(It doesn’t help that I have no great gifts when it comes to great action sequences. One of the questions I ask my writing group all the time is, “Does this scene make sense?” because usually it barely makes sense even to me.)

My main characters aren’t necessarily aware that their worst problems come from inside. But the climaxes of my stories are moments that finally elicit recognition of that problem—followed by the choice they make in how to deal with them (which are, in my authorial opinion, the first moment they are truly “heroes,” if they make the right one; see Duckman for a character who chooses the opposite, i.e. choosing not to live up to his full powerful potential). In my stories, spiritual battles are weighted far more heavily than physical ones. The true onslaught of evil takes place in people’s hearts and souls more than on any geographical battlefield.

In No Romance, this is all very concrete and clearly the point. Jack McDowell is an adventure hero like Indiana Jones, constantly leaping chasms and winning gunfights versus bad guys and henchmen. His survival is never in doubt, as he discovers that his life has been written by the “gods of pulp fiction” who manipulate his soul to tell action stories. His quest is to find the power to take back his soul and write his own story. All very metaphysical and metafictional.

It’s not as immediately apparent in The City of Broken Wings because our protagonist Roc is striving against severe temporal struggles. He’s a starving orphan on the street who’s just trying to survive the harsh city of Oshana. Older kids want him dead for one reason or another. But the stakes aren’t whether he can battle the streets and arrive on top in the end. It’s about what the city has trained his little sprout of a soul to be, like a broken leg healing without a splint. And about the moments in his story where he is given the chance to choose something other than the natural man.

Later books in the Sea of Chaos saga center on the characters of Salvane and Terry Jacobs. Salvane has a lot of layers to him that I won’t spoil here, but I will say he is ultimately based on me and my struggle with pornography. A theologically-minded man in a city of hell, he is consumed with the great duality, the natural versus spiritual man. Terry Jacobs is a gangster who recently survived an attempted hit and goes into a kind of existential crisis; his brushes with Salvane open his mind and heart to things he’d never before considered, and finds himself in a struggle for his soul that eventually becomes brutally concrete.

Bestsellers, perhaps not. But these are the stories that matter to me. Survival is up to God, and meaningless without salvation. Salvation, though, is up to us. 


People Want Their Worst Selves Justified

In March 2016 (back when this situation was still avoidable), former presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a speech on the subject of the GOP primary candidate Donald Trump.

…We’re blessed with a great people — people who at every critical moment of choosing have put the interests of the country above their own. These two things are related. Our presidents time and again have called on us to rise to the occasion. John F. Kennedy asked us to consider what we could do for our country. Lincoln drew upon the better angels of our nature to save the union.

I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good.

Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press.

This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.

A thought struck me recently that called this quote to my mind. It might sound simplistic, but I believe human beings, on the individual level, are essentially divided creatures, torn between good and evil on a daily basis. Or really, between what they want and what they ought to want. Above, Romney references JFK and Lincoln as encouraging the latter side of humanity. And the best presidents, the best leaders, have always done this. Make people, make human beings, better, and you’ll make the country better too.

But that’s a hard path. And it’s very hard to campaign with a message that you, Joe Voter, need to be a better human being. Because the truth is that people want to be their worst selves.

Face it: we want to be told we’re already good and it’s others who are bad. We don’t want to have to change. We want someone to tell us that those desires, prejudices, and hidden thoughts that we fight against daily—are actually right. That our violent impulse is righteous, that our paranoia of foreigners is justified, that our political enemy is also the enemy of all that is good and holy and must be destroyed at all costs.

On the campaign trail Donald Trump gave voice to every evil thought that ever passed across a conservative’s mind. It felt good to know you weren’t alone in your feelings. At first you may have been innocent; you weren’t racist, you explained, you just wanted law and order in the land. And that isn’t unreasonable at all. But as the war waged on, you doubled-down again and again until Trump and his triumph became paramount, and that required more radical rhetoric, and those prejudices, whether justified or not, grew against the opposition until, for far too many, they escalated into outright bigotry and genuine hate.

Three years ago you would be ashamed of such feelings, but not anymore. Now you can spew it all out and you’ll still have friends, allies, people who will back you up and whose very existence persuades you that there is no need to feel shame. You are so angry you cannot see that you are angry anymore. Everyone else is to blame.

It makes life a lot easier, to feel that way. It feels so good to unleash those inner demons without worry of reproach or societal condemnation. Trump has let people feel it, let people express it, even given them a place to find others who feel the same way. Remember, Trump campaigned not on facts, but on feelings. He told people a narrative, and his supporters wanted it to be true so badly they lost their capacity to reason. The essence of the great con.

The right is not alone in this spiritual quandary. Both the left and the right draw out this state of mind in their preachings. The left justifies their moral anarchy with relativism and blanket tolerance for any and all deviant personal behavior and warnings of dystopian oppression if they fail to win. The right does it with Whataboutism and nationalism and warnings of end-days-level apocalypse if they fail to win.

Together these mindsets feed each other, ironically creating the very endgame they each warn against. Fueled by a like-minded opposition, they grow exponentially and create a fierce tribalism that will likely never fade away, perhaps even in the case of large-scale global tragedy.

The events of 9/11 brought us closer together for a time, but these days if North Korea ever launched its nuclear arsenal, do you think we’d all hold hands and pray (or “send out good thoughts” as the current trend goes) and embrace each other as brothers and sisters? No, it would simply ignite the fiery darts of the blame game, and when such conflicts are waged against the backdrop of something as horrible as a nuclear attack, it will seem entirely justifiable to finally do what you always wanted to do: attack your opponents with physical violence.

Some of our leaders still attempt to invoke those better angels of our nature and remind us of what we ought to do, rather than what we want to do. But so often in response to pleas for maturity and decency and personal responsibility, they are condemned for the social media crime of “virtue signaling” by people who for some reason prefer to signal their vices. Like the demons that pilot their souls, these people spew hatred at genuine righteousness, gnash their teeth at actual virtue, because light hurts the eyes of those that dwell in darkness.

This is what you want to be when you don’t have to try to control yourself anymore. You can vomit it all up, and it will only encourage your allies and enrage your enemies—and that is the only point of tribal warfare such as ours.

No happy ending lies in wait for a society split into tribes that hate each other. Did the Civil War end racial strife? Of course not. It is even rising up today, a century and a half later, ugly as it’s ever been. No, our modern conflict won’t end until both sides make an honest evaluation of their own souls and decide to change on a spiritual level. It’s a sad thing that honest religion is fading away, with deep partisanship and worship of mortals growing in its place. It’s one of the only reliable bridges to a change of heart.

But no, we don’t want religion and we don’t want to be told what we ought to do because we don’t want to be judged. Instead we want our demons justified. We want our baser natures accepted. We want our hidden hatred encouraged.

We want someone else to blame, even as we plunge headlong into the abyss.

Voiceless – Folks, we need beta testers!

Click on that link to download a demo of Voiceless, our 8-bit JRPG/stealth hybrid! In the demo, you’ll have the opportunity to play through three different kinds of heists.

  1. Sneaking past guards to get to the loot – take as long as you need, but don’t get caught!
  2. Smash ‘n Grab – Get in, get it, get out – with a time limit
  3. Social heists – interact with the crowd, collect clues, don’t be seen doing questionable things and solve the puzzle in the end

You’ll be utilizing pickpocketing, tumbler locks, window-peeking, and delightful secret passages, and more to accomplish your tasks. (Also please enjoy two of our brand new musical tracks!)

While you’re playing, see if our concept of sneaking/heisting works for you, and if it feels incomplete or there’s something we can do better. Then get us feedback! Just chat me up on Facebook (public or private, don’t care). We want to know how much of our vision for the stealthy aspect of our game makes sense to the player.

“Worlds Without Number Have I Created”


“If True, This Could Be One of the Greatest Discoveries in Human History”

The article is about a very mysterious thing drifting through space in a very mysterious way. Very interesting stuff. Inside, a direct quote from Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department:

Today, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, we know that there are more planets like Earth than there are grains of sand on all the shores of all the seas.

Curious phrasing, isn’t it? Reminds me of something else from nearly 200 years ago.

27 And it came to pass, as the voice was still speaking, Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the spirit of God.

28 And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the seashore.

Moses 1

As a latter-day saint, I completely believe in life on other planets. Was it Stephen Hawking who said, if there weren’t other alien life forms, it would be a terrible waste of space?

I’ve thought about that idea, all that space. Why did God create so much distance between worlds? Why is it all so massive?

We are close to developing the technology to visit the nearest star system: Alpha Centauri, only 4 light-years away. Interestingly, we are only doing it once we’re in the latter days, so close to the second coming of Christ.

Could these plotlines converge? As Christ’s appearance becomes imminent, does contact with others of God’s planets, and others of God’s children? I don’t think it’s a coincidence these ideas are becoming more and more real at the same time.

After all,

If you’re not ready to find exceptional things, you won’t discover them. (Avi Loeb)

Indeed. And perhaps we’re ready, in God’s timeline, to discover His other children, and our own magnificent potential.

Questions I Have for God (Part 1/x)

I am long past the doubting stage. But I have a billion questions for once I reach the other side.

One that’s been pressing on my mind as of late:

Why homosexuality? Why is this biologically a possibility? How does the phenomenon of same-sex attraction—a nature that seems to arise spontaneously in human beings through no fault of their own—fit into the plan of salvation?

My heart aches for latter-day saints who wrestle with this issue, and who otherwise are faithful disciples of Christ. Adherence to doctrine and living worthy of the temple requires a total denial of this part of themselves. If they want to live faithfully, they face an entire lifetime without a soulmate, a romantic partner, a family of their own. I count that as the greatest challenge God could give any of His children. And I wonder why it’s there at all.

Why would God create a system that sometimes imbues His children with core natural desires that are directly antithetical to His hopes for His eternal family? Chastity! Fidelity! Romance! Children! Family! All the great doctrines and spiritual institutions of the church leave the faithful gay saint out. God created people who could not enjoy His choicest blessings or partake of the greatest fruits this world and His church have to offer.

This isn’t just a matter of learning to control the body like it is for heterosexuals. Straight people can bridle their passions now and look forward to driving them full throttle later and for the rest of their lives. But faithful gay latter-day saints never have that opportunity. Their hope is cut off, their salvation in mortality never to be. Through absolutely no fault of their own.

Why would God set things up that way?

I don’t know.

What I do know is they are all children of God. And they deserve every ounce of support you and I can muster, because they’re fighting an impossibly hard battle—and probably will be for the rest of their lives.

After a general conference that I understand was quite challenging to my gay friends—it reaffirmed certain doctrines that as of now seem to exclude them and once again neglected to reach out directly to this struggling community—I wrote the following. I post it here as an addendum in hope that it helps:

After Christ’s death and the destruction of the Book of Mormon lands, He spoke and His voice pierced the darkness to reach every single soul. Many in that darkness were injured, wounded, hurting, in one way or another—but his words did not address that pain. He did not bring up the physical ailments and emotional devastation suffered by the survivors of those great storms wrought by His own hand.

And yet…

And yet when He finally came, and visited the Nephites in person, He took the time to heal each and every one of those suffering souls individually. He knew their names. He knew their pains. And he healed them in the unique ways they each needed healing.

God may not always address each and every problem we face from the pulpit before the world. But He still knows us, and one day every thorn in our side will be removed personally by His consoling hand, and we will remember what it is to embrace our elder Brother and weep into His shoulder, and know that those thorns, whether psychological, biological, or spiritual, will never return again.

Don’t give up hope. General Conference is not the only way God speaks to us. He also speaks to us through the people and friends directly around us, and comforts us by the same. Until that glorious final day, let us who do not suffer as much, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, for that is our prime covenant and the entire aim of Zion, the Kingdom of God on the earth.

Hmm. I thought about revealing something about my JRPG “VOICELESS” here. I think I still will, but I’ll be brief.

VOICELESS is about a motormouth prince who’s called to save the world and four silent warriors that accompany him in his journey. The plot twists and turns, but ultimately it’s about the prince learning the true depths of the sacrifice the four voiceless heroes have made for the greater good of the world.

Really, it’s about gay Mormons, though only symbolically. I wrote this game to champion those heroes and that sacrifice—the real ones.

Check out the game here:

(but it’s really not even close to completion)

Or you can check out the short story collection that I wrote about these characters—and how they each found their voice—here: When Once They Had Voices (three bucks on Kindle, but if you don’t have access to e-books let me know and I’ll just email you a PDF).

The Brandersonian Magic System of Bipolar Disorder

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“That is the boundary, and the price, of immortality.”

In the fantasy genre, nobody has crafted better magic systems than Brandon Sanderson (hereafter referred to as “Branderson”). His characters perform amazing feats that go against the ordinary laws of nature—but not the laws of his worlds. For whatever magic his characters perform, there is always a specific cost, almost to a scientific degree. In the Mistborn trilogy, for instance, there’s allomancy, magic based on metal.

Allomancy has many widespread effects, such as enhancing and dampening emotions, Pushing and Pulling on metals, and even temporal effects. Each Allomantic power has its own metal, which must be ingested and “burned” to activate. Source

And later: “Weaknesses and costs alike make a magic system more interesting.”

Take a look at this here article:

It’s hard not see bipolar disorder as a kind of superpower or magic, one that amplifies certain abilities at great cost later on.

I suppose I am more creative than the average person, though I don’t generally think of myself that way. My creativity doesn’t come up spontaneously; I don’t care for art as self-expression; I don’t like to make something up just to see what happens. I’ve always used what creative inclinations I have for some other purpose; I suppose I channel it like a tool to be used for more important causes than my own pleasure and satisfaction. I am darned jealous of creative people who find the creative process “fun” and do it as a hobby. For me it’s deadly serious, and you’ve probably caught a lot of that self-seriousness in my voice on this very blog.

Nonetheless, I am indeed sometimes cursed/blessed with a flight of ideas. When I’m on a roll, when my brain is in full manic mode—or, when I am praying for a solution on my knees—new things just pop into my brain. New connections to things I’d written previously, new layers for a reader to uncover, new meanings to mundane happenings. Or new ideas for essays or chapters or moments in a story. When I’m in the right frame of mind, it can be an exhilarating experience—and one I chalk up wholly to God, not me. When it comes to my best ideas, I’m just a messenger, a medium.

Here’s a horror story for you: one time I was lying in bed, tired but not sleepy, and utterly relaxed on a soft pillow—and bit by bit, a fantasy trilogy trickled into my mind. The precise narrative beats of each book, how they were going to end and start, what truths were going to be revealed and when, the exact hidden relationships between every character and how they were going to learn about each other, the plan and identity of the villain(s) and the story magic that would pull the reader through each book to the end—I had all of it, the whole, floating there in my head. It was complete.

I decided not to write it down just then. Sometimes when I start writing ideas down, I concentrate too hard on how to word them and I end up forgetting the larger aspects of them, in the end leaving only the words on the page, and the feeling and passion behind it all unspoken. I was afraid something similar might happen. I didn’t want this feeling, this sense of wholeness, reduced to scratchings of ink on a notebook page!

A few hours went by. I continued to not write it down. Same with the next day. And the next. And soon I found that I’d forgotten almost every detail. A total gift from God! A full and complete story that was beautiful and exciting and deep, WASTED, because I didn’t take the time to work it out on the page. I remember a few things, but none of the brilliance: two of the three titles were: “The Book of Empty Pages” and “The Book of the Last Chapter,” or something like that. “The Book of Endless Pages” might have been the middle book. Man, I wish I had that again.

Can any of my fellow writers relate?

Anyway, the point is that having bipolar disorder can lead to some amazing powers. Mania can be like a drug, especially when it’s coupled with the Spirit (boy that sounds blasphemous, but I don’t mean it to be).

But it all comes at a cost.

One of these, for me, was delusions of grandeur at a young age. It started with Troy Dunn’s talk, “It’s Okay to Be Young and Successful!” In the talk he shares stories of famous men and women who made their mark on the world at a young age, as teens or even preteens. But this drive to be like them metastasized in me only when I read Ender’s Game. Particularly the chapter, “Locke and Demosthenes,” when young Peter and Valetine Wiggin essentially take over the world via political essays on the internet. Peter and Valentine told me it was possible to obtain greatness as a child, and that message ignited the bipolar in my brain, convincing me that I, too, could absorb books on history and science and politics and write convincingly as an adult. They wrote, and I was kind of a writer, too. If they could change the world, I could too. So I began to think of myself as this great writer who knew exactly what he was doing and was an authority on all relevant knowledge.

This eventually turned into writing fiction, especially after reading Victor Hugo and Fyodor Dostoevsky and imitating their styles and thinking I was writing as powerfully and profoundly as they did. I completely believed that my first attempt at a book (the very first “Sea of Chaos”) would be published. (It was, but only because I paid a self-publishing company to do it.) Then the second book came, and it was going to be a masterpiece and bring me great success, because it was so deep and exciting and full of truth and beauty. (That was Metagopolis Book One.) I started writing Book Two and I got 95,000 words in before I realized I’d only written about 1/4th of that book’s story and set it down. I never picked it back up, but I became sure as all heck that Book One was going to be accepted for publication and I would finally achieve that elusive success.

It didn’t.

Bear in mind, I was now an adult, just married, and had never taken a single creative writing class. I didn’t need one, of course!

I wrote another book the next year (the first version of No Romance). This one I was sure would get me an agent, get me published and well-known. I actually queried several agents. My good friend Kevin Haws (bless him) read the book as I was writing it, finishing the last chapter just a few days after I did. Kevin was so nice, and said the book really spoke to him, and when he said that, I squeeled for joy, knowing my success was right around the corner. Then I decided to get it edited and critiqued by my friends at Leading Edge—and this, this, was the first major time that my brain broke. Brandon Jones (bless him, too!) led the critique and delivered the devastating news in the comments of that document: this was not a great book, or even a good one (my translation). I was crushed—and I needed to be.

I was in some creative writing courses at college by now. I was learning a few things, but mostly using the peer-editing parts of class to try to show off. I will say right now that it wasn’t like I had no talent at all. I had a few literary gifts that others didn’t have, a penchant for symbolism and imagery that I think I possessed from the beginning—thus fueling my delusions. I could pull off the kind of thing in my stories that they talk about in English and literature classes, and I was proud of that. But there was still so much I didn’t know, though by now I was definitely learning along the way. (And that’s an important thing to keep in mind—I was improving.)

So it’s the last year of college, and I’m doing my thesis, and I get approved to write a novel—the second version of my very first book, Sea of Chaos. This time, I’ll do it right. I’m a much better writer now. I know how to do things.

And it’s better. A lot better. Fueled by a comment made by my faculty adviser, Scott Abbott, who looked at the first five or ten pages and said in stark surprise: “This is a first draft?” That kept my ego fed for a long time to come.

I apparently had the ability. I had the ambition. (Sea of Chaos has always been hugely ambitious, and that hasn’t changed in the last five years. For instance, now it’s six books long.) And by the end of the year, I’d written it—191,000 words over the course of about ten months, while doing school full time and working part-time. I know it needs some changes. I know it needs editing and several parts need rewriting. But give me a couple months where I’m free from the burdens of school or work and I can take care of it!

I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it for No Romance, either. I wrote a second version of that book and it was…better…than the first. But still kind of lousy. And I realized later on that Sea of Chaos needed much more work than I thought, and put it off for awhile.

Then I got a book published! The Hero Doctrine, put out there by Cedar Fort. I was, and am slightly to this day, proud of that book. It didn’t help me curb by ego, though, when the person who accepted it called it “genius writing.” It DID help me curb my ego when the book flopped in sales and I got a lukewarm-at-best review in the Deseret News. That crushed me, and still crushes me to this day. Nonetheless, it had a humbling effect.

I wrote a fantasy novella this same year that like three or four people read (and was rejected by Tor during their big novella contest). I wrote yet another draft of No Romance that again ended in failure, and then I wrote a script for a video game that I was proud of, and am still working on producing with my good buddy Kyle. I wrote an anthology of short stories to accompany the game that as of now only about two or three people have read. I wrote an 80,000-word novel that was originally meant to be a 20,000-word prologue to the third version of Sea of Chaos, and the year after that (this year) I spent writing 100,000 words of a more fully realized vision for that little story that I realized just a couple months ago needed drastic rethinking—all of this done with the highest of literary ambitions in mind, all with the utmost surety that I would, that I will, get my work recognized by someone, somewhere, and it will lead to success and the realization of my dreams and my own self-conception…

Inevitably, after the crest comes the trough. This is when, in allomantic terms, you’ve burned all your pewter and suddenly you collapse, totally devoid of not just super strength but normal human ability, and you lie there. Empty of everything. No energy or motivation to move. A black cloud enshrouding your emotions. Nothing is worth it. Your great ideas were worthless. You’ve written a million and a half words but people don’t really care. Your problems will never be solved. Every doubt or fear you’ve ever felt about your friends, your own abilities, your potential, are all confirmed. There is no hope, there is no light, and you even feel that there is no God, because He’s not saying anything, He’s not lifting the cloud from your eyes, He’d not doing anything whatsoever to help you. The Holy Ghost can’t even touch you when you’re in this cloud, behind that wall. It is dark and you are utterly alone.

And death doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe people will appreciate you better after you’re gone. Maybe this is how you can finally get it in their heads that you matter, that you had needs and they didn’t fulfill them. Maybe this is how they can be punished, and how they can feel the misery and hopelessness you feel. Maybe this is the best way to communicate. Maybe God should have to pay for this sickness He’s put you through.

You see people like Branderson finding success. You see their writing, which is flawed, getting raves and publishing contracts and…and fans. And it’s just not fair.

This is my experience with mixed state bipolar. It’s not just a depletion of energy for me. It’s a combination of the depressive (sad, hopeless) with the manic (a mind that cannot rest). It’s hell.

But it always passes. And hope returns.

Do you know that feeling when you’ve been clenching your teeth for a really long time, and you finally notice and loosen your jaw? Or when your body has been tensed up and you finally notice and you relax and breathe again? And you get that feeling, that question, of Why was I doing that?

That’s what it feels like when the black cloud drifts on and your mind can take in sunlight again. You remember yourself! You feel normal! You are again a rational human being capable of good thoughts and charitable feelings and deep wells of happiness! You can do that project you set your mind on; you can fulfill that potential others see in you; the feelings of envy that once gripped your brain have faded away and you bear no one ill will. The crazy thing is, you can’t predict when this will happen. You can’t know what random stimulus

This is my experience, anyway. The glory of it all is that the pain and depression truly do pass. Sometimes by itself, but sometimes by the outreach of others. We who suffer the black cloud need evidence in our lives to refute the demons whispering in our hearts. We need those who can reach into the darkness to pull us out with a helping hand. Because that darkness is just like the Brandersonian magic system. It needs negative stimulus to give it life. It needs fuel to burn. It craves justification. Positive stimulus, love from those around us, can make it burn up quicker. And when it’s all used up, the depressive effects dry up too. Be the allomantic metal pulling in the opposite direction! Be that for someone you know who’s having a hard time, whether they’re diagnosed with a mood disorder or not. We’re all fighting hard battles, and we need the fuel of love to keep at that fight.

My bipolar disorder has given me delusions of grandeur. But it’s also given me the energy, the work ethic, the absolute belief in myself and in what God has given me to literally one day attain those dreams, that success, that grandeur. If I never had that surety, I would not have worked so damn hard for so many years. Because I’m better now! Maybe it’s just yet another delusion, but my writing has improved so much over these last ten years. I know what I’m doing, I know what tools and techniques to use, only because I suffered that heartbreak and learned from it and because that high, those dreams, that mania, has given me an everlasting hope that it’s still possible. That hope has never fully died. The depression cannot vanquish it for good. I will not stop working, or dreaming, because what I see, the vision I have for these six books of Sea of Chaos in particular, is so real to me, and I need others to see it too.

And maybe THIS time, the realization of that dream is right around the corner. I’ll keep working as if it does. And in the meantime, I ask of you some pewter—some fuel to burn and produce positive energy. And I ask that you provide it to others, too, if they need it.

And really, we all need it.

This Film Didn’t Win Best Director

Watch the video over at this link to see just how faithful Christopher Nolan was to actual history in Dunkirk:

Remarkably, this was Christopher Nolan’s very first Best Director nomination. It should have been his fourth (after The Dark Knight, Inception, and Interstellar). And he should have won it (for the third time).

What did win?

A film about a deaf woman who falls in love with an amphibian humanoid that the government is secretly torturing for literally no reason at all.

But I’m not bitter! Well, except for the 100% chance that I am.

I think Dunkirk will end up being my New Year’s Eve watch this year. (In the past I’ve watched The Dark Knight Rises, timing it so that the nuclear bomb explodes at exactly midnight.)

What’s Nolan’s next film? I have no idea. I’m hoping for him to return to sci-fi, but I’ll take anything at this point. He’s taken way too long announcing it.

A Dispensation When All Truth Shall Be Known

This is the “Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.” An epoch in which all that God has ever revealed, is revealed, and all that He will yet reveal, He is in the process of revealing. In other words, it is a time when all truth shall be known, all secrets told.

As we have seen over these last few years, this is not about God’s doctrine alone. Think on it.

The sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church.

The true hearts of those self-proclaimed Christians (so many of them Evangelicals, and too many of them Latter-day Saints) who have enthusiastically given their minds and souls to the nakedly wicked Donald Trump.

The #MeToo movement revealing the dramatic extent of the unchecked lust and misogyny of men in power that has been swept under the rug for so long.

Hypocrisy is being revealed. New knowledge is being given to us. God’s supposed faithful are being tested and purged as the wheat and the tares. We are learning who we are, who our neighbors and leaders are, and in being granted that knowledge, we are given a choice:

Will we save our own souls and insist on consequences for lack of honor and integrity and morality?

Or will we continue to tolerate and follow and celebrate these figures, and ignore or embrace or even imitate their behavior?

We cannot be saved in ignorance. Therefore, God is, with His mighty arm, taking away from us that ignorance.

We Are Still Pioneers (Sacrament Talk)

We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments—these moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known—we count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we’ve lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.

In Christopher Nolan’s science fiction film Interstellar, a blight afflicting all the world’s crops heralds the end of the world. The primary characters of the film decide to launch off into space to find another planet for humanity’s next home. They know very little about what they will find out there, and many on Earth are convinced it is a waste of time and money, but a special few are daring enough to venture into the unknown.

I want to talk briefly about one of the prominent, recurring images in the film: dust. The same dust we wipe off our surfaces, the same dust we get caked in when working outside. In the world of the film, the entire planet has been blanketed in clouds of dust and dry storms straight out of The Grapes of Wrath. Dirt clouds periodically roll over the countryside, forcing everyone indoors. Dust invades their houses, their fields, and even their bodies, so pervasively that multitudes have died and there isn’t much hope for the rest. Dust has essentially taken over the world—and the denizens of earth have accepted it, and seek to survive as long as they possibly can in it, rather than look for a way of rising above it.

Our main character, Cooper, is shown a possible way for humanity to survive, through space travel. But in this world, children are taught that the moon landing of 1969 was an elaborate fraud, conducted as an opiate for the masses to make them think space travel was possible back in the 20th century when really, it wasn’t. After hearing that his children are being taught this institutional complacency, Cooper laments (now, listen with your spiritual ears), “It’s like we’ve forgotten who we are…. We used to look up and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

Could there be a greater encapsulation of the latter days? While all mankind are fighting over things both temporal and temporary, while so many of us are squabbling over our fragile fortunes and our empires of dirt, while the televisions we willingly turn on scream into our homes about the horribleness of your political enemies, the true answer to life’s mysteries lies outside all that blinding dust, literally in the heavens themselves.

What is that answer? What is the true war at work today? What is the purpose of this mortal life?

It is this: progress. Self-improvement. The pioneering of our individual souls, leaving behind the dust of the earth. And that’s what I want to talk about on this Pioneer Day sacrament meeting.

I confess to be a man driven largely by nostalgia. I will often reach back into the years, hoping to grasp the joy and memories hidden there and feel today as I felt then. I remember how times were, the company of friends, family at Christmas, the pleasures of childhood. Especially summer days, biking to a pizza place or mini golf with friends or playing basketball in the backyard. I miss the effect video games and movies had on me, how I could be enraptured for so much time, when I didn’t have duties and responsibilities weighing on me, pestering me, tapping me on the shoulder to remind me of the hard work that needs to be done, and will need to be done for the rest of my life. I want life to be what it once was. I want life to stay the same.

As blinded by nostalgia as I am, I only recently began to accept that there will be no year in my life that was anything like the year before that. The number one reason for that is Dagny, who is two and a half. Every single year will be different from the last. She will be talking more, doing more, learning more. I will have to keep up with her growth for the rest of her life, including the change in my own habits and behaviors to match the change in her needs and desires. Add in the self-evident truth that we are knee-deep in the last days, and I must face the facts: life will never be the same again, not even for two years in a row.

But I’ve come to realize that this is not a defect of this world. Rather, it is a feature, precisely how the Lord designed mortality to be. The reason for this has everything to do with what we are celebrating this weekend: Pioneer Day.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks in a talk from 1997 said, “We have studied the lives and accomplishments of our pioneers, early and modern. … Now after all [this], it is appropriate to ask ourselves, “Therefore, what?” Are these pioneer celebrations academic, merely increasing our fund of experiences and knowledge? Or will they have a profound impact on how we live our lives?

“It is not enough to study or reenact the accomplishments of our pioneers. We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day.”

The pioneers and indeed all the early saints of the restored Church lived extremely difficult lives. You’d think joining the church is hard enough, committing your mind to new doctrine, submitting your physical body to new rules of behavior, shifting your priorities to higher, spiritual matters that can seem so abstract. But so many of these fresh converts—and new members of the church can probably relate—were also hated for their choice to accept the gospel. Abandoned by friends, disowned by family, forced to flee homelands, and persecuted to the point of physical violence, being driven out of the homes they built with their own two hands, often just whenever they started feeling comfortable where they were. It’s important to note that the Lord never let them feel safe for very long, even in the cities they built brick by brick, even around the temples they sacrificed so much blood, sweat, and tears to construct. The spurs of hell were perpetually allowed to stab them in the sides.

But…what happens when horses are spurred? They move forward. They move faster than they did before. They press on, swifter and more driven.

God doesn’t always motivate us with sharpness. But, brothers and sisters, the Lord will never let us get too comfortable where we are, because the entire point of this mortality is that we move forward. That we move faster than we did before. That we press on, more driven towards a higher place. And if we’re not already doing that on our own, He might dig a spur into our side to get us moving. And thus we become pioneers.

The trek of today’s pioneers is not a physical journey, but a spiritual one. The purpose of mortality, after all, is to change—for us to become like God, with immortality and eternal life. That is His work, and so it is also ours. We, brothers and sisters, are pioneers of the soul.

Elder Oaks said, “As for life-threatening obstacles, the wolves that prowled around pioneer settlements were no more dangerous to their children than the drug dealers or pornographers who threaten our children. Similarly, the early pioneers’ physical hunger posed no greater threat to their well-being than the spiritual hunger experienced by many in our day. The children of earlier pioneers were required to do incredibly hard physical work to survive their environment. That was no greater challenge than many of our young people now face from the absence of hard work, which results in spiritually corrosive challenges to discipline, responsibility, and self-worth. Jesus taught: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).”

The war of the latter days is not physical, nor political. There is no temporal or political victory, none, that can make up for the loss of a soul. Christ said this explicitly: it profits a man nothing to give his soul, even for the whole world. But Satan distracts us from the real fight, the real struggle, with all these temporal squabblings over empires of dust. “We used to look up and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” Brothers and sisters, if we truly forget who we really are, and the pioneers we are meant to be, then the devil wins.

And so we must keep our eyes open for the real enemy, the one that can destroy our soul. And while we keep watch for our spiritual enemy, we must also fix our gaze squarely on our celestial path, and keep our hands busy with the work and glory of God: the improvement of our soul, the journey of our eternal progression.

I myself can’t tell you where that is or where it starts. I can’t tell you what to change, which direction you need to go. That’s between you and your Savior. He is our beacon. When setting out for the Rocky Mountains, the pioneers of the early church had only the scarcest of reports to go on. Yet they packed up their belongings and risked their lives in a journey of two thousand miles by foot to get to their Zion. Anything could be and was waiting for them out there. Disease, starvation, animal attacks, life-threatening weather. They faced opposition and trials every single day of their journey, with no idea when it would be done or really what to expect when they got there. The only thing they knew was that their church was led by the Savior himself, and they trusted Him. He was their beacon, and so He is ours today, like a runway lit up at night.

Elder Oaks said, “The foremost quality of our pioneers was faith. With faith in God, they did what every pioneer does—they stepped forward into the unknown: a new religion, a new land, a new way of doing things. With faith in their leaders and in one another, they stood fast against formidable opposition. When their leader said, “This is the right place,” they trusted, and they stayed. When other leaders said, “Do it this way,” they followed in faith.”

They had their leaders and so do we today. Already President Nelson is blazing new paths in the church, and we’ve all seen that over the last few months. It’s incredible to watch, isn’t it? It’s safe to say we’ve all seen the mantle pass from President Monson, and we can all see that it’s Christ leading our prophet to these new programs, policies, and preachings.

We also have the temple. David O. McKay said that the ordinances of the temple represent “the step-by-step ascent into the eternal presence.” The plan of salvation is the pattern of godly growth, from intelligences to spirits to souls to gods to eternal lives. The pathway of our pioneering.

There is a statue outside the brand new Provo City Center Temple that crystallizes this idea. The image is simple, but so profound. A mother is crouched behind a child, who is taking her first steps in the direction of her father. He has his arms stretched out, as if to assure her he can catch her if she falls, but also to beckon her toward him. What an encapsulation of the temple experience! The temple is the place where, in a spiritual sense, we take our first steps toward eternal life, towards the beckoning, comforting arms of our Savior and our Heavenly Father.

It is not a new path to them. But it is for us. It is for our souls.

And that’s why, when we decide to let go of old habits, past comforts, emotional crutches, it can be terrifying, like taking a step into a darkened hallway. Indeed, the pioneer’s life is not always a comfortable one, nor will it always feel like a safe one. That is because the stakes are enormous. We are meant to one day live as gods—and that is, to say the least, brand new territory for us! And it is a far greater journey than even the trek from Nauvoo to the mountains of Deseret. And because of the greatness of that journey, there are going to be horrible obstacles and pitfalls, trials and tests that afflict every soul who dares to press on. Some of those include physical or emotional suffering. It can also include spiritual failings, and the dark cloud Satan has successfully cast around the world, the blindfold he has wrapped around so many pairs of eyes. This includes lethargy, complacency, apathy. We can too often be afflicted by the desire for an easier path, even if it means floundering in spiritual mediocrity.

Like those parents helping a child take her first steps, today God is trying to make more of us than we already are. If we protest against our trials too much, or reject His shaping Hand, or kick against the pricks, or—like the people in Interstellar—insist on staying where we are and not moving at all, we will inevitably drift in the opposite direction. There is no middle ground in God’s kingdom, no place for the lukewarm. If you don’t let God guide you forward, you are letting Satan pull you backward. While we may not technically be harming anyone, living an inactive but inoffensive life, we are still squandering our great and mighty potential, and that itself is an offense to God, as we see in the parable of the talents.

We also see this lesson in the aftermath of Joseph Smith’s death. This period was a moment when God separated the wheat from the tares. The saints were offered a choice in whom to follow next. Some followed one apostate, others followed another. Increasing persecution compelled Brigham Young to lead the faithful saints west. What happened to the saints that stayed in Nauvoo the whole time? They were left behind while the real growth was happening elsewhere. So many who did not have the faith to stick with Brigham after Joseph died, fell away. They became part of the Reorganized Church and “dwindled in unbelief.” Those who rejected the imperative to blaze new paths ended up withering away, becoming one with the dust of the earth, their names remaining unwritten in the history books.

Brothers and sisters, the dust of the earth is given to us as a foundation. It is not meant for us to dwell in permanently, but as solid ground to plant our feet and take our first steps toward a beckoning Father. It is after taking those first steps that we learn how to spiritually break Earth’s gravity and set out on our eternal journey, to explore the endless expanse of the universe’s possibilities. Without a little pain, without some discomfort, and without God’s occasional distance like a father beckoning a child on, we’d never even want to take those first steps away from where we started, never want to reach upwards with aspiration, never want to make the unknown known.

The function of a loving Father is not just to make sure we’re all comfortable where we sit. It’s to draw us on and raise us to be just like Him! God gives us spurs in life because He wants to drive us forward.

What reason would you and I have to grow, to change and develop, if suffering or persecution of some sort did not necessitate it? What reason is there to pioneer new trails if we have no problems where we’re currently squatting?

Think about it: what happens when an object does not move for a long period of time? What happens to a person who is not engaged in life and work?

They gather dust.

Remember Lehi’s pleas to his rebellious sons on his deathbed: “Awake! and arise from the dust. Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men.”

The scriptures tell us that man was formed from the dust of the earth. Very well, science tell us something similar. Makes us sound kinda low, doesn’t it? It humbles us. But there’s something we don’t often think about in connection to that fact, and that is this: every speck of dust that comprises our mortal, physical bodies ultimately came from space, from the stars, from interstellar dust itself.

It’s so easy to forget all of that. It’s so easy to forget who we truly are. Our true identity, like our destiny, has been lost among the clouds of dust, when we should be looking to the clouds above.

Gordon B. Hinckley wrote, “‘Mormonism’ is a religion of refinement. It reasons that every man has within him God-possibilities, that salvation is essentially development. It argues that every man is potentially a great man. And through an inspired system, it offers the most extensive facilities in all the world for every man to discover himself and his possibilities, to so live that he can stand on the summit of his life and look back upon a trail of accomplishment and not a slough of wasted energies. Very few at most, and perhaps none of us will ever carve immortal names in the roll call of the great of the earth. Maybe none of us will achieve outside the narrow pale of our immediate surroundings. But this much is certain: happy will be the man or woman who has tapped some hidden resource and given it voice. To such a character will come the sweet satisfying feeling of strengthening powers, of having done something that has made life a little nobler. God has generously blessed us all with talent…Catch the silent thrill of growth!”

Make no mistake, brothers and sisters: we are still pioneers. Our spiritual forebears fought for their physical survival. In our time we are fighting for our spiritual survival. And eternally speaking, we are all fighting for not just survival, but transcendence–or, in other words, EXALTATION–necessitated by the dust storms of these last days of this earth. God wants more than anything for us to be constantly forging through the cosmic wilderness, discovering untold territories in ourselves, taking our first steps into spaces we’ve never before been, into spheres and kingdoms we thought we never could attain.

Sadly for people like me who don’t care for too much adventure in their lives, there is no room for excessive nostalgia in God’s kingdom. God wants us elsewhere than we were a year ago. God wants us to excel, and to accelerate. God wants a church of pioneers.

You might have noticed that through this entire talk, I haven’t referenced any concrete actions you should take on your path of self-improvement. That’s because I’m not up here to preach. I’m not up to tell you which of your habits and behaviors you need to change. I certainly know what mine are, and I think you know yours just as well. I am up here to light a fire—to inspire that desire to aim higher, to break your old barriers, and to reach for the stars. I am here to remind you that you and all of us are still pioneers, and that we’ve barely begun, and that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny—yours and mine—our eternal destiny lies above us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

A Challenge: Live a Perfect Week

Sunday Challenge for you all (including me): if you are struggling with anything (whether it’s temporal or spiritual, mental or emotional), consider trying to live a perfect week. Not perfect in respect to good things happening to you, but perfect before God. Fast from all your worldly needs and desires and especially all those things that would offend the Spirit (especially media: TV shows, movies, video games), even a tiny bit. Have that never-ceasing prayer in your heart and “always remember Him,” that you can have the Holy Ghost with you at all times.
I attempted this a couple weeks ago, and even though I ended up bungling it all by week’s end, it was still an incredibly valuable experience. I was struggling with a few things and it gave me much needed perspective. I found how much I emotionally rely on worldly things, including and especially the media mentioned above, and how much farther I really have to go towards that ultimate goal of soul-completion.
Above all it reminded me that the gospel and Atonement and the Spirit are all very real things. Try it and you’ll see what I mean. I believe you’ll find that it’s more possible than you might think.
(Thanks to Chris Heimerdinger, who first suggested this in one of his books, “Gadiantons and the Silver Sword.”)