Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Bare Stage

A few years ago, two movies came out that at a glance seemed like they had very similar plots. One was called The Prestige, and the other, The Illusionist. Both of them were about magicians and set during similar time periods, but that's pretty much where the similarities ended. Coffeewife and I found this out by watching them very close together after they'd been released on DVD.

Initially, I gave the edge to The Prestige, starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians. The way each tried to outdo the other and the way the film kept revealing that things were not as they appeared was captivating, although the final big reveal seemed to be a bit of a cop-out. Meanwhile, The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, was more of a love story, and didn't immediately strike me the way the other movie did.

The more I reflect back on my experience of these two films, however, I find The Illusionist to be the better film. It had just as much intrigue as The Prestige, and while I recall guessing the ending before it happened, it was still a better crafted story than the other film.

This long setup is so that I can describe one scene in The Illusionist that I particularly liked, the main reason not even being why most others would have liked it. At this point in the film, Norton's character has begun advertising a new magic show. His posters are very simple, and the show itself equally so. The first glimpse we get of his new act, he simply walks out to a bare stage without fanfare, sits in a chair, and does one single trick. And yet this one trick is so captivating to the audience that none of the flair is needed. There's much more behind what he is doing, of course, but the show itself is as simple as can be.

This scene has always stuck with me for that simplicity. Norton's character has done the fancy stuff; has striven to put on the big amazing sort of show that was so successful at attracting the masses. But in this scene he's done away with all of that, focusing only on the trick itself, without dressing it up.

This idea of staying rooted in basics, this low-key approach, this philosophy that less is more, has always been near and dear to my heart. I've always thought that focusing on the core idea should be my main task. If certain things could benefit from a little extra dressing up or need a little more for the core idea to be communicated, that's okay. So be it. But let that be properly discerned rather than forced or done for its own sake. It's how I approach ministry, it's how I strive to approach other areas of my life.

Social media can be such a strange thing. It has become so much of its own animal, has been deemed so crucial by so many, that we have rules made by so-called "experts" so that people or organizations will be able to maximize the impact of one's brand through it. So make sure your Facebook page looks a certain way, and make sure you tweet so often every day, and make sure you update your blog a certain way. Dress it up, add some fanfare, put on some flair. This is what will make your page most effective and successful.

I thought that I had figured out what I needed to do to make my blog "successful." I knew that I needed to update it regularly, so I came up with a posting schedule. I figured it'd be good to keep a few regular features, especially because I'd seen other blogs do so well with them. For a while I tried to write long, indepth, critical sorts of pieces that surely would get me attention as a Serious Blogger.

Here's the truth. The schedule had me on the verge of burnout, the features seemed more and more like homework, and with a couple minor exceptions I've hardly ever received serious attention while writing here. My love for this had almost completely evaporated, and a few weeks ago I was convinced that I was finally going to shut off the lights. But I wanted to keep writing, and to me this is still the most convenient and shackle-free way to practice that.

So I took some time to think about what a "bare stage," low-key approach to blogging here would look like, and this is what I came up with:

1. No more schedule. I post when I'm inspired, not to "maximize readership" or whatever the social media gurus say. To me this still comes with some degree of regularity, but not like before. I don't want to throw half-baked crap up on here just because I'm on a deadline. Why would anyone want to read something that I didn't really feel like writing to begin with?

2. No more "features." Small Sips is the sole exception, because I do enjoy doing those and I've never done them on a regular schedule. Yes, that means no Pop Culture Roundup, for the two people who enjoyed that. I'm still going to engage pop culture, but in a different way that I think we'll all find more meaningful than a rundown of single-paragraph reviews. See this very post for an example.

3. Stuff I'm still going to write about: church, ministry, theology, parenthood, my personal journey, justice issues, book reviews, liturgy/prayers, pop culture (but no Roundup), the occasional throwback post. Stuff I'm giving up: sports, throwaway pictures or videos, any "feature" other than Small Sips, small-minded navel-gazing. That last one is probably up to the reader.

All in all, this is probably the sort of thing that most won't notice or care about. But I think it'll go a long way in getting me to love this blog again.

So. Thanks for reading, and on we go.