Does God Change Lives?

If you asked me point blank whether or not if in the history of creation God had ever answered a prayer and changed a life, I’d say yes. Pin me down for some evidence or an example, what then? Do I go with Jonah’s cry of distress from inside the belly of the whale (how can that be?!!!) or the time when I was a kid when the family was on a 300 mile round-trip drive to watch the Hoosiers play basketball in Bloomington, and dad pulled off the road because our car had overheated?  I prayed that the car might start working. Dad waited for a few minutes and started it back up. We didn’t have a problem the rest of the way. As a child in the backseat, that’s how I thought prayer worked with God: send up the request and expect immediate results.

Since then, I’ve seen that most times a mechanic has to fix the car. I’ve got to change the flat. In my twenties, I was married and divorced. When my first wife and I were separated, I prayed and even fasted for the marriage to be saved. I’ve watched those who I perceive to be believers and good people pray for addictions or cancer to be overcome. My first marriage ultimately failed. In other cases not mine, addictions seemed to win out, and young children’s earthly lives were not saved. I came to believe that God and prayer worked in some other kind of way that I couldn’t understand. As I entered my thirties and life post-divorce, I chose to focus on the physical and intellectual gifts I perceived God had given me, and I tried to use them in this world the best I could. For about a decade, I lived as if God never intervened in any life. I lived as if prayers were never answered and lives were never changed. Admittedly, I continued to pray some prayers in spite of myself. A series of events have unfolded the past few years that have opened my mind to new possibilities. That’s what I hope to share here in the coming weeks and months. I’ve met someone who claims God can change lives, and he offers up quite the story as evidence. I know this man as Fern, and part of what I’ll share with you is his testimony. Below you can listen to our first conversation.

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Fern Remembers Stealing the US Marshal Airplane

As a part of hearing my friend Fern’s testimony, in this podcast episode he remembers the night he stole a U.S. Marshal airplane.  This is a point in Fern’s story that he has come to think of as a sort of flight to redemption, a night which eventually took Fern to prison where he began a process to start a new life. Fern and I start off by discussing an article I found published on January 18, 1990 in several newspapers around the country including the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel. The headline reads, “Marshals Plane Stolen.” I appreciate Fern’s honesty as he shares this difficult story as a way to illustrate how he believes God has helped him change his life.
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Podcast: How Did I Learn to Write (a film script)?

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Working from notes I’m going to use for a panel at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, during this podcast I talk about how I learned to write, how I try to teach writing, and how a person might be able to get something going when it comes to the business of writing, screenplays, and film.

In the podcast, I expand on the following notes.

First, how did I learn to write?

  • I learned to read like a writer in an MFA program focusing on fiction.  Texts can be your best teachers.
  • I read and write a lot.
  • I finish stuff and I send it out.
  • The lessons in the stack. For example, I’ve read a lot of literary journal submissions,  lit agency submissions, and stacks of student writing.  The stacks show me what’s being done and what I might do that’s interesting with those stacks of ideas.  The opening films of the festival are another kind of stack.

 How do I try to help students write?

  • by creating writing territories
  • through experiencing an audience of each other
  • by providing examples of many writers have a different process for how they finish their work

Some Favorite scripts:

  • Diablo Cody’s Juno: her transitions
  • Tarantino’s InGlorious Basterds:  there is the fact that he is writing for himself, but I could see that you can just do it like you want.  I can envision something on the screen and just write it so that it makes sense to the reader. Doesn’t matter if it’s unconventional. That, in fact, might be a strength.
What was the result of winning the festival prize?
  • a bit of credibility at the festival, lots of little bits can add up to something substantial
  • the lesson of the films I wouldn’t have seen (back to the lessons of the stack)
  • the impulse to make my own short film which then accidentally became a feature documentary that will screen at the Phenom Film Festival in Louisiana
  • Good talks with Elfar Adalsteins who did the short film Sailcloth
  • That I won the film festival and was trying to make a film meant that I met more “like” minded people who may eventually be a part of future projects that we do together.
  • Last week I met William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg from Moonbot. Their Lessmore won an Academy Award. Their company is in Shreveport.  I first became acquainted with their film because I was in Rhode Island connected to the prize.  So my script Love on the Big Screen isn’t a film, but a lot else has happened that’s been fun and intellectually stimulating.

Some Books that helped me write or think about filmmaking:

  • Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 (practical how to that got me started)
  • How Not to Make a Short Film: Secrets of a Sundance Programmer by Roberta Munroe
  • The Hollywood Economist by Edward Epstein
  • The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production, by Anthony Artis
  • Stephen King’s On Writing
  • Donald Murray’s Write to Learn

Two Podcasts I like:

  • KCRW, The Business. Filmmakers are common guests and they explain how they get their work done.
  • “Here’s the Thing” with Alec Baldwin. Guests include Lorne Michaels, Michael Douglass, and Jon Luvitz
  • The Creative Penn: just got turned on to this one. Some interesting stories from writers and how they’ve marketed their books.
Torgerson film festival cusack hornby say anything john hughes sixteen candles

 

Podcast on The Craft of Writing Memoir: Derek Owens’ Memory’s Wake

The craft of writing memoir and the subject of recovered memories and post traumatic stress syndrome were among the topics as I visited with St. John’s University English Professor and Vice Provost Dr. Derek Owens. His latest book is entitled Memory’s Wake and tells the story of an abusive relationship between his grandmother and mother. The book is part memoir, part biography, and part research project. Owens is also the author of a book about the teaching of writing I really enjoyed called Composition and Sustainability: Teaching for a Threatened Generation.

You can listen to the podcast below or via iTunes by searching for Prof. Torg’s Read, Write, and Teach Digital Book Club. Also, you can help the podcast attract listeners if you’ll take the time to “rate it.”  Link to iTunes and the podcast page here.

Derek Owens Memory's Wake William Torgerson St. John's University writing memoir

So that you can get a sense of our discussion, I’m including my questions below:

  1. Memory’s Wake is your telling of the abuse relationship between your grandmother and your mother. You also include a lot of the history of upstate New York and research about memory and abuse. So it’s part memoir, part biography, and part research project. Is that a fair description? As to the question, what’s Memory’s Wake about, would you have anything to add?
  2. I’ve latched onto the phrase, “Every Story Has a Story.” By that, I mean for every story we hear or read, that story has it’s own history of how it was written.  This book tells a story that began before you were born. When did you start messing with it in a way that you thought you might write about it?
  3. I want to talk about the rules that govern the conventions of this text. I don’t mean rules I’d find in a grammar handbook. I mean that this book has it’s own rules for how it was written.  To mention a few examples, the sentences don’t start with capital letters, you don’t seem concerned about complete sentences, sometimes you attribute sources and sometimes you don’t, and there’s a lot of play with margins.  I’m guessing you tinkered with that a lot.  The book doesn’t have chapters. Some pages just have one little black and white picture.  There’s heavy use of italics in places. Can you tell me about how you arrived at the published form?
  4. At what points in writing this story did you think it wouldn’t get finished or published? How did you push through those points? What was driving you to get it done and out into publication?
  5. Can you talk to me about how research works in this book?  I’ll tell you what I think I’ve inferred and you can correct me and add to what I’ve said. I think I see excerpts from your mother’s journals, stories told to you by family members, books or articles you’ve read, and visits to places in upstate New York.  I’ll dig in on a couple of these after I hear your answer.
  6. What was the result of writing this book? To you? What do you know/understand that you didn’t understand before? Is your take on memoir different than it was before?  Did the writing of this cause you to remember anything new or see your own childhood in a different way?

The podcast was recorded with a Blue Snowball mic via Garage Band and a MacBook. You can read more about the book and its publisher, Spuyten Duyvil, here.  You can also listen to the podcast below or via iTunes by searching for Prof. Torg’s Read, Write, and Teach Digital Book Club. Please take time to “rate it.”  Link to iTunes and the podcast page here.

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College Composition Students Discuss Their Internet Reading and Writing

Surprise, these students all read books.

Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I know after some days of checking email, reading websites, responding to student blogs, and dropping in on the various social media sites I participate in, I feel way more anxious and scatterbrained than usual. It’s a feeling Nicholas Carr notes too in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Several of the writers I’m working with this semester at St. John’s University joined me to discuss their upcoming literacy autobiographies within the context of Carr’s book.  Here’s some highlights of our conversation and a link to where I’ve published our discussion.

Nicholas Carr The Shallows William Torgerson St. John's University Love on the Big Screen

My fellow podcasters: Sean, Elizabeth, and Jessi

Shawn is a business management major who is also a baseball player. Although during the podcast, Shawn seems to take the side of reading around on the internet over reading books, he ends the program by recommending us to the writer and chef Anthony Bourdain who has written Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw.

Elizabeth takes science courses even though she doesn’t much like science and she spends hours reading around on Wikipedia.  She also suggested a book to read at the end of the show: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Jessi seems happy to be a pharmacy major and wants to someday own a lime green Volkswagen Beetle. She speaks highly of Tumblr and recommends the magna Bleach.

Here are a few of the lines we discuss from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows:

“Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski” (7).

 “As soon as you learn to be a ‘skilled hunter’ online, he [O’Shea] argues, books become superfluous” (9).

Nicholas Carr The Shallows William Torgerson St. John's University Love on the Big Screen

“Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts–the faster, the better” (10).

You can download the complete audio podcast here or search for us via “Digital Book Club” on iTunes.