The Quiet Room of no Social Media

I’m not one of those planner-bloggers. I write what I feel, when I feel it. When I post I’m basically throwing you a real-time snapshot of my mind. I may be feeling a bunch of things, but when I post I’m shining one of those thoughts and offering it to you.

For me, posting has been a sort of reaching out. I post and then I wait. Did anyone like it? Was anyone moved? Who agrees with me? As much as I’ve tried to stop it– my writing, specifically blogging, is a quest for affirmation/connection masquerading as an essay.

A thought occurred to me this morning as I was having my “devotions.” I put quotes around them because they’ve not felt very devoted lately. A dark night of the soul sort of thing, but my internal ravings led me to consider: if Gandhi can fast from food, I can fast from social media. And wouldn’t it be freeing? Not to wonder who liked my posts, who liked my status, my picture, my buffed-up, shiny words? Yes. I decided. Freeing indeed.

I usually scroll through Facebook while I eat my lunch. I’m not sure what I’ll do while I eat, but I used to do something before. It’ll come back. Maybe I’ll taste my food. Time travel back to 1990 wasn’t an option, so turning off notifications will have to do. I’ll be writing my novel in the quiet room of no social media. That’s my real-time plan. Once I have it finished, I’ll come back to beg for beta readers.

Till then.

Locker Room Talk

I love writing about overcoming. It feels like I’m having a locker room talk with myself. Not the kind Donald Trump has– the kind like this:

My family makes fun of me because I listen to things like this all the time: in the shower, while doing my hair and make-up, pretty much any time I’m not actively focused on something else. When I hold planks I play these sorts of YouTube videos. They distract me. Ever since I was young (12ish), I wanted to work harder than everyone else. Talent is a lottery. So are looks. Even brains. But anybody can work, went my thinking. I was sorely just an anybody, so I focused on the one thing I could control: work ethic.

“She works harder than any of the guys,” my coach mentioned to his friend. He thought I couldn’t hear, as I was attempting giants (see video below) on the bar next to him. The best compliments, the truest, are the ones they don’t mean for you to hear. That’s how I feel about affirmations. If you’re telling me because you want to pet me, I don’t believe you. If you’re whispering to your friend I work harder than any of the guys, I dare to believe.

And to think? Harder than the guys. The tomboy in me smiled at that thought.

Today is one of those days I don’t feel right. I’m so wrong I can’t concentrate. I want to do what I’ve committed to (write my novel), but with no extrinsic motivation like a time clock or a boss or a bar coach, I’m left to motivate myself. And today– I’m not feeling it. So I write about not feeling it because at least I’m writing. Only writers can see how much sense that makes.

I said in my resolution post that life will throw you down, that it’s our job to get up. How you do that will look different than how I do that. This is how I do that. I can’t hear my characters whisper their feelings because my own are yelling. Anne Lamott was once told, “You think everything that happens to you is interesting.” I fear that is the lot of a writer… but what writer sits down at her laptop and thinks Today I’ll write about something superbly boring… ? No one thinks that. We all think we have something interesting to say. Or at least, we dare to hope.

An invisible bar coach sits beside me and reminds me that I can still work hard at my craft. I do wonder though: what does Stephen King do on his off days? He says he writes every single day of the year. Christmas. Birthdays. Down days. Knowing what a liberal he is, I wonder if he picked himself up by his bootstraps and wrote great prose the day Donald Trump won the presidency? Or did he mope around the house? Or play motivational videos and distract himself until he felt right again? I’d love to know.

 

 

 

 

 

Frankenstein’s Teenager

Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein, is really an allegory. It’s the parenting memoir she couldn’t write. Parents of pubescents… follow me.

Victor builds what he hopes will be a beautiful, incredible masterpiece. He works tirelessly on his legacy. So intent on accomplishing his ends, Frankenstein doesn’t ask, “Should I?”

Sounds like many parents I know who should’ve stuck with cats. But really, is anybody ready?

Said creation doesn’t turn out the way Victor imagined. In fact, when his creation hits puberty and lumbers around to the sounds of creepy Psycho chords, Victor realizes to his horror: I meant it to be beautiful, but I made… a monster. Too late. What’s done is done. All he can do is damage control. And the monster– it might want love and affection, but it’s hard to say for sure, so irrational and unaware it is. But it wants a girlfriend, of that, it’s certain.

So Victor, for the whole rest of the story is basically wrecked over this creature for which he’d had such high hopes. All he can do is follow it around trying to make sure it doesn’t hurt people. He fails. Parents do. But we keep going to the ends of the earth, like Victor Frankenstein. His monster runs away– of course it does, thinking the grass is greener somewhere else, everywhere else in fact. People get hurt. Ugly words are exchanged. The monster roams and the maker frets.

Frankenstein ends in death. Victor, his wife, his creation. All perish. As for the memoir: the reality of adolescence is that a death occurs there too. Adolescence itself dies and out of the seed springs something entirely new– a rational and beautiful adult. And the grey-souled parents, dead but only half-dead like a bony tree, breathe a sigh of relief.

 

The Only Resolution You Need: Be Resolute

Resolute: 1. marked by firm determination 2. bold, steady.

In a fit of New Year’s zeal you wrote a bunch of resolutions. And in a fit of cold reality already broke at least one. Now you’re starting 2017 as a failure. Why even bother with the rest?  New Year’s resolutions are like trains. One car off the track and the whole thing goes. The year’s derailed.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Make resolution your resolution.

Life will throw you down in 2017, of that you can be sure. Determine to get up when you fall, no matter what the goal or circumstance. Decide you’ll keep your vows, your promises, your commitments, both to yourself and to others. When you do that, everything else falls into line. Even a derailed train doesn’t have to stop. Where does it say it has to? A derailed train can keep moving forward, churning the earth into ruts behind it and dragging along whatever freight is there. And what is it doing?

Plowing. Paving its own road.

Imagine that train engine dragging its overturned cars along the tracks, igniting sparks from the flint of will and the drag of steel, bellowing the howl of metal on metal. That’s the mantra of the resolute.

Psalm 15:4 describes a resolute person as one …who keeps a promise even if it ruins him. 

Have you ever committed to something and halfway through, the landscape changed? The workload mutated, the expectation grew claws and horns and sharp teeth? That’s happened to me so many times I now brace for impact when I make a commitment. Call me a cynic. Or a realist. The fact that my commitment morphed into something else does not release me from it, not if I’m resolute. That’s what it means to keep your word no matter what.

Anybody can decide to fast. Deciding’s easy. It’s a word on a page, an intention. Not just anybody can Gandhi their way into changing the world. Don’t think Gandhi didn’t hunger. Don’t think he was some sort of superhero who didn’t need food like the rest of us. The difference between Gandhi and you or me: degree of resolution.

Look, if your resolutions don’t fly off your soul in a heartbeat, you probably don’t care enough to follow through. Limit your focus to a handful of things for which you’d die. They are the freight you’ll be dragging. They’re also the weight that makes you powerful in your momentum. You know the physics: a body’s mass determines its force.

Often our goals contradict one another. Lose weight. Enter ten hot-dog-eating contests. See more friends/family. Find more time for myself. Make more money. Get more sleep. Resolution is a pyre at which I must sacrifice worthy, wonderful, needful, beautiful things. Most of us can’t possibly accomplish all the high-minded and half-hearted goals we wrote in a delirium of self-aggrandizement. A train can’t go east and west at the same time. Take a fresh look at those resolutions. Do they align? Purge until they do.

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At Mount Rushmore, a young man was getting his picture taken. Giving the architectural marvel a middle finger salute.

“Don’t do that,” chided his mother, who was taking the photo. I’ll never forget his answer.

“This is ‘Merica. I can do Whatever… I… Want.”

In ‘Merica, we can flip off the stone busts of the founding fathers. We can do whatever we want. And that’s why we scrawl grand lists and scheme and plan and dream of the future. And some of us put more energy into flipping off life than embracing it. 77% of us would rather write resolutions than accomplish them.

Because it’s easier and more comfortable, we flip off a challenge and console ourselves with next year. But why wait?  If you, like me, like so many ‘Mericans, have trouble keeping your resolutions, try making just one this year: be resolute.

It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows. – Proverbs 20:25

 

Coming in 2017… Not Your Average Book Reviews!

img_1036The trouble with book reviews: subjectivity. Two people can read the same book and opine in wildly different directions. A friend of mine posted that The Brothers Karamazov was her favorite book ever. Ever. Now I respect my friend, but even if I didn’t, ever is a pretty convincing review. Add to the ever– she is the only person I know on planet earth who has her own legit library. Floor to ceiling books, antique books, collectables, classics, reference items. She knows books, ok? Oh, and she wrote one too.

Of course I got me a copy of The Brothers Karamazov and dived in like it was the Crystal Palace pool.

As of today, Brothers is my gold standard for #1 on my readability scale. #1 means reading it felt like slogging through a mosquito-infested swamp. That was until I closed it, forever. Which means I can’t rate its merit. (I do intend to try again later and will update if I get a different result or find my pain tolerance has increased.)

How dare I not finish a classic, right? Let he who finished Moby Dick unabridged be the first to cast a stone. I did finish all three torturous inches of Anna Karenina and Atlas Shrugged, either of which could prop a sagging foundation. My subjective slant is that I enjoy a book for the sake of escapism entertainment, but prefer one that also makes me smarter.

I’ve been considering adding book reviews to my blog… well, since I began it, but always shied away because I don’t relish ripping into a living author, especially a novice. A painter can hang his pictures, but a writer can only hang himself. I keenly feel that sentiment by Edward Dahlberg and will not be responsible for any noob author suicides… JK… sort of. So, if you write and breathe and are not on the New York Times bestseller list, I probably won’t review your book.

There are two important aspects to any book: readability and merit. Bestsellers need have only one of the two. Guess which. Great works of literature need only have one as well. My students can readily tell you which. Every once in a while, a book embodies the highest levels of both readability and merit.

Every book I review will really be two reviews, as outlined below.

Readability Scale (fun factor)

When I read this it feels like:

1 – Slogging through a mosquito-infested swamp. The Brothers Karamazov, Moby Dick

2 – Canoeing through same. A Tale of Two Cities, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

3 – A stroll in the park: not a thrill, but mildly pleasant. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Frankenstein

4 – Cruising on I-71. The Ravenant, Watership Down

5 – Aliens abducted me and I’m rocketing away from earth. Unbroken, The Hiding Place

Merit Scale (and it will make you smart, too)

1 – I could either read this or watch MTV– the net effect would be the same. Apocalypse

2 – At least I’m not watching TV. Treasure Box: A Novel

3 – I’m shopping at the thrift store– unearthing a gem or two out of the dust. A Tale of Two Cities

4 – Many pearls of understanding and perspective. Soundly profound. Atlas Shrugged

5 – Should be required reading for entrance into heaven. The Screwtape Letters

An example of a book high on the merit scale and lower on readability would be Atlas Shrugged (readability: 2, merit: 4). An example of a book high on readability and low on merit would be anything published after 1960. JK… sort of. If you’re interested in a fun book, look to readability. If you want to upload a fresh perspective of the human condition, look to merit.

If you stayed with me to this point, can I shamelessly beg you to leave your favorite-ever book in the comment section? For the truly daring, would you be willing to submit your favorite fun book and/or your favorite makes-you-smarter book? I’d be ever so grateful and will definitely read it, maybe review it. 🙂

 

A Christmas Story by Gabe, 11

Gabe wrote this story in lieu of doing grammar pages. I cut and pasted it exactly as he sent it to me. Years ago, Katae also wrote a Christmas story. It’s fun to think my oldest and my youngest got their fiction on in time for the holidays.  In the story you’ll note Gabe used the year 281. That wasn’t just a year he pulled out of his imagination. Gabe researched the real Santa story, and 281 is about when the tradition began. Enjoy! 🙂

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Gabe’s Story

There were once three brother elves. These three elves lived with Santa in the North Pole. Jeremy and John were naughty elves, always getting in trouble in the workshop, and messing up toys. Jeremy and John were both always hated by the other elves in Santa’s workshop. However, the other brother, Justin, was the best elf in the workshop. He always woke up on time, did his chores, and made even more toys than he needed to every day. One day, as John and Jeremy were wreaking havoc in the dining hall, Justin was folding his clothes in his dorm. Suddenly, a deafening boom rang through Santa’s entire underground mansion. Every single elf in the secret home listened, and a booming voice rang out,

“John! Jeremy! My office! NOW!” Justin ran out of his dorm and straight towards the dining hall, where a massive door leading to Santa’s office stood. He ran through the dining hall to the big door, mumbling to himself as he went.

“Oh, what have those little terrors done now.” He knocked on the door, and it opened. He walked inside. The room was amazing, huge paintings of all his reindeer , and a picture of him in the year 281, with a massive sleigh that was only run by reindeer. The walls were red and white, with a huge wooden desk and a red and white striped chair. A massive chandelier with red and green lights hung from the ceiling, and a door leading into Santa’s Sleigh room, and another that led into Santa’s bedroom. Jeremy and John were barely as tall as Santa’s desk, and he was giving them a talk about how if they were naughty they wouldn’t be allowed to live in Santa’s underground mansion. They were sent away, and Santa got out of his chair and walked over to Justin.

“It seems that your brothers are nothing like you, and they are the naughtiest elves in this entire place, but you are the best elf in the entire mansion. As you know, every year a special elf gets chosen to go with me on the sleigh ride around the world to give children their presents.”

“Yes, I know, but I have never been chosen,” said Justin.

“Well, don’t tell any of the other elves, but if nothing changes, I will choose you as that special elf,”

said Santa. Suddenly, a huge crash sounded from the dining hall. Justin ran out of the room, and found that the enormous glass chandelier in the dining hall fell to the floor. He ran over to it and found heard maniacal laughs going down the hallway on the balcony near the chandelier. Justin ran down a hall and sprinted up the steps to where the balcony was. He heard the laughing, and ran towards them. Whatever was laughing was running towards the present storage room! Justin sprinted to the door and opened it. The room was an enormous white room filled with presents in aisles. He saw an elf in a red and black suit instead of the traditional green and gold. Justin crept up the aisle, and saw the elves unloading presents from an aisle. They took them to a hidden trapdoor on the other side of the room. Justin crept over to the trapdoor, hiding behind stacks of presents as he went. He could see into the trapdoor and saw a weird, tall creature with skinny limbs, grabbing presents from the elves and loading took them away, to a place Justin couldn’t see, but he knew they weren’t coming back. He walked over to the trapdoor and climbed down into it. He walked through the tunnel and after a walk, felt the tunnel getting cold. As he was walking, one of the elves came around a corner. Justin scrambled into a little crevice in the rock. The elf walked by the crevice without noticing Justin, sniggering as he went. Justin climbed into the freezing, rocky tunnel. He kept walking and finally made it to the end of the tunnel. He saw a weird sleigh, pulled by 7 black horses. Justin crept over to the sleigh, near the enormous black horses. One of them snorted loudly, and Justin disconnected the horses form the sleigh. Justin ran back into the tunnel and towards the underground mansion. The tunnel started to get warmer, and into the mansion. He ran through the present storage room and back into the dining hall. All of the elves were still eating, as if nothing happened.

“Some weird things are stealing our presents!” shouted Justin. The din suddenly ceased. Every elf looked as if it were frozen, staring at Justin. Suddenly, there was uproar. Elves grabbed anything that could be used as a weapon, butter knives, spoons, forks, and even pieces of glass form the chandelier. They ran with Justin towards the present room, and into the tunnel. A sea of elves filled the tunnel, shouting in uproar. One of the pour elves that had been stealing the presents was swept away by the masses of elves rushing out of the tunnel. For the first time, Justin and all of the others saw the weird long legged thing. It was green, with fur all over it, and it had an evil grin. They tramples him and the other elf, bound them with ropes, and took them back to the tunnel. It was complete chaos. No one could see anything going on, and when they had all gone back into the tunnel, the black horses that pulled the sleigh had all run away, and the sleigh itself lay in ruins. Once they had all returned to the mansion, they brought the weird creature and the strange elves to Santa. Santa took them outside to recover all the presents they had stolen, and eventually forgave them. After that, they lived with the elves and helped make presents, and the weird elves got real elf uniforms, and the green creature got an XXXXXXXL elf suit. After that, they all lived together and made presents together. Once Christmas came around, it turned out it was Justin that got to go on the sleigh ride and deliver his presents to the children of the world. THE END.

Friends & Family: My Favorite Gifts

 

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For years I’ve sent a Christmas letter, but not this time. Find your name below for my “card” to you. This list cannot possibly contain every one of the people I consider gifts, but as I contemplated whether or not to send the usual card this year, it felt more right to talk about you than to talk about me. I wish I could write a paragraph for each of you, but time constraints force me to be brief. Each one of you, you’re the gifts of my life. Merry Christmas.

5000 Words students & families. Thank you for the wonderful times learning together. I cherish them all.

Angie Bartos. Friend and savvy dancer. May our moment on the floor be engraved in your mind as it is mine!

Apryl Harbaugh. First responder to the needs around her and in Ethiopia, example of love in action.

Bob. My best friend ever, love of my life, inspiration to greatness.

Bodeker and Hileman families. Welcomed us into the soccer family. Thanks for the laughter and friendship.

Coach Mike. Swim coach/magician– elicits 100% effort and 100% adoration simultaneously.

Dad & Maggie. Gave me a taste for fun and thrills. Loved sharing stories of old with you at Kev’s house.

Dan Wilkenson. We who live in your vicinity are safer. 😉

Darlene Wilke. A beautiful, others-focused woman who delivers more joy than Santa.

Delaney Miller. Grace and poise. You bless all who are blessed to be around you.

Dyer family. Missionaries in a tough place in tough times, holding tightly to God.

Gabe. Already a gentleman at 11, leader, champion. Kind, diligent, merciful.

Ginny Niemiec. Aldi isn’t nearly as fun without you, sweet and beautiful friend!

Glen & Karen Griffiths. Praise for your health! A joy-filled, happy couple.

Greens & Friends. Talking life, parenting, faith, and wine… all in one evening!

Griffiths, Dad & Momom. Both of you are hugs in my life. Thoughtful, charming.

Guenther family. Sweeter than any candy I’ve ever had. You’re living, breathing hugs.

Katae. A sweet, generous soul, often the one kind word I need. Love our coffee times!

Kendall Seyer. Your birthday greetings made me smile. Miss our crazy youth!

Kev & Nikki. Every time I want to smile, I just think of you two. Love your beautiful family!

Kim Griffiths. My favorite bohemian traveller. I love to watch you live life to the fullest.

Kim Wolfe & Steering Committee. Who knew a room full of hens could be such fun! 🙂

Krakowski family. Enjoy sharing the long road to Ignatius with you!

Long family. Love watching the kids grow and reading your posts.

Lucas family. My love-in-action-neighbors, I enjoy running into you on a walk or bike ride.

Luke. Ron Swanson has nothing on you. My rock of a son. No mountain is too tall.

Mark Ciavarella. Your letters remind me of what’s truly important in life. I appreciate your wisdom.

Michelle Mihalek. You’re as beautiful as the pictures you take.

Miss Pam. You’ll always be “Miss Pam” to me. The best pal-gal in the history of the world.

Mom & Dad Timm. Glad to share life with you and take walks together.

Nancy Beach. Inkwell of Godly character and dearest friend. I’d trust you with my feelings any day.

Paul. Your horsing around and fun-loving nature make get-togethers more fun.

Shawna Blumfeldt. My fun and my faith– shows me how to have abundant life.

Stahley’s in Africa. Doing what others dream and think is too difficult, for God’s glory.

Tory. A sunrise is what your life looks like to me lately. Diligence, faithfulness, integrity.

Thompson family. You’re a breath of fresh air and a sweet memory every time we visit together.

Whitty family. Inspires me to revolutionary thoughts on God and missions. Lives spent on knees.

Writer friends like Nthato, Laura, Ronel, Russell, and others. Your advice and feedback keeps me going!

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If you share four walls with me this is how you see me most of the time.