Posted in Christianity

Surround Us, Lord

I spent the second half of last week working at church camp.

My favorite moment happened at a devo. We were singing “Surround Us, Lord”, a song inspired by the beginning of Psalm 125:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.

This particular camp is in the mountains, so there I was, singing about God surrounding his people like mountains, with a mountain right at my back, staring at this:

It was powerful.

That picture is several years old, but the place hasn’t changed.

I’ve never been to Jerusalem. The mountains there probably don’t look exactly like these. But they’re still mountains. Sturdy. Imposing. Long-lasting. This added a whole new dimension to a familiar song and scripture.

Great experience. 10/10 would recommend.

Advertisements
Posted in Thoughts, Writings

A Published Book Does Not a Writer Make

Sunday afternoon, I started reading a new book. It was one I picked up in the children’s section at a library recently, and was based on the true story of a girl who was captured by Indians in the 1700s and chose to stay with them when given the chance to return to her original life. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find my new favorite book, but it sounded interesting.

The introduction that gave some historical background was fine. But I only got three pages into the story before commenting to my mom about how badly written it was.

The book read like a middle school-aged kid’s homework assignment to write a story about a person they learned about in their history class. Maybe one that had been carefully edited by a grownup for grammar and such things, but still.

“The main character did this thing. When she was done, she also did this other thing. It was hard, because she felt sad.”

That’s… basically how the whole thing went. It was painful. There was zero emotion. You never once got into any character’s head at all or cared about what happened.

I suppose the publisher thought this was acceptable because it was educational and just for children? It was educational. I did learn some things. But all this does is teach kids that books and history and stories are super boring, which is a terrible message.

And people are getting paid for this?

 

Sunday night, I started reading the last chapter of a fan fiction. It was written using characters from the TV show Voltron, which IMDb summarizes as, “Five teenagers become the last line of defense for the galaxy in an intergalactic battle against the evil alien force led by King Zarkon.”

I have never actually watched this show, but a friend has told me lots about it and showed me two or three scattered episodes, so I have absorbed enough to be familiar with the main characters and interested in them. I suppose I’m a secondhand fan. So when said friend was exclaiming over this fan fiction, I was game to read it. And the main attraction was the last chapter, where the leader of the team had to rescue his crew after a spaceship crash.

Every. single. sentence. contained more emotion than the entire book I skimmed through earlier in the day. Every. one.

Sure, some of the prose could have been smoothed out, but it was all fixable stuff. The story structure was good. And I absolutely cared. A lot. I’m still processing some of the emotion from that story.

 

I couldn’t help comparing the two reading experiences. Having something published seems like the Ultimate Success for a writer. And it is a success. But it is not necessarily an accurate measurement of how skilled a writer you are.

Sometimes absolutely terrible books are published. Someone gets to see their book in print and get paid and receive recognition that they don’t deserve. Meanwhile, others write beautiful, moving stories that will never be read by more than a few people.

It’s not fair. But to those of us writers who have yet to publish anything, it can also look like hope.

Don’t let publication or lack thereof define your value as a writer.

Posted in Life

Small but Good Choices I’ve Made in My Life

Things that seemed fairly inconsequential at the time that have had lasting pleasant and useful consequences.

  • Listening to the Yellowcard album Paper Walls
  • Liking the Facebook page UPS Dogs The cuteness never ends. Highly recommended.
  • Trying green tea
  • Buying an AUX cord for my car I actually need a new one now. It’s wearing out.
  • Letting friends talk me into watching superhero movies
  • Buying stilettos Being able to walk in them makes me feel super cool.
  • Dyeing my hair I currently have a streak of red down the right side, and I really like it.
  • Checking out a ukulele from the library
  • Getting an extra pair of headphones to keep at work
  • Trying this chocolate chip cookie in a mug recipe I rarely actually bake the cookie. Usually I just eat the cookie dough.
  • Reading a chapter of my Bible every day I’ve since moved up from just one chapter, but it was a good start.
  • Joining a Narnia forum
  • Attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time
  • Picking up the book The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot at a yardsale
  • Looking up yoga videos on Youtube
Posted in Thoughts, Writings

Alphabetical Writing Advice

Accountability. Maybe you can give yourself a deadline and hold yourself to it. Maybe a project like NaNoWriMo where a ton of people give themselves the same deadline would be good for you. Maybe you need to get a friend to periodically ask you how your writing is going.

Break your routine. Go somewhere different to write once in a while. A coffee shop. The library. The great outdoors. Some place where you don’t have to tune out your usual distractions.

Create bonus material. Maybe you write songs or poetry. Maybe you make graphics with relevant pictures and song lyrics (see example below). Maybe you draw your characters. These things might be just for you, even if you plan to publish what you’re writing, but they can help you stay involved in the story even when you don’t feel like writing.

Discuss your characters with others. One of the most motivating things is finding someone who shares your love of your characters and wants to know what happens to them.

Experiment with AUs. So you’re writing fantasy. But what if you change it up? What if your characters lived in the real world and had to file taxes? What if they were superheroes (or villains)? What if they were spies? Figuring out these things can help you get to know the nuances of your characters, and that can only help.

Fanfiction. Writing with characters and a setting you already know well is great practice.

Generators. You can find random generators for lots of things. I find them especially useful for naming characters or places. This website has a lot of different options.

Help someone else. Read their writing. Have a word war. Offer encouragement. It’ll be good for both of you.

Ignore advice that doesn’t make sense to you. People like to share things that work for them. But writing is a very personal activity. It’s okay if a method that works beautifully for someone else doesn’t do anything for you.

Just write. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just get something on paper. It might stink. But it can be edited. And it might give you the inspiration to go on and make something better.

Keep taking care of yourself. Food and water and cleanliness and healthy relationships are important and keep your brain functional. You kind of need your brain for writing.

Learn from what you write. What works? What doesn’t work? Can you figure out why?

Make a playlist of songs that remind you of your characters and your story. This is good for plotting and for putting you in the mood to write. Here’s one I made a while ago.

Notice what you love in books you read. Try that.

Observe people. Truth is stranger than fiction. You might get ideas.

Practice, practice, practice. (The video is only slightly relevant, but it makes me happy.)

Quit when you need to.

Research. Really. It can be intimidating, but once you get going, it can also be interesting and fun. And you might learn things that will give you ideas you never would have thought up on your own.

Set a timer. If you keep procrastinating, sometimes forcing yourself to focus for just five or ten minutes can get you into the swing of things. And if not, at least you have five or ten minutes worth of writing done.

Take a shower. Put your body on autopilot and let your imagination work its magic. Being clean is a nice bonus.

Use what you like. Write with pen or pencil, in a nice notebook or on scraps of paper, speak into a tape recorder, type on a computer or your phone… Whatever works.

Visit places your characters visit, if you can. It adds a fun new dimension to the writing experience.

Written? Kitten! gives you a picture of a kitten for every hundred words you write. Very inspiring.

Xerox everything. Make backups. Whether that’s physical copies or saving documents on flash drives or uploading them to the cloud. Lost writing is sad.

You are the expert on your story. People can give you lots of expert editing advice, and much of it is certainly worth considering and using, but in the end, the story exists in your head.

Zone out and tell yourself stories. When appropriate, of course. Probably not when you’re supposed to be helping customers at work or things like that…

Posted in Christianity, Life, Thoughts

The Patience of Job?

Confession: Job doesn’t seem very patient to me.

The first time I read the book for myself, I was highly disillusioned. I grew up learning that Job was this incredibly patient man through all the horrible things that happened to him, and here he spends the whole book complaining. It’s like people politely ignore everything Job says except one sentence: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

I’m not exactly blaming Job. I’d have complained a lot in his place, too. But he’s not really what I expected. And since the first two definitions of “patient” in my Webster’s Dictionary are, “1 enduring pain, trouble, etc. without complaining; 2 calmly tolerating delay, confusion, etc.,” I think my confusion was justified.

Job is never described as patient in the book of Job. The description comes from James 5:11:

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and full of tender mercy.

This is the King James Version, so that might be why this is the description that has stuck. However, it’s not the only way the word has been translated.

I checked the 58 English translations on biblegateway.com (it’s a very useful resource), and this is how translations of the word numbered:
Endurance – 21
Patience – 20
Perseverance – 5
Steadfastness – 4
Patient endurance – 4
Other – 4

While I’m not trying to say the translation “patient” is inaccurate (I’m no Greek scholar), I think the way we use the word in general conversation today is not quite the right picture of Job.

There’s a third definition in my Webster’s Dictionary that paints a better picture: “diligent; persevering.” It’s not that Job never complained. He wanted to die; he wished he had never been born; he protested over and over that he’d done nothing wrong, this was not fair. But he did determinedly cling to his faith in God and God’s ultimate goodness throughout all his questions and uncertainties and complaints.

The book of Job certainly addresses suffering, but not in the way we’re used to. Most books about suffering (at least in my experience) are written in retrospect. The author recounts how they have struggled and how they have learned and grown from the experience. This is valid and valuable; we are instructed to appreciate the growth and fruit suffering brings into our lives (James 1:2-41 Peter 1:3-9). But sometimes, when you’re reading such things while in the midst of suffering, it can be discouraging.

Yay, you’ve learned, you’re more mature now, that’s great for you. But I’m still stuck here in the middle of all this hurt. I’m a wreck. I can’t connect to your hopeful stories. I’m not seeing much new maturity in myself. This is no help.

One exception I can think of that I’ve read is C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. It was written when he was in the throes of losing his wife to cancer. It’s not some thoughtful reflection on those times. It’s full of thoughts and feelings untempered by the growth and maturity that came later. It contains statements about God that I know Lewis, during other seasons of his life, did not actually believe. It’s rather uncomfortable to read.

The book of Job is like that. It lets us see Job’s hurt and doubt as he experiences them, not in retrospect. That’s uncomfortable. And while God eventually steps in to remind Job, “Your power is less than nothing compared to mine. It’s time you reorient your perspective,” he lets Job do an awful lot of ranting first.

When we reduce Job’s story to one about a man who was Super-Duper-Never-Complaining-Patient when life was horrible, we do it a disservice. It’s so much more powerful than that. It’s an example of a persevering patience. At the end, it’s a jolting reorientation of perspective. And maybe part of the reason God put the uncomfortable middle section in the Bible is to remind us that those stuck-in-the-middle-of-hurt times are valid, too. God sees them. God listens. He does not immediately insist that you snap out of it into the maturity you’re supposed to be gaining. He can handle it.

He is patient.

Posted in Life

Eight Favorite Movies

I’m not necessarily going to describe these movies to you. Go look up summaries if you’re curious. But these are movies I’m likely to pick out if I want to watch something good and familiar. There are eight of them because that is how many came to mind before I had to leave for work today.

  • Inception
    Inception is heady. Probably not the best thing for if you just want to chill. But I love the complex plot and how it has enough depth that you can watch it repeatedly and still have to pay attention.
  • Tangled
    One of my favorite Disney movies. It’s pretty, it has a happy ending, the music is wonderful.
  • Mulan
    My other favorite Disney movie. This was my favorite growing up. We never owned it, so I checked it out from the library frequently. But I do own a copy now.
  • The Man Who Never Was
    Based on a true spy story from WWII, and drawn from a book of the same title, written by the man who had the idea. This one is older and pretty slow-paced, but I find the story fascinating.
  • Bridge of Spies
    This is a newer favorite, and I haven’t watched it too many times yet. It’s very similar to The Man Who Never Was. Kind of a more modern version. This one is a true story from the Cold War. I’ve realized that I really like the very specific genre “slow-paced but fascinating based on true events espionage story”. Let me know if you know of any more of them.
  • The Emperor’s New Groove
    Absolutely hilarious and underappreciated animated movie.
  • Mom’s Night Out
    Also hilarious. But also has some very important truths that inevitably make me cry, too.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    So. Many. Feels. And Bucky. I’m here for the Bucky feels.
Posted in Life

Anti-Bucket List Revisited

Once upon a time, back in 2014, I posted an anti-bucket list of things I don’t ever want to experience.

Though they’re not in any particular order, the first item on that list is jury duty.

Last month, I got a jury duty summons.

I was not impressed.

Over the following weeks, I tried not to think about it too much, because honestly, the whole idea made me feel vaguely ill.

My assigned dates were last week. I had to call in every evening to see if I had to go in the next day.

AND I DIDN’T.

NOT ONCE.

It was a great relief.

My anti-bucket list remains intact.