Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Update on My Experiments in Bravery

I am somewhat sad to say that I have not kept up with my page-a-day commitment. I do genuinely hope to get into that habit by the time the 365 days has rolled up. However, I am happy to report two steps that are, to me, very significant and that bolster my wobbly feet on the path to becoming a "real" writer.

1) I have officially plotted the novel that I'm working on. It started off as an image of a scene that I have seen in my head for 5 years. Then I got a crazy character named Primrose Pebbleton. Now, I see how I want the whole thing to go. I've taken all the disconnected scenes, characters, and themes and mashed them together in a way that I think will be a compelling and meaty book (providing that I pull the writing off, of course) :). I've plotted projects out before... but then immediately abandoned them because I could see where the holes were or just because the simple act of working out the plot was all I needed to do to feel closure- the story was not compelling enough to move my pen to continue. But this time, I am still so engaged and excited to continue. I am excited to see what kind of things these people get up within the structure- and I'm anxiously awaiting to find out why they end up doing some of the things it seems like they are going to. Full steam ahead, captain!

2) I have done something I would never have dared do, even a year ago. I have picked a couple of the literary agents that I am going to query once I have made better progress. It seems a little surreal, but I am stepping out in faith that I will finish and that what I produce will be worthy of the attention of a professional. Yikes!

So all that to say, I still need to figure out where I am in my countdown (I think maybe 25ish pages?), but regardless, I am feeling empowered to move forward, and shockingly, motivated and excited to do that. Maybe you'll find me on the shelves of your local Borders one day, after all...

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Can't Do That Because I Am Astonishingly Well-Bred

Do you have those moments when you just stop and think, "I wish I didn't know better than to do that. I wish nobody had ever taught me manners and I was in such a state of ignorance that I could say or do something without feeling the slightest twinge of guilt or social embarassment." I think this often. Here are the top five acts I would commit had my Mama not taught me better than that:

1) Following oddly dressed strangers, taking their picture, and sending it to friends to mock: It is my humble opinion that  if you go out into the wild sporting an uncomfortably deep camel toe, spandex/fanny pack combo, or anything acid washed and bedazzled, you have granted the right to all onlookers to document and distribute your image to be laughed at. I have so often longed to run after an inappropriately dressed denizen and ask them to pause so that I can capture their ensemble for posterity. Besides, if this practice was socially permissable, the number of poorly dressed people on the street would diminish considerably. Really, it's a service. Clearly, they have no person in their life setting these kinds of boundaries and saying, "No, Bob, you can't wear a beer-gut exposing belly shirt in public. Invest in those 6 extra inches of fabric and do everyone a favor." This kind of peer-shaming will help them establish better personal boundaries with their wardrobe and improve their abilty to seek gainful employment and romantic partners.

2) Telling people what you really think of them: I don't especially mean yelling at people and telling them all the ways that they are terrible human beings, though that would be nice, too. I mean providing piercing psychological insight into their displeasing behavior. For instance, when I'm being yelled at in a meeting by an unreasonable vendor, I'd like to be able to pause the conversation, and say, "Look, Clive, I know that you've been really pissy since you got that divorce. But yelling at me won't bring back your wife and kids. You know what I think? I think that the person you're really screaming at- is yourself. Just think about that next time you want to get snippy about contract terms." Pointing out people's Daddy issues, codependent  tendencies, or attempted use of material goods to fill the empty void in their life might make things a smidge awkward in the interim, but both the exposed party and their therapist will thank you in the long term.

3) Crying in public when you are upset: Sometimes, when I am tired or annoyed or hot, I want to be able to openly pout. Not just that, I want to be able to cry. Without dignity or reserve- the way you see frazzled toddlers wailing in department stores. It's not the adult or productive thing to do, but it really does make one feel so much better. I should be able to carry on without judgment or censure.

4) Being honest about why you're not going to do something: I'm not not going to your party because I'm tired or have to be up early tomorrow or don't like Chinese food. I'm not going because I don't like you. Or I don't like your friends. Or I do like you and your friends, but the idea of socializing with you for that length of time overwhelms me with a premonition of forced, dull civility that I have neither the energy or patience for. Or I'm really bad at bowling or karoke or dancing and it would be uncomfortable and embarassing to be compelled to engage in those activities in front of an audience that I will have to see again. See, if we are all just honest about why we're not going to go somewhere or do something, it means that when we are just tired or really do have an early morning or ill-disposed to certain ethnic foods, there are no hard feelings or suspicions because everyone knows that if there was another reason, you'd just say it.

5) Not pretending that you are interested in something that you are not: Why should I have to pretend that your grand-niece's most recent trip to the grocery store is interesting, much less worthy of photographic documentation? Why should I have to nod along and pretend your dream of becoming Poland's foremost street mime is sane and well-advised instead of mad and bizarre? Again, I go back to the service this would provide for society at large. It would keep people from making a fool of themselves and alleviate everyone else's obligation to pretend that they're not. It would help temper people's fixation on their young relatives, which is not healthy for any party involve. And, most selfishly, I would not have to plaster a vague and pleasant smile on  my face and nod along like a bobble-head.

Ah, rereading this I realize that in my heart, I am really very mean. So maybe it is fortunate that I am so astonishingly well-bred... otherwise, I would be quite the little monster, wouldn't I? Wouldn't we all?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Waiting Well

Most of our lives are spent waiting. At the hair salon, for the test results, on the interstate, for the promotion, at the hospital... in small increments or in large, our time is broken into expansions of waiting punctuated by brief furies of activities. For how often our lives can be characterized as busy, how often is it really busy work? A laundry list of going-through-the-motions and time fillers that simulate activity, but all the while, we are really waiting for the things that we really want to be using our time for or that single event that will utterly change the nature of all the time fillers that we engage in.
I say all this because I am in a season of waiting. I feel confident (or at least I do in the cold light of day) that God has been showing me some crazy, exciting, and terrifying paths that He will be leading me down in the future. We haven't started down them, or rather, we haven't started down the part that seems to lead directly to the end destination. But in mean time, what am I to do with myself? Prop up my feet and eat bon-bons? Frantically race around preparing for the journey?
I think the answer is somewhere in between. Walking that tightrope of balance between the two is stressful,but it is exactly in this place that I see God meeting me, growing me, and changing me. It is is this place that my heart, mind, and spirit is the most malleable and we are able to deal with more of my baggage and He is able to teach me the lessons that I will need. It is wearisome and sometimes I want to put my burdens down and return to Egypt. It is His faithfulness and gentleness that beckons me on.
So many people hate God for the business of waiting. They hate that He isn't a genie who grants their wishes when they ask. They shake their fist and say He's forgotten and walk away. It's an understandable temptation. But it's tantamount to waiting in line for 4 hours and then throwing up your hands and leaving when you're next. The problem is that we can't see that we're next. It feels like our "turn"will never come and we are fools to  have waited for it at all. But, to quote an old maxim, He is God and we are not. What seems like an eternity of waiting to us doesn't mean we are forgotten. He sees the way all the pieces are moving together and sees why we need to wait somewhere for 40 days, 40 months, or 40 years.
And the thing that I have been increasingly realizing is that more often than not, God is waiting on us. As I meditate, I am staggered by His patience. He spends so much of our time together waiting for me- to understand a lesson, to change my ways, to wake up and listen to what He's saying, to just flat-out have faith. To be crass, He's freaking God. He could swoop down and reveal Himself in a blaze of glory, tell me what I needed to do, and then walk me through it like a child through their first book. But instead, He waits. He woos. He gently places His hand in the small of my back and nudges. He does all of this because He respects my independence and process. He wants me to get there myself...but when I am listening and waiting on Him, He is with me at every juncture, whispering quiet instructions. Philip Yancey contrasts the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit with demon possession. With demons, their presence is overwhelming, binding the human will, over taking their every sense, faculty, and thought. With the Holy Spirit, His presence is quiet but persistent. He makes Himself known through His words to us and His guidance.
I guess where I am with this whole waiting thing is that, in the immortal words of Aerosmith, I don't want to miss a thing. I don't want to be distracted or too busy plowing down a different path to miss what He's doing. And as I appreciate His patience with me and His waiting on my heart, I am just floored by His humility and love.
So here I am- hanging out here, waiting to plunge ahead on the path. I'll be here when it's time, Friend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Books Like Whoa: A Bibliophile Reflects on the Kindle

This year for my birthday, I took the plunge and asked for a Kindle. I can say that I did with this with a not inconsiderable amount of trepidation. The result? Surprisingly satisfying.
First, this review will be most relatable to people who love books. I'm not talking about people who love stories or plots or characters. That's a part of loving books. No, I'm talking about people who are in love with the entire process of reading, of being engulfed by the words and the twists and the endings, of flipping the pages and impatiently counting how many are left until curiosity can be satisfied. Honestly, to endulge in a little melodrama, there is something transporting about a genuinely complete reading experience, and there's no good way to explain this to someone who doesn't already know. The need to finish it is all comsuming and only pleasurable after it is satiated. But I digress.
Part of the essential reading experience for me and anyone else who loves books is initimately tied to the physicality of the tome itself. The smell of fresh new pages or the familiar mustiness of old, the feeling of delicate or thick or pulpy pater as you flip through, the sound of the sheets rubbing together absentmindedly between your fingers. And the cover. I don't even know where to begin with the cover. The adage "you can't judge a book by it's cover" may be something nice to teach your toddler, but it is absolute crock within the complicated and ruthless realm of book selection. I judge a book by it's cover whenever I go to the bookstore- we all do. It is impossible to read every one ever published so there is necessary discrimination from a practicality standpoint. Sometimes I arrive at the bookshop with a preconceived idea of what I am looking for. A title that I have heard good things about, an author I want to further explore. But other times, I enter the shelves with no prediliction as to what I will go home with. (It just occurred to me that most normal people my age go to the bars in similar mindsets...).
The cover is a pivotal component in the my enjoyment of a book. For one thing, if the book has an embarassing or weird cover, I am much, much less likely to read it in public, limiting my available time to read it in general. Additionally, if it is a book that I don't particularly want to be seen reading (i.e. books too young for me or with topics that will reveal my inner dork), I very much care how prominently the title is displayed. Color me vain.
I'm not saying that there aren't some great books out there with deplorable covers (see "Changes That Heal" and "Strong Women, Soft Hearts"... come to think of it, these have terrible titles, too. It's a miracle I ever read these. Well, I'm glad I did- they are very convicting and thought-provoking). But I confess that if, conversely, a book has a very modern and hip cover or one with beautiful artwork or a snappy title in chic typeset, I am much more likely to buy it and take it out in public.
This is all tangential, I suppose. What I intended to write about is my Kindle experience. But before I could really dive in, I wanted to make it clear that if anyone wasn't going to like the Kindle, it was going to be me. No cover? No page turning? No paper smell? No creases in the binding? I was highly suspect of this new-fangled device. Books have been around in roughly the same form for hundreds of years. If it was good enough for Gutenberg and his cronies, it should be good enough for me, right?
Well, gentle reader, I am a convert. Now let's be clear- I am too in love with books to ever go completely wired. However, the Kindle has far exceeded my expectations.
First, it's so light and thin- it is much easier to keep this in my purse than most of my beloved but bulky books.
Second, everything that people say about the seamless interface is spot on. You truly do forget that you are reading on the screen and it fades into a non-entity as you get lost in the book.
Third, books published before 1923 are in the public domain and therefore must be offered in *free* format. Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, War & Peace, Pride & Prejuidice... all of these are free on the Kindle Store.
Fourth, Amazon offers software applications for all of your devices for free- and they all keep track of what page you're on. That means I can be reading something on my Kindle, then go to the app on my Mac and pick up exactly where I left off. This also means that you can buy books through the Kindle store on Amazon and send to your computer, even if you don't have a Kindle.
Fifth, since the books are cheaper, you can take more risks. Books that I might not be willing to spend $14.99 on, I might be willing to risk $7.99 on.
Finally, no one will judge what you are reading when you are out and about. I will confess it here- the first book I paid for on this thing was a Chelsea Handler. Trash, I know. But it was $6.99- and no one would ever know I was reading it in the mechanic's waiting room.
All of this to say, I went into the technilogical world of book reading with trepidation. I was skeptical. I was prepared to hate it. And... I didn't. In fact, I rather like it.
So for those of you on the fence, the Kindle has recently taken a dramatic price plunge and is now very affordable. If in doubt, I'd tell you to go for it. I've not encountered many people who didn't enjoy it once they bit the bullet and gave it a try.