Monday, December 28, 2015

What I Want to Say


If the world could could hear my ever-running inner monologue, the things that actually make it out of my mouth would make a lot more sense.

***

What I Want to Say When I Turn in a Manuscript: "I put a lot into this. The work was difficult, but I'm really proud of the result. I hope you like it!"

What My Brain Is Saying: "Writing feels like pulling your own teeth, only you're using a pen and you're pulling them out of your brain. Also, your pen is a computer, so you're actually using a computer to pull teeth out of your brain."

What I Actually Say: "Here are some of my brain teeth. Let me know if you want to publish them."

***

What I Want to Say at Job Interviews: "While I don't have experience in this particular area, I have tons of interesting life experience. Teaching, traveling, and nannying really do prepare you for almost anything."

What My Brain Is Saying: "Once a boy in my homeroom class got sick. He didn't make it out of the classroom first, unfortunately. He jumped up, threw up all down himself, ran up the aisle, threw up in this poor girl's backpack, got to the front of the room, threw up down my legs, ran to the door, threw up in the doorway, and then turned around and said, 'I think I'm done.' To get out of the vomity classroom, we all had to jump over the puddle in the doorway, which was exciting because we had to clear not only the puddle but also the three steps down to ground level."

What I Actually Say: "I'm good at vomit puddles."

***

What I Want to Say When Asked Out by an Attractive Man: "You seem really great, and I'd like to get to know you, but I'm serious about relationships so please don't waste my time."

What My Brain Is Saying: "He's smart and handsome with a winning smile. You know who else was smart and handsome with a winning smile? Ted Bundy, that's who. That's why so many women went along with him when he offered them rides. Then he murdered them. So you just never know. Before you make any decisions, you really should check to see if this guy has his own entry on Murderpedia." 

What I Actually Say: "Please don't kill me."

***

If you've been privy to any of these communication malfunctions, I don't know whether to apologize or take a bow. 

Here's hoping that 2016 is the year in which my brain and my mouth finally sync up. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Weary World Rejoices



It's been a tough year for our planet. Each successive month offered fresh proof of man's total depravity.

We're happy to be alive, but that doesn't mean it's not hard to live here sometimes. Disappointments are frequent, pain is a constant, and the ongoing grind of evil wearies the soul. Because we are created in the image of a perfect God, our hearts yearn to experience that perfection. We chafe against everything that is wrong, bruised, and broken in our world -- including ourselves. 

Despite its fallen state, however, this world still reflects the God who made it; and though fractured, we can find a measure of comfort here. This is still the world of seascapes and sunsets; of warm friendships and sumptuous dinners; of starlight and firelight and songs.

As damaged as our planet is, it's still a place in which we can experience God's grace, and for that we are deeply thankful.

Imagine, however, being born into this world with not just a conceptual understanding of perfection but with an experiential one as well. Imagine personifying perfection and still having to live here, day in and day out, where everything is twisted. 

I'm talking, of course, about Jesus. The adjustment between heaven and earth must have been jarring. He knew what he was getting into, and yet he still came. He was "playing fair," as Dorothy Sayers puts it.
Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.... He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
Despite popular opinion, Jesus did not sacrifice heaven to make the world "a better place." He did not come to make our experience "better" in the common sense: he came to revolutionize us completely--not by fixing what's wrong around us, but by offering a way to fix what's wrong inside us.

Yes, the world is still broken, but because of Christ's work on the cross, we don't have to be. 

Though evil seems on the rise, and though the world's systems may seem hopelessly depraved, the promise of the gospel leaves none of us without hope.

Besides, none of this is final.

We're only midway through the third act of a four-act play, and not until the curtain falls on the last scene will all be resolved. 

The whole of the human drama, when laid out in this way, puts our current situation into perspective. We know why we're here (Act I: Creation), what brought us to this state (Act II: The Fall), why we're not actually as bad off as we could be (Act III: Redemption), and why we can rejoice despite the world's current state of social, moral, physical, and spiritual decay (Act IV: Restoration).

This is the hope in which the weary world rejoices. 

May the God of Peace fill you with joy as you anticipate the final act.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:
Look! God's dwelling is with men, 
and He will live with them. 
They will be his people, 
and God himself will be with them and be their God. 
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. 
Death will exist no longer; 
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, 
because the previous things have passed away.
Then the One seated on the throne said, "Look! I am making everything new." ... and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light (Revelation 21:1-5; 22:3-5, HCSB). 
* * * * *

A warm Merry Christmas to you!

Enjoy these previous Advent meditations:


Monday, December 14, 2015

The 12 Days of Dystopian Christmas

Photo courtesy of StarWars RP
Everybody sing with me!

On the twelfth day of Dystopian Christmas, my true love gave to me...


*
**
*****
**********

*12 Panem Districts*

*.....*.........11 Silo people.........*.....*

*................*.....10 robot armies.....*................*

*............9 fallout shelters............*

*............*.......*.........8 vigilantes..........*......*............*

*...*......................*7 dying oceans*......................*...*

*........6 euthanasias........*

*............*........5 mind-control drugs........*............*

....*............4 Browncoats............*....*

*..........*..........*..3 Guy Fawkes masks..*...........*..........*

*2 Soylent snacks*
and a
Big Brother
on a telescreen!


*************************************

Special thanks to my friend Pam for the inadvertent inspiration.

I hope that the responsive web design allows everybody to see a Christmas Tree
and not a garbled mess.

Merry Christmas, everybody! Check back next week for a Christmas meditation.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The More You Know...

Photo courtesy of Logos and NBC.

The more I read, study, and learn about the Bible, the more I realize there is to know. Questions lead to answers that just lead to other questions. This experience could be why some Christians are tempted to give up and skim the surface, never really digging to uncover the deep things of God. "After all," they shrug, "I'll never understand it all."

They do themselves a disservice.

Of course we can never know everything about our God, Yahweh. He is infinite and we are finite. A professor of mine once likened trying to understand him to trying to pour an ocean into a shot glass. But just because we can't understand everything, that doesn't mean we shouldn't bother to understand some things.

First, there is definitely much that can be understood. The Gospel, at least, is perfectly plain: we are separated from God by our sin; Jesus came to earth as a human, lived a perfect life, died in our place, rose again, lives in heaven, and can save us from the penalty of that sin.

Second, the Spirit helps us understand truth--both the simple and the complex. Anything that is knowable and understandable to us this side of eternity can be accessed with his assistance. Although it still won't be everything, it's definitely more than we'd understand on our own. 

Third, the all-or-nothing attitude of the defeatist ultimately breaks down. Have you ever refused your share of dinner because you couldn't eat all the dinner? Have you ever failed to cash a paycheck because it didn't grant you all the money in the world? Have you ever enjoyed a cup of coffee less because it's only a coffee and not all the coffee?

Of course not (although that last one sounds plausible). 

You've eaten until your stomach is full, then walked away from the table with enough to get you through the day. You've cashed the check and used the money for your current needs. You've sipped the coffee, reveling in its therapeutic effects. It doesn't have to be all the dinner or all the money or all the coffee to help you. In the same way, we needn't have all the knowledge to benefit from knowing God. 

We need our daily serving--living paycheck to paycheck, savoring him one sip at a time. 
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth... And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:3-14).

Monday, November 30, 2015

Conventional Wisdom for Common Ailments


I was sick over the holiday weekend, and while reclining in a faint on my velvet chaise lounge like a heroine from a Victorian novel, it occurred to me that much of the conventional wisdom for common aliments actually makes little sense. 

I mean, what good is "Feed a cold, starve a fever" when you have both?

My first recourse was to ask the advice of genius friends Sarah, Jodee, Alissa, and Bethany. The following discussion of conventional medical wisdom ensued.

Conventional Wisdom for Common Ailments: 
  • Feed a cold
  • Starve a fever
  • Foil the flu
  • Thrash a rash
  • Sucker punch seizures 
  • Shake your fist at shingles
  • Dropkick dermatitis 
  • Choke out chickenpox 
  • Guillotine gout 
  • Arm bar arthritis 
  • Glare at glaucoma
  • Mock the mumps 
  • Fool fibromyalgia
  • Give stink eye to pink eye
  • Malign Meningitis 
  • Postpone gallstones 
  • Avoid arthritis 
  • Thwart warts
  • Flush thrush 
  • Bemoan Crohn's 
  • Suppress IBS 
  • Repress PMS
  • Flee OCD
  • Disperse MRSA
  • Poke strokes
  • Demote strep throat
  • Disdain migraines 
  • Have a tiff with c. diff
  • Pull the chain on joint pain
  • Cancel cancer

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ruthette's Extremely Helpful Do-It-Yourself Online Dating Profile Sample Questionnaire

By lyubenov.com (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently someone asked a friend of mine if she'd ever considered internet dating and then seemed shocked when my friend wasn't interested.

Think about the process for a moment. When Singles first join an online dating service, they're immediately tasked with filling out long, tedious, one-size-fits-all surveys. Frankly, that sounds more like homework than anything else.

While the system may work occasionally, that doesn't mean it can't be improved. Perhaps one way that we could potentially refine who we attract via a set of questions would be to offer our own questions

I've provided a sample below.


Ruthette's
Extremely Helpful
Do-It-Yourself
Online Dating Profile
Sample Questionnaire 

Your Name:__________________

Your Age (select one):       

[ ] Old Enough
[ ] Older
[ ] Oldest
[ ] Benjamin Button

Your Body Type (select one): 

[ ] Chopstick
[ ] Anchovy
[ ] Hourglass
[ ] Potato
[ ] Texas

Your Personality Type (select one): 

[ ] Chocolate
[ ] Vanilla
[ ] Salsa
[ ] Triple Venti Vanilla Bean Soy Latte with No Foam
[ ] Turnips

You in a Crisis (select one):

[ ] Margret Thatcher 
[ ] 007
[ ] River Tam
[ ] Mr. Bean

Languages (select all that apply):

[ ] Pop Culture
[ ] Logic
[ ] Irony
[ ] Math
[ ] Puns
[ ] Philosophy
[ ] Theology 
[ ] Computers
[ ] Scifi
[ ] Drivel
[ ] History
[ ] Alternate History
[ ] Music
[ ] ¡Emotions!  
[ ] Sportsball
[ ] Real Talk
[ ] Books

Complete the Sentence: "I love long walks on  ____________."

[ ] the beach
[ ] the moon
[ ] tightropes 
[ ] the Dark Side

Your Sense of Humor:

[ ] Michael Scott
[ ] Lucy Ricardo
[ ] April Ludgate 
[ ] Severus Snape

How would you describe your emotional resting state?

[ ] Solid
[ ] Liquid
[ ] Gas
[ ] Plasma
[ ] Dark Matter

You without coffee:

[ ] Lethargy
[ ] Stupor
[ ] Delirium
[ ] Angst
[ ] Selective Mutism
[ ] Vegetative State
[ ] N/A (don't drink coffee)* 
*Please abandon survey at this time.

Select One:

[ ] Salty
[ ] Sweet

Select One:

[ ] Breakfast foods
[ ] Other foods

Select One:

[ ] Malcolm X
[ ] Malcolm Gladwell
[ ] Malcolm in the Middle

Select One:

[ ] Early Bird
[ ] Night Owl
[ ] Screech Owl
[ ] Ostrich

Select One:

[ ] Reading
[ ] Writing
[ ] Arithmetic 
[ ] Swashbuckling 

Ideal Man:

[ ] Aragorn 
[ ] Mr. Darcy
[ ] Atticus Finch
[ ] Willy Wonka
[ ] Ron Swanson 
[ ] Captain von Trapp

Ideal Woman:

[ ] Nancy Drew
[ ] Nanny McPhee 
[ ] Judi Dench
[ ] Lady Macbeth
[ ] Phoenix
[ ] Boudica 

Reasons you are late for things (select all that apply):

[ ] No real sense of time and space
[ ] You never write anything down
[ ] Getting distracted
[ ] Getting lost
[ ] Wardrobe issues
[ ] Netflix
[ ] Naps
[ ] Stopping to help a turtle cross the street
[ ] Cultural differences
[ ] Exempt (you are never late)

Complete the sentence: "There is no _________"

[ ] fear in love
[ ] business like show business
[ ] Frigate like a Book / To take Us Lands away
[ ] crying in baseball
[ ] try
[ ] spoon

Select a theatre:

[ ] Movie
[ ] Military
[ ] Surgical
[ ] Puppet

Music:

[ ] Playlist
[ ] Shuffle
[ ] One song on repeat all afternoon

Ideal room temperature (F):

[ ] 60-65
[ ] 65-70
[ ] 70-75
[ ] 75-80

Number of pillows necessary for sleep:

[ ] 1
[ ] 2-3
[ ] 5-7
[ ] 8-12
[ ] ALL THE PILLOWS!!!!!!!!!


Documentaries:

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Talking during plays/movies:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Eating in the car:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Sharing fries:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Stopping to ask for directions:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Disobeying the GPS in lieu of common sense:

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Surprises: 

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Best Holiday:

[ ] Thanksgiving
[ ] Easter
[ ] Christmas
[ ] New Year's
[ ] Pi Day
[ ] National Battery Day
[ ] What If Our Pets Had Opposable Thumbs Day
[ ] The Festival of Sleep

Reading:

[ ] Yes

Travel:

[ ] Yes

Religion:

[ ] Jesus

* * *

Singles! If you're ready to help start the revolution, post your questions below. Then spread the word, sit back, and get ready to browse the questions to find a compatible mate. It's easy, fast, free, and definitely more fun than filling out a standard dating questionnaire. (Or so I've heard.)

You're welcome, everybody!

Don't forget to invite me to the wedding(s)!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Legitimate Reasons to Put Off Writing Your Book


Pretty much everyone wants to write a book one day. Any thinking person who's actually tried to set some words to page, however, knows that there's always a legitimate reason to put it off.

Legitimate Reasons to Put Off Writing Your Book:
  • All your fingers are broken at the same time.
  • You need to finish watching the ten-season show you're currently marathoning on Netflix. Otherwise you'll never be able to concentrate on writing.
  • You realize that your keyboard and computer screen are both disgusting biohazard zones that must be cleaned on the microscopic level before you can get anything done.
  • You need to do research.
  • You don't have a good writing spot picked out yet. Your house is too quiet, the coffee shop is too noisy, and your car is too stuffy. 
  • You can't figure out how to use Scriviner.
  • You need to build your social media platform, but you still don't understand what Tumblr even is.
  • You know the beginning and end of your story, but you have no idea what happens in the middle. 
  • You haven't settled on a pen name yet. Everything you try makes you sound like a serial killer.
  • You want to lose ten pounds before you take your author head shots and sitting down for eight hours per day to write a book isn't helping.
  • Your neighbor's dog won't stop barking.
  • Your own dog won't stop barking.
  • You can't stop barking.
  • Your kids need to grow up and leave home.
  • You're not a good writer yet.
Of course, very few of these points are actually legitimate reasons to put off anything. Instead, they're just the sort of lies we tell ourselves to put off sitting down and hazarding the ultimate risk of writing. 

Of all the reasons to put it off, that last one is the least legitimate. 

The only way to learn how to ride a bicycle is to try riding a bicycle. You'll wobble, fall down, and crash into trees a few times, but eventually you'll learn to ride. It's the same with writing. Sure, you'll run your manuscript into a few parked cars along the way, but eventually you'll produce something worth signing your (non-serial-killer) name to. 

Remember that every person who's ever been published had to write his first book before anybody considered him a writer. 

Anybody other than himself, that is.

So finish your Netflix binge, q-tip your keyboard, run a microfiber cloth over your screen, and get to work.


The world needs your book.


* * * *

Happy NaNoWriMo to all participating! Don't forget to share your writing goals with a community of like-minded friends who can hold you accountable and cheer you on. It's scary, but it's worth it.

In the interest of full disclosure: because I'm currently in the editing cycle of a major project, I'm skipping NaNoWriMo this year for the first time in a while. However, I always have monthly goals. My goal this month is to edit a chapter a day. 

So far I'm on track. 

You?


Monday, November 2, 2015

Legitimate Reasons to Hate a Novel

  1. Too long.
  2. Too short.
  3. Too much swearing. 
  4. Too many sex scenes. 
  5. Too many noun clauses used as subjects. 
  6. The author takes himself too seriously.
  7. The first paragraph describes a sunrise/sunset.
  8. Someone's named Chloé.
  9. Nonsensical emotional responses. 
  10. Unconvincing "best friend" portrayals. 
  11. Half-baked love triangles.
  12. The inciting incident doesn't drop soon enough. 
  13. The female protagonist is forced to be lab partners with the mysterious new kid in town who wears a lot of black and has a dangerous secret. 
  14. The author shoehorns in a "teachable moment."  
  15. Everyone's outfits are described in great detail to no narrative purpose. 
  16. F-bombs. 
  17. Unpronounceable names. 
  18. The author kills off a favorite character. 
  19. "Open-ended" endings.
  20. Everyone else in the free world loved it. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 2: Money



I read between 150-200 books per year. If I were to pay list price for even a fraction of these, I would be living on the streets right now. Fortunately, there are many ways to acquire books that do not require paying full price.

Of course, this is unfortunate news for writers attempting to live on the royalties of their works. As a writer attempting to live on the royalties of my own work, I understand that this post is somewhat problematic. 

It is therefore with a deep sense of irony that I share this information with you.

That being said, here's how I can afford to read so much and still operate within the parameters of my baby budget.

First, I don't buy books very often.

My process for acquiring new reading material includes the following steps.
  • Check with family and friends. Most readers have a circle of people with whom they share books. I'm super fortunate right now to have a strong reading community within my own church. Rare is the Sunday that passes by without some sort of covert book drop between services. 
  • Check the library. Since I was a child, I've visited the public library once a week. I carry home a promising stack of books, hoping for the best. Because I refuse to spend time on books that don't hook me right away, some of these are abandoned after only a few pages and returned unread. If your library doesn't have a particular book that you've been wanting to read, you can request it through inter-library loans. Even better, there's generally an online form you can fill out (usually through the library OverDrive App) to request that your library purchase a title outright. Speaking of which...
  • Check OverDrive. If you have a public library card, you can use your card number to access e-books and audio books through the OverDrive library app. You can sync your account across devices to ensure that you're never without reading (or listening) material. 
  • Check Amazon Kindle. You don't need to own a Kindle to download the Kindle App onto your phone or tablet. With just a few clicks, you have access to daily free downloads and deeply-discounted digital copies of hundreds of titles. I must warn you that these discount pages are full of tawdry material (much of it self-published), but there's just enough good stuff available each week to make it worth your while to check out the sales. It helps if you have other bookish friends who keep an eye on these lists and post good deals to their social media sites, leaving you to ride their coat tails to the best stuff. 
  • Check out Netgalley. If you can get approved as a reader, NetGalley will send you free digital copies of the specific pre-release books that you request in exchange for honest online reviews. Each publisher sets its own qualifications for whom they will extend invitations, but if you're a teacher or a librarian, you're especially going to benefit from this system. 
  • Make holidays work for you. Near Christmas and/or your birthday, simply forward your "To Read" list around. Enough said. 

Second, what I do buy, I buy on the cheap. 

I haunt flea markets, library book sales, yard sales, and discount racks. Given a little bit of time, most of the books I want to read turn up for a few dollars or less. If I see a quality copy of a book that I already own going for less than $1, I'll often pick it up just so that I'll have an extra copy on hand to give away. What's $.75 invested here and there when compared to the joy of sending my next young visitor on her way with a little gift bag full of good books?

Third, I have a book budget. 

It's not huge, but it's built into my monthly expenditures. That means if I really want a book, I buy it without worrying that I might fall behind on paying my bills. 

Some books are good enough to warrant pre-ording. Some are worth standing in line for at midnight on release day. Some are so heavily anticipated that I'll shell out $40 for the hardback and feel no pain. Given how little I generally have to spend to get my hands on a huge amount of quality reading material through family, friends, local libraries, and other sources, I consider that occasional $40 well-spent.


Fourth, I know that these aren't the only methods. 

I can't wait for other readers to sound off and tell me what methods they use to fuel their reading habits without breaking their banks.

Feel free to chime in below or through the comment section on Facebook. I can't wait to hear from you.

* * * *

For more like this, see also:
How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 1: Time
By Request: Great Read-Aloud Recommendations
Love Song for a Very Specific Type of Nerd


Monday, October 19, 2015

How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 1: Time


It's mid-October of 2015, and as today, I've read 155 books so far during this calendar year. 

As you can imagine, numbers like those don't come about by accident. I don't just "happen" to read a lot of books. I make reading a priority.

Make no mistake: reading's not my only priority. I maintain healthy relationships, work a full-time job, publish my own work on the side, stay active in my local church, go to movies, watch TV, keep my house clean, exercise, travel, mentor, and prank my sister. I say all of this only to dispel the notion that people who read a lot must neglect other areas of life. That's just not the case. The sheer volume of reading that I do (pun intended) does not lessen my enjoyment of "real life." If anything, it enhances it. 

But how can I afford to read so much, you ask? I'll admit that when it comes to reading, I have a few advantages.

Reading Advantages:

First, I'm not raising children. Those of you who maintain families need no further explanation. Without a household to maintain, my spare time is mine to do with as I please; and most of the time, it pleases me to read. I read during meals, while folding laundry, while washing dishes. If I get up early or stay up late to read, no one interrupts me. It's wonderful. 

Second, I read and process quickly without sacrificing recall. I have no explanation for this other than that it's just the way God put my brain together. Of course, I don't remember everything that I read, but I remember enough to make broad reading worth my while. 

Third, I always have a book with me. Always. That way if I get stuck in a traffic jam, held up in a waiting room, or otherwise trapped in tedium, the time doesn't go to waste. (For this purpose, it helps to keep a synced Amazon or Overdrive app on your smartphone: but more on that in the next post.)  

Fourth, I built reading into my permanent schedule a long time ago. This is perhaps the key point. Every January, news sites roll out articles regarding how to turn a resolution into a habit. There's a reason. Studies show that once permanent habits are formed, they no longer take mental energy to accomplish. They become automatic, and the rest of our life takes shape around them. People ask me all the time when I find time to read, but because my reading habit formed so early, finding time to "fit it in" has never really been a question. It's already in. It's just something that I do, like cleaning my house or brushing my teeth. (Well, not exactly like those things. Reading's way more entertaining.)

If you're trying to read more, fear not: you can do it. Generally, my advice for starting out is that you find holes in your schedule and plug them with words. How many of us, when we find a spare twenty minutes, spend that time mindlessly skimming Facebook or trolling Instagram? Instead, keep an audio book or e-book on your phone, pull it up whenever you can, and watch how quickly the pages fly. Once that action becomes a habit, there'll be no stopping you.

The next thing you know, you'll be the one fielding questions about finding time to read. 

* * * *

Coming Soon: How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 2: Money


Monday, October 12, 2015

Open Letter to the Woman Who Gave Me the Side-Eye as I Applied Deodorant at a Stop Light

Photo courtesy of Chloe
Dear Woman Who Gave Me the Side-Eye as I Applied Deodorant at a Stop Light,

Don't tell me you've never had a day slide sideways on you.

Don't tell me you've never found yourself pin-balling through your morning, breaking into a sweaty panic over how ridiculously wrong everything has gone--a sweaty panic compounded by the fact that you've run out of deodorant.

Don't tell me how you planned to buy deodorant after dropping the Oldest Child off at school, only to develop sudden car troubles that must be dealt with immediately; and by the time the car was dealt with, it was time to start work, and you still didn't have any deodorant.

Don't tell me about how all morning you felt yourself sweating; about how you worried that you were starting to stink; about how all the worrying just made you more sweaty.

Don't tell me that the only time you had to buy deodorant was during a twenty-minute window while the Younger Child was at his violin lesson, and that you wanted to hurry and slather some protection under your armpits before you actually arrived in the parking lot of the music school where people who actually know you might witness you deodorizing yourself in your car in the middle of the day.

Don't tell me you've never had a day like that.

I know that you have. We all have, and we all need to cut each other some slack when we see it going down for someone else. 

Thanks for your understanding.

Your Friendly Neighborhood ESTJ 

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Gentleman's Guide to Women's Hormones

Alexandre Cabanel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Have no fear, Gentlemen. This frank discussion of women's hormones will address none of the mechanics and focus solely on the fallout. I share this so that you can better understand what your sisters, wives, and lady friends go through. If you want the facts behind the subject, you can Google them (but I suggest you don't.)

A Gentleman's Guide to Women's Hormones 

Our bodies' fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone create the "vital see-saw" effect necessary to keep our reproductive systems running. In doing so, they usher in a host of ancillary problems, including what's commonly termed mood swings.

Here's what you need to know about mood swings: the emotions feel real.

Irrational anger, sudden-onset depression, crippling self-doubt, or some potent combination of the three--these emotions wash over us in waves, rushing in with the grim regularity of the world's most terrible tide. Even when we realize that these emotions are the byproducts of fluctuating hormones, that doesn't stop them from feeling real.

To speak from my own experience, I spend several days a month feeling like a complete loser. I wonder what I'm doing with my life. I question every decision that I've ever made, pondering what's brought me to this: the very pinnacle of failure. I've actually had to make a self-imposed rule that I won't make any major decisions about relationships, career, or life changes during these times because I'm aware that my perceptions are skewed. Although I know enough to tell myself that this isn't how I really feel, that doesn't stop it from feeling real. 

Just within the past few years, I've begun to find some spiritual victory through focusing on thankfulness and worship, but the feelings don't go away: they're always right there, waiting to crush me. Knowing that they're coming and knowing that they're fake does help to keep them in check (or at least to moderate my response to them), but it doesn't stop me from feeling them. 

Gentlemen, you need to know that most of the women in your life have discovered how to function quasi-normally while fighting floods of fake feelings (even as they struggle through actual physical complications that further weaken their defenses). This struggle requires Herculean effort, and the women who consciously fight this battle should be admired for their strength.

At this point in a post, I would normally transition into tips, tricks, or suggestions for dealing with whatever problem I've chosen to address; but I'm not here to make specific demands. 

I'm here to help you Gentlemen understand the struggle.  

How you choose to relate to the women in your life in light of this understanding is up to you.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Ruth's Rules for Cooking



Rule 1: Be smart! Avoid Pinterest. The kitchen's confusing enough without getting computers involved.

Rule 2: Be prepared! Make a list, shop, come home, unload groceries, spread out items, realize you forgot key ingredients; make a new list, shop, come home, unload groceries, spread out items, realize you forgot still more key ingredients; cry; have a coffee; head back to store. Repeat as needed.

Rule 3: Be considerate! Set off a preemptive fire alarm to alert housemates and neighbors as to what sort of afternoon they might expect.

Rule 4: Be simple! The fewer kitchen tools you have, the less of a mess you'll have at the end. If this means you have to wash and re-use the same pan three times during a single cooking session or use a screw driver to stab open the top of a can, so be it. Just approach the whole situation as a character-building exercise. 

Rule 5: Be careful! Use scissors instead of knives. They cut just as well and lead to fewer sliced fingers.

Rule 6: Be resourceful! Use chopsticks instead of tongs. They're cheaper to keep in ready supply and generally have better grip.

Rule 7: Be efficient! Layer on the tinfoil. Life's too short to scrub pans.

Rule 8: Be safe! Invest in cut-resistant glovesflame-retardant aprons, and a pair of stylish onion-cutting goggles. (Bonus: it's a cooking outfit and a Halloween costume all rolled into one!)

Rule 9: Be decadent! Pile on garlic. Add more onion. Slather on the sauces. Brine everything. Double the cheese. Dip it in chocolate. When in doubt, add butter.

Rule 10: Be circumspect! You never know if your meals are going to work out until it's almost too late; best keep a store-bought lasagna in the freezer, just in case.


Monday, September 21, 2015

How to Star in Your Own Life


Many people dream of fame: imagining what it would be like to star in a movie, a show, or a reality program. Although few will accomplish personal acclaim, many are already well on their way to starring in their own lives.

You could be next. 

How to Star in Your Own Life:

Make a spectacle of yourself. No matter where you go, make an entrance. Dress in bright colors, tease out your hair, and blast your own personal theme music. Make yourself impossible to be missed. Talk fast, laugh loudly, and dance like everybody's watching--because they are. And why wouldn't they? You're a star.

Do what you want. Ignore signs, cut corners, jump lines, and enter through the exit. Drive up the off ramp. Take a thousand items through the express lane. Do what you want. You're the star!

Speak your mind. No matter what you have to say, your opinion is automatically valid. Whether informed or uninformed, you're still a star; therefore your point counts. And don't worry about whose turn it is to talk. If you're a star, it's always your turn.

Be self-absorbed. Remember, life's all about you. Knowing this will make it easy to turn every conversation back to yourself--the only real worthy topic anyway. If you find this habit acts as a conversation killer, don't be alarmed. That just means it's working! Speak your wisdom into the silence.    

Build yourself up. The simplest way to accomplish this, of course, is to talk others down--if you deign to notice them at all. Be sure not only to point out their weaknesses, but also to highlight your own strengths in direct comparison--the more publicly, the better. Once others seem small, you will appear all the more glorious. Revel in the glow. 

Be insular. Above all, keep yourself in a world apart. Proximity to the masses endangers nearly every point on this list. The less you mix with the plebes, the less you're in danger of being influenced by their commonness.  

Finally, if you want to star in your own life, you will need to practice constant vigilance. Guard against the Three C's: Consideration, Companionship, and Compassion. These deadly traits will ruin everything you've worked for, rendering you indistinguishable from any other member of the Great Unwashed. 

So keep your head in the game, and don't let the hate get you down. 

You're a star!

Act like one. 


Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Drive Like a Citizen of the World


If you're going to share the open roads with others (and let's face it, what choice do you have?), then it's important to consider the facts. According to recent statistics, road crashes cost individual countries between 1-2% of their GDP annually. No matter where you're from, that's a lot of dough.

Since we're all in this together, it's best that we all learn not just to be good drivers within our own home cultures but also to drive like citizens of the world.

How to Drive Like a Citizen of the World:

Step One: Crank that diesel. Although U.S. consumption of diesel fuel is expected to peak in 2015, global consumption continues to rise, especially in developing nations. So roll down those windows, breathe in deeply, and enjoy that heavy, oily smell.

Step Two: Pick a lane. Left, right; who cares? There's really no right or wrong on this one (although you try telling that to people in Commonwealth countries). To avoid argument, I say we all adopt a more laissez faire attitude and detach ourselves from the concept of lanes altogether. In many countries, the prevailing thought seems to be that as long as your vehicle is not currently in the process of crashing into another vehicle, you're doing fine.

Step Three: Understand the art of honking. Inside the United States, a honk can mean one of two things, neither of them complementary. Citizens of the world, however, have elevated honking to an art. If you're going to drive like a citizen of the world, you must remember that a honk can mean so much more than just "Get out of my way." It can also say "Passing on the left!" or "Just a reminder that I'm back here!" or "What a beautiful day!" or "Good job avoiding that obstacle!" or "Better slow down: someone just fell off the back!"

Step Four: Make way for chickens. And goats and pigs and entire herds of sheep and potholes bigger than your home town. Make way for bicycles in the street, taxis in the bike lanes, and busses up on the sidewalks. You just never know, so it's best to look alive!

Step Five: When in doubt, gun it. No matter where you're from or where you've been, learning the confidence to drive assertively will help you claim your place as kings and queens of the open roads. Remembering this underlying principle is the crowning achievement of driving like a citizen of the world.

So what are you waiting for? Crank that diesel, slide into traffic, lay one hand on the horn, keep a weather eye open, and push the gas pedal all the way down.

Watch the world's highways roll out in welcome.

Monday, September 7, 2015

How to Lose Weight in Four Easy Steps



Who among us couldn't stand to lose a few pounds--or a few dozen? The good news is that by following these four easy steps, you'll be on your way to a smaller pant size in no time.

How to Lose Weight in Four Easy Steps:

Step One: Eat all the snacks in your house. That way they'll be gone and will no longer pose a temptation. As an added bonus, you'll be headed into this adventure feeling full instead of hungry, meaning that you're less likely to shipwreck your diet.

Step Two: Immediately sit down and make a plan. Don't get up until you have mapped out a full weight-loss regimen. This process may take a while, since you'll have to do a lot of research. Make sure you're sitting somewhere comfortable.

Step Three: Join a gym with a cafe or smoothie bar. Good nutrition is important. Make sure you're getting plenty of it!

Step Four: Save your energy for your workouts. There's a reason it's called working out. It's challenging stuff! That's why between workouts, you should be sure to rest up. Sleep in, lie down with a book, take egregious naps. That way when the time comes to burn out at the gym, you'll have the strength you need to get it done. 

Of course, the last time I needed to lose weight, I had no idea it would be this simple (since I hadn't yet written this post and therefore had no idea where to turn for advice). Instead, I fell back on the old weight-loss two-step: exercising more while eating healthier food. It seemed to work, but what do I know? 

I'm a writer, not a nutritionist. 

####

Special thanks to Bethany, who helped me brainstorm this post and is also the most long-suffering kickboxing partner ever. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Seem 10% Nuttier than You Actually Are

Generally, I have no trouble passing myself off as a normal, rational human being with very few quirks. As long as no one is looking at me, that is. With no one around, everything goes smoothly. I sail through life like an eagle riding an updraft--all glory, power, and smooth motion.

Then I leave the house for the day, and everything falls apart.

I'm sure you know what I mean, because at some point, it happens to all of us.


How to Seem 10% Nuttier than You Actually Are:
  1. Walk through a spider's web.
  2. Get an itch in a weird place.
  3. Head through a door the minute someone else walks out the other way.
  4. Take a sip of milk that you thought was orange juice. 
  5. Back into an activated electric fence.
  6. Try to explain something that you don't actually understand very well.
  7. Practice a tricky bit of dialogue from your new play out loud before you remember that you're working in the coffee shop today.
  8. Breathe a gnat in through your nose.
  9. Think there's a step down when there isn't.
  10. Think there's not a step down when there is.
  11. Sneeze uncontrollably. 
  12. Be the only one who didn't get the memo about dress code.
  13. Have a nose whistle. 
  14. Itch your face with the wrong end of the pen.
  15. Wave your arms to conduct the music (that's playing in your head).
  16. Forget to take down your car's sun shield until you've already backed out of the space and put the car in "Drive."
  17. Forget why you've come to the store; wander around staring at things; leave. 
  18. Accidentally stand near a fire ant hill.
  19. Smile too much. 
  20. Mistake literally anything for a snake. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Line Keeps Moving

Photo courtesy of Nevit Dilmen (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I'm a goal setter. I have yearly reading goals, weekly workout goals, and daily writing goals. I have personal goals, professional goals, and spiritual goals. I'm also an overachiever, meaning once I've set a goal, I feel driven to exceed my own expectations. You would think that with all of this goal-setting and overachieving, I'd feel more accomplished, but I don't. Not really. The satisfaction of meeting a goal comes, but it's fleeting.

That's because the line of success keeps moving.

When I first started writing, I thought I would be happy if I just published a play. Then I needed to publish two plays to confirm that the first one wasn't a fluke. Then I needed to publish one per year to show that I wasn't washed up. Now I need to branch out from youth comedies to prove that I have range.

Prove? To whom? To myself? To you?

Who knows.

What I do know is that the line doesn't care. It doesn't stop to acknowledge my accomplishments. It just keeps moving.

While drawing lines may drive some of us to greater achievements, we must be careful not to let the lines define us.

We must anchor our self-worth in something more stable than shifting expectations.
For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf (Hebrews 6:16-19). 

Friday, August 21, 2015

16 Reasons to Run in Florida


16 Reasons to Run in Florida:
  1. The alligators are chasing you.
  2. The cows are chasing you.
  3. The hogs are chasing you. 
  4. The bears are chasing you.
  5. The scorpions are chasing you.
  6. The mosquitoes are chasing you. 
  7. The pythons are chasing you.
  8. The wolf spiders are chasing you.
  9. A hurricane is chasing you.
  10. A bath salts zombie who wants to eat your face is chasing you.
  11. You love slicing through the warm bath water that passes for air.
  12. You love misery.
  13. You want to keep fit.
  14. You want to show off for the elderly. 
  15. You want to get inside before the sun rises and melts your face off.
  16. You want to die of heat stroke. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stopping by Woods on a Saucy Evening: Frost Meets Millay



Two sonnets meet in the woods on a cold winter's night. 

Anything could happen.

Stopping by Woods on a Saucy Evening

by Robert Frost, 
Edna St. Vincent Millay, 
and R. Buchanan

Whose lips I've kissed, I think you know.
My husband's still home sleeping, though. 
He will not see me stopping here,
Recalling long-forgotten beaux.
My heart throbs quietly with pain,
Rememb'ring those brave lads again.
Now they've all vanished, one by one:
Like flitting birds, they've come and gone.
Where once their summer sang through me,
Now stand I here, a frost-stripped tree.
These woods are lonely, dark and deep,
And I have promises to keep
To my new bridegroom, home asleep.
To my new bridegroom, home asleep. 

* * * *

The Originals:




* * * *

Hat Tip to Bethany for inadvertently providing the inspiration for this mashup.


Want to see more like this? Feel free to suggest poetic mashups in the comments section below. 

Better yet, try some of your own! 

The world needs this.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Living with the Chronically Pained, Part 3: Lightening the Load


Since approximately one third of the American population deals with some level of chronic pain, most of us live alongside someone who's suffering. We want to help, but because not everyone suffers in the same way, not everyone can be helped in the same way. 

One of the keys to helping your Chronically Pained friend is to understand first what sort of a sufferer he is. After that, you may have an easier time determining what (if any) role you may have in lightening the load. 

If, for example, your pained friend is one of the Stoic Sufferers, you may find helping him almost impossible. For one thing, you may not even know that he experiences chronic pain. Even if you do, he's so quiet about it that you have no idea when help may be warranted. In an effort not to be a complainer, he's let the pendulum swing so far in the other direction that he keeps everything bottled inside until pain levels reach critical mass. That can be frustrating, especially if you have to deal with the fallout.

On the other hand, if your Chronically Pained friend is trapped in the Martyr Mentality, you may clearly understand her cause of pain, her level of suffering, and perhaps even the specific ways you can help. (You can't really miss it. It's all she talks about.) She has no trouble telling you her woes, and may even accept some tangible help; but when you offer a word of encouragement, you're emotionally stiff-armed, perhaps with an implication that there's no way you could ever understand. You may still offer help, but you feel conflicted because her attitude often dampens your feelings of compassion. Just being around her incites an internal battle. That's definitely frustrating.  

I speak here in gross caricature, of course. Hardly anybody falls neatly into either of these two extremes, and there's a whole swath of grey in between. The point, though, is that before you can help the Chronically Pained, you must understand their most basic need; and before they can accept your help, they may need to understand a few things as well. 

Although the Stoic Sufferers may feel that their silence is noble, it could be that their silence is actually a form of pride. Furthermore, by refusing to speak of their pain, they're actually robbing the people around them of seeing the full spectrum of God at work. We need to see the beauty of grace under pressure, and we can't do that if everyone around us keeps their struggles private. Additionally, Stoic Sufferers are shortchanging friends and family of the opportunity to serve, love, and support them. 

The body of Christ is intended to minister to one another, and we can't do that if we're always keeping our needs locked down.

The Martyrs have a more obvious growth arc (at least, one that's more obvious to others. Whether or not they recognize it themselves is questionable). Martyrs must learn to balance their openness about pain with discernment: when to share, with whom, and how much. They must learn not to wield their pain like a battering ram. They must understand that Compassion Fatigue and Sympathy Fatigue (mentioned by my friend Joanne in a comment under a previous post) are both real processes with important implications for their loved ones.

The body of Christ is intended to minister to one another, and we can't do that if we're more focused on our own pain than on anything else.

(If it sounds as if I'm giving as much advice to the Chronically Pained as to anyone else, well... I sort of am. This process takes cooperation on both sides, and most of us have room for growth.)

The bottom line is this: if you're going to come alongside the Chronically Pained, remember: you can't block the pain, but you can lighten the load. Sometimes that's all that counts. 

How to Lighten the Load:

1. Listen. Although "just listening" may feel small to you, it doesn't feel small to the person doing the talking. Listen. Listen, listen, listen. Once you've listened, you'll know what best to say to be an encouragement. It could be, however, that there's really nothing you can say, in the end. That's okay, too. As discussed in last week's post, a little listening goes a long way. A lot of listening goes further.  
2. Understand. Simply understanding where your friend is along the spectrum can help you gain a little bit of perspective. This understanding might free you from a needless sense of guilt (in the case of the Martyr) or open your eyes to ways in which you could be more proactive about offering help and encouragement (in the case of the Stoic). 
3. Ask. There may be nothing specific you can do, but asking how you can help demonstrates willingness and compassion. Be as specific as you can. "Is there anything I can do to help?" sounds trite and only half-sincere (even when it's not). "I'd like to come over for an hour this week and help you around the house. Would it help if you made a list of things I can do when I come?" That's specific and committed. 
4. Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Don't just pray for your friends; pray with them. Pray not just for ease of suffering, but for patience, courage, fortitude, and grace. 

Last, remember that just because a person keeps showing up and "doing life," that doesn't mean she's fine. Many of the Chronically Pained choose just to put their heads down and power through as long as they're physically able. 

This sentiment was expressed perfectly a few weeks ago by my friend Marie. I'll leave you with her words:
[In the past], I've been the person saying, "Well, you must be fine because you're here," and while I know better now, at the time it came from a place of, "If I were in pain, I would not be here; you are here so you must not be in pain. Yay, I'm glad you're not in pain!" 
Partly it's seizing on a perceived reason to celebrate (when someone you love is hurting all the time you start getting desperate for any sign of improvement in their situation) but mostly I just didn't realize at the time how often people Just Do Stuff even though they are suffering. 
It's something that can be difficult to get your head around if you've never experienced it yourself. Relatively minor maladies have me canceling life until further notice, so it's easy for me to forget that my friends with chronic pain are, of necessity, stronger than that. 
Posts like this are a helpful reminder. 
* * * * *
Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14)