Get ready to laugh your face off.
I know, I know. I've kinda fallen off the face of the earth. We'll get to the reasons for that later.
But, for now, I want to give you a present. Consider it an early Christmas gift, one that you'll use for years and years to come, and every time you do, you'll think of me. Okay, not really, but it's still something I love, and I'm hoping you'll love it, too.
It's music. But not just any music. This is FREE music from one of my very favorite groups in all of the world, Over the Rhine. The fabulous music source, Noisetrade, which magically and simultaneously supports independent artists and gives listeners the opportunity to download free music, is featuring one of OtR's Christmas albums, Snow Angels, as today's FREE download. The whole, heartbreaking, astounding, warm-blanket of an album, completely free (well, you CAN leave a tip for the band, if you're so inclined, which I tend to do). You give them your e-mail address (so they can send you future news of fabulous free downloads) and they give you a download code for twelve delicious, full-length songs that are yours to keep for-eh-vurrr.
You can thank me later, in the comments, when you tell me what your favorite Snow Angels tune is.
But I'll just say it in advance: you're welcome.
Recently, I was perusing the trusty ol' social networking newsfeed when I saw that my young friend, Cole Reulbach, was looking for outlets for his writing habit. Since I love Cole's random wit and the general silliness of his writing, I asked him if he'd be willing to draft a guest post for the Fresh Thoughts section of my website. I even offered him cookies. He declined the cookies but graciously offered the post below. Please give Cole a warm and enthusiastic welcome for his first ever guest post!
Of Stress and Spiders
by Cole Reulbach
Every Day I'm Staplin'
A couple months ago, I found myself in a slightly stressful position, and I'm going to whine to you about it. But don't worry, I'll make it quick.
I was working at a pallet factory at the time. It was decent work, half decent pay, simple and mindless--almost therapeutic. I wasn't overly fond of the people, but I could get around that.
It was the only job I had been able to procure after a longer search than I would care to admit.
So I thought I needed this job, because, if I lost it, I wasn't sure if I would be able to find another before my meager (i.e. "nonexistent") savings dried up.
When everyone started talking about layoffs, I began to get a touch...well, let's just say "less then composed". I couldn't get laid off. I was good at my job. Darn good. I could staple-gun circles around all of those other staple-gunners. I could staple-gun a monument to my staple-gun prowess. I could….
I got laid off. For the whole summer. Three months without a job.
A Convo with Science
Stress is one of the largest preventable causes of health problems in the United States, right after smoking, obesity, and spiders. Because, man, spiders are just the worst. I'm gonna lay down some statistics about stress--some "stresstistics," if you will *(Editors Note: I am so sorry about that joke)*.
Hold on, 'cuz it's going to get pretty science-y in here.
Almost a full quarter of all prescriptions in the United States are for, or include, tranquilizers and anti-anxiety medications. And if you know how pill-happy our country is, then you know that pretty much translates to "a quarter of all people". And, heck, the National Health Interview Study says that right around 75% of Americans experience "unhealthy" levels of stress at least once a week. That's right--every week. That's at least once for every one of those things we have 52 of each year. And science says you're probably one of those people getting all worked up.
Don't look at science like that. It's just telling it like it is.
"But what about actual, physical effects?" Asks the tough guy who can just chug his way through some stress.
High blood pressure is one of the main side effects, leading to a list of maladies longer then Lady Gaga's lineup of costume designers (pop-culture joke quota officially met).
Also on the menu: Heart Disease, Nasty-Faced Acne, Fatigue, Mood Swings, Hyperglycemia, exacerbation of ulcers, increased risk of HIV progressing to AIDS, headaches, weakened immune system, self-projecting colon syndrome, Mexican jumping chlamydia and imploding pancreatic black holes.
Those last three may or may not have been fabricated on the spot. But they hardly even seemed out of place.
Wow. That's a whole mess of stuff that can go wrong. Well, at least the old myth that says that stress will turn your hair gray isn't actually true.
But it will make it fall out.
And I hear spiders like to crawl down the back of your neck when you get all high-strung. They can sense these things.
Please Hold Your Applause--And Your Ninja Throwing Stars
Life is stressful. Many would think me a fool for suggesting otherwise. And while I may be a fool, it's largely for reasons unrelated to my opinions on stress (I once slept in a bathtub full of water because I read about another guy doing that to stay warm throughout the night, even though he specifically mentioned it as an example of how dumb he was).
And while, yes, life can be, and often is, a difficult thing, it's actually a bit easier than most people would let on.
Again, please don't try and throw things at me just yet, first off, because I will explain myself, and second, throwing things through your computer to hit other people isn't a thing you can actually do.
There are a million things in life that can make you fret: bills; children; that spider over there; work; chores; seriously, I think the spider is getting closer; family; and a laundry list of other things I wont get into right now.
But none of them are going to go away because you worry about them. In fact, the spider might actually come closer.
Simply put, if there is nothing you can do about a situation, there's little point worrying yourself over it, as it will only make matters worse.
I Have Therefore Been Deligated, As a Matter of Trust....
What if I told you there's a pretty quick fix for cutting out the thing causing the majority of those maladies? Well, I'm going to. So, read on.
It sounds like the kind of kitschy advice you would get in some sort of email forward, and, in fact, that's exactly where I heard about it. So I dismissed it just as readily as I dismissed the offer of wealth from that Nigerian prince who had a fortune tied up in a foreign bank account.
But I should have known that, just like with everything in life, you have to eat the meat and spit out the bones.
But then one day, in my internet voyages (one of the filthiest, most grammatically incorrect places to travel) I came across the quote again, but this time in handy flowchart form. It went something like this:
I chuckled slightly to myself, and then continued clicking along, not giving it any more thought.
But later in the day, it just kept popping into my head, especially that last part."Then why worry about it?"
It seemed so simple. I mean, it couldn't actually work. But then I thought about it some more.Why couldn't it work? (I think entirely in Italics. It's a medical condition.)And I decided, I'm going to try this out. (Doctors say it's incurable.)And do you know what happened?Absolutely nothing.
Don't Rub My Belly
It turns out I'm really bad at not worrying about things. I think most people are. It seems to be in our nature. Which is a terrible thing to have in your nature, but I digress.
I decided to keep at it, because I'm such an industrious personality. And I have to say, it's one of the single best decisions I've made in life.So now, am I some sort of Buddha-esque human of ascended consciousness? Of course not. Don't be silly. I still worry about things from time to time, and probably always will."Wow. Why would you even bother to write this article, then?" You ask, because you apparently don't understand how pre-written articles work.Again, I'm not saying that shifting your mind into this focus will cure all that ails you in life. But it does make things so much easier.
"The electric bill is due next week, and I'm going to be short"
Can you do something about it?
"Yes, I can ask for some extra hours at work to earn the money."
"My Lord, the TV is broken!""Holy crap, that spider looks way too big to be allowed to exist. This isn't even fair."
Can you do something about it?
"Not now...no. Hmm, guess I'll have to be productive instead."
Can you do something about it?
"Run away and cry?"
If that helps with the stress!
"I'm going to be laid off next week! Oh no!"
Can you do something about it?
"Yes! I can steal the copy machine!"
No. Try again.
"Umm...I can start looking for another job in my time off?"
There you go.
You can see how the logic could in fact, be applied to nearly any situation.
And why would you want to worry, anyway? It's uncomfortable, can lead to health problems, and if you worry really hard sometimes you get sweaty and that can't be doing great things for your social life.A lot of you, especially the people who frequent this website, have probably thought about this general advice before, maybe had it suggested to you, or thought of it yourself in some shape or form. But how many of you actually practice it?What harm could it do to try? Worst case scenario, you actively attempt it for a while and find it's not helpful. Then you can come and say mean things to me in the comments. Best case scenario, life gets a bit easier for you. It's a no-lose proposition (except for me, if it doesn't work and you guys get really creative with your insults).
Rule Them Before They Rule You
I'm currently employed in a factory that manufactures body parts for cars. How did that come about? Because, I stopped worrying about the situation and got down to figuring out if there was anything I could do about it.
And there was.
I gave up my time off and spent it hunting for a new job. I worked my butt off and landed a position a couple of weeks before my previous employer laid everyone off. It was a simple solution, but it worked. Everyone else had to take jobs at the spider/gut-wrenching-horror factory, tending to their arachnid overlords' needs.They get a lot of overtime hours though.If it seems like the simplest thing in the world, well, it probably is. Go back to that flow chart, write it down somewhere, and look at it every now and then. Maybe spell it out in boulders in a field and look it up on Google Earth every once in a while. It will remind you to just go with the flow (Editors Note: Again, so, so, sorry about these jokes). Everyone deserves to be happy, carefree and definitely not a spider.So next time you start worrying, ask yourself:
"Can I do something about it?"
And then do it.
Cole Reulbach, 19, lives in Ohio, where he spends the majority of his time wishing he didn't live in Ohio. His hobbies include long walks on the beach, looking outside on a rainy day while listening to Adele, and watching his favorite Christmas movie on repeat--Die Hard.
Would you like to be a guest on Fresh Thoughts?
Drop me a line at write2denice AT gmail DOT com and let's work out a plan!
There are few things more wonderful than finding a writing buddy while hobnobbing around the interwebs. One thing that's possibly, maybe, perhaps just a teeny bit more wonderful is when that writing buddy guest-posts on your site.
Shawndra Russell and I first met on Twitter and found we had a lot in common. I also found out that I was in incredible awe of her (and quite a bit jealous) for interviewing one of my favorite musicians, Abigail Washburn (you can read Shawndra's interview for SavannahNow.com here).
Shawndra has launched a Kickstarter to publish her first novel, Couple Friends. She's well on her way to reaching her goal, and if she's able to double her pledges, she can also publish her second novel, which is also finished.
Today, Shawndra shares with us how she kicks butt at setting and meeting word-count goals, and how, with a little bit of writerly self-acceptance and a dose of discipline, you can, too.
If you'd like to guest post here on Fresh Thoughts, scrawl an e-mail and fly it over to write2denice AT gmail DOT com.
The Discipline of Writing and the Power of Adding Mega Production Days to Your Writing Schedule
by Shawndra Russell
I won’t be the first to say it, and I won’t be the last: writer’s block isn’t a real thing. Before you get up in arms, hear me out. Writer’s block is just a mental block because we have done something wrong in our preparation. Perhaps you don’t have an outline, you haven’t brainstormed the scene enough, or you haven’t had a new, inspiring experience or an epic conversation recently.
But the usual culprit? Being too critical.
As a former English teacher, I watched as my students painstakingly tried to write “perfect” first drafts. They thought that it would be easier in the long run if they just wrote one draft. As a result, most of them hated to write because the experience was just so darn miserable.
That’s the beauty of being a writer. No one has to see draft one, two, ten. We can screw up and then make it “pretty” later. That’s why the words "edit," "draft," and "revision" exist. Do you think any book worth reading was ever really a first draft that was never looked at again? And before you throw “stream of consciousness” or “Kerouac” around, read this:
Yes, Kerouac wrote his first draft in a crazy burst of creative energy in three weeks. But that’s not the novel that we see today. But we can ALL write in this matter—bursts of word counts that blow by any word count you have accomplished before because you allow yourself to make mistakes in your first draft. You don’t reread everything you’ve written—heck, you don’t reread ANYTHING you’ve written. You trust your outline, and you write, section by section, scene by scene.
Can your outline change? Sure. But what you’ve already written stays, and you don’t worry your pretty little head about fixing mistakes, plot confusion, or adding character depth until draft #2. Draft #1 is the skeleton, the time that you let your mind wander and play and just go where it wants to go, scene by scene. You set a daily word count you stick to that’s at least 2,000 words—I like 3,000 per day when I am in book-writing mode—because this will keep the story fresh in your head so you DON’T have to go back and reread and then start criticizing yourself (you know you will).
When you have your biggest production day to date, you will not feel spent or exhausted; you will feel like a bona fide superhero and totally energized. You will secretly mock people who say they have writer’s block or just don’t have time to write or whatever other excuses people like to say. You will feel ready to do it all over again tomorrow because you know you can.
Even better? You will want to see just how many words you can write in a day.
My highest word count in a single day to date is 12,031 words. Now, I will admit that after a mega production day like that, I AM spent. I do not write the next day (well, not much). My back aches, my butt hurts, and I feel like crawling into bed and not coming out for two days except for ice cream and wine. But then, I come out of my coma ready to schedule my next massive word count day.
Think about it: instead of toiling over your first draft for months, years, decades, you can get that story out of your head and release yourself from its tormenting power. You can stop daydreaming about it or having nightmares featuring characters suffocating in your brain. And you can have a finished first draft.
I wrote my first novel last year for NaNoWriMo, and I set my daily word count at 3,000 words per day. Since I am a freelance writer and social media strategist/manager, I decided to do my book writing in the mornings and my “day job” from about lunchtime until 7 or 8pm. I know not everyone can have this schedule, but as the cliché goes, we all have the same number of hours in the day.
I wrote my first draft of Couple Friends in 17 days, but it only clocked in at 51,022 words—not enough for a women’s fiction title. So, I went back and added a second narrator, which was essential to the story anyway as it is now a husband and wife narrating team who takes turns telling the story from their first person POVs. I added a little over 20,000 words in about seven days (changing some of the original 50,000 words into Tyler’s perspective instead of Kieran’s), so the entire first draft only took 24 days—take that, November 30 NaNoWriMo deadline!
This gave me a respectable 71,317 words, and after five edits, it’s finally ready for the world. But I got to the final draft not by being perfect the first time around, but instead allowing myself to truly enjoy the process of making a messy first draft by not filtering my thoughts or succumbing to grammatical twitches.
And then I did it again with my second novel, Keepsakes. Except this time, I added in three mega production days of 10,010 and 10,211 and the 12, 031, so I was able to finish my first draft in 16 days.
Take a cue from Kerouac. Stream of consciousness rocks for fiction.
Shawndra Russell is a social media strategist and content creator for hire. She has published more than 200 articles in magazines, newspapers, and websites, and is the sole manager of social media for five clients. She has finished two novels; the first, Couple Friends, will be published in the summer of 2012. She is not only a travel writer, but also writes a regular music column and specializes in writing about craft beers. She loves all things writing and research related and shares the best of what she finds, learns, and writes on her blog, Shawndra Russell's Courting Creativity.
Dr. Andy Hart had long been interested in medical missions but had put it off because it would mean taking time away from his medical practice at Holmes Family Medicine and his bariatric medicine practice in Millersburg and Wooster. Besides, travel was costly, and he wasn’t sure which organization to join or how to get involved. Then, in 2010, a visit to his daughter, Abby Hart, gave him and his wife, Kathy Hart, a glimpse into one little Corner of Love in Nicaragua that kept them going back for more.
Abby Hart had never been away from her parents longer than a few weeks at a time, so when the Millersburg native headed to Nicaragua in 2009 with SALT (Serving and Learning Together), a year-long cross-cultural service through the Mennonite Central Committee, her parents made plans to visit her in February 2010 during the second part of her stay on the small island of San Pablo. That’s where Abby Hart first became familiar with Corner of Love (CoL), a Christian organization serving impoverished northern Nicaraguans by providing medical, dental and eye care and clean water projects.
“Corner of Love came to the town I was serving in,” Abby Hart said. “The whole town, including my host family, was going to the clinic, so I went with them.”
CoL was short on translators, and, because she spoke Spanish fluently, they tapped Abby Hart to help. She learned that CoL would return in February, during her parents’ visit. Knowing her father wanted to work with medical missions someday, Abby Hart came up with a plan. Maybe introducing him to CoL would give him just the nudge he needed to get started.
“I wanted to open the door slowly,” Abby Hart said. “I never thought he’d go back to that particular group, or that mom would go with him.”
The Harts were understandably nervous about their first trip to Nicaragua. Aside from Canada and Europe, they’d never traveled outside of the U.S. But once they saw how beautiful and relaxed the people and culture were, even as the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and saw how much their services were valued as they shadowed with CoL, the Harts didn’t want to leave. Since that first visit in February of 2010, the Harts have returned to San Ramon twice with CoL to help set up clinics in small schools and churches, treating patients suffering from everything from simple colds to parasitic infections.
Dr. Hart described a normal trip with CoL, beginning at the mission compound where CoL is based, three hours outside Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua.
“Once we arrive,” Dr. Hart said, “we load up our gear and drive as far as the bus can go.”
Because the village roads are like dirt-bike paths, there comes a point where the bus has to stop and the team must walk the rest of the way to the clinic location, where they set up small stations and provide medical and dental care, pharmaceuticals and clothing to about 100 patients per clinic. This type of medical care is crucial, since transportation makes it nearly impossible for people in the outlying villages to get to the city. And while Dr. Hart had previously imagined terrible tumors and exotic parasites, the teams more often see men with hypertension or women suffering from shoulder and back pain after years of carrying children and water, people who can no longer work, don’t have a social security system, and can’t afford medical care.
At the end of the day, the team loads up the gear and returns to the bus for the long drive back to the compound. All of this happens on what the Harts called Nica-time, the very relaxed pace that’s the standard in Nicaragua.
“You have a window of daylight to get in and out,” Dr. Hart said. “But beyond that, it’s all very unhurried.”
Dr. Hart gave an example of a typical Nicaraguan event.
“We attended a 6 p.m. church service with Abby. There were only a few people there, so the pastor invited us into his house and offered us coffee. It wasn’t until people started singing and we could hear the service starting that he finished his coffee and meandered over to the service.”
“They always have time for you,” Kathy Hart said. “They make it clear that you’re very special to them.”
For Kathy Hart, the experience was life-changing. It helped her realize how unimportant material things are compared to relationships.
“Nicaraguans have a degree of contentment and happiness that’s infectious,” Kathy Hart said. “It’s something we don’t have here.”
Abby Hart agreed. While in Nicaragua, she learned a lot about her own culture.
“Americans are so worried about time,” Abby Hart said. “Nicaraguans know there should be time to work, but there should also be time to take off your shoes, put on your sandals, and hang out in a hammock.”
The Harts both agree that, without their daughter’s gentle nudge, it might have been a long time before they would have pursued medical missions. In fact, they might never have done it at all. Now, as soon as they return from a trip, they can’t wait to get back.
“Abby kind of forced the hand. Had it not been for her, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” Dr. Hart said. “But it’s more fun that you’d expect it to be. You end up getting as much or more than the people you serve. It’s not just hard work. When you’re there, you feel rewarded.”
For information on Corner of Love, visit corneroflove.org, call 425-432-0433 or email@example.com.
You've heard of the Grammys, the Emmys and the Oscars. Now, get ready for
We're getting excited about The First Annual Poesies, Open Poetry Slam Competition, an all-ages, family-friendly open poetry competition coming up on May 5 from 7-10 pm! We have some great guest poets, including Rose M Smith and Rachel Wiley and some wonderful guest judges, like Leslie Crislip Nielsen, Nathan Moore, Peggy Gault-Gannon, and director of the Holmes County District Public Library, Bill Martino, all hosted by humor columnist John Lorson at the beautiful and spacious Jitters Coffee House in Millersburg, Ohio.
There will be cash prizes as well as fun and funky awards for the top three places, custom-made by Jan David Bowden of Bowden Bells & Garden Art, a gift basket for 1st place made by Bookworms Cafe and $5 gift certificates to Bookworms for all competitors. There's a cover charge of $5 ($3 for students) for all competitors and spectators, which will go toward the cash prizes. Check the Facebook event or www.thepoesies.com for more information.
The first 20 poets to register on the evening of the event will compete for cash prizes and awards. Each of the three rounds will provide a 3-minute slot for each poet in that round. Poets will be judged based on content, presentation, and adherence to the rules. All poetry must be original and the property of the performing poet. Poets should come with three prepared pieces, in case they advance to the final round.
It's sure to be a fabulous and entertaining evening for all, so make plans now to visit Ohio's beautiful Amish Country for this unique, high-energy event!
More Worse Than Birds: A Sermon in Four Parts
Part One: I Sing Because I'm Happy
"Do you not know that you are more worse than birds?"
That phrase, which might sound silly and nonsensical to you, holds very special meaning for me. For me, it's a reminder that God not only watches over me, but that God is also mindful of me. It's also a very strong reminder that I, that all of us, are given opportunities every day to speak life and hope to those around us.
But before I tell you about my story, let me tell you about Caine Monroy. You might be able to relate to him. Caine lives in East L.A., and he, my friends, is more worse than birds. You see, Caine had this business idea, and he couldn't let it go. Sure, it was a little unconventional, but that didn't stop him. He spent every day last summer preparing, building, working, hoping. He imagined a lot, too, imagined how great it would be when he would open for business, welcome that first customer, make his first sale. Maybe you've been there, too. Maybe you've had a dream, or a business plan, or a ministry, or an idea that you were so excited about, you couldn't stop working on it or talking about it, and you stayed awake at night planning and worrying and imagining how great it could be.
Well, that was Caine Monroy.
Maybe I should tell you a little bit about Caine and his business. You see, Caine is just nine years old, and his passion is arcade games, things like foosball and mini-basketball and the claw, where you try to grab a prize by maneuvering a hook into a heap of toys.
When Caine said he wanted to build his own arcade in Smart Auto Parts, his dad's car-parts store in Los Angeles, he started with what he had--cardboard boxes, shipping tape, his own toys. Then he invested what he had--his time, his imagination, money for prizes, and he spent every day, all summer, building these incredibly imaginative and challenging arcade games--out of cardboard.
And when it was all done, when the last game was finished, Caine flipped the hand painted "Open" sign and waited.
Maybe you've been there, too. Maybe you've had a dream, or a business plan, or a ministry, or a relationship that you were so excited about, but after you'd done all the hard work, after you'd flipped the "Open" sign of your business, or maybe of your heart, it didn't turn out quite like you'd hoped it would. Maybe you, too, waited, and waited, and waited. Maybe you're still waiting right now. But let me assure you of something. You might not feel like it, but here's the truth. Just like Caine, you, my friend, are more worse than birds.
Okay, let me explain what I mean.
About six years ago, when we first came to this church, there was a message delivered from this very spot that has been a great comfort to me in my times of doubt. And the thing is, I don't remember the entire message. As a matter of fact, as many times as I've tried, I don't even remember who gave the message, though there's a good chance it was Ovidio Flores visiting from Honduras while he anticipated the birth of a grand baby. All I remember is that it was exactly the message I needed at that time, when I was dealing with what seemed like impossible obstacles in my life, when I was frustrated, defeated and incredibly insignificant. In that message, one phrase was repeated throughout the sermon over and over again, and I really felt like it was meant for me. That phrase, spoken by a spanish-speaking man delivering an english sermon that was sometimes difficult for me to understand, was this:
(Imagine this in a Spanish accent) "Do you not know that you are more worse (worth) than birds?"
He was talking about today's Scripture reading, and while the translation was a little fuzzy, the gist was this. God cares. God cares about the birds, and there's not a single one that falls to the ground without God's knowing about it. And that's pretty significant, if you ask me. I was at the Shreve Migration Sensation this year, and birder Kenn Kaufman, author of The Kingbird Highway and a half-dozen wildlife guides, took on the daunting task of trying to convince his audience that it's possible to look at a flock of little brown birds and identify the sparrows among them. He talked about the white-crowned sparrow and the rufous-crowned sparrow, the white throated sparrow and the black-throated sparrow. Then there are sparrows that aren't called sparrows, like the dark-eyed junco and the eastern towhee, and birds that are called sparrows, but aren't really sparrows at all, like the House Sparrow, which is actually an Old World Weaver Finch and is generally looked upon as a pest. Before Kaufman was half-finished, my head was spinning.
But whether it's truly a sparrow or not isn't the point. The point is, God knows each of these birds, and throughout the world, there are hundreds of species of sparrows alone, yet the book of Matthew assures us that not a single one falls to the ground without God's knowledge. And look, here's the deal, the Word says, you're worth so much more than those birds! Remember that! God is mindful of you, even when you think you're just one of the many, unremarkable, unlovable, lost in a sea of so many other brown birds, God cares for you, and even has the very hairs on your head numbered. That phrase, Do you not know you are more worse than birds? was just unique enough that it settled itself into my soul, became a catch-phrase in our house. Sometimes, when someone is frustrated, defeated, insignificant, one of us will pull out that phrase, do you not know you are more worse than birds? and assure the other that God is mindful of them.
Part Two: I sing because I'm free
Let's get back to our story about Caine Monroy, our little arcade developer.
So, when we left Caine, he had flipped over his shingle and was waiting, day after day, for someone to visit his arcade, but no one came. He even had a t-shirt printed up that he wore every weekend when his arcade was open. But here's the thing: Caine didn't just wait. He improved his arcade. He built more games. He bought more prizes. He even devised a reward system. If someone were to venture in and play an arcade game, Caine would climb inside the cardboard box and, through a slot in the top, would push a stream of tickets, just like you'd see at Chuck E. Cheese, but instead of mechanized, it was boy-powered. Those tickets could be cashed in for any one of the dozens of real prizes he bought with his own money. He even came up with a fabulous pricing plan. For $1, you can get two turns at any game. But for $2, listen closely, you can get a fun pass, and that's worth five HUNDRED turns.
You'd be a fool not to get the fun pass.
But customer's of Caine's father's auto parts store passed by Caine's arcade every day. I guess to them, Caine looked like any other little brown sparrow. And, to be fair, when you're shopping for auto parts, you're not really interested in games of chance.
But one day, along came film-maker Nirvan Mullick. Nirvan is also more worse than birds. Nirvan needed a door handle for his '96 Toyota Corolla, so he made a stop at Smart Auto Parts. When he saw Caine's amazing creations, he knew he had to play. When Caine told him his pricing structure, $1 for two plays or $2 for a fun pass, Nirvan didn't think twice. He's no fool. Of course he'd take the fun pass.
So here's how I know about Caine and Nirvan. See, Nirvan created a surprise event on Facebook inviting everyone in L.A. to visit Caine's Arcade, to see what he had seen, not just a boring brown sparrow but a young genius with a name and a purpose and a passion. On the day of the event, Caine's dad took Caine out for pizza so the whole thing would be a surprise. On the way back to the shop, Caine's father asked him if he'd just like to go home. After all, he said, they hadn't had a single customer all day. In fact, that Nirvan guy had been Caine's only customer ever. No way, Caine said. He had to get back to business just in case someone wanted to play. When they arrived at Smart Auto Parts, try to imagine what Caine saw--a crowd--hundreds of people of all ages--holding banners, waving hands, smiling smiles, ready and eager to buy fun passes to play all day at Caine's Arcade. And throughout the day, Nirvan filmed the events, making the whole story available to the public. Just Google Caine's Arcade and you can see it, too. Since last Monday, that short film had nearly two million views. Caine told his father it was the best day of his life.
Part Three: His eye is on the sparrow
It doesn't take much to make someone's day. While it was a huge surprise to have hundreds of customers, Caine had been pretty happy cranking out tickets when it was just Nirvan and his fun pass. Sometimes, when we're having a dark day, it doesn't take much to brighten it. Sometimes, God can send just one person with just the right word at just the right time for us to know that God is mindful of us.
Shortly after the "worse than birds" sermon, I was working at a nearby business, a place I normally loved to be. But on that particular day, I wasn't all that thrilled to be there. I was worried. I'd just found out that my van needed some serious brake work which was going to set me back about $800. I was already behind on a couple of bills, had just enough money in my pocket for a loaf of bread, and payday wasn't for another week. I was feeling like an insignificant brown bird lost in a flock of other nondescript brown birds. I tried to keep my chin up, not let my worries affect my work, but I must not have been doing it very well. Throughout the day, one of the other employees, a sweet little Costa Rican woman named Rosa, would come bubbling past me, always a cheerful expression on her face. "You should smile, Dee Knees," she would say to me. "The Lord ees so good to us!" Ha, I thought. She doesn't know how the Lord has left me high and dry in the finance department this week. But I forced a grin and thanked her. Here she'd come again, whistling away while she swept the floor. "Dee Knees!" She would say, "The Lord ees so good! You should be so happy!" Again, I'd force a grin. "Yes, Rosa. Thank you. I'll do my best to be happy." Later in the day, she set her broom aside and called me to her. She looked up at me--she was a very tiny woman--and told me very seriously that the Lord had a message for me. I tried my best not to roll my eyes. Then she reached into her apron pocket, took my hand, and, into it, she pressed a $5 bill. I knew she, too, was struggling to make ends meet. "I can't take this," I said, handing it back to her. "No, no," she said, nodding and smiling, "the Lord told me to give it to you." The Lord kinda got the amount wrong, I thought.
But then, Rosa gave me what I really needed. She pulled me close and whispered in my ear, (Imagine this in a Spanish accent) "Do you not know that you are more worse than birds?"
Tears immediately flooded my eyes, and in that moment, I knew. The Lord's message hadn't been that five dollar bill. That had been what Rosa needed to do, for whatever reason. The real message had been that, in spite of how I felt that day, God was mindful of me. I was not insignificant. I was not just one of the flock. I was, you are, important to God. God is mindful of me, of you. You, God wants you to know, are more worse than birds.
Part Four: And I know He watches me.
Nirvan the filmmaker didn't stop at making one day special for Caine. He didn't stop at making a film the rest of the world could enjoy. He went an extra step and set up a scholarship fund with a target goal of $60,000 for people to contribute to, so that he could make a difference in Caine's life, one that would have a ripple effect on everyone Caine comes into contact with throughout his life. As of this morning, that fund had reached $154,829.37.
Here's the takeaway for today. Yes, we are more worse than birds. Yes, God watches us. God is mindful of us. But what I believe is important for us to know is that, as God's people, we, too, are to be mindful of what God is mindful of. The poor. The downtrodden. The widowed. The orphaned. The ignored. The forgotten. The unattractive. Because if God's eye is on the sparrow, then our eye, too, should be on the sparrow, the little brown, nondescript bird that seems so easy to pass by in favor of the bright, the rare, the colorful, the exotic.
And if God's eye is on the sparrow, then God's hands are at the ends of our arms. God's feet are at the ends of our legs. Yes, sometimes we are the lowly sparrow, sometimes we are the kid with the cardboard arcade, waiting with an "Open" sign and an open heart, but sometimes, too, we are the filmmaker buying a car handle. We are the Costa Rican woman with a message to share. It's important for us, no matter what we're doing, to keep our eyes open for the little brown birds, to be mindful of them, and, when we feel that tugging in our heart, the one we sometimes resist because it will be too silly or too complicated or too embarrassing, listen. Be mindful of it, stop and play the cardboard arcade games as often as you can, to remind those who are waiting that they are so much more worse than birds. And, remember, too, if you get the chance, if it's at all possible, if it's ever, even an option, to always buy the fun pass.
Tonight, I answered a blocked number, and, boy howdy, am I glad I did.
Most of the time, I don't answer blocked numbers. Usually when I do, I'm treated to an earful of bullhorn and a garbled, obnoxious voice saying, "This is your captain speaking! To receive your two free boarding passes...." I'm not into free boarding passes all that much, and unless it's Captain Crunch or Captain Kangaroo, there's no real reason to get excited, so I've never listened beyond that.
So when I was sitting in my teenaged son's room chatting about non-slip shoes and laptops, and the swirly blue earth popped up with the word "Blocked" above it, I almost didn't answer it.
But because I'm a writerly kind of person now, I sometimes get calls from people with intriguing story leads or uber-cool folks calling to make interview arrangments, or potential clients asking me to exchange some of my manufactured words for real, spendable money, so I tapped the green button. A chipper male voice asked if I was Alicia. While I was disappointed the call wasn't for me, it was nice to hear a regular human, and a friendly-sounding one at that, instead of a pushy steamboat captain who didn't even have the decency to offer me any sugary cereal.
After I apologized for not being Alicia and was about to get back to non-slip shoes, the chipper male voice said, "Wait! This is Denice, isn't it?"
Now, that's more like it.
"Yep, it sure is," I said.
"This is Donald Miller."
Oh. My. Gosh.
You know how you daydream about the day you get to talk to one of your heroes, the day you meet him on the street, or bump into her in the produce aisle, and you have your whole witty repartee scrawled out down to the last detail on the sticky notes in your brain?
Yeah. That was me.
I'd imagined talking to Donald Miller (because, I mean, really, it was bound to happen someday, right?) because his book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality, was a pretty big deal to me, both as a Christian and as a writer. He'd talked about the things that were close to my heart, written about experiences with musicians that I'd had, too. He was a writer who spoke openly about his faith struggles, gave me permission to do the same. We were, you could say (or at least I could), kindred spirits. Naturally, we would pal around together some day, so I'd be a fool to be unprepared. So, of course, when he called and said, "This is Donald Miller," I knew just what to say.
It went a little something like this:
"It is not!" (imagine this shouted really, really loudly, and then up the volume a bit)
"Yes, it really is."
"It is NOT!" (same volume, I think, but a bit higher in pitch)
"Yes, it is. It really is."
"Prove it! PROVE it!"
But he didn't have to prove it. Not really. I knew it was him. I've watched videos. I've listened to podcasts. I know a Donald Miller voice when I hear one.
Besides, I'd known he and Steve Taylor were making phone calls tonight to thank Kickstarter supporters and movie reviewers on this, the opening weekend of the film, but since I'm in Ohio and the movie doesn't release here until April 20th, I didn't think for a minute I'd get a call.
It was a one-minute call. Sixty seconds of not-so-witty repartee on my end, cool-as-a-cucumber Donald on his end.
But even though I didn't stun my hero with my long-prepared dazzling wit, for that moment in time, life was pretty doggone amazing. During that one minute, I got to hear Donald Miller laugh. During that one minute, he told me he appreciated me, and I told him I appreciated him. During that one minute, he put me on speaker phone so I could say hello to some of the crew members. During that one minute, the world got a whole lot smaller (and it kinda spun around a little faster, too).
And it made me think about how many things I miss out on because I'm forever screening life's blocked numbers. I've really got to stop doing that. Because, yeah, I'm bound to pick up and get an earful of bullhorn every once in a while, but when it's not a steamboat captain, who knows who it could be? Maybe it's someone calling to thank me, to laugh with me, to appreciate me, to be appreciated.
I can put up with an obnoxious captain or two for a treasure like that.
And, in closing, go see the movie. That is all.
Abigail Washburn is one of my biggest heroes. I first saw her several years ago as part of the Sparrow Quartet with Bela Fleck, Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee in 2006 at the 40th Annual Kent State Folk Festival, the group's first U.S appearance after returning from touring as musical ambassadors in China and Tibet. What I treat, I tell you. I was blown away then, and I continue to be blown away every time I see or hear her speak or perform.
If I could be anyone else in this world, I'd most likely be her. I love her energy, her heart, her drive, her spirt, and, of course, her incredible voice, thoughtful lyrics and lively banjo pickin'.
My friend Rory Green (doesn't she have a great name?) shot me a twitter message with a link to this video. It got lost in the land of direct messages for a while (ie: I didn't check them), and I finally watched it today. Thank you so much for sending it, Rory. Just seeing long-legged Lyle Lovett is enough of a treat, but to hear Dave Eggers talk about the writing process is like stumbling headlong into a cool stream in the middle of a parched dessert. After spending eight hours in the writing position today and accomplishing about 45 minutes of actual work, I was grateful for someone who could at least partially explain why.
And, then, for Jonah Lehrer to talk about grit, persistence, stubbornness, sadness--wow.
If you're a writer or other creative artist, what do you think? Do you find you become more focused and persistent in your work when you're sad? Do you think you can use your persistence and stubbornness in your favor? What can we do to better harness that energy, that grit?
I look forward to seeing you in the comments.
April is just bursting with amazing life-giving events, and I'm pulling my hair out that I'll have to miss most of them. This is completely maddening because I had every intention of being independently wealthy by now.
Aside from two birthdays (my daughter's and my own), my eldest daughter's graduation from college (with honors, I might add), and the general loveliness that comes with springtime, there are several other events I'd very much love to attend. I'm passing them along here because maybe you are independently wealthy but woefully lacking in news sources and wouldn't have otherwise know about these things.
First comes the University of Akron Writers Workshop on Saturday, April 14 at The University of Akron Wayne College in Orrville. I'm excited to be a part of this event because not only is it a great place to meet other writers (the writers group that I now attend was born out of this event a year ago), but also because I have two pieces that are being given awards this year as part of the Regional Writing Awards. That's always a nice feeling.
Then, Anne Lamott is coming to Cleveland's Ohio Theater on April 17. Lamott's books Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Plan B and Grace (Eventually) provided many aha moments for me about my writing, my faith, and my life.
Also coming to Ohio Theater on on April 29 is comedian and storyteller Mike Birbiglia. Birbiglia has told some of my favorite stories ever on The Moth, particularly this one where he talks about breaking off a relationship while vacationing on a remote island and this one about discovering a tumor in his bladder, or the one below, where he talks about his adventures in sleepwalking.
Another April happening is the release of Blue Like Jazz, the movie. The book, for me, was almost as important as Lamotts', showing me that being a writer and being a Christian didn't mean that everything I wrote had to be sanitized and safe, buttoned up and beautiful; it could be messy, real, angry, frustrated and honest. From the looks of it, the movie isn't playing anywhere in Ohio, so I guess I'll have to travel to Pittsburgh to see it, unless I can get lucky and happen upon a preview.
And, finally, the biggie--the Festival of Faith and Writing. This happens once every two years at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, and is packed with powerhouse folks who write honestly about faith, like Shane Claiborne, Marilynne Robinson, and Li-Young Lee. This year, there is the added treat of a concert by Bruce Cockburn.
If you're heading to any of these events, I'd love to hear about them. Drop me a line in the comments, and maybe I'll see you there!
You learn something new every day.
Today at writers' group, I read a piece in which I used the word "snuck." Three of my dear writer friends expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the word, placing it in the same realm as "ain't." I'd no idea this was a hot button for people, so I looked it up and found this article, which seems to appease both parties.
Here's a bit of it:
Sneaked vs. snuckSneaked is the traditional past tense and past participle of sneak. Snuck is new, originating in the U.S. in the early 20th century, but it has become remarkably common across all major English varieties. People seem to like it, and it appears in even the most editorially scrupulous publications, so there is no basis for saying snuck is incorrect. It’s just new. English has many irregular verb forms, and adding one more won’t cause the language to explode.In American news publications, sneaked is marginally more common than snuck, and in Canada snuck actually appears twice as often as sneaked. The two words are neck and neck in Australian and New Zealand publications, and in British publications sneaked is about twice as common as snuck. These figures are based on unscientific research, but it’s safe to say British writers shun snuck to a greater degree than the rest of us.When in doubt, it’s usually better to go with the older form—sneaked, in this case—but there’s nothing wrong with using snuck. Just watch out for English traditionalists with peeves.
Sneaked vs. snuckSneaked is the traditional past tense and past participle of sneak. Snuck is new, originating in the U.S. in the early 20th century, but it has become remarkably common across all major English varieties. People seem to like it, and it appears in even the most editorially scrupulous publications, so there is no basis for saying snuck is incorrect. It’s just new. English has many irregular verb forms, and adding one more won’t cause the language to explode.
In American news publications, sneaked is marginally more common than snuck, and in Canada snuck actually appears twice as often as sneaked. The two words are neck and neck in Australian and New Zealand publications, and in British publications sneaked is about twice as common as snuck. These figures are based on unscientific research, but it’s safe to say British writers shun snuck to a greater degree than the rest of us.
When in doubt, it’s usually better to go with the older form—sneaked, in this case—but there’s nothing wrong with using snuck. Just watch out for English traditionalists with peeves.
So, sneaked vs. snuck. Do you have an opinion?
Do you know there are enough incredible lifestories out there to make my head hover right on the verge of explosion?
Just today, in fact, I spent several hours, from morning to evening, interviewing amazing people for upcoming articles.
The most poignant parts of my day?
I wish I could go around the world collecting stories. Wouldn't that be the bees knees? I wish I could get my hands on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and take off to Milwaukee and Tallahassee and Bakersfield and Baton Rouge in a sweet little Airstream camper, following a trail of tales as I camp my way across the country, chronicling the clever, clever things people do. It would feed both my wanderlust and writing addiction at one fell swoop. But could I do it? Could I do those stories justice?
Bestselling author Ann Patchett writes in her Kindle short, The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life, that the imagining and planning part of the writing process is like a Monarch butterfly fluttering freely around in her mind. The actual writing part of the writing process, then, is like capturing that perfect, flitting creature, crushing it mercilessly in her hands, and pinning down its mangled corpse.
I worry about this every. single. time. I write. Am I expertly capturing a priceless moment? Or am I mangling a once-beautiful butterfly? My friend Leslie calls it the imposter syndrome. I have it badly. Each time I sit down to write, I realize I have no idea what I'm doing. What if this is the time they find me out, discover me for the imposter I really am? Just like that seventh-grade girl who shared her fears today, I'm pretty certain that all of my writing peers are better than I am. And there's always the very distinct possibility that my writing sucks.
But I keep at it anyway (which is what I told that seventh-grade girl to do), thanks, in part, to Leslie, who insists there's no other option, but also because it's the only way I know to cope with my relentless writing monkey.
So, for now, I'll forgo the Canon and the Airstream, Baton Rouge and Bakersfield, and I'll do my best to capture the stories that flitter my way right here in my own corner of the world.
I only pray that I'm able to take what these fine people have trusted me with and not crush the butterfly too badly in the process.
Obsessing about picture books and puppies, of course.
It's been a year of adjustment for me as a parent. I've been at this mothering thing for more than two decades, and in January, my youngest youngling turned nine, entering the second half of her childhood. This means all of my children have either slipped into adulthood or are more than halfway there. It also means that this thing I've been dedicated to for most of my life, home educating five kids full-time, is more than halfway over.
I remember when my eldest, Taylor, turned nine. It came as a shock that the bulk of her childhood had zipped by so quickly. There had been much I'd wanted to do with that little girl, much I felt I'd missed, though I'd committed to being a stay-at-home-mom. There were books to discover, cookies to bake, and brand new puppies to bring home and cuddle. How could she already be closer to her teens that to toddlerhood? And, just as I thought, nine years had passed and I was delivering her to a dorm room. Now, my last child has reached that landmark, too, and it seems very surreal.
Recently, in preparation for spring break, when our son Zach would be home from six months of backpacking across Europe and Africa, and Taylor would return for the last spring break of her last semester at college before moving to L.A. to pursue a career in screenwriting, directing and filmmaking, my husband and I took advantage of our seasonal drive to declutter and organize. We worked on a project I'd wanted to see done for ages--building a new bookcase. As a biblioaddict, I've amassed quite a collection. I'm always on the lookout for places to tuck my treasures, corners that haven't been otherwise allocated by the stuff of seven people. A few years ago, my husband and I realized that the space above our second-floor stairway was unused, that it would be a perfect spot for a lovely collection of books that, because of the height-(many feet above our heads), would not likely be used again. Or not very often, anyway.
And so, I set about combing the house, collecting books to fill that new space, books that I want to keep but rarely touch, enough to fill seven shelves, each three feet wide, which can only be reached by wrangling an extension ladder into the stairwell.
Choosing those books was more difficult than it might sound.
As a bibliophile, I've developed strong ties to each of my books. If you'll sit for a minute, I'll show you what I'm talking about. These, for example, these tattered leaflets that look like they're bound for the burn pile, are the Stephen Cosgrove books my parents gifted me when I was in 4th grade, the ones I read to Taylor and Zach when they were just toddlers. I could store them on that shelf high above the stairs, but shouldn't my youngest still be reading them? And these? Oh, these are a treasure, indeed. They're the child-friendly artist biographies by Mike Venezia that I was so excited to discover as a young homeschooling mother who had more of a bent towards Mary Cassatt and Henri Mattisse than multiplication or Mannheim's Theorem. That was back when Borders carried real, exciting educational materials and not just branded movie tie-ins. Those Venezia books were what we read before our first real trip to the Chicago Art Institute, where Taylor saw and identified her first Monet, almost touched Cassatt's After the Bath because it was so beautiful and she didn't know any better. I could set them up there, too, because they're no longer being used, even though I feel like they should be.
Going through these stacks also necessitated a culling session. My younger daughters helped, lightening the shelves in their room by piling books in the hallway, books they said they'd never read, never would read. I examined the piles and couldn't believe my eyes. Dozens and dozens of books that I'd practically counted as required reading did not spark the interest of my youngest children. Not read Sister Wendy Beckett's A Child's Book of Prayer in Art? But I remember when we all went, as a family, to the Akron Art Museum and took a Saturday class on text art! That's where I fell in love with that Sister Wendy book, had to have it, hunted it down and brought it home! And what about these? Not read The Time Warp Trio? Not interested in the terrific traveling adventures of Joe, Sam and Fred? How can that even be?
When I sifted through the piles destined for the thrift store, or, for some, a Fahrenheit 451 fate, I could hardly stand upright. Dispose of Dickens? Toss Tikki Tikki Tembo? Get rid of Grimm's?!? How had these books escaped the endearment, nay, even the acquaintance, of my young daughters?
Here's the other thing: I've been dreaming about puppies.
Day dreams and night ones, too. Sometimes, when I'm taking a break from my daily routine, I'll hop over to one of the pet rescue websites just to look into the eyes of the little darlings. On his birthday, my husband indulged me in a trip to the pet boutique to ogle for a bit. I have three dogs already, and we often serve as a doggie bed and breakfast for other pooches, which means there are sometimes five or six canines accompanying us on our walks or cuddling by the couch as we watch the traveling Time Lord and his Tardis on the telly.
But, lately, I've been resisting the terrific urge to add a new Jack Russell or English Bulldog to our clan, a baby all my own to nestle beside me at night or settle at my feet in my office as I write. This week, I even dreamed about him, my tiny tail-wagger. He was a sort of dalmation variety with lovely brown, green and yellow spots. But before I could take him home, someone else had claimed him as their own. I woke up alone, save my snoring spouse.
I know why I'm doing this. I know why I have a hankering for a hound.
It's all about hope.
I'm getting older, you see. I'm entering a new phase in my life, one where my children are almost adults, where I realize they're leaving behind the books I'd gathered for them, the plans I'd guessed for them, the futures I'd envisioned not only for them, but for me as their mother. When they were babies, I had my whole life ahead of me. Lazy days of reading together, of hiking and birding and museum hopping. Now that they're becoming independent, I'm beginning to feel like my life is nearing an end, though I know that's not at all true. Still, I feel like if I blink, the next nine years will be gone, and my nest will be completely empty.
But when you add a puppy to your home, it's like saying, "There's more living to be done." It's like saying, "Come along with me into this next phase. I need a companion on this journey, and you're the perfect one."
It's like saying, "I plan on living for at least another fifteen years, and, on top of that, I'm determined to summon the energy to keep up with the likes of you."
The bookshelf is up now, and most of the shelves are full. There are still stacks on my bedroom floor, a kind of pergatory for the published, waiting for me to decide their fate. My old dog Jack, who was once the size of a bat and had ears like one, too, curls on his dog bed beneath my desk, when he feels like it, when I'm lucky. The grey in his hair is becoming more evident every day. "He's getting to be an old man," my husband said today as we took our first spring walk down our country road.
I don't know where this puppy lust will take me. I'm hoping, if I ignore it long enough, it will go away, that's it's just my own quirky version of a mid-life crisis. I'm trying to be satisfied with my old dogs, with graying Jack and thickening Lewis and aging Joy, with the canine guests at our animal auberge.
But I can't help it. I keep perusing the pet rescue sites, wondering if one of those adorable doggies is destined to warm my toes and wag forth some hope for the future as I attempt to wrangle time and wrestle with my own mortality.
I can't begin to tell you how excited I am about this movie. When I first read the book, Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller, I felt like I'd finally found someone who understood who I was as a Christian and a writer. Donald Miller was serious about his faith, but he was also a human being, and he wasn't afraid to put all of his fears, doubts, mistakes and counter-cultural opinions in print.
When I read his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I drew so much from it as a writer that I felt like Miller had written those parts of the book because he could somehow sense that I was out here, waiting for someone to say what he was saying. And, of course, I was thrilled to find out that Blue Like Jazz was being made into a movie by Steve Taylor, which is largely what A Million Miles is about. Taylor had been one of my heroes in high school. I'd even spent a large portion of workshop time in my graphics class creating a poster-sized screenprint of Taylor's album On the Fritz which I gave to him at a concert in Canton in the late 80's.
Then, in September 2010, I read the sad news on Miller's blog that the movie wouldn't be made. While others were offering their condolences, a handful of people, myself included, suggested Miller let his fans fund the film. Before long, a couple of guys from Tennessee named Zach Prichard and Jonathan Frazier created SaveBlueLikeJazz.com. They reached their goal, raising more than $345,000 to ensure the film was made.
Now it's a film, and it looks like a great one, and it's set to hit theaters on April 13th, which is delightfully close to the day I was born. Guess I know what I'm requesting for my birthday this year.
Here's the trailer for your viewing pleasure.
I've been totally swamped with all kinds of good things (and even though they're things that make a person wake at 4 a.m. in an absolute panic, complete with heart palpitations, they're still good things, right?), but I wanted to post this great bit of advice from Get Out the Box by Ira Glass that a friend just sent me. Excellent advice for creative types like you.
The crux of it is this: don't give up. KEEP WORKING!