Modern America and the Death of Humanity


“What is going to become of a society which puts emphasis on numbers and masses, rather than on the individual – where medical schools hope to enlarge their classes, where the trend is away from student-teacher contact, which is replaced by closed-circuit television teaching, recordings, and movies all of which can teach a greater number of students in a more depersonalized manner?”

This quote is from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying. She’s one of the fore-runners in hospice work. I thought it was wonderful to come across this quote that, for Kubler-Ross was about healthcare, but for me was about education.

NaNoWriMo 2015


It’s National Novel Writing Month again… and even though I thought I’d be ready to fully participate this year, I’m not, and I’m sad about it.

Re: the manuscript I’ve been working on for ages…

This manuscript is incredibly personal. Everything about it is wrapped up in who I am and what I’ve seen. That’s not to say that it’s autobiographical. It isn’t. However, it is personal, and there’s a vulnerability in writing what I’ve written.

Also, this may not seem like a big deal, but it’s my first full manuscript. I’ve written tons of first chapters but only one final chapter, and that one final chapter is contained in this manuscript. I’ve written short stories and essays galore, I’ve been starting novels since I was fourteen, but I’ve never put much hope in any of them until my current Work in Progress. I’ve never believed anything would ever come of them.

Additionally, this is the only time I’ve written anything near the realm of Christian Fiction. There’s a weighty responsibility that comes with that. I feel an urgent necessity, that I hate feeling, in writing something that glorifies God. I chose Weston, my character, because I couldn’t imagine a more heart-wrenching conflict than the one I’ve seen in my friends who are both gay and Christians. I thought it was good timing historically for a book about that conflict. I thought it would be easy to sell. Yet, now that it comes down to either publishing it or not, I’ve got a slow-growing fear based in all of the things that drew me to this conflict to begin with. I’m afraid of how the nation is changing, and how my friends are changing. I’m afraid of how difficult it seems to be for people like Weston to hold onto convictions and trust that God has it covered, and even if they don’t get what they want, to refuse to bow down to any claiming the place that belongs only to the Almighty.

Piled on top of that fear is the problem I currently have of perspective. I started out trying to write my manuscript in 3rd person, because it’s an impersonal, analytical way of writing that allowed me to think the story instead of feeling it. There’s this strange thing that happens in the writer’s mind, where characters are real. It would be impossible for me to write a great story without suspending my disbelief at least as much as I want my readers to suspend theirs, so Weston is a real person to me. I have emotions towards him that only find their match in my relationships to real people. I feel affection, disappointment, anger, and hope for him and for the other characters in his life – Madison, Riley, Dave… all of them. That’s super difficult, because it’s my job to push these people through to most difficult parts of their lives.

I would prefer to do that in 3rd person, even though that wasn’t the right choice for this story.

Alongside the emotions of it, writing in 1st person has a ton of complications because the story is not about what happened. Rather, it’s about what one person thought happened. A narrator who is living the story is almost never going to be 100% reliable, and my character is particularly unreliable because she’s young, foolish, and confused. She’s emotionally invested to the extent that she can’t see straight. The result of telling the story this way is hours – nay, HOURS and HOURS and HOURS – of trying to figure out how a person can tell a story exactly as she experienced it without communicating only what she experienced. Ideally, Madison would tell her story honestly and without concern for the reader, but I’d be skilled enough to communicate to the reader through Madison – that I’d show bits and pieces that Madi didn’t see, or saw falsely.

It’s painstaking work.

Also, I decided to rewrite the entire ending of my story. I got one of those epiphanies that hit at the strangest times, when the muse speaks, and what needs to be written becomes clear. And yet, it’s a ton of work rewriting the entire ending – especially because I did my best to weave the ending into every chapter of the book so that readers could look back and be all mind-blown at the clues that were there all along.

So… where I find myself now is at the end again, rewriting and trying to be intentional about the level of satisfaction I bring to readers… or not. It would be easy for me to wrap everything up nicely and tie it with a bow for readers. OR it would be easy for me to wrap nothing up and leave readers bewildered to figure it out for themselves. Probably, the right thing to do is somewhere in the middle of those.

Finally, the actual news of this post is that I’ve recently been put in touch with an editor who may actually be able to help me, without costing me a boatload of cash, which means I need to get myself in gear pretty quickly here and not let this opportunity pass.

BUT…

All I want to do is start a brand-new manuscript that I can write in the detached voice of an omniscient 3rd person narrator. I want it to be an absurd dark comedy/social commentary about public education, and I want to be in the planning stage rather than this editing and perfecting stage that I have to be in with Weston’s story.

AaaaaaaHhhhhhhh!

I love NaNoWriMo… next year, I guess.

I Found My Bonhoeffer!!!!


The funny thing is that I looked on top of the chair. In fact, I removed everything from the top of the chair to ensure it wasn’t hidden underneath a grocery bag. You see, that chair is my just-walked-in dumping grounds. Everything goes on top of that chair.

As you can see….

   
    
 
I almost moved on to the next book, but I am overjoyed that there’s no need.
Happy Halloween!

Characters Who Read


Note: This is a book review I wrote on Goodreads that I thought I’d like to share here. It’s for the ever-popular YA novel and, more recent ish, film The Perks of Being a Wallflower🙂

_____________________________________________

When I was young, I LOVED Sara Crewe.

She’s the protagonist in A Little Princess.

Mostly, what I loved about her was that she was different from her peers, kind, and imaginative.

Sara Crewe, was a character who shaped my character.

Then, there was Dorothy Jane on a little-known TV show called The Torkelsons.

And Anne with an ‘e’.

All young girls who are different, kind, and imaginative…

I’ve finally read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it occurred to me that my different, kind, and imaginative characters are changing. They aren’t what they used to be… Charlie is different, kind, and imaginative, but in a messier way than my fictional role models were. Sara, Dorothy Jane, and Anne all faced moral dilemmas, and chose to be “good kids.” Charlie’s drug abuse and physical violence against a bully were almost non-events… insignificant in a story of depression and moral depravity.

And yet, he’s the role-model our different, kind, and imaginative kids turn to. He epitomizes what it means to be outside of the “teenage wasteland” because he is self-aware, thoughtful, intelligent… and I wonder if our attempts to see the world more completely, with depth and empathy, have caused us to over-complicate morality. Charlie is a “good person” who does naughty things. He even does them sometimes with a “good heart,” which pisses me off. Although morality is certainly complex, I’m disappointed that my students are offered such an anti-hero role model.

Where is the Sara Crewe, who, starving and exhausted, offered her last piece of bread to a stranger who needed it?

While I understand that the world has changed, and current YA literature reflects the times, I also wish we had a few true heroes, who struggle, but ultimately stand up for what is right – who would struggle with decisions that Charlie hardly even notices, because he’s too busy getting high and kicking ass.

I want more than The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the kids, with whom I spend most of my life. I want better than Charlie. 😦

Holding Hands in the Wreckage


* Here’s a throw-back post that originally went up Nov. 24, 2010. I felt like it ended up defining me as a writer and a person in many ways. Enjoy.

__________________________________________________________________

I’ve been thinking about endings a lot lately.  I’ve been thinking about the ending to my manuscript, the end of Harry Potter’s story, and the endings in my own life (most of which aren’t even visible on the horizon because I’m younger than I think I am).  I’ve had a bunch of conversations recently – with some people who are idealistic and others who are disillusioned – and in these conversations, I bounce back and forth between fluffy optimism and tortured cynicism.  I’m the devil’s advocate.  If the person I’m talking to is being all double rainbow all the way across the sky, I’m snow melted inside your boots and all over your favorite socks.  If I’m talking to someone who can’t conceive a world in which Bambi’s mom lives, I’m world peace (and harsher punishments for parole violators)… not because I’m trying to disagree with everyone, but because life, I think, is the impossible melding of hope and realism.

Earlier this week, I was reading the Invincible Summer blog by Hannah Moskowitz, and she wrote something that really hit on this balance and on what readers and humanity desire out of stories and life.

“No evil winning. Your characters don’t have to be making out in the sunset, but they have to at least be holding hands in the wreckage.”

When I come to the end of a journey in life or a story, I want a hopeful ending.  I don’t need it to be all warm & fuzzy and perfect.  I don’t need Harry to come out of it unscathed, nor would I suspend my disbelief if Rowling had written it that way.  The truth is that life is hard.  The world is a messed-up place where people die, hearts are broken, and tears are frequently justified.  However, I also can’t stomach hopelessness.  Voldemort can’t win.

In life and in stories, I have to hope towards the future.  I have to hope that good things happen when we don’t deserve them and that there’s a good God spreading out breath-taking goodness for us because He is good.  I have to believe for my characters and for myself.  I look forward to holding hands in the wreckage, and I pray that all of my readers can trust in a God who makes that happen for us.

Don’t Be Embarrassed


“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use ’emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’ and you’ll never say John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion when you mean John stopped long enough to take a !@#$.”

Stephen King On Writing (117)

Trustworthiness and Bowling Alone


I recently started reading the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. It’s a book that I bought when I got my tax return because Turbo Tax offered an additional 10% of any amount of my return I took in Amazon Gift Cards. I don’t remember for sure, but I think I bought it because of the teacher association. In attending the Leadership Summit and Delegate Assembly, I realized that so much of what people do is in search of connection nowadays.

There is something that Arizona is getting a fair amount of national attention for doing well in the field of education… that thing is called eSwag. I don’t remember what it stands for (Educators Standing With… I don’t know; look it up), but it’s basically a mechanism for engaging and retaining educators under the age of 35. I didn’t join it because I’m too cool for it (and church groups for singles). I also didn’t join because I felt like I had enough on my plate with all of the normal baloney sandwich mess of being the secretary of my local. However, I was able to observe the eSwag-ers from a distance and gain a fairly clear picture of what was going on there. Turns out, Arizona has managed to gain positive national attention for throwing ridiculous parties that get forcibly moved from one hotel room to another, to another, to the hotel bar where the cheapskates didn’t even order anything because they brought their own libations… no joke, that’s what eSwag did at Delegate Assembly.

I was hugely disappointed to discover this because I wanted to see the association engaging young teachers by bringing them a bit deeper into the profession. I wanted to see mentor programs where veteran teachers partnered with new teachers to show them how it’s done. I wanted to see people getting to know one another and truly caring. I wanted to see my generation of the extended adolescence… well… growing out of our adolescences.

With eSwag turning out to be a series of keggers… and let’s be honest: I’m obsessing right now about the correct spelling of kegger because I’m the type who voluntarily took an extra linguistics class heavy on the sentence-diagramming in college when I could have been out partying. I became a teacher because I believe learning is more important than fun is… most of the time. Why the hell did they think I would enjoy staying up late, getting drunk, and talking to people I didn’t know? Okay, so they assumed that because that’s obviously what most folks under 35 want.

That all being in the background, I started reading Bowling Alone because I wanted to get a handle on this longing we under 35s (and really everyone of every age) have for community.

I say longing because I think it’s the best descriptor here. I honestly think we’re caught up in a mess of disconnect and probably spend a fair amount of time distracting ourselves from the fact that we don’t have community and don’t know how to get it. We long for community, and chase after it with enthusiasm and abandon, but we never quite achieve the type of community we think we will. We never quite get there.

Building and engaging community are catch-phrases in the church nowadays, and I need to get better about ignoring or possibly even encouraging folks who have jumped on-board the trendy-train of abandon-tradition-because-it’s-keeping-us-from-engaging-for-real-!-All-Christians-are-faking-it-!-They-don’t-care-about-people-! but trendy things become trendy for a reason, and there’s something that’s causing the teacher association and the church to track with one another in a thrust toward community.

The book said something interesting. Now, granted, I’m only on the second chapter so far, and it isn’t exactly light reading, so I’ll probably be reading the thing for the next two or three years, but I’ve got one pearl to share with you right now.

Trustworthiness lubricates social life.

I thought this book was going to lay the blame on social networking. However, right out of the gates, our author Robert D. Putnam brings it down to an incredibly basic level. Younger generations trust less. I’ve read things about this, and it seems to come up in tons of those generation descriptions. There’s always mention of the skepticism that comes with living in an age when we’re inundated with ads. There’s talk of the mass public shootings and how that makes us wonder if our neighbor is building a massive collection of killing devices in his parents’ garage. So maybe we have good reason to mistrust.

I’d never considered that trust might have any role in keeping us from feeling connected to other human beings? What if that’s the reason the teachers under 35 can’t make friends without destroying their livers? What if, at the most basic level, human beings are beginning to believe their fellow-men want to screw them over?

It’s a sad thought, right? Maybe I should’ve waited to write this until I’ve finished the book. Maybe Robert D. Putnam has some answers, some idea of what we can do to fix this mess. All I can think of is to commit ourselves to individually and collectively becoming trustworthy…

Thoughts?