Watch Out for Creepy North Dakotans

In a writing group on Facebook, we discussed diversity within fiction, and as usual, some comments took a tangent. One person wrote (in part): “I think part of the problem is that some authors live in isolated race bubbles. I don’t live there. My world is diverse . . . I spent a summer in North Dakota one year and found it kinda creepy. Where were all the non-Norwegians? I didn’t see any non-whites for weeks. Creepy.”

I responded thusly: “As a North Dakotan, I agree the racial makeup is largely German/Norwegian. And for someone who grew up around more diversity, I can see how it would seem strange at first. Creepy, though? It almost sounds as though it’s intentional, as though anyone else isn’t welcome, when it’s far from true. In fact, it’s changing, however slowly. We have a growing Mexican, Nigerian, Liberian and Indian population. My church alone is testament of that. We have members of all the above listed members, and even host an all-Spanish speaking church two nights a week. Truth is, few people can handle our winters, and that’s what keeps them away. Germans and Norwegians originally settled here, and stayed.”

After some thought, I realized my comment was a bit too “knee-jerk.” After the beating North Dakotans took during the DAPL protests both in the national media and especially social media, I am over-sensitive when people say unflattering things about them. I take it personally.

But his comment spoke to a typical reaction, not of North Dakotans, per se, but how different cultures can make us uncomfortable at times. Someone, like the commenter above, who grew up around a more ethnically diverse area, suddenly surrounded by only German/Norwegians, could very well be a bit “creeped out.”

When I first moved up to North Dakota, we attended Community Days in a small town. It’s basically a big block party where the entire town participates during the American Independence Day holiday. Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado, I, too, was surrounded by and grew up with people of other ethnic backgrounds.

During that Community Days event, I looked around, laughed and told my husband, “This here is a Rainbow Coalition nightmare.”

Was I creeped out? No, because I knew even then that cultures vary often by state as well as region. In the end, we’re all — not only Americans — but human. Regardless of color or background, we all want many of the same things, to be treated with consideration, empathy and respect. We have to let go of our discomfort in new surroundings, and really look at and attempt to find common ground with those who appear so different.

That opens the door to new understandings and possibly new friendships. If not, and those people look at us with closed-mindedness or treat us with outright hostility, we then, as Jesus said, “shake the dust off our feet and move on.”

All I ever ask of myself and others is to give people a chance, regardless of their ethnicity, culture or location. Perhaps then we’ll discover that people – North Dakotans and otherwise – aren’t so creepy after all.

The Self-Torture Continues . . .

Attempt number two in seeing my short story published.

This time I will have to wait three whole months before I hear anything back.

Interestingly, that’ll be around my birthday. Will I end up with a surprise birthday present, or perhaps a reason to quit celebrating my birthday should I receive bad news?

I wish I could say more about this, but, really, what else is there?

Should I apologize for writing such a short entry, or congratulate myself for succeeding in not wasting your precious time?

Either way, I hope you have a fabulous weekend.

Word of advice, though. Go outside! Play! Turn off the TV and all other electronic devices! Avoid politics at all costs!

Your brain will thank you for keeping it sane.

You Are Not My Friend . . .

Jealousy. I wish you’d stop visiting unannounced. You saunter in, without even a knock on the door. You make yourself comfortable by sitting next to me on my couch, far too close. I can smell your rancid breath as you whisper your nasty thoughts into my ears.

The worst part is, I can’t place all the blame on you. I don’t kick you out the moment you walk through the door. I don’t move away when you sit next to me. I don’t cover your mouth, or cover my ears when you speak.

I listen, as much as I tell myself that I shouldn’t.

And your timing is always impeccable.

You only show up when I read about other people’s successes while I continue to flounder. No. It’s worse than that. I only dream of success, and don’t work enough to make it happen. Those people who succeed faster than me? They probably worked harder, and smarter than me. Therefore, do I really have the cause to complain? To moan and wallow in my frustration?

Or it could be God said, “It’s time” to them, when he’s asking me to wait a little longer. Do the reasons really matter? They shouldn’t, because God’s timing has never failed me, not once.

So I have decided, at least for this moment, to give jealousy the boot out the door. It’s not welcome in my home. I must instead use that energy to actually work toward my goals. How’s that for a novel idea?

As long as I continue to do that, success will come. Sure I may fail a few times along the way, but that comes with living life. We all fail more than we succeed. The singular difference between a failure and a success is the successful person never gives up no matter how many times he or she has failed to reach their goal.

I’m not so special that I deserve to never fail. Some will wait even longer than me.

And that’s life.

Allowing jealousy to whisper in my ear won’t change anything, except make me miserable and waste even more time.

Yay! I’m Rejected!

One more rejection letter to add to the growing pile:

Dear Andra,

Thank you for submitting “Ashella’s Heart” to Apex Magazine. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we don’t feel it’s a good fit for us and we’re going to have to pass on it at this time.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.

Sincerely,

Lesley Conner
Managing Editor
Apex Magazine.

I’m a bit disappointed, but it is what it is. All it means is I need to find another magazine to submit to. I have one in mind, but I want to read a few more issues to make sure it’s a good fit (according to moi). Although this particular magazine says it takes both fantasy and science fiction, most of the stories included in the few issues I’ve read so far have been science fiction. I don’t want to waste time submitting to a magazine that’ll reject it out of hand because I didn’t get the genre right.

EDIT: Have you ever responded to a publisher/editor/agent and thought the moment after you sent it, “Oh crap! Did I spell their name right?”

I had that moment of panic after I responded thanking the editor for their time and consideration. Thankfully, I did spell it right *wipes sweat off brow, and takes a deep breath to slow down heartrate*.

Twenty-Two Days

That’s the average response time to short stories submitted to a magazine that publishes fantasy, science fiction and horror. I’ve read three issues so far, and think my short story that won 2nd place in last year’s Writers Digest competition would make a good fit.

We’ll see.

In approximately 22 days.

The worst part about the whole process of submitting articles and short stories is hitting that awful “submit” button (or dropping that proposal or query letter into the mailbox). Once I do, there’s no turning back. No more chances to edit out any mistakes, make any other changes to the plot, grammar, setting, characters . . . nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. It’s like sending a child away to school, or discovering it’s time he left the house to create a life of his own. My story is now out of my hands, out of my control. It’s my heart and my mind on display, and I can’t help but think, “Now I get to find out if the editors of this magazine thinks the story is good, or if it’s crap.”

Not submitting it is always easy, because in my dreams, my stories always find a place. They receive nothing but accolades.

But it’s not real, and reality can suck sometimes. I’m like most writers in that I often prefer my fantasies. In my fantasy worlds, I am in control. Submitting stories and articles for others to judge is purposefully relinquishing that control, and my opinions and biases are shown to either be spot on, or completely spot off.

It’s a terrifying thing to step out of my made-up world and take a chance that in reality, everything I created is nothing like I believed and hoped it was.

That said, in case my story is rejected by this magazine, it doesn’t make my story crap. It simply means they didn’t find it a good fit for them. There are other magazines out there, and in fact, I have another in mind (I went back and forth for a few days trying to decide which to try first. It boiled down to response time. The one I submitted to is a bit quicker). Like many others, neither magazine takes simultaneous submissions, so I have to submit it one at a time.

Time will tell.

I’ll keep you apprised.

My Child Is Brain Damaged

Regardless of what people think about Bill Cosby now, many of his routines back in the day were comedic gold.

I watched his routine on parenting a while back. At one point he said (paraphrased), “Children are brain damaged. They do the stupidest things, and can never tell you why.” For example, his son gave himself a reverse Mohawk with clippers. When Bill asked him why, his son said, “I don’t know!”

Yesterday, I purchased two tubes of toothpaste for my husband, and placed them on the sink so he would find them.

Later my son took his shower. Afterwards, he said, “I accidentally put holes in the toothpaste, but we can fix it with tape.”

Apparently, he decided to destroy the boxes the toothpaste came in by stabbing at them with a pen. As such, he not only destroyed the boxes, but poked five holes into one of them.

“What made you think that was a good idea?” I asked him.

“I don’t know!”

Yep, my child is like every other child past, present and future. He’s brain damaged.

Save Your Prayers

During the DAPL protests, I kept apprised reading articles posted by our local news agencies on Facebook. I quit reading the comments after only a few weeks, because they were so infuriating.

The ones that bothered me the most said, “I will pray for you.”

Now why, as a Christian, would that bother me? Aren’t we supposed to pray for each other, and welcome prayers on our behalf? Truth is, that phrase raises my hackles more often than it doesn’t. I couldn’t pin down why for the longest time, to the point I wondered if I should question my faith or lack thereof. If my faith was strong, there should be no reason prayers for me and to me should bother me.

A few weeks ago during Wednesday night church groups, I overheard a teacher for the teenage group say, “There’s a difference between praying for someone and praying at someone.”

A-ha.

Too often, when people say, “I will pray for you,” they make themselves the subject, and me the object. They make it about them – to attempt to show how righteous they are, and how unrighteous I am. It’s based on the assumption that I need, and want their prayers.

I also had to ask, did Jesus ever say, “I will pray for you,” especially during or after an argument with someone? I don’t recall a single instance.

There is another side to this coin, however. If I ask for prayers, then that phrase “I will pray for you,” is more than welcome. Also, if I didn’t ask for it, but people decide to pray for me without telling me, well, I can’t exactly stop that, can I? Not that I’d want to. As long as the people praying feel compelled to pray, and are sincere in their prayers (with humility, not self-righteousness), I have no problem with it.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, 5-6:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven … And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I can’t stop anyone from praying, publicly or otherwise, humbly or otherwise. In the end, it’s not up to me to decide whose prayers are sincere. That’s between them and God. I do think, however, that when we decide to pray for someone, we need to be honest in our motives. Both in prayer, and every other means of expressing our faith, we should also do as Jesus did, and not make spectacles of ourselves.

Kill Language – Kill Freedom

I love watching my son grow up. What parent doesn’t, right? The best part for me is how he develops, especially when it comes to language. When he was still a toddler, I was astounded at how quickly he picked up concepts, and how they all tied to language. For instance, I showed him an apple, and said “This is an apple.” He understood right away what I meant. He also didn’t get confused when I taught him colors. I pointed to a red apple to show him “red,” and he easily grasped the difference between “red” and “apple.” I understood then that language is built into our brains and develops naturally as we grow up.

Language keeps us connected to each other, and helps us learn about the world. Without language, we couldn’t build anything (consider the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9). Imagine trying to build a house with others without the ability to communicate what needs to be done.

Even math and music are considered languages, and while some believe they can do without math, most everyone needs music.

Mess with language, and we mess with the free exchange of ideas. People no longer understand their world or each other, and we no longer grow as a species.

George Orwell understood this better than most, I think. He expressed his concerns in an essay titled “Politics and the English Language.”

He dug deeper into and expressed it more in his book, “1984,” most specifically with the language he labeled as “Newspeak.”

According to a website dedicated to Orwell:

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought.”

To expand the idea (on the same webpage):

“Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in The Times were written in it, but could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech.”

I ran into this article earlier today:

College Writing Center Declares American Grammar A ‘Racist,’ ‘Unjust Language Structure’

Which in turn led me to University of Washington / Tacoma’s University Writing Program and their Writing Center:

Under “Our Beliefs” of their “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center” it states:

“The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

I’m sure you can see the correlation between Newspeak and what the writing center is espousing.

What led me on this journey (thanks to LK Hunsaker) is this article:

According to the article, some publishers are hiring so-called sensitivity readers “who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as ‘dealing with terminal illness,’ ‘racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families’ or ‘transgender issues.'”

These statements are of special concern:

“Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.”

And:

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton [a sensitivity reader] said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

Also known as “cultural appropriation.”

As an aside, for me personally, I don’t care who writes about my culture, as long as they do so accurately. Not every person in a particular culture wants to write about their culture, so why limit themselves, and in the end possibly dooming their culture’s future to oblivion because no one dared, or was allowed to, write about it?

As another aside, the article included this:

“Despite the efforts of groups like We Need Diverse Books, ‘it’s more likely that a publishing house will publish a book about an African-American girl by a white woman versus one written by a black woman like me,’ Clayton says.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. During my own search of agents, I had to cross out quite a few because they are actively seeking so-called marginalized writers such as Ms. Clayton. For which I am not a member.

Most agents care only about the story and the quality of writing. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the writer’s race, gender, etc.

Even those seeking minorities still need a salable story, so although a person’s minority status may get them to the front of the line, he/she still has to deliver. Seems to me, Ms. Clayton is holding herself back, and using her race and gender as an excuse not to try, let alone succeed. Too harsh? Offensive even? Good.

Now back to the original subject.

All of this is political correctness not only run amok, but an attempt to control thought. When you control how language is used – eliminating certain words, or changing the definition of words in order to change peoples’ perception – you can control how a person thinks. When you control how someone thinks, that person loses their freedom to think otherwise. They can no longer think critically, because, in a sense, their words are chosen for them. The number of words – and ideas – they can use are curtailed if not outright eliminated.

If I offend you, or if you offend me, all the better. To quote (where it originated I don’t know): “The solution to offensive free speech is more free speech, not less.”

Writers especially need to protect all words and language – our tools of trade. We can’t allow any type of censorship, because once it grabs hold, we may lose everything.

Truth is most often found in offensive speech, because it forces us to think and respond. Human beings are experts at lying to ourselves, and lying to each other. By attempting to control words and speech, the truth gets lost and liars rule at the expense of everyone else.

Bees to Honey

Whenever I feel lost and overwhelmed, part of me wants to drop myself on the floor and throw a tantrum that would make even the most spoiled child stare in astonishment.

Life is complicated. People are complicated. As a rational personality who prefers order over chaos, when life doesn’t go the way I want, and people confuse me with their irrational words and deeds, I don’t know how to respond. My mind descends into its own form of chaos that I can’t escape.

I have learned, however, to find a place of solitude, even if it’s only inside my mind. To remove all distractions and give my thoughts and emotions time to settle. Writing has always helped, because it allows me to spill onto the page all the disorder in my mind. It’s also safe, because no one has to see it, and I won’t hurt anyone with my own irrational words and deeds.

Afterward, I can step back, study those words, and find understanding.

God’s gift to me that has saved my life and my sanity more than once. I’m sure it’s saved a few friendships along the way as well.

I promised with my last Facebook temper tantrum that my next entry would concentrate on faith and what acting on that faith means. No politics. You can be assured I’ve kept that promise.

Nor is this about accusations per se.

This entry is about what being Christian means. More importantly, why we – especially Christians – shouldn’t judge others.

First question: What is a Christian?

A Christian is a follower of Christ and his teachings. It’s accepting and embracing the idea that God loves us so much he sent his Son – a part of himself – to this earth to die for our sins. In doing so, we will have eternal life. All we have to do is give of ourselves, our mind, our heart and our soul to him. Not out of fear, but out of love.

It sounds so simple, which it is, but it’s far from easy. The moment we decide to follow Christ, that’s when the real work begins.

Second question: How does a Christian act on that faith? What does Jesus expect from us?

Someone asked Jesus a similar question in Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Let’s dig a bit deeper now. Part of loving our neighbor as ourself is treating others how we want to be treated. That means, for instance, if I don’t want to be judged – for whatever reason – I have no cause to judge anyone else.

Matthew 7:1-5 is one of my favorite scriptural passages, partly because Jesus seemed to enjoy using hyperbole to get his point across:

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

These next passages have to do with the Body of Christ. It may seem that I’m jumping subjects, but I tie them together at the end. I hope you’ll stick with me.

I Corinthians 12:4-6, 12, 15-21

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

Now for the last jump from Matthew 6:1-4

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

When I see memes telling me I’m either a horrible Christian or not one at all for whatever reason from a non-Christian, I get annoyed. Still, I see it so often, I’ve come to expect it. When I see a fellow Christians do the same thing, however, that’s when I get angry. All of the above scripture is why; we’re supposed to know better.

I heard a story of a woman who loved to bake pies. Whenever someone moved into the neighborhood, she’d bake them a pie to welcome them. Whenever a neighbor was hurting, or had a special occasion, she’d bake them a pie. Many appreciated her more than she ever knew, because whenever they felt lost and alone, with that one simple gesture, she made them feel loved and welcomed.

I saw another story of a woman who waved to all the students going to and from school every day for years. The students loved her for it, and some even said it was impossible to remain in a bad mood once they saw her smile, joy, and enthusiasm.

Should any one of us tell those women that they’re not “Christian” enough, or compassionate enough, because they don’t (that we know of) open their homes to the homeless, give their income to our favorite charities, or take month-long mission trips to war-torn countries?

Truth is we don’t know. Nor are we supposed to. Even if they didn’t do those things, the reason could be because God didn’t ask them to. Their part in the Body of Christ doesn’t demand it.

I also believe that since we’re not supposed to judge people based on their sins, we’re not qualified to judge people according to their good deeds, or what we consider their lack thereof, either. Our sins, and our good deeds are between God and us. Individually. If I’m not doing enough, it’s up to God to convict me, no one else, and certainly not on Facebook or other public venue.

And lastly.

The movie, “Hidden Figures” won a top award at this year’s Screen Actor’s Guild awards. Taraji P. Henson gave the acceptance speech, and she said in part:

“This film is about unity.”

“We stand here as proud actors thanking every member of this incredible guild for voting for us, for recognizing our hard work. But the shoulders of the women that we stand on are three American heroes — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson. Without them, we would not know how to reach the stars. These women did not complain about the problems, their circumstances, you know, the issues. We know what was going on in that era.

“They didn’t complain. They focused on solutions. Therefore these brave women helped put men into space. … This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside. When we come together as a human race, we win. Love wins every time.”

My favorite part was the first two sentences of the last paragraph.

The memes, posts and comments about how horrible people are for not doing certain things will never help, because they don’t offer any solutions. It’s passive-aggressive behavior that only pisses people off. No one will ever bring people to their cause by tossing out insults.

Now, if someone were to approach me and say, “There’s a serious homeless problem in our city. I think we should rent an apartment building, and take up donations for food and clothing to help them out. Will you help me?”

That would spur me to action a lot quicker and with far more enthusiasm than someone screaming in my face, “You’re not helping the homeless, you hateful, selfish, hypocrite!”

Lure me with honey, because I’m no fan of vinegar.

The Brain Is A Big Fat Liar

One of my favorite shows is called “Brain Games.” Each half-hour episode shows volunteers and the viewers audio and visual games that show how our brain interprets sensory input. In short, the brain doesn’t merely hear, taste, smell, or see anything as it is, but tries instead to interpret what it senses. Even then, it’s not a true representation of the real world.

Let’s take a look at the ear. Sound waves flow into the ear canal which causes little bones to vibrate inside. The brain then interprets the bones’ vibrations as specific sounds. Even then, we’re not hearing the sound itself, but the ear’s response to the sounds. The brain also tries to attach meaning to those sounds. Where it’s coming from, and what’s causing it. For instance, that roar we hear isn’t simply a roar. It could be a lion, a fierce wind, or an airplane flying overhead. If it doesn’t sound immediately familiar, we will continue to listen until we can say, “Oh! I know what that is. That’s a train going by.” We’re not like a tape recorder that doesn’t care what the sound is. It simply records it. Humans, on the other hand, try to give every sensory input some kind of context.

We went traveling one day and I saw a big orange blob in the middle of a cultivated field. My first thought was school bus, because the color was similar. But then I thought, “Why would there be a school bus in the middle of the field?” I stared at that thing for as long as I could, but I never did figure out what it really was.

How often do we look at clouds and find shapes and faces in them? Because the brain wants everything to be familiar, to look like something it’s seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt before. It’s a survival mechanism, so that way it can quickly determine if it’s harmful or beneficial.

And because it tries to give everything context instead of accepting that there may be no context, or the context is beyond our current experience – like the orange blob in the middle of the field – it sometimes lies to us. My brain grabbed the first object from my experience that matched closest to what it saw – a school bus – so that’s what I thought I saw at first. And yet, it probably wasn’t a school bus. My brain lied to me.

Some other examples are optical illusions and magic tricks.

Here’s a video (excerpt from “Brain Games”) to further prove my point:

Note: You can watch the first four seasons on Netflix.