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 It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English) by about the year 2050.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.

She shoves her fingers in her ears and sings, “La la la la.”

I go through days when I can’t stand politics, and I do whatever I can to avoid it. Other days I eat it up like chocolate during that certain time of the month.

One of my political craving days happened during President Trump’s inauguration. I perused Twitter afterward, and I tweeted this:

Fascinating how people listening to Trump’s speech are having such opposing reactions and all based on political leanings.

As a writer, in order to create believable characters, I have to study human nature. This includes studying myself. Time and again, I discover that in many ways I am not unique. I have the same automatic responses to stimuli – both mental and physical – as everyone else.

Part of our humanity demands acceptance of our peers. We need to be loved and understood. It’s written into our DNA as a matter of survival of our species. Strength in numbers, and all that.

We all learn that discrimination is bad, but that isn’t always true. We discriminate when choosing our friends, and most especially our spouse (or significant other depending upon your chosen verbiage).

Whenever we’re thrust in the middle of a crowd, we will – often subconsciously – look for people similar to ourselves. Why? Because if we surround ourselves with like-minded people, we feel that much more safe, and understood. It’s not necessarily about race or gender, either. In a crowd, I will seek out older people to converse with rather than a group of teenagers, because the chances of me having more in common with the older folks is greater. Plus, those teenagers might look at me a bit askance wondering why an old woman would choose to mingle with them. It’s not because I hate teenagers, but more to avoid any awkwardness on both our part. It’s much easier to be myself around those similar to me, just as it is for a teenager to be more relaxed around people his/her age.

To step out of our comfort zone is never easy. That includes politics.

I find myself spending more time on political sites that agree with my own leanings than those that don’t. I don’t delve into politics much on Facebook, but I do on Twitter. If you look at the people I follow, I share similar political views with about 80% of them. When I see a post (both on Twitter and on Facebook) contrary to my political an/or religious leanings, my eyes unfocus and I scroll past as fast as I can.

We’ve all heard the phrase that the truth is somewhere in the middle of two extremes. By spending all my time on like-minded sites, and with like-minded people, I may be getting a skewed, flat, and biased version of the truth.

To put it more simply let’s say I see a flat square in front of me. If I don’t step out of my self-created cage and see the square from a different point of view, I’ll never discover that it’s really a cube.

I have to remind myself that life is far more interesting in three dimensions, and the whole truth is far more complicated than a flat piece of paper.

Everything we hear is an opinion. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth.

– Marcus Aurelius

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from the motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.

– Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Decisions, Decisions

I took a year off Facebook (mostly). In that time I finished four manuscripts and even managed to take 2nd place in a Writers Digest contest.

I went back to Facebook.

I lost my verve to write.

Coincidence?

I had hoped the political vitriol would settle down after the election, but it has worsened. The hate, the bullying, and unwillingness to see beyond fear of the future staggers me every time I log on. No wonder I lost my will to write. I can’t write when I’m too stunned to think straight.

So off again I go. Mostly. I’ll still participate in my chosen groups and maybe toss in a picture or two. But as for spending hours (or even minutes) scrolling through people’s feeds, not going to happen. It makes me sad, because I’ll be missing out on some good stuff, too. In the end, though, real life matters more than the constant and oftentimes discordant noise of social media.

On the other hand:

I read how Andrea Bocelli backed out of singing at the inauguration due to death threats:
Other entertainers have backed out for similar reasons.

On another website I posted this:

“I’m not furious over the death threats. Angry, yes, but not furious, because it’s expected.

What’s really infuriating is how many people capitulate to the threats. We are supposed to be the ones who believe in freedom, liberty, etc., and that requires strength of will. If we want the bullying to stop, we have to stand up to it.”

Someone else responded thusly: “When good men/women do NOT cave, you get the birth of the greatest nation on earth after telling George III to piss off, you also get to be the victors of WWII after forcing Hitler to eat a bullet…..men who cave in to fear, deserve to live in fear….men who stand up for freedom WILL live free”

By kicking myself off Facebook, I’m in effect running away. I’m allowing myself to be bullied, and giving in to my own fears. If people are allowed to spread hate and to bully with no response, they win. It also give them license to keep doing it to others.

I don’t care who someone voted for. That they hate our current President-Elect, or hated President Obama, I can’t change, nor would I attempt to. But I have to draw the line when someone attacks someone else for political differences, or deciding to entertain at a particular national event.

On another person’s post someone said (basically) that since people hated on Obama and his supporters, it’s okay to hate on Trump and his supporters. I responded with, “Just because some people have said horrible things about Obama and his family, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for others to do the same to Trump. Bad behavior is still bad behavior, regardless of the target.”

I don’t expect much of people except that they treat others how they want to be treated. The Golden Rule as it’s called, but so many have forgotten it. They’re too interested in pushing their own emotions and opinions on others, and they feel personally affronted if anyone dares to disagree.

Sorry, but my emotions are my own. No one but me is responsible for them. Just because I get angry when someone disagrees with my presumptions and assumptions, it doesn’t mean I should automatically lash out for no other reason than remain comfortable in my own righteousness. Why? Because I could be wrong. Being wrong is not a sin, but not admitting when I’m wrong can be.

Unfriend Me If . . .

Every once in a while someone will post, “If you don’t agree with me on this particular subject, unfriend me now.”

Thankfully these posts are rare, but they nevertheless make me sad, especially when that person claims to be a Christian.

I’ve only unfriended one person, and that’s because she changed her profile picture to a particular politician (who shall remain nameless), and 95% of her posts were so politically divisive, I had unfriend her to keep my blood pressure down. This was before I knew about the “unfollow” button. Had I known about the “unfollow,” I would have gone that route instead, and remained her friend. Since then, I’ve only “unfollowed” one person, because it seemed she posted a link to some cat video (for example) every five minutes. Her time-wasting posts so saturated my feed, I spent way more time than I wanted scrolling to find anyone else’s posts.

The only time I will “unfriend” another person is if they physically threaten me or my family. Other than that, opine away.

Now when someone tells me to “unfriend” them due to a difference of opinion, I’ll admit I’m tempted. Especially if I indeed disagree with them. I don’t, though, because I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t think they’re right to do so (more on that in a minute), but I do understand.

Whenever I’m a bit stuck on how I should respond to others, I look to Jesus as my example (I don’t always succeed, but I do try). Many disagreed with him, but he turned away no one. He gave them the riot act for sure, but he never held up his hand and said, “Shut up and go away, because you don’t agree with me.”

I have many of friends with whom I have stark disagreements, whether it’s politics, religion, and a myriad of other topics. Some of them I disagree with from 10% of the time to 90% of the time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. They enrich my life more than I can ever express. I have even altered my own point of view because of theirs at times. If nothing else, they teach me to keep an open mind.

Knowing other points of view – especially those opposite of mine – is not only useful, but necessary to a writer. How am I to write complex characters with opposing views (both antagonists and protagonists) if I don’t expose myself to them? By keeping monochromatic friends, I will only be able to write monochromatic characters. If I try to write a character so opposite of me without knowing people opposite of me, I decrease my chances of writing a believable character. Part of the reason I don’t attempt to publish a non-fiction book is because I’m not that interesting. Why would I want to constrain myself to write only characters who think and act like me?

We’re all different, and it’s those differences that make life so darned interesting.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I doubt I’m the only one who read the title with a musical voice, and perhaps even an echo.

But this entry isn’t about a song.

A few entries back, I shared a few of my favorite tweets. One in particular has stuck with me:

If you want compassion, be compassionate.
If you want respect, be respectful.
If you want to be heard, listen.

Most especially the last one.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I figure if a person wants to change something about his/her life, why wait until a specific date? Do it today, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow (the procrastinator in me just hissed in my ear as I finished that last sentence).

I understand it, though. Oftentimes, people don’t think about the past or the future until the turn of a new year. It’s only natural to take stock and decide how to make the next year better.

Last night Dave, Tom and I spent New Years with some friends and their children. Everyone was having a great time, but for whatever reason, I decided to go on Facebook. I stumbled on a friend’s post who appeared to be having a rough time. I made a comment, and soon we PMed each other for a bit. I couldn’t offer any advice, because I too often don’t understand everything another person is going through. Especially when we’re not in the same room. To offer advice seems presumptuous, perhaps even condescending, and I could too easily give the wrong advice. Something I always want to avoid – for their sake.

All I could do was listen, so that’s what I did.

He told someone else later that our little conversation helped.

Sometimes that’s all we need. I can’t tell you how many times I needed someone to listen to my troubles, but not because I wanted a solution. It was to be heard and understood, no more and no less.

I don’t reveal this to brag, or to be congratulated, because no one should receive a literal or figurative pat on the back for doing something that he/she is supposed to do anyway. I would do it for anyone, because it’s the right thing to do, and I expect my own friends to do the same for me. That’s not high expectation; that’s the definition of friendship. If they don’t, they’re not my friends.

In looking back on 2016, I didn’t listen enough. I talked a lot, that’s for sure, and as such, I may have alienated and ignored people who needed a friendly ear. Not this year. My 2017 resolution is to listen more and talk less. If doing so lightens someone’s burden even a little – whether I know about it or not – it’ll make whatever happens the rest of the year worthwhile.

On Faith

I watched “The Santa Clause” over Christmas. At one point in the film, two people discussed when they stopped believing in Santa Claus. In both cases they did so because they didn’t receive the one gift they wanted most.

How often do people give up their faith in God, because he doesn’t give them the one thing they prayed for? I admit I’ve struggled at times, because God seemed cold and distant. I have railed against him when I felt I deserved something, but he refused to deliver.

Still do, even when I look back and realize his refusals were ultimately a good thing. I ask for selfish things. Shallow things, when what he wants is for me to grow in my faith, and to help others grow in theirs. Whether or not I can afford the latest computer technology doesn’t further his kingdom. Nor does he help me escape my guilt and the consequences for when I screw up.

As much as I want to run away from my responsibilities, he always tells me hold the course. And he’s always telling me to wait — to be patient. Ugh.

I can be as shallow and selfish as anyone. I beg God to allow me to be selfish, to live a shallow life. How easy it would be to treat God like Santa Claus. To in the end quit believing in him, because I don’t get what I want all the time.

Doing so weakens what little faith I already have.

To wallow in the times when God refused my desires, I ignore all the times when he delivered – extravagantly. The times of him showering his blessings on me far outweigh and outnumber the times when he shook his head and told me no.

I sometimes refuse to see his negative responses as a blessing. Take Christmas day 2016. We had planned on going to our aunt and uncle’s house sixty miles away. Dave, Tom and I all came down with a cold, so we decided not to go. Did God decide to make us miserable on a holiday, or did he have another reason?

The entire state of North Dakota was under a blizzard warning all day with – projected – over a foot of snowfall and 35-50mph winds (gusting up to 60mph). The highway department started closing the interstate and highways at 5:30pm. If we hadn’t come down with a cold, we would have either been on the road at that time, or ended up having to stay at our aunt’s house until the roads cleared. That alone could take a day or two. And that’s assuming we didn’t get into an accident either on our way there, or on our return home.

Oftentimes, our blessings and curses could simply be a matter of how we choose to look at them.

If we choose to look at God as our eternal Santa Claus, we will only find disappointment, and foment a desire to quit believing in him when he tells us no. If we choose to see him as our heavenly Father who has our best interest in mind, then when he refuses us – like when our earthly parents refused to give us everything we wanted – we can, and should, be grateful. To feel blessed in all circumstances, not only when everything goes the way we want and expect.

Meeting Expectations

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time.

Not necessarily to avoid a certain pain, or to prevent a terrible mistake, however. Those I don’t want to go back for, because those pains and those mistakes molded me into the person I am today. And I like me.

I want to go back to the times when I wrote solely for myself. Then, the only person I risked disappointing was me. I didn’t feel the need to censor myself, and I didn’t have to worry about what others would think, or fear that they would hate me for being me.

Part of me hates the idea of publishing, because I feel I now have to write less for me, and more for others. And how am I supposed to know — while I’m writing — whether or not I meet their expectations? How will I know beforehand if those words I spilled out onto the page have angered, insulted or otherwise broke some rule of writing that will, in the end, push them away?

And yet, it was that “writing for me,” that attracted readers in the first place. I’ve always written better when I write without fear of consequence, when I wrote naked (figuratively speaking).

As a reader, I prefer honesty above all else. Even if I may disagree with what a writer says, if what they say is written with honesty and passion, I’ll never hate them for it. I may get angry, or frustrated, but that can also be a good thing. I like to be challenged, to see things from a different perspective.

I can’t be alone in that.

I don’t want to disregard my readers. Never that, but at the same time, I can’t allow my fear of what readers will think simply because I’m being honest. If I do, all that’s left is to lie.

I can’t do that either.

I’m reading “Writing 21st Century Fiction,” by Donald Maass, and the basic premise is for writers to quit holding back. What readers are looking for these days is no-holds-barred stories. Stories that make a person cringe, cry, infuriate, and want to sleep with the lights on, as well as laugh and go “Awwww.”

Because I want to write for a particular market, I’m trying to write stories that will meet their expectations. But what if my biases — and expectations — of that market are wrong, and they want to see the kind of writing I’m longing to write, but afraid to?

I go back to Jesus and his stories. He told stories that convicted and angered as well as inspired and comforted. He didn’t hold back, and if I am to live how he lived (which is what he asks of all of us), I can’t afford to. Not if I want my stories to make a real difference.

Ups And Downs

Often when I experience a series of good things, I soon find myself standing in the equivalent of a dark valley. Or at least a shadowed one.

Since it happens so often, you’d think I’d expect it, or be used to it. Try neither, but I’ve at least convinced myself to endure it – hopefully with a smidgen of grace.

The highs came from placing 2nd in the Writer’s Digest contest and the agent asking for the first three chapters of my novels during the conference.

The low I’m in now is partially due to coming down with a cold (yay), and giving one of my manuscripts to a fellow writer. She likes the story, and her edits so far are quite accurate and will only make me a better writer – which is why I asked for her critique in the first place. I’m far too close to my writing, it’s sometimes near impossible to look at it objectively. That’s why critiques are so important.

Those infuriating voices, however, those ones we’re all familiar with that try to convince us how awful we are, and that we should give up writing. They won’t leave me alone.

A few weeks ago someone asked how others fight off the uncertainties of being a writer. This is how I responded:

Realize those thoughts do not come from God. And since they don’t come from God, who do they come from?

I have those thoughts myself, all the time, and it usually happens right before a breakthrough. Time to put on the armor of God, my friend, because only with Jesus can you fight the enemy. You’re in my prayers.

I don’t always take the above advice. Sometimes I prefer to wallow in self-pity.

Speaking of self-pity . . .

But first off, a warning and apology to my gentlemen readers: I will mention a certain female function you might want to skip over.

It seemed every time we went camping or on a long trip this year, it happened during that time. Attending the writer’s conference was not an exception.

In fact, I was pissed at God that he would allow it. Why? Because it happened two weeks later than normal, to the point I wondered if I was either pregnant or officially entering menopause. Almost the entire four days, I came close to cursing God for cursing me. Especially during a time when I needed to focus on the conference. Instead, I worried about whether or not I would end up having to take an emergency bathroom break.

I mentioned the conference to fellow writers during a get-together we have once a month last weekend. We talked about how not knowing anyone else there, we end up standing on the fringes. One of the ladies in the group mentioned how since every writer likes to talk about themselves, it’s important to ask other writers about who they are and what they write instead of talking about ourselves all the time.

I realized then how much my attitude affected the way I treated other writers. I stood on the fringes along with other writers who didn’t know anyone. Since I felt gross, sad and frustrated, I didn’t want to talk about myself or my writing. I instead approached others standing by themselves and asked them questions. Unless someone asked, I avoided talking about myself.

Turns out, I ended up talking to mostly first-time attendees who I’m sure felt out of sorts – much like I do every time I attend a conference, first time attendee or not.

If I didn’t have my – issues – I kind of doubt I would have been as interested and accommodating as I was. Until I talked about it last weekend with the writers group, I didn’t consider that perhaps God intended my attitude to be subdued to help other attendees – especially first-timers – and not necessarily myself. If that’s the case, I kinda like how God chose me to do that. If nothing else, I’m not cursing him anymore, because something positive came from it.