It’s Personal

The message in church today was about how to keep love in a marriage. The scripture my pastor used was Ephesians 4:28-32:

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I focused mostly on verses 29 and 31-32 (in bold), because we need more of that – and not only within the context of marriage.

This also occurred to me during the sermon:

In the realm of politics, we can’t help but take things personal. This is especially true when someone personally attacks the candidate or leader we supported and voted for. We see it as an attack upon ourselves.

This is something we all need to be aware of when we criticize our leaders. Are we criticizing their policies (good), or their dress, looks, heritage, or mannerisms (bad)? I always hated the personal attacks on Obama and his family (some of it downright horrific) even though I disagreed with his policies. It was unproductive, cruel, and never gained a single convert. The same holds true for the nasty rhetoric against Trump and his family.

A friend of mine, Jessica, wrote this on Facebook a few days ago:

I’ve been trying to be better about checking my motives before posting stuff on Facebook. Often I decide my motives are wrong so I don’t post. So, I’m starting to wonder about the purpose of Facebook beyond being able to see pictures of people’s babies. If, after thinking about it some more, cute baby pictures turn out to be Facebook’s only redeeming purpose, I will stay on here because I totally love seeing pictures of people’s babies. People with babies: keep posting pictures of your babies. They are not only adorable, they also remind me how good our God is. And I need to be reminded of that. Especially after scanning past all the political posts.

I, too, need to keep in mind my ultimate and ulterior motives, not only in my Facebook posts, but in my blog. I’ve written plenty that I decided against posting (and others I probably shouldn’t have posted), because they sounded condescending and pretentious. I realized that I wrote them in an attempt to make myself look good, to appear “better than everyone else.”

Ugh. Humility isn’t one of my strengths, and it needs to be. If not for my sake, certainly for those around me.

Also highlighted in today’s sermon: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19

I Stole This Entry

While it may sound odd, I really do hate when I finish a book or story. Sure, there’s always a sense of accomplishment, but after that, I feel a bit sad that it’s over. After spending so much quality time writing, when it’s done, I have to ask myself, “Now what?”

On my other blog on writing.com, I participated in a blogging contest where I competed with others based on a specific prompt every two to three days. Now that the contest has ended, I still want to write entries, but write about what, exactly?

I’m a thief, but writing — especially blogs — requires a bit of thievery. A thievery of ideas.

For instance, I noticed a few bloggers writing entries using the following prompt:

Write about a scent you remember from your childhood. What aroma brings back pleasant memories when you smell it?

When I think about memories tied to smells, only one comes to mind.

First I’ll start off with an excerpt from http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell3.htm… written by Sarah Dowdey:

A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people’s moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain,” smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.

The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. This is part of the reason why not everyone likes the same smells.

Makes sense, because my husband doesn’t mind the smell of skunks, whereas me, I’ll plug my nose and move away as fast as I can, thank you very much.

Now for my own pleasant memory.

There is only one smell that brings back strong memories of my mom. It’s not what you would think, either. It’s not a particular food that she made all the time, nor is it a perfume or soap.

It’s Hoppe’s No.9.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s a cleaning solvent made to clean firearms.

I didn’t realize how strongly it brought back memories of Mom until I smelled it while my husband was cleaning one of his firearms. I couldn’t help but laugh at the realization, because other than my sister, I doubt anyone remembers their mother based on the aroma of gun-cleaning solution.

Now for the why.

My mom liked her firearms, and she had a fair selection of mostly revolvers. She kept all her cleaning gear inside an old suitcase made out of 7-Up cans. My sister has it now.

Every six months or so, whether my mom had used her firearms or not, she would bring them and the suitcase out, and clean them in the living room. I remember watching her, asking what each part of the firearm was, and why she cleaned each part the way she did. She even let me help a few times, and for a long time afterward, my hands would smell of a combination of Hoppe’s No.9 and gunpowder. Good times. Great memories.

My question for you is, what smell brings back memories of your mother?

Heart vs Brain

I’m participating in a blogging contest on another website, and I liked this particular prompt and my response enough to share here:

Prompt:

Write about your greatest struggle so far writing or otherwise. You can choose whichever form you want: short story, poem, creative nonfiction, etc.

When I first saw the question, my brain went into overload. Like every other human, my list of struggles is so long, to pick one is near impossible. It seems we are born, live, and die with struggle.

There’s a quote from the movie “The Matrix.” I don’t have it exact but to paraphrase one of the “agents” as he talked to Neo: “We tried creating the perfect world for you. No struggles, death or disease, but you kept waking up, because you could never believe in a perfect world. We lost entire crops.”

I also think that since we live almost daily with struggles, we can’t imagine what Heaven will be like.

The one that I choose for this particular entry isn’t my greatest struggle, but it’s certainly one of my more recent ones.

Call it a slight case of mid-life crisis.

My hair is graying, certain parts aren’t — shall we say — as perky as they once were. I have arthritic knees and now elbows. Last year I graduated to bifocals. I’m finding myself saying “What?” more often than I used to, and I can’t remember anything unless I write it down or tell my phone to beep me a reminder of an appointment or meeting.

Every day I gain a greater sense of my inevitable mortality.

I see younger folks with better health, figure and energy than I do, and I can’t help but mourn the loss of my youth. I look in the mirror and think, “Yuck. I’m old, fat and saggy. How ugly and worthless am I?”

Like it or not, I determine some of my self worth based on how I look. I would love to lose a few (or 40) pounds, but it gets more difficult the older I get. My brain tells me that looks don’t matter. My son still adores me and smiles whenever he sees me. My husband still thinks, and calls me beautiful. They don’t care that I’m all squishy. Why do I refuse to see me through their eyes?

During church today, my pastor mentioned a recent scientific journal where scientists have discovered that so-called negativity such as anger, frustration cling to our neurons like Velcro. Positive emotions and thoughts, on the other hand, slide off our neurons like Teflon. If true, my brain is no different from anyone else’s. I often see the positive in most every circumstance, but it also takes a lot of mental rigor to get me to that point. Afterward, I need a nap.

In other words, we have to work on optimism, and we have to work on embracing the fact that we are flawed creatures, but nonetheless loveable and beautiful in spite of — or even sometimes because of — those flaws.

So I’m getting old. So no young stud is going to turn his head and think, “Whoa. She’s hot.” That same young stud, however, may still smile and take down a grocery item from a shelf because I can’t reach it. He will treat me kindly and with respect because I am his elder (they still do that, believe it or not. I’ve seen and experienced it).

My brain is convinced that even though there may be fewer days behind me than before, I still have today, and I must not squander it. I am still worthy of being loved no matter what my age or how much loose skin waddles underneath my arms.

Convincing my heart, that’s the real struggle.

Work Is A Four Letter Word

I’ve been wanting to write an entry for a week now, but every subject that pops into my head soon fizzles as boring and worthless.

Even now I’m considering holding the delete button down until every word I’ve written so far disappears.

How often do you go through your previous accomplishments and think, “Wow. That’s some good stuff?”

Part of me winces at the thought, because it smacks of pride, and doesn’t “Pride go before the fall?”

Regardless, I think it, and worse, I believe it. I have written some good stuff. I just wish I could do it all the time.

If I dig a bit deeper, it’s not only that. I don’t want to have to work hard to accomplish it. Some people seem to write the good stuff without much effort. They’re inspired by little things they see every day, whereas I have to spend days – if not weeks – searching for even a smidgeon of an idea – many of which never take root.

I know I’m being overly harsh on myself. I am who I am; my gifts, desires and talents are unique to me, and I shouldn’t compare myself to others. No. That’s not quite true either. I need to look at what other people accomplish, not with envy or jealousy, but as a way to motivate me to do better. I need to work hard, so when I look back I can say with complete honesty, “I did good.”

And I do. For the most part. Just not as often as I think I should.

Then again, there’s nothing wrong with working hard to achieve a goal. Working hard is what makes us appreciate our accomplishments more. If it were too easy, then it’s not a real accomplishment.

To use an example, let’s say I run around a track in five minutes, but I cross the finish line at the same time as someone wearing prosthetic legs. Which one of us accomplished more?

For me at least, I shouldn’t write because it’s easy. I do it because it’s hard. Maybe not all the time, but often enough. That way, when I do succeed, I can be proud of myself. While pride may make us stumble, it can also motivate us to continue to strive for success. Like everything else in life, it’s a matter of finding balance – and being honest.

“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.”

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

It ain’t bragging if it’s true.

~ Will Rogers

What I Miss — And Don’t Miss — About Facebook

November 30, 2015 was my official last day of spending time on Facebook.

After over two months of freedom from that site, I found there are both advantages and disadvantages to doing so.

First the disadvantages (because I want to end this entry on a positive note):

  • Daily happenings. I have little to no idea what my friends and family who don’t live nearby are up to. I’m way out of the loop, and feel a bit left out when people talk about the latest happening, or viral meme or video on Facebook.
  • No more writing ideas. At least as far as non-fiction is concerned. Facebook provided a lot of fodder for me to comment on, and inspired many a blog entry. It’s part of the reason I’ve posted fewer entries here since then. But only partly. The other reason is a big positive that outweighs this negative.
  • People miss me. More than one person has expressed how much they miss my updates — some of whom I see fairly often. I guess they like my stuff.

 

The advantages:

  • Writing and more writing. While I’m empty of ideas for inspirational blog entries, I have completed two novels, and am now working on completing a third. Since December 1, I have written over 110,000 words.
  • Reading. I have more books in the last two-and-a-half months than I’ve read the previous year, which further inspires me to keep writing. Which reminds me. I need to start posting reviews of said books . . .
  • No more — at least way less — anger and frustration with the constant flow of memes and angry proselytizing with regard to politics and religion.
  • No more pissing people off with my own opinionated opinions with regard to politics and religion.

 

At the end of the day, while I miss out on a lot, what I’ve gained is far more important. I may actually get a book published out of it. That’s the hope anyway.

Once I finish this third novel, I will have time to write and send query letters to agents (I’m not looking forward to it, but it’s got to be done. Maybe that’ll be the subject of my next entry . . .).

Since this blog is supposed to be about my writing journey, I will keep you apprised.

Risky Business

Since I decided to avoid Facebook for a year, a few people have warned me that I will lose friends due to lack of activity, and potential publishers won’t want to publish my novels, because I’ll have a reduced online presence.

All valid concerns.

If I used Facebook to market my books, absolutely taking a break is a bad idea. Since I have no books to market, it’s really not an issue. All my friends are literally that (and family), so short of death, I doubt I’ll lose any of them. The nice thing is, I’ve had more positive feedback than negative when I posted my intention. If it were mostly negative, then I’d rethink my decision.

As for an online presence to potential publishers, sure taking a year hiatus is a risk. Facebook isn’t the end-all-be-all of social media, however. There are a slew of others such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Even if it were, there comes a time for a person to prioritize, and in doing so, sacrifices need to be made. To keep myself focused on my spiritual journey as well as my writing, Facebook is one such sacrifice. Will I regret it in the end? Maybe, but I doubt it. I need to look at life and my actions in terms of eternity, not simply the here and now — or a mere one year in the future.

Lately I’ve tried to model my own life after Jesus’. He, too, had to take a break now and again to renew his strength and spirit. Maybe not for a year at a time, but his ministry didn’t start until he was 30 years old. Before that, I’m sure he spent many of his adult years learning and growing so he could have the best ministry possible.

Writing is my ministry, and I feel that my ministry has suffered because I’m too busy delving into the daily details and distractions of life. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back and taking stock once in a while. I’ll still be writing. I’ll still be posting entries here and my other blog on my website. I’ll be sharing those entries on Twitter and LinkedIn. I may even set up a Pinterest account.

I’m not disappearing, I’m merely closing one window in a room full of them.

A Convicted Soul

With only one month left to 2015, I can’t help but mull over the previous eleven. Was it a good year? What have I done right? What have I done wrong, and how can I make 2016 better?

A few weeks back, people shared how many hours they spent on Facebook in the past year. I avoided the calculation myself, knowing it was embarrassingly high.

And for what? Is my life better for it, or have I spent more time frustrated and angry rather than joyous?

I fear the former.

The worst part is not how I felt while there, but how I made others feel. Have I brought more laughter and joy, or anger and frustration?

I fear the latter.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. If I want or need to make a change, now is better than later. A date shouldn’t determine when I do something good or right.

A few days ago, I engaged in a discussion on a Facebook group with one person, and after a few exchanges another person stepped in and said, “I think you’re talking past each other.”

I stopped and realized he was right. I responded, “That’s what happens when people are more interested in talking and not listening — of which I am as guilty of as anyone.”

All my anger and frustration is the fault of one person. Me. As I considered this, a particular scripture popped into my head:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

(Philippians 4:8)

Since I didn’t know the exact wording of the verse above, I performed a word search. In doing so, I discovered this one:

Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior.

This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus.

(2 Timothy 2:14-17)

I’ve been so busy arguing over minutia, I’ve lost sight of the big picture, and my role in the world. My anger and frustration, and making little to no headway in my arguments, should have made me realize much sooner the error of my ways. I am not here to move people to my side of the political or ideological aisle. The world is what it is, and politics is a force in and of itself that no bloviating by me will alter its course. I cannot save this world anymore than an ant can dig an ocean. My job is to explain the word of truth as well as live it. Not argue about it.

It seems that’s all social media does: foster arguments. Starting today, I will no longer participate, especially where politics and current events are concerned (which will only worsen next year due to elections). Imagine the hours I will gain. I will actually have time to catch up on my reading, and my writing. Heck, I may even find motivation to publish something.

Back to the Beginning

Ten years ago I started a membership at website dedicated to writing where I could post my writings to share for review and to read other people’s works.

It took nearly six months to post anything, afraid that I would be kicked off the site for writing unprecedented drivel. Not long after I created a blog. I didn’t expect any readers, and that was okay. Sometimes writing without an audience allows a person to write more freely, to express thoughts and opinions without worrying about what people will think about it.

It’s like singing in the shower; it doesn’t matter if I can sing well or not. I can sing my heart out for the pure love of it, not to impress or seek validation.

Since so many have been reading my posts on Facebook and this blog, I discovered I’m not singing alone in the shower anymore. People can see and hear how off-key and out of sync I am. I find myself whispering the music and the words instead, afraid that if I sing loud enough, everyone will run away screaming, blood pouring out of their ears.

The joy of singing in the shower is gone.

Therefore, as far as my blog goes, it’s time to go back to the beginning; to once again write for a non-existent — or at least very small — audience so I can be all of me without fear or worry that I might scare people away for being out-of-key-and-out-of-sync-me.

That’s not to say I’m cutting everyone out. I know some of you still want to read what I write, and if you are one of those, let me know. I will happily send you a link and email you updates when I add a new entry. PM on Facebook or email (andra @ almarquardt.com) your email your address so you don’t have to post it for all to see.

One caveat. You can read all my entries, but won’t be able to leave comments unless you’re also a member. It won’t cost anything to sign up, however, because the site does offer free memberships along with paid ones.

I’m sure I will add more entries here and on Facebook eventually. I just need time to build up my courage once again to sing in the shower as loud as I want regardless of how many people can hear.

Thus Ends The Torture

Like the new look? You have Jeff Gerke to thank for it.

Recently I asked his opinion on the previous entry, and he suggested I change the theme to something easier on the eyes.

I had been thinking about it for a while, but was too lazy to take the five minutes to do so.

Sometimes it takes someone else to point something out before I actually do something. Hmm. That’s a lot of “some” in a single sentence. I’d reword it, but my laziness is kicking in again.

I got nothing else to add, so I’ll instead include one of my (current) favorite pictures. Hopefully it’s also less torturous on the eyes than my previous blog theme. I took this along the Missouri River during a photo session with fellow North Dakota photographer Marshall Lipp (you should check out his photography. It’s fabulous).

Enjoy!

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Old Lady Kayaking

IMG_0893Last Thursday I attended a Bloggers and Writers Workshop at Fort Lincoln State Park sponsored by North Dakota Department of Commerce.

The first part of the day consisted of travel writer and filmmaker Joe Baur who gave the attendees advice such as conquering fear of new places and new people. He shared some of his own fears such as even leaving his hometown to visit larger cities. Other sage advice he gave is since the internet is so visual, if we want to gain more readership, we must add visual elements such as photos and videos.

This in particular grabbed my attention, because I love taking pictures. I’ve also wondered how I could work it into my writing, or even if I should. It takes a bit of extra time to add visual elements to a blog post, but if it means gaining more readers, certainly the extra five to ten minutes adding the photos would be worth it.

He also mentioned that we must set a schedule for our releases (something I’ve slacked on of late). If we’re not consistent in our writing, we very quickly lose our readers.

Jenna Cederberg, Editor of Montana Magazine spoke next. Her focus was on knowing what you’re submitting your writing to. Know the magazine or publisher, because an editor will know right away whether or not you read their publications. She also stressed the importance of relationships. Successful publishing is largely due to good relationships between author and editor. Once you establish good ones, hold on to them.

After we broke for lunch, we had round-table discussions with Joe, Jenna, and Kim Schmidt, the public relations manager of the ND Department of Commerce where we could ask more in-depth questions. Kim gave us all advice on how to use social media to its fullest. Her focus was on the relationship we can build with them. They need North Dakota writers to help promote the wonders of our state that the rest of the nation doesn’t see. The best part is, when we promote them, they’ll link and add our writings to their publications and social media. It’s a win-win. She also said (and I’ve seen it, too) looking at North Dakota nationally, we’re the windy, cold, vast prairie with nothing to offer but agriculture, rising crime and oil.

When we are so, so much more than that.

But that’s another entry – or twelve.

Afterward, we had the choice to either tour the Custer House, Barracks and Indian Village, or go on a bike ride, hiking and kayaking. I chose the latter, because I’ve toured the Custer House before.

They were kind enough to provide the bikes, which, surprisingly enough, I only wobbled a few minutes before my muscles remembered that bike-riding thing. I guess it’s really true you never forget.

We rode down to where the Heart River converges with the Missouri. Waiting for us was a father and son team from Missouri River Kayak Rentals with enough kayaks for the small group. I told Kim I was staying on shore, and that I would take pictures. She said, “You really should go.”

I remembered Joe saying that we need to step out of our comfort zone. I said okay. After all the instructions (and there weren’t many), we donned our life jackets (also provided) and proceeded down to the water’s edge. I managed to step into the kayak without capsizing the small craft, which made me a bit more confident. The father of the team pushed me off and I started to row.

Kayaking never interested me. I wasn’t adverse to it, per se, but it also didn’t look all that fun. Mostly it looked like a lot of work.IMG_20150604_143510856_edited-1

And these old bones aren’t used to work. Sitting at a computer and typing all day doesn’t exactly keep the muscles in prime form. At this point, I was glad my body didn’t rebel riding a bike down to the river’s edge (even though it was mostly flat with a slight downgrade).

As I paddled around in a few circles to see how stable the kayak was, and how sharply I could turn, I realized just how easy it was. After ten minutes in the calm water, and finding a rhythm in paddling, I was surprised how relaxing it was.

With the cloudy skies, little wind and mild temperature (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), we couldn’t have asked for a better day for kayaking. I even managed to keep up with everyone who had obviously kayaked more than me (which wasn’t saying much since this was my first time).

After about an hour paddling up and down the Heart River, I understood the allure of it. How can something that took physical effort (although well within reason) could be so relaxing? Kayaking manages, and is something I hope to do again. Having traipsed many times on the river in a speed boat, fishing boat and pontoon, floating on a kayak makes a person feel closer and almost a part of the river itself. I highly recommend it.

Even (or especially) if you’re an old lady like me.