Monday, November 23, 2015

"The Right Teacher at the Right Time": guest post at Tim Fall's blog

Today I have a guest post at Tim Fall's blog, Just One Train Wreck After Another.  The motto Tim has chosen for his blog is "Honouring God, Encouraging People," and it fits. (Actually, he spells it "Honoring." I don't know what that's all about; you'll have to ask him.) I visit Tim's blog regularly because he always has an interesting, inspiring, and often funny angle on his subject matter -- and because his comments section is one of the best!  So I'm really happy to be his guest today.

Here's the start of my post: 

When I graduated from university in 1985 with a B.A. in English, I was 21 years old. I had no real career plan, but I did get a part-time job as a research assistant for one of my former English professors. This job was perfect for me ...



Thursday, November 19, 2015

"It's raining tacos" -- a Google poem

 Writing poetry can be hard work.

Even writing poetry that doesn't rhyme can be hard work.

But it doesn't have to be.

Why go to all the effort of coming up with just the right words and images for a poem, when the Internet can do it for you?

Today I wrote a poem using Google Instant -- where you start typing in the search box and Google tries to predict what you're searching for by giving several options in the dropdown.  

I looked out at the falling rain and started typing the words "It is raining" -- then I realized I could compose an entire poem by entering 2 or 3 words and letting Google finish each line for me.  I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I enjoyed writing Googling it.

It is raining tacos;

the sun has got his hat on.

As I look out over this magnificent vista,

I just feel like dancing.

The trees are about to show us

the sky is falling.

Maybe today is not my day.

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

I think I should buy a boat,

but I don't know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs --

so I guess the driveway will be the end of the road.

Thank you for all you do.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

November "Quick Lit"

Again today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for "Quick Lit," where we share what we've been reading.   

I notice that for some reason I've been reading much more nonfiction than fiction in the past few months.  Here are the two latest books I've read:

10% Happier:  How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works -- A True Story by Dan Harris.  The title of this book pretty much says it all, so I hardly need to describe it.  Harris is a news anchor and reporter who was relying on drugs and denial to cope with stress, until an on-air panic attack showed him he needed to make some significant changes.  He was initially skeptical about meditation but is now a staunch advocate of its physical and emotional benefits.  Interesting and entertaining book chronicling his personal journey.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey.  I've been hearing about this book for a couple of years now and have finally read it. It isn't a militant diatribe about the evils of patriarchy, nor is it a dry treatise on how to correctly translate every Bible verse that mentions women. Rather, it's a call to women to bravely follow the Jesus who knows and loves them, and a call to Christians to participate in God's "redemptive movement" by which He is moving His people forward toward justice and freedom. In her warm, intimate style, Bessey tells her own faith story and those of other women she's encountered in North America and elsewhere. And with the intensity of a prophet, she urges the church to drop the pointless debates about gender roles and instead focus on the work of God's Kingdom. Here is one of my favourite passages:

"One needn't identify as a feminist to participate in the redemptive movement of God for women in the world.  The gospel is more than enough. Of course it is! But as long as I know how important maternal health is to Haiti's future, and as long as I know that women are being abused and raped, as long as I know girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandonment, and abuse, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are attacked with acid for the crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can also call me a feminist."

This book was a breath of fresh air -- and I look forward to reading Bessey's just-released second book, Out of Sorts.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

I used to think I liked ice-dancing better than pairs figure skating ... but I don't.

Today I'm linking up with Sarah Bessey for a synchroblog celebrating the release of her new book Out of Sorts. The theme she chose for this linkup was "I used to think __ but now I think __." 


I've never figure skated (I can't even skate backwards), but I've always loved watching figure skating.  My mom loved it, too.  When I lived at home we used to enjoy watching the World Championships or Olympics together and commenting on our favourite skaters.

In figure skating competition there are single men's and single women's events, as well as two doubles events. One of the doubles events is ice-dancing, in which the skaters perform intricate dance steps; the other is pairs, in which the man throws and lifts the woman and they do many simultaneous side-by-side moves.

My mom always said she liked ice-dancing better than pairs, and I said I did, too.

But one day I realized I don't.  I don't like ice-dancing better; I like pairs better.

I've always had trouble making up my own mind about things.  Maybe it has something to do with being a Type Six on the Enneagram:  Sixes are hesitant to trust their own thinking and often absorb others' opinions rather than forming their own.  As the article I've linked here puts it, Sixes "have the most trouble contacting their own inner guidance. As a result, they do not have confidence in their own minds and judgments."

I don't know if other people would see me that way, but I definitely see myself that way -- and I think that's what was happening with the figure-skating thing. It wasn't that my mom said "You have to like what I like"; she had strong opinions, but she didn't insist that I share them.  The problem was in me: I tended not to trust my own judgment, so I assumed I was probably wrong and that the other person, who was speaking out so confidently, was right.

But then one day (and it took at least 20 years for this to happen) I suddenly thought, "Wait a minute -- no. Pairs skating is thrilling! I love watching the female skater fly through the air and land smoothly on one skate, or seeing the two skaters do a jump together, spinning and landing in perfect sync. That's the one I like better."

It was a small thing, but significant. There was no Right or Wrong in a larger sense -- both kinds of figure skating are good, and it really doesn't matter which you prefer -- but there was a right or wrong for me. And I realized it was OK for me not to like what someone else liked; I could choose what I liked.

I'm a lot better than I used to be at stating my personal preference, especially in situations where the stakes are low. I don't waffle indecisively at restaurants, waiting to hear what others are ordering before making up my own mind.  (Mmmm ... waffles ...)

But I still struggle with distrusting my own inner voice and wisdom. In moments of uncertainty or conflict I still find myself holding back, letting others who are more decisive and articulate take over, and assuming that I'm probably wrong or that I must have misjudged the situation. A while back I was talking to my pastor about a problem; after asking many helpful questions, he said, "You know, you may just need to recognize the possibility that you did the right thing." It's a little ironic, I suppose, that I needed someone else to remind me to trust my own judgment.

I don't watch figure skating that often anymore, and I'll never again watch it with my mom, but I still think of it as a symbol of freedom Not just the freedom skaters must feel as they soar through the air or skim across the ice, but the freedom to think for myself.  To form my own opinions and, if the opportunity is right, express them.  To trust -- humbly, yet confidently -- in my own inner guidance. 


Friday, October 23, 2015

Writing about empty pockets and park benches

As I've mentioned before, my writers' group usually takes time at each of our biweekly meetings to do a freewriting exercise for ten minutes, using a simple prompt for inspiration.  (I've posted some of the results of these exercises before: here, here, and here.)

I find that rather than using these prompts to reflect on my own life -- though I do that sometimes -- I more often use them to explore fiction ideas.  Here are a couple of recent examples (unedited) of what I came up with. Hope you enjoy them!

For this piece, the prompt was "empty pockets."

Every day when dad got home from work, he would empty his pockets. He put his keys, his wallet, and any loose change on the table near the front door. Sometimes I would go and count his change and maybe he would give me a dime or even a quarter to put in my piggy bank.

One day he came home and put his keys and wallet and coins on the table, and also a card with some little holes in it.

"What's this for, Dad?" I picked up the card and held it up to my face so I could see his shirt through the tiny holes.

"That's my time card," he said.

"Why did you bring your time card home?" It was my mom, who was standing in the hallway.

"Because I don't need it anymore," Dad said. "I won't be going back. They let a bunch of men go today, and I'm one of them."

My mom put both hands up to her mouth. I knew something was wrong but I didn't understand my dad's words. "What's let go, Dad? Who let you go where?"

My dad never hid the truth. I knew that when I was six years old and I still do. "I don't have a job anymore, Lucy. I'm going to need to get a new job so I can make money to pay for food and clothes for us. Where's the newspaper, Margery? I need to start looking at the help wanted ads."

My parents went into the kitchen and I could hear the newspaper rattling and my parents' voices -- my dad's quiet and calm, my mom's high-pitched and quick. I carried the time card around all that evening, amazed at how looking through it changed everything I looked at.


For this piece, the prompt was "something left on a park bench."

Dave left the office and walked down the 11 flights of stairs to ground level and outside. Like he did every day, he walked a block to the park and quickly looked to see if his favourite bench -- the one near the maple tree -- was empty. Good, it was. It was always stressful when he saw "his" bench occupied and had to decide which other bench to sit on.

But when he reached it, he saw that it wasn't empty. A Nexus 5 android phone with a glittery purple case was lying there.

Dave looked around. Only a girl would use a phone like that, and he didn't see any girl in the park: just an old lady feeding the squirrels some bread. She shouldn't do that, Dave thought irritably. Making wild creatures dependent on the generosity of humans disrupted the cycle of nature.

Dave sat down and picked up the phone. He touched the screen and the name Angie popped up.

Either "Angie" was one of those stupid airhead girls who didn't secure their phones and used 123456 as their password, OR an emergency or traumatic event had caused her to flee, dropping her phone.


Suddenly it rang. The ringtone was the theme from "Angry Birds." A more annoyingly catchy ditty had never been composed, thought Dave.

He pressed the phone icon and lifted the phone to his ear. "Hello, this isn't Angie," he said.

"Hello Angie, is that you?" said a girl's voice.

Apparently Angie was an airhead, and so were those with whom she communicated, thought Dave.