Getting Lost in my World

My GPS is broken, I’ve lost my map and I can’t navigate by the stars. I wish navigating life were as simple as opening the atlas, charting a course and then following it through to the end of my days. I knew at one time where I was going and what I needed to do to get there but lately I’ve become lost in a fog. There are no landmarks, no compass and I don’t even want to look for them.

Six years ago I obtained the job of my dreams and now my dream has changed. I’m searching for a new dream but I’m scared. I’ve built a nice little box for myself in this one job and I’m afraid that if I change I won’t earn as much money, that I won’t have the prestige I think I have and that my family will suffer for my decision. Yet I can’t help thinking, what will I gain? Will peace of mind make up for all that I perceive I will lose? What should I do?


Writing and the Art of Excuses: Too Much Information

Every week I send out an email to all of my east coast team co-workers, managers, engineers and sales persons giving a glimpse of my schedule for the week. Recently when I went to write this message I toyed with the idea of giving a detailed account of how my week was running thus far and what I expected to happen. I’m not sure how well it would have been received by management so I didn’t include all of the details. In fact most weeks are given only the briefest description and that in terms and phrases that my co-workers can interpret but most anyone outside of our industry wouldn’t be able to understand.  I find that for books and authors that I try to read the same problem will crop up. For one author I may get the detailed description of a gun battle down the sound of a single shell hitting the concrete or a description of a gun that in painstaking detail will be described. My least favorite of these types of information overload have to do with the descriptions some authors use of physical encounters between their male and female characters. You get the idea. On the reverse side there are times when I feel that the main character is moving through the scene too rapidly; they sprint across streets, towns or even states with only a minimum of description. How did they get the gun on the plane from Denver to Detroit? Why are they suddenly driving a Dodge Shadow when they didn’t even know anyone in Detroit but were suddenly “loaned” a car? I have distinct reactions to both of these situations: in the first I usually give the book another chapter or two and see if I can get past all of the detail and keep myself in the story. In the second case, I purse my lips and take a drink of water to get the bad taste of the story out of my mouth and then get rid of that book just as fast as I can.

Usually the question of how much information to include will become a stumbling block on the editing road but it can also stop you dead while you compose. For example, if your main character works at a take-out pizza joint, do you really want to walk through the details of how the murderer decided to order mushrooms on his pizza rather than go with just the standard pepperoni? Probably not but you do want to know there were mushrooms if that turns out to be the murder weapon or fungus as it were. I attended a talk recently that addressed this topic. The speaker said that in your first draft you should add as much detail as you like. Don’t worry, if it is too much as you write, just get the words written. In your second draft you can go back and remove all of the detail. Now read your draft and see what is missing. Take only the details from your first draft that are absolutely necessary to move the story along.  In the example above, maybe the murderer asks if there is a specific type of mushroom available or if the mushrooms can be put only on half of the pizza. Finding out later in the story that the murder victim was severely allergic to that specific mushroom will give your reader an “aha” moment that draws them to continue the story. In the example, giving away too much information about the mushrooms early in the story can have the opposite effect to what you want to achieve; it can spark in some readers the knowledge of who the murderer was and how he accomplished his task. If they figure this out in the first five chapters, then what will draw them on to reading the rest of the story? Just like my colleagues don’t care to read all of the trials I go through when I have to get from Minneapolis to Boston, I don’t want my reader to have to wade through the anxiety my character feels about lying to the girl he loves. The details can come out at some point and often they make for interesting character conversations or for my travelling colleagues and me, we trade stories of our airport adventures when next we meet face to face. There is a time and a place for detailed information, as an author you have to choose where and when to use them.

Gifts come from Grace

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (Romans 12:6) I am facing a personal identity crisis: while I understand that God has gifted us with talents and skills across many dimensions, I am at a loss to believe I have any skills that will allow me to move out of my present job. Furthermore, it’s not as if I was unhappy with my present job, I’m actually very fulfilled by it. But in order to do my job I have to travel >70% of the time and I am no longer stimulated by the idea of the continuous travel. To add topping to the sundae, I am the primary breadwinner in my house and my salary is substantial, so walking away feels to be even more of a burden. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  But it is not just my disbelief in my skills but it is also a lack of faith in God that seems to be holding me back. I can’t just let things go and know that the Lord’s plans for me are good and right. I’m holding on very tightly to trusting only in myself and in what I can plan and execute for the future. This is tearing me up inside. Mentally and emotionally I know that I must surrender to God’s will but spiritually I can’t seem to take the step.

The Cruelty of Children

There is a lovely poem by Dorothy Law Nolte entitled “Children Learn What They Live”. You have probably read it someplace before but it is one of my favorites although I struggle I live by its wisdom.

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.

If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.

If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.

If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.

If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.

If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.

If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.

If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.

If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.

If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.

If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.

If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.

If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.

If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.

With what is your child living?

Sometimes I wonder what our children today are really living with. One research paper I read some time ago demonstrated that children between the ages of 2-4 years old can be incredibly altruistic. They want to help and will help if they feel that help is sincerely needed. If they suspected that someone dropped a spoon by accident they would pick it up and return it. If they were tested and suspected that a toy or a spoon was dropped on purpose, they wouldn’t pick it up. I wonder at what age we really lose that desire to help others. At what point do we become selfish and demanding looking out only for ourselves? What are children today living with? I picked up my daughter from school yesterday and she was in tears. She had found a small eraser on the floor and was trying to get it back to the person to which it belonged. Since my children have learned the art of please and thank you and since they offer this courtesy more often than not, when my daughter was confronted with the other girl demanding the return of her property and the accusation that my daughter stole the item, she was quite upset. My daughter wanted a simple “please give me my eraser” and she would have given it back. Unfortunately this incident grew in volume and the other child’s older brother became involved and other children and now I am faced with a child who is extremely upset and had to be taken from the room by a teacher and “talked to”.

The cruelty of children is a story my daughter knows all too well. She was teased and bullied mercilessly at her old school to the point where she begged to be homeschooled. I want to believe this will be a onetime incident and I intend to keep my worries to myself, but part of me is waiting for the next incident and then the next. I have hope though. The school she attends now has a strict anti-bullying education program and policy. This won’t eliminate small incidents like this one, but it may prevent what my daughter went through at her previous school.

Writing and the Art of Excuses: Finding Inspiration

It is very easy as a new writer to get discouraged in the quest. Finding excuses for not writing is as easy as tripping over a loose stone. We begin with such great aspirations, a terrific story idea, a character that blooms fully formed in our imaginations or a lesson that we dearly want to impart and we end up stuck in corners or staring at a blank page waiting for just the right words. Sometimes we even complete the writing of our story and without a second thought we want to plunge right into writing another one. But the second or even the third or fourth story can seem even more daunting a challenge.  I have found that even though I have, what I consider, a great idea for a story that it can still only appear in fits and starts when I sit down to put it onto the page. Finding inspiration is a never ending struggle. I find it’s even worse when I take the time to read the first page reviews of a book from one of my favorite authors. I tend toward the adventure or science thriller; the kind of book that obligates reviewers to throw out such quotes as “A thrill a minute…”, or “the next great action writer…” or “you won’t be able to put it down…”. These are the kinds of books that take you from one death defying adventure to the next and leaves you wondering how on earth the hero can get thrown to the ground, dropped out of a parachute, fall down a cliff or wrestle successfully with an alligator without dropping from every torn muscle, concussion or twisted ankle. I don’t understand where the inspiration for these non-stop, would put you in the hospital with a mortal wound action writers come up with these ideas. Do they keep a notepad with little ideas written on every other line? Do they watch MacGyver and recycle plot after plot after plot? Or perhaps they look at the world and ask “how would I use that image in my story?”

I think they use any or all of the above. I think the really great thriller writers, or science fiction, or historical fiction or any genre for that matter, take little bits of the everyday and make them into a complete story world. I try to do this with some of the interesting or funny events that I witness during my travels. For instance this morning I walked out of my hotel room just in time to spot three men in green pants and shirts wearing gas masks walk into a hotel room a couple of floors below mine. I’m staying in one of those hotels with a large center atrium where the rooms all ring the open space and you can see down to the lower floors from above. Now it was probably just something as simple as pest control and most likely a routine part of the hotel maintenance but think of all the possibilities of where an active imagination could take this. I thought of two just in the time it took to witness the event. Taking inspiration in the everyday, whether it comes while driving a lonely stretch of road, yes I have an idea for that one too, or in the actions of someone you encounter in your daily commute, these can form the basis of a great story and take away one more excuse for why you aren’t writing.

The Waiting Time

I feel like my professional world is collapsing. I work on a team of professionals and we have been close as friends and colleagues for a number of years but now that team is being whittled down one member at a time as they move to take other jobs in the company. I can’t tell how I feel about all of this change. On one side I feel like the veteran who has played the game longer and harder and stuck it out even when things are tough. Another part of me wonders if I’m being left behind and wondering if I should be worried that I’m not even going to have a job. There is so much unknown when a team is whittled down little by little. I cling to the faith that I am in the right place for this time in my life and that God will tell me when it’s time to move forward to new challenges. It’s just the waiting time that I abhor. Knowing that, I think it’s time I went to the Bible to find a verse to remind myself why waiting on the Lord is the best I can do.

Part2-Finding the Sabbath: Recognizing the need for Sabbath?

The company I work for instituted an unpopular policy last year. To be honest it was announced last year and would take effect at the beginning of this year. The Policy was to “encourage” (their word not mine) employees to take vacation time off and was to accomplish this by not allowing the carrying over of vacation time from one year to the next. Everyone would have to take all of their accrued vacation time each calendar year. Leaving aside all of the implementation and politics that surrounded the final decision, it was promoted as a way of easing the burdens of tension and stress on workers by getting them away from work. Unfortunately it has had the opposite effect on myself and many of my colleagues: it has increased our stress because we know that there is no one to take our place in the customer support line if we are out of the office or otherwise unavailable. On paper the policy makes sense in practice it is proving to be much more difficult.

In a way, God has given all of his children an executive direction for vacation policy. The difference is that he wants us to take time off from our struggles and spend time with Him. In the Bible the writer’s record that God commanded His people to take a day of rest; a Holy Sabbath dedicated to the Lord. It was to be a day away from our chores and work, away from cooking and worry. God recognized that mankind would toil and work day after day after day until we turned away from Him and began to rely on ourselves. The Sabbath was to be a day of renewal when we turned to God not only to say thank you for His watchcare and blessings but also to renew our spirits. Without the Sabbath we would become no better than beasts. We would not recognize the need for rest and therefore we would not make it a priority. As I continue to contemplate and pray about creating a home that is Sabbath friendly, I have to be open and honest to recognize why this kind of rest is important. It is a spiritual rest as much as a physical rest. It won’t be enough to just step away from the housecleaning or business emails, I have to fill that time with God centered activities to find the true rest.