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Nerd Confessions

The problem with being a niche writer is that often niche writers are niche people. We don’t fit into any preconceived or “normal” category. We are neither fish nor good red herring and that in itself presents a problem.  How do we find a comfortable place in both the world and our writing?

For instance, growing up I was neither city nor rural, although I lived in a small town.  I disliked the limited scope of small town life; however,  I desired the quieter pace.  I disliked the noise and confusion and hurry of the big city, but I craved the accessibility of culture and variety. I was also neither city girl nor country girl. I loved being in the country, but lacked the skills necessary for country living. Even though I considered myself country, five minutes in the presence of a country girl made it crystal clear that wasn’t me. The same applied to the city—the social life and status necessary to thrive didn’t interest or appeal to me.

My true habitat was the library. I spent a lot of time growing up at the library, browsing shelves, picking out a book, and reading it at one of the tables. I loved the smell of ink and paper, the quiet that permeated the place, the solitude of being surrounded by worlds that accepted me for who I was.  In college, I would often escape to the stacks of government documents just to find a quiet place to study or read without interruption.

Sports was another arena I just didn’t fit in. Oh, I could go to the game and scream with the rest for a touchdown, but I just didn’t get the intense need. I could take it or leave it, and most of the time I left it.

Maybe it had to do with growing up poor. We never missed a meal, but we didn’t have the “extra” life took to fit in. Events like Homecoming where the girls wore mums that dragged the ground and cost a week’s salary starkly pointed out I didn’t fit in.

In a way, I’ve never overcome that sensation of not fitting in. I teach, but I’m not “a teacher.” In my mind there is a difference and I am acutely aware of it every time I step into a classroom.  I am a Christian, but I don’t fit in with most Christians’ ideas of what constitutes a “good Christian” – in other words, I’m not caught up in the rituals and traditions. The “doing” isn’t as important as the “being.”

When it comes to writing, I wince every time someone asks me to categorize my novels. Science fiction is a broad term and trying to pin it down to subcategory isn’t easy. Is it a western on Mars? A space opera? Space fantasy? A slice of life set in a futuristic setting?  Not a fan of romance novels, I shuddered when I realized my stories sell better under the romance category than sci fi.

Then there’s the whole “what age group is it written for?” I don’t write age groups. I write stories. If a story is good, all ages will like it. I still read the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. I still read Rick Brant and Tom Corbett. I also like The Ranger’s Apprentice series. It doesn’t mean my tastes are juvenile (although a case could be made that I prefer juvie lit over adult lit); I enjoy a well-written story. I read classic literature like the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Prisoner of Zenda, but can’t stand the “classics” required in English lit classes.  (Is it just me or is the educational definition of “classical” limited to dark, occult, and perverse?)

My niche may be defined by books and quiet places, but it’s my niche and I’m comfortable with it. Just don’t ask me to define it or limit it…it’s as vast and diverse as the universe.

 

A Word to the Strugglers

I’ve been to numerous graduations and have noticed over the years the gradual sugar coating of the messages. Too much “cotton candy fluff.” I’m not “successful” enough to ever be invited to speak at a graduation, but fortunately I have a blog post.

It matters who you know.

I grew up in the “baby boomer” generation under the misassumption that you could make your way in the world on your own merits and not “who you know.” Unfortunately and fortunately, this just isn’t true. Once when in Ecuador, I needed to leave the country immediately on a family emergency. Such a move was impossible without the proper paperwork, which I did not have. Standing in line, hoping and praying I could make it through customs, I found myself standing behind the second most influential man in Ecuador. I didn’t know him, but my missionary colleague did. Problem solved. Many years later, working as the editor in a small town, I learned to network with the movers and shakers as part of my job. When it was time for my daughter to graduate, numerous local scholarships came in; partly because of her efforts, but partly because these folks knew me and knew of our financial need. Make networks. Invest yourself in your community. Find people and make friends, not just to better yourself, but to understand others.

Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race, but it does get you there. I’ve always been amazed driving down the interstate or in town at the folks who think speeding is the only way to travel. I’ve seen cars zip around me only to stop at the same traffic light or bottleneck. I’ve often wonder what their hurry is and why they didn’t just leave a few minutes earlier to avoid the rush. Studies have been done that speeding doesn’t get you there that much faster—at least not faster enough to warrant risking your life or someone else’s. We’re all on the same journey and most of us are heading to similar destinations. However slow or fast we get there really doesn’t matter. I’m the kind of traveler who enjoys taking detours. Going back and forth to see my dad in Florida, I would see an interesting place and say, “Oooh, let’s stop here for a moment.” Some of our most enjoyable “Kodak” moments came from impulsive stops like this. Life has too many wonderful places to see and things to do to be in such a hurry to get to a destination, especially since there is always someplace else we need to be later on.

If you don’t put anything in, you can’t expect to get anything out. I love the old story of the hand pumps during pioneer days. Modern generations aren’t familiar with these pumps, but I wonder if we shouldn’t reintroduce the concept into society, just to teach this principle. The old pumps didn’t automatically produce water. A sealed jug would be set inside the pump and a user was expected to pour the pint of water into the pump to activate the pump. Once the water is poured in, the pump is lubricated and produces an unlimited supply of water. The same principle applies to life, work, success, friendships, etc. The problem is we are conditioned to think only large amounts of input or risk are worthwhile. Even tiny investments, over time, produce great results. I always tell my students, “Start at 18 putting $2000 a year into mutual funds and do this for seven years. Leave the money alone. When you retire, you’ll be a millionaire.” They don’t always believe me, but the financial tables prove this out. The amount itself isn’t the key; it’s the action of investing yourself, your time, your money into whatever captures your passion.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who can determine the parameters of your success. There is always going to be somebody better than you. Don’t let society’s definition of success rob you of the enjoyment of your accomplishments. You might never win the Nobel Peace Prize, make the cover of Time magazine or be named Doctor of the Year. Only a minuscule amount of people is remembered by history and there are millions of us who are equally successful as those rich and famous who are also long forgotten by history. As long as what you accomplish matters to you, it is sufficient. The parent who raises godly children, the doctor who works in a rural hospital, the farmer who provides for his family, the teacher who sees the light dawn on one student’s face, the photographer whose work graces a local hospital, are as successful as those whose names and faces are constantly before the public. One hundred years from now you will be as well remembered as they are. So refrain from beating yourself up at your “lack” of success. Enjoy your talents and your abilities; embrace your accomplishments and take pleasure in your life.

 

Plot Twists

“Life is a book and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read.” Will Herondale

I don’t know who Will Herondale is, but he is quite right. Anyone who thinks life is boring or humdrum or not worth living simply isn’t living. When I was in high school I had my life all mapped out. Go to college, get a degree in journalism, and serve on the mission field writing news stories.

Like well-written books, a well-lived life has plot twists; although, I missed the first one in the midst of language school, cultural adaptation, and family life. I did graduate and did wind up on the mission field; however, no one seemed to want my services as a writer covering the various stories and events happening on the mission field. I wrote those stories in our letters home to family and friends. In spite of the curve in the road, I found a way to pursue my passion.

The curve turned into a plot twist where the “career girl” became a stay at home mom, and I still found time to write in the midst of bottles, diapers, meal planning and laundry. The unexpected direction filled my life with its share of troubles and unspeakable joys.

The next plot twist was equally unexpected, but more overt as we left the mission field to return stateside. We assumed we would always be on the mission field until we retired. Now we were no longer missionaries, but also right back where we started—in the same rural area serving the same small church. Ironic, but satisfying, and we had a wealth of experience and wisdom we would have missed out on.

Fast forward a few years to a time our last two children are in high school and the chance of a lifetime drops in my life. After 20 something years I finally get to use my journalism degree as editor of a small town newspaper. My ultimate dream job ended after four years as a new plot twist emerged.

Today I find myself teaching at a local high school. Back when I was in college I had no illusions about being a teacher. I wasn’t cut out for it; my personality didn’t fit in with being cooped up in a small room teaching the same thing over and over. Routine wasn’t for me. Yet I find myself strangely satisfied with this new chapter in my life even though the challenges some days leaving me feeling like I’ve gone a few rounds with a rancor. What will be in the next chapter? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Life’s plot twists are a good lesson for writers, who might mistake the humdrum and ordinary for extraneous material. It’s within those bits and pieces of ordinary life that one’s characters develop the strength and fortitude for handling the extraordinary times. Not all plot twists have to be earth shattering or life altering; they merely need to develop a new layer to one’s character and move the character forward on their journey.

Enjoy the detours.

The Scarf Sold the Sweater

I really don’t like shopping for clothes—long hours, fruitless perusal of stores which stock the exact same thing for the exact same price, clothes not the right size, not the right price, not the right colour. On the other hand, I do enjoy browsing and window-shopping, wandering around a mall or market or strolling down a shop-choked street for the excitement and enchantment of discovering something unexpected that sparks a connection.

On one such excursion I discovered a sweater and scarf combo. The sweater itself really wasn’t my style and definitely wasn’t my colour. The bright-banded scarf, however, draped artistically around the collar of the sweater caught my attention. “I have to have this sweater,” and although after the first wash the scarf never fell exactly the way it had in the shop, I still enjoy the combo, luxuriating in the sweater’s softness –something I would have missed if I hadn’t been lured by the scarf’s hues.

It’s the little details in out of the way places that call to me: a wildflower clinging tenaciously to the side of beach cliff, the bright green of leaf against a summer sky, the smooth stylistic lines of a wood carving that suggest a bird. While I can appreciate the “big picture” and I don’t get focused on crossing every ”t” and dotting every “i,” the tiny personal touches, the insignificant details are what stick in my memory long afterwards, like the mints on the pillows at a classy hotel. The mints themselves aren’t necessary; they’re even temporary. But no one who’s ever stayed at a luxury hotel forgets about the mints. It’s what often sets apart “good” from “better.”

“For some people, small beautiful events are what life is all about.” –Doctor Who

Shouting into the Wind

Sometimes writing a blog feels like shouting into the wind—tossing words out into emptiness without listeners. But I knew when I started this blog it was apt to be like that. As an introvert, I’m less likely to engage with large numbers of people, and with my busy school schedule, I have little time and energy left over on the weekend to keep up with the massive chat campaign necessary for successful blogging.

So why do it? Why blog and throw out my opinions and ideas on a vacuous sea of cyberspace?

The challenge. Writing a blog challenges me as a writer and as a person. It takes work to come up with an interesting article that doesn’t bore me or potential readers. I like the thrill of crafting words that might touch a reader or stick in someone’s mind long after they’ve forgotten who wrote it.

The interaction. Okay, I know that sounds weird since I just said I’m an introvert, but I really do like meeting people one on one. So exchanging ideas with a reader or fellow blogger is a good thing, and something I enjoy, just not a whole bunch and all at once.

The potential. This connects back to the reason my novels on Kindle are always priced at 99 cents. If even one person reads my blog (or book) and gets something out of it, even if only a mild entertainment, I’ve succeeded. I’ve forged a link in time and space with another individual. Doesn’t matter if it’s only for a moment. In the vastness of time and space I crossed paths with another human being, exchanged thoughts, and we both are better for it. Even if the reader never responds, that connection is important to me.

Shouting into the wind is primal. It’s an innate part of being human, a deep seated need to impact our world, to make our thoughts and worlds last forever, to shout them to the four corners of the world. It’s cathartic. Shouting releases tension, purges toxins, promotes healing and health.

Shouting into the wind strengthens us, frees us, remakes us, empowers us, and gives us the courage and purpose to seek new horizons and explore new countries. So even if no one is listening, even if you think no one is listening, keep writing, keep struggling, keep creating, keep shouting into the wind.

The Other Side of Fog

I love driving in the fog. It’s so still and mysterious and gives me time to expand my imagination. It transforms the ordinary into extraordinary. Whenever I get a chance to drive in the fog, I take the access roads to work. Not because it’s “safer,” but because I can drive slowly and enjoy.

Most folks don’t like driving in the fog because they’re in a hurry and hurry in “bad” weather spells danger on the road. For me, driving in fog is relaxing and I don’t want to deal with speeders, trucks or other hindrances, so I get off the freeway and take the freer mode of transportation on the access roads where life goes by at a slower pace.

Fog blurs outlines, transforms terrain, causes us see things differently. Fog has the ability to surprise us, or make us take a closer look at life. How many times have I traveled past a house or clump of trees and never noticed until fog changes the appearance? How many times have I driven the same route daily without noticing where I am along the route until fog forces me to pay attention to my surroundings? “Oh, am I already at the Tinnon house? Wait, I haven’t even reached the cemetery yet?

Fog is a reminder of the times I take life for granted, the times I overlook experiences, people, ideas because I’m caught up on the whirlwind of routine. Fog is a reminder to “be still” and know God, know myself, really see the people in my life.

On the other side of the fog, awaits life as it is meant to be lived: full of adventure, excitement, enthusiasm, and breathtaking moments.

 

 

Door Into Summer

Some may recognize the title of this blog as that of a novel by Robert Heinlein; one of my favorite novels, BTW. However, this blog isn’t about the novel or even science fiction; rather, it is about actual doors.

I love architecture and there is nothing more basic in architecture than a door. You can tell a lot about a house (and a person) by the doors leading into the building or into various rooms.

Doors have character. Doors can be inspiring. Doors can lead us into adventure, romance, success, and love. Doors can also hide, shelter, and surprise. I am reminded of the 1800s in England when families spent Christmas Eve decorating the tree and hiding it behind closed doors until Christmas morning. Doors have strength. Sometimes a plain, blue, wooden door can defend against more hordes than the latest technology.

I love surfing Pinterest for intriguing and unique doors. Some are wooden, some are carved, some are colorful, some are ruined, but all have that intangible something that proclaims “art!”

Doors can welcome and doors can also shut out. As individuals, we have “doors” in our personal lives. Sometimes those doors stand wide open, saying “come in and sit a spell.” At other times, our doors are firmly shut against the world, against hurt, against life. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to open the doors of one’s heart and invite someone in. It takes even more courage to keep the door open in the face of hurt or adversity, to let someone know, “I invited you in and in spite of everything that’s happened, you are still welcome; you are still part of my life.”

So what do we do about the doors we inadvertently slammed shut and long to open back to the light and life, but fear to? Sometimes we can’t do it with our own strength. Maybe the door is wedged because of bitterness or desperation. Maybe the door is swollen shut because of pride or anger. In those cases, it takes someone from the outside, someone who has taken the time to find the right key to our hearts, to open those doors and help us start living again.

Doors are not to be feared; rather, doors are to be embraced and utilized. They enclose heat and warmth and light, shut out the bitter cold and wild elements, provide beauty, and most of all shelter us from the harshness of the crueler elements of life.

To Missy

I lost a dear friend this week…not because of a difference of opinion, not because time and distance edged us apart, not because we simply became too busy to interact. I lost a friend to cancer and death.

While I knew she had been sick, I had no idea how serious it was. You see, she lived in another state and wasn’t the kind of person to be complaining on Facebook, the phone, or through letters about her illness.

I should have called her over Christmas. I thought about it, just got busy with life and didn’t get around to it and now it’s too late. However, this isn’t one of those blogs about regrets or shouldves, wouldves, couldves.

It’s about friendship.

We met back in college when I was a shy, insecure freshman and she a self-assured, popular sophomore who didn’t have trouble including me among her friends. Even though we’ve lived states apart, we’ve stayed in touch. When my family was on furlough from overseas, and she was driving cross-country to see family, she stopped over. It was hoot the two of us, all of our eight kids and my husband at McDonalds, looking for all the world like a good Mormon family. (All the kids were blonde haired and blue eyed.) Our firstborn sons had the same first name and were only two weeks apart. When we were in her part of the world, she opened her home to us, took us sightseeing, spent time with our children.

Some would say we weren’t good friends because we didn’t talk that much on the phone, didn’t write often, seldom chatted on Facebook, etc. But she was the kind of friend that endures. Now matter how much time filled the gaps between touching base, we picked up right where we left off, no hesitation, no awkward silences, just the warmth and blessing of good friends who last a lifetime.

This week got me thinking about what makes a good friend and how expectations and obligations of culture can diminish or extinguish the light of friendship. If friendship is based on remembering birthdays and anniversaries, letter writing and phone calling, we are limited to only a certain personality type. If friendship is based on girls’ nights out, pedicures and manicures and movies or meals, we are limited by location and locale. If friendship is based on knowing every single detail of the other’s life and habits, we miss out on surprise and spontaneity.

I choose to remember my friend, not for all the things we didn’t do together, but for the things we did, the rare times we spent in each other’s company, secure in the knowledge we loved each other and supported each other. Because those times were few and far between, they are like precious jewels, diamonds in the fabric of our friendship. The quality of friendship I desire for all my children to experience–the blessing of a sustaining friend.

I’ll miss you, but I will never forget you.

 

 

Truth Requires a Response

My daughter is working in Portland this summer and is keeping an online blog about her experiences.  http://joannanparsons.wix.com/prayersforportland One such experience dealt with a misunderstanding over who Jesus is and the reason for His death and resurrection.

It always amazes me how people will believe a misconception over the truth. Truth is not comfortable. Truth is not safe. Truth requires a response and most people find falsehood easier to swallow than truth, which demands they become responsible for their attitudes, actions, and destiny.

We take refuge in all sorts of misconceptions and fallacies, from blaming others for our shortcomings to denigrating others to make ourselves feel better; from dismissing what we don’t like about our world because it makes us uncomfortable to re-writing history to justify our actions; from name-calling and insulting what we don’t like or understand to passing laws to prohibit anyone from disagreeing with us.

Truth stands on its own. Truth doesn’t require a defence, nor does truth need my explanations or justifications. Truth spans centuries, crosses political, economic and cultural barriers. Truth endures; but most of all, truth transforms.

In the final analysis, it is the transformation we fear; which is why people will stubbornly cling to misconceptions, falsehoods, and outright lies. Transformation means we forgive ourselves, we forgive others; transformation means we step outside of ourselves and our belief system to embrace something bigger than ourselves.

Truth requires us to see ourselves for who we are, not who we want to be; and to realize our worth does not lie in ourselves, our possessions, or our accomplishments.

Truth sets us free.

Geode

“Hold this,” my father said, handing me a crushed Coke can. I took it gingerly, thinking this had to be the most ridiculous command I’d ever been given. After all, what did holding a Coke can have to do with a 15-year-old girl using the public bathroom at the lake?

It definitely made things awkward, and although I toyed with the idea of dropping the offensive item once I was inside, I knew better. Dad would have had a screaming fit. Mission accomplished, I handed the can back to Dad, who promptly threw it back on the ground where he found it.

I bit back the angry retort and sullenly went back to fishing.

I don’t remember the rest of the day, but I remember for long years afterwards thinking what a stupid thing my father had asked me to do.

Fast forward 20 plus years: I’m in the library with my small daughter who needs the public restroom. We live in a small town; going to the restroom in the library ought to be safe, but it’s not. Just the week before a child had been accosted while her mother was a few feet away in the main room. I went with her and suddenly, like a glaring searchlight, flashed back to the scene at the lake. Overwhelmed, I wanted to burst out crying. My quiet, modest father had foreseen possibilities that I couldn’t fathom at that tender age. In his own way, he had sheltered me against an evil I wasn’t even aware of.  The Coke can would have been a signal I needed help and he would have come running.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d matured enough to realize the priceless gift my father had given me that long ago summer day, he was no longer living. The saddest part of life is not realizing the value of someone else’s life, nor the impact it has. We often fail to see beyond what’s right in front of us to what is invisible, yet priceless.

Sometimes, the rough exterior of a common, ordinary, gray rock–like a life– hides a glittering treasure that often goes overlooked, unseen, unnoticed.

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