Posted in Life

On Diversity and Culture

Diversity. It’s such a celebrated word in our culture. I’ve been thinking about that lately. What does it mean to be diverse? What does it mean to have a culture of diversity?

It seems the term is an oxymoron. The word “culture,” implies that we have an agreed set of beliefs, values and ideals that  hold us all together. Diversity, means we have radically different lifestyles and values coexisting. So, how can you have a culture of diversity?

It would seem, there is nothing to unite us. Now, as a country, we are debating on what even defines that basic intrinsic part of us-gender and what does it mean.

So, all of this culture war we are fighting–seems bent on challenging every notion that we  share. Every value. Every ideology. So, then, according to a “culture of diversity, “what is our culture?

It seems that diversity is in fact, an anti-culture. Once diversity has had its way with us, will there be any culture left? What is there to unite us? What is the common thread that makes us want to die for our country, our way of life? Once diversity has had its way with us, what will make our hearts swell as we sing the national anthem? What will be left of us?

Posted in Life

Pay Attention to Your Tears

I heard a well-known evangelist’s wife say this one time. She said, “Pay close attention to your tears. Because they lead you to your calling.”

Of course, what she means–what breaks your heart, breaks it for a reason. That’s what God created you to do.

My calling…that’s such a Christian idea. It just means your God-given destiny. I’ve always thought God intended me to be a writer.

My passion has always been music and the path of art in the church at large. I once wrote a mission statement that summarized my vision as a writer. It said something like, “To bring hope and healing to people through the power of the written word, in a way that makes them rethink, reimagine, and reclaim their destinies.”

I think that sums up how I feel about my destiny, my calling, my mission in life. And I was working on it.

But, then I  took this job. It was supposed to be just a job. They are paying me to write for forty hours a week. That was all I really needed to know before I signed on. I would write labels on a soup can if you paid me forty-hours a week to do it.

No, this is news writing. Hardcore politics. Trump. Sean Spicer. Trump. Michael Flynn. Obamacare repeal. Trump’s family. And did I say…Trump? I’m not much of a politico. If you paid me to write about rock stars, I’d be more into it. But, politics…it gets too messy. There’s so much out there, who even knows the truth anymore…But, it’s better than writing the labels of soup cans, and it’s certainly better than standing behind a counter…So, I write about it. It was just supposed to be a job.

And then I got involved. I saw the pictures of the Syrian refugees. I read the stories about how they are walking to Canada through the January snow, hungry and frostbitten. And I cried. I wrote about the Christian response, too. Max Lucado, Bill Hybels and others are protesting against Trump, saying that because of Jesus, they welcome all refugees, Christian, Muslim, whatever. Churches in America are set up to take in refugees.

They took out a full page ad in The Washington Post. I read the ad, and read the editorials. And I tried to write an article about it. And then I cried some more. The. whole. way. through. the. article. I cried and cried, my heart just breaking at the heart of Jesus toward these refugees. Most aren’t terrorists. As a matter of fact, they’re running from terrorists. And they can’t go home. Now, they’re walking to Canada, and Canadian farmers on the border frequently report seeing mud-caked, hungry travelers, poorly dressed for the weather, traipsing through the fields, saying, “Am I in Canada yet?”

That used to be how people how people felt about the United States. I remember when I was a kid, there was this movie called An American Tail. It was about a little Russian mouse, who escapes onto a ship headed to the new world. He meets with the other ship rats, and down in the gulley they dream about what it will be like at the end of the journey. They talk about the stories they’ve heard. In the new world, everything is perfect, and…there are no cats. This is a marvelous idea and the ship rats spend the next four screen minutes dancing about the gulley singing, “There are no cats in America. No cats in America, where the streets are paved with cheese.  America was a place where the impossible happens, and dreams come true.I had such warm fuzzies when I would watch that. People wanted to be us. Not anymore.

Now, weary travelers, utter in hoarse voices, “Am I in Canada yet?”

I think about these people, and how desperate they must have been to walk seven hours in the snow, their fingers freezing off. America is not a place of rest for them. And I wept.

So, what does that say about me, that that was what broke my heart? What do I do with this burden?  I am still pondering that. For a while, I wondered if I should go on some sort of mission trip to help political refugees. But, I doubt I’d be much more help than they’ve already gotten.

I could go to Syria to help, but that wouldn’t do much good. I could go to Canada and get an apartment and take in refugees. But, in all honesty, I could probably do that here, but I wouldn’t for about 5,000 safety reasons. So, why would it be different there? Then, I thought about how I am helping them by writing about it. But, honestly, the stuff I write is basic paycheck stuff. I don’t have the time or resources to do in-depth expose pieces.

So what do I do with this burden? And what does it mean for my life? This is why I learn to shut down the compassion meter. Because I can get so overwhelmed with compassion, and have no outlet for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Book Table

Next month I embark on a coveted rite of passage for a writer—the book table. Yes, I get to do my own. It will be at a Local Author Saturday at a used bookstore in town. There will be a few other writers doing tables, so it won’t be as awkward, and hopefully will draw more traffic.

I’ve been thinking about how to go about this. I’ve got a little over a month, so I have some time to prepare. But it may take all that.

Local author tables, when I’ve seen them, are not particularly lively affairs. They usually consist of the writer sitting awkwardly behind a table with way too many copies of their book.

No one really talks to them, so they usually bring a friend to assist. There’s not enough for either of them to do, so the books stay very neat and orderly. The writer has a tall order. They must be assertive, but not desperate; personable, but professional; approachable, but not bored. That’s a lot to ask of a writer.

Writers aren’t like rock stars, or even visual artists. We aren’t usually big personalities, filling the room with an explosion of color, sound, and a rampant individuality that draws crowds and keeps them there. People expect them to be all of those things, especially after reading them. Surely a person that writes like that, and thinks like that, must be extraordinary.

But no, the writer at a book table is usually an unassuming sort, an average person you might expect to see about town browsing the grocery aisle, or picking up the dry cleaning. You sort of wonder if such a person could possibly have anything to say worth reading. Then you feel guilty and try to make up for it by talking to them. They are always nice enough. I will ask for advice, and they usually say they don’t know a lot. They’re not being modest.

Self-publishing really is a subjective experience. Make money. Don’t make money. Publish in print. Publish online. Blog a novel, and then publish it later. Or don’t publish it later. Hire a freelance editor. Don’t hire one. Hire a graphic designer. Do your own cover….And even with all of the options, you don’t have to necessarily choose. You can have them all at the same time, in varying shades.

Really, as far as self-publishing goes, it’s whatever you want to do. It’s really all up to you. I had one author just shrug and send me on a Google search. There’s no right way to do anything. So, on the subject of advice, there’s not a lot to say other than, “So are you going to buy my book or what?”

Now I’ve become one of them. Next month I will have my own book table. Today I have been thinking about merchandising, things to fill my table. I’ve been thinking about having pens printed with my blog address, and maybe a few other little things. I guess I would need print materials, perhaps a sign. All of this is going to be a huge undertaking.

Posted in Life

Poetry Reflection: Mending Wall, Robert Frost, Thoughts on the US-Mexico Wall

Today I am writing a news piece on the US-Mexico Wall. The whole thing feels so sinister to me, and I don’t know why. It seems even darker given that they want to make Mexico pay for it. It just seems like one of those evil mind-game tricks, like dictators that make a prisoner’s family buy the bullets for the firing squad.

The line of this poem keeps coming back to me, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out.” Even worse. I just feel like it’s not all that it seems, this wall. Are we walling “them,” out, or are we walling ourselves in? But, it’s just a border, you know. Every country in the world has them right?

Anyway, I think this poem is appropriate for this time in our history.

Mending Wall–Robert Frost 

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Posted in Life

Boycotts Only Hurt You: Thoughts on the (latest) Starbucks Outrage

Today I went into this coffeeshop. No, it wasn’t Starbucks, I’ll wind around to the them later. It was a locally-owned place I had been to only once before. Seven years ago. At the time, I was a broke starving artist/missionary type. I needed a place to write, and being without even the three bucks for a coffee, I traversed into this small place. I took a seat quietly in the back and ordered a water. Unfortunately, I ordered it from the owner, who, in front of the whole coffee shop, proceeded to berate me and tell me if I didn’t actually order something I should leave.

I was flabbergasted. I had never been treated so awfully in my life. I stumbled for words. Finally, I gathered my things and explained I would leave and never come back. EVER. I went home and wrote about the experience, and published it on a community website. I went to coffee shop’s webpage, and linked it to them via their Contact Us feature. I never received a reply, apology or anything of the sort.

I have avoided this place for the last seven years. I instead became a loyal Starbucks patron. But every time I pass by this place, which is unfortunately, about every time I leave the house, I am reminded of that day.

And, I have unfortunately watched it grow. It expanded the building. It added a bistro. It took out a freeway billboard. It changed its logo. It added an outdoor seating area. I started to see the cups around town. My silent boycott…and subsequent media outrage, had obviously been so effective.

Today I needed a coffee, and just happened to be right next door. I thought, what the hell, this place is obviously not going anywhere. So I gave in. We don’t have hip indie coffee shops in our area. We’ve got Starbucks about every ten feet. And we’ve got a Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s some place called Jitters that I’ve been meaning to try, but I haven’t yet.

But, when I walked in here, it was everything an indie shop was supposed to be. Spacious. Comfortable. Low lit. Relaxed atmosphere. A place where locals sit around and chat with strangers as freely as in their own living rooms. It’s tech-y with it’s computerized menu screens, and shabby chic with the decorating style. But, the generic, maybe even secondhand, furniture gave it the perfect non-corporate feel. The coffee was good, they even had my signature French Vanilla creamer, which Starbucks doesn’t. The food wasn’t great, but coffee shops sort of have a reputation for bad food.

The owner even came up to me and talked to me. My stomach jolted at his voice, but he didn’t recognize me. Although, it is worth noting, I did have table full of food this time. And all these years, I had been making do with our tiny, impersonal Starbucks in defiance. And what did I gain from this boycott? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Which, brings me back Starbucks. They are now under fire again. This time because the CEO responded to Trump’s immigration ban by pledging to hire 10,000 political refugees. The idea is that if you’re going to make a political statement with your hiring policies, there are plenty of unemployed veterans here at home that would love a good job. So, it’s all over Facebook to boycott Starbucks. Yes, sharing Facebook memes is going to bring down the coffee giant. I’m a little bit over them myself, which was another reason I made friends with the devil today. But, I am not under any impression my ten bucks a week is going to put them out of business. What’s going to put them out of business is when they start to lose touch with the people. And they’re not in danger of doing that anytime soon. So, the little green and white mermaid isn’t going anywhere.

I guess I’m just so over the whole consumer power thing. Why even bother to shop your conscience?