Friday, March 31, 2017

Revision (03/31/17)

This is at least two weeks late. I apologize to the involved party.

I asked a friend of the family for thoughts about the previous post (see Modern Day Pharisees), and I received a few concerns, which I wish to address below. It was made clear that none of this is to stir up debates or personal conflict, but simply that I asked for and received a different perspective.

(The following is paraphrased and in no particular order. Concerns are in italics, responses are normal text.)

Was the older son actually cheated out of anything? Being older, he gets a double portion, and the younger son just cashed in his inheritance early. And is the younger son being praised? Like in the parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, I see it more as the joy of return than praise for simply doing wrong.
True. I initially thought "cheated" because his brother got the recognition and the party and the gifts for simply showing up, while the older brother who had never really done wrong never got anything. I mean, technically if everything his father owns will be his, he's lost a cow, a ring, a cloak, and some shoes, but it's not his stuff yet and being possessive over possessions never turns out well. Had the older brother taken over for his father, he should have sacrificed to welcome his brother anyway. Plus, the younger brother still has to pay the consequences from his actions- he's used his inheritance and is now dependent on the family to survive.
As you pointed out, it wasn't the wandering that caused the reward, but the return. I agree that it's not a matter of rewarding the wrongdoing, but expressing the joy of finding. Overall, my mistake.

You said you didn't see a clear right or wrong in this parable, but I believe there is one- that it's good to rejoice for others and that we shouldn't judge the lost for what they did to get there. I saw the example from it that both brothers sinned and then turned back to the Father, which is why we should rejoice.
I guess I've been analyzing this by characters rather than by actions. I've always decided the characters were the perfect Father, the sinner, and the "cheated" resenting brother (see above). The father in the story resonates as the only true perfect Father, being God the Father, so I ruled out this character as an example with the thought that I can't be God. Next was the younger son, and when he left, I knew he wasn't the one to try to follow step by step because that would bring me further from God. Sure, this parable is about rejoicing for being found, but I didn't want to relate because I don't want to have to get lost. Still, I'm no perfect human, so ruling out him as the example character was a little harsh. Then was the older son, and I decided it was worse to be like him because the father didn't approve of him, even though I wasn't sure why until recently. Taking this as an allegory meant that I missed the message within. Oops. Thanks for pointing that out. I completely agree with your interpretation.

The "rules" are God's, not our own. We shouldn't act like we are God, but we still have a responsibility as ambassadors to make sure his will is done. Sometimes we have to show tough love when those around us do what we know is wrong. Just because they aren't Christians doesn't mean they aren't responsible for sin. (And then, because I can't paraphrase:)"When asked by those advocating sin, it would be best to say that we understand that it is their decision to do what they do but we also do not agree because the action goes against God’s way."
And here is when I do a giant facepalm for missing the most important part. God's rules. I wrote the last post from the standpoint of disapproving of the Christians who try to call down their own fire and brimstone. I had nothing to balance it with. Knowing people who have expressed belief in something contrary to God's rules, I personally didn't want to find a way to tell myself that I have to be God's ambassador for them, so I guess I took a more lenient stance than I meant. I think our goal is common at this point: leading them to Christ is the only way to get them to respond with a lasting impact.
Confession time: I feel like a hypocrite. I'm always bothered when churches seem to leave out the "sin no more" aspect of becoming a Christian because they focus on outreach more than following through. Writing the previous post, I finally had the chance to empathize and realize that it's hard when you have to focus on salvation more than anything because it's the only thing determining our destiny. Then I went even further and declared all non-Christians sin free, and here I am being worse than what bothers myself.
Also, I meant to add in the last post something I learned in an anti-bullying project, but then I never got around to it. Calling a person a "bully" isn't a good idea because then they associate themselves with the behavior. When you confront a situation like that, you should rather target the action and say they're "exhibiting bullying behavior". Except maybe with less fancy words. The judgement associated with being a modern Christian seems to come from us addressing the problem without regarding the humanity of the situation. We aren't against people, but ideas. (see Ephesians 6:12)

Christians banning religions from the US?...
I'll cut this off here. I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. It was a bold claim with nothing holding it up. It was a blanket statement. It wasn't even accurate, and the whole situation is in the process of cleaning up anyway. It involved people with ties to either religion, and I drew conclusions. Ignore that entire paragraph if you'd like. I tried a little too hard to prove my point. The important thing is that Christians haven't always done the Christian thing in every situation, and being called to hold the world accountable still needs to be Christlike.

The birth order thing was creative, but it's a little too open ended and vague. You can fit almost anyone into each of those categories.
Here I go with blanket statements again. I'm a repeat offender. Please point this out more often. Anyway, I originally thought the younger brother would be like the middle brother, and my imaginary brother would be the youngest, but then I looked up stereotypes of birth order (which sounds bad by itself) and changed my mind to make it fit (which makes it worse). This was my somewhat solution to my interpretation of the parable without a goal, which then led me to a bit more of a mess, but the important part for me is the little bit of truth I also hit. A lot of the time, I want everything to fit together logically, so I oversimplify things, especially people, and then I find an interesting outcome. Oversimplification is messy, and although I appreciate what it does for my numerous bunny-trail thoughts, I forget about those I affect in the process.

Did I miss anything? Is anything misrepresented? Have I put blanket statements in my critique of my own blanket statements? (That would be embarrassing...) Any topic advice or just something you want to tell me? Feel free to comment below.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Modern Day Pharisees? (03/11/17)

I recently submitted a short story to a Christian competition that dealt with the whole LGBTQ debate and Christianity. The feedback I received, which was completely justified for my lack of clarity of thought, happened to spark a somewhat convoluted thought process that intersected with another issue I've been pondering lately: the story of the prodigal son.

So in the story of the prodigal son, there are two sons: the bad one who comes back and the supposedly good one that resents his brother for coming back to more rewards than he got from never received by being good. Growing up a Christian, it took awhile to see what the big deal was about the older, resentful son. I mean, why get punished for speaking up for an injustice? He was cheated by someone who already got his prize. But I have since realized that the difference was that he was too focused on himself and didn't rejoice in the progress and happiness of his brother, and suddenly I fear I can relate.

More recently, I realized that this is one of the few parables without any example of what we should do. Going purely off birth order stereotypes, the older brother mostly still resembles the oldest, with control and a healthy amount of dedication and responsibility. The younger brother also resembles a youngest child, with a rebellious, social butterfly attitude, who ran away from home to stay important in the eyes of others. So if another brother was added as an example, it would make sense that he would be the middle child, who was a balance between the two extremes, wanted peace, and was simply overlooked from the drama of the other two.

Side note: I'm the youngest child, for the record. I'm not glorifying middle children as the good ones as a middle child myself. I would rather use the youngest child, but middle fits better. Still, no one's perfect.

Jesus did everything for a reason. The fact that he had a clear right and wrong to most others of his parables means that the lack of one here is intentional. If I think of those to whom this parable applied in his time, the younger brother would be the rejects of society who accepted Jesus for who he was and the older brother would be the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were too stuck in their notions of tradition and fulfilling the father's decrees in perfection rather than showing the forgiveness and love he intended with the original ten commandments. There wasn't really much of a happy medium in his day, at least that is recorded in Scripture. There were certain Pharisees and teachers of the law that followed Jesus, but not many.

Again, growing up Christian, I've always been afraid I'd turn into the older brother. I have no dramatic story about wandering from the faith and coming back in a flurry of love and renewal. It's hard to relate sometimes to the stories I always hear from older Christians and the music I sing in church about being immersed in God's love because I don't really know anything different. On one hand, I'm scared I'll miss the love that comes with forgiveness, since "whoever has been forgiven little loves little" (from Luke 7:47 NIV). On the other hand, if I can learn from the mistakes of others and not wander, I can stay close to God and learn more about him without the pain and hunger that comes with wandering.

So back to that short story- When I added the piece in my short story involving the LGBTQ debate, I wanted to show my belief that Christians should hold one another accountable for their sins and that we need to see marriage as one man and one woman, but that we have no authority to correct those who aren't under our faith. They shouldn't be obligated to follow our rules because they aren't Christians, and it's only God's place to treat them differently because of it. (See Romans 12:19) I support the notion of leading by example of purity rather than alienating those we should be leading to Christ by our attempts to "Christian-ize" them.

In the middle of my crazy mess of thoughts, I came to the realization that the Christians who are trying to win people over by forcing them into the Christian standards are going about everything like the Pharisees. They're too busy with the rules and regulations that they neglect showing people the love of God, and this upsets the whole image of those are supposed to be accepting and loving. Yes, I know that being hated by the world is just a side effect of being a Christian sometimes, but it shouldn't have to be because some outspoken people happen to be judgmental, and then those watching turn this into a stereotype.

This isn't just about the issue of different views of love and marriage. There are examples of Christians oppressing other people all throughout history. Catholics used to persecute the Protestant believers who simply wanted to worship differently, and there is still a huge division in denominations because of it. America was founded in part by people who wanted to escape religious persecution, but then the few Catholic immigrants in the early days were mistreated by the majority of Protestants living in the country. In the Scopes Monkey Trial, a teacher was arrested and tried for giving his students a history lesson in Darwin's ideas about evolution, and then the Christian offensive was damaged by the prosecuting attorney's inability to grant the freedom of thought. He tried to force a rigid interpretation of the Bible on those who wanted to expand their ideas in science beyond the superstition of that day. Nowadays, we're forcing ideas about abortion on feminists as they force ideas of feminism on us. And now the country built on religious freedom is being led by none other than Christians to ban people from entering the United States based on religion.

I'm not saying we should be doormats. We don't need to go out and vote on every progressive idea on the ballots. We have a dual citizenship, and it's our duty to protect our own rights as well as those we represent. The issue Christians have with different marriages is that other people are pushing their own agendas on us as well. If a pastor does not believe he feels comfortable putting God's blessing on something God has clearly defined as against his design (see 1 Corinthians 6 for more info, I may post about this later if I have enough to talk about), then he has his own rights of religion to uphold. If a Christian sees an issue that would be sinful for them to accept, they should not accept it.

And so we run into the dilemma- how do we know where to draw the line between being pushy and being a doormat? I would argue that prayer and plenty of time reflecting it with God is the best option. If you discover you cannot condone abortion but that you're okay recognizing legal marriages as something other than the religious marriage Christians accept, you have a right to your own opinion, and all I can say is that I pray that your opinion is based on your religious convictions and not selfish ambitions.

The important thing is that we remember what makes us this version of a modern day Pharisee. We need to remember justice as well as the love of God. We need to accept people as people and worry about their salvation before their decisions that are out of our control. We need to recognize other opinions as the same level of importance as our own, and we need to take the time to listen to these ideas and find the truth of what the other side wants. Even if we vote against an issue, we need to treat those it affects with respect. Our world is so full of extremes based on slight differences, and we as Christians need to show something united: Love.

So about the nonexistent middle brother: Maybe Jesus didn't define what we should be because it's always changing. Maybe we need to find for ourselves what our version of accepting home the lost with joy really means.

With this in mind, I finally found the way to face my fear about being the older brother. It doesn't matter whether or not I ever do wander and return in life, and it isn't about feeling the love of returning. I believe the middle brother is nonexistent in this story because it's not about those who are perfect, but the lost on both fronts, and I need to become the example everyone else can rely on for what Christians really should be. And I can't do that except to stay close to God to learn his will, and then the wonder of his will can finally be revealed through me. I challenge you to do the same.

*Also, if you have strong opinions about anything above, please leave a civilly worded comment. I want to know the different perspectives of everyone who reads this. Have you been cornered into someone else's agenda? Have you been stuck between a rock and a hard place with deciding on how to respond? Do you have any interesting perspectives being in the middle of two extremes, or having a perspective no one understands?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Greet as an Old Friend (01/16/17)

It's hard as a writer not to just use abstract phrases to convey meaning. But really, can you have the expression of love? What would that look like? Surprise and happiness? Does your left eyebrow sink lower than your right, or do your cheeks flush red? How about something a little less easy to picture, such as the taste of gratitude? Is that... Pear? Cucumber? Chicken? Cereal? (Hopefully not a mix of all four!)

My goal here is to present the phrase: "greet as an old friend" in a new light. Perhaps it will be writing inspiration. Perhaps it will just brighten your mood and make you want to curl up in a blanket and write a letter to someone you haven't thought about for years. Maybe you'll just close the page in disgust and think, "This gal has absolutely no idea what she's saying. Why did I look at that anyway?" Well, believe what you want. I'll try not to bore you.

Examples of what may greet me as an old friend:
an actual friend, whether old or new and completely understanding
a book, to read or to write
a song, to listen or to play
fuzzy blankets on a couch, or warm, well worn, and soft clothing
my favorite food
an old blog, almost long forgotten.... (sorry!)

Yeah, as a list, it all seems kinda boring. It doesn't really grab the emotion I feel around these just by listing them. So first, what is it that I really want to capture?

An old friend, to me, is anything or anyone I haven't experienced for a long time and sincerely miss, but when I find it, there's been almost no time passed between us. There's that nostalgia and feeling of everything at peace because something finally makes sense. Maybe it's a reminder that it's okay to move forward, but sometimes I need to look back and say goodbye or come back where I belong. It's the feeling opposite of returning and finding everything is the same except yourself, and almost a visualization of a warm pink amidst the rich, deep brown; perhaps the trust fall in which I can close my eyes, take a deep breath, and fall, knowing there's fluff and feathers to catch me at the bottom. There's just that nearly indescribable feeling that I can't just call "greeting as an old friend" because not everyone feels it the same way.

So how do you write something like that?

What if you consider the situation around what you want to portray? Looking at my favorite food, let's say it's those cheesy potatoes I only get to eat on Thanksgiving, I can tell that there's backstory and emotion behind what I want the reader to feel, but all they see is a bunch of starch and dairy. I can tell them that everyday for lunch, I have to drown my cafeteria french fries in salt to be able to taste them, and the slimy fruit I grab is processed beyond belief, plus the main course is edible eight times out of ten. So when I finally get my cheesy potatoes, complete with several kinds of cheese crisped to the slight extra golden and baked fresh, not frozen, there's that bliss of returning to what I lost and what I want back and finding it exactly perfect. Maybe it's the way it melts in my mouth that turns the reader's attention, or how I relieve all that extra, built-up stress and exhale in ecstasy as I put a beautiful mound on my plate, but somewhere in that description there needs to be that contrast and that connection to what the reader can feel.

So when your characters return from a long day, maybe the frustrated leader turns on the hot water and leans back in the tub. Throw in a little bubble bath for childhood's sake, bring the scents of the shampoo to life, and voila! Your writing just became a little more complex. Or the introvert trying really hard to fit in gets home and can't wait to just fall asleep. If you want to show the romanticism of returning to long, lost sleep, don't flop your character down on the rock solid mattress and leave the light on all night. Maybe he or she has to trudge up the stairs with half open eyes, but everything is warm, soft and cozy enough to swaddle the battered soul and calm the nerves. Finally, introvert night-owl may come home and just want peace and quiet after putting up with the frustrated leader and the grumpy introvert for the way-too-many-hours-long car ride. This little one hops up the stairs past the trudging grump and pretends not to hear the horrible singing of the first in the bathroom, and heads rather into the study, where back behind a row of books is one favorite long abandoned. The thin, anxious hands may just barely make it to where the corner juts out from behind encyclopedias 6 and 7, but the dog eared pages may have the soft feel of worn yellow edges. And the scent? Book enthusiasts could probably spend days enthusing about the smell of old books and how it makes them feel. This whole scenario sounds so much better than just saying that Joe, Susie, and Cam went upstairs and felt really tired after a long day, and it doesn't waste as much time reading as one might think.

Why don't you try it? If you're scrambling for word counts (cough, cough me during Nanowrimo), find an emotion you want to expand or an abstract idea as a description and embrace it. Use everything you can to make it better: metaphors, flashbacks, obnoxiously long sentences (sorry!), character thoughts... If you think it works, use it! If your Dr. Seuss novel turns into Tolkien, you might have gone too far, but then on the bright side, there are plenty of people who prefer Tolkien to Dr. Seuss. You can always edit out what you don't think works, but you need something there in the first place. Or maybe all your novel needs is a break, complete with Thanksgiving cheesy potatoes and that old book you haven't read in years but used to know almost by heart. Just save me some!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Universal Equality (08/11/16)

All men are created equal.

*For all intents and purposes, I will interpret "men" as mankind for the following. This includes males, females, and those in between. No race or ethnicity is excluded. I'm including all ages in this as well, whether 3 years old or 93, millennial or old enough to complain about millennial. (Not that they necessarily should, but that's a topic for another time.)

"All men are created equal." These five words have plenty of history and different interpretations behind them.  In the United States, originally it only applied to white males. Then it spread to include females and different ethnicities. Recently there has been the movement for the term "marriage" to be broadened to further extend equal rights. For the most part, the United States has advanced to political equality for all.

There's still a long way to go, though. Socially, white males still have the advantage. In other countries, females are taken advantage of and are neglected to increase chances for males because that's the custom. Humans are still objectified through the media, especially when a company wants to sell a product by showing off a nice looking female. Many Americans are also still racist, and our culture isn't doing enough to provide enough peer pressure to completely shame the notion.

I'm not a feminist in the respect that the United States needs much more political reform to create equality. Women have the right to vote, and we aren't denied any rights to own property, say what we want, or get equal education. I feel like most of what we don't yet have will mend itself more smoothly over time. Instead of using laws and movements to try to push these social equality issues that mostly need that time to mend, we need to help the women in other countries gain their own political equality. There should be equal opportunities for girls and boys to get an education, and we shouldn't let money be the deciding factor in whether a little girl is forced to work while her brother gets to go to school. 

So if all men (mankind) are created equal, all children should get the same grades and do the same in sports, right? I mean, how can we rank one child above another if the first doesn't work as hard?

We can agree that all humans are born with certain rights that come from being human. If anyone takes away one of these rights from someone else, it's immoral. We all are created socially and politically equal, and we need to fix the brokenness in these systems. But we aren't cookie-cutter humans. Some people are better at math than others. Some people just can't easily play sports, so they have to work harder. We aren't mentally or physically equal.

I played a game when I was younger where you created a character and took her (I'm defaulting to female purely for the sake of pronouns) around town, living her high school life. At the beginning, you were given a certain number of donut-looking point things and told to distribute them to certain categories to show her strengths and weaknesses. 

But how realistic is that? Did God give us all the same overall potential? Could he say, "Hmm, let's see. John, you already have a lot of potential for sports. I guess I'll take one of those to put in your math category because you'll need that later in life. Oh, Anita! I have a few left over for you. Let's stash them over here, though I don't know how much you'll use them,"? It doesn't seem right. But what of the alternative? Are we not all equal? Can one person be gifted with every skill possible and another be given next to nothing?

There is no way to know the answer while we are on earth. You can't just test someone's ability to love or natural sports ability and then compare the differences to determine an overall score. There's also the parable of the talents (bags of gold in NIV 2011) to consider (see Matthew 25:14-30)- if you use what you have, you will be given more. If you let it go, you lose it. Who knows if you had a natural gift for something you never tried that faded with time? (Also see 1 Corinthians 12 and similar sections for connections to spiritual gifts. You should form your own opinion, not take mine.)

To clear this a bit up, let me point out a section in To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee- please read! It's a little slow at the beginning and contains some mature content, but it's definitely worth it.). It's the big court case, and Atticus is giving his final arguments. He says much of what I said earlier, and then points out the one place where everyone is completely equal, despite differences in money or skill or, as he implies, the color of a man's skin: a court room. All that matters is right, wrong, and justice.

I'd like to take that farther- everyone should be always given equal rights and treated equally. Humans are all humans, and none should be treated differently because of gender, education, race, skill, or appearance. But there's a reason we shouldn't get caught in the trap of comparison and believing we're all equal in all respects- a rocket scientist is probably nowhere near as athletic as an Olympic athlete, and an Olympic athlete probably knows absolutely nothing about rocket science. We'e all part of that court room, and we should treat everyone like we're in that court room, but we can still be individuals within that room with different talents and different views that can be used in different ways to help to body of Christ.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Look Over the Wall (07/13/16)

"There are two sides to every story"

It's cliche. It's not something you want to think about. It's one of the snobby things people always try to push onto you. It's around to complicate matters.

But it's important.

Note: The following is not a blanket statement for what each side stands for. It is not a personal attack to either side. It's just to prove a point. It is realistic but complete fiction. Please excuse any poor word choices I use because I don't understand certain pieces of jargon.

Two parents stand on opposite sides of the room, glaring daggers at one another. The principal sits at her desk between them, trying to make peace. "Explain," she says.
"I refuse to let my child be excluded by her child because she doesn't identify with her biological gender!" says the first.
"You cannot force my child to work against his religion by playing with bad influences like her son!" says the second.
"She's not my son. She identifies as a female."
"He was born a male, so I will treat him as a male. As should you."
"You cannot force your ideas onto me! And she isn't a bad influence. She's just being expressive."
"He's seven. Your child is seven years old. He changes his favorite color every day. In a week he'll want to be a boy again."
"You don't know that. We've had long talks and she has shown genuine interest in identifying as a female now."
"You cannot force your ideas onto me either. Or my child. Your son cannot force my child to defy his religion to include your son."
The principal coughs. "Could we please take it down a notch? We're all adults here. Now what specifically happened?"
"Her son was playing with my daughter when...."

And so it continues. What should the principal say in a situation like that? Nothing can be said to the parents that will appease them. The spite between the parents is carried onto each child through muttered comments and stern conversations, and soon a good friendship is in ruins.

We trust authorities and judges to be able to decide who's the victim and who's the bully, but that isn't enough. Opposing sides build a wall to keep out the other side, and then they try to destroy each other through comments, lawsuits, and acts of hatred. Each side will only victimize themselves because they only see the chaos around them. They blame the people on the other side of the wall because they're unwilling to notice the chaos they've inflicted to evoke such a response. 

But what if we look over the wall? The truth is, most of the time that we argue over being forced into an action, we're being hypocritical. The parent above who is concerned about religion sees the other parent as infringing on her religion, not realizing that she's trying to force her views onto someone else. It's the very thing she's accusing the other parent of doing, and vice versa. 

And Christians, I don't believe we have to make the world Christian. We have to make a world of Christians. We don't do that by alienating others or treating them differently, but by love, mercy, and grace. When they see us not as the offenders but as people willing to listen and accept them, they see Christ at work within us and maybe they even decide to join us. That doesn't mean we should live like them. Romans 1 clearly shows God's disapproval of homosexuality for his people. 1st Corinthians 5 makes it clear that Christians should not invite wicked actions, but verses 12-13 remind us that it isn't our job to judge non-Christians for not being Christian. God is the one who judges, not us. (I highly recommend you look up both chapters and not just assume what I am saying is true.)

This isn't only true for just this issue. No one is obligated to live by another person's standards or rules. I believe every human's rights extend until right before they breach another's. You can own a car. You can own a house. You cannot steal someone else's car because they have the right to own their own car. Likewise, you have the right to let your child (or yourself for that matter) identify as someone against their biological orientation. You do not have the right to force others to go against their beliefs to accommodate you or your child. You also do not have the right to treat anyone negatively because they identify differently.

So try it. Look over the wall. Accept that both sides have faults, then identify them. Instead of relying on authorities to choose a victor and a victim, maybe try to make your own peace with the other side. If it works, it works. If not, realize you tried to make a difference. Let God do the rest. "If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18, NIV)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Do you want to know? (07/06/16)

Think of the following like a Venn Diagram- I have two ideas that I want to connect, but I also think each has merit by itself. (Sorry I haven't been able to post recently. Summer scheduling is unreliable for me.)

Thought 1: We all have those memories we would erase if we could... Remember when you said something awkward in front of someone important? Or when you broke a bone or sprained an ankle doing something you admit was stupid? [Add your own moment of stupidity here] Why do we have to remember such painful memories?

As a kid, the worst part is when Mom or Teacher comes up to you and asks, "Now what did we learn from that? Are we ever going to do that again?" The truth is, the lesson you learn is valuable. It's not okay to hit your brother or sister when they make you angry. You shouldn't climb trees in flip flops. Don't pour all the soap into the washing machine at once.

What's your least favorite subject in school? Math? Science? Or even [gasp] English? (Don't worry, I won't judge.) I would personally pay someone if they found a way to teach me everything I needed for U.S. History if I wouldn't have to experience the actual classroom learning. I've been taught from the Native Americans and Explorers to the Civil War so many times that I'd be happier learning four times as much world history as long as there isn't any U.S. History. (You are entitled to your own opinion... provided you don't deprive anyone of theirs.)

Long story short, life is full of things we want to know but don't want to actually experience. Only when we experience them do we truly understand the lessons they teach us, even if it's just to avoid the same thing happening again.

Thought 2: (edited later on 07/06/16) Here's a big subject of controversy: Is social media taking away how much we like ourselves? I would argue that it it does, but not entirely. (Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, as this is all speculation and not inherently accurate. I'm also using several blanket statements, so counterexamples are very welcome.)

First of all, we feel extra pressure to perfect our outer appearances. We raise our standards to find ourselves presentable to others, and then we judge ourselves by the convoluted and not necessarily accurate feedback we get from others. Our eyes are trained to spot our imperfections in the mirror rather than our own beauty.

More importantly, our phones and computers keep us always busy. Sometimes we almost mindlessly pass the time watching other people's creations that we miss time we should spend with ourselves, pondering the little things in life and waltzing through our thoughts. You could be improving one of your many skills, but it's so much easier to tune out and enjoy those of other people.

On the flip side, how much self harm did we give ourselves before social media? Human nature never changes, so what we did before isn't the pure result of our extra connections online. It may just be a little more distilled. Also, the internet is just a tool for how we want to use it- if we want to find good ideas and harness them, we can get to know ourselves better and engage our creativity. If we just want to connect with friends from far away, there's no shame in that. And does the positive reassurance and connection over common experience actually help us feel better?

Social media or not, we still have a problem with accepting ourselves. Right now, try to honestly answer yourself: How much do you really like being you? Could you spend an entire day without access to the outside world and truly enjoy your own company? Can you make fun of yourself and enjoy the laugh without the anxiety of taking what you say to heart? Are you comfortable in your own skin?

Thought 3 (somewhat combination of Thought 1 and Thought 2): I have a wish. It's a strange wish, and I don't think I would enjoy it if it really came true, yet I somehow still wish it.

I wish I could secretly videotape myself acting as a normal person so I could see what's really happening.

No, really! I want to know if I look like an idiot if I do something a certain way, and I want to see how people react when I can't see them as myself. Am I leaving someone out? Do I unknowingly bother someone who secretly hates me? Is it obvious if I try to hide something? How does what I'm doing match up with what I think it looks like? (Do I sound too paranoid to you? I think I'm asking too many questions.)

I want to know, but I don't want to learn. I want to know that I look like an idiot when I do something, but  it's painful to find out. How much can I handle learning about myself? Will I like myself better if I "fix" what I didn't realize was wrong? Or is it not worth the pain of knowing my own faults?

It's the age-old question: "Does this dress make me look fat?" The woman asking this question (or man, although much less often, so I'm just assuming the asker is a she) needs the self confidence of knowing she's beautiful. Protecting her now eases the momentary pain of hearing the harsh truth, especially in a fragile situation involving a mirror and her harsh self judgement. But what about in the long run? When she finally finds out the hard truth, she'll be crushed to know that everyone had to see her in a less flattering way. Does she want the pain now, or save it for later?

Again, social media may act as a catalyst for this. I could accidentally say something really embarrassing on this blog right now, and many more people would be able to see it. Some friendly reader may stop and tell me what I did wrong, but people can hide behind their screens and assume someone else can tell me or just laugh off my insecurities and move on. That's why I like constructive criticism so much- I'd rather know I look like an idiot and come to terms so I can better embrace my weird self and not have to worry about the aftereffects when I find out later.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How We Judge Quality (06/15/16)

How do you make a great movie? A great book? A great song? Most of this may be common sense, but I think writing it out and considering everything will help me and maybe you the reader realize how to make our works better.

For something to be good, there first has to be an assurance that it isn't bad. To choose the best performer on a TV show, you have to get rid of the ones that don't work first before you can get picky.

  • First, the movie, book, or song should make sense. Plot (or any progression of a theme within a song if applicable) should be understandable, interesting, and fitting for the characters. If you spend too much time creating flowery descriptions, your audience will tune you out and be confused when you bring back an important detail because it was hidden by fluff.
  • Second, the characters should be engaging. No one wants to listen to a song in which the narrator is obnoxious and doesn't respect or understand others. (ex. "My boyfriend broke up with me and I don't know why. I was a selfish little girl who made him do everything for me. I can't tell why he didn't like that.") Cookie-cutter characters in a book or movie who are completely flat offer nothing to which the audience can relate or sympathize.
  • Third, the execution of the movie, book, or song must be decent. Scenes in movies should convey what they were made to convey. Messy shots can ruin a movie. Books need to be written with good description that adds to the story instead of taking attention away. Songs should be sung with pitch accuracy and musical ability.
  • Fourth, it has to be unique. If you want to make another break-up song, dystopian movie, or YA fiction novel, there has to be something that sets it apart from the others. There are so many of especially these that have nothing new to offer, which makes your audience already bored unless you twist it in some unique way.
Once you make sure your creation fits the above, creating a masterpiece requires making your work phenomenal. 

Let me illustrate a point. Pick your favorite classical song. If you don't have one, try "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven or "1812 Overture" by Tchaikovsky. Pull it up on YouTube right now, or listen to it in person if you or someone around you is good enough to play the original version. (Yes, that excludes the snippet of Fur Elize in your 5th grade band book or beginner piano lessons.) It will be long, but stick through it at least long enough to get somewhere good. I dare you to listen to all of it.

Chances are, it fits the above requirements. The progression from section to section make sense like mood swings or change dramaticatically like changing plot. Although there aren't really any characters because the music is instrumental (most likely), the changes from scene to scene should keep the open listener engaged. If you hear the song done by professionals, it should be musically accurate in its execution, and the musical elements written into the score exceed that of modern pop music several times over. With classical music, uniqueness isn't much of a problem because these are the originals, yet with "1812 Overture", the inclusion of cannons (literal BOOM cannons, mind you) adds something memorable to the song.

Despite all that, would you rather go to a free concert with an orchestra playing this song or a free concert with your favorite pop star singing another break up song? Professional musicians and classical music fans aside, we prefer our Taylor Swift romance over Bach and Vivaldi (Four Seasons). Why? They meet all the requirements of not being bad, probably more than our pop music.

Audience! 18th century culture would never want to listen to Justin Bieber or even the Beatles because that isn't their culture. Naturally, we like songs from our own time because we can better relate to the short, fast pace of our culture. If you're writing a book to birdwatching enthusiasts, you make it interesting for that audience. The general public doesn't care about the origin of the birds in the trees of your YA fiction, so maybe leave that out and replace it with teenage struggles or mischief.

Here's what I think is the key to amazing works: Make it relatable. If it fits your audience, if your characters experience struggles similar to those that we everyday people can feel ourselves, if you leave parts of yourself behind from where you put your heart into your work (don't take this too literally and put your left ear into your physical piece), your audience will be part of your movie, book, or song and will enjoy your piece all the more. Make the work yours. Make it your character's. Make it your audience's. Make it humanity's.