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.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Patience and Perseverance (06/05/16)

I'm late! I got sidetracked on Wednesday and haven't had a chance to write anything until now (Sunday). I also apologize in advance because I won't be around a computer this coming week until Friday or Saturday.

A few quotes to get started:
Romans 8: 24-25 (NIV 2011) "For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." 
Yoda (Star Wars) "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." 
Romans 5: 3-4 (NIV 2011) "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
(The Yoda quote is up there as an afterthought, to tie into the quote from Romans 5. If you connect the two, you find that fear gives us hope, but not without suffering as well. Then again, Yoda and Paul aren't quite talking about the same kind of suffering, since the former is self inflicted and the latter is given from others. I just like how the two seemingly connect to bring together two opposite ideas.)

You probably know what patience is by this point in your life. It's that thing that we all want and often lose, yet we don't want to be put into a situation in which we get more. It requires waiting without complaining for the arrival of our hopes.

Perseverance is a fairly long word, and isn't used as frequently in vocabulary as patience. Along with being harder to spell, it usually gives us more grief than patience, since perseverance comes from enduring some sort of suffering. 

Imagine a runner in a race. The runner's fans need patience as they wait at the finish line because they're anticipating the arrival of the runner. The runner, however, needs perseverance to keep running despite the pain.

When you think about it, the difference between the two is subtle. Patience is waiting for a later gift, and perseverance is waiting for the removal of a current problem. I find this somewhat similar to the connection between mercy (removal of the harm you deserve) and grace (gift of good you don't deserve). 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Natural" Beauty (05/25/16)

I don't usually like group pictures. If it's required or strongly recommended that I take part in one, I will, but I definitely don't look for opportunities to take them. After concerts or special awards ceremonies, I escape from everyone I know to avoid getting my picture taken. It's not that I'm self conscious about how I look, I just think pictures of me aren't usually flattering unless they're taken with only me in mind.

I would say that many people agree with me about that. Something about taking pictures is unnatural, and it often turns awkward as people try not to look awkward. I like seeing action shots because I want to see how I look when I'm not trying to pose for the camera. It's really cool for me to find a picture of myself that really captures my personality because then I can see how the world sees me. If only I could videotape an entire day of my life so I could see how what I think I'm doing relates to what I'm actually doing.

I think we spend too much time in front of mirrors as well. We look too closely at the marks on our faces and the way our bodies are shaped. Why then do we ourselves so differently than the world does? Part of it may be that we spend too much time with ourselves and overlook the beautiful parts of ourselves to focus on our insecurities. But consider this as well: when you stand in front of a mirror, that's all you're doing. You just stand there. How often do you stay still without talking or changing emotions in your everyday life? There's almost always a conversation or some kind of movement you make when you're around other people, and your mirror time doesn't usually include this kind of motion. The motionless gazing you use in front of a mirror isn't your natural state, so you don't truly realize how you actually look to others.

Do you ever stand in the background and people watch? No, I'm not saying that you should stand outside a business and stalk the people who walk in, but just taking a moment to scan the scene if you walk into a room unseen can be pretty interesting. That's where I think a certain kind of beauty shows. The grace and poise you have simply from being the owner of yourself tells more about you than a well-taken picture. Watching someone act around their friends shows more of their personality than a conversation with them directly face-to-face, since conversations are more forced and the person is more aware of how you see them and acts accordingly. Uninterrupted human interactions reveal inner beauty, or a lack thereof.

I don't exactly think the phrase "natural beauty" is quite like how we portray it. Sure, there's something special about leaving nature be and watching what happens, but there's a reason why girls wear makeup. No, we don't just feel insecure about ourselves and want to hide behind a mask. It's because makeup actually works. Getting rid of all the blemishes on your face and making your eyes stand out really does make you look better. There are extremists who try to use way too much, and I acknowledge that. Overall, though, makeup isn't used to necessarily make the face more perfect, but to make the imperfections less noticeable.

So, to combine several ideas, I think beauty isn't necessarily all on the inside or outside. The outside can be deceiving, so the best way to let it shine is to make it less distracting so the inside can shine through. Being confident of yourself (maybe despite outward appearances) and having fun is more natural and therefore more beautiful. Beauty can be a gift, so it should be used wisely. It also looks different both to and from different people. You and your best friend can look completely different but both be completely gorgeous because you radiate different kinds of beauty. That means that anyone and everyone can be beautiful.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Luxurious Sickness (05/18/16)

What's the longest you've ever been sick? A few days? A week? A month?

Last week, I was cursed with a fever, a headache, a nasty cough, and a whole bunch of time. It lasted the entire week. But maybe it was a blessing.

The first day that you're sick, nothing makes you feel good. Your temperature soars, and you don't remember what ibuprofen does or which one it is, so you lay there miserably and message all your friends with complaints. Soon enough, you get bored, so you decide to sleep. You still want a blanket over you, but everything is too hot. If you're hungry, all you feel like eating is crackers and water, but only if you don't have to move to get it. This is the part of being sick that we all know best and hate most.

The second day that you're sick, life gets a little better. You've already missed one day of school and are in the process of missing another, and by the looks of your fever, you'll miss a third or more. Your entire life seems to be cancelled around you, and you have enough time to finally read a book cover to cover or binge watch your favorite series on Netflix. It all still feels gross, but you can milk every drop of fun out of this thing.

By the about fifth day, you're ready to either be well again or drop out of life to hang out at home. Someone's gone to the school to pick up the homework you missed, and the stack of papers is too big for comfort. Your fever is still high, and you've had to miss out on some of the fun things you've had planned. You start getting nagged about finishing school work, but Netflix and video games have taken over your life. You know that there's a tub of ice cream in the freezer with your name on it, but the dairy will make your cough even worse. You're sick of the headache that comes whenever you cough or move too quickly, yet you never want to go back to having to do work at school.

Sickness comes with a bit of luxury. There's time to do whatever you want, and there's no reason why you can't do it. If you need anything, you don't have to beg or whine. A simple text or request, and it's laid at your feet. The same person who complains of you sleeping on the couch all day tells you to sleep on the couch all day. I can see the appeal of missing school and staying home sick.

But I want my ice cream, so I'm getting better. Pass the ibuprofen- I'm bringing this fever down.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tag Lines (05/11/16)

"I'm sick. I have a fever, a headache, a nasty cough, and a whole bunch of time," Anita said, lying miserably on the couch.
"Why is that?" asked Thomas, listening to her complaints over the phone. He didn't add that he was feeling the exact same way.
"Why is what?"
"Why'd you get sick?" His patience was running low, but his voice was even more high pitched and strained than usual.
"Dunno," she said. Maybe I got it from you, she added to herself.

I love tag lines. I especially love tag lines when they're used creatively but correctly.

In case it's been awhile, tag lines are the mini-sentences after a bit of dialogue. (Ex. Anita said, asked Thomas, etc.) If the reader is absolutely sure who's talking or the author just gets lazy, they don't have to follow every piece of dialogue. The third and fourth bits of dialogue above don't have tag lines. The rest do.

Sometimes tag lines use synonyms for "said", which is fine as long as it doesn't take away from the story. For example:
"I'm sick. I have a fever, a headache, a nasty cough, and a whole bunch of time," Anita grumbled.
"Why is that?" squeaked Thomas.
"Why is what?" Anita shouted.
"Why'd you get sick?" Thomas squealed back.
"Dunno," she mumbled. Maybe I got it from you, she added to herself.

Also, some people add adverbs into the tag line. There's nothing wrong with it, but I read in an editor's blog (and agree) that there may be more creative ways to say what you want to say without being distracting. For example:
"I'm sick. I have a fever, a headache, a nasty cough, and a whole bunch of time," Anita said miserably.
"Why is that?" said Thomas squeakily.
"Why is what?" Anita said loudly.
"Why'd you get sick?" Thomas said harshly.
"Dunno," she said quietly. Maybe I got it from you, she added to herself.

Note: When writing a tag line, put all punctuation within the sentence as if it was a sentence of its own. (Spoiler Alert: It is!) If it ends in a period, replace it with a comma. Otherwise, leave it alone. Place all punctuation for the sentence outside the tag line as usual. See below:
"I'm sick," Anita said, lying miserably on the couch. "I have a fever, a headache, a nasty cough, and a whole bunch of time."
Lying miserably on the couch, Anita said, "I'm sick. I have a fever, a headache, a nasty cough, and a whole bunch of time."
Anita said, "I'm sick. I have a fever, a headache, a nasty cough, and a whole bunch of time." She was lying miserably on the couch.

But what are rules if they aren't to be broken? Welcome to the world of Tom Swifties. Here, you make a pun out of the dialogue and the tag line, which is usually said by Tom, although the speaker can vary. Examples:

"This steak is really good," Tom said tenderly.
"Th- th- the car won't start!" Tom sputtered.
"I'll wear a tie," Tom said suitingly.
"There's a lion in the house!" Tom roared.
"You're a stalker," Tom said cornily.

"Add your own," I commented.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wait...Me? But how? (05/4/16)

New month! May the Fourth be with you all.

It's hard sometimes to empathize. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose everyone I love to death. It's one of those things that I always separate in my mind as something that happens to other people and not something that could happen to me. Sure, it's not likely at all, but it could still happen.

It's interesting what we compartmentalize about ourselves that doesn't apply to anyone else. We distance ourselves from horrific events, pick at our own imperfections, overestimate our abilities, play down our talents, and feel out of place. The truth is, our perspective makes us think all these things, and they usually aren't anywhere near actuality.

You finally finish that painting or that story that has overtaken your head for the last several months. All of a sudden, you feel like it's all a piece of junk and you want to throw it out. Maybe all the shame you feel is just in your own head. But what if it's actually really bad? asks the voice in the back of your head. Listen to what other people say about it. If you really want to know, ask people for their honest opinions, and assure them as well as yourself that you won't be hurt by a negative response. They aren't disrespecting you, they may just not like what you've done with one particular project.

Have you ever been part of a raffle with a lot of other people and won? It may just be a T-shirt or a chance to get out of class to help with something, but the feeling of being selected out of the many is sometimes more satisfactory than the prize itself. There's something about breaking the empathy gap between you and the world that makes you feel greater emotions, whether anger, sadness, or complete elation.

It's the same feeling as that cliche movie moment-
Guy: I love you.
Girl: Why me? I'm just this ugly mess of emotions.
Guy: No, you're beautiful.
Girl: But you could have chosen anyone!
Guy: That includes you. I think you're the best one.

With this empathy gap, sometimes pride soon follows. Failure is for other people. Success is guaranteed because I'm good at what I do. My perfect record determines my entire future. It's great that you have self confidence, but as soon as you let it take over and expect what you do halfheartedly to be your best, you get into trouble. Of course, in real life, these words may be twisted and implied, but everyone's heard them before.

Don't pick on yourself because you're the only one who sees some of your faults. Most people are too busy feeling insecure and awkward to worry about if your socks don't match or you said something you didn't mean. The empathy gap isn't always bad, but the more you notice it, the better it will be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fictional Detectives (04/27/16)

I love reading mysteries. Based on how many detective shows there are on TV, I would guess that most of America likes mysteries, too. So why is there so little variation in each story line?

Let's start with five examples. I cannot vouch for all of these as school appropriate because I am not familiar with them well enough to make such a call.

Hercule Poirot is a character created by the famous Agatha Christie. He's described as a vain, white, Belgian man with catlike eyes, an egg shaped head, and fabulous mustaches. He really understands human nature and solves his cases with psychology rather than tiny scraps of evidence. The endings are spectacular (may I suggest The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? Ultimate favorite!), although I do find it hard to plow through the abundance of exposition sometimes, especially when the murder takes nearly half the book to occur.

Flavia De Luce is a white schoolgirl in the 20th century in a series by Alan Bradley. She uses her outgoing (and slightly arrogant, yet lovable) nature and her love of chemistry to discover the killer of victims in her small hometown. She tells the story in a very lifelike first person, which I think sounds best in the audiobooks. I'm only halfway through book 2, but I really like this series.

Sherlock Holmes you probably know fairly well already. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories have been the object of multiple TV shows and countless allusions. He's a white, British, male who may be a little eccentric and/or arrogant at times but is extremely good at finding what others can't.

(Adrian) Monk is a character from a TV show (and apparently a book series, although I haven't read them and I don't know if the books or show came first) who uses his obsession with perfection to help solve crimes. He's a white American male who has OCD and a fear of everything unclean, so the show incorporates some humor of forcing him to act against his character.

Shawn Spencer (Psych) is a TV show character who is also white, male, and American. He has a special gift for noticing details, which he passes off as being psychic. His sense of humor (and immaturity) spices up the plot, especially with the foil between him and Detective Lassiter, the stickler to all the rules.

It seems like most detective novels and shows we have available focus around white, middle aged males in the most powerful country in the world at the time it was written. The main character has some sort of superiority complex or quirk that makes him (or the occasional her) annoying but lovable enough to keep making the writers money. An introvert is unheard of.

And it isn't just fictional detectives. It seems like we always focus on the "ideal" person in the media that fits all of the standards of society. When we make our own characters, they have to meet the standards we ourselves cannot meet. So I challenge all the writers out there- give your characters flaws. Make them awkward just to make them awkward, not to enhance your plot. How about an introverted main character? A female who doesn't have to be Hollywood skinny to be beautiful?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How to Survive Middle School (04/20/16 part 2)

This is an extra post to make up for missing last week.

I am mostly writing to those in or about to enter middle school. I haven't changed the way I write to try to talk down to what others may think is your level of reading or maturity. You're really no different than me, so I treat you as a peer, although you are slightly younger.

Everyone is allowed their own phrase that they would tell their younger self if they went back in time. I would guess that most people who are out of middle school would return to tell themselves something about life that they didn't realize back then. Some may say specific things about a certain person, and others may advise against doing a certain dumb thing that backfired. (Admit it, we all have those moments!) People like me may have more broad ideas and concepts that our younger selves didn't understand that we would explain.

But why fantasize about time travel when there's a whole bunch of people who are going through the same struggle right now whom I could help with my own experiences?

Middle school isn't all bad. People may have a bad experience in middle school that makes them cringe, so many of us beyond middle school may say negative things about the time. At the time, I really didn't feel like it was all that bad. I guess I still mostly agree.

The main problem comes with the new ideas of maturity and growing up. Kids who were friends for years may suddenly find themselves drifting apart because of the differences in how quickly they are maturing. One may want to sit and talk while another still wants to run around and have fun the old way. Also, the topic of dating and romance starts becoming more accepted like it is in college and beyond rather than the little crush you had on your neighbor when you were three. No pressure!

Then there's the issue of bodies. Ugh, I hate that word! "Bodies" reminds me of either corpses or anything about you that starts becoming awkward in middle school. Is there acne on your face? Do your armpits smell strongly of odor or an abundance of Axe? (Trust me, boys, using half the can at a time is not the best way to impress the ladies.) Does your face turn red at the mention of something you clearly don't want to talk about? (Cough, cough... me.) That's the fun of "bodies", and that's what you hear a lot about in middle school. I won't mention the rest, since that is still yours to experience.

But what would I really tell myself? It wouldn't be anything to do with my appearance or a backstabbing "friend". I would tell myself not to lose a great friendship with someone because he was a boy. I'm not the type of person who's naturally inclined to make friends with the opposite gender very easily, and I'm usually afraid that people will take a healthy friendship the wrong way. If there's something I hate more than the word "bodies", then it's when people imply that I should be in a relationship with someone. When I was in middle school, I missed out on a great relationship because I was afraid of what people might think. Please, no one do that. It's not fun.

One more thing- if surviving middle school is always awkward with everyone uncomfortable in their own skin and just starting to be treated like an adult, what you really need is a good friend. Find someone you can trust with your secrets, and make the effort to have fun with them. Don't neglect this person to try to force friendships that you know deep down will fail. Surviving middle school is all about having fun with people you can trust. You don't need to date someone to find that. You don't have to be super popular. If you are, that's great! Use it for good. The rest of us could use a bit of your help. :)

Don't freak out, it's not that bad. Figure out what you like and how you think. The better you know yourself, the more comfortable you'll be with yourself, and the more you'll enjoy being with yourself. Just have fun. Oh, and don't forget to master the art of sarcasm. It's not like you'll need it or anything... ;)

How to Survive High School (04/20/16)

Sorry, everyone. I had something written last week, but I just couldn't write anything. It's all blubber and fluff- insulation that keeps my ideas from escaping just because there's just too much of nothing.

Switching schools is hard. Starting high school is hard. Starting public school after always being in private school is hard. All three in the same year?

It's been done.

This message is for anyone looking to next year to whom any of these apply, but especially those to whom all three apply. That was me a little less than a year ago.

Survival Tips:

  1. Get a phone. I'm sorry, all you parents who don't want to give in, but it helps. It's not required, but strongly recommended. I may post more about this later.
  2. Make friends early. Fall sports that practice before the start of the year are a great place to meet people like you and know people before you're stuck on your own.
  3. Keep making friends. It's hard when it seems like everyone already has their cliques and you're just on the outside looking in. Try to look out for those who are stranded, like you. If someone includes you, don't let the opportunity go to waste. You're smart people; you know what to do.
  4. Beware of projects. I saw a significant rise in web-quests (worksheets that involve research through pre-selected links) and group activities. I don't want you to be caught off guard if your World Studies class (Freshman history class in my school district) has as many projects as mine.
  5. Study. It's easier to keep a good grade than try to raise it after a big drop, right? It's not a matter of the time you spend; it's a matter of how well you learn everything. Some people can get by just through paying attention in class and looking through notes the day of a test. Don't just assume that's you- you don't want to risk being wrong.
  6. Don't over-schedule. If you're playing a sport, your coach may think that sport is your life. If you get a job, your boss may think that job is your life. Your teachers may think school is your life. You don't want to stress yourself out by leading too many lives simultaneously.
  7. Take online classes (if available). If your school has the option, taking required extra classes online can really help the balance of life. ICT (computer stuff class) and Health are great online because you work on them on the computer at your own pace for a semester and you don't have to bother wasting time in a classroom. From what I've heard, the classroom versions are harder and more work, too. (Just don't take both classes at the same time like I did. Eeek!)
  8. Embrace the diversity. Going from a class of 30 to a class of 400, I realized that I wasn't really the only one like myself. If you're bad at something, chances are, someone else is worse. If anything is a sore spot for you, other people may know exactly how you feel, and you may even realize how normal you are in comparison to others. 
  9. Quirk alert! Teachers may have certain irks. Peers may drive you crazy. Anyone who catches you in a bad mood may make everything feel worse. Being mad at them gets you nowhere. Let it go, and you'll find yourself enjoying class more than you were before.
Don't worry. You'll be fine. If your high school years aren't your best, don't worry. You have so much more fun ahead of you than you can even imagine. Chances are, your fears about new people in a new school will be over before you know it. And really, who can sincerely say that they've never felt insecure or awkward? You aren't alone.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Personal Mountains (04/06/16)

Revised 04/07/16
Say that a person took a theoretical test about the quality of their days (on a scale from 1 to 10) and they got the above results. Assuming that there is no interference between the actual quality of the day or by how the quality was measured, where would you think the person's perceptions of these days would fall? (If the graph is truly the quality of the day, not the person's perception.) Would the average person have a more optimistic view of their own life, or would the results show a more pessimistic view?

My guess is that most people would be pessimists, at least in this sense. Our society is especially good at tagging something as perfect and then finding fault with it. I think that kind of group pessimism comes from each of us into the group as a whole, and then the group pessimism enters each individual, like a cycle of pessimism.

Think about it- we naturally surround ourselves with the lowest points in everyone's lives. The books, movies, and TV shows we watch all need a point of highest action and lowest happiness, which is the climax. That may be why high schools give students such depressing books to read during one of the low points in their own lives- by learning about climaxes from books that are really good at them, we know how better to deal with our own lives when we really need it.

Also, if you want to argue that books, movies, and TV shows are a bad example of how we perceive life, consider the present-day, American church as a whole and as a metaphor. As we (as individuals) try to make our way closer to God, sometimes the handholds we think are reliable are weaker than we think, so we slip. The churches and pastors try to make a safety net at the bottom so you don't fall too hard when you can't hold on. They talk about forgiveness and tell you what to do when you mess up.

Is that okay? The answer is a definite yes! If I fall, I don't want to hit rock bottom, literally figuratively. (Literally, because it would be a rock, but figuratively because it's still in the figurative example.) I don't care if I have a helmet, mostly effective climbing gear, and complete confidence that I won't fall- if there's any chance of me falling and hurting myself, I want something or someone there to save me, and I get this through Christ and the church.

But what about that equipment? Can we anchor ourselves in a way that it would take conscious effort to let ourselves fall? I think there's merit in that. We already have the helmet of salvation (Ephesians chapter 6), which I would say applies in this case as well. The harness would be the web of our actions, beliefs, and strengths that depend on our support but are also rooted in faith in Christ. Our lifeline, word choice intended, would be what is more out of our control, like our friends, family, and church mentors, and it is once again aided by God. I won't get into the debate of whether or not we can sabotage ourselves by cutting the cord, harness, and/or safety net, because that's a debate for another time.

*This comparison is also not complete in all senses. Don't confuse yourself with connections that don't fit because they weren't made to fit in the first place.

My point is that we as a community focus more on falling and stopping the impact than we actually try stopping the cause. We're too worried about the Valley of the Shadow of Death that we don't realize that we've climbed the Mountain of Life to avoid it. The mountain climb is what we need more than the lack of valley traveling. That may be when we're the closest to God- when we don't realize what we're doing right because we always have more that we're doing wrong.

In conclusion, we need to appreciate the good days and the good times more than we should worry about whatever Valleys we are trying to avoid. We need a church to be our safety net, our faith to be our harness, our friends to be our lifeline, and Christ to keep us alive and keep us together. It's okay to be saved at a young age and never lose the faith.

It's okay to be a Christian your whole life and never have to completely test the strength of the other things holding you up. You don't have to be part of the crowd that doesn't get saved for years or gets saved and has to come back to the faith. Learn to recognize when you're spiritually strong so you can fortify your own equipment and help those around you. Appreciate your spiritual mountains. Always try to come closer.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Goals Met? (03/31/16)

In my very first post, I set some goals for myself. It's been a long month, and I want to report how I've done on these. (Link here!)

I'm still really sorry because of how much I write (and how much you have to read).

Goal #1: Don't write too much. I always seem to start off too ambitiously and end up paying for it later on when I can't keep up. If I can keep word counts around or below 300 most days, that would be great.
Yeah, that goal didn't last very long. I haven't checked word counts on every post, but most of them are around 500 words, maybe more. It isn't much of a bad thing for me because I did keep up throughout the month, although smaller word counts may be easier for you readers to digest.
Goal #2: Be creative. Start off entries differently as often as possible. I find that the hardest part about writing is finding how to start, so the more creatively I start these, the more creativity both you and I may harness later in writing. 
I would say that I pretty much met that goal. My personal favorites were the one where I left a bunch of space empty on Writing Prompts  and the cliffhanger between Books- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Part 1 and Part 2. I have to admit, the math problem in Long Car Trips was fun to write as well.
Goal #3: Make it through every single day of March with a post per day. In past years, I did not use internet to post things and I occasionally made up days that I previously missed. I shouldn't be away from a computer an entire day this month, so as long as I have time, I should be able to make it.
I didn't quite make it all the way through this year. I missed two days: the 11th and the 13th. The 11th was because of a school function that went late, like I mentioned in Thing. The 13th, though, wasn't a matter of time, but of energy. I could see the computer from across the room, yet I didn't want to make any effort to use it. It was just One of THOSE Days.
Goal #4: Provide a clean, PG level blog. I will not post any mature content, and I request that you do the same. I don't want to make anyone read something above their maturity level.
So far, everything's been good. Thanks, everyone!
Goal #5: Be accurate. You saw the title of this blog, and you know what it means- Tell me if I'm wrong. All I ask is that you would please be respectful and have something useful to say. In other words, if you say that I messed up a fact, provide evidence. If you have a differing opinion, I would love to hear your side of the story if word it respectfully. All rude or inappropriate comments will not be approved and posted.
I didn't really have many comments that weren't all good things. There was a rule of which I was unaware that was pointed out to me in the comments, and I appreciate both the action and the wording of the comment. No hard feelings here! :) You can still comment if you see something wrong in any of the posts, and I will do my best to fix it.
Goal #6: Improve my analogies. I trying to find a way to word something earlier (I eventually took it out) and I came up with this analogy to make my point: Most vegetarians eat lettuce, but not all people who eat lettuce are vegetarian. Yeah, it could use some work. :)
I don't know how often I really used analogies. but none were blatantly obnoxious. Please tell me if you have a specific example that you think needs help, and I can try to improve it to the best of my ability.

I think there were a few other things that were accomplished over this past month as well. Many people have told me how much they liked my poem in Hush Little Reader... , and I think between that and I Thought You Hated Poetry, my ability and understanding of poetry has increased. In my English class, we just started talking about Shakespeare and his iambic pentameter (fun big words!), so I'm sure there'll be more to look forward to in poetry from that as well.

It's been a good month. I felt like I could speak my mind to many more people than if I tried to speak in person, and I could do it all whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted, and about whatever I wanted. When I got near the end, I started planning different topics to talk about and assigned them a day, but I don't feel like everything has been used that should have. It gets hard to keep up the whole "each day for a month" thing, but I don't want to stop posting. I know that the Slice Of Life world has something with writing once a week, and I might try something like that. It is nice to stockpile ideas for March, though, so maybe I'll drop out for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November) and hibernate until March next year. No matter how it settles, I do plan to go on!

Sorry, everyone. You're stuck with me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hypocrites! (03/30/16)

Confession time: I'm a hypocrite. Near the end of yesterday's post about frustration (link!), I said that sometimes I think we should forgive a situation or a person even if they haven't apologized first. Now there are certain people in all of our lives who are the complete opposite of us, and in this case, opposites do not attract. These are the few people who can get under your skin, but they do a really good job of it. I had to interact with two of these people today, and I just felt really irritated with them, even if they didn't realize it.

"Hey self!"
"You remember what you said yesterday about forgiveness?"
"Oh. Right. Do I have to?"
"Right now? I mean, these things take time. That's what they always say."
"But the sooner you get rid of the issue..."
"The sooner it should heal? Okay, I guess I'll try."
"Good choice."

I'm also a hypocrite for despising hypocrites. Someone will bug me because they act so much differently from their words, so I'll judge them really harshly, even if I keep my judgement just to myself. Then, every now and then, I see myself doing something that I say that I despise when other people do it, and then I realize that I'm being hypocritical again.

The Pharisees in Jesus's day were one denomination of sorts within the Jewish culture, and they were the most careful to make sure no one broke one of the Old Testament laws. They took laws beyond their original intent and created rules on top of rules to prevent from breaking those rules, but they focused more on the action than the intent. Matthew chapter 23 shows more clearly the problem, so I do recommend you check it out. (Link is to Bible Gateway.) Jesus called them hypocrites several times, especially in the book of Matthew.

From a human's point of view, there seem to be two different categories of sins: the big stuff and the small stuff. The big stuff would be things like (not limited to) murder and being unfaithful to a spouse. For people who don't have to control the impulse not to go out and stab someone, I would say that it becomes fairly common to take pride in one's self because of comparison. With that pride also comes more of the supposed small stuff: lying, cheating, stealing, judging, and hypocrisy. I'm not saying that anyone who isn't a murderer is a filthy, dirty, horrible human being who will cheat you out of your money and be an overall person to hang around with. I find in myself that judging other people and being a hypocrite is hard to avoid.

But with God, we're all sinners. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 NIV ©2011). Death doesn't just apply to those who commit crimes or do something scandalous. Each little lie you tell or promise you keep is enough to separate you from God until you receive his gift, which is the Holy Spirit.

Quick note: I learned in a project I did last year about relationship issues that it's best to call out the action, not the person. If you label someone as a bully, then they may feel like they have to live up to that label, but if you target the bullying behavior, it sounds more like a problem that can be addressed. I don't recommend going around calling people hypocrites, either. (Again, that would make you a hypocrite. I mean.... make you sound hypocritical....)

I can't exactly end this by telling you guys not to be hypocrites because that would make me a hypocrite (again). Instead, please point out if you see that I'm being hypocritical about anything. Thanks!