You probably have as much time to read as I do to write, so I’ll make this brief.
We all know the Internet can be an endless tunnel of trivia and despair. But, like a lot of things we love to hate or hate to love, it can also be a source of inspiration.
If you need a little hit of happy, check out this list of 18 beautiful moments in 2018. It’s written from a Christian perspective, but you don’t have to be one to appreciate many of the movie, music, and book recommendations (or the clips of uplifting television moments).
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The wisest man on earth said that.
Others have gotten more specific: There are no new stories, just the same five or six or ten told in an infinite variety of ways. If you read often and closely enough, you start to believe it’s true.
Assuming that no idea or story arc is original, it’s still possible to do genuinely creative work. It’s possible to think deeply about things and come to authentic conclusions. Of course, there’s some sense in which we all retread worn paths. Still, you are the X factor in the stories you write, the life you live. No one can be you.
Why, then, do so many people seem to produce thinly disguised copies of other people’s work or parrot an “expert’s” talking points instead of doing their own work? There’s a point at which derivation becomes hollow. Most of us can sense when someone has phoned in a tired plot or spouted a canned answer.
I wonder how much shallow thinking, predictable plotting, and/or unexamined living is due to the kind of information we take in on a daily basis. How much do we consume other people’s opinions and re-think them as if we’d made them up? How much to we allow ourselves to go on autopilot, listening to the news or radio or scrolling social media to save our brain the trouble of wrestling through conundrums?
How often do we artists see some commercial trend and think, I guess I need to produce that if everyone else is?
My suspicion is that it’s…often. I’m no exception. I find myself binging, binging, binging on words that don’t enlighten or challenge me–ideas that don’t contribute to the quality of my thought life. If I’m honest, I do this because I’m lazy. I’m addicted to expedience.
It takes tremendous energy to think, and life tires me out.
But something deeper whispers, There’s a way to do this hard work. I might not like the way, but I’m going to find it.
I’m a bit of a minimalist. (I say ‘a bit’ because some minimalists don’t believe in owning a second pair of pants. I’m not that kind). I donate huge bags of stuff I cull from the house at least twice a year. My teenagers know the drill.
Me: It’s time.
Teens: We’ve already gone through our drawers.
Me: What about your shelves?
Teens: You brought these things back from Africa.
Me: Okay, not those. Do you have anything you haven’t used in a year?
Me: Six months?
Me: Two weeks? One day?
Teens: Can we talk to Dad?
But you know what I wish I had more of–always, no matter what?
Books. Not ebooks, physical books. I like giving them as gifts, and I love receiving them.
Ebooks aren’t going anywhere, I realize. They’re convenient to purchase. They don’t take up space. They’re dirt cheap, and I have a billion of them on my eReader at the moment.
But real books are different. They’re permanent. They don’t glow. They take on the shape you give them as you work your way through their pages. They feel and smell like memories (or promises, if they’re brand new). They can be shared, hand-to-hand. They can be stared at as you let your mind drift. They help you read better.
If you’re a minimalist like me, and the thought of extra items around the house makes you itch, consider this: shoes, old kitchen appliances, sports gear, electronics, sweaters, picture frames, toys, and pants take up more space than a 300 page book. If you must (and I, for one, must), purge your house of all those items. But, please, make room for some books this Christmas.
Sometimes you stumble across an article that smacks you in the face because it articulates something you knew was true but hadn’t allowed yourself to think about.
That was this article for me. (Merry Christmas, Anne Bogel, for hurting me with the truth).
The author of the article says people aren’t reading deeply and patiently anymore. But he knows that isn’t news. Researchers have been noting it for a while. What surprises him (and me) is that this isn’t just true for digital natives, but for those of us who mostly grew up without the internet.
It gets real when he admits that he can’t read a chapter of a good novel anymore without fighting the urge to check his phone after two paragraphs. Even when he tells himself he will not check his phone, the internet, or his email, he is thinking about those things, not the sentences on the page. He wants to cry or rip up a phonebook (remember those?) because, as a writer, words are his life. And lots of them strung together don’t hold his attention anymore.
If he can’t read, we are all in big trouble.
He says we are. Some of us won’t admit our boredom and distractibility because of pride, of course, but we’re all forgetting how to read well.
I, for one, am admitting it. I find it increasingly difficult to sustain the discipline of longform reading, and I’m worried. As a Christian, I need to be able to read Scripture deeply. I need to be able to sit patiently in prayer. I need to ruminate.
On the less existential side, I need to read well to write well.
And it’s getting harder.
Don’t even get me started on my digital native kids. We’ve always homeschooled, and I swear they’ve read more books in their short lives than I ever did at their age. But even they admit it’s starting to feel more like a chore to read for pleasure now that they have phones, take online classes, and play Fortnite with friends.
Thousands of words over 300 pages aren’t looking so good these days.
Someone come up with a 5-step plan to fix this, stat, because I don’t want my brain to change in this way. I would go off Twitter (after having been on for approximately 45 seconds) if I thought that would help.
I’m supposed to edit 33 chapters of my novel to send to an agent by the first of the year. Yes, during the holiday season. I told myself there’s never a good or bad time to work on edits. I hope I’m right.
To cope with holiday merriment, work, teens, and crippling deadlines I’m sleeping–a lot. This is because, for me, the only alternative stress response is to sleep too little. And I’m too old to sleep too little.
I was going to try to NaNoEdMo myself during the month of December (which means butt in chair every day, no exceptions), but I soon realized I’ll only make it out alive if I take off one day per week.
No editing on Sundays.
Not gonna lie, it’s exhilarating to see the number of remaining chapters shrink. I need a good probiotic, of course, but it feels mostly good to be in my manuscript so relentlessly.
Still, other things have to give in order for me to make this deadline. Not family stuff, but some of my ideals. For instance, I bought all my Christmas gifts online from big box stores in a two-hour period on Cyber Monday, and it’s likely I’ve already forgotten what I purchased.
It wasn’t cozy. I didn’t feel like Christmas.
But, listen, we can do anything for a month, right?
**You should forget NaNoEdMo and try NaNoWriMo sometime**
I’m not a tranquil, easygoing person. Even as a kid I planned for imaginary contingencies. I worried and wondered. I made lists.
I’m convinced this is a bit of a personality defect since I had a wonderful childhood.
It’s still true of me as a 41-year-old wife, mom, and artist. I have a good life, and I’m still a bit of a hurricane on the inside. My emotions are easy to stir up. Hard to quell.
I love this time of year. I’m a Christian, and this season reminds me why I have hope–both in this life and in the one to come. But Christmas stresses me out, too. It ruins my routines. It sinks me under the weight of its happy expectations. It adds items to my to do list and upends my fragile status quo.
If I’m honest, I miss the way we celebrated Christmas when we lived in India. Which is to say, we did Advent readings, watched good movies, lit candles, and opened gifts on Christmas morning.
There were no concerts, no expectations, no parties, no travel, no Christmas cards, no feasts, no detailed gift lists, no endless choices, no school performances, no commercials reminding us that we hadn’t bought enough.
Our Christmas dinners in India were spaghetti and mutton meat balls because that was the fanciest thing we could find in our little hill station market.
I’m in America, now, not India. Sure, there’s plenty to love about an American Christmas. But peaceful, it ain’t. Not unless I plan for it.
So I’m mostly cutting out social media this month. I’m checking my email once a day. I’m listening to Christmas music I actually enjoy. I’m drinking coffee, slowly, in the wee hours of the morning. I’m putting on my makeup in silence so I can think. I’m reading my Bible before I reach for my phone. I’m working on tricky edits of my manuscript in the morning instead of pushing them off to the afternoon when I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed early. I’m reading novels instead of watching Netflix.
I want to thrive this holiday season, not just survive. And, for me, planning for peace is the only way to go.
Should I write something about gratitude since it’s Thanksgiving week?
I’m not over this cold. Running wouldn’t be a good idea, and I am losing my mind as a result.
Why are my dogs developing food aggression all of a sudden?
There are a bazillion doomsday blog posts out there. Every second person is writing in Manichean terms–as if life is a Star Wars installment, and everyone is either on Luke’s side or Darth’s.
Everyone pretends to be Yoda, but no one is.
I need to ease up on the coffee.
Another agent requested my full manuscript and says she’s anxious to read it (!!!!!!!!!!).
No more coffee today.
I haven’t touched my manuscript since I got that email.
What is going on with me that I can’t get back to editing the manuscript?
I entered my novel in writing contest in which one judge gave me a total score of 98.7 out of 100 with glowing comments. The second gave a 97.8/100 with similarly glowing comments. The third gave me a 77 with no comments.
I cannot stop thinking about that 77 with no comments.
A 77 is a C.
The only time I’ve ever gotten a C is in an Algebra class.
I’ve written before that two of my three high schoolers take college classes. They don’t drive, which means I take them and tuck my grown out bangs behind my right ear and type while they’re in class. The halls smell like new gym floors at the community college, and the lights buzz (a person’s eye bags look infinitely worse under those lights, fyi). Cold air hovers around my neck because the only available “lounge” chairs stand in front of a drafty double window overlooking the parking lot.
Me (today): How many absences do you have in your classes?”
Oldest: Like, how many times have we missed, or how many can we miss?
Me: How many can you? I can’t keep track.
Oldest: I have three or four left.
Me (knowing I shouldn’t): Do you want to blow off class?
Oldest: I’m never gonna say no to that.
Middle: I don’t know…
Me: I just don’t feel like it. At all. I know I’m not supposed to say that to you.
Oldest: I don’t have anything due.
Me (envisioning my kids someday dropping out of college because I set a bad example): I just can’t make myself go to class.
Middle: I guess it’s fine.
Oldest: I would never choose to go to class.
Me: You have to go to class. Only once in a blue moon can you skip. You know that, right?
Middle: My professor has missed more than we have.
Still over here thinking about vulnerability that helps connect us with others.
And now, after reading this article, I’m wondering about fake vulnerability–the kind that looks brave but is actually crafted and careful like those ridiculous #nofilter Instagram pics people love to post (No, really, she woke up like this).
The first step to creating genuine connection with others is to be honest about where you’re coming from. Story: I just joined Twitter, and I wrestled with what to put in my bio. I didn’t want to say too much (or, Lord help me, use emojis), but I knew I needed to let people know a few true things. That way, if they aren’t interested in what I’m writing/thinking about, they can move on. No harm, no foul.
So I said I’m a Christian because that’s the realest thing about me. I’m aware putting that out there may cause some people to turn away immediately. I’m aware they might assume I’m writing “Christian fiction” when I’m actually trying to do something different.
I imagine most people want you to be upfront with them, though. They don’t want to feel like you’ve Trojan horse-d your viewpoint into their consciousness. If they don’t agree with what you’re saying, fine and good. At least you’ve been honest.
The difference between real and fake vulnerability is…the truth. If someone sticks around after they know what you’re really about, guess what? You’re in a better position to say the things you really mean–and, in the end, maybe even help someone.