Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My muse is fleeting.

Psalm 45: 1, 2 Timothy 1: 7, Hebrews 12: 11

This is yet another whiny post about how writing is hard and I have no self-discipline.  But, anything worth doing is hard, so I guess I'm on the right track?

I've been getting serious about the things I need to do to to get my life where I want it, and I have taken large and small steps.  One large step was having surgery this past December (that's another post) and one seemingly small step was getting rid of cable TV.

Now, I'm not off TV entirely, and I'm not one of those smug jerks who is impossible to talk to at parties and family functions because they answer every question with, "Oh, I don't know anything about that because I don't watch TV," then get that little smirk on their face like they just won the argument you didn't know you were having, but I am limiting myself to DVD (almost) and that feels really good.  And as soon as DH's favorite network show finally ends (die, Ted, die) I want to convert strictly to a streaming service.

But getting rid of uncontrollable (for me) distractions is only half the battle.  The other half is about filling up that now-free time with the productive things I want to do.  And that is a real struggle.  Laziness is learned, and discipline is learned, and finding a healthy balance between rest and work is learned.  Making conscious choices about your life is a learned behavior, it is not automatic.  (This is what I think a lot of people don't get about the human race: when left to our own devices, we leave everything to it's own devices, to everyone's detriment.)

I've been reading a lot about feminism lately, and the main message I'm getting is that, like last week's concern with morality, I'm about halfway to where I want to be.  And the reason is because, in the areas where I have thought out my choices, I am where I want to be.  But the areas where I fall short are those where I have just gone with the flow and never thought about it much.

As a writer, I'm about a quarter of the way to where I want to be.  I am removing distractions, and I am trying to think my way clear to what it means to be a writer.  But I am not actually putting any more time into writing, and if I don't start filling up my time with more actual writing instead of just daydreaming about it, I am going to lose my ability to find inspiration.

See, inspiration is not some ephemeral sprite that graces you erratically with it's presence.  It is not innate, like a 'you have it or you don't' scenario.  Inspiration is a learned behavior.  You can discipline yourself to it.  I bought, and read, Stephen King's On Writing years ago, and while I was not quite ready for it's message back then, it stuck with me.  I'm getting ready to read it again, and maybe more of it will sink in this time.  It is a deceptively simple book about what it means to practice the art and craft of writing.  And even though there are no scary monsters in it, it is by far the most frightening book he has ever written.

Frightening; because it calls the writer to action, and promises that action will bring change.  And the specific action to which the eminent Mr. King calls all writers is: (you guessed it) Discipline.  To the tune of two thousand words a day.  How long are these blog posts?  Because they're all the writing I get done in a week.  Pathetic.  No wonder it's getting hard.  No wonder they're coming out later and later.  No wonder my muse is fleeting.  I'm not disciplining it to stay by my side, and grow happily with me day by day.

How long would it take me to write two thousand words a day?  Sometime soon, we may find out.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I love Le Mis.

Proverbs 29: 23, Galatians 6: 3, Philippians 2: 3-11

But I can't pronounce it, so don't ask me how.  I just call it 'Le Mis' to sound more sophisticated without embarrassing myself over the real, untranslatable, French title.  Anyway, it is yet another one of those things that I love in spite of myself, not just because I will consistently, pridefully, repudiate anything that makes me feel too much, but also because it is yet another beautiful thing that makes me look ugly in its shining reflection.

I have never given mercy and charity beyond all reason, like the Honest Bishop.  I have never re-shaped myself entirely to repay a debt, and given everything I have to protect the happiness of the innocent, like Jean Valjean.  I have never believed so strongly in a cause that I would sacrifice anything for it, like Enjolras.  I have never loved someone so much that I could put myself entirely aside, like Eponine.

But I'm interested in learning how.  After all, no one wants to end up like Javert.

In fact, I love the musical so much that I am quickly becoming one of those weird, rabid people who compare every little difference between iterations, and plan my next purchase of yet another version of the soundtrack.  (Do not get me started on the 'flaws' in the movie. (Anne Hathaway was transcendent, Eponine's character was gutted and Samantha Barks was robbed. (Russell Crowe was weirdly good.)))

I have even started reading the book, though I have almost decided to forgive myself if I can't finish it.  It is, I have heard, about nine hundred pages of detailed rambling, for about one hundred pages of actual story.  And that has been my experience so far, being only about one hundred pages in, and having only met one major, and one minor, character from the musical.  (Guess which one I met first, and how many pages we spent discussing his life before GETTING ON WITH IT.)  Hugo is a good writer, he's not boring.  It's just that I've already hit the highlights, so I find myself anxiously awaiting them.

I'm aware in doing so, I'm missing the point, so let's go back to the part where the story is so dramatic, and the characters so superreal, that I acutely feel my moral inferiority and get all teary over their pain and triumph.  When facing that kind of misery and terror, do I have the presence of mind to step out of myself, and be a better person than I ever thought possible?  Nope, I piss and moan and start a blog.  I'm like Jean Valjean in the middle of the story: trying to be good, but just now getting a glimpse of what that means.  As inferior as I feel to most of the characters, I take comfort in Valjean's example in particular.  He begins the story as a pitiful villain, and ends it a humble, yet powerful, saint.  The mark of how far he has come is that he can still see himself back at the beginning.  He is driven to be good by the perception of his sins nipping like curs at his heels.

Pride is the only immortal sin.  The feeling that you have finally beaten it is merely the first indication that the battle is about to be rejoined.  But Valjean does beat it in the end, maintaining his humility so well that he is blind to his own virtue.  I strive to live in this paradox: to be truly good is to never know your own goodness.  The only way to fully reform yourself is to focus entirely on other people.  As Fantine and Eponine reassure Valjean at his death: "To love another person is to see the face of God."  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I hate Christmas shoppers.

Luke 18: 10-14, Matthew 5: 44-48, Matthew 25: 37-40

If Christmas is supposed to be all about peace, and joy, and the love of God for all humanity, then why does everyone have such a bad attitude about it?  Not only a bad attitude, but a totally un-ironic, un-self-aware bad attitude about it.  I actually had a customer snap angrily at me this December: "You have to stay happy!"

Now that Christmas is over, and the emotional hangover has passed, let's all take an honest look at our behavior during the most wonderful time of the year:  How much fun did we really have?  How much time did we spend complaining?  How many times did we get our feelings hurt?  How many times did we justify ourselves for just doing what we needed to get done?

Christmas is an amplifier for real life.  The joys are so much more joyful, but the stresses are so much more stressful.  The reason we repeat the pattern every year, never seeming to learn the lesson, never remembering that last year we promised ourselves that this year would be different, is because we all remember the joys, and choose to forget the stresses.  Everyone wants to remember the look of joy on their child's face when they opened the perfect gift, no one wants to remember the condescending tone they used with the overworked store clerk who helped them select the perfect gift.

I know you don't think you do this.  I know you are reading this thanking God you aren't like that.  But you are.  And I know you are, because I am, too.  When I was in high school, I worked one summer in a restaurant and it gave me a life long sympathy for people in food service.  But my time in retail has given me the opposite feeling.  I have always hated shopping, and prefer not to interact with store clerks at all, but when I have to, I am very strict when I judge their behavior.

I hold every store clerk I interact with to an extremely high standard.  I compare them to the best colleagues I have worked with, I compare them to myself on my best good days.  Which is totally unfair, since I have no idea if this is the best this person can do, or if they just found out their mother died and their horrible boss won't let them have the rest of the day off.

And you don't know either.  But let me share with you a revolutionary idea: you are responsible for the tone of the conversation you have with the person who is serving you, in any capacity.  That's right: the customer is responsible for being nice first, because the customer has all the power.  (Money=Power) And as people who like to think of themselves as good, we need to use the little power we have in life to lift others up.

I know the retail and service industries have done everything in their power to convince you otherwise: the customer is always right and all that jazz.  But that is nothing but a rouse to take your money.  We do not serve you with a smile because we like you, we do it only because we fear you taking your business elsewhere.  We are like strippers.  We like you as long as you keep the money coming, but otherwise we feel contempt for your self-importance and self-righteousness.  And the more you yell and stomp and insist, the more pathetic you look to us.

So if we are craven and insincere, why should you waste genuine kindness on us?  If we secretly hate you, why not treat us like the trash we are?  Because you are better than that.  Because you are Jesus to everyone that you meet every day, even if they make less money than you make.  Because power corrupts, and corruption should be fought on every front, but especially the internal front.

"The least of these" is such a poetic phrase that I believe it has lost all meaning.  I fail every day to show compassion for people, but on my best good days I try to remind myself to translate "the least of these" to "the people I have the most contempt for" and challenge myself over and over again to show grace and love to yelling, stomping, insistent customers.  Whatever I do for the people I have the most contempt for, I do for Jesus.

Now that Christmas is over and we have failed all our resolutions already, let's play a game.  Let's imagine that all of the service people we meet today: waiters, store clerks, tollbooth operators, gas station attendants, nurses, bank tellers, janitors, day care workers, pharmacists, cashiers, and emergency services personnel, are all wearing big rubber Jesus masks.  Would that help?  Would we be snotty to Jesus if he pulled us over for speeding or sold out of the one toy our child wants so badly?  Of course not.  Even if He chose not to miraculously transform a dorky board game into a cool action figure for us, would we still be mad?  No, because He's Jesus.

I will try to imagine you in a rubber Jesus mask today, and you can try to imagine me in a rubber Jesus mask, too, and after we are done trying not to giggle, we can all try to be nicer to each other.  And if we get really good at it, we can carry it all the way to next Christmas.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I hate sissys.

Genesis 2: 24, Matthew 10: 34-38, Ephesians 6: 4

I am noticing a disturbing trend in my customers lately.  Well, disturbing to me, anyway: since transferring to the Children's department at my store, I see families in action a lot more than I used to, and the way that some people address their children is really starting to get to me.

I think we all get that same level of that-will-never-be-me creep when we see parents who call each other 'mother' and 'father' or 'mom' and 'dad' instead of by their names or an affectionate pet name, like adults who have sex with each other should, but now I am also seeing parents who call their children 'brother' and 'sister', or 'sissy', instead of their names.

Just because your child has a sibling, their name does not change to 'brother' or 'sister'.  They are still themselves.  They are still Taelur, or Tielur, or Braandin, or Braedan, or K-li, or Ki-ly, or Edward, or Bella, or whatever god-awful-trendy moniker you've saddled the poor child with, and they still deserve to be acknowledged that way.

I believe that trying to define your child solely by their role in the family, and not as an individual, can be very harmful.  It can make it difficult and confusing for them to get to know themselves as they grow up.  I know that when my mother tried to force me to see myself as only a daughter, and nothing more, it caused all sorts of problems, for me and for us as a family.  So when I see other parents say: "Brother, come here," or "Sissy, decide what you want so we can go," it rankles me.  I am rankled.

Besides, if you don't call your child by their name, how will they know which 'brother' or 'sister' you mean?  It hasn't happened yet, but I can imagine families accidentally going home with the wrong assortment of children, simply because we have rendered our own offspring so anonymous that the poor tykes will answer to anyone who calls them by their title.  (And if you saw the way some people supervise their kids in stores, you wouldn't be surprised, either.  A store is still public, just like the street.  Watch your kids. Whole 'nother post.)

And I notice that 'brother' doesn't have a diminutive form, much less a diminutive form with an extremely pejorative double meaning.  I hope every girl whose parents call her 'sissy' grows up to be an Olympic boxer, alligator wrestler, or ATF agent.  Or whatever she wants to be, of course, as long as she has chosen, and not her family for her.

I do not have children.  So, of course, I don't know what I'm talking about.  I usually avoid any and all commentary on parenting, no matter how mind-numbingly obvious (You should probably feed your kids every day.  But I could be wrong.  I'm not a parent), but I'm going to put this one out there anyway.  Shoot me.

I do not have children, which means that I am still a child.  So, speaking to you from the world of childhood: please call me by the name you gave me.  Please love me for who I am, not just what I do for you.  And when the time comes, please let me go, and let me be who God made me to be.  I will always love you for that.