The Road Goes Ever On and On…

file000724748949We’ve been doing a lot of driving lately. Not on roads that look like the lovely one on the left, which makes me want to put on my walking shoes and take off.

No, the roads we’ve been on look more like one at the end of this post. Just not so flat and straight.

After recent house-hunting excursions to West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, we have a Wish List of possible houses to buy. We won’t be making any decisions or offers until we sell our current home, though. So for now, everything’s on hold. (I should take a little hike on that path while I’m waiting…)

I’ve been thinking, meanwhile, about the allegorical road rolling under our wheels.

We’ve lived in this old house of ours for more than 29 years. I remember when we bought it. The day we moved in seems like it was only about five years ago. The kids we raised here are grown and moved on. Two are married. One has five kids of her own. Life’s road has slipped past in a blur.

I can’t stop time from flying past, but I’m not ready to sit on the front porch and watch it go, file000790174640either. Some folks think we’re crazy for selling so much of our stuff and moving out of state. True, we don’t know what’s down the road. But staying here wouldn’t prevent surprises, so why not go out and meet them head-on?

On the other hand, we won’t be going anywhere until the house sells. So I might be sitting out on the same familiar front porch watching the world go by for quite a while yet.

I’ll keep y’all posted.

 

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The Last Monday’s Musings: Writer’s Blogs

Max_Elskamp_during_workI could call this Part II, I suppose, since my last Thursday’s Thoughts were about blogging. Or maybe Part III, since on Saturday I announced my decision to no longer provide weekly situation reports. But I won’t assign numbers to these things. I’ll just muse.

Coinciding with my recent thoughts, musings, and cogitations, I ran across a post this morning on the subject of writers and blogging. It’s so appropriate, in fact, that I’ve changed my mind about what to muse on today.

What the writer says about blogging makes as much or more sense than anything else I’ve seen lately. Why? Because it parallels my own opinions on the subject (we always like people who agree with us!) as well as my experience.

Her suggestion that we make our post titles SEO-friendly is one I’d be well advised to follow. Hence the title of this one, “The Last Monday’s Musings.” It’s not that I won’t be sharing my thoughts on Mondays any longer, but that I won’t use that title anymore. No one’s likely to google “Monday’s Musings” (and truly, I think my spell checker should quit underlining google; it’s a well established verb by now), so I’ll try to use titles that are more likely to get picked up by the Web’s spiders. Like for instance, “Writer’s Blogs.”

That reminds me: I should be more thoughtful about tags. When I see how someone else tags things (for instance, my posts on the Speculative Faith blog), my usual reaction is, “Oh, yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” So I hope to put some of my creative energies into effective labeling.

For now, I plan to continue posting twice a week. I’ll probably follow the same Monday and Thursday schedule, eliminating only Saturday. Don’t look for substantial changes in content, though. I’ll still scatter random thoughts across the pages, which thoughts may or may not concern writing.

I don’t expect the blog to sell books or substantially increase my “tribe.” My purpose is to be accessible to my readers (all two dozen of them) online. And for those purposes, I think Y’s Words is on the right track.

 

 

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Monday’s Musings: It’s All About Story

Back in August, I talked about how the story we write is more important than our writing style and even our message. That’s because a good tale gets a point across better than a good sermon. The reader (or hearer) doesn’t care about the finer points of the delivery if what’s being said captures the imagination.

This was confirmed, underlined, and highlighted for me last week as I read a book by an author I recently “met” on Twitter. I don’t recall how I came across his name or his writing, but something caught my eye, and I looked at his Amazon page. The title of one of his books joined forces with the cover image to shout, “Read me!”  I read the blurb and the one review that had been posted. And this fish was hooked. crooked man's mile cover

Not that I had nothing better to do, mind you. And I wasn’t exactly looking for something to read. But the story intrigued me. Being as cheap as Scrooge, I borrowed the book via Amazon Prime so I could read it for free (sorry, Eric). And since that only allows access to a book for two weeks, I bumped it up to the top of my reading list.

But I was glad I did.

Here are my thoughts on
The Crooked Man’s Mile
by J. Eric Laing

This is the kind of story you think about long after you’ve put it down. The sort of book you can hardly wait to get back to. When I finished it, I was sorry it was over but delighted with the way it wrapped up.

The characters vibrate with three-dimensional realism. When you meet them you say, “Hey, I know that guy!” or, “Oh, yeah, I remember her from grade school.” Even the minor characters are multi-dimensional and have believable motives; there’s not a cardboard cut-out in the bunch.

The descriptions are so clear you have no trouble envisioning the scenes. The story has such depth and resonance you have to keep reminding yourself it’s fiction.

Speaking of resonance, take the title, which sublimely suggests a combination of the child’s nursery rhyme and the traditional prayer about not judging another until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. The man in the story is crooked in body and soul, but by walking in his shoes, the reader becomes a bit less critical of people who don’t fit the accepted standard of “normal.” All this flows easily and comfortably, worming its way into the heart without grating or sermonizing.

But here’s the thing: when I first began reading, I wanted to get out my critiquer’s pen and start slicing and dicing. Technically speaking, according to all the things we’re taught about what’s good writing and what we should avoid, this is not a particularly well-written book. There are many difficulties, ranging from wordiness, too much “telling” at the beginning to misuse of words and minor spelling and grammatical errors, and bouncing around from one time frame to another with dizzying distraction.

However. I hadn’t gotten very far into this story before all those things fell by the wayside, much as you’d shed that jacket you needed in the morning but no longer want as the day grows warm. As a writer, I still noticed the issues, but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.

That was the essence of my review I posted on Amazon. But there’s more on my mind that I didn’t say there because it’s not relevant except in the world I move in (Christian fiction):

No one could call this story Christian fiction. But God, Christianity, and the church receive more than passing mention; and when these things appear, they’re portrayed with great honesty. You’ll find no gospel message here, but there are poignant examples of love, forgiveness, and redemption. The author makes no attempt to persuade the reader to consider the truth of God; however, his realistic portrayal of life confirms the truth of God, even though he makes no mention of it. No reader would find himself drawn to the gospel of Christ through reading it. In that—and only in that—I found the story lacking. But at the same time, I’m inspired.

EricThis author portrays the world honestly, neither whitewashing nor befouling the images. I’ve learned a lot over the years about the craft of writing, and I shouldn’t be lazy about employing the things I’ve been taught. But more important than skillful technique, as this book showed me, is the story itself.

J. Eric Laing could teach us all a thing or two about telling a story clearly, honestly, and with unfeigned love.

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Monday’s Musings: Artist at Work

img162A seven-year-old with markers and a sheet of white paper.

A landscaper with a shovel, a truck, and a vision.

A woman decorating on a budget.

A drywall contractor texturing a ceiling.

A man with a guitar and the woman he loves.

A tool-and-die maker designing a machine tool for a specific use.

A busy mother with a hungry family but limited supplies at her disposal.

A man with a needle, inks, and a canvas of willing skin.

A gardener who revels in the smell of the earth and participation in the circle of life.

An experienced photographer with a new perspective.

A writer with a burden too weighty for words to convey.

God, when He chooses our gifts and bestows them.

 

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Monday’s Musings: Selective Hearing

Two or three weeks ago (or possibly more), author J. Stephen Miller asked if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing his nonfiction book, Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language. I suggested a trade: I’d review his book if he’d review The Story in the Stars. That is, provided he wasn’t in a big hurry, as I couldn’t say how long it would take me to read his. He said there was no time limit and agreed to the plan, so we exchanged Kindle versions, and I put his book in the third slot on my to-be-read list.

Last week, the day after I started reading it, he sent me an email with a link to his wife’s review of Stars.  Apparently he’d asked her to do his dirty work for him; but I guess she didn’t mind, because she gave it five stars, and he assured me she doesn’t give five stars lightly.

But that’s another subject. Back to my point:

Though I’m not getting through Mr. Miller’s book as quickly as I’d like, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ll put a review on Amazon after I’ve finally finished reading it, but this isn’t a review; just a rumination.

Throughout my musings, a line from the old Paul Simon song, “The Boxer,” has gone through my mind: Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

In his book, Mr. Miller does a good job of looking at the phenomenon from every conceivable angle and gives due consideration to the many objections. He points out that the scientists who have delved into the subject the most extensively began their research as skeptics, fully expecting to find natural, scientific causes for these people’s experiences. However, they were all forced to conclude that, whatever it was that happened to these people, it can’t be explained by anything in the physical realm.

The people who have had these experiences described sensations that were separate and distinct from any dream experience. What happened to them doesn’t match up with the symptoms of lack of oxygen or any other known brain-related phenomenon. Many of them returned knowing things they couldn’t have possibly known (relating conversations that took place after they were dead, describing in detail events that occurred while they were unconscious, talking about meeting a dead relatives whom they hadn’t known about, etc.) Each person reported that even as they went through the experience, they were amazed, because it was nothing any of them had expected. The things they saw were extremely vivid, even in the cases of people who had been born blind and had never before seen anything.

Every experience was a little different, and it was intensely personal for each; however, researchers have listed fifteen commonalities reported by all, no matter what continent they lived on, what language they spoke, or what their culture or religious background.

The subject is fascinating, and I think the author does an excellent job laying out the facts in a logical, unemotional fashion. He does not resort to sensationalism. The facts speak for themselves, however, and it doesn’t seem likely that any reasonable person could read this book (nor any other that deals with this subject in such a practical manner) and remain convinced there is no God.

Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

Even without this book, we have no excuse. Creation gives more than sufficient evidence of God’s existence. The Bible gives us that too, as well as reliable information–sufficient to stand up in a court of law if the jury were truly impartial–concerning not only His existence, but His character and attributes, what He expects of us His creation, how He has worked throughout history, and how He’ll wrap it all up at the end. This is all really important stuff, highly relevant to everyone alive.

Still, a man hears what he wants to hear…

As Jesus Himself said in Luke 16:31, long before anyone studied Near Death Experiences, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

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Monday’s Musings: Holidays

The holiday season.

The words mean different things to different people. But for most adults, it makes them cringe, for a number of reasons.

A person who’s really into Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth might hate to see the way it’s been degraded to the status of commercial holiday. If you have family but not abundant funds, you might shudder at what it’s going to cost you. If you have no family, it’s possible you feel emptier at this time of the year than at any other.

Whether we love this season or not, it is upon us. There’s not a thing we can do about it except keep moving forward; sooner or later, we’ll get through it. Of course, if you’re a kid — or a kid at heart — you might wish it would last forever.

For quite a few of my adult years, I didn’t see the point of holidays. I considered all of them, not just Christmas, an annoyance. An imposition. An expensive interruption to my life.

A simple read-through of the Pentateuch, however, reveals that Jehovah God gives unusual significance to certain days of the year. Christians aren’t expected to keep the Old Testament feasts, but it’s important for us to realize that God not only approves of holidays, but He invented them.

For example, take the Bible’s first mention of a significant day: the sabbath. From the very beginning, God intended mankind to pause every seventh day and take a breather. It was designed as an opportunity to rest from the daily routine, to reflect on the past, and look forward to the future ultimate sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9).

Like everything else God commands, all the Old Testament feasts were intended for the people’s benefit as well as God’s glory. Each commemorated a historical event (Passover, for instance) or accomplished an important purpose (like the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur). Moreover, although the ancients didn’t realize it, each holiday looked forward to a future Messianic event that would ultimately consummate the feast. (Other sources discuss this as well, but for a clear and knowledgeable explanation, I recommend The Feasts of the Lord by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal.)

“But,” you may say, “we’re not talking about God-ordained holidays here. We’re looking at Christless-mas and Satan Claus and all that nonsense. What’s a Christian supposed to do with that?”

We should ask God that question. I suspect the answer will look a little different for each of us. But while you consider the matter, remember that He left us in this world to reach the lost, and we’re not going to do that by being stand-offish.

Perhaps these holidays, though man-created rather than God-ordained, can serve a purpose similar to the Old Testament holidays. They can offer an opportunity to climb out of the salt mine and take some fresh air. Give us a moment to reflect on the abundant grace God has given us. Cause us to rejoice in the promised blessings in Christ that await us.

While we’re at it, maybe we could share a little goodwill toward some of our fellowmen. And maybe, just maybe, someone might ask what we have to be so jolly about in these dark days; that would be an opportunity to give a reason for the hope that’s within us (1 Peter 3:15).

Sounds like cause for celebration, don’t you think?

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Monday’s Musings: Redundancy

We writers are frequently warned, and rightly so, to watch out for cliches.

I’ve become so sensitive to over-used phrases, they drive me nuts when I hear them even in everyday conversation. This then prompts me to be obnoxious.

For instance, when the sweet potato I took out of the oven recently wasn’t quite done and my husband said it was hard as a brick, I felt compelled to point out that if he ever found a brick as hard as that yam, he’d say it was soft. Or when he says something’s dirt cheap, I point out that at the price of real estate, dirt’s not so cheap, so is he really saying it’s expensive?

Okay, so maybe I tend to be obnoxious even when not provoked by cliches.

Anyway, cliches can be a hot topic when writers get together. One thing we’re less aware of is redundant phrases. As in, “he nodded his head.” (What else would he nod, his ankle?) When speaking, we say these things all the time, and that’s okay. But when we’re writing, we should avoid them. All those extra words clutter up your writing like stacked dishes clutter your kitchen. Clean off those counters and make your writing sparkle!

Because I’m too lazy to come up with a good list of my own, here’s a link to an alphabetical listing of fifty redundant phrases to avoid. How many of them are piled on every flat surface of your current writing project?

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