Category Archives: Inspiration and Creativity

6 Questions for a Better 2017

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsHappy New Year! Welcome to 2017!

Coming off of the tumultuous 2016, I anticipate that many of you, like me, are spending these first January days contemplating hopes for the new year. In customary resolution fashion, we might think about the number of pounds to lose or the novel we want to write or the instrument we’ve always wanted to learn to play. These are all good thoughts, but we know resolutions can be empty words, as proven every February at the YMCA. When resolutions lack resolve, what’s the point?

Over the last few weeks, three things happened that made me rethink our normal approach to resolutions. The first involved prepping for an end-of-year meeting with my design partner. He had assembled a long list of questions to help recap our work in 2016 and plan for 2017. The questions took me by surprise; they were way harder to answer than expected, but this was great. He asked things like, “What did I learn about myself through our 2016 efforts?” and “If I had one word for 2016, it would be…”

The second was developing a similar list of queries for a 2017 strategy meeting for another client, asking questions including “What data are fascinating?” and “What will be the most fun projects for 2017?” Developing these questions meant that I needed to focus on not only what we wanted to do in the upcoming year, but why.

Following suit with this questions theme, the other day I listened to one of Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative podcasts in which he asks the following:

  1. What do I want to experience? (And how do I want to feel?)
  2. What do I want to learn? (What areas of curiosity do I want to pursue?)
  3. Where do I want to go? (Places to travel!)
  4. How do I want to change? (What do I want to be different by the end of the year?)

In all three instances, I appreciated the questions because they probe the emotional reasons lurking behind WHY we want to resolve to do X,Y, or Z. They also create boundaries to help our goal-making more intentional and systematic. This might not sound like a lot of fun, but when the choice is to say, “Losing weight would be nice,” verses “I want to improve my health so that I have more energy for work and play,” the latter intentional approach creates a powerful, tangible ‘so that’ that can motivate us beyond the first few weeks of January.

In this spirit, here are a list of questions I hope can help you effectively reflect on 2016 and plan intentionally for a thriving 2017. Enjoy!

  1. What went well for you in 2016? What do those things have in common?
  2. What are the top three things that bugged you about your work and play in 2016? Why do they continue to bother you?
  3. What took up the most time in 2016? Do you want this to change, or stay the same, and why?
  4. What did you learn about yourself in 2016? Answer for each: emotionally, spiritually, physically, professionally, relationally.
  5. What top five experiences do you want to have in 2017? What has inhibited you from doing them before? What are the intermediate steps to attaining those experiences?
  6. What top three things do I want to learn in 2017? Who, or which resources, can help me learn those things?

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Top Three Christmas Children’s Books

Capo family Christmas tradition dictated that every Christmas Eve before bed we would sit in front of the fire and the twinkling tree, sucking merrily on sour gummy worms (our uncle would send a ton of them each year), and read Christmas children’s books aloud. This tradition still stands, even at ages 30, 27, and 23.

This year, as we expect an addition to the family, our thoughts drift toward favorite children’s books we’d like for a little library. The Christmas-themed ones are, naturally, high priority. Below are the treasured books we read growing up at Christmas time, and I earnestly suggest you check them out.

  1. cm_polar_expressThe Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
    This is a classic for many families this time of year. For us, it is all about the sound of our father’s voice reading the rhythmic prose, lulling us all into a peaceful, Christmas-y bedtime frame of mind. We also always enjoyed watching him get excited every time we arrived at this softly lit illustration of wolves in the woods on the way to the North Pole:

    polar-express-wolves

  2. 1738620santacows20mainocbSanta Cows by Cooper Edens 
    Whenever I mention this book, I usually get really dubious looks. Regardless, the Capo family copy of Santa Cows was so beloved it fell apart at the seams. The book was given to me by a dear neighbor when I was really young, and every year we’d pull it out from the Christmas book cupboard as a treat not to be missed. So what is it? Well, it is The Night Before Christmas poem with the words changed to tell the story of a suburban family who are visited on Christmas Eve, not by a jolly old elf, but by a herd of gift-bearing Santa Cows. Intrigued yet? The absurdity of the premise is part of the book’s charm. Additionally, the illustrations are wonderful and full of funny little background details, like the cat-shaped telephone or the Dominoes pizza delivery guy hanging out to play video games. Udderly goofy (forgive me), and marvelously fun—be sure to give this one a go.

    1738620santacows20ill1

  3. cvr9780689846687_9780689846687_hrHow Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky and Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
    This book was special for our family as it was one of dozens of books illustrated by our uncle, S.D. Schindler (Incidentally the same uncle who sent the beloved gummy worms). The book tells the tale of a young Santa discovering his vocation through a series of trial and error jobs with the post office, the zoo, an all-night diner, among others. With each failed attempt, however, Santa discovers a skill that ultimately leads him to assume the duties of the Santa we know and love.
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More Imagination for Christmas, Please

When my oldest friend was overseas volunteering, she called me, frustrated, and said one of the most profound things she ever said to me in our long friendship: “The people we are trying to help have too little imagination. They can’t imagine life to be better than what they’ve experienced, and so they can’t understand why we want to bring change.”

I’ve thought about this often. Too little imagination seems to be at the core of many disagreements, especially these days. I thought about it again in hearing our pastor’s sermon from this past Sunday, titled ‘Prophetic Imagination,’ in which he talked about Advent as a time to employ our imaginations to better comprehend the wild and wonderful (and sometimes terrifying) possibilities of life with God. Of course, Advent is not the only time to do this; how can we muster any hope for the future unless we imagine possibilities beyond our present circumstances?

As we end this strange, tumultuous year, I thought it would be good to draw some attention to this idea. The season of perpetual hopeAs Catherine O’Hara’s character in Home Alone vociferates, “THIS IS CHRISTMAS! THE SEASON OF PERPETUAL HOPE!”

We start by imagining possibilities bigger and better than the outcomes we fear.

Sound a little naive? Like a Sesame Street dictum? Imagination gets a bad rap with grownups, as if the things we imagine have no value, or if those things can never be real because they came out of our heads. But we know this is ridiculous. Inventors imagine inventions before they become household necessities; chefs imagine tastes before serving them to guests. Imagination is the seedling of robust creative thought. If we consider imagination to be a basic life-skill, one that enables us to think beyond ourselves and the status quo, more imagination might just be the ticket to solving quite a few problems. This is true for both our personal lives and our communal lives.

Personally, as I close out this year, and reflect on what went well, what I wish went differently, and what I hope for with next year, I remember listening to a speaker at a vocational seminar ask a bold question:

If you could do anything, knowing that you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

The audacity of this question still hits me. It requires imaginative thought I rarely allow myself to experience. So much in life feels limiting. So much seems to emphasize the many reasons why I can’t do one thing or another, whether it is lack of credentials or experience, or physical limitations, or family responsibilities, or simply a lack of self-esteem. Heaping these limitations on our psyches enforces apathetic habits, and eventually we cease to even concoct hopes and plans, let alone live them out. But so many of these obstacles are imaginary, which begs the question: If our imaginations can function so well for things we won’t do, what would happen if we reapplied our imaginations toward all of the things we could do? It’s a little scary to think about, like discovering a hidden superpower.

What will you do with this superpower? What does it mean to have it? For me, it means recognizing that, with creativity, patience, and elbow grease, I can probably do a lot more than I let myself believe. Given some time and focus to generate alternatives, I can figure out how to make money working from home with a new baby, or maybe of even start a new business, or launch new innovative initiatives to help our city, or inspire others to join a team, or produce useful, viral content, or live uninhibited by doubt…who knows! Maybe none of this will happen, but what we can know for sure is that they definitely won’t happen if I don’t imagine the possibilities in the first place. 

As a community, we likewise can employ imaginations toward building a more harmonious 2017. 2016, we can agree, has been marred by nasty and widespread divisions which, it could be argued, come down to a failure to imagine life in the shoes of another. How much effort have we put into creatively asking questions of people outside our spheres? How often, or not, have we sought common ground, rather than dismiss fellow humans for viewpoints different than our own? Again, this might sound Sesame-esque, but these fundamentals have clearly been neglected.

A friend of mine recently asked me how to fix the country. I told him it would mean a return to nuance. By this, I meant that we as a population need to rediscover habits we’ve lost, namely appreciating that most situations are more complex than surface level, recognizing that social media soundbites aren’t helping anyone, and most importantly, deferring judgment given the likelihood that we might just be wrong, or at least ill-informed. All of these habits will require sufficient imagination to see a world in the future free, or at least partially so, from the fear-mongering and hate-flinging reality in which we live.

So is this too much to ask? I don’t think so. Imagination costs nothing. We all have the resource available, whether or not we exercise it regularly. So let’s take up the challenge, and make our days a little more merry and bright.

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Fantastic Beasts! A Review!

fantastic-beasts-big-posterIt’s here! It’s here! Fantastic Beasts is here! But does it hold up to the exceptional standards of creativity Potter fans crave?

Yes and no.

As a die-hard Harry Potter Fan, my hopes were high with this prequel series. My overall takeaway is that Fantastic Beasts is a good—not great—film that sets up sequential films and plot lines nicely.

As it is difficult to speak about this film without giving away spoilers, I will share the non-spoiling bits first, and then alert those of you who haven’t seen it yet before launching into specific plot points.

NON SPOILER REVIEW

Fantastic Beasts takes place in 1920’s New York and, boy, does that come across well. I love the grunge and the cramped spaces and the hard times mingled with a sense of possibility. The look-and-feel of the film pulls you in from the start. You want to soak up the period atmosphere and all that comes with it. It really is a shame that the camera moves so quickly; you barely get to see any of the detail in each shot. For example, the opening montage of newspapers flies by so fast you can barely read the headlines—and you may even get nauseous in the attempt. Even so, my imagination was pricked by what I caught, and I grew even more curious about what the Wizarding world in America had in store.

The film follows the path of Newt Scamander, an English ex-Hogwarts student who arrives via steamship with a mysterious suitcase containing a wide collection of magical creatures. Almost immediately, chaos ensues, beginning with the escape of the wily niffler which, as we learn from Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class in the Harry books, is attracted to shiny, valuable objects. The audience giggled along with the niffler’s antics, watching it stuff the contents of a bank safe into its little pouch. I approve of the niffler design, a distinction I take seriously being married to a character designer. I likewise approve of many of the other creatures in design, though their CG animation often seemed forced and cheap. You’d think after all of the disastrous Star Wars prequels that Hollywood would have learned not to forgo props and puppets in lieu of pure CG, but alas. Many of the interactions with the fantastic beasts looked off, lacking in texture and weight, a shiny creature juxtaposed with the gritty city background. When the actors “touched” the creatures, it simply failed to look at all real. It’s like watching TV dramas where people hand each other coffee cups that are clearly empty: we knew the Fantastic Beasts actors weren’t really holding anything, let alone funky bird snake things.

To speak generally of the story, I most appreciated the suspense created; I definitely needed to find out what and/or who the mysterious “Obscurus” was. Many of the characters, especially Newt and Graves, had a mystique that drew me in. That said, many of the other characters could have been better developed, particularly Tina, Queenie, and Jacob. Like many of the later, original Harry Potter films, subtlety of character, plot, and what I will call “world establishing” is lost to action sequences and flashy special effects. This is a shame, as anyone who enjoys the books knows that it is the characters who drive the story, not the flash-bang magic they produce. I would have liked very much to know more about all of the characters in Fantastic Beasts, find out what motivates or frightens them, see them struggle to work together, and be in on their inside jokes. These are the nuanced choices filmmakers can make (though they rarely do these days) that mean the difference between a World War II flick and Casablanca. Hopefully the next films in the series will do more to establish character motivation and stimulate audience empathy.

SPOILER CONTENT: DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM OR READ THE HARRY BOOKS!

Ok, so for viewers who have already seen the film, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

My absolute favorite thing about this movie is the concept of the Obscurus. This is because, or so I deduce, it is a subtle allusion to Albus Dumbledore’s back story and the tragedy that eclipsed his childhood. As the story goes, Dumbledore’s younger sister Ariana was driven insane by muggle boys who taunted her, leaving her unable to control her immense magical power. Dumbledore’s brief friendship with Gallert Grindelwald ended in a disagreement about Ariana, and their ensuing duel resulted in Ariana’s death. Fantastic Beasts names Ariana’s condition and describes it as a kind of possession by a creature called an Obscurus, known affect children forced to subdue their magical powers instead of learn to control them. To use this source of power as a motivation for the Grindelwald character was brilliant. It ties in the Dumbledore/Grindelwald history to this budding American story with nuance and intrigue.

As strong as that plot device was, however, the film suffered from many missed opportunities. For starters, I had hoped there would be elements of the American magical world that were, well, more American. The totalitarian structure of the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA) simply mimicked the Ministry of Magic. There could have been more of an emphasis on individual liberties and identities, or even a “screw you” attitude among American wizards that, for better or worse, would make an American wizard feel like an American. There could also have been different spells used or more discussion of the American wizarding education and the way it influences the culture. In other words, an extension of the wizarding world into other other countries could be fascinating, but there just wasn’t enough to satisfy. That said, it would take a lot for that to happen with me.

Another small criticism involves the use of the memory charm at the end. It made no sense. For one thing, movie fans and book fans alike remember that the charm works on wizards just as well as muggles, so why aren’t the local wizards forgetting everything? Second, is it only working on people who get wet in the “obliviating” rain? If so, that causes many problems, as most New Yorkers would have been indoors. Third, why does Newt have this potion in his pocket and why can that bird thing release it perfectly to enchant the rain? Too deus ex machina for me. Surely we can come up with something better.

Again, overall, the film holds up well, and can entertain anyone from wizarding newbies to raving fanatics like me with its lovely visuals, suspense, and occasional jokes. That said, being entertained is not the same as being moved, and I think the film could have done the latter with a bit more polish and exposition and fewer flash-bang action sequences. Hopefully, though, this first film will serve as a platform for great things to come. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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Setting the Thanksgiving Mood

I turned to Josh the other day to see him staring into space. “What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“I’m having a hard time getting into a Thanksgiving mood.”

It’s no wonder. What with his work deadlines, the impending arrival of the Sauerpatch Kid, the painfully divided state of our nation, among other things, our minds have been stretched these last few weeks. I also just typed in “Why Be Thankful” to Google. It froze.

But come on people! Being thankful is one of the healthiest choices you can make for yourself. Yes, I said ‘choice.’ Thankfulness is a practice, an attitude to assume, to put on like clothing. In Shawn Achor‘s book, The Happiness Advantage, one of his top recommendations is to write down three things for which we are grateful every day for 21 days, the theory being that 21 days is enough to solidify a habit. The three things do not need to be profound, but the do need to be different every day. They can range from “I am thankful for my spouse” to “I am thankful for the feeling of a cup of hot tea close to my body on a chilly morning.” Whatever floats your thankful boat.

But if your health is not enough incentive to adjust your attitude this Thanksgiving, here are three other things that might help.

  1. Listen to Bing.

2. Step up your game with your Thanksgiving menu this year. Nothing like some kitchen creativity to warm the soul. These are Edible Nashville recommendations this year, but I suggest you poke around the website as there are TONS more where those came from.

tday recipes.PNG

3. Meditate on This: 

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

 

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In Search of Silver Linings

I saw (and laughed and cried at) this telling “article” on election day:

sivler lining.PNG

Over a week later, the cloud of tension still looms over America. Though some are relieved, believing that this is the better outcome, others are horrified, foreseeing the doom of many freedoms. Many, if not most, have felt for a long time like they had no good option at all and little hope for the future. But for better or worse, democracy has taken its course, and we are left to pray that there is something…anything… good about it, besides the cop-out reply, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Now, over a week later, is the answer to whether there are silver linings still ‘no’?

This blog is about creativity. I firmly believe we have only scratched the creative capacity each of us house. In that spirit, I challenge us all to think creatively about our mindsets moving forward as a nation.

Kicking this off, I do see a silver lining or two. To be clear, I have neither love for Donald Trump nor defense for his demonstrated racism, sexism, or any of the other backwards and damaging rhetoric he regularly spews. I pray fervently that hands he inspired to violence are stayed and that the weight of responsibility falling on his shoulders frightens him into a more cautious approach to legislation than his campaign threatened.

Even so, looking beyond the man and the single office he will occupy, I see (at least*) two reasons to hope, and with your patience, I hope you can see them to.

  1. We have the opportunity to affirm the best things about our government structure. My brow furrowed many times this past week as I saw, via social media, people on both sides predicting what would happen with Trump as president. Many of these comments showed a profound lack of understanding of how our government works. More tragically, these comments ignored the marvelous design of our constitution to limit power of any one branch or individual. A system with checks and balances, division of powers between branches, and a bicameral legislature were built into our American experiment precisely for the purpose of preventing tyranny. Indeed, these features of our constitution continue to make me proud to be an American (even today), and are likely the primary reasons for why our experiment has lasted as long as it has. If you, therefore, are anxious about the threat of tyranny, whether you feel it with Trump or from some other source, take heart! There are, and always have been, structures in place to prevent a lot of what we fear. Is the system perfect? FAR from it. But we can take solace that our constitution has gotten us as far as it has, and we should cherish the constitutional structures that protect our inalienable rights, because we know that individuals won’t. When a president wants to bypass congressional protocol with executive orders, we should be prepared to vigorously question those decisions. When Congress wants to entrust authority to unelected bureaucrats, we should take serious issue. When the Supreme Court decides on issues constitutionally left to the states’ jurisdiction, we should object. Limiting government’s reach is the reason for our longevity and the hope for the future. As John Adams once said, we are a country of laws, not men; this should be exceedingly comforting and empowering to the average citizen, provided we can protect those laws and their authority over all Americans, especially those in power. We have an opportunity and the incentive today to reclaim and reaffirm our Constitution, and I pray we do.
  2. We have the opportunity to look beyond our institutions for our wellbeing. As painfully divided as America has become ideologically, an overarching theme to this election season has been the feeling that the institutions have failed us. Reasons for why they failed us differ greatly between left and right and everyone in between, but many of us can unite in a growing distrust of the powers at play. Ladies and Gentlemen, this crumbling institutional trust might feel like the end of all things, but it is in fact excellent news. If necessity is the mother of invention, then we can expect great things from our dire circumstances. The same nation that brought the world the airplane, the light bulb, and the M&M can certainly continue striving for new and better ideas. If we necessity calls to look outside of our institutions to solve our problems, then we can hope to find solutions to social and economic challenges within our own spheres that achieve progress beyond our greatest hopes for government. After all, why should we act like flies hitting a window, believing always that we will make it through? That is the definition of insanity, after all. If America wants change, then lets ride this wave of motivation to make it happen ourselves. We can improve our schools, our medical care, issues of social justice, our poverty levels, among any number of challenges, through our own ingenuity and scaling our solutions accordingly. We do not, and should not, wait for federal institutions to do it for us.

Again, my hope in writing this post is that it challenges our doom and gloom mindset, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum. There is still hope, and I invite you to be creative about finding it and sharing it with others.

 

*I used this space to speak of temporal reasons to hope. Ask any Sunday School student for the other, infinitely more effective answer to our problems. Ephesians 2, people.

 

 

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Butterflies, Granola, and Seriously Strong Women

screenshot202016-11-032021-12-32My latest article in Edible Nashville is out at last! Once again I had the delight of writing the “food hero” piece for the issue, this time covering the marvelous women who make up the Blue Monarch recovery center.

Blue Monarch ladies1.jpg

granola-portraitThis center welcomes women who have been trapped in cycles of addiction and abuse to a beautiful farmhouse in Middle Tennessee where they can recuperate with their children. As part of their recuperation, the ladies are invited to work in the onsite industrial kitchen where they make…wait for it…granola! It is through this granola business that these women gain substantive work skills and honest paychecks which amount to, for many of them, completely novel experiences.

As it usually goes with these projects, I collected WAY more information and stories and photos than I could fit into a short article. I often leave these projects feeling like there is so much more I could have done to create awareness for the seriously wonderful work being done. In that spirit, I wanted to share with you the stories of two of the women who had been through the Blue Monarch recovery programming. Their testimonies speak to the radical transformation possible for people who otherwise feel trapped and helpless.

One of the amazing things about these stories is how ready these ladies were to tell them. Their histories are not pretty, to say the least. Their pain is prominent, but they’ve come so far and they take their memories in stride. They have seen how powerful their stories are in inspiring others; they don’t hold back from the messy details. When I arrived, they greeted me warmly with big smiles and immediately launched into stories of rape and overdoses. Those juxtaposed smiles startled me at first, but made much more sense when they got to their happy endings. If you had come that far, you’d be smiling too.

So here are the stories of Brandy and Donaree excerpted from an earlier draft. Enjoy.

“Looking at the stunning Blue Monarch campus, it is hard to imagine a better place to recover. Any visitor would be thrilled merely to relax on that porch. But for residents, Blue Monarch is nothing short of a miracle. Many arrive at Blue Monarch after living in cars or in homes plagued with abuse. Some of them were given the choice of Blue Monarch or a jail cell. Understandably, newcomers often burst into tears at the sight of the beautiful yellow home full of spacious rooms where they can care for their children in safety and rest—a luxury many of them never fathomed.

donaree-masters-1The Blue Monarch difference is especially evident in the ladies’ testimonies. Donaree Masters, a graduate who now runs the granola kitchen, was raised in an alcoholic home where she suffered physical and sexual abuse. In her mid-thirties, she began a twenty-year meth addiction that ended with her arrest. By the grace of God, she says, Blue Monarch accepted her into the program in 2013. Looking at her now, radiant and smiling, the very picture of health, you would never recognize the woman from her mugshot. “Even if I had never had my addiction,” she shares, “I could not be in a better spot than I am in now. The beauty of what happens here, seeing these women growing and learning—being here is a dream come true.”

brandy-granola-prepBrandy Wilson, a current resident soon to graduate, similarly beams with hope and wellness in spite of a childhood riddled with drugs and abuse. Removed by the state from her drug-infested home, Brandy spent her adolescence moving between thirteen different foster parents, some of whom molested her. When she turned eighteen, she moved in with her biological mother and together they would regularly get high on pills. This new ‘normal’ came to a traumatizing halt when Brandy returned from an errand to find her mother dead from an overdose in her car. Adding to her grief, Brandy’s continued drug use lead to many months in prison and losing custody of her daughter. Facing additional jail time after a broken house arrest, Brandy pleaded with the judge for help, for some alternative to falling back into the same patterns. Miraculously, the judge remembered Blue Monarch and allowed her to apply in lieu of further prison. Brandy, who was pregnant at the time, gave birth to her second daughter at Blue Monarch, and made enough progress to regain custody of her elder daughter while in the program. Brandy has since completed her GED, won scholarships to attend a local community college, and been baptized together with her seven-year-old.”

 

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I Am We, a poem.

I am we,
a walking duo,
living Russian dolls, one tucked within.
My little alien within,
growing like a snowball rolling,
rolling, rolling down the hill
while we watch over,
surprised when we shouldn’t be
by nature’s most natural, corporeal pattern-making.

No one ever told me
what it’s like to be we.
Perhaps they had no words for it.
or perhaps they take nature in stride,
whereas I lived cozy in abstraction.
Now in the midst,
I recall a storm on my river,
when we looked out and saw a cyclone,
drawing water and air into itself,
building, spinning power and vitality and character.
To think,
it didn’t exist moments before.

It says of all us
we are ‘knit together in our mothers’ wombs.”
That’s me: the womb host,
the knitting place.
My blood the threads, my nourishment the needles,
but His the hands, wondrously working,
as always.
As He says, “Behold, something new.”

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Photo Friday: Why we can still feel good about the world

Election blues got you down? Fear of hurricanes and terrorism and Zika and economic collapse occupying too much space in your psyche?

The world may be going down the tubes, but there are still so many things to cheer our souls. For today’s Photo Friday, I dug up a bunch of images from the past year that remind me to be hardy, to laugh, and not to take life too seriously.

We can still feel good about the world…

  1. Because, as an adult, you can have cupcakes for breakfast.
    cupcake

    Yes, that is kale on the side of my cupcake.

     

  2. Because of dogs who think they are people

    archie-sitting

    Whatchoo lookin’ at?

  3. Because Deloreans are real. 

    delorian

    Alas, no flux capacitor. yet. 

  4. Because sometimes younger cousins make some rad pizza.

    pizza

    Well done, young grasshopper. 

  5. Because good friends aren’t afraid to go all out to dress up for a Renaissance murder mystery dinner party. 

    ren-party

    I’m wearing a thrift store.

  6. Because of Chicken Parm 

    chicken-parm

    I really, really miss New York sometimes. 

  7. Because sometimes it snows in the South. 
    snow

    Archie’s favorite day ever.

    The best day of my dog’s life.

  8. Because, Star Wars. 

    star-wars

    DIY Star Wars New Years Party

  9. Because Christmas. And people who go crazy with lights. 

    xmas

    Crown Point, IN

  10. Because sometimes you get to give your Swedish friends their first Christmas Scavenger Hunt. Also dogs in Christmas Sweaters.

    scav-hunt

    They eventually found the ukulele.

  11. Because sometimes ordinary scenes become extraordinary.

    gas-sunset

    Sometimes, Nashville really shines.


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What Good Editors Do

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There isn’t a writer in the world who hasn’t felt the pang of poorly edited work.

Whether it is a student paper declaring nebulously in red ink, “Be Clearer” (big help, thanks), or an essay that reads like someone else wrote it entirely, all writers endure unhelpful feedback from time to time.

The irony is that most writers are also guilty of dishing out unhelpful feedback. When we edit someone else’s work, the temptation is to see it through the lens of how we would do it, and this creates a hindrance to editing well. This is not to say that the writers are not talented; they might be able to turn a phrase prettier than a pansy, but that means very little when tasked with editing someone else’s product. It comes down to this:

WRITER MINDSETS ≠ EDITOR MINDSETS

Obviously, there is overlap between writers and editors. Many writers can be great editors and editors can be great because they understand the experience of writing. But we are talking about a Venn diagram here–two separate categories of thinkers who only occasionally overlap.

Why so little overlap? Let’s turn back time to two courses I took in college, the worst and the best. The worst class was taught by a professional writer-in-residence. I had read her books and they were awesome, so I arrived to the first class eager to learn. Twenty minutes in it was obvious she had no idea why she was an accomplished writer. She had very little to say about style, technique, research strategies, or successfully engaging an audience. What she achieved had been through blind instinct, and she therefore had little instruction to endow in spite of her considerable experience.

By contrast, the best course began its first day by illustrating how readers and writers think differently. Writers set out to organize ideas and get them down on paper in pretty arrangements. The difficulty is that ideas are nouns…things…stuff. Readers read for meaning; they want to know what’s happening, what’s moving, what’s changing. Readers watch for verbs. Given this, we were told that the key to great writing lies in the writer’s ability to write the way readers read best, i.e. through action and change.

Extrapolating from both of these experiences, I see two pillars of great editing: first, great editors understand why a piece of writing works or doesn’t work, and second, they successfully bridge the gap between how writers write and readers read.

For this first pillar, editors need to be aware simultaneously of the big picture points, the minutia, and the relationship between the two. It is this balance that allows them to make wise decisions about any changes they make to someone else’s work. It serves no purpose to change something at the sentence level unless it serves the paragraph’s aims. It makes no sense to delete or move a paragraph unless there are demonstrable reasons to do so. Good editing points to concrete reasons for why changes A, B, and C achieve the writer’s goals.

Notice: the writer’s goals. The writer most likely had good purpose in setting out to write, whether or not he executed his goals well. This brings me to the second pillar of good editing: the editor is the writer’s advocate, not his competitor. The editor stewards the writer’s voice. She is an ambassador of the writer’s words, making sure they resonate with the audience. Ambassadors say things their country’s president would say, not what they would say if they were president. They only tailor the message if and only if the audience will struggle to understand.

So how to become a good editor? There are several practical steps to take.

  1. When sitting down to edit someone else’s work, remember that you are not rewriting it, you are editing it. This is an entirely separate skill from writing, a completely different hat to wear. You will be using many of the similar tools of a writer, but you will NOT apply your own voice and you will NOT change things just because that is how you would do it. Instead, you will focus on strategy, reason, and resonance with the audience on the writers’ behalf. Make sure you know the reasons behind everything you change. If you don’t have a reason, don’t change it. 
  2. When you get a new piece to edit, refrain from making any changes until you’ve read the entire piece. Sit on your hands if you need to. But don’t touch it until you’ve read it as a reader would read it. Imagine it were already published, in a newspaper or magazine or book. Imagine you were simply consuming it…how would you take it? What confuses you? What made you slow down? Keep a mental–or physical–note of difficulties you experienced as a reader. Then on your second go through, return to these areas and ask yourself, “What might make it smoother or more persuasive?” Stick to Occam’s Razor as much as you can, as often times a simple move like cutting a word or rearranging some sentences will solve the problem much better than trying to rewrite it without the writer’s notes in front of you. 
  3. Ask the writer questions. Don’t think you need to solve his problems blindly. If you are having difficulty divining the writer’s intention with a sentence or concept, just ask him about it. You are partners, after all. Ask him to rephrase things, or to explain it as if to a novice. Often both you and the writer will stumble across simpler ways of communicating ideas than either of you thought of in the first place. 

 

To sum up, editing is not about passing the torch to another writer. It is an entirely different skillset. If you have a good editor in your life, go and give them a hug. And a cookie.

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