Decisions, Decisions

I took a year off Facebook (mostly). In that time I finished four manuscripts and even managed to take 2nd place in a Writers Digest contest.

I went back to Facebook.

I lost my verve to write.

Coincidence?

I had hoped the political vitriol would settle down after the election, but it has worsened. The hate, the bullying, and unwillingness to see beyond fear of the future staggers me every time I log on. No wonder I lost my will to write. I can’t write when I’m too stunned to think straight.

So off again I go. Mostly. I’ll still participate in my chosen groups and maybe toss in a picture or two. But as for spending hours (or even minutes) scrolling through people’s feeds, not going to happen. It makes me sad, because I’ll be missing out on some good stuff, too. In the end, though, real life matters more than the constant and oftentimes discordant noise of social media.

On the other hand:

I read how Andrea Bocelli backed out of singing at the inauguration due to death threats:
Other entertainers have backed out for similar reasons.

On another website I posted this:

“I’m not furious over the death threats. Angry, yes, but not furious, because it’s expected.

What’s really infuriating is how many people capitulate to the threats. We are supposed to be the ones who believe in freedom, liberty, etc., and that requires strength of will. If we want the bullying to stop, we have to stand up to it.”

Someone else responded thusly: “When good men/women do NOT cave, you get the birth of the greatest nation on earth after telling George III to piss off, you also get to be the victors of WWII after forcing Hitler to eat a bullet…..men who cave in to fear, deserve to live in fear….men who stand up for freedom WILL live free”

By kicking myself off Facebook, I’m in effect running away. I’m allowing myself to be bullied, and giving in to my own fears. If people are allowed to spread hate and to bully with no response, they win. It also give them license to keep doing it to others.

I don’t care who someone voted for. That they hate our current President-Elect, or hated President Obama, I can’t change, nor would I attempt to. But I have to draw the line when someone attacks someone else for political differences, or deciding to entertain at a particular national event.

On another person’s post someone said (basically) that since people hated on Obama and his supporters, it’s okay to hate on Trump and his supporters. I responded with, “Just because some people have said horrible things about Obama and his family, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for others to do the same to Trump. Bad behavior is still bad behavior, regardless of the target.”

I don’t expect much of people except that they treat others how they want to be treated. The Golden Rule as it’s called, but so many have forgotten it. They’re too interested in pushing their own emotions and opinions on others, and they feel personally affronted if anyone dares to disagree.

Sorry, but my emotions are my own. No one but me is responsible for them. Just because I get angry when someone disagrees with my presumptions and assumptions, it doesn’t mean I should automatically lash out for no other reason than remain comfortable in my own righteousness. Why? Because I could be wrong. Being wrong is not a sin, but not admitting when I’m wrong can be.

Idling

Not moving forward or back. Looking around me, but no desire to travel in any direction no matter how tantalizing the paths before me seem.

Not sure why, and barely curious enough to find an answer.

Recently I looked at all the writing contests I’ve participated in, and I’ve either won or placed second in all but two. How is it then that I’m still uncertain?

Perhaps I’m fatigued. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but it’s still not enough. I’m not where I need to be. In spite of my successes so far, the encouragement I’ve received from friends and family, and an undeniable push from God to keep on keeping on, I doubt if I should. What’s the point? My own edification, God’s glory, what? No matter the end result, will the blood, sweat, tears and years be worth it all? Or is it a case of diminishing returns – if there will be any returns other than knowing that as I learn more about my craft, I will continue to discover I will never know enough?

Ugh. I hate stagnation. It’s smelly, and no amount of deodorant helps.

It’s a phase. I know that. Perhaps it’s due to hormones (or lack thereof). With winter in full swing with too little exposure to sunlight, maybe I’m suffering from a slight bout of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Perhaps it’s another symptom of my slight mid-life crisis. Perhaps a combination of all the above.

Whatever reason or reasons, it’s temporary. Maybe I should enjoy the “downtime.” Who knows, maybe it’s God’s way of forcing me to rest, because I’ll be entering another phase in my life when I can’t rest as much. Downtimes can be just as necessary as uptimes, I think. Each presents its own unique opportunity for growth.

In other words, it’s okay to slow down at times, to sit idle and absorb life instead of pursuing it.

Unfriend Me If . . .

Every once in a while someone will post, “If you don’t agree with me on this particular subject, unfriend me now.”

Thankfully these posts are rare, but they nevertheless make me sad, especially when that person claims to be a Christian.

I’ve only unfriended one person, and that’s because she changed her profile picture to a particular politician (who shall remain nameless), and 95% of her posts were so politically divisive, I had unfriend her to keep my blood pressure down. This was before I knew about the “unfollow” button. Had I known about the “unfollow,” I would have gone that route instead, and remained her friend. Since then, I’ve only “unfollowed” one person, because it seemed she posted a link to some cat video (for example) every five minutes. Her time-wasting posts so saturated my feed, I spent way more time than I wanted scrolling to find anyone else’s posts.

The only time I will “unfriend” another person is if they physically threaten me or my family. Other than that, opine away.

Now when someone tells me to “unfriend” them due to a difference of opinion, I’ll admit I’m tempted. Especially if I indeed disagree with them. I don’t, though, because I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t think they’re right to do so (more on that in a minute), but I do understand.

Whenever I’m a bit stuck on how I should respond to others, I look to Jesus as my example (I don’t always succeed, but I do try). Many disagreed with him, but he turned away no one. He gave them the riot act for sure, but he never held up his hand and said, “Shut up and go away, because you don’t agree with me.”

I have many of friends with whom I have stark disagreements, whether it’s politics, religion, and a myriad of other topics. Some of them I disagree with from 10% of the time to 90% of the time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. They enrich my life more than I can ever express. I have even altered my own point of view because of theirs at times. If nothing else, they teach me to keep an open mind.

Knowing other points of view – especially those opposite of mine – is not only useful, but necessary to a writer. How am I to write complex characters with opposing views (both antagonists and protagonists) if I don’t expose myself to them? By keeping monochromatic friends, I will only be able to write monochromatic characters. If I try to write a character so opposite of me without knowing people opposite of me, I decrease my chances of writing a believable character. Part of the reason I don’t attempt to publish a non-fiction book is because I’m not that interesting. Why would I want to constrain myself to write only characters who think and act like me?

We’re all different, and it’s those differences that make life so darned interesting.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I doubt I’m the only one who read the title with a musical voice, and perhaps even an echo.

But this entry isn’t about a song.

A few entries back, I shared a few of my favorite tweets. One in particular has stuck with me:

If you want compassion, be compassionate.
If you want respect, be respectful.
If you want to be heard, listen.

Most especially the last one.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I figure if a person wants to change something about his/her life, why wait until a specific date? Do it today, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow (the procrastinator in me just hissed in my ear as I finished that last sentence).

I understand it, though. Oftentimes, people don’t think about the past or the future until the turn of a new year. It’s only natural to take stock and decide how to make the next year better.

Last night Dave, Tom and I spent New Years with some friends and their children. Everyone was having a great time, but for whatever reason, I decided to go on Facebook. I stumbled on a friend’s post who appeared to be having a rough time. I made a comment, and soon we PMed each other for a bit. I couldn’t offer any advice, because I too often don’t understand everything another person is going through. Especially when we’re not in the same room. To offer advice seems presumptuous, perhaps even condescending, and I could too easily give the wrong advice. Something I always want to avoid – for their sake.

All I could do was listen, so that’s what I did.

He told someone else later that our little conversation helped.

Sometimes that’s all we need. I can’t tell you how many times I needed someone to listen to my troubles, but not because I wanted a solution. It was to be heard and understood, no more and no less.

I don’t reveal this to brag, or to be congratulated, because no one should receive a literal or figurative pat on the back for doing something that he/she is supposed to do anyway. I would do it for anyone, because it’s the right thing to do, and I expect my own friends to do the same for me. That’s not high expectation; that’s the definition of friendship. If they don’t, they’re not my friends.

In looking back on 2016, I didn’t listen enough. I talked a lot, that’s for sure, and as such, I may have alienated and ignored people who needed a friendly ear. Not this year. My 2017 resolution is to listen more and talk less. If doing so lightens someone’s burden even a little – whether I know about it or not – it’ll make whatever happens the rest of the year worthwhile.

On Faith

I watched “The Santa Clause” over Christmas. At one point in the film, two people discussed when they stopped believing in Santa Claus. In both cases they did so because they didn’t receive the one gift they wanted most.

How often do people give up their faith in God, because he doesn’t give them the one thing they prayed for? I admit I’ve struggled at times, because God seemed cold and distant. I have railed against him when I felt I deserved something, but he refused to deliver.

Still do, even when I look back and realize his refusals were ultimately a good thing. I ask for selfish things. Shallow things, when what he wants is for me to grow in my faith, and to help others grow in theirs. Whether or not I can afford the latest computer technology doesn’t further his kingdom. Nor does he help me escape my guilt and the consequences for when I screw up.

As much as I want to run away from my responsibilities, he always tells me hold the course. And he’s always telling me to wait — to be patient. Ugh.

I can be as shallow and selfish as anyone. I beg God to allow me to be selfish, to live a shallow life. How easy it would be to treat God like Santa Claus. To in the end quit believing in him, because I don’t get what I want all the time.

Doing so weakens what little faith I already have.

To wallow in the times when God refused my desires, I ignore all the times when he delivered – extravagantly. The times of him showering his blessings on me far outweigh and outnumber the times when he shook his head and told me no.

I sometimes refuse to see his negative responses as a blessing. Take Christmas day 2016. We had planned on going to our aunt and uncle’s house sixty miles away. Dave, Tom and I all came down with a cold, so we decided not to go. Did God decide to make us miserable on a holiday, or did he have another reason?

The entire state of North Dakota was under a blizzard warning all day with – projected – over a foot of snowfall and 35-50mph winds (gusting up to 60mph). The highway department started closing the interstate and highways at 5:30pm. If we hadn’t come down with a cold, we would have either been on the road at that time, or ended up having to stay at our aunt’s house until the roads cleared. That alone could take a day or two. And that’s assuming we didn’t get into an accident either on our way there, or on our return home.

Oftentimes, our blessings and curses could simply be a matter of how we choose to look at them.

If we choose to look at God as our eternal Santa Claus, we will only find disappointment, and foment a desire to quit believing in him when he tells us no. If we choose to see him as our heavenly Father who has our best interest in mind, then when he refuses us – like when our earthly parents refused to give us everything we wanted – we can, and should, be grateful. To feel blessed in all circumstances, not only when everything goes the way we want and expect.

The Not So Big Blue Marble

earthriseThe single worst event to happen to our culture is showing the first picture of Earth from space.

I know what you’re thinking: “Huh? How can a single, awe-inspiring picture from space damage our culture? That picture shows the epitome of human determination, creativity, and risk-taking. It heralded countless technological advances that we now take for granted.”

All true, but as with everything, there is a down side.

When we see pictures of Earth taken by satellites and astronauts, on Google Earth and the map apps on our phones, our perspective of the size of our world has altered, irrevocably.

It’s not the vast, massive world that could never be tamed or disrespected. We instead see it as that little blue marble floating in a sea of sparkling black.

As such, we have elevated our own size, increasing our arrogance with the belief that because we can see any part of our planet with a click of the mouse, we can control it.

Yet we can’t predict the weather with more than a 30% accuracy from one day to the next. We’ll never stop a volcano from erupting, a tornado or hurricane, an earthquake or tsunami. Or as Tennessee sadly shows, we can’t stop all wildfires. We either have to get out of the way (if we have time) or pray that nature will intervene on itself.

We’ve lost our humility, and in some ways we think of ourselves as greater than or equal to God.

And part of that arrogance and self-delusion came from seeing a picture of our planet from space – making it appear thousands of times smaller than it really is.

Don’t Follow Me

I started watching a Netflix series called “Black Mirrors.” It’s a “sci-fi anthology series [that] explores a twisted high-tech near-future where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide.”

The first episode is about a young woman whose social media rating is at a 4.2, but before she can really get what she wants, she needs to raise it to a 4.5. I won’t give much of the details, but let’s just say it all backfires on her.

It serves, I think, as a warning to us all. How often to we post something and eagerly await every single like and comment. Even here, we are given ratings on our writing.

In and of itself, it isn’t a bad thing, especially here. Ratings help us to improve our writing. The problem comes when we take those same ratings and apply it to how we perceive ourselves as individuals. How much do we determine our self-worth based on how high (or low) our ratings go?

During the last writers conference I attended, I sat in on an agent panel, and one agent said, “If I am to look at two writers, and one has thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter versus another writer who has only a few hundred, I will most likely sign the first writer.”

From the agent’s perspective, it’s not a horrible thing. As writers, our success or failures in readership will always boil down to the numbers. It may seem unfair, but that is the very definition of fair. Numbers don’t discriminate. They are what they are; how we feel about them is never part of the equation.

That said, I don’t want to succeed that way, at least considering the numbers first before anything else. I follow people on Twitter and Facebook because I care about what they have to say. I want people to follow me for the same reason. In fact, I have no idea how many friends I have on Facebook. I only know how many I have on Twitter, because it shows me every time I login. If it didn’t show me, I wouldn’t even care to look.

Some authors have followed me on Twitter. As soon as I decide to follow them, I get a standard private message stating, “Thanks for the follow. Please see my books and/or other products I have for sale.” Out of fifteen or twenty of those, guess how many books I’ve purchased? One. And only because the way that author asked it was so funny and unique, I had to check it out (I’m glad I did. The novella he advertised for was actually quite good). I know then that they’re not interested in my posts. They’re out to get a sale, to uptick their own numbers. As a potential reader, I feel more than a little used.

Writing and gaining readership aren’t solely about the numbers for me. They never were, and I hope they never will be. As other – especially Christian – authors have said and stressed, writing should be my ministry. For me, it shouldn’t matter if my words influence and comfort a mere 100 people instead of 100,000. Nor should any number of ratings or likes on social media determine how I view myself, or even in how others may view me (“Psh, she only got seven likes for that post. Must be crap. I ain’t reading that!”)

Now this last part may sound like a sales pitch in disguise, but it isn’t. I don’t want you to follow me — unless you really care about my words. Also know that if I follow you, it’s not to try to sell you something, or increase my numbers and/or ratings. I do so because I want to know what you have to say. It’s as simple as that.

News Blackout

I hate news media. I know I’m not supposed to hate anyone, but I truly despise news media today, especially national media. They don’t care about anything unless it “proves” their preconceived notions about a certain issue or incident. If it doesn’t, they will ignore any facts to the contrary, and use only the “facts” that do.

I’ve always known news media was biased, but until I started paying attention to the North Dakota Access Pipeline news, I didn’t realize how bad it was. While our local news agencies did present most of the facts (some are better than others), but national news coverage ignored all points of view except the so-called “protesters.” It’s nothing less than journalistic malpractice as far as I’m concerned.

For example, although two court cases proved the protesters wrong in that the pipeline does not go through reservation land, and no burial grounds or other historically significant sites had been disturbed or destroyed, almost every national news article left those parts out. They also never considered Law Enforcement’s point of view; only how the protesters are [allegedly] being mistreated and injured, and how Law Enforcement continues to violate the “protesters” civil rights. Not a word about the laws the “protesters” broke.

Yesterday I read the ACLU’s letter to the Department of Justice, and their cited sources included articles by Salon, Democracy Now!, other magazines or newspapers from other states – even blogs. They included not one local news source.

You can read the letter here.

With today’s election I have decided to engage in a complete news blackout, and that includes all social media. The news media has proven time and again who they want to win, so they will cite only certain counties and states that are all but guaranteed to go to Hillary. They will throw at us exit poll after exit poll that also “proves” their desired results in the hope they will discourage the other side from voting at all (in an attempt to repeat what happened in Florida in 2000).

Truth and facts not only don’t matter to them, they are like garlic and sunlight to a vampire.

I will wait until tomorrow to find out who won and who lost, both nationally and locally. News media talking heads pretending to know everything – including the future – are nothing but sirens screeching in my ears, and I refuse to torture myself.

Maybe by then I will no longer give a rat’s ass.

About Hate

WARNING: This is a long rant, so you best make yourself comfortable.

I live in Morton County, North Dakota where all the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are taking place. Thankfully, so far, I’ve seen little of it out my front window.

We’ve all seen riots in other cities. Percentage-wise, few of us have seen a riot up close. It’s easy to say from hundreds or even thousands of miles away how people should respond, but — at least for me — it’s difficult to understand the fear, the hatred, the anger and uncertainty of everyone who experiences it first hand. Even for those who don’t participate, and merely want to go about their day in peace, but can’t.

The protests started because many of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe believed the pipeline was encroaching on sacred land, and thereby destroying many of their sites, including burial grounds. Time and again, and through multiple federal, state and local agencies, the claims have proven false. The pipeline in fact doesn’t even enter reservation land, and is going in the same easement as another pipeline built in 1982.

After Standing Rock lost two court cases, they changed their tactics to claim it’s about keeping the Missouri River free of oil contamination, and to protect our drinking water. Again, through multiple agencies, the pipeline design has shown to be well above current regulations with regard to safety (I have to add that all the water we drink is filtered, processed and cleaned of all forms of contaminates before it ever enters our pipes, so that argument is disingenuous at best).

Even that’s no longer the issue.

All day today, I’ve had this hard, dark, and sick feeling in my stomach. A sense of dread that refused to go away.

It stemmed mostly because I knew the police would be removing the so-called protesters from private land. They spent almost an entire day yesterday and this morning asking them to disperse, and return to the camp set up on Corps of Engineers land — which they have permission to occupy, and remove all the barriers they set up on state and county roads.

Many did leave, but enough remained that the police had to round them up. Sixteen were eventually arrested at that time, but not before they continued to block the roads and set fires to tires to create a black smoke which — I believe — they hoped would delay the police even further.

No one was harmed during the arrests (as of now 117 today, so we’re well over 300 total arrests since August). The police have shown remarkable restraint and professionalism. No one has been seriously injured, police and protesters alike.

Aside: Several weeks ago when my husband, Dave and I went out to lunch, six officers from a neighboring county who’re helping with the protests sat next to us. We chatted with them for a bit about some of their standard equipment including a tourniquet that’s no bigger than a pocket knife.

Before we left, my husband said, “Thank you for all you do. We really appreciate you.”

The looks on their faces when they said, “Thank you,” almost brought me to tears. It was obvious how much they appreciated being appreciated. Considering all the vitriol, hatred and outright threats they’ve received non-stop on social media alone (seriously, it’ll make your blood simultaneously turn cold and boil — if you don’t mind the cliché), I’m certain they don’t feel that appreciation enough.

Many of the Sioux Tribe aren’t even involved in the protests, and want them to stop as much as the other locals. Especially the farmers and ranchers who only want to get their livestock and crops in and taken to market in a timely manner, and not have to fear protesters trespassing and molesting their property, including livestock.

I had hoped that after all the arrests, my sense of foreboding was nothing more than an over-reactive fear (that happens with writers sometimes. We can’t help ourselves).

I was wrong. In the last few hours, a woman was arrested for shooting a firearm at the police line, a man was allegedly shot in the hand (don’t know the details on that), and our news agencies released reports of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police.

Someone asked on Facebook when all this was going to stop.

I responded thusly: “It won’t. Not even after someone dies, and I fear it will come to that. It’s not about water or oil anymore. It’s about hate and contempt, and feelings instead of the rule of law.”

I can’t help but wonder if these protests (read: riots) will soon spread to my town (because it’s also the county seat), and I am seriously considering carrying a firearm with me (don’t worry, it’s legal for me to do so, as long as I don’t carry concealed [I don’t have a concealed carry license as yet; I’m thinking it’s time I did]).

I hate that I’m thinking this way. I hate that it’s even possible in a state with a population of 600,000, and a county with a population of less than 30,000. I hate that I want to glare at every single person driving an out-of-state vehicle (of all arrests so far, less than 15% are from North Dakota). I hate that when I see a Native American, I wonder if they’re only here to protest (I still smile and say hello, though, because it’s the right thing to do. I just hate my initial reaction and assumptions).

For example, a few days ago I had to run to the City building to pick up a plat. I walk because it’s only four blocks away. At the same time, over 100 people were protesting for the release of a journalist (the judge eventually dropped the charges) at the County building which is right across the street from my destination.

When I stepped out of my office, I saw a Native American riding a bicycle.

My first thought? “Dude, you’re going in the wrong direction. The protest is the other way.”

As I approached, he stopped and asked where he could find social services. To quote, “I’m only here to look for work.” He didn’t even know people were protesting until he saw the police lights. Nor did he seem to care.

I asked him to follow me, and I’d show him where to go. He smiled a lot, thanked me more than once, and kept calling me “ma’am.”

I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone passing us would take a second glance: A white girl and a Native American walking side-by-side toward the protests. I’m sure they all thought we were going there to add our voices to the protesters’. We definitely made an odd couple that day.

Will tomorrow be any better? If these riots (and they are riots as legally defined. See below) follow the same pattern as others, I sincerely doubt it. I can only pray for the safety of everyone involved, and those figuratively and literally caught in the crossfire.

Legal definition of a riot: A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner.

Meeting Expectations

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time.

Not necessarily to avoid a certain pain, or to prevent a terrible mistake, however. Those I don’t want to go back for, because those pains and those mistakes molded me into the person I am today. And I like me.

I want to go back to the times when I wrote solely for myself. Then, the only person I risked disappointing was me. I didn’t feel the need to censor myself, and I didn’t have to worry about what others would think, or fear that they would hate me for being me.

Part of me hates the idea of publishing, because I feel I now have to write less for me, and more for others. And how am I supposed to know — while I’m writing — whether or not I meet their expectations? How will I know beforehand if those words I spilled out onto the page have angered, insulted or otherwise broke some rule of writing that will, in the end, push them away?

And yet, it was that “writing for me,” that attracted readers in the first place. I’ve always written better when I write without fear of consequence, when I wrote naked (figuratively speaking).

As a reader, I prefer honesty above all else. Even if I may disagree with what a writer says, if what they say is written with honesty and passion, I’ll never hate them for it. I may get angry, or frustrated, but that can also be a good thing. I like to be challenged, to see things from a different perspective.

I can’t be alone in that.

I don’t want to disregard my readers. Never that, but at the same time, I can’t allow my fear of what readers will think simply because I’m being honest. If I do, all that’s left is to lie.

I can’t do that either.

I’m reading “Writing 21st Century Fiction,” by Donald Maass, and the basic premise is for writers to quit holding back. What readers are looking for these days is no-holds-barred stories. Stories that make a person cringe, cry, infuriate, and want to sleep with the lights on, as well as laugh and go “Awwww.”

Because I want to write for a particular market, I’m trying to write stories that will meet their expectations. But what if my biases — and expectations — of that market are wrong, and they want to see the kind of writing I’m longing to write, but afraid to?

I go back to Jesus and his stories. He told stories that convicted and angered as well as inspired and comforted. He didn’t hold back, and if I am to live how he lived (which is what he asks of all of us), I can’t afford to. Not if I want my stories to make a real difference.