Why there will be different answers to these questions, and why that’s ok

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Each of my writing classes was subjected to the following experiment.

I’d divide the students into three groups, have all of them close their eyes, then, one group at a time, they’d open their eyes to read three words on the board.

The first group would read this:

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After they closed their eyes, I’d erase those words and write the next three for the second group:

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After they closed their eyes, the third group would open theirs to find I’d written this:

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I’d erase those words, then write the following:

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Once the all the students opened their eyes again, I’d ask them, group by group, what the missing letter should be to complete the word.

The first group would quickly supply, “It’s an i. The word should be ripe.”

This is when the third group would begin to squirm, feeling like they’ve missed something.

The second group would frown a little, but they weren’t too concerned as they said, “No, the letter should be o. The word is rope.

While the RIPE group would be a little surprised, their response was nothing compared to the discomfort of the third group.

Apologetically, I’d turn to them next. Always there was hesitation, until someone would offer, “The word should be rape.”

The first two groups would stare at them in shock.

“Sorry,” I’d say to the third group, “but you proved this point: all of us see the world in different ways, based upon what you’ve been exposed to. As writers—as people—we frequently don’t understand why one seemingly obvious situation presents itself in a completely different way to others. We assume our interpretation is always the clearest, but depending upon our experiences, there may be many different ‘correct’ interpretations. And, as you can also see, our responses to a benign situation are deeply affected by what’s going on in our heads.”

If my students remembered nothing else from my classes, I’m fairly certain they remembered this example.

And it’s probably the most important lesson.

What we’re exposed to creates our interpretation of the world.

How we’ve been raised, what we watch, what we fantasize about, what we believe all taints—for good, or for bad, or for indifferent—how we interpret the world around us.

Repeatedly our society screams about what’s right and wrong, just and unfair, malignant and benign.

And here’s the crazy part: everyone is right . . . in their own minds. According to their experiences, they are interpreting the world as they think it really is.

Paul discovered 2,000 years ago, that “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Not only are our perceptions warped by glass, but it’s tinted so that what we see isn’t even cast in the correct light.

I’ve never met anyone who actively promotes ideas or beliefs that they felt are inherently wrong.

Everyone thinks they’re seeing things as they really are, pushing for what they believe is the best thing.

Everyone.

There’s no solution to this. And there doesn’t have to be. There’s no correcting those who see “rope” when you know it should be “ripe.” There’s no changing someone’s mind by telling (or shouting at) them they’re wrong. That’s never worked.

Never.

There is, however, recognizing that everyone interprets the same situation differently.

Each one of my classes did the same thing at the end of this experiment: they turned to their peers in the other groups and asked, “Why did you see that word as rope when I thought it should be rape?” In less than a minute, everyone’s answers made sense.

No one argued that someone offered the wrong solution. Everyone agreed that, based upon their exposure before, each person’s response was correct.

If you don’t understand why someone thinks the way they do, try asking. I don’t believe you have a right to argue against someone’s point of view until you fully understand it. (And when you do, you may not want to argue at all.)

Two things I’ve taken away from this experiment:

  1. People don’t HAVE to agree. I’d split up friends for the groups, and they’d be surprised to hear each other’s differing responses, but they’d still remain friends. They didn’t argue, or belittle, or shun, or mock, or condemn. They’d take a few minutes to understand each other, then they’d just let the differences be.
  2. People can choose to change their minds. The attitudes which most impressed me were those of students who said, “I don’t like the way I was thinking about those letters. I now want to see the word as RIPE instead of RAPE.” And they would. No one forced them to change their minds, but they listened, open-minded and open-hearted, to why others interpreted the letters differently, and they chose themselves to accept that new way of thinking.

So can we all.

       Perrin turned to his wife. “That’s why I married you, isn’t it? You always see the sides I can’t.”
       Mahrree reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “And you always see the sides I don’t notice. Works pretty well that way, doesn’t it?
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

3 ways in which parents are like God (and 3 ways we aren’t–yet)

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I’ve always known that parenthood is how God teaches us to be like Him, but now that I’ve been at it for 25 years, I feel like I’m finally understanding some of those aspects. For example:

1) God WANTS to hear from us. Wherever, whenever. I know this, because currently our family is spread over the country. Five of my nine children are at home, one’s serving an LDS mission, and three are away at college. My husband also works out of state, so connecting with everyone doesn’t always happen. But on some Mondays (the day my missionary son can email home) I find that I’ve chatted, emailed, skyped, texted, or messaged everyone in my family. Those are successful days when I feel as if everyone’s still connected.

BUT, how I am not like God is that by the evening, I AM DONE! My kids will tell you that there comes a point when I loudly announce, “I do NOT want to TALK or even SEE any more children! I NEED QUIET TIME!”

Invariably this occurs after these children have already been read and prayed away to bed, and they sneak into my room while I’m trying to work on my computer to annoy me with something irrelevant. After my explosion, and they retreat to their rooms, sure enough, that’s when one of my away-children will  pop up to chat online, or my husband will skype about something.

You should see the look I give my poor husband when he skypes at those moments. “Ah,” he’ll say, “one of those pecked-to-death-by-ducks days. I’ll make this brief—”

Sometimes (ok, often) I lose it.

But God never runs out of patience, or wants time to Himself, because He doesn’t deal with time. (That still boggles my mind.) He’s got all the non-existent time in the world, and there’s never a queue for those waiting on Him.

I know this, because I’ve prayed at all hours of the day and night, and have never heard celestial bellows of, “I Have Had It With These Children—Today, I Am Done!”

Nope, He’s never going to do that.

2) When you truly love God, you just want to be with Him. I know this, because when I have been patient and kind with my kids (something I pray for every single day—“PLEASE help me be patient and kind!”) they actually want to be with me.

This occurred to me on Sunday as my youngest children squished me on the pew at church. My preschooler is getting too heavy to be on my lap, but since he’s the last, I tolerate it even as my legs lose feeling. My nine-year-old tries to lean on me at the same time because she’s too big for my lap, and my thirteen-year-old will lean on the other side because I’m convenient for when he falls asleep five minutes into the service.

And so I sit, squashed and growing numb.

For a naturally claustrophobic person, this has taken a few years to get used to, but I discovered some time ago that if my kids didn’t like me—or even tolerate me—they’d be sitting much further away. On days like that I think, “I may be doing something right.”

Or I’m just convenient, but I’ll take that.

It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. When we truly know Him and understand His nature, we want to be closer to Him. We read the scriptures more, we pray more, we include Him more in our daily mental conversations. We do all we can to feel closer to Him, and He in turn draws closer to us.

We discover He’s an ally, a friend, a confidante, and while sometimes He needs to chasten us because He loves us, His arms are outstretched still, waiting for us to come back into them.

Image result for painting of jesus with man on bench(I love this painting, “Lost and Found,” by Greg Olsen.)

As a mother, I’m not always successful in this. There are times when my children have done something so heinous (i.e. ruined an appliance/electronic device/toilet) that I have to step away in fury, or my child might be permanently wounded; not physically, but emotionally.

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To be fair, this child had permission to destroy the light fixture . . .

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. . . only because she wouldn’t let go of the hammer, and I feared for the rest of the house.

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw a flood at an “evil” child and wash it far away, but then I remember that God had been warning and pleading with and trying to save His truly evil children before The Flood for 120 years while Noah labored on the ark.

But after 120 seconds, sometimes I’m ready to call down hail-fire and brimstone. (See why I’m always praying to be “patient and kind”?)

3) Heavenly Father wants to be our Father. Before I get into this, allow me backtrack—children need parents. I think this should be obvious, but almost daily I read philosophies that try to downplay the importance of parents, claiming they can be replaced by exceptional schools (I haven’t found any truly exceptional yet), well-structured day-care centers which can care for your child from before breakfast to after dinner, and a socialistic state which “serves” to alleviate the burdens of parenthood, so that adults can do what really matters—work for the betterment of the state.

Parenting, in some socialist theories, is a purely physical function, with those functions ending as soon as the child is delivered.

This isn’t how God sees parenthood. In fact, the title this all-powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth has chosen for himself is Heavenly Father. I’ve referred to Him here frequently as God which, while accurate, I think downplays His role in our lives. “God” is often seen as a distant figure, full of power and anger, ready to trick and punish His subjects in Zeus-like ways. The gods love to mess with us puny mortals.

The problem is, much of the world regards the Supreme Being of the cosmos this way. But that’s not a true image. Rather, it’s one Satan tries to promote in his effort to keeps us as far away from our Father as he can.

Our Father is an all-loving, ever-patient, ever-tender Father—to all of us. No matter our race, religion, political background, or any other potentially divisive measure, He wants to parent us, as a Perfect Parent would: solely concerned about our well-being.

Our Heavenly Father has no other agenda, no other pressing concerns, other than our eternal happiness. There’s nothing He wants more than to bring us home again with our souls intact from this life-long test we told Him we wanted to take.

Think about the best dad you know—maybe yours, maybe a friend’s. (Interestingly, a lot of people’s perceptions of God are based upon their relationships with their own fathers.) What made that dad so great? His every thought was for his kids, wasn’t it?

Just like our Heavenly Father.

But we puny mortals usually aren’t as wholly devoted to parenthood. Certainly not me, unfortunately. Sure, I’m concerned about my kids, put aside my own plans to help them with theirs, and often forsake sleep, food, and sanity to help them when they’re troubled.

But even as I type this morning, I’m interrupted by my daughter getting ready for school, my son splashing in his bath, my other son  failing again to wake up . . . and here I sit typing. (Notice how I said they’re interrupting me—how I come first, instead of them?) I’m not 24-hours-a-day focused on my children.

“Helicopter parenting,” on the other hand, is not God-like parenting, either, because it’s not done out of concern for children, but out of anxiety of what society may think of us as parents.

While wholly attentive, Heavenly Father is not a helicopter parent. He allows us to make mistakes, to skin our knees, even to punch our siblings, because He knows this life is a test, and no one ever learns from a test if they’re not allowed to actually take it. He allows us to fail so that we can begin to improve.

However, I admit there are times I probably should be more attentive than I am, so that the above-mentioned ruined appliances/devices/toilets don’t get ruined.

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Or so that this, for example, doesn’t happen.

That’s not a problem Heavenly Father faces. A nearly-ruined earth, maybe, but nothing that His Son cannot heal. No, Heavenly Father is far more focused and far more in the details of our lives than we’ll ever understand while in mortality.

Only when we get to the other side and review our existence will we see how often He nudged a situation for us, or diverted a disaster, or steadied us, much like we steady our own children as they learn to ride a bike. Rarely do they know, in their excitement that first time without training wheels, how closely we’re running behind them and straightening their bikes until they can do it themselves.

Likewise, we’ll be surprised to see how often our Heavenly Dad’s hand was touching our lives to make sure we stayed on course.

People occasionally ask me why I have so many kids, and I give my usual, flippant answer of “My husband and I really don’t know. What keeps causing this? Can you explain it to me? Draw diagrams?”

But once another answer came to my mind, when my Heavenly Father was gently nudging me to not be so trivial.

The answer was, So that I can learn to be more like my Heavenly Parents.

Because yes, there is a Heavenly Mother, too, but my theory is that She’s dealing with the children not yet born, or who have already died and gone back, so Heavenly Father is dealing with those of us on “away missions” while She focuses on those “back home.” Even Heavenly Parents have a division of labor.

I also have a lot of children because I’m a very slow learner (no, we figured out how they’re conceived a few years ago—glad we got that cleared up). Each child has taught me a different aspect of how my Heavenly Father wishes me to be, and I’m needing lots of years of practice to start getting close to His vision for me.

But, fortunately, I have Perfect Examples to follow.

Mahrree often felt as if she were looking into the eyes of the Creator Himself as Gleace listened earnestly to Peto’s description of kickball, offered advice to Deck on selecting cattle to start his herd, chuckled at Jaytsy’s explanation of her mother’s first attempt to garden, and laughed at hearing how Perrin became a cat owner. He paid full attention to each of them, as if no one else existed, and what they had to say was the most important thing ever.

Mahrree knew there were some people who envisioned the Creator as a great and terrible Being, full of impatient vengeance for the fallibility of His creations.

But Mahrree had always pictured someone else: a perfect Father who wanted to make sure His children knew they were loved and cared about. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

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If you could give your younger self a message from the future, what would it be?

That’s how I felt two days ago, and wondered if I could.

Allow me to back up a bit. My blog is a little late this week, because I spent a few days in a hospital two hours away assisting my oldest daughter with her second born, and then with her toddler son.

When her little girl was only hours old, and big brother was on his way with his daddy to meet her, I warned my daughter, “He may not yet be two years old, but you’ll be astonished at how old your son will suddenly appear in relation to your newborn. He’ll age years in just moments.”

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Big brother and baby sister.

Because that was the shock I felt when I sat years ago in a hospital room holding my second-born, and my mother brought my oldest, barely two years old, to meet her.

All I could think was, “Who is this giant child?!” It was as if time had taken a enormous step in seven-league boots, and my first baby was now a kid.

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My two oldest daughters, 2 years old and five days old, 1992.

As I warned that same “kid,” now 25 years old, I felt that immense step again, striking me with sudden reality that those two tiny girls were now women; the older a graduate student nearly finished with her thesis, just as I was with small children, the other a nursing student hoping to be a newborn nurse in a couple of years.

I wish I could have stretched through time and tapped my younger self on the shoulder—the me who stared at her two little girls and wondered, What have I done? Why did I think I could be a mother to two children?!

I would have said to her, “For just a moment, look here. See what will happen in twenty-four shockingly short years.

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“You’ll have some rough years, difficult months, and terrible days, but also many wonderful ones, and eventually you’ll see this: your two formerly-baby daughters, with your first granddaughter. Hold on to this image for when your hope flags and your confidence wanes. It’ll be good. Eventually, it’ll all be good.”

(I would not have told my younger self, however, that I’d have seven more children. I/she would have dropped in a dead faint,  never to be revived.)

As I watched my daughters and yearned to encourage my younger self, I imagined that I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I wondered if it were a distant me, another twenty-four years in the future with too much white hair to pretend it’s only highlights, and with so much experience that I’m sure I’d regard my forty-seven-year-old self as naïve.

I imagined I heard a seventy-one-year-old whisper, “For just a moment, look here. See what’s happened . . .”

I hope that I/she was smiling, as I was this week. I hope that I/she was sending me a message of encouragement, of never giving up. I’m sure there’ll be events that she’ll have witnessed in our future that will be heartbreaking, but others that will be glorious beyond my current imagining. I hope it’s to one of those scenes I/she is wishing to draw my attention, just for a moment.

And I hope that the ninety-five-year-old Trish, witnessing yet another scene of astonishment, is tapping the seventy-one-year-old me on the shoulder, and chuckling and weeping with joy as she does so.

Two hours later an exhausted Mahrree, drenched with sweat and tears, and shocked that so much could change so quickly, stared at the bundle in her arms. Her mother and the midwives were surprised that the baby was so small. Mahrree’s seeming enormity must have been a trick of the eye, they decided, magnified by her slight frame. The baby probably came early.

But she didn’t know what they were talking about; nothing about the newborn she spent the last hour and a half birthing seemed small. ~Book 1, Forest at the Edge of the World

22 Random things I learned at Comic Con 2016

I ran a booth, I dragged six of my nine kids with me, had two others meet us there, and three days of 12+ work days are still a blur in my head, but I remember a few things:

1. I am not in shape to run up three flights of stairs to see Mark Hamill in the distance. But once I got my breath back, hanging with Mark in the Vivint Center was totally doable.

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Me and Mark. I’m sure he saw me waving to him.

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2. My knowledge of geekdom isn’t as deep as I thought. I recognized maybe only a third of the costumes which paraded past my booth. But I did recognize TwoFlower—and the older man dressed as him was delighted that I also knew what his elaborate imp-in-a-box was. (Terry Pratchett’s version of a camera.)

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(My four-year-old doesn’t yet understand the difference between pretend and real. He thought it was a real Tardis, just like he ran from the R2-D2 droid because it was too real.)

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(My daughter, in the green shirt, didn’t fear R2 whatsoever.)

3. People will freak out when the curtain they’re sitting by suddenly parts and someone (me) walks through it. Probably my best entertainment was leaving my booth by the back curtain to dart over to the bathrooms, shocking lurkers that life exists beyond the panels. I also got to hear a lot of juicy gossip from people who didn’t realize I was sitting just a foot away eating my dinner, especially about someone named Cheryl.

Wherever you are, Cheryl, your associates don’t believe for one minute you didn’t have surgery, and Daniel’s on to you.

4. Listen—really listen—to people to discover marvelous things. One young woman came to my booth asking if I had a Doctor Who clock. I told her I was gathering suggestions for one, and did she know anything about the older Doctors? She pulled out her iphone, wrapped as a Tardis, and in seconds she had up wiki pages of Doctor Who to back up her suggestions which she proudly stated.

Next she pulled out her ipad and showed me the scripts she’d downloaded from audio plays, and she trembled slightly with joy to find someone willing to appreciate her fanatical fandom.

Maybe, the thought occurred to me, she’d been waiting for three days to find someone needing her expertise, and while it was Saturday night and the Con was closing, we chatted for ten minutes about her knowledge. I gave her my card and told her to email me if she had any other suggestions, because clearly she was the authority, and she blushed with pride.

That’s when I also noticed she was alone. Maybe she’d come with someone else and would find them later, but I doubted it. I hadn’t yet seen anyone alone at Comic Con, but she wasn’t looking or waiting for anyone. She was hoping, perhaps, that someone would find her. We did.

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(My oldest daughter, due in three weeks, learned that working all day and evening won’t induce labor, unfortunately.)

5. A middle-aged woman not dressed in cosplay but wearing a badge (see photo above of my daughter’s all-powerful badge which got us passed all lines) looks like an authority. One afternoon I took a break and wandered over to where the celebrities were signing autographs. My purpose was to catch sight of Manu Bennett, who one of my old high school friends who I saw earlier says was worth gawking at, and who I’ve always thought would make a great Perrin Shin (one of the lead characters in my book series).

But I’d never be brave enough to meet him, because what would I say? Something creeper-stalker-like, such as, “I’ve written a book series, and I’ve imagined the main guy should be played by you”?

So I stood with my arms folded, about 70 feet away from the entrance where the celebrities came into the convention center, and I must have looked rather stern as I was lost in thought. Stern enough in my black t-shirt and beige pants that people gave me wide berth, except to ask me questions. “Where are the celebrities when they’re not here?” “Where’s the food court?” “Can I just go up to a celebrity and shake their hand?” I made up believable answers.

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My daughter and Rory from Doctor Who, Arthur Davrill. Hanging out at Celebrity Row.

I didn’t realize until later that I was dressed like the security guys, and that people probably mistook me as a supervisor (since my build obviously doesn’t scream, “SECURITY!”).

That’s when I wished I’d tested my philosophy, that someone walking purposefully will not be stopped. I wanted to go behind the black screen where the celebrities hid out, and stride down the corridor as if I belonged there.

But then I realized how embarrassing it’d be for my kids to have to go to the security office and bail me out (or whatever happens if someone’s caught). And there I’d be, weeping and saying, “I just wanted to see if he could be Perrin!”

The fantasy of doing it is better than the reality, in many ways.

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Manu Bennett finally did come out, grinning and sauntering.
Definitely could be Perrin.

6. Some costumes are astonishing. I want to redo my bedroom to look her.

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(Not the Pickachu, but Queen Elizabeth.)

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Best/tallest Hagrid I’ve seen.

7. Some costumes are ridiculous. As my friend David Jensen observed, bikini armor is quite useless.

(No, no bikini armor here–just my old friend and helpful beta reader David Jensen who noticed the bikini armor. I love writing that: bikini armor.)

8. Even if the costume is many sizes too small, some people will insist on squeezing most of their body parts into it. Mercifully, I didn’t take any photos of those. But I still feel nauseated at the thought of bulging flesh.

9. People respect a soldier’s uniform. My oldest son wore his army fatigues (and bought a matching outfit for his girlfriend), swapping out his army patch for a Zombie Fighter patch. He was surprised at the amount of people who came up to shake his hand. Even the Asian workers at the Mongolian BBQ food truck, where he bought us all lunch, wanted a picture with a “real American soldier.” And here he thought no one would want to take his photo.

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The only shot I got of my family, as they were leaving Thursday night.

10. Some people will complain, no matter what.
“There’s too many people!” (You’re one of them.)
“I just know I’m going to get sick from something!” (When you’re with 100,000 people, yeah . . .)
“That costume is so awful.” (Have you looked at your own?)

11. Some people will find the bright side, no matter what. Those folks give me hope and inspiration.

12. Utahns with children really like Harry Potter. As evidenced by the amount of strollers parked outside the ballroom to hear Evanna Lynch (“Luna Lovegood”) speak.

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13. Don’t give up in the middle. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but during the last week I lost five pounds because of a knotted belly and twisted bowels. I’ve never, ever, done something this stressful in my life. (Except moving cross country, driving a van 2,000+ miles only four weeks after I had my 8th baby–that maybe was worse.) Never before have I invested and created and worked so much, and halfway through Friday I realized that the sales weren’t going to be what I had fantasized.

In fact, we’d barely break even. No one around us was doing huge sales either, and I found out later that very few of the vendors had the success they were hoping for.

I was ready to quit and leave, even though I knew I wouldn’t do it. I privately castigated myself, however, for my arrogance, my naïve hope. Why did I think this was a good idea in the first place?

Because every morning, for the past two months, I’d waken up with the clear image of what I needed to accomplish that day to be ready for Comic Con. Every day I felt the gentle reassurance that this was what I should do, that it would all be well, and that I should continue.

And so I did, waiting for whatever was to come, and eventually learning to have fun. By that evening I was talking freely with people and actually enjoyed myself. That’s huge for an introvert like me.

14. Watching it all come down is depressing. Like seeing the clean-up after a funeral. It really is all over.

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15. I saw marvelous things I’ll never see again. My favorite, which I didn’t have time to whip out my camera for, was the true Rastafarian, with massive dreadlocks, on the street outside the convention center on his skateboard, blaring reggae music. He was dressed like Spiderman as he whizzed by. Beautiful.

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The balloon Star Wars folks were also good, if not a bit squeaky.

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And this pirate ship, quietly gliding behind our booth at the end, like the Black Pearl in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” when it’s carried by crabs across the salt flats (filmed here in Utah).

 

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And I realized I really, really want a pirate coat someday.

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This massive box was on the loading dock. Welcome to Comic Con.

16. Awkwardness reigns. It’s a well-known fact that many geeks, nerds, and cosplay folks feel out of place in the regular world. They come to these conventions to find other fringe folks, and to be part of the group for once. Even then, there are still those on the fringes of the fringe groups, but they’re the ones who get all of the attention—positive attention, usually.

I told my kids that whoever seemed truly bizarre, but was wearing a wristband, was probably still ok.

It was the folks who weren’t wearing wristbands or badges they needed to steer clear of.

17. Not everyone “gets” it. The nice women running the booth next to me were clearly not part of the geek/nerd/cosplay world. Their product was kids’ books, and they were used to community fairs. Their eyes would bulge in shock or fear at what walked by next.

Then a very shapely woodland sprite sauntered past, wearing only a g-string and a lot of body paint, and I heard one of women murmur, “And I thought the state fair had some weirdos.”

18. Playing “Who is he/she with?” is a new sport. During quiet selling times, my daughters and I would sit back and watch who’d come by our booth, then try to guess what their significant other would look like, as they often were a step or two behind. We were often quite surprised, and occasionally uttered, “How’d he/she get her/him?” Some folks I’d never pair together, then again people probably think the same thing when they see me with my cute husband.

19. Karma exists. In my religion we don’t talk about karma per se, but I’m convinced it’s out there. I over prepared for Comic Con, bringing a lot of stuff I didn’t need, but that others around me did. My booth neighbors on various sides borrowed my tablecloth, my phone charger, my blank paper, my markers, took a lot of my free mints, and even let me bounce a wailing newborn while they handled customers (the hardest duty, I assure you).

For one brief moment I did feel slightly put upon as the child of my booth neighbors took candy from my booth for about the seventh time, but then I thought, “If I’m not here to help others, then what good am I?”

Maybe it was that attitude that karma recognized (whoever or wherever she may be) so that she allowed Billy Boyd, aka “Pippin” to wander by our shop with his security (dressed in black shirts like mine) and nod in approval at our stuff Saturday afternoon. I had missed seeing his panel Thursday night (you can see part of it below) but my kids had all gone and hadn’t stopped talking about him for two days.

By the time my daughter, who was in front and noticed (while I was sitting behind snacking) recovered enough from her shock to tell me who had smiled at our stuff, he was gone. But still I grabbed a Lord of the Rings clock and took off running into the mass of tens of thousands of people. I just had to give a hobbit a clock!

But I didn’t see him, anywhere, even after 20 minutes of searching. I admit I even prayed silently, “Dear Lord, if there’s any way I could give him a clock, may I? Where do I go? I know this seems silly, but I really would love to give him a clock . . .”

My oldest daughter, whom I called to tell what happened, later texted me, “I bet he’s gone back to sign autographs. Give the clock to his handler.” That’s when I knew . . .

20. Sometimes, you’ve got to just be braver than you’ve ever dared, even if you think you’ll vomit. “I’m going over to see Billy Boyd,” I told my daughter. “I have to try.” So I took the clock to celebrity row, and also took a Harry Potter one for Luna Lovegood, in case she was there. I was intending to leave the clock with Billy Boyd’s “handler” (that’s what they call them, as if they’re displaying their beasts at the zoo), because I hadn’t signed up to meet Pippin, nor had I paid $50 for an autograph. I stood in line anxiously, watching as the dozen or so in front me went to gush and have something signed. When I got to the handler, I explained what I wanted her to give him.

“No,” she said, with a slight smile. “You’ll give it to him yourself.”

I was not expecting that response. “I’m so nervous,” I confessed, “that I might throw up.” She told me they had buckets, and go ahead.

By this time Billy Boyd, down the table, was looking at me quizzically, so I thought, Gotta do it.

I took the clock out of the box and told him that he walked by our shop and smiled at it, to which he responded, “Yes, I remember!” because he could see my label on the box which matched the sign. (So all my work in branding actually was effective!) I said that we made a LOTR clock, too, and he said, “I didn’t know that.” I also didn’t expect him to respond to my frantic monologue, so I’m sure I stumbled in my words as I said, “My daughter was too shocked to say anything as you walked by, but she stared at you.”

“I saw that, too!” he grinned. That’s when I began to realize he was just an ordinary man. Sort of.

Then I told him, “All of my nine kids are huge LOTR fans–”

“You have NINE KIDS!?” he exclaimed in his awesome Scottish accent.

Oh, how I wished I could have recorded that and made that as my ring tone. “You have NINE KIDS?! You have NINE KIDS?!”

“I do!” I exclaimed back. “And they’ve all helped design and make this clock. They would love for you to have it, if you’d accept it.”

He took the clock and smiled at it, saying. “It’s lovely! It’s beautiful. Thank you!”

Mission accomplished!

As he read what each number represented from Middle Earth, and I sighed in satisfaction that I’d done more than I anticipated. I started to leave when Mr. Boyd surprised me with, “Is that the clock you want me to sign?” He was gesturing to the one tucked under my arm, the Harry Potter intended for Luna Lovegood.

Stunned by that, I said, “Actually, this is for Evanna Lynch. I don’t have one with me for you to sign. I really just wanted to give you that one from my kids.”

“Well then,” he said, “run back to your shop, get another one, and bring it back. I’ve got only five minutes before I have to do photo ops, so when you come back, jump to the head of the line, and I’ll sign it.”

I really wasn’t expecting that, and, with some embarrassment, I said, “But I haven’t paid $50 for your autograph.”

He looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t care. Run and get it.”

Pippin always was my favorite hobbit, now more than ever.

“Really?” I said (or maybe shouted.) “All right! Thank you so much!” and I took off running.

I’m not a sprinter, by any means, but I went as fast as I could, occasionally elbowing people in my way. I was nearly dry-heaving in exhaustion when I grabbed another clock at our booth and gasped to my daughter, “He’s going to sign this!” Then I ran back to get to his table again, propelled by so much adrenaline that I didn’t come down from it for about six hours.

Billy (we’re on a first name basis by now) was talking to some other people, so I had a minute to catch my breath and try to regain some composure.

He saw me, smiled, and I told him as I approached, “You’ve made this middle-aged woman run faster than she ever has. My kids are going to freak.”

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(My daughter, freaking.)

He wrote quickly, because he already knew what he was going to write—he’d been thinking about it! Under Towers for 2, he wrote “Second Breakfast.” Then he signed it, “With love, Billy Boyd, Pippin.”

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“Thank you so much! You’re just wonderful to do this.” I told him, and he did a little “Ah, gee it was nothing” shrug. “It’s going up on my living wall tomorrow,” I told him, then I bounded off.

I probably could have gotten a hug from him, too, and I’d seen him do selfies with others, but I hadn’t gone with the intention of taking something from him, even though he freely offered it. I already had a signature on something we made—a one-of-a-kind item. Somehow asking for a photo would have changed the moment, and I wanted it to be just as it was. Evanna Lynch was already gone, but I didn’t care. I’d gotten more than I’d expected.

I thought then what would have happened if I had given up halfway through Comic Con, if I’d let my anxiety and worry win, if I’d left and never came back. That’s when I learned . . .

21. Success isn’t always measured in $$$. That’s what God was trying to teach me, I realized toward the end. We did, in fact, cover our booth costs, along with advertising, parking, and food, which meant we didn’t lose anything but gained a lot in exposure. But more importantly, I think we were successful in who we reached, like the timid Doctor Who expert and TwoFlower, who was sure no one would appreciate Discworld.

I met several old friends from high school, and made some new ones.

I discovered I can do really hard things, and my kids learned more about business than they ever will any other way (my excuse for letting them skip school).

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One of three booth configurations we played with while there.

I also met people I never would have before. For example, I carried on a fun conversation with a transgendered couple, discussing Alice in Wonderland, clocks, and how difficult it is to walk around with branches in one’s hair (eye-poking hazards for those who follow.)

Had we met casually on the street, I doubt we ever would have chatted, sensing too many differences between us. But barriers come down in events like this, and we find ways to connect through common interests, and parted as friends who have shared compliments and a laugh.

And, I have to confess, I enjoyed the ego stroking. As a writer and Etsy shop owner, my world is pretty much what goes in and comes out of my laptop. Occasionally I get feedback from those who have read my books or purchased my goods, and those are magical days indeed when they tell me they liked my stuff. But rarely have I met the actual people behind the words. (And that’s fine; we introverts communicate best through writing.)

I admit that I teared up when, one afternoon, I realized there were five different people in front of my booth taking pictures of my signs and clocks. Many times the aisle in front of us was blocked by those stopping to read and chuckle. And when someone mentioned, “That’s clever,” or “No one is doing anything like this,” I felt validation. I’m embarrassed to admit that I needed and wanted that, but then I realize that’s all that everyone wants—assurance that they’re doing something good, something that brings others joy.

22. I wish I’d done more of that for others—given more compliments and reached out more to strangers—although my introverted self had stretched further into extrovert territory than I ever had before. There’s nothing better than to see someone light up when I tell them I admire the creativity they put into their costume, that I appreciated their work.

Even though we plan to move across the country next year, still my mind is reeling with ways to make it to the next Comic Con or FanX convention. Because now I know what to do, and how to make it even better for everyone with me.

Plus, it’s a great way to lose five stress pounds. Two months of this, I’d be down to my dream weight.

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I took a picture of our last set-up for “next time,” even though I doubt there’ll be a next time. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it . . . And that pirate coat. I need a pirate coat.

 

‘Twas the night before SLC Comic Con . . .

‘Twas the night before Comic Con
And all through the house
Was evidence that I’ve been working 60 hours a week for two months,
And am now too weary to keep up this rhyme scheme.

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Boxes and milk crates full of my goods from my Etsy shop LetterThings. It’s taken over my living room.

For the past two months I’ve been cutting and painting and hammering and screwing and designing and gluing and assembling. Then I was boxing and organizing and designing some more. If I sell 1/3 of all we bring, we’ll earn enough to re-shingle our roof. (Woo-hoo, great excitement.) If we sell everything, I get to afford some necessary remodeling in the house and maybe buy a new couch. (Ah, real excitement!)

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My daughter “Tetris-ing” our products in our full-size van, the greatest vehicle ever made. We filled the entire van.

Today my teenage son asked me, “So are you excited for three days of selling at Comic Con?”

I stared at him and said, “Never before have I been to Comic Con. Never before have I had a booth. Never before have I sold my stuff at a store front. Never before have I set up displays or kept inventory or sold with Square. Never before have I even owned a smart phone, which I bought just for this weekend.

“My stomach has been in knots for a week, my tachycardia has been flaring for the past two days and nights, and now I’m developing an ocular migraine, which means I’ve got a blind spot in my eye for the next hour. I’m terrified I’m going to forget something important, or mess up or screw up and ruin everything! My stress is through the roof!”

My son blinked at me and said, “We can find another way to raise the money for re-shingling the roof. You don’t have to do this, you know.”

I scoffed. “What, and miss all this fun?!”

If you’ll be at the Salt Lake City Comic Con this weekend, come find me at Beige 32 (man, I hope I find it myself). I’ll be there with stuff that looks like this:

bookmark for LetterThingsFINAL

In any other circumstance Mahrree would have been exhausted by the pace and the late hour, but every inch of her was filled with so much anxiety it propelled her onward. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

America’s the land of revolutions; let’s start another one!

There are revolutions happening all around us in America, but we don’t always recognize them. But once we do, we realize we can be part of them.

If we dare.

Most of these revolutions arise from breaking with the status quo of our ancestors. And not just talking about change, but actually being part of it. Too often we spout niceties about being original and different, but in reality we’re terrified to not follow the crowd. Too frequently we want to be in on the latest trend, say the right thing in whatever is deemed politically correct for the day, and to be counted among the winners.

And that last reason—to be among the winners—is why people are afraid to be different.

For example, while so many people are personally opposed to both of the major political candidates running for president, they’ll vote for one of them anyway because that’s how it’s always been.

But that doesn’t have to be. We can begin to change the system, this year.

I know that’s scary talk, and I heard someone comment that this isn’t the time for a revolution, but revolutions are happening all the time. Every day people are rejecting what corporations and governments, and what tradition and the status quo, have been dictating should be.

This has always been the way change begins—not with large organizations or ensconced traditions, but with individuals. Margaret Mead famously said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Citizens have always taken it upon themselves to instigate change. Back in 1776 Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” advocating that the colonies separate themselves from Britain. An individual—not a corporation or organization—gave other citizens the idea to break with the current tradition and be brave enough to begin the Revolutionary War.

Not that all acts by individuals will lead to such dramatic events (and there were certainly many more factors contributing to the war). But people have been going contrary to the prevailing winds for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

What this means, as Hugh Nibley has written, is that we need to “Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection.”

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Emil Neufeldt

Many years ago, the Nazi party tried to make my great-grandfather into a reflection. Emil Neufeldt, who lived in the Prussian region of Germany during WWII, was a wealthy inventor and engineer, with great influence in the sugar industry. The Nazis knew someone with his stature and money would be beneficial to their cause, so in the 1930s they sent one of their best to recruit him.

My great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with the Nazis, but knew that openly opposing them could cause him trouble. So he came up with an idea. Known to be able to hold his alcohol, Emil drank the Nazi recruiter under the table. Then he marched to the local Nazi headquarters and demanded they drag their recruiter home. He told them in no uncertain terms they should never dare again try to make him one of their own.

Did Emil Neufeldt stop World War II? No.

Did he stop the Nazis? No.

Did he secure safety for his family and household, and not be bothered by embarrassed and humiliated fascists again? Yes, he did.

He made a difference in his small part of the world, and eighty years later his great-granddaughter proudly remembers his example of not following the dubious safety of authority. (Even though it involved alcohol.)

My mother also told me of a Catholic priest in their area who, in the early years of WWII, preached openly about the atrocities of the Nazis, and publicly questioned where all the Jews were going.

He vanished shortly after, never to be heard from again. Did he change the world then? Stop the Nazis? Discover and reveal what was happening to the disappearing Jews?

No.

He likely met their same fate in some concentration camp. But his bravery is remembered, right here, today. His words and worries and defiance was repeated, many times over by others just as daring, and eventually the war ended and the horrible truth was revealed.

We don’t remember mere reflections. We remember innovators. We remember those who changed the world, for better and for worse.

We remember contrarians. The word coined by Richard and Linda Eyre means”to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. [A] ‘contrarian’ . . . describe[s] someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.”

This is happening, all around us. Contrarianism frequently means rejecting foolish traditions of the past.

For example, when I was a teenager in the 1980s rampant consumerism was the tradition. You were openly judged based upon what you wore, what you have, and how big your house was. (Anyone remember Yuppies or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?) The era of McMansions was also born, then: gargantuan houses which no one could fill, and later, no one could afford.

But what’s the movement now? Tiny houses. Brilliantly constructed, carefully planned, and usually financially prudent, tiny homes are becoming the answer for many people who can’t afford even to rent.

So who started this trend? A man named Jay Shafer, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon, and Nigel Valdez began the Small House Society back in 2002.  Not a corporation, not an organization, but a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” are striving to make housing affordable for everyone.

The government certainly isn’t behind this change. They’re still calling for us to spend, spend, spend in order to improve the economy. Remember a few years back when the feds sent us cash hoping to “stimulate” financial growth? There was no lasting benefits.

In the 1980s and 90s, the tradition to show you have “arrived” was to own a designer handbag. Now, companies like Coach are struggling, along with many department stores and malls, because consumerism was discovered to not be all that it was hyped to be.

The funny thing is, if you’re unhappy, buying stuff won’t fix that. The rising generations, already stuck with debt, logically and contrarily don’t feel like generating more just for a random symbol of status their mothers and grandmothers erroneously thought was so important.

Nowadays, there’s a quiet revolution toward minimalism; people deliberately getting rid of stuff, downsizing their homes, possessions, and priorities. Many websites and books can teach you how to toss all that weighs you down, to organize what you have left, and live a more peaceful, tranquil, simple life.

Again, these are led by individuals who, contrarian-like, have rejected the status quo and have discovered something much more satisfying. And it’s happening all around us.

When I was a child in the 1970s, I first heard about vegetarians, and the idea to avoid eating meat both alarmed and intrigued me. But vegetarians were hippies! Free-loving weirdos and tree huggers! What a non-traditional folk! (And a lot of folks over sixty still regard vegetarians this way, so be warned when you bring it up.) Never mind that there have always been those who have eschewed meat: veganism was only for those on the fringe.

But no longer. While advertisements try to push us toward more meat and protein and dairy products, consumption has declined in the past years. The burger places for which people in the 1960s-1980s developed such affinities are finding themselves struggling against a growing number of restaurants offering healthy alternatives. The web is awash in thousands of vegetarian sites, and what was once on the fringes of contrariness is now mainstream.

Again, no corporation or governmental entity has led the movement for healthier eating. (Sorry, Mrs. Obama.) People have decided, after being inspired by other thoughtful individuals such as T. Colin Campbell and “The China Study”, to eat healthier. Subsequent weight loss and markedly improved health are more powerful inducements than any kind of advertisement.

Need further proof of how we’re rejecting what a generation ago believed was so important? If you’re a millennial, you won’t know that starting in the 1970s we were involved in the cola wars, and those extended until the 1990s. Battles in advertisements between Coke and Pepsi were fought viciously to win our loyalty. This explains why your grandmother may refuse to eat at a certain restaurant because they don’t serve diet Pepsi. She’s still a victim of that bloodless battle to win her devotion. Never mind that soda is as unhealthy and addictive as sugared hummingbird water; cola was king.

1985 ad, when we believed one soda might be “better” for us than another.

Mercifully, people have come to realize that they needn’t define themselves by what foods and beverages they’re loyal to.

In fact, I’ve heard of many in my generation and older are stunned to hear their descendants may drink only water, and never want to eat at McDonald’s. No, this isn’t some kind of treachery; it’s individuals thinking for themselves, looking past the hype and realizing there’s nothing of substance to back it up. 

Along those lines, it may also shock and surprise you that there are families who do not want to ever visit Disneyland. Although the masses and advertising claim it to be the “happiest place on earth,” standing in lines and paying for exorbitant entrance prices, food, and swag doesn’t make everyone happy. You may be startled to know that some contrarians’ children will never walk on that hallowed ground, because they and their parents prefer the solitude, quiet, and low entrance fees of national parks.

Contrarians also show up in education, and have been for many years. Common Core and the associated scripts and texts which pander to it, are driving many families to homeschooling which, three decades ago, was a fringe alternative but is now almost trendy and fast becoming the new tradition.

And if you were around in the 1980s, you  might remember a crass movie called “Revenge of the Nerds.” Now, geek culture is the culture, contrary to what anyone would have believed 30 years ago.

Our attitudes of what is “acceptable” and how things “should” be are changing all the time.

Why can’t our attitudes then also change about how we elect a president?

Most Americans still feel obligated to side with either the Republicans or Democrats, even if they feel neither represents them.  And the arguments they use are old and tired: “Because of the electoral college, only a Republican or Democrat will win.”

Or, a vote for anyone else besides Republican or Democrats means, “Your vote will be wasted.”

Rephrased it’s, “Being different will mean you’ll be left out.”

Doesn’t that hearken back to every fear we had as kids? Not being part of the “in” group?

Too many of us adults still harbor those worries, desperate to be part of “the group” so that we matter. In my limited observations, it’s those middle aged and older who are most worried about being obedient to the brand of Republican or Democrat they were brought up with. They still think (hope?) all Republicans are like Reagan and all Democrats are like the Roosevelts.

Now consider this: how often has the “in” group made poor choices which affected thousands and even millions? Begin by listing obvious dictators, and count which societies are still doing well under them.

Think about all the examples I’ve just shown you about individuals making a difference, influencing others around them to be contrarians. Why can’t we extend this bravery and independent thought to overturn an antiquated and manipulative system for something that really works?

Now is the time for each of us to individually say, “I will no longer support this.” Revolutions don’t have to be bloody, angry things. In fact, nearly all of the examples of positive change I listed above have been thoughtful movements.

“As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don’t want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.” ~Richard and Linda Eyre [emphasis added]

Too often we believe that there are only two options: the established way, and the wrong way. But rhetorically speaking, this is a logical fallacy. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who claims it’s only his way or the highway, you know how miserable that situation can be, and it usually signals a business is in big trouble.

Refusing to see other possibilities is what traps us. There are ALWAYS more options—to any situation, problem, or ideal.

Change never comes from the establishment or a corporation. It always arises from insightful, thoughtful, brave individuals who refuse to believe “there’s no other way.”

My neighbor recently demonstrated this by showing just how few Americans really support the Republican and Democratic parties.

#iamsomeone (And, importantly, Dallin Crump’s just an individual who wants to illustrate a point; he receives no funding or sponsorships. He’s just a “someone,” a “thoughtful citizen,” trying to change America. The fact that millions of people have also viewed and shared this suggests he’s not alone).

It’s up to us to stop being afraid of being different, to embrace contrarianism, to stand up against the tide and slow it down, even if only for a little a bit.

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“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I haven’t voted for either party in twenty years. At times, I’ve even written in candidates who I felt would be excellent leaders. I don’t feel my votes were wasted; I feel my conscience was satisfied.

We ourselves might not experience rewards from our subtle civil disobedience by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate, but our children or grandchildren may.

It’s not necessarily for us that we stand up at this election, or at any other time, to defy the status quo. It’s for those who follow.

Generations from now, may we be remembered as the Thomas Paines, the Emil Neufeldts, and the Catholic Priests who did something more than meekly follow the noisiest crowd. We should be–must be–remembered as those who lent a hand in turning the country around.

“It’s rare,” Gleace told them, “that anyone in the world comes up with new ideas, or pokes at old notions to discover if what everyone believes is actually true. But you,” he smiled slyly at Perrin and Mahrree, “you poked all the time. And that’s how you got here.”

“Our poking caused trouble,” Mahrree pointed out.

“Ah, but the very best kind!” Gleace declared. “The kind that makes people question everything they know. People need to be poked every now and then.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

On apricots, bathrooms, and legacies

[Today my friend texted me, “Have you had your fill of apricots yet?” That reminded me of something I wrote four years ago on another blog, and I before I rush off to pick some, then later rush off to the bathroom, I wanted to republish it here.]

This is no ordinary bag of apricots.

It’s a legacy, a reminder of those who are no longer here, or leaving soon.

Apricots are the perfect fruit. In my mind, Eve hands Adam an apricot. She has a whole fig leaf apron full of them. And raspberries jammed in a pocket. (But that’s another story. And no, I’m not sure where Eve would have a pocket.)

I didn’t like apricots until I was about 11 or 12 years old. My oldest sister Judy, married with her own family, came to our house to pick apricots off of our tree during one of the rare years it produced. She taught me how their texture is firmer than peaches, less messy, and more subtle in flavor. And that flavor, when snatched from a tree on a hot August afternoon, was fantastic. She was right—I discovered I loved apricots as I picked them with her. Suddenly, she stopped.

“How many have you eaten?” she asked me.

“About 5 or 6,” I told her.

“Well, stop,” she said as she popped another in her mouth.

Hypocrite, I thought. “Why?”

“Because these will make you the best of friends with the toilet around this time tomorrow.” She swallowed down another one.

“How many have you had?”

“Probably 20,” she said nonchalantly. “I’ve already cleared my calendar for tomorrow afternoon. I’ll hate myself then, but for now? Heavenly!”

She later confessed that on the drive home, she had to put the bucket of apricots in the back of her van, out of her reach. The next day she lived in the bathroom while her husband laughed at her.

“But it was worth it!” Judy insisted when I next saw her. “Fresh and free apricots come only a few weeks of the year, and some years, not at all. Eat them while you can.”

Each year my mother and I watched our apricot tree, cheering at the popcorn-like blossoms and hoping for a good crop. Then, two years out of three, a frost killed the blossoms.

But when we had mild springs? One year we had a huge crop, and came home one day to see little orange bits all over the road in front of our house. Perplexed, we looked up on the hill where our apricot tree stood and saw that half of it was lying on the ground, the weight of so much fruit breaking it. Little apricots had rolled down the hill and became a mushy mess all over the road. Neighbors came to help clean up the mess, my mother made jam for two straight days. At the end, she cursed the little things for being so darned plentiful that year—and Judy and I ate far too many again.

My sister and mom, in 2007, clearly wishing they were eating apricots.

Yesterday, a neighbor wrote on Facebook how sick she was of making apricot jam, and I thought about my mom. She’s now 85 and fading slowly away. In hospice care, she doesn’t open her eyes, she doesn’t speak, and now she no longer eats. [UPDATE: My mother passed away in January of 2014.] She won’t taste apricots or make jam this year.

I moved away to the east coast some years ago, saw apricots for sale occasionally at the grocery stores for exorbitant prices, and remembered free Utah apricots. Then we moved back to Utah in 2007 and occasionally got an apricot or two, and loved them.

But there are still apricots, brought to me by a dear friend, in a bag [the same friend who texted me today–Allison doesn’t forget]. 

I don’t have Judy, either. She won her first round with cancer, but it came back more angry for a second bout, and nearly three years ago [seven, now], Judy passed away.

We don’t have that tree anymore, either. We sold the house, and the tree, a few years ago.

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My mom, four years ago, briefly holding her youngest grandchild. She passed away in 2014.

Yesterday, I taught my 4-year-old [now 9-year-old] how to love apricots. After her fifth one I said, “We shouldn’t have any more. Too many will make you need to go to the bathroom a lot tomorrow.”

She nodded in agreement, but about ten minutes later came to me with another apricot for me to open and pit. “Just one more,” she promised. “The last one.”

I smiled and took one more as well.

Then ate about twenty-five more.

Today I’ve spent a lot of time in the bathroom.

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Judy and me, in 2007. No apricots in sight, but I’ll eat extra for her today, in 2016. And likely regret it again.

And I swear I’ve heard Judy laughing at me and saying, But they’re worth it, aren’t they?

[Today, I told my nine-year-old that the apricots were ready again, and she eagerly asked, “When can we go get them?” If you’ll need me tomorrow, I’ll be in the bathroom. I have to eat enough for not only myself, but my mom and Judy as well. Someone has to do it.]

“I don’t believe this!” Peto threw his arms in the air and clomped around the garden. “For moons I’ve been trying to understand the meaning of the peach pits, and here you tell me they’re only for growing more peaches? For crying out loud!” he exclaimed as he started for the road. “The pits are only for getting more peaches—”

Unless,” and once again Yung’s quiet calm voice cut through Peto’s complaining and pierced his heart, “unless the Creator wanted you to get something more out of them.” ~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

Does this look like failure to you?

Failure comes in many shapes and forms. Like this, for instance:

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Horrifying, right? Last Christmas I tried to make stuffed Chewbaccas for my family. In the past I’ve successfully made Totoros and Tribbles and Adipose, but last year? Not only once, but twice I failed to make anything not terrifying.

(Seriously, my four-year-old took a startled step back when I showed them to him. He made me hide them in the closet, where I found them again as I was reorganizing recently.)

I had carefully planned these Chewbaccas, bought the perfect furry fabric, drew up the patterns, cut and stitched, but when it came to stuffing them, bizarreness ensued.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, how it gets us to places where we didn’t expect to be. I love what J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, has said about failure:

 . . . Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

My botched Chewbaccas aren’t on the same level of disappointment as Ms. Rowling’s early career, but I’ve encountered failures myself, some quite epic, which I don’t feel the need to reveal here. But Rowling’s words are profound when she remarks that succeeding in one arena would have meant she wouldn’t have arrived where she really needed to be.

Think back to when you were in high school, or college: what dreams did you have? Are you anywhere near where you expected to be?

I’m not. I’m miles away.

And I’m glad of that.

To my high school self, who and where I am now would have been seen as a disappointment. But looking back, I realize that my younger self failed to see where I really should be, what I needed to accomplish.

Failure, to one person, may be a raving success to another. I’m grateful for maturity and wisdom that have helped me see that I don’t want certain “successes,” and that what seems like “failure” can actually be a profound achievement. It merely depends on our situations in life, our perspective, and what we think is important.

I’m reminded of the story of a successful scientist who created life-saving medical devices. When asked about his upbringing, he told the story of his impoverished parents, and how they encouraged him to get more than the 8th grade education they had. Someone commented that it must have been difficult to be raised by such failures. But the scientist was startled by that comment, and replied that his parents had been the greatest successes he’d ever known. Thrust into their difficult circumstances, they still raised confident, ambitious children who accomplished marvelous things. Had life been easier, he surmised, their family likely would have been very average. Their earlier “failures” paved the way for their children’s accomplishments.

Not every failure is a later success, though. And sometimes, success morphs into failure, like these recipes.

How did such dishes of terror and texture come to be? (Click here and here to see even more recipes just like Grandma used to make, if you dare.)
Realize that these combinations went through some kind of review or committee, that several people had to experiment, taste, and decide, “Yes, these are the winners! Photograph and publish them!”

Which goes to prove that even a group of people with power and authority can make horribly wrong judgments.

We now see these recipes and shudder with thoughts of, “What were they thinking?!”

Why was this considered a success back then, and an utter failure a few decades later? What set of circumstances led people with the same taste buds as us to believe that mayonnaise improves every dish, that Jell-O can be considered a salad with the right veggies thrown in, and that SPAM is edible?

For that matter, what raving “successes” do we consider now will be regarded as dismal failures in the future?

But, likewise, what catastrophes are we experiencing now will be later seen as the beginnings of marvelous triumphs?

Perhaps the message here is, don’t discount your failures too quickly. Don’t harp on yourself too much for the disappointments you encounter, or even cause. Who knows, they just may be getting you on the road to victory.

Unless it involves Jell-O, mayo, SPAM, or disfigured Chewbaccas. Sometimes, a failure is a failure.

But maybe not always.

Halloween’s coming up.

Whereas my Chewies failed as Christmas gifts, they’ll likely be fantastic as Halloween decorations.

Maybe it’s just all about timing.

     “Colonel Shin,” Captain Thorne started, “if they’re incapable of making intelligent choices—”
     “They can’t learn to make those choices if they aren’t given the opportunity, Thorne,” Perrin told him. “Give them the opportunity to learn.”
     “And fail?”
     “Failure is part of learning, Captain. It’s not to be shunned—it’s to be embraced and learned from. Would you really want someone making all your decisions for you?”
                                         ~Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn

One good reason for having kids

I have little time to write a full post today, with SLC Comic Con rapidly coming up. I’m making 200 signs and 300 clocks to sell in just one month (with products from my Etsy shop), and I’m slightly hyperventilating because I’m only half done, I have no packaging or booth advertising ordered, and as a newbie I’m terrified to my core. (Panic attack will commence in 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . )

Still, I took a moment the other day to spend some important time with my 8-year-old. A couple of weeks ago, her beloved scooter betrayed her, dumping her over the handlebars onto the sidewalk, breaking both bones in her arm just above her wrist. It’s been rough as I’ve had to help bathe and dress each day, and she hasn’t been able to play in pools or splashpads as she wants to. Knowing she needs some tenderness and concern as she heals, I smiled as she came up to me the other day with a Sharpie marker and displayed her cast. I knew what was coming.

sign your name on my cast

Because if you can’t mess with your own kids, what’s the point of having them?

(It’s a joke, folks. Relax. She didn’t cry about it that long.)

 

The parable of the protesting preschooler (or, when God drags us kicking and screaming)

protesting preschoolers

He was sleeping happily on the couch when we hoisting him upright and informed him, “It’s time to go. Get up!”

If you’ve never roused a four-year-old from a late-afternoon nap, you have no idea of the battle which ensues.

He did not want to go, and he demonstrated that by shouting and flailing. Hiding under his blanket didn’t help (he was amazed that we could find him so easily), and when he started kicking, I decided he didn’t need to wear shoes anyway.

“I don’t want to go!” he wailed, but his 16-year-old brother took that as a challenge and flung him over his shoulder like a sack of flour.

Pummeling his big brother’s back, my littlest boy bellowed all the way to the van where he was dropped, shoved into his seat, and belted in before he could escape.

The shouting and protesting continued as we drove for twenty minutes to our destination, all of us trying to ignore his yelling as well as someone can ignore a horde of stinging wasps.

His shouts continued as we piled out of the van, and we received many looks of curiosity and amusement—and probably some disapproval—as we hauled out our protesting son and got in line behind the two hundred or so already ahead of us.

“I . . . do . . . not . . . want . . . to . . . do . . . this!” He was nearly dry-heaving now, and I ignored everyone’s stares around us as I held my objecting preschooler.

Not soon enough, the gates opened, the crowd before us piled in, and we followed, with angry boy still held tightly in my arms.

He quieted as he saw the scene before him, remembering that we did this last year, remembering that it wasn’t as awful as he thought.

He saw the piles of free pizzas—his favorite.

He saw the swimming pools—reserved for all of us who participated in the summer reading program set up by our local library.

He saw the water slides—and I could feel his rigid body go soft.

He wanted this.

But he wasn’t about to show that. Not yet. After all of his protestations, his pride couldn’t let him surrender so quickly.

So we sat down at a picnic table as the other kids and parents rushed into the water. He watched with both longing and resentment in his eyes.

My husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Go wade in the kiddie pool. I bet he’ll follow.”

So I announced my intentions to our son, then strode over to the pool. My feet had barely touched the water when he was by my side, dancing in excitement.

“So you want to go in?” I queried.

“YES!” he cried. Forgotten was his early protests, maybe forgotten was his twenty-minute temper tantrum, certainly forgotten was his pride as he began to strip, right there, to get out of his pants and underwear.

Discreetly I brought him back to our table where we covered him with a towel and put on his swimsuit. Then he ran—even though we shouted to only walk—back to the kiddie pool.

No amount of water could have wiped the smile off his face as he played and splashed and pretended to swim. We went down the big water slides together, and with joy he climbed out of the landing pool and raced back to the pool—the deep one, though—and jumped right in.

Dad followed, because our four-year-old can’t swim, and even though he bobbed under the water a couple of times until Dad could rescue him, he was still smiling as he coughed and spluttered to clear his lungs.

Pizza was eaten, the boy was nearly drowned a few more times, and a good time was had by all.

At the end of the evening when the sun went down and the winds came up, he was eager to be wrapped up in a towel and brought back home to a warm bath.

“So,” I started casually as I washed the chlorine off of him that night, “are you glad you went to the pool with us?”

He grinned.

“Even though you were screaming and crying that you didn’t want to?”

He laughed. Oh, that was so three hours ago!

I was about to be smug that I was right all along—he would enjoy it—until I felt God tapping me on the shoulder, as He occasionally does, to point out something He knows I’ll bite my tongue about later.

How many times has God placed before me a situation that I didn’t want because it would yank me out of my warm, soft spot?

How often has He dragged me away, kicking and screaming, to a new adventure?

How often has He patiently ignored my protests, even when I was utterly ridiculous in my complaints?

How often did He sit next to me, long-suffering, as I surveyed the scene before me, knowing that I’d want it, but that my pride wouldn’t yet let me admit it?

How often has He gently led me to the water, waiting for me to finally give up and jump in with both feet?

How often has He chuckled as I bounded and cheered and flopped and laughed with joy at my new situation that I was so sure I did not want?

And, perhaps most importantly, how long until I quit instantly whining to God whenever He thrusts me into a new situation that I will eventually love?

I’m afraid my pride won’t allow me to answer that just yet.

“There’s another plan for you, my boy. You’ve changed your path before, now do it again.” 

~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea