She shamed my copper bottom pots, and now I see how everything can be so much better

It took Zelda at my church inadvertently shaming my copper bottom pots to help me realize that often we live lower than we should.

It started when we were cleaning up after a meal at our church. In the corner had sat a copper-bottom pot, unclaimed for months. Zelda picked it up and frowned. “Disgraceful! Look at the bottom of this. I’ve had my Revere Ware for 50 years and it still looks as good as the day I got it.”

I swallowed. It wasn’t my pot, but my bottom was even more tarnished. (My pot, that is.)

“That’s not how it’s supposed to look?” I meekly asked.

Zelda turned on me as if I’d just confessed to eating baby monkeys. “Good gravy, no! A little elbow grease, a little maintenance, and it should stay shiny for a century. This could be much better!”

I didn’t know that.

I went home and looked at my pots—three of them—that I’ve owned for 30 years. Not shiny.

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I didn’t realize this wasn’t normal.

Her words hung above me for days. This could be much better.

So one Saturday morning, I went to work on my bottoms. (The pots, that is.) After half an hour of scrubbing, Comet, vinegar, baking soda, and steel wool I was astonished to realize that, daggum, my pot could be much better.

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In my sink, with baking soda and vinegar and only about 10 minutes of work.

I did the next two pots, and a relatively short time I had wiped out decades of neglect.

In the month since I’ve cleaned my pots, I’ve been much more diligent about keeping them clean. It takes all of 30 seconds each time I wash them.

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So THAT color is copper! I’d forgotten.

That got me thinking of how many other tasks we let get away from us, then decide in quiet despair that there simply isn’t a better way, that life is always this tarnished, or dirty, or hopeless.

It’s not.

What if we spent an hour trying to make something better? Just one hour? Instead of going online to complain how someone shamed us (Zelda didn’t mean to, she’s a lovely lady whom I love dearly), what if we get to work fixing things instead?

Over the years I’ve discovered how much can be done in an hour–a filthy garage swept, a disorganized storage room straightened, an overgrown flowerbed weeded, a moldy shower scrubbed—and always after I think, Why didn’t I do this earlier? Why did I put this off for weeks, months, years? (It was a REALLY awful shower.)

I’ve been applying this idea to bigger things: the books I’ve put off writing, the education I neglected to finish, other issues that I don’t feel like confessing here . . . I spend a little time here and there, step away from the TV or the social media and instead do something productive, and every time—every stinking time!—I think, “Everything is so much better now when I do this! Why don’t I do this every day?”

Brigham Young once said that, “we live far beneath our privileges.” I think this partly means we often forget that we can improve many situations we think are unchangeable, that we frequently forget that we’re Children of God who are destined to far greater things than fiddling with mere trifles and wasting precious time.

The interesting thing is, as we fix something small–like a copper bottom pot–we see what great improvements to our mental and emotional health small measures can make, and we start to look for more ways to begin to live up to our privileges. It’s addicting, a natural high. (My kids can tell when I’m really depressed because I’ll get on my hands and knees and scrub a floor. An hour later, it sparkles and my brain is flooded with natural dopamine. Unfortunately for my floors, I’m not frequently that depressed.)

School’s canceled today because of snow. That means I have time to tackle problems that yesterday I thought were unfixable. At the end of the day–at the end of an hour!– everything will seem a little brighter.

Leave for a better life

Don’t care what the world thinks: 7 steps in the pursuit of peace!

In a quest for a more peaceful existence (I really wish I could live in the world of Books 5 and 6 of my series), I’ve been eliminating that which causes undue stress. No, I’m not abandoning my house or nine children, but I’ve been thinking about my dad, how he was the most calm, pleasant, peaceful man I knew.

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My dad, Rudy Strebel, in 2007, holding a granddaughter.

Not that his life was easy—he suffered as a child in WWII Germany, then had a wife he dearly loved but who had frequent and violent bouts with PTSD from her traumatic life as a refugee. In their 50+ years of marriage, I never knew him to lose his temper with her but did his best to soothe her paranoia and terror, every time. And I can count on three fingers the amount of time he slightly raised his voice at me.

He chose to be peaceful, and he was also very careful as to what he let into his life. He didn’t read, watch, or listen to anything that could harm his spirit or drag him down.

He wasn’t ignorant of the world, but he purposely distanced himself  from it to remain unspotted as it splashed in filthy waters.

Lately I’ve been trying to pursue peace as he did, and have implemented ways to limit what weighs down my mind and soul. I’ve incorporated a number of minimalist ideas, and I’m finding greater calm in my life by doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribe! To those emails that entice you to see what’s on sale, what the latest thing is, what you “really don’t want to miss!”

Miss it anyway. Don’t be lured in, don’t be tricked into buying something simply because it’s a great deal, and don’t waste time reading what can’t elevate you. It’s all distracting, even just deleting it, having to swat it away like a pesky mosquito. Get rid of them altogether. I’ve been opening, scrolling down, and unsubscribing from dozens of emails–even from places where I still buy something once or twice a year–and my feeds are cleaner, sleeker, and calmer. All that remains now is that which is really important for me to consider.

2. Unfollow! Here’s an awesome feature on Facebook: stay friends, but stop seeing every little thing they do.

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I’ve realized that I care only about my family (we have a secret group just for us), and some neighbors and friends who consistently demonstrate insight and humor–qualities I value.

The other hundreds of “friends”? I’ve unfollowed them. I can always check on them every few months if I feel the need (if I remember who they are).

In the meantime, I’ve cut out a mind-cluttering stream of whining, bragging, complaining, and comparing. It’s been like leaving junior high all over again–sweet relief!

Now I have a feed of primarily funny, inspiring, and heartfelt posts.

Twitter, Instagram, all those others? I don’t even go there, but you can also pare those down significantly to refine your life.

3. Tune out! I quit listening to the radio years ago and felt my blood pressure in the car normalize instantly. We never watch TV news, I skim the newspaper for only important news, and I’ve quit following nearly every online news outlet.

The result? The world keeps on churning but I don’t have to swim in that muck. I know what’s going on, but I observe only from a distance. Getting angry over the world doesn’t fix it. Stepping away from it, however, allows me to continue raising my family with peace of mind.

4. Ignore trends! Years ago, I quit following trends in home décor, clothing, and etc. by eliminating magazines and TV shows that told me what I had was out of date. How much more I love my house and wardrobe now that I’m not worried what the world thinks of it! And I’ve saved a lot of money, too.

And no one, ever, has said anything about me not being trendy enough. It’s like no one really cares.

5. Don’t participate! Like my dad, I’ve chosen to not listen to music that degrades or is “hard.” I listen to soundtracks and trailer albums instead. I read only books that satisfy and uplift; one summer, I sent back nearly a dozen library books after their first chapters because they were smutty, suggestive, or crude. I don’t watch rated-R movies or anything excessively violent, vulgar, or profane. All of that introduces anger and angst to my soul, qualities I’m purposely ushering out.

Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find something current to watch or read, but there are also a lot of classics out there waiting to be discovered. I’m also taking up my dad’s habit to read more biographies of truly great people, and more doctrinal works that teach me deeper about the nature of God.

6. Choose kindness! This one can be tough, especially for me because I inherited my mother’s cynical mind and tongue (when she was well, she was acerbic and hilarious). My father, however, while full of dad-jokes (he invented them all), was also unfailingly kind, even to his end. He suffered from Alzheimer’s, but the staff at his assisted living center said that while many in his condition became angry or violent, my dad never did. It was as if his mind had been choosing for so long to be kind that it simply didn’t understand rudeness.

Kindness softens the soul, and when I’m kind to people, especially strangers, sweet peace comes. As an introvert, I don’t like talking to people and tend to be abrupt with strangers, especially when I’m checking out with my groceries. I need this t-shirt:

Introverts t-shirt

But I’m trying harder to smile genuinely, thank sincerely, and respond to their questions with more than two-word answers.

I’m also trying to consider everyone with a kinder heart, and a more generous attitude. Even just thinking kindly brings peace.

7. Be quiet! No, not “kindly shut up,” but I mean, take time to be quiet and disconnect. Yesterday it was 85 degrees, so I took my 5-year-old son to a splash pad. I watched him for 45 minutes racing the sprays and screaming when the water went up his nose. He dried off for ten minutes and we watched a front-loader moving dirt the whole time, seeing how much dirt he dropped as he drove.

It was “quiet” in that I wasn’t listening to music, or playing on my phone, nor was I even reading. I was simply enjoying the water splashing, the boy yelling (happily), and the truck moving dirt. Purely peaceful, purely disconnected from the bigger world. I could focus on the most important part of the world, right in front of me. 

I am finding greater quiet and calm in my life in a world that’s increasingly not, and I’m always looking for new strategies. What works for you? How do you eliminate the world and its nonsense, and find peace and serenity instead?

“We don’t care about what the world thinks of us, Young Pere. You know that. We left it behind and have never regretted it.”

Peto realized there were many pure men and women, but they couldn’t exist in the polluted world.

~ Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon      

BOOK 6, “Flight of the Wounded Falcon” IS HERE! Get it 3 ways (one is free)!

Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon is ready! And you can get it three ways:

  1. Kindle download, click right here. Priced at 99 cents, that means you’re paying only, umm  . . . well, hardly anything per the 240,000 words. (This is why I majored in English, not math.)
  2. Paperback, on CreateSpace for now, but will be on Amazon by the end of the week. Click here to purchase for $14.85. That’s the cheapest I can price it, but even then per page that’s only . . . well, still not a bad price for 665 pages.
  3. PDF download, FREE right here. Yes, as I’ve written before, I want to provide my books for as cheap as possible or even free. So every book I publish is also always available on my site here under “Start Reading the Books.” (That’s misleading because you can also finish reading the books there as well.) I feel these stories have been freely shared with me, and so I freely share them with you.
    The only catch is that you cannot profit on them by trying to resell them. I’m not profiting either: I earn only a handful of pennies on each book I sell, and donate 100% of that to charity.

SO GO GET IT! Read it! Then let me know what you think, because I love to hear from you. (And for now, I’m going to take a small break and a big breath.)

Book 6 is HERE

All of this is such a strange, strange process. Every time I publish a book I collapse in relief. Sections of this particular book I drafted eight long years ago (the very first images of this series came to me almost a decade ago), and to see yet another branch of it finished is overwhelming.

Back when I first tried drafting this “short story” I wondered if I’d ever get all of it out there, birthed and living. (Books are alive, we all know that.) Every night I’d send the drafts I had written to my email, terrified that all of the work I’d accomplished would be lost. (Then I discovered Dropbox and my email became tidier.) Still, the larger this series grew, the more I fretted that I’d never get it all done. But now it’s 6/8 finished (pretty sure that’s 3/4–I have some math skills) and books 7 and 8 are rarin’ at the gates, desperate to be done as well. They’re well developed, nearly mature, but still suffering from a few growing pains that we’ll work out, no doubt.

But writing is such an odd process in that it’s so involving of one’s entire heart and soul, yet no one outside knows it.

Writing (drafting, editing, researching, formatting, editing, reformatting, editing) is a completely consuming endeavor done solely, quietly, alone-ly (that really should be a word; and no, I don’t mean lonely–there’s absolutely nothing lonely about this). The triumphs of getting this aspect fixed or that part done happens without any fanfare, without cheering crowds, without even a ding of congratulations from my laptop. This past week I mentioned to my kids that after 50 hours I got the covers right and formatting issues resolved, and they said, “Good job!” in the same way I’d say it to my 13-year-old when he tells me something he accomplished on Space Engineers. Clueless, but kind.

My family has no idea when I’ve just killed someone or just saved them. No one in the real world sees the process beyond the tapping at the keyboard. When I go walking with my earbuds in, no one I pass realizes the trials and torments I’m currently putting my characters through, and that I’m walking to help them out again. That the music I hear and the scenes in my mind are anything but as quiet and calm as the mountains before me. I’m striding through battles, I’m walking through heartache, I’m sauntering through celebrations, I’m meandering through joy.

Oh, how I wish you could be with me for every step of the way! For the moments I stop suddenly and exclaim, “I didn’t see that coming!” For the times when my fingers leave the keyboard to make fists that I punch in the air in triumph, either for a character or for myself, because I finally–finally–got something right after spending hours a day, day after day, early in the morning, late at night, or while I’m waiting for the water to boil for dinner. The wins happen about twice a month, about once every 90 hours. But oh, what fantastic wins!

But no one else sees this. No one else knows the schizophrenia of a writer’s mind, how we’re juggling a variety of realities all at once, and often struggle to be in the real one at the correct time. No wonder so many writers are unstable. No wonder so many frequently drink. (Since I’m a Mormon I resort to chocolate chips.)

No wonder so many people give up, or don’t even start that book that picks daily at their brains, begging to be let out, but doesn’t tell the brain how to release it. It’s maddening, like looking at a pile of wood, drywall, wire, pipes, and shingles, and told to make it into a house but you’re not given any plans, any diagrams, no idea how it should look in the end. Why would anybody take on such an endeavor?!

But oh, those materials are just sitting there, with so much potential, so many possibilities that you just can’t walk away, just can’t pretend it’s not there, especially when God repeatedly turns you around and gently pushes you back to the pile. You just HAVE to start sorting the two-by-fours, laying out the framework, again and again and again, until something really interesting starts to happen. You’ll destroy it and remake it a hundred times over until you realize you’ve given it your all and you have to let someone come wander in what you’ve created. You cringe the whole time they do, because you’ve spent years on this, building and fixing and tossing and adding, and you know there’s still more that could be done, but it’s time to let someone else into that massive and complex structure you had no idea you could build, but suddenly here it is.

And you step away, hold your breath, and let everyone in, all the while glancing around and mumbling, “Did I really do this? Is it all holding together?” You tense, waiting for the criticisms that are sure to come, and the praises you know you don’t deserve, until you realize you didn’t do it for those words. You didn’t even do it for yourself, although you wrote the books you’ve always wanted to read. But you did it for those characters, to let them live their lives, to let their world exist, and if they’re happy with what you’ve fleshed out for them, then who cares what anyone else thinks.

And then you wonder, “Can I possibly do it again? There’s another pile of material, right there, pleading to be put together, but do I have it in me to do it all again?”

Oh, yes, God willing, you have to! Because this is life, why you were born, and what you’ve waited thousands of years to accomplish, and it’d be unthinkable to quit.

Book 6 Cover: Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming in May!

A few tweaks and edits still need to occur, and the back cover needs some adjusting, but I simply couldn’t wait any longer to show you the cover!

Book 6 front cover

Finding a model stand-in for an older Perrin Shin was, I was sure, going to be difficult. I needed a tall man with whitening hair and a presence.  I mentioned my quest to my oldest daughter, and Madison immediately begin sending me links to professors she’s worked with during her undergrad and graduate school years at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I felt quite awkward “analyzing” these professors for Perrin-like qualities, as if on some kind of bizarre dating ritual. (I apologized in my head to their wives, and to my own husband, as I carefully scrutinized each candidate who had no idea he was part of this evaluation.)

Among the profiles was Dr. David Crandall. In fact, he was the first recommendation that my daughter blurted out. Madison has been his head TA for some years now, and when I saw his picture, I gasped.

Perrin Shin is an Oxford-trained anthropologist?!

I asked Madison what he’d think about standing in as a model, and she said, “He lives among the Himba in Africa every summer. You’re not going to find a more chill man anywhere. I’m sure he’ll do it!”

So I wrote an email, then rewrote it and rewrote it, a lengthy message trying to explain to him the book series, the character, what I hoped he’d be willing to do (dress up, walk around in trees, wrangle little boys), and I sent it off, holding my breath.

My daughter asked to see my email after the fact, and then she sighed. “Mom, he’ll read only the top line and skim the rest. He’s a busy man!”

But I’d already sent it, had oversold it, and my doom was sealed.

Until he responded a couple days later with, “Sure, why not? When?”

Uh . . . ok! I made costumes, I checked calendars for travel (I don’t exactly live near BYU), and found an afternoon he was available.

On the day of the photo shoot I became anxious and nervous, and during the two-hour drive I kept thinking, I’m asking a grown man–a stranger–to dress up so I can take pictures of him. Who does this sort of thing?! I don’t always do well with real live people. But I couldn’t back out now, as my teenage son frequently reminded me in the car when I’d start to hyperventilate again.

My entourage and I met him at the duck pond on BYU campus, where mature trees grow up a hillside. Dr. Crandall smiled amiably—yep, very Perrin-like—and strolled over to greet Madison, his right-hand woman in managing his dozen freshmen courses and teaching assistants. Intimidated by his height and presence, and that I was about to order him to do my bidding, I handed him the shirt I wanted him to wear. He put it on, looked around cheerfully, and said, “Now, what exactly are we doing again?”

I nearly snorted. Madison was right—he hadn’t read my explanations (there had been follow-up emails where I wrote him short stories, and he responded with a short sentence). I was struck by the notion that he didn’t have time to read my emails, but because he appreciated my daughter’s work, he willingly gave up half an hour to help Madison’s mother with whatever she was up to.

Feeling flustered as I always am when I try to tell people what I do (I’m horrible at marketing myself), I gave him the exceptionally condensed version of the Forest at the Edge series, and explained the set-up for the shots we’d be taking.

He nodded benignly and said, “All right, tell me where to walk.” He was so laid-back, so easy-going, I could have led him into Hades and I think he would have merely looked around and said, “Interesting architecture.”

Instead, I did the next worst thing: I released upon him a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Then I said, “Just try to walk with them, while I go far, far away up this hillside and take pictures. Boys, stay with Dr. Crandall,” knowing full well that wasn’t going to happen.

For the next half hour Dr. Crandall gamely tried to keep up with, drag along, or find the two preschoolers as they wandered off, got distracted, or got excited. [When you read the book, you’ll see how fitting the whole scenario was.]

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“Dr. Crandall, we’re losing one . . .”

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“Now we’ve lost the other one . . .”

In the meantime, my son-in-law Austin Pearce and I took photo after photo, hoping that something might work since we’re not experienced action-shot photographers.

Eventually, we decided we had enough shots. Dr. Crandall took off the shirt I gave him and said, teasingly, “And a star is born! Good luck with your book.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” I said bashfully. “It’s part of a series. Umm, I’ve got a couple of readers. Actually, the series has been downloaded about thirty thousand times, so yeah—you just might become famous!”

See how I’m such a goober with real, live people? This is why I write, so I can hide behind a computer and not face anyone and babble goofily at them. In his field, Dr. Crandall is already famous. (His own book, The Place of Stunted Ironwood Trees is cited in this recent article.)

Once I looked at the pictures on my laptop, none were what I was hoping for. Initially I had hoped to capture profiles or sharp, distant images of Dr. Crandall, nothing too close or detailed, because I want readers to picture the characters as they wish, without cover art over-influencing or taking too much away. But none of those shots had worked.

Slightly discouraged, I remembered that none of my book covers have been what I originally wanted, but have turned out in surprising ways. I began to fiddle with half a dozen photos, when this emerged.

Book 6 front cover

And suddenly, it was perfect. Dr. Crandall gripping the two-year-old’s hand while earnestly watching the steep terrain he was leading him up (does he have perfect hair or what?), the curious/cautious expression on the littlest boy’s face, the other boy working to maintain balance—suddenly it was representative of many aspects of Flight of the Wounded Falcon, metaphorical bits I hadn’t anticipated but were manifesting subtly, and I knew I had my cover. The trees, the background, the angles, the motion—I never would have been able to stage that purposely.

I contacted Dr. Crandall’s secretary recently so that I could send him a thank you gift, and found out that he’s already in Africa again, hanging out with the Himba and a bunch of students for the summer. How chill is that? (Did I use that word “chill” properly? Shows how un-chill I am. Is “un-chill” a word?)

So chill, my friends–Book 6 will be coming soon in May (after a few more tweaks, a few more edits, and a proof or two). I can hardly wait to share it with you.

 

Book 6 teaser–What do you find entertaining?

Just as you can learn a lot about a person by what they laugh at, so too can you understand their character by what entertains them.

What one watches, reads, puts up on their walls, and pours into their minds will tell you a lot more about someone than what comes out of their mouth.

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(I can’t help myself–the first thing I do when I walk into someone’s house is evaluate the art on the walls and glance at the titles on the bookshelf, if there is one.)

Book 6 Teaser–Just how many laws are you breaking today?

There are so many laws in the United States—likely many more than 300,000—that no one is sure of just how many. I’m probably breaking a few laws typing in my robe near a window.

When I tried to find out how many laws there were in my state (they add an average 300-400 each year), I couldn’t find a definitive number, but Google popped up warning me that the official state websites wanted to know where I was, and would I allow my personal information to be shared?

I shut down those sites immediately, and likely broke another handful of laws doing so.

In re-reading one of my favorite books, “How to Rule the World,” I’m reminded again how governments become totalitarian by whittling away people’s freedoms, one law at a time. We’re told that they’re to protect us, to keep us “safe,” but since more and more regulation confines and restricts us, and we have to always ask the question, “Why?”

And then ask “Why?” again, and again.

book 6 teaser lots of rules

Book 6 Teaser: Toss that past! (Or, how I finally let go of bad 30-year-old paintings and other junk that holds me back)

There’s one huge advantage to moving cross-country: knowing that everything you own has to fit in one truck, or it gets left behind. The “There’s no going back for that,” mentality has forced me to evaluate what can be released. Web and Facebook pages of minimalist strategies has helped me to see the clutter I no longer want to.

It’s also allowed me to give up things from my past that I should have shed decades ago.

Such as my oil paintings from high school. My father kindly framed them, my mother generously displayed them, but aside from some decent technique here and there, the paintings were unremarkable. So much so that for thirty years—30!—I’ve kept them in a bulky box and carted them from home to home, across the country twice, and finally, last month donated them to a recycling store. Someone else can paint over the canvas.

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While this won first place in a school district competition, it’s an EXACT replica of a very common 1980s poster. What’s the point of replicating a $3 poster?!

I held on to the mediocre art, not even fit for a motel room, because it represented something: my teenage dream to someday be a wildlife artist. I’m “artistic” in that I’ve remodeled homes, made many designs for my Etsy shop, created my book covers, but I never painted that one great work of art.

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The best thing about this cougar was the head, which my art teacher did to get me started. Notice my “happy little trees“? Yes, I was a Bob Ross watcher.

Finally I accepted that I don’t have to fulfill a dream I randomly pulled out of the air when I was 16. I may someday pick up fine art painting again, and if I do, would I really want these old paintings haunting me with bad proportions, inconsistencies, and random highlights and shadows? No!

So I did what I’d wanted to do two decades ago, but didn’t dare: I sent them on their way, grateful for what I learned, and ready to look forward, not backward.

I’ve done this with many objects: clothes I’ve held on to for too many years, books I’ll never read again, dishes and collectibles and Christmas décor and fabric I’ve kept out of obligation. All of it is gloriously gone, at least half a moving truck full.

I keep putting aside those things that hold me back, that remind me of what I used to be, and the old dreams that I no longer care about. Unfinished stitching projects, untouched wood crafts that went out of fashion in the 1990s, old stencils I used for a bathroom two houses and fifteen years ago.

When I let those go, I get to look forward. I get to plan for what I want to become now, where I hope to go in the future.

Gone, too, is a lot of regret, a lot of “Oh, I should have kept pursuing this, although I had no time or resources or desire.” I’m able to think, “It seemed like a worthy pursuit at the time, and it’s had its moment which is now over. I get to pursue something new.”

Solidly in middle age, I’m finding the satisfaction of releasing my younger self. I no longer collect teddy bears or snowmen . . . or anything, really. Once I thought collections were necessary. Now each week I make sure my extra garbage can is brim full of stuff that previously held me back. To the donation store goes tablecloths I never used, to the neighbors go canning jars and vases I won’t fill, and to the dump goes the sofas I can no longer repair.

No more hauling around old expectations and obligations, or feeling guilty about dreams that were never feasible or necessary anyway.

Onward, I get to go freely.

While Peto knew the satisfaction of harping about the past, he also knew that satisfaction was short-lived, soon to be replaced with renewed feelings of anger about a life that couldn’t be changed, words that couldn’t be unsaid, and events that couldn’t be erased. The past was to be occasionally remembered, but not lived in.

There’s too much to do today to dwell on yesterday.

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser THE PAST

 

Don’t kill The Beast! I love “Beauty and the Beast” (even though as a conservative Christian I’ve been told to shun it)

I wasn’t going to see the new “Beauty and the Beast,” although I’d been looking forward to it ever since it was announced two years ago, because of that “gay factor.”

But then I decided to go anyway, because I remembered something: People are not always worth listening to.

So here’s this very conservative Christian’s take on it: I LOVED IT!

Oh, it was bigger than life! Visually gorgeous, with additions to the story that made it so much richer than the 1991 cartoon. The music and the characters all had greater depth, the story deeper meaning, and “those scenes”? Can we say, much ado about nothing?

I’d been betrayed.
Deceived.
Thrown into angst over really nothing.
In fact, I found myself quite liking the “gay” character LeFou. He was never as evil or nasty as some reviewers had suggested, and became the voice of reason toward the end, making some excellent choices. His orientation (which he’s not entirely sure about himself) had no bearing upon his improving character. (And yes, I caught all the verbal references, and I thought they were pertinent and hilarious.)

Indeed, I found myself rather ticked off that I’d ever considered boycotting the movie because of the raging on both sides of the issue. The “This is our first gay character and we’re proud!” was merely PR blustering, because once I saw the movie I was left thinking, “Sheesh. THAT’S gay? Gimme a break.” Then there was the “Oh, horrible Disney! It’s all over and the world will end with this movie!” blustering on the other side which now makes me roll my eyes. (And as for the old argument that the movie promotes bestiality? Those worriers don’t know what bestiality is. Belle clearly is attracted to the beast’s humanity, such as his knowledge of literature.)

All of which had me pondering as I drove home from the movie, “Does something have to be perfect—‘perfect’ according to my very particular standards and sensibilities—in order to be ‘good enough’ for me to enjoy?”

No. Nothing needs to be ‘perfect’ because why in the world should I expect the world to meet my peculiar sense of perfect? Or anyone else’s idea of “perfect”?

Another movie example: I finally saw “Moana,” and I’d heard criticisms of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s singing in “You’re Welcome.” Cringing in worry when he started, I soon relaxed, because you know what? He sang great! Better than me, that’s for sure. (And that’s not hard, either. Is there anything dear Dwayne can’t do?*) (Listen for yourself, and I defy you to not have this earworm stuck in your head for the rest of forever.)

Too many critics, too many snarky folks insisting that this wasn’t perfect in the movie, or that could have been better, kept me from watching “Moana” until this past weekend. And you know what? I LOVED IT! I’m getting the music to add to my walking repertoire.

I find myself scratching my head more and more frequently at the immense criticism flying around about every last little thing, and finding that very little of it is actually deserved. I need to stop listening to people, at least the critical ones. And at times it seems nearly everyone is a critic, for the worst of reasons.

It’s as if we’re finding power and authority in dragging someone else down.
As if we think we’re something special because we can nitpick someone else.
As if we can’t accept something unless it’s our perception of perfect.

Here’s the thing: NO ONE and NOTHING is perfect! (Not even “Rogue One,” which some of my Star Wars crazed children believe IS PERFECT, even though I LOVED IT!)

Ask yourself this: why should my definition of perfect be met by others? Why should I expect writers and actors and politicians and music and entertainment and stores and products and every last little thing in the world pander to what I believe is perfect?

How utterly self-centered and childish.

Here’s the other thing, the more important thing: God doesn’t demand that we’re perfect, either. He loves and appreciates us as we are.

Now, He tells us to strive for perfection, which, according to the scriptures, actually means becoming one with God the Father. Jesus himself didn’t declare himself perfect until after he was resurrected and was one with the Father, which tells me that perfection is impossible in life.

However, perfection is the goal, because it has to be. Nothing less, really, will do. As the great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “We strive for perfection, knowing we’ll never get it, but achieve excellence as we do so.”

Ah, EXCELLENCE! THAT’S the mark! Perfection is impossible; for you, for me, for anything we experience.

But excellence? That’s everywhere! I can create lists of truly excellent movies, music, people, books, art, national parks—and I’d probably never find an end to them.

“Beauty and the Beast” was excellent. So was “Moana,” and “Rogue One.” So are thousands and millions of other things.

Enjoy that excellence! See how someone else did something well, and let it inspire you to try to make something excellent in return. There’s no reason—no decent, good, honest reason whatsoever—to demean and denounce and degrade something minor in something that is excellent.

Because isn’t it wonderful that something can be marvelous, but the minor smudges left by the very human people who created it remain, and still it’s excellent?

So instead of harping upon these flaws, these perceived slights to our overly sensitive sensibilities, forgive them. Accept them. Take heart in them, that excellence abounds despite small failures.

Excellence abounds even in us, despite all of our failures. Maybe we need to be more accepting of ourselves to be more appreciative of the wondrous success of others around us. We’re not competing with them; we’re being inspired by them!

That’s why I’m not listening to the critical voices anymore, because think of the most critical people you know, those who are never satisfied, those who can always find even the smallest imperfection and shine a magnifying spotlight on it. Aren’t those also the most miserable people you know? Aren’t the most self-righteous also the least righteous?Image result for monuments to critics quotes

No one likes the critic. There’s nothing noble in criticism. Never has been. I’m beginning to suspect the most critical people are also those who never attempt to do anything themselves, so that they never are subjected to critics like themselves. Perhaps it’s jealousy that drives them to pick at others, or immense insecurity. Or fear of their own failure.

Criticism doesn’t bring joy. It doesn’t bring improvement. It doesn’t fix anything, either.

But appreciating someone’s efforts does. Identifying and acknowledging their successes. Learning from what they’ve learned. Rejoicing in their excellence, and taking from it that nudge to make something more excellent yourself—there, THERE is joy!

This world and people who make stuff in it are fantastic. Once we quit criticizing every potentially offensive item, we’ll discover what an amazing place we live in.

(And if you can’t, I’ll simply quit listening to you.)

Mahrree’s heart sank to her knees as she watched the three darling girls who she loved so much do their best, their eyes darting over to her as they read their lines, anxious for her approval, and likely fearing her criticism.

They had done their best. Who was Mahrree to point out anything else?

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser Critics

(*Totally unrelated to anything here, but an epiphany I had the other day–for those who have read my books, Perrin Shin is about 20% Dwayne Johnson. The other parts of him are Yun-Fat Chow, Colin Firth, Manu Bennett, and my husband, the cute man there in the corner.)Dave smiling

Book 6 Teaser–The one thing those in power fear

 

book-6-teaserthose-with-power-threatened

I’ve been trying to find examples where this isn’t the case lately, but . . . nope.

Perhaps the biggest threat to institutions are those folks who actually spend five minutes thinking about the issues. Most people just deliver a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the “jerk”) concerning any issue–racing to protest, to complain, to throw a fit–without actually analyzing why they are.

In my inconsequential opinion, every political side has become extremist and sensational, leaving what (I hope) is the majority of us watching the swirling all around us, waiting for a break in the action so we can make a collective run for it.

It’s those who ponder and think, who don’t jump to conclusions or accept the scandal of the day as doctrine, who will (hopefully) eventually change the world.

Or escape it.