You don’t know what’s down that road, but since even wrong roads can become right, take that road already!

In the coming weeks, many of my graduating seniors will be heading off to college, and as I’ve chatted with a few of them, it’s clear that the reality of what they’re doing–leaving rural Maine and heading out in the real, nasty world–is settling on their shoulders as easily as a Ford truck. Questions of, “Are you ready?” are met with nervous fits of giggles and a hesitant, “Yeah? No?”

Each year I take my students through Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken,” and explain how the most notable lines are frequently misread:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

And even while it was the title of a popular self-help book for many years, “taking the road less traveled by” does not necessarily mean to “blaze your own trail” and that anything less is “unacceptable.” I’ve had students confide that they feel they have to be different from everyone else, and that following someone else’s path is somehow wrong, even if they really do want to walk in someone else’s very noble footsteps.

So I point out that the stanza begins with the ambivalent line,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

which, in most poetry, means a sigh of longing, of regret, of “what if?” Maybe the speaker wishes he hadn’t taken the “one less traveled by” when he saw two roads diverging; he may have made a mistake. Maybe the one less traveled by is NOT the correct road. But then again, maybe it is?!

And this is where many people freeze in life: trying to decide which road to take. Some may decide to turn back and not try either, while others can stand there for too long never making a choice until life or someone else forces them, which almost always leads to resentment.

I’ve heard students–and many adults–debate their decisions which seem innocuous and correct now, but what if they aren’t in the future? What if that’s the wrong road?

To that I say, SO WHAT?! GO ANYWAY!

Ok, let me calm that down a bit. As long as the path one takes doesn’t lead directly to prison, or hurting someone else, or hating one’s self, but is a carefully plotted, deliberately chosen path that should be ok, then GO! Take it! Don’t just stand there or worse, go back and try nothing!

And yes, there may be HUGE PROBLEMS down that path, but OK! LEARN FROM THEM! Embrace trials! Embrace problems! GROW!

Yes, I’ve made HUGE mistakes, some I still reel from. But I’ve also made huge compensations for those, and found myself on strange paths–well-trodden and also some less traveled by–and over my fifty years have discovered that all paths can become good. My biggest mistakes have eventually become my biggest lessons and biggest blessings. 

(I’ll admit that it took me nearly forty-nine years to finally come to that revelation, but whatever. And to my children, no, I’m not talking about any of you. And I’m not talking about your father, either.)

To everyone who hits a crossroads, who sees more than one option, who feels paralyzed to take those steps on the road where you can’t see its end, I say: GO! Just TRY IT! I’ll give you 99 to 1 odds that it’ll turn out good. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, and you’ll look back and say, “That turned out to be a decent road. It was rough at times, and the zombie attack was definitely unexpected, but I made it. And just look what I achieved along the way!”

(And by the way, The Walls in the Middle of Idumea is nearly here! My laptop took an unexpected siesta for many days, traveling down its own dark path until I could bring it home again which delayed my progress, but the book is almost ready for publishing.)

Walls meme horizontal WRONG PATHS

 

All boys have some brain damage or they’re not real boys. (or “You’re not going to believe what happened . . .”)

I have five sons, ages 7-25. All of them have some brain damage, and it happens something like this:

“Anyway, the little guy came barreling in there, and just as I stepped out, he turned and smacked right into my sword! Clanked his head, I’m sorry to report, but all little boys have to have some amount of brain damage, otherwise they aren’t real boys. And that’s how I met him.” ~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea, coming summer 2019

It starts when they’re babies and they roll into walls. On purpose. Again and again.

Then as toddlers they run into corners of tables, couches, and the walls, again. Sometimes on purpose, just to see if it will cause as much pain as before; sometimes on accident, because they’re actually running for the couch and somehow the wall got in the way.

As gradeschoolers, the brain damage occurs in too many ways to count, but here’s a short list:

  • bike crashes,
  • skateboard crashes,
  • walking crashes (they literally crash their foreheads into the driveway, and there was nothing around them to cause it, not even another brother),
  • tag-you’re-it crashes,
  • riding in a wheeled garbage can crashes (I refused to go help with that one, but got a hose instead),
  • let-me-hit-you-with-this-wheelbarrow crashes.

You get the idea.

When they’re high schoolers, brain damage occurs in more dramatic if not bizarre ways, such as falling out of 60 foot-high pine trees, or getting tossed out of a wheelchair a week after foot surgery when a friend (a teenage boy, of course) decides to entertain his temporarily invalid friend by taking him “four-wheeling” through the fields behind the house. (Fortunately the wheelchair suffered more damage than my son did. He moved to crutches sooner than he had planned.)

Then there are the real dangers: cars, boats, four-wheelers, motorcycles, walking down the street (STILL they trip over themselves and get road-rash in the oddest of ways).

And now after teaching high school for two years, I believe this even more:

Walls meme brain damag boys

I love boys, little and big, my sons and others’ sons. Their daring makes them courageous, powerful, and hilarious. My three adult sons seem to be managing all right, despite their earlier mishaps. Or maybe, because of them.

They see that they recover from their exploits, learn something useful along the way, and now have an awesome story to share.

So I cringe every time a son or a student begins a sentence with a sheepish expression and the words, “You’re not going to believe what happened . . .”

Because actually, I will.

Three ways to evaluate those who hold political power: when to run away and when to give them another week

I’ve created a list by which I gauge those in power: who I should run away from and who I’ll trust for another week. (By the way, the purpose of the world is NOT to serve us; this is how every major conflict begins.)

Now I won’t be naive and pretend that in the past those with power used it wisely. Thousands of years of dark history are against me on that. However, there have been bright points who realized that power was granted to them to see if they’d do the right things. Occasionally, true leaders and statesmen set aside their personal hopes and fears, and instead pursued the hopes and fears of the communities they represented.

Overwhelmingly, however, people with power have acted like 6-year-olds on their birthday, greedily taking everything handed them, believing they’re important and forgetting everyone else around them.  But they’re not as important as they deliriously believe, and usually the “day after blues” reveals that, too late.

So here’s the current draft of my list evaluating who to trust in power, still a work in progress. Feel free to send me suggestions.

When to run away from someone in power:

  1. When their every comment or observation is “I” based; they’ve forgotten they are to represent others and instead are obsessed with themselves.
  2. When their desire is to be front and center, when they use real problems and issues to get more attention for themselves (real people are merely tools). In fact, new problems may be “manufactured” to draw new attention to the person in power.
  3. When they’re increasingly defensive and angry, because only self-centered people are defensive and angry. (It’s a basic truth. Test that sad theory for yourself.)

When to support someone in power? Watch for this behavior:

  1. They focus on “you” not “I.” They (usually) remember that power has been given to them temporarily to do a job for others.
  2. They don’t give a flying fig what others think about them; they just go about doing what good they can. Often their public relations aren’t too good, but their results generally are.
  3. They don’t complain endlessly about problems real or manufactured. Instead, they go about fixing the problems. There’s action, not continued pontification.

Power in the United States is granted not because someone “deserves” it, or is popular, or attractive, or wealthy, or athletic. (Although you can make an argument that power has been granted to all of those in the past, and we can see now how those were mistakes.)

Power is granted to those we HOPE will take care of us, will fight for us, will remember that a large group of people are expecting them to represent us fairly and accurately. (Those people may also be popular or wealthy or attractive, etc. but those shouldn’t be the deciding characteristics.)

Many (most?) politicians forget how they got their positions, and instead of managing that power, the power tragically eats them up. It’s tragic for those they represent and even more so for the individual who really thinks that they’re someone important and special because they’re in office.

They’re not important or special. We the people get to take away that power, unfortunately often not until a lot of selfishness has been manifested (“My legacy!”) and a lot of damage has occurred, sometimes irreparably.

I suspect that Lord Acton’s quote of “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” can sadly be paraphrased to reflect modern politics as: “Any kind of power corrupts every kind.”

Walls meme horizontal POWER SERVE

New prequel coming Summer 2019!

Get the rest of the series here.

Tight Christmas budget? Buy 8 books for $3.96 which is only…umm (someone help me with the math) pretty darn cheap for books!

So it’s barely December and already my Christmas budget is looking slim. If you’re in the same boat, I’ve got a great deal for you: ALL of my books--THE ENTIRE SERIES OF 8–for only $3.96 for the download. That’s . . . (*she pulls up her calculator on the laptop*) .495 cents per book! (really not sure what to do with that .005 there, and this is why I teach English and not math).

 

 

Since I hate coming up with reasons to buy my books, here’s what readers have said after finishing the series:

This series is totally worth your time. I’ve read them through several times now and they are still very interesting, thought provoking, entertaining and enjoyable. Nothing nasty, don’t have to worry about nasty images or language. (I love the comment about “nothing nasty.” Although there is a moment in Book 2 where a very large dog coughs up something that I personally found rather nasty.)

Wow pretty well covers it. “Hope is everything.” The previous seven books all led to this amazing finale . . . It is exciting, thought provoking, insightful, and can be spiritual. One needs to read this with an open mind. (Because sometimes I go waaaay out there. I admit it. It’s fun waaaay out there. Try it!)

It does not fit neatly into a niche category or genre such as: dystopian, science fiction, fantasy, young adult etc. and the whole series is in a class of its own. So sit down, open the book, enjoy the ride , and keep the “hope”.  (I appreciate that they can’t figure out the genre, either. People ask me, “What kind of books do you write?” and I just shrug. I’m not the best promoter of my work.)

  . . . intense moments, heartbreaking moments, glorious moments, and hilarious moments . . . often all within a page or two. Even in this final stretch of the series, the character growth and intricate plot development is phenomenal. It is brutal, magnificent, powerful, and perfect.  (No one’s ever called me brutal before. At least, not to my face. They know better than that. *smacks fist into palm*)

This book has a problem… It’s too hard to put down!😊 I love the characters and love the story line. It’s intense and made me cry and laugh!  (I really hope she cried and laughed at the right places. One never knows.)

So give this super cheap, not nasty, out there, brutal, undefinable, laughing/crying book series to someone you love.

Or hate. I’m not judging.

I won’t tell them how cheaply you got the series if you won’t.

 

 

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.

20181027_103742

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.

20181027_123950

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.

20181027_115819

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

“I’m not good enough.” “No, you’re not. But there’s no one else to do it.”

When the incomparable composer John Williams was shown a cut of “Schindler’s List,” and Steven Spielberg asked to him to compose the score, Williams was so moved that he humbly said, “You need a better composer.” To which Spielberg replied, “I know, but they’re all dead.” Spielberg himself had put off directing the movie for ten years, and tried to get other directors to take it on, partly because he felt inadequate to do the story justice.

I shared this with my students today. We’ve been reading a holocaust memoir, All But My Life, and I told them about rescuers: ordinary people like Oskar Schindler who felt they had to step up and do something more for the Jews. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll look at short videos about Sir Nicholas Winton, Irena Sendler, and Gail Halvorsen–the candy bomber during the Berlin Airlift. Ok, so he’s slightly after the holocaust and was helping the Germans, but he’s still a great example of someone saying, “Isn’t there something more I can do?”

As I’ve read interviews with these and other rescuers, I’ve picked up on a common concern they each expressed: “But who am I? I’m nothing special. I’m not good enough.” Spielberg and Williams felt the same way, and I certainly do, on a daily basis, I’m sorry to report.

There’s a constant battle in my head. Maybe you’ve got the same in yours: “I’m not smart or good enough to [insert daunting project]. Surely there’s someone better to do this?”

Then there’s another voice that says, often quite unhelpfully, “No, you’re not good enough. But there’s no one else to do it.”

As I explained to my students that we rarely feel up to the tasks before us, I realized that I was giving myself a pep talk.  Daily I realize that I’m not a good enough mother and wife, or a good enough teacher, or a good enough friend, or a good enough Christian, or a good enough writer.

But apparently it doesn’t matter that we don’t know how to help, or fix, or resolve every problem placed before us–still we have to try. We can’t just walk away, we can’t just ignore, and we can’t hope that someone else will step in and take over, because usually no one else will.

Realizing this, we take a deep breath and keep going, flailing as we do and coming up short far too often, but knowing that someone has to do something. And it has to be us.

if I don't do this who will

Defensiveness arises when we suspect we may be wrong

In my experience, those who become defensive and angry in a discussion are those who aren’t sure their position is correct.

They respond with anger when they’re afraid of being found out, when they’re afraid they might be wrong.

That’s always been a good reminder for me when I find my ire raising: something’s not right with my thinking, and it’s up to me to fix it; it’s not up to me to attack someone else.

When in the history of the world has attacking someone with an opposite point of view brought them around to agreement?

disrespectful to tell the truth

Admit it–you want unpredictability and challenges!

Ever have one of those years when everything changes on you?

And does it seem that it happens every year?

Yeah, me too. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as “regular” life, that the “good old days” when life was predictable and easy never in fact existed, that when we long for the stability of the past, we’re really longing for a fantasy that never happened.

And why would we want a quiet, dull existence? Isn’t the unpredictability of our lives what makes it worth living? The daily challenges that push us, the nightly flopping into bed with a quiet but triumphant, “Survived another day!” that invigorates us to exhaustion and new determination? Don’t we want that, crave that?

I had two dull days this past year.

I couldn’t wait for them to be over. (And I’ll probably regret writing this . . .)

People aren't as clever as they hope they are

Send me your favorite lines from ANY of the books and I’ll send you a new bookmark (eventually)

What are you favorite lines from the Forest at the Edge book series? I need them! To meme them!

Now that I’m teaching high school full-time again, I don’t have the luxury of blogging to draw attention to my book series. Then I had an idea: Let the books sell themselves. Why not just publish lines or segments of dialogue a couple times a week on social media?

So in my spare time I’ve been glancing through my books trying to find lines that I think are intriguing or memorable, but honestly I don’t know what is intriguing or memorable.

That’s where I’d appreciate your help: Send me lines from ANY of the books that YOU like, and I’ll put them in a meme. I figure: you’re a reader, so you’ll know what will draw in other readers and get them interested. (I’m a genius, I know.)

So respond to this posting, or go to my Contact Me page and send me an email of lines I should meme. If I get organized, I’m going to make new bookmarks and send you one as a thank you by Christmas. (That’s the dream–it may be spring, who knows.)

I might post memes in order of the books–what do you think? For example, below is the first meme I’ve made. Should I go in order? Or should I throw out memes from all the books in any old order?

King Oren killing squad name change

I’d also like to thank you for your reviews of Book 8, The Last Day. Your reviews are helping the series get more exposure, and I really appreciate that!

So send me your lines, your opinions, your ideas, and (eventually) I’ll send you a bookmark as a thank you!