Sunday, October 25, 2015


In a way, I’m tired of social media.

I mean, here at my blog, I can shout into the darkness and more often than not nobody listens. And I’m good with that. I didn’t start this blog with the intention of gathering an audience; I just like to babble.

And I do enjoy Facebook, because of the other outlet it offers for babbling.

Twitter, eh, not so much. I’m on Round Two with Twitter, and I just don’t have the time for it. It’s active social media, not the passive stuff I’ve come to enjoy. If you’re not in on the joke within the first fifteen seconds, you may as well not bother.

Then there’s this.

Now I know this kind of outrage existed long before Twitter. I used to work for a newspaper that had a tape recorder connected to a phone line where people could call in their anonymous gripes, and boy did they ever call in their anonymous gripes. But social media – especially Twitter – for some reason, makes this kind of outrage easy.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t recall much of Back to the Future II, nor do I remember “Pepsi Perfect,” the product (or lack of it) causing the outrage. The second film in the franchise was pretty bad, IMHO.
So you didn’t get the novelty product featured in some film from aeons ago. Is it really worth the spittle to go on social media and complain about it? After all, these cola drinks are really nothing more than malted battery acid, per Berke Breathed (another throwback to the ‘80s, if you don’t mind).

Twitter really is the go-to place for people with a sense of entitlement, isn’t it? Even moreso than blogs that nobody reads.

Pachelbel Podcast

This is something I put together for my English students at BYU-Idaho, trying to help them get a visual representation of the multiple viewpoints they need to write a successful personality profile.

I have tried putting this up on Ilearn, but it's too big. Also too big for the Blogger platform. So on to YouTube it goes.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"The First Tear He Made Was So Deep that I Thought It Had Gone Right into my Heart"

A thought struck today as I was half paying attention in Sunday School today: We get it kinda wrong when we say "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

It's not the concept, it's the phraseology. Loving the sinner but hating the sin still puts the emphasis on the sin. This is what I'm going to think or say from now on:

Love the person, hate the sin.

Because the person is more than the sin, more than a sinner. That person -- as are we all -- is a child of God. And deserves to be recognized as a person, an individual, not as a thing -- a sinner -- to be categorized.

As I pondered that a bit, something else came to mind:

That's what C.S. Lewis meant.

Consider this from "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," telling the story of how Eustace Scrubb, transformed into a dragon by his greedy thought, is turned back into a boy through the help of Aslan the Lion:

"I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

"But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

"Then the lion said—but I don't know if it spoke—You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.

Aslan didn't say a thing about loving the sinner and hating the sin. He merely worked through the sin -- doing it in a way that Eustace could not -- to find the person underneath. He did not apply any labels. Aslan simply looked past the sin to the frightened little boy buried deep inside that dragon skin.

Maybe that's what we should be doing. Samuel is reminded in 1 Samuel 16:7:

[T]he Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

We cannot do for others -- or for Eustace -- what God does for us in similar situations. We cannot go as deep to healing the wounds as He can. But we can look past the wounds and reassure the wounded that we love them, and that help has arrived in the form of the atonement.

That's what Alsan did. He looked at the heart -- at how through his pain, Eustace had begun his transformation into more acceptable behavior (note, NOT that he had transformed completely; that is not how we humans work).

And that's what I need to start doing.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Odyssey. Seen through the Eyes of A Cartoonist.

I feel bad that I haven't updated my refrigerator/kids' art blog in a while. Especially when I rediscover and scan gems like these:

Good news is I've been invited to help clean bedrooms tomorrow. So maybe I'll find some more.

Editing, or "What Lack I Yet?"

With the week winding down a little bit, maybe this will jump-start a conversation on the Three Cluttered Pigs.

Obviously, TCP is an exercise in editing. But what kind of editing? (And, yes, there are many different kinds of editing.)

In the technical writing world where I work, we talk about no fewer than ten kinds of editing. I won't bore you with them because most of them don't apply to the kind of writing we're doing and I kind of get glazy-eyed just thinking about them where they DO apply. For the kind of writing we're interested in, there are three "levels of editing" to consider:

1. Macro editing. This kind of editing involves looking at the big picture: Does my thesis make sense? Does the evidence I offer support my thesis? Have I included enough detail? Have I taken shortcuts that will confuse the reader? Have I left in material that's extraneous to my point and will confuse or bore the reader?

2. Line editing. Did I spell names correctly? Did I clearly indicate where I am quoting another person? Am I accurate in my summaries? If I read this aloud, are there any passages that sound awkward and thus should be re-written?

3. Copy editing. Have I eliminated as many typos as possible? Did I use the right verb tense? Why did my word processor underline that word with a squiggle? How does the formatting look?

With each level of edit, we get closer to the actual words. And each level of edit requires a different kind of thinking to accomplish. And you should do each of these levels of edit for everything you write. Everything. Every time.

Here's a few tips on how to do this efficiently:

1. Leave copy editing for last. Absolutely last. It's the easiest of the levels to do, and should come only after you've fixed any bigger issues with what you've written. I have mentioned before that I have re-written my current novel-in-progress eight times. Although I have caught typos and other small errors along the way and fixed them, I have yet to do a copy edit of my novel. Too much is changing right now to make that worthwhile.

2. Don't do all of the levels at once. Start with the macro editing, the big picture, and make sure you're satisfied with the overall big picture before you move on to another level.

3. Identify where your editing weakness lies. I know my weakness lies in macro editing, which is why I keep doing it over and over again with my novel. Each time, I think it gets better. And this is where I bring in others to read it. I tell them I'm not interested in them finding typos (if they do, that's great; less work for me later) but I tell them "Look at the big picture. Is this a story you want to read? If not, WHY?!" Fixing the macro problems will make the line edit and copy edit go a lot more smoothly.

Every time I sit down to edit, I'm reminded of a story from the New Testament, where a man approaches Jesus and asks what he has to do to attain eternal life(Matthew 19:16-23):

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

When I put on my editing hat, I ask myself, "what lack I yet?" I know I started with some good ideas and put together some thoughts that will help my reader understand my point of view, or tell my story. But I know I'm not perfect, so I ask, "what lack I yet." And sometimes when I'm reading, I get that beautifully blunt answer, similar to what Jesus offered: I lack a lot. More macro editing. But because I want to prove I can pass through the eye of a needle, I keep working.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Podcast Anxiety!

I know podcasts aren't always easy to do. I had audio difficulties with this one. And then the format -- WMV -- is incompatible with Ilearn, so I couldn't upload it directly to class. Yet here it is. If a doofus like me can do it, so can you.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mass Shootings and Labels

Our son is on the autism spectrum, but we don’t bandy that about.

Not that being on the spectrum is something to be feared or ashamed of. We just don’t want him labeled.

We humans love to label and to classify things. This is a dog. That is a cat. This is some wicked storm. That is a moron.

I hope you can see where I’m going. If not, here goes: Labels work for good and bad.
And labels become excuses. If we label  our son as being on the autism spectrum constantly, some teachers might treat him differently – and not differently as in “He needs assistance in managing his time and getting homework turned in” but as in “Damn that Davidson kid, you know, the autism one, he’s a disorganized soul, ain’t he?”

If our son hears the label too much, it becomes an excuse. “I didn’t turn the homework in on time because I’m on the autism spectrum.”

And how about those other labels – where there isn’t a label at all?

Enter Chris Harper Mercer, the sad young man who killed nine and wounded scores of others on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, last week. There’s a strong movement in Roseburg to never mention his name. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named sought notoriety through his killings, they reason. So don’t give it to him.

But some of the things said about this unfortunate young man after the fact are pretty revealing, if you ask me:

“For us, he was another guy who worked on set.”

“A guy with baggy pants who walked goofy.”

“It wasn’t that she had never seen the shooter before: she couldn’t even remember whether she had seen him before.”

“An awkward boy who was slow to respond when someone said hello.”

“He really didn’t have a personality that was memorable.”

“He knew plenty of students who said they didn’t know the shooter, and they didn’t want to know him, either.”

This could be me. This could be my son. This could be any one of a score of people who are socially awkward and uneasy around new people.

These people don’t want to know him in death and notoriety. But it also appears they didn’t care to know him beforehand, either.

I’ve posted this on Facebook and been told that the man was unapproachable, a men’s rights activist, unfriendly. I don’t know what is true and what is rumor-mongering. If it is true, it’s likely he found friendship in these “rabbit hole” communities where more mainstream friendship was lacking. Where were the mainstream folks before Chris Harper Mercer decided he wanted to make a name for himself in a world that apparently didn’t want to know him to begin with?

You’re cooking up new labels for me, I know. So I will add the standard disclaimer: I don’t support in any way what he did, nor do I support the misogyny of any of the mens’ rights groups out there. I do support the idea, however, that as we slap labels on people and file them away and ignore them and then act shocked when they act inappropriately – nay, heinously – then we are a part of the problem.
Guns are part of the problem. Mental health issues are a part of the problem. The twisted world of mens’ rights is part of the problem.

But the biggest part of the problem? It’s us.

Not only is the community of Roseburg insisting on keeping Mercer anonymous, they didn’t pay him much notice when he was alive. And in any number of communities, there are people just like Chris Harper Mercer: Marginalized, leaning toward the fringe, and generally being ignored by people who ought to remember there’s a human being right there, asking for help.

That’s damning on society in general, not to pick on Roseburg in particular. We’ve become so paranoid as a society that child protective services is called on children allowed to walk home from the park or from school, children wearing headscarves are tormented in public parks, and anyone with any oddity or perceived difference is considered creepy and beneath even knowing.

(Yes, I know the Klopecks turned out to be guilty at the end. But that’s fiction. But with 99.9% of the people we encounter who don’t have memorable personalities or walk goofy or are unfriendly and are thus filed as unnamed, they go on with their lives, never harming a fly.)

Trying to bury any mention of Chris Harper Mercer is to deny society’s part in the murders he committed, while we point fingers at the traditional bugaboos of mental health care and gun control. It’s easy to point fingers at those tried-and-true scapegoats, as easy as it is to ignore the fact that pointing to them isn’t going to amount to anything. The deaths of those 26 children at Sandy Hook which resulted in nothing clearly shows society is beyond the point where the murder of children will galvanize them to action. Even those who were calling for action then. They give up. They look at the status quo and say “nothing can be done.”

They’re just as bad as Jeb Bush, with his “stuff happens” comment. Just because they rattled a few chains and made a few angry Facebook or blog posts doesn’t get them off the hook.

When anyone says “nothing can be done” because of any reason – be it the status quo, general indifference, NRA lobbying, or what have you – what they’re really saying is “Well, this isn’t going to be easy. So I’m not even going to try.”

Speaking of trying, I'm reminded of this story of Mr. Fred Rogers, a man who did nothing but try in his life to connect with children -- many of whom didn't even know who he was:

ONCE UPON A TIME, a little boy with a big sword went into battle against Mister Rogers. Or maybe, if the truth be told, Mister Rogers went into battle against a little boy with a big sword, for Mister Rogers didn't like the big sword. It was one of those swords that really isn't a sword at all; it was a big plastic contraption with lights and sound effects, and it was the kind of sword used in defense of the universe by the heroes of the television shows that the little boy liked to watch. The little boy with the big sword did not watch Mister Rogers. In fact, the little boy with the big sword didn't know who Mister Rogers was, and so when Mister Rogers knelt down in front of him, the little boy with the big sword looked past him and through him, and when Mister Rogers said, "Oh, my, that's a big sword you have," the boy didn't answer, and finally his mother got embarrassed and said, "Oh, honey, c'mon, that's Mister Rogers," and felt his head for fever. Of course, she knew who Mister Rogers was, because she had grown up with him, and she knew that he was good for her son, and so now, with her little boy zombie-eyed under his blond bangs, she apologized, saying to Mister Rogers that she knew he was in a rush and that she knew he was here in Penn Station taping his program and that her son usually wasn't like this, he was probably just tired…. Except that Mister Rogers wasn't going anywhere. Yes, sure, he was taping, and right there, in Penn Station in New York City, were rings of other children wiggling in wait for him, but right now his patient gray eyes were fixed on the little boy with the big sword, and so he stayed there, on one knee, until the little boy's eyes finally focused on Mister Rogers, and he said, "It's not a sword; it's a death ray." A death ray! Oh, honey, Mommy knew you could do it….And so now, encouraged, Mommy said, "Do you want to give Mister Rogers a hug, honey?" But the boy was shaking his head no, and Mister Rogers was sneaking his face past the big sword and the armor of the little boy's eyes and whispering something in his ear—something that, while not changing his mind about the hug, made the little boy look at Mister Rogers in a new way, with the eyes of a child at last, and nod his head yes.

We were heading back to his apartment in a taxi when I asked him what he had said.
"Oh, I just knew that whenever you see a little boy carrying something like that, it means that he wants to show people that he's strong on the outside.
"I just wanted to let him know that he was strong on the inside, too."
"And so that's what I told him."
"I said, 'Do you know that you're strong on the inside, too?'"
"Maybe it was something he needed to hear."
But then again, it’s always them. It’s never us. What can we do? Except point out the obvious (Gun Control! Better Mental Health Care!) and then shake our heads when (surprise!) nothing changes because we don’t bother to get at the root of the problem where we are and with what tools we have already at hand: A friendly smile. A chat with a socially-awkward individual. And you know what? We have to try more than once. We have to try more than a dozen times. We can’t just try once, think, “Well, he was unfriendly. He was slow to say hello. He’s not much of a conversationalist” and leave it at that. If we don’t try, and keep on trying, these people seeking friendships are going to find them down any number of rabbit holes, with outcomes that will most likely add to society’s sickness, rather than to its healing.

And to think we’re going to solve anything by making Chris Harper-Mercer unmentionable? Well, we’re going to look a bit ridiculous.

I’m thankful for the kids at school who are patient with our son. Who can see through his awkwardness, who can see past the labels. They’re doing more for the betterment of society than any law possibly could. They’re giving him a new label: Friend.