Archive | March, 2014

Survey Says: What the heck was I thinking?

27 Mar

It took me a long time to decide to write this because I thought displaying my lack of faith would discredit the amazing things God has done for me thus far. After all, I’ve been saying all along that the one constant on my journey to become a full-time writer has been my conviction that it’s exactly what God wants me to do.

So, of course He’s going to take care of me, right?


To find your direction…

Well, he did for a while. It’s been two months since I left my paying job, and we’ve been successfully balancing atop a financially precarious fence by relying on predictability. I mean, absolutely NO surprises.

Then yesterday I noticed the cat behaving as if he has another infection (something he usually conveys by “marking” the floor). Setting that issue on the back burner, I took my youngest to his dentist appointment, where I learned his wisdom teeth need to be pulled, like, now. Also, the dentist says, his lower teeth are turning—he needs to go back to the orthodontist. Finally, as I drove home I noticed with dismay that the “check engine” light on my dashboard is flashing.

I can’t afford all of these crises, and certainly not all at once.

Despair washed over me in an avalanche of self-doubt:

What the heck was I thinking, leaving a perfectly good job? If I were “working,” these issues could have been easily resolved!

My knee-jerk reaction should have jerked me to my knees. But I sped right past that and settled for just being a jerk.

I have to make some income, I thought, turning to the internet in a panic. Somehow all my wild clicking landed me on some “pay-for-survey” sites, where companies “pay you handsomely for ten minutes of your time.”

Perfect! I have opinions…they want to pay me for them? How cool is that?

So I spent hours clicking boxes, typing in preferences, and disclosing the darkest secrets about the potions and lotions lurking in my medicine cabinet. My clicking finger became sore, my shoulders ached, my eyes started burning from staring so intently, but I kept on. Finally, when I could no longer focus, I quit for the night. I made $6.50, which, apparently, I now have to report to the IRS.

After a fretful night’s sleep, I started this morning stumbling blindly in a cloud of defeat, but this time I did turn to God, praying my oft-recited, “I believe Lord; help me in my unbelief.”

Instead of finding an answer, I found my mind wandering through an uncharted outline of an intriguing story idea, one with many layers, and action, and joy, and discovery, and—wait! I already have a writing project; I don’t need another!

Frustrated, I left my time of prayer (and I jotted down a few notes about the story idea, because it really is cool…)

compass and cross

…you first have to know where you’re going.

Then, on my way back from my son’s bus stop, I heard a one-minute radio spot that brought me back to solid ground. I was reminded that, much like a pilot navigating through a fog, I know where I’m going and I can trust the navigation tools I’m relying on to get me there.

I had to admonish myself for perhaps the millionth time: You’re exactly where God wants you to be. He never said it would be easy, but He did say, “Trust me.”

So I went into the house and got to work, beginning my day as usual by reading a psalm. Today it was Psalm 142. I got no further than verse 3: “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who knows my way.”

With a bit of a jolt I thought back to the cool story outline. Criminy! That was His promise! He’s telling me there’s something next. And there will be something after that, and after that. The bills will get paid, and we will be fine. He knows the way; I don’t have to.

So I write about my momentary lack of faith because it shows I’m human, but it also demonstrates how our faith can actually grow through moments like this. I’m more certain about what I’m doing than ever. Besides, as my friend Liz reminded me this morning, with some whiskey and a good pair of pliers, I can handle that ol’ wisdom teeth issue…

By the way, my inbox was flooded this morning with survey opportunities screaming at me: Tell us about your car! What’s the best soft drink? Do you have insurance? Click here, Click HERE, CLICK HERE!

I not only deleted the emails, but took the extra two minutes to hit the “unsubscribe,” which is the “morning-after” click for irrational internet panic.

Now I shall return to Joe’s story, my friend and current project, knowing I’m right where I’m supposed to be, and that He knows the way to where we’re going.

I hope He has pliers.

Gasping at the deep end

19 Mar

In my defense, I was nearly finished with my swim. By the time he showed up I had completed either 17 or 28 laps (I sometimes lose count because I’m an English major).

So I was tired. Let’s get that straight.

I like to swim in the center lane because most folks take the outsides so they can climb out more easily. I’d rather duck under three floating lane dividers and dodge Butterfly-stroke Man on my way to the side than swim next to someone. Nothing against other swimmers, but I’m a tad competitive and I have an attention deficit, which means I can’t ignore people.

Of course, he chose the lane next to mine.

At first I felt no threat. He was easily in his 90s, sitting at the pool’s edge, dangling his feet in the water while he donned his goggles. I sized him up as I approached: scrawny arms, boney knees. I could take him.

He still hadn’t entered the water when I reached the end of my lane. I didn’t stop, but made a quick U-turn and sped away. (No, not like the Olympic athletes who gracefully sink at exactly the right point, flip around, and magically jettison across the pool like a bullet; I tend to meet the wall, take a gasping breath, yank my too-small cap back down over my ears, empty the water from my goggles, and then splash out about a whole foot before I level off).

I was surprised, therefore, when I turned around at the opposite end of the pool and there he was right beside me. He kicked off the wall and was already gliding effortlessly away, leaving me panting at the wall, collecting chlorine in my gaping mouth.

Oh, heck no. This wasn’t going to happen. I may not be a spring chicken. Ok, I’m not even a summer chicken anymore, but I could take him.

I vaulted off the wall and stretched out fully. (For you non-swimmers, it’s like when you run past someone you know and somehow get taller and start breathing the way you should have been all along. The difference is that at the pool, the only one to notice is the lifeguard, and let’s just say ours wasn’t a Baywatch lifeguard candidate and leave it at that.)

Determined to catch my nonagenarian, I put every ounce of energy I could muster into that lap. I spread open my fingers for maximum water displacement, grabbed at the water the way a hole-digging dog tosses back dirt, and started kicking my feet as fast as I could. In my mind I looked like an electric mixer on high speed, but I could tell when I passed the lifeguard that I probably looked somewhat less efficient.

Goggles full of water

Are the goggles half full or half empty?

To show him I was ok, I made my concentration face—drawing my eyebrows close together in a serious frown. Unfortunately, doing anything eye-related while wearing swimming goggles breaks the seal. Water poured in, half-filling the left lens. I closed my left eye and with the other I looked at the lifeguard, giving a small smile to show that he needn’t worry but swallowing some serious pool water in the process. He stood up, staring at me intently. Ol’ Motorboat Legs was reaching the far side again, a full three lengths ahead of me. He was hardly trying at all and yet I couldn’t keep up! I was amazed and ashamed.

I hit the wall and paused, pretending to adjust my cap so he could take off solo. If I let him get far enough ahead, perhaps my competitive spirit would lay off. But it didn’t. I exhausted myself trying to catch him again.

He swam only three or ten more laps or so, which was fortunate for me because I was spent, and the lifeguard was still in alarm mode. Gramps then bobbed under the lane lines, dodged Butterfly-stroke Man, and climbed the ladder.

That’s when I saw his feet for the first time. Flippers. The man was wearing flippers. Big. Long. Superpower flippers.

I drove home feeling foolish, and perhaps a bit wiser. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be, and my only goal should be to improve upon my own abilities.

I notice that in my writing life too. I catch myself whining because I’m not making money yet, like those writers who have been at it for longer than two months. There are no writing flippers, although I wish there were. It’s just going to take time.

Still, I’m not done with Mr. Frog Feet. Same time tomorrow morning, buddy, but this time I’ll catch you. I’ll carb up tonight and enter the water with my goggles cinched so tight my ears will flatten. Best of all, I’ve got a fancy high-power backstroke that will blow you out of the water…if the lifeguard doesn’t pull me out first.

For Gary, who turned around…

11 Mar

This week I’m dedicating my blog to Gary, an ordinary man who lived a life of extraordinary kindness. Most people who read this page didn’t know him, but that’s ok. I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked, but I’m touched by his spirit and I think you can be as well.

Gary was a quiet, unassuming man who was quick to help and slow to anger. His face displayed a curious mix of inner peace and ancient pain. He knew how to listen. Anyone who stopped to talk with him walked away thinking, “Gee, that was a lot more than I meant to tell him about myself, but it’s ok because he likes me anyway.”

People were drawn to him, particularly people who were sinking in despair.

That’s because Gary knew what it was like to be on the bottom. At one point in his life, he sank so far down into a murky pit that the walls started caving in over him, and that could have been the end of his story. Instead, one day he looked up and saw an outstretched hand against a small piece of light. He grabbed hold and began what would be a long, arduous climb to freedom. It wasn’t an easy journey. The walls of the pit were slippery; what few foot-holds he could find were so sharp they left scars; and there were people still at the bottom who pulled at his legs, trying to drag him back down. He never would have made it out if that hand hadn’t remained tightly clasped around his. It gave him hope and encouragement, and he knew whoever was behind it would never give up on him.

Eventually, he was pulled into the light, where he lay for a while gasping, joyfully tasting the clean air, and grateful for a second chance.

Many of us, when we’re pulled out of our darkness, dust ourselves off and say, “Whew! That was close!” Sometimes we even remember to thank our rescuer before we go on our way. We rarely look back.

Gary, however, once he caught his breath, turned back to the pit, planted his feet firmly, and reached out his hand. He set up camp there, on the edge of darkness, where he spent the rest of his days pulling people to safety and encouraging them, fighting with all he had to keep them from falling back in. He never forgot that outstretched hand.

The church was packed yesterday for Gary’s funeral service. I was amazed to see how many people were there, people whom Gary had touched in just a few short years. But there’s more to the story, because Gary taught them more than just how to climb out of the darkness. By his example, he taught them to turn around and reach back down. Today there are many, many people camped at the edge, feet planted, hands extended.

As I see it, Gary’s legacy is a ripple of kindness extending light outward across a pond of darkness. And in the end, the light will win.


Gerunds, Appositives, and Participles, Oh My!

4 Mar

I knew it would happen today. I’m experiencing my first day of epic post-resignation homesickness. Or is that worksickness?

Sure, I’ve looked back wistfully on occasion over the past month, like the day I overdosed on Oreo cookies and realized that this would never have happened at my old job because they would have helped me eat them, or the night my reading lamp became possessed and provided me with an awesome story to tell to…nobody. Snif. (Possible blog topic for Supernatural Day, whenever that is).

Today, however, I miss my editing friends in the basement of Hochmuth Hall more than ever, because I know what I’d be doing right now if I were there: poking fun at people who correct me and say, “no, no, you mean if I was there.”

Well, to be honest, we poked fun every day. In fact, for an editor, the only thing that can evoke a more hearty guffaw than coming across a sentence like “Venezuela is a major consumer of Cuban, health, intelligence, and security professionals” is reading it aloud to other editors.

We’re wired like that.

Egg's and Chicken's

Thanks Albert, for risking life and limb to capture this exquisite specimen.

We risk causing vehicle accidents to take pictures of awful road signs.

We are puppets to our pesky little internal budinskis who cannot let a conversation continue unchecked after someone says, “This is for Sue and I” or, “If you have any questions, bring them to Pete or myself.”

We’ve lost friends over this compulsion—both Pete and Himself. Still, we auto-correct.

Today, however, we have license to parade our predicate prowess, and to shout boldly from the hill tops:

That and which are not the same!


Pardon me, but your modifiers are squinting.

Or my favorite:

Semi-colons are more than just winky-face emoticons!

So, what’s the big occasion? Only the most important day in the evolution of syntax…it’s Grammar Day of course! The only national observance identified by an imperative: March Fourth!

National Grammar Day was established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG) and author of Things That Make Us [Sic].

Over the years the observation has grown in popularity, particularly among the editing crowd.

This is a day for editors to sit back, nosh on grammar crackers and cereal commas, and reminisce about the ones that didn’t get away…like, “the damn formed when the mountain collapsed during the earthquake,” or, “the ship-to-shore landing vessels were being acquired to compliment the rest of the fleet.” (Grammar, word choice, whatever you call it, it’s funny).

This is a day to go out to the hallway and stare appreciatively at the colorful and seductive Comma Chameleon, which was posted to lure passersby into accidently learning about comma use and abuse.  (I guess you could consider it the cheesy-broccoli of grammardom; some folks get through six or seven rules before they catch on that they’re reading about proper punctuation.)

It is also a day of recognition. Writers, I’m guessing you all have someone to thank for ensuring your last missive didn’t go out proclaiming, “Ships are used when floods and tsunamis produce disaster situations that require their ability to arrive by sea instead of by destroyed or water-submerged roads.” (Actual submission, you’re welcome very much).

If you haven’t been saved yet, it’s only because you still aren’t published.

So spread the word. Kiss an editor. Rescue a dangling modifier. Try it, it’s fun.

And correct your children. They’ll thank you for it one day. My reward came Saturday night, when I caught my son trying to rub the apostrophe off a white board announcing “CD’s for sale.”

I was so proud.

I miss you, editors. March fourth!


For more information about Grammar Day, visit the following website: