Monday, April 28, 2014

Who Does That?

Ever been watching a movie and been struck with the thought, 'Who does that?'   A quick poll of my acquaintance reveals the answer: No one.

Here is a sampling of filmmaker misconceptions about life:

1.  Only in Hollywood films do women wear matching bra and underwear.  This just seems to be the norm.  In reality, realizing that you are wearing matching underthings is sort of like finding out it is February 29th. "Wow! Really?  Huh. Well, that's a heck of a thing."  The choice of these garments is almost entirely predicated upon the colour of the article of clothing a woman plans on wearing over it.  End of story.  Underthings demystified.

2. Car doors do not require shutting.  In real life, I think only minivans have this capability.  But you still have to pull on the handle or something.  It's not like you jump out of the car and your Honda Odyssey just knows. "Don't worry, buddy. You get on with your day.  I'll button up."

3. People don't say, 'Goodbye,' when ending a phone call.  They just hang up like their acquaintances won't be offended by such a brusque cutoff without so much as a dismissal.  Real telephone conversations don't end like that.  Usually--or, maybe just depending on the person you are talking to--there is the a 2-10 minute wind up period where people start mentioning that they had better get going and saying "Well," in a definitive sort of manner.  In the movies, people just hang up.  It's crazy.  I'm actually kind of jealous of this one.

4. Female athletes/warriors always kick into action with their hair down.  They do this intentionally.  It's just absurd.  Try and find your car in a parking lot on a windy day when your hair is down; let alone score the game winning goal or fend off a sword-wielding Saxon.  That is a recipe for tragedy.

I realize that filmmakers make the choices they do based on how things will look onscreen.  Maybe your actress looks better with her hair down.  Perhaps pausing to close the car door slows down the action of the scene.   I understand that.  However, what about the fact that instead of watching your movie and being involved in the story unfolding, I'm busy wondering about who actually wears matching underwear?

Because he's not buying it, either.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Thoughts - "It is finished."

When Jesus said, “It is finished”, it looked like death.  

Jesus said, “It is finished.”  And Satan thought that he had won.

Place yourself at the Place of the Skull where the Author of Life was brought to die.  Maybe you would stand only a few feet from the foot of the cross--close--where the air was heavy with pain and punctuated with gasps of agony from those on the crosses and those who watched as their beloved ones began the slow, hard work of dying. Or, maybe you would hang back with the crowd further away because, you’re not quite sure, but there is something about this Man. You’re waiting to see what will happen. You want to see God show up.   Your ears are assaulted by the crowing of those who called for Jesus to come down from the cross if he really was who He claimed to be.  Send a legion of angels, Lord.  Send a punitive bolt of lightening from heaven. Rend the earth so that everyone knows who You are.  So that everyone knows Who they are messing with.  Then the darkness

And out of that darkness, people revealed their hearts.  Have you ever noticed how mockery and sincerity can speak exactly the same words? One held aloft by the gossamer thin mysticism of faith, the other inadequately shrouded in doubt’s heavy mantle.

Maybe Elijah will come and get him?
Maybe Elijah will come and get him? 

Hail, the King of the Jews! 
Hail, the King of the Jews! 

Come down from that cross!
Come down from the cross. 

Don’t you think all of his followers were praying that? “Please don’t let this be it. Show yourself!  Don’t let them mock you.  Please, Lord, don’t let it be this way.  Please don’t let this be the way it goes.”

Everything was wrong.  Everything was a horror.  But Jesus said it was finished and then He died. Died, died. 

Then, there was an earthquake; as though the earth’s foundation--her tectonic plates-- knew the travesty that had been committed. And, the curtain separating the Holy of Holies in the temple that was torn in two. The dead were coming out of their tombs like Lazarus, but with no Jesus standing outside. Think of it. The dead had been raised but Jesus was still dead.  And, it wasn’t like death in a movie.  There was no one to come running in at the last possible moment and charge up the paddles to bring Jesus back.  There was a dead body that went through the natural stages after death.  Rigor mortis.  Blood separating.  Pooling. Decomposition.  Brain cells are the first thing to be damaged irrevocably.  That only takes a few minutes and then it doesn’t matter if a person can be revived.  They won’t be the same.  They will be damaged. No fancy tricks. No sci-fi cryogenic freezing.  Just death and the way of all flesh.

So you stand, if you can, and watch as the God you love, but don’t understand, dies.  Leaves you. Is taken from you.  And as He is crucified so are all your hopes and expectations of who He is and what He was going to do; pinned to the cross that He hangs upon.

But there was Jesus, hanging there, counting down His life’s few remaining breaths of earth’s heavy air and declaring it was finished.  What was He talking about?  Was he delirious with pain? Overcome, perhaps? Wouldn’t He have waited until after the resurrection to declare that it was finished? 

Jesus waited out three days of dead.  A rolling ticker marking off the passage of time.  “This time yesterday, Jesus said…”  “This time yesterday, Jesus...”  Three days of decomposing.  Three barren days of hopes dashed and broken hearts and grief. Three days of wondering how we could have got it so wrong.  Three days of wondering why on earth God thought this was a good idea.  Three long days.   Only God can take the damaging mantle of death and reappear in more glory.  But He let all of that time elapse.

Why was it finished before it was finished?  Why was it finished before He rose in the conquering victory that everyone could see? That proved who He is; beyond the shadow of a doubt.

I think it is because Jesus never doubted His Father. 

I think it is because Jesus knew that grace would always bat last; that the miracle of resurrection would come because God overcomes.  Because God’s work is not made null just because we have not see it yet--because we have not understood it.  Jesus knew through the sure eyes of faith that He would accomplish the reconciliation of Mankind.  He would rescue.  He would save.   He would make the payment for our sin.  He would swallow up death’s obliterating power with the awesome eternal presence of the Great I AM.  He was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.  It was finished.  The Old Covenant complete, the New Covenant come.  

It was finished.  

It had begun.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rally Cry for the Forgotten Girls of my Tribe (Part 2)

"You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."

This is my manifesto to the forgotten girls of my tribe.  This is my call to arms--my rally cry to being alive--because someone somewhere along the line told us that life was a waiting game.  Wait on God. Wait on the right circumstance.  Wait on sex.  Wait on the right moment.  Get a Promise Ring and True Love Waits.  Someone handed us T-shirt slogans to live by instead of living water.  And while we may feel we've done everything right--trimmed up our lamps with extra oil and whatnot--we still feel like the foolish virgins locked out of the feast.

I think all the waiting is wrong.  Or, I think that it sent us all an unconscious message that we were never meant to read.  Wait on God, sure, absolutely.  But let's not just blanket apply that slogan without context--without individual circumstances--because it might reinforce the impression that God is one tardy fellow and that really isn't the impression you get from Jesus in the Bible.  He was always on the move.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

So, are we waiting for something God hasn't asked us to wait for?  It's an important question.  One I've almost been afraid to ask because I don't want to know how much time; how many opportunities I let slide by while I waited for an alarm--that had never even been set--to ring.  But I'm facing it now because I've been hemmed in on every side and I think Jesus wants me to deal with all of the psychological and emotional junk I've been hoarding.  Stuff He never asked me to keep--ideas that someone handed me that weren't good for me to learn--that I picked up while I was waiting.  For some time now it has felt like He shut the door on my life with us both inside and is asking me to examine each piece of garbage that I decided to store in my psyche.  He picks it up, hands it to me and we talk about it.  First (and once I acknowledge that He has handed me something) I tell him what I think about it.  He waits until I've exhausted myself talking about me and my problems and why I think things are the way they are and how I think things will be and what I think I would do if I could do anything about it and… After all that rambling and I finally shut my pie hole, He tells me what is true and then holds out His hand for me to hand the junk to Him whereupon He chucks it out the window of my soul with a resounding crash along with all the other discarded lies.

Here are a couple of the broken ideas that I picked up somewhere along the way and kept ahold of until they handicapped me.

1) No one will like you.  Assume it ahead of time so that you don't feel as disappointed and rejected when it happens.

This one was wide-reaching and almost completely crippling.  It applied to everyone.  Strangers, teachers, peers, guys--even family.  (But of course, they just love you because they have to.)   I assumed that no guy would like me ever (rendering me flabbergasted and awkward when some actually did).  I believed I was inconsequential and worse--unlovable.   Jesus has been showing me that this is worse that just utter bullshit. (He didn't exactly use that word, but I knew what He was getting at.) It's toxic poison that someone dumped in the well of my soul at some point.  A malicious lie.  The problem with something this dark is that no one can convince you that it isn't true.  But, boy oh boy, can anyone and everyone confirm it.

Jesus is the only one that can sift through the junk to save the valuables while throwing out the hoard of garbage.  Have you ever noticed that you can lose your valuables in a pile of junk and even if you happen to see them sitting amongst the misshapen curios of your tortured emotional menagerie; it is hard to see their worth?  Things that are worthy of a place of honour in your life; not crammed into a drawer with the odd bits of bobs of things you don't know what else to do with. I have valuables worth  worth clutching close, but you'd never know it sometimes.  Jewel-like truths that I was redeemed for love's sake at the highest price and He's got the scars to prove it.

2) God's will/pleasure is measured by the success or failure of the venture.

Unfortunately, this one was really ingrained and I had no idea how deep it ran.  But when Jesus tossed it to me, I kept trying to put pieces of it back on the shelf as though it was important.  How else am I going to measure if I am on the right track?  How else will I know if God is pleased with me? This stupid misunderstanding of God's personality and character really messes us all up.  It tells us (indirectly) that if we are struggling, we must be outside of God's will.  If we were in God's will, or had heard from Him properly--we wouldn't be in this mess--we wouldn't feel so lousy.   Maybe we'd be married.  Maybe our careers would be thriving.  Maybe those people we've always prayed for would change.  After all, we must be doing something wrong, right?  We know that God doesn't make mistakes and has said stuff about victory and joy like a fountain in our souls.  So…? Inevitably we come to the false conclusion that difficulty and struggle and worn out hopes must mean that it wasn't God's will, right?


Jesus just tossed that one out of the window and looked very satisfied when it shattered on the ground.   He gives a little knowing smile--because when He was doing the Father's will it involved a crucifixion. God's will for Him looked like a whole lot of death before resurrection day came; before the perishable rose up imperishable.  It is anathema to our modern Western worldview that God might send us in to slog away on (what is by all appearances) a hopeless cause. And maybe it will always look hopeless to human eyes on this southern side of Heaven. But do you trust the one who sent you?  Especially when it looks like He sent you to failure?

Neither does this one.

God can turn a corner on your life whenever He wants to.  But I think I have discovered that He usually wants to see something from you first.  For me, most recently, this involved me sending a couple of text messages.  More than that--it was swallowing my pride--it was an action to not be ruled by my fear of someone else making an incorrect assumption about me.  It wasn't like I awoke in the night with a strong impression from the Holy Spirit--it was something that I just sort of wanted to do but was afraid of what the consequences of it might be.  I did it, though.  And, the aftermath was intense--fierce--and maybe just a little bit horrible.  But when it was over, it was truly over.  And I knew it. I was free.  The pain and the thoughts that had shackled me were finally gone.

The coin toss of success or failure is a big issue for me because I am always on the look out for vindication.  For everyone to see how justified I was in making the choices that I have made.  Many of them have been rather unconventional for a fairly traditionally-minded kind of gal.  The problem with seeking vindication is that it is all about my pride. And, it seems to me that Jesus doesn't appreciate being crowded in my soul by my overinflated pride.  Too much me (artificial, projected, pseudo-me) and not enough Him, as it were.  But I still want human success because success on God's terms is impossible to measure at this point in the space-time continuum. I want to be proud of myself and I want others to be impressed.  This is the smallness of who I really am.

So Jesus has been patiently waiting while I whine and wail and cling to my pride in my personal success (or putting my hope in it and yearning for it).  I get the sense He's examining His fingernails while He's waiting.  And boy, He's been waiting a good long while. I am exhausted from all my temper tantrum-ing about wanting to keep it. But if I am truthful; my soul is starting to look like a much nicer place to hang out without all this extra junk.  So, I sigh and hand my saviour my pride in my own success and watch as He long bombs it out the window with gusto.

But what does all this personal house cleaning have to do with my fellow Amazon warriors?  Those tough broads and classy dames, who despite their best efforts don't fit snugly into Christian culture, those wild girls who are about to run free, who I am pleased to count myself among? Everything.  When I realized that Jesus wasn't going to let me out of my psychological/emotional/spiritual Hoarder's Paradise until we dealt with some of my junk; when I realized I was completely stuck and couldn't advance my cause in any direction--I began to see His fingerprints on everything.  So rather than rail against the Great I AM, I thought it was time to step up to the table and let Jesus sort through my stuff with me.

Now, I am not saying that all the single ladies out there are exactly like me and have the same hoarded crap in their psyche--but I am certain that there are a couple of touchstones.  Maybe you feel judged about sex from without and within.  The world says your choice is weird and a waste.  You occasionally wonder if they aren't right.  Christian Culture doesn't know what to do with you either.  You were supposed to go to Bridal School (sorry, *Bible School*) and pick up a husband when you were nineteen.  Now no one knows what to do with you.  Chances are, whatever you have done or not done, you feel kind of messed up about it.

Maybe you feel hurt.  Like God forgot about you or abandoned you. He wrote everyone else a story, but forgot to finish yours.  Or maybe you have moved even further down the isolating path.  You are disillusioned and a little bitter because you did your best to do everything He told you to, and Christian Culture told you to, but it has only seemed to handicap you while all those other girls who didn't live quite so particularly and did exactly what they wanted now have their kids and husbands and, gee, they just seem so fulfilled while none of their bad choices resulted in any discernible consequences.

So, what's the deal, God?

All of the above are crappy things to feel.  You certainly aren't alone in feeling them.  And why does it seem like Jesus is so silent on this thing--this major thing--when He is plenty noisy on other stuff?

I'm afraid, dear sisters, that we may be focusing our attention on the wrong thing.  I don't think it is a question of the availability of stand up Christian dudes. (There may have been a war.  They may require our aid.  But it isn't something Jesus is talking about so until then…we're really only wasting our own precious time.) It is time to ask ourselves.  What does Jesus want to talk about? What does He want you to hand Him so that He can throw it out of the window of your life forever.  There may be a whole bunch of things.  The fact that God isn't talking about the availability of potential husbands may be a sign that there is something more pressing He wants to discuss.  And, take it from me, He can wait you out.

I'm not saying that even if you let Him work through your emotional hoard with you that you won't still hope for the right relationship to come along.  You probably will.  But I'm willing to bet that the desire won't be a deflection--that it wouldn't be an effort to self-medicate with a relationship.  It would just be a nice thing, like going to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier again.   You don't have to, it won't ruin your life if you don't.  It would just be a nice way to spend the evening.

Because-- Chris Evans.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rally Cry for the Forgotten Girls of my Tribe (Part 1)

What the hell is the deal with all these awesome surplus Christian women? Has there been a war that I didn't know about and now there is a vast disparity in demographics?  Is it post WW1 and suddenly we single gals are realizing that we'll be the old maiden aunts forever?  Are we doomed to stare longingly at the faded photographs of our could-have-been relationships and pine tragically? What major event within the wider Church have I missed?  I'm not the only one asking.  Where did the guys go? Do we need to mount an Amazon-like rescue mission?  Because, honestly, I think we would if knew that the Red Bull had driven all the Unicorns into the Sea.

I know these women are awesome because I know them.  They are so much fun.  They are smart and courageous.  They are well-read and competent.  Often they are teachers--or, they pursue education.  They have their masters and Ph.D's.  They volunteer and encourage and sing on the worship team.  They are catches of the highest orders.  But. But…there doesn't seem to be anyone waiting to catch them within the Church.  (A lot of them don't even use the serious curse words like 'hell' and 'damn' and 'go eff yourself'…like I do.) Why is this?  Why is there no one for them?  I honestly want to know, and if by some random chance there are single Christian guys out there who read this, I hope you'll comment because I can tell you, we're all mystified.

There came a point in my twenties--I'm not exactly sure when it was--but when I gradually realized that the whole dating-relationship-marriage milieux suddenly felt like a game of Musical Chairs.  It was a game of Musical Chairs and only some of us could hear the music.  No chairs left.  You are out of the game.  So, you do what you need to do and busy yourself elsewhere.  You live your life, enjoy your friendships and--wait.  Wait for what?  Waiting on God, we tell ourselves as we pop the latest Jane Austen adaptation into the DVD player.  And the waiting works for a lucky (sorry, *blessed*) few.  A couple of us manage to pick up a few stragglers.  Maverick males who perhaps wandered onto our quarter section without the obvious mark of someone else's brand.  And the rest of us are honestly happy for them.  We're happy because we've seen their aloneness and prayed with them and know what it is like to be the only single person at the Christian Party.  (Because let me tell you, Church, it is as un-fun a position to be in as you can possibly imagine.  Stop with the abominably cutesy named Singles Groups, already.  We're tortured enough.)

But the waiting doesn't really work.  Not as a strategy for life.  Because unless God's man for you is the Mail Man, the chance that he'll show up at your door (in a non creepy way) is pretty darn slim.  So, some of us cast about for a different plan.  Maybe we decide to the date the non-Christian guy at work who seems pretty great.  Maybe we end up in a serious relationship that has all of our friends and family praying that we won't end up unequally yoked or sacrificing our virginity or something like that. Others take to the internet, trying not to vomit when the commercials come on promising to find God's Match For You.  Some women get embittered.  They decide that nothing is happening for them.  That God has let them down.  Not lived up to His end of the bargain.  They will probably make some painful mistakes--maybe lose their faith altogether.  These are sad stories.

Or, alternately, we get so afraid of making mistakes that we just don't choose anything--waiting for a sign from God.  Imagine if a baby decided not to learn to walk because there was a chance that they might fall down.  God would probably be so disappointed in that little baby!  Surely He meant for the baby to lie there until the day he would know how to walk without error.  Never mind the fact that you'll never learn to walk unless you make every possible mistake.  Parents can try and watch so that their child doesn't take a painful tumble--but nothing drives the lesson home like consequences. I think that sometimes as Christians we think we have the perfect cheat key on how to do life without sin.  Without mistakes.  Besides being completely unattainable and lacking any grounding in human reality or Biblical basis--trust me--it is a horribly boring way to operate.  Also,  I've found that God doesn't usually send signs.  Not the way that we would like, anyway.  In fact, I wonder if Jesus gets a little offended that we're always looking for signs when He is right here with us.

"Come on, Jesus, send me a telegram already!" 

 "Um, I'm right here in the room."

We're scanning the horizon while He's waiting for us to turn around and look at some stuff with Him.  Because we all have our junk, you know.  (Not that kind of junk, minds out of the gutters, ladies.)  We've got our stuff that we carry around with us like baby fat.  We'd love to get rid of it and feel light and free, but we just don't know how.  We feel trapped in some sort of corn maze without any exits.  No way forward.  No way back.  And, feeling trapped and maybe a little bored, our minds might start to wander and you begin to think that there is probably some guy out there who could show up and validate you; rescue you, as it were.  All of the things that feel disappointing in your life would probably disappear then.  The things that you are striving for--maybe you want kids but that won't be happening without a husband--everything would be in reach if only God would send that guy in from the wings.  He'd solve everything.  You wouldn't feel lonely.  You wouldn't feel judged.  You would feel like life was starting.

I'm going to hit you with some truth I think you are already aware of.  No one is coming, because the issue is not whether or not you have the right dude in your life.  I think the guy is just the most common thing that women reach for to be the answer.  But I've come to realize this is just a powerful mirage. It's a little sign we hold up to God to avoid talking about other things--things we really don't want to discuss--because they hurt so bad.  And so He has to get our attention one way or another.    Welcome to the Corn Maze!  You are in it and Jesus is the only one who knows the way out.  He's not going to give you directions, either.  He will lead you out of it.  But you have to be willing to go with Him where He wants to go.  And if you aren't game to play by His rules?  I promise you will just sit there and wither while He waits for you to come around.

"But I am willing to play by His rules!" you howl in utter exasperation.  "I've been waiting for Him to tell me how.  And not just marriage and family and stuff like that.  My life.  What difference does it make? Will it matter? I've been waiting for Him to show me what I'm waiting for.  To show me what I am living for."

Are you really at the end of your rope?  Are you prepared to jettison anything and everything that He wants to clear out of your emotional crawl space?  You are? Great.  Because I wonder if we spend a lot of time talking at Jesus about things that He isn't ready to discuss with us yet.  It's like trying to book your Ph.D supervisor while you're still working on your undergrad. Yes, yes, we can talk about that in due time--but there are some slightly more pressing matters. So, if you're really ready--maybe it is time to ask Jesus what He wants to talk about.  You might just be surprised what it is.

And, speaking from experience, it's probably going to hurt.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Branding is for Cattle

I'm beginning to figure out this online marketing thing.  As in, I've been taken in by online marketing and I've started to notice.  I'm not talking about pop ups and banners that seems to know where I online shop.  I'm talking about the subtler advertising that masquerades as knowledge.  I feel like I have caught a glimpse of the Wizard behind the curtain and he's pulling on all the levers with gusto.  If you've ever clicked on an internet article titled anything like, "Three surprising facts about being a human that will shock you!" you've fallen for it as well.  Or maybe it was "Nine things that men wish women knew about them."  I don't want to be uninformed… So I bite, like a fish on bait and inevitably feel the sharp edge of the hook slide through the soft flesh of my mouth.  There is nothing there but the illusion of food.  These 'articles' are the cheap writing of the glossy magazines.  90% advertising space.  10% mediocre content.  They get you to click.  They get you to pull magazine off the rack so that the perfume samples and subscription cards can fall into your hands.

Annoyed, I wrench myself free and go looking backwards for something.  Something real.  Something meaningful.  Food for thought or food for my soul; staring into a million pixels of light and straining to know something.  I couldn't tell you what exactly I'm looking for--but I think I will know it when I see it--it will be something that means something.  Truth--I guess. How I imagine I will find it on some entertainment news site defies explanation, but I keep looking.

"Why you should never eat these three things!"

"Five super foods that will save your life!"

"The secret every nutritionist wants you to know!"

"What the fast food companies are hiding will AMAZE you!"

Click enough--skim enough articles with my rapidly decreasing attention span--and I may just find out the secret of how not to die.

Or maybe the article I clicked on was titled, "20 things that will revolutionize your dating life!" Or, "7 things that women do that drive guys crazy!" I take the bait again because surely I must need to know these things.  Maybe if I knew them I wouldn't feel dissatisfied or rejected.  Maybe it would be the Golden Ticket to a successful relationship.  Maybe if I knew these things that I would not how not to feel lonely.

I might also be drawn to posts about money or success--because, certainly, one could always have more of those things.

"Four words that will take your bank account from zero to hero!"

"12 surprising tricks that all successful people swear by!"

Exclamation! Point!

Promises, promises.  The advice is commonplace.  The 'secrets' obvious and mundane.  The truth of what these articles are selling is much sadder.  (No, not shocking--not revolutionary.)  They are selling a sense of inadequacy.  They are pedlars of the insidiously banal slogan that You Are Not Enough.  You don't know enough. You don't have enough.

Advertising sets about establishing that you are unhappy; then promises the antidote in four easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling (some conditions may apply).  The internet is no different. Social media is about schilling your schtick.  (It's called 'branding' and I doubt the term was coined ironically.)  Like us on Facebook.  Follow us on Twitter.  It probably didn't start out this way but now even YouTube has sold out so that I can't watch a cat video without first watching an ad.  Even more problematic--your friends can advertise to you as well.  I joined Twitter because I read that it was a good thing for a writer to do, but I can't help but feel like I've just walked into a pitchman war where every voice is competing to get me to 'step right up, folks…'.  Buy something.  Do something. Retweet something.  With thousands of these messages on our devices popping up all the time, is it any wonder that we are a culture drowning in stuff and choking on its meaninglessness? I don't need more stuff.  I don't want more advertising noise in my life convincing me that I have problems I didn't know about until a second ago.

Now that I've cottoned on to the hook, I see it everywhere.  Maybe there is an advertising consultant out there who has done the market research and discovered that what with the short attention span of the average internet user, you have got to present the problem and promise the solution in the article title.  Maybe it all started innocently enough but once you see the trick, you feel the manipulation. I want honest interactions.  I want real conversations; true dialogue.  There is something incredible and life-givingly essential about true communication with another human being; shared knowledge and experience.  That is the high of writing.  It can connect you to someone you will probably never meet through a eureka sensation of "Yes, exactly! I thought I was the only one who felt that way."  That is a feeling worth reading for.  That is a feeling worth writing for.

Let's not settle for cheap tricks.  We all want to find something real.  Something beautiful.  Something true that is fulfilling.  We spend so many hours in searching without ever really finding anything except slickly packaged counterfeits and empty promises.  True Beauty is food for the soul and it doesn't cost anything but a willingness to surrender to it.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

When You're a Jet, You're a Jet All The Way

Up until a year ago I had a different website to promote (and I use that term ironically) a comic book series I was working on at the time.  On that now defunct site, the artist and I also ran a weekly webcomic in addition to our superhero venture.  Useless Degrees At Work starred ourselves and was all about trying to get a superhero comic published.  In one of our very first webcomics we brainstormed how we might attract traffic to our site and eventually become such a phenomenon that Marvel would come knocking with handfuls of cash.

Like most of the conversations we had in those early days, we can now only laugh at our childlike understanding of the process which we had embarked upon.  We didn't have the first clue about marketing online content.  I had some vague idea about needing to include words that are regularly searched on Google but that was about it.

USELESS DEGREES AT WORK (Cody Andreasen & Morgan Wolf)

I realized today when mentioning the title of this blog to someone, that I hadn't advanced much further since then. (Titling your blog after your proclivity for somewhat obscure punctuation marks does not exactly jettison you into the mainstream.)  I still have very little idea what needs to go into online marketing.  It is partly this complete lack of understanding that makes me shy away from the idea of self-publishing--because I feel unequal to it.  While I might be able to publish a blog post--I don't know that I have the skills (or personality) required to hustle my way to sales in the vast sea of self-published material.

Since my digital skills are fast being out-stripped by my toddler relatives, I have found myself consigned to politely knocking on traditional publishing's locked doors.  Does it have to be this way?  No, I don't think so.  The world is full of stories of people who defied the conventional path and through hard work and perseverance hacked a life for themselves out of an unfriendly wilderness.  While that sounds very inspirational--TED Talk worthy, even--it also means it is very hard.  As in, almost past the point of believability, hard.  Like, if my life were a movie, people would be walking out at this point because it was both boring and discouraging.  (That's why the hard work scenes in movies are always montages set to music--you've got to keep the audience upbeat about the protagonist's chances.)

The fear with self-publishing is that it is somehow settling for less. It is the implication that you couldn't cut it in the big leagues of traditional publishing--your work doesn't stand up to scrutiny--and that you are therefore having to resort to self-publishing after exhausting every other option.  You will certainly find this attitude expressed by many within the publishing industry.  There is also the fear that you will somehow damage your chances of becoming a successful writer by walking down the self-publishing path.  I know these attitudes exist, but I am beginning to wonder how justified they are.   It isn't as though traditional publishing hasn't polished its fair share of turds for publication, either.  And, just because something sells, doesn't mean it has met some high water mark for quality.  While there are no gatekeepers in self-publishing--you will certainly find a wide variance in quality--there are also no opinion makers.  No one else arbitrarily determines what is 'commercial enough' or speaks to the cultural zeitgeist.   The success of your work rides on the merit of your ideas and the value of your structural format.  Mostly.   Then there arises the question of marketing.  How do you get your work sampled by enough readers so that you can eventually support yourself? If you are like me, you joined Twitter because you read enough stuff online telling you should connect to those in the publishing industry that way.  I have seventeen followers.  I once hit eighteen, but I guess that individual got bored and left.  If I have to support myself off those seventeen, it's going to be a lean living for a long time.

I think writers assume that the marketing question will be answered by traditional publishing--by the budget and expertise of those already established in the industry.  This might be the case, but perhaps not to the degree that we might expect.  The number of literary agents looking for writers with established social media platforms (Read: a large following on Twitter.) speaks to the changing nature of the game.  Even traditionally published authors need to be their own promotion department to some extent.

The perpetual teeter-tottering back and forth over whether to self-publish or not to self-publish can really be argued sensibly from either position.  And, as a writer whose publishing credits are minimal, I am not equipped with the insider knowledge to understand the industry's complexities in order to make an informed decision about which way to jump.  Should I really be so afraid of the self-publishing track?  Because part of me has begun to wonder if the whole situation is really just a turf war between Traditional Publishing's Jets and Self-Publishing's interloper Sharks.  There's been a lot of name calling back and forth and pretty soon we're going to have to have a rumble.  Until they sort it out, I'll probably just be at my desk.

How do I hate thee, Hair Salons? Let me count the ways.

(I published a previous version of this article earlier this week in which I tried to be measured and composed. Turns out, it did not nearly...