The Boy and The Bag

There was only one noteworthy thing about today.

While I was walking home from the vegetable market, I saw a mother and her four children lollygagging down the street. The oldest child can’t have been more than eight years old, the youngest somewhere around two. They were all slowly meandering along the sidewalk, taking up all of it and some of the grass.

Mom carried a few grocery bags, and each child carried one—well, almost carried. The smallest child, a little boy with big curious eyes, had one fist clenched around his bag handle and was dragging the bag along the ground. In his other hand he tightly clutched a set of keys. He kept pausing and looking back at his bag, then turning ahead purposefully. His mother went slowly along in front of him, coaxing him along and keeping a watchful eye on all her other children.

And then I walked past them, and that’s all that happened today.

Short 06

Let me not to the marriage of true minds 
Admit impediments. Love is not love 
Which alters when it alteration finds, 
Or bends with the remover to remove. 
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; 
It is the star to every wand'ring bark, 
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. 
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks 
Within his bending sickle's compass come; 
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. 
If this be error and upon me prov'd, 
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

—William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Sunday Runday

This morning, all of Chicago paused for the determination of 45,000 disciplined runners. Thousands of people trotted along in the rain, and I spectated from our apartment, warm and comfortable and eating breakfast. A perk of watched the marathon from bird’s eye view is observing the cheerers (I may have sat at the window with binoculars in hand all morning. Nah, not weird at all).

I learned that there are actually quite a few categories of marathon-watchers:

The Hard-cores: For the past 7 years of living in Chicago, I’ve always had two signs it’s marathon Sunday. First, there’s no traffic noise starting at around 5:00 a.m. Second, at 7:00 a.m. (the race starts at 7:30, two or three miles away from us), there are a few dozen people scattered over a thousand yards all talking, clapping, and ringing bells. You know, practicing for when the runners arrive 45 minutes later.

The Emotionals: An elderly couple peered into the hundreds, wearing shirts that read, “roBquick” (“Rob be quick”, for those of you who, like me, might fixate on lack of consistency rather than the meaning). After fifteen fruitless minutes, a young-ish (it’s hard to tell exact ages from eight stories up) guy ran up to them. The woman reached out to pat his arm as the white-haired man gave him a high five. When Rob ran off, the woman leaned into the man and started crying.

The Political Statement-ers: I’m no expert on spreading political opinions, but I guess an audience of 45,000 sweaty people is a good place to start. Two particularly dedicated individuals had pressing messages: THE MOON LANDING WAS FAKE and YOU’RE RUNNING BETTER THAN THE GOVERNMENT.

The General Encouragers: Many wonderful people stand on one street corner out of 26.2 miles and cheer for an hour. They don’t know every person who passes, but they’re showing support for the struggling masses of humanity grinding out 26.1 miles more than anyone ever really wants to run.

The I’m-ONLY-here-for-my-friend-s: Exact opposites of The Encouragers, these folks stand with hands shoved in their pockets until they see their special someone. After cheering like crazy for roughly 45 seconds, they push fists back into coats and set off for the next marathon-watching stop.

The Police Man: Twenty-six miles equals a) a lot of street closures, and b) a police officer at many of them to make sure all the half-asleep drivers notice the barricades. The police man at our particular corner stood for four hours, three of them drizzle and mist, one of them pouring rain, and didn’t look completely miserable. Although he also only really smiled at the people with dogs (it’s a sign, people would like me more if I had a dog).

The Extravagants: One couple had a stroller, maybe a dog (another sign), and two gigantic (probably 5 feet tall) shiny blue helium balloons—one was an ‘M’ and the other a ‘G’, presumably a runner’s initials? Or maybe they just picked them up from Party City for a birthday party in the afternoon.

The Husbands and Wives: It takes serious grit to run a marathon—but not all the participants are serious-grit, 25-marathons-later runners. There are a lot of normal people too, such as the regular-looking guy holding signs drawn on free papers from Bank of America. The one he held up said, Go Babe, Goooooo! When (presumably) his wife ran past, she stopped and gave him a huge hug and kiss, and stood with him for a moment. She ran off and he accidentally dropped his signs on the ground. He picked them up and stuffed them in his backpack, proud and happy.

 Featured: The Emotionals and The Police Man and maybe a few others

Featured: The Emotionals and The Police Man and maybe a few others

The Professor's House Back Cover Copy

Based on the back cover copy of The Professor’s House, by Willa Cather, I expected a story about a man who was sad his family moved. The back cover reads,

Professor Godfrey St. Peter is a man in his fifties, who has devoted his life to his work, his wife, his garden, and his daughters, and achieved success with all of them. But when St. Peter is called on to move to a new, more comfortable house, something in him rebels. And although at first that rebellion consists of nothing more than mild resistance to his family’s wishes, it imperceptibly comes to encompass the entire order of his life. Combining profound introspection with a delightful grasp of the social and domestic rituals of a Midwestern university town, The Professor’s House is a brilliant study in emotional dislocation and renewal.

After reading the book, this isn’t the back cover copy I would have written (granted, perhaps it was written by a psychologist who’s made a study of the fictional man). From a narrative perspective, although St. Peter is troubled by his family’s move, it’s not the focal point of his concern. I’d write that back cover copy . . .

Teaching at a university and writing books for the last thirty years has worn out Professor Godfrey St. Peter—but so has being married to an intense woman, raising two daughters who hate each other, and watching his future son-in-law die. St. Peter’s uneasiness increases as his wife dictates their move to a larger, more comfortable home, and his daughter and her husband grow wealthy off her deceased fiancé’s discovery. Travel this wearying emotional journey with a lonely man who’s unwilling to leave the house that’s become closer to him than his family. You’ll learn a deeper understanding for the heart of a father, the complexities of friendship, and the soul of a man who gradually loses his will to live.

Let's Help Them Get a Baby

Synergy: a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (such as resources or efforts). Or, in common English, the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people or businesses work together.

If I rake leaves on my lawn by myself, it takes me four hours. If someone else rakes their yard alone, it’ll take them four hours. If the two of us rake my yard together, then their yard together, it will take us four hours—but probably less—to finish both.

When people work together, they get farther than when they work alone. The combined passion, enthusiasm, and brainstorming skills provide added energy towards completion.

My dear sister-in-law and her husband are working towards adopting a precious baby into their family—a true picture of how much Christ loves the church, and also a classic example of how nothing good ever comes easy. They’re working industriously to raise the needed funds: $34,000. Yep, that’s a lot of zeros.

Let’s use synergy to help them give a child a home. Visit their site,

give them anything you can,

and share this post. Let’s show my sister-in-law and her husband the support we’d all want shown for us.

gofundme.com/brentmelissa-adoption-fund

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I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

Most classic bloggers (and arguably, all the successful ones) have a theme and style and they don’t deviate from it. Mothers of young children write about their children’s antics. Lifestyle bloggers post articles about home decor, fashion, and occasionally makeup. Exercise-y type of people write about eating healthy, working out, and making good choices about how you treat your body.

The rationale is that developing your voice on a specific topic builds your audience. Faithful readers that consider you an expert will turn to you for advice and information. When you’ve built up enough credibility and readers know they like you, they’ll come out of habit (you kindly read my stuff because . . . maybe out of pity? for whyever you bless me in this way, thank you so much).

All the hottest research articles about blogs swear by this method. Stick to a subject, get good and become recognized, and build your platform on it.

Enter young writer with no audience or soapbox.

Anything you start takes time. Credibility doesn’t sprout up overnight. It takes months, even years of consistency. A thousand people won’t subscribe to you the day after you start (unless you’re already famous for a different reason—unfortunately, in my case, turning flaming red when you’re embarrassed doesn’t actually get you measurable fame). Your mom and grandma will always read your stuff even if it’s a spluttering mess (thanks, guys), but writing for the general public necessitates at least half an ounce of coherence (unless your mantra is unclear illegibility. You do your thing, just please don’t make me try to understand it).

It’s pretty much an uphill battle, and I haven’t even touched on how to choose an area of expertise or anything else that has to do with marketing yourself as a writer.

I don’t have clever wrapping or a neat bow with which to conclude this post, because I’m not really sure where it goes from here or what to do next, besides working hard and doing more of the same.

If I figure it out, I’ll write another post about it and link to it here.

In the meantime, share my blog with everyone you know and I’ll keep editing my next book and doing the writing thing, etc. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Good Artists Borrow

Yesterday I stared at my screen for a long time with nothing to say. Maybe the long nap wiped all functional vocabulary, grammar, and syntax out of my brain. Or I couldn’t hold my arms up to type after spending hours and hours packing and carrying boxes (Curtis and I will be starting our own moving company soon NOT). Or it could have been apple crisp induced sluggishness.

But most likely it was because even though I love it, writing is still work. After moping, I lamented to Curtis (he’s very wonderful) that, “I have nothing at all to write,”

Raising an eyebrow, he said, “Then read.”

He unwittingly touched on one of the greatest—and simplest—creative principles.

Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

No, don’t visit the Louvre and try to leave with the Mona Lisa.

Yes, study the work of skilled people who you admire.

It’s the same in every trade. Architects look at other people’s buildings. Chefs taste food everywhere they go. Teachers take classes from other teachers. There’s always something to learn from someone who excels at what you love.

And there’s great inspiration in seeing your passion done well. Seeing something beautiful (vague for your sake, but writing in my case) ignites an itch to create something beautiful. Framed negatively, it’s jealousy. Positively, extrinsic motivation.

I took Curtis’s advice and started reading Willa Cather—a true lover of sentences (and they tell me that’s really all that writers are). Now I have things to write again.

 Here, you’ll see I’ve stolen the design of the earth to doodle on . . .

Here, you’ll see I’ve stolen the design of the earth to doodle on . . .

Sunday Menu

Banana
Graham crackers and milk
Peanut butter and jelly
Sweet potato chips
Multi-colored bell peppers
Chili with cornbread crackers
Apple crisp

God gave us a day of rest out of pure goodness and compassion. He knew we’d try to push ourselves too hard and it wouldn’t be good for us, so He instituted taking breaks.

But He made food delicious as a special treat—just because He loves us.

To Be a Good Leader

There are a few different types of leaders.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Napoleon Bonaparte had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. France was looking for a strong military leader, and he was a young man with lots of ambition. He didn’t have decades of strategic experience, but he had gusto, verve, and lots of ideas.

David Ogilvy: David Ogilvy didn’t start out as the head of an advertising agency. He began his career as a line chef in a kitchen run by a martinet. This boss mostly worked in the office (planning food and stuff and things), but occasionally came out to exhibit that he could still cook a better dish than any chef in his employment. He’d earned his way to the top through years of practice and experience. Ogilvy held that principle for the rest of his career. To earn a high-ranking position, you must be an expert in your field and work your way up.

Most leaders in corporate America: Lots of people wake up in the morning and show up to work day in and day out. They’re responsible, they work hard, and they get the job done. When employers are looking around to give a promotion, this person is next in line and gets the role.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

But a successful leader needs a trait from each of these types.

Ideas: Napoleon Bonaparte had ideas. Lots of them. He wanted to do lots of things. Just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.

Expertise: If you’re leading people in your area of expertise that you love, you'll fall into approximately 2% of employed people. Maybe less. But to be a really good leader, you have to know the ins and outs of what you’re doing even if you don’t love it.

On any given day, you have to exhibit that you can write (produce, draw, build) something that’s not a spluttering mess.

—one of my favorite leaders

Consistency: When you’re leading people, they look up to you and wait for your input. And when you give an idea, they’ll act. If you give half-cooked ideas and change your mind after they’ve put 120 hours of work into your notion, things will go south faster than geese in October. Be consistent in your behavior, your thoughtfulness, even in your schedule. Not only will it make people trust you and listen when you speak, they’ll appreciate your stability.

If I were leading a discussion on leadership, I would ask the roomful of people what makes a good leader—and odds are they’d come up with more than a dozen valuable attributes.

We all know great leaders. Think of someone you respect and pinpoint what makes them excellent. Then emulate that.

Sunday Rest

Sleeping extra.
Finding praise in the little things.
Looking at photos of falling in love.
Leftover tacos.
Fall bike rides.
Camels and hippos and sea lions.
New shoes.
Popcorn for dinner.

Maybe a month of resting Sundays isn’t a bad thing. God knew what He was doing.

So on the seventh day He rested from all His work.