Monthly Archives: May 2014

One Destination, Thousands of Roads

by Karen Arnold

by Karen Arnold

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

– Lewis Carroll

Where am I headed?

Am I on the right road?

Is this what I’m meant to be doing?

Did I make a mistake?

We spend altogether too much time worrying about the past.

Those things in the past you regret or long for are long gone and what you did is done. What has been is gone, and whether you wish it could be again or wish it had never happened, it has nothing to do with your future. It’s a part of who you are now, but it isn’t and won’t be a part of who you become unless you let it.

I’m all for learning from the past, evaluating previous performance to enhance the next, etc. but it does take time. And the more time you take to figure out how to get where you’re going, the less time you spend actually getting there. The trick is to plan well enough to make the trip faster, don’t plan so much it slows you down.

You have one destination. When you get there, you’ll see that. Just remember that wherever you’re going, there are a thousand roads to get there. Some are easier, some are harder, but they’ both lead to the same place, and they’re both beautiful in their own ways.

You may not know where you’re going and you’re bound to take the wrong path sometimes. That is true. But if you just keep moving forward with your eyes open, that doesn’t matter as much as we think.

 

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Categories: Imagining a Better World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Short Story: Tears

Tears

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (altered)

I can only imagine the tears behind the puffy, watery red eyes, buried into her pillow at night when nobody’s around. She hides her face there and stores the tears away where nobody will find them, behind a smile and a laugh. I don’t know why she’s crying . . . Separated parents, a patriarchal father, a critical mother, grades, boys, failure, disappointment, love, hate, fear . . . maybe? Why would I cry, if I were her?

I can’t see her crying, I can’t hear her, I just see the red eyes and the salty cheeks and the quivering lips, and the pillowcases streaked with tears. And then my eyes fill to brimming and I have to look away, but I can’t. Those eyes are everywhere I look.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know who she is, maybe we’ve met, maybe we haven’t, I don’t even know where she is. All I can tell you is that I see those eyes and I know that though she’s the one who’s been crying, I’m the one who’s miserable because of it. Her tears are spent but mine don’t seem to run anymore. They can’t escape my eyes, I can’t escape hers . . .

I can’t even see her face. It’s just those eyes. Laced with rosy veins, ringed with purple, downcast, avoiding my gaze, glistening like crystal. Sometimes I think I see stars hanging on her eyelashes, maybe they’re just rogue tears, maybe more, I’m not sure.

I love her. I do. It’s not because she’s weak or because I think she needs me to be her hero . . . it’s because she’s so strong and I don’t want her to have to be, I don’t want anyone to be, I don’t want to be, not alone, not like this.

I don’t know exactly what I’m doing or how to do it. I can’t see her, I can’t find her. Who is she? Where is she? What does she want? What does she need? How can I help? What am I looking for?

I don’t care if I don’t know what to do. I’ll figure it out. I’ll do this somehow. People have done stronger things before. I may not have half their courage, but I have half their task, so maybe that’s not a problem.

I want to find her. I want to look into those eyes and smile just to show them that everything’s all right. I’ll wipe away her tears and mine will be free to run down my smile, and I’ll dry them with my sleeve. I just want to find her, and I’ll look into a thousand pairs of red eyes to do it. I’ll open all of them to see what’s behind them.

What should I say when I find her? How will I know? It always comes back to that . . . How will I know? Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll never know who she is. Maybe I’ll just have to keep trying.

I won’t give up till I find her and dry our tears. It seems like that’s the only thing I’m really sure of. But as long as I know that, I can figure anything else out. Wish me luck—and—and please, for both our sakes, just be patient, and wait like me, and I promise, we’ll find each other.

The End

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Categories: Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Writing FAQ: how do you find time to write?

Important reading for any writer. Writer’s block is a result of procrastination, and procrastination is an indulgence. And what with social media, households to take care of, friends or family to tolerate, distractions are everywhere. April Yamasaki has some wise tips to share about finding the time to write.

Categories: Imagining a Better World | Leave a comment

What Real Men Want to Hear

Tonight the latest episode of 19 Kids and Counting aired, and I remembered some thoughts I had had about last week’s episode, “Going the Distance for Love.” It focused mainly (as most episodes this season have) on the eldest two Duggar daughters’ relationships. And this without scripting it into a “reality” TV drama. Man I love the Duggars.

I’ll repeat that to make it clear: I have a very strong admiration for the Duggar family. It’s one thing to raise kids the way they have; it’s another entirely to raise 19 of them. All my respect goes out to Michelle and Jim-Bob Duggar, not only for the amazing people they are, but for the amazing people they have raised, and those they are still raising.

Yes, I’m leading up to a but, though rest assured it’s a very small but, more of a thought really. However, on this particular episode, Michelle Duggar said something that struck me very personally—and yet it was so wrong that I just had to write an article about it. Not that I mean to nitpick Ms. Duggar at all, not in the least; I’m not being critical at all, and besides, this isn’t something I would expect her to understand. And it’s not a vastly important matter, either. But it’s a point I gave a lot of thought, and knew I would have to share.

 

What She Said

Near the end of the episode, Jessa (second eldest of the Duggar daughters) and Michelle were discussing Jessa’s relationship with Ben Seewald. Jill spoke of the sweet nothings her beau often texts her, exempli gratia, something like: “If I had all the gardens of roses in the world, I would give them all to you.”

The response she gave him was priceless: “. . . Well, where would I put them?”

According to Jessa, Jill (her elder sister) had been stunned. “No way, you have to be kidding me, you did not say that.”

But she did. And I applaud her.

Michelle coached Jessa, the sweet prosaic practicalist, to be more sentimental, to offer the voice of love that Ben needed to hear. She told Jessa to respond to such sweet nothings by saying something like, “Awww, Ben! That’s so sweet! Thank you!”

Now, I see where she’s coming from. But to be honest, if I’d said something like what Ben said to the love of my life, and her response had been anything like Michelle’s suggestion, I would probably have regurgitated my lunch.

See, Jessa’s actual response was the one (if I had been Ben) that I would have anticipated, expected, and wanted. Her answer was sincere, practical, humorous, and in its own tacit way loving and grateful. It was her. It was so full of her personality, and of everything Ben loves about her.

What man would want the woman he loves to be anything other than exactly what she is, which is what he loves her for? Why would he want empty, insincere platitudes in place of an honest glimpse of her heart? If I know a thing about love, I can say for sure that Ben read each word of her response, laughed, and loved her more than ever.

But forced, empty flattery? Ladies, that is not how a man’s love works.

 

All Real Men Really Want

Ladies, if a man really loves you, he’ll love you for who you are, for the real you. He won’t love you for pretending to be someone you’re not (though he’ll love you anyway when you do, because trying to be someone else is part of who you are). He won’t love you for trying to be the woman you think he wants (though he’ll love you anyway when you do, because that’s part of why you already are). He won’t love you for flattering him (though he’ll love you anyway when you do, because it’s very sweet what you think you’re doing).

What a man really wants from you is the one thing that, I find, women are usually most reluctant to give: the truth.

Butter up his ego if you like, anyone appreciates that; manipulate him when he needs to be manipulated, anyone needs that sometimes. Treat him like a child, everyone’s a child until they’re a mother and most men never become mothers. I’m just saying, be dishonest sometimes, use him a little bit, that’s fine, he’s expecting that and he won’t mind it in the least. He’ll be glad you’re taking an interesting in him, especially if you’re trying to make him make himself a better person.

But sometimes, be sincere.

You’re you, and all he wants to hear from you is what you honestly think and feel, not what you think he wants to hear. Because if you be honest with him, if you thank him sincerely without forcing something too sappy, or if you tease him, he’ll see your heart, and he will fall in love with you all over again. I’ll bet that when Jessa said “Where would I put them?” that’s exactly what Ben did. All he would have heard was “I love you too.”

I’m not saying that Jessa’s relationship with Ben is poisoned forever because of some poor advice her mother gave her. Michelle may have had the wrong idea, but it’s also true that if Jessa made an effort to be more sympathetic and express the things she thinks he wants to hear, Ben would love her for that consideration.

If a man loves you, he loves everything about you, he loves you for who you are and nothing you do could change that. So don’t try too hard. The least effort will probably have the strongest effect. The harder you try to be someone you’re not, the more you’ll actually be pushing him away.

Categories: Imagining a Better World | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philosophia Venereum: Vivit Stellerum

 Vivit Stellerum

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live different lives.

– Bill Watterson

“This is the best place in the world to watch the stars.”

“On a trampoline?”

“Anywhere that I am with you, my dear!”

Somewhere nearby her mother sighed “H’aww!” From out of the darkness, like distant thunder, her father rumbled, “Don’t let him sweet-talk you!”

“That’s the trouble with the world!” I said. “Nobody recognizes honesty anymore.”

The trampoline quivered around my hand, and then I felt her hand find mine. “Don’t worry, I believe you! And I couldn’t agree with you more,” she added pointedly just to tease her father.

“My favorite star is that one.” I pointed to the brightest of the heavenly bodies. “It’s Jove—also known as Jupiter, but either way I’ve always preferred to call her Evangeline.”

“Of course you have. Isn’t that from a movie?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I answered in pseudo-innocence.

Her soft laughter drifted into the night air. It must have carried into the heavens, or else I had no explanation for why the stars decided to shine brighter just then. They must have heard, and the sound must have made them more cheerful. It couldn’t be my imagination, that the stars shined a little more radiant everywhere she went. I had seen it firsthand.

I was still admiring the sky, and silently enjoying her company, when she spoke again.

“I’m glad I let you talk me into this,” she admitted. “The stars are beautiful.”

“Not half as beautiful as you.”

Her father laughed. “He knows the rules!”

“You don’t believe me? If you’d like me to spell it out rationally—”

“You don’t have to prove anything,” she said; and if I know her, she was blushing just a little.

“Go ahead, let’s hear his excuse,” her father goaded.

“Dad! Be quiet!”

Laughing, I bade her, “Relax, my dear. May I? Please? I’ll be as succinct as possible.”

I thought I could hear the eyes rolling in her head. “If you insist.”

Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”

“It’s simple, really. A star is bright, beautiful, magical, everything you have always been from a distance. And like you, a star is even more breathtaking up close. The only difference is something you can’t really see. Not that you look anything like a star,” I amended quickly, “but you’re both beautiful, in your own distinct ways. The difference is what you can’t see. What I can’t see in a star, I know is just a natural nuclear reactor, a swirling vortex of energy. The human heart is similar in nature, but very different in—let’s say, execution. I know that what I can’t see in you is something much more powerful, and much more beautiful, than what lies in the heart of a star.”

There was a lot of laughter, but none of it was hers. She only smiled and whispered, “I believe you. Because I know you, and I know you mean every word. Most women wouldn’t fall for all that—that—”

“Moonshine? But you do. That’s part of what makes you so beautiful.”

“I’m gullible?”

“No, you’re perceptive—and understanding. It’s just what I was talking about, the ways you execute your heart. The ways you show it are what’s beautiful about you. The heart of a star is executed very differently. You know . . .” I said slowly, thoughtfully, “this is an interesting topic we’ve brought up.”

“Here comes the philosophy.”

“What have I been talking about for the past few minutes?”

“That’s a good point. Go on.”

“I’ve often said that we are just stars, drifting through space. The world around us—is imaginary! We’re just asleep, and this is all a dream. How could we know reality? We cannot! And that’s why it’s necessary to call on a higher point of reference. We can let our senses dazzle us all we want, and they’ll do everything they can to trick our minds into believing the craziest things. Or, we can look to Someone who knows a lot more than we do.”

“Well, you know I don’t agree that life is just an illusion, but I think that’s a good argument.”

“I know you don’t agree. But it is just a perspective. I don’t think it’s important that we agree on that. You agree with the conclusions I draw from it and the basic principles of it, and that’s what matters. It’s really more of an analogy, anyway.”

“Exactly. There’s a world beyond this one, one we don’t and can’t completely understand, and we’re agreed on that.”

“And that’s the important part,” I said. “I don’t care that you don’t look at it quite the same way. As long as you look at it.”

“The stars show us that.”

“Yes, exactly! It’s a big universe.” Holding her hand, I raised it with mine to wave them across the sky—our private shuttle through space. “Just look at all those stars, and think how many more there are we can’t see. I think if people would just sit out and look at the stars, and I mean really look at them, with open eyes and open minds and open hearts, they would see their lives a lot more clearly. Just think what a life-changing experience the stars would be if they were only visible once every hundred years! All the cities of the world would turn out their gaudy lights; everywhere people would spend the night out in open fields and on rooftops, just to see the stars while they had the chance. Think what the stars would mean to us then! Emerson wrote something fitting—about how people would preserve ‘the remembrance of the city of God,’ which they had seen that one time in their lives. It would shatter the petty, self-centered world most people seem to live in.”

“Yes! There are a lot of things we tend to sort of take for granted in life, looking at them without ever really seeing them or caring about them. Stars are most of those things. There are more of them than you can count with the naked eye, but who cares? We want to go to work, do our jobs, and then get home and eat, watch television, and sleep just so we can do it all over again. Nobody cares about things like the stars.”

“They don’t want to waste time thinking, that’s what it is,” I agreed. “People think they think—I mean—well, you know what I mean. Supposedly we’re thinking every day, but is it really thinking if we’re just filling our minds with the things we’ve learned or are learning, the things we’re doing, and what’s on television? Some of those things are important, of course—we can’t spend all our time thinking, we have to preserve life too. But we focus too much on life and not enough on living. We’re occupying our minds with what our senses are doing, and practically nothing else. Really thinking means—looking farther than all of that.”

“Exactly. We do have to be practical of course, but we take it too far. It’s sad that so many people live their entire lives without ever really, really thinking about the stars.”

“Because we’re distracted, by the most ridiculous things. ‘But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.'”

“Alone,” she repeated, her voice creaking with sarcasm.

I couldn’t help but laugh at her tone. “I realize I’m not alone. That’s not quite what I meant. I don’t know how Emerson meant it, but the way I see it, alone just means—well, to be free, and unhindered. For me, that never meant to be physically alone. I want to be alone—like a star. The stars might look lonely sometimes, but they’re not—most of them have planets, and they’re all in constellations. They’re all part of something, and it’s something bigger than they would be by themselves—that’s freedom. Same way, take an engine out of a car. All right, now it’s alone, free, unhindered—but what good does it do? It can’t go anywhere, it can’t do anything. It’s not really free unless it’s in a car, is it? It’s not free if it’s alone. The only kind of ‘alone’ I’m talking about is the kind that means being a unique, recognized part of a greater whole. ‘But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.’ . . . If a man is free, if he is with the people he loves, doing what he loves . . . let him do. Let him dream.”

“Talking to you is like an out-of-body experience,” she observed wisely.

“In a good way, or a creepy, eerie sort of way?”

She smiled. “Both. Sometimes I feel like my guy’s completely insane. And sometimes, I feel guilty because you’re so much more philosophical than me.”

“Stop right there! I don’t want you to ever think like that,” I reproved. “Why should you feel that way? There’s nothing wrong with having enough sense to live in this world. Sometimes I feel guilty for not having half as much sense as you do. But then I think, well, it’s perfect; you’re the part of me I’ve always known was missing. Together, we’re something bigger, see? Together we’re free.” I turned my head and smiled at her profile. “This is as alone as I ever want to be.”

Her father cleared his throat loudly.

“Present company excepted, of course,” I said.

“Watch it there!” he warned, amused.

Her mother yawned. I heard her chair creak as she got up. “This has been fun, but I think we should go inside. The bugs are just getting terrible.” There was a loud smack by way of emphasis.

“I hear that,” said her father. “Let’s go in and see what’s on television.”

 

The End

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Categories: Philosophia Venereum, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Can Do No Wrong

You can do no wrong—it’s not possible.

Think about it. There’s not one time in your life you did something wrong, just for the sake of doing something wrong.

Everybody has an innate sense of right and wrong, and there’s no such thing as a person with no conscience. Everyone has an inner voice that tells them when they’re in the wrong.

When you’re about to make a bad choice, the voice says “No, not that way, this way,” and puts you back on the right path. If it’s wrong, your conscience doesn’t want you to do it. Right? Your conscience won’t let you do it.

Unfortunately, you conscience can be all too easy to ignore, especially when other voices like desire or anger speak louder. You want something and the quickest way to get it seems to be to take it. It’s not that you want to do wrong, it’s that you want something and “wrong” seems the fastest way to achieve gratification.

There’s always some heart of right in anything wrong. Wrong is just the act of twisting right, of doing something right by the worst methods—the wrong methods.

Sometimes it even seems that the conscience itself gets a little mixed up—in a weak moment desire will seem its own reward, anger will make excuses, and you find your emotions telling you that it’s “all right,” that there’s nothing wrong with it or that it’s even a good thing, when at any time before or after you would say it was wrong. Even your conscience can be deceived by what you want.

If only it always spoke as loud and clear as Jiminy Cricket. No one would miss it then. Maybe if it knew how to sing we’d listen more often.

 

The Wrong Way

Think of it this way. I’m sure at some point in the past week you’ve touched a device that uses some form of the screw, even if it’s just the lid of a water bottle or a pickle jar. And admit it, there have been times when you tried to open it the wrong way, and then a voice inside said, “No, not that way stupid, this way.” You with me?

You want the bottle or the jar open, and you’re just trying to get it done quickly, but you end up doing it the wrong way; it’s the wrong way to get what you want, and that voice steps in and corrects you.

We do things like that every day. We skip, we skim, we cut corners; what we want is to get the job done, and we want it as soon as possible. Just think how often that voice steps in and slows you down at just the right moment. Or it reminds you of something you overlooked, keeping you on the right path. And then think how, sometimes, the voice can’t keep up, and your rushed job ends up a failure—and you realize it was the wrong way to get what you really wanted.

You might wonder what I’m getting at. But you see, it makes perfect sense when you think about it. It’s the wrong way to get what you want; so your conscience tells you not to do it, because it’s wrong.  It’s the same thing.

 

The Way to Get What You Want

It’s a simple fact: Your conscience tells you the difference between right and wrong. When you’re doing something wrong, it speaks up.

But let me define that—”wrong.” Wrong means wrong, not just by others, but by yourself: if it’s wrong for others, it’s not the best way to get what you really want. There’s an inherent goodness in all humankind. People may be capable of great defiances of that good, but it’s there, and no matter how wicked the person somewhere in that life you will find that human goodness, however remotely it’s hidden.

Because count upon it, there’s not a soul that really wants to see others suffer; sometimes there are those who think it’s what they want, but it never gives them satisfaction. Nothing worth having is worth having if it hurts someone else, and deep down in the heart everybody knows that. Nobody can ever really be happy at someone else’s expense—if they are, they’re just trying to compensate for their own unhappiness, trying to get what they want, the wrong way.

So even though you may think you want something, and you may think the fastest way to get it is the best, if it’s wrong, your conscience will tell you so. And I know, sometimes it seems hard to obey. But in the long-run we end up with what we really wanted all along without ever consciously realizing it. In the end we always see that the “right” thing was the right way to get what we really wanted.

And, so, that’s why when we do something wrong, we tend to call it a “mistake.” We say “to err is human,” to err, to sin. To sin, to do wrong, to hurt someone—not that we want to do it, but because we convince ourselves it’s justified; this is a “mistake.”

And, okay, without going on a moralist tangent I’ll admit that it’s not quite so simple, there are exceptions; although I’m still not so sure that those exceptions aren’t just extreme cases of the same fundamental principle, that even the most inured of all sinners is simply self-deceived (not that I’m saying that’s an excuse or a justification).

Back to simple fact: The only right way is always the way that does the most good, even if it doesn’t seem to be the most good for you at the time.

And I know all this seems obvious, but when’s the last time you consciously acknowledged it, or acted on it?

 

Listening

You cannot do wrong against your own will—that’s the point I’m trying to get across here. The only time you do wrong is because you think it’s right, because you think it’s how to get what you want, but it never is.

Bear in mind, few mistakes that are easy to make are unchangeable; some mistakes are hard to avoid, sometimes impossible, and for these there’s always forgiveness. But sometimes, there’s no going back on things we’ve done, there’s no righting the wrong—you can’t fix all your mistakes. When it’s big, when it’s important, that’s when you need to be ready to listen to your conscience. But if you can’t handle the little ones, you won’t be prepared for the big ones, will you?

The trouble is, the line is blurry, and it can very often be difficult to know what to do. We’ve all been there time and again. At times like this, all we need to tell the difference between right and wrong is a calm, quiet moment to silence ourselves and listen to that inner Jiminy Cricket. Now we don’t always have that long, and we can’t live our lives in fear of making mistakes. When we have to make a quick decision in a heated moment, we just have to do our best to quiet our mind and silence ourselves, and listen to that voice—it might just be a whisper, but it’s there.

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Categories: Imagining a Better World | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This is What You Shall Do . . .

quotes.zaxina.com

from the foreword to “Leaves of Grass”

Wise words no matter who you are. A particularly meaningful reminder for Christians, as well.

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10 Tips for Finding the Best Way for Your Story to End

Dear writers,

It’s one of the hardest questions we have to ask ourselves in life: Where will it all end?

As writers, we have a lot more control over things, and that includes where and how to stop. Unfortunately, endings are still hard—sometimes the hardest part of a story. Here are some tips that may help you if you’re struggling with an ending you don’t like, or just not sure where your story is going:

  1. Plan the ending first. Get it working right away so you have direction.
  2. If you’re getting close to an end you don’t have and you’re at a loss, go back to the beginning—review your story, gather ideas, get a sense of where it’s leading, and then follow it.
  3. It’s more important that your ending be fitting than happy. (And remember that goes for unhappy endings too.) It can still twist, but the unexpected can’t be the impossible. The best twist is the one you feel you should have seen coming.
  4. The purpose of an ending is to simplify—it’s the moment when you bring light to the darkness, when all becomes clear. You can still have cliffhangers and leave your readers with questions and something to think about, but if you leave an overcomplicated, unexplained tangle of confusion, it’s no good
  5. That said, don’t be afraid of making it big and bold. If it gets out of hand, keep writing anyway—you can always go back and pull it back as necessary.
  6. Ask yourself: Should this have ended already? Am I ending too early? When should it end?
  7. You’re allowed to have more than one ending.
  8. The resolution should involve the characters. If the ending owes too much to an outside force, it’s likely to leave readers disappointed. If we’ve been walking in a character’s (or characters’) shoes, feeling what they feel and dreaming their dreams, we don’t want to see someone else end their story for them.
  9. It was never all a dream. Don’t toy with your reader’s emotions like that. No matter how brilliant you might think the twist is, 99% of the time it’s not.
  10. A lot of build-up needs a lot of resolution. You need to know when to stop, but you also need to know how to suit an ending to the story it’s concluding. A long or complicated story with a lot at stake needs a lot of ending.

 

Are these strict rules? Of course not. A great writer can break any rule. You can get away with anything as long as you do it imaginatively, and as long as you’re sure you can pull it off. But these tips will help you to avoid, prevent, or justify the sins of a bad ending.

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What are you ending right now?

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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