Monday, April 11, 2016

Frustrations in Writing

Confession: I forgot I had a blog.

Well, actually, that's not entirely true. I forgot that I had so many blog posts. And by "so many," I mean the number I have, as opposed to like, three.

I remembered because I had a thought that I wanted to explore and I didn't want to post it on Facebook. The thought was about writing.

I've never struggled much with writing. Sure, creative fiction writing isn't necessarily my area of strength (I get bored with trying to make the story fit together well; it's tough to get an amorphous picture out of my head and translate it into words). But I've been generally well-skilled in clearly communicating my thoughts to others.

One of the things I do to earn a little money (to then drop into the gaping hole of my student loans) is independent statistics consulting. Once in a while, I get a referral from a colleague who works with students from online universities. I do want to say here that I have nothing against students from online universities or the universities themselves. What I have noticed is that these students tend to be simultaneously extremely passionate about their area of study as well as terrified of statistics. A few also struggle to clearly explain their thoughts in writing.

I get frustrated when I edit these documents. The stats part, not so much. I know that stats is a crazy area that few people are skilled at and fewer people enjoy. But when I read the literature reviews, I often feel the impulse to smack my palm to my forehead and groan. (Sometimes I do this. My cat becomes concerned when I do.)

But when I think, "Goodness me, why did they just repeat themselves again?" or "HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW HOW TO CITE IN APA WHEN YOU'RE GETTING YOUR PH.D?", I remind myself how much more frustrating it must be to be one of my clients--to be so passionate about a subject and not be able to clearly show others why it is so important. To see these comments and edits scattered throughout their papers with thinly veiled frustration and work up the energy to try again.

It's gotta suck.

A couple years ago, my sister talked me into writing for NaNoWriMo (and by this I mean that I agreed to do it when she asked me) and I didn't finish. After maybe 6,000-10,000 words, I gave up--it was too annoying and I had too many other things that I a) wanted to do and b) was more skilled at. But these clients keep trying. I give them their documents full of edits and they make them. It's an impressive thing that both keeps me from face-palming too hard and inspires me to keep trying in my own life. Because these students will finish these dissertations and goodness me, they'll have earned those doctorates.

Something else that I struggle with is ending stories, posts, or articles. Sometimes I work on this, sometimes I don't. Today, I think I won't.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Widow's Murder

While filling my watering can, I noticed that a spider had built its home inside. About to clear out the web, I shrieked as a round, black and brown mottled spider climbed out and stood on the handle. It waved its front legs vigorously, then began to crawl back into its web, upside down. The hourglass gleaming on its stomach matched the bright red of the can.

My heart began to pound as a slowly backed away from the watering can and considered my options. One--scream and surrender my apartment to the poisonous arachnid; two--try to catch the beast and release it elsewhere; or three--smash it. I stood paralyzed. We had just moved in, so the first option seemed hasty. Besides, I couldn't let Staci return home just to be murdered. I quickly texted her about the situation, in case she wanted to remain at the hospital until the crisis had passed.

The second option had merit. But I remembered Staci's loud protestations of spider-saving: "They'll just come back inside and build webs all over the world!" This was a common problem at the old house, where we also had black widows lurking in the corners. One lived for a time in the space between the kitchen and the table.

So there was no other way out--I had to smash it. The spider by this point was resting, seemingly miraculously, in mid-air above the spout. How long has she lived in there? I thought, wondering how often my hand had been mere inches from her fangs. I shook my head and searched for a smashing implement. My eyes rested on a wooden spoon, which I retrieved from the container. As I hefted it in my hand, the spider scurried onto the side of the can. Carefully, I moved toward the sink, brandishing the spoon. I ran the water, thinking that perhaps the spider would trip and fall into the spray. But it just stood there, its many eyes full of accusation.

"I don't want to kill you!" I shouted. "I don't know why you wanted to live in my watering can! I'm really sorry, I truly am. But there's really no other way to go about this." I raised the spoon to strike, but I couldn't bring it down. I didn't want to see the spider's murder. In a flash of inspiration, I rushed to the door and grabbed a flip-flop--mine, of course--then returned to the sink. In one motion, I brought the shoe down and thrust it away from me. The flip-flip lay by the watering can, the surface of which was marred by a dark brown splotch with eight hairy legs . I quickly poured bleach into the sink to destroy the evidence.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Helping with Communion

When Krystal asked Adrianna and me if we wanted to help with communion, we thought it would be like collecting offering--except that we would be giving snacks instead of taking money. "Sure," we said, envisioning ourselves smiling generously as we held emblem-laden trays for aging ladies.

So we were in for an unfortunate surprise when we got to the church this evening. After we were ushered into a back room and given program cards (mine was inexplicably marked "Serena W."), we sat in a circle of confusion. Every so often, someone would be called up to a chair in the corner and, after a robe was slung around their shoulders, a lady armed with brushes and an incredibly bright light would attack their face with makeup. A girl poked my arm. "Do we have to have that?" she whispered.
"Dude. I hope not." I glanced down at the paper: Elders STAND when TIM gives signal. Pass out emblems to DEACONS. SIT when S signals. Who was "S"?
"Uh. . . Krystal?"
"Are we. . . elders?"
"Are we. . . deacons?"
"Yes. . ."
"Are we both?"
"I--I'm not sure."
"Are they going to explain this to us?"

After about fifteen minutes, a lady--who turned out to be the mysterious "S"--walked us through the program. "You'll be sitting up front," she began. "And the people on the outside of each section--1 and 4 on this side, so that would be Preston and Serena--pass out the emblems to the deacons in their area. The people in the middle pass the trays to those on the outside." She began a complicated explanation of how to walk in, when to sit, how to carefully uncover the stacks of trays without exploding the contents, and how to line the decorative crosses up for the camera. "Make sure, when you break the bread, that you don't wipe the crumbs on your pants!" I scribbled notes on my paper and snuck worried glances at Adrianna.

We entered in a line, with me bouncing on my toes and clutching my note-etched program. We sat sort-of in unison. I worked to keep a calm, pleasant look on my face, and I thought I was doing a good job--until I spotted an elderly lady in the congregation. Her arms moved jerkily and her teal shirt hung limply on her thin frame. When she saw me watching, her face lit up and, putting her fingers in a peace sign, she moved them up her face, a grin following as if she were drawing it there. I blinked in confusion, then gave her a timid smile. She beamed at me with glee and nodded to her friend as if to say, "See? Not all young people are completely stupid."

Keeping the awkward smile on my face, I glanced at the people near me. Kevinn sat solemnly, watching the scripture reading. The woman to my right gazed into the distance, surely in deep contemplation. No one else was smiling. My lips began to twitch. Finally, we stood to pass trays to the deacons and my eyes inadvertently returned to the lady. She grinned at me again. Sighing, I repositioned the smile and looked down at the tray in my hands. As I handed it to the first woman on the pew, I remembered the words on my hand. The hastily scribbled note stood out in dark blue ink, resistant to soap and my scrubbing efforts. I tried to smile generously as I handed her the tray. This was not at all like collecting offering.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Phobia Progress

The hallway is dark except for a sliver of light from my open doorway. As I put down my foot, I feel something under my arch. Two thoughts simultaneously rush into my head: It’s a cockroach! and It’s probably not a cockroach. I choose to focus on the latter thought and keep walking. At the end of the hallway, I glance back to see what I assume is a bit of paper or plastic. Instead, I see a dark form scurrying toward the wall. My scream catches in my throat—for once, I won’t wake Heidi up—and I stagger into the kitchen, clutching my water bottle that I have inexplicably brought with me.

I stand by the refrigerator for a full twenty seconds, feeling my heartbeat pound in my chest and trying not to hyperventilate. You’re okay. I tell myself, drawing a deep breath. But it’s still out there! the panicked part of me responds. I have to go back! I suppress a shudder and force myself to fill my bottle. You can do this. You didn’t even scream. Staci would be so impressed. I take a swig of water and brace myself against the counter. And then I walk toward the hallway.

I bite my lip hard as I turn on the light. Nothing moves. I glance toward where I saw the shape disappear and my heart jumps. A shadow obscures the corner, but something is there. It is small, though, and this gives me courage to take another step forward. As I tentatively approach, I see that it is light brown, striped, and eight-legged. A spider. All of my muscles relax and I break into an involuntary grin. I blow on the spider to be sure I haven’t squashed him and he scurries down the hall into the blackness. I heave a sigh of relief as I watch him disappear. I am safe--for tonight, at least.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Weight Comments

"You look great! Have you lost weight?"
"You look so thin! Congratulations!"
"Wow, you've lost so much weight!"

How many of these comments have you heard--whether directed at you or someone you know? How would you expect them to make you feel? Good? I would argue the opposite. I would argue that  commenting on a person's weight, even if you're commenting that they "look like they've lost weight," can be impolite and even harmful.


1. If they are losing weight on purpose and they want people to know, they will tell you. You can then decide whether or not you feel weight loss for cosmetic purposes alone is something to compliment.

2. A person can lose weight from having surgery, getting cancer, or having an eating disorder. Complimenting a person on these things is generally considered to be in bad taste and could lead to further negative health consequences.

3. If they are not losing weight on purpose (or have actually not lost weight), you are telling them that they used to be less attractive than they are now and, if they regain weight, that they will soon be that unattractive again.

4. Losing weight should be for health reasons. If a person is losing weight solely to get compliments, then I think that complimenting them may make them even more pathological about their bodies. If they subsequently regain weight (as often happens because hormones like the body to remain in equilibrium), then they may feel even worse about themselves.

5. Commenting on how thin someone looks automatically makes everyone around them body-conscious and can activate body image problems in others.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nothing Wrong with Doubt, Part 1

The more I learn about the world and different perspectives, the more I realize how narrow-sighted our Christian worldview is. Faith only goes so far. At some point, faith turns into a blind disregard for conflicting information, as if that information being true would somehow derail the entire faith.

For example, the fossil record is quite compelling, yet so many Christians work overtime to prove it wrong, as if all of Christianity is built upon evolution being false. I feel like if your faith is so easily derailed, then it isn't very strong. I read a book on evolution for an Origins class (Why Evolution is True) and I remember thinking, Look. If this business is true, then it's true. Refusing to acknowledge the facts won't make it any less true. And I read the book and learned a lot and I was fine. I am totally okay with incorporating evolution into my faith if I have to, but at this point, no one's making me decide. Either way, it's not a big deal to me anymore.

Now, an argument against this view would go something like this: "You shouldn't expose yourself to these false viewpoints because it gives the Devil a foothold in your life to spread his lies. You think you're being enlightened but you're just falling further into darkness!" While this is an opinion, I think it is a silly one. You can't go through life blinding yourself to differing viewpoints because of an irrational fear of being deceived. If you check back at your Christianity guidebook, it talks about how God conquered sin and death, which are pretty much the embodiment of the Devil (and Revelation's got some pretty fancy images of the Serpent all chained up in a pit). If everyone had this fear, we'd still think [insert classic scientific discovery nearly quashed by the church].

Anyway. I value my exposure to different viewpoints and it is fascinating to see my world through others' eyes. It has also been a stretching experience. It began when I started college and started to struggle with issues that aren't very clear-cut--issues like homosexuality. How can the Bible say it's wrong if people can't help it? Why should gay people be expected to live a life empty of the love and affection included in a marriage? I eventually concluded that I didn't care what the Bible said or seemed to say, the God I knew wouldn't declare "evil" something that doesn't hurt anybody. He wouldn't cause so much pain and suffering.

And after that, questioning some weird ideas we have about the Bible. Why do people quote Psalms as proof of some concept (i.e., Psalm 33:6-9 as proof of Creation). Do we honestly think that these poems written by some ancient king or harpist have some magical truth just 'cause a group of people decided to stick them in the Bible? Can't we just believe that they are just that--poems--written by some people about the God they knew, based on what they knew? And don't get me started on the literally pornographic Song of Solomon. Just look up verse 4:11 for its historical sexual innuendos (hint: "feet" and "honey" meant something else back then). I'm not saying this is wrong. I'm not saying SoS shouldn't be in the Bible (although I do think it's a weird place for it, given our prudishness). I'm just saying that interpreting Paul's statement that "all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16) is very silly when you use Job 40 to defend the idea of sea monsters.

This concludes Part 1 of Nothing Wrong with Doubt. Knowing me, it will be quite a while until the second installment.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"You can have anything you want!"

As I open the post office door, an adorable little boy stands in front of me, sporting a Superman shirt and covered in temporary tattoos of Spiderman in various poses. I grin at him and he gazes back with wide eyes, backing toward his father. The father is wide and pale, with sticky yellow hair and a gravelly voice. “You could help me if you really wanted to,” he is telling the woman behind the desk.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I really can’t.” The woman is petite, with short, curly, and silvering black hair. She speaks with a slight Spanish accent.
“Yes, you can.”
“Sir—you have priority mail written on the package.”
“Well, yeah, ‘cause I didn’t have tape.”
“You couldn’t buy tape?”
“I didn’t have money, but I had this tape.” The little boy is scratching at a tattoo on his neck. Spiderman’s head is nearly gone.
“But sir, if you don’t want to send it priority mail, then you shouldn’t use this priority mail tape.”
 “Why can’t you just send it?”
“Because I don’t want to be held responsible.”
“Responsible for what? Just send the package. Look, I’ll rip off the part that says ‘priority.’” He roughly rips off a bit of the tape and tosses it to the ground. His little boy kicks at it.
“I’m sorry sir, but I cannot help you unless you wish to send this priority mail. If not, you will need to repackage it. I need you to move aside so I can serve the next customer.”
“No, I won’t. You just don’t want to help me.”

After a few minutes of this, with the man growing ever ruder, the lady heaves a huge sigh and leaves to find her manager. The man looks around for his son and sees him a few feet away. “Get back here!” he yells, jerking his fist.
The boy rushes to his side. “You can do anything,” he tells his father. “You can have anything you want!”

The woman and her manager emerge from the back room. The manager begins talking to the man, while the lady calls for the next in line. Me. While I fill out the customs form for my package, I overhear the conversation next to me.
“Finally, someone who will help me. That woman just didn’t want to. I don’t know why. She was just being rude. She didn’t want to help me. She could have, but she didn’t.”
I smile sympathetically at the lady, who has remained remarkably calm, and write in the date.

The manager has helped the man repackage his envelope. “Now just take the package back up and she’ll help you get it on its way.”
“I don’t think she will,” the blond man grumbles. “She doesn’t like to help people.”
The lady hands me my receipt. “Thank you for your patience. Have a good day,” she says.
“You too!” I enthuse, trying to inject as much earnestness into the phrase as possible. She gives a tight smile as I walk out the door.
“Can I help the next person in line?”