Saturday, September 29, 2012

Eight Tips for Being a Name Ninja

Names are important. Everyone knows this. Writers and expectant mothers spend long hours on trying to decide if they can name a character/child “Calvin” even though it means “bald.” We like to hear our own names used. Most of the time, unless you’re oblivious like me, someone calling (or especially whispering) your own name will yank your attention even in the middle of a loud environment.

The problem is, it’s hard to remember other people’s names, especially when you meet them in a larger group. But never fear, my friends, after three full years in college where I meet masses of people and forget who they are almost instantly, I have found a solution: be a name ninja.

Name ninjas are those who have found subtle, sneaky ways to avoid the perils of awkward encounters where the other person clearly knows you, but you don’t know them. Here are a few of the moves in my extensive ninja repertoire.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Candy Land Writing

Candy Land is one of the most frustrating games in the world to play. The second you think you’re about to win the whole thing and take over Candy Castle, you get the stupid gumdrop card and have to go all the way back to the Gumdrop Mountain. Or your opponent picks up the Queen Frostine card at the very beginning while you’re still stuck in the Molasses Mud Swamp.

Once you’ve learned your colors and fine motor skills, there’s very little point to the game, because it’s mostly dumb luck. You can stumble through the game without any skill, unless it’s the skill of stacking the deck. (I’ve seen a six-year-old try that with jelly-sticky fingers and a guilty look…so subtle.)

So don’t make your stories Candy Land. This may seem silly, but I’ve seen it happen a lot. Here are some examples:

All Sugar, No Substance: These are the stories full of pretty people, witty dialogue, and bright colors. Whee! Fun! But these stories don’t last, and they don’t mean anything. At the risk of assigning a cause-effect where it doesn’t belong, I might even say they don’t last because they don’t mean anything. I’m not saying that you have to work a heavy-handed moral into your story or have everyone die tragically at the end. Just don’t focus so much on funny one-liners or a clever plot twist that you miss the point of storytelling.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Life According to Facebook

I have a document that contains every Facebook status I’ve ever typed.

It started out as a way to chronicle my life, the small things that I won’t remember in twenty-five years. Then I realized that it had the added benefit of self-censorship—I stopped writing a ton of frivolous posts that no one really cared about. Mostly though, it’s just a fun way to look back and remember.

I can see major events: my first visit to Taylor is announced with great excitement (most of my early statuses are marked with exclamation points, though never more than one per sentence). I can watch change: a freshman year lament that I know no Taylor people who play Settlers of Catan to an announcement of a board game party that thirty of my friends attended. And I can laugh at dumb quotes, observations about life, and heated opinions that time and distance have cooled down a little bit.

At first, one of the reasons I didn’t want to use Facebook was that I thought it would make it too easy for near-strangers to get to know me. I would be an open book. That’s partially true, and a valid concern. But not entirely.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Making Things Tense

Late at night, one of my friends looked up from staring into space and said in a dull, unemotional voice, “Oh no. Stuff is happening.”

That’s not how you want readers to view your story. Stuff should happen – but it should be interesting stuff. I don’t know about you, but that’s one of the main reasons I read fiction: because my life is boring and the lives of fictional characters are not.

I don’t want to read about someone waking up to an alarm clock. I know what that’s like. Now, if your character wakes up to a phone call that tells her to go to her porch and look outside, then I’d be interested. What’s she going to find? An abandoned child? A dozen roses from a secret admirer? A dead skunk? An ax murderer?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Am Always Right All the Time

I was going to title this post “How To Gracefully Be Wrong,” but there’s only so much hypocrisy that I can tolerate on a daily basis. As I’ve said before about a few topics, whatever I know about this subject, I know by not doing it.

I am, however, an expert at obnoxiously insisting on my own point-of-view, even when presented with other reasonable alternatives that I didn’t really listen to before repeating what I just said, but louder and with more gestures.

Thus the title.

Debating stuff is fun, and at college, it tends to happen a lot (or maybe this just happens to be true around the people I’m friends with). Despairing professors, take note—we really do think about important things sometimes. And there would be no need for this post if we all had similar opinions on important things.

But we don’t. Ever.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Demonically Motivated Self-Censorship

I read Frank Peretti’s classic thriller This Present Darkness and C.S. Lewis’s delightfully British The Screwtape Letters in seventh grade. Both excellent books, but my overactive imagination might not have needed a double-dose of supernatural fiction. Because from that point on, I decided that I wanted to outsmart Satan.

One thing that was very comforting to me was that demons, unlike God, can’t know the future and can’t read minds. For the first time, I was thinking about spiritual warfare, which is good, I guess, but I thought about it in a very immature way.

One of the most bizarre ways I put this new awareness into action was by trying to keep secrets from Satan.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

History According to Stuff

Last weekend, my apartment-mates and I were scouring the local rummage sales for decorations to use in our apartment. About halfway through the day, a theme started to be pretty obvious: we all love old stuff. A wooden radio, battered crates, a collection of children’s classics from the 1920s, antique billiard balls, a rusty wrench...everything that caught our eye had seen many decades of use.

And then we put it all in our apartment next to our TV, electric keyboard, and DVD collection. Hey, we’re college students. Nothing wrong with a little juxtaposition of old d├ęcor and new practical items. (Besides, no one liked my suggestion of buying a large barrel to put over the TV. I thought it was a brilliant idea.)

Our rummage sale adventure got me thinking. It started with a simple observation: we don’t build things to last anymore. Most of the trinkets and tools of our daily life are made of colorful, disposable plastic or cheap metal.

And many of our things—everything from furniture to appliances—are designed for functionality above beauty. You might describe a piece of technology as “sleek” or “modern,” but is there anything about it that feels homey or inviting?

Given these two things—a decrease in durability and beauty—it makes me wonder: What will represent our generation in antique stores or thrift shops in seventy-five years?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Transformation of Boring

Profound thought of the day: Almost anyone can make something interesting interesting.

Some people can manage to make something interesting—such as an epic how-I-survived-a-rabid-jaguar-and-found-buried-treasure tale—boring.

But it takes great talent and deliberate effort to make something boring interesting.

I learned this at an early age from Pixar, Klutz Books, and Steak-and-Shake.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tiny Heresies, Little Sins

It was one of those gloomy days, where I stare at the raindrops trickling down the window, sipping a cup of tea and cynically reflecting on the dismal realities of life.

(Okay, fine. I don’t actually ever do that. But it sounds cool. Maybe I should try.)

It was actually a bright and sunny day, and I was walking down a quiet, rural Indiana street, thinking about the dismal realities of life, when I had a startlingly pleasant thought: In heaven, all of our relationships will be healed.

The damage I’ve done to others will be fixed in spite of me. There won’t be any awkward meetings. No bitter exchanges. No subtle undercurrent of competition in every conversation.

I want to get there so badly. Because, in the Fall, we ruined the most beautiful things the worst, I think. God is love, so we chose hate. Our relationship with God was distorted forever, and so were our relationships with each other.

Sometimes it hurts a lot. Not just dramatic betrayals or arguments or heartbreaks, but the daily grind of sniping comments, lonely Facebook posts, jealous thoughts, meanspirited letters to the editor, and disappointed expectations—everything that tells us things weren’t supposed to be this way.

Study people enough, and you’ll see it: the tiny ways we hurt others, often the ones we love most. Study people enough, and you’ll start to see it in yourself too.