Monday, February 27, 2017

So we wouldn't be so scared in the dark.

I just finished watching the movie "Genius" and, as a writer and a reader, I absolutely loved it.

Here's the storyline of the movie from IMDB:

"When, one day of 1929, writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), decided to keep the appointment made by Max Perkins (Colin Firth), editor at Scribner's, he had no illusions: his manuscript would be turned down as had invariably been the case. But, to his happy amazement, his novel, which was to become "Look Homeward, Angel", was accepted for publication. The only trouble was that it was overlong (300 pages) and had to be reduced. Although reluctant to see his poetic prose trimmed, Wolfe agreed and helped by Perkins, who had become a true friend, with the result that it instantly became a favorite with the critics and best seller. Success was even greater in 1935 when "Of Time and the River" appeared, but the fight for reducing Wolfe's logorrheic written expression had been even longer, with 5,000 pages, Perkins managed to cut 90,000 words from the book, and bitter ultimately taking its toll, the relationships between the two men gradually deteriorating. Wolfe did not feel grateful to Perkins any longer but had started resenting him for owing his success to him."

The tumultuous relationship between these men was an interesting story in itself, but the more entertaining part to me was the strife of the editing process- a strife every writer knows well, and a strife that I think readers should appreciate more!

My favorite line from the movie was when Wolfe, the writer, said to his editor in the middle of a strenuous editing session, "Books are s'posed to be LONG, ya know! Thank crock Tolstoy never met you. We'd have that great novel, 'War and- ' NOTHIN'."

LOL! How many of us have ever felt that way when someone starts telling us what we need to cut from our work?

My other favorite line came after the editor and the author had passed a soup line in the street and the author wondered aloud about what the point was of him writing these great novels when there were people standing in line for soup on the street. He said it felt frivolous.

Later, the editor quietly said to him, "You're not frivolous, Tom. I think, back in the caveman days, our ancestors would huddle around the fire at night, and wolves would be howling in the dark just beyond the light. And one person would start talking, and he would tell a story. So we wouldn't be so scared in the dark."

I'll admit it, I cried. I cried because this is something I frequently ask myself as a writer, and yet it's something I know to be true as a reader. Why do I read? I read because I need to escape for a little while. Because I need thoughts in my head that aren't my own. Because I'm stressed out, or scared, or lonely, or life has just gotten too overwhelming- the wolves are too loud-

And I just want someone to tell me a story. 

So if you haven't seen this movie, see it. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll feel inspired to write more and write better. And you'll remember why we do it all in the first place.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


 I teach a weekly creative writing class to a group of teens at our homeschool co-op. It is so fun, but I've been noticing that even though I give them several weeks for each major assignment they still often put it off to the last minute. So last week I lectured them about not procrastinating and whatnot. Because then you sometimes get sick at the last minute and you don't get it done on time.

I write this from my phone, while my head is slightly spinning and while I shiver with fever. I had an excellent blog post planned for today, but I kept on not getting it done. And now my head is too grumpy, my brain is too muddled, and I'm just plain too tired to finish it and post it today.

Sigh. Why is it sometimes so hard to practice what you preach?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why My Political Party is Better Than Yours

by Kasey Tross

(Clickbait much? Ha, I know. But it worked with the topic and you ARE reading it now, right?)

The past year has been a doozy for American politics, but despite the emotionally charged drama, I for one am grateful for the focus on all things political, because it's taught me quite a bit about where my loyalties lie.

And here was the surprising revelation: where they lie doesn't start with a D or an R.

The more I watch the petty battles in the political arena, the more I realize that the only safe place for my loyalties is with me- not with a particular candidate, not with a particular party, not with a particular end of the political spectrum, not with a particular movement. Because none of them will ever align completely with my own personal beliefs.

See, the thing about loyalty is that it excludes a certain amount of logic and reasoning and more deeply relies on emotions- which is fine when you're talking about a love-based loyalty like loyalty to God or loyalty to family, but not so much when you're talking about political loyalty.

Political loyalty is a dangerous concept, because for one thing, it polarizes us. It creates this us-versus-them paradigm that simply isn't helpful, because we all live in this country together and that requires compromise.

Political loyalty also creates a finality to judgment: we have decided to follow one school of thinking and anything else is wrong. So we are unlikely to seek to understand another way of thinking or look for ways to compromise. We know we disagree with it, and therefore it is simply "off the table" for us, case closed, the end. No need to understand the other side if they're wrong.

But probably the worst part of this kind of loyalty is that we forget to think for ourselves. We allow others to make all the decisions because we know that we generally agree with them on most things, so we go along with them on everything. And that is frightening.

Probably the most startling example of this that I saw during the election were the number of people who weren't happy with either major candidate but felt they had to vote for them because third-party candidates didn't have any chance of winning. So, basically, they said they had to vote for a major party candidate because everyone else was doing it.

Can you see why this disturbs me?

During the election I liked to joke that it must be nice to be a political candidate, because you have millions of people who will love and support you unconditionally, no matter what stupid things you do or say, no matter what "dirt" is dug up from your past. I saw this all over the place- people doing and saying things that in any other context would be considered downright reprehensible, but in the light of political loyalty were either overlooked or- in some cases- defended and even celebrated.

This scares me. Because when this is happening, it means people aren't thinking!

So why am I writing about this on Mormon Mommy Writers?

Because writers think. And writers write. And when we think before we write, we can avoid perpetuating the problem. So listen up, friends. I'm counting on you.

One of the issues we've been seeing surface in the last few months is this idea of media bias. It's sneaky. You may not even realize its effect on you. But sometimes, it smacks you in the face, like this prime example of it on my newsfeed one morning- the same two images covering the same story, but from very different viewpoints:

I knew the instant I read both of these headlines (First one- BOO-yah! Second one- Boo-hoo! Me- *eyeroll* Boo.) that neither one was actually going to give me a clear picture of what really happened, so I didn't bother reading either. Instead, I sought out headlines that were more neutral. I found one from a website that was more neutral but had a slightly liberal lean, then I read another from a website that a slightly conservative slant. I read those, I googled the "broken rule", and then read a few more articles until I felt like I had a pretty clear picture of the situation.

And then I made up my own mind about what really happened and how I felt about it.

Not surprisingly, it didn't line up perfectly with any of the articles I read about it, but fell somewhere in between.

I am fortunate that I have friends "on both sides of the aisle", as they say. So my Facebook newsfeed has a good amount of bias swinging in either direction. I say that I'm fortunate, because I know that a lot of people essentially live in an echo chamber- and that's why so many were shocked when Trump won the election, because everything they'd been seeing and hearing was all Clinton, all the time! They were surrounded only by people who agreed with their political paradigm, so they got a rude awakening when the election showed that their echo chamber wasn't the only one, and apparently the other echo chamber was larger and louder.

Because I have eschewed loyalty to any political party, I choose to use the conversational aspects of Facebook to try to understand and to try to promote understanding in an honest, open, respectful way. For example, I could not for the life of me understand Trump's appeal to voters, and so I asked (respectfully and honestly)- why are you voting for this guy? The answers I got were enlightening and helped me to understand, even though I may not have agreed.

In another instance, I found a post promoting abortion, and I could see the telltale signs of echo chamber activity in the comments section, so I provided my own pro-life viewpoint- again, in a respectful way- and I was met with criticism and questions. I answered those criticisms and questions in the most kind, respectful way possible, and the conversation eventually ended with all of us thanking one another for the respectful debate and agreeing to disagree.

These are the kinds of conversations I want to see happening out there, and that is why I reach out to you MMWs. We have been blessed with talents of communication, and never before has good communication been so desperately threatened and so desperately needed! We can be the voices for respect and understanding, but we can't do it unless we're thinking clearly.

So the next time you see a news article that makes you feel angry, look for the inflammatory language ("BANNED", "breaking the rules", "silenced", "sad day"). Look past the headlines and ask yourself what the language tells you about the author's point of view, but don't let that determine your point of view, because you're smarter than that. Instead, seek out more articles. Ask questions of people from all sides of the issue. Google the relevant laws and facts. Then- and only then- thoughtfully and prayerfully make your own decision about what you think is right, and once you've made your decision, have confidence in it. Share it- intelligently and respectfully- for you will have won that right through your own due diligence.

When you are loyal to yourself, then when an old video of a Democrat surfaces where he's saying the same things about an issue as a current Republican, it won't shake you or anger you or make you question your loyalties, because you've already made your decision about that issue, and your decision was made on your own, not to align with a party belief system, so it doesn't matter who said what. You can see issues objectively.

When you make your own decisions, you can vote with a clear conscience and not feel like you're being coerced into something that makes you uncomfortable.

When you think for yourself, you can examine the actions of your government leaders- any of your government leaders- with a critical eye and determine whether or not you feel they're acting in your- and our country's- best interest. If they're not, you can speak up and work to make a difference. If they are, you can support them with confidence.

I truly believe that if we as writers can think before we write, and use our talents for discernment and communication wisely, we can set the example for positive debate and increased understanding in our great nation.

And that's a political point on which I think we can all agree.

[DISCLAIMER: If, after your own research and contemplation, you have chosen to align yourself with a political party and you believe that party to be your best vehicle for political activism, I encourage you to continue on that path. However, I would also like to encourage you to continue to question, continue to criticize, and continue to hold that party up to the light to ensure you are not simply going along with the crowd. There is nothing wrong with holding party leaders accountable.]


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