Saturday, January 25, 2014

On Hobbits

After my last post on Twitter a few days ago (which, for this blog, was incredibly popular, thanks to my three followers on Twitter who actually read it) you may be trying to imagine how my mind has moved on to Hobbits. Do yourself a favor and stop trying. I actually could explain it, but you would either be bored to tears or contact my husband to encourage him to take me somewhere for a mental evaluation. That would be a waste of time. He knows I’m crazy, but thankfully he prefers my brand of crazy to any other kind.

So, yeah. Hobbits. I’ve actually been contemplating them for a while now. I've been playing LEGO Lord of the Rings on the Xbox 360, and the new Hobbit movie in December prompted me to ask on Facebook: Bilbo or Frodo? The response was pretty much unanimously in favor of Bilbo, with disparaging comments about Frodo to the extent that he is a weak character who perhaps should not have been included in the book at all. I’ve seen several places online where folks argue that Frodo is not the main character of The Lord of the Rings, and even my own husband has voiced his belief that Sam Gamgee is actually the hero of those stories. All of this puzzles me, because up until a few years ago, to my knowledge, Frodo was almost universally beloved. Like all Hobbits who feature prominently in Tolkien’s stories, Frodo is an ordinary little fellow who was thrust unwillingly into an extraordinary series of events. However, Frodo actually did something that no one else did: He saved the world. I hear you critics now: “No, he didn’t! He wanted to keep the Ring at the end! It’s only by accident that … (spoiler removed)” I would just like to point out that Frodo kept faithfully to his purpose through the entire story, and it was only at the last critical moment, when faced with the unrelenting pressure of Sauron’s power expressed through the Ring, that he wavered. It is my opinion that Frodo is the only person in all of Middle-Earth who could have successfully carried the Ring to the fire of Mount Doom without giving in to the temptation to claim it for his own. Which is why the Ring came to him in the first place. Because he was the hero.
Now, on to Bilbo for a moment. Bilbo is a delightful little Hobbit. He’s crafty, creative, can talk his way out of just about any situation, but when talking fails, he’s handy in a fight. When compared to Frodo, it’s not surprising that we tend to like him better. We sympathize with Frodo, we admire Frodo, we applaud Frodo, or perhaps we criticize Frodo, but we like Bilbo. He’d be much more fun to have a conversation with, I think. There’s all this drama that surrounds poor Frodo. All Bilbo had to do was sneak into a dragon’s lair and steal something. Saving the world was not on the agenda for his adventure, so he could come home relatively unscathed. Frodo came home broken. Bilbo’s story is fun. Frodo’s is epic, with all the triumph and tragedy that tends to go along with epic heroes.

So, Bilbo or Frodo? Or for that matter, Sam, Merry or Pippin? I don’t know that I could pick one if I had to. I will just say that I love Hobbits. They are one of the most intriguing little races of people that have ever been introduced into literature, and further proof that Tolkien was an absolute genius.
Feel free to comment with all your anti-Frodo feelings here. He’s not a real person. He won’t be offended.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

On Twitter

In my last post on social media, I mentioned that I might write a later post on Facebook. Since then, however, several things keep popping into my mind about Twitter, so I'm posting about that instead.  I have an almost irrational hatred for Facebook, and anything I have to say about it would probably be painful to read, anyway.

I am by no means a Twitter expert. I've had my account for a few years now, but I only have about 120 followers and I follow about ten more than that, and I've tweeted a little over 2,000 times, a pretty moderate number. I participate in a fun writer chat on most Monday nights, so if you happen to be on Twitter at 7:00 MST you may see a bunch of posts with the #WritersRoad hashtag. Other than that, I try to tweet at least once a day and check my feed a couple of times.  Here are some observations:

Twitter is sort of a strange place.  The challenge to express your thoughts in 140 characters or less, including a variety of hashtags that may or may not actually mean anything, is daunting to some people. I love it. I love trying to make myself sound pithy and concise. Others use it for marketing and exposure. I think that's a perfectly good use for Twitter, as long as it isn't your entire purpose for being there. Twitter is by its nature very public.  I don't post about my kids on Twitter for that reason. I do post about writing. At least half of my followers are fellow writers.  I'm also a little more like my usual sarcastic, realistic self, because I don't have to worry about silly things like comments and likes on Facebook.  Very few of my "real" friends follow me on Twitter, and that's ok with me.

Twitter is often used for marketing, with varying levels of success.  I actually saw a tweet this week that said a survey showed that email is still 40 times more effective for marketing than either Facebook or Twitter, and I can appreciate that. I actually started my Twitter account with the intent of using it to promote my Mary Kay business, but I almost never tweet about Mary Kay, and I've never gotten any kind of response when I do.  Personally, I ignore a lot of the blatant marketing I see on Twitter, and some of it just annoys me.

Just in case anyone is wondering, I will unfollow most tweeps for committing two of my three major pet peeves:

1) Sending a Direct Message after I follow with an invitation to check out your website or current promotion. Not a good first impression.
2) Retweeting every Tweet that mentions you (it's kind of, um, narcissistic) or retweeting a whole bunch of people you follow (like 20 or more) several times a day, every day, so that I have to scroll through a bunch of them when I check Twitter. Especially when those retweets are basically ads. Because that's just annoying.
3) Auto-scheduling tweets promoting yourself, your blog, your books, your music, your art...whatever, every few minutes. Especially if you rarely tweet anything else.

The main reasons I like Twitter is because I like seeing what people have to say - briefly - on a variety of topics. I do like the "retweet" button. To me, it's like a nod saying, "I see what you did there. Nice. I'd be happy to pass that on." Although I'm not sure I completely understand the "favorite" button, I like to use it to bookmark Tweets that I want to keep track of and reference later. More like a bookmark than a "like," I suppose. I use Twitter to keep up with news, celebrities, sports figures, writer blogs, and sometimes, just for a good laugh.

So there you go. My thoughts on Twitter, for what they're worth. I suppose I may be completely off base as to why most people are on Twitter, but those are the reasons why I like it, and a few things that bother me about it.

Are you on Twitter? Why or why not? What are your thoughts about it?

Monday, January 13, 2014

On Social Media

Web 2.0. Social networking. YouTube. Blogs. Facebook. Pinterest. Twitter. You get the idea. The beauty of social media is that it allows people to create content on the Internet for other people to see, share, admire, hate, whatever. It helps us connect with people we haven't seen in 20 or 30 years, or in the last five minutes. Or who we've never met. It gives us the instant gratification of being noticed, appreciated, liked. It's addicting, especially for someone like me, who thrives on approval.

There are ugly sides to social media, too. There are privacy concerns, for those who actually are concerned about privacy. There are marketing issues, for anyone who has tried to market themselves and their products through social media. There is the sheer time and effort involved - time and effort that we could, and maybe should, be spending on other things like, oh, I don't know, real relationships with real people. It's time consuming and a little bit risky to put yourself out there, where everyone can see what you did today, what you really thought of that movie or that actress's dress, or what so and so did or said, or what you ate for dinner, or how cute your kid looked on his birthday. But we keep doing it. It's become a part of our culture, who we are, how we define ourselves. And that's one of the beauties of social media: you get to craft your profile, your posts, your persona, just the way you want it to be. It doesn't have to be real or genuine, if you don't want it to be. But that's part of the fun, right?

I'm not saying that social media is good or bad. It just is. Like the internet, television, video games, and any other amoral source of information or entertainment, social media is what we make of it. Sometimes I make too much of it. Sometimes I rely on comments and likes on Facebook, views on my blog, and favorites and retweets on Twitter for my sense of worth and accomplishment. And honestly, that's wrong. As in, sinful. My worth, my identity, my meaning in life comes from who I am in Christ. My purpose is to glorify His name, bring Him attention, impact lives by drawing them to Him. Not to gather my own followers and fans. Reality check.

So I won't be deleting my Facebook account (although don't get me started on Facebook - but I'll save that rant for a later post) or deactivating my Twitter, and there's a good chance that there will still be times when I get carried away with thinking my internet presence is somehow important. It's not. There are moments when it's a good idea to stop, look around, and remember what truly is important. God. Family. Friends. The relationships that last forever. One thing I love about social media is that it allows relationships to grow and flourish everywhere. I just want to keep it real, and keep it all in perspective.

What about you? Do you ever get carried away by social media?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

On Plot Wrangling

There are times when writing is fun. When the words just flow, the story seems to write itself, and characters take on a life of their own. When I can pound out 1000 words in 45 minutes or less, when whole chapters come together in the space of a day or two. When I get so into the writing that scary parts give me chills, funny parts make me laugh, and poignant moments bring me almost to tears.

Then there are weeks like this one, when it seems like nothing is working, when I stare at the screen for what feels like hours (it's not - I never have whole hours to sit and stare at the screen), and I think I may never finish this book. And even if I do, it will probably be crap. This week, I've hardly written a word but I've spent all this mental energy wrestling with my plot. I've rearranged scenes, added them, deleted them, thought of new ideas and rejected them, asked questions that may or may not have answers, and at the end of all that, I've decided I should just stop wrestling with this book and go back to writing it. It is in the writing that I find my voice.

Here is something I've learned in life: Just because you can write, doesn't mean you should. If there is anything else you can do that brings you joy and gets you up every morning, do that. I keep coming back to writing because I love it, but also because I have to do it. Sometimes I think it's going to drive me crazy, but really, it keeps me sane. I don't get paid for it, and I may never get paid for it, but I'm learning that it is one of a few things I have to do every day to stay grounded. Spending time with God, reading my Bible, praying, having spiritual conversations with others, and ... writing. If I don't, I regret it. So I guess what I'm to say is that no matter how many times I have to chase this plot down and tie it up, I keep at it because, well, I have to. And because there really isn't anything else I'd rather do when I grow up.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

On fresh starts

It's a new year. New start, new blog title, new resolutions...or goals...or adjustments...or whatever you decide to call them because calling them resolutions dooms them to failure by January 2nd.  Oh wait, it's January 4th?  Oops.

Here's what my year has looked like so far: By the end of the day on January 1st, I was starting to feel a little panic about all the things I was supposed to have started on, but hadn't yet.  But really, New Year's Day is a holiday, so if you don't get to your resolutions until the 2nd, that's okay, right? So by the end of the day on the 2nd, I was starting to really feel bad about myself. By the end of the day on the 3rd, I was starting to think I might as well write this whole year off as a failure because I'm already so behind, I'll never catch up. Welcome inside my head. It's a scary, scary place, right?

So today is the 4th. This morning I realized that every day is a fresh start. We don't always get a chance for a do-over, but we do get a clean slate. Every single day. Two verses come to mind that testify to this: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:23-24) and "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5). God, in His mercy and wisdom, gives us second chances with every new day, every new week, every new year. We are always one decision, one right action, one merciful word or repentant thought away from something new.

I want to make changes this year. I want to eat more vegetables, eat less...well, eat less. I want to lose a little weight, tone up my core, be more intentional about the way I use my time, finish my novel, blog more often, write a Bible Study, be a better Mary Kay Consultant, Tweet every day, improve my finances and my meal planning, and establish better daily habits. Looking back on that sentence, here's what I see: "I" Since when do I think this life is about what I want?

So, it may not be January 1st, but it's still a new year. I don't know what it's going to look like. I do have goals, desires, ideas for ways that I can improve, and I can decide right here to do my best. But ultimately, 2014 is not up to me. I trust God to write His story through me this year, and I'm looking forward to see what that looks like.

"For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland." (Isaiah 43:19)

So if you're like me and you have started this year out frustrated and overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Let it go. Thank God that tomorrow is a new day, and offer it back to Him. That's what I plan to do.

What do you plan to accomplish in 2014? Have you already been frustrated with yourself and your failures? Please tell me it's not just me!