Maybe The Telephone Isn’t An Enemy

Some of you might think that title is strange, but my fellow introverts will understand. The hours of mental preparation that go into making a two minute phone call. The sense of dread when the phone rings and you aren’t ready to talk with someone. The pressure of sounding engaged and alert while thinking fast enough to avoid awkward silences. Most of us view the telephone in much the same way the Dowager Countess of Grantham does.

some thoughts for introverts. Click to read article, "Maybe The Telephone Isn't An Enemy" | marissabaker.wordpress.comBut I had a truly enjoyable phone conversation with a friend this weekend, and I realized this wasn’t an isolated incident. When he asked for my number my first instinct was panic, then I realized there wasn’t any reason to. I talk with my sister on the phone for hours almost every day. I chat with my dance team when we’re coordinating practice times. I enjoy the unexpected call from my cousin or a select group of friends. Chatting on the phone really isn’t all that scary.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am in many ways a stereotypical introvert in regards to the telephone. We don’t have caller ID on the landline and the calls are rarely for me, so I refuse to answer when it rings unless I recognize the voice and want to talk with them now. My cell phone is set so it doesn’t even ring unless the number is in my contacts list and, in general, I much prefer written communication. There are times, however, when telephones are a preferable method of communication. Read more

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Books That Tell Truth Through Lies

As I was going through blog posts in my inbox yesterday,  I noticed two of my fellow bloggers were writing about reading recommendations and lists. Juni Desireé was posting about the top 10 books on her reading list for this year, and Socratic MBTI offered three quick recommendations for “enriching” books to read. In the past, I’ve shared a couple lists of my own, including my favorite fantasy books, but that was way back in 2013 (I’ve been blogging that long!?!). Sounds like it’s time for another recommended books post! Fiction That Tells The Truth

Books That Tell A Truth Through Lies | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I’m taking the title of this post from one of my favorite ideas — that even though “fiction” is defined as imaginary or untrue it is, in fact, a vehicle for telling the truth.

“That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.” ― Tim O’Brien

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” ― Albert Camus

“A fiction writer weaves a fabric of lies in hopes of revealing deeper human truths.” ― Wally Lamb

That’s my favorite kind of fiction. Any good story can teach you something true about yourself or other people, but truly great stories are going to get at a “deeper human truth” than is often isn’t possible in any other form. Child-labor laws would have passed in Britain without Dickens, but would it have happened as quickly if people hadn’t read Oliver Twist? Would the phrase “Catch-22” have entered our vocabulary if Joseph Heller wrote an essay instead of a novel?

Many books exist to share truths or make us think about something we’d otherwise overlook. One of the more famous is 1984 by George Orwell, which I’ve never actually finished reading (I know, I know — I’ll go hide in the corner now). Many others teach us truths seemingly by accident while telling a story. Here are just a few examples :

*note: there will be spoilers for all these books.

The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien insisted his The Lord of the Rings trilogy was not allegorical or inspired by his personal life, but I think we can at least say that his faith (Catholic) and his history (serving in both World Wars) influenced his writings. It’s a classic battle of good verses evil that set the stage for every epic fantasy adventure written since.

Just in case you’ve escaped reading or watching LOTR, the formerly-vanquished dark lord Sauron has come back into power in Middle Earth and is attempting to regain control of a magic ring that will let him subdue all lands and people under his power.  Though there are great warriors involved in the fight, the final victory hinges on two little hobbits from the middle of nowhere who hiked a very, very long way to destroy the ring.

By taking us outside of our own world, Tolkien shares universal truths about what makes a real friendship, the sacrifices required to do the right thing, and the importance of resisting evil even when it seems hopeless. One of the truths that hits me the hardest when reading or watching Lord of the Rings is how helpless we are to resist evil on our own. Frodo was incredibly strong on an emotional and psychological level and he carried the ring longer than any other character could have, but he still couldn’t make it up to Mount Doom by himself. Sam carried him the rest of the way and Frodo still wouldn’t have destroyed the ring if Gollum hadn’t fought him for it and carried it into the fires when he fell. Even heroes are susceptible to evil’s pull and they can’t overcome alone.

Mockingjay

I’ve read the whole Hunger Games book series and just watched Mockingjay Part II this past weekend. Suzanne Collins grew up learning about military history from her father — a Vietnam veteran and history professor. She didn’t go the history professor route herself, though, instead majoring in theater and telecommunications, then earning a master’s degree in dramatic writing.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay all take a good, hard look at what the article linked above describes as “necessary and unnecessary wars.” They quote Collins saying, “If we introduce kids to these ideas earlier, we could get a dialogue about war going earlier and possibly it would lead to more solutions.” In this case, the writer approached her storytelling hoping to convey truths about and get a dialogue started on ideas relate to war.

My mother, brother and I were talking yesterday about how Mockingjay is a story that sticks with you. It’s not something you can just read/watch and move on from. This is largely owing to what is probably Collins’ least popular authorial choice — killing Finnick Odair. In the book I actually read right over his death the first time and then had to go back and figure out what happens to him. His death isn’t the driving force in a major plot point (like Prim’s death) and he doesn’t have a dying scene all of his own (like Rue does in the first book). He just dies senselessly and tragically while the action moves on without him. And that’s the point. In real life, death doesn’t always make sense or serve a specific purpose.

Ender’s Game

This book could have so easily been nothing more than a story about a futuristic society that trains children to kill aliens. But Ender’s Game was written by Orson Scott Card (one of my all-time favorite writers) and there’s much more to it than that. The real story isn’t about the alien threat — it’s about human nature.

Ender’s Game wrestles with the question of how far it’s “okay” to go when you’re at war, and it does so from the perspective of a child who’s been immersed in a militaristic system for the bulk of his formative years. Just in case the military training isn’t enough to make him comfortable with genocide, though, he’s taught the entire thing is a game — that none of the aliens will actually die if he wins.

As the story unwinds, we’re forced to confront ideas that can spill over into our own world. How violent can games become before they start affecting reality? When, if ever, are large-scale preemptive strikes an acceptable form of self-defense? What is an adult’s responsibility toward children?

Somewhat less obvious is the question of an individual’s responsibility within society. Ender was raised from a young age to think of the Buggers (this name was changed to Formics in later Enderverse writings) as enemies you must destroy at all costs. He should have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing this, and yet learning he’d succeeded in wiping out his enemy in real life rather than just in-game nearly destroyed him. He devoted the rest of his life to making others understand the Hive Queen’s perspective and trying to set things right by bringing back the Formics species. Perhaps that’s the real take-away truth from Ender’s Game — there are at least two sides (and often more) to every story and it’s not always easy to see who’s right.

Your Turn: What are some of the truths you’ve discovered in and through fiction?

Not Wanting To Write

It’s about 4:30 in the afternoon Sunday as I write this. Usually by this time I’m either proof-reading a completed post for Monday or wrapping-up my work on a finished idea. What’s worse, I don’t even I care that haven’t written a post yet. I mean, I’d probably care tomorrow when I wake up and realize I failed all of you readers, but at this point I’ve had too little sleep and too much Netflix to function as my normal self.

Well, perhaps not entirely. At least I’m writing about not wanting to write. It’s a start. I’ve been writing professionally long enough to know you can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike if you want to get a blog post, article, story or book written. People who do that aren’t writers.

Not Wanting To Write | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “Content writer” by Ritesh Nayak, CC BY-SA via Flickr

If you aren’t a writer you can get away with not writing when you don’t want to. Hobbies and pastimes are voluntary. But when writing is what you do you don’t just stop. In fact, if you’re doing things right, most of the time it feels like you can’t stop writing. For writers, not-writing should feel stranger than writing.

There’s a myth out there that writing is easy (“Oh, so you’re a writer? That’s cool. I might write a novel in my spare time some day”). It’s not. Yes, there will be days when the words flow out and you’re convinced what you’re writing is pure genius and you just know these words have the power to touch people’s souls. But mostly you have to sit down everyday with your pen or your laptop or your typewriter and make the words move from brain to fingers.

 

Struggling to write is perfectly okay just so long as you don’t give up. I suppose it’s that way with most things, actually. Anything worth doing is going to be hard at some point. What’s important is that we don’t stop, at least not for long. By all means take a break, eat a little chocolate and watch some anime (my sister hooked me on Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood), but don’t stay there.

It’s about 7:30 in the afternoon as I finish writing this. Look at that — we’ve got a finished blog post, even with the distractions of searching for quotes about writing and playing Star Trek Online. And you know what? I think I just might keep writing. My short story collection needs one more story, and there’s a character named Taline just waiting to be discovered …

 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

I, who never wanted an electronic reading device, read all of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall on my phone. I recently upgraded to a cellphone that actually works where I live, and it also happens to be a smartphone tempting me with free classics on Google Books. I thought it would be easier to pull out my phone and read a little than trying to carry around the printed copy of Anna Karenina I was currently reading (and which I finally finished!).

Like her sister Charlotte did with Jane Eyre, Anne Bronte captivated me with her story. I read it while waiting for a repair on my car’s exhaust system. I read it while eating breakfast. I even read in the bathtub while praying I didn’t drop my phone in the water, but I had to know what happened next.

Stylistically, what caught my eye was that the bulk of the novel is narrated by the main character Gilbert Markham. I’m trying to think of any other female authors of this time period who wrote a first-person narrative from a man’s perspective, but haven’t so far. Read more

Writing A “Husband List”

Every girl who wants to be married has dreamed about what he will be like. Many of us have written lists of the traits our ideal man will have. Over the years, we’ve also heard various views on writing husband lists. Some people say you should have a list, so you know what you’re looking for. Others say that having a list makes your focus too narrow and that you’re “limiting God.”

Writing A "Husband List"  | marissabaker.wordpress.com
bg image credit: Anonymous on Flickr

I had a nice long list when I was in my teens, then a short list of “must haves,” and now a more specific idea that’s not written down. Recently, though, a married friend encouraged me to write a new list to pray over. She had a list, and when she was in her 30s she met a man who fit every thing she’d been praying for (right down to the kind of car he drove) and married him 2 weeks after their first meeting (yes, you read that right. They’re still happily married and have two teenage kids). I know other girls who’ve been told their standards were “too high” yet found guys who matched everything on the list they were praying for, and there are also ladies like blogger Lucinda McDowell who prayed for 24 things in a husband, and God gave her 23. Writing a list doesn’t make you “too picky” — it means you have standards, and that’s a good thing.

So I started work on my new list. And I thought perhaps other girls might find it useful to read about how I decided what to include. There are articles out there offering lists of non-negotiables for you to base your list on, but even the essential qualities are going to look a bit different for everyone. For example, if you’re Christian, some form of “He’s a practicing believer” is probably at the top of your list, but what does “practicing believer” mean to you?

Just a quick note … guys can write “wife lists” too, and I suspect that much of what I talk about here might be useful for that as well. Since I’m a girl thinking about a future husband, though, that’s what I’m going to focus on for this post.

Free Writing

I’ll be honest — I actually didn’t start with this step, but I think now I should have. You want your list to reflect the things you feel like you “should want” as well as what you truly desire, and so there’s often a feeling of not being able to ask for “little thing” or mention appearance at all. But if we’re honest, things that might seem shallow at first glance are still there in the back of our minds, which means they do matter on some level. Starting with free writing gives us a chance to put those little dreams on paper without feeling bad about them.

Writing A "Husband List" | marissabaker.wordpress.comGrab a piece of paper and just start writing the first phrases and descriptions that pop into your head when you think about what kind of guy you would like to marry. Think about guys (real and fictional) you’ve had crushes on and list the things about them you found attractive. Think about guys you’ve dated and list things that you liked about them, and the opposite of the reason you broke up with him (i.e., if you’re boyfriend didn’t respect your boundaries, you might add “respects my boundaries”). Think about happily married couples you know and list things you want to see in your own marriage. Write down literally anything that you think of, no matter how unrealistic it sounds.

Now look back over your list. Circle anything that 1: doesn’t have to do with physical appearance and 2: you consider absolutely essential in a relationship. You’re looking for things that have to do with who he is as a person, like “loves God,” “good communicator,” and “we worship together.”

Next, look at the things you haven’t circled yet. Cross-out anything that you know is 1: not essential for you in a relationship (I crossed out “rich singing voice”), 2: only related to physical appearance (such as “taller than me), and/or 3: completely unrealistic. While you’re doing this, you might find that you can replace an unrealistic goal with a related realistic goal. For example, instead of “rich as Mr. Darcy” you might list, “able to provide financially for a family.” I would encourage you to pray about the things you want but know are unrealistic. Sometimes, we use unrealistic expectations to push other people away and shield ourselves from being vulnerable in relationships.

Now you have a sheet of paper with things crossed out, things circled, and a few things that are neither. For now, set this list aside.

Red, Yellow, Green

There’s a book called True Love Dates by Christian relationship counselor Debra Fileta that recommends writing three separate lists, and that’s where we’re going to start. Before you spend any more time writing down the things you want in a relationship, we’re going to write a list of things that are never okay.

“Stop” and “Slow”

The first thing you’re going to write is a Red list of traits that always mean “stop” when you notice them in a relationship. If a guy has any characteristic from your Red list, you do not pursue a relationship with him (no matter how many good traits he has). My Red list includes things like “does not believe in God/won’t respect my belief” and “refusal to communicate,” along with others like the examples Debra Fileta gives in her book:

  • Abusiveness (physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual)
  • Dangerous and uncontrolled temper or displays of aggression
  • Pattern of dishonesty or betrayal

The next step is writing a Yellow list. This is for things you’re not sure about and would need serious consideration and discussion before moving forward in a relationship. They give you pause, but don’t mean the relationship can’t work. A few on my list are “previously married” and “trouble handling money.” Here are more examples from True Love Dates:

  • Family of origin issues and problems
  • Unhealthy habits or behaviors
  • Lacks motivation, goals, and dreams

“Go” For It!

green light
credit: Raymond Brown

Now for the fun part — the Green list or “husband list” of things you want to have in your relationship. If Red means stop and Yellow means slow down and reevaluate, Green means you can feel good about going forward with a relationship. Here’s where we get to go back to the free writing exercise.

I sorted my list into four categories: “Personal Values,” “Family and Relationships,” “Makes Me Feel …” and “Personality.” The circled phrases from my free writing exercise ended up in the first three categories, and many of the phrases that were neither circled nor crossed out ended up in one of the last two categories (you might even list a couple of the ones you crossed-out if they are still important to you). I saw the “Personality” category as representing things I want, but some of which could be negotiable. Here’s a few specific items from each list, so you can see what I’m talking about without me sharing a copy of the whole thing:

  • Personal Values
    • follows God and Christ first
    • uses his gifts to serve in some way
    • demonstrates integrity, commitment, faithfulness
  • Family and Relationships
    • respects and helps set boundaries
    • wants children
    • hospitable; welcomes guests and visitors to our home
  • Makes Me Feel …
    • protected and cherished
    • listened to and understood
    • like I’m valuable and contributing to his life
  • Personality
    • slow to anger
    • good communicator
    • enjoys discussing ideas

Looking At Yourself

Now that you have your list, turn it back on yourself and ask if you have those qualities. Would the guy you’ve written about want to date, or marry, you? Some of this should match pretty easily — you wouldn’t list a guy who wants 6 kids if you didn’t want 6 kids.

Others might be harder. If you listed a man who spends time with God every day, will he want to marry you if you regularly forget to study? Or if you ask for a guy who will never cheat on you, are you prepared to be faithful to him? If you want an Ephesians 5 husband, will you be an Ephesians 5 wife?

I hope this post was helpful to you — writing the list that inspired it has certainly helped me. While we know that God knows exactly what we need without us telling Him, I think it is helpful for us to have something more to ask Him than “please give me a good husband.” You’re putting effort into pursuing a relationship by figuring out what it is you’re looking for. God bless you, my dear readers.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)