Hit the Switch

Photo Minimal _ Hipster Coffee Shop Mailing List Social Media Graphics

One of the primary struggles of writing is the work itself. I’ve detailed that struggle sufficiently elsewhere and won’t elaborate at the moment. You’re welcome.

Another struggle of the writing life is keeping your work in front of people and making sure they can find it.

In an attempt to do just that, I’m migrating my public writing over to Substack.

Nothing But Good News

Everything here on the blog will stay here. If you’ve ever posted or linked to any work here, those links will stay active, and you can come crawl around the archives any time.

New work will be posting to Substack.

The big difference with this move is that once you’re signed up, you’ll never have to hunt for new posts.

They’ll arrive in your inbox, smart and shiny, as soon as they publish.

You won’t have to visit my site or come searching for content.

It will come straight to you.

COME JOIN US!

Something on This List Will Make You Laugh

Guaranteed.

  • A former student used to give me ground coffee at Christmas, but wrapped in Victoria’s Secret bags so I’d have to carry them through the halls saying, “It’s coffee, I promise, it’s really just coffee.”
  • While in Korea last year, we decided to go out during Typhoon Lingling, and my shirt blew straight up.
  • One foggy morning back when I was teaching, I accidentally hit a bird with my car on the way to school. Feeling sad but thinking little of it throughout the day, I was shocked in the afternoon to discover half a bird stuck to the grille of my car, an ominous smear up the hood, and one lone feather affixed to the antennae. Unfortunately, I’d parked in a prominent spot near the school office, and everyone saw. Even worse, I’d been teaching “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” that day. The students watched closely for the next week to see what bad luck would befall.
  • When my twin nieces were five years old, they were quite concerned that I didn’t have a family of my own. I went for a visit and found pictures of little kids cut out from magazines and left on the guest bed. “Those are coupons for you, Aunt Ruth! So you can buy some children!”
  • One time when we were out at Ocean Beach in California, we got grub burgers and then walked down the beach to the pier. That’s when someone noticed I’d accidentally sat on a slice of processed cheddar cheese, which was still plastered to the back of my skirt. It had hardened to a crusty cement, and it took two people helping to peel it off.
  • Once while in France, I got up in the middle of the night, tripped over a slight ledge in the kitchen, and went sprawling into the living room. When someone in my group asked what that noise was in the middle of the night, I started telling the story (angling for some sympathy) and our waitress overheard and started laughing at me. The waitress.
  • During the year that I lived and taught in China (pre-cell-phone days), I’d been downtown all day and was unaware of a problem with our apartment that would leave me locked out for the next few hours. A friend thoughtfully tried to alert me to the issue (and save me a long walk to our apartment on back campus) by leaving me a note attached to a bush at our bus stop. A note. In a bush.

Her: But I left you a note! Didn’t you see it?

Me: A note? Where?

Her: I stuck it in a bush!

Me: …

  • Some time ago, I was taking care of nieces and nephews while their parents were away. The kids passed around the stomach flu. One by one, they all started vomiting. It was like a bad dream. “That’s it!” I told them dramatically. “No one else is allowed to throw up!” Twenty minutes later, I threw up.
  • Once while on a first date, I climbed into a hollow tree.
  • While on a road trip in the Southwest, a friend and I rented a car with weird bumps on the steering wheel. Later, she admitted that she thought the notches were Braille. On the steering wheel. (Braille. On the steering wheel.)
  • My sister and I once sneaked into a public performance of one of my plays. As the lights came up for the intermission, we heard the lady sitting behind us hiss, “This play is weird.”
  • The same sister also once hacked into my cell phone, imitated my voice, and changed my outgoing message to something super long and pretentious, and I didn’t notice for six months. Six months.
  • I recently did a Skype talk with a high school class about writing, and accidentally ended with, “Okay, I love you, BYE!”
  • When I was little, I slid down a sloping outside cellar door and filled my backside with splinters. I didn’t tell my mom until she was tucking me into bed at night. When she asked why I waited so long to say anything, I told her I’d been saving it as a surprise.
  • While driving my sister home from church, I witnessed an accident. I immediately slammed on the brakes and hit the horn. Bethany, who had been quietly reading a book in the passenger’s seat, looked up to behold….. nothing. Two clear lanes of traffic and a sunny sky stared back at us. That’s because the accident had happened a few blocks behind us. The fact that I had seen it in the rear-view mirror didn’t register with me until after I’d already slammed on the brakes and hit the horn.
  • One time, Bethany and I had to move three heavy wooden wardrobes out of a trailer and into a barn with the help of a hand truck with partially-deflated tires. Although we survived, we made several mistakes while moving the first one and nearly crushed ourselves.

Me: Maybe it would help if we tied the wardrobe doors shut. That way they won’t flop open and throw the balance off.

Her: Good call.

Me: Do you have any rope?

Her: Hold please. (Returns carrying a tiny length of twine.)

Me: Um, that’s not enough.

Her: Sure it is. (Ties handles shut.)

Me: Oh.

Her: What?

Me: I never would have thought of that.

Her: Thought of what? This was your idea.

Me: I mean just tying the handles together.

Her: (Nonplussed) What would you have done?

Me: Looked for enough rope to go all the way around the wardrobe.

Her: LOL.

Me: SHUT UP!


Everyone, please stay safe during this crazy time. Do what you can to take care of the people around you as best you can, and trust God to take care of you.

Also, if you like this post, you’d love my books.

Do I like to read_ (1)


 

How to Work from Home: An Expert Guide

I don’t want to boast, but I’ve been working from home for roughly seven years.

This is how the magic happens.

How to Work From Home: An Expert Guide

1. The night before, set your alarm for super early so that you will be able to get a jump start on the day. Just think, if you knock out all your work before lunch, you’ll have all afternoon to enjoy yourself! You are so smart.

2. When the alarm goes off, wonder what you were thinking. Why are you getting up early? You have literally all day to do your work and no reason to leave the house or even get dressed! This is madness. Hit snooze.

3. Hit snooze a few more times.

4. Feel guilty about hitting snooze. Begin self-talk about the importance of consistency and determination. Mid-talk, realize you are floating five feet above your bed. Begin the back stroke in mid-air. You’ve always wanted to do this! Twirl to your stomach, paddle to the window, and sail out over the neighborhood. What a wonderful day!

5. Wait, this is a dream. Rude. Hit snooze again.

6. Realize that the sun is up and you have no idea what time it is. Someone might call with a work-related question, and you will still have Sleepy Voice! Fling the covers back and leap from bed, heart hammering. This is dumb. Working from home is supposed to be relaxing!

7. Get up, make coffee, and eat, all still in a mild, irrational panic. Debate whether to shower and get dressed or just work in pajamas. Seriously, why would it matter? Who would ever know?

8. Peek outside to check the weather. If foul, feel smug that you work from home and don’t have to go out in it. If fair, pity yourself because you work from home and don’t get to go out.

9. Decide to work non-stop until lunch.

10. Accidentally open Twitter.

11. Twitter crashes and you glance at the clock. It’s 9:48. How!

12. Get serious. Sip your cold coffee, set up your desk, open all your documents, lay out research materials. Answer a few work e-mails and decide 10:15 is a perfectly respectable time for an early lunch.

13. Eat lunch with a book. Accidentally drizzle food on yourself.

14. Change shirt. I mean, you might be working from home, but you have standards.

15. Wonder if 11:00 is too early for afternoon coffee.

16. Studiously ignore the fact that if you had gotten up early, as you had planned, you would already be done by now.

17. Stare into the void.

18. Make afternoon coffee to fortify yourself for phone calls and/or Skype sessions with clients/editors/students/etc.

19. Put on pants. They might not be strictly necessary, but they put you in a more professional headspace. Usually.

20. Conduct Skype sessions and/or phone calls, adjusting the angle so no one sees the unmade bed.

21. Having finally expended energy, feel you’ve earned a nap. Struggle with the knowledge that if you lie down now, you’ll have to work after dinner to finish the day’s quota.

22. Brew more coffee.

23. Ignore the fact that from where you sit, you can see your bed. It looks inviting, cozy, and warm. Build a tower of books between your desk and the bed as a makeshift blinder. Power through its gravitational pull.

24. Finally establish a productive groove, only to field phone calls from a family member who’s teasing you about how you work from home and therefore are probably just now starting your work day. Laugh like it’s actually a joke.

25. Notice the shadows slanting. Contemplate throwing your phone onto the roof.

26. Pull blinds, shut off lights, hide phone, don noise-canceling headphones, and finally establish a productive groove. Emerge from partially-hypnotic state to discover you’ve lost a significant swath of time. At last! The work day has arrived!

27. Power through the rest of your daily quota. When you finish, it’s dark.

28. If weather and circumstances permit, take a jog around the neighborhood, partly for the exercise and partly to remind yourself that other humans exist. At the very least, walk on your treadmill. Anything to keep yourself from feeling like a half-baked potato.

29. Read, watch a little TV, get ready for bed. Despite the fact that you know you don’t need to leave the house early the next day—or at all—try to convince yourself to get a good night’s sleep.

30. Set your alarm for super early so that you will be able to get a jump start on the next day.


Okay, I’ll be honest. Although I do work from home, this list isn’t perfectly reflective of my work day. For one thing, around the time I turned forty, my body decreed that we would no longer need an alarm. Instead, we wake up around five every morning with or without my consent.

So that’s been fun.

For another, after a few years of flailing, I found a steady rhythm that works much better than the one depicted above.

That’s the thing. For me, it took a while for me to find my work-from-home groove.

For all of you already working from home due to COVID-19 (and for all who soon will be), know that you have my deepest sympathies and greatest respect.

Working from home is harder than people think.

Welcome to the team!

Give It Silence

Yes, there are times to speak.

When error and injustice reign, we should kick up a fuss. When nuance is needed in constructive conversations, we should make our voices heard.

However, in some areas, silence is more effective.

For this reason, while I don’t willingly throw my money behind companies and causes I can’t in good faith support, I also don’t jump on public boycotting bandwagons.

Here’s why.

There’s actually good evidence that loud, social-media-fueled boycotts don’t work; in fact, they often prove counterproductive.

This is especially true in the entertainment industry.

As Andy Crouch points out in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, prominent protests actually fuel the box office by increasing visibility for controversial projects.

Boycotts generate headlines, drive publicity, and dominate the news cycle of a culture that generally doesn’t care about specific moral critiques and can easily move on to enjoy victory when such projects inevitably do well.

That’s why instead of joining boycotts, I give silence.

Silence is the death knell of creative endeavor.

Speaking as a writer, I’d much rather my work be met with hearty debate than the awkward chirping of crickets.

Silence means it wasn’t even important enough for someone to form an opinion one way or the other.

For these reasons, I encourage you to redirect your energy. Instead of boycotting, look toward boosting.

Shine a light on what matters.

When a truly good film comes out, go see it (“That’s your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes,” says Barbara Nicolosi, who terms this sort of resistance an othercott).

Post reviews of good books to help boost their visibility. Ask your library to add them to the collection. Go to live shows. Support worthy artists, speakers, and public thinkers. Back them with your words and your capital. Play good music, and play it loudly with the windows down, yodeling along as best you can. Never stop recommending your favorites.

Celebrate your local community’s arts scene, lending your support at the grass-roots level.

That’s the beauty of art and culture: everyone can be involved.

Together, we can build culture—culture that celebrates life, light, and truth.

Let’s shine a light on what matters.

Let’s give the rest our silence.


An earlier version of this essay originally posted to my former blog site in the spring of 2017.

Recently, I’ve been thinking along similar lines as this relates to online pseudo-controversies and petty personal beefs clogging my timeline, most of which are ridiculous and yet have helped certain individuals amass large platforms due to the viral nature of controversy itself.

While there’s certainly a place for defending orthodoxy or adding helpful nuance to good-faith discussions, let’s not waste time arguing with fools or amplifying attention paid to petty nonsense. In most cases, we’d be much better served simply to give it silence.


Though I don’t quote him directly, my general thoughts on these issues have been shaped by L.M. Sacasas, both in essays posted to The Frailest Thing and more recently in The Convivial Societywhich, incidentally, you should subscribe to immediately.


 

Love Songs for Literary Lonely-Hearts

For all my fellow Literary Lonely-Heart Friends who plan to spend Valentine’s Day 2020 at home alone, snuggled under a fuzzy blanket, nerding it up with a good book.

You are my people, and these are for you.

You’re welcome.

(Also, I apologize.)


Stuff Like This

I want to live a love song.

I want a true love story.

But all I’ve managed to pull off

Is cosplay Jo and Laurie.

I want a couple’s portrait,

In grand, dramatic tableaux.

Instead, I pose for headshots,

Profile, like Cyrano.

I want to meet in moonlight.

I want a lover’s tryst,

A face-to-face, full-armed embrace.

(I think you get the gist.)

Alas, I haven’t prospered.

Alas, I’m all alone.

Perpetually the Rosalind

To Act-One Orlando.

Instead of arms to hold me,

Instead of true-love’s kiss,

By and by, I sit and sigh,

Writing stuff like this.


I Read Too Much Ann Rule

Maybe he will notice me.

Maybe we will marry.

We’ll sit and sip on Earl Grey tea,

Enjoying sun-ripe cherries.

Maybe we will dance and sing.

Maybe we will travel.

Perhaps our whole relationship

Will messily unravel.

Perhaps he’ll dig a pit out back

In which he plans to roast me.

His fierce expression turns to stone,

As (literally) he ghosts me.

The neighbors say he’s grown remote,

Seems hard and cross and cruel.

All unobserved, he digs my grave.

(I read too much Ann Rule.)


I Think We Might Survive (Love)

Katniss bests the Hunger Games.

Shackleton, the sea.

Harry is The Boy Who Lived.

Harriet goes free.

Sam and Frodo flee Mount Doom.

Janie, a hurricane.

Vronsky’s lover Anna⁠—

(Oh, wait⁠—my bad⁠—that train!)

Hugh Glass, though ravaged by a bear,

Still makes it out alive.

Though love’s a bit Lord of the Flies,

Somehow, we might survive.


In case you weren’t hanging around here last year, don’t miss 2019’s Valentine’s installment, “5 Original Poems for Literary Lonely-Hearts.”

My personal favorite of that batch is “The Doomed Romance of Fiction.”


Whatever your personal feelings about Valentine’s Day this week, I pray you’ll find joy in God’s good gifts of people, places, and simple pleasures.

Personally, I plan to eat lots of pasta.