The Noble Failure

In a recent episode of the GameChurch Podcast, the interviewee briefly touched on a concept he called “the noble failure.” As he explained it within the context of his experiences creating video games, he defined it as making efforts to achieve something, failing at it, and then using that experience as a stepping stone toward the goal.

Sounds basic, doesn’t it? Like something everyone understands and accepts. Unfortunately, the interviewee mentioned that it was something he thought Americans had little, if any, appreciation for while Europeans were a bit more open to it.

I think he’s right.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my country, but in America, failure is failure is failure. If a product isn’t successful, it’s seen as worthless. The same is true of people. If someone isn’t racking up achievements, they’re seen as pathetic. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first, second, third, or 100th attempt. All that matters is success. That’s how their value is measured.

This is both pretentious and shortsighted. It defines people by what they do and what they have and not by who they are. It allows no grace for outside factors—most of which are beyond people’s control—to have an effect on someone’s ability to achieve. No, results are all that matter. Are you a jobless college graduate? You’re a failure. Did you flunk a test in school? You’re a failure. Did your new business close? You’re a failure.

I’ve learned this from hard experiences. I lost my first full-time, post-college job just before the “Great Recession,” which made it ten times harder to find a new one. I already felt like a failure for losing my job, and now I couldn’t get a new one. I did everything I could to improve my chances (updated and rewrote my resume, applied to different places, tried to network, etc.), but nothing seemed to pan out. On top of that, I was still trying to find a publisher for my first novel and get freelance articles published, but I wasn’t having much luck. Then, after a year of grueling effort, I finally got a job—as a part-time delivery driver. I told myself I’d hold onto it while I looked for something better. But as the recession dragged on, that “something better” never seemed to come.

I was berated by some people during these times. A girlfriend dumped me because she thought I wouldn’t be a good provider. Another girlfriend’s father made accusations that I would force his daughter to be the breadwinner while I sat at home writing (and not making any money at it, he implied). The frequent criticisms of my generation created the “lazy, entitled millennial” stereotype, which was hammered into my head. Again, all that mattered was results. Setbacks were unacceptable. Trajectory was insufficient. Failure was the unpardonable sin.

What’s sad is the stories of great people are replete with failures. Depending on who you talk to, J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was rejected nine to 12 times before being accepted. Now it’s a multibillion dollar empire. Can you imagine being one of those 12 editors? They’re eating crow now! Thomas Edison used thousands of different materials trying to make a lightbulb filament and famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Then he found one that did, and it helped usher in the modern world.

Or how about this superb inspirational Nike commercial:

Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete to play basketball and the winner of six NBA championships, had a long string of failures. If he’d let those define him, he would’ve given up and never accomplished what he did. It was those failures that taught him the lessons he needed to move forward.

That’s my advice to all of you. Don’t let your failures define you. Learn from them. Move forward a wiser person. Most importantly, don’t let anyone judge you because of your failures. As Bernard Baruch (not Dr. Seuss) said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Your real friends/fans/supporters will be gracious and understand. Let them encourage you not to give up on your dreams and goals. We all need that.

What do you think of the idea of “the noble failure”? Does it sound good to you? What “noble failures” have you experienced? What did you learn from them?

Wonder Woman and Getting Characters Right

DC Comics hasn’t had much luck with movies lately. They’ve been striving to catch up with Marvel Comics’ unsurpassed cinematic universe with several films of their own—with mixed results. Then this past weekend Wonder Woman was released. A lot was riding on it. It was the first female-led superhero film in 12 years (and none of the others were successes). It was the first time Wonder Woman was ever on the big screen. DC desperately needed a film to save their “extended universe.”

And it was, well, wonderful.

This blog isn’t a review of the film. What I want to talk about is the first and most important reason why I think this film succeeded. It’s something that took DC’s film division four tries to learn, and it’s something you as a writer can benefit from knowing.

Get your characters right.

One of the major problems the DCEU films have had is they’ve tried so hard to reimagine and/or “modernize” their already iconic characters that they’ve almost ceased to be those characters. Superman is brooding and doubtful. Batman is paranoid and murderous. And don’t even get me started on the Joker.

Here, though, DC doesn’t screw around. They present Wonder Woman—a character I’m sure they were too scared for years to put on screen—as she should be: earnest, inspirational, and above all, compassionate. I’ve not read many Wonder Woman comics (though I suddenly want to read more now), but I’ve always thought that she was written best when she was written as I just described. Yes, she is an Amazon warrior. Her strength rivals Superman’s and her fighting prowess probably exceeds Batman’s. But hers is a distinctly feminine strength. Her drive to fight comes from a desire to comfort and protect. In the film, she witnesses the horrors of war, seeing wounded soldiers and civilians, and without speaking a word, the audience knows her heart is breaking. She’s naïve, but she’s not brooding, doubtful, or murderous. It’s a welcome change from what DC’s been doing with their films.

Along the same lines, this film isn’t steeped in feminist propaganda. By that I mean making all the men in the film worthless idiots (like what was done in last year’s horrid Ghostbusters remake). Wonder Woman is determined to forge ahead and make her own way, but she gladly seeks and accepts help from men. The male characters, especially Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), are all strong, competent, and well-written characters. Wonder Woman even (gasp!) falls in love with one of them and (SPOILER WARNING) renews her faith in humanity because Trevor told her he loved her before dying heroically. In other words, Wonder Woman saw the best of mankind thanks to men.

Let this be a lesson to you, writers: believe in your characters and let them be true to themselves. Don’t let culture or trends dictate how you write them. That’s a one-way ticket to cookie-cutter clichés. Write the characters you want to write. Make them unique. Make them your own. What audiences want isn’t always what they need, or even what they want in the long run. That’s why you need to let your characters be true to themselves, and by extension, you remain true to yourself as an artist and storyteller.

What did you think of Wonder Woman? What are some ways you’ve learned on how to write your characters right?

Social Media Masks

I should be writing my stories right now, but instead I’m firing off a blog because I feel I owe it to you, my readers, since I’ve been lax on keeping up with regular blogging the past month.

Have you ever noticed how different people act on the Internet? “Trolls” are one thing, since the anonymity of cyberspace allows people to behave in ways they probably wouldn’t in real life. I’m talking about how people act on social media. In most cases, there isn’t as much anonymity. However, people use sites like Facebook and Twitter not only to connect with people they know, but also to reconnect with people they haven’t seen in years. This gives them a great deal of control over their image, especially with the latter. They essentially become their own PR agents. They can omit the bad and talk only of the good; they can put spin on the bad to hide the truth; or they can use it as a public outlet for grievances.

More often than not, though, people use social media to make themselves look better. How many times have you or someone you know logged into Facebook only to see another engagement or pregnancy announcement, among other such things? Many people, since they only see these positive things in Facebook feeds, assume that their friends are living far better lives than them. They don’t see the lost jobs, the break-ups, and/or the daily frustrations because those people don’t share such things. This leads to depression because, as one study puts it, the “highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.” In other words, social media is a mask. It allows people to create something of a “secret identity.” They’re afraid to be honest because they want people to admire them or are afraid of criticism.

On the other hand, as I’ve learned personally, being honest on social media about what’s happening in your life can lead to backlash. Share the “wrong” thing—whether it be a political opinion, a struggle, and/or bad joke—and it will turn you into a lightning rod. You’ll be bombarded with comments from people who don’t understand you, get lectures from those who may or may not mean well, or be attacked. Internet communication lacks the nuances of interpersonal interaction, so much of the message is lost. Regardless, this leads to the above problem of only sharing the positive to play it “safe.” It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.

Honestly, I don’t what to do about this. It’s a multifaceted problem with many layers. Some of it relates to what should or shouldn’t be shared on social media, who it should be shared with, and how one reacts to what is seen on social media. There are things that can be done, such as spending less time on social media, but it’s something that must be practiced by a multitude of people, so even if you do the right thing, that doesn’t mean all your Facebook friends or Twitter followers will do the same. That’s the frustrating part.

Should you wear a social media “mask”? That’s a difficult question to answer. Personally, I’ve decided that my entire life doesn’t need to be shared on the Internet for all to see. Considering that many say whatever is put on the Internet is on there forever, it’s made me more cautious about what I share. Plus, people are entitled to their privacy. There are a lot of stories about high-profile celebrities buckling under their notoriety because everything they do is shared with the world. I don’t want that.

The only advice I can give is to use social media wisely. Decide what you’re okay with the public knowing and seeing. The rest you should keep to yourself. As mean as this may sound, most people’s lives aren’t as interesting as they might think. I don’t care what you had for lunch or that you’re at the grocery store (probably buying what you had for lunch). I have my own life to live.

And so do you.

How do you use social media? How have you dealt with “Facebook depression”? Have you changed how you conduct yourself on social media? How so?

Meeting Stan Lee

I scratched an item off of my bucket list Saturday.

If you were following me on my social media this past weekend, you know that I attended C2E2, a convention held in Chicago, to meet comic book legend Stan Lee, the creator of most of the Marvel Comics universe. I would rank Mr. Lee among the top five most influential writers on my life. Indeed, Mr. Lee might be among the most impactful writers of the last fifty years.

This was the best I could zoom in with my iPhone. I had to sit in the back. (L to R: Frank Miller, Stan Lee, the moderator)

After a harrowing three-hour trip with my friends Sergio and Jude (which included breakfast at IHOP, a brief Walmart run, and a shorter-than-expected battle with traffic), we arrived at McCormick Place. We got tickets and the lay of the land, so I changed into my Captain America cosplay and hurried to a huge auditorium for Mr. Lee’s panel with fellow creator Frank Miller (who I like but not nearly enough to bother meeting since the man is now insane). I was concerned I wouldn’t get in because it was crowded. You see, Mr. Lee is 94 years old(!), and 2017 is his last year for appearing at conventions, so this would be the last time most people would get to see him in person. I passed the time making friends with my “line-mates” (a word I coined that day), including a 20-something Chicago girl standing behind me. Thankfully, we made it in.

Unfortunately, the panel started 20 minutes late due to technical difficulties. My annoyance was drowned by my excitement, though. Mr. Miller came out first, but it was Mr. Lee who got the biggest cheer. What’s hilarious is the Chicago girl and I had joked about how it’d be hilarious if Mr. Lee passive-aggressively mocked Mr. Miller—and he did! In fact, Mr. Lee spent much of his time roasting Mr. Miller, making fun of his artwork and writing and his comic series Sin City, among other things. Mr. Lee also made frequent comments about how his eyesight was fine but his hearing was going out, so he couldn’t hear Mr. Miller or the moderator when they spoke into microphones (which he demonstrated by making garbled sounds), but he could hear them when they didn’t speak into mics.

My favorite moment (besides the Mr. Miller roasting) was his story about creating Spider-Man. At first I didn’t want to hear it because it’s a story I’ve heard from him in interviews many times, but he put a new spin on it. He was told by his editor to create a new hero, and when Mr. Lee was sitting at his desk to write, he saw a fly on the wall and thought it’d be “groovy” to have a hero who could stick to walls. He decided to call him Spider-Man and make him a teenager with lots of personal problems. He took that to his editor, who shot it down, saying, “You can’t call him Spider-Man! People are scared of spiders! You can’t make him a teenager because teenagers are always sidekicks! He’s a hero! Heroes don’t have personal problems!” Here’s the part I never heard before, though: Mr. Lee disregarded what his editor said and sent it to the printer because it was going into the final issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 and he figured no one would remember it. The next month, sales figures came in and showed that was the bestselling book that month, so the editor told Mr. Lee, “Remember that hero you made that we liked? We’re giving him his own series!”

Tenacity and guts. I love Stan Lee.

I realized during that panel that Stan Lee is the most endearing cranky old man ever. If anyone could be granted immortality, I hope it’s him.

The new crown jewel of my library. 🙂

My primary goals for the day after that were to get his autograph and a photo with him. I’d bought a photo-op in advance, but I had to stand in line for the autograph—for 2 ½ hours! It was much like waiting to ride a roller coaster at Cedar Pointe: multi-hour wait for a 60-second thrill. Was it worth it? Oh, heck yes! Again, I made friends with my “line-mates,” several of whom want to check out my books. (Hello to you, new readers!) If I got the chance, I wanted to ask Mr. Lee one of two questions. One wasn’t related to his work while the other was somewhat related. Regarding the former, a lesser-known fact is that Mr. Lee has been married to his one and only wife, Joan, for nearly 70 years(!), so I was gonna ask him what was the secret to a lasting marriage. If not that, I was just gonna ask him for writing advice. However, the organizers had to move the line fast, so I was only able to say, “Hello, Mr. Lee,” to him. Even then, there were two guys sitting on either side of him who had to point me out to him when I said that while he was signing my copy of Essential Captain America, Vol. 1. I guess he really is hard of hearing. He did smile at me, though.

Finally, there was the photo-op. Sergio joined me for that. He’d insisted the day before that he would not join me if I wore my costume, all but demanding that I “dress formal” for Stan Lee out of respect. I got the message, although my garb is more semi-formal. Anyway, it wasn’t nearly as long of a wait for the photo-op, but it was a brief meeting. This time, though, Mr. Lee said, “Hi, fellas!” to us. Sergio boldly went stepped forward and shook his hand, so I did the same, unsure if we were allowed to do so. Nobody said anything. The photo was snapped, and we hurried out.

Meeting greatness. (L to R: Me, Stan Lee, Sergio)

So, there you have it. I sacrificed going to Indiana Comic-Con the week before to meet their multitude of amazing guests and missed the chance to meet most of the multitude of other guests I liked at C2E2, but it was worth it.

As Stan Lee always says, “Excelsior!”

If I Only Had a Brain!

It’s still Tuesday! I have less than an hour to post a bonus blog this week!

This was originally an essay I wrote for a writers group. Our assignment this month was to write about our favorite character from The Wizard of Oz. It was something I hadn’t considered before, but I figured it out quickly. Considering the film version is one of my mother’s favorite movies, I watched it a lot growing up. 

Maybe I should use this character’s song for a ballroom dance showcase…

***

Maybe it’s because he’s the first character Dorothy meets in her journey to Oz. Maybe it’s because his song seems to be the most iconic (and referenced) ditty in what’s already one of the best-known soundtracks in film history. Maybe it’s because, even as a kid, I had great respect for intelligence. Or maybe it’s because he’s the character I see the most of myself in.

Yes, after thinking about it, with many wonderful characters to choose from, I’ve realized my favorite character in L. Frank Baum’s fantasy classic The Wizard of Oz is the Scarecrow. That lovable straw man who, ironically, wants to have a brain.

While I’ve always been in need of more courage and I’m not lacking in heart, the Scarecrow was the character whose plight and desires I understood best. I was always an information sponge. I sought knowledge, useless or not, as much as possible. Yet I often felt like I wasn’t as smart as I wished I was. Sometimes it was because people denigrated me, but mostly it was because of my own perfectionism. Any grades less than A’s weren’t good enough. I didn’t just have to do well, I had to excel. This was especially true when my competition got more intense in college. I had far more people to compare myself to, making me wonder if I was only considered to be “smart” because standards had been lowered.

He was also the one who, in my many viewings of the classic film growing up, I could most easily see developed as a character. As the titular Wizard tells Dorothy’s friends at the end, they were never lacking for the things they sought. However, while the Lion did perform acts of bravery, he did so while whimpering. The Tin Man was certainly compassionate, but that didn’t register with me as much as a kid. The Scarecrow, however, was always the one coming up with clever plans—often on the fly—to help to overcome whatever obstacles he and his friends faced. Whether it was something simple like tricking Talking Trees (one thing all good stories must have) to get their apples for Dorothy or as dangerous as figuring out how to infiltrate the Wicked Witch’s castle. He could think on his feet, and while his plans didn’t always work out, he could find another solution.

This brings me to something else I like about the Scarecrow: leadership. He’s usually the one taking charge of the situation because the Tin Man is overwhelmed by his emotions and the Lion is freaking out. He calms them down and gives them focus. In fact, he’s the one with the coolest head when things get rough, even when they’re being chased by the Witch’s armies. Given that he’s “the man with the plan,” it shouldn’t be surprising.

Finally, I’ve always found the Scarecrow to be the funniest character in the film version. Ray Bolger is fantastic at physical comedy, and his expressions are hilarious. It makes the Scarecrow even more endearing. Just watch him sing his famous song. He moves like how you’d expect a man made of straw to move. Not only is it funny, it’s top-notch characterization. I’ve not really seen that in any other adaptation of the story.

It’s time I ended this little blog. As the Scarecrow himself said, “Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?

Who’s your favorite character from The Wizard of Oz and why?

 

Why Christians are Lousy at Romance

The title of this blog is a bit misleading. I’m not saying that Christians are terrible at being in romantic relationships. That’s a whole other subject. No, I’m saying they’re terrible at writing stuff like love songs and love stories.

This train of thought came about because of a conversation I had with some friends on my personal Facebook page. We were discussing songs I’d consider using for a first dance if I got married, one of which was “Godsend” by dc Talk. One friend commented that she didn’t think that was that good of a song and that most Christian artists were bad at writing love songs. I asked her why she thought that, and she replied (in all caps for humorous emphasis) “BECAUSE OMG(osh) IF PEOPLE LISTEN TO LOVE SONGS THEN THEY MIGHT GET SINFUL IDEAS. PROTECT THE PURITY!!!”

I laughed because it was true.

Since my youth, I’ve known about the three primary words used for “love” in ancient Greek: eros (sexual/romantic love), phileo (friendship), and agape (unconditional love). The latter two were used in the Bible, but not the first. While it was often preached that all three were needed to have a thriving marriage, the huge emphasis was placed on agape because it was correctly said that unconditional love required commitment, and commitment was sorely lacking in many modern marriages. Too often, though, eros was barely acknowledged or it was forgotten, relegated to being the least of the loves.

This, sadly, is a huge fault of western (or just American?) Christian culture. They have so overcompensated for a secular culture that both exploits and worships sex and romance that they have almost demonized it. Now, this isn’t a new problem. There’s always been a sect of ascetics somewhere in Christianity that held to views like this. This was influenced by Gnosticism, a belief that what was of the spirit was good and what was of the body was evil. While it was regarded as heresy, some Gnostic thought has infiltrated some Christian teaching like an insidious disease. This is most true when it comes to Christian culture’s view of sexuality. Sexual desire was equated with the sin of lust. Women’s bodies were seen as weapons of temptation. Men were seen as animals incapable of controlling their urges. This has wreaked havoc on Christian young people, as you might expect. Even I wasn’t totally immune to it growing up despite having sensible parents.

Even if sexuality wasn’t seen as a vice, there were still those who minimized its importance because it was believed Christians—particularly young people—placed too much of an emphasis on romantic feelings and not on “true love.” In other words, agape. Eros didn’t last; it was selfish because it focused on one person and his/her immediate “needs.” It wasn’t what made a marriage last. It’s like eros was the ugly middle child the family acknowledged only out of obligation. I’ve even heard of Christian romance novels (I hate using that term as a genre) where the woman in the couple acts as though she has no sexual desire at all, and this is presented as a good thing!

This is why many Christian creators don’t write much about romance, preferring to focus on agape, phileo, and/or loving God. Those are safer. There are plenty more positive Bible passages on those subjects. They forget the Bible has its fair share of love stories (Jacob and Rachel, Ruth and Boaz, etc.) Heck, if you really want to shock some Christians, make them read Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs)! Yes, the Bible has love poetry in it—and it’s steamy, at that!

Even when Christians do write about romance, it’s often watered down or presented as an allegory for the love of God for the Church. This, I think, is an example of some Christians becoming, as the old saying goes, “too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good.” While the Church is called the “bride of Christ,” the Bible never uses romantic language to describe that love. Even the Song of Solomon has been interpreted not as the sultry interactions of two lovers but as a metaphor for Christ and the Church. (I’d love to see how they’d handle passages like this one, then).

God created romance. God created sex. Genesis says God looked at all He created and called it “good.” This included sex and romance. The Bible begins with the “wedding” of Adam and Eve, the first lovers, who were unashamed in their nakedness and love for each other. It was the Fall that ruined things. But sex isn’t a byproduct of sin. The Devil, being evil, is incapable of creating anything. He can only corrupt what was already good. He did the same with sexuality and romance. It’s him who compels humanity to exploit it as a commodity or to worship it as an idol. They were God’s creations, His gifts to mankind. The Devil knows how precious and powerful those gifts are, how they can bind two people together and make them a powerful force for good. That’s why He fears them and wants to see them denigrated.

It’s time Christian creators stopped fearing sex. It’s time they elevated eros as being equal with the other loves. It’s time they took back what was taken from them by the Devil.

I, for one, would love to be a part of that.

Do you think Christian creators need to work on being “romantic”? Why or why not? Can you name any good examples of good love songs or love stories written by Christians? Why do you think Christians are bad at writing romances?

My Writing, My Identity

Should I even apologize for neglecting to blog? It’s becoming a bad habit. Sorry, True Believers!

Part of the reason for my absence lately is my increasing busyness. I’ve written often about time management, and while some of my busyness is my own doing, much of it lately has been thrust upon me by outside forces. Most notably, my “day job.” Whenever people quit or are unavailable—as has been happening recently—it invariably throws more responsibility on me because I’m competent, reliable, and available. It’s supposed to be a part-time job, but I’ve been getting full-time hours (which has led me to call it “my part-time full-time job”). This has eaten into my writing time like Pac-Man would an apple.

I’m not happy at my day job.

There, I said it.

I took this job thinking it would be temporary and would allow me time to pursue my true passions. While I’m grateful to have the steady income and enjoy (most of) my co-workers, I feel like I’m not doing what God created me to do. When I have to work long hours and lose writing time, I feel this most potently. I get annoyed when people see me not as a writer, an author, an artist, and/or a creator but as my day job. I don’t care if it’s, unfortunately, where the majority of my time is going. It does not define me. It is not what I want to be doing. If I had my way, I’d be living like most of the great writers, who spend eight hours a day working away on their craft.

As you would expect, I’ve been reflecting on my identity. I think of myself as a writer. That’s what I tell people I do for a living. Yes, I add that I’m working a part-time day job until I can write full-time, but writing is always mentioned first and foremost. That’s why I hate when I have weeks (or months) where the day job consumes more of my time. I start to feel like I’m lying to people. Most of all, I fear complacency will seize me, and I’ll stop writing, resigned to the humdrum of my daily labor.

However, in order to have a healthy identity, I believe, one must have a multifaceted one. I’m not just a writer. I want that to be a bigger part of me (and I do believe it is already a big part), but it isn’t all of my identity. Lisa Edelstein said in the movie Keeping the Faith, “I am many things, no one thing defines me.” (FYI, I found that quotation with a Google search. I’ve not seen the movie). I’m also a Christian, a man, a brother, a son, a conservative, a gamer, and a ballroom dancer, among many others. By having so many smaller identities within my larger one, it prevents me from becoming totally dependent on any one of them for my self-worth. I could, God forbid, be in a car accident tomorrow that damages my hands or my brain, thereby robbing me of the ability to write. It would be devastating, but hopefully once the dust of grief settled, I’d have other things to fall back on to form a new identity.

In the meantime, I’m gonna keep fighting to preserve and protect my writing time!

What facets make up your identity? Are you too dependent on one or two? If you’re a writer, what else are you? How would you cope with losing part of identity?

Weekend Report: Michigan Statewide Youth Convention

Eric Anderson (left) and I representing Nerd Chapel at the Michigan Statewide Youth Convention.

My friend/co-author Eric Anderson, founder of Nerd Chapel, tabled at a convention last weekend, though it wasn’t a comic-con. No, it was the Michigan Statewide Youth Convention in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Eric got a table there to promote Nerd Chapel, part of which was selling our devotional, 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom. He asked to attend to help him out. I was only able to make it Saturday (the event ran from Friday to Sunday), but Saturday was when most of the action happened.

It took me a little longer than I expected to arrive (closer to two hours instead of 90 minutes), but that gave me extra time to listen to the audiobook of That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, which I’d been meaning to read for a while. I arrived at the Radisson Hotel in downtown, and after fighting with way too many one-way streets (and I thought downtown Fort Wayne had too many), I barely stepped out of my car before an older black woman came up to me begging me to give her money for gas so she could get back to Gary, Indiana, going on about loving Jesus and thanking Him like a southern Baptist. Against my better judgment, I gave her some money. She said she’d pay me back through the mail the following Monday, so I wrote my address on one of my bookmarks and gave it to her. Honestly, I feel like I got suckered. I’m going soft.

Anyway, I walked inside and connected with Eric. Since it was lunchtime, we explored the area looking for a place to eat. We had a short time because he was holding a session at 2pm about using your passions missionally. We tried Subway, but the line was too long. Then we walked a few blocks to a local McDonald’s.

I watched the table for a bit while Eric was downstairs for the session. He asked me to join him a little later because he wanted me to talk a bit about the work I’d done as a Christian in the publishing industry. I mostly stood to the side while Eric did most of the talking, which is a switch for us, usually. I spoke about meeting a young would-be writer at Gen-Con a few years ago at my table and talking with him for almost 45 minutes. Then a bit later he gave me the floor to talk about working in the publishing industry. Eric closed the session with a Q&A. First, he asked if anyone had any serious questions, of which there were few, and then he opened it up to “nerd” questions, of which there were many. A few students even specifically asked me questions about writing. I spent a half-hour talking with several students about comics, Star Wars, and anime afterward.

The rest of the afternoon was relatively quiet. I spoke with some of the people from the other ministries around us. Eric and I had dinner at the fancy bar and grill in the hotel (courtesy of the convention). When the main session was about to start at 7pm, lots of students and youth leaders came to us wanting to learn more about Nerd Chapel or buy books. They said they loved what we were doing and that they’d never heard of ministries like this. Eric and I were encouraged to hear that.

It was once again quiet during the main session. Eric ran lights during it, while I stayed outside the auditorium to watch the table and do some writing. Then for about 30 minutes afterward at 9pm, I was talking with people and selling books. I even met a teenage girl who was once part of a nerd ministry/club/Facebook group with us. She had pink hair to boot.

With that, I joined Eric downstairs in the game room where teens could play video games—include Nintendo 64(!)—and board games. I brought my copies of Star Wars: Epic Duels and Sentinels of the Multiverse. As you’d expect, Epic Duels was a big hit. I played with several teen boys who’d seen me earlier in the day at Eric’s session. We geeked out and had a great time. One of their mothers watched for a few minutes, knowing her son would probably want the game. He did. I told him, “Good luck. The game usually sells for a hundred dollars now.” He seemed determined, though.

I departed for home after that.

All in all, it was a good weekend. Eric and I sold many books and made ourselves known to more people.

Here’s Eric’s blog about the weekend.

This weekend I attend Hall of Heroes Comic-Con in Elkhart, Indiana, though not as a vendor.

English Grammar is Racist?!

So much BS in 140 characters.

(Note to my readers: I’m getting back into the habit of blogging on my normal basis. It’s proven to be difficult with my busyness. My apologies).

I’ve heard, read, and sometimes written a lot of BS in my life, but yesterday I heard something on a local radio talk show that has officially on my top five list of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard:

Proper English grammar is racist.

Really?

Really?

REALLY?

It was part of a press release from the University of Washington Tacoma’s Writing Center, which said, 

“Linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

The Center’s director, Dr. Asoa Inoue, went further by asserting that racism has created unfair standards in education itself. “Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society.”

I read this press release, the statement itself, and the response from the university when the controversy ignited. While I don’t normally get political in my blogs, this so annoyed me because it touches on something important to me, and I thought I should say something.

First, all of UW’s claims seem to be generalizations. There are no specifics offered. I assume they think people make racist assumptions based on how others talk and write. In other words, if they don’t use “proper” grammar, they presume they’re uneducated and/or stupid based on how they communicate. If they have a certain accent and are of a certain ethnicity, this reinforces certain negative prejudices. At least, that’s how I understand what UW is saying. The statement goes so far as to say that English grammar is somehow full of “microagressions.” How it does is never explained in clear detail. Honestly, the statements seem to have more to do with education than language itself.

The problem with this is it ignores reality and cast a shadow on those, like myself, who pride themselves on communicating clearly with good grammar. Yes, English is constantly changing and evolving. Listen to a few episodes of “The History of English” podcast to see that. But something else you’ll learn from that podcast is that accents and dialects denote someone’s upbringing, culture, and education level. It’s simply a fact. (Yes, I know there are plenty of intelligent people out there who speak in dialects that use less-than-perfect grammar). The problem isn’t language and grammar; it’s people who don’t take the time to get to know someone based on how that person communicates. This is equivalent to blaming a murder on the gun and not the murderer. Does it make me some pretentious racist because I say, “My friend and I,” instead of, “My friend and me”?

UW released another press release responding to the controversy probably because the “blogosphere” brought up an obvious problem: if proper English is racist, why teach it? UW’s Writing Center said,

“The Writing Center statement is not about changing the standard for how UW Tacoma teaches commonly accepted English, grammar and composition. UW Tacoma students achieve thorough proficiency in grammar and English expected in higher education and the workplace. Faculty demand a high level of writing proficiency. Our graduates are successful in a wide array of fields.”

Sounds like backpedaling to me. They claim that teaching proper grammar makes people racist because they assume those who don’t use it and instead speak in a dialect will be seen as ignorant, and since most dialects are used by minorities, it reinforces racism. Yet they say they will teach students English to help them be successful. In other words, they know students need to learn good written communication skills to excel in their vocations despite it fostering racism. So, does that mean all great orators, writers, and communicators are all racist? Isn’t the university teaching racism by teaching proper grammar? They can’t have it both ways.

If I met a black person who talked like Snoop Dogg in this commercial, I wouldn’t understand him. I’d probably assume he listened to rap music and might possibly be a thug along with some other presumptions. Why? Because that’s what is commonly associated with people who talk like that. That doesn’t make me racist. It’d simply be reality. Now, would that stop me from talking with the person? No. Would I be surprised to find out he wasn’t a gangster? Probably. But I wouldn’t be so closeminded as to assume this person couldn’t be an intelligent, upstanding member of society.

Language is part of one’s self-presentation. People will make judgments for good or ill based on how one speaks. That is a fact. Labeling people “racist” because of this will only breed more tension and resentment. Must we all speak in the same dialect/accent/language? That is impossible to do. That is, unless, you suspend all English education. It’s much easier to speak in broken, dumbed down English. Doing that, however, will only create chaos because communication will be hampered.

All of this just seems like yet more propaganda insisting there’s still an epidemic of racism in this country, and that people are racist without knowing it. Haven’t you noticed how more and more stories keep hitting the news claiming innocuous things are somehow racist? It seems to be a determined effort to either make some people feel guilty for being “racist” when they aren’t or to convince others they’re victims of racism when they aren’t. That’s as much as I want to say on the subject because going further would require more words and time than I can give right now. I’ll simply say that nothing lasting can be built on a foundation of guilt, anger, and/or hatred.

Thanks for reading this blog full of “racist” English grammar.

What are your thoughts on this? Is proper English grammar somehow racist?

New Video: Digression 16: Valentine’s Day Karaoke 2017 – ‘Some Guys Have All the Luck’ by Rod Stewart

Here’s the other video. Enjoy!

Digression 16: Valentine’s Day Karaoke 2017 – “Some Guys Have All the Luck” by Rod Stewart

The annual tradition returns! This year’s song is a little different, though. Normally I sing what I like to call “hopeful songs of longing for love,” but this year I decided to go with a classic ’80s ditty that describes my love life to a tee. I’m sure it does for many of you, too. Enjoy!

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A Man from Another Time Exploring Another Universe