Saturday, September 9, 2023

Our Stuff (A homeless in Seattle Tale)


We all have it. I think we all have a love/hate relationship with our stuff. We must have loved it at some point or why would we have it. My weakness is books. I get a fresh shot of dopamine every time I see a small rectangular package in my mailbox. But over time some items fall from grace, and I merely like them, and some become much like unwanted relatives at Thanksgiving, we’ve just come to accept they are part of our lives and the disappointment in having them is not as much as the pain of getting rid of them.

But what really changes the view of our stuff is needing to move it. Moving can make prize possessions become ball and chains. We even begin to have dreams of it all going up in flames. But most days when we aren't getting that new package, or having to move, we sit somewhere in the middle mostly ignoring the piles and piles of stuff in the garage, bookshelves, and closets.

Stuff balancing is a game we go through in those moments when we are forced uncomfortably to face our stuff. Much like when that relative hasn’t left a week after Thanksgiving. Perhaps we need more space for the new stuff. Or it’s the dreaded weekend when we decide to clean out that closet or garage (that was how we celebrated July 24th every year as a child).

The time I am most often forced to perform stuff balancing is when packing for a trip. I pick up that extra pair of shoes and pajamas. I can hear that boy scout voice in my head, “Be prepared.” After all you probably do need both your nice shoes for when you present and comfortable shoes for walking. And if you have a nice view from your hotel, do you really want to walk around in your shirt and tie, no you need pajamas. But then I look at the size of the carryon bag. I could check a bag but the thought of waiting at baggage claim allows me to cast the shoes and pajamas back into the closet.

But let’s be honest, it’s not just the thought of standing at that carousel as you wish you had painted your bag bright pink as the 10th nondescript black bag rolls out of that magic black hole. It’s also the walk up to the airport. Even getting a bigger carryon bag is annoying. You have to take it with you into the bathroom at the airport. And then in big cities if I plan to take the light rail or the subway to my hotel, I have to drag that big bag with me all the way to the hotel. Whatever, stuff I take has to be my constant companion. Only after I’ve checked in can I drop it off and be free. We call it baggage for a reason.

I skipped down the 30% incline from my hotel to the bay in Seattle, finally completely free of my baggage. A shiny glean in the dusk only feet in front of me makes me stop. I see it thrust to the ground underneath the shadow of a large man. His arm raises above his head, and I see the sheen again, the gleam of a small hatchet. I move forward trying to not look like I’m avoiding him but still be at least the distance of an arm+hatchet from him. I am only a few steps beyond him when he raises up and says, “Can you help me?”

I can now make out what he is hacking at, it’s a long aluminum cable. Is he going to ask me to hold the cable while he hacks? I question my courage and stalling ask, “Sure, what are you doing?”

“Removing the sheathing and then cutting it into 2-foot lengths to make it easier to carry around.” My eyes open a little wide thinking of the hatchet trying to work its way through 1 ½” metal cable, but one short segment already wrapped sits next to him testament to the hatchet's abilities. I begin to roll up my sleeves, assuming I am as qualified as anyone to help when he says, “I’m just really hungry.”

I smile, “Oh, I can definitely help with that. I’ll take you to dinner. Let’s go.”

“No.” He points to his clothes. “Look at me.” He’s wearing a soiled grey t-shirt with a white dress shirt loosely unbuttoned over it. He then gestures to his wheelchair. Where there should be space for him to sit is a bag of clothes, papers, an old food container, and on top a hoverboard. “They would never let me in with all my stuff.”

“Oh, sure they’ll let you in, come on.”

“No, they won’t, just give me a few bucks, I’ll get something later.”

“Trust me if you're with me they’ll let you in.”

“I appreciate your optimism, but they won’t, and do you blame them? Like I said, I don’t have anywhere to put my stuff and they won’t let me take it in.”

“Okay, then let me go buy you something and bring it back.”

“That’d be great. By the way, my name’s Alex.”

“Mine’s Nathaniel. I’ll be back shortly. Any requests?”

“There is an Italian place around the corner, I’d love veal parmesan.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Wanting not to leave my friend too long I try to find something close. He must have gotten his blocks mixed up because the nearest Italian restaurant was a half mile away. The only thing for a few blocks was a place right around the corner literally 30 feet from Alex, “All Water Seafood and Oyster Bar.” I walk up and down the block and resolve it is really my only option. I walk in and take a glance at the menu. No veal parmesan. The only item priced remotely like they expect people besides Jeff Bezos to buy it is a burger, comfortably listed at only three times what you’d expect to pay.

I walk around the corner and see Alex wrapping the next section of wire he has cleaned and cut. “A burger okay?”

“You came back?”

“You surprised?”

“Yeah, I thought you were gone for good.”

“Well, I’m back but no veal parmesan. They do have burgers. That okay?”

“Sure, that’d be great.”

I head back to the Oyster Bar. Once in I take a closer look at the accommodations. I would have liked to sit down and enjoy a meal with Alex and learn about his life. His comment about where they would put his stuff was a good one. My guess is the place was technically accessible for a wheelchair. For it to work however they would have to slide back the greeter's podium and the tables were set up in such a way that there really was nowhere for him to put his stuff. I ordered a burger to go. “I’m just getting this for a friend around the corner. He said you wouldn’t let him in. I told him that was ridiculous.” I say with a slight laugh.

Straight faced the man looks down, “The burger should be ready in 15 mins.” Maybe Alex was right.

I walk back to get to know Alex while I wait. I ask questions while he continues to lean over his wire, hacking away. He’s 50 and from Brooklyn, New York.

“How long have you been on the streets?”

“Since I was twelve when my stepmother kicked me out.”

“What have you done for money?”

“My father let me work with him and I became a master carpenter. I can build anything. You give me a bare piece of ground and I can build you a house, framing, plumbing, electrical. I can do it all.”

“When was the last time you worked?”

“Been years. Noone will give me a chance anymore.”

“You have any kids?”

His smile grows wide, “Yeah, When I was making good money, I got married and had twin daughters. Cutest little girls you ever saw.” His smile drops. “When they were four their mom ran out on me and took the girls to Mississippi. She said she was afraid I would kill her.”

Before I ask, he adds, “Probably because I said I would. I mean I told her if she ever took the girls away from me, I’d kill her, but I didn’t mean it. I’d never hurt anybody.” He takes a hard swing with the hatchet slicing into the cable. “It’s just one of those things you say when you're mad. I don’t think I ever got over that. 10 years. That is how long I spent mostly drunk and depressed after that. They’re 21 years old now. I call them once and a while, but I can’t go see them. A dad doesn’t want to show up with nothing.”

“So, what brought you to Seattle?”

He looked me in the eyes, “You want the truth?”

I shrug my shoulders, “Sure, why not?”

“Mafia, I had written a book, here I’ll show you a picture.” He stands up, sets his hatchet on the wheelchair and pulls out his phone and starts scrolling through pictures. He gets to a picture of a journal, open in a park and full of writing. “I wrote so many stories in that journal. For example, you know the real reason Nixon resigned?”

I was about to mention that there was that Watergate thing but before I could he said, “same thing that got Clinton in trouble except it was with a man. Well one day I get knocked out and when I come to...” he pauses for dramatic effect. “The journal is gone and a guy walks by me saying that I should be more careful. I got the message; the mob doesn’t give a second reminder. So, I came out here. Stupid Greyhound took weeks, and the driver was all over the road, took me a whole bottle of vodka to live through it. And then I was only here for one week when I got shot in the head.” He pulls his hair back on one side and shows a scar. “The bullet just grazed me, but it bled like crazy. Young black kids ran up to me after shooting me and then when they got close said, ‘sorry man, we thought you were someone else, all you white people look the same and then went off laughing, just left me there.’

“What did you do?”

“I got myself to the greyhound station. Didn’t know where else to go. They got me to the hospital. They said, I was lucky. I’m okay now.”

It’s been at least 15 minutes and I excuse myself to check on the food. It’s ready. I pay for the burger and head back to Alex. He is grateful. I debate sitting there but decide it would be awkward for me to just sit and watch him eat, so I wish him well and head back down to the bay.

An hour or so later I walk by the spot where I had run into Alex, he’s no longer there, but a remnant of our meeting is. Clearly, he didn’t have space to haul around any more stuff because smeared on the sidewalk is the leftovers.

I clean up the leftovers and walk another couple of blocks and I run into Alex again. It’s been over two hours since we last ran into each other, and he is only a few blocks away from where we first met. He’s made a really cool looking tree out of one section of wire.

“Take it man. It’s for you. You can use it for a Christmas tree.” I’m honored and frankly tempted to take it, but as honored as I am I realize, what would I do with it? After all, there was no room in my baggage.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Why Lord of the Rings Is Great


I have not read Tolkien’s classic in many years, but recently a friend was reading it and asked me why I like it. That is hard to put into words without some effort, but here is that effort.

There are many reasons to like (or even love) Lord of the Rings. The beautiful descriptions of a pastoral age, and a simple medieval life take us away to a life we can only imagine. It is a fictional tale, but in many ways it represents a folk-lore of the English, and the life and courage of our ancestors from centuries ago. There are great tales of bravery, from the hobbits to the riders of Rohan. Tales of great loyalty, like that of Samwise Gamgee and  Aragorn. There are many virtues exhibited by multiple excellent and complex characters. There are interesting and complex villains who are much more real and applicable in their life lessons than the cartoonish villains that are seen in most stories. But while all of those enhance the story, and make it much more rich and beautiful, they are not the primary reason Lord of the Rings is a great tale far beyond your typical fantasy novel. The Lord of the Rings is a story about how our individual struggles to overcome evil, and laziness, and greed are just as important as the great wars and councils of whatever age we live in.

At the council of Elrond, where the fellowship of the ring is formed, Elrond says, “This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” While Lord of the Rings is a grand tale about the literal fate of the world and its fall to an evil force, which involves huge armies, and massive wars, the true battle, the one that matters the most, is ultimately one that “small hands do… while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” That is Frodo’s attempt to carry the ring, and destroy it, without it destroying him. The battles with orcs, elves, and men are all interesting and make for galant tales of bravery and at times cowardice, but the battle that ultimately decides the fate of all is a battle that goes on in the heart of the smallest of people, Frodo Baggins. We all have battles inside of us to get rid of the ring, the ring of power, or laziness, or lust, or whatever it be, and that battle is every bit as important as the battles going on in the halls of power, if not for the fate of the world, as it was in Frodo’s case, at the very least for the fate of our own individual lives and souls. 

What makes Lord of the Rings so great is that it pushes us to look at the absolute importance of these seemingly small individual battles we face. We often don’t get to decide our battles, but as Gandalf says, “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And that individual decision will be just as important as any decision in the halls of power or business. We may not be an Aragorn or a Gandalf, but we all at times will be a Frodo or a Sam faced with individual internal struggles, or struggles of our closest friends. At those times we will have to decide to destroy the ring in mount doom, or hold onto it. We have to decide to support our friends and family, even physically carrying them, or to continue to live our lives of quiet relaxation. Hopefully we can all choose as Frodo and Sam.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Daniel and what he taught me about Trump and Biden


I have enjoyed studying Daniel this last week and can honestly say I know him better now than a week ago. I always loved the stories of Daniel, him and his companions refusing wine and rich foods for a simpler diet is inspiring, especially as I age and have a hard time saying no to that piece of cheesecake. (Who am I kidding, I have a hard time saying no to a second and maybe third piece of cheesecake.)

The dream with that statue and the gold head and silver arms. The amazing way the lord revealed it to Daniel at the moment when he and all the wise men were about to get it. And that doesn’t even mention the cool interpretation that walks us through history. 

Who can help but be in ahh at the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as courageously say, Our Lord will deliver us, “but if not.” The image of them sitting in a fiery furnace, an angel of the Lord protecting them. And then the follow up when Daniel also refuses to bow down to anyone but the true God and is thrown in the Lion’s den. Oh, and I left out the writing on the wall. In the first six chapters we have five amazing stories. 

But somehow this time I read it I thought of something different and that is not the times that Daniel defies the kings but how he so constantly was a faithful and kind servant to these horrid men. In fact, the larger story of Daniel seems to be much less about the defiance of Kings as much as a long life of servitude to them. 

Think a little about the situation. When Nebuchadnezzar first attacked Jerusalem, he took Daniel as a slave. This was before the final sacking of that city. Meaning that many were left back at Jerusalem, including the great prophet, Jeremiah. But what did taking Daniel mean? He was torn from his family never to see them again. It is likely that his family was killed or also taken captive, perhaps to farm for Babylon like the prophet Ezikiel. He was put into servitude, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Scholars believe he was also likely castrated. So how does Daniel treat that man that has removed him from his family, friends and homeland? Who made him a slave, and who castrated him? With nothing but kindness, respect and friendship. He is honest with him, even at times warning him of the need to repent so he can remain in power (see Chapter 4). 

In a few days we will vote. I love our democracy. I love that we have freedom of speech. I love that we have the opportunity to seek out who we feel will serve us the best. Yet, I am more and more distressed with the vile way we treat those who sit in public office. (And I am probably as guilty as anyone.) I wonder how Daniel would look on how we treat our President. I can see him saying, “Wait, this is the man that was voted for by the people through your system of government and you ridicule him, throw vulgarity at him and half the country does everything they can to make his time in office a failure so they can win it the next time. And what has he done to deserve this? Tried to pass laws you don’t agree with?” I don’t think he would be very impressed with how our country treated both Trump and Biden. Those who believe that Trump is a horrible man, he is a far better leader than Nebuchadnezzar was. Those who feel Biden is a senile old fool, Daniel stood by Nebuchadnezzar through total insanity. 

I am not saying we should think Biden or Trump are the greatest men or we should worship them. Daniel after all refused to worship the kings he served. But we should respect them, treat them with honor and once the people elect them do all we can to make their time in office as successful as possible. We should like Daniel, be honest, and stand by our principles. But we can do that with love and kindness. When Daniel stood up to kings, he did it in a way that afterwards they had increased not decreased love for him. Would the same be true for how you treat the leaders on the other side of the aisle?

That is my commitment, to be more like Daniel. I will vote for the men and women who I feel will serve our country best, but whoever the people choose I will support and do what I can to make their time in office as positive as possible, whether it be Oz or Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Walker or Warnack in Georgia, or Lee of Mcmullin in Utah, or Trump, Biden or anyone else in 2024.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

My Theatre Experience- Finding happiness by avoiding things that make you happy


Valerie and I performing in Matilda

As a eight year old many things made me happy. Opening a new pack of baseball cards, organizing my baseball card collection for the 100th time, playing on the play ground in my backyard, watching the latest Disney movie, also for the hundredth time.

And the things that made me miserable were just as clear, work, and doing anything that caused me to work. That is why my guard was up when my mother walked in and said that I should audition for a local play. “It will be fun,” she said with a large grin. I knew what my mother considered fun. Picking up apricots that had been smooshed and were rotting on the ground was an activity she was always trying to get my friends to do always with that same grin and always with the same words, “It will be fun.” She said the same thing about cleaning my room, folding laundry, weeding the garden and canning applesauce. I was certain that the day the definition of fun was taught in my mothers elementary school she must have been out sick. The problem was that once my mother decided I should do something ‘fun’ I had very little choice in the matter. She would slowly crank up the pressure by threatening to take away toys, movies and even Saturday morning cartoons.

I was going to that audition and I knew it, but one thing was for sure, I was going to make sure that my mother would never call it “fun” again. I complained as she took me out to the car, I wined as we drove to the audition, and once there I was basically dragged kicking and screaming into the theatre with the green awning bearing it’s name. Hale Center Theatre, as I looked up an read it I was certain they had misspelled the first word.

But my plan backfired. I made such a fuss the director must have looked out the window and seen me fighting and pulling against my mother. I looked like the most disobedient bratty child one could acquire. The problem was the auditions were for the Larry Shue play, “The Nerd”. The only part for a child was the young boy Thor, a disobedient bratty child. Assuming I was merely a method actor getting into character they excitedly gave me the part.

I complained when I heard it. I knew this meant reading and memorizing lines. Not only that my mother was constantly coaching me on how to deliver said lines. Who was she to say? After all, who was the expert on being a brat? But in time I actually started to enjoy the part. True rehearsals cut into my time I would have been watching Disney or organizing baseball cards, but it wasn’t too bad. And perhaps best of all, I was able to get candy bars from their concessions for 25 cents, and all the soda I wanted for free. After all once shows started they paid me $5 a show, and I could take $2 and buy eight full size candy bars, something I did almost every night. In fact, I was only in the first half of the show, but once and a while they let me stay for curtain call. On one night when I stayed and it was time to bow, I was nowhere to be found. They eventually searched and found me passed out on the floor of my dressing room, twix and reese’s wrappers on the floor and chocolate droll rolling down my face.

This was the beginning to an exciting career in acting. From age 8 until 16 I did many plays and even some film work. And while I loved it don’t for one minute think that it wasn’t stressful or hard work. Most people are familiar with the stress of school. It is a stress that is always part of us. Many of us still have nightmares that it is the end of a semester and we have never attended class, or that a huge test is being given and we didn’t study. Well, the only other reoccurring stressful dreams I have are around acting. I find myself standing behind the curtain about to go on when I realize I don’t know any of my lines.

There is no way around it acting is stressful and hard work and simply speaking in the short term more misery than fun. So it was with mixed emotion that over 30 years after my experience with my mother my wife recommended me and a few of the kids audition for Matilda at Signal Mountain Playhouse. I did enjoy theatre in my childhood and I wanted my children to have the same opportunity. The problem was I was busy. Jeanine had just a that week given birth to Telford our 9th child, I was working on my dissertation for my PhD, my second book “Of Pigs and Priest” was about to launch, and there was also the little matter of my full time job. Taking 3 hours a night after work to rehearse, plus the time I would need to practice on my own seemed unreasonable, and not, “fun”.

Auditions came and Hyrum, Adalyn, Annabel and myself all tried out. We didn’t have to take them to the auditions kicking and screaming but there was plenty of wining and complaining involved. One of the questions on the audition form was experience dancing. I wrote that I had taught ballroom classes. And in my defense this is technically true. The part I didn’t write was, my wife who is talented convinced me to help her teach a few ballroom classes at our local church. I am pretty sure that statement about ballroom landed me the part of Rudolfo the Latin dancer.

I was excited yet fearful. I was right about the time it took and frankly the first three weeks were miserable. The music was harder than I had thought and I felt like I wasn’t getting it. The part of Rudolfo not only required me to sing much higher than I was comfortable but it was clear I would have to put in a lot of practice on the dance, something I had very little time for. But the worst part is my kids had learned how to do the kicking and screaming routine and now fought me at every rehearsal. They hadn’t been excited about the play but trying to learn music that was above there level, all while not talking to anyone was miserable to them. They wanted out. Several times I told them, if you want to quite then you tell the director, I’m not going to. That did the trick and none of them quite on me.

But slowly we got better, as did rehearsals. As we neared opening day I wondered if we could even pull this off. Our first full run through didn’t happen until dress rehearsal. One of the numbers in the show is “miracle” speaking about the miracle of human life. And while I don’t wish to distract from that community theatre is a miracle. The shear number of people who sacrifice so much for no worldly gain. The hours and hours of building stages, putting up lights, getting microphones prepped, the orchestra, the actors, the directors. All of them doing things that on their face are miserable and stressful to put together a production that they will see little to no monetary gain from.

Why? Because they understand something that we all must learn to find true happiness. True happiness, long term happiness doesn’t come from doing things that give us instant short term happiness. Think about it what will make you happy right now? Perhaps it’s eating a donut, or watching a show you love. But once the chocolate frosting has disappeared and the credits run does it really make your life better or make you happier in the long run? No long term happiness often comes from pushing ourselves to do things that are hard, and may even sound miserable at the time.

My kids did come around and they loved the show, and they can’t wait to audition for the next one. I am so honored to have been in the show with so many talented and hard working individuals. It was hard, it took a lot of time and effort and brought on stress. But I can say without hesitation that it was more than worth it. It has brought a level of fulfillment and happiness I could have not achieved otherwise. And I know if I will continue to stretch myself, often setting aside things that sound fun for those that are hard I will continue to find happiness.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Embracing Responsibilities in Post Roe v. Wade


No matter what your views on abortion are today, 6/24/2020, is a historic day. Over the last year things have been put in my path that have changed how I view abortion. For you to understand let me take you back about 10 months ago. I had just been called to serve as the ward mission leader. The opportunity to work closely with missionaries was something I was looking forward to. In our ward we had sisters serving. They asked if I could attend a discussion they had set with a young girl, a teenager, who had just found out that she was pregnant. I am always anxious to meet new people and so I looked forward to our meeting.

Whoever named the car, the Honda fit must have had an exceptional sense of humor. The car should be called the ‘Doesn’t Fit’. And it was already at capacity with my wife, myself and two sisters, as we pulled up to the appointment. The sun had long sense set as we pulled up to the home. It was a small historic home that had not been updated in many years. She came to the door with a large plastic tote in her arms, “We are leaving.”

I looked over at the sisters, and the first thought was, “I wonder where we are leaving to.” I took the tote from this young girl and was surprised to see her turn back into the home. She immerged a minute later with a garbage bag of clothes and other toiletries, handed it to one of the sisters and then headed back into the house to retrieve a third bag. Through the flurry of taking of handling all her worldly possessions we all wanted to know what was going on, but the seriousness of her face let us know now was not the time to ask.

The four of us headed towards the car. There were many thoughts going through my mind but the first was wondering what she planned to do with all this stuff. There was no doubt in my mind that it was not going to fit. We crammed it into what this car calls a trunk. Then came the first miracle of this adventure, with someone in the back seat pushing and pulling and me slamming the truck door it closed and all the material was safely secured in the trunk.

We all worked our way around the car and into our seats. I should have worried how three young, but fully grown women were going to fit into the back seat, but it was the least of my worries. “What’s going on?” my wife asked. She had remained in the car through the commotion. I gave her a small grimace. I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I knew I was not comfortable with it.

“So where are we going?” One of the sisters finally asked what we were all thinking.

“I don’t care. Take me to a shelter or something, I am not spending another night at my dad’s house.”

I took a hard look into my wife’s face. My wife smiled and said, “Okay,” and started looking on her phone for what shelters existed. I had seen too many people sit in line to get into shelters that always filled up by midafternoon while working with the homeless and knew that trying to get into a shelter this late was a loosing proposition. As she continued to look my wife looked into each other’s eyes. We were both asking the same thing without the using words, “Are you okay if she ends up at our house?” We had a guest room that was available, and any other option seemed limited. My wife was first to vocalize it, “Would you like to come to stay at our house?”

And that was how we became very close to Amanda. She lived in our home for a week. I am not saying that I fully understand what a young female who is pregnant with little support goes through, but I know I understand it a little bit more than I used to. Her boyfriend was anxious for her to abort the child, she had contemplated it herself. She worried about how the child would impact her hopes and dreams.

I will never forget her face when we mentioned the idea of adoption. While terminating the pregnancy was an option she had discussed and thought of, she had never even considered the idea of adoption. At first glance she found it far more repugnant than abortion. We came to love Amanda and had great hopes for her child. We were happy for her to stay with us for the foreseeable future, but we were traveling out of town soon. We invited her to stay but made clear that we were not comfortable with the father staying at our home. She didn’t have a driver’s license or car and no bus goes by our home, so she was worried about being stuck at our home, so she got a ride and went back to her mother. A short time later she got back with her boyfriend.  He got a decent job and because of her pregnancy they got accepted into subsidized apartment. It was just remodeled and nice especially given how little it cost them. They just needed a little bit for a deposit, and help moving. I wish I could say I was anxious to help, but that would be a lie. My wife, as she always does, helped me be my better self and we helped from time to time. This started a pattern; she would lose her phone plan and number and we wouldn’t hear from her for a bit until she was desperate. My wife was always anxious to help. Unfortunately, they lost the apartment, he went through a few jobs, and they went in and out with each other. In time, a beautiful baby girl was born, premature, but healthy.

Today we heard from her again. The father was starting yet another job, making $2 per hour plus almost nonexistent tips at a local restaurant, from 10 PM to 7 AM. They were in a week-to-week motel and needed rent by noon or else they would be kicked out. Jeanine jumped in ran down to pick her up and let her spend the day at our home. Amanda said she and the father think they should go their separate ways again, but Amanda isn’t sure. Jeanine again offered our home, asking me to wash up the sheets and be ready for her to come back tomorrow if she so decides.   

Roe vs. Wade is no longer the law of the land. We will never go back to how things were pre-Roe v. Wade. Many states have and will continue to have abortion as an option. People are more mobile than ever and therefore trips will be given across state lines to try to give many women access to abortions if they want. Medication will be sent illegally across state lines to perform abortions. But many states have and will limit access to abortions. Many thousands of women who prior to this would have terminated the pregnancy will not. I have always felt that this is right. While I have the utmost respect for free agency and the right it gives all us to make choices, I do not think that trumps a child’s chance at life. I have always felt that choosing life is right. But now I feel differently. I still feel life is right, but I am beginning to understand that while it is right it is not easy. And I wonder if we are prepared to be the society, we need to be in order to be truly pro-life. If the millions of impoverished women had not chosen to terminate their pregnancies, what would our society look like today? I don’t need to get into the statistics, but how many of those millions would likely have fathers? How many would have access to education? How many would have been kept only to be abandoned years later into our horribly flawed foster care system? How many would potentially revert to a life of crime and end up in overcrowded jails and prisons that do nothing to rehabilitate those who enter?

Today, I got to hold 9 lbs of perfection. I have never seen a little face with two cheeks so small yet so perfectly round. A small curly puff of the softest hair you will ever feel sits on her round head. Her skin amazingly dark and soft. I wonder if this miracle would even be here if we hadn’t had a chance to meet Amanda that night. I like to think I got to play a small part in helping survive and today the supreme court and society helped thousands, maybe millions to do the same. The question is what are we going to do as individuals to positively impact that existence? I have realized that as more of these little lives come to join us, we all need to be more like my wife. Wiling to open our hearts, wallets and homes to those in need.

I hope everyone who is celebrating the Supreme court’s decision will commit today to do more for the millions around us who are suffering, and the millions more who are coming. To be a part of improving the systems of education, foster care and prisons that so regularly fail the least privileged in society. To individually reach out and be fathers to the fatherless. To better serve and lift the single mother. To find ways to give others the same privileges we have been so blessed to receive. To love your neighbor, particularly the neighbor who lives in the neighborhood you are scared to even enter. And to embrace and teach the principles that lead to children having the best chance at life, postponing intimate relationships until they are educated and prepared to embrace family responsibilities. If we fail, we will all too soon find a society that reembraces the policies that led to terminating these lives before they took their first breath.

(Some names have been changed in my personal story)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Ignorance Is Fearless

Author Cindy Gunderson

The air was filled with hot air balloons as the young couple stood talking. She could barely make out what they said, but the point was clear. This young mother could not go back to their old life. That was not an option. Cindy Gunderson awoke but the dream of the couple stuck with her. What had brought them to that point? Why couldn’t they go back? The dream haunted her and as she discussed it with her husband, and she was resolved not to leave them stranded as only a memory of a dream. Their story had to be discovered by and written, and it was up to her to do it.

Becoming an author had never really been on her bucket list. It probably should have been. From a young age, she loved to devour any book she could get her hands on, following in the footsteps of her veterinarian father and artistic mother who both love stories, literature, and poetry. And in her early years taking the provincial exams (something they do in Canada) she had gotten 100% on the writing portion. But despite this, being an author had never crossed her mind, and she was many years removed from that exam.

By now she had graduated in psychology from BYU and lived in the Denver area with her husband and four children. He was a successful optometrist. She had grown increasingly busy as she homeschooled her children, served in time-intensively church callings, and discovered that parenting teenagers brings unique and sometimes intense challenges as they seek to discover who they are. But despite the obvious challenge of, “When could I possibly find time to write?” she continued to feel the need to get this story written. So, she and her husband sat down and figured it out.

WARNING: Husbands may want to prevent your wives from reading past this point. Consider yourself for-warned.

They determined that he could take the kids every night after dinner and allow her to write. And write she did. The story flowed fast and in three weeks she had her first draft complete. This was in January of 2019. From here she quickly moved from writing to learning all she could about the book business. She began submitting her book, and after 20-30 rejections and no replies, an intern at Talcott and Notch replied. They didn’t accept the book, but they gave encouragement. It had potential but needed some significant revision: less passive voice, and don’t say, the character felt happy, just show the reader what happened and let them experience it with the character. If she made these changes she could resubmit, and she did. She reworked the book and got other advise. She got friends and family to read the book, and it didn’t hurt that she happened to marry into a family of grammar aficionados. After reworking the book, Cindy excitedly resubmitted to Talcott and Notch. Unfortunately, Talcott and Notch simply didn’t have time to take on the project but Cindy was not discouraged. She turned to learning about the world of self-publishing. And by September 2019 you could buy Tier 1, the beginning of the story of the couple from her dream. The timing was interesting, it was a dystopian novel that revolved around a pandemic (these were pre COVID days).

One of the points that I find so interesting is how much Cindy credits her success to ignorance. “I am so glad I worked and got it out there. I didn’t know a lot about how things were supposed to be, so I just moved forward, and if I had known everything I know now, I am not sure I would have had the courage needed to move forward and make the mistakes I needed to learn from.”

She was encouraged by positive feedback from those who read it and she quickly had the second book in the series, Tier 2, out by end of 2019. As she approached 2020 she decided she wanted to really see what she could accomplish as a writer. She again sat down with her husband and looked at how could she squeeze every second out of a day. She joined a trampoline park for her kids, and a ninja warrior class. Her husband worked Saturdays and therefore had one day off during the week he could take the kids. All these opportunities found Cindy’s fingers dancing across her laptop’s keyboard. The goal was six books in one year. She preset dates when each would be released and she went to work. Here was Cindy’s 2020 publishing schedule.

Feb. 24th, Tier 3

April 21st, Yes, And

July 14th, I Can’t Remember

October 12th, Let’s Try This Again, But This Time In Paris

November 25th, The Holly Bough Cottage

December 20th, The New Years Party

Not only did this push her in the volume of writing but it also allowed her to try different genres and styles. Each project was unique. Tier 3, made her first complete series. Yes, And, was in women’s fiction, a coming of age novel around an elderly women and millennial and how their lives come together and impact one another (this is her most popular novel). I Can’t Remember, a mystery novel about a women who wakes up everyday not able to remember her past. Let’s Try This Again, But This Time In Paris, was her first try at romance, and I was happy to see a romance about a married couple. Helping to add to the important body of work needed to show that romance should never end with, “I do.” The Holly Bough Cottage, her first collaboration with other authors, this book is part of a series of 13 books, each done by a different author. And lastly, The New Years Party, a book that spans 12 years but covered from the perspective of only one day each year, New years.

Six very different books. And she learned exactly how much she could produce, and that she never wanted to do it again. “It was good to see what I could accomplish but it was not the right balance with my family.” And what genre did she decide fit her best? All of them. “I know the advice is to stick to one genre, but I enjoy doing different things and this keeps me writing. I am hopeful that people will come to appreciate that I have good stories to tell even if they are in different genres.”

Her next project is another science fiction, but Cindy is not one to do something the same way twice so this time she is trying the world of traditional publishing. How did that come about? She attended the 20 Books to 50K conference in Las Vegas, and she volunteered to help out, something she recommended you always do since it gives you a chance to get to know the people on the inside and build much stronger relationships. This time it did pay off. She was assigned to help stream a class being given by Judith Anderle, and her husband Michael Anderle, one of the founders of 20 books to 50K, was there with her. They talked and she got to tell him about her project. He said, “Robin Cutler, the president of my publishing company, LMBPN, is in the next room, why don’t you pitch it to her?” Cindy did, and Robin asked her to send it to her. She sent it that night, and then for months she heard nothing. As usually undiscouraged she moved forward, but then the call came. They had run the book through several groups and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. She signed a contract and is working now to publish the four book series (the Unreal series) with them.

And then what will she do? I don't know but as long as she doesn't know that she can't, she'll just do it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Perfectly Prolific


As I am looking forward to the publishing of my second book, “Of Pigs and Priests,” I wanted to take a little time to get to know other authors and write a little about their author journey. I was able to recently sit down with Britney M. Mills and loved getting to pick her brain about her time as an author.

While I have not gathered the data yet, I am convinced that the majority of successful authors share a few key traits and one of them is being prolific. It is hard to learn about Britney and describe her in any other way. She showed this trait early on when in fourth grade story writing assignment the other kids were concerned about the minimum they had to write she had the opposite problem. She just kept adding to the story, and the teacher finally had to tell her that she did have to wrap it up eventually.

From that very early age she knew writing was going to be a part of her life. The question was, in what way? After high school, she headed for Boston College where she had an athletic scholarship as the pitcher on the soft ball team. She majored in English, but originally considered it the first step in her desired career of lawyer. However, the day she went to take the LSAT she felt a need to head in a different direction and decided to serve a mission for her church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in Washington DC.

After getting home she didn’t waste anytime getting real life experience with what would become her chosen genre, romance. She met her husband, started dating him and got engaged all in a four month span. The next few years were full of excitement as she began life with her new little family as they started having kids and moving around. He continued school and ultimately found his career in home building, but she was always thinking of ideas and desired to find a way to write.

She eventually decided to try her hand at fantasy. Her husband had the idea of a book around an academy for knights written from both the perspective of a 12 year old boy and his father. She found a  writing critique group on Facebook. It was a group of five other authors all at various levels, they would each submit a sample every week, read each other’s, and offer critique in their weekly virtual meeting. It was during these meetings that she started to get a feel for writing, crafting a story, and what it takes to get a book to completion. But after 2 and 1/2 years of struggling with the book she was ready to move onto something else. It was while watching a movie version of a Jane Austen book that she decided what that something else would be.

A modern telling of Jane Austen, a series of books starting with many people’s favorite, the matchmaking Emma. But could she do it? She had just given birth to triplets--yes, you read that right, three children, all at the same time. But despite the challenges associated with having three brand new babies added to her load of another child, she enjoyed the release writing brought her, and she took on this new project. Clearly, it was a good fit. She quickly found another critique group on Facebook this time one more focused on clean romance. She also looked into the various options for publishing, ultimately deciding to self-publish her work. This would give her control of the work, but meant she would have to find and pay for an editor and cover design. This was early 2018 and it was 100% complete and available for purchase by later that year.

From then she never looked back. Her second book, Austen Party of Two, the Pride and Prejudice retelling was released a few months later in December 2018. Her third, Austen Unscripted, a retelling of Persuasion in January 2019.

But how does a young mother of 4 (soon to be 5), three of which are triplets find time to write. When asked she credits it to several things. One, she is very consistent about nap time and uses that time wisely. Second, Thursday nights. These are the nights that her husband takes over kid duty and she drives down to his office and focuses for four hours on her writing. Third, writing blitzes, this is focused writing for 15 minute blocks were she can quickly get a significant amount written. She often writes 600-700 words in one blitz. And lastly, those pesky deadlines. She often sets a pre-order date on Amazon, and as it approaches she knows she has to deliver a book by that date. It keeps her moving.

This method is clearly a tried and true method because, since October 2018 when her first book was published she has published an impressive, 23 books. Let me say that one more time. In less than a four year span, she has written and published 23 books. That is about a book every 2 months. (I'd be happy with a book every 2 years).

When asked what is the best book to read first, she says she would recommend her book coming out in June, Matched with her Fake Fiancé. I guess like most authors, we find ourselves in love with our latest creation. The good news is when you go to pick one, because of what Britney has accomplished, you will have a large selection to choose from.

It was great getting to know Britney and if you would like to learn more about her or check out her books you can check out her webpage: