A Quick Intro to Football

Football season starts this month. (Finally!)

Lots of people learn football by playing it. The rest of us probably attended our first game as part of a family or school event. When I watched my first games, I knew only that the quarterback should throw the ball to a guy who should outrun everyone else and get in the endzone, and that he should avoid being sacked. But the game is much more fun to watch if you understand even a little bit about the positions and the strategy.

This video is designed to give that little bit: Super-Basic Guide to Football

Disclaimer: To keep it short, I over-simplified. For example, I call all backs “running backs” (except the quarterback). I call all receivers “wide receivers.” I don’t even mention the possibility of only having three defensive linemen up front instead of four. I don’t mention offensive formations, like the “Wishbone” or “I” formation. I skip over why it’s so dangerous for a team to be near its own endzone– not even mentioning the possibility of scoring a safety. I don’t mention penalties, not even the most common ones. Etc., etc., etc. Still, it’s something I wish I’d seen before I watched my first game!

Football positions

Meeting Lloyd Alexander

When I was 10 years old, my teacher introduced me to Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi by way of assigning “The Black Cauldron” as class reading. I loved that book, and was thrilled to find two more books by the author, Lloyd Alexander, in our school library. I read “Taran Wanderer” several times, then read “The High King.” Then I found more of his books at our community library. I read the “Westmark” trilogy several times, and afterwards I read “The Book of Three” and “The Castle of Llyr.”

I liked to daydream about visiting Prydain. One of my favorite things to ponder was, if I could bring one thing with me, what would it be? Eventually, I decided I’d take a bag that, if I reached inside, I could pull out a book on any subject. That way, if Coll needed more iron for swords, I could pull out books on the geology of Prydain; or if we were wandering in the forests, I could pull out a book on edible wild plants. Thinking about these characters and places filled a great deal of my inner monologue during those years of my life.

In college, the author himself visited our campus and gave a lecture in the de Jong Concert Hall. He was slight and soft-spoken. At the end, he invited questions. One person asked how to pronounce the characters’ names. He instantly answered, “However you think they should be pronounced.” When pressed to tell us how he, personally, pronounced the names, he hesitantly revealed how he hears them. He said “Eilonwy” in a way so lovely that I wished I’d known it from the start.

Although I couldn’t afford them, I bought hardback copies of two of his books. Then I stood in the long line for signing. I considered what I could say to him, and I decided there was nothing that could express the depths of my respect and gratitude in that brief moment, so I should just give him the books and be satisfied.

When I started to hand him my newly-purchased copy of “The Kestrel,” the guy behind me said to my hero, “Wait, don’t sign that.” Then he said to me, “You can exchange it if it isn’t written in.” When I gave him a confused look, he said, “Are you sure you want that one? It isn’t the first book in the series.”

I mumbled something about how I really liked this one, and then I again offered it to Lloyd Alexander.

He took it from me, and in his gentle voice, he said, “Yes, this one is rather darker.” His tone convinced me that he understood everything.

I’ve heard of people being disappointed when they meet their heroes. But I came away from that encounter with even greater appreciation for the author who provided such rich material for my childhood imagination to work on.

Signed Kestrel

Cheers to the Sloggers

I did track and cross-country in high school. Why? I wanted my letter, you had to do a sport to get it, and those were the only sports with a “No Cuts” policy. You show up and work, you get your letter.

When I came home from my first meet, my parents asked how I did. I told them I came in third. They said “Great!”

I didn’t tell them I was in the slowest heat, there were only three people running it, and I finished half a lap behind the other two girls. My parents terrified me by hinting that they might attend one of my competitions, but I quickly pointed out that track meets lasted three hours or more, I couldn’t be sure when my event would be run, and they had other children with far more pressing needs. Humiliation avoided!

My favorite success was achieving my goal of breaking 21 minutes on the 5K. I finally did it at the last regular meet of my senior year of high school. I came through the chute, and my time was 20:59.

No one cheered. It wasn’t a good enough time for anyone else to suspect how many hours of work over several years it’d taken me to get there, or how important it was to me. But it’s still a favorite memory of mine.

Fast-forward to two nights ago.

I have a practice of going back to all my books and editing them at will. My husband claims this is bad, and that I should keep going forward. We had a conversation like this:

Me: “Artists do this. Degas would go to his friend’s house for dinner, see his own painting on the wall, notice something wrong, grab it away from his protesting friend, take it home and fix it, and bring it back a few weeks later. Then he’d be invited for dinner, notice something else wrong, and take it home again.”

My husband: “Didn’t you tell me his friend had that painting chained to the wall?”

Me: “So?”

My husband: “So Degas had to move on to painting something else. You need to chain your books to the wall.”

Me: “They’re my books, I’m self-published, and I have no readers,” (not precisely true– I have one loyal fan– she bought my latest book about two weeks ago– I haven’t heard anything from her– she must hate it– so it might be precisely true, after all) “and no one is becoming upset with me for leaving a huge empty spot on their dining-room wall.”

My husband: *sigh*

Anyway, for several months I’d been working on a re-write of what was formerly the very, very, very final re-write of “Incubation.” At long last, I got the print and e-book versions of it finished and uploaded. This great feat shall go down in history as having been achieved at just before 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Time to celebrate!

Alas, who wants to be woken up in the wee hours of the morning to celebrate the re-editing of a book that was supposedly finished several months ago? (I’ll admit, the cat was happy. She’d been hanging out with me as I worked, and she seemed relieved that I was finally going to my proper spot for the night.) I’d be beyond selfish to go bother everyone with my small victory.

This kind of continued, tough, even tedious work is necessary if I want to have a story I love, but there’s no enchanting beauty in the work, itself.

In all of our lives, anytime we’re doing something worthwhile, what comes with it is tons of slogging through tough stuff. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night, sometimes it’s day after day after day. It’s work that’s absolutely essential, but it doesn’t present itself as something for someone else to cheer about. It’s stuff like changing a newborn baby’s diaper fourteen times a day for a few weeks, while also breast-feeding around the clock, while also recovering from major debilitating surgery, while also taking care of several toddlers. No one’s going to throw you a parade for that, even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done and it’s trying you to your very core.

But this work we put in, this tough work that no one sees, that no one celebrates, that no one cheers, is vital. It’s even more important than reaching the end goal.

I mean, obtaining that time on my race was super-sweet. But whether or not we reach whatever goal we’ve set for ourselves, triumphing over the slog is itself a success.

Even more important, there’s One who sees our efforts, and those efforts make our Parent prouder of us than if we hit whatever artificial mark of “success” we might have set for ourselves as a prerequisite for happiness.

For those of you putting in that unappreciated work, remember that what you’re doing is important, even if no one on earth sees it. And remember you always have Someone cheering for you during the slog.

You Can’t be Really Good While Thinking About It

My church has a big gathering twice a year, where everyone within a hundred miles comes to a Sunday meeting. The day before this meeting, there’s a formal training for all the local church leaders.

Well, the lady who’s really good at playing the hymns wasn’t available for that meeting. She asked all the other people who were good, but they weren’t available. She mentioned her problem to someone who knows me just well enough to think I play the piano better than I do, and when she asked me to help her out, I couldn’t refuse her.

Over the next weeks, I worked out the fingering for the hymns and I practiced the prelude songs. That Saturday, I arrived 40 minutes early so I could get used to the grand piano, and also so I’d have enough time to work the nervous icy stiffness out of my fingers by playing my favorite classics to an empty building.

When the conductor arrived, we quickly worked out the tempo he wanted for the songs– quick and upbeat, just how I like it.

The huge chapel filled. Then they opened the overflow.

When it was time for the opening hymn, I played the entire chorus at the correct tempo so the congregation would have ample time to realize we really were going to be singing this fast. I paused to let the conductor start us out. He raised his arms and beat time with sweeping, obvious, expert gestures, and I followed him.

Unfortunately, by the end of the first line, he and I were ahead of everyone else. I started singing while playing, trying to get the people on the stand to match up properly and lead by example, but it was no use. I had to slow down.

Sending a mental apology to the conductor, I worked at keeping it as fast as he wanted without losing the congregation. I was constantly making adjustments as I watched him while I listened to everyone, trying to head off the train wreck that was threatening at every second.

Near the end of the second verse, the person in charge of the meeting leaned over to me, held up four fingers, and mouthed that we were going to change plans and sing more verses than they’d announced. I gave him a quick nod and prepared myself to keep fighting the battle I’d thought was almost over.

Sometime during the last verse, I realized that I hadn’t paid any attention at all to the phrasing, fingering, or even whether I was hitting the correct notes. All those things were happening automatically, and being executed much better than usual, while I had no brain power to spare for considering those issues.

At that instant, my mind went back to worrying about whether I was playing the song correctly. What had, a moment before, been unconsciously running really well, was now hard work requiring great concentration.

It felt odd that when I didn’t think about the technical aspects of what I was doing with my fingers, the song came off better than if I had been. And the moment I recognized that was happening, I was yanked out of that state of mind.

That experience reminded me of a concept that was explained to me in law school, but which I apparently didn’t quite understand.

My negotiations teacher said there were four levels to becoming an expert in anything.

The first level is unconscious incompetent, where you know so little about the skills you need that you don’t realize how awful you are at those skills. It’s like watching a figure skater at the Olympics who effortlessly makes jumps and twirls, and thinking, “Oh, that’s so easy. I could do that.”

The second is conscious incompetent. That’s where you put on ice skates for the first time, fall backwards, and crack your head open.

The third is conscious competent. That’s where you’ve put in the hours of study and practice, and you see that you’re becoming good at this thing.

The last is unconscious competent. I thought this last level meant that if you practice something hard enough, eventually the skill becomes so ingrained that you can do it without thinking about it.

But maybe that isn’t right. Maybe practicing really hard will never get you there. It will carry you to the brink of the finish line, but not across it.

It might be that, after you put in the hours, you need to re-focus on something entirely external. That something might be unity with others; or, if you’re practicing solo, a unity with something higher than yourself. A lack of self-consciousness might be necessary in order to make that connection.

Now, if only a conscious change in focus can keep my fingers from turning into meat popsicles right before a performance…

The Car that Died in Glory

When I met my husband, he owned a red Ford Escort that he’d bought used at an auction, and that he’d nearly totaled a couple of years later. The severe rebuild meant that parts of this car were brand new and parts of it were fading, and the electrical system did sketchy things. One weird electrical issue was with the ignition. I “fixed” that by yanking on the key so hard that we could take one key out and put the other in without turning off the engine, which was useful when one of us was dropping off the other somewhere.

Fast-forward 10 years. The transmission was shot– you could get it up to about 20 mph, but that was it. The estimate to get it fixed was thousands. I said, “Well, I’ll call the junkyard, and see if they’ll take it.” My husband said he’d handle it. I cleaned out the car and found the title.

More than a year passed. Our uptight neighbor complained to me a few times about our having an untitled car sitting on our driveway. I agreed with him that it was trashy and that there was no point to its being there, and then I told him to talk to my husband about it. (The neighbor wouldn’t.) I arranged to get the car towed to a junkyard, but my husband said he wanted to save the money and drive it there himself, as soon as he had the time to make the 50 mile drive at 20 mph.

Come late July, I was out front mowing our lawn. A guy drove past our house, immediately slammed on the brakes, and backed up. He pointed to the red heap of a car, and said, “Does it run?” I yelled back, “Yes, but it only goes 20 because of the transmission.” He yelled, “Want to sell it?”

I shut down the mower and yelled, “YES!!! But my husband is emotionally attached to it. If you can offer him anything, I think I can get him to take it.” I told him when my husband would be home, and begged him to come ready to take it away right then.

The guy showed up at the right time, and I sent my husband out there to negotiate. They immediately settled on $100. The man’s son drove our junker away as my husband wiped the mist from his eyes.

A few days later, the local news was running a story on the county fair’s demolition derby. There was my husband’s escort, tricked out in spray-painted racing stripes, winning round after round. It made it to the finals, when its transmission finally quit for good. They showed the scene of them hauling the dead, battered carcass off the mud track.

My husband and I looked at each other. I didn’t know what to say. Then, with reverence in his voice, he said, “He went out in a blaze of glory.”

I nodded, then gave him a hug.


World Travels of the Potato

In my latest book, people eat food. (Shocking!) These people are in medieval Ireland. Living in pre-Columbian times, they lacked foods native to the Americas, especially corn, tomatoes, and potatoes. I often write at Chick Fil-A, and I can only feel sad at how most of my characters never got to eat a side of french fries dipped in ketchup.

So how did potatoes become associated with Ireland?

By the 1500’s, the Inca (and their predecessors) had developed numerous strains of potatoes, each suited to a particular micro-climate in the Andean mountains. Even today, people grow deep purple potatoes, bright reddish-orange potatoes, yellow potatoes, and white potatoes, with shapes that vary from long and skinny to bulbous.

Conquistadors and merchants brought specimen plants back to parts of Europe. A few survived the trip, and among these was a white, round potato that happened to be perfectly suited to thrive in the soil and climate of Ireland.

Why did so many Irish grow potatoes? The main reason was that the English had taken all the land, and were renting it back to the people at rates which were impossible to pay. Basically, if you worked your buns off for a year, and brought in a harvest of wheat, the moment you got it bagged up the English landlord would come by and say, “Good! That’s exactly what you owe in rent this year!” and carry it off. But potatoes could be left in the field and harvested as needed– making it much more difficult for a landlord to come by and swipe your harvest. (I think Malcolm Gladwell mentioned this idea in a book that argued that rice production led to math skills and business acumen while wheat production led to fatalism. But maybe I heard it somewhere else.) To avoid starvation, the Irish would grow wheat to pay the rent, and grow potatoes to feed their families.

This system was unfair, but at least the Irish didn’t die– until the years that the fungus-like oomycete invaded and killed off the potatoes. Those years, English landlords still came by and took all the wheat the Irish had planted and harvested, even though there were no potatoes for the workers to eat. By the second and third crop failures, there was rampant Irish starvation, even though these same Irish had grown more than enough wheat to feed themselves. The English decided that the way to deal with this problem of all their workers starving to death was to ship them off to America. This massive depopulation of Ireland was a tremendous boon to America, which got cheap labor in the cities, cheap labor on the railroads, and a bunch of citizens more than willing to take a grant of native prairie in exchange for performing the labor to build a permanent residence on it and to turn it into grazing land and farm land.

[Let’s not think too hard about the ironies of Americans that fought off the British in order to avoid being treated the way the British treated its native population (Irish), then turning around and using the displaced native Irish population to establish a firm hold on land that was at the time populated by America’s own native population (American Indians), in order to displace them. (My parents recently got DNA tests that showed, among many other population groups, Irish, English, and native American ancestry; plus, I’m a proud American– the result being that I don’t know which dog in this fight is properly mine.)]

Anyway, this farm land was often perfectly suited to growing those same potatoes that the Irish brought with them when they crossed the Atlantic.

So when you look at an Idaho potato, there’s a strong likelihood that the ancestors of that plant made the trip from the Andes, to Ireland, to North America. That side of french fries encapsulates a huge swath of modern world history.

Finding a New Favorite Band: “Connla”

Last week I took my kids to a concert by “Connla,” a band from northern Ireland. Through some instant karma, we were lucky enough to get floor seats (literally, sitting on our pockets at the band members’ feet). When I realized how close we would be to the performers, I felt a shyness, which feeling intensified when the band came up.

But only a few measures into the first song, “Pilot,” I realized my crossed legs were moving to the rhythm, and I’d already forgotten my reserve. The band had started its magic, and like all the best professional musicians, they were enticing everyone to become part of their spell-casting. They led us through jazzy pieces that felt like easily dancing on a sunlit path through a bright green meadow (“Mighty Makena’s”), dark songs that conjured disturbing history (“Julia”), exciting tunes that made me wish I could lock arms and turn with my fellow audience members (“Drunken Piper”), songs of hope (“Sail On”), and lots of others, tied together with pleasant personal stories that made us laugh or cheer.

Being that close, I witnessed their talent in a way impossible from a seat in the back. Every instantaneous pitch change in the drum was because she precisely positioned her fingers on its underside. The harpist leapt from chord to chord, her fingers perfect for each attack, exactly complimenting the guitarist, whose fingers worked with such rapidity up and down the fretboard that they seemed unconnected to the calm face of their owner. And the pipes and flutes– I would’ve thought their fingers were merely fluttering over their instruments except that those shockingly fast notes were in perfect alignment with each other and all the other instruments. And the lead singer’s voice had a sweetness not usually found in tones so rich and full.

I loved how they played the sudden, quick silences in their music to add a breath of excitement or to signal a change of tempo or style in the song. That kind of precise expression only comes from countless hours of practicing together. (Think of how easy it is for someone singing Handel’s “Alleluia Chorus” to stick an extra “alleluia” into the caesura at the very end. A choir director I know often warns members about not taking unintended solos.)

Though a few of us did take them up on their invitation to give a yell when we felt so inspired, my guess is that we stuffy Americans weren’t as fun of an audience as they might get on a Saturday night in a pub in Armagh. But they wielded their power to make the standing-room-only crowded room of widely varying strangers feel a unity, an enlivening. For that too-short time together, we lived our lives more abundantly.

Start Fixing Healthcare Now: Two Quick, Easy Steps

     Sometime after my employer switched to a high-deductible health insurance plan, I got an injury that required physical therapy. My doctor referred me to a local sports medicine facility for treatment.
     When I stepped up to the receptionist’s desk, I asked, “How much will these visits cost?”
     She said, “Oh, we don’t have any idea of that. We bill the insurance, and then they tell us what we can charge you, and what they’ll pay.”
     I said, “Well, what do you bill the insurance?”
     She said, “I can’t tell you that. There are so many different insurances out there, and we have different contracts with all of them, so it all depends. We have a department that handles that.”
     My employer was the largest in town. So I said, “Well, do you have any guess at all what the charges ended up being for [name of insurance company]? I have a high-deductible plan, so I need to know what I’m going to be paying.”
     She shook her head. “No idea. You’ll get the bill in 90 days.”
     At my initial visit, a physical therapist gave me a series of exercises. At all the other visits, they watched me do the exercises. That was it.
     This had been going on 2-3 times a week for several weeks, when I finally got the first explanation of benefits from my insurance company. That’s when I discovered that this place was charging me nearly $500 per session. My insurance company had a price-fixing arrangement with them, but I still had to pay about $1400 for these visits.
     And the problem wasn’t fixed.
     I cancelled all my other appointments, saw a specialist, and was referred to a different physical therapist. I asked him what he would charge. He said he’d send my insurance company a bill for $75, but that the insurance company likely would only allow him to charge me $50. After two months of visits, and a total cost of less than $300, the problem was fixed.

     My experience revealed two demons of the health-care industry: concealed prices, and secret price-fixing agreements.

Fix #1: Require clear prices.

     The first way to fix health care is to make doctors tell the truth about what they charge. We need a law that says this: “All medical practitioners and facilities shall disclose the full cost of any service, procedure, or treatment provided by them. This disclosure shall be by a public website posting of a searchable document listing each procedure’s common name and the total price for that procedure. Further, before any patient receives treatment, the medical practitioner shall disclose, before treatment begins, the full cost of that procedure or course of treatment to the patient. If the full cost is unknown, then the practitioner must estimate the number of visits and procedures required to fix the problem, disclose the full cost of each visit and each procedure, and estimate the full cost of the entire course of treatment. A medical practitioner who provides treatment without disclosing the full cost of the treatment may not charge a patient or insurance company for the cost of that treatment.”

     That means that long before you have pain in your left arm, you can compare which hospital charges less to treat an emergency room “heart attack” or a provide a “quadruple bypass surgery.” When your eye doctor says, “Well, I think it’s nothing, but let me send you to a specialist just in case,” you’ll know ahead of time that you’ll be paying $750 for your eye doctor to provide a little CYA for himself. And when your primary care doctor orders lab tests, you can decide whether to have them done at the lab that charges $20 for the test, or the lab that charges $375 for the exact same test.

     Unless, of course, your doctor has a special agreement to only deal with one particular lab, which happens to charge really high rates. Which brings us to the second fix:

Fix #2: Make regular anti-trust laws apply to medical care.

     Seems obvious. The anti-trust laws have been around since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and they apply to all businesses, right?


     Health care has a huge exception. That’s why hospitals get to carve up areas and agree not to compete for patients in each others’ territory. That’s why insurance companies fix costs at one level for some people and at another level for others. That’s why doctors give a high bill to middle-class, uninsured people, and a lower bill to insured people, for the same service. It’s price fixing, it’s non-competition agreements, it’s restraint of trade, it’s monopolies of specialties.

     And it’s definitely driven up costs.

     This is a super-easy fix. Just delete the exception. See a law that says this stuff is okay? Repeal it.

     Opponents will cry: “No! If you have competition, you’ll drive up costs! Insurance rates will sky-rocket!” But that’s stupid, because costs and insurance rates have already sky-rocketed without an open market (duh, what did you think would happen?). Insurance rates won’t sky-rocket, because truth pricing and free competition will drive down the costs of health care.

     Speaking of insurance…

     But that’s a blog for another day.

Creating Creepy Beneficial Destruction

Beneficial insects like wild bees and butterflies are facing collapse. But insects that kill humans (usually, by putting nasty things in our blood when they bite us) are thriving. Last year alone, almost three million people were killed when mosquitos infected them with deadly diseases. That’s basically the entire populations of Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver combined, all dead in one year, all from mosquitos. (This number doesn’t count the hundreds of millions of people who suffer, but survive, nor the severe health problems from mosquito-borne diseases like Zika.)

A new breakthrough in genetic engineering has promise for wiping out not just mosquitos, but other insects that reproduce in mosquito-like ways.  There’s a weird mosquito DNA sequence that gets spliced (cut) in a certain way to produce either a male or a female mosquito. This sequence is absolutely necessary to turn the mosquito into a properly functioning male or a properly functioning female (scientists aren’t sure exactly how it makes that process happen), so it always gets carried on to the next generation. There’s a DNA sequence at the beginning of the splice area, and the female sequence has a special list that the male sequence doesn’t have. In the experiment, scientists took a new sequence of DNA and loaded it in that female sequence. The new DNA derailed the process for making a female mosquito.

Male mosquitos with the special DNA looked normal. Female mosquitos with one copy of the special DNA looked normal.

But female mosquitos with two copies of the special DNA had some ill-formed male parts on their bodies (male antennae, and claspers put on upside-down). Also, they couldn’t suck blood because of a deformed proboscis, and they couldn’t lay eggs.

Mutant Female Mosquitoes
The special DNA sequence transferred as per usual rates (which is itself an achievement), and the entire population collapsed within 8-13 generations.

Now, I hate mosquitos. I slap them dead whenever one lands on me. I intentionally destroy their habitat in my backyard. I fully expect that they, and all blood-suckers like them, will not be part of a paradisaical earth (though I don’t have unassailable doctrinal support for that expectation, I’ve got some good stuff).

But there’s something about creating such a Frankenstein’s monster that I find horrifying– like the scene at the end of “The Fly” where the man-fly caught in the web begs to be killed.

Perhaps I shouldn’t anthropomorphize my deadly insects. Especially ones that, in every two years, kill enough innocent people to constitute another holocaust.
But that begs the question: where is the cut-off for when it’s okay to treat a living creature this way? I’m not talking about weighing the value of human life against other life– like I said, I smack mosquitos dead as much as I can. I wanted the doctor to kill all those millions of bacteria with splash of disinfectant before she operated on me. Humans are the best!

No, what I’m wondering about is the method. Certainly, it isn’t the mosquito’s fault that it needs to suck blood in order to get enough protein to lay its eggs. And, if a mosquito could care about such things, it would probably prefer to be disease-free rather than to infect (and diminish) its food supply. Under those circumstances, is it okay to create a creature that, to paraphrase C-3PO, seems to be made to suffer?

But then I think: if I saw a child dying from malaria, or born with microcephaly, and I learned it could have been prevented except for the fact that some person was worried that the abnormal mosquito had suffered, well, I’d be pretty steaming mad. Personally, the world-wide eradication of mosquitos and ticks is something I’d think is really, really, really good for humans and all wildlife, and I doubt I’d lose any sleep over using a method like this to make it a reality.

Does that conflict with my view that the ends doesn’t justify the means– that the means must be pure? Certainly, I wouldn’t create this weird mosquito just to see it suffer. Is it now okay to do that, because the result is to save a tremendous amount of suffering, and this is the only effective means to achieve that good result?

Going further, when I look around at the world, and see things like the tarantula hawk wasp, or even those gruesome polar bears, it gives me something to consider when I cast my thoughts up to the One who created them. The God who creates and saves is also the God who destroys and punishes. The Creator who made the lamb also made the “Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright.”

I don’t know whether that excuses us.

But I do know that when we engage in acts of creation, we are using god-like powers. What we do with them is a good indication of how we’ve weighed moral choices, and how we’d behave if we had even more power in our hands.

Watch Out– Your Mask Is Showing

One night, I got home and thought about all the outfits I’d had on that day.

There was the 3 a.m. nursing mommy t-shirt and shorts, glasses, and loose hair. A little later, the polished court suit, perfect make-up, hair slicked back tight. That afternoon, the jeans, pony-tail, Doc Martens, and sweater, as I took the older kids out in the double-stroller, with the youngest strapped on in the baby-pack. After making dinner, a quick change into a church skirt to attend a training session for Sunday School teachers. Finally, home again, and back into comfy mommy-mode.

It occurred to me that all of these outfits expressed a different part of who I am. They weren’t dressing-up to be something other than “me,” they were displaying a particular aspect of my character and responsibilities.

I’ve been used to thinking of dressing-up, or acting, or writing a character, as putting on something that isn’t really me. I’m just pretending. But it doesn’t work to just pretend. If we don’t believe it, at least a little, there’s no magic. It becomes preposterous, or humiliating, like poor little Ralphie in the bunny costume.

For example, when I first wrote the scenes with Zheng He, I had a specific outline, that generally followed what Evil Bob had thought was going to happen. Part of the control I placed on it was my awe of Zheng He– after researching his incredibly difficult and monumentally accomplished life, I was scared to write of him in a familiar way. But, he didn’t let me write it the way I’d planned.

After I wrote the scenes, I went back and wrote the entire section from his perspective, to see if I really believed it. I started to see ways that I could relate my own minor experiences to his epic ones. That’s when, for me, the magic started happening, when I could start to feel how he might have felt. Without that sympathy, it can’t feel real.

In the same way, physically putting on a costume isn’t fun if there’s nothing in it we can understand. When we put on a costume we enjoy, it works because there’s something in it that we can identify as being part of us, even if amplified out of all proportion, or freed from normal restraints. You might be setting Mr. Hyde loose for a night, but it’s the Mr. Hyde that was dwelling in you the entire time.

So, this Halloween, remember that when you’re covering yourself with all that makeup and costuming, you’re really revealing your deepest, innermost soul for all to see. 😉