Sunday, November 29, 2015

Plotting Help

Now that NaNoWriMo is almost at a close, you probably don't need this tool - unless you write during the "off-season," or are a struggling college student, like me.

I'm in the middle of a two-month class aimed at teaching students to write a novella - a ~100 page story, which we'll self-publish at the end of class.

I found myself in an existential plot crisis. Even though I had a strong start, I couldn't figure out where this novella was going. I needed some serious plot help. I Googled "plot diagram" and landed on this interactive tool.
Once you enter in your name and title, it presents a "mountain." You can use the slider bar at the bottom to change where the peak is (allowing for more or less rising and falling action). 
You enter in an event and a description, and drag and drop it to where you want it on the "mountain." Downside: once you drag that event, the only part that will be visible is the event title. You can't get back to see or edit your event description.
Hitting print will allow you to print or save the final version, but you can add events after you "print." Once you start over or navigate off the page, your work will be lost, so if you want to keep it, print it. This is what it'll look like:
Happy writing!

Edit: I found another interesting downside to this working aid: The events are numbered on the printed page as you entered them. So, using the example above, if you entered in Problem 1, then the Major Crisis, and then went back and entered in Problem 2, the bottom of your printout will list them as:
1. Character Intro
2. Problem 1
3. Major Crisis
4. Problem 2
5. Resolution 1
It's still a useful working aid... it's just not perfect.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Excuse Me, But You've Got a Thread...

Your clothing is sewn shut! I've seen it a lot lately, and commented about it to friends. Several of them didn't know you're supposed to cut those stitches.

Here's where to find the ones to cut:

  • The bottom hem of a new jacket or coat
  • The bottom hem of a new skirt
  • Pockets* (more on this in a bit)
  • The shoulders of a new jacket


The vent is the split in the back of a skirt or in a jacket or coat.

Here's What They Look Like:

The thread used to baste the vent shut is usually doubled, and is often a contrasting color. The stitches are big, and thread is knotted someplace visible (but usually on the inside of the garment). The accessible knot makes it easier to remove.

Why Are They Sewn Shut?

The stitches are there for a couple of reasons. One, to keep the garment from bunching up during shipping and handling. Two, to keep the vent protected while you try it on. If the garment is a little small, you could tug the vent too far open and stretch or tear the fabric.

Why Should I Remove Them?

All the other stitching in your garment is meant to not be noticed. Not those basting stitches. They should go. Keeping them in means the garment moves awkwardly, or bunches up as you wear it.

If you don't like the split in the jacket, skirt, or coat, buy clothing without a vent (there's lots out there).


Pockets are often also sewn shut. Opinions on opening pockets vary, and keeping them shut isn't obvious, unlike keeping vents shut.

Why Are They Sewn Shut?

To keep you from stretching out the garment by putting large items or your hands in the pockets. This is important before you purchase the garment. After the garment is yours, well... They're your pockets. But stretched-out jacket pockets make the garment hang awkwardly. Smoother lines create a more elegant appearance.

What About Pants Pockets?

If the pocket openings are horizontal, opening them is probably fine (but watch out for stretching them by sticking your hands in them).

If the pockets are slanted (close to the side-seams of your pants), they can have a tendency to gap open. Keeping them sewn shut helps them lie flat.
Those pockets are definitely going to be stretched out. :(

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On Accidental Saints and Made For Goodness - Week 2

On Perfection

I have to say, Nadia's chapter where she talked about the expectations of others really spoke to me. She said, "Maybe it's not only the leaders who think they should be perfect; maybe it's also their followers who expect them to have it all together."

I am totally guilty of this. Like, all-the-time guilty. I have high expectations of myself, and high expectations of others. I tend to know my friends well enough to love them and their imperfections. I love their snarky-ness, their sarcasm, their occasional falling-apart. I identify with all those things, and I do them myself. I know we're not perfect.

But I expect my leaders - in family, in church, at work - to be always forgiving, never snarky, never falling-apart. At least, not when I'm around. I have some amends to make, and I'll make them in person.
Desmond Tutu again echoes her: "As human beings, we hear in the command to be perfect a demand for flawlessness. But flawlessness is not the goal of God's invitation. ... Godly perfection is not flawlessness. Godly perfection is wholeness." I love him for saying this. I guess I have some work to do.
Desmond Tutu talks about practicing being good. He talks about how God gave us choice, but the choice really is ours, and it does take practice. I have to admit, this really confused me. Last week, he was saying that being good is something we are, not something we do, and now he's saying that we have to practice being good.

Not the Blessing

The other thing Nadia said that really struck me, was when she talked about how we are not the blessing that is bestowed upon others. I'm guilty of this one, too. Thinking that I will magnanimously step down from my ivory tower and bless people with my presence or my works. She points out that we are all both needy and needs-meeters. It was a difficult concept to wrap my head around. I think she's also saying that experiencing the need and the meeting of that need is to experience Jesus. It's not in the being needy or in the generosity - it's in the communion.

The Discussion Questions

  1. 1. What is your Nineveh? Has God ever moved you to confront that thing, person, or event that you would rather avoid? What happened, and how did it feel?

    Not so much, on this one. I would say that the closest it comes is at work. As a team-lead, I was a great coach, mentor, cheer-leader. But I wasn't good at giving negative feedback or conducting sessions where I had to counsel someone on poor performance. I had to do it, and it felt awful. I'm still much better at "A for effort!" than I am at "these are the expectations. Let's find a way for you to start meeting them."

  2. Have you ever felt like you were someone's "project" - as if they were trying to "minister" to you, yet somehow were serving themselves? How did it feel? Why is it so difficult for us to give to others without becoming self-important?

    Again, not so much. I've definitely been on the other side of that - believing that I could lead a youth group (I don't even like kids!) because I was young and energetic (I was) and I understood teenagers (nope. Not even when I was one). It was a gift I didn't and don't possess, and I failed miserably. I think we do better at ministration when it's in a way that comes more naturally.

  3. (Summarizing) When you were young, did you believe that Godliness meant following a list of prohibitions? ...Has that rules-based messaging affected how you live and feel as an adult? Is there such a thing as "Godly living"? Is the lifestyle and personality of the Christian the primary focus of faith?

    Oh, yes. Christians don't smoke, drink, smoke pot, swear, have pre-marital sex. I know now those things aren't true, but when I was a teenager, I vacillated between believing that we are saved by faith and that we are saved by works. When I thought we are saved by works, I was super-puritan. When I thought we are saved by faith, I took it as a free pass - I'm already saved, I can do whatever the hell I want. Now, I think it's both. I do still believe that we should aim for a lifestyle that treats ourselves and those around us well. I know that as sinners, we'll fall short. But I do believe we should be trying.

Adventures in Translation - Family

Demaryius Thomas has a tattoo that said "Family." He said, "Family - I love 'em all." And then there was ESPN's slogan, Football is family. Whatevs.

I thought, what if I got that tattoo in Arabic? I'm not into tattoos of words - even in a foreign language, even in a beautifully written one, like Arabic - but if I were into that, the tattoo would say الاهل - al-Ahal. The folks. Family.

Like اهل الكتاب - ahal al-Kitab - people of the Book. Believers. Jews, Christians, Muslims. Family.

Like اهلي - Ahali - my family.

Like اهوال الدنيا - Ahwal al-Dunya - Peoples of the world. Family.
Yes, there are other words for family. I think أسرة - usrah - is more "proper."

Greetings in Arabic can be extensive. "How are you? How's your health? How are your affairs? How's your family?" all rapid-fire, while the other person says, "Good, thank God, thank God, good."

The word used - at least in my experience - isn't the proper usrah, but the more general اهل. How are your people? Your family?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Stop Using That Hashtag

Victim Equaling

You probably already know what a "topper" is. Whatever you say, they've done it better, gotten a bigger one, done it more, or had it worse.

Victim-topping is this thing I see on the internet lately, and it's not so much topping, as it is "equaling." If you were at a party, it'd go like this: You say, "Thank God someone brought a veggie platter. I'm deathly allergic to peanuts, and they are in everything!" And they say, "Yeah, I'm a vegan. We should all demand more choices from our grocer."
The way it plays out in the internet, is there's some movement and a counter-movement. The thing is, we have movements for a reason: The status quo isn't getting it for some people. In order to change the status quo, a movement is born.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is a good example of a movement with a counter-movement. This movement draws attention to "the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state."

That Other Hashtag is a Straw Man Argument

The counter-movement, All Lives Matter, is a straw man argument that seeks to reinforce the status quo. In this day and age, we can pretty much agree that all lives matter. Hence the straw man part. No one is going to disagree with you on that one. No one was even making that argument.

By saying "all lives matter," you're seeking to diminish the power of the request for change by changing the focus of the argument. You're working to halt the change others depend on by reinforcing the status quo.

A Constructionist Reading

When you use that other hashtag, you're using the same well-recognized format as #blacklivesmatter, which draws a comparison between the two. "All lives matter" would have no meaning without the association to Black Lives Matter. By saying "all lives matter," you aren't drawing attention to a specific problem, you're just muddying the water. Because of this association, you're drawing a comparison which brushes aside the problem Black Lives Matter tries to address; you're making room at the party for a lesser problem.
Let me just clarify here. You're probably enraged, so let me clarify. When I say "lesser problem," I'm talking about the size of the problem in terms of number of victims and the rate of victims. When compared to white people, African Americans have it much worse in the justice system. They suffer more at the hands of the state and within the system in which we all live. I'm not interested in arguing statistics. That's not what this post is about.

Lastly, I'd like to remind you that Black Lives Matter is not a zero-sum game. A system that treats black people fairly won't suddenly turn on white people. More fair treatment does not necessitate the displacement of injustice from one group onto another group.

So, stop using that hash-tag. You're not helping anyone, and you're hurting some.

20151108 Update: edited to fix a typo.