Follow Me on the New Blog

If there’s anyone out there still checking this site a year after I gave up on it, come visit me on my new blog: www.kimwebbreid.com. See you soon!

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Gems from Glen: Day 2

This is a paraphrase from chaplain Scott Cairns’s keynote address:

Either we are called to greatness or we are not called at all. Ambition is only bad if it is ambition for bad things. . . .

Christians often fall into the trap of thinking that art is mainly for the purpose of expression—a vehicle for delivering previously understood matter. However, expressing what one knows is the least interesting part of the process.

Writing poetry led me in fits and starts through productive bouts of faith and doubt, finally arriving at a giddy awareness of God’s nearness. Whatever ways my words may have served or helped others, my poetry served me first.

Art is a process by which artists come to apprehend what they do not know. The creation of art is a way to see, a gift God has given us to allow us to catch glimpses of Him.

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Gems from Glen: Day 1

Here’s what I heard today at Glen on drawing inspiration from tradition instead of always trying to create something that is exclusively new and fresh:

Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose, I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name. – Jaroslav Jan Pelikan

 

 

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What’s a Cop Doing on a Writer’s Blog?

It’s time for “creative person of the month.” Meet my Uncle Jed.

Is he a writer, editor, avid cook, or photographer? Maybe. I didn’t ask him those questions. I interviewed him because I have a theory that anyone who loves his or her job utilizes creativity, and I wasn’t sure how that might be involved with his particular professions.

So, Uncle Jed. Do you love your job?

I wonder if anyone completely loves their job?? I, for the most part, love what I do, both jobs, that is. But it hasn’t always been that way. My main job is being a policeman, copper, pig, the law, whatever your favorite euphemism is for a cop. I’m also a chiropractor.

What do you do in a typical day as a police officer?

Define typical? That’s the allure for me. I never know what I will see in any given day. It ranges from talking to grade-school kids about crosswalk safety, to herding loose cows, to kicking in a door on a drug house. On most days I am a patrol officer, so I answer calls for service and drive around doing traffic enforcement.

What do you love about your job?

I love the sound of a door being smashed in and the smell of a flash bang as we storm into a drug house and arrest some sh*heads.

I also love the humor in the job. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be finding humor in the depravity and suffering that I see on a daily basis, but it is a strange thing that emergency workers deal with. It’s not always black humor, but sometimes just strange things that happen. I once had a man get angry with me because I wouldn’t stop people from feeding ducks in the park. He felt that the ducks pooping on the pathways represented trespassing and that it was my job to stop people from feeding them. And this was important enough for him to call the police.

Being able to take care of tragedy is in its own way satisfying too. Just yesterday I was called on to take charge of the children from a house where the father shot the mother and then himself. Doing what is needed in a crisis is in a strange way fulfilling.

What parts of your job do you put up with so you can do the parts you like?

Contrary to what you may believe, most patrol cops don’t like writing tickets, so if you have received a lot of tickets in your life, it’s probably ’cause you are a really bad driver.

Putting up with the civil calls, the child custody calls or the “He has my stuff and I want you to get it back” calls are the worst. There is criminal law, for which the police have authority and were conceived, and there is civil law, which is a morass of bickering attorneys and judges’ opinions, for which the police have limited authority and no desire.

My personal favorites are when you have a mother scream at you to make her twelve-year-old boy clean up his room. Yes, society abdicates its responsibilities to anyone but themselves, so the police usually end up being called.

To be blunt, why do some police officers seem like jerks and how have you avoided that?

Hmmm, not sure I’ve avoided being a jerk. I’m sure many people think I am. I became a cop at age 40, so I had life experience going into the job. Becoming a cop is like having the curtain pulled back in the Wizard of Oz. We live our lives in a bubble of ignorance that is not all bad, but when you become a cop, that bubble is burst and you get to see behind the curtain the horrible things that people do. The amount of negative crap that the typical cop deals with will over time jade them into thinking that all people are hiding some dark secret. For me, the humorous nature of the job keeps me from taking my job or myself too seriously.

You’re also a chiropractor. Tell me about that. What do you do in a typical day?

That’s easy. I treat headaches and low back pain.

How did you go from being a full-time chiropractor to a full-time policeman?

Changing careers is a task not unlike sticking a fork in your eyeball. Here I spent money and time to become a chiropractor, and after 14 years of practice, I decided that I needed to do something else. I detest insurance companies (they are of the devil), so when I turned my practice into a cash practice, it cut my practice by 80 percent. So I reasoned it was time to get a job. What I found was that I was trapped by my education. So many interviews began by, “You’re a chiropractor? Well, you are too educated for this job.” I was instantly pigeon-holed by the fact that I had received my education in a certain field.

Friends suggested that I should become a cop. I thought to myself, “A cop? I am way too smart to be a cop.” Needless to say, I had misjudged a profession because of certain preconceptions. What I found was a job that I was well suited to doing. Being a cop requires an extensive set of a variety of skills, none of which I had any idea of before taking the leap. It was like starting from scratch. But don’t we all love learning and growing? Sure, it’s scary and painful, yet the end result is something that we can be proud of. Change is inevitable; our only choice is whether we will make the changes needed as a positive choice or be dragged kicking and screaming into them. One way or another, change will affect our lives.

How does creativity play into your job satisfaction?

My chiropractic practice was something that I didn’t enjoy when I was trying to do it the way everyone else does it. I found that I loathed insurance companies and attorneys that are involved in a high number of people seeking care. So the answer for me was smaller practice, no insurance, and an affordable fee. Now I love being a chiropractor.

So in any profession, maybe the secret to satisfaction is being creative enough to find how to do it your way. How do you bring creativity to being a cop?

For me, it is the humor. I love making people laugh on traffic stops and then giving them a warning so they can learn about their bad driving habits in a positive yet memorable way.

For my bookish readers, what are your top five favorite books?

Ah, books. I love books, and as a cop, I have lots of time to read. Weird, huh? For example, when someone wants to harm themselves or others, we lock them up in a mental institution for evaluation for 72 hours, but first we have to have them medically cleared for liability reasons, so we sit around for hours because hospitals operate on some other basis of time not known in the rest of the world. So I learned early on to have a book handy. Even on really boring SWAT calls.

Why didn’t you tell me more stuff about being a SWAT sniper?

‘Cause my editor complained about me being too wordy.

Sorry. Back to your top five reads.

Not in order, they are probably Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Stand by Steven King, The Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond, and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. By making the list, though, I am torn because I didn’t include books by George Martin, C.S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, or Jordan, or Niven, or . . . yeah, it goes on and on. I read a lot. And, no, Twilight is not on my list. I did love The Hunger Games, though.  Aarrggh!! Don’t get me started. So many books, so little time.

You read Twilight?

I have a really good friend who is a big tough SWAT cop, and we share similar interests in books. He told me that Twilight was a good read . . . so on his recommendation, I read it. I have this problem that if I start a book, I have to finish it. It was painful.

What do you do when you’re not at work reading a book?

I have varied interests when not at work. I love flying planes, though I haven’t done so for a few years. I am an avid outdoors person. I like fishing, hunting birds, white-water kayaking, cycling, and hiking. I guess my most recent passion as far as a hobby goes is taking long rides on twisty roads on my motorcycle.

Any final thoughts for my dear creative readers?

If you do not like what you do for a living, then change, and change now. You don’t have to love what you do every minute, but you do have to find fulfillment and have overall enjoyment of your job. It’s got to be something that you look forward to doing, something that allows you to put yourself into the work. It was a surprise for me going from being a chiropractor to being a cop that I would find such enjoyment in police work. It suits me. I think that is the key for enjoyment of any job. Does it suit you?

Being a writer suits me because I can wear pajamas or yoga pants every day. But I guess you were talking about things I do for a living. Hmm. I’ll have to think about this advice some more.

Thanks, Uncle Jed!

Readers, any questions for the copper?

Have any of you been through a dramatic career change?

Is there anyone you want me to interview next—maybe you?

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Introducing Creative Person of the Month: Meet Jenny

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity. What is it and how do I access more of it and why do I write instead of paint pictures or solve math problems or design houses? I didn’t know mechanical engineers were creative till I married one, and it’s made me rethink my definition of creativity. I’m still trying to better understand.

Luckily I know a lot of creative people who can help me broaden my perspective. Their talents inspire me. I wondered how they learned how to do what they do and how they decided which skills, talents, and interests they wanted to hone. Since I’m pretty dull lately, I decided to let them take over the blog for a while. And I hope that by meeting a bunch of creative types over the next few months, we can all feel like we’re cool because we’re all creative, whether we are into traditional arts or not.

We’ll start with my friend Jenny.

Jenny does lots of things well: she travels to Italy and helps me not get lost. She plays the piano. She writes and edits. She photographs. She cooks and gardens and wears pretty clothes.

There are so many questions I had for Jenny. But before you find out what they were, check out her photography. Seriously, click the link. You don’t want to miss these pictures.

Okay, first photography.

When did you get into taking photos?

I’ve always liked taking photos. Back in the day of having to get film developed, I’m sure my parents hated paying for the rolls of film I took of my dolls in different poses. One of my older brothers was into photography, and some must have rubbed off on me. In college I took a photography class where we had to develop our own film, and I loved going into the darkroom and getting my hands all chemically and actually creating something. (You know, a few years ago this answer wouldn’t have made me sound old. Now I’m using phrases like, “back in the day.” Yikes!)

What appeals to you about photography? Why did you get into it?

The best clichéd answer I can give you is that I hate to see perfect life moments not recorded. Whether it’s the way the sun hits a leaf or the way raindrops cling to a flower petal, I don’t want to keep those fleeting moments only in my memory. I can’t.

What has helped you grow the most as a photographer?

I know my answer should be practice, practice, practice! But it’s a combination of things. I learn a lot from following photography blogs, and also just from doing my own research if I can’t figure out how to do something. Trial and error play a big part in my photography. And just the simple thing of someone complimenting a photo I took goes a long way in helping me grow as a photographer. To be honest, I feel that photography is something that is difficult for me. I’ll spend a long time setting up the “perfect” shot with my fancypants camera, and then I’ll see a photo I love that someone took in two seconds with their phone. I want to be more like that.

What are your favorite subjects to photograph?

I mostly photograph nature, I try to photograph food, and I especially love close-up shots (or macro). You might notice that my blog is devoid of human life in the photos department. There’s a reason for that. I don’t feel very comfortable taking photos of people. This might be one of the reasons why I decided to stay away from newspaper journalism. I don’t have it in me to get in someone’s face and record some of their most intimate, tragic, and emotional moments.

What do you have to say to purists who are against digitally altering photos?

I used to be one of them. I wanted my photos to be “untouched.” Now I look back at so many of them and think, “Wow, what an awful photo!” That being said, I don’t want to change the reality of my photos when I edit them. I’ll fix the lighting and color, and that’s about it. When I want to do something dramatic to a photo—like add a texture or make it look aged—it is obviously Photoshopped in the end. I’m OK with that. But when I see photographers charging proud parents a bundle for photos of their glowing-skinned, laser-eyed children, I know those photos have been over-edited and passed off as real life. That bothers me.

Next, writing and editing.

What do you see as your greatest creative writing feat so far? Because I think it’s your “I need to pee” song (which, by the way, needs a new title: “Song for pregnancy AND postpartum.”)

One is the first story I had accepted by Highlights. It isn’t my favorite work, but they let me revise it four or five times before acceptance. I was sure as heck proud of it when I finally held a check in my hand. And, Kim, just for you I will include my “Song for Being Pregnant” in my list of greatest creative writing feats. The inspiration just flowed on that one. Almost literally.

When did you start a blog and what do you use it for?

I started my blog on [checking blog] April 23, 2009. I wanted to share funny stories. And get random thoughts out of my head. (Because, as my husband can tell you, I have plenty of those.) Over the past two and a half years the blog has slowly evolved to include photography and cooking aspects. But from the beginning, I didn’t want it to be a “mommy blog.” I don’t use it to give the world detailed information about my family’s personal life. You won’t find personal pictures on there. Now that I’m going to have my first child next year, I’m still going to try to stick to my guns about that self-imposed rule. I know that no one besides me is interested in how many times my baby poops in one day.

What are your top three blog posts I can showcase to the world (or in other words, my five readers)?

In Praise of Man” is close to my heart because it’s something I feel strongly about. My husband recommended my photo essay-esque 4th of July post. And I always enjoy going back and looking at my first attempt at a step-by-step kitchen adventure.

You’re an editor too. How is editing a creative career? So many writers see the copy editors as creativity killers.

There is copy editing and there is substantive editing. I cannot separate the two in my work. I think about the big picture as I go about marking commas and apostrophes. When I edit a manuscript, my goal is to make it the best it can be, not the most boring. If that means deleting a character or a few paragraphs, I don’t see that as killing the author’s creativity, but rather, focusing the creativity so it can flow unhindered. When I have to whittle an author’s 1,200-word story down to 600, I practically burst with pride at the outcome. Suddenly a rambling, overloaded story is in sharp focus. The point doesn’t get lost underneath clunky, unrealistic dialogue. It’s just as much a creative process for me as it is for the author. I’m sure there are some authors who see me as a creativity killer, but I prefer to see myself as a creativity focuser.

And now let’s talk music.

Were you forced to take piano lessons?

Taking piano lessons wasn’t a choice for my brothers and me. Even if we decided to quit at some point and learn another instrument, Mom’s rule was that we had to start piano first. I took lessons from age 8 to around 13. After that I improved my skills just by continuing to play. I wish I had some advice about sticking with something you hate and having it turn out well in the end, but I don’t. I have always loved playing. I read an article once about how professional golfers have less mental activity when they play than amateurs do. Amateurs are constantly thinking about position, technique, and, uh, whatever else golfers have to think about. But for the professionals, it just comes naturally and they don’t have to think about it. I am by no means a professional pianist, but I know how this feels. Often I will get to the end of a piece and not remember how I got there. My mind is calm, almost empty. All I know is the music, and if I start “thinking” about it, I’ll mess up.
I’m a pretty good sight-reader, but I don’t compose, improvise, or play by ear. I don’t even see the point of making students memorize a recital piece. I considered majoring in piano performance in college, but I knew what it entailed, and I knew that kind of almost fanatical focus would make me stop loving the skill that I have been blessed with. Now with my own piano students, I want to be the exact opposite of the stereotypical old lady who whacks kids’ wrists with a ruler. I hope to guide my students to love playing, not dread it.

A few more random tidbits.

What’s your greatest gardening accomplishment?

Zucchini Monster. Hands down.

Though it wasn’t so much a feat on my part as it was a few good seeds that succeeded on their own. Which reminds me, does anyone need any zucchini? Because I’ve got some. I’ve got lots.

What do you see as your greatest creative feat in the kitchen?

I’ve tried many recipes that I have been proud of. But I think my greatest feat would be learning how to make yeast bread. A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to make bread for the year because I hated spending so much money buying it. I went through a bunch of recipes until I found a whole-wheat winner. I knead it and everything. It makes me feel so domestic. I still make it! I need to give credit to my husband. He is a great cook, and he’s made me braver in my culinary attempts.

Do you purposely dress creatively too? Because you have style!

Ha! At 5′10″ my style is basically finding pieces long enough for my arms and legs and then hoping they go together. Where I do like to express some uniqueness is in my jewelry. I love getting jewelry at arts festivals, farmers markets, etc., because I love having one-of-a-kind pieces straight from the artist. Though because I work in a conservative office environment, I don’t get to pull out some of my more flashy pieces as much as I’d like to.

What’s your favorite book?

I’m cheating by naming a series and not just one book. I adore The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. It combines Arthurian legend with modern-day fantasy (the closest I’ll come to reading fantasy genre). And Cooper’s writing is sublime. I used to read the series once a year, and then Harry Potter came along and took up all my time. I need to get back to reading some high-quality children’s writing!

What do you watch on TV between all your writing, editing, photographing, piano playing, and cooking endeavors?

An eclectic mix of Pawn Stars, What Not to Wear, The Office, Man v. Food, America’s Test Kitchen, and, this time of year, college football.

And finally, the deep stuff: your philosophy on creativity.

What feeds your ability to be creative?

Being happy. If I’m angry, frustrated, or stressed out, a wall goes up in my mind. I can’t do anything well during that “wall time.” I can’t play the piano, I can’t write anything, I can’t take a good photo to save my life. And my carrot cake slumps. Some people create amazing things out of their anger or sadness. My creativity doesn’t function that way. I need to wait until the wall comes down. Sometimes it takes only a few minutes, but other times it stays up for days.

How do you find time to balance all the creative hobbies you want to pursue?

I don’t. The end.

Oh, shall I explain? When I focus on one, the others suffer to some extent. My creativity comes in waves. I’ll go two or three weeks without blogging because I don’t have anything to write about. (A bad blog habit, I know.) But then something will get stuck in my head and I know I need to write about it. If life gets busy, I won’t work on my photography. I’m obviously not a good balancing act. But cooking is a different story. I mean, I need to eat, right?

How do you judge your own success in your creative hobbies?

If I base my success on a worldly view of success—such as winning a photo contest or having a manuscript accepted—then I’d be living a depressing life full of failure. I judge my “success” on how I feel about the final outcome of a project, not how anyone else feels. I hang my favorite photos on my walls at home and smile when I walk by them, knowing that something I created brought that smile. I’ve had a couple of photos featured on a photography blog. That’s great, but it doesn’t make me feel better about a photo I already love. Sometimes I play a piano piece just okay, and I know I can do better. When I do, the music brings tears to my eyes. I don’t do it for a hall full of people. I do it—in the best selfish sense—for my own joy. If I try to reach for a certain skill level in my hobbies I will constantly feel like I’ve failed. Of course it’s good to have goals. But if I try to reach for something seemingly unattainable from my current standing, I won’t see the point in continuing. I don’t get graded on my hobbies; I don’t do them on a professional level. I meander along at a pace that makes me feel fulfilled.

What motivates you to be creative?

I have one rather large motivator: if I didn’t have creative hobbies I would spend all my time sitting on the couch watching sitcom reruns, probably with a bag of chips nearby. (If you eat the smaller chips it doesn’t feel like you’re eating as much. Just fyi.) Some of my hobbies have always been a part of me. Music and writing, for example. I know it’s cliché to say that I couldn’t survive without them, but it’s true. After I got married and moved out of my parents’ house I didn’t have 24-7 access to a piano. I felt like there was a piece missing from me. It wasn’t until I inherited my grandma’s piano last year that that hole was snugly plugged up. Photography, on the other hand, is a comparatively new hobby. I’m not yet to the point where I carry a camera everywhere. But learning the ins and outs of an art form gives me a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment, with just a little bit of thrill thrown in to keep things interesting.

Thank you for stopping by the blog, Jenny. Readers, do you have any questions I forgot to ask her?

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Abuse, Suicide, and Warm Fuzzies

Sorry I missed last week. On planned blog day I found myself in a place with s-l-o-w Internet, and I didn’t have the patience for it. Thanks for YOUR patience.

Here’s something I’ve been wondering lately that I’d love comments on: Even though kids love to read about disaster, distress, and dystopia (read this from the Huffington Post—it’s great), is it possible to write about average, sheltered, and *gasp* happy teens and make it interesting?

I’m wondering because I was blessed to be a fairly even-keeled teen, involved in service organizations and academic clubs and those sorts of things. I never spent a minute smoking in the back parking lot, nor am I aware of any friends who did. I continue to know a lot of the same kind of young adults today. I’m not saying this to be pious. It was just my reality.

After reading Mary Kole’s post on high school cliques, I was reminded why my young adult experience may not be typical. Everyone at my school got along. In the four years I attended Wasatch High, I don’t remember witnessing any gathering crowds shouting, “Fight, fight, fight!” Unless I was cloistered in a classroom after school, unaware.

The first day I attended my then-rural high school after moving from a higher-class cliquish middle school in the city, I was shocked to watch someone I deemed as a skater walking down the hall flirting with the straight-A, straight-laced Mormon girl. And the cowboy eating lunch with the jock. And the pretty girls best friends with the frumpy ones. And so on.

The roof was leaking on my first day of school, and garbage cans were lined down the middle of the hall. At the end of the day, every can was still standing—having budged only a few inches at most. Filled with water. At my middle school, they would’ve been trampled or purposely kicked halfway down the hall before first bell. Maybe that’s the difference between a middle school and a high school, but to me, those garbage cans were a symbol, a clear picture of the different crowd I was dealing with in ruraltown, Utah.

That’s where I lived out my YA experience. Any time I read a book about mean girls, or “popular” crowds, I have to suspend my disbelief. I never saw it for myself. (Not saying it never happened at my school—it could be that I was as oblivious then as I am now.)

For this reason, I am well aware of the benefits of writing what you don’t know, like Brodi so eloquently blogged about today. Who would relate to what I do know if I were to write it? And yet I daydream about finding that audience someday.

Author Wallace Stegner once addressed the question, Is it boring to be good? He wrote Crossing to Safety especially to highlight the normal and beautiful in life. He said:

There was nothing very dramatic in those lives [of my characters] . . . so that I was taking risks, I was quite aware. The contemporary novel deals commonly in sensation, but there was not much sensation in this story to deal with. .  . . And also, I suppose, I had the muleheaded notion that it ought to be possible to make books out of something less than loud sensation.

Is it possible in YA?

I wouldn’t write about abuse and suicide if I thought they were mere sensation. I see them as truths that need to be told, especially for the teen readers who know all too much about that kind of reality. But what about the teens who grew up like me? They may be in the minority, but they exist. Are their reading experiences destined to be all window and no mirror?

One day I’m going to find a way to write about characters doing things just like this. And this, except without the religious motivation. I believe atheists and teens who espouse a faith could both be motivated by all things beautiful and good. I don’t want to have to turn to Christian publishing houses exclusively to find these stories in fiction. I believe teens like the ones I know need mirrors in mainstream fiction as readily as any other reader.

The trick is . . . how to make it interesting? To both YA readers and savvy New York editors who may not believe a high school like mine still exists in this century?

Have you read any contemporary YA books that rang true to you and didn’t involve much darkness? Are they out there and I’m not informed enough to find them? Are they compelling? Or does the real, average, straight-laced-type of teenager’s life come across as too slight in fiction?

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Peeling Back the Onion Layers

If you want to find your teen self (see last post) and let that person inform your writing voice, I think the best way is to free write scenes from your past.

Remember Anne Lammott’s advice in BIRD BY BIRD in the chapter about school lunches? She starts by writing what foods went in those school lunches and ends up remembering the emotional ties—what kinds of things you might have in your lunch that could lead to you being popular or getting beat up, your head smashed against the chain-link fence at recess.

That’s what I go for when I free write the details from my past—the emotional memories.

You could write about defining moments or the most ordinary. Like, What do you remember about driver’s ed? Your first time getting behind the steering wheel? Who else was in the car with you besides the teacher? Peers who gave you more confidence? People who made the whole experience more nerve-wracking? What was on the radio? Was the A/C too cold?

This isn’t to say fiction should be totally autobiographical, but I find as I conjure up details, the authentic emotions reach the surface too. And that is where you’ll find your authentic teen voice. Teens experience life much more intensely than adults, partly because their emotional centers mature before their impulse control, but also because everything is so NEW for them. If you can remember the exuberance and despair of being a teen, and especially the vulnerability, I believe your YA writing will always ring true.

So now you tell me. How do you get your voice right when writing for people younger than you? Does the voice come first or is it something you have to hone? I’m still a fairly new writer, so most of my characters reflect shards of my own past, but I’d like to move beyond that one day and eventually write not only characters who are younger than me but also much different than me. If you’ve been successful in this, please share your tips in the comments!

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