Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Break Book Six: And Then There Were None

                This isn’t technically the sixth book I’ve read over break. I started a translation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Misérables, and when I got halfway through, I realized I was reading an abridged version.
                I stopped immediately. I am now in the middle of a full-length, unabridged translation of Les Misérables, but before I picked that up at the bookstore, I filled my free time with this acclaimed crime novel.
                In And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie tells the story of ten people who travel to Indian Island on a vacation. But instead of warm sand, gentle waves, and a smiling sun (yes, I just used that cliché), they find murder. What’s more, they soon deduce that the killer is one of them.
                There’s a nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Indians” (an alternate title for the novel) that is quoted early on in the novel. I stuck a bookmark in that page, and kept turning back to it as I read further. Why? The rhyme foreshadows the plot of the entire book. And despite the fact that I knew, to some extent, what was going to happen next, I enjoyed trying to guess who the murderer might be.
                I can’t say the book was particularly thrilling. Sure, I wouldn’t have enjoyed being one of the ten trapped on the island, but the only thing that really drew me into the plot was curiosity as to which one of them had been murdering the others.
                I guess that’s how mystery novels are supposed to work. But I guess I’d expected a little something more from such a well-known and well-loved author.
                Pros:  It’s a quick read, and that’s nice. It’s a page-turner, I guess, mostly because I wanted to find out if my suspicions were right (after a couple of wrong guesses, I did figure out who the killer was). There’s nothing too confusing, and the epilogue does a good job of explaining the murderer’s motives and methods.
                Cons:  It’s not brilliant. It’s a simple plot, with simple characters and a simple conclusion. These aren’t bad things, I guess, but I’d rather read something that really draws me in, emotionally connecting me with characters and involving me in their situations. This didn’t do that for me.
                Conclusion:  This is a good choice if you want a quick escape into fiction that doesn’t really require a ton of thought. Just don’t expect to be blown away.
                Next up:  Julie Rose’s translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables… if I can get through its nearly 1,200 pages by the time Christmas break is over.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Break Book Five: The Book Thief

                There are good books and there are great books. Good books make you think. Great books go a step further and make you feel.
                This is a great book.
                Another recommendation from my brother, this novel brought both of us to tears. It has joined and maybe even surpassed The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game at the top of my list of favorite young adult novels.
                Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is set in Germany during World War II. The protagonist, Liesel Meminger, takes an abandoned book from the snow at her brother’s grave and soon, with the help of her foster father, learns to read, fueling her soon-insatiable hunger for words. She also learns to keep dangerous secrets when a Jew seeks refuge in her foster family’s basement.
                And if that wasn’t enough, this story is told by Death itself.
                That sounds weird. I know. But Death is a hugely appropriate narrator for a story set during the time of the Holocaust. Death, it turns out, is (more often than not) reluctant to take those whose lives have ended.
                Liesel’s story is that of a typical teenage girl in a time that was far from typical, and Zusak—whose parents also grew up in that time in Nazi Germany—tells it brilliantly.
Pros:  Zusak’s voice, though simple, is precise and profound, perfect for this story. He does an excellent job of balancing somber subjects with his strangely fitting dark humor. In The Book Thief, he does historical fiction in a way it’s never been done before, and the effect is phenomenal.
Cons:  I’m not a historian so I can’t be sure of this, but there are probably a thousand deeper, more intricate meanings between the lines that I completely missed because of how little I know about World War II. I’d like to find out how someone more knowledgeable on that era would react to the story.
Conclusion:  This is a must-read. Just have a box of tissues handy. You’ll need them.
Next up:  And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Break Book Four: Going Deep

                They say it’s not what you know, but who you know, and I’m learning that fast. Who I know at the moment consists mostly of a certain professor who often assigns his students book reviews for future publication. This book was my latest assignment.
                Sometimes I don’t get to choose my book. In those cases, I usually end up with a mediocre novel or Christian self-help book (at least I haven’t been cursed with an Amish romance yet… knock on wood). But this time, I was able to pick my own. And, I must say, I chose well.
                Gordon MacDonald’s Going Deep follows his fictional congregation (from his previous book, Who Stole My Church?) on a journey of renewal. Pastor Mac (as MacDonald is called by many of his friends) leads a small group of Christians for a year, guiding them and helping them grow, transforming them into deep people capable of great Christian leadership.
                This book is written in narrative form, but MacDonald still manages to cram its pages full of tips and insights. His methods may be revolutionary, but their foundation is very basic:  to simply follow in Christ’s footsteps. And though they’re revolutionary, they seem so obvious that I was shocked they’d never occurred to me before.
Heads-up for any non-Christian readers:  this book is, as you’ve probably guessed, intended for a Christian audience. It’s not literature; it functions as more of a guide to how to make these kinds of changes in a church.
Pros:  MacDonald has real experience in this kind of transformation, and the fictional nature of the book makes his concepts clear and easy to understand.
                Cons:  With clarity and simplicity come redundancies. And with redundancies come unnecessary length. Also, know that this book was not written primarily to entertain. Don’t expect intricate plot twists or an edge-of-your-seat conflict. Though fascinating, this is a strictly informative novel.
                Conclusion:  I absolutely recommend this. Especially if you’re in a leadership position in your church. This could really change how you look at the way churches should function.
                Next up:  The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Break Book Three: 1984

                First of all, merry Christmas! I am pleased to report that, despite the unfortunate warm weather and resulting lack of snow, it has been yet another lovely holiday.
                This book, however, is completely unrelated to Christmas.
                George Orwell’s celebrated novel 1984 is the story of a future world (future from the year 1949, at least, when the book was first published) that has been stripped of nearly every form of privacy. The main character, Winston, is a government employee who, despite his indoctrination, realizes something is wrong with the way his world functions.
                Not far into the story, Winston meets Julia, who is just as fed up with the way the government constantly monitors their lives. They soon begin a romantic relationship. When I got to this point in the book, I did a little mental eye-roll. Pretty much every book with two main characters, one male and one female, regardless of their situation and regardless of their age, involves them getting together at some point. And yeah, I know that attracts an entire new group of readers, but it’s cliché.
                Otherwise, though, Orwell has done an excellent job depicting this dystopian society, especially in the book’s last third. Though it’s darker, sadder, and far more foreboding, I was much more intrigued by that last portion than the rest of the novel, and a little frightened at some of the close similarities our society bears to the one Orwell has imagined.
                Pros:  Dystopian novels all have one thing in common:  an uncanny ability to make readers aware of problems in their own society. 1984 is among the best dystopian novels, and it definitely has that effect.
                Cons:  The entire Winston-Julia love thing is completely unnecessary, in my opinion. It accomplishes what I think Orwell’s purpose for it must have been (showing that society was leaning toward eliminating a sense of privacy in relationships), but that purpose was far less important, in my opinion, than the whole “make sure you know if the government is controlling your life” issue.
                Conclusion:  I definitely recommend this book. Aside from the excessive focus on you-know-what, it really is a fantastic read. Big Brother is watching you....
                Next up:  Gordon MacDonald’s Going Deep.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Break Book Two: Pathfinder

                I live in a house full of nerds. We’re the kids who were homeschooled for most of our childhood, who watched Magic School Bus instead of Barney, and who have frequent conversations about theoretical physics over dinner. So it was no surprise to me when my older little brother suggested this book to me.
                We’d both read Ender’s Game a few years ago, and it briefly held first place in my long list of favorite novels. So when this new title from the same author came out, I jumped at the chance to read it.
                Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card, is about a boy named Rigg who can see the past paths of every living thing in history. For years, he has used this skill to help his father hunt, but an accident soon sends Rigg alone on a mission to fulfill his father’s final request:  find his sister and mother in a faraway city.
                Like in Ender’s Game, the first few paragraphs of each chapter tell a different narrative. This plot, which we soon realize is closely related to Rigg’s story, tells of starship captain Ram Odin, who is piloting a ship meant to colonize a distant Earth-like planet.
                Rigg’s story falls into the fantasy genre, but not the kind of fantasy with dragons, sorcerers, and magical creatures. This fantasy realm isn’t as out there as most, only including the impossibilities of Rigg’s ability (and the abilities of others we meet later in the novel). Ram’s story, until it intertwines with Rigg’s, is strictly science fiction, as you’d expect from Card’s fiction.
                Pros:  Card makes really complicated pseudo-scientific concepts that are vital to the plot easy (or at least easier) to understand. And he does a phenomenal job of combining fantasy with science fiction that doesn’t seem at all contrived or cliché. The story flows well, and dialogue is especially well done.
                Cons:  It’s not Ender’s Game. It’s still a good read, but if you open the book expecting something that can compete with the excellence that is Ender’s Game, you’re going to come away disappointed. Also, the plot twists that Card included aren’t very twisty—they’re relatively predictable. The book is a bit long, too, especially if you’re expecting something that’ll keep you constantly on the edge of your seat.
                Conclusion:  Go for it; Pathfinder is a fun read.  But definitely read Ender’s Game too. It has all Pathfinder’s virtues without its shortcomings.
                Next up:  1984, by George Orwell.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Break Book One: The Great Gatsby

                I read a lot. Or at least I used to. Then I went to college.
                There’s something wrong with that.
                So I’m going to drown myself in literature this Christmas break. Classics, modern bestsellers, the occasional nonfiction, and anything on my shelf I haven’t read (or finished) yet. And I’ll post each item on my reading list here, a few days after I’ve finished each book. It’s going to be a fantastic couple of weeks.
                Then I’ll go back to school, and I won’t have time for this anymore.
Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
                F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby follows the relationship between Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby through the eyes of Daisy’s cousin and Gatsby’s neighbor, Nick Carraway.
Gatsby is a pretty mysterious guy. He throws lavish parties all the time, and everybody knows his name, but nobody knows where he’s from, how he ended up living in a mansion on Long Island, or even what his job is.
                I don’t know whether it was his mysterious charm, his apparently never-ending supply of money, or his dashing good looks that attracted Daisy to him five years ago. But whatever it was must have been powerful, because even though Daisy’s married now (to a jerk named Tom) and has a daughter, she and Gatsby still, well… you know.
                The affair annoyed me, but for the most part I just pitied everyone. I felt sorry for Daisy because she’s married to a jerk, for Gatsby because Daisy’s married to a jerk, for Nick because he got caught in the middle of this whole situation, and for Tom because… actually, no. I didn’t feel sorry for Tom. It’s hard to pity a jerk with few redeeming qualities.
                Pros:  Fitzgerald knows how to write. He uses very simple language, but somehow gets across a sophisticated, nostalgic voice that enhances the novel’s tone. His writing is jazz and moonlight and champagne and everything classy, but not snobbish—it’s completely within reach and completely brilliant.  
                Cons:  You’ve probably read The Great Gatsby already, and it was probably for a high school English class. That, unfortunately, can ruin even the most wonderfully written novel. Also, if you usually only enjoy fast-moving plots, Gatsby might not be for you. And it’s kind of depressing.
                Conclusion:  Read it. Absolutely. Just be prepared for the sad bits.
                Next up:  Orson Scott Card’s Pathfinder.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

He loves me.

Unrequitedly and unconditionally.  Incredibly and incomprehensibly.  His love is beyond compare.  He is worthy of love, but does not receive it.  Instead of loving Him, I’ve mocked Him, I’ve scorned Him, I’ve sometimes hated Him.  But that does not deter Him from loving me.  I was in danger of death, and He stepped in the way of the sword meant for my neck.  His bruises came from my fists, his pain from my angry words.  Yet He gave His life to save mine.  That’s love.
He loves me.
That fluttery feeling in my stomach isn’t love.  The sense of closeness I feel with a friend isn’t love.  Saying, “I love you,” isn’t even love.  Dying to save the very ones who murder you… that’s love.  God is love.  His love is indescribable.  And I am so undeserving.
He loves me.
I don’t have to wish on shooting stars or pick petals off flowers or wait around for 11:11 to be loved by Him.  Before time, when only He was, He already loved me.  The least I can do is give my life to Him.  He’s already given his for me…
He loved, loves, and forever will love me.  His love is divine.  Beautiful.  Perfect.  No human love compares.
I am loved by the Creator, the Comforter, the Savior. 
The least I can do is love Him back.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never forget (but try to forgive) - 9/11/01

I know I promised fiction a few weeks ago, but it just didn’t happen, because so much else did. And then school started and you know how that goes. I’ve barely had time to write since then. But today is a day that needs to be written about.
Ten years ago. The sky was a deep, perfect blue, no clouds in sight. It was a day like any other. Funny how whenever anyone mentions how ordinary a day is, it turns out to be very, very un-ordinary.
8:46 AM. The North Tower was hit. Just one crash, and if it had been the only one, it could have passed as a fluke. Freak accidents happen sometimes, and they’re tragic, but they happen. Planes don’t always make it to their destination.
9:03 AM. The South Tower. It wasn’t a fluke.
I was eight years old. Barely old enough to understand long division, and definitely too young to comprehend what was going on. My mom, my brothers (six and four years old at the time), and I sat on the living room carpet, watching people dive to their deaths, watching the Pentagon burn, watching the twin towers crumble to the ground, taking helpless hundreds down with them.
I don’t remember everything (I was only eight, after all), but I do remember sitting by the window and looking up at the sky, watching. Wondering.
That day, 3,000 people lost their lives. The World Trade Center collapsed, and with it our sense of security. America was filled with anger, grief, fear, resentment. We wanted the people responsible for this atrocity to pay.
Fast-forward almost 10 years. This May, Osama bin Laden paid with his life. He died, and America found no joy, because there is no joy in death. America found no peace, because the war rages on. America found no security, because there are still others who wish us harm. But in his death, our nation has found justice, however little, and that justice has calmed our spirits, at least for a while.
There’s really nothing I can say on this topic that hasn’t already been said. I don’t even know what I think about all of it. I’ve had ten years to figure it out, but now I think I’m even more confused. I don’t understand a lot (okay, most) of the politics behind decisions that have been made regarding 9/11, and I definitely don’t understand why the attacks happened in the first place.
There’s one thing I do know, though. We have to somehow find a way to make justice and forgiveness coexist. I don’t know how. And I’ve just barely begun to grasp why. You could use the whole “do unto others” explanation, but another one makes more sense to me.
Those terrorists, the ones who are responsible for all this, despite all the evil they’ve done and all the grief and horror they’ve caused, God loves them. Just as much as He loves us. And He wants us to love them, too. That’s the best way I can express it, and it’s not very good, or very eloquent. It makes more sense in my head than it does written out.
But it’s enough, at least for now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

                Yeah, I know repeating myself isn’t going to make me any more forgivable. I’ve neglected poor Sheridan for a month and a half now (wow, has it really been that long?), and it’s time I caught up.
                In my defense, I was out of town for three of those six weeks with minimal access to Word and the Internet, but I really don’t have an excuse for the other three. The only way to get out of this hole is to stop digging.
                Yet I continue.
                However, I have been working on a piece of short fiction, and I should be finished with that in a week (more or less). I’ll get that posted as soon as it’s polished.
                For now, I’ll try to keep you entertained with my badly interpreted, terribly played version of Clair de Lune. My mom got excited when I showed her how I record this stuff, and insisted that I put it on YouTube. Even though it has a slightly demeaning dedication, not to mention a very cheesy ending.
                Plus, you can see my hands hurtling across the keys. I love technology.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The City

Look, poetry!

Yes, this poem is old. I’m pretty sure I wrote this when I was fourteen. And yes, it has problems. Lots of problems. But at least I’m posting something. I’ll be sure to get something new up here next time. Enjoy!


The City

The city’s gate stands tall and proud,
Its empire vast and ruler great,
Strong to withstand the fiercest crowd
Unless should come a turn of fate.

The people who within it dwell
Are each one loyal, brave, and true.
The trees that grow there, tended well,
Succumb to early morning’s dew.

The city’s land is lush and green,
A fruitful haven for the eye
Where farmers plant and reapers glean
The treasures that within it lie.

Yet far beyond the city’s walls,
An enemy, though faint may be,
Whose sight revolts and stench appalls
Prepares to march across the sea.

At night they come, their banners high,
To storm the well-protected gate.
They soon will let their arrows fly;
This enemy has grown too great.

A single sentry stands his ground;
The arrow must not miss its mark.
The sentry falls without a sound
Into the stirring, thickening dark.

The army shouts a battle cry,
But as their shouting lifts a din
Into the ever-darkening sky,
Their cries are heard by one within.

He awakens his only child,
Saying, “Son, you must escape!”
But as he’s speaking, all the while
He knows he must defend the gate.

Just outside the city walls,
The child will rest beneath a tree
And listen as each soldier falls,
Though what they’ve done, he cannot see.

The armies fight and torches burn
And the walls fall from their pride.
They learn too late that tides aren’t turned
By arrogance or heads held high.

And when the enemy is done,
The walls reduced to smoldering heaps,
They’ll all cry out, “The victory’s won!”
As now upon them, morning creeps.

And somewhere in the waking light,
The child rests his fearful gaze
Upon the ruin of the night,
His innocence lost in the blaze.


P.S. I want anyone who’s concerned about my emotional well-being to know that this poem is not an expression of a dark, depressed inner self. And it wasn’t when I first wrote it, either. It’s just poetry. Don’t read into it; just read it. It’s usually better that way.

Besides, my inner self is quite happy, thank you very much!

Friday, June 17, 2011

I'm moving to Gobaville!

                Next week is going to be an adventure.
                Literally. June 18-25 is the 23rd annual Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), and I’m riding.
                What is GOBA? A 3000-person, week-long bicycle tour around Ohio. That’s it, short and sweet. We camp out in tents every night in a moving town affectionately known as Gobaville, then ride an average of 50 miles (though I’ve done as little as 40 and as much as 70 in one GOBA day) each day to our next destination.
There are two wonderful, fantastical layover days though, during which the really ambitious people can ride their choice of 50 or 100 miles. People like me? We sleep. A lot. But if I were crazy enough to ride everything GOBA includes this year, I’d end up pedaling 416 miles. Which is insane. So I’ll probably skip the optional loops and finish with 259 miles under my belt. A respectable journey, nonetheless.
                Why would I take part in and even encourage something ridiculous like this? Two reasons. One:  my whole family does it. We’ve taken our tandem and triplet (yes, that’s a bicycle for three people) on GOBA on and off since 2002, and although we complain during the hills and wind (and rain and thunderstorms and tornado warnings), I think we secretly enjoy it. And two:  the feeling of accomplishment when you pull into the last stop at the end of the week is unbelievable. And pretty much impossible to describe.               
                Also we get T-shirts.

                Here’s proof that our crazy bicycle exists.  
                Yes, that’s me, my little brother, and my dad riding the triplet on GOBA 2002. And no, those shorts are not an optical illusion.

                And here’s proof that we’re not the craziest ones out there….  
That monstrosity is called a quad, in case you were wondering. Feel free to stare.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Guess what I’ve been doing for the past week? That’s right, nothing!! This is what summer is all about.
At least it feels like I’ve been doing nothing. I haven’t actually been doing nothing. I’ve been mowing the lawn (again), cleaning the pool, editing a friend’s fantastic novel, trying (and failing) to finish Anna Karenina, gawking at my brothers’ brilliance, earning my guitar calluses back (yesss!), and oh yeah, I made this video.

Audacity:  fantastic,free sound recording software. Download it. It’s so worth it. Especially when your summer is looking anything but audacious. It’s not exactly thrilling, but it staves off the boredom.
Movie Maker and Paint:  fantastic, not so much. But for my purposes, they work.
Music. It’s pretty much a necessity. Without it, life would be impossible. Well, not really. Life would just be really, really boring. Maybe sometime I’ll put some of my own compositions on here. Until then, it’ll just be these weird, silent movie-esque videos occasionally tossed in with my other posts.
I hope you liked it. Or at least tolerated it. I understand classical music can get rather boring…
Sheridan out.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Remember my list?  The one that has a bunch of incredible, fantastic things I simply must do by the end of the summer? Well, something new is on the list. Something big, something brilliant, something majestical and wonderful and spectacular! Something I’ve been waiting to do my entire life. This summer, I will finally do it. This summer, I am determined to make it happen. This summer, I will (drum roll, please) learn to roll my R’s.
Stop laughing. It’s not funny. I’m serious. Think of the one thing you’ve always wished you could do. For some people, it might be something big, something important like piloting an airplane or singing opera or free-running. And for other people, it might be something smaller, but still important, like pogo sticking or talking to boys or riding a bike.
Do you know what your thing is now? Good. Now every time you feel like laughing at my not-so-secret ambition, I want you to think of how much you want your secret ambition. Because as much as you want to be able to break-dance or play the harmonica, I want to be able to roll my R’s. And at least I’m getting out there and trying, while you’re sitting here reading my dumb blog. Really? Chase your dreams, people! But finish this post first, if you don’t mind.
Sometime in the not-so-distant past, my roommate tried to teach me. (She is, conveniently, proficient in the practice of rolling R’s.) For half an hour, I made bizarre blubbering sounds with my mouth, she laughed at me, and I complained. Soon, a strange sensation took over the muscles in my face. Like when you go to the dentist and your cavity is too minor for them to put you all the way under, so they just use a topical anesthesia and you can’t close your mouth right. My. Face. Was. Numb.
But I didn’t mind, because my roommate and I were laughing too hard to worry about anything at all. This may have had something to do with the fact that it was almost 2 in the morning, but I choose to believe otherwise.
Anyway, after that failed attempt, I gave up all efforts at succeeding. But now it’s summer, and I am determined to give it another shot. Both my parents are skilled R-rollers, so I have their expert advice at my disposal. Neither of my brothers can accomplish this feat, so they have no grounds on which to ridicule me. The opportunity has arisen, and I will conquer!
So, of course, I check the Internet. This is my go-to method of seeking knowledge, and it hasn’t failed me (much) yet. I type in “How to roll your R’s,” and up come over 35 million results. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one with this disability. We should form a support group. For those strrrrruggling with the alveolarrrr trrrrrill.
The alveolar trill:  that’s what the first link, wikiHow, calls it. I’m not entirely sure this source is trustworthy, but it seems legitimate. I mean, it lists ten pre-trilling steps, then five specialized methods with detailed directions that cater to all different types of potential trillers, then it lists some tips in case none of that insanity works! I’m feeling very hopeful about this whole R-rolling business. I’ll use just this one website, I think. I don’t see how I could try all this stuff and still be unable to execute a proper alveolar trill.
A piece of advice I got from wikiHow:  “Don't be afraid of sounding ridiculous.” Oh, so it knows that I sound ridiculous. Great. Now I’m self-conscious.  A piece of advice I have for anyone else trying their hand at this endeavor:  do NOT, for any reason, wear your retainer while the Internet teaches you to roll your R’s. Not only will you inevitably fail, your computer screen will end up coated in tiny, wet, rainbow-colored specks. Sick.
I try all the insane methods on this website, but I only succeed in making extremely loud hissing sounds and becoming light-headed. You might think I sound like a stubborn old car that doesn’t want to start. Or a tiger with a hairball. Quite honestly, it’s hilarious. But I still can’t roll my R’s.
I look to the end of the article for helpful hints, or maybe just consolation. The best they can give me is this:  Don’t worry, Lenin couldn’t roll his R’s either! Awesome. They’re comparing me to a dead communist leader. I feel SO much better now.
I’ve practically given up when I come across one last tip on the art of the alveolar trill:  try lying on an exercise ball while rolling your R’s. My mom tries this and tells me it does make it easier, so I give it a shot. AND IT WORKS! I try again. It wasn’t just a fluke. I can roll my R’s! I try it sitting up. No dice. Lying down again:  score! I’m only half successful, but I’d expected complete failure.
Roomie, you’d be so prrrrroud! (See what I did there?)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Harm, Healing, and Hope

                Yes, this is a post about writing. Probably the first of many. See, writers tend to rant a lot, but however poetic our ranting, I realize it can be quite irritating (and occasionally cliché). I apologize ahead of time. I’ll try to keep it short.
There is infinite depth in certain words. Of course, there are those that simply fly off the tongue without consequence, ricocheting off walls and eardrums, creating fainter and fainter echoes until they finally fade into nothing. But there are also those that hone in on their targets. Certain words, aimed correctly, can pierce a person’s very soul. Some words can fill a person’s veins with healing, restoration, peace. Others are capable of emptying that same person’s heart of joy and replacing it with anger, fear, even hatred.
Words have immense power.
Too often, people write off this power. “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” they chant, frantically ducking behind the frail, brittle shield of indifference. They grin in triumph, beyond the reach of those painful, piercing words. But if a person does not allow words to hurt him, how can he accept their help? The same shield that protects him from harm deprives him of healing. Of hope.
Words bear enormous hope.
One only has to know how to use them. Anyone can throw together a sentence, even a well-structured, grammatically correct one. But what makes a writer is the ability to place deeper meaning in that sentence. What’s more, a truly exceptional writer is born when a person discovers how to pierce souls with a simple phrase. How to instill fierce hope—or its frightened opposite—in those who read or hear his words. A truly exceptional writer breathes life into his words, giving them their own hopes and fears, dreams, desires. Giving them the ability to harm or to heal. Giving them worth.
Words have extraordinary worth.
We give words extraordinary worth.
Letting down our shields allows them to return the favor.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Girl vs. Lawn

                When my little brother was about three years old, he had a toy lawnmower. It was green, yellow, and black, and it was the coolest thing ever. Even I, an outspoken, self-righteous, bossy seven-year-old, had to admit I was a little bit jealous. I mean, the thing blew bubbles out the top when you pushed it across the lawn! It was even cooler than this picture of a bubble lawnmower, because the colors were WAY more macho and it actually blew real bubbles!
                Unfortunately, several years ago, my experience with lawnmowers took a dark turn for the worse. I found myself faced with a daunting task – mowing (gasp!) a real lawn. I’ve mowed many lawns since, but my most recent lawnmowing excursion was on Friday. At every turn, I felt the grass fighting back against the vicious, hungry blades of the awkward contraption in my grip. And it was my job to tame the unruly monster of an overgrown lawn into submission.
                Round 1:  Optimism
                Today, the lawn; tomorrow, the world! This is my battle cry as I head outside to cut the grass for the first time this year. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the grass is long. Extremely long. Knee-high long. So long that my backyard looks like a small, overgrown forest. I’m a little surprised my family let it get this bad while I was away at college, but I’m not discouraged. I can handle this.
                I hook the bag to the back of the lawnmower, pull the cord, and it runs beautifully. Life is good!
Girl:  1     Lawn:  0
                Round 2:  Bagging
                My optimism doesn’t last long. After about three rows, the mower starts spitting out nasty chunks of wet, sticky grass. Everywhere. It’s stuck to my shoes, and now when I try to shove the contraption forward, its confident hum fades to a pathetic little whimper. It’s time to investigate.
                I stop mowing and wheel over to the patio, where I proceed to remove the black collection bag. Grass pours out onto the concrete, and I groan. A humongous clump of wet grass is blocking the bag, and when I get it out of the way, I find the bag to be completely empty. Except for that one monstrous, irritating clump. I toss it into a paper yard waste bag (I found this very technical term online, of course) and hook the collection bag back onto the mower. If the first run is any indication, this is going to take a very long time.
Girl:  1     Lawn:  1
                Round 3:  Mud
                The mower keeps clogging with thick clods of grass, but I try to remain positive. It could be a lot worse, I tell myself. I could be mowing through poison ivy! Or, since I don’t really react to poison ivy, I could be mowing through cat hair! I’d have hives all up and down my shins! No, emptying the bag every other row is much better than that.
                Then I hit the mud. It rained yesterday, the day before that, and pretty much every other day this month, or so I’m told. I hadn’t seen any evidence of all that rainfall until now. And this evidence is now coating the lawnmower’s wheels in a thick, sticky, brown layer. Gross.
                Little rivers of muddy water are flowing across my path, and try as I might, I just can’t seem to get the contraption through them. Its wheels get stuck too easily, and the blade flicks little specks of mud onto my ankles. I give up and pull the mower back.
Girl:  1     Lawn:  2
                Round 4:  Tree
                Nursing my mud-inflicted wounds, I press onward toward a cool, shady spot on our lawn.  Normally, I would welcome the relief from the sun, but the source of this particular shade is a tree with very low-hanging branches.
                Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this roadblock. After emptying the collection bag for what I think must be at least the thirtieth time, I duck and push the mower under the branches, which brush my back as I stand up. Problem solved. I’m back in the game.
Girl:  2     Lawn:  2
                Round 5:  Anthill
                I’m on the home stretch. The score is tied, and I’m getting anxious. Will there be another challenge to face so I can return victorious? I don’t have to wait long to find out.
                In the last little patch of grass is an enormous anthill. I’ve seen this anthill before, and I’ve always loathed it. Once, when I was thirteen, I mowed over it, oblivious to my fate. As my flip-flop fell next to the hill, an army of tiny invaders swarmed my foot. I stood my ground, calmly brushing off the ants as I finished the section of grass I was mowing.
                Okay, that was a lie. I’m a girl. I shrieked. And flailed. Let’s not go into detail with that.
                This time, I refuse to fail. I must win! I am the lawn’s intellectual, physical, and emotional superior, and I will not lose! I grit my teeth and plow forward, glad I’m wearing closed toe shoes.
                As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The remaining rainwater must be keeping the ants busy with matters underground, because there are no little six-legged warriors leaping from the soggy mound to defend their home. I finish up the lawn, empty the bag for the last time, and head inside. I’ve won!
Final score:  Girl:  3     Lawn:  2
                Oh, the sweet, sweet smell of victory. It’s strangely similar to that of freshly cut grass…

Friday, May 20, 2011

Naming Sheridan

                I have made a list. A quickly growing list of glorious, spectacular things I plan to do this summer. And on the top of that list is “start a blog.” Okay, okay, the idea’s not exactly spectacular, per se, but it’s better than sleeping till 3 and watching TV all summer. Plus it involves writing, which is definitely spectacular.
                Once I decided to start a blog, I concluded that the next step was to name it. And, of course, this began an epic quest in search of the perfect name. And when I say epic, I mean “Frodo goes to Mordor to get rid of that incredibly inconvenient ring” epic, not “Winnie the Pooh can’t find his hunny” epic. I mean, come on. I know how to spell the word “honey.”
                My first task was, as in most epic quests, THINKING. I thought forever. I thought until my brain melted and dripped out my ears. And you know where that got me? Nowhere. I struggled with severe disappointment and tried to think with my partially melted brain until I finally realized what could solve my problem:  a simple Google search!
                Why didn’t I think of this before? How could I have been so stupid?!  Obviously, Google knows everything. It knows that the moon landing was a hoax. It knows that the world will end tomorrow. It even learned (after a very long time) that swimming across the Atlantic isn’t really the fastest way from New York to London (it doesn’t know this yet, but riding a dolphin is clearly the way to go). Google must know how to name a blog!
                So I typed “how to name your blog” in that little box and clicked the first link that came up. Guess what? It told me a bunch of things I already knew. Like, “your blog name should be short,” and, “your blog name should be catchy,” and, “it needs to sound good.” Never have I heard anything less profound.  Thanks, Google.
                Next link. Instead of three things I already knew, this one came up with ten. Great. Stupid Google Search knows the square root of pi, but it can’t figure out how to name a blog. And neither can I. I’m as dumb as an Internet search engine. Actually dumber, because I don’t know (and don’t really care) what the square root of pi is. Fantastic.
                What’s the next step? I couldn’t think of one. So I went to that baby name website and decided to name my blog Sheridan. Do you know what Sheridan means? To seek. To seek a better blog name, in this case.
                Unfortunately, Sheridan is kind of a terrible name for a blog (though it’s not too shabby for a guinea pig or small iguana). So officially, this blog will be known as Quest for Better (cheesy, I know). I’ll change it if I come up with a legitimately good name.
                Until then, say hello to Sheridan, everybody.