Looking Back (again)

2001 is over. Wow. My first year in the real world. A job. A marriage. A budget. And everything seems to be humming along. Yep, nothing very interesting to talk about there.

And since this is (was) December, this marks the third straight year I’ve been writing these thoughts. Three years. That’s a long stretch of life. I’ve had a lot of experiences in those three years, and hopefully I’ll keep this going long enough to capture my odd mental state for many more years. It could become an interesting psychological experiment.

Some days it’s still just better to go to bed.

2001 Reading List

The following is every book I’ve read this year that I can remember. I’m not posting this to brag, but more to look back on my reading accomplishments. If you want to be a writer, you have to read, and it’s good to see a list that proves I’ve been doing that. Thanks to the glory of the used book shop, I own most of these titles. And the most asked question, how do you have time to read that many books? It’s called public transportation, people. Stop driving your car and stressing out in rush hour traffic. Settle down on the bus, let someone else do the driving, and lose yourself in a good book.

So, presented in something close to the order I read them in, my reading list for the year 2001:

Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol
eye-opening book about inner city life.

African Tears by Catherine Buckle
a painful account of the land wars in Zimbabwe

The Rock and Roll Rebellion by Mark Joseph
an argument for the abolishment of Christian music as a genre

The Virgin of Bennington by Kathleen Norris
part coming of age memoir, part ode to mentor

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester
wonderfully imaginative children’s story

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
interesting story but it wasn’t my favorite of his

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
great story, pisses off a lot of Christians

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
pretty good story, but doesn’t have the grand themes of Poisonwood

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
good book about how to write

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
about the birth of her son and her friend’s battle with cancer

Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott
my first Lamott novel: excellent

Tangerine by Edward Bloor
late elementary/middle school novel, fun read

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
the classic environmental book, I got the point before finishing and quit

River Teeth by David James Duncan
collection of funny and quirky short stories

Praise, Anxiety and Other Symptoms of Grace by Joey Horstman
collection of funny and quirky essays

May There Be A Road by Louis L’Amour
collection of short stories by the master, these must be the rejects

Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour
excellent memoir by the master, gives you a great overview of his life

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
you’ll think twice before going to McDonalds, but it’s not as gross as I expected

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
classic and hilarious

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
classic and hilarious

Slaugherhouse V by Kurt Vonnegut
lacks the narrative flow I expected, but still worth the read

Letters from a Nut by Ted L. Nancy
just plain funny

Into the Heart by Niall Stokes
the stories behind every U2 song, interesting, but lacks real depth

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
excellent story and deep themes about modernization

Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis
more than you ever wanted to know about the world of competitive Scrabble

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
scary glimpse of the future, especially after Sept. 11

The Gospel According to the Simpsons by Mark Pinsky
a rebuttal to all the parents who wouldn’t let their kids watch the Simpsons

Walk On by Steve Stockman
an exploration of the faith of rock band U2

Rabbit, Run by John Updike
not my favorite story, but man can this guy write

An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender
weird, quirky, funky story

Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World by Donald Antrium
this is the one book I wish I hadn’t read — waste of time

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
the abridged version of the original, almost as funny as the movie

Surviving Brick Johnson by Laurie Myers
fun mid-elementary book, and one of the characters is named Brick

Final Roar by Bob Briner
follow up to Roaring Lambs, more of the same, but still just as challenging

Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner
meandering memoir about his secrets, most notably his daughter’s eating disorder

Lion Country by Frederick Buechner
well-written story

Wasted by Marya Hornbacher
eye-opening account of her 9 year + battle with eating disorders

And right now I’m reading …

Ophelia Speaks
teenage girls write about their experiences, and growing up today is not a fun experience

Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.

Life is an amazing thing. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. Sometimes it feels like a crap shoot, or a game against the one-armed bandit. Pirate, Pirate, ohh, Cherry. No wait, cherry’s wild! But it didn’t turn out that way. Cherry’s not wild. They should just say yep or nope. It was nope. I guess we know it works.

Part of me is relieved, part of me is hopefully disappointed. I’m playing both sides of the street, and it’s interesting to see a glimpse of life you didn’t plan. Sometimes it comes out better that way. I guess we’ll just wait and see.

Happy Christmas. Has it already come and gone? This year I experienced a new kind of Christmas. I don’t know if it was any better or worse, just different. I miss parts of the old, the Christmas cookies, the Jell-O, the Christmas Eve church service and Christmas movie marathon. But I don’t necessarily miss the lack of family, the quiet, the auto-speak. I treasured parts of the new, the family, the activity, the social interaction. But I didn’t warm up to everything, like the lack of relaxation, the stress, the family conflict, the fold up bed in the cold basement with pokey springs. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.

I was intrigued by my in-laws. Family conflict and irritation aside, there were a couple better moments: Discussing jobs and future moves and such with my father-in-law, getting another tour of his in-process house, a place I’d love to own but never could afford. An evening of Scrabble with my brother and sister-in-law. I felt a bit high and mighty when we kicked their butts, but they were good sports and didn’t complain about my slightly prideful display of living-room-level-Scrabble skills. And an afternoon of cracking the whip and forcing my brother-in-law to clean his room. I basically sat on his couch or played on his computer and kept telling him to clean. It was my escape from all the other pre-party duties where I feel inept and in the way. Amazingly he didn’t mind, and he actually got his room clean. I’m not sure how much credit I can really claim, but I appreciated the escape.

On another note, I’m still not comfortable with the term “in-laws.” It makes conversation easier, but it’s no term of endearment.

On another note, today would have been my parents’ 29th (I think) wedding anniversary. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.


A good story is a powerful thing. It captivates the young and the old. It is at the heart of any great medium, be it book, movie, song, or what have you. It has great power to sway and to make great truths known. He who does not understand the power and mystery of the story, is oblivious.

It is a great and fantastic story in which we who are called Christians put our faith. That is what has enabled the cross to endure for centuries. It is a powerful tale that tells the greatest truth of all. It is a true story, and a story most grand. Failure to understand and appreciate a story, is a failure to understand and appreciate the true inter-workings of God’s amazing grace.

Give it a chance.

Missed opportunities. At the moment it felt like you had forever, but those precious minutes slipped by and it was a lost cause. Things you could have said, things you could have done. Things you should have said, things you should have done. Things you can’t say anymore and things you can’t do anymore. Regret is an avoidable feeling, although we only realize it in hindsight. Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve — but didn’t. That’s what they all say.

Moving on, but where is the peace? Buried deep in a raging river, a torrent of memories and pain and missed opportunities, broken promises, harsh words, and inconsiderate actions. Both banks have been ravaged by this river, the sand pounded and swept away, eroded shore and crumpling land. Nothing escapes such a sweeping flow. Some places are paved over for protection, buried deep under layers of concrete and sand. The result is ugly. An impenetrable fortress that keeps the current out, but only rushes it past, pushes it farther down stream, faster, harder, to do more damage elsewhere. Entombed in the concrete lies buried hopes and dreams, wishes for a better life that never had a chance. All things that longed to be protected, and no one was brave enough to let them stand against the torrent. They may have even survived, and grow tall, like the mighty oak thriving on the water’s edge. One day the water may have receded, the banks restored, the flood ended. Calm would have returned. But now it seems a distant possibility. The hand of man has left its mark, and it isn’t easily erased from the bitter shards of empty life.

Buried emotions will eventually surface, hidden strife will only cause decay, grace can make beauty out of ugly things–if only you give it a chance.

What Happened?

What happened? I used to sit down and let it flow. Thoughts and ideas and passions and energies that flowed forth. Dreams that spewed out of me without my control. Is it just because of the time, or is it something else. Is it bad tempers and foul timing? Is it the coming bills and all the obligations and the strained relationships and that particular time and it all just crashes together and makes you wonder why? Or is it the fact that I think to myself all sorts of things and wonder too much about what you’re doing and what you’re not doing. Is that distracting me from chasing a dream towards the rising sun? Or is it all just pondering before bed time and isn’t worth much anyway? And I can’t help but wonder what everyone thinks as they read these words and what effect each word will have on each person and isn’t that just a sick thing for a writer to have to think about? You should just write, and what comes will come. If I speak the truth then the truth is doing the damage, not me. Am I to blame for the failings of my audience? Questions that come and questions that go and I just wish there was some more time to myself, time to think, time to write, time to live. But instead there’s bills, there’s work, there’s obligations, there’s distractions. Welcome to life, kid. Aren’t you glad you’ve entered the real world?

Lord of the Rings

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the first installment of The Lord of the Rings hits the big screen next week. A friend of mine saw an early screening, and he described it as one of the top five movie experiences of his life. Wow. I’m eager to see it, not quite Star Wars excited, but still pretty pumped. I think I’m just excited because it’s a really good story, and it sounds like they’ve made a really good movie. That translates to a fun movie-watching experience.

Now for my plug: passageway.org published a story on the whole Lord of the Rings thing today. Check it out.

Kevin’s Art Gallery

I’ve never considered myself an artist. Yet I’ve also discovered that’s exactly where I’m wrong. Watch a kindergartner color, and you’ll see an artist. Each of us still has that five-year-old artist inside of us, we just have to stop worrying about what everyone thinks, and create.

Art isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s real. So much of my artwork doesn’t mean anything to other people. My parents scoffed when a black and white photograph of mine, “Beautiful,” was published. They didn’t see what I saw in the photo. I often see art as capturing a glimpse of life for us to observe, and I think life is beautiful, even if it can be ugly.

Today I added my artwork to ReALMagazine.com’s Student Art Gallery. I’m not doing it to show off or make a quick buck (although that doesn’t hurt), or to try to impress people. I’m doing it because I love creating. And creations don’t do any good sitting on the shelf. They exist to be observed, critiqued, liked, and disliked. Enjoy.

MTV is One Big Commercial

I think MTV is really just one big commercial. It seems like the entire network exists to sell stuff. Maybe that’s a little naive. Don’t all TV networks exist to sell stuff? Well, first they want to make money, but they do that by selling ads, which is selling stuff. It just seems like MTV is so not subtle about it. An hour-long special about Lord of the Rings. Translation: Go spend money on the movie. TRL, every day. Translation: Go buy the albums that everybody else likes because we’ve played the song so much it’s stuck in your head. If you ever want to see how out of touch with society Christians are, go read a Christian magazine for teens (any will do, they’re all pretty much the same), and then watch MTV. Now the oozing sex is the first obvious difference, and I’m not saying Campus Life needs more skanky cover shots of Gwen Stefani’s chest. I’m just saying you’ll notice a major difference in the savyness of Campus Life vs. MTV. The battle’s already over on that one. Too bad, it appears Stefani’s chest wins.

The Hendricks Memorial Library

The Hendricks Memorial Library. It almost a nice ring to it. Of course my personal library isn’t in memorial to any Hendricks that I’m aware of. And I really don’t think I could bring myself to give my library such a stuffy name.

Last night my wife and I rearranged our books, a collection that is well on its way to being a library. It takes up to full bookcases right now, with a few books spilling over. You could say we have a bit of a habit. Fortunately I can say I’ve read most of them. The few I haven’t read I plan to. I’m also proud to say that most of the books were bought used, for we certainly couldn’t afford to buy half these books new.

I like having a library. It’s nice to actually own some good books, to be able to turn to a shelf and run your finger along the bindings, looking for a good book for a sunny afternoon. I also appreciate the substance of our library. Lots of books by thoughtful Christians, who aren’t always known as Christians: Graham Greene, Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Madeleine L’Engle, John Updike, Kathleen Norris, Flannery O’Connor and on and on. There’s also other authors that may not profess a faith in Christ, but do understand the importance of deep thinking and spiritual reflection: Jonathan Kozol, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver, and on and on. These are the kind of writers I admire, the kinds of writers who make a profound impact on our society. They’re a far cry from the Christian bookstore authors, the ones with lots of fame and adoration inside the church, and little if any impact in society at large.

It’s also a library full of kids books: Dr. Seuss, Louis Sachar, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein. Sometimes you need to go back just as much as you need to go forward.

And hopefully it’s a library that will get much use.