Tent Cities Popping Up Across the U.S.

Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Columbus, Reno, Fresno, Chattanooga. They’re all home to homeless encampments, tent cities springing up of people who have lost their homes. It’s a startling story, reminiscent of the Hoovervilles of the 1930s (though clearly we’re not to that extreme yet). What’s perhaps most frightening about this story is that it’s dated Sept. 18. These tent cities don’t appear to be a result of the current economic meltdown, but have been the result of foreclosures and rising prices we’ve seen all year.

These kinds of stories further my resolve to spend a night outside experiencing homelessness (and the reality is setting in how freaking cold it’s going to be sleeping out in October in Minnesota). As the economy continues to worsen, more and more people will turn to increasingly crowded homeless shelters. They need help. When times get tough there’s an understandable temptation to turn inward and take care of your own. But that’s when I think it’s all the more important to help each other. It’s easy to be generous when your stock options are up and your 401K is growing.

I’m Going To Be Homeless

On Oct. 16, 2008 I’m participating in Cardboard Box City and will be sleeping outside to experience homelessness firsthand. I’ll be sleeping out in a tent, tarp or cardboard box at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds with a group from my church and others from around the Twin Cities. The event will be raising money and awareness for two local organizations that provide emergency shelter and affordable housing, Families Moving Forward and Project Home.

About 80% of homeless people are in need of short term, immediate help. They find themselves on the street for a number of reasons, but the vast majority get help and get back on their feet in a short time. Project Home offers that help as an overflow shelter hosted at local churches that provides added capacity when the county service center is full. My church hosts Project Home every June (our recent building project included a shower facility specifically for Project Home).

Everyone attending Cardboard Box City is trying to raise money for Families Moving Forward and Project Home to help homeless families. I’m shooting to raise $100 in “rent”. I hope you’ll consider donating to support my effort.

Continue reading I’m Going To Be Homeless

Abandoned Teens

MPR’s Bob Collins covers a story of teens being abandoned at Nebraska hospitals, much like unwanted newborns. The new safe haven law in Nebraska allows parents to drop off any child, regardless of age. These unruly teens usually go into an already-stressed foster care system.

The whole thing is kind of bizarre. And heart-breaking.

On one hand it’s good that teens in abusive situations can find a way out, right? Though it’s really a way out for parents. Most teens who want a way out don’t wait for their parents to give them up.

On the other hand, how would that conversation go? I can’t even imagine how that conversation ends with dropping your kid off at a hospital or police station. I get being at the end of your rope (hello, I spend my days alone with a two-year-old), but wow.

It all reminds me of the show Brat Camp from a few years ago (the one that made me cry). I guess I’m the kind of person who thinks you give people a second chance. And a third chance. And a fourth chance ( … and a 490th chance, as Jesus advocated). Especially when we’re talking about your own kid. Certainly there are rare times when you have to draw the line. I’ve done that. But I’m not sure that happens at 13. And I don’t think the solution is you abandon the kid. Get some help, call in the pros—heck, call in the National Guard. But you’re a parent. You can’t give up. As a society we need some kind of help for people in these situations, something we’re clearly not offering.

The Island at the End of the World Book Cover Design Contest

Cover design for Sam Taylor's The Island at the End of the World by Greg MatsonThis is a double whammy for me as I’m a sucker for well-designed book covers and post-apocalyptic fiction.

Penguin Books and Creativity have partnered to do a cover design contest for Sam Taylor’s forthcoming book, The Island at the End of the World. They solicited 300 cover designs, picked the top 25 and are sharing those online, and will pick the winner on Thursday. The winning design will be used when the book is published in 2009.

Perhaps I’m biased because it came up first, but I think the very first one is the very best one. It has a simple beauty to it. Love it. What do you think? (via kottke.org)

Editing my Novel (Again)

In the past few weeks I’ve been working on editing my novel. Yes, the one I said I was starting to edit a year ago. The one I finished writing almost two years ago. It’s called Turn Left at the Blacktop and you can read a woefully unedited version online (I blogged it as I went, which means it’s not in a very readable format—don’t say I didn’t warn you).

It needs a fair amount of work, from re-working plot lines to making characters stronger to making descriptions more memorable and less cringe-worthy (my default for showing emotion seems to be: “She smiled.”). It’s hard work, especially when you spend days writing a 5-page scene full of sharp dialog that really hums, only to realize you need to rip the scene in half and move the dialog around. It eventually feels like improvement, but it’s that eventual part that’s hard.

At this point I’m dedicated to finishing this thing. I have a vague goal of finishing it before November so I can take part in NaNoWriMo 2008, both to meet my wife’s stipulation that I can’t start a third novel without finishing one of my first two, and to continue a tradition of writing a novel in even numbered years. But I’m not sure how realistic that is.

Continue reading Editing my Novel (Again)

Resources to Fact-Check the Presidential Candidates

With a month and a half to go before the election, the campaigns are getting pretty intense (no matter who you’re voting for I hope we can disagree well). New accusations, gaffes and bizarre stories seem to surface every day. It’s hard to know who to believe, so I offer three fact checking resources:

Offers a ratings for ‘True,’ ‘Mostly True,’ ‘Half True,’ ‘Barely True,’ ‘False,’ and ‘Pants on Fire.’ In investigating 114 of Obama’s statements and 113 of McCain’s, Obama gets 18 ‘false’ claims and 0 ‘pants on fire’ claims, while McCain gets 22 ‘false’ claims and 6 ‘pants on fire’ claims. It’s run by the St. Petersburg Times and the Congressional Quarterly.

Lie Count
I came across this one today and it offers a straight count of outright lies from each campaign. As of right now the tally is Democrats: 6 lies, Republicans: 11 lies. This one is run by two web guys with some spare time.

This one is the most thorough and has the least spin. They don’t have any counters of who’s “winning” and sometimes they’re overly careful in their fact-checking and statement splicing. The one downside is all that careful truth-finding takes time. They’re backed by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. (Curiously, FactCheck was even used in a McCain ad, which they then fact-checked and called a distortion.)

Also of interest, though not for fact-checking, is Every Moment Now, which shows the level of media coverage of both candidates. Perspctv is another good visualizer of McCain/Obama coverage, though it’s much wider in scope (web searches, blog mentions, etc.). Both links via two cents.

It’s sad that we have to call out either candidate for lying or stretching the truth, but that’s the reality. Boo politics.

How to Apply for a Job

My friend and frequent client Brad Abare has a great blog post offering advice for job seekers. In a nutshell he says to forget about the resume and find a way to show your passion. It’s nearly impossible for a resume to communicate everything it needs to, so you need to find a way to make yourself stand out.

My wife did that with her current teaching job when she turned a pack of crayons into her resume. When school started the other teachers were still talking about it. I remember applying for jobs straight out of college and I neglected to do anything creative. I just sent out resume after resume (and it was a sharp looking resume). It’s no wonder I had only a single interview.

When I was looking for a job four years ago I remember having a hard time finding positions I could get excited about. I worked hard on creative cover letters to go with my sharp looking resume, but I didn’t do much more. And I didn’t get very many interviews either. (Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I’m able to make do.) I think you have to go outside the box to find and get a job that’s more than a paycheck. You can’t settle for the posted jobs (I ultimately didn’t; I started my own company), and you can’t rely on a typical resume (being typical won’t get you noticed).

Finding a job is never easy, especially in an economy like this one, but you have to stand out. I think Brad offers some good advice, and it comes from someone who has seen lots of resumes, interviewed lots of candidates and hired quite a few good folks.

More Waiting While Ethiopians Go Hungry

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about adoption, and even then I didn’t have any news. Well, we have news, but it’s not exciting.

Last week we got an e-mail from our agency informing us that all the expected wait times are going to be longer. What was a 6-9 month wait is now a 12 month wait. The end of September would have been 9 months of waiting for us, but now we’ll likely be waiting until the end of December or later. It’s frustrating, to say the least.

Continue reading More Waiting While Ethiopians Go Hungry

Protest Photos & Flickr Stats

On Tuesday last week I posted 345 photos from the peaceful RNC protest in St. Paul to my Flickr account. My traffic skyrocketed, as you can see.

I always think traffic stats are fascinating. My photo views went from an average of around 300 per day to 5,335 views on Tuesday. On Wednesday they were still pretty high at 2,487, but by Thursday they went into the basement with 80. Oops. So much for increasing my audience after a spike.

Though Friday and Saturday they were relatively high again (over 1,000), so I guess we’ll see (helped along by the fact that I posted a few more protester pics I’d overlooked, as well as a pile of other photos).

Not that these stats mean much of anything practically. I’ve noted before that my most popular photo isn’t even a photo.

Here’s Where I Stand: Let’s Disagree Well

This has been an interesting couple weeks of politics, getting sick of politics and not listening to myself about politics. I’ve been twittering and spouting off about politics because it riles me up. Because I disagree. Because I hear things that strike me as wrong and I want to respond. And what I failed to realize is that so often we just disagree (like I said before and then ignored) and pouncing on each other doesn’t help. I’m sorry.

I think politics would be a lot more friendly if we could cut out the rhetoric and just focus on an issue. If we could see where and how we disagree and just be fine with disagreeing. It’s easier to find a path forward if you understand where the other person is coming from. Too often in politics (myself definitely included), we don’t take the time to do that. Instead we jump to the conclusion that you must be stupid. That’s probably why I don’t usually talk much about politics (I tend to disagree with the standard Christian/Republican stance) and why in the past two weeks of talking more about politics I’ve annoyed some people and riled up others. Not that frustrating or riling is bad, but I’m not sure what I’m accomplishing.

Take the Test
So let’s accomplish something. My sister-in-law took one of those online quizzes that tell you where you’re at politically. These things are always goofy because on some questions I hem and haw and then wonder if I had answered differently if it would have changed the outcome (I checked, it didn’t change much). But at any rate, I think it can be helpful to see where we stand.

So give it a try. It’s about 40 questions and takes less than five minutes.
Continue reading Here’s Where I Stand: Let’s Disagree Well