Because I’m Bored.

Ha. I have never, in all my life, been less bored.

But that’s my first, very glib, answer when people ask me why I’m running for the Alpine School Board. Fortunately, I have others.

The Board has seven members; I’m running in District 6, which is the city limits of Lehi. Currently sitting in that seat is a man named Scott Carlson. When he first ran four years ago, I put his sign in my yard. I still think he’s a good man, and has done about the job I expected. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d be satisfied with that and pay small attention to the race.

Circumstances are not ordinary, not by a long chalk.

Alpine School District is the largest in Utah, and has for a number of years reached the state normally seen when bread rises too long. It’s puffy and dripping over the sides of the pan. When it is baked, and it will be baked, it will sag into a dense, bitter mess. That’s where we are in this district. We need a plan to split, and we need one now. I don’t see that there’s any impetus on the Board level to make such a plan. That’s the first reason I’m running.

The second is, to me, not as important as the first at this stage, but it still has an impact, and that is the curriculum program called Common Core. I am a teacher of junior high and high school kids, and as such I am unalterably opposed to any kind of program that limits the flexibility of teachers to teach what and how they deem necessary for their students to learn and grow. No program, ever, in the history of school, has hamstrung that flexibility more than Common Core has.

Note: I’m quite sure that current members of the Board will say either that 1) they are working on these things, but the work is going on behind the scenes or 2) that these are things that they can’t do. Some of the Board will say this. Other members of the Board–specifically the ones that asked me to run–say differently, and that the thing holding up action is the composition of the Board. Either could be true, but one reason to run is to find out.

I like and respect Scott Carlson. This isn’t a vendetta, or a negative mark on him. I don’t even consider myself to be running against him. I’m running for something, not against anyone.

The job is a hard and thankless one, and one I wouldn’t have considered standing for until the last couple years. I’ll say this, too: I don’t want it. I would strongly prefer not running, and not winning, if there were someone that I thought would do the job I think needs doing. I have no pride in this thing; if there is such a person, I will gladly throw my support behind them. But I’m done sitting and watching. Things need to be done, and we can’t wait. I can do them. So here I am.

Note: there are two other candidates in the race that I think could and probably would do at least as well as I would, and one of them probably better. If the time comes that he convinces me he wants the job enough, and will do it the way it needs doing, I’m happy to step aside. As I said, I’m not bored.

But as long as I’m running, I’m running to win. If you get to know me–and the best way to do that is reading this blog–you’ll see that I do what I say, I’m not afraid of work, and I can argue without fighting. I’m persuadable, and reasonable. I think first and don’t shoot my mouth off until I know what I’m talking about. If that sounds like the kind of person you’re looking for, I’m asking for two things. One, paypal me $10 (mentormrc@gmail.com). Two, post on Facebook that you’re going to vote for me. That’s it. For now (muahahahaha).

Thanks for reading this far. I appreciate it.

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What’s “Love” Got To Do With It?

A certain candidate that I refuse to name–this is really an admission, as I will say “Voldemort” any time–has sparked a national debate about civility and decorum, tolerance and accommodation. It’s a good conversation to have, and I am a small voice of not much volume in it, but I have a thing to say that I hope you will hear.

First, to get this out of the way, the Candidate-that-I-wouldn’t-stoop-to-mention will not get my vote any more than Mussolini would. Under no possible circumstances. Ever.

With that taken care of, a word about “loving” people. My various feeds have a lot of love on them, and a lot of admonitions to “just love” other people. I find these wholly appropriate, and I encourage them, but I think we need to be pretty clear about what the word means, if we’re going to use it so freely.

I have friends that are going to vote for Candidate Slimeball. I love them. I do not like them, and I think they are deluded and in some cases terrifyingly so. Thus, I do not want to be around them, and I have no feeling of affection for them whatsoever. The contrary, if anything. And yet I choose to love them because that’s a path open to me that is good for my heart and soul. Love as choice, not love as emotion. See the difference?

I have a specific friend that is in great pain because of the death of her father. I love this woman. I also have great affection for her, although she has said things that are moderately hurtful and somewhat unfair about people I care about (and by extension, about me). In one sense–love as emotion–I care about that. It matters, and I wish she’d stop. But in another sense–love as choice–I don’t care. There is nothing she could do that would make me stop loving her (I’m pretty sure. She is awfully creative, though, so maybe that’s not true, but I think it is). I will extend myself to care for her. I will defend her. I will give what I have to her, and help her if I can.

C and J
If I look surprised here, it’s because I am. She still chooses me. WHY, on earth?

In the first, most common usage, love is an emotion. “You can’t help who you love” is a popular modern phrase for this usage. Translated, it means “you can’t help who you have feelings of affection for”, and in that sense I think it’s true. But if you translate it as “you can’t help who you choose to love”, it’s nonsense. You absolutely can. I’ve been doing it all my life, and so have you. I got married twenty-five years ago. I chose to love Jeanette Joan Jensen. I have therefore chosen NOT to love three-and-a-half billion other women, many of whom (heck, I think MOST of whom) are quite attractive, intelligent, and worthy of love. Some of these women, heartbreakingly, have never had anyone choose to love them the way I love Jeanette. Many men have never had a woman choose them the way she chooses me.

I’d be lying if I said I had never regarded another woman with affection–love as emotion–in the last twenty-five years. But I choose one woman, because there are things I cannot give to more than one. Jeanette is the one. Nothing will change that. Ever. No matter who she is or what she does or what she looks like, she is the one I choose. I promised this, I vowed it, I pledged all that I hold sacred to it. So while in the one sense of love I have very little control–emotions are what they are–in another sense I have complete control.

When we talk about politics, we must talk to people that we cannot feel affection for. It is a necessity, if we are to have any sort of meaningful dialogue. But in the face of this lack of affection, we can choose–we must choose–to love one another. Whatever my emotions about people that think some races inferior to their own–and my emotions on that score are ferocious–I choose to love them anyway. Whatever I think of people that see nothing wrong with arresting their enemies for saying things they disagree with, I can still choose to love them.

Nor does that mean that I will not oppose them politically, or argue with them. I will. In fact, I think that loving them requires that I do so, the same way I would oppose the efforts of my beloved seven-year-old to run into the street without looking. I must try the best I can to explain why they must not do what they are intent on doing, politically, or religiously, or what have you. But I will not oppose them with shouting and viciousness, or attacks on their looks, or age, or physical threats. I would never do that to someone I love. And I do love them, because I have chosen to.

Imperfectly, of course. I’m perfect in nothing. But love is the standard, and I don’t back away from it just because it’s very hard for me to live up to. To me, the best political goal is unity. Unanimity. Policies we all support, not just 50.001% of us, and devil take the other side. There’s no way we’re going to get to that with hatred. We have to get there with love.

Not affection. Not emotion. Choice.

Choose love.

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A Ping.

That’s what I call a short update on the situation. It comes from Hunt for Red October, The-Hunt-for-Red-October-where Sean Connery, playing submarine commander Marko Ramius says to his XO, “One ping, Vassily, for range. One ping.” One tone from the sonar. [Note: what he’s actually doing is communicating with the American submarine, because in the water, everyone can hear everything. But that’s not important right now.] The sonar ping gives the bridge information about what’s in the water around them. That’s what this is.

The update is this: writing is going fairly well, but not as well as it once did. Here’s the deal: I have several books out now, and those take time to tend, time to promote, time to edit and do covers for and all that. I’m teaching a full load, and coaching a junior high and a high school mock trial team, and dealing with grant applications for the Libertas Institute, and so on. Yes, we all have troubles, and that is not an excuse. Just a reason. If I were as committed to doing the writing as hard as last year, I would be doing it as hard as last year. Simple as that.

I wrote 45,500 words in February. It was my first month in the last sixteen that I did not Wizard Kindle brightwrite 50k in a month. I’m a little sad about that, but I didn’t do the work, so there’s no one to blame but myself. I still write at least 1000 words a day (two days below that in the last four months), and the work progresses.

I’m also putting out most of the stories from my book Twelve UponDonuts Kindle a Time as Kindle Singles. Three of them are up now: For All the Marbles, How Donuts Got Their Name, and The Lonely Wizard. I’ll have the rest (or all that I’m putting up) by the end of March. I’m editing (slowly) Knights of Insanity, which has
been requested by Jolly Fish Press, and writing Long Slow Sweep of the Sky, a
steampunk sci-fi novel.

Marbles KindleIt is, therefore, not as if I’m not doing literary things. I’m just a bit off the pace of my writing (though, yeah, February being a short month, if it had been January or March, I’d have made the 50k, so the pace isn’t far from what it was). I love it, and things are good, if extremely packed with stuff to do.

More in a bit.

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If You’re Good At Something, Never Do It For Free

JokerThat’s the Joker, right there, and under ordinary circumstances he isn’t someone I’d be quoting. But it fits, so I’m using it, and I’m directing you to go to Kristen Lamb’s blog and read her posts, all of them, but especially this one.

Here’s a snippet:

Our consumers have a lot of power. No I don’t feel anyone owes me anything I haven’t earned. Never said that. I said I am tired of people acting like I should be grateful for “exposure” en lieu of being paid and if I say anything I’m a whiny jerk.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writers asking for the sale. All people can do is say….no.

When I was in sales, the single largest reason most salespeople failed to make a sale? Never asked for it.

Simple.

But what are people saying to writers?

It is okay to have “exposure”…just don’t ask for the sale. Just be happy being exposed.

Huh? WTH? NO!

What good is a used bookstore for exposure if I then don’t tell people, Hey, if you find a book of mine there and you really love it, please buy my next one NEW? It’s how I get PAID.

OMG! How could you? You broke the cardinal rule of being a writer!

I will starve eating exposure sandwiches, okay?

Read the whole thing. And the original thing.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I realize that I am very fortunate to have four jobs that together keep food on the table. I get paid to write. That’s unusual and awe-inducing for me. This post is essentially aimed not at my readers, many of whom pay me for what I do, but at all of us as readers of other people’s fiction (and nonfiction).

I buy mass quantities of used books. I also buy new, on purpose, when I find an author that really does brilliant work. If you’re looking for some of those kinds of authors, here’s a YA author you’ll like, and another YA author you’ll fall in love with, and an author of fantasy noir, and an author of high fantasy, I guess, and a sci-fi author I bow in awe of. Buy their stuff.

Heck, buy my stuff while you’re at it. You’re going to buy books. Buy our books. Please.

Or don’t. That’s okay, too. And if YOU have a book you want people to buy, link that sucker in the comments.

I buy books, too. And you’ve never met anyone more loyal.

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That’s Right, Woodchuck Chuckers.

I don’t always post on Groundhog Day, but when I do, it’s a post about what I’d do with eternity.

This. This is what I’d do.

I’d get up at 5:30 and play basketball (yes, at 47, after breaking my leg in two places on the very same court where I just boxed you out for an offensive rebound). I’d come home and read scriptures and pray with my family. I’d teach at as many schools as I could (today it was two of them). I’d visit potential donors for Libertas. I’d work out mortgage financing for that family up the street. I’d write sequels to unpublished novels. Then I’d go to pack meeting, or choir, or basketball again. I’d spend time in the scriptures, and praying. I’d go to bed sometime after 11. And then I’d get up and do it all over again the next day.

That’s every day. It’s mad, baby. And I love it.

A few years back I was watching Groundhog Day–we do it every year–and lamenting that I didn’t have the opportunity that Bill Murray did, to live for eternity and do whatever I wanted to do.

And then I realized that I was completely wrong, that I was looking at this eternity thing totally incorrectly. I DO have that same opportunity, and I was spending a lot of it learning to throw cards into a hat, metaphorically speaking. I was doing what I thought I had to do to keep doing what I thought I had to do. That is not much of an oversimplification of the situation.

So I stopped. And I started doing what I wanted to do, and what I was good at, and trying to get better at it. Maybe I’ve succeeded at that–I think I’m a better teacher and writer than I have been–and maybe not, but I’m a better person, and that will do. When I go on, it’s only those things I have become that will go with me. All the other stuff I’ve done will die. Even my books, which kills me, but that’s the way it is.

I’ve made enough of a living to keep living a life. I make no judgments for those that don’t do this, because I am also one of those people. Part of who I am now is the person that couldn’t believe he could live like this. Being who I was helped me be who I am, and neither do I condemn me. But I shall go my way and sin no more.

All right, I probably will sin more. I won’t get this day perfect. But I’ll get to take all the good stuff into the next one, and I’m going to keep going from there.

#

January’s writing was 54,272 words, the second-best month of my life by word count. Since I started writing for true and serious back in November of 2014, I’ve written over 900,000 words. Around the Ides of March, I’ll crack a million.

Tonight, very likely, I’ll finish my eighth novel, seven of which were written in the last thirty months, five of them in the last sixteen months. I have covers for twelve short stories, covers like this one:

Marbles Kindleof which I’m rather proud, and these will be going up on Kindle three a week all month.

Thanks for noticing. You all make my life very much better.

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Alan Rickman and Defense Against the Dark Arts

I’ve posted already on one recent death, and though I felt like I probably wouldn’t have anything to say about David Bowie–though, seriously, he was great in Labyrinth–but I can’t help writing just a short note about the wonderful, amazing, brilliantly skilled Alan Rickman.

Having had no idea he was ill, the news catches me by surprise, and of course brings to Hans-Gruber-hans-gruber-24823003-200-200mind all the same things it did to yours: Severus Snape; Die Hard; Love, Actually; Colonel Brandon; Grabthar’s Hammer. But knowing that he was capable of that sort of range made me very curious about him as a man and an actor, what he thought about his craft and how to practice it.

Accordingly, I’ve watched a good number of interviews–there are some excellent ones on YouTube–and thought a lot about what he had to say, answering the same questions over and over. He clearly benefited a great deal from his acting training, and says so with vigor. He had tremendous respect for his colleagues in the industry, and was generous with his time and his considerable influence. The man was clearly beloved by hundreds of millions, but the adulation passed over him, leaving him essentially unchanged, by all accounts. He played himself, often, unsure, willing to press forward and try, never quite believing his good fortune when he succeeded.

His answers were usually fairly vague (What is your favorite role? Oh, how can one possibly choose?), which is what you would expect (Do you know how much you’ve meant to people? The public has been extraordinarily kind to me). For a man who didn’t have an email address until five years ago, and who valued his privacy–no selfies, ever–that fits expectations. But he wasn’t always vague. Once in a while, you could see the real man under the very smooth (and authentic) exterior persona.

For instance this, talking about his acting training, from his NY Times interview (9:41 mark):

Q: What were some of the complaints, what did people feel like needed to be fixed about your voice, training-wise?

A: (without the slightest hesitation) That I had very lazy diction, that I had a spastic soft palate, and that, as I was saying to you, my voice teacher said that ‘you sound as if your voice was coming out of the back end of a drain pipe.’

He then says “I suppose it means…basically…that I had to, um…”

See the contrast? He’s 66 in this interview. He hasn’t been in acting school for FORTY YEARS, and he remembers, with crystal clarity, three critical things that had been said to him four decades ago. Then he struggles to articulate what that meant he had to do to overcome it.

I’ve been replaying that scene for the last couple of hours. I know this mentality. All artists do. Alan Rickman has been told sixteen million times that his voice is amazing and it makes him one of the sexiest men alive. Ask him for a common compliment about that, and he won’t be able to think of one. Ask him what criticism he heard when he was starting out, and he has a ready, laser-specific list. He never forgets those things, not for a second.

It made him better, clearly, and he used the criticism in the best way, to become more polished, resonant, kind (although his play on Broadway in 2012 had him as an acerbic, even brutal critic of some young writers) (and of course, he was brilliant). That’s a good defense against the dark arts of criticism. It’s the best one can manage, often.

How I wish that we would be able to toss aside the criticism once it’s served its purpose. How I wish we could simply forget that anyone ever said whatever it was (lazy, doesn’t concentrate, has gifts but doesn’t apply himself) once we’ve made a beautiful pearl out of the irritating grain of sand. But then, maybe that destroys the pearl.

I learn so much from listening to the truly great describe their craft. That’s my best defense, to realize that if Alan Rickman can be criticized for having poor diction, perhaps I shouldn’t be too upset when someone calls my writing tedious. If I react the way he did, who knows what the future could hold?

Clearly, fame isn’t everything, as Snape would say. And did say. With perfect, unmatchable diction.

Snape

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Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Dylan Thomas’s poem has had resonance with humankind since the day he wrote it. I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment. I’ve written about death before, never better than here, but this last week I lost a beloved uncle, a man who, outside of my immediate family, has had as big an impact on my life as anyone in the world.

He didn’t rage, so much as bargain. On the way to the cold and silent grave, he brushed up against the Reaper more than once, and always was able to persuade that silent sickle-wielder that he should come back later. He was exceptionally persuasive. Until the end, a week ago Sunday, when he sat down in his favorite chair and was himself persuaded to leave us for a while.

I’m a believer, and I believe that we are not of this world originally, nor do we end here, but go on and on. I’m persuaded by very much better men and angelic women that the joys of what we go to will exceed the joys of this place as an inch-thick porterhouse exceeds a cardboard box. It is a thing I believe.

And yet. I like my box.

My Uncle Kumen was able to write his life story before he shuffled off this mortal coil, and I was privileged to edit it, along with my dear cousin Brian. It brought me in contact with Kumen in a way I hadn’t been able to experience before that, and it was a gift to me of such value I can’t express it. We had long chats in his office, on the phone, over email. He was able to touch me and mold me in unmistakable ways. Kumen altered the course of my life.

One of those chats, deep into the evening, ended with him telling me a story (not that there weren’t stories all through, every time, but this time was different). He was in the Army, on maneuvers, and got lost in a field. Across the field was an old, abandoned house, well-preserved, but still in the kind of condition that only those kinds of structures can be in, and he said that he walked into it and felt almost as a physical presence the people that had lived there before. It was evocative, and I could feel a story there. I do stories. I know them. They flock to me like moths to candle. This one fluttered and danced, just out of reach.

I always thought I’d have time to write it while he had time to read it, though it wasn’t really my story to tell. Time wasn’t kind, and I didn’t make the use of it I could have. Now the story is mine to tell after all, and I’ll try to bring the fluttering moth inside and let its wingbeats stir the dust of creation. No matter the result, Kumen will be in it, all through it, because it is his tale, and I just the teller.

It’s not raging against the dying of the light–it’s refusing its death altogether. It is becoming brighter, now that we are undimmed by crude matter and the ungainly molded clay. It is, perhaps, leaving this pale creation, this limited remaking of the luminous threads spun from the wheel in our heads–for nothing comes right in this place, nothing is ever quite what it could be–and rising to a sphere where we speak and all matter obeys, where the creator and the creation are one, and the starstuff dances to whatever tune we whistle.

I could get used to that. One day, like my dear friend Kumen, I will.

Kumen

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Bittersweetness

The very first modern opera was written in about 1400 by a man namOrpheusEurydiceed Peri–an Italian, of course–called Euridice, which you surely know is the name of Orpheus’s girlfriend. You remember the story? Euridice dies and is carried off to the underworld. Orpheus is so despondent that he will not play or sing anything happy, and everything in the world is sad, so the gods allow him to go to the underworld to get her. If she goes with him all the way out to the sunlit lands, she will be restored to life, but the condition is that he cannot look back to see if she really is following him. If he does, she will be lost to him forever.

If you have not read this tale, go, right now, and read it. Spoilers follow.

Still here? Of course she goes with him. Of course he cannot stand not being immediately reunited with her, and looks back, right on the threshold of life, and she fades away. It’s a great story. It’s so great that when, almost two thousand years later, a dramatist was looking for a subject for his new musical form, he chose this story.

The kicker? The second opera ever written (and the earliest one still performed today) was written by a man named Monteverdi, from the same area of Italy, and he called it Orfeo. That’s when you know you have a terrific story, when everyone is copying it.

Why is this story so powerful? I think it’s the bittersweetness. Some people like their lemonade sour, some like it sweet, but I like Brazilian lemonade (which is really limeade), because it’s bittersweet. I like really good dark chocolate (not Hershey’s, don’t get me started). And I like Pay It Forward and La Vita e Bella, though they break my heart.

Malcolm-Reynolds-malcolm-reynolds-26244315-733-1125I’m approaching the end of writing a new novel, called (right now) The Temple of Sand and Steel, and I can see the ending coming, and it sucks. Hard. It’s a dark novel anyway, filled with death and grief and mayhem, betrayal and lies and hopelessness, but through it there is a core of resistance to the dark, a commitment, in spite of all reasons to abandon it, to doing a quality job and retaining honor. I feel like that should be rewarded, and it will be, to some degree, but I also feel like the classic stories of honor and courage have a bitter tang to them, mixed with the sweet. Oedipus. Malcolm Reynolds. Frodo Baggins. Regulus. So someone is going to die, and probably more than one someone.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the recipe for joy is happiness+pain. I’m not McCoy. I’m Kirk. I need my pain.

Cj

P.S. If you’re one of my beta readers, expect that book to show up in your inbox on Groundhog Day. If you’re not, and you want to read my novels before you have to pay for them, send me an email to chris at iamchrisjones dot com.

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Three Reasons Why It’s Better to Publish Than Not

I published a book today. It’s a collection of fairy tales I got tired of trying to sell to agents/publishers, so I took them in-house and used my local team, and got illustrations from some of the kids I teach, and their friends, and voila! Here it is:

Kindle Cover

It’s good. It won’t win a Pulitzer, or make me rich. But it’s a fun collection of tales, some serious, some not, some quite dark and painful. I think the target market will like it, and if they like it enough, maybe I’ll do another one someday.

Steven Pressfield gets this, but even after I had the book done, proofed, ready, and sitting there, it took me half an hour to press the “accept proof” button and make the book live. I surfed Facebook. I read a blog. I dithered. Resistance rose up and smote me and told me I’d be wasting my time and end up laughed at and ridiculed. But I pressed “accept” anyway, and Heaven help me, I think I did right.

There are three reasons why, in circumstances like mine (I have a novel in front of agents, and I have six more in the editing process, getting ready to go, and four more that will be finished by spring) it is better to publish than not:

  1. You can’t make money if you don’t have something for sale.
  2. You can’t represent yourself as a working writer if your work doesn’t go up where people can buy it.
  3. Courting ridicule by doing something stupid is better than playing it safe.

Yes, it would have been lovely to have been picked up by Penguin House or one of those, but this wasn’t ever writing that had that potential. It was just something I wanted to do. I love fairy tales, and fables, and whimsical writing. I love not having to explain how squirrels can build robots, when they lack opposable thumbs.

If it sells, great. If it doesn’t, I’m still writing 2000 words today, because that’s what I do. I am a working writer, and you can buy my work, here and here.

Today, that’s a win.

 

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Cover Reveal

Having grown tired of trying to find a publisher for my enormous collection of fairy tales/legends/tall tales/whimsical whatnots, I’ve decided to publish them myself. Here’s the cover. If you’re interested in doing some illustrations, I’m just starting to incorporate those and would love more than I have. Click the image and I’ll take you there:

Kindle Cover

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