In this last Writing Wednesday before NaNoWriMo begins I think I have finally settled on which story idea that was banging around my head I will attempt to tackle in the upcoming month.

I have long been fascinated by steampunk novels, though to be honest I do not understand steam technology as well as I wish I did, so I find myself more drawn to what is sometimes referred to as clockpunk – or novels that use clockwork and gears instead of steam technology.   For whatever reason it just makes more sense to me.   I can understand how gears and cogs and springs working together can make motion and build into wonderful technical machines in a way that I just do not understand with steam power.   I get the basics of steam power, I’ve seen Thomas the Tank Engine.   I know that water gets heated into steam, which pushes on pistons and turns wheels and causes a steam engine to roll forward.   I just don’t see how that translates into some of the machinery and technology that is often found in steampunk novels.

But, as I said, I enjoy clockwork and mechanics and have designed a few clockwork tools that I would love to use in a novel.   I have also pondered the idea of what would happen to a society that had extensive access to clockwork machinery.   What would happen to the economy, how would the technology affect people in their daily lives.   We have seen in just the last few years how prevalent a technology like the internet or smartphones has become.   It is becoming increasingly rare to find someone who does not own a smartphone anymore, and even more impossible to find someone who does not own a cell phone of any type.   In just a few years this technology has almost completely changed the way our society functions and interacts with each other.

I think that would be an interesting concept to pursue, how this type of technology would change a society.   And related to that is how magic would affect a society, if it were to exist.   If someone can wave their hand and mutter a few words and create an object that takes a skilled craftsman several days to build by hand, what does that do to the value of said skilled craft?  What I imagine happening is that society would become very separated by class, with those who can do magic becoming very wealthy using their magic to perform tasks for others, and those who can afford magicians to work for them also becoming very wealthy on that labor.   Then, those who do not have magic would become the poorer classes and have to resort to other means to achieve a similar lifestyle.   I see them turning to clockwork or other technology to replicate what the magicians provide for the upper classes.

Thinking about this divide has led me to world build the setting for the novel I would like to write this year.   And throwing in a little of my favorite subject, German History, I have been contemplating what a world would be like separated by a wall and then how people and society would react when that wall suddenly came down.   So, I am building a world that is separated by a magical wall, one half of the world is populated by people who have and can use magic, the other half by people who do not have magic, but have developed clockwork and mechanical tools and toys, using technology to improve their lives.   The wall has stood for so long that it has been forgotten about by all but the few leaders of society on each side who see to its maintenance, until one day it is discovered by a young girl from the technology side.

The summary I wrote for my profile over at NaNoWriMo.org is this:

A world separated by a wall — One part enjoys the use of magic to help them accomplish the tasks of their daily lives.  Magic is innate and ingrained in every child that is born, they use it instinctively to live their lives.  The other part has no magic, but has instead developed technology through clockwork-powered and steam-powered engines and machines.  The smallest child can repair a watch or put together a machine to do their basic chores.

What happens when a young girl, the daughter of the clocksmith, discovers the wall that separates these two halves of the world and finds a way to pass through to the other side?  And what happens when she discovers a young magician who has also discovered the wall and they decide to work together to bring it down?

I think this will be a fun way to explore ideas of how magic and technology affect societies and economies and worlds as well as giving an opportunity to explore what would happen if these two worlds were to suddenly collide and be forced to work together and live side by side.   What would happen to technologically advanced world that suddenly had access to magic?  How would a magically invested world react to the complex gears and cogs of modern machinery?  Didn’t Arthur C.  Clarke famously say, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.“?

So, this is where I’m starting from.   I have two worlds mostly created, I have the basic idea for several characters and I have the framework of a plot.   The rest of it will hopefully come as I think and prepare over the next week and then as I start to write during November.   I am going to do my best to get a good first draft written, but some on the same issues I was dealing with last year during November which caused me to cut my NaNoWriMo short are starting to resurface.   It is looking like my personal life is forcing me to deal with things which may significantly cut into my free writing time.   Family comes first, even before NaNoWriMo, but I will try to write when I can and write what I can and we’ll see what happens this year as I attempt this one more time.

Here’s to a successful NaNoWriMo.   I would be very interested in hearing what your plans are.   what are you planning on writing about?  How do you think it will go?  Go ahead and add me as a writing buddy at nanowrimo.org, I go by dteeps over there, it would be great to connect and see how we’re all doing with our respective novels.

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching and I posted a few weeks ago about an idea I have been playing with about doing a modern version of Martin Luther, using Edward Snowden as an example.   Instead of Luther posting 95 theses against practices of the Catholic Church and eventually sparking a Protestant Reformation and subsequent peasant revolts, it would be a tech specialist working for the government who exposes practices of the US Government in a series of posts online, sparking public debate and eventual reformation of the government.

It is an interesting idea and would be fun to write, though it would probably take quite a bit of research into Edward Snowden and NSA and other topics of Government and reformation.   But, I guess I am still stuck on what the point would be.   I like to approach writing with a purpose.   What story am I trying to tell?  What is the point?  What do I want readers to get from this as they read?  Maybe that’s the wrong approach and I should just start writing and let the novel evolve from this starting point, but for me, having a goal informs where the plot should go and what I want to happen to these characters.

I know I want to review Dan Wells7 Point Plot structure (Also discussed on Writing Excuses).  I read about this a while ago and was impressed with how well it organizes a story.

I am not one of those writers who has to know every detail up front, I do not have reams of notes with all of the little things written about every minor character or setting.   I do enjoy the spontaneity that NaNoWriMo allows — the fact that you just sit down and start writing and see what happens.   I had some great experience with that a few years back where I was completely stuck and then just starting writing whatever came to mind, with no pre-planning of the scene or its setting or where it fit into the plot, and it helped me write the character in a better way.   It’s not that the character took on a life of her own and I was discovering new things about her — I don’t buy into that camp of writing.   I am the author, I write everything about these characters, they don’t write themselves.   But, putting her into a situation I had not previously planned and plotted out was a way for me to explore her better, to see what I would have her do in certain circumstances.

With this 7 Point Plot structure, though, you plan out the big events in the novel, the sign posts along the way.   It becomes more like a road trip.   You do not plan out every single stop, what is going to happen every single mile — but you plan where your overnight stops are going to be and let yourself be surprised by the little things you happen to find along the way.   According to Dan Wells, the 7 points of each plot are: Hook, Plot Turn I, Pinch I, Midpoint, Pinch II, Plot Turn II, Resolution.   These are the major events in the novel that get the plot moving, but they do not detail the events of every individual scene. That’s the way I like to plan a novel.   With a few solid sgn posts, a couple of plot points that I want to make sure I hit, but then leave the rest of the novel up for discovery.

But, I am not sure that I am completely committed to this Modern Luther story.   I don’t know if I have enough planning material to jump in and start writing.   I don’t have the plot points mapped out, and don’t know if I can get that done in time.   So, I have been playing around with a few other ideas as well, looking for the one that will grab me this year and force me to write it.

I am still working on the Mormon Steampunk idea for several years now, and just haven’t ever gotten it to a place where I felt it was right.   I might use NaNoWriMo as a time to hammer out some more words for it and see what sticks.   I have been wanting to combine the original Mormon Steampunk novel idea — of dragon-like creatures, “flying, fiery serpents” to use the biblical phrase, destroying towns and settlements in the West, and a former airship captain/adventurer who is now an Apostle who rides out to confront them — with another Alternative Mormon History idea I had a few years ago about an explorer in the Uinta mountains in Utah finding a series of caves and discovering a whole civilization living underground in the mountains.   It was originally a Nephite city that was buried during the great upheavals described in 3 Nephi, and there were some survivors when a city was swallowed up in the earth and they have continued to live underground.   I am thinking that the Apostle, on his journey to find these “flying, fiery serpents” stumbles upon this underground society and maybe they have legends or stories about these creatures and can help him find them?

In any case, I am excited to NaNoWriMo.   And if all else fails, I may just use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to get some major writing done.   Who cares if I don’t finish one novel or another, as long as I track my word count and reach the 50,000 mark by the end of the 30 days, who’s to say I cannot work on two or three different novels at once?  I’ll take it day by day and work on the piece that interests me at the time, all the while working on that 50000 word goal.

As I was going back over all of the tweets and retweets I sent during this past General Conference last weekend, I opened up a spreadsheet and started organizing some of them into what I found to be distinctive themes that emerged during the Conference.   If you pay attention, you will always find that there are some repeated themes during any General Conference, several topics or ideas that are mentioned again and again by different speakers.   I do not think it is merely coincidence, nor do I think the Brethren plan it by assigning certain topics, but it is the Spirit of the Lord working on those who will speak to address topics of concern for the Church as a whole, making sure that the message gets shared in several different ways so that it may touch the hearts of those listening.   One person speaking about a particular subject in one particular way may not necessarily hold much meaning for one person listening, but when someone else gets up and speaks to that same subject, but in a different way, with different scriptures or context or life stories, it may have greater meaning.   That is the joy of General Conference and why it is not boring to hear them speak about the same things every year.

The Gospel really isn’t all that complicated, but it does require repetition to remember and keep us in remembrance of our duty toward God and our fellow men.  We often forget or find ourselves caught up in our daily lives that we do not contemplate or ponder or think about the Gospel principles that we should as often as we should.

 

And, as I was going through my tweets I separated them into different themes that I found emerging.   Those themes that I discovered in this most recent General Conference were:

  1. Reach out and help each other
  2. Man cannot change the laws of God
  3. Pray to know the truth
  4. Teach your children well
  5. Follow the prophet.

 

I’m sure there were others, but those are the ones that stood out to me as I was listening and taking my notes.   And as I go through the Conference talks again, which are now all available online, with text and video, I will be looking for these specific themes and highlighting and tagging passages that speak to these themes.

 

From my tweets, though, here are a few samples of what I found.

1.Reach out and help each other

RT @LDSnet: Seek out those who have strayed and assist them to return to the fold! #LDSConf #PresPacker #Twitterstake

RT @cproffit: Some people cannot come back to Christ by themselves – but we can help them :) #ldsconf

Love one another. There are no exceptions to that commandment. #Oaks #LDSConf

What can I do to emulate the Savior and serve the poor and downtrodden? #ElderHolland #ldsconf

Do you hear that in his voice? “Don’t you get it yet? Be nice, love one another, serve each other, bring them to Christ.” #ElderHolland

“Although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother, and ‘because I have been given much, I too must give.’” #ldsconf

“May we be a little kinder and more thoughtful. May we reach out in helpfulness.” – #PresMonson #LDSconf

 2. Man cannot change the Laws of God

RT @LDSquotable: “Lowering the Lord’s standards to the level of a society’s inappropriate behavior is apostasy.” – #ElderRobbins #ldsconf

The Lord has set a standard. It is hard to achieve, it is perfection, but He makes it possible to achieve. #ldsconf #twitterstake

Truth didn’t change, but our ability to know & observe it did. #ldsconf

“We need unequivocal commitment to the commandments and strict adherence to sacred covenants.” #ElderCook | #ldsconf

#ElderNelson is explaining very plainly that the Lord leads this Church through the Prophet. Any changes must and will come through him.

“When the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice, it is the voice of the Lord for that time.” #ElderBallard

@nicknewman801 Reminding us who leads the Church and when and from where revelation come. #LDSconf #twitterstake

 3. Pray to know the truth

God has given the promise that we can know truth. #LDSConf #Twitterstake #Uchtdorf

Do you want to know if #LDSConf is true? Follow Joseph Smith – read, ponder, pray and ask for truth from God.

I love Joseph Smith and first vision story. Not just the foundation of the Church, but the pattern for all seeking to know truth. #LDSConf

RT @ldsconference: Elder Andersen: Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers, from God. #lds #ldsconf #sharegoodness #mormon

Revelation from God can be continuous. It must be in our lives, we are expected to seek the Lord in all things. #PresEyring #ldsconf

Our Heavenly Father wants us to sell this knowledge now. We ate not only allowed to pray, we are expected to do so. #ElderHales #ldsconf

How awesome is that? We get to speak to Diety on a regular basis with the promise that he will listen and answer! #LDSConf #ElderScott

Kacher: “By asking sincere questions and by seeking divine answers … we increase in knowledge and wisdom.” #ldsconf

Where do I turn for truth when questions arise? Use the Joseph Smith story- Read, ponder, pray, ask God. #ldsconf #twitterstake

 4. Teach your children well

RT @emhoehne: They did not have the church in their community, but they had the Gospel in their home. #ldsconf #ElderCallister

Callister: “One of the most meaningful things we do as parents is teach our children the power of prayer, not just the routine of prayer.”

RT @LDSquotable: “Remember that the greatest of all the blessings of the Lord come through and are given to righteous families.”…

 5. Follow the Prophet

God continues to speak to his children. Both to the Prophets for the whole church and to each of us individually. #ldsconf

What am I doing to sustain the prophet? Do my daily actions show that I support him in his holy office? #ldsconf #ElderNelson

RT @ljodoit: #twitterstake #ldsconf Following the Prophet may be unpopular… But following the Prophet will always be right.

RT @MikeJonesSez: Everyone else has urged us to follow the prophet, the prophet is now urging us to follow the Savior. #ldsconf

I look forward to going back through each of these talks from General Conference again and looking for these and other themes.   I think it will be a great way to help focus my study, help me find what the Lord is trying to tell me at this time in my life, what things I need to be paying attention to.   I would love to hear comments from you as well — What themes did you notice?  What topics did you see coming up again and again? How are you going to use that in your study of the General Conference messages?

We were once again blessed by a wonderful General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a great weekend full of uplifting messages and the spirit of the Lord. We were taught and reminded of doctrines of the Gospel of Christ that we should all be living, ways in which we can  be happier in our families and draw closer to God. I am always grateful for this opportunity to immerse oneself in the Gospel, spending a whole weekend listening to the General Authorities of the Church teach with power and the Spirit. It is a great way to fortify oneself and one’s family against having to venture out into the world. It provides the needed strength and conviction to maintain a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We watched most of the sessions at home with my laptop plugged into the TV so we could watch, streaming from gc.lds.org. This means I could not use my laptop to type up notes as I was listening, but I still had my phone and was following #ldsconf and #twitterstake on Twitter. I know there are some who see it as distracting or even disrespectful to be on Twitter constantly during General Conference, but for me it is one of the best ways of taking notes. I do not write very quickly, or I should say, when I write quickly it is not very legible. I type somewhat quicker than I write, but I did not have my laptop available to type up notes. Instead, I find it is much easier to read a tweet quickly and click Retweet or Favorite, and then go back in the next couple of days and look at all of the tweets that I have retweeted. There are so many others out there who can type quickly and can almost transcribe the Conference talks, and I just have to favorite or retweet what they’ve already written. And then I copy all of my tweets and retweets into a document and go over them again in the coming days and weeks as my documentation of what impressed me from General Conference.

I have not yet had a chance to do that with the tweets from this weekend, but I did want to share a few thoughts and impressions, things I heard and felt and have resolved to change in my life because of what was said during General Conference.

I tweeted:

OK, I’ve got my list of things I want to change, things I need to do better because of #LDSConf. What’s yours? Pray, read, FHE, be kinder.

And that is where I will start. I heard several messages about prayer and about returning to the scriptures, and I know I need to do better with my personal and family prayers. I need to say them more often and make them more personal and meaningful. It truly is amazing that we have a God who prefers to be called Father, and asks us to talk to him in prayer and promises to listen and answer. I need to make better use of that.

And I need to hold more regular Family Home Evenings. It is hard with a wildly rambunctious 3 year-old. He hardly wants to sit still or listen to anything. But, we have been having some discipline issues lately – he is refusing to listen and trying to push boundaries to see just what he can get away with, being deliberately disobedient just to see what will happen. We are not happy as parents with some of his choices, and need to help him see the consequences of his actions and how he can make better decisions. Holding a regular Family Home Evening will help us teach him those principles. I will start tomorrow. I also tweeted:

OK, I just added a recurring event to my phone’s calendar: FHE every Monday night. With a reminder to go off before hand

That will make sure we hold it on time and I have started a Google Doc with ideas and resources for lessons that I think my son will enjoy and benefit from. We are going to start with a modified first lesson from the Family Home Evening Resource Book, available as part of the Gospel Library app on my phone, about the purpose of FHE. I am going to ask my son what he wants out of FHE, what he thinks he should learn, what he wants to do. And then we will craft future lessons to meet his needs and wants. I hope it works. I will probably write about our efforts in this as time goes on.

And I noticed a distinct emphasis on being kinder to all people, to everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from or what their current situation in life is. This is certainly timely and timeless counsel, and I have been too easily losing my temper with my family lately as I have been handling the stresses of life poorly. I am praying and hoping that doing all of this will help me curb my anger and be nicer to my family as I remember who I am as a son of God and as a Priesthood holder. Regular prayer and scripture study and Family Home Evenings will bring the spirit into our home and into our lives and will help me ‘put off the natural man’ and become ‘submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love’.

There are other goals I would like to set for myself as well, not all spiritual. For example, I am feeling that I am not as healthy as I should be. I should document better the things I eat in order to help me eat better and regulate the colon issues that I suffer from. I should also exercise more. Well, when I say ‘more’ that kind of indicates that I do any type of exercise currently, which is not true. I need to start exercising and taking better care of my body. I want to be in shape, I want to be in a position to be able to work when called upon. I want the strength and stamina and ability to assist others who are in need.

I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment. What impressed you from General Conference?  What goals have you set for yourself because of what you heard and felt?  What will change in your life because of the Spirit of the Lord?

Posted by: dteeps | September 29, 2014

Mormon Monday: On Mormonism and Homosexuality

Last Sunday, on assignment from the Stake Presidency, our Bishop held a special meeting with all of the adults in the ward during the third-hour of church services. He had been asked to give a presentation on the doctrines behind the Church’s position on same-sex attraction. It was great lesson, a good discussion where he spoke candidly about an extremely sensitive subject and allowed members to ask questions and make comments and invited any who had issues or questions they felt uncomfortable asking in a public setting to meet with him privately. I would like to share some of the points our bishop made and add a few of my own thoughts.

He began by saying that he feels he is a very simple man, he often reflects on Adam’s response to the angel when he was asked why he was offering sacrifice, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me”. And then he outlined two basic principles that are and must be the foundation of any discussion of homosexuality and the gospel:

  1. The two great commandments, as specified by Jesus Christ, himself, are that we love God and that we love our neighbor as our self. Love has to be the basis of everything we do in the gospel. If we call ourselves Christian, if we profess to follow Jesus and to be striving to be more like God, then we will be filled with love for everyone. They are our brothers and sisters and children of God, regardless of sexual orientation or any other factor.
  2. The Law of God is very clear: Any sexual act outside of the bond of marriage between a man and a woman is sin. This does not just condemn homosexual acts, but any sexual act between any persons who are not married.

 

For me, that does sum up the issue completely. There is a law declared from heaven and all mankind is expected to live the law of God or they cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Yet, at the same time we all have to remember that everyone we encounter in our mortal lives here on this earth is a child of God, same as we are, and that we all have the same divine spark within us and the same divine potential. Family is the foundation of this world and we are all family in the eyes of God. We cannot treat any individual any less or any different than we treat any other individual.

I did like what Bishop was saying, though, especially when one member made the comment that it does not seem fair. He said his brother is homosexual and has been with his partner longer than he had been with his wife. He described a loving relationship but then said that if they were to join the Church they would have to give up everything they have. Bishop answered very directly, and I felt that he was using the full weight of his calling as Bishop when he stated that it isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. He said that he had been giving a building tour to a family with the missionaries and one of them told him, “This Church is hard”. He agreed. This Church is hard, it does expect a lot of us, it expects all of us to change who we are and to become perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

As Bishop spoke, I was reminded of a favorite scripture, Mosiah 3:19.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever,unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love,willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father

 

This verse holds a special place in my heart for the eternal truths that it teaches. All of us have natural tendencies and natural desires. Each of us have our own individual challenges that keep us from being perfect like our Father is. Yet, there is one path, one Way through which we can overcome the natural man. We need to “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ”. There is no special set of commandments for homosexuals, with different commandments for heterosexuals. All children of God are asked to keep the same commandments and live the same law. True, we all start in different places, so the distance between where we are and where God wants us to be is different for each individual.  But, we are not racing against each other.   We are racing against ourselves, striving toward the finish line that the Lord has drawn, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. All of us need the atonement of Christ to help us put off our natural man, to put off the natural tendencies and appetites that we all have.

Bishop was very frank and stated that sexual desires are given to us from God. The desire to have sex is a good thing as it leads us to seek out a worthy spouse and to have children, filling the earth with families. Yet, like all other desires, it needs to be controlled and used within the bounds the Lord has set.

But, again, at closing the Bishop brought it back to the point he made at the beginning — he repeated that we need to have love. We need to remember love in all of our dealings with our fellow men. We need to have the love of God in our hearts naturally spilling out to encompass everyone we come into contact with. We love all of our Father in Heaven’s children, and because we love them we desire that they come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and of his Atonement. We teach correct principles and doctrine and hope and pray and love and work with everyone to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But in the end, every one of us has the ability to make our own choices and we must allow that. But, we can never stop loving.

Posted by: dteeps | September 26, 2014

On General Conference

About a week and a half ago I stumbled upon a link to a General Conference address during my scripture study, and noticed again something I had long known about, that the Church has made General Conference address available online going back as far as 1971.   The thought struck me that it would be possible to watch every General Conference that has happened since I was born in September 1985.   And so, that is what I have decided to do.   Starting with the October 1985 General Conference, I am going through and watching, listening, or reading each of the addresses given.

It has been comforting and nostalgic to again hear the voices of Prophets and Apostles whom I have loved who have since been called home to that God they have so lovingly served.   I have loved hearing President Hinckley’s voice again, to listen again to Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder James E. Faust.  And it has been wonderful to listen to President Ezra Taft Benson, and Elder Marvin J. Ashton, men whose names I have heard but whose voices I do not remember hearing, having been too young at the time they first spoke to me.

Watching the videos has also been fun, because it shows these men we are now familiar with and recognize as older, revered leaders in the Church but 30 years younger.   It is almost funny to see President Monson, or Elder Packer, or Elder Oaks looking so young.   Or to hear about Elder Scott and Elder Hales and President Eyring who were not yet Apostles but a President of the Seventy and members of the Presiding Bishopric, respectively.

I have longed loved General Conference.   True, I remember a time when I thought of General Conference weekend as a time when we had extra hours of Church, more time spent at the Stake Center watching and listening to old men speak, but also as an opportunity to sleep during church, which was all too easy with the low lights.  But I have come to love the messages and the spirit felt while listening to the Lord’s servants speak to us as inspired by the Holy Ghost.   And I have enjoyed spending my time reviewing and rewatching the General Conference addresses given in years past.

There is a wonderful power in reading the words of modern prophets and apostles, but there is a special spirit that can be brought into your heart by listening and hearing their words spoken aloud.  I am glad that the Church has made these General Conference talks available, not only in a text version, but also with video.  The words of these great spiritual giants ringing in my ears has brought me to introspection and reflection on my life and the spirit I have felt as I have heard these messages has convinced me of the need to change and improve myself.

And so, as we prepare for the next General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the General Women’s Meeting this weekend, and the General Sessions next weekend, I am finding that watching past General Conferences is great preparation, bringing the spirit more fully into my life and preparing me to search and heed messages that the Lord intends for me in my life at this time.   I hope that as many of you as can will be joining us for our General Conference, where you will be blessed to “listen to a Prophet’s voice and hear the word of God”.  I will be live-tweeting from my Twitter account @dteeps, if you want to follow along and I will be posting follow-up posts on this blog with my thoughts and impressions.   I am certainly looking forward to another spirit-filled weekend and invite you to join with us, wherever you may be.

Posted by: dteeps | September 24, 2014

Writing Wednesday: A NaNoWriMo preview — 2014

November is coming up soon and that means NaNoWriMo is upon us once again.   I have been participating in NaNoWriMo for years now, though only once have I actually managed to write 50,000 words in the thirty days.   Still, the purpose of NaNoWriMo, for me, is to keep writing.   It is less about writing good content or completing any project or finishing any novel, but the emphasis is all on getting the words written.   It is all about doing the necessary writing with a looming deadline to encourage the accomplishment of what seems like an impossible task.   There is time later to revise, rewrite, and edit.  There is time later to add new scenes and chapters and cut whole sections completely.

For the last couple of years I have taken each November to write the same story.   I have been working on this Mormon Steampunk novel idea for a long time, and never actually take the time to write until November rolls along.  Throughout the year I plan, take notes, contemplate the characters and ponder the plot points, but I do not write.   I should probably fix that.   But, this leaves me in the position that I have come to view NaNoWriMo as a time during which I pull out my novel again and try once more to write it.

So, with November approaching I am again thinking of this novel, but I am also considering that I might like to try writing something completely different.

There have been a few other ideas floating around in my mind, and I know I need to take some more time to flesh out some of these ideas and plan the plot and characters more in depth before I start writing.

I have long been fascinated with the story of Martin Luther and the Reformation having long loved Germany and German history.   And I am a tech geek, working tech support for universities for about five years now.  As such, I have been, at least casually, following the story of Edward Snowden who released documentation about secret government programs and then fled the country.  I see that there could be a parallel drawn between a Snowden-like figure and Martin Luther.   It might be fun to explore the idea of a modern-day Luther, but instead of posting 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg detailing aspects of the Catholic Church that have strayed from the Bible, this techie would, of course, post 95 theses online to a forum like Reddit detailing how the government has strayed from its founding document, the Constitution.    I would like to follow the Luther story pretty closely, with the user also sending a letter directly to the President, as Luther sent his letter to the Pope.   And the letter would not be accusing the President of any wrongdoing, but pointing out to the President what he was seeing going on in his intelligence agency – just as Luther was not originally accusing the Pope of anything, but sought to inform the Pope of what he saw priests in Germany doing that he felt was not in line with Biblical teachings.   Luther originally wanted to help the Pope clean up the Church, and so this user would originally seek to help the President clean up the intelligence agencies, getting them back on track with the Constitution.   But, of course, the movement grows online, millions of people get behind him and start a revolution.   Many go too far, attacking and destroying government buildings (just as the Peasant Revolt in Germany, though this was mostly just using Luther’s ideas of a new German Church instead of the Roman Catholic Church as an excuse to plunder and attack rich nobility) and the user is forced to come out of hiding to quell these violent acts and establish the proper ideals of government.

It may be a little preachy, I’ll try to tone it down and make it more of an interesting story than a sermon on privacy rights and the proper role of government.   I’d like to explore the idea of Martin Luther as a man, his personal character and how his firm beliefs inspired others to action.   And also address the fact that many misinterpreted his words and sought to use them to exact vengeance or ‘justice’ on the noble classes.   I see this as being just as feasible a story today with the internet.   It is not unlikely that a man with inside information on how the government functions, being just an ordinary “monk”, but well versed in the “bible” sees what is going on and posts about everything that is wrong.   And it is not inconceivable that, once posted to the internet, it takes on a new life of its own, growing to a massive movement, people seeking to abandon the incorrect practices of the government and re-establish or “reform” a new government.   Though, probably, since they will be all hearkening back to the core document of government, the Constitution, they will have to organize a political party and seek election to office before enacting any major changes.

I think this could be a fun little novel, paralleling the Martin Luther story with an Edward Snowden-type figure, and probably drawing on some elements of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, a book I highly recommend.  He, too, writes about what the effects of such an over-reaching government program would be like if exposed to the people, and how the people would react.  This should be a fun little project, an interesting novel showing that history does repeat itself, at least in archetypes and broad, general strokes.  The story of humanity is almost always, when viewed in the long term, about man’s inhumanity to man, and about the common people rising up, gathering together when they feel that something is not correct, and moving to change it.  Perhaps I can work in a little parallelism to the Berlin Wall? With thousands of people simply gathering and demanding to be let through, overwhelming the guards by sheer numbers until it just falls.  I love the Berlin Wall story and how it mostly fell by accident and when enough people believed there was a chance to get through that they all gathered in overwhelming numbers.  And I love a little news clip I remember seeing, of a border guard standing with his weapon drawn at a border crossing with thousands and thousands of people arriving. He looks to his supervisor and asks, “What? Should I shoot them all?”  And, to me, that is how the Wall fell, it was just too many people coming together to affect a change they all wanted.  Too many people that the government had to relent.
The more I think about this novel idea, the more the ideas flesh themselves out and the more I am getting excited.  This should be fun.  I will, of course, spend the next month outlining and detailing characters and settings and plot points and working on the framework of the novel.  Let’s hope I can actually sit down during November and get to 50,000 words!

Posted by: dteeps | September 22, 2014

Mormon Monday: On Missionary “Work”

I do not like to do missionary work.   There.   I’ve said it.   I know you were all thinking it.   Or, most of you, anyway.   I do not like to do missionary work.  No matter how many times I hear a General Conference talk or Elder’s Quorum lesson, I find myself coming back to the conclusion that I do not like to “do” missionary “work.

Let me explain.

I don’t like the phrase missionary “work”, it sounds like too much effort and it makes people think of something hard or something special that they need to do. I do not believe that we are supposed to do missionary “work”, instead we are supposed to be missionaries. We are supposed to be missionary-minded.  We are supposed to share the Gospel naturally as part of our lives, as part of who we are.

When members are asked to “do” missionary “work”, they think they are supposed to go knocking on doors, or stopping people in the streets, or shouting it from the rooftops. And this scares them. This makes them uncomfortable.  This makes me uncomfortable.  I didn’t enjoy doing it when I was full-time missionary, and I feel like I’ve already done my time, put in my required hours of “doing” missionary work in this way, and now that I’ve returned from my mission, I am done with that.   I am retired from “doing” missionary work.

But, we are rightly taught “Every member a missionary” and we rightly believe and feel that we should be doing more in our personal lives to share the gospel with others.   The question now becomes, how do we shift our focus away from merely “doing” missionary work or missionary-like activities and more toward becoming a people who naturally and normally share the gospel with others?

Missionary work should not be something extra we do in addition to all of our daily responsibilities and activities.   Missionary work is something we do  because we love the gospel and the joy that it brings to us and our families and we honestly desire to share the joy with other families and individuals we care for.   Love really needs to be the beginning point.   I wrote a while ago about the role that Love plays in missionary work, specifically, that ‘perfect love casteth out fear’ especially in missionary work.   If we develop a love for the gospel and a love for those we are in contact with, then sharing the gospel becomes natural and instinctive on our part.

I firmly do not believe that we should ‘do’ missionary ‘work’, but rather we need to be missionaries.   We need to cultivate in ourselves the traits of missionary-minded members, and we need to find ways to naturally and normally and regularly share the gospel. I love the recent address from Elder Bednar in which he outlined the Church’s new focus on social media and the effort to #ShareGoodness. That is really how simple it can be to share the gospel. The Church creates wonderful digital content and all we need to do is share it. Sharing the Gospel is now literally sharing the Gospel.

There has been a great emphasis lately in the Church on “hastening the work”, in almost all the General Conference talks and Stake Conference talks and lessons, I keep hearing about ” hastening the work” and that we all need to do more than we have been doing. There is a real sense of urgency and the Church is certainly stepping up its game. We need to match that enthusiasm and energy and effort.

It is as simple as sharing a quick message on Facebook, a link on Twitter, or a YouTube video. The Church has done the hard work already, and we just need to be willing to not be ashamed of our belief in and love of the gospel. The gospel needs to be a huge part of our lives, it needs to be so fundamentally ingrained in who we are and what we do that it naturally comes out in our every conversation.

And there is one more thing that helps in keeping the proper perspective. There is a quote on the wall in our meetinghouse from President Uchtdorf, I can’t remember the exact quote but the general idea is that it is not or duty to convert everyone, all we are asked to do is to share the gospel. We cannot force others to accept, we cannot make others join the Church or get baptized. We remember that not even God saves everyone. Many, far too many, of his children use their agency and free will to make choices that take them away from his love. We can expect no better is in our efforts to spread joy and happiness. We are only asked to be open and honest about our love of Christ and his gospel and give as many as possible the opportunity to make choices that will lead them to the same eternal lines and pure happiness that we hope to enjoy.

Posted by: dteeps | September 19, 2014

On Solving Problems, and When It’s Okay Not To

I work tech support and have done so for about 7 years, and so all my life is about solving problems, fixing things that aren’t working, and helping people do things that they are not able to do themselves.   I enjoy it, I really do.   I like having a problem presented to me, and then working out how to resolve it.   That is what I have spent my whole day doing for these past several years, and so solving problems has become an integral part of my life and the way that I view the world.   I often approach situations in the same way that I approach my work — as an issue to be resolved, a problem to be troubleshot, an incident requiring a solution.

That is great, it has certainly helped me in a lot of ways.   I am able to take in a whole situation and begin applying troubleshooting techniques to break it down into more manageable projects and issues which are more easily solved.   It does make some aspects of life easier – to approach them as problems to be solved, and as situations to be taken one step at a time.  It is a logical way of looking at the world and I enjoy it.

But, I have had some problems of my own that are not so easily solved.   And there are some problems that do not have easy solutions, or are not meant to be solved.   I found myself thinking about this recently after a discussion with my wife.

There have been some major changes in our lives recently, as we moved across the country and are still looking for a job in our new home in Seattle and are trying to adjust to a new living situation and our son growing up and becoming more independent and defiant.   Though we have been married six years this weekend, I am still learning many things about my wife and we are still working on drawing closer to each other.   My wife is one of those people who needs to talk through her problems and issues.   She likes to talk and explain things as her way of working through them, and I do my best to sit and listen to her, being attentive to her needs.

The problem arises when I immediately launch into troubleshooting mode and want to solve all of her problems.   For me, that is what life is about, that is what I do.  People come to me complaining or bringing up problems that they have all day and they expect me to solve their problems and be quick about it.   That’s what I do as technical support.   But, my wife is not a technical issue.   Our family is not a technical issue.   I want to solve all problems quickly and then move on to the next one, because that is what I have trained for and studied and learned, but I am learning that my wife often just wants someone to listen to her.   She does not want or need me to answer all of her questions and resolve everything right away.

I do enjoy solving problems and it has provided me a great job and career and great experiences in life, but I am learning now that not all problems need to be immediately solved.   It is okay to sit and discuss and talk about issues without having to jump to solving them right now.

Patience truly is a virtue, and sometimes we need to patiently sit and wait and we will see that things we thought were huge problems and unsolvable, simply work themselves out and are no big deal. I got more upset than I honestly should have when I thought my wife was bringing me yet another problem that I had to fix.  She was explaining an issue that arose in our family and wanted my sympathy and a jobs listening ear. Instead I saw it as just another incident brought to my attention that I was expected to resolve. And so I began along questions about how we were going to handle the situation and I was harsher than I should have been. My wife just needed me to be her husband, and her companion listening to her and loving her. I started to see my wife as another customer whom I needed to support, but she is eternally more than that.

Problems will arise, things will need to be fixed abs dealt with. Life will go on. I am glad that I have my wife beside me to help me, to constantly assist me and push me to be more than I am or think I can be. I truly do not know why she has started with me for six years, but I am grateful to her and I love her more than I tell her. Life is meant to be lived, not solved. Marriage is meant to be enjoyed, not fixed. We work together and we love together and we have a hope for an eternity spent together in the world to come based on the promises of God and his priesthood.

Posted by: dteeps | September 17, 2014

On Education and Certification

I have been thinking a lot recently about learning and online education and researching subjects for my own benefit.  There are a lot of things that I would like to know, would like to be able to do and there are a lot of resources on the internet to provide the knowledge that I am looking for.  But, with all of this, there is one big question that I have been pondering.

 

How do I prove what I know?

 

I can research information online, even take courses online, free courses from MIT or other universities that offer such things online.  But, then how do I prove that I have learned that information?  More importantly, how do I show an employer that I have this knowledge?  Isn’t that really all a college degree is — a document from the university that says this individual has adequately demonstrated that they possess the knowledge and skills requisite to achieve this type of degree in this field.  And employers can look at that and assume that an individual has a certain level of knowledge and skill.  That document represents what the individual knows and can do.

But, with the advent of the internet and online content, there is a lot of information available and a lot of people who try to learn skills. The question now becomes how do we prove that we have actually learned this, that we have gained this knowledge?  Is there, or should there be, some sort of online equivalent of what a university degree is?   Some documentation that can be earned to prove that an individual has a certain amount of knowledge so that others can look and at a glance have an idea as to what this individual knows.

I have gone through some courses at Code Academy, teaching myself some basic HTML and web design.  It was fun and I think I’d like to take those courses again to refresh my understanding of HTML and CSS and to dig a little deeper.  At this site, there are badges that are earned whenever a course or project is completed.  I guess these could be used to demonstrate that I have indeed completed certain courses and gained this understanding of these specific principles.  But, for me, the questions still remains, how do I demonstrate this to others?  Would an employer look at this as evidence that I know how to build a webpage with HTML and CSS?  Should I include some of these badges on my resume?  And would they have the same weight as someone who has taken an official course at a university or college?  Why not, if the material covered and the information learned is the same?

I think that is the crux of the issue.   Is the material I learn online by researching and reading and studying the various websites the same as material covered in a course taught at a college or university?  And is it perceived that way by employers?  If so, should an online certification hold the same weight as a college degree?  What would be the ultimate difference?

Education is definitely changing and the internet is making more information more readily accessible.   I believe that we need to somehow come up with a way of codifying what is learned and we need a way to demonstrate what people know even if they do not have any ‘official’ degree or certification.   I think a system like Code Academy has would be great — a series of courses and practices and assignments that demonstrate what has been learned and then a badge is earned demonstrating that a course has been passed, that a project has been completed, that a certain level of knowledge has been gained.

If online educational resources were to implement some sort of exam or assessment at the end whereby a user could verify they have learned what was taught in the course, then they could award a badge or certificate of some kind demonstrating that, which would be acceptable as proof of what a person has learned.   That is hopefully where the future of online education is going.   Right now there seem to be many sites and resources that can provide the information and teaching that learners are looking for, we now need to have some universally recognized form of certifying what a person has learned.

And could this style of online learning eventually replace (at least in part) a formal University education?  There are many people who believe and have been taught that the only worthwhile career or life goal is to go to college and get a degree.   Now, I am not saying that people who want to go to college should not, but I think there are many who feel forced or pressured into going to college who would do much better in a different learning environment.   Some would do much better in a trade school or technical college, taking courses and earning certifications that will qualify them for specific careers.   And there are many who do much better in individualized education, studying on their own and not in a classroom setting.

If I were an employer and looking at a group of candidates, there is a certain something to be said for an individual who has obtained a college degree.   It does show that not only have they taken courses required for this particular degree, but that they have successfully navigated the university setting.   It shows that they have learned how to work and achieve and fulfill requirements.   All of this is necessary when considering a person for a position.   But, if I am looking for someone who knows a particular thing or has skill and experience in a particular field, I do not really care where they gained their experience, if it was in a classroom at a university, or by reading and studying and doing things on their own.   If the candidate can demonstrate knowledge and experience and skill in the required field, that is good enough for me.

But, this brings us back to the point of how to we demonstrate knowledge or skill or experience, when it is gained in a non-traditional setting?  A college degree is shortcut for this and demonstrates that I have sat through a certain number of classes and passed the accompanying assessments.   But there does not yet exist an equivalent online version of a university degree.   I would love to see this develop in the next several years.   I can imagine some sort of online organization that exists to validate and certify individuals.   I see people creating accounts with a central site and then uploading documents or performing tasks or taking certification tests and earning scores that can be translated into some sort of “virtual transcript”, indicating what knowledge and skills the user has.

Or maybe I am just not as well-versed in internet-ology as I think I am.   Does something like this already exist that I am unaware of?  What are your thoughts about education and certification in a digital era?

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