Category Archives: April Blogging Challenge

When Tech is No Longer Exciting

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I was born in 1990. My entire childhood and adolescence was defined by this idea that, every six months to a year, something new and absolutely mind-blowing would enter my universe.

A computer

A color monitor

A color printer

Email

A digital camera

A pager

CD’s

DVD’s

Instant messenger

Dial-up internet

USB drives

Cell phones

Laptops

Flat-screen computer monitors

Palm-pilots

Flip phones

DSL internet

Cell phones that takes pictures

Blogs

Youtube

iPods

Digital music

Facebook

Kindle ebooks

The smartphone.

Since this is already an astonishingly long list, I’ll stop there. But look it over. All the items are things that are now so commonplace that nearly everyone uses them (or an updated version of them).

However.

 

It’s been a really long time since anything has given me that awed, the-world-will-never-be-the-same feeling. In fact, the last time I remember feeling it was ten years ago, when my brother Matt bought his first smartphone.

Since then, we’ve had a smattering of new things that made small splashes. The iPad came out in 2010, and was pretty hyped up, but now they’re mostly used as child-entertainers and small-business-cash-registers. I first got Instagram in 2012, and it’s gone on to become almost as well-populated as Facebook. The Apple watch was sort-of cool, and some people bought it.

And we’ve gotten lots of big promises that never really delivered. Things like Google glass, and VR, and self-driving cars.

But I feel like the entire attitude surrounding tech has changed in the last 10 years. Instead of tech being new, exciting, and always changing into something we could never imagine, tech has become scary.

We’re afraid that smart phones, which have now lived comfortably in our lives for ten years, are destroying a generation.

We’ve got more smart devices, from crock-pots and light bulbs that we can turn on with our phones, to Amazon Alexa. But with more smart devices comes increasing privacy concerns, and fears about all the new ways we’re potentially vulnerable to hackers.

And then, of course, there’s the whole Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal. And I feel like everyone just sort of wishes they could quietly leave tech behind for a while.

But we can’t. Not really.

Technology has become our abusive husband that we can’t leave, because we’d have nowhere else to go.

My basic thought is that in the last 6-10 years, technology has stopped giving us new exciting things and has instead permeated our lives, becoming more scary than exciting. But even though this is the general attitude I observe, I’ve looked for articles on the subject and can’t find any. Any such articles, as well as your personal experience/ideas, would be welcome.

This has been ABC post 29, my very last day of the April Blogging Challenge. Tomorrow, Mom will close out this month.

 

 

 

April Giveaway Winner+8 Random Thoughts

The winner of my book giveaway is Celina Lynnette! Congrats, Celina!

Sorry, I am too tired to do the whole draw-a-name-out-of-a-hat-and-take-pictures-of-the-process thing.

That means that this post is super short and lame, and not really a proper April Blogging Challenge post. Maybe I’ll go all Emily-of-ten-years-ago and post some random thoughts.

8 Random Thoughts:

  1. Today I had a grand fight with the printer. The printer won. #secretarylife
  2. I’m reading “Franny and Zooey,” by J.D. Salinger. I wasn’t an enormous fan of “The Catcher in the Rye” (three stars), but am finding that I really enjoy his stories about the Glass family.
  3. Favorite line: “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.”
  4. I used to be appalled when I saw people compare Obama to a monkey/ape. I thought it was extremely racist. But now I see people compare Trump to a pig, even photo-shopping a pig nose onto his face. Can we just not compare our leaders to animals? Thank you.
  5. How many seasons does Oregon have? I’m quite sure we don’t have four. I think we might just have two: Summer and Wet. Thoughts?
  6. I like to read magazine articles about really innovative artsy interior design ideas, but all I can think is, “how would you even dust that?”
  7. I actually wonder the same thing when people have stuffed animal heads hanging on their walls.
  8. There is nothing like the wonderful feeling of discovering another person that loves “The Blue Castle.”

Seven Reasons Why Single People Become Cynical

I think cynicism may be the great vice of single people. It’s been such a struggle for me, especially in the past few years, that I’ve begun to think of it as part of the universal single experience. I may be wrong on this; I’ve certainly known singles who’ve seemed to avoid this path, and goodness knows I’m trying very hard to do the same.

In any case, here are my seven reasons why I think single people, particularly those over 25 or so, have a tendency to become cynical.

1. We become cynical because the world is a funny place. (Not in the ha-ha sense, of course.)

I had to read the odd-but-funny short story “Orientation,” by Daniel Orozco, in multiple short story writing classes, and the following excerpt always stuck with me:

Amanda Pierce, who tolerates Russell Nash, is in love with Albert Bosch, whose office is over there. Albert Bosch, who only dimly registers Amanda Pierce’s existence, has eyes only for Ellie Tapper, who sits over there. Ellie Tapper, who hates Albert Bosch, would walk through fire for Curtis Lance. But Curtis Lance hates Ellie Tapper. Isn’t the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense, of course.

I, like most single people, am very aware that the world is a funny place, but not in the ha-ha sense. The guys you like never like you back, and the guys who like you (or an idealized version of you) are guys you just can’t muster up any feelings for.

In fact, based on my own experiences, it seems strange that enough people have liked each other at the same time for so many marriages to have taken place in the world. The odds of that just seem pretty slim.

2. We become cynical because we are rarely forced to be vulnerable.

Learning vulnerability as a single person vs a married person is sort of like trying to learn French from an app vs taking classes. Doable? Sure. But it requires so much discipline and intentionality and choosing to keep on even when you feel stupid and could just stop if you wanted to.

Also, it’s worth noting that it’s hard to be vulnerable around people who don’t understand what you’re going through. At a ladies’ retreat last year, I decided that the time had come for me to learn vulnerability, and I told my prayer group that it was hard for me to admit that being single was difficult for me.

“Oh, don’t rush into marriage,” said a kind, well-intentioned older woman. “My daughter is 20, and I just tell her, ‘don’t rush into marriage.'”

Should I, I wondered, inform her that I was 27, not 20, and could hardly be accused of “rushing into marriage?”

I just kept quiet. So much for vulnerability.

3. We become cynical because we’d rather be single than married to your husband

There’s a certain stripe of married people that like to tell single people they’re being too picky. They should lower their standards. Give that guy a chance, even though he was boring and had a bad taste in music.

There’s another stripe of married people that like to tell single people we idealize marriage too much. Marriage is hard, they say. Some even whisper in our ears that, “don’t tell anyone this, but I should never have gotten married at all.”

So maybe we’re cynical because we feel like married people give us advice without even understanding what we want. We don’t want marriage for the sake of marriage. We’d rather be single than married to your husband. We just want to marry someone we really like. We don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.

4.We become cynical because we’re tired of our problem being more noticeable than your problem

My friend Dolly was born with short arms and only three fingers on each hand. Recently, I was talking to her about her experience having a very visible disability, and how this made other people treat her.

Dolly told me that in reality, while having short arms was somewhat inconvenient when she wanted to load a top-loading washer or put a pie in the oven, it’s nothing compared to the depression she’s always dealt with. But no one thinks to feel sorry for her because of her depression. Everyone always feels sorry for her because she has short arms.

The noticeable problems are not always actually the bad problems.

I think we single people feel a little resentful that our problem is more a visible problem than it is a terrible problem. Yes being single is hard. But while many married people have it even harder, no one notices and bombards them with unhelpful platitudes, visibly relieved that they’re not in their shoes.

5. We become the cynical single because we don’t want to become the sad single.

Once, in my very early 20s, I happened to be in a car with two older single women who were very sad about their marital status. They talked about singleness for the whole car ride, bemoaning the fact that the older single men they knew never seemed interested in asking girls out. And then one of them said the following:

“I learned that I need to have an open hand for God to give us gifts, but I can’t close my hand around that gift, because God might take it away again. Like once several years ago, the guy I liked was on the same volleyball team as me. That was a gift from God. But then the next time we played volleyball, he wasn’t on the same team as me. That was God taking the gift away again.”

I sat there in the back seat, completely baffled that someone could take their romances that seriously.

“Do you want to get married?” one of them asked me.

“Sure, if the right one comes along, but I don’t mind being single,” I said.

“See, it’s girls like you that always end up getting married,” she said resentfully.

I determined then and there that even if I didn’t get married, I was not going to become the sad, pathetic single.

Cynicism is, in a way, an overcompensation.

6. We become cynical because you got married at 22 and still think you know what it’s like to be single.

Single Mennonites and married Mennonites like to argue online about who has it harder. But the married people come across as having an extra inch of smugness because, since they were single before they got married, they think they understand both sides.

Don’t get me wrong. We singles have no idea what it’s like to be married, and are full of false assumptions. But unless you were over 25 when you got married, you don’t understand the older single experience either.

7. We become cynical because we’re tired of being treated our lives are incomplete because of something we can’t control.

At a recent ladies retreat, the ladies all stood up and introduced themselves by stating their name, who they were married to, and how many children and grandchildren they had.

They also said how many of their children were married, and how many were “still at home.”

A woman and her husband came to visit our home. The woman mentioned her three daughters, and then proudly said, “they’re all married,” as though that were their greatest accomplishment in life.

A single guy I follow on twitter once wrote, “So I taught an adult Sunday School class last Sunday. An older visiting brother was in the class. His 3rd question after class was ‘who are you married to?'”

Maybe this is a Mennonite problem more than a society problem. But when marriage becomes such a defining factor of who you are, those of us who never even had that option become a little cynical.

I realized, after I’d already composed the majority of this post, that if I consider cynicism to be a vice maybe I should have written a post on how to combat it instead of a post about why it happens. On the other hand, how can a problem be fixed if it isn’t even understood?

I hope that this post helps you understand the single experience a little bit better. Please leave your insightful thoughts in the comments, and your platitudes at home.

P.S. There is still time to enter my book giveaway

P.P.S. This was day 22 of the April Blogging Challenge. Amy posted yesterday here. Tomorrow, Mom will post here.

April Book Giveaway (ABC Day 18)

Today I’m cleaning off my bookshelf and doing a little book giveaway. These books fall squarely in the camp of “I enjoyed them, but I don’t necessarily want them cluttering up my bookshelf forever, but someone else might LOVE them.”

At least, someone might love the first one. Not sure about the second. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

The first book I’m giving away is A Visit from the Good Squad, by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a fun read that’s structured in a very interesting way. It begins with a story about a kleptomaniac named Sasha who is going on a date with a guy named Alex. During their date, she mentions this weird boss she used to have named Benny.

The next story jumps back in time, and is about Benny working as a music executive. The third story jumps back in time again, and is set during the time Benny was a teenager, but it’s told from the point of view of one of Benny’s friends/bandmates.

In this way, it’s more a collection of short stories than a novel, even though it says “a novel” right there on the front cover. But there are novel-like elements. You get to the end of each story eager to read the next one, and the questions that you have at the end of some stories are usually answered in other stories. And there are themes linking it together: mostly the theme of “time” and the theme of “music,” with the idea that music, in a way, transcends time.

(If you are wondering how I can state what the themes are so clearly and succinctly, it’s because I had to read this book for a class, and we analyzed it to death. If it weren’t for that experience, I may have decided to keep this book, haha.)

One caveat: While there are no graphic sex scenes or anything, it is a secular book written for adults, and adult themes crop up occasionally.

Okay. The second books is The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith.

The Vicar of Wakefield is an odd little classic that will look pretty on your bookshelf even if you, like me, don’t end up liking the story. Also, the ending is so completely bizarre that it’s hilarious. Furthermore, if you skip the boring political rants, it turns out to be semi-interesting, and the main character/narrator has a unique voice.

(If I’m gonna be honest, there were times when I wasn’t certain if the main character was supposed to be satirical or not. Sometimes it’s hard to know, with really old stuff, if it’s satire or serious. Like, I read once that Romeo and Juliette was a satire of how stupid teenagers are when they’re in love, and if that were true I would like the play much better, but how can you tell when you know next to nothing about the intricate culture of the time it was written?)

So anyway, if you want these two books, or if you want one of them and will put up with getting the other one too, please leave a comment either on here or on Facebook saying you want to be entered into the the drawing.

Optional: You can also tell me whether or not you think Romeo and Juliette is a satire.

The giveaway will close at 11:59 pm on Tuesday, April 24. (So you’ve pretty much got a week to enter.)

Final note: You can read the April Blogging Challenge Day 17 post here on Jenny’s blog, and tomorrow your can check out the Day 19 post on Mom’s blog.

Travis and Christina’s Wedding

When Travis was in town, things were different.

Before he arrived in Oregon to sing for Gospel Echoes, our local prison ministry group, my brother Ben and I were pretty much the only single people in our 20s at church. But after Travis came, we hung out with him, as well as his roommate Javen who also sang for Gospel Echoes. And since Javen was younger, he sort-of bridged the gap between us and the people in the 17-20 crowd who were out of high school.

Just like that, a bit of an older youth group appeared where there hadn’t been one before. Sometimes Travis’ girlfriend Christina flew out to Oregon and joined us for Thanksgiving Dinner or a good hike up Horse Rock. We had some good times.

Now, both Travis and Javen have returned to their respective homes. But Travis married Christina on Friday, and of course Ben and I wanted to witness this momentous occasion.

As soon as I stepped outside of the St Louis airport, I knew it was going to be a great trip. It was over 70° and sunny. It felt like I’d stepped into a portal that instantly transported me through the worst of sprwinter and straight into summer.

It took us a while to locate Javen, who had flown in to a different terminal. Then there was a long, hot wait at the rental car place. I’d never gotten a rental car before and was a bit nervous. As the only one in the group over 25, I had to drive it. Which was fine–I mean, I know how to drive and have never gotten in a wreck or anything. But I still get driver anxiety. And that car took a bit of getting used to.

Like the way the cruise control always seemed to quit working. It took me a while to figure out that it automatically slowed down while going uphill and sped up while going downhill. And even longer to figure out that if the car in front of me was going slower, my car automatically slowed down too.

Then there was the time I was backing out of a tight parking space, trying to see out of my rear windows, which were up pretty high.

“Um, you might want to stop,” said Javen from the back seat.

So I stopped, maneuvered out of the space, and only then saw that there was a fence behind me that I couldn’t see through my high back windows. Yeeks. Well, I didn’t hit anything, and after that I tried to make use of the backup camera, despite it’s grainy image and weird distortion that confused me.

The three of us went straight to the rehearsal dinner. Ben and I weren’t in the wedding party, but Javen was. Besides that, we were all staying at Travis’ parent’s house, and all of his family was at the rehearsal dinner.

Truth be told, half the fun of the trip was due to the fact that Travis’ parents let us be one of the family for the weekend. Both Travis and Christina had extended family in the area, so any out-of-town relatives had other relatives to stay with. David, an older single guy from our church whom Travis and Javen lived with when they were in Oregon, stayed there too, and together we all had some jolly times.

Mostly due to the fact that the Millers are excellent storytellers and have mountains of stories to tell. I laughed so hard it hurt. Unfortunately I didn’t ask permission to repeat the stories on my blog, so you’ll just have to find a Miller and ask them yourself. (Use the key words “band-aid,” “lightening bolt,” and “dimples” for the best ones.)

Friday morning there was a scurry of activity as the groom and three of his groomsmen woke up, pressed their khakis, and snapped on their suspenders. Then, “whoosh!” they were off to get their pictures taken. A bit of a lull followed, and then the remaining family members were rushing around, primping, and zooming off for their turn in front of the camera.

Ben, David, and I remained. The weather that morning was beautiful, so we just wandered around and relaxed, and then primped and got ready in plenty of time for the wedding at 3pm.

The ceremony went off without a hitch. Now, for some reason I don’t understand, there were giant arrows on the curtain behind the platform. In pictures, it looks like they’ve been photo-shopped in to point out “here’s the groomsman, here’s the bridesmaid, here’s the projector screen.” But no, let me assure you, they were already there.

Photo by Sheryl Graber

By the time the ceremony was over, the sky was beginning to darken and the rain was beginning to fall, but it was still quite warm. Midwest weather is fascinating. The sky grew darker and darker as the evening wore on, but the sun hadn’t set yet. It glowed orange through the clouds. And then the rain fell in torrents, and a fantastic display of purple lightening lit the sky. Beautiful.

At the reception, we found the other Oregon people who had made it to the wedding. Ben and I sat down with Sheryl and Mikala, and we had a jolly time eating, listening to the fantastic music performed by Travis’ brothers and friends, and listening to the funny open mic stories. Like I said, those Millers have stories.

Sheryl, Mikala, Javen, me, and Ben. Photo from Mikala’s phone, taken (I think) by Bethany Clugston.

The next morning, summer and crazy thunderstorms were gone, and the weather was a very Oregon-like 50° and drizzling. We ate a huge breakfast, hauled gifts to Travis and Christina’s new house, wrote a thank-you note to Travis’ family, and just hung out. Then, around noon, Ben and I drove back to the airport. (Javen stayed behind, as he had a different ride home.)

In general, it was a fantastic trip, mostly due to the hospitality of Travis’ family. Especially his mother, Darlene.

Congrats, Travis and Christina. I hope you have a long and happy life together.

Note: I am sorry I am a day late here. I’ve been sick and traveling and working and in general not putting as much time and energy into the April Blogging Challenge as I usually do. In order to catch up on other ABC posts, you can go to Mom’s blog, Amy’s blog, and Jenny’s blog.

7 Ways To Maintain Friendships in Adulthood (ABC Day 11)

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One of the many topics of conversation that came up during my trip to Montana with my Aunts was friendship. I found it surprising how many people get to adulthood and feel friendless.

So I decided to write a post about friendship. But first, a couple caveats.

A. I am very aware that being single and childless can be a huge advantage when it comes to maintaining friendships. Of course I also see disadvantages to my stage of life, but I’m not writing this post to start some sort of “do married people or single people have it harder” debate. I’m just trying to make some points which I believe can be universally applicable. If they’re not, I won’t be offended if you disregard them and move on.

B. Some of these are my own ideas, and some are wisdom from my aunts. And some are a combo. Just giving credit where credit is due.

You ready? Okay, let’s get started.

1.Think of friendships as a health issue, not a hobby. 

As someone who’s struggled with a lot of health issues, I keep careful track of what drains me and what gives me energy. So I make time to sleep. I have personal devotions every day. It may take time, but I think of it as negative time, because without it I wouldn’t have the energy to get anything done.

Friendship is a funny thing, because hanging out with friends or going to a social event can be very draining. However, there is nothing more draining than loneliness.

From everything I’ve read, particularly this article about young people and smartphones, and this article about addiction, loneliness seems to be an epidemic. I think it’s time we stop treating friendship as a hobby we indulge in when we have some extra time, and start treating friendship like it’s part of our health routine.

2. Focus on what is, not what isn’t.

This advice came from my aunts, and it really resonated with me.

I have friends, it’s true, but what I don’t have is a close-knit friend group, or a place I just belong. Instead, I get to be otter in a lot of groups. Joining in, but never being a tried-and-true member.

I don’t have a gang, and I could spend my energy searching and searching for it. Or, I could focus on the friendships that I do have, and work to maintain them. Call up the girl I was close to, but haven’t seen in a while. “Does any day this week work to go out for tea?” Send a video message to my cousin in Ohio. Go to the Sunday evening service. Talk to the girl who just joined the youth group.

3. Remember that not every friendship needs to fill every void.

You might find the deep conversations in one friendship, while another friend might go on adventures with you. A third friend might be the one who gets your offbeat sense of humor, while a fourth might share your taste in books.

4. Make deliberate trips to see the people who “get” you.

My aunt told a story about a friend of hers who is raising a severely handicapped daughter. One year they went to a retreat for the handicapped, and it was incredibly healing to be around other caretakers who understood what her life was like. My Aunt saw a huge change in her friend, and after that, even though it was a lot of work to take their daughter clear across the country for this retreat, they went every year.

For me, it’s mostly extended family members that I don’t see very often. But I did feel very “filled” the year I went to the Faith Builders college student retreat, and I’m thinking I should make more deliberate trips to events that incorporate Mennonites and academia.

Find the people that “get” you, and go see them every once in a while. Maybe every year or two.

5. Stop making assumptions about people before you know them.

We make so many assumptions about people. We assume that the uncool people aren’t interesting. We assume the cool people are shallow. And we also assume that they don’t want to be friends with someone like us. We assume that the talkative girl is flirtatious. We assume that the pastor’s wife won’t laugh at our jokes.

Just stop.

I’ve been noticing this recently with really pretty, extroverted girls. How many people that don’t even know them make weird, petty assumptions about them. Assuming that the’re flirty, or shallow, or rule-breakers, or snobby. It’s a strange phenomenon. Has anyone else noticed them?

Anyway. Be kind and learn to know them before assuming that you won’t “click” as friends.

6. As long as you are kind and don’t talk to much, people won’t mind if you hang out with them.

If people around you are planning something fun, there is no need to shyly wait for them to ask you to join them, and then feel bitter disappointment when they don’t.

Come on.

If you want to go along, just ask. They’re discussing it in a public place. If they wanted something exclusive, they could have texted each other. And if you’re kind and don’t talk too much, they won’t mind having you around.

7. I had a 7’th point, but it didn’t make much sense, so I deleted it.

In the spirit of being a listener and not talking too much, I’ll open it up to you. What “7’th point” would you add to the list?

 

 

Hang Out With Your Aunts (ABC Day 8)

At 3:00 am on a Thursday morning, we left on a trip; me, my mother, and my aunts. And my first-cousin-once-removed, for good measure.

“Can I come along?” I’d begged my mother, a week and a half prior. I’d enviously heard her plan this trip, to a ladies’ retreat in Montana where she was speaking, and wished I could go along. But I didn’t ask to go, because I thought I’d be working.

But then I realized the trip was over Spring Break.

“I won’t take up much room!” I said. “I won’t pack too much! I won’t talk to much!”

So they let me come.

It was a 12 hour drive to Montana, a long weekend with late chatty nights, and a 12 hour drive home. I have never had a 12 hour drive go by so fast. Someone was always stirring up an interesting new topic of discussion. There wasn’t a silent moment. We talked, and laughed, and talked some more.

And I decided that of all the things in life you can choose to make time for, you should choose to hang out with your aunts.

It’s not just that they’re fun, and that they’ll always be there for you, and that they know all the family gossip. It’s also that they say things about themselves, and suddenly I know, “Oh, that isn’t just a weird thing I do. That’s how my family is.”

I thought of this when they mentioned feeling “wiggly” when people get too emotional, or how easy it is to whip out counterarguments that make other people feel stupid and how hard it is to remember to choose to be kind instead. I thought of this when they discussed their tendencies to resolve conflict as though everyone is a Smucker who wants a logical list. I thought of this when we wanted to stop to eat, and everyone else thought $15 for a meal was way too expensive, too.

aunts

L to R: My Dad’s cousin Trish, my Mom, My Dad’s brother’s wife Laura, My Dad’s sister Rosie, my Dad’s sister Lois, me, and my cousin Lisa (Lois’ daughter) and her son. Lisa was at the retreat with us, but didn’t drive with us except for a short and very crowded airport run.

The retreat itself was lovely. From Thursday evening until Saturday noon we ate good food, chatted with friendly ladies from across Montana, Washington, and Idaho, and listened to my Mother’s wonderful talks. The camp we stayed at was in the woods by a frozen lake. It was cold and snowy outside, with wood stoves blazing inside.

But the trip will always stand out in my memory because of the amazing time I had hanging out with my aunts.