Tuesday, May 30, 2023

My Journey Through Becoming Free Indeed

I was going to call this a review, but it really isn't. It's less of a review and more of my thoughts on and experiences with legalism after reading Becoming Free Indeed by Jinger Duggar Vuolo. Though I will say, I highly recommend this book, especially if you have any past with legalism, however big or small.

Honestly, I don't have nearly the legalism experience or damage that I see in a lot of people I know. Definitely nowhere near Jinger's experience.

My parents were always very careful to not promote legalism. They came from a Catholic background, and so they were wary of things that were about external rules and works-based models. The only things vaguely along any of those lines I can remember hearing from my parents were the purity culture ideas of chaperones and saving your first kiss for your wedding day. And while I heard a decent amount of purity culture ideas from various sources growing up, I didn't even know IBLP/ATI existed until I was in my mid to upper teens.

Even so, my personality and personal experiences primed me to be susceptible to legalistic ideas when I encountered them as a high schooler.

I'm a very literal person. Sure, I like discussing philosophical ideas, but if you're around me long enough (actually, it doesn't take that long), you will notice that I almost always discuss those more abstract things by relating it to a story. I need analogies. I need something more tangible in order to truly understand. It is also very difficult for me to not have something physical and tangible to do. For instance, while I know in my mind that prayer is doing something, and it is doing something very important, I frequently feel as if I'm not doing anything about a situation if all I am doing—if all I can do—is pray. Even if I'm praying about it constantly.

My early experiences also primed me to find purity culture very attractive. When I was very small, my primary experience with boys was a very contentious relationship with my cousin. (Ironically, he's the cousin I get along best with now—and yes, I 100% credit Star Wars with the shift in our relationship because that was the first time we had something to talk about that didn't involve fighting.) But because of that, I labeled all boys as jerks and wanted nothing to do with them. So all the purity culture ideas were a great excuse for me to avoid all males.

The idea of stay at home daughters and being under your father's protection (though I honestly knew very little of what was behind those ideas and how it tends to play out) was intriguing to me because I'm kind of a homebody (though I do easily get stir crazy if I go nowhere for more than 2 or 3 days...try to figure that one out), I like being able to control my own schedule, I'm not a risk taker, I get along well with my parents, and the things I enjoy working at are mostly arts-oriented things, and, well, I've said many times that "starving artist" is a thing for a reason. However, once I was a few years out of high school with no marriage prospects, no sign of ever making a living writing or teaching music, and also no possibility of making enough to pay for my life working at the public library, I did start to reevaluate my plan because I've never thought it was right to expect my dad to pay the majority of my bills indefinitely simply because I'm female.

Finally, I've always known I'm a perfectionist, and I've had to admit finally that I'm also something of a control freak. I like to have my plan, I like to have a say in what happens and how things play out, and I have a really hard time accepting that most of the time I don't. And while I'll say all day long that no one is perfect, practice makes better, God's grace is sufficient for all our mistakes and imperfections—and I have no problem extending that grace to other people—I have a really hard time accepting that grace for myself. To the point I actually had a professor tell me I should just let go about a math homework problem I accidentally skipped and wanted to make up. It was very hard to just let it go, even though bonus points on the tests more than made up for the points lost by that homework problem.

But still, as a child and preteen, I really never thought about rules. I didn't think about all the external things that these legalistic systems promote.

That isn't to say that I didn't want to know God better and serve Him more. Becoming a Christian gave me a hunger for God that wasn’t borne out of rules or fear or other people’s expectations. There was definitely a time when I changed from looking at the maps in my Bible when I was in trouble because I knew my mom wouldn't yell at me for reading if it was the Bible to truly desiring to read the Word. I wanted to please God, but out of love, not out of external rules.

But then things changed, when I was about 15 years old. And I'm only now realizing and unpacking what those harmful ideas were and how they affected me. When a Bible verse triggers a meltdown in Sunday School because said verse brings up all kinds of fears and doubts you've tried to bury but can't leave behind, well, it's kind of hard to deny it all anymore.

When I was 15, we started attending a church that preached a lot of legalistic ideas and sowed a lot of fear. Two passages in particular I remember being used frequently at this church in a manner that seemed designed to scare you into following God: Matthew 7:21-23 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Jinger actually deals with the 1 Corinthians passage in her book, so I'll get to that in a minute. But the Matthew 7 verses were actually the ones that triggered my freak-out in Sunday School a few months ago. My current pastor preached those verses in a way that focused on grace. But for 2 1/2 years as a teenager, I heard them in a manner that caused me to doubt the sincerity of my faith. Coupled with other legalistic ideas at this church—such as strict ideas about Sabbath-keeping and the idea that Nativity scenes were probably breaking the second commandment by containing an image of Jesus, as if we’re worshiping our Precious Moments Nativity scene with the Lincoln Log stable at Christmastime (and yes, I did at the time think maybe we shouldn’t put it up even though previously I was all about the parts of Christmas that focus on Jesus)—I was constantly worried that I wasn't a good enough Christian. I needed to do more things to serve God so that God wouldn't tell me He never knew me.

It's only recently that I put together the (slight, compared to some) anxiety I tend to have over taking communion with the emphasis of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. I was (and sometimes still am) afraid that some unconfessed or unrealized sin will mean I am taking communion unworthily. This is something Jinger struggled with for years. In her case, she would abstain from communion if she thought there was any chance she could be taking it unworthily. I've never abstained from communion, but not for any better reason than she did abstain. The majority of the churches I was raised in emphasized that anyone who was a Christian could take the Lord's Supper. And so I have always been concerned that if I skipped, people would think I'm not a Christian and since I didn't want that, I would take it anyway, hoping that I wasn't taking it unworthily and condemning myself. This pattern has been in place as recently as this year. What Jinger pointed out is that the whole passage is condemning those who use the Lord's Supper to feast and get drunk. That's not what the Lord's Supper is for. It is to commemorate Christ's death on the cross, to remember that He died to pay for our sins so that we can be free of our sin and someday live with Him forever in Heaven. We literally can't come to Him sinless and without fault. If remembering and confessing and repenting of every little sin we've committed was necessary to take communion worthily, none of us could. No one can actually identify and remember every sin they've committed, and I really don't think God wants us obsessing over all our mistakes. That just leads to constant guilt and condemnation rather than freedom and grace, which is what Jinger covers in her book far better than I am doing now. The point of the Lord's Supper is not to get us to worry and wallow in fear and condemnation, but to remember and celebrate that Jesus' blood has washed away our sins. And I hope that through God's grace, next time my church does communion, I can partake without any worry and guilt about my worthiness.

Something else that Jinger covered in her book that really hit home was on Bible reading. Reading your Bible is a very good thing. It is important to dig into the Word of God, to spend time with Him, learning about Him, growing closer to Him. But it is not supposed to be a burden or an obligation. When I first became a Christian around the age of 9, I remember truly wanting to spend lots of time reading the Bible. I still have wonderful times when I dig into the Word and really enjoy seeing what God has to say. And during my horrible fall semester when I was so sick and overworked, I spent a lot of time drawing comfort from Psalm 46. But I, like Jinger, have also had many times when I felt like a bad Christian if I didn't read my Bible because I was sick or having a migraine or whatever life thing that happened to make it difficult. For Jinger, sometimes it's things like kids getting up earlier than expected, something which doesn't apply to me. But the thing is the same. What she said about it really stood out to me: 
"I still have feelings of guilt when I don't read the Bible as much as I think I should....In those times, when guilt wants to rise in my soul and condemn me, I remind myself that the Bible doesn't tell me how much I'm supposed to read it. It does tell me to love it, understand it, and believe it. By not condemning myself when I miss a morning, I'm no longer being stricter than Jesus." (pg. 186-187)
I've spent a lot of time over the last decade feeling like I'm not a good enough Christian because I haven't spent "enough" time reading the Bible on a given day. But Jinger's right, God doesn't tell us how often to read the Bible, how much at a time, what time of day to read it or any of that. It says to know the Word, to hide it in our hearts, to love God, and all that. But honestly, I don't need to feel guilty if the first thing I do when I wake up isn't open my Bible. Because it's really okay that I'd rather not be half asleep when I read it. And it's okay if I miss a day because I had a migraine for hours. Or if I can't keep up with a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan because that's just a lot and there's a lot on my plate now. But it is hard to not feel guilty about it.

That church wasn't the only place I found legalistic ideas that were harmful to me. Around that same timeframe I was a part of a Bible study that was based on material by Sarah Mally. I want to be clear that I do not hold the Bible study leader responsible for any of the legalism I experienced from Mally's materials. That leader is a very dear friend of mine who has been an incredible influence in my life and I still respect and look up to her tremendously (literally and figuratively, lol). I also still do not feel as if the lessons she actually taught pushed legalism. But the fact remains that it was through that that I received Mally's materials and I dutifully read all of it. There was one handout in particular that I really remember, one on polluting influences. In it, Mally discusses how her family got rid of their TV. She also discusses the bad influences of rock music and romance novels, things which I now recognize as being quite reminiscent of ATI teachings. When I read about how her family got rid of their TV, my first thought was that it seemed a bit extreme. But then worry and guilt crept in. Did I only think it was extreme because I was too attached to TV? Maybe it was a sign I wasn't actually willing to cut out polluting influences. What other things might I have in my life that I should get rid of?

The handout actually encouraged a TV fast. And I legitimately considered it. Ultimately, I didn't do it, because I had a feeling if I suggested it to my parents it probably wouldn't fly. I still don't think it would have. My mom cautioned me against legalism as a teen. But it did plant seeds of doubt about if I was a good enough Christian. If my family was doing enough to be Christlike. If I was holding onto things that were pulling me away from God by watching television. And honestly, the stuff I watched when I was in high school wasn't anything anyone should have worried about. Honestly, if 17-year-old me knew that 25-year-old me would watch The Office and enjoy it, well, to say I'd have been horrified would be putting it mildly. But that fear does still sometimes crop up. Should I have watched The Office as an adult? 

This, and Understanding the Times by David Noebel, caused me to start to even question the acceptability of speculative fiction. Yes, I questioned whether I should be reading Narnia and watching Star Wars. This was honestly, looking back, probably what pushed me into sorting out where I stand on writing fantasy magic. I do think it was a good thing that I sorted that out. I needed to know what I believe on it, and it was important that I do that research and prayer and soul searching. While I don't feel like I did a fabulous job articulating where I landed back when I was writing Time Captives, I haven't really changed where I ultimately landed. But it was a rough time for me, filled with guilt and worry.

It's pretty commonly known what the oppositions are to magic. I've already written about that. But I didn't really write about the fact that Understanding the Times made me think for years that it was probably sinful for me to watch and enjoy Star Wars. That book had frequent "pop culture connections" that used pop culture to illustrate different worldviews. Star Wars and The Lion King, I remember, were always cast in a negative light, used to showcase the dangers of cosmic humanism. My small comfort was that at least Narnia and LOTR were always in the Christianity section, so maybe at least those were okay. Now, I will admit that my initial Star Wars obsession was excessive and I badly needed to take a break. But I finally came around to the point of view that it's not inherently sinful for me to like Star Wars. Was Understanding the Times correct that there are some things in it that are incompatible with Christianity? Absolutely. But what I didn't get then, and by God's grace do now, is that it's actually helpful in developing your worldview to be able to sort out the good from the bad, to see the things that are true and helpful, and discern the things that are not. None of us will ever be able to read or watch things that we 100% agree with, and I did see that back when I read the "polluting influences" handout. But what I worried back then was that that meant I shouldn't be enjoying any of these stories that weren't 100% biblically accurate. Maybe I shouldn't watch anything secular. Maybe I shouldn't read anything with magic. And let me tell you, the idea that I possibly shouldn't read The Chronicles of Narnia, even knowing how many scriptural truths it illustrated for me, was one of the hardest things I ever had to work through. I definitely should have discussed it with my mom more than I did because she would have steered me away from this legalism, this worry that all these stories I grew up on were actually polluting and dangerous. 

I am very grateful that speculative fiction is one issue I have fully (or at least I think fully) worked through and put behind me. But writing about it, remembering that time, is making me tear up because it was hard. It was a heavy burden. But as Jinger pointed out in her book, God didn't put us under a burden. That burden is manmade. Stricter than Jesus. Because what Jesus actually said is that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Come to Him, all who are weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest.

I’m a checklist person. And while this is incredibly helpful in making sure I turn in my school assignments on time, it’s very unhelpful in understanding Christianity. It makes me feel the same as when I put too many things on my to-do list and can’t get them all done in the day: unworthy, guilty, ashamed, a failure. That’s not what God wants for us. It says in Galatians that the law is a tutor to point us to Christ; in other words, it’s there to show us we can’t be perfect, but that we don’t need to be because Christ did it for us. 

This is why the “you are enough” thing is such a pet peeve of mine. I do personally struggle with thinking I should be enough, that I need to do more to be a good enough Christian. And like Jinger says, we should want to be more like Christ. But we’re never going to be able to follow enough rules to earn God’s favor and that’s not how He does it anyway. God in His perfect love sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Not because we loved Him, but because He loved us. We don’t have to clean up our lives before we go to Him. We don’t have to fear that we’ll mess up and cause Him to turn away from us because His perfect love casts out fear, He died for us while we were yet sinners, and any that come to Him, He will not cast out. It’s not ever anything we do, it’s what God does. His love is perfected with us that when the day of judgment comes, we can have confidence and not fear. 

There are so many verses about God’s love. Yes, God hates sin and He is very clear about what sin is and what the punishment is. But the Bible isn’t a rule book, something Jinger explains in depth. The Bible is God’s story, a book that tells of His character and His love for His children that is so great we really can’t even begin to understand it. God gives good gifts to His children because He is good and He loves us. So there is no need for us to be stricter than God and place extra burdens upon ourselves and others. Jesus died for us so that we could be free of the burden and punishment of our sins, and so that we could be with Him forever. And in Him, we are free indeed. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

Chuck vs. the Subplot

Hi, I'm Morgan. Here are a few things you need to know, or maybe you just forgot.


It's been awhile. Pretty good semester on the whole, but I'm not here to talk about that. Rather, I'm here to talk about the show I watched throughout the semester. That show being Chuck

This year, my family finally watched Chuck. I say finally because I've wanted to watch it for years (I only knew that it stars Zachary Levi and J. Grace Pennington likes it, but that was enough for me), but any time we were ready for a new show, it had gone off streaming. Until now.

After the first episode, I was super confused, partly because I didn't actually know the premise (computer nerd accidentally downloads government secrets into his brain, becomes a CIA asset and eventually a spy himself—in a nutshell, it gets way more complicated than that), but it wasn't long before I was completely hooked. About halfway through the series (I just watched the finale and I DON'T WANT IT TO BE OVER), it hit me that one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much was because it is actually well-written. Shouldn't be a novelty, right?

Now, I'm not going to pretend Chuck is a perfect show. It's not, no show is. There were definitely some story arcs that felt less developed than others and I didn't love every narrative decision. But overall, on the whole, it's an extremely well-written show and I think there's a lot that can be learned from it as a writer. And the first thing that struck me about the writing was the handling of subplots.

Subplots can be tricky. I've seen a lot of complaining about subplots in various newer shows, and I can't exactly argue with that. A lot of shows handle subplots poorly, and I have to admit, it has caused me to quit some shows. *cough* The Flash *cough* I'm just theorizing here, but I think it's at least partially due to a misunderstanding of the role of subplots and supporting characters.

Pulling a definition off the internet, subplots are "A literary technique, subplot is a secondary plot, or a strand of the main plot that runs parallel to it and supports it. It is usually found in plays, novels, short stories, television shows, and movies. It is also known as a “minor story,” or as “B” or “C” story. Its purpose is to add complexity and depth to the story, and thereby increases tension – a state of high interest and suspense about events in a story....The function of subplot is to describe hidden impulses behind actions of the major characters. While this secondary strand has two effects on a storyline, mostly it ties directly to the main plot and characters, putting an immediate effect on situations and characters. However, an alternative way is that subplots run parallel to the main story. This serves as a contrast to explain decisions of the leading characters." —LiteraryDevices.net

What I've seen in a startling number of shows—but not in Chuck—is that the subplots and secondary characters take over the main narrative to the point that the main narrative practically doesn't exist anymore and the protagonist is constantly sidelined, sometimes barely scoring any screen time. Two examples: The Flash season 6/7 on (I don't remember exactly; it's been awhile and 6 and 7 kind of bleed into each other due to the filming of 6 being interrupted by COVID lockdowns) and The Mandalorian season 3. In The Flash, which I loved for the first several seasons, it got to a point where episodes were constantly focused on the stories of minor characters, such as the episode where Cecile was psychically trapped in a mental hospital, the episodes that were all about Killer Frost, and the episode about Allegra and her cousin that occurred while Barry and Iris were on vacation and barely cameoed. It got to the point where by the end of season 7, I was constantly hoping in vain for an episode to actually be about the titular character and then quit the show in frustration. Occasionally I check IG comments on the official account to see that it hasn't gotten better; if anything, it's gotten worse. In The Mandalorian season 3, we really got very little about Din and Grogu at all. For most of it, they were just kind of there and it was pretending to be Bo Katan's story. And yet, then we had the episode about Dr. Pershing, which I did find to be interesting, but that took almost the entirety of the screen time of the episode and then had very little effect on the finale compared to the time they devoted to it. Same sort of thing in The Book of Boba Fett. There was an entire episode all about Din Djarin, just so that he could be in the finale and Grogu could be back with him in Mando season 3. In a show that was purportedly about Boba Fett becoming a crime lord as he takes over what used to be Jabba's (and Bib Fortuna's in the interim).²

There are two problems here to unpack: Narrative purpose and screen time allocation. Both are things that, generally speaking, Chuck does very well.

Screen time allocation is a little quicker and easier to discuss, so I'll address it first. In an episodic, serialized format, it is a bad (very risky at best) idea to devote an entire or nearly entire episode to the development of a subplot. I admit, I'm a little biased here because I'm the sort of person who tends to zone out during chapters in books that aren't about my favorite characters. However, it doesn't take a detective (or at least, it only takes a FB detective) to see that there is a significant portion of people who are also frustrated by this trend of taking leave of the main narrative and main characters for an extended period of time to develop a subplot and minor characters. Chuck doesn't do this. Just like it does a good job of balancing action and emotional scenes, it does a really good job of allocating adequate time to subplots without overwhelming the main narrative. Typically it does this by interspersing quick scenes that flash (get it? ๐Ÿคช yes, I know I'm a dork) back and forth with the main story, which often has longer scenes and more of them strung together. In a novel, you can afford to make your subplot chunks a little larger, though I would warn writers against spending too big a chunk of time on a secondary plot. As a Narnia fan, I love the book Prince Caspian, but other disagreements with the film aside, I do think it was a wise decision to intersperse Caspian's storyline with the Pevensies' rather than taking a break from their story to have Trumpkin tell Caspian's story in full. Same deal with the structure of the LOTR movies. Particularly in a visual medium, this works better. And when you are working with a serial format, it's especially important not to spend large chunks of time with a subplot because then your installment for the week has nothing to do with the main characters and a lot of viewers are liable to quit. 

That leads to my other, more important, point. The narrative purpose of a subplot is to flesh out and support the main narrative. The subplot is the B story. It should never be given more time than the A story, and it should never take away the focus from the main narrative. As stated in our definition, it should add complexity and depth to the main story, describe the motivations of the main characters, and tie directly into the main plot. While screen time allocation could be relatively easily fixed by deleting some scenes and chopping up the remaining sequences to intersperse with the main narrative, this poor understanding of the purpose of a subplot is a major structural, storytelling problem that takes a lot more work and understanding of story to fix.

When we take a look at the later seasons of The Flash and season 3 of The Mandalorian, it's actually difficult to discern what the main narrative actually is. Does it have one? Does it involve the protagonist? What does the subplot have to do with the main plot? 

The Flash episode about Allegra and her cousin while Barry and Iris are on vacation doesn't really seem to have any role in supporting any story Barry is involved in. In fact, it is the third episode of a set literally considered an "interlude." Maybe Allegra's story is interesting. Maybe it ought to be told. But reality is, the show is The Flash. The first several seasons were Barry's story. Barry was established as the protagonist and so any subplots ought to function to support Barry's story. Whereas at this point in the show, Barry really doesn't have much of a story besides the ongoing drama of when he and Iris will have a baby and whether or not it will be the same Nora they know from the future. And if the subplot you're writing is the more interesting one where there's actually a story to tell, you need to reevaluate the story you're telling. Perhaps you're telling the wrong one. If you're several seasons into a show and resorting to turning subplots into main narratives and secondary characters into protagonists while sidelining the original protagonist, it just might be a sign the show has gone on for far too long and you should have wrapped it up already. And if this side character's story is one that needs to be told, the better way to tell it is by creating a spinoff, not by hijacking the original show.

The Mandalorian season 3 suffers the same issue. The first two seasons were clearly about Din and Grogu. They had clear series goals. And while there sometimes seemed to be too many side quests and filler episodes, there weren't large chunks of time devoted to other narratives. I'm not really sure what the point of season 3 was. You had Din's goal of rejoining the Children of the Watch, resolved at the beginning of episode 3 before diverting to Dr. Pershing for the majority of the episode. You had Bo's quest to take back Mandalore which was disjointed and interrupted by side quests that really didn't feed into the goal in any obvious, significant way (like Jack Black and Lizzo's planet). You had the Dr. Pershing episode, which I did feel like was going somewhere...only it didn't. I guess the point was to show that the greater galaxy wasn't going to find out about Gideon's cloning experiments? When there's no clear main narrative and the protagonist gets sidelined, even the subplots end up feeling purposeless. What are they supporting and fleshing out? Not really anything. It leaves everything feeling disjointed and pointless. Honestly, my favorite parts of season 3 were seeing the purrgils, Zeb's 30 seconds of screen time, and Gilad Pellaeon's hologram appearance...all nods towards the upcoming Ahsoka.

Then we come to Chuck. Chuck's subplots really fit within our definition of a subplot. They support and flesh out the main narrative, develop Chuck's actions and motivations, parallel the main narrative in meaningful ways, and feed into the climax of the main storyline. I cannot recall a single episode where I felt that Chuck Bartowski was sidelined (being told to stay in the van is a different matter entirely, lol) or where the subplot seemed to overshadow the main plot or be irrelevant to the narrative. Again, not saying it's perfect—I think the latter half of season 4 could have been developed a little better/more cohesively had those episodes not been ordered after the first 13 had been developed and begun airing—but it's much better done than a lot of shows I've seen in the last few years.

I do think there is a bit of a shift in the role of the subplots as Chuck gets more settled into the spy life and more of his friends and family find out about it. Some characters, such as Morgan Grimes, shift from being primarily B story characters to being primarily A story characters and some secondary characters, such as Ellie and Awesome, are more relevant to the A story than the B story and vice versa simply depending on the episode. 

In early seasons, the subplots do a lot more to contrast Chuck's old normal life with his new spy life. Dinner plans with his sister Ellie that get derailed. Jeff and Lester being, well, Jeff and Lester and Chuck having to manage them. Emmett coming to take over the Buy More and having a problem with Chuck being constantly gone though all the employees say that Chuck is the one who keeps things going, provides their moral compass, and holds the team together. Ellie and Morgan bonding over missing Chuck. These sorts of things don't always necessarily relate to the plot per se, but they always do something to flesh out Chuck as the main character, to develop who he is, what his motivations are, what he's giving up to be a spy, who he is trying to protect.

But often times, they do also relate to the plot itself. A few examples.

In "Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror" there's a subplot that involves Jeff and Lester being put in charge of decorating the Buy More for Halloween. They create the "Aisle of Terror" based on a psychological experiment Jeff was once involved in that shows images meant to be terrifying and disturbing to the psychotic (public showers, babies in snail costumes, old people, etc.). It might seem random, but in the end, Chuck and the bad guy of the week get infected with a toxin that causes terror, and when they go into the "Aisle of Terror" Chuck is able to use the images to incapacitate him.

Throughout several episodes in season 2, there is a recurring subplot where Ellie delegates some of the wedding planning to her fiancรฉ Awesome and his search involves letting Jeff and Lester audition as their band Jeffster. They're pretty terrible. But then in the season finale, Ellie's wedding is crashed by evil Fulcrum agents and they need to delay the ceremony. Out comes Jeffster. And Jeffster recurs throughout the series to the point where in the series finale, they play at the end of a symphony in order to buy Chuck time to defuse a bomb that will explode when the music stops. 

Finally, throughout a good portion of season 4, there is a recurring subplot wherein Ellie inherits her and Chuck's dad's laptop and is trying to access the files and discover why he left it to her—actually to both her and Chuck. It's something that pops up in occasional scenes involving Ellie and Awesome (and quite a few Buy More employees ๐Ÿ˜‚), and eventually leads into a join with the main storyline and the discovery of Agent X...which...okay, I won't spoil everything but that's an important plot element in season 4.

There are many more examples I could give, but this post is already more than long enough and if you're still with me, congratulations on your long attention span and devotion to my ramblings. The point is, these subplots in Chuck do exactly what a subplot should: flesh out the main character and feed into the main plot. Rather than taking away from the main storyline or muddying the waters and making it unclear what the main storyline is, they enhance it, deepen it, and support. it.

So when you add a subplot to your writing, make sure you know what purpose it serves. Make sure it supports the A story, fleshes out or supports the main character in some way, isn't irrelevant, and is given an appropriate amount of space in the narrative. The moment it distracts from the A story is the moment you need to consider rethinking it. But a well told subplot can truly make a story great.

And on that note...

Disclaimer: Storytelling is an art form, and art by nature contains subjectivity. Nothing in this post is intended to disparage anyone who enjoyed my negative examples or those who created them, nor is it intended to shame anyone who did not enjoy my positive examples. It is only intended to be an academic analysis of why certain stories worked for me and many others while other stories did not. If you disagree with my conclusions, you are 100% entitled to that opinion, but do note that my opinion on this matter is settled and as I am starting summer classes soon, I have better things to do with my time than argue on the internet about storytelling.

¹ While I adore this show and highly recommend it for adults, it is NOT a children's show. Therefore, I do not recommend it for children and strongly encourage parental discretion for teens based on your family's content standards. 

² I still consider myself a Star Wars superfan and CW's The Flash remains the only DC property I've actually really loved, but reality is, both made some mistakes in writing. Also, I am not saying these things to trash either property, but simply to illustrate my point for educational purposes.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The When and the Why

The other day, my mom brought up a 2019 post of mine about following God's calling that dealt with why I had decided (at the time) not to pursue an elementary education degree. At that point in time, I had thought the answer to that question was "no" when in reality the answer was "not yet."

I'd honestly forgotten about that post. Skimming through it now, there are a few things that make me cringe, and I see some of the reasons why I thought I would be a bad match for classroom teacher are things I still worry about today—managing a whole class, meeting every child's needs, differentiating instruction in a classroom setting. But what I mostly see is something I have thought about often even though I totally forgot about the post: I was considering teaching for all the wrong reasons. And even though it turns out the "what" wasn't ultimately wrong and outside of God's plan for my life, the reasons I was considering it and the things I would have been abandoning for it made it wrong at the time.

It's easiest and most straightforward to talk about why the "when" was wrong. Because I'm glad I didn't do it then for timing and logistical issues. For instance:

  • I didn't yet have my own car as I was still sharing my family's old minivan with my sister
  • I didn't have enough savings to pay for tuition until scholarships kicked in, let alone to weather quitting my primary job during my last year and a half of school
  • I not only would have had to take more classes due to it being before KSU pared down the education program to 120 hours, I would have been in school during COVID shutdowns
  • Building on that, I would have started my field experience during the 2020/2021 school year and yikes
  • I wouldn't necessarily have had the same opportunities in my classes to share things about God and the Bible, and I may not have had the same professors and definitely not the same classmates
  • I wouldn't have had the same kids in my field experience and I just can't imagine not working with those same children
  • I also would not have gone to Realm Makers, gotten to meet Jaye L. Knight and Tricia Mingerink in person, or published The Void—but those things honestly fit more in the "why"

The wrong "why" is a lot more personal, and a lot more important. Because I'm realizing that in life there are a lot of things that may not be wrong in and of themselves, but our motivation and attitude can make them wrong. And that's primarily what was wrong with me considering teaching back in early 2019.

One of the reasons was that I felt like my writing was going nowhere so I was going to give it up entirely. I'd been dealing with massive writer's block, I wasn't selling many books, and I was just going to walk away from all of it. Forever. That was something God didn't want me to do. I went to Realm Makers that summer, which revitalized my passion for writing, gave me the tools I needed to get The Void into publication shape, and—this I consider to be most important—was the avenue by which I was finally able to meet Jaye and Tricia. I'd known Jaye online for years already, since back when she was publishing as Molly Evangeline, but I hadn't met her in person and I barely knew Tricia. After that Realm Makers our friendship deepened and now, despite our geographical distance, I consider them some of my very best friends. And I really couldn't imagine life without their friendship. And while college is causing writing to be slow and painfully sporadic and my schedule makes getting together with my friends much more difficult, I know it's for a time, and it's not forever. And writing and these friendships are something I don't ever want to do without.

The other reason I was considering teaching was escape. I had some things going on in my personal life at the time that I just really wanted to escape. And I've had to realize that running away from difficult things is not the way to handle it. You have to face it, work through it, not just ditch everything and run. Life is hard. That's just a reality. We're promised trials in life. God will get us through them. But it's not a good idea to do something else—even if that thing might be good in and of itself—just to get away from our troubles.

But pursuing something for the right reasons is a different thing entirely. Pursuing it because that's what God is calling us to now is a good thing. Pursuing teaching because God has gifted me in teaching and this is how He seems to be leading me to use that gift in this season is right. Pursuing it because I have a heart for children is a good thing. Pursuing it because God has opened those doors now is a good thing. And yes, there were financial reasons involved in the decision as well because that's the reality of the world we live in, but I've approached even those financial aspects of the decision from a different perspective and motivation than I did four years ago.

It all goes back to the heart. Even when we do things for the wrong reason, God can still use it for good because He's sovereign and He works all things for good for them who love Him and are called according to His purpose. But it's so much better when we seek Him not only for the what and the when, but to get our hearts right in regards to the why. So many things go back to our attitudes and motivations. No matter what we're doing, let it all go back to this:

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 
—1 Corinthians 10:41

Note: Doing the wrong thing for what we might consider the "right" reasons is also a problem, but that's a topic for another day.

Monday, January 2, 2023

2022 in Review

2022 has been quite a year. It's been rather a mixed bag—lots of good things happened, but also it was rather rough for reasons I'll get to in a bit. But really, there were a lot of great things, even if it's been long and hard.

I started off the year with new piano students and 6 classes. Yes, I decided to do a crazy and take 18 credit hours last spring. 4 of the classes were online, so schedule-wise it wasn't actually horrible, but it certainly was a lot of work. As part of one of my classes, I volunteered with MUST Ministries for about 6 weeks. It was a really great experience and I was glad to see firsthand the work they do helping those in need and connecting people with jobs that suit their needs and skillset. 

I also did fun experiments like shine a flashlight on a Styrofoam ball to model the phases of the moon. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Elementary education, amiright? (That lab kit of a flashlight, Styrofoam balls, and ziplocs of sand and potting soil was so overpriced for what it was, but I digress.) I also took American history last spring, which I was unsure about to start, but ended up really enjoying. I love American history and I picked the class that covered my favorite eras, but I was concerned about the perspective. As it turned out, my professor was fairly balanced and I got along really well with him. AND I got to write a paper on the Salem Witch Trials using transcriptions of the original court records from the Trials and it was SO COOL. I might have written most of it with an ice pack tied to my head so I could muscle through a headache and get it done on time, but I did it. 

Phases of the moon with my 
overpriced Styrofoam ball

A fun display a coworker and I made at the library

We made this one in the fall, but anywho,
I'm rather proud of it

Throughout this semester, we started watching Psych, which was a super fun, low commitment show for a busy semester. Shawn and Gus may be immature, but they're hilarious, and I totally shipped Shules from early on in the show. "Last Night Gus," though. That's the best.

The cast of Psych

I had a lot of homework, but I did manage to take spring break to make some new dresses...after I got fabric on a whim going into Hobby Lobby for colored popsicle sticks. Eh, it was a week off. And I needed some dresses. And then I spent some of the time leading into finals reading The Selection series instead of studying. But I still got straight A's, so it didn't hurt me any.

Then May was great. My sister Addy and I drove up to meet our good friends Tricia Mingerink (also known as Tara Grayce) and Jaye L. Knight at an adorable cabin we rented by a lake in Kentucky. We visited the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, kayaked on the lake, watched Clone Wars, practiced a few sword fighting stances, brainstormed solutions to problems in our stories together, wrote and edited, talked and talked and talked, and had just as hard a time as ever saying goodbye. Our group of evil authors helped tremendously in helping me figure out the plot of Acktorek 2, though I haven't had the time to put that plan into action yet. And really, it was just so great to get to hang out with them. So much fun!

Adorable little loft perfect for writing!

The lake down the hill from the cabin

At the Ark!

It's so huge!

Wishing we didn't have to say goodbye

Once we got back, it was time to jump into both summer school and music recital. I always love seeing how much my students have progressed, and I was super proud of them for all the things they learned. 

I took 3 classes over the summer, which ended up being pretty chill after my 18 credit hour semester. One of my classes was basically a music appreciation class, online, and I had to watch 3 concerts and write papers on them. Only requirement was that they had to be at least 50 minutes long. So I watched a super cool Stephen Spielberg and John Williams concert, the Candlelight Processional from Disney World, and Doctor Who at the BBC Proms 2008. It was pretty great. Also, the summer had me watching Obi-Wan Kenobi, which I absolutely loved, and walking in my hometown's Independence Day parade.

At the end of summer my family went to Disney World! It was hot and I am not a fan of Lightning Lane, but we still had a good time. We got to go backstage and pet a rhino named Dugan (sadly they don't allow pictures backstage), rode our favorite rides, met cool characters, got swindled by Hondo Ohnaka on Millennium Falcon Smuggler's Run (also, I might have been reading all the aurebesh signs in Galaxy's Edge—I taught myself aurebesh in like an hour when I was bored once), went to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Review at Fort Wilderness, and waited out a thunderstorm in Mickey's Philhar Magic. It may not have been our favorite Disney trip, but there was still a lot to enjoy.

Hoop-Dee-Doo was loads of fun!

The drawing class at Rafiki's Planet Watch

After we saw Dugan!

First time on the Ratatouille ride

Spaceship Earth

Rise of the Resistance!

I love the Beauty and the Beast show!

Walking into Magic Kingdom!

Thunderstorm rolling in over the castle

When the unloading area backs up on Pirates,
you can actually get some pictures

And then we get to fall semester, wherein I all but dropped off the face of the internet. It wasn't all bad, it really wasn't, but it was most definitely the hardest semester I've been through. Thing is, elementary education classes aren't hard content-wise, but the program is still very demanding and stressful, and coordinating all the moving pieces of classes and field experience and jobs is basically a nightmare. Add in kid germs spreading around colds and flu and strep and whatever else, and it's no wonder all of us prospective teachers are so stressed out.

Now. It had some really great moments. I absolutely loved both the preK class and the 2nd grade class I was in for field experience last semester. I worked with some really great teachers and both classes were full of really great students. I practiced planning and teaching lessons and got to work both in small groups and one on one with the kids and it was fabulous. I spent a lot more time with the 2nd graders, and while before starting the program I had decided I wanted to teach 4th grade because of the social studies standards, I'm no longer so decided. I really loved 2nd grade. Part of it might be that I lucked out with a great teacher and class (I know it's not always like that, I've heard stories), but it's a really fun age. I miss the kids so much, and I'm so glad I got to work with their class.

But...working with kids has downsides. Namely germs. It only took one day at the preK for me to come down with a nasty cold and, well, that was pretty much the end of me being well. I came down with the cold September 13 (I know because it's the day Wishtress and Flight came out) and that weekend, it turned into a sinus infection. I went to the school clinic for antibiotic #1. Infection mostly went away, but not completely and after I'd been finished with the antibiotic for a few days, the symptoms came back pretty much full force, along with some gland pain in the glands under my chin. So I went back to the school clinic, got another prescription for an antibiotic along with a steroid course, took a math test feeling totally miserable (thankfully it was easy and I got an A on it in spite of how I was feeling), and had to hang around Walmart for a good while waiting for them to actually fill the prescription. That prescription mostly kicked out the infection, but the steroid kept me from sleeping which really badly messed up my stomach (I had to ask my professor to let me go home in the middle of class. I don't do stuff like that). 

Then a little while after I finished all of that, I took my car over to the shop because it was having trouble starting in the cold as my glands started to feel like they were swelling again. The next morning, a Saturday I was supposed to work, I woke up with my glands so swollen I practically had a double chin. Not to mention it hurt like crazy. So instead of work, I went to urgent care and got antibiotic #3. Then spent the rest of the day miserable on the couch instead of at work.

That weekend was also the weekend registration for spring classes started. During the fall semester, I had barely been able to fit classes, teaching music, field experience, and work at the library into the week. The way registration was shaping up, it was looking even more difficult. And with the lack of time I had for homework, let alone rest, I had to come to the difficult decision that something had to go. And the thing that made the most sense was my library job. I was going to have to quit to do my student teaching in fall of '23 anyway, so it would just be a semester earlier. At that point, it was just a few more weeks until the end of the semester, so I figured I might as well tough it out and make it to the end of the year. But the end of the year would be it. I just knew that I couldn't do a semester like this again, being so overworked and constantly sick, not to mention having more migraines than I used to.

The swelling went away with antibiotic #3, but not all of the congestion. I'm still not consistently off all the Mucinex and antihistamines and extra vitamins.

The semester started to wrap up, things got easier to keep up with as I finished all my major assignments, and, well, then I got another cold with a nasty lingering cough that made it difficult to sleep for a little while, but that did go away. We visited family for Thanksgiving, school officially ended, and then some of my family went up to Indiana to surprise my great grandma for her 90th birthday.

Everybody at the surprise party

I got to do the library's special Christmas programs one last time, which was fun and a little bittersweet. And I spent many evenings rewatching Timeless with the cat, which was fun. I really love that show.

Pippin watching Timeless

And then the week before Christmas I got swollen glands again. This time though, due to the lack of other significant symptoms, the doctor was pretty sure it was allergies, and the fact that Benadryl caused significant improvement supports the theory.

So it's no wonder, really, that I haven't really written anything in the last few months. A few small snippets here and there, but not really anything of note. And I haven't done much reading in the last few months either. My brain just hasn't had the opportunity to recover from the last semester yet.

Going into 2023, my life looks rather different. I've worked at the library for 7 years, so it's very strange that I'm not there anymore. I'm still teaching music, so I have that. I'll have 5 classes and field experience in a 4th grade class, and that's what I have to keep up with. It seems like so much less than last fall, but I guess we'll see how that actually looks when the semester starts. 

Will I be able to read and write now that something is off my plate? I don't know. I hope so, but I just don't know. I do know that I'll make it through the semester, take my summer classes, and then jump into student teaching in the fall. But what else will this year hold? Only God knows, and I'm trusting that whatever it is, He'll get me through it.