Binary writing styles

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide people into two groups, and those who do not.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who prefer that their toilet paper roll be served over the top, and those who prefer that the paper hang behind the roll. A few don’t care; and a lot of people in the world do not use toilet paper; but those facts disrupt the point I wanted to make.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have excellent math skills, those who have average math skills, and those who have poor math skills.

There are two kinds of writers in this world. One kind of writer, usually after creating an outline, writes a first draft of the introduction, then a first draft of chapter one, then a first draft of chapter two, and on to the end of the book. Afterward, those writers go back and edit their work, starting from the first page, making corrections, additions, deletions, and other improvements until they have achieved a final version of their book. The other kind of writer creates the book in sections, often writing the middle and even the ending before covering the beginning. Those writers then sift and sort what they have written, organizing their work into the best arrangement, as well as making corrections, additions, deletions, and other improvements until they have achieved a final version of their book.

I am the first kind of writer. Ideas brew in my head for weeks, months, even years, but they remain unwritten until I have created an outline that covers the ideas I have been carrying. After making an outline, I write the first draft of the article or book, starting at the beginning and continuing until I write the ending. Then comes the hardest part: evaluating each sentence and each phrase, deciding if every idea is stated in the clearest way possible, making sure that pronouns clearly reflect the nouns they represent, breaking long sentences into shorter sentences, discovering and eliminating needless repetitions of ideas, filling in jumps of thought that were not clearly handled in the first draft, and otherwise improving the article or book until I am ready to send it to the publisher.

There are two kinds of bloggers on WordPress and other platforms. One kind of blogger has an idea—perhaps a reaction to a recent news item, an event in his or her life, or an idea expressed by another blogger. Such bloggers write a quick draft representing their thoughts, perhaps read through their draft once to check for spelling and grammatical errors, and then post what they have written and go on to read other posts or accomplish other tasks. The other kind of writer considers a post for days, perhaps weeks, before composing it on a computer. Such writers often work from an outline, organizing their thoughts, and arranging them to make them clear and complete. Before posting what they have written, they carefully check their work for spelling and grammatical errors, needless repetitions, jumps of thought that were not clearly handled, and other improvements. Their final product might appear days or weeks after the prompt that first led to their post, but even if they are late to join a conversation, their ideas are presented in a competent and professional form.

I am the second kind of blogger. Often I write posts in the first fashion, quickly responding to something that is happening (or merely trying to keep the blog active while new thoughts are slow to develop). My better posts require time to develop and more time to complete. Along the way, I catch most of my typos and other mistakes. Even my most spontaneous posts call for a second reading, a flurry of tweaks and corrections, and reconsideration of their significance. For that matter, I rarely send an email or even a comment on FaceBook or WordPress without reading what I have written once or twice to be confident that I said what I wanted to say.

Some of my grammatical corrections are natural, done almost without thought. Unlike James Kirk, I rarely split an infinitive; unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, I rarely end a sentence with a preposition. Nine times out of ten, following those rules produces better sentences. My harder work involves shortening sentences, separating different thoughts into different sentences so that both are stated clearly. I try to ensure that pronouns and prepositional phrases clearly identify what they represent or modify. I strive to find synonyms rather than repeating words (except when repetition makes a statement clearer). I aim for punctuation that best demonstrates the connection of the ideas I am presenting.

For weeks, I have been mulling a series of posts to be called “Racism without race.” Obviously, the topic of racism and race relations has been highly relevant for weeks. Obviously, clear answers to the problems posed by race relations are hard to find. Obviously, I am no expert in this area; but, all the same, there are ideas I want to share about racism and race relations.

Tomorrow, I hope to write my first draft of “Racism without race.” It will probably be divided into several posts of one thousand words or less that will appear as a series next week. Meanwhile, I am preparing an outline for a book about Christian faith and depression, while also trying to compile book-length publications of earlier writings in two different areas. My thinking and production have been stuck in two ways. On the one hand, my ideas are like characters in a comic movie, jammed together while trying to exit my head from the same doorway. On the other hand, I have had occasions when I wanted to work on any one of these projects and have not mustered the energy to begin. Summer doldrums, combined with the stress of the past several weeks, have made writing harder for me than writing usually is.

I am a writer. Even though most of my salary and benefits come from jobs in which writing is only a byproduct or a step in the process of my assigned duties, writing is my dream, my goal, and my passion. I hope to turn the corner this weekend, beginning a productive summer, and culminating in posts and in books that will attract and benefit readers. J.

Arkansas food traditions

The land now called Arkansas has been inhabited for many generations, and a good number of ways to study and examine the past help to cast light on life in Arkansas then and now. One of the newest subjects to be studied is foodways: what did people eat, how did they obtain it, how did they prepare it, and how did they preserve it? Contemporary Arkansas festivals feature some of the most interesting foodway traditions in the modern world.

Corn (maize), beans, and squash were the primary foods of the earliest dwellers of Arkansas, although they occasionally added meat to their diet. The first European explorers to enter Arkansas were led by Hernando de Soto, who crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas in 1541 and died in Arkansas the following year. After de Soto came Jacque Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. These French explorers were responsible for the name of the state of Arkansas. After asking the Illini of the Mississippi River valley who they would meet in their travels south, Marquette and Joliet were told to expect the Ar-kan-saw, which was merely the Illini word for “people who live to the south.” Encountering the Quapaw villages where the Arkansas River meets the Mississippi, Marquette and Joliet applied the Illini’s label to the Quapaw, and the name went on to designate the river, the territory (once a county of Missouri Territory), and the state. The first permanent European settlement in the region was Arkansas Post, located near the Arkansas River not far from its confluence with the Mississippi. Arkansas is included in the land acquired by the United States by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and American settlers began to join the Quapaw, Caddo, Osage, French, and Spanish families who already lived on the land.

While some settlers established large cotton plantations in the flatlands of southern and eastern Arkansas, others took to the hills where they lived off the land as best they could. (This is called subsistence farming.) They planted various crops and raised chickens and hogs, but they also gathered berries and fruits from the forests and hunted deer, bear, and anything else that moved and might be edible. The hillbilly image of the Ozark Arkansan is largely shaped by stories (many highly exaggerated) told by travelers who met these hardy pioneers.

Even as Arkansas developed as a territory and then a state, memories remained of the early foods eaten by Arkansas settlers. Among the annual festivals still celebrated in Arkansas today are the Trumann Wild Duck Festival, the Gillett ‘Coon Supper, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival, the Dermott Crawfish Festival, the Arkansas Rice Festival, the Hope Watermelon Festival, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, the Camden Daffodil Festival, and the Malvern Brickfest, not to mention Conway’s Toad Suck Daze.

Actually, the ‘Possum Festival has a spotted history. Beginning in 1915 as a challenge to neighboring communities, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival had a long and honorable history through the first half of the twentieth century. However, during World War II, when much of the male population was out of state serving in the armed forces, remaining citizens re-established Prohibition, forbidding the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Although the festival was attempted in 1945 and 1946, it was cancelled in 1947. A brief attempt to restart the festival occurred from 1995 through 2001, but with little success. Evidently for a ‘Possum festival to succeed, more than the meat needed to be marinated. J.

A fun little quiz about depression

  • 1. Depression is:
    • a. A passing feeling of grief or sadness at a time of loss or stress.
    • b. A long-term period of despair during which nothing, including life itself, seems to have any value.
    • c. A sensible reaction to this messed-up world and my messed-up life.
  • 2. Depression can be recognized as:
    • a. Feeling out-of-sorts, unhappy, and a bit gloomy.
    • b. A long period (generally three months or more) during which sadness and gloom prevails and nothing seems to offer any joy or reason for hope.
    • c. Any typical day.       
  • 3. Depression can be defined as:
    • a. A person’s choice not to be happy or content.
    • b. A symptom that something is wrong in a person’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health (or some combination of the above).
    • c. Definitions are pointless. Depression is depression. 
  • 4. Christians respond to depression by:
    • a. Calling it a sin, based on verses such as “do not be anxious about your life” (Matthew 6:25), “Be strong and courageous; Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed” (Joshua 1:9), and, “Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).
    • b. Recognizing that godly people with strong faith can still face depression, based on verses such as “And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough now, O Lord; take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (I Kings 19:4), “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord” (Psalm 130:1), and, “My soul is sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).
    • c. Ignoring it, since nothing can be done about it anyhow.        
  • 5. When it comes to depression, Christians should:
    • a. Trust in the Lord and not turn to doctors, counselors, or medicines, because they are worldly, and trusting them means not trusting the Lord.
    • b. Thank the Lord for doctors, counselors, and medicines, receiving these blessings as gifts from him to help us continue living in a sin-polluted world.
    • c. It doesn’t matter.   
  • 6. The best help a Christian can offer someone who is depressed is:

a. Tell them to cheer up, remind them to pray, and encourage them to increase their faith in God.

b. Spend time with them, listen to them, pray with them, and let them know that it is OK to seek help from worldly professionals as well as from the Bible and the Church.

c. Nothing makes any difference anyhow.

  • 7. When people talk about committing suicide, their family and friends should:
    • a. Ignore them, since they’re only trying to get attention and don’t really intend to hurt themselves.
    • b. Listen to them, assure them that they are loved and needed, and encourage them to get professional help.
    • c. Be glad that they won’t have to deal with that person much longer.
  • 8. When a Christian succeeds in committing suicide, he or she:
    • a. Has committed an unforgiveable sin and is barred forever from God’s presence in the new creation.
    • b. Has succumbed to temptation and committed a sin, but is still covered by the grace of God which forgives all sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    • c. Has won a victory over the cruel and oppressive world in which he or she was living.
  • 9.Depressed people who make life-threatening choices—including abuse of drugs and alcohol, cutting their skin in non-fatal ways, eating too much, or starving themselves—are:
    • a. Making mistakes that are unrelated to depression and suicide and should be handled as individual (albeit bad) decisions.
    • b. Choosing a slower form of suicide which is still sinful, since they are not caring for the bodies that God created; however, their choices should be discussed within the context of their depression.
    • c. Free to do whatever they wish, since they are only hurting themselves.
  • 10. Depression is:
    • a. Most common among teenagers and the elderly, among the poor, and among people dealing with other physical ailments.
    • b. As likely to oppress people of any age, gender, economic status, overall health, and religious beliefs.
    • c. It doesn’t matter.

SCORING YOURSELF ON THIS QUIZ:

For every A, give yourself one point; for every B, give yourself two points; for every C, give yourself five points.

If your score is nine or less: you need to improve your math skills.

If your score is ten to fourteen: you need to learn more about depression.

If your score is fifteen to twenty-four: you understand depression better than the average population.

If your score is twenty-five or higher: you need to be getting help. Talk to a religious or medical professional about your feelings. Allow trusted family members and friends to know what you are feeling. Contact someone who can work with you—even over the telephone. Understand that you are a valuable person, your life is worth living, and you are in the midst of a temporary situation that can be resolved.

J.

The wellness continuum

Some people want to live. Other people want to die. This would seem as simple a choice as yes or no, as on or off. But (as is the case with so many things in life), the situation is not as cut and dried as it seemed. My post last Friday resulted, in part, from thoughts I’ve been developing for months about a continuum in wellness, one that includes two extremes, but also a broad middle area that touches neither extreme. As in any continuum, many possibilities and positions exist. I’ve labeled six positions on the wellness continuum, fully aware that many more could be identified and described.

One extreme to the continuum is the suicidal position. A person wants to die. Many options exist for this person: gunshot, strangulation, stabbing or slashing of veins and arteries, massive poison, deliberate car collision at high speed, jumping from a high place… the list goes on and on. My point is that some people are so depressed, so discouraged, so far from finding any meaning to life, that they simply want to end it all.

Less extreme is the risky position. Some people abuse alcohol and drugs, not because they want to die, but because they don’t care about the risk. Some people drive recklessly, not because they want to die, but because they simply don’t care what happens to them. Trying to reason with these people, to warn them that they are endangering their lives, is not helpful. They may not be suicidal—they may not be seeking death today—but they are unwilling to change their habits for the sake of having a longer, safer, or healthier life.

Then there are those who are apathetic. They don’t take drugs or drink to excess; they don’t seek death for themselves. Yet they also do not take care of themselves. They eat and sleep and work, but they get no exercise. They are as happy eating junk food as they are with a healthy diet. Frankly, if a doctor told them that they had incurable cancer, they would not be distraught. They would just as soon die as live, and sometimes they envy the people who have already died and are not facing the worries and troubles of the present world.

Other people are proactive. They pay attention to nutrition, to exercise, and to the right amounts of sleep. Their intake of coffee, chocolate candy, red wine, salt, sugar, and fats is moderate, within healthy limits. The follow the advice of their family doctors and of other health professionals. Yet maintaining a healthy body is only one of their interests, and it is never their primary interest.

Yet other people are obsessive. Their constant preoccupation is health and wellness. They carefully monitor what they eat and diligently avoid anything that might be even slightly hazardous to their health. They might even resent the weekly forty hours of work in their careers which limit the amount of time they can spend in the gym building and strengthening their bodies. Nothing matters more to them than health and wellness, and they are scornful of people who maintain healthy bodies while sometimes indulging in the luxuries that might pose a threat to perfect health.

Finally, a few people go beyond excessive to the point of being phobic. Fearful of germs, they avoid all human contact. They isolate themselves to protect themselves from a dangerous world. They sleep in tents that protect them from the outside air, even the air in their own houses. They do nothing with their lives, because their one and only interest is in preserving and protecting their lives.

Clearly, these six positions are merely landmarks along the wellness continuum. The extreme positions are obvious; the lines between the intervening positions are blurred. The same person in different positions can land in different points along this continuum. From day to day, the same person might shift toward one side or the other on this continuum.

For that matter, a second dimension exists for this continuum. A person might be proactive in some areas, apathetic in others, and even risky in still others. One person is careful about diet and exercise, yet is a heavy smoker. Another person is moderate in all other life choices but is a menace on the highways. Just as the conservative-liberal continuum in politics is limited in value (because most people are conservative about some issues and liberal about others), so this continuum offers a way of looking at ourselves and others in regard to wellness without completely explaining every person, every decision, and every action.

This understanding might improve communication between people with different perspectives on wellness. A medical professional might well say to a heavy drinker or heavy smoker, “You know, you are killing yourself with this bad habit,” and the sincere and honest communication has no effect. Someone might say to the body-builder, “Sure, you look great… but get a life!” and the sincere and honest communication has no effect. To those on the spectrum closer to death, reasons need to be offered to value and preserve life. To those trending toward obsession and phobia, reasons need to be offered to show that living is more than health and wellness. No ideal center point exists where all of us can meet and live happily ever after. We will all differ from one another in a number of ways, including the wellness spectrum. But knowing that more options exist on this spectrum beyond “I want to live” and “I want to die” might begin the process of making us able to talk to one another about health and wellness. J.

Life and the Black Dog of depression

In the 1979 movie All That Jazz, Joe Gideon (like the movie’s director and co-writer Bob Fosse) is a successful Broadway and Hollywood choreographer and director who lives life on the edge. He drives himself at work, he drinks and takes drugs, he sleeps around, and he pushes himself to the limit. He both figuratively and literally flirts with death (the literal Death portrayed by Jessica Lange). All That Jazz can be viewed as a brutally analysis of Fosse’s own life, but it also speaks about the choices many other people make in their lives.

What drives people like Joe Gideon to live life on the edge? Often the cause is emptiness within. Stressed by life with its ups and downs, they embrace the downs and overlook the ups. They choose death over life, not suddenly and violently, but gradually, deliberately, and knowingly. The Black Dog of anxiety and depression has more power over them than they have over themselves, and it drives them over the cliffs of despair.

A Christian understands why unbelievers feel this way and act this way. A Christian might wonder why a fellow Christian feels this way and acts this way. Jesus tells us not to be anxious (Matthew 6:25). Paul identifies the greatest gifts of the spirit as faith, hope, and love. If a Christian has no hope, one may suppose, that Christian also has no faith.

I know a man—I’ll call him Martin. Like me, Martin has struggled for years with anxiety and depression. Like most people, this spring has been difficult for Martin: fear of the virus, fear of damage to the economy, fear of violence in the streets, fear of what might happen to himself, to his family, to his job, and to his neighborhood. Martin has not turned to all the wrong answers that Joe Gideon tried. Martin has been faithful in his marriage. He has taken no illegal drugs and abused no prescription drugs. Martin does try his best at his job, but he is not driven to work to the point of exhaustion. But Martin does consume alcohol. He calls himself a “heavy drinker.” That mistake recently put Martin in a very uncomfortable position.

Martin was sitting in church next to his wife when the preacher began the sermon. One of the first things the preacher mentioned was the distress felt by family members when one of them drinks too much. Martin wondered whether his wife had been talking to the preacher about his drinking. (She hadn’t.) The preacher went on to speak of other things, including the grace of God and His power to overcome all evils, even those we bring upon himself. Toward the end of the sermon, the preacher began to list the many idols people put in the place of God, and he dwelt particularly on the sins of alcohol and drug abuse.

As the sermon wound to a close, Martin felt as if things were going dark. It was not like entering a tunnel; it was more like on television when the picture fades to black. He heard the Amen to the sermon; he heard the congregation begin to sing the next hymn. The next thing Martin remembers is lying in the aisle of the church with an usher pounding his chest, performing CPR.

Martin was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He spent the afternoon in the emergency room; then he was in another room for observation for another twenty-four hours. The hospital workers paid closest attention to the working of Martin’s heart. (And, it appears, Martin’s heart is good.) But Martin admitted more than once to the hospital workers that he is a heavy drinker. One of those workers told Martin that he had been admitted with an elevated alcohol content in his blood. In her opinion, he had suffered an alcohol-related seizure. (Other hospital workers said it was not a seizure; aside from blacking out, the symptoms of seizure were absent.)

Martin went home after promising to quit drinking. He was given a drug to reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Along with follow-up visits with his family doctor and with a cardiologist, Martin also followed up with his pastor. They discussed the sin of alcohol dependence, and they discussed God’s grace and forgiveness.

Depression is not a sin. Depression is a symptom that something is wrong—whether physical or emotional or physical. No one cure fits all kinds of depression. A great many factors need to be analyzed: diet, sleep, exercise, stress, fear, guilt, and chemical balances in the body. A depressed person—whether Christian or nonChristian—bears a strong feeling that life is not worth living. A depressed person—whether Christian or nonChristian—feels unneeded, unwanted, and unloved. A depressed person—whether Christian or nonChristian—will take risks with his or her life. Some risks are sudden and violent: a gunshot, a self-strangling, a strong poisoning, a deliberate car crash. Other risks are slower and less certain: drug and alcohol abuse, reckless driving, overeating or undereating (anorexia), and more.

I cannot suggest much advice about how to help a nonbeliever in this situation, Perhaps persuade him or her that family and friends do care, and that he or she is contributing positive energy to them and to the world. Perhaps ask if they want to live to see their daughter’s wedding, meet their grandchildren, watch those grandchildren grow. Many things in life have meaning apart from God’s blessings; but God’s blessings are the greatest reason of all to keep on living.

The Christian is promised a better life in a better world. This promise is not motivation to end this life and start that new life as soon as possible. This promise is motivation to do our best in this lifetime as we prepare for the better life that is coming. “You will not kill”: this applies, not only to the lives of our neighbors, but also to our own lives. We are managers of the bodies God has made. He intends for us to take care of them. Christians who smoke, Christians who drink to excess, Christians who overeat or who starve themselves: these are not false Christians who have lost their faith. These are sinners who need a Savior and who already know their Savior. These our brothers and sisters who need and deserve our love and encouragement. These are part of the family of God, the body of Christ, whose struggles are more visible than the struggles faced by every Christian in this world.

Joe Gideon flirted with death. So did Martin. In a way, so does every sinner, even those sinners who are simultaneously saints. Viruses and terrorists are not the only dangers in this world; sometimes we are dangers to ourselves. But God says, to Martin and to all of us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). J.