Thursday, April 27, 2017

Embracing the Vulnerability of Joy

by Emily Conrad

Back when I was in college, my boyfriend and I broke up. With some issues to work through from that and some other painful experiences, I saw a counselor for a while. My boyfriend and I got back together after about a week or two, but I confessed to my counselor that I didn’t feel as happy as I ought to about the reunion.

She suggested the problem was that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was living in expectation of disappointment.

Incidentally, though there were of course bumps in the road, that disappointment never came. I've now been married to that boyfriend for thirteen years and counting.

And yet, my expectation of disappointment in many areas of my life carries on.

I think of those who are joyful as brave and secure. I envy them. I want to be like them.

But envy doesn’t make me more apt to invite joy in.

Instead, I hesitate to celebrate certain milestones. Instead of rejoicing that I got this or that contract or this or that opportunity or even this or that compliment, I find myself leery, asking, “How will this go wrong? How does this offer false hope?”

But even as I ask these questions, I wonder why I can't just be happy about good events. Why not celebrate while I can?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The "Secret" to Success We Would Rather Ignore

by Emily Conrad

Our dog Luther is a lot of things, including a good cuddler, an expert fly hunter, and a habitual problem to walk.

After a particularly bad walk, when I couldn't settle him down to pass a dog that was barking at us from a yard, I made an appointment with a trainer I hadn't been to before.

I've worked with a dog trainer in the past and have picked up tips and strategies over the years, but Luther was clearly out of control, and what I was doing wasn't curbing his instincts to bark and pull.

At the appointment, the advice was nothing new.

And yet.

Starting that night, Luther has become a different dog. He's been impressing everyone he's met since then, and because of his good behavior, that's more people than I normally would've given him access to.

So what's the difference?

For the most part, the trainer forced me to get serious about what I'd heard before. She modified Luther's behavior by modifying mine.

Despite having been warned that tensing up when another dog approaches can cause my dog to react more strongly, I was tensing up. When I did that, I pulled on the leash, which sent a message to Luther that something was wrong. His barking and pulling was, in part, a reaction to that.

Despite knowing that I could curb his constant pulling by changing direction every time he did so, I kept walking in straight lines.

Despite knowing that ten minutes of mentally challenging training, like sitting still when he wants to be barking, is more exhausting than twice that much time exercising, I kept putting distance in our walks ahead of good behavior.

In these ways, I wasn't putting into practice the very things that would solve our problems. In fact, I was feeding those problems.

Once I got serious about practicing what I knew, Luther immediately responded. He's a different dog on leash and around the house. Yes, we still have some work to do, especially on sighting other dogs on walks, but he's already so used to relaxing next to me when I stop outside that he's begun to chill on the floor next to me when I pause in the house. If we keep working at it, I believe he's going to be the best-behaved dog we've ever had.

The implications reach far beyond dog training.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Changing the Names I Call Myself

by Emily Conrad

I changed my Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest handles this week from @novelwritergirl to @emilyrconrad, because the truth is, I outgrew novelwritergirl years ago.

Simply by reading this blog, you know I write more than novels. Also, I write for women, and I’m striving to be a mature woman of God myself, so calling myself a girl undermined who I want to be and reach.

For these reasons and others, the more I saw it, the less I felt novelwritergirl ought to define me.

So, despite the pull of old habits and the initial confusion a name change can cause, I made the switch. I have to say, emilyrconrad looks a lot more professional to me and feels a lot less limiting.

Unfortunately, as I reflect on outdated names I call myself, I’ve noticed more serious problems than my Twitter handle. It’s just that not all names I identify myself by are quite as obvious as the ones I spell out on social media day after day.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Judas, Peter, Me, and Jesus, a belated Easter post

by Emily Conrad

As I write this, it is Easter weekend, and the magnolia tree in the yard is telling stories. Its white-petaled flowers opened this morning, Saturday, the day before we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, as if to promise ancient believers that it won’t be long now, that the world wouldn’t keep spinning if its Sustainer were gone for good, if death were the final reality, if One couldn’t rise above all that He’d created to deliver life indestructible.

I went into Easter this year feeling like I couldn’t get into it. Having known the Easter story for years, I didn’t know how to be affected by it anew. Thankfully, God knew.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When Effort Fails: A Lesson from a Houseplant

by Emily Conrad

I have a track record of killing houseplants. African violets and cyclamen shriveled up almost as soon as I brought them in the house. I once killed a cactus in spectacular fashion by putting it too close to the hot oven. I kept an anthurium alive and flourishing at work for months, but it died shortly after I brought it home. And when I put our two-feet-across jade plant outside for the summer, the squirrels nibbled it to death. Some of my other victims include an aloe, a dieffenbachia, an umbrella plant, and a Norfolk Island pine.

Changing my habits to try to take better care of my plants proved dangerous, too. I would get too extreme, killing them with too much water or too much sun or... well, if I knew, I wouldn't have killed so many.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Taming the Inspiration Lion: a poem and 5 tips from a full-time creative

by Emily Conrad

Taming the Lion

Inspiration sits at the top of the list
of things I’d like to tame.
If only he liked the scent of coffee
(but, honestly, what lion would?)
I could brew him a cup,
lure him into coming close.
He would nuzzle my shoulder
with his massive head,
tickling my ear with his mane,
purring ideas from his deep throat.

Instead, he flicks his tail and paces
the end of the room.
His claw-heavy paws dig
into the hardwood,
his sharp brown eyes lick the kitchen.
He roars and swipes at the lamps.
Light bulbs shatter.

The sun saves the day by beaming
through the window.
The pads of his paws
sense the warmth
and like a dog or a tabby,
he slumps, haunches first, onto the floor.
Only then I approach and record
his happy sighs as best I can.

Then, the sun eases past,
the shadows fall,
the day and its work is done.
What’s written will have to do,
and tomorrow, we’ll begin again.

As the poem suggests, inspiration can be a battle for me. To feed my writing, I find I have to invest time in idea generation and capture. Feel free to borrow these tactics and please share your own in the comments!

Reading. I gather the names of books and authors to check out from writer friends who understand my taste and aspirations, and from other sources I trust, like thought-provoking blog posts, and, most recently from a couple of book reviews in an older issue of Ruminate magazine.

Journaling. Writing in a journal takes the pressure off, since it's not for public consumption...unless that's what I choose to make it. Since inspiration is part of the problem, I find using journals with prompts like this one from Art of Adventure helps get me going. Having learned from that journal, I now sometimes write my way through passages in the Bible. Some--but nowhere near all--of what I write ends up being usable for posts.

Lists. If inspiration steps from the shadows when I don't have time to do it justice, I jot down the basics. I have a document on my laptop of blog ideas and partial posts. I have a running memo on my phone with snatches of stories. If I failed to at least capture the essence of the idea, it would be gone by the time I sat to write next. Even if months pass before I use something I've entered, that reserve of ideas serves as a safety net, catching me when I'm all out of ideas.

Continuing education the free and/or easy way. I read books on writing fiction. I take the occasional free course on blogging. These help give me new ways to approach my subjects or new tools to use, and new approaches and tools can inspire new ideas.

Find or make prompts. The Five Minute Friday blogging community is great for supplying a weekly prompt. Inspired by them, I made word salsa so I could have a fresh prompt whenever the need struck. From my word salsa jar, I drew the word "tame" and that's how I ended up with the poem at this post's opening.

Does your job rely on inspiration? How do you tame your inspiration lion? I can always use more tips!

Taming the Inspiration Lion: a poem + 5 tips from a full-time creative via @emilyrconrad

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Proverbs 3 Answers a Prayer for Direction

by Emily Conrad

She's more precious than rubies. It's a well-known phrase from the Bible, variations of which appear at least twice in Proverbs. Once, in Proverbs 31, it's referring to a godly woman. However, when I searched the phrase to find the reference this morning, I learned that it also shows up in another context.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who obtains understanding.
For her benefit is more profitable than silver,
and her gain is better than gold.
She is more precious than rubies,
and none of the things you desire can compare with her.

Proverbs 3:15, NET
'She' refers to wisdom in this case, the very thing I've been asking God for, so His leading me to stumble my way to this chapter of the Bible was an answer to prayer, one I would like to share with you.