Simplify2011: Books

I made two steps over the weekend to cut my book inventory WAY down. First I bought myself an eReader. I know, I know. I was staunchly opposed to them, but I basically got the deal of the century, and I couldn’t pass it up. It’s nothing fancy. It’s the Borders Kobo, originally priced at $139.99, but I got mine for $59.99 because the Borders store in Cary is closing, and everything is on super-sale. I went over there to look into some cheap Rosetta Stone software, but all they had left was American English, so I was leaving, but as I approached the door, the Kobo (and its sale sign) caught my eye. I went over to take a peep, and the thing comes pre-loaded with 101 classics and a dictionary! And I thought, 101 books, a dictionary, and space to add 1,000 more books that won’t fill up a billion boxes every time I move, all for 60 bucks? Yes, please. So I bought it, which meant I could add my Complete Works of Jane Austen, my Les Miserables, my Count of Monte Cristo and my Hunchback of Notre Dame to the “sell” pile.

And that brings me to the second thing I did this weekend to reach my goal of a 30-50% reduction in stuff: I put 59 books up for sale on half.com. If you want to see what I have available (and perhaps purchase one or several), you can visit my store. I’d say I would just give you one if you wanted it, but the store also serves a second purpose of helping me raise money to go on a mission trip to Italy this summer. More on that later, but if you want to contribute to the cause by purchasing some new reading material, that would be great.

Book Review: Water for Elephants

Y’all seriously, I don’t know where time comes from or where it goes. On the one hand, I have no idea how I’ve gotten done the things I’ve gotten done this week, and on the other hand, I feel like I didn’t have a moment to spare until yesterday evening. I am thankful for both hands, though, because I like being productive, and I like a week that goes by quickly in a good way like this one did.

I stayed up way too late every night reading Water for Elephants, which I finished on…Wednesday? Geez, I have no idea. Anyway, I finished it, and let me just tell you, it is good. It has a few racy parts and a lot of cussing, so if you’re not comfortable with either of those, I might not recommend it to you, but if you don’t think you’ll be bothered by them, the story is just really great. It’s told well, it’s interesting, it’s engaging, and the ending, I thought, was perfect. It doesn’t give you the feeling that the author is intentionally trying to keep you guessing, but it also doesn’t reveal everything up front. The timing is just right.

It’s also really interesting to read about the circus in the 1930s. I don’t know how accurate a portrayal it is, but it does seem that the author did a lot of research on it, and a lot of the characters and events were based on true stories from the time, which is neat.

I had a little bit of trouble keeping the minor characters straight. A lot of times it felt like when you’re talking to a friend who’s talking about his/her co-workers, but instead of explaining who they all are every time they’re mentioned, your friend just uses their names as though you know them, and you piece it together. In the end, it doesn’t really matter most of the time whether you know exactly who’s who or not. That’s why they were minor characters.

Anyhoe, the story is about a kid named Jacob, who is in his last semester of veterinary school at Cornell when his parents are killed in a car crash. In his despair, he sort of accidentally winds up on a circus train, where he pretty quickly becomes the show’s vet even though he didn’t finish his final exams. I won’t give anything else away, but from there, you get love, betrayal, murder, schizophrenia, friendship, loyalty, lots of animals, and an old man who can never remember if he’s 90 or 93 years old.

Read it before the movie comes out (in April, I think) because I’m not convinced it’s going to be good. I’ll see it, no doubt, but I’m really just not sure about the casting. I’m excited to see Christoph Waltz in something new because he was so incredibly amazing in Inglourious Basterds, but I’m not crazy about Robert Pattinson or Reese Witherspoon in their roles. I pictured Jacob more, I don’t know, alert-looking and less brooding – more wide-eyed and innocent. And I thought Marlena was closer to his age (Pattinson and Witherspoon are 10 years apart in real life).

If given the choice, I think I’d put Rachel McAdams in the role of Marlena and maybe Ryan Gosling or Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Jacob. But we’ll see.

Oh! And it seems that the film has done away with Uncle Al entirely and maybe merged him and August into one character? I don’t know, but I do not care for that at all.

Oh well. Like I said, we’ll see. But back to the book.

I’m giving Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen four out of five stars. If I could give it another half, I might (because I think I liked it better than The Help), but I don’t have the ability to type half a star, so four it is. Once again, I wouldn’t say it’s my new favorite book, but I thought it was beautifully and fearlessly written, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. ****

The Help: A Book Review by Beth Parent

I told myself several times yesterday that I would NOT stay up until all hours of the night finishing The Help. I’m trying to get back on a normal sleeping/waking schedule, see, because morning registration is tomorrow, and classes start back on Monday.

But then last night, I took the book to bed with me and read straight through to the end. I don’t even know what time I went to sleep because by the time I finished reading, my phone had turned itself off, which means it was at least 1:00 a.m. Dangit. No self control.

Anyway, The Help by Kathryn Stockett is great. I liked it a lot. I would almost say I loved it. The only thing I didn’t love about it, in fact, was the way it was told. The story is about black house maids and their white employers in Jackson, Mississippi in the early ’60s. Some chapters are from the perspective of one maid, some from that of another maid, and some in the voice of a young white woman who is sympathetic toward the maids, largely because she’d had a maid of her own growing up whom she loved dearly, but who has disappeared (not in a Dean Koontz sort of way, just nobody will tell her what happened).

I found the three perspectives to be a little bit confusing, especially when chapters from the points of view of the two maids were told back-to-back, because they had similar voices, and I kept having to remind myself who was talking.

Also (and I realize this is going to sound contradictory since I just said having three perspectives was confusing), there was a fourth major character whose perspective I wished I could have seen. If you’ve read the book, I’m talking about Hilly. I think it really would have rounded out her character (and the story) to let us see her and the the world through her own eyes.

The character development as a whole, however, was fantastic. I found myself doing each character’s voice in my head, and they were all completely distinct. By the time I was finished, I knew those people. Stockett does a great job of showing us the characters through their words and action. (Koontz, in stark contrast, spends a whole page explaining to us that one of his characters is “careful.” Then he kills him off. I might actually have to go reduce the number of stars I gave his book.)

The plot is good too. It’s relatable, it’s emotionally stirring, it moves right along, I didn’t roll my eyes at any of it, and I don’t think there’s anything in it, really, that is unnecessary. Even things like Skeeter’s mom’s health, which might seem like just unnecessary details of her life or fillers to make her chapters longer when Stuart’s not around, come into play in a significant way at some point. Nothing is wasted (except for Celia Foote at the party).

I’m giving The Help four stars, and I would recommend that you read it. It’s not my new most favoritest book on earth, but I really, really, really, really liked it. ****

2011 Reading List

I’d been feeling like my life had developed a large void where fictional books ought to be. I read a fair amount, but mostly I gravitate towards memoirs, humor, books about writing, and Christian non-fiction. And then suddenly, I needed to read fiction. What probably happened was that my brain knew it was turning to mush because I’d spent several days watching several seasons of Friends, and my brain decided it needed to tell me to read something as a last ditch effort to save itself before it turned to goo and oozed out of my ears.

I wanted a good story I could just lose myself in – a page turner – nothing that required a degree in philosophy to fully enjoy, but nothing so vacuous and formulaic as Nicholas Sparks either. So I turned to my facebook friends for advice, and here’s what I’ll be reading this year:

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Rescue by Anita Shreve
  • Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream both by Francine Rivers
  • Into the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French
  • Silent in the Grave by Deanna Rayborn
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Magicians by Les Grossman
  • Monster by A Lee Martinez
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
  • My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams
  • The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • The Confession by John Grisham
  • Lush Life by Richard Price
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I don’t know if I’ll actually get to them all, but I’ll try to give y’all a book report after each one. Starting now…

At the advice of another friend who did not chime in on the facebook discussion, I just read Phantoms by Dean Koontz. Now. I asked him specifically if it was a book girls would like, and he said he didn’t see why not. What I should have asked was, “Will girls who are reading it alone late at night in a quiet house like it?” But he probably wouldn’t have seen a problem with that either.

Y’all. That mess freaked. Me. Out. It’s not even that the writing is all that good. It’s long-winded, he repeats details unnecessarily, homeboy’s editor seriously should have removed half the profanity (he actually probably did, and what was left was quite minimal in comparison to the original manuscript, which is frankly scarier than the plot itself), the characters’ names stole the spotlight from the action, he used the word “said” almost every time someone said something (answered, replied, stated, exclaimed, queried, asked, wondered aloud, whispered, breathed, shouted – just a random sample of alternatives), and don’t get me started on his flagrant overuse of adverbs.

However, when you’re reading a plot like that in a dark, silent house alone, it doesn’t matter that the writing isn’t perfect. All that matters is that you don’t want “it” to get you like it got everyone in Snowfield.

I got into it. So help me I got really, really into it. Then Whitney got into it too.

I was telling her about it as I was getting ready to go to bed on Saturday night, and she agreed that it was not a good suggestion for me to read. But then on Sunday afternoon, somehow we started reading it aloud to each other, and before we knew it, we’d read nearly 200 pages. I won’t lie. It was better than TV. You might feel silly at first, but seriously, try it. If you have a spouse or friend or roommate who’s willing to read with you, go for it.

In our case, reading aloud made the monster less scary, I think because we weren’t left alone with our imaginations. But it was really fun to get into the story together. Also, there were several parts where, alone, we might have just glossed over the wording, but when we read it out loud, we could hear just how ridiculous it sounded. This provided us with some levity as well as a great deal of entertainment.

All in all, on a scale of one to five, I’d give Phantoms by Dean Koontz two stars for holding my attention from start to finish, keeping me guessing until the end, and freaking me the cuss out. **

Bust a Move

I’ve decided to forgo professionalism today. If I have to work on a snow day, I’m going to do it in the comfort of my jabambas by the fire. Plus, who wants to go outside today? Not this girl. And if I’m not going out, why shower? I’m just sayin’ is all.

So yesterday I had a ballroom dance lesson, which just confirmed to me that I’d really like to have dance lessons/classes regularly. This doesn’t surprise me (it probably doesn’t surprise you either), but for the first time yesterday, I started to wonder what it is about dancing that I find so appealing. Here’s what I came up with:

  • I love music. I think in song.
  • Dancing flows naturally out of music. Even now, my big toe is involuntarily tapping to the beat of the Christmas music I’m listening to.
  • Dance is a good way to exercise, and when you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which make you feel good.
  • Ballroom dance requires you to touch another person, and hey…we all need that.
  • Research indicates that at least 80% of communication is nonverbal. To me, that says that ALL the massive amounts of talking and writing I do still only account for 20% of what I have in me to say. Girlfriend needs to get some things out in other ways. I’m not sure that’s the best logic, but it makes sense in my head.

And then wouldn’t you know it? I came home last night and read some more of that book I was telling y’all about the other day, and the next chapter was about dance. AND Christmas! BONUS! Check it out:

There is something primal about dance that transcends all of the conventional concerns. Dancers embody the very ideal of the arts and fuse the spirit with the body. In other words, dance incarnates, and dancers bring this fusion in their bodies. God appeared in flesh via the babe in a manger, bridging eternal gaps in the incarnation: Flesh, therefore, is given the weight of glory [a C.S. Lewis reference]. God came, supped as a man, and bled to bring our bodies and spirits to merge into heaven. He defined humanity within his own body. As Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker famously stated, “Christ did not come to make us Christians…but that he came to redeem us that we might be human in the full sense of that word.” Our Lord humbled himself to have a body, to make himself vulnerable, to be lifted up in ignominy, and to find resurrection in that glorious body. A dancer, in a single leap, seems to hover in between the indescribably gap between time and space, taking us with him or her. By doing so, the dancer embodies our souls in the public arena, and perhaps that is the dancer’s grand adventure.

Christians should be the first in line to see and applaud this fusion of body and soul. Christ is not an ideology, a sentiment, or a mental image, but a fusion of body and Spirit. Scripture speaks of how God turns our “wailing into dancing” (Psalm 30:11). Our bodies are not empty shells to be filled with souls but are mysterious and inexplicably tied to our redemption. Our Lord will dance with us in the coming age, and we should begin to prepare for that day.

I’m on it.

About “About You”

I’ve just finished reading a book called About You by Dick Staub, and although the subject matter is exactly the kind of thing I love to talk about, the whole thing left me wanting more and feeling like I could have done a better job of writing it. No offense, Mr. Staub. I just didn’t find it very compelling, I definitely didn’t feel like I was a member of your target audience, and seriously, you need a new editor.

The subject, like I said, is great. It’s about becoming fully alive as humans while still here on Earth. Staub was inspired by the words of Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker: “Jesus didn’t come to make you Christian; Jesus came to make you fully human.” And I think that’s a good place to start. Jesus didn’t come to Earth to start a religion. He came to repair a relationship, and when that relationship is restored, everything changes for us.

There are lots of things Jesus didn’t come to do that we seem to think he did come for as evidenced by our lifestyles. A couple of weeks ago, my pastor said, “Jesus didn’t die so you could be really good at Halo.” I’m not addicted to Halo, but if he’d said, “Jesus didn’t die so you could always have the newest styles from H&M,” that would have hurt.

The things we spend our time and money on show very clearly what we think is important in life. Jesus didn’t come for most of those things. He especially didn’t come to make us work in jobs we hate because of the financial security they afford us, associate with people who make us shallow, depraved and/or boring, or suppress our true desires because they’re “impractical” or “unrealistic.” And yet, many of us live as though those things are our purpose, or worse, God’s purpose.

God’s true purpose, however, is not to make us religious, shallow, boring, legalistic, miserable or otherwise broken. It’s to bring glory to himself. I know that sounds terribly arrogant of him, but it’s not because he deserves all that glory. That is another conversation, though, so we’ll leave it at that for now. So if God’s purpose is to bring glory to himself, and if he created us, then it follows logically that he did so to fulfill his purpose.

About You attempts to explain how we fulfill our purpose of bringing glory to God with our lives. The thesis is that we must become fully human and fully alive; we must become the best possible versions of ourselves by developing our spiritual, intellectual, moral, relational and creative selves holistically and synergistically. Or by letting Jesus develop us in all those ways. Staub seems to go back and forth a bit on that point.

Now. I do not disagree with any of these things. I think all of creation brings glory to God best when it is simply and exactly what it was created to be. A mountain that tried to be a riverbed would not be nearly as majestic, and an ocean floor that tried to be a desert wouldn’t hold the same magical mystery. And when we try to squeeze ourselves into places in society where we just weren’t cut to fit, we diminish ourselves and the God who created us for something much more unique and special.

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we became simply and exactly what we were created to be? We’d be happier and more satisfied with our lives, we would be able to contribute to society more effectively by knowing exactly what we have to offer, and God would be glorified by his creations fulfilling their given roles instead of the roles their guidance counselors advised them to pursue.

I guess the big issue I have with the content of the book is that it states the thesis over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again without a whole lot of solid practical application. Staub says that we need to develop intellectually, spiritually, morally, creatively and relationally several times in each chapter, thus becoming the best versions of ourselves, fully human and fully alive. But he very rarely offers practical suggestions as to how to go about it. At best, we get a bit of encouragement to go and figure it out for ourselves because we’re all different.

In fact, I didn’t even find Staub’s argument for how Jesus demonstrated what it means to be fully human very strong. I believe that Jesus did demonstrate what it means to be fully human. I just didn’t think Staub backed up the argument very well with the Scriptures he chose.

But the most frustrating thing about the book was the horrid editing. Y’all, it’s so bad. On the big scale, there are a few problems. First of all, there’s the incredible overstatement of the book’s main idea. If we don’t get it after the first 20 times, we ain’t gettin’ it. On a smaller scale, there were lots of very poorly developed and supported paragraphs and ideas. If I didn’t already agree with everything the man was saying, I would have been largely unconvinced.

And finally, there were the typos. Oh dear God the TYPOS! There were duplicate words, weird spacing, and worst of all, a reference to Alec Baldwin as ALEX BALDWIN. I mean for real, somebody should have caught that.

So here’s what I recommend. If you want to read something of this nature, just come talk to me instead. I’ll give you a shorter version with more appropriate Scripture references and the correct names of any celebrities I mention. Show tunes optional.

Why, Hello Friday

Dang, y’all. I’m sorry. I do not know where the week has gone, but I sure do feel like it’s been a full one. Here’s what I remember:

  • I went running on Tuesday, and I’m now finished with week 3 of the Couch to 5k program. When I go tomorrow, I’ll step it up to week 4. Wish me luck on that.
  • I’ve somehow gotten sucked into Oprah every day this week, which has been interesting because I’ve never been an Oprah watcher. I’ve probably watched it more this week than in the whole rest of my life combined, and because this is the first week of her last season, every day is CRAZY. On Monday, she announced that she was taking thw WHOLE audience to Australia for a week. John Travolta will be their pilot. I’m pretty sure some of them had to be resuscitated. And just now, she gave two full rows of brides-to-be a $250 Kohl’s gift card, a Vera Wang wedding gown, a $4,000 Marriott Hotels & Resorts gift card, and a United Airlines travel voucher to go anywhere in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or Canada. It really has been almost exactly like this (and seriously, enjoy the moment at 1:58 when Tina Fey pees her pants).
  • I played Neil Diamond for my students. They didn’t like him as much as they liked Johnny Cash. They did, however, enjoy Stranger Than Fiction, which we watched today.
  • I had dinner with the dean last night. Well, me and 200 other people. It was…free.
  • I finished listening to that Nicholas Sparks book and hated myself for getting as into it as I did.
  • I went to the mall.

I don’t have any plans for tonight, and I’m just fine with that. I’ma sit here on the couch, watching the TV and resting my feet. If you want to come over and watch a movie with me, you are welcome to do so.

The Story of My Life

It’s a good thing I’m not a people-pleaser, because I feel like I am constantly letting someone down with all my coming and going. I leave Raleigh, and people are sad. I go back to Raleigh, and people in Asheville threaten to lock me in a closet because they don’t want to lose me. I tell my students I won’t be back next semester, and they look at me with such disappointment that I honestly wonder if I’ll ever see them again. What’s the point of continuing a relationship (even a teacher-student one) that’s just going to end in two weeks?

It’s really sweet, and it’s flattering for sure, but it upsets me at the same time to know that my actions are upsetting to others. It’s like I can’t go anywhere without leaving a mark.

True story: I worked at Caswell in the summers of 1999 and 2000. In 2001, I went down for a weekend visit, and when I walked into the staff lounge, a guy I’d never seen before pointed at me all excitedly and said, “You’re Beth Parent! I want a massage later.” Because apparently word of my healing hands had gotten around the staff house.

That’s a silly example, but the dude knew my face, my first AND last name, and my hidden talent before I ever knew he existed, which means there was extensive discussion of me with accompanying photos before I arrived. This happens a lot, and that feels so weird to me because I’m just living my life, you know? I’m not doing anything spectacular except having a crap ton of fun, and yet somehow I am special to a lot of people.

I know it’s starting to sound like I’m complaining about how fabulous and popular I am, but that’s not it. It’s really quite humbling to think that I have this gift I’ve never really noticed or thought about before, and it’s just a part of who I am, but what do I do with it?

What does this ability to impact people require of me? There’s a great and weighty responsibility that comes with it, and I haven’t figured out yet how to carry it.

If I were a character in a story, after such a realization, I’d be at a point of decision. Where do I go from here? Given the experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve learned and become, how do I proceed? Everything up to this point has just been background and character development. And here is where the story actually begins, but what’s it about, what do I want, and why does any of it matter?

I want my life to count for something. I want to love people well and help those who need it, but I also want to really relish life and facilitate the fun and enjoyment of others. I look at some people’s lives, and I think, “My life is pointless. He’s digging wells by hand so villages in Africa can have water, and I’m writing a book called My Husband Ride Me.” But you know what? I love that I’m writing a book called My Husband Ride Me. I laugh out loud as I’m working on it, and I hope that one day dozens of other people will get to enjoy it the same way.

I don’t want to give up those quirky little things that make me the person everybody wants to have around. I just want to figure out how to use them better.

I want to live a life of such freedom and adventure that when my great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughters read about it, they think, “So that’s where I get it,” and feel free to be exactly who they are because they know they’re not abnormal for being adventuresome.

I want to live a life that awakens people’s imaginations as to what their lives can be, and I want to encourage them to follow those dreams even when doing so is hard.

I never want to believe or say that it’s too late for me to do something I’m really excited about. It is never too late to live the rock-n-roll life, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. Have y’all seen Young at Heart yet? Because you really must. I own it. Come on over, and we’ll watch it together just so I can prove my point.

I want to make people laugh. I want to make other people wonder what’s so funny. I get down on myself sometimes because I think I’m not doing anything meaningful. I mean, clean water is clearly more important than jokes, but here’s the thing: Laughter is bonding, and people need connection with each other. Laughter is healing, and there is a lot of pain in the world. Laughter might not be a part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it should be. I don’t know if happy people live longer, but they sure do enjoy it more.

I don’t know what the plot of my story is yet, but I hope it involves a husband I can goof off with, travel with, raise children with, and grow with for the rest of my life, demonstrating radical love to everyone around us. I hope it involves at least a short stint in Spain (because I freaking love that country for no apparent reason). I hope it involves all the friends I currently love and all those I haven’t met yet. I hope it involves a lot of writing and a lot of foreigners, a home with an open-door policy and awesome flea market chic decor, delicious food and wine, full passports, surprises, and tons of music and dancing.

If it’s a story I’m writing with my life, it’ll be on Broadway one of these days. Mark my words.

These are the first of my thoughts on life that will hopefully win me a trip to Portland to attend Donald Miller’s conference. These thoughts are too vague, though, so for the rest of the week I’ll be writing more specific stories. Then we’ll pick the best one, and I’ll enter it in the contest.

Story Time!

I don’t know if any of you have ever looked at a map of North Carolina and Virginia, but from the western tip of NC to the northern tip of VA is about as far as you can get just between those two states. It takes seven hours to drive from Asheville to Manassas. SEVEN HOURS. I could fly to Europe in that amount of time. And about 5.5 hours of the drive are in VA. It’s brutal.

So I was driving up to Manassas last weekend, and it was getting to be lunch time. There aren’t many fast food places I can go and get vegan enough food. My options are basically Taco Bell and Subway. I do not prefer Subway, so around 12:30, I started looking for an exit with a Taco Bell, but apparently the people of western VA hate Taco Bell. I couldn’t find one anywhere. I drove and drove and drove, and around 2:45, I finally came across an exit whose “Food” sign indicated I could get off there and make a run for the border. So I did.

When I got to the bottom of the exit ramp, though, I saw the other sign – the one that tells you which way to turn and how far it is to your desired junk food. 2.4 miles. Really, VA? There should be a 1-mile limit on how far a restaurant or gas station can be from the exit in order to be listed on the sign. MAYBE 1.5 miles in very rural areas, but 2.4? That is not ok. But I REALLY wanted a 7 Layer Burrito (Cheesy Wrap) al fresco, so I turned right and headed into the wild of rural Virginia.

Let me just say right now that I never did find that Taco Bell, and I ended up eating at Subway, where I could have eaten if I’d taken just about ANY other exit. But what I did find was a Bank of America (I needed to cash a check, so that was nice), gas for $2.47 (It’s like $2.69 in Asheville), and Historic Downtown Pulaski.

I didn’t really explore Historic Downtown Pulaski because I still had about four more hours to go until I hit Manassas, but I did pull over on the side of Main Street, write a post card to Emily Furr Hogan, and toss it in a mailbox before I topped off my tank, ate a six-inch Veggie Delight, and headed back to the highway.

I lost an hour of my life, but I gained a new experience and a new page in the coffee table book I’m going to make at the end of the year. I’m not at liberty to release details about that just yet, but I can tell you that it’s going to document my 2010 travels in a most unique fashion. Look for it in my living room early next year.

Holy Crap

Oh my gosh, y’all, I just checked my formspring page, and I have LOTS of questions!! Great work! I can’t decide whether to answer them in the order they were received or in the order I feel like answering. I suppose in the interest of fairness, I should answer them from oldest to most recently asked. Here we go!

What was your first paying job?

Probably babysitting, but I also remember working for my high school basketball and football coaches, videotaping the games. I know that makes me the A/V dork, but I got into all the games for free, and during football season, I got to sit up in the cozy booth with the announcer. They might have even given me free concessions. It really wasn’t a bad gig. And that is how I know everything that I know about football, which admittedly isn’t that much, but it has at least given me a healthy appreciation for the game.

Oh shoot. I’ll do another one since I didn’t give y’all anything yesterday, and that last one was so easy.

What has been your most embarrassing experience?

Dude. I do not know. I’ve probably got a lot of repressed memories from middle school that would top the list if I could consciously access them, but I can’t, so I’ll tell you about Honduras.

I went to Honduras on a mission trip the summer after I graduated from college. I didn’t speak any Spanish when I got there, but I learned a ton over those couple of months. Well, the Sunday before we were to leave, the church got me and my roommate Charity up onstage to say a few words about our time there. And that’s when it happened. Charity went first, saying something lovely and eloquent and perfectly family-friendly because she was fluent. Then it was my turn. And I stepped up to the microphone, cleared my throat, and said to the entire congregation:

“Thank you for everything. Thanks to God for the opportunity to have relations with all of you.”

Relations. In the Biblical sense.

Everyone started laughing. Our friend Christian, in the front row, spit up her breakfast, all the boys fiddling with the sound system in the back suddenly looked up in horror, probably trying to figure out where they were on the day when I hosted the orgy, and I looked back at Charity, who was fire engine red and crying. Trying to cover her mouth, she whispered to me, “You just said you’d had sex with all of them.”

Oh crap. “Oh well. It’s better than two months ago,” I told them, and then I think we walked off the stage. I honestly don’t remember whether I said anything else or gracefully recovered in any way or what. I probably just turned red and walked off the stage thinking I’d probably never see most of those people again anyway, so what did it matter? They’d have a funny story to tell, and they’re very welcome is all I have to say about that.