Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

The great Jane Austen read-through continues with Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey is not as deep of a character study as Emma, nor as serious a rumination on England’s class system and women’s role and opportunity within it as Sense and Sensibility or Mansfield Park. Nor is it as thoughtful a meditation of romantic love and what goes into a good marriage as Pride and Prejudice. But what Northanger Abbey lacks in weight it makes up for in humor.

This book is funny. 

Now, all of Jane Austen’s books are funny. But Northanger Abbey is more biting, almost acerbic, than Austen’s previous books. Austen’s descriptions are sharp and, while veering a little into caricature, stop just short of being mean. And of particular note is her satire of both novels and those critics who despise the artform. Continue reading “Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen”

Even Michaelangelo Got the Blues: What Bill Russell Taught Me About Craftsmanship

I like to write.

In addition to this blog, I like to write poetry and music and fiction. Lately, it’s mostly fiction.

And writing fiction is fun, but damn it’s a lot of work.

That said, I did state that one of my goals for 2017 is to get some of this writing published. And since I’ve backed myself into a corner, there’s really nothing left to do but push forward with it.

I would like to get some writing published in 2017. I have one novel in the hopper ready to go, another almost done, and my NaNoWriMo novel to finish (it turns out that 50,000 words represented the first half of my story).

One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that the writing itself, while time-consuming, isn’t the difficult part. What struck me is that the blood, sweat, and other substances that hard work brings out of you really flow during the revisions.

In other words, for the book I am working on now, revising the sucker is taking forever. Or at least it feels that way, even if the math doesn’t make sense. Let me explain:

It took me ten months of writing, plugging away between work and family and travel, to finish my first draft, the final period put in place this past January. At 800 pages, it actually only represents the third-longest thing I’ve ever written.

If you’re into word count as a metric, Microsoft Word puts it at around 168,000 words. Please do not ask me for any more statistics.

Okay, here’s one more: Since January, I have edited, revised, rewritten, deleted, rearranged, polished, and spit-shone 211 of those pages.

It sounds like I’m moving at a pretty good clip right? And I am. But why does it feel like it’s ten times harder than writing the damn thing in the first place?

It’s all relative, and at this rate I should be done with my second draft in a month. But let me tell you, the level of effort required to refine this book is intense.

But as I go through this second-pass at my book, a word keeps bouncing in my mind, a word that seems to perfectly encapsulate what I am doing and, most importantly, why.

That word is CRAFTSMANSHIP.

Recall, if you will, that I wrote about my growing disinterest in professional sports not too long ago. But just because I’m not watching sports on a regular basis doesn’t mean I can’t admire great athletes and the lessons that they teach.

One of my sports heroes is actually a thinker who just so happened to be really tall and ended up playing basketball: Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.

2681643-0711686871-dna06

Mr. Russell is an incredibly interesting man. While he was not the first black athlete drafted in the NBA (that would be Chuck Cooper, drafted by, ahem, the Boston Celtics in 1950), Russell broke many other color barriers, including being the first black coach in NBA history–a role he performed while also playing.

But Russell isn’t famous only for his civil rights work. He is also famous for being one of the most successful winners in sports history: In the 13 seasons he played, he won 11 championships, including an unmatched run of 8 in a row. He also completely revolutionized the game of basketball, single-handedly changing the way the game was played, particularly on defense.

He was also a damn good scorer and gobbled up a hell of a lot of rebounds.

Anyway, as if the guy wasn’t gifted enough, Bill Russell is also smart as hell. He’s well-known among basketball fans as being one of the smartest people ever to play the game. Seriously, he’s like a basketball philosopher-cum-scientist who can dissect the game in ways you never thought possible.

But more germane for our purposes, he is adept at relating the game of basketball and the lessons he learned playing it to life. Continue reading “Even Michaelangelo Got the Blues: What Bill Russell Taught Me About Craftsmanship”

True Truthiness

Today, for both Eastern and Western Christians, marks the start of Great and Holy Lent, the 40-day fast culminating in Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But this post is not about religion per se, and is intended for a universal audience regardless of your religious proclivities (if any).

I’m inclusive like that.

You see, what strikes me about Lent and Easter is its thematic link to most other major Christian holidays in that they all seem to be about renewal and rebirth.

From Christmas–the conception and birth of Jesus–to Epiphany–the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist–to the Transfiguration–the Revelation of Jesus’ true nature to John and James and Peter–these events involve humanity being able to overcome its fallen nature and put on a new form, new wine in new bottles.

But if this isn’t a religious post, then why am I writing about religion?

Because this focus on rebirth can also be seen as a quest for truth. And as a blogger I very much enjoy named Insanitybytes22 put it recently, absolute truth is difficult to come by, but us Christians like to think we have a starting point:

However, human flaws aside, objective truth and Absolute Truth are still real things in the world. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” -John 14:6. The truth is important in the Christian walk, and it is an objective, tangible thing, outside of and beyond ourselves, our feelings, and our sentimentality.

This is what I try to use as my starting point as well: If you are going to have a standard, it’s better for that standard to be as immutable and true as humanly possible. And since “humanly possible” is not always best, I think the teachings of Jesus Christ–who us Christians consider to be God on Earth–are a good place to start.

This all still sounds religious. Where am I going with this?

I am going to a place that may seem disproportionately mundane when compared to the resurrection of the dead: My own life.

Specifically, my purpose.

Specifically, what am I doing here.

And by “here,” I mean blogging. Writing. Anything. Continue reading “True Truthiness”

Write From the Heart

I hate lists. 

I hate bullet points. 

I hate how-to guides. 

This is not entirely accurate. I do enjoy reading them, but I sure hate writing them. 

Lots of great, high-quality bloggers wrote these things. I read them and enjoy them and learn from them. 

But I don’t like writing them, even though I’ve tried from time to time. 

It’s a pretty American thing, isn’t it? Lists and bullet points? “Here’s how you do it, bang bang bang.” No pretensions, no bullshit, no flowery language. Get to the point. 

But here’s the thing: I’m a bullshitter. I’m a dissembler. I like flowery language. 

I’m a storyteller, and a story-reader. I like stories. I like writing narratives.

Successful blogs, though, tend to have bullet points, lists, and “actionable items.”

These are great. 

But they’re not my style. 

I always feel disingenuous when I write like this. 

It’s funny, then: Why blog? What am I trying to do? Continue reading “Write From the Heart”

The Only Way Is Forward

There’s a funny thing about time: It’s a one-way street, theoretical physics and sci-fi aside. 

And it moves so fast

You are going to get old and die. There is nothing you can do about this. Stuff will happen between your birth and your death. And eventually the sun will expand, engulfing the entire inner solar system, up to and including Mars, in its fiery bosom, before exploding altogether. The end. 

But we have a few billion years until then. 

I saw a great line recently, something akin to “Your life is two numbers and a dash in-between. Make the dash interesting.” I like that. 

Born at point A. Die at point B. Kick ass between. We’re all in the same boat and no amount of potions and serums and computer programs will change this. 

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, we just crossed over into the year 2017 a few days ago, and while it’s pretty arbitrary, it’s just as good a time as any to take stock and plan ahead. 

That’s right: There’s nothing wrong with goals per se. And yes, the arch-cynic here is looking ahead. 

(Reminder: I did not do this in my New Year’s Eve post).

For the purposes of this site, I would like to continue writing about various topics of interest, only using personal experience as a springboard to interesting themes. Expect the writing schedule to be a little more “normal,” i.e. 1-2 posts per week. 

I would like to get some writing published in 2017. I have one novel in the hopper ready to go, another almost done, and my NaNoWriMo novel to finish (it turns out that 50,000 words represented the first half of my story). 

I’m thinking of following the examples of my pals Rawle Nyanzi and Russell Newquist, among others, and going the indie or self-publishing route. 
I also have some professional and personal goals, but again, won’t be sharing them here other than in vague terms as a launching point for something else. 

I’d like to revise some earlier posts. I have done a few, but there are plenty more to go. 

And as always, there’s the overarching question of “why?” Why do this? Why write? Here are some answers:  Continue reading “The Only Way Is Forward”

Go With What You Know

I know, I know, some hiatus, right? Not even a week?

Whatever. 

I never said I was quitting, just that I was rethinking what I want to do with this space. 

And I’ve been thinking. 

Ultimately, I don’t want to write anything that a) rings hollow, b) is hypocritical, or c) is not coming from a place of expertise and experience. 

I do not want to be a generic “self-help” guy. 

I do not want to merely write about “stuff I like”…unless it has a point. 

So the thinking lead me down the path of wondering what, exactly, it is I have to offer. And I have done to a sad and yet oddly uplifting conclusion:

The two things I know the most about in my life are mistakes and regrets. 

It is not good to regret the past, but I am a man who had made bad decision after bad decision–with a few good ones thrown in there just to keep things interesting–and ended up living a life I would most certainly like a do-over on. 

Let me digress for a second: Maybe this IS the life I was “supposed” to lead. God is all-knowing; who am I to judge how things turned out?

Ah, but contrary to popular belief, is Christians do believe in free-will, so I’m in a bit of a conundrum. 

And I think the best way to get out of said conundrum is sharing these mistakes with you all–primarily young people–and help you avoid the same mistakes I have made. 

This definitely fits the bill of “going with what you know.” Continue reading “Go With What You Know”

Fare Thee Well


The funny thing about blogging is you’re supposed to demonstrate some sort of skill or expertise about something. Otherwise, a blog is kind of a diary you share online, and if that’s what you’re into, then I guess that’s what Live Journal is for. 

Or, a blog should demonstrate insight into something, an uncommon truth or lesson gleaned from both the extraordinary and the mundane. 

I enjoy reading these things, and I enjoy (attempting) to write them. But I noticed something interesting, and even slightly annoying, lately:

Everybody is an expert. And I mean everyone. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve discovered a lot of fantastic, useful information and motivation on blogs, social media, and so on. It’s just that–damn!–the braggadocio levels are out of control. 

I know that if you don’t promote or believe in yourself, no one else will but my God man, over the Internet, anybody can say they’re anything! Why should you listen to anyone or swallow advice whole without thinking critically?

There are people who pass the sniff test, of course–professional athletes and trainers, business people and parents–who have a proven record of success, have clearly thought their ideas through, and show themselves, warts and all. Take them more seriously. 

There are others I’m missing, of course. But a lot of blogging seems to involve words with little action behind them. 

Which brings me to me. Sorry to say, I have no expertise in anything. It sort of makes me wonder why I’m keeping this blog, beyond liking to write. 

I mean, my most popular posts tend to be a) book, movie, and other product reviews, amd b) posts about religion. 

So my audience–whatever that is–likes to a) read about stuff before they spend money on it, and b) God. 

Does this mean I should focus on those instead of the other stuff I like to write about–culture, music, the law (booooring), fatherhood, a little politics?

Maybe. That’s A/B testing, right?

And maybe that’s the way forward. My problem with blogging is this: I don’t think I really have any great insights into anything.   

I’m not saying this to get sympathy, because that’s pathetic. I am just being honest and self-reflective

I harbor no illusions about being particularly good at anything or writing useful “self-improvement” type stuff. I have a very short track record of proven success, and it seems silly writing as though I were THE MAN. 

What I am is a guy who has made a lot of mistakes in life and has spent almost a decade trying to undo the damage. I’m a guy who doesn’t like where he is in life, but doesn’t really want to blog exclusively about that. I’m a guy who’s trying to get some writing published and thought a blog would be a good way to a) get my name out there and b) get practice (it is).

But mainly, I’m a guy who just wants to matter in the world

The weird thing is that I do. We all do. What I’m referring to is external validation. 

It’s funny, right? No wonder I’m into music: There is nothing like the affection of a crowd. There is no other feeling. From professional to amateur, we’re all a little cracked in the head like that, I guess. 

And yet, I have God, so I really don’t need this. It’s a weird push-pull, and I guess having both is what keeps me sane. 

I also have my family, and while the situation hasn’t been ideal for over a year, it’s still better than not having a family. 

So what’s next for my little on-line adventures?

I don’t know, but I am going to take a blogging hiatus and really think about what I want to do with this. 

Rebrand/redesign? Refocus? Start a new one? Keep plugging along?

I don’t know yet. That’s what a hiatus is for. 

As always, you can find me on Twitter, Gab, and Instagram. Say hi; I do write back. 

And as always, thanks for reading. God bless. 

-Alex