Dec 3, 2016

My Best Books

When I first started this blog, it began with the word "A few days."  Then after delaying publication for awhile, I changed it to start with "A few months."  Now, at last ready to post, I begin with:

A few years ago my friend (and parent of two former students) Elizabeth Towns posted a request for people's list of their top ten favorite books.  I thought about it and dashed off a list of ten on my phone's ColorNote app within an hour of seeing Elizabeth's post.  I had planned to comment on her post, but never got around to transferring the list.

In the meantime,I've come to realize that there's some commentary that I'd like to add that would be longer than appropriate in a comment on a months old Facebook post.

I've always been a voracious reader, since I was a child and would read until my head hurt and I'd wake from fevered jumbled dreams of all the stories I'd be consuming in great literary gulps.

But I've never been inclined to own many books.  I typically read a book once and that's it.  There are a few that I'd read again (even though most I haven't).  The following ten books definitely meet that criteria:

The Top Ten

10.  Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Life Time by Mark Halperin


This book was an absolutely fascinating read.  It's one of the few non-fiction book I've ever read that I couldn't put down.  I particularly enjoyed the window into the non-public personas of these very public figures.

9.  The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


I first read Joy Luck during Christmas break of my freshman year of college.  I guess it was just lying around the house.  I loved the multiple perspectives of the eight key characters (four mother-daughter pairs) and appreciated how Tan managed to draw those many stories together around a central theme and plot line.  I taught this book for years as 9th grade literature teacher and so have read it many times.

8.  Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder

This is another book that was a staple of my freshman students' reading list. I was encouraged to read Among Schoolchildren by my favorite English professor in college, Dr. Georgina Hill.  She knew I was contemplating a career in teaching and thought I'd find it illuminating.  I did. Kidder follows fifth grade teacher Christine Zajac for a school year and chronicles the challenges and joys of her experience. This book, now over 25 years old, is as timely as ever. More than any other book I've read, Among Schoolchildren, accurately captures the experience of being a teacher.

7.  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver


I read The Poisonwood Bible only once but it really stuck with me. It tells the story of a family of Baptist missionaries led by the severe and fanatical Nathan Price as they struggle to make a life in the Belgian Congo.  The story follows the four daughters as they grow up and deal with the consequences of their father's decisions.  I read the Poisonwood Bible while a missionary myself and found it a compelling cautionary tale of the damage that religious zealotry can do.  At the time I was also listening to Live's early 90's album Mental Jewelry and I found it to be the perfect "soundtrack" to the book, with even specific songs coincidentally seeming to match specific stories in the book.


6.  The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History was the first "contemporary" adult novel I ever read. My friend Carissa Berard (now Cotta) introduced me to the book, and while I feel like I now need to read it again to really speak on it's quality, I know that at the time I found it gripping, the characters compelling and complex.  It's on the list because I've never forgotten it.

5.  The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

During my freshman year of high school I somehow came into possession of a box-full of faux-leatherbound classics.  "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and "The Count of Monte Cristo"--maybe a dozen all together, plus a small collection of old detective stories (Agatha Christie and similar authors).  In the same way that I typically make it my goal to read Time magazine cover to cover each week, I decided that I would take up the task of reading every book in the collection.  Many were good of course--I guess that's how they became Great Books--but my favorite was The Egyptian.  I'm not sure how it ended up in the collection as it's not a book you typically hear much about, but it was fascinating--a sprawling epic.  I felt like I learned so much about ancient Egyptian history and culture, particularly the true story of ancient Egypt's brief flirtation with monotheism under the rule of the eccentric pharaoh Akenaten .  He single handedly tried to dismantle the polythesistic worship centered around the god Amen and replace it with sole devotion to the god of the sun's disc, Aten.  Famous names from ancient Egypt like Nerfirtiti (Akenaten's queen) and King "Tut" Tutakhenamen (Akhenaten's successor) all make appearances and come to life vividly.

4. U2 at the End of the World by Bill Flanagan

As I've shared on this blog, U2 are one of the few artists I am a personal fan of (as opposed to merely a fan of their work).  For a fan, this book detailing U2's journey during the critical years of their musical reinvention culminating in the Achtung Baby album and ensuing Zoo TV world tour, is a page-turner.  Speaking as fan, I the book helped me understand and admire the band more than any other source.  Even for a non-fans, I think readers will find this book immensely readable and hard to put down as Flanagan in short, punchy chapters illuminates what it's like to be members of the biggest band in the world trying to balance their faith, artistic integrity, family and personal commitments with the demands of stardom.

3.  No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green by Melody Green

This was another book that I had my freshmen read during my years  teaching 9th grade English. It's not on anybody's canon, but I liked to have a mix of fiction and non-fiction on my reading list, and I wanted a biography.  This book has captured me since I first read it in the summer of  1996, on the recommendation of my friend Clari Worley.  I've read it probably a dozen times since and I never tired of it.  This true story of one remarkably gifted man's search for God and his passionate devotion once He found Him has never failed to move and inspire me.


2.  A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

I first read this book sometime in 1998, either right before or right after we moved to Saipan.  It was like no other book I'd ever read.  Funny, insightful, deep, and deeply moving. It had a strong spiritual heart and some striking Christian symbolism, yet it was definitely not intended to be a Christian novel.  It was too edgy, too irreverent to ever fit that category (something I was reminded of when, having forgotten some of the more NSFC [Not Suitable For Church] moments in the novel, I introduced it to my first freshman literature class.  The students loved it as much as I did, but I knew it probably wouldn't be wise to keep teaching the book).  Maybe that's part of why I love the book--because it defies easy categorization and oversimplification.  I eventually read most of Irving's other books and they were good too, but none as good as A Prayer for Owen Meaney.  I haven't read the book in many years, and I'm not even sure where my copy is.  But it still officially holds the title of my Favorite Book.

1. Steps to Christ by Ellen White

This little book takes the number one spot, because it has been a touchstone of my life for many years now.  Next to the Bible, it has probably had a strongest impact on my spiritual life.  It outlines in the simplest term what it takes to come to know Jesus and enter into a saving, vibrant relationship with him.  Ellen White gets kind of a bad rap among my generation--many of us have been beaten over the head by her little red (and now little read) books growing up and find her intimidating.  But this book carries none of the "Testimonies to the Church" type counsel that can cause such consternation.  It is a simple, clear, affecting guide to knowing Jesus.  There are so many beautiful passages that make it so clear that knowing Jesus is a freeing, joyful experience. I've made it a habit to share the book (in small doses, as the 19th century language can be a little dense) with my students every other year for morning worship.  One of my goals is to help my students come to know Christ, and I can think of no better guide.



Honorable Mention: The Krakauer Effect

Jon Krakuer's books have a way of troubling my soul--in a good way I think.  This trio:

Into the Thin Air, a riveting first-person account of the disaster on the slopes of Mt. Everest in 1996 that took the lives of eight climbers.

Under the Banner of Heaven, a story of the consequences of a faith so blind that it turns violent.  This book probably shook my faith  more than anything I've ever read, but ultimately left it stronger in the end. (You can read how going through the struggle inspired me to see Abraham and Isaac in a whole new way in this very old post on my now mostly defunct Faith Journey's blog.

 and Into the Wild, a fascinating investigation into the wandering life and strange death of Chris Mcandless in the Alaskan wilderness. (You can read my review from my definitely defunct blog Maycock Media Mix here--I think the links till works.  I learned after a few years I barely have time for one blog much less three or four!)

 All three books will get under your skin, make you think, and challenge you. I highly recommend them.

Dec 1, 2016

Write Now



Maybe it's a little too soon to say this, but I think this past month has been revolutionary for me.  The 30-Day Writing Challenge really did jump start my writing again.  Now that I've been writing every day for a month, I don't want to stop!  I take such pleasure in putting words and sentences and paragraphs together to say something unique and meaningful, to express myself.  Writing daily, I've become more aware of my writing habits--some of which aren't so great--and I've been taking steps to improve my writing.

I've also been reminded that writing while often a pleasure, is also just as often a discipline. I'll never finish anything of consequence if I only write "when I feel inspired."  I learned that back in 2008 when I finally finished the novel I'd been tinkering with for the previous four years. It took me six weeks. But I wrote, whether I wanted to or not, for 4 to 6 hours, every single day (Ah, the days before kids when such feats were possible). During this past month it was like that again.  Not writing was not an option.

I now feel optimistic about my various writing endeavors.  I think I'll be able to get back to posting at least once, maybe twice a week on my blog.  One of the things that held me back for the past few years, was the need to write the perfect, utterly original and insightful blog post. My ideas for entries always seemed overwhelming and I never felt like I had time to actually create those posts. During this past month, I realized that the important thing is to write, not to get it perfect.  I'm also working on a play for a new drama ministry my colleague Wayna and I have started. It's a reboot of Point of Impact, the play I co-wrote with Galvin Guerrero over 14 years ago. I sat down to start sketching out some ideas this past Monday and ended up writing for over an hour!  There's still a lot of work to do, and I know it won't be easy, but I'm excited. Last, I feel like I'm getting closer to beginning work on my second book, one that will tell the story of the hardest and best year of my life--my ten months as a student missionary in Chuuk. For a long time I've felt this is a story that needs to be told, and I think it's about time I got to work on it.

So here's the deal: I'm moving directly into a second 30 day writing challenge.  This one won't be a blogging challenge. Instead my focus will be to do some sort of writing every single day for the month of December (I'm giving myself one day "off" so it's still 30 days. I haven't decided what day that will be or if I'll even take it.).  I will be maintaining that  one or two entries a week.  I think it's important to make finishing something a necessity.  Otherwise you can end of up tinkering with one sentence for 15 minutes and tell yourself that you "wrote" today.  That's fine occasionally, but if it becomes a habit, you've started fooling yourself.  Requiring a finished product regularly keeps me honest.  I'll be working on the play for sure, as I want to have it done before our drama group returns from our holiday break in January.  I'll be continuing to work on some longer blog entries--ones that can't be finished in a single day.  And on Friday nights when I'm taking a break from my laptop, I will write in my pen and paper journal (now in it's 49th volume!).

Whatever I work on though, the goal will be to write. Now.

Nov 30, 2016

Challenge

I do love to plan.  And I was all set to run through a laundry list of things I want to get done in the month of December.  But just now I realized I want to set some real goals for myself--some challenges, similar to the one I'm completing this evening with my final entry in the 30-Day Writing Challenge.  I want to do more than just check things off my list.  I want to accomplish  something.

So here they are three goals I have for the next 30 days.


Stay under budget:
The single biggest challenge to our budget is our grocery bill.  We consistently overspend on food, more than on anything else.  So my goal is to find myself under my food budget at the end of the next 30 days.  This will be difficult, particularly because I am starting out behind. My new budget for the month of December begins on Friday, and I've already spent some of it. On top of that, I'm cooking for the next 3 Sabbaths and those are always expensive because I like to make special dishes that often require more or more expensive ingredients. I'm sure I'll  also be contributing to the holiday cooking when we're at my mom's in Florida and that can add up too, especially since I'll be cooking for a crowd!  Babs and I split our food budget, so I won't force her into the challenge. This will only apply to my portion of the food budget, not too our household as whole.  But I promise not to "cheat" by asking Barbara to buy things for me on her budget.



Read a book.
I love to read, but it's hard to find the time. This last vacation I really didn't read as much as I would have liked. So over the next 30 days, I'd like to challenge myself to read a whole book.  If my time wasn't at such a premium this would be no challenge at all.  But I don't think I've read a whole book this entire year so far.  I'm hoping to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Her novel The Secret History was the first "real" contemporary novel I ever read, so I think it would be appropriate and rewarding to read her Pulitzer prize-winning latest novel.  But if I can't get a hold of that book (I'd prefer not to buy it), then I'll find something else.


Rest.
In an earlier entry I talked about how I feel like I could have a richer, more relaxing Sabbath experience if I stayed off my phone (or laptop) during those 24 hours.  So I've decided to challenge myself to take a break from all phone related activities (other than making or receiving calls or texts--imagine only doing that with a phone. Weird, right?) from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I'll do the same with my laptop (though I will preserve our traditional Sabbath afternoon Skype sessions with my family in Florida).  I'm not sure how I'll feel.  Will I be counting the minutes until sundown like I did as a kid so that I can get back online? Or will I relish the break from constant connectivity?  We shall see.

I'm kind of like this whole concept of challenges.  Let's see how it goes!


Nov 29, 2016

Keeping Counsel

Something people often misunderstand about you:

This is something, ironically, that only those who know me pretty well would misunderstand.  Those who only know me casually would be blithely unaware of it.  And those who are the absolute closest to me--my immediate family, my wife, my closest and oldest friends don't misunderstand me.  It's the middle group of people that know me pretty well (but not intimately) that I often feel misunderstand me.

I think people may believe I'm insincere sometimes.  I think this comes about for two reasons.  First, I don't like conflict and don't see any point in engaging in conflict unless I feel that the conflict will bring about some positive and effective change.  I think this is rare.  Most times if you air your grievances with someone, all it does is create more bad feelings (This is distinct, in my mind from working through differences with someone  with whom you have a close and trusting relationship).  I'm convinced that most people won't be "told" and don't benefit from being "set straight."  So I generally don't engage in "telling it like it is."  (I unpacked that in a  blog entry several years ago in an entry entitled "Straight Talk About Telling it Like It Is.")

Second, I tend to look for common ground.  So if I disagree with some aspect of a persons behavior or ideas, I will disregard that and look for areas where I can agree.  I try to see things from others'  point of view, and I usually find a perspective that I can understand and appreciate. So I choose to focus on that common ground.  One positive result of this approach is that I find I like most people.  I honestly can't think of anyone that I truly hate even though I know and interact with some very difficult people.  In most cases, it's possible to find something to like and appreciate in almost anyone.

People will sometimes ask me: if you disagree with X on topic A, why don't you tell them? Or if you don't like Y's behavior or attitude, why don't you let them know?  My answer is "What good would it do?" and "Well I don't disagree or dislike everything about Person X or Y, so since confronting them about what I don't like would serve no other purpose then to indulge my own sense of righteousness, why not focus on what I do agree with or like."  I think this often comes across as being "fake" or insincere. But I think if we're honest, I'm only different in style, not substance from most people in this regard.  Rare is the person that truly doesn't care about the outcome of their social interactions or regularly unloads whatever negative thoughts they might have to and about everyone they know.

And if you really don't care if your interactions are productive or not and are only too happy to let everyone know everything you think, I'm not particularly impressed.

Not that I'd tell you that, of course.

Nov 28, 2016

Funny

5 Things that Make You Laugh Out Loud:


Humor is a funny thing (pun intended). What one person finds hilarious, another doesn't see the humor in. I don't know how funny you'll find these things. I know they get me laughing every time..

1. Overheard (Chuuk Edition). When we were student missionaries in Chuuk, J and I started jotting done funny things that our students, colleagues, and even each other said. We called it "Overheard" and to this day, if J and I sit down and run through the pages of quotes we collected, we will be ROFL. A sampling:

Several of the funniest lines were when our students disapproved of our disciplinary actions:

"Don't you know how to love people?"--one of the students to my colleague Mikal Clark when he was taking down the volleyball net and they didn't want him to.

"Give! You will give to So Young!"-one of my fifth graders demanding I return a toy to her classmate that my colleague had confiscated.

"Where's the man? We will kill him."--another fifth grade girl joins they fray, speaking about the colleague who took the toy.

"I will not go and play.  I will stay in your house."--the original fifth grader now refusing to leave our house after I wouldn't return the toy.

"Mr. Maycock, can I wait until the flavor goes away?"--my high school senior Lisy on being told to get rid of her chewing gum.

"Mr. Carlos, are you tired of teaching?"-J's student Joylyn after seeing him get upset at some other students.

My failed attempt at building "self-esteem":

Me: "O.K. What good qualities do you have?"
Student: "Warning. . .Detention"

One student's take on salvation:

"I don't know if God choose you, but I think you're a good boy."--One of my fifth graders inviting a classmate to go to heaven with him, as written in his Bible notebook.


Willy "Big Will" Hawthorne was a fount of witty banter.  Will was a student missionary from Walla Walla and our high school science teacher.. A good chunk of our "Overheard" entries were one-liners from Willie:


"I trust in God for protection, but I also believe re-bar works well."--Willy commenting on a situation in which a student had physically assaulted one of our teachers. Gallows humor was not uncommon during that year.

"We're right behind you. You're out front and we're protected." -Willy to Mr. Lacayan, the acting principal while our principal was off-island.

"If I eat all my junk food now, I won't be tempted by it."--Willy

"Today went really well for being a bad day."--Willy

"Don't put yourself down, Sean.  Give us the opportunity!'--Willy


2. Humor about the Teacher Life:

I've always been one for gallows humor. I like being able to laugh at the stresses, failures and frustrations of my profession. Sometimes, laughing is how you get through the hard times.

Here are two of my favorites (Be forewarned, the first one has some strong language):










3. My Children


These boys of mine crack me up all the time. Unfortunately, I don't have a handy little collection of all the funny things they've said over the years. Maybe I should start compiling! But those two crazy kids are some of the most consistent sources of laughter in my daily life.


4. Synonyms, especially slang, especially for slightly inappropriate words like "drunk". I haven't really had a good belly laugh over synonyms in awhile but when I was a kid my brother and I would look up these synonyms and laugh until our sides hurt. Language nerds, I know. It's particularly funny when you read them one right after the other.
Herewith, synonyms for drunk:


























Another example of this sort synonyms list is the song "Shake Your Euphemism" by the Blue Man Group. I laughed so hard when they performed this at their show in Chicago this past spring. I mean whoever heard of referring to your rear end as "your life's work"?   LMAO (Pun intended). Click here to read the lyrics, which are essentially one long list of euphemisms for. . .well, you know,


5. Things I Know I Cannot Laugh at.
As a teacher there are times when you know you cannot laugh. A students has done wrong and they must be dealt with. You are stern, stone-faced: This is absolutely unacceptable behavior. And all of a sudden you're overcome by giggles as you reflect on this so wrong thing the child has done. You start coughing a lot, looking in the other direction and staring hard at the wall, willing yourself not to so much as crack as smile. But the harder you try, the more your body trembles with barely contained hilarity. The last time this happened, I think I was successful in hiding my inappropriate mirth from the student who was being reprimanded. But when I shared the story with my colleagues at lunch, and with my wife that night I could barely get through it without collapsing in a fit of laughter. Even now, all it takes is remembering one word of the incident and I literally start to laugh out loud.  It was just plain wrong. (And funny, too. . .).

Nov 27, 2016

Flossy

Something I am kicking butt at right now:

This was kind of a depressing entry.  I don't feel like I"m kicking butt at much of anything.  For the most part I feel like I'm holding my own.  Even areas of my life where I think I am doing well--such as in my teaching, where I feel like I'm doing some of the best teaching of my life--I feel like I could still do so much better that claiming I'm "kicking butt" seems to overstate things.  Likewise, I'd like to think I'm doing an amazing job as a father and husband.  In some areas, I think I really am amazing, and in others not some so much.  Overall: holding the line.  No butt kicking, no names being taken.

But then, I thought of one small area where I really have been doing awesome:  Flossing.

This is my preferred brand of floss


I have always hated, and still hate flossing.  But after my last cleaning on July 28 I just decided, "I'm going to floss everyday no matter what."  And I did. It's ironic because right around that time I across an article, in the New York Times no less, reporting that the value of flossing in terms of preventing cavities is unproven.  It's been assumed, but there really hasn't been proper research done to confirm this dentist-recommended practice.  It was the perfect "out" for me.  But  I had already made the commitment. I already had a couple weeks of perfect daily flossing and I didn't want to break my streak.  And besides, cavities aren't a real worry for me. I do feel like I can feel a real difference in my teeth when I floss, so even it turns out not to prevent cavities it still leaves my teeth feeling a lot cleaner.

Since the end of July I've only missed a stretch of 3-4 days, maybe 2 or 3 times when we ran out of floss and I didn't have a chance to get to the store to buy more.  I'm really curious to see what my hygienist will say when I see her in January.  Will she be able to tell the difference this time around now that flossing has been a regular part of my oral care regimen? I believe she will.

The funny thing is four months in, it's still not what I'd call a habit.  I don't just do it without thinking about it. I still don't feel like flossing, I still have to make myself do it.

Nov 26, 2016

Sabbath

An area of my life that I'd like to improve:
I picked up this photo of fiery Sabbath sunset from my friend and former colleague Virle's Facebook page.  When the sun sets on Friday night, we plug in like a device that needs charging. 24 hours later, we should unplug fully charged.  That doesn't usually happen with me.


I tend to interpret the 4th commandment strongly through the lens of the "Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" and less through a stringent avoidance of "doing your own pleasure."  In my reading of scripture, the only clear Sabbath command is the command not to work (which I have no trouble following--I don't know how people survive without that mandated sanctuary from the crush of the work week.  And I see the reason for the command, rather than a recommendation, given how I often end up spending Sunday despite my plans that I am NOT bringing any work home on the weekend.)  Beyond that, I believe there's a lot of room for interpretation.  I have no interest in judging how others choose to keep the Sabbath. If people want to judge me, well they're welcome to it; it's  not going to matter to me.

That said, I think I could improve how well I keep the Sabbath.  I don't feel guilty, really, so that's  not the motivation.  I just sometimes feel that I don't get as much out of the Sabbath as I could.

I spend a lot of time on social media on the Sabbath, browsing through Facebook, reading e-mail digests from The Week, Esquire, Rolling Stone.  It's funny because I don't even flip through my actual mail subscriptions to Time or Rolling Stone or Esquire on the Sabbath.  But somehow the digital versions have slipped by.  I recently read an article that said Ivanka Trump, who became an observant Jew when she married her husband, Jared Kushner, keeps the Sabbath by staying off her phone.  And I thought to myself, Dang.  I don't do that.   I do these things because they feel relaxing and restful.  But I don't think they really are.  I think I could use the break from the onslaught of politics, current events, entertainment--that is, after all what the Sabbath is supposed to be: a break.

 Also, I tend to enter the Sabbath at sundown Friday evening running behind.  The house is still a disaster, and I haven't finished my grocery shopping.  We end up either attempting to enjoy the Sabbath amidst the carnage of the weekday or cleaning well into the Sabbath.  And never mind, cooking the Sabbath meal before sundown, as my mother did when I was I child.  I often wake up Sabbath morning with the pressure to get lunch fixed before we go to church (In our household, Sabbath lunch is my responsibility). And there are far more runs to the grocery store both Friday night and Sabbath morning than I would prefer.

I often feel stressed throughout the Sabbath, and end the hours somehow dissatisfied.  I think if were a little more careful, perhaps a little more intentional about how I observed the Sabbath, I would feel more peaceful during the Sabbath, and more rejuvenated at the end.

I remember Sabbath in Chuuk was such a retreat.  Our dingy little apartment was always as clean as could be Friday night.  We usually cooked up something special, sometimes sharing with the other student missionaries.  I remember sitting out on the steps on Friday nights looking up at the moon shining through the coconut palms and feeling perfect peace.


 Sabbath afternoon there might be hike up Six Step Mountain after a luxurious afternoon nap.  And most Sabbath afternoons ended watching the sunset on the beach at the Continental Hotel, listening to Rich Mullins on my walkman.  I'd walk back to the campus in the gathering darkness feeling fully charged, and ready for the new week.

I'd like to have that feeling again.  And there are some good things that are a regular part of Sabbath right now.  Most Friday nights the whole family spends time coloring together.






Last night's work.  Ezra did the picture on the left while I worked on the right.

My Sabbath afternoon walks have been a tradition with the boys for years now.  And skyping with my mom and sister every Sabbath afternoon is something I always look forward to.

But I think I'm missing out on a lot.  I'm getting a half charge, when I suspect, with a few adjustments, I could be getting a full one.

Keeping the Sabbath holy, may be a command, but the Sabbath itself is a gift, and figuring out how to keep it well enables me to both fully keep the command and fully receive the gift.