Monday, July 18, 2016

Forsaking the John Pipers Of the World

The first time I heard John Piper, I was a little put off.

It was in a Passion Conference video, and the sermon he gave was fine. It was something about how he spoke which rubbed me the wrong way.

But everyone else in the world seemed to love him, so I didn't say anything. We all have personal opinions about preachers and styles and interpretations. That's okay.

Over time I saw more and more of what Piper was saying on various topics. Some was good. Some was not.

He ignored the views of women while speaking into our situations. He slut-shamed and pointed out certain people's sins in a public arena, while staying silent about child abuse and rape within the Church. He wrote on a variety of modern topics claiming the will of God, but never backed his views up with Scripture.

His words have been downright harmful. Despite this, he still writes and says things I agree with. He preaches both truths and untruths.

Every human being has a part of the truth; nobody has the whole. One person can't contain the truth of life, spirituality, and existence. It's far too big. We learn new pieces of the puzzle from others we encounter. It's one of life's beautiful things.

I want to treat Piper in the way I treat most everyone else. He has some pieces, and other times makes pieces without consulting the manufacturer. I want to take in the good and decry the bad. I don't think doing so has to be a self-conflicting impossibility.



But two things lead me to want to distance myself from him, as well as others who've passed baseless opinions as God's truth to a large audience and knowingly injured others.

First of all, I don't want to reinforce his celebrity. He may say some things that are good, but he's also damaged some people in a bad way. And he hasn't backed down, rarely apologizing for his words. I haven't seen him humbly acknowledge when others are right and he is wrong.

That's concerning: all of us are wrong at some point, and we should learn how to handle it gracefully.

In light of that, I fear that spreading good words he's said will only lead more people to listen to him. Like me, they'll see he's big and popular and think, my feelings must be in the wrong about him.

I don't believe in shutting someone out of your personal space as soon as they're insensitive. But when the issue of celebrity comes in, a person's words are weighed on a different scale. You're allowed to cultivate safety in your life.

The second reason is that I care too much about justice. When people are hurt, I hurt. I get angry. I wait and plead and push for action, an apology, a healing of wounds.

I've written on this blog that when there's a rift between two groups, reconciliation can come from either side. Thus whichever side you're on you should offer the olive branch. I no longer believe that's always true. There are situations which are one-sided, where the wronged party saying, "it's okay, better luck tomorrow," encourages the abuse to continue.

Black folks shouldn't have to, and can't, do anything differently. They're just living their lives, but they're not valued as highly as others. Change needs to come from our end, from the white people--it can only come from us.

When someone tramples others without remorse and won't act to undo it, I have to put up boundaries.

I cannot open myself to someone who continues misrepresenting, devaluing, or shaming others. I can love them, respect them, but not give them a voice in my life. A KKK member might say, "Jesus loves you," but their proud racism will taint those words. It's unlikely it will sound positive as it should.

I will have to hear it from someone else. Luckily, many others are saying it.


Word count: 661.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Unsafe

Note: links in this post only go to informational lists, not to news stories. 

I'm not going anywhere there's news today, not even to watch the Philip DeFranco Show. I don't want to know what the media is saying right now.


About a shooting in a gay nightclub, on Latin Night, during Pride Month.


I don't want to think about how to interpret politician's reactions and whether or not they're using 50 deaths to their advantage.

I don't want to enter upon discussions about Muslims and immigrants and building walls.
I don't want to even contemplate what Trump is saying.
I don't want to catch a whiff of, "it's too bad those people died living in sin."

I don't want to careen off into other hot political topics. I want to focus on those who died. Stand alongside the survivors. Try to stop it from happening again.

Source: Katherine Locke.

By pure chance, I wasn't on the internet much Sunday, and didn't hear about the shooting until later. I went on Twitter once and by that point we had #GaysBreakTheInternet. Queers posted selfies with proud messages of we exist, we are not invisible. Some people even came out of the closet to support the victims and survivors in Orlando.


This morning I went straight to Vox, because I knew they would have the facts and no opinions. The end showed tweets from the LGBTQ community expressing love, support, and awareness.


That was hard.


I want to stay right here, in my and my friends' grief. But even without looking at media, I can't help wondering how the rest of the world is reacting. The largest shooting in American history. Is everyone mourning with us?


I can't help wondering if many people feel removed. If thinking, "I don't visit gay nightclubs and I don't know anyone who does," makes it harder for you to relate with the victims. Does that lessen some people's sorrow?


Last week I researched the FBI's crime statistics for a short story. Saw the section on hate crimes, and the yearly numbers. It breaks down by crimes against race, sexual orientation, gender orientation, or femaleness.


I wonder: will the events at Pulse night club enter the hate crime stats for 2016?


Will it go under Sexual Orientation: Gay,


or under Race: Latino?



Those classifications don't tell us they were people. They had dreams, friends, lives, and personalities we cannot capture with labels. Everybody is intersectional and interstitial. The only thing that can truly communicate a person is a story.


That's why my friends and I will continue writing stories about characters of every race, sexuality, gender, and culture.


People always ask, why do you need a queer character in a movie? Why do you need a queer protagonist in a novel? Why do you have to make it so big and bold and in our face?


Because it's still not safe to be queer.


Because people still ask these kinds of questions.


Because people still think that queerness is something to hide your children from. As if I, as a person, need to come with a trigger warning same as a graphic rape scene in a movie. As if my existence is hurting others.


Because people continue to attack, beat, and murder us.


Because the media talks about us like we're a collective object. We need a reminder to lift our heads.


Because as long as people don't see queer characters in books and movies -- up on podiums, in classrooms, on the news, and in Office -- people will continue to think of queerness as weird. As long as it's an unknown quantity, it will be scary. As long as people are scared, some people will commit acts of violence against us.


We say violence comes from anger, but anger is just the cover. Homophobia means fear. Fear of other people is what creates weapons and moves armies.



Equality House, across the street from Westboro Baptist.

It isn't safe to come out.

That's why the closet exists at all. So many of us have to lie about ourselves in order to keep our communities, friends, and positions.


That's why we have Pride. In June, we don't have to apologize for our existence. We can come together, come out of hiding, and not be afraid.


The only other time we can do that is in queer-designated groups. Gay bars, the few queer churches, and LGBT community groups are all we have.


I want straight folks to understand that Pulse was a safe place. Queers didn't have to hide there. When so many spaces aren't safe, that is precious.


Now, it's not safe there.


I want to create more safe spaces to make up for what we lost, and for what we should have more of to begin with.


I want people to proclaim if they're safe and queer-friendly, without fearing their churches and communities will become suspicious or cold toward them, or that we will somehow turn them gay or religiously gay-accepting. I don't want people to be afraid that if they are kind to us, something good and moral inside of them will be broken.


I want our world to become so safe that we don't need safe spaces. Where closets don't exist. Where people won't turn us away or put strictures on us because we're not straight.


If you want that too (and why wouldn't we all?), bring it up: LGBTQ rights and safety, bullying, and laws that could protect us. Discuss it constantly, in uncomfortable places and with uncomfortable people. Those spaces will never become comfortable and queer-friendly without nudging.


Mourn Orlando because 50 richly complex and unique human beings died, and also mourn because it was the result of hatred. Mourn because queers aren't safe. This unsafe world? This is what creates situations like Orlando. We let popular fear grow without confrontation, and people die.


Let's mourn that. We are allowed to feel things. Then let's change things for the future.







Word count: 973.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

She is Holy

No one ever told me referring to God as "her" was wrong.

They didn't have to. I heard whispers of the weird, way-too-feminist Christians who called God "her." I saw heads shake. Can you believe it? Ridiculous. I knew without anyone telling me that God being "she" was silly and possibly heretical.

The whispers also told me there was such a thing as too much feminism. According to the complementarian view, men and women have equal dignity but different roles. Liberal feminism wanted men and women to take over each other's God-ordained positions.*

But my thoughts shifted the more I read the Bible.

Ironically -- or perhaps not -- most of my liberalism came not from abandoning the Bible, but from studying it. I heard Scripture preached with patriarchal views, sure. But I found glorious, powerful femininity lurking in these male-centric, male-authored stories.

Take Deborah. Known for her wisdom, people came to her for advice and judgement. She stepped up in a time when only men were supposed to. (Women weren't believed capable of it: sound familiar?) Deborah and Jael, another woman, routed an army and killed a king.

Credit: Waiting for the Word.
Then there's Mary Magdalene. While all the men were hiding behind locked doors, women had the courage to go to the Roman-guarded tomb of Christ. Regular, gutsy women. Mary was the first person Jesus said hi to. The chosen first witness. The one told to preach the news to the men.

I cry every Easter when I read about that encounter. God chooses women when nobody else will.

Still, the interpretations I heard about these strong-women passages were male-centered. The Deborah's story charged men not to be cowards and miss out on opportunities for heroism. The Fall happened because Adam didn't step up and stop his wife. It's not like she had free will or anything. Mary Magdalene was skipped over. Ruth showed -- actually, they were never clear what she showed.

Real men take charge. Women can be strong sometimes, but that's not the way it's supposed to be. The Bible says so.

Nobody ever said this: it was the undertone. Kids pick up on implication, perhaps even more than adults. I grew up with all my strength and heroinism locked away. As a teen, I fought to figure out how to be the woman I was supposed to be. I didn't think I could be a warrior too.

Obviously, I do now.

About a month ago, I read William Paul Young's new book, Eve. It offered new perspectives on the act of creation, God and gender, and the Fall.

Full disclosure: I found parts of the story problematic. Young skimmed over a few important points about the experience of trauma. It was also poorly written, full of overdescription. Young didn't make me care about the characters. At the same time, stakes and tension were high, so I both did and didn't want to keep reading.

Regardless of the quality, the ideas are important ones we need to talk about.

Like the idea Adam and Eve's Falls were separate events with separate choices. The fact that women have some of the biggest roles in the Biblical narrative, and they're not flat characters. Most of all, the depiction of God giving birth to mankind from a divine womb through a holy vagina. God as a mother nursing children at their breasts.

These concepts aren't new. Jesus referred to himself as a mother. We connect God creating with birth. But like Paul, we often venerate pregnancy and parenting, not womanhood in its entirety.

Jodi Picoult's Keeping Faith taught me the Hebrew word for the Spirit is ruach. And ruach is feminine. God possesses a divine femininity that is equal to, not less than, God's divine masculinity. God is womanhood in its entirety.

Despite its faults, I appreciated the womanly imagery in Eve. It elevated femaleness to equal glory as that which maleness has had all these years.

It also used "they" for God.

I love this. God is all of femininity and masculinity: "he" misrepresents God, cutting women out. Modern English uses "they" for both plural and gender-free singular.

Thus using "they" for God expresses (1) God is plural within singular, echad, (2) God is not one gender, and (3) that includes God being all the genders we don't have pronouns for.

Genderqueer individuals' Preferred Pronoun is often "they." I see beauty in using it for God too. Genderqueer encompasses many identities. But at its heart is the idea that gender is female, and male, and both, and neither, and something else, and all at once.

Which is what God is, too.

They are a lot bigger than we can imagine, right?


Word count: 761.

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* For the record, complementarianism isn't incompatible with feminism. Most complementarians I know live a rather egalitarian / feminist / equal lifestyle with their partner.
I turned egal because all the complem's I knew were modeling excellent egalitarianism. The equal-dignity-separate-roles mindset was just a holdover from the strong patriarchy of previous generations. Even though we give men and women different titles, they inhabit the same roles all the time. Nobody bats an eye until we try to call a woman "pastor."

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Feminist Movie Reviews: All the Superhero(in)es

It's time for more feminist movie reviews! Tackling DC and Marvel.

Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice 




With the horrible reviews, I didn't have high expectations for BvS. I was pleasantly surprised.

Elements of character development existed, along with potentially compelling conflict here and there. It wasn't as much of a plot jumble as I anticipated, but rather too focused on theme instead of relatable characters. It's hard to empathize with an idea.

The characters were cast well (and the three JL founders were rather attractive). I liked Ben Affleck as Batman: he played the real Bruce, not Christopher Nolan's emotionless Dark Knight.*

It was an intense movie which showed real-world consequences. It could've hit the audience where we feel it, but poor writing and directing fumbled it.

BvS also failed with women. Just because you have a male protagonist (or two) doesn't mean you must have limp female characters.

Wonder Woman, a strong and complex character, wasn't explored despite many opportunities. Gal Gadot's talents weren't utilized: she looked good in fancy dresses and appeared when they needed her. She kicked ass in the climactic battle, but it was clear she was a sideshow, not a human being.

I expected chemistry between Diana and Bruce. I like their relationship in the DC cartoons. She's more powerful and psychologically whole than he is, and they build off of respect and friendship rather than need. This movie didn't tap into that.

Lois Lane was a device to garner sympathy, weaken Superman, and show us how cruel Lex is. She may be a "strong" damsel in distress, but do we need more of those?

Verdict: Lots of men and punching. Pretty. Not quite "there."


Captain America: Civil War




There were many things done well with this movie. Civil War had many threads, but unlike BvS it kept them all in hand. It captivated audience attention because it focused on character arcs at its heart.

Tony and Steve both want to protect their friends. From a feminist side, I loved that this wasn't just a superhero battle movie: it was about their psyches. It analyzed macho bromance feelings. When was the last time we saw a movie about that?

The women are strong and awesome. However, they don't have conversations with each other or other women. (Natasha says one line to Wanda in the beginning.) I understand they're side characters, but this would only happen in a world where men are the default human beings.

A token woman or two doesn't mean we have equality.

(Spoilers.) There's a chemistry-less, pretend romance with Cap and Sharon. Steve uses her throughout the movie to get intel and resources as he goes after the person most important to him: Bucky.

That's actually why I liked the "romance." Sharon's presence highlighted how Steve's priorities aren't to rescue a damsel or fall in love.

Steve is there for Bucky.

The two men have moments camaraderie throughout the movie. They reference their shared past and invite us into their easy friendship. These are the only times Steve truly smiles.

The queer subtext was in bold italics. The sorta-not-but-kinda-relationship delighted fans who've pictured a Steve-Bucky pairing before. Last week #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trended on Twitter, and some of the actors spoke in favor of a bisexual Cap. The reality of an out-and-proud queer superhero in a popular movie could be in our future.**

If it is Cap, little would change. We might see a kiss or some small gesture of affection. This is a superhero flick, not a romance.

While this movie failed with women, it earns points for scrutinizing traditional male stereotypes.

Verdict: Intense character development. All-around awesome. Queer subtext but failed the Bechdel Test.

X-Men: Apocolypse




The latest X-Men film carries a larger cast than Civil War. (Certainly whiter.) They manage to give separate plot arcs and spotlight time to every character. Complicated relationships even made some of the characters feel three-dimensional.

X-Men set up oodles of potential tension with Magneto. But they didn't deliver: Magneto fell flat in the second half. Apocalypse was also flimsy, a plot device created for the X-men to fight.

Still, it's an enjoyable flick, with edge-of-your-seat moments and awesome powers.

Apocalypse and the two staple leads, Magneto and Professor Xavier, are all men: it doesn't surprise me, but does disappoint me. Nevertheless, there are a lot of female mutants in big roles.

The lone government agent is Moira MacTaggert. The two characters responsible for rallying people are Mystique and Jean Grey. Half of Apocalypse's minions are women (Psylocke and Storm).



(Spoilers.) Jean Grey, the Phoenix, is the most powerful mutant in the Marvel Universe. She's just a teen in the movie, much of her strength still locked up. But it's her power which finally turns the tide of the battle.



There still isn't equality, but X-Men got far closer than most sci-fi/nerd-culture films. Of these three superhero films, X-Men gets the most feminist points.

Verdict: Awesome women and adequate feminism. Typical exciting superhero film.


In the end, I'd say X-Men came closest to equality of the sexes in numbers and roles. Civil War gave me the most personal enjoyment. But all three were worth seeing at least once.

What are your thoughts and rankings? Any feminist critique?


Word count: 872.

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* I should stress: I do enjoy the Dark Knight movies. But they don't feel like true Batman to me. I think of them as awesome dark action movies...which happen to use the names of favorite cartoon heroes and villains.
** I've heard Deadpool is pansexual. But that's the thing: someone had to tell me, because it's not in the movie. We never once see him flirt with a guy, notice a hot guy walking down the street, have a close relationship with guy -- anything. He's all about his girlfriend.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Why I Write Fiction

Someone asked me recently what got me into writing. The question stumped me. I said something about writing the stories I want to see in the world, etc. That's not my true reason though. My reason starts with Star Wars.


Stories and books (and legos*) crowded my childhood. Seeing Star Wars 4-6 was a big experience for me. It was the first story that made me feel something bigger. A call to be a hero fighting against the bad guys. The lightsabers and starships peppering the landscape were an added bonus.

According to Star Wars, there were lots of bad guys and evil and people who needed help. There was always another battle. That was the way life worked.

But anyone could be the one to save the world. Anyone can make a choice--choices are the only control we're given over life. That's how people worked.


I wanted to be one of the heroes. 

The empire and the rebellion showed what was possible and what was crucial when it came to heroism. It held essential facts, like:

  • Every hero has humble beginnings but dreams of being something bigger.
  • Developing your powers will be hard and painful.
  • Heroes always disobey their mentor at some point, discovering wisdom the hard way.
  • Bad guys can become good guys with the right motivation.
  • Sometimes mentors are wrong, and sometimes mentors lie.
  • Loss can make good guys decide to do bad things.
  • Every individual has a superpower, a skillset by which they get through life.
  • Every superpower has its drawbacks.
  • People who claim they don't care usually do.
  • Bad guys have friends too. People afraid to ask for help lose.
  • Victories require sacrifices.
  • There is always a point where strength runs out.
  • Family is powerful, even if you don't know who they are.
  • Each individual decides what kind of character they'll be.
  • Most importantly, good wins over evil.

Stories teach us the way of things. What I learned first in Star Wars helped me decide who I wanted to be and how to become her. There's no greater power than that.

Telling stories of my own was a natural next step.

I started creating Star Wars stories to see what happened if. Through those characters, I could experiment with the choices we make. It gave me a framework for boundless creativity. From there, it turned into a desire to tell those same types of stories to other people. What I gained I wanted to pass on. I wanted to inspire. I wanted to tell truths.

Yeah, Leia, that's how writing feels for most writers.

There were plenty of fandoms that played on my imagination through the years. The more I read, the more ideas I had. The wrappings of each story were beautiful and diverse. Yet the core of each story was the same.

Every book is a different facet of bigger things.

Stories get at the truth of us, but truth is an esoteric concept humans never fully understand. So there are always more stories to tell.

I write fantasy to turn the power I see in the world into legends and wonders. I can take the things we can't make sense of and make some sense of them. I can inspire readers with normal people like us who go on epic journeys. I can make something lovely about possibility and darkness, reflecting the things I've seen.

Star Wars remains the first story that inspired me. It gave voice to something deep in my programming and gave me terms by which to figure myself out. Now it's my turn to write that story for someone else.



Word count: 609.

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* Mostly Star Wars sets, duh. By the way, if you're thinking all this was why I got so excited when The Force Awakens came out, you're probably right. Also the reason for my goal to watch it 16 times in 2016. It's only April and I've seen it 8 times, so that's not unrealistic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Journey of Writing an 'Other'

The protagonist of my current fantasy manuscript is a trans woman. She lives an agrarian life tending a herd of llama-sheep and processing wool. Until she is selected to free her people from their conquerors.

I want to get Carra right. I don't want to damage the trans community (plenty of books already have), and I want her to be, well, her. A trans, outgoing, llama-hating, stubborn, sometimes-insecure, charismatic, feminist woman.


Credit: Heather Ruiz.

Writing the so-called "other" is hard. Any protagonist I write is different from me, and I use empathy to put myself in her shoes and understand her. But with marginalized identities, writers must take care to avoid denigrating or stereotype-enforcing images.

Writing about oppressed groups when you've never experienced their oppression is hazardous at best.

I called on a lot of resources to learn about trans women's experiences before I even started plotting: trans friends, trans blogs, articles from trans writers about trans experiences, articles from trans writers about how to write trans characters, accounts about body dysphoria... I haven't found a trans woman who can read the draft when I finish, but that'll be a vital part of my editing process.
(Update: I now have two trans women willing to be sensitivity readers! I'm always looking for more, so if you or someone you know is interested, please let me know.)

That's a long list of research, yet I could still get it all wrong. I am cis. I've experienced prejudices, but never transmisogyny and transphobia.

Here are some of the questions and lessons from my research.

1) What does normal life mean for my trans protagonist?

My impulse is to write Carra with the same voice and awareness as my other female protagonists. She's a woman, and I understand women.

While that's true, it leaves out some vital pieces of her day-to-day experience. Physical transition is impossible in her world, so what kinds of body issues might she face? What worries or habits might she have? How would she handle others misgendering her?

On the other hand, many trans readers complain that writers let these questions take over the narrative. Trans issues become all-consuming, and protagonists lack the dimensions of having other concerns.

I need to balance her trans identity with her other identities, like friend and leader. This isn't an either-or: Carra is both a hero with a hero's problems and trans with a trans woman's problems. Those identities can and should coexist.

2) Should I include transphobia in the story?

On the one hand, transphobia is a real and constant threat. On the other, I want this story to be about Carra helping her people, not about prejudice. Trans lives include more than just trans issues.

The question goes deeper because I write fantasy. I can eradicate transphobia from Carra's world if I desire. Would that help our world by showing readers what an accepting society can look like? Or disrespect the trans community by ignoring their real-world pain?

The answer is: yes.

Books have the power to change our internal narratives. It's important to show how things could be. But erasing a social issue simply because "it doesn't fit the plot" and "it's easier" is careless.

Trans Americans lose their lives to hate crimes every year. Most people turn a blind eye to that: a writer's job is to challenge this status quo. At the same time, many trans writers want to get away from the old coming out or persecution narratives. They want to see trans protagonists having lives beyond trans issues.

Thus Carra experiences discrimination from some quarters (like one friend) and not from others (her mother). Discrimination doesn't overwhelm the plot. She tries to lead without any prior experience. She deals with discrimination for being female. She endures life-threatening betrayal.

These aspects of her life matter as much as the transmisogyny she faces.

3) How many trans characters should I have?

Besides Carra, the manuscript had a non-binary character in a major role. I wondered: will people think I'm overdoing it?

Screw what people think: I looked at actual data. According to surveys 0.3% of people are transgender--though there are innumerable reasons why those stats may be too low. It's a starting point.

Carra's hometown has over a thousand people, so it's strange if she's the only trans person. Since there's no reason to be in the closet in her society, there could be a dozen trans folks or more.

The clincher for me was hearing how trans people seek out other trans people. It happens with any identity: I have queer, Christian, and writing communities. Trans people have trans communities, among others.

One trans writer was blunt: if your trans character is alone in the book, you did it wrong.

I added more trans characters.



Ever time a writer portrays an "other," some will feel they didn't do it right (even if the author is from that community). I can't show the entire breadth of trans living in a single protagonist: some people's experiences will be left out.

Having multiple trans characters helps. They have different personalities and experiences. But even if I get them all right, someone will say I did it wrong. As Claire Light says: "No matter what you do, it's [considered] wrong... Welcome to a tiny taste of what it's like to be a [marginalized person]."

I write diverse characters because diversity is reality. My writing diversified when I began identifying my own white heteronormative thinking in high school. My next protagonist was Latino. Not on purpose: he just was.

Carra's transness is part of who she is, as much as her womanhood or tenacity.

The "other" is a ridiculous moniker for another person. Someone with a unique story worth telling.


Word count: 914.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tweeting Teaches Writing Skills

Bring up social media in my company and you'll get an earful on why Twitter is superior to Facebook. 

I've been on Facebook since '06, and stopped enjoying it in '08. The post length increased until you could write a whole essay as your status. We swapped authentic life-sharing for political antagonism, trite quotes, and a culture where politeness is underrated. We can talk about ourselves, our views, and our experiences as long as we want.

Twitter, by contrast, maintains a 140-character limit: just enough for a sentence or two.

In a tweet, distilling your central message is vital. There's no time for commentary, wordiness, or self-involved monologue. I have to decide what's important to say, and then I'm done, like in a face-to-face conversation where you take turns speaking.


This taught me, first of all, that profundity exists in small nuggets of wisdom. You don't need long words and lots of paragraphs to communicate world-shaking truths.

Second, you don't need to repeat yourself. American speakers tend to be long-winded: topic sentence, thesis, example, re-worded thesis. But we don't have to use that formula. Readers only need a one-sentence thesis and an example. Trust your listeners to pick up on your meaning.

Last of all, every word is beautiful. My appreciation of that has grown. Don't use three words when you can use one. The secret is, you can always use one.

My short stories course in college had a 200-word limit on essays. We had half a page to discuss how Edward Jones manipulates readers' expectations in "Bad Neighbors," or whether Raymond Carver's editor masterminded his minimalist style. I learned the value of a single word and the weight of picking the right one.

Twitter is great practice for writing of any length. Good novels consist of thousands of tweets. Brevity is a lovely, undervalued skill.


Which is why I keep a word count: 307 words.