488. I Believe

There is a fine line between healthy transparency and self-centered whining. I sometimes stumble over it. I tend to talk too much, or not enough, about my struggles and problems. Unlike some of the writers and bloggers whom I admire, I haven’t mastered the art of selfless transparency.

I hope I can be transparent today without seeming whiny or selfish. A number of things have weighed me down lately with sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty.

I’m not sure what to do, except to keep going.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide,

who through all changes faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend

through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

A couple of months ago, as I sat in a back pew of my church, a singer took the stage for a special performance of “Be Still My Soul.” It’s a beautiful hymn, and one of my favorites. As the singer began the second verse, I was surprised to find myself holding back tears.

I almost never cry. It took me a moment to realize why an old hymn had brought tears to my eyes.

“Be Still My Soul” took me back to simpler days, when God seemed near and the future seemed bright. Oh, how things changed. I’ve kept my faith, but it seems to make so much less sense. As I listened to the hymn, I grieved.

These days, I sit in the back.

It was a moment of painful emotional clarity. I felt, for a moment, echoes of my old faith, with its old confidence and hopefulness. I mourned their loss.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake

to guide the future surely as the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

all now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know

his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Work has been really tough lately. A widespread shortage of nursing professionals has left my workplace, a nursing home, hilariously short-staffed. At any rate, the staff shortage would be hilarious if it weren’t, y’know, a serious problem that’s exhausting and demoralizing those of us remaining.

I applied this week for part-time work at a few local libraries. They aren’t hiring, unfortunately, but offered to keep my applications on file. I’m not hopeful, but hey, I tried. I tried, I tried, I tried. Now it’s back to a workplace that seems a little more dysfunctional every day.

At least it’s not as bad as my last job, I remind myself. It isn’t yet.

I learned just yesterday that starting next year, I must either work more hours every week, or lose my employee health insurance. It’s not an easy choice. I feel like I can’t handle working any more hours, especially under current conditions, but can’t afford to lose my insurance coverage.

Whatever I decide, change is on its way.

I really don’t like change.

I’m not the only one facing uncertainty. A few days ago, the United States of America chose Donald Trump as its next leader. I’m busy preparing for the Mad Max-style wasteland this nation will become.

I’m kidding about the wasteland. I wish I were kidding about Trump. In writing this blog, I’ve avoided political discussions: partly to avoid strife and controversy, and partly because I’m not versed in politics. Today I’ll make an exception to acknowledge that Trump’s election troubles me greatly. A majority of voters supported a narcissistic liar who openly derides women, immigrants, minorities, and the disabled.

Is this America? Are Trump’s ideas what we value, support, and believe? Is this God’s Church in America? Have we really decided Donald Trump was the most Christlike candidate for president?

(Besides, have you seen Trump’s hair? It’s not a hairdo—it’s a hair-do-not.)

Look at that hair. Look at it. It’s horrible. On second thought, maybe don’t look at it.

Trump’s election is appalling, but Hillary Clinton was hardly a better choice. This was an ugly election, and I couldn’t see any possible victory. Simon & Garfunkel put it well: “When you’ve got to choose, every way you look at it, you lose.”

America, which already seemed plenty broken, is in shock. Reactions range from fear to outrage to smug satisfaction. Heck, the situation makes my workplace seem perfectly ordered and functional by comparison.

I just want to stay home, drink tea, and wrap Christmas presents. Is that an option?

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on

when we shall be forever with the Lord;

when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past

all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

My parents moved to Spain a week ago. After using my apartment as their home base for seven months, they packed, said goodbye, and launched themselves bravely into the next chapter of their journey. I miss them. More to the point, I am so proud of them. They live by faith, always cheerful, bouncing from place to place with practiced ease, loving others.

My parents are the best.

A week or so before my parents left, my older brother and his family concluded a brief visit to Indiana. They’ve returned to the Dominican Republic to continue working with troubled youth. I’m proud of them, too.

My family lives by faith in Jesus Christ. They uphold a legacy of belief and devotion that stretches back generations. That circle remains unbroken. I believe. At any rate, I try.

Perhaps my favorite prayer in the Bible isn’t actually a formal one, but a desperate plea from a man at the end of his hope. A father begged Jesus to heal his son, who from childhood had suffered from an excruciating malady caused by a demon. (Here’s the full story.)

“If you can do anything,” pleaded the man, “take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” echoed Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

The father exclaimed, desperately, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

That’s my prayer these days.

I face my own challenges, and the world seems more broken by the day, but God has a reputation for calming storms, and for making just a little good stretch a long way. God is bigger than social inequality and personal problems—and he is certainly bigger than Donald Trump’s hair.

Be still, my soul.

478. Sick

Life is a funny thing. It can be sweet and gentle, patting you on the shoulder and handing you slices of pie or cups of tea. It can also hit you repeatedly with a sack of bricks, breaking your ribs and sending you to the hospital. It depends on the day, really.

My life today is leaning slightly toward the breaking-your-ribs-with-a-sack-of-bricks end of the spectrum. I’m sick. It’s just a cold, fortunately, unless it’s actually the early stages of Ebola virus disease, which it probably isn’t. My state of residence, Indiana, isn’t perfect, but at least it doesn’t have much Ebola.

No Ebola here… I don’t think.

Anyhowz, I had another blog post planned for today, but it shall have to wait. My eyes burn. My head feels like a cannonball, and my left nasal cavity is sealed tighter than Scrooge McDuck’s bank vault. (It’s always the left side that gets congested; why is it always the left?) Alas, I haven’t the strength for a longer post today, so please accept my apologies, along with a bullet list of my miscellaneous (and probably fevered) insights on sickness.

  • Sick days are like enforced Sabbaths: they compel a person, no matter how busy or determined, to slow down and rest. I planned to spend yesterday working on this blog, wrapping gifts, and doing housework. I actually spent it eating pizza, replaying Radiant Historia, and hanging out with my dad and younger brother: a day well spent.
  • All right, this is a digression, but Radiant Historia is easily one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played—and believe me, I’ve played plenty. If you own a Nintendo DS or 3DS, you should look it up.

Great, great game.

  • According to one of his biographies, C.S. Lewis loved sick days. They allowed him to sit and read without feeling guilty for failing to be productive. Another fun fact: In his earlier years, Lewis read on walks, only occasionally glancing up to admire the changing scenery. How he never tripped and broke his nose the world will never know.
  • Do you remember the episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender in which Sokka gets deliriously, hilariously sick? You haven’t seen it? Go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, then. It’s a truly great show. At any rate, I like it.

Poor Sokka.

  • Mild sicknesses like colds provide a great explanation for non-depressed people of what depression feels like. A cold leaves a person listless and tired, and occasionally sucks the enjoyment out of things that are usually fun. Depression does the same, but without obvious physical symptoms. What a cold does physically, depression does mentally and emotionally. Since depression has fewer physical symptoms than a cold, it’s generally met with less understanding and compassion, which is a shame. My own depression (which hasn’t acted up in a long time, thank God) comes and goes in phases, much like colds and other mild illnesses.
  • I found myself listening to this chipper song on YouTube yesterday. It seemed apropos.

Well, I should probably get some rest. Radiant Historia isn’t going to finish itself, you know.

475. Mario Kart and the Art of Not Giving Up

I’m really good at two things. Sure, I have minor gifts such as humor and writing, but they’re hardly worth mentioning. There are only two things in this world at which I’m really gifted.

The first is drinking coffee, in staggering amounts, at fairly high speed, with effortless aplomb. (I’ve had a lot of practice.) My second gift is winning Mario Kart races. Neither of these gifts are useful for professional success or intellectual fulfillment, but I consider them personal triumphs anyway.

Aw yeah.

Mario Kart is a series of racing video games by Nintendo, a company with an important heritage, rich history, and really weird controllers. Each Mario Kart game is packed with humor, color, whimsy, mayhem, and stuff that explodes. (For the record, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the best game in the series. Some people say that either Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64 is better. Those people are wrong.) I started playing Mario Kart in my teens, and after twelve or thirteen years, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of picking up speed. Every kart in the games is valued according to two statistics: speed and acceleration.

There’s technically a third stat, weight, but it’s not all that important.

Going fast is great, sure, but something is guaranteed to bring karts to a full stop. Inexperienced players drive off roads or into obstacles. Even Mario Kart veterans can’t dodge certain hazards. Consider the Red Shell, a projectile weapon that seeks outs other racers. Then there’s the dreaded Blue Shell, an unstoppable missile that wrecks the winning racer within seconds. It really puts the hell in Shell.

This diagram pretty much sums it up. (It comes from a webcomic with a lot of profanity. I guess its creator plays a lot of Mario Kart.)

Sooner or later, every Mario Kart racer ends up in a ditch… or submerged in a glacial ocean, or sinking into glowing lava. (Video games will be video games.) Every racer, no matter how fast, eventually ends up wrecked.

That’s when acceleration comes in handy. It allows players to regain their top speed quickly after obstacles or poor driving slow them down. Depending on the race, a slow kart with good acceleration might have the advantage over a fast kart that takes a long time to get moving.

I think there’s a lesson here. In nearly every day God gives me, I try to do my best. Sometimes I keep it up for days or even weeks at a stretch: making good decisions, working hard, keeping my faith, and being kind. In Mario Kart terms, I maintain a good top speed.

Then, inevitably, I wreck my kart. I make a bad decision, and swerve off the road. Some wrecks aren’t even my fault. The unstoppable Blue Shells of depression, sickness, or bad circumstances bring my kart to a grinding halt.

Aw heckles, I took a wrong turn. It’s going to be a long fall.

I really struggle to get moving again at such times. What good is a high top speed if I’m not even moving? If I’ve lost my momentum, what’s the point? I may as well just sit here. The race is lost. I doubt I can even make second or third place, so I may as well just wait for the next one… but that’s no way to live, is it?

Speed is important, but so is acceleration. It’s important to live well, but also to keep moving after living badly.

Losers sit around moping after wrecking their karts.

Winners keep driving.

465. The Five-Step Writing Conference

I recently attended a professional writing conference. It was… well, it was a lot of things. I’ll outline my experience at the conference in five steps.

1. Early Misgivings

I hit the road a few days ago. My car, Eliezer, is dependable but dilapidated—after all, you can’t spell trusty without rusty. Eliezer lacks such vain frills as air conditioning. I call it a car, but it’s more like an oven on wheels. Thus it was a hot, disheveled Adam who arrived at the conference, sweating like a traveler in the mighty Kalahari, and having second thoughts.


Artist interpretation of writing conference weather.

I should also mention that my jeans kept creeping stealthily toward my ankles. This utterly baffled me. These jeans had previously fit me just fine, and their tag claimed they were my size. They insisted nonetheless on their downward trajectory. I found myself frequently hitching up my jeans until I was able to change into another pair in the privacy of my room.

The conference was held on the campus of a university. It gave me repeated flashbacks to my own college career, which began with severe depression and ended with existential dread. Speaking of which….

2. Crushing Despair

As I attended the conference’s early sessions—which were excellent, by the way—I slid slowly but inexorably into depression, guilt, hopelessness, and acute social anxiety.

This really surprised me. I suffer from chronic depression, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve followed my blog for more than five minutes, but it usually comes and goes gradually. At the writing conference, it crushed me with the steady force of a steamroller. I was also surprised by the social anxiety. I’m an introvert, but I can usually deal with social events.

The guilt and hopelessness were worst of all.

Depressed Adam

Artist interpretation of depressed Adam. (In case you were wondering, I didn’t actually make faces like this at the writing conference… I don’t think.)

I was surrounded by people with serious aspirations of professional writing, and people who actually write professionally. By comparison, I’m half a writer. I know a few things about writing as a craft, but hardly anything about writing as a profession.

In those early sessions of the conference, with their unfiltered insights into a tough and competitive industry, my bravado and optimism were quick to evaporate. I felt seriously out of my depth. I felt like a fraud.

3. Redeeming Peace

As a pragmatic (and sadly skeptical) follower of Christ, my faith leans more toward intellect than emotion. I don’t often have those moments of raw emotion sometimes called “religious experiences,” and I talk about them still less often, but halfway through the conference, I found one.

Having retreated to my room (which I had formally christened the Introvert Cave), I switched on the air conditioner, sat on the bed, and prayed. I told God that as I held on to faith in him, I had to believe he had brought me to that conference for a reason. I asked him to help me find it, and to see him at work.

I immediately felt a profound peace—a sudden, absolute conviction that everything was going to be okay. This peace carried me through the rest of the day, redeeming it, and giving me a little hope.

4. Shower Misadventures

The showers at the conference deserve a mention. They were lined up along a hallway in a communal bathroom, and guarded from the public eye only by flimsy and ill-fitted curtains. After a long day in the summer sun, I really needed a rinse. I had no choice. Casting off my misgivings, I cast off my clothes. I would not be conquered by a public shower.

I immediately ran into another problem. It was my old enemy, the Tiny Hotel Soap.

My old enemy

We meet again.

Have you ever stayed in a hotel and tried washing yourself with those itty-bitty bars of soap? It’s impossible. The Tiny Hotel Soap provided at the conference was roughly the size and shape of a saltine cracker, with the density of carbon steel. I tried to work up a lather with the Tiny Hotel Soap. It would have been easier to work up a lather with a soap-sized slab of sculpted marble.

I finally concluded my shower, only to realize I had forgotten my towel. (Forgive me, Douglas Adams.) It was a wet and abashed Adam who sneaked back to his room. It was a good thing God had given me peace, or that shower may just have broken me.

5. Caffeinated Resignation

I blundered through the rest of the conference with a kind of resigned determination, fueled by coffee. I learned a lot, actually, and took pages of notes. I also hung out with an old friend, a fellow blogger, and a couple of nice ladies from Argentina, so that was cool.

In the end, the writing conference made me seriously question my vague pretensions of someday being a professional writer. It would be a radical shift, and would take tons of hard work and research for no guaranteed payoff. If I ever make that plunge, I’ll have to go all in.

The conference also reminded me that there are so many other dedicated writers out there, many of whom are admirably ambitious, successful, and gifted. I must keep a healthy sense of perspective. I am, to echo Gandalf, only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!


When in doubt, quote Tolkien or Doctor Who.

A speaker at the conference made a good point: “A hobbyist writes for himself. A professional writes for his audience.” I’m a hobbyist. I write for fun, and God only knows whether that will ever change. If it does, I now have a slightly clearer idea of what to expect. If it doesn’t, I now have some idea of what I’m missing.

Either way, it’s nice to know.

I never tire of quoting the good Doctor from Doctor Who. (My readers probably tire of it, but I don’t.) As he might have put it, while the conference itself was excellent, my experiences there were a pile of good things and bad things. The good things didn’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things didn’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

And the conference definitely added to my pile of good things.

Obligatory Goth Phase

I just realized this blog never went through a goth phase. Given how much I write about depression and other gloomy stuff, I think TMTF really needs a goth phase.

That said, I don’t really like goth music, so I’ll compromise with a hard rock cover of a Simon & Garfunkel song. That’s edgy, right? Simon & Garfunkel’s music is super dark and grim, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

And just watch the music video above. It has wrecked instruments, and ghosts, and, um, what I’m assuming is the river Styx. It’s all in black and white, and the singer seems angry at everything, so I’ll assume it all counts toward this blog’s goth quota.

In seriousness, I’m impressed by the singer’s stentorian voice and the guitar flourishes toward the end. I’m hardly a fan of heavy metal, but this cover manages to be darkly epic while respecting its folksy source material. The video ends on a faintly redemptive note, which is how this blog’s gloomiest posts generally conclude, so that’s apropos.

Welp, I suppose this counts as TMTF’s obligatory goth phase. Now I can go back to making coffee jokes and heavy-handed video game references, thank goodness.

443. Good Things, Bad Things

While this blog was on break, I went to a wedding. It was splendid. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys weddings, but this one was all right.

The tables at which the wedding guests were seated were named after fantasy lands, from Hyrule to Narnia to Middle-earth. I sat at the Redwall table, drinking coffee and stacking the paper cups like a conqueror piling up the skulls of his vanquished foes. I chatted with relatives, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years.

The whole stacking-empty-cups-like-skulls-of-slain-enemies thing is a habit of mine.

All around me rang the joyous hubbub of dozens and dozens of people, all gathered to celebrate the union of a man and a woman who really love each other. I may not care much for weddings, but heck, I’m not made of stone. It was a lovely evening made special by lovely people, and also by cake and coffee.

For a few months, I’ve struggled more often with depression, but on that evening, it all seemed very far away.

I love road trips. A good road trip is a breath of fresh air—no, a blast of fresh air. It blows away the dust and cobwebs of tired routines and lingering anxieties, making even familiar things seem new again.

My younger brother and I took a road trip to attend that wedding. (Due to scheduling difficulties, we had to miss another wedding last week, which is too bad.) We followed back roads through woods and meadows, along rivers, and past quaint little towns. An iron sky stretched over us. Rain spattered the windshield, but we were wrapped in warm clothes, with coffee drinks at our elbows, comfortably braced for our travels.


There’s nothing like a road trip on a wet day.

At one point, as I lounged in the passenger seat, I spread out my duster overcoat like a blanket. “If you need me,” I told my brother, “I’ll be in my duster cave.” With that, I dove into warm darkness, where I spent a few cozy minutes thinking of nothing in particular.

After the wedding, as we drove homeward in deepening gloom, I made up for lost time by thinking hard about my plans for my book project, the Lance Eliot saga. I bounced some ideas off my bro, who listened patiently and made encouraging noises.

After years of feeling stressed and guilty about my book project, I felt something different. I felt optimistic. I felt excited. “Lance Eliot’s story is going to be so much better this time,” I told myself, “assuming I ever get around to writing the damned thing.”

I don’t know whether I’ll ever finish Lance Eliot’s story, but after that trip, I felt eager to try.

Those days of rest and travel were like a strong wind, blowing away the dust, and breathing hope into my life. I appreciated the break from blogging. It was good to spend a few hours on the road, and great to spend time with family. I’m encouraged and refreshed.

However, a cynical part of me can’t help but wonder: How long before the dust settles again? In the past few days, familiar shadows of gloom and anxiety have crept up on me at odd moments. Has anything really changed? What happens when my hopefulness wears off?

I don’t know.

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.

Blogging pro tip: When in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis. Works every time.

My hope and courage are more dependent on my moods than I feel comfortable admitting. When times are good, I tend to assume they’ll stay that way. When times are bad, I lose hope of ever seeing better ones. I get so caught up in the moment that I can hardly imagine the future being any different than the here and now.

TMTF returns today after a two-week break. I took that break because of some bad days, and during those two weeks I had some really good ones.

Life is full of good and bad things. I once wrote of a lesson from Doctor Who, in which the good Doctor says,

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

I tend to let these good and bad things dictate my moods, and thus, much of my life. I’m trying to learn to enjoy good things without becoming overoptimistic, and to endure bad ones without losing hope. As it is written, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”

God is there, in the good times and the bad. So are many of the people whom I love most, and that’s a comfort.

In other news, TMTF is back to updating regularly. We apologize for the inconvenience.

442. On Break, but Not Broken

This blog is taking a two-week break, returning on Monday, May 23.

I wasn’t planning on taking another break until TMTF reached post four hundred fifty. However, as the Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Translated from the Scots language to contemporary English, this phrase reads something like, “Stuff happens, yo.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some dark days. Recent developments at my job have made it much more stressful—and it was stressful enough already! For an alarming number of days, I fought to keep functioning under the weight of depression and anxiety.

Depressed Adam

If you’ve ever caught a cold, you know how it feels to fight a temporary illness. You feel tired, achy, sore, or feverish. You have less energy. If you aren’t too sick, you continue going to work or school, but it’s harder to function than when you’re healthy. Even little chores—washing dishes, doing homework, or walking out the door to work—become huge obstacles. You are physically at a disadvantage.

My depression comes and goes, but at its worst it follows the same pattern as the common cold. However, its symptoms aren’t physical, but mental and emotional. The lack of energy still occurs, but instead of aches and fevers, I experience anxiety and hopelessness. I am mentally and emotionally at a disadvantage.

Then after a week or two, when I feel exhausted and ready to give up on everything, I simply get better. My energy, hope, and good humor return. After I recover, I doubt my memory and ask myself, “Was my depression really that bad?”

When the next cloud of depression settles over me, and light seems to fade from the universe, I give my own question this bitter reply: “Yes. Yes, it was.”

Fading light

Depression is a tricky subject for me to discuss. Its symptoms are deceptively difficult to distinguish from the ups and downs of everyday life. Nobody seems to understand it, and I can’t blame them—I’m not sure that understand it. Depression is a sickness whose symptoms are invisible. It’s like a shadow: elusive, intangible, and never far away.

Over the years, I’ve picked up tips and tricks for coping with depression, but I’ve also realized that it’s a problem with no easy fix. Even so, I’m still fighting.

Last week, I discovered that my employer offers seven free sessions of professional counseling through a local hospital, so I’m trying to set up an appointment. (The counselors’ schedule is full, but I’ll keep trying.) At some point, I may be able to get proper counseling instead of talking to plush toys. That’ll be nice.

The doctor is in

My honest opinion is that antidepressants would help me more than counseling, but chatting with a counselor is a good place to start—and my employer will pay for it. Free stuff is good stuff, yo.

In the meantime, I need a break from deadlines. The last eight or nine posts on this blog have really been down to the wire. I could use a couple of weeks to adjust to my job’s latest developments, work ahead on blog posts, and get some rest. Besides, I have a wedding to attend next week, so I’ll be spending some time on the road. With TMTF’s end finally in sight, I hate to slow its sprint to the finish line, but I think it’s for the best.

I usually republish old posts during breaks, but I’m letting the blog go dark this time; there shall be no posts published until the blog’s return on Monday, May 23.

There are tons of creative people on the Internet whose work you can check out during TMTF’s two-week break. My recommendations this time are The GaMERCaT, a webcomic about cute cats and video games; The Monday Heretic, which continues to share thoughtful thoughts about Christian living; my friend JK’s blog, which offers tips on creativity; and the hilarious YouTube series CinemaSins, which points out everything wrong with movies. (None of these suggestions are sponsored, I promise.)

All of my recommendations are guaranteed one hundred percent velociraptor-free. You will not be eaten by velociraptors if you click any of the links above, so feel free to check them out while TMTF is on break!

We’ll be back, guys. Thanks for your patience, and for being awesome.

437. My Name Is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

Once upon a time, three friends—a surgeon, an architect, and a lawyer—argued over which of their professions came first.

The surgeon declared, “Come on, guys, surgery was obviously the first profession. God performed surgery on Adam to remove his rib, which he used to create Eve. It’s right there in the Bible.”

The architect shook her head. “No, no, God was an architect before he was ever a surgeon! ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ It’s literally the first verse in the book.”

At this, the lawyer crossed his arms and smirked. “You’re both wrong,” he declared. “There was a lawyer before any of that.” His friends stared. “Before God made the world, there was only darkness and confusion,” he explained. “Of course lawyers came first. Who do you think caused all that darkness and confusion?”

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson

Yes, lawyers have a reputation for dishonesty. They probably don’t deserve it, but then I don’t know any lawyers, so I’m not sure. Honest or not, lawyers are certainly a bit intimidating. It was Dave Barry who identified Fear of Attorneys as one of the six basic human emotions, along with Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and the Need to Snack.

My own experience of lawyers is limited mostly to Rumpole of the Bailey, Marvel’s Daredevil, and the Ace Attorney series of video games: none of which are terribly realistic in their depiction of the law.

I can think of at least one lawyer, however, whose insight I value. In Ace Attorney, an up-and-coming lawyer prepares for each trial by repeating the same statement over and over.

“I’m fine!”

I’m fine!

“My name is Apollo Justice, and I’M FINE!

(His name really is Apollo Justice; I can’t decide whether it’s stupid, awesome, or both.)


In every trial, no matter how much he wants to throw up or run away and hide, Apollo tells himself that he’s going to be okay. He reminds himself that no matter how difficult the trial, no matter how bad it gets, he’s fine.

As anyone knows who has followed this blog for a while, I live with mild chronic depression and anxiety. They aren’t severe enough to warrant medication, and they’ve improved greatly since I left a toxic work situation about a year ago, but they’re definitely a nuisance.

My malaise comes and goes. On good days, I forget it completely; on bad days, it’s hard to think of anything else. For years, I’ve occasionally felt close to breaking down or giving up—yet here I am. I’m fine. I’m fine.

As a family member once pointed out, for all the times I felt like I couldn’t make it through another day, my survival rate has been one hundred percent so far. That’s pretty good, all things considered. I’ve made it this far by God’s grace, and I have every reason to suppose his grace won’t ever fail.

For years, I hoped to figure out some perfect strategy for coping with the bad days. I’m beginning to think there isn’t one. The bad days seem just as dreary and hopeless as they ever have, and I feel just as unprepared for them. I shall probably always feel unprepared for them. There are no magic words or foolproof plans for dealing with certain problems.

Maybe I should just remind myself every so often that I’m fine. I may not feel fine, but I’ve made it this far, and today shan’t be my last. I’ll make it. With God’s help, I’ll make it. Things will get better. They always do.

I'M (also) FINE!

For the record, I don’t feel bad at the time of publishing this post. It’s just something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and I’m only just getting around to it.

I’m fine, really!

I’m fine!

My name is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

The Smoker’s Pew

A Short Story

The silence of the church was broken by the click-click-click of a cigarette lighter. Late afternoon sunshine streamed through stained-glass windows, lighting up the floor in patches of fiery color, and casting a saintly glow upon the man sitting in the back pew.

At the front of the sanctuary there hung a wooden cross. It bore a life-sized image of the crucified Christ, frozen in perpetual agony, its head bowed. Before lighting a cigarette, the man glanced up at the crucifix.

“Mind if I smoke?”

The image of Christ did not reply. The man lit his cigarette.

In the golden light, the smoke shone like a halo around the man’s head. He gave an impression of casual elegance in a suit tailored to his lanky frame. The only untidy touches were his face, which was unshaven, and his tie, which was loosely knotted and askew. He smelled faintly of cologne and strongly of alcohol.

“Nice place you’ve got,” he said. He leaned back, crossed his legs, and stretched out his arms along the back of the pew. “Dazzling and sleepy at the same time, like a sunset. Beautiful and quiet. Very nice.”

The Christ on the cross said nothing.

“The front door’s unlocked,” said the smoker. “Look, I know that’s your thing. You welcome everyone with open arms, I get that, but you still might want to think about putting a lock on your door. There are some awful people out there.”

The man smoked for a few minutes in silence.

“It’s nice to be back,” he said at last. “Nice to see some things never change. I guess it’s—well, hello,” he exclaimed, for another man came padding into the sanctuary to join him and the crucified Christ.

The newcomer, a balding gentleman with glasses and a bushy brown beard, smiled in amiable bewilderment. “May I help you?”

“No, thank you,” said the smoker, rising to throw away the stub of his cigarette. He shook a fresh cigarette from the box as he returned to his pew. “Damn,” he said, clicking his lighter in vain. “Out of juice. Hey buddy, you got a light?”

The bearded gentleman disappeared for a couple of minutes, and returned with a box of matches. The smoker had not moved. He sat in the back pew, legs crossed, gazing at the Christ.

At the sound of a match striking, the smoker held out his cigarette. The bearded man lit it.

“Hey thanks,” said the smoker after a deep puff. “You’re a good man. What brings you here on a Thursday night? You the janitor?”

The bearded man chuckled. “The pastor. May I join you?”

“Knock yourself out, Padre.”

The pastor sat beside the smoker, and they watched the evening light fade. The smoker began a third cigarette.

“Why the back pew?” asked the pastor at last. “If you’re here to talk with God, wouldn’t you rather sit up front?”

The smoker shook his head. “Nah, I like the back. Someone once told me that two kinds of people sit in the back pew of a church: those on their way in, and those on their way out.”

“Which kind are you?”

“Well, when I leave here, I’m going to blow a man’s brains out. That probably puts me in the second category.” The smoker grinned crookedly. “I’m pretty sure the Big Guy frowns on that kind of thing. Ah, well. Don’t mind me.”

With that, he pulled out a handgun and began rummaging in his other pocket for bullets.

If the pastor felt anything, it was hidden by his beard and glasses, and by the gathering gloom. He sat implacable, like a statue, as the smoker fumbled with the handgun. Only the pastor’s hands moved, and they trembled.

“I don’t approve of murder,” said the pastor.

“Didn’t think you would,” muttered the smoker.

“I don’t approve of suicide, either.”

The smoker paused, puffed twice on his cigarette, and put down the gun. “All right, Padre, you got me. How’d you know? I didn’t say anything about suicide.”

“Lucky guess.”

“Not a divine revelation?”

It was the pastor’s turn to smile crookedly. “If that makes you feel better, sure. Divine revelation. Look here, man, why in God’s name do you want to kill yourself?”

The cigarette smoke, which the afternoon sun had transfigured into gold, now hung over the smoker like a storm cloud in the twilight. He no longer seemed saintly. He looked diabolical.

“Have you read Ecclesiastes, Padre? Wait—you’re a goddamn pastor; of course you’ve read it. Do you remember what the Teacher wrote? ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’”

“‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,’” said the pastor gently. “I’m pretty sure that’s also in there somewhere.”

The smoker picked up the gun. “Those aren’t the Teacher’s final words. You know that. ‘Everything is meaningless!’ That’s his conclusion, and I can’t live with it.”

“Do you really believe in it?”

“I grew up in the church. After leaving it, I turned to science and philosophy and social justice. After that mess of contradictions, I tried everything else. Everything, Padre. Nothing makes sense. Nothing even feels good anymore. There’s nothing left.”

The pastor laid a shaking hand on the smoker’s arm. “So what brought you here?”

“I guess I wanted one last moment of peace,” said the smoker. “Besides,” he added, glancing up at the Christ on the cross, “I had to say goodbye to the Big Guy. He walked right into his own death. I like to think he’s got a little sympathy toward suicide.”

The pastor frowned, and held his companion’s arm a little tighter. “Jesus was a martyr and a sacrifice,” he said. “There’s a big difference between martyrdom and suicide.”

“What difference? They’re people killing themselves, for God’s sake.”

“For absolutely different reasons! The suicide kills himself because he thinks nothing matters. The martyr kills himself because he believes in something that matters more than his own life.”

The smoker shook his head. “You know, I never got the whole crucifixion thing. It seems bloodthirsty. I don’t understand why the Big Guy had to die.”

“Nobody gets the crucifixion thing,” replied the pastor. “Nobody truly understands it, but that’s not the point here. Listen to me. Something matters. Somewhere, here in this church, or out there in the dark, something matters enough for you to keep living. I believe it’s right here.” The pastor motioned toward the cross. “I pray that you find it here. Maybe you’ll look elsewhere. Wherever you look, I’m convinced that somewhere, something matters. If you shoot yourself tonight, you’ll never find it.”

The smoker and the pastor sat in silence. Shadows filled the sanctuary as the last gleam of daylight disappeared. At last, the smoker plucked the stub of his cigarette from his lips.

A light flared in the darkness, and the smoker caught a whiff of sulfur. The pastor had lit another match.

“Need a light?” asked the man of God.

The man in the suit shook his head. “Nah, I’m quitting. I just decided. Never liked cigarettes much anyway. Besides,” he added with a tired chuckle, “those things will kill you.”

“They’re not the only things,” said the pastor. His hands had stopped shaking. “You won’t be needing this anymore,” he said, and took the gun.

“I paid good money for that,” said the man in the suit. “Did you just rob me? In your own church?” He looked up at the image of Christ, now a silhouette in the gloom. “Did you see that, Big Guy?”

“Get over it,” said the pastor. “It couldn’t have cost you that much. You’ll live.”

“Yes,” said the man in the suit, rising and dusting flecks of cigarette ash from his coat. “Yes, I suppose I will.” He sidled out of the back pew and strolled to the exit, pausing at the door.

“Hey Padre,” he said. “Thanks for the light.”

Author’s Note:

I wrote this short story on a Sunday afternoon just to get it out of my system. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.

However, I will make an important clarification. I actually wrote this story in March or April 2017, months after this blog ended its run in December 2016, but labeled this post with a past date in order to keep it from replacing the blog’s final post on the homepage. I must clarify: Typewriter Monkey Task Force is finished. I have no plans whatsoever to revive it. That said, I might occasionally use it as a place to dump creative writing. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

389. The Problem with The Peanuts Movie

Hollywood is making a Peanuts movie. The film, appropriately titled The Peanuts Movie, will feature the misadventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the lovable gang from the comic strip by Charles Schultz.

Much to my surprise, the movie looks pretty good. Take a look at the trailer.

When The Peanuts Movie was announced, I cynically assumed it would be a cheap attempt to cash in on America’s nostalgia for its favorite comic strip. The trailers, however, have left me cautiously optimistic. The art is faithful to Schultz’s comics, the voices hearken back to the animated Peanuts specials, and everything (except the soundtrack) seems true to the spirit of Peanuts.

Well… almost everything does.

The Peanuts Movie posterIn at least one way, The Peanuts Movie will probably stray from the spirit of the comic strip.

The movie will have a happy ending.

In its trailers, The Peanuts Movie hints at a triumphant ending for its hero, Charlie Brown. His story will probably be one we’ve seen a dozen times before in other movies, from Wreck-It Ralph to How to Train Your Dragon. It’s the tale of an underdog conquering his insecurities and doing something great, earning respect and learning self-respect along the way.

It’s a familiar story. We’ve all seen it, and most of us love it. It will probably be the story of The Peanuts Movie. We all want Charlie Brown to succeed. We want him to win. I understand why the film seems to be taking this approach to the comic strip. It’s marketable. People will pay to see it, and they will enjoy it, and that’s perfectly fine. I like happy stories as much as anyone.

But that’s not what Peanuts is about.

Peanuts is not a happy comic strip. It has a reputation for innocence and optimism, thanks to cheerful TV specials and licensed greeting cards from Hallmark, but the comic itself can be pretty bleak.

Charlie Brown is often lonely, depressed, and insecure, to the absolute indifference of those around him:

Depressed Charlie Brown

Flipping heck, even the very first Peanuts strip shows the cruel duplicity of of which children are capable:

Good old Charlie Brown

There are cheerful Peanuts strips, sure, but for every heartwarming strip about hugs or warm puppies, there are several about rejection or loneliness.

Charlie Brown is the hero of this melancholy comic strip, and he never really gets a happy ending. He never gets a Valentine. He never catches the eye of the pretty red-haired girl. He never kicks that football, and even on the rare occasions his baseball team wins, he doesn’t:

Charlie Brown's team wins

He isn’t alone. In some ways, Peanuts is a comic strip about failure. Lucy never grows out of her childishness. Snoopy doesn’t find a publisher for any of his manuscripts. In the face of a broken world, Linus clings helplessly to his security blanket.

Charlie Brown isn’t alone in his struggles, but what makes him stand out is how he responds to them. He never gets the happy ending The Peanuts Movie will probably give him, and that’s part of what makes him a hero. The other part, the really important part, is that he keeps trying.

Every February, Charlie Brown waits by the mailbox for a Valentine. He never gives up on his crush, never stops trying to kick that football, and leads his baseball team with indomitable enthusiasm. Charlie Brown, the punching bag of the universe, keeps dreaming, keeps hoping, keeps persevering. We don’t love him because he kicks that football. We love him because he keeps kicking.

However its movie turns out, Peanuts isn’t a predictable tale of finding happiness. It’s a story of persevering in an unhappy world. It’s a story of hope.

That’s what Peanuts is about, Charlie Brown.