Distracted

This summer I have intentionally slowed down my touring schedule. One reason is I wanted to devote more time to writing.

[phone rings]

Wait, I need to take this call.

“Hello? No, I don’t need your credit card service. I have asked you about 100 times to take my number off your call list. Please don’t call again.”

Grrr…there ought to be a law! So, where was I?…ah, writing…

The Oregon weather is finally wonderful. So I am sitting out on my patio, looking up at the sky…oh, you have got to be kidding me. I just swept the cobwebs off the eaves yesterday and now they are back! Ugh… where is that broom?

[long pause, we hear some grumbling about spiders]

Okay, I’m back…

Now for some inspiration. Maybe I’ll address the writing process for the creative. Controlling your environment is very important-

“What? Yes, Lorie I know I said I would unload the dishwasher and – Now? But I was gonna… okay…now.”

[another long pause, with dishes clanking in the background]

All right, uh, controlling environment…

I have discovered that I do my best writing when I can find a space to work that is devoid of distractions-

[phone chime alert]

Oh, wow! This is great! A booking just came in. I need to respond to this right away. Let me look at the calendar…

[clacking of keyboard on the computer]

So…yeah…devoid of distractions. In fact I think my best writing was-

[Lawn maintenance guy rounds the corner of the house with a leaf blower. A few wood chips fly up onto the keyboard]

My best writing…my best writing was NOT done at home.

As strange is it may sound, I think I have more control over my environment at almost any place but home…

[long pause in the writing process]

I’m writing this last part at a coffee shop. Not too far from my home. Now I can write without distractions.

[Inner thoughts]

“Whoa…is that guy gonna drink all that by himself? That’s one huge drink. I wonder if it comes with a catheter?”

To be continued… or maybe not.

[Note: I really did set out to write about the importance of controlling your environment when writing. Most of the distractions that I mention, really did happen during the writing of this article]

This Old Hat

This old hat sits in display on a bookshelf in my office. What comes to mind when you look at it? It is pretty beaten up and worn. If a hat could talk I am thinking this hat might have a terrific story to tell. Which is one reason I chose it. I was looking for a hat with a story to tell.

At one time it was actually a pretty good hat. The label on the inside says it’s a Dobbs hat. Dobbs hats date back to the 1930s and the company is still in business today. I was actually looking for something that went back even farther—the 1910s would have been ideal. But for the story, this one would work fine. I found it at a thrift store in the 1980s. When I found it, it was a little too nice. I needed it to look like a hat that had been to there and back. A hat that had experienced all kinds of weather. A hat that had slept in the streets and maybe been kicked and punched a few times.

So I worked it over a bit. I wadded it up and stomped it in the dirt until it had the look I needed—a hat that had once been distinguished, now beaten, faded and tired. A hat with a story.

At that time, in the 1980s, it didn’t have any holes in it. Those came later. The holes appeared after telling the story hundreds of times. I would tell the story while holding the hat in my hands and fidgeting with it. That, combined with being thrown in a suitcase until the next time I told the story, eventually wore holes in the hat. Small at first, but becoming more pronounced over time.

Soon it reached a point where it was too worn and too fragile to withstand the rigors of the storyteller. I feared it might disintegrate in my hands if I were to keep demanding it to perform. I needed to replace it, to recast the role of the hat with a different old hat.

So I did. I went to another thrift store and found another old hat. This one was a different style but still appropriate to the time for the story. It would work, and has been my companion for telling the story for many years. But it is not the same.

I miss this old hat.

We shared so much time together. This old hat became not only part of the story I told, but part of my story too. This old hat is linked to a lot of memories. Cherished memories that I don’t want to forget.

So I keep it around, letting it occupy a place of prominence on my bookshelf, where I can see it often. It still serves a purpose. It reminds me of the journey we have had together. Of the stories we have told. It has become a part of me.

I’m just not ready to give up this old hat.

Living the Actor’s Dream…or Nightmare

Ah, yes the actor’s dream. “The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.” I’m sure every actor has that dream. Standing ovations, the crowds going wild, and great reviews (although I must admit, I really don’t care much for the smell of greasepaint).

But engage an actor in conversation about their real dreams—the kind they have when their head hits the pillow at night—and it’s more likely they will tell you about their nightmares. Common ones include forgetting lines, missing an entrance, or the most common of terrors—finding yourself on stage in a production you know nothing about and trying to bluff your way through the show. I have had those nightmares, and had a few of them actually come true.

Last weekend I had another of my nightmares come true. I have literally had dreams about traveling to a performance to discover, at the last minute, that I left all my costumes and props at home. Well, it happened for real last weekend. I think I am so accustomed to flying to performances that I become a little too relaxed in preparation for travel when I have to drive to show. This time I was so relaxed about my travel that I completely forgot to pack my suitcase that has all my performance stuff in it—all my props, costume pieces, display items, and media for sound cues—packed and ready to go, sitting in my office at home. I was about 3 hours into my 5-hour drive to Marysville, WA when I realized my blunder.

(While I say I simply forgot these things…my wife had a different take on it. She called it a “senior moment.”  I have no clue what she means by this…I haven’t been called a senior since I graduated High School.)

What to do! I did have the time to turn around and go back to Salem and pick up the suitcase…the time, but I wasn’t sure I had the energy. I pulled over at the next exit on I-5 and got out of my car to go double check the trunk—yep, no suitcase. Breathe, Chuck, breathe!

I started making a list of the essential things I needed for this performance. Fortunately, I am doing one of my personal storytelling pieces, Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story. After taking a moment to think through the show, I realized that most of the props, while great to have, were not essential. I could do this without the props, if necessary. At least I knew my lines.

At least I knew my lines.

The text. That’s what was essential! The actor, the director, the speaker all know your job is to serve the text. You know exactly what I am talking about if you have ever watched what is supposed to be a blockbuster movie and are totally underwelmed by a weak storyline and poor writing or conversely if you have ever watched a low budget film and been blow away by the great story that was told.

I would focus on the text! I ran them during the drive—alas no “senior moments!” All the lines were there!

Modern technology can be a wonderful thing. Some of the missing items from my suitcase could simply be printed at the local Kinkos. A quick call to my wife and the wonder of “the cloud,” and those things are easily duplicated. A stop at a local store and a call to the pastor to see if they can locate a couple of items for me to use, and by showtime on Sunday morning I had almost everything replaced. Nightmare averted.

I recalled the text of the motto from my days as a Boy Scout: “Be Prepared.”

Senior moments… pftttt!

How to Sleep in a Bed

…and other things we take for granted

In the previous blog I talked about our new venture as hosts for an AirBnB apartment in our home. Although I am a well traveled person, I have rarely been the host to other travelers and am learning a few things as we go. I’m learning that things I take for granted are not neccesarily true for the people we are hosting…especially when it comes to people from other lands and cultures. 

We recently hosted some guests from another country and upon cleaning up after their week long stay we made some interesting observations. Wet towels were neatly folded and left on a chair in the bedroom, the trash cans were empty as they took their garbage with them.  None of the food items we left for them were touched, including fresh baked muffins. A spare toothbrush we left in a drawer was used and then put back in the package for the next guest, I presume. But the most interesting observation to us was that they apparently slept on top of the blanket instead of between the sheets, and used the duvet for their cover. 

Ah, the things we take for granted. Doesn’t everybody sleep in a bed the same way I do? Between the sheets not on top of them, right?

I often stop and think about the things we take for granted in other aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to how we do church. I’m a “guest” in a different church almost every week, and often in churches with many differing styles of worship. I like to ponder what is going on in the minds of people who might be visiting and are unaccustomed to attending church. We in the church, I think, take so many things for granted. Consider these as if you had never visited a church before:

  • The worship leader starts a song, and without being prompted, people stand with arms raised and sing along. 
  • The offering is received with little or no explanation.
  • People come to the altar to pray during a worship song.
  • The “turn and greet the people next to you” moment.
  • The spontaneous “Amen” or “Hallelujah” from members of the congregation.
  • Communion is received—in so many different ways. Passed in the pew or walking down the aisle and kneeling at the altar. Again, often without explanation.
  • Announcements about activities that carry the assumption that people will know what it is with no explanation (Shepherding Group, Celebrate Recovery, MOPs, etc). 

You get the idea. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of those things. But I do think there is a lot taken for granted in the average church service. For a time the church was extra sensitive to this with the introduction of the “seeker sensitive” worship service. While criticized by many, I do think it is worth applying that filter to the everyday life of the average church, especially when it comes to worship and the inculusion of guests. 

A few years ago I created a video series called “There Goes Bob.” The series was inspired by the thought that more people would attend church if invited by a friend. In the 4th and final episode the invitee shares some of his observations about the church service he attends. I think it applies to this topic. Watch and see: 


Check out the entire There Goes Bob Series in our store.

I changed a few things in my checkin procedure for our next AirBnB guests, also from another country. While showing them how to operate the control for a Sleep Number Bed, I casually mention “Oh, and in our western culture we sleep between the sheets” as I show them where the covers get pulled back.

I don’t want to take anything for granted. 

If you are traveling to Salem, we would be delighted to have you consider our Sunnyslope Retreat apartment! Check it out!

Audit!

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…

The letter came by certified mail. It required a signature as proof that I had received it. The subject line contained the word “Audit.”

There is just something about that word—audit—especially in the context of a certified letter addressed to you, that makes you feel like a criminal. It gave me that goosebumpy, shortness of breath feeling as though I had been caught doing something wrong. I know the feeling well— it’s called guilt. And in the context of the word “audit” I think the assumption is guilty until proven innocent.

After reading the rest of the letter, I took a couple of deep breaths to calm myself and then tried to figure out the nature of my crime. At least it was from the City of Salem and not the IRS.  Last year we began offering a part of our home as a short-term rental through AirBnB. There were hoops to jump through with the City of Salem, one of which is collecting a Transient Occupancy Tax that we would report and pay monthly. While this task is a nuisance, I complied and was certain that I had not intentionally done anything wrong.

I had to schedule a time with the City for the audit. The soonest date I could get was about three weeks out. Three weeks of having this cloud of suspicion hanging over my head. Three weeks of wondering what I had done wrong.

I am pretty meticulous when it comes to keeping records. The City’s paperwork for collecting this tax is cumbersome, with too many boxes to fill in. I automatically assumed I had messed up on one of the forms. Then all the doubt set in…what if I made a really big, stupid blunder? Maybe I am slipping up. Recently I made the mistake of depositing personal money into the business account. Then there was my credit card payment that I accidently paid to my cell phone provider. Did I somehow miss a payment? Did I send the payment to the wrong account? Did I put the wrong amount on the check?  So many possibilities.

Over the next three weeks I fretted and fussed and double and triple checked the records. I couldn’t find any mistakes.

The Day of the Audit 

I arrived, records in hand. I was shown into a room with two auditors, a man and a woman, at a table. Smiles and handshakes all around. Very gracious, offering me water, coffee, and even a lollipop…your tax dollars at work!

Then the man spoke. “This is just a routine audit. We are auditing all the AirBnB’s since this is brand new to the city. We mainly just want to make sure you don’t have any questions.”

“Well…uh…” this puzzled me. I thought I was there to answer their questions. “Well there is one of the forms that I have a question about…”

I asked my question and he made light of it, no worries. “Do you have a summary statement from AirBnB on your earnings? We will just do a quick check to see that our numbers match. We don’t need to see any of your ledgers or bank statements.”

I handed the summary over to the woman, who punched in the numbers.

“It’s all good,” she said, “everything matches.”

Then the guy said, “Well, just keep doing what you are doing! Thanks for coming in!”

What!? That’s it? I was actually disappointed. I spent all this time preparing, going over records, crunching numbers and had proof in hand. They didn’t even want to see my meticulous records.  Add to that all the stress of the last few weeks in anticipation of this meeting. I couldn’t believe it! All they really wanted was a meet and greet? Why the certified letter? Why even use that scary word “audit?” Why tell me to bring in all my records, bank statements, etc.? Why all of that when there wasn’t anything to justify. Nothing at all at issue?

And then I was relieved.  I am doing things right. Not guilty after all…and I didn’t even have to prove it.

As I walked back to my car, enjoying my cherry lolipop, one word kept popping into my head.

Grace.

Amazing, isn’t it?

If you are traveling to Salem, we would be delighted to have you consider our Sunnyslope Retreat apartment! Check it out! 

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