Lately I feel like there has been a lot of talk about authenticity wherever I go--on blogs or in real life. It has me thinking about the general idea as well as specific applications to my own life. I should note that these musings are not aimed at or in response to any one person--just the sum total of my thoughts. And, I'm not judging anyone who has a different approach.
Recently, my blogging friend Heidi Ashworth wrote a post about writing her own bio for her second book (congrats, Heidi). It is funny, as is most of what she writes, but is also quite thoughtful and perceptive, as is most of what she writes. In essence, she pokes fun at how an author's bio creates an image different than reality.
I'm kind of dealing with this right now in my own mind--how writing various things in public forums (yes, I know that's not really the plural of "forums", but the real plural sounds pretentious, I think) such as this blog and comments on other people's blogs, and Facebook all create or construct a certain image.
In addition, my job requires a high degree of diplomacy. I don't consciously lie or deceive, but there are times I need to say things delicately and tactfully. This has created a constant censor who lives in the back of my mind and examines what I say and write.
All of this has me thinking about being authentic. What does it mean?
Some people say anything they want, no matter how hurtful or offensive and call it authentic. I guess that's true, but is it desirable? Where does one draw the line? It's probably more authentic to not wear clothes or shower or indulge in any other social graces. Are manners and courtesy authentic?
Here's a picture of my house with my two little boys in front. I think this looks idyllic--almost perfect. Below is another picture of the house seen through a screen of purple irises. Another photo that I think looks idyllic.
Here are two more photos showing a less-idyllic view. One of the shutters, which is loose and peeling away. Below is a crack in one of the bricks. I could also have shown pictures of worn carpet or messy rooms.
So which is it? Idyllic or flawed?
Well, it's both. My life, like my house has idyllic elements and those that are less so. I suppose it's how you choose to look at it, what you choose to focus on.
I'm the same: a pretty mixed bag of human flaws, frailties and failings. I'd like to think I also have some good points as well. I'm trying to get in the habit of cultivating a positive view of other people--and myself, for that matter. I'm trying to focus more on the positive because the negative is so obtrusive and obvious. I feel like the negative stuff comes out without being invited. Like the weeds in my garden, those things seem to grow despite my best efforts. The good stuff needs to be cultivated and fertilized and watered carefully.
This means that I'm posting things that help me do this. I'm trying to post and write about things that are true--but good. There's enough ugliness in life. My human flaws and those of others, as well as the problems life brings our way are all too apparent. I don't know that they need to be emphasized. Especially not publicly. There's so much I have to work out with God and those close to me as it is. I don't know that I want a larger audience than there already is for the Braden's Flaws and Foibles Show.
Is that inauthentic? Maybe. But I think it's just choosing to look in a different direction--at least publicly.
If you are not living in some kind of blogging cave, then you have almost certainly heard about the Casual Blogger Conference, coming up on May 28 and May 29th.
This extravaganza is the brainchild of two remarkable women: Motherboard and MomBabe. They have used those noms-de-cyber for so long that even people who know their real names have a hard time using them (incidentally, if at any time in this interview you have questions, you can email the conference organizers at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
As you can imagine, this massive undertaking is currently consuming their efforts and energies. But, they took a few minutes away from their work to talk with me about the CBC.
(Full disclosure: My brother, Ryan, is one of the presenters at the conference).
As a friend of Motherboard and MomBabe, I have to say I am really proud of them. They have worked incredibly hard to put this together and have succeeded in the face of a lot of skepticism. As I email them about other projects, I have seen just the tiniest glimpse of the work and time they've poured into this event.
Braden: There are a lot of different kinds of bloggers out there. For example, the blogger who writes to archive her family history/scrapbook and then the serious who’d like to take it up a notch and turn her blog into a paid gig? What might each of them expect to take away from CBC?
MomBabe: For the mommy bloggers, I think more than anything, they'll just go home feeling GOOD. I think that they will be validated, and inspired. For the more professional blogger, we have AWESOME classes available covering every aspect of blogging. And if you're focusing on making money through blogging, then the Friday half-day business conference is the ultimate beginner's guide for monetizing your blog.
Motherboard: I think the practical information that bloggers can expect to take away from this conference, whether they are "just mommy bloggers" or the blogger who wants to take it up a notch is this: Blogging enhances everything in your life. No matter what you choose to record on your blog, our conference will help you learn how to do it better. Practical information- Enhance. Record. Inspire.
For the blogger who wants to "take it up a notch" we have a whole day set aside for them to learn HOW to do just that. We’ll talk about how to run an ad campaign on your blog and discuss the correct way to review products. For example, we’ll have an attorney present to teach us how FTC affect us as bloggers. We’ll also have the owner of a very successful social media company come to teach everyone HOW to use social media to promote your blog and/or business.
We have over $3,000 worth of classes for only $175. You come out the winner simply because of the value.
Are there any other conferences out there for “mommy bloggers?”
MomBabe: There's TONS of blog conferences out there. Ours is unique because it caters to the small, casual blogger. We know that you're a mom first, and a blogger second. So are we. Every aspect of the "mommy gig" was taken into account while planning this conference. From the location, to the times, to the types of classes, price, and speakers... every decision was made with you in mind.
Motherboard: We wanted to attend blog conferences, but just couldn't justify the amount of money it would take to attend-- the airfare, the hotel accommodations, the food. Not to mention the cost of the conference itself. It was something we couldn't justify in these hard economic times. Our conference is catered to people just like us: bloggers who want to learn more about their chosen hobby without breaking the bank. We also didn't want them to have to worry about what they were going to do with their children for three days (and their spouses CAN'T take that much time off work for a hobby convention) so our conference was also planned with PARENTS in mind. Every single thing we have planned for this conference, we did it with YOU in mind.
Braden: What can you guarantee someone would take away from this conference if they invested in attending?
How did you choose this year’s presenters? How can someone sign-up to present next year?
MomBabe: That's been the really fun part. Because we're in charge, we got to select the people we wanted. It's like, our dream conference packaged up in a nice little bow. Seriously though, we explained what we were doing and why, and our speakers wanted to be a part of that. It's been absolutely amazing.
As for next year, we'll probably put out a call for speakers at the end of summer. SO STAY TUNED!
Motherboard: I hate to say "I guarantee" anything, because I'm not Billy Mays. However, I do guarantee that if you are willing to put yourself out there, and step out of your comfort zone you will come away from the conference having learned how to be a better blogger. But, not only that, you will come away from the conference having met some wonderful people. Those imaginary friends you talk to through your computer will actually become real life friends. That is one of the things I CAN guarantee.
When we approached our speakers and explained what we wanted to accomplish, they wanted to be on board with it. We have been able to get some amazing speakers-- some we approached and some approached us-- and this conference will knock your socks off! As far as next year, we will put out a call towards the end of summer, early fall. So if you want to be a presenter next year, make sure you get your information in early!
Braden: Let’s talk details. When is the conference? Hours? What are the pros and cons of doing a part-day pass vs. a full pass vs. a social pass?
Motherboard: The conference is May 28th and 29th. Friday the 28th is a half-day conference with a business focus. Registration opens at 10:30 am, and classes run until about 4:30 pm. Saturday, doors open 7:00 am, and it's a full day of classes, with 6 different learning tracks, ending with a keynote session featuring CJane, and Sophie Uliano.
Thursday night, we have a special Girl's Night Out with Teresa Collins, and Friday night, we have the CBC Social with Mindy Gledhill and Cameron Rafati.
The half-day business pass only lets you go to the CLASSES on Friday. The Social Pass ONLY lets you attend the Friday night social. The Saturday conference and social pass lets you go to the Social on Friday night, and all of the classes on Saturday, and the full conference pass includes admission to GNO on Thursday, all conference programming on Friday and Saturday, and the social on Friday night.
How many people are you expecting to attend?
Mombabe: We have 300 attendees coming, and are working with our vendors to open up a few more slots. We do have a waitlist, so you should definitely get on it!
Are there any group discounts?
We DO have discounts available for groups of 5 or more. Just email us at email@example.com for current rates!
I have some cool things planned for the next few weeks. But the teacher in me is telling me it's time to do a quick review before going any farther. In the past few weeks, I've had a lot of new folks stopping by. So, here's a quick primer to everything you need to know about The Road Show.
Sample chapters: Prologue, Chapter One (Scott), Chapter Two (Stephanie) (Chapter Three is coming soon!)
The story behind the book.
And, a link to Amazon, where you can pre-order for a 33% discount!
Talk to you soon!
I'm so excited that I'm having a really hard time not typing this in all caps. Seriously, I can hardly contain myself. I'm as giddy as any of the 6th graders I teach. My editor just emailed me the book cover and I love it.
Seriously, I love this cover. It's my first one, after all, and that's exciting. But I really like it, on its own merits. It's like having a really pretty baby. You'll love it no matter what, but the fact that it's beautiful is really cool.
(By the way, in case your computer's graphics are not that great, Stephanie is holding a microphone, not a dagger).
The text that's superimposed over the pictures are the lyrics to the song that one of the characters writes for the fictional road show, but that I really wrote, and my friend Sherrie is setting to music and recording. That's another really exciting thing.
I'm not an artist, so I didn't really have any ideas for the cover, or a vision of what it should look like--but this is IT! Thanks to Angela Olsen, the designer, who is quite clearly a genius.
Here's the back cover, which I also really like. I made it a little bigger so you can read the words.
Now you all know you can buy this, right? It's only $7.41 on Amazon. For crying out loud, the cover alone is worth $7.41. If you buy it and just frame the book jacket, you have a major deal on your hands.
Well, for someone who aspires to be a writer, I don’t know what to say. My heart is very full. Friday afternoon, my editor sent me the PDF version of the proofs. My book is going to press on Monday!
I’ve spent the last 24 hours going over them looking for errors and making notes. At this point, the changes are limited only to correcting grammatical or punctuation errors, correcting any cut-and-paste mistakes and so on. The chances for revising and improving and tweaking are long gone. I’m having thoughts about the Final Judgment, which I will write about another time.
This is very a fraught moment for me. The first time I read a set of proofs a few weeks ago, I reacted a little like you do when you hear your voice recorded and you think, “Ugh—do I really sound like that?”
Having gone through it this last time, I find I like it much better. There are places I wish I could still tweak a bit, some possibly obnoxious use of adverbs, a more felicitious way to phrase something—but on the whole, I like this book.
Last time I read it, I was looking at it very clinically. This time I was drawn in again to the characters and their struggles and I remembered how much I love them. I know that sounds kind of silly, but I really do.
Now, it’s a lot of waiting. I’m told the cover will be finished soon and I am keenly and anxiously excited to see that. June 1st is seeming so far away.
Thanks to everyone for the support and encouragement. I have been so grateful for your comments and emails. And, not just the comments. All of you that come by to my blog each week, thank you! Simply seeing you show up in the traffic report makes me feel good.
Remember--Amazon is offering a 33% discount on the book right now.
Two random events have me smiling today.
At this very moment, I am supervising detention hall. This is a job that each middle school teacher takes twice a year. If a student gets 5 demerits in a two-week period, then they have to serve detention hall. One gets demerits for being out of dress code, misbehaving, etc. As it is spring, spirits are rising quickly--as are the numbers of demerits. So I had a full crew today--6 middle school miscreants. We went to the park across the street. They picked up rocks while I sat in a chair and tried to catch up on my emails and blogging. They were more successful than I--I only made a dent in my backlog. But thanks to them, the field is now a mostly rock-free environment. Incidentally, I love teaching at a school where a kid can get in trouble for having an untucked shirt or chewing gum or not being respectful. It's really a pretty great gig.
The bad thing is this: these kids crack me up and I like them. So it's hard to be strict with them. We've spent the afternoon laughing and joking around--although they did work hard--hopefully this corrective experience will benefit them somehow anyway, in spite of my pronounced lack of dour-ness.
Also, I didn't have classroom today for various complicated reasons. This happens every year, so during the year, I allow my classes to earn minutes of recess when they behave well or execute a musical concept particularly well. Then, on these days when we are banished from the room, they get whatever minutes of recess they earned. Since they are 11-14, and cannot sit still for more than fifty seconds (sixty if they're girls), they LOVE this.
So, we went out today and I watched one class play "Red Rover." One boy, we'll call him, "Ken" and one girl, we'll call her, "Joanna" caught my eye in particular. Joanna found more excuses than I can name to encourage Ken with hugs and pats on the back. She always managed to be next to him and holding his hand in a more sustained way than was needed.
Ken seemed completely and utterly clueless. I felt like the old guy in "It's A Wonderful Life" who watches Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart being awkward together and yells, "Youth is wasted on the young." I almost jumped up and pulled Ken aside. "Ken! Joanna likes you. She's done everything but rent a sign. At least smile at her. Heaven, man! Wake up! Next year (possibly the next), you'll be dying for Joanna to even give you a glance."
Funny, funny kids. I love being around them--and am so glad I'm not in middle school anymore!
Before anyone reads this, I want to apologize. I am so busy at work and church and am behind on reading and commenting on your blogs, answering emails and so forth. Hopefully that will end fairly soon.
I am writing this post while sitting outside at my school. It’s seven-o-clock in the evening and probably about 65 degrees. The light is gentle now, not bright or hot. I can see trees blossoming white and purple. They are accompanied by squirrels chattering and birds singing. The air is a calmly invigorating potpourri of green, growing things, early flowers, with just a dash of something being cooked on a barbecue grill.
It is beautiful and my soul is singing to be in such a beautiful place. My soul is also singing because of what I’m doing. It’s one of my favorite moments and tasks of the entire year.
Every year, we have an awards night for the graduating 8th graders who have participated in our theatre program. We have food and a slideshow and then the awards. Initially, my plan was to imitate the Tonys or the Oscars and have various categories: Best leading actress, Best actor in a musical and so on.
But then I got a much better idea. Instead, I write a letter about each student. I detail the roles they have played and then talk about the contributions they have each made. Then, based on those contributions, I craft an award. That may sound cheesy, sort of a lame, “everyone is a winner” kind of cop-out, but it’s really not. It’s grounded in reality, and I don’t say anything that’s not true. Every year, I worry I won’t be able to think of enough nice things to say. But every year when I start looking at the good things these kids have done, I have more material than I can possibly use.
It feels good—very good—to be looking so explicitly at the positive traits and contributions of my students. Teaching and directing are, of necessity, often focused on giving corrective feedback. There are plenty of flaws to note and discuss. But so much good as well.
Is it really all that different for any of us? We’re just large 8th graders, after all, trying to navigate our way through a complex word. Sometimes we do it with grace, sometimes with acute awkwardness.
I’m so grateful for the times people look at me and choose to look up from the very obvious and very present mélange of weaknesses, flaws, and quirks. They are all there, undoubtedly and obtrusively. More subtle, but also present, I hope, are the strengths, virtues, and good intentions. Probably more of the intentions than the strengths. But I am so grateful when people have the grace to focus on the latter in favor of the former. And I am really trying hard to do the same.
In addition to the Bible, one of the sacred texts in my faith is The Book of Mormon. And one of my favorite verses in that book is part of a conversation in which God speaks to a regular mortal and says,: “Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done….” (Helaman 10:4). I love this focus on the postive. Not on the flaws or what was left undone—and surely there were many possibilities—but an emphasis on the good and the positive.
I hope to remember that this is the way to have a singing soul instead of being out of tune.
The protagonist of The Road Show is a young man named Scott. He is introduced in Chapter One, which I finally posted today. The formatting is giving me some problems, so I apologize if it is still skewampus.
I've written before about how the idea for this book came to me when I was directing a road show. For that reason, it's probably important to explain that Scott, the character that directs the road show is not really meant to be me. In fact, in some ways he's the character who is most unlike me.
That being said, there are a few similarities. For example, I did my PhD in theatre at a big, fancy university after going to BYU and both of us were called to direct a road show during a pretty low ebb in our theatrical careers.
I directed a huge flop of a show during my last several months in my master's program at BYU. It ended badly--artistically as well as personally with some of the people involved in the production. I deeply regret both of those failures--and to this day, I still break out in a shame-and-stress induced-stomach-knotting-boiling-sweat-raising-panic-attack when I remember the experience.
This experience was three or four years in the past when I was called to direct a road show for my ward. But it was very fresh. I hadn't directed much beyond some small class plays in the interim and I had no confidence anymore. But I was taught never to turn down a calling--so I accepted it. I'm very glad I did. It turned out well and helped me regain my shattered confidence--and it was a very healing experience. I firmly believe that the callings we accept--whether welcome or not--do this for us. They are stretching and hard sometimes, but they have always been powerful methods of moving me from a spiritual Point A to Point B.
For Scott, the road show is healing in another way. Scott's is a brilliant director working on his MFA. His great challenge is that he is addicted to pornography, and that interferes with his artistic work and his spiritual life. Those failures have brought him to a serious crisis in his personal and professional lives.
When I was the bishop of our congregation, I was called on to counsel and work with an alarming number of people (men and women, incidentally) who struggled with pornography.
I realize that our society has not come to a consensus on whether pornography is a problem or a perfectly acceptable adult behavior. But, after watching people grapple with this and after seeing marriages that it destroyed or maimed, I came to hate it passionately. My intent is not to start an argument here--just explain why I feel so strongly about it (if you want to read a depressing first-hand account of the potential for damage, click here).
I want to emphasize that Scott is a fictional character. Although his struggle to overcome this problem is rooted in the reality of people I worked with, he is not based on any person and I think it's important to make that clear.
At any rate, I hope you enjoy reading Chapter One. Also, please know the book gets happier!
Phew. So busy lately. Can anyone relate? Next week I'm hoping to post another chapter--but it takes a while to get things formatted so you can read it online without going completely blind.
One of the greatest joys involved in writing this book is that I have met some wonderful people and made some new friends. I mentioned earlier that I sent my manuscript to Michael Ballam, who kindly provided an endorsement. He asked if he could forward it to a friend of his, Carrie Wrigley. Carrie is a professional counselor (LCSW) who works with people struggling with depression, pornography addiction, and spiritual anemia--three of the problems for characters in the book.
Carrie was very enthusiastic in her response and even worked out a deal with my publisher whereby she could purchase copies of the book for her clients. Since then, we've corresponded regularly and become friends. Carrie, it turns out, was a theatre major and composes music--so we have similar interests, although in becoming a counselor, she showed that she was responsible enough to get a real job.
Incidentally, Carrie has put together some great online resources for dealing with depression, addiction, marriage problems and so on. Check her site out at: Morning Light Counseling.
Carrie was kind enough to write me an endorsement--which I value greatly, given her professional expertise. Thanks, Carrie!
"Gripping – Powerful – An instant classic – a “can’t-put-it-down” odyssey into the very fiber of the troubled soul - and the process by which it can be healed.
Braden Bell’s book provides a rare and personal glimpse into the heart of the struggling Latter-day Saint. His characters, compassionately and convincingly drawn, include - the depressed housewife, the self-loathing pornography addict, the self-righteous church leader, the lonely misfit. He describes the customized journey of each of these characters - from despair to hope, from alienation to connection, from brokenness to healing.
Often in our culture, we have come to regard emotional healing as a chemical victory, engineered by medical science. Yet, as the book so effectively illustrates, there is a much deeper and more comprehensive healing process available. It transforms the very thoughts, feelings, attitudes, habits, and everyday lifestyles of individuals and families in pain. This healing process is most complete - and most permanent - when it is centered in the simple truths and powers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In an age of so many counterfeit cures and self-appointed experts, Bell’s book is a stunning reminder of the gentle but profound healing power of the “Wonderful Counselor” Isaiah prophesied of (Isaiah 9:6). It bears resplendent testimony that His power to heal continues to be mercifully extended in our day - and that it directly applies to these less tangible but ever-more-common afflictions of the heart, mind, and spirit."
- Carrie Maxwell Wrigley, LCSW – counselor and teacher, “Christ-Centered Healing from Depression and Low Self Worth”
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Some are young and some are not. Some are Mormon, some are Catholic, some are Jewish, some are Protestant, some are nothing at all. You get the idea.
That raises a question: is this book just for Mormons?
I've been thinking about that. The short answer is that I hope not. At least, no more than To Kill A Mockingbird is just for folks in the South or The Chosen is about Orthodox Jews.
That being said, the book is written by a believing, active Mormon and it's about Mormons--so there are cultural references that might seem different (no worries, though! I made a glossary) and the characters' assumptions are based on the teachings of the Church. There is a lot about the healing power of Jesus Christ, but I think don't think that's unique to Mormons.
Two good friends, who have different religious traditions both read it. One loved and didn't feel that it was exclusively for Mormons. Another friend read it and connected with some of the characters, but found some of the terminology confusing (hence the glossary). She also commented that one part of the book had an "Us vs. Them" feeling. I hadn't noticed or intended that--and I deeply regretted it. I believe that her response was based mostly on the tone of some smart-aleck comments made by the boss of one of the characters. That feeling was based on some comments made by the boss of one of the characters. Twere all based on things that have really been said to me over the years--and I meant them to be funny, but I guess they came off as harsher than I intended. Since the boss is one of the few characters who is not a Mormon, that vibe got created. Unfortunately, the book was already in the stages where no big changes were allowed. Since then, I've been a bit apprehensive of people reading it--since the whole point of the book is supposed to be about love and healing. So, if you are one of my dear friends who is not a Mormon, please know I love you!
Ultimately, I hope that the characters are humans who are struggling with problems. They are Mormons and experience their struggles in that context, but my hope is that people of any background will find something to which they can relate.
I guess we'll see in June.
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