Remember that time I wrote a viral Buzzfeed article?

Everyday

Seven years ago I discovered you could write your own Buzzfeed articles through their community platform. So I put together what I considered the most Buzzfeed-y post I could think of: 7 Pictures of Turtles Pretending to be Other Things. Little did I know I struck a chord.

Buzzfeed’s community portal tracks your content, and gives you feedback in the form of badges. If you write about something Buzzfeed thinks is worthy, they’ll boost your post and share it on their official page.

Well, turns out turtles were popular at the time, Buzzfeed automatically boosted my post and BOOM we were in business. My post got hundred and hundred of views across all social media platforms. People were loving the turtles. I was loving it, too. I had my fun, tried to write more successful posts (and failed), and things eventually died down.

Seven years later…I received an email this morning from Buzzfeed that they’ve given my turtle article a “trending badge.” I quickly looked at my community dashboard and found that 37 people have shared my post on Pinterest in the last 48 hours.

So what’s this point of this post? To remind you that social media is weird. You never know what will resonate and when. And apparently people are very into turtles right now.

Turning 30

Everyday

Last week I turned 30. Leading up to the momentous day, several people asked me how I felt leaving my twenties and entering a new decade. My honest response? I feel fine. No sadness. No regrets. I think I accomplished everything I hoped to accomplish thus far: I started my career, met my future husband, planted a church, got married, had a baby, and am working in the industry I always wanted to work in. Part of me wonders if I’ve set my sights too low. Should my twenties to-do list have been longer? At the end of the day — and the decade — I’ve decided it’s all about perspective. The past ten years of my life have been full of many, many things, good and bad. And that’s life, no matter how you slice it. So here’s to my twenties and to the next ten years.

Inside The Ivory Tower

Everyday

During my senior year of college, I took a course entitled, “The Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe from 1780 to Today.” Despite the long and boring title (and the fact that we were expected to read all of 12 books in three months), it became one of my top five favorite courses I ever took. The things I learned in that class really stuck with me and changed how I see the world. One of those things was the concept of the Ivory Tower.

Throughout the semester, my professor led me and my fellow students on a crusade to discover the critical thinkers and power players of the intellectual explosion in Europe during those pivotal years. We read Karl Marx and George Orwell, studied the Spanish Civil War, and analyzed wartime poetry and political essays. Each time we met a new great thinker, my professor would mention something he called the Ivory Tower. You see, all these great thinkers spent time secluded from the world/culture/society physically or intellectually before they stepped out into the real world and made their mark. They worked in their “ivory towers” until their thoughts and ideas forced them to action. They’d stew over ideas for new governmental systems and dream up new ways to treat workers and wallow in their own suffering. Their time in the Ivory Tower was valuable, pivotal even. But there came a time in each of their lives when they had to stop theorizing and dreaming and thinking and get out there and live it. And they changed the world.

I really locked onto the idea of the Ivory Tower. I’ve found that it is as meaningful today as it was back in the nineteenth century. After all, we all have our own ivory towers inside of our heads. It’s where we ponder and scheme and dream and think. But there comes a time when we can’t think or plan anymore. We have to go out into the world and make our dream a reality. We have to write that novel. Or start that small business. Or apply for that position. Or join that protest. We have to break out of the ivory tower or else let our dreams gather dust on the shelf.

For the past several years I have felt like I’m trapped in my own Ivory Tower. While I don’t compare myself to great world-changers by any means, I do feel like I can accomplish much more than what I’m doing right now. Right now I’m just reading and thinking and deciding what I think about the world. But shouldn’t I be doing something about it? But something else my professor taught sticks with me. The Ivory Tower isn’t a dungeon: it’s a thinktank. It’s a place where no idea is stupid or plan too lofty or dream too unrealistic. It’s a place to play, learn and experiment. It’s a playground of sorts. A gift. We just shouldn’t stay there forever.

Now, I’m trying to enjoy my time in the Ivory Tower. I pray that when I leave it, I’ll be ready to change the world in my own way.

What are you doing in your Ivory Tower? Have you left it? I’d love to hear about your brain journey.

Why You Should Watch the Tony Awards (If You Don’t Already)

Everyday

The 71st Annual Tony Awards airs on CBS on June 11, 2017, at 8/7c.

Every year I have a hard time finding people to watch the Tony Awards with my husband and me. For those living under a rock or not a former theater kid, the Tony Awards are basically the Academy Awards of Broadway theater. Every year the best in plays and musicals are honored and celebrated in a live televised event, giving the average Jane a glimpse of the glory that is the performing arts right in their living room. It’s exhilarating. It’s joyous. It’s entertaining. Haven’t sold you yet? Here are the top reasons you should be watching the Tonys:

Celebrate the arts, dang it!
It is undeniable that the arts help make our society great. They both reflect and craft culture. Regardless of your political persuasion, you can always get something out of a theatrical performance. The Tony Awards showcases lots of talented dancers, singers, actors, costume designers, writers, directors, and more. Without art, humanity would be pretty boring and a whole lot less innovative. So take the time to celebrate it!

There are celebrities…
I often use this argument for my non-theater friends. For me, nearly everyone on stage at the Tonys is a celebrity. But for those with a less niché palate, you can often see plenty of famous movie stars and musicians take the stage to present or receive awards.

The live performances, baby!
Most of the time I have to live vicariously through YouTube videos and original cast albums to get even a snippet of what a show is like. And that’s just for musicals – it’s even harder to get details on Broadway plays! The Tony Awards let you see some truly ground-breaking performances from actors who live their roles every single day.

The energy is palpable.
Last year, a friend of mine watched the Tonys for the first time. Her response was simple: it was the happiest place on TV. The energy and excitement of everyone in the room are beyond anything you’ll see at a typical awards show. The Broadway community is truly something to behold – everyone is one big family.

You get a preview of the movies of the future.
Okay, maybe you don’t see a lot of stage shows. But if you like movies or movie musicals, watching the Tonys is like a giant trailer for the ones you’ll see in the future. Since musical movies are expensive to make, producers consider using an already popular show less of a risk. For example, Hairspray, Les Miserables, Grease, Chicago, and Phantom of the Opera all started as Broadway shows before showing up on the big screen. Plays also get the Hollywood treatment. Denzel Washington (see the point on celebrities) recently brought Fences to the screen after previously starring in and winning a Tony for the leading role.

You get a preview of the movie stars of the future.
Many movie stars got their start on the Great White Way. Julie Andrews. Dick Van Dyke. Sarah Jessica Parker. Lea Michelle. Hugh Jackman. Anna Kendrick. If you keep an eye on the Broadway scene for long enough, you get to see people’s careers skyrocket. I remember watching Eddie Redmayne win a Tony for Best Actor before anyone knew him as a movie actor. It’s like following an athlete from his high school days to the big leagues.

On Writing & Rejection

Everyday

In 2016, I wrote a children’s book. Yes, it took me a year to write two Microsoft Word pages of rhyming children’s literature. What can I say? Writing is HARD.

Recently, I was encouraged to try to get it published. While I’ve published several industry articles and some poetry, I have never completed a manuscript and shopped it around. This was new territory for me. I painstakingly researched tips for writing query letters, made a color-coded Excel spreadsheet of literary agents who were most likely to consider my book, obsessed over the first draft of my query letter, and, finally, sent my baby out into the great unknown, possibly never to be heard from again. In fact, very probably.

You see, literary agents no longer send rejection letters. The ease of online submission means more people can send just about anything and literary agents end up with thousands of entries they have to dig through looking for something worthy enough to represent. There is simply no time for rejection emails. Instead, they post a time frame on their website and if you don’t hear back within that window, they aren’t interested.

Harsh? I don’t think so. There simply isn’t enough time to write every desperate author a rejection letter. And there could be so many reasons for rejecting a manuscript. Perhaps it sucks. Or it doesn’t have a market. Or it’s been done before. Or that agent already is representing three other young adult fantasy authors. (Note: I am not writing young adult fantasy.) At the end of the day, the agent just might not like it…

All that being said, this week marked the end of the time window for three of the literary agents I submitted to. It’s official. I’ve been rejected. Or rather, my work has been. Part of me thinks this is a great experience to have. Every writer should experience rejection. It’s part of the whole struggling-writer persona, right? I wouldn’t want this to be too easy – it could mess up my street cred.

But part of me is sad. And a bigger part of me wants to know why. Why was I rejected? Is the subject matter too niché? Is rhyming passé? Was the writing bad? Did they read the manuscript or did they stop at my query letter and move on?

The bad news is that I will never know. The good news is that I will never know and I can move on. And keep on trying.

Reading Challenge 2016

Everyday

While I may not have quite achieved my other 2016 goals, I was pretty dedicated to advancing my reading list. In 2016, I read 11 complete books as well as half of two books. In Haley math, that means I achieved my 12 books in a year goal… So here is my celebratory recap:

1. 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

In the past couple years, I’ve read three of Mr. Metaxas’ books and I have enjoyed them all. I had been eagerly awaiting this one as I feel his books have been pretty male-heavy. The book gives brief (10-20 pages) summaries of the lives of seven inspiring women including Joan of Arc, Hannah More, Rosa Parks and Corrie Ten Boom. I was particularly taken by the recounting of Sister Maria of Paris, a drinking, smoking, divorcée who became a nun and eventually a saint. Overall, it was a great follow-up to Seven Men (which I read last year) and I enjoyed getting a peek into the lives of several women the world doesn’t talk much of anymore.

2. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories by the famed Bradbury. It gave both a fun and a harrowing look into the effects humans could have on an inhabited Mars. If you like science fiction (and even if you don’t) it’s a good book to keep on hand if you ever have time to kill.

3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My sister got me this novel for my birthday and I was frankly surprised how good it was. I’d heard lots of good things, but the author usually writes sappy love stories with thin plots, which is typically not my style. The Nightingale is anything but. Showing a side of World War II I haven’t really explored, it follows two sisters who choose different paths during the war. One tries to avoid the war while raising her family without her soldier husband, the other thrust herself into it by becoming a spy. Though the stories aren’t real, it was a thrilling and captivating tale.

4. Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin

I threw in a book on strategy this year (which might become a tradition for me in the future) in order to refine my approach to ideas and business. As a professional in a creative industry, these books aren’t super applicable, but I believe are necessary in order to understand how business works (or should work) on a basic level. The book could do with a writer’s touch, but overall delivered a great approach to strategy development that really works.

5. On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae-Lee

I’ve been wanting to read this book for about a year and tried to get my 2015 book club to read it without any luck. It was well worth the wait. Set in a not-so-distant future where labor colonies have been set up in a declining America, the story follows a teenage girl who, after her boyfriend mysterious disappears from her colony, sets out to find him on her own. It is poetic and harrowing and fascinating. It also mentioned bubble tea a lot (who can argue with bubble tea?).

6. Shades of Grey by James Fforde

Not to be confused with 50 Shades of Gray, this book details a society set up in a caste system determined by the colors you can see. These color abilities determine everything, from who you can marry to what job you can hold. With Purples leading the system, the lowest people on the totem pole are Greys. A little confusing at times, this is an interesting take on a totally different way to set up a culture.

Note: my sister-in-law gave this to me for my birthday. Thanks, Laura!

7. John Adams by David McCullough (1/2)

Ever since I was little I have loved John Adams. 1776 was one of my favorite musicals. I own the HBO mini-series. He is my favorite Founding Father and President. Abigail is my favorite famous female. So I figured this year I’d actually confirm that I like ALL of what Mr. Adams stood for. I’ve made it about halfway through the 600+ page book. To be honest, I stopped right when he becomes Vice President because even John thought that time of his life was pointless. However, everything I read leading up to it reminded me of how much I love the Adamses. I hope to finish the book in 2017 and confirm once and for all that Mr. A rocks.

Note: I hate that Hamilton: An American Musical is so mean to John Adams. Give him a break, guys!

8. The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

I wouldn’t have read this, but Amazon gave it to me for free and I am so grateful. Told from the perspective of four neighbors, this book details the changes in a community after a terrible accident occurs at the neighborhood pool. It is sweet and chilling and inspiring. I read it in less than a week.

9. Made to Crave Devotional: 60 Days to Craving God, Not Food by Lysa TerKeurst

This past summer, I met weekly with two lovely women in a season dedicated to discussing our struggles with disordered eating, reconciling it with our relationships with God, and supporting each other on the journey to a better relationship with food and our bodies. Our meetings were great. The book, however, I found lacking. I chose this devotional because I thought it could be used for any kind of disordered eating and was disappointed to learn it was geared toward weight loss (which was not exactly what we were going for). That being said, I’ve heard that the book version is better suited for what I was wanting. Anyway, it shared some good biblical truths that led to some great discussions.

10. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

If you know me, you know I love Ender’s Game, but I was always hesitant to read the sequel because everyone told me it was “different.” Well, different or not I love this book. It was great to be thrown back into the Enderverse for the first time in years (I do NOT count seeing the film version) and getting to experience a grown-up Ender. Card gets very head-y in this book, but overall is an interesting look at human/human and human/alien interactions.

11. Devotions For a Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas

Neil wanted us to do a devotional for our first year of marriage and it was really neat to be able to read and discuss each chapter together every week. Gary Thomas does a great job in providing encouragement as well as challenges to help make your marriage meaningful and prosperous while rooting it all in biblical truth. Whether you’re a newlywed or going on Golden, it’s a great reminder of God’s plan for marriage and how we can help keep our marriages intact and our spouses thriving.

Note: I’m cheating a bit here, because Neil and I started reading this in September 2015, but I’m counting it for 2016 because this is my blog and I can do what I want.

12. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Yeah, I know. I went back to the Enderverse. Speaker for the Dead reinvigorated my love for Ender and his new crew. Xenocide continues Ender’s story but this time the stakes are much higher. This book really got me thinking about how we’re naturally afraid of people/things “other” than us and what “other” really means. I think it also goes way harder on the science fiction spectrum than the other two books, so if you’ve gotten this far hang on and stick with it. Looking forward to finishing the quartet this year!

13. The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (1/2)

As my Booksgiving book this year, I’m technically supposed to have finished it already, but I made it halfway and that’s going to have to be okay. Neil picked it out for me because TIME listed it as of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923 (according to Wikipedia and another source Neil found). I’ll admit I was hesitant. It’s not my typical fare and it’s been harder to get through than most books I read this year. However, I am glad to be reading it. Not only is it stretching me in regards to genre, but it’s giving me an interesting look at American life in the early millennium. About a complicated and broken family set right before the most recent economic slump, its social commentary reminds me a lot of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (one of my favorite plays). We shall see. If anything, I’ll be able to say I’ve read one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923…

What did you read in 2016? Have you ever read any of these? Let me know!

Dear America

Everyday

My sister had some thoughts on the election results. Whether you are happy or devastated, I think they are lovely words. Enjoy.

Batir We Go

People are hurting on both sides of the political spectrum. People feel like they are not represented. That no one is listening to them. So much so that some cast their vote for a candidate widely seen as unfit for office. Those people did that because they want to be heard. They are tired of being portrayed as racists and bigots by mainstream media. They are tired of being told they are backwards and ignorant. And so today I am listening.
 
However, there are many people who woke up yesterday in fear and mourning. They too feel that no one can hear their cries. They believe the majority of Americans think their lives don’t matter. That they aren’t worthy of human dignity. They fear that they’ve lost their chance to be heard and that hate has won. And so I am listening.
 
This election has been incredibly messy…

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Jingles 2.0: What makes them stick today?

Everyday

This article was originally published on iMediaConnection.com. To read the full article click here.

Give Me a Break. I’m a Pepper. The Best Part of Waking Up. Stuck on Band-Aid Brand. I Wish I Were an Oscar Meyer Weiner. By now you have at least one song stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

For many, the era of the jingle — the “glory” years when you couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing a brand’s catchy tune — seems distant. But the jingle is alive and well. It just looks a bit different than you might remember. In a world of new platforms, multiple screens, and a new dynamic dominant audience, there’s never been a more important time than now for the brand awareness that a jingle can bring. However, the new media climate poses a few challenges that demand a new approach to the classic jingle.

To read more, click here.

 

New year. Same goals. Different tactics.

Everyday

For the past three years, I’ve challenged myself with daily creative challenges. For two of the three, I drew a doodle a day for a year. I also spent a year writing a 365-sentence story. [Links to these projects are in my navigation bar.] While I learned a lot from those challenges, what I learned the most was that spending three years doing a daily creative challenge is a major time suck. And often left me feeling way less free to be creative in my own ways. So this year I’m trying something different. I’m not doing a daily challenge. Instead, I’m giving my creative brain time to breathe and room to thrive. I’m still going to challenge myself creatively, but my goals are going to be way more flexible. So what are they?

Finish my children’s book. Last year I started seriously writing a children’s book. By seriously, I mean that I’m actually going to make myself finish it. And I’m actually really excited about it. More on what and why and how later…

Write more letters. I’m challenging myself to write at least one hand-written letter (not a card, a letter) every month to someone new. Want to be on the list? Send me an email and I’ll add you to the list! (haleygate@gmail.com)

Take more photographs. I’m a writer, so my brain often thinks in words more than in pictures. I want to change that. By taking more photographs, I hope to challenge myself to see the world in a more creative way.

Blog more often. I want to be more intentional about this blog by writing more often. I also plan on writing two posts a month on our family blog, especially as we try to accomplish The List.

How do I measure a year? In books.

Everyday

2015 was the third year I challenged myself to read at least one book a month. I dedicated this year to reading more classic science fiction, but I also joined a book club so I got to enjoy genres different from what I usually pick. Time for the end-of-year roundup! Are you ready? Let’s go.

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

While Lewis has been a part of my life forever (Narnia, y’all), I didn’t know he wrote a science fiction series until recently. I have to admit, I’m not a fan of Lewis’ writing style, but I love the worlds he creates. So I was pleased by the themes and analogies in his book about a man who somehow finds himself on Mars. Through his journey he discovers that he should be far more scared of the humans who took him to the silent planet than the strange creatures he encounters.

Listening is an Act of Love by StoryCorps

Another great find in the $1 section at Half Priced Books. This was recommended by my coworker/friend. It’s a collection of personal anecdotes collected through the StoryCorp project some people might know from NPR. It’s funny, somber, joyful, and sad, painting a beautiful image of the people of our country and the history that has built us.

7 Men and the Secret to Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

If you remember, I’ve already read a few Metaxas biographies (One word: Bonhoeffer), so I figured I’d dive into his recounting of seven great men in history. What makes them great? Aside from the fact they all accomplished amazing things, they were also great men of God. It was an inspiring read and I learned a lot I hadn’t known before.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

I was really excited about this one. It’s number one on many people’s lists of the best science fiction books of all time. After reading it, I can definitely see why it was so novel for a science fiction novel of its time. It’s about a man born on Mars who, since both his astronaut parents are dead, becomes a phenomenon when he is brought back to earth. It is an interesting and theoretical look at culture, politics, love, and what it means to be human. It also introduced the word “grok” to the nerd world. So if you meet a nerd, throw it in your conversation and see what happens. The story had too many orgies in it for my liking, but I took away an appreciation for the overall concepts and themes.

Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker

Not typically something I would read, this was part of the book club I joined through my church. Hatmaker is kind of famous in the Christian world and is the wife of a pastor of a progressive church in Austin, TX. By progressive, I mean that they immerse themselves and their congregation in the lives of the poor and disenfranchised of their community. Her book is filled with lots of stats about the state of the world and the overwhelming issues and struggles facing people every day. From depression to hunger to poverty, she challenges us to live out our faith in an “uncomfortable” way, because that’s what Jesus did. It often stung a little, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Another book from the club, this was something that most of us finished in 2-3 days. It’s a thriller about girl who becomes part of a possible murder investigation because of something she witnesses while riding the train. And by witnesses, I mean she’s kind of an IRL Facebook stalker. So we can all relate a little. They’re turning into a movie, so if you decide not to read the book you can always see it on the silver screen.

Maze Runner by James Dashner

I wanted to see the movie, but in my fashion I wanted to read the book first. I thoroughly enjoyed both. About a boy put into a maze with a bunch of other boys who have had their memories wiped, this is another great dystopian young adult series. What I liked about it was that there really wasn’t much in the romance department – refreshing, eh?

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner 2) & The Death Cure (Maze Runner 3)

I’m just gonna lump the rest of the series together. While I didn’t enjoy these nearly as much as I did the first book, they were still fun reads with (again) very little in the romance department. It’s basically a dude-centric version of The Hunger Games/Divergent series. WARNING: If you watch the movie version of The Scorch Trials there is almost no similarity between the book and its film adaptation. Which I found disappointing, because Scorch was my favorite of the sequels.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Again. I wanted to see the movie so I read the book first. About a man stranded on Mars whens his crew is forced to abandon him in a storm, this book is chock-full of math and science and Mac-Guyvering, all in an effort to get him home. I would recommend reading the book first because the movie misses out on a lot of really cool and nerdy details (and some great storm dodging), but judging from box office numbers and award nominations, I’m sure you’ve already seen the film.

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

The last book read in my summer book club, this book led to all but two of us dropping out. Seriously. Me and one other girl were the only ones who read the whole book. A classic novel written by a classic author, it’s a futuristic look at what would happen if everything in our culture were automized and run by machines. Tackling questions like “what is the worth of work?”, “where do men get their value?”, and “how far is too far?” it was a fascinating and cautionary look at engineering as god. It was super good from a literary perspective, but it was also very, very, hard to get through.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Part of our family “Booksgiving” challenge, Neil picked this one out for me. Each section sees the same monastic community at different time intervals after a nuclear world war. It follows the remnants of the monastary as they try to preserve knowledge lost in the fallout. Full of hilarious misinterpretations of history long gone, a look at how Christianity could survive global devastation, a new Dark Age and a new Rebirth, it’s a fascinating read and one I recommend. [I technically didn’t finish this one in 2015. I’m actually still reading it (only 50 pages to go!). But hey, I got married last year and things got busy, so I’m still counting it toward my 12 books a year.]

Well, there you have it! My 12 books of 2015. I’m excited about the stories that will fill 2016 and I already have a stack of books growing by my bed. This year my husband has decided to read six books of his own for the year, so we’ll have more reading dates ahead of us. Here’s to another year of books!