Sunday, June 21, 2015

Andreus and the Stone

The elbows and shoulders and hands of the angry crowd surrounding me propelled me forward as if I were caught in a current of the sea. I was aware of three things: my robe swishing around my body, which was sweating profusely, despite the mild weather; the large stone that seemed to burn in my left hand; and the heavy pressure of guilt that weighed on me as if I were carrying a mule on my shoulders.

I was a young man, not quite 20. My father had stopped calling me Rus in favor of my given name, Andreus, just six months prior. I sold fish at a nearby market and made a decent living because I'd been working under my former master, Josiah, for nearly 8 years.

"Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery," I heard the Pharisee say. I'd seen this one at the temple many times, and his wardrobe choices were always as excessive as his lengthy prayers. "The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?"

I stood on tip-toe to get a better look at the scene. I couldn't quite see who the Pharisee was talking to. As if I'd actually spoken up, the crowd formed a circle. First I looked to my left and followed the arc of men—there were probably 30—all the way around to my other side. They all had two things in common: they looked indignant, even angry, and they each held a stone. Most of the stones were large, gripped in a white-fingered right hand.

My breath caught in my throat when I finally got a clear view of the three individuals at the center of the circle. First was the Pharisee, whom I already knew. His expression was one of pride, and his sharp eyes wordlessly judged the two people before him: the woman about whom the question had been asked and the man who was expected to answer it. I shifted my gaze to the woman, who knelt in the dirt, her eyes on downcast. Seeing her again sent a stabbing pain through my gut. The mule on my shoulders got heavier.

I'd first seen her at the market a month ago. She showed up almost every morning to purchase fresh vegetables and fish. I'd noticed her immediately because she had long, perfect dark hair and haunting eyes, brownish purple like the sea during a storm at dusk. She was always polite, asking how sales were going or commenting on how delightful the weather had been. I soon learned she was married—to one of the fishermen whose wares we sold at the market. He was gone sometimes for long periods of time, so I guessed she came to the market to talk to the merchants as often as she did because she was lonely.

I always looked forward to seeing her and didn't see any harm in exchanging pleasantries when she showed up to buy fish, but I couldn't ignore how pretty she was. One day she came to the market as always, but she accidentally paid too much for the fish. This had happened before, with other customers, and to my shame, I'd kept the change unless they had later questioned me about it. But she had been so kind to me that I didn't want to cheat her. I knew where she lived, so I went to her house after work to return the extra money.

She couldn't let me into the house when her husband wasn't home, so she came outside to see what I wanted. It was raining and after supper, though, so no one was around. She shifted the dishes she was holding into one hand and looked at me quizzically. I explained about the excess money and held it out to her. She took it, and I couldn't tell if it was my imagination or not, but her hand seemed to linger on mine longer than necessary. The spell was broken when the dishes in her hands shifted and fell into the dirt, some of them shattering.

I instantly squatted down to help her clean up the mess, and she did, too. She started to say it had been her mistake, and I didn't have to help, but she looked up the same instant I did, and her words were cut off because we found ourselves nose to nose. In one impulsive motion I'd regret forever, I leaned forward and pressed my mouth against hers. She did not resist, and it even seemed that she kissed me back, but I hardly had time to tell. If there were an award for the world's worst timing, I'd get it. A neighbor happened to be passing by and saw it, and before I knew it, I'd been ushered back to my house after a few sharp words from a Pharisee, while a teacher of the religious law took her away, hissing only one word in her direction: "Adulteress."

The next morning, I'd been dragged from my bed by my next-door neighbor, who told me to come outside immediately if I wanted to spare myself embarrassment. That's how I found myself here in this circle of angry men, a sharp rock gripped in my shaking hand. I was here to help stone to death the woman whose place I deserved to take. I looked away from the woman, the kiss I shouldn't have stolen burning on my lips in my memory. The mule grew impossibly heavy on my shoulders, and I stood there in the dirt like the coward I was.

The third and final person in the circle was a pleasant-faced man with a long brown beard and kind eyes. He was a full six inches shorter than the towering Pharisee, but he somehow seemed completely confident, as if he could call and army to his aid at any moment if he wished. He sank to his haunches and drew with his finger in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to the Pharisee's impatience for an answer to his question. He drew three big letters: "R U S." My throat felt like it was closing. This must be some kind of coincidence. Maybe he was going to add something. Maybe—

He looked up and met my petrified gaze, drilling me with his piercing hazel eyes. I heard a voice in my mind that said, "Repent, and be forgiven, my son." My mouth fell open. Who was this man, who knew my sin and could speak to me without opening his mouth?

The pharisee literally kicked the dirt in impatience. "Well?!" he demanded, as if he had other important crowds to stand before and other young women to stone to death. "She is an adulterous woman. Shall we stone her now?"

The bearded man looked up at the Pharisee patiently, as if he'd forgotten he was there. "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Then he stooped again and underlined the three letters he had written before.

The stone in my hand dropped to the ground, and I looked around at the bewildered men who, one at a time, dropped their rocks and backed away, almost as if they were frightened. One by one, beginning with the oldest, they slipped away until I was all that was left of the circle. Somehow the Pharisee had disappeared as well. I turned away but walked slowly so I could hear what the strange man would say to the woman. "Where are your accusers?" he asked. "Didn't even one of them condemn you?"

"No, Lord," she answered.

Lord, I repeated in my mind. How stupid I had been not to recognize Him. This man was Jesus, the one who claimed to be God's Son, the one who claimed to be able to forgive sins. And now, since He'd spoken in my mind, I knew it was true.

Faintly, even as I walked away, I heard Him say to her, "Neither do I. Go, and sin no more."

I repented of my sin before God that night and fasted for 30 days. I haven't seen Jesus in person since then, but I think I will someday.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Why I Enjoy Being a Reporter

I'm an editor, so most of my work involves reading through other writers' pieces and correcting them for clarity, grammar and content. Sometimes I get to write my own articles, but they are often aggregate pieces. Every once in a while, I get to attend an actual event and report on it. One might think that I enjoy being a reporter just because I like to write. However, I have other reasons. If you're considering a career as a journalist or are just curious about what it can be like, read on to find out why I enjoy being a reporter.

1. I get to go to a different place for each assignment. My journalism adventures have taken me to hospitals, schools, hotels, libraries and even a nursing home. These places might not sound too fascinating, but they are often populated by interesting people and events. One time for a story about education innovation, I drove to a school in Owsley County that my GPS couldn't even locate. I drove in that general direction and made a 2-hour trip, somehow finding the school with some vague directions from the school secretary. Finding the locations can be stressful sometimes. You may wonder why such a geographically and directionally challenged individual would enjoy new places so much. Besides the excitement of seeing new things, I also enjoy entering a new environment because doing so allows me to ask questions without feeling dumb. I just show up at the right address and ask the first person I find where I'm supposed to go.

2. I get to learn about a variety of topics. A few weeks ago I reported on a panel discussion about local foods, which I previously knew nothing about, and today I attended a conference about how to stop bullying. The speaker said that the cause of bullying is not low self-esteem as previously thought. Instead, the bully often is the jock or the cheerleader or the lawyer's kid. Instead of a lack of self-esteem, there is often a power imbalance. The true cause of most bullying is narcissism, which is getting worse in today's children. Knowing stuff is cool. I thoroughly enjoyed learning throughout my education, so it's awesome to continue learning for my job.

3. I get to interrogate people. I used to think that everyone held conversations by rapidly exchanging question after question—until I spent a significant amount of time with someone who rarely—if ever—asked questions. I've discovered that most people patiently exchange remarks and do not ask tons of direct questions. I like questions and always have a lot of them, even for strangers. As a reporter, my name tag, camera and anything else that labels me as a journalist give me free reign to randomly approach pretty much anyone at an event and ask whatever bizarre queries I need for my story. It's great.

4. I often get free coffee and food. They say that a college student's favorite word is free. I think my favorite word will always be free. At many of the events I cover, I get free coffee, free lunch, free donuts and even free pens. One time I even ate an $80 plate at a dinner party. Like, you know, I ate the food on the plate, not the actual plate. Anyway, when I attend events, I eat while gleefully striking up weird conversations with people I'll probably never see again or just sit alone and shovel the food into my mouth. Everyone knows I'm a reporter and don't know anyone. For all they know, I'm observing the way the attendees eat their food, watching, waiting, pondering my story.

5. No one expects me to behave like everyone else at the event. Or if they do, they never show it. I think it's because people are so used to seeing movies with scenes featuring jittery, loud-mouthed reporters who skitter after the poor protagonist, shoving microphones in his face, asking rude questions and taking obnoxious photos. In comparison, I seem well-behaved. Sometimes I come late or leave early. I sit wherever I want. I get up and take pictures with my giant camera. I'm usually the only person in the room with a laptop; of course, I'm using it to take notes. Usually I'm the youngest person in attendance. Unlike the rest of the attendees, I generally don't talk to anyone unless I'm interrogating someone for my story. And that's OK. I'm a reporter, and I'm working. They understand I don't have time to socialize.

Journalism is cool. I really had no idea what it was when I declared it as a major. It's so much more than writing newspaper articles. I don't even write for a newspaper because both publications to which I contribute are online. Any questions? I like questions.

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Defeat Job Interviews in Five Easy Steps

This is it. It's the big day: THE company of your dreams has called and asked you to come in for an interview. You've crafted a spectacular resume and written a cover letter that could make Mark Zuckerburg cry. But that was child's play. Now the real game begins.

When you get the email about the job interview, it's 9:27, and you're sitting in the office at your current job. You wanted to quit this job because it requires you to sit in your desk chair at 8 a.m. sharp, put your head in a vice, and read things on a computer for 9 hours straight while someone comes around periodically to criticize you. Usually it's your boss, who often says, "Try not to blink. The average person has his eyes closed for 30 minutes per day because of blinking. I'm not paying you to sleep."

Make sure no one sees the email. Since you were stupid enough to ask a potential employer to send an email to a company computer, you'll need to destroy the evidence. Take the sledge hammer from underneath your desk and give the machine a good whack. Now let's hope you get the other job. You're going to get in trouble for taking your head out of that vice.

1. Before the interview, do your research.
The rule for lawyers is the same as the rule for job interviewees: never ask a question you don't already know the answer to. That's why you need to find out literally everything before going to the job interview. Find out your interviewee's sock size, zodiac sign, rental car history, St. Patrick's Day plans, and opinions on iguana breeding.

This is important because the first thing you need to do is establish trust. The day before the interview, call the interviewee from a blocked phone number and ask about the things listed above. If his or her answers match those from your research, you know you're dealing with an honest individual. If his or her answers do NOT match up, whisper, "You chose...poorly," hang up, and send a box of exploding sparkles to his house.

2. Make an entrance.
Do you remember that scene in Aladdin when he disguises himself as Prince Ali and shows up at Jasmine's palace with a parade, thousands of adoring fans, and every other pomp and circumstance you could possible think of? Picture that exact frame when the elephant upon which Aladdin sat just extends one thick leg and smashes open the palace door and the music is all like "Prince ALI HANDSOME IS HE, KING OF AL-BOB-WAHHHH!"

Then picture the flabbergasted look on Jafar's face. That. That's what you want your interviewers to feel: pure, unadulterated awe.

Come in. Shake their hands like you are Alexander the Great. Smile like you are about to install a gum ball machine in your kitchen. Then sit down. The world is your oyster.

3. Know how to answer the difficult questions.

The following are just a few of the tricky questions you might encounter during your interview. Be sure to memorize one of these convenient canned answers to "wow" your interviewer.

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "Do you believe in love at first sight?"

Interviewer: "Why do you think you're a viable candidate for this job?"
Your answer: "I'm Batman."

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?"

Interviewer: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Your answer: "Doing your job."

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "What would you do for a Klondike Bar?"

Interviewer: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Your answer: "Probably in the mirror, just like I see myself now."

Interviewer: "Why do you think you're a viable candidate for this job?"
You answer: "I had assumed you'd have already read my resume. Would you like the book-on-tape version?"

Interviewer: "Well, I think that's all the questions we have for you. Is there anything you'd like to ask before we finish up?"
Your answer: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Interviewer: "What are some of your most impressive skills?"
Your answer: "I once built my own pogo stick, and I do an excellent Gollum impression."

4. Make it clear you're the right person for the job.
Do you feel like the interview is going swimmingly? Or maybe you feel like you're ruining the whole thing. Either way, you need to make it clear exactly why no other candidate can measure up. Immediately after a question is asked—it doesn't matter what question—sit back in your chair and take hold of your suit jacket. Slowly move it to the side, displaying the 14 different kinds of cookies you sewed into little pockets on the inside. Silently hand one cookie to each interviewer and whisper, "There's more where that came from."

5. Write a hand-written thank you note after the interview.
When someone requires you to put on uncomfortable clothes you would never actually wear to work, subjects you to a 45-minute rapid-fire inquisition, and makes you too nervous to eat for two days, you should always send a thank you note. A hand written thank you note.

Not sure what to write? Try something like this:

Dear Mr. Jimmy Snibbler,
I greatly enjoyed our professional conversation a fortnight minus 12 days ago. I fully expect to hear from you again with positive news. If I don't, you can fully expect to never see your dog again.