Bit-by-Bit

Tim Talks Turkey

The following Timbits exclusive interview with Timbits creator, founder, Chief Inspector, Grand Admiral, Junior Vice-Commissioner, and writer Tim Schaffer was conducted in Tim’s apartment in rural Massachusetts.

Timbits Blog: Good afternoon, Tim – thank you so much for agreeing to answer a few questions today. I consider this interview the capstone of my career.

Tim Schaffer: And thank you, Tim, for meeting in my home and in off hours to accommodate my schedule. Your professionalism astounds me. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

TBB: Well, let’s cut right to it. You spent the better part of a year creating Timbits. You said it was part of becoming a freelance writer. Yet you haven’t posted anything since last September. People are beginning to notice! Recently you’ve received a deluge of inquiries on Facebook – by my count [rummages papers] two – wondering what you’re doing these days. So, both your friends want to know: What’s happened?

TS: In short, I got a job.

TBB: A job? Surely you jest – you had a job as a freelance writer!

TS: Ah, but this new job is one I’m actually getting paid for.

TBB: Zounds and double zounds! So you’re a real, grown-up, nine-to-five workin’ man now, huh?

TS [shifts awkwardly in seat]: Well, not exactly. Two months of the year it’s full time, but for the rest it’s 20-25 hours a week. But if you remember I had a smattering of part time jobs already. When you add this new one to those the result is 30-35 hours a week – so pretty close to full time.

Insert 2TBB: But you’re still not quite a grown-up, are you?

TS: Is this a bad thing?

TBB [laughs heartily at this hilarious witticism]: So what do you do?

TS: I work for The Experimentory at Deerfield Academy. It’s a summer educational enrichment program for middle school students.

TBB: “The Experimentory,” – that sounds familiar… but where would I have heard of that before…?

TS: Ha-ha. Jill is the head of the program – it’s the reason why we moved to Massachusetts in 2014.

TBB [grins]: Yes, of course. So do you work with Jill or for Jill?

TS: For Jill.

TBB: How do you like working for Jill?

TS [laughing]: It’s rough: I can’t complain about my wife at work and I can’t complain about work at home!

TBB: You realize that many Timbits readers are friends and family that have heard that tired joke probably dozens of times before.

TS: Is it getting old? People usually laugh.

TBB: Am I laughing?

TS: Well, I was, a little. Doesn’t that mean…? I mean, we’re the same person, right? I’m losing track of how this multiple-personas gag works…

TBB: Let’s return to my original serious question – how do you like working for Jill?

TS: It’s actually great! Although we met briefly in college, our adult friendship started when we were coworkers in Christian ministry in Potsdam, NY. So we have a long history of working together.

TBB: Is it a different dynamic working for Jill rather than with her?

TS: Yes, but not much. When we were coworkers we shared general responsibilities, but our individual roles reflected our different skillsets. Since planning and directing are two of her strongest gifts, I’d often be following her direction – and I’m glad to do it now. It’s deeply satisfying to be helping Jill practically in her life’s work rather than just cheering her on from the sidelines.

TBB: And I suppose after working for Jill for twelve years, it’s nice to get paid for it! Ha-ha!!

TS: Hey!! After your snooty remarks about tired old jokes, I purposely skipped that one!

TBB [haughtily]: The Fourth Estate can’t shy from even the worst of jokes.

TS: Um, okay.

TBB: I have to say you seem very enthusiastic about this position. What excites you about the work?

TS: On the most fundamental level, the goals of the program resonate with me. The Experimentory’s primary educational goals are to expose kids to the essential skills of creativity and innovation that often don’t fit neatly into school curricula – namely pursuing curiosity, combining disciplines, refining ideas, and working collaboratively. These are the things I’ve always loved about learning and teaching.

TBB: But you work in the office – you’re not a teacher.

TS: Though I long ago realized I’m not cut out to be a teacher, I still enjoy kids and value education. A support staff role reconnects me with those passions without risking the pitfalls.

TBB: And those passions make you excited about… paperwork?

TS [slightly embarrassed]: Oddly enough, yes. But the job is more than just handling paperwork. Eight years of customer service taught me how much I genuinely enjoy helping people, and much of what I do falls under that purview. I also get to –

TBB: What is your title?

TS: Was it really necessary to interrupt me?

TBB: That’s part of Timbits’ hard-hitting brand of journalism.

TS: Asking my title is “hard-hitting?” It seems like –

TBB: Just answer the question.

TS: I am “Program Coordinator.”

TBB [makes “Baby Shark” motion with arms]: You’ve been Tim-Bitten™!Insert

TS: …

TBB: Please, go on.

TS: Okay… Well, as I was saying, I also get to write quite a bit, which is satisfying.

TBB: What do you write?

TS: I’m daily composing emails to students and parents, social media posts, and form letters. I wrote most of the text on our website when we revamped it at the beginning of the year. And I’ve had a hand in writing some short articles and promotional materials.

TBB: Social media posts?

TS: Yes! I manage the program’s social media presence. Most days it’s so much fun it hardly feels like work at all.

TBB: Has your experience creating Timbits helped in that role?

TS: To an extent. I certainly draw on my blogging voice, rather than my business writing voice, when composing social media posts. Although we post program information and announcements, more than half of our posts are links to videos, podcasts, and articles that fit into our themes. Anyone who has enjoyed my non-fiction Timbits will find an echo in the Experimentory Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds.

TBB: That sort of plug is inappropriate, thank you.

TS: Sorry…

TBB [“Baby Shark” motion]: Tim Bitten™!

TS: I feel like you’re using that phrase in a different way than you used it before. What exactly is it supposed to signify?

TBB: The concept is still under development. Are there any other things you’d like to say about your new job?

TS: It’s been full of unexpected joys and blessings. For example, the transition into this job has been remarkably smooth – the most natural of my career. I often suffer from the Imposter Syndrome when starting a new position. In this case, however, I already knew so much about the job and my new boss knew so much about my strengths and weaknesses that those insecurities couldn’t take hold.

TBB: Huh.

TS: Lastly – and this is something I hadn’t anticipated – I love the control I have over my responsibilities and schedule. In all my previous positions, I’ve had to operate within a framework designed by my predecessors, my boss, or my company. But thanks to the newness of the program and the small size of our office, I have the autonomy to create systems and strategies that work best for me. It’s bizarrely satisfying.

TBB: So does this mean you’re done with Timbits?

TS: I don’t think so… My long break these past few months has been largely unplanned. I had originally intended to just scale back to posting once a month or so.

TBB: What’s happened, then?

TS: Two things. First, Jill and I have had some matters in our personal life that have taken up some extra time and energy.

TBB: Are you really going to leave it at that?

TS: Yes. That’s good enough for the interwebs – for now anyway. Second, since freelance writing is no longer my primary focus, I’ve been feeling more freedom to write whatever-the-heck-I-feel-like rather than specifically blog content.

TBB: So you are still writing, then?

TS: Absolutely! As my career path has changed, I’ve begun seeing my writing year as a sort of sabbatical to regroup and develop professionally. I may not have ended up as a fulltime paid writer, but writing is now an established part of my creative life. And who knows what may come of that in the future?

TBB: What have you been writing?

TS: A longer piece of speculative fiction, actually.

TBB: A book?

TS: Possibly. I’ve been writing a series of pieces about a set of interrelated characters. I could envision combining them to form chapters of a novel, or episodes in a blog series, or short stories in a collection.

TBB: Why haven’t you been sharing them on Timbits?

TS: For one, I’ve been writing them out of order. But more importantly, since this is the first time I’ve tried something long like this, I want to take things slowly. I don’t want to be driven to “get the next part out” and I want the freedom to adjust early episodes as my characters develop.

TBB: So nothing more until that’s done?

TS [shrugs]: I have probably two dozen blog posts partially started that I might pick up and finish one of these days. You never know.

TBB: Well, thanks for sharing, Tim. You’ve been Tim Bitten™.

TS: Again, you can’t trademark something if you’re not consistent with wha –

[TBB abruptly makes “Baby Shark” motion and ends the scene]



Final

TIMBITS NEWSFLASH! Ebola Patient Released After Misdiagnosis

ATLANTA – Brad Moony of Akron, OH was released yesterday after 118 days of Ebola quarantine when it was discovered he suffered from tennis elbow rather than the feared African disease.

“In hindsight, I see

Continue reading TIMBITS NEWSFLASH! Ebola Patient Released After Misdiagnosis

Out of Place: 5 Place Names That Began With Mistakes


Norfolk, New… Yolk?

A visitor meandering along the mountain highways of New York’s North Country may notice that the area borrows many of its town names from other areas of the world. However, the visitor who stops for directions will quickly learn that the region borrows none of the world’s pronunciations.

Continue reading Out of Place: 5 Place Names That Began With Mistakes

The Savior Smiles

Downtown you’ll find a discarded theater. The marquee still stutters fragments of a show ten years gone. The box office window is washed in gray film. Even the graffiti could use some updating. This place was built to sing, but now it barely sighs as people pass on to someplace else.

But wait, what’s this? Tonight a flicker tugs at the attention of passersby – there are lights on behind the dust-caked curtains. And what’s that?

Continue reading The Savior Smiles

Servant or Volunteer?

I don’t usually post links to other web articles, but in this case I’m making an exception because the article is mine! “Servant Leadership” unpacks that Christian catchphrase by exploring Old and New Testament examples. It also includes a rhetorical tool I’ve found very helpful in examining my own motivations: do I serve others with the heart of a servant or of a volunteer? And I couldn’t resist a little humor, as well.

Faith Filled Family Magazine (aka FFFM) is a free Christian web magazine available here. My (rather lengthy) article begins on page 23 of the 2015 Volume Five issue. Please visit, read, and enjoy!

The Minimal Maturity Required

In honor of graduation season, here’s a collage of moments in my life when maturity, childishness, insight, and naiveté have met and mixed in funny ways. Enjoy!


One-by-one our teachers stood at the podium, spoke from the heart, and presented awards. Amidst the pomp, the circumstance, the praise, the gravitas, and the sea of admiring faces, I could almost feel the mantle of maturity descending. “This is it,” I thought. “I’ve grown-up. I’m an adult now.” With that the principal read my name. A few strides, a certificate and a handshake later, it was done: I was a seventh grader.


I bounded off the bus to where Mom was waiting. “How was your first day of First Grade?” she asked. Naturally, I replied, “Lunch was great!” The highly-anticipated first school lunch had not disappointed. Then I added, “I didn’t have any green beans.”

This surprised Mom. “You like green beans when we eat them at home – didn’t you even have one or two?”

“No, I didn’t even get any,” I explained. “The lady asked me if I wanted them and I said no.” I paused philosophically. “She didn’t ask me if my mother thought I should have them. She asked me if I wanted them, so I said no.”


In twelfth grade I returned to Skano Elementary as a counselor in an afterschool daycare program. Nothing heaves you away from childhood like overseeing grade school kids at recess. My first week I sat with some fourth graders on the swings, reminiscing about my own days on those same swings six years before. “I remember Steve would jump off at the top and then swing back holding the chain like Tarzan. Do you guys ever jump off the swings?”

In the next twenty minutes I learned a lot about responsible storytelling.

But the big eye-opening moment came about a month later. “Today we didn’t make the kids line up at the door before they came in from the playground,” I shared over dinner. “It wasn’t just noisy – it was utter chaos! And not just in the hall – the entire rest of the day! They didn’t stop!!

“Back in elementary school,” I confessed to my family, “the Lunch Ladies would call us in and line us up four minutes earlier than necessary. They made us stand quietly for twenty seconds before coming in. I always thought they were mean or stupid – but now I totally understand!” And then the monstrosity of growing up hit me in a fresh way: “I’ve become a lunch lady.”


It was my first date and this was the Moment of Truth. Well, technically Monica and I were just friends; true, we had never even discussed becoming more than just friends; admittedly, I had no particular interest in being more than just friends; and the unfortunate facts were that we were at an afternoon movie, she’d paid for her own ticket, and the film was Happy Gilmore. But darn it all, I was sixteen, this was the closest thing I’d ever had to a date and so it was to be a date. And I was going to make it certifiably so – hence the Moment of Truth.

I wasn’t about to rush the Moment – it had to arise organically from desperation and terror. I bided my time. Finally, after Adam Sandler beat an alligator to death on screen, the mood seemed right. I yawned, stretched, squirmed – all quite convincingly – and when I settled again my arm rested casually across her shoulders.

To my relief, Monica didn’t protest, bat at my arm, or scream – the maneuver was a success! But then I noticed some things she didn’t do: contentedly sigh, lean into my shoulder, or even acknowledge the arm visiting her personal space.

Huh.

Because Monica was tall, her shoulders were almost as high as mine. As a result, that masterfully draped arm stuck up at an angle that suggested “sports injury” more than “loving embrace.” Soon my shoulder began to ache; then my hand and forearm went numb. But I had sunk the entire date’s worth of courage into that stretch-and-yawn – was I to retreat now? If she seemed content with our romantic misalignment – and what else could silently sitting stock still mean but contentment? – well then here I must stay.

By the movie’s end, I really could do no other: moving the arm, let alone removing it, was a physical impossibility without her moving first. Twenty seconds into the credits came Monica’s Moment of Truth: “Well, are you ready?” Her tone was casual, matter-of-fact, and friendly – with an emphasis on friendly.

I said I thought I was.

We never spoke of the wayward arm – or went on a date – again.


Steven, my freshman roommate of three days, returned to our room from the campus convenience store with a bag. “I bought a half gallon of milk,” he explained as he put it in our cube fridge. Then he paused in thought. “I feel grown-up buying my own groceries, even if it is just milk. Not a bad deal – maturity for a dollar-nine.”



Header image is modified from “Lunch at Kelly Miller Middle School” by DC Central Kitchen CC by 2.0

Recent Reads: Huh?

My reading – in fact, most parts of life not outsourced to my wife – is unplanned. Sure, I have a stack of likely “next read” candidates sitting by my bed, but in the end its all whim and fancy. And yet unplanned patterns and themes always arise anyway. This post focuses on one such theme I’ve noticed in 2015:


Huh?

Recent reads that have defied my expectations.

A Christmas Garland by Anne Perry (Audio)

When Jill and I started this audiobook in the car on the way to our family Christmas gathering, we expected a quaint, old fashioned holiday murder mystery – perhaps a drawing room drama, I imagined, where a Victorian busybody must determine which visiting relative poisoned Great Aunt Gertrude’s eggnog, all while still somehow decorating the house for the holiday ball. It wasn’t like that at all – it’s a military courtroom mystery set in British colonial India. Ah yes, well it is set in late December – certainly Perry will work in some seasonal themes, right? Peace on earth, good will to men – something like that? Not so much. As if to torment me – yes, me personally – a children’s homemade paper chain Christmas garland appears in several scenes. Ah ha! Dramatic economy states this must be important!! The papers in the chain contain vital clues…? The protagonist lawyer will notice something about the chain and suddenly see the case in a whole new light? The delicate links will become a key metaphor for the whole novel?? Come on, Perry, you will at least have the decency to drive a very, very lightweight military officer to hang himself on the garland in the final scene, right? Nope, nope, nope and nope. It’s just a story that happens to take place a few days before Christmas.

Even so, I sort of liked it. Perry’s characters convincingly wrestle with the morality of war, colonialism, duty, justice, evil, and God – much deeper than I was expecting from a pop mystery. But nothing about Christmas.

3/5 Stars


Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G K Chesterton

No matter what the subject matter, I love how Chesterton writes – paradox, witticisms, and wordplay always abound. This is a good thing since he often doesn’t actually write about his subject matter. Thomas Aquinas isn’t a traditional biography; nor does it outline the theologian’s philosophy; in fact, there are times when Chesterton takes it for granted that his reader already has a base knowledge of these things. Instead Chesterton isolates a handful of themes from Aquinas’ life and work and suggests their value today – or at least to Chesterton’s today. It’s not a page-turner but still quite enjoyable.

Here’s a quote from it that I especially liked – a taste for you:

If there is one phrase that stands before history as typical of Thomas Aquinas, it is that phrase about his own argument: “It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.” Would that all Orthodox doctors in deliberation were as reasonable as Aquinas in anger! Would that all Christian apologists would remember that maxim; and write it up in large letters on the wall, before they nail any theses there. At the top of his fury, Thomas Aquinas understands, what so many defenders of orthodoxy will not understand. It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else’s principles, but not on his own. After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours.

This good advice for political and scientific apologists, too.

4/5 Stars


Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution by Joel Richard Paul (Audio)

I have one beef with the author: SPOILER ALERT – the historical figures mentioned in the title don’t save the American Revolution! A more subtitle would be “How a Merchant and a Playwright Helped the American Revolution, Plus the Incredibly Interesting Story of a Spy Who Was Only Sort of Important to the Playwright’s Career But Still Totally Worth Reading About Anyway.” That aside, this was a delightful and highly-recommendable read about two people who were vital to the Continental Congress’ effort to secure French foreign aid during the Revolution, and a third that lived a very interesting life nearby. Joel Richard Paul convinced me that Silas Dean deserves much more credit that he’s traditionally received; he convinced me that our historical American identity is stronger when we include the less-likeable figures; he failed to convince me that the roles filled by Dean and Beaumarchais couldn’t or wouldn’t have been adequately filled by someone else had they not been around. And d’Eon really has no direct connection to the Revolution at all.

4/5 Stars (if I overlook the misleading title and premise)


Then We Came to the End [Abridged] by Joshua Ferris (Audio)

I expected a workplace satire. I don’t think this was unreasonable: the back-of-the-box description mentioned zany exploits of eccentric officemates surviving the dull stress of the corporate world. The cover art was a mass of Post-It notes – which I took as a nod to the poster from Office Space.

Imagine my surprise when the crazy coworkers turned out to be just a loose frame for an entirely different story: an office manager wrestling with her mortality after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Situational comedies – especially workplace satires – derive much of their humor from caricatures. Looked at objectively, Milton, the Pointy-Haired Boss and Dwight Schrute are ridiculous. They become believable only when they remind us of real life people we know and they maintain credibility by existing in a world that suits them. By putting a heavy drama front and center, Ferris ruins the effect: all of the other characters seem cheap and flimsy. This isn’t helped by Ferris dedicating 60% of his book to one character’s story and cramming another dozen into the other 40%. Without ample opportunity to get to know the rest of the ensemble I kept forgetting their names and getting them confused. Perhaps most tragically of all, this didn’t feel like a loss – I didn’t really care about them.

As the audio production ended, I was dismissing the book as bad storytelling, but then came a shock: the narrator explained I was finishing an abridgement. (Pet peeve: audiobooks that aren’t adequately marked as abridgements!!) So I wonder: did some cruel editor hack the original to death? Did they zoom in on one story to the detriment of the rest? If the cancer story had been one voice among many equals, as opposed to the central story rising from a sea of subplots, it could have been balanced counterpoint.

So perhaps Then We Came to the End in its entirety is a great book – just don’t waste your time with the abridgement.

2/5 Stars



I expect to write more posts about books in the future. In the meantime, you may enjoy reading my 2014 Reading List.