Wednesday, November 30, 2005

H-Hour, D-Day

We've been hoping, waiting, praying, and pursuing treatment to remove Olivia's hemangioma for well over a year now. To say the least, it's been a long process. Along the way, we've had to fight through feelings of powerlessness and choose instead to ride waves of hope. Our spirits, our emotions, and Olivia's body have been taken through numerous ups and downs. And at last, we are on the eve of the big event.

We're scheduled to check in at the Dagcentrum of the AMC Hospital tomorrow morning at 7:30. We would appreciate any prayer support that we could get for the occasion.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet is one of those curious cultural phenomena that defy explanation and understanding...

Kind of equivalent to America's Christmas elves, or Sweden's holiday jultomten, or Ireland's feisty leprechauns... Holland's Zwarte Pieten ("Black Pete"s) are good-natured-yet-mischeivious figures of holiday legend. They serve as helpers for Sinterklaas -- forming the crew for his steam boat, caring for his horse, running his errands, delivering his gifts and holiday sweets... Call them servants, helpers, slaves -- call them what you will, they're a classic mythical archetype that seems to work its way into many different holiday celebrations around the world.

But the strange part about Zwarte Pieten is that the classic portrayal of this Dutch legend is a white person in blackface minstrel-fashion cariacture. Dark face paint, big red lips, bushy black hair -- it seems a pretty harsh contradiction to the typical tolerance, accommodation, and pragmatic relativism of most Nederlanders. Yet Dutch people (even many people of color) will insist that Zwarte Piet is not a remnant of colonial racism and opression; rather, it's just a fun tradition that brings joy to so many...

I'm willing to trust the intentions of my Dutch friends, and I don't want to be critical of a culture that's not my own. But if such a tradition were to be observed in America, I can only imagine the stern statements of reprimand issued by Jesse Jackson... the scathing comedy routines by Chris Rock... the general sense of public outrage (from both blacks and whites) at such tradition. Thus, it is points such as this that I feel myself most accutely caught between cultures.

Zwarte Piet scared me at first and made me feel very uncomfortable. In the time since, I've been slowly charmed by his antics and brought around to an understanding of his appeal. But mostly, I just feel confused. And cautious. And curious...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

What do you think?

Could it be that my son is now also my brother?

Marci and I have always done our best to leave room for our children to develop at their own pace -- physically, mentally, and spiritually. We've consistently sought to create a family culture that allows and respect each family member's personal choices (within reason). We try to parent with wisdom and restraint -- as opposed to heavy-handed foolishness -- and I think we've succeeded in these regards, if I do say so myself...

With that said, it seems that our little Elliot (just three-and-a-half years old) has made a personal choice to follow Jesus.

Could this be possible for such a young child? Many will likely ask such a question, and the honest answer is that we cannot presume to make such a judgment. Yet given the circumstances, Marci and I believe that Elliot has recently joined us -- consciously and wholeheartedly -- as a part of the family of God.

In recent weeks, he's been showing more and more of a spiritual sensitivity. His young mind has started to grasp concepts such as forgiveness, generosity, and the distinction between good and evil. He eagerly absorbs stories from the Bible. He has spontaneously initiated times of prayer and worship. He's been talking to his school teachers about God -- explaining how God helps him calm his fears, wondering aloud why his self-proclaimed atheistic teacher doesn't believe in God... In many ways that can only be quantified by a parent who's witnessing the day-in day-out development of another human being, Elliot has simply been more aware of the spiritual realm. Noticeably more attuned to issues of faith and belief.

So it shouldn't have been surprising this evening, observing the first night of the Advent season, when Elliot responded to the story of God's promised son coming to earth. He was struck by the idea of giving one's whole heart to God. And when Marci explained her own thankfulness for a relationship with God -- Elliot asked point-blank: "Can I do that, too?" Thus with some basic guidance by his mother, Elliot prayed in simple childlike faith, with simple childlike words -- confessing his need for a Savior and his desire for Jesus to be in control of his heart.

From the look of things, Elliot has decided for faith in Christ. And if his spiritual journey is anything like mine (or Marci's), he will most likely continue refining and discovering new assets of his faith as he grows older. Personal study of the Bible, response to alternative presentations of the gospel message (I think I "prayed to receive Christ" three or four times during my growing up years!), encountering crossroads of decision and behavior, choosing for public baptism... It's a long road with many twists and turns.

But I'm curious... What do you think? Is such a decision credible from such a young boy? Are we right to rejoice with the angels upon another being's discovery of his place in God's Kingdom? Could it be that my son is now my spiritual brother? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


One of the aspects of the Dutch language that I've really come to appreciate is its economy of words -- at least when it comes to certain social interactions... But I suppose this feature of language is easier demonstrated than described.

For instance: in American culture, if a person sneezes a bystander would likely say "God bless you" (or "Bless you" or possibly "I hope you get to feeling better soon"), right? But in Holland, a simple one-word response is given: "Gezondheid" -- "Health." Or consider the fact that if someone is setting off to perform some kind of task in America, they're wished well with the words "Good luck" (or "Best of luck" or "Break a leg" or something like that). But in Holland, all that needs to be said is "Succes" -- "Success." And then in difficult circumstances, how do Americans usually comfort each other? With a statement such as "Hang in there" or "You can make it" or possibly "We're in this together," right? But in Holland, it's appropriate to simply nod with a sympathetic look on your face and say "Sterkte" -- "Strength."

And even with my less-than-complete knowledge of the Dutch language, a number of other such examples come to my mind... "Aangenaam" ("Pleased to meet you"). "Proost" ("Here's to you"). "Gefeliciteerd" ("Congratulations" and "Happy Birthday"). "Jammer" ("Sorry about that" or "Too bad")...

I've heard Nederlanders mourn their language's relative lack of vocabulary when it comes to certain aspects of communication -- particularly in the context of art, poetry, music, and such -- but rather than join the self-deprecation of my adopted culture, I value and praise an ability to succinctly state a complex thought with as few words as possible. The Dutch seem to be less prone to the vices of wordiness and rambling (at least in comparison to Americans), and this is something to be celebrated. I'm not really sure if the Dutch economy of words really means anything or serves as any kind of defining characteristic of the culture at large... But I actually find myself often missing the English equivalent, and I wish that others from my native culture could share in the insights of my obscure second language.

Suppose you're on your way to share a drink with a friend, and outside the cafe you meet a friendly stranger on the street and find out that it's his birthday... Just seconds later, to your horror, his body is wracked by a violent sneeze and his back is thrown out by the force of the nasal blast. Of course, like any reasonable human being, you feel that you must stay with him until the paramedics arrive, and you give his hand a squeeze as he's loaded into the ambulance. As you sit down at the windowside table within the cafe to catch up with your friend, you find out that your friend has already ordered for you and the drinks are immediately delivered -- at which point you raise your glass in salute toward the ambulance which is just pulling away...

In which other language could you get away with just seven words for such a bizarre experience? "Aangenaam. Gefeliciteerd. Gezondheid. Jammer. Sterkte. Succes. Proost." And that's one of the reasons why Dutch is such a wonderful language...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Domino Effect

I'm not usually one to use this space for commenting about current events, linking to news articles and such -- but I was struck by this story carried by an American press agency, reporting tragic happenings from right here in Amsterdam -- and I felt that I would be irresponsible if I did not alert as many as possible to this situation unfolding within our midst.

It turns out that an unprecedented historical event in Amsterdam was recently marred by the tragic death of a figure whose passing has prompted a spontaneous wave of protests, death threats toward the perpetrator, and tribute web sites collecting heartfelt condolences from thousands. Public officials are pleading with the angered masses for calm, still it's not yet known what will come of this nightmare... And what event -- you may ask -- has triggered this highly volatile situation?

A sparrow knocking over a couple of dominos. Let us be vigilent in seeking updates, as they become available... And let's all hope for the best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Whom Shall I Fear?

Elliot's adjustment to organized education is going as well as can be expected, or so I've been told... He seems to enjoy peuterspeelzaal (pre-school), and he seems to be learning a lot. He comes home singing new songs (like "Tikke Takke Regen"), raving about new toys (such as the animal jar, with the yellow lid and the yellow giraffes inside), and proudly displaying class projects (i.e. the latest fingerpainting masterpiece)...

But there's parts of school that are still difficult for him -- primarily when Mommy or Daddy leaves after dropping him off. Fear, sadness, anxiety -- these departures entail tears, pleas, and (occasionally) tantrums. Some days it's just token tears, almost as if he seeks to display just enough sadness to let us know of his love for us and doesn't want us to be offended by any kind of preoccupation upon our departure. Other days, though, departure is brutal and heart-wrenching (both for child and for parent). Of course the teachers tell us that even on the worst of days, he generally settles down after a few minutes.

But I must confess that I hate the bad days -- as much as (if not more than) my son.

Elliot had one of those days last week. Pawing and clawing, panting and ranting for his mother as she walked out of the classroom. Sobs of fear and sadness shaking his small frame even as he tried to resume his classroom activities. Even the teachers confessed that it was a worse day than usual. Nothing seemed to console Elliot... until he discovered his own solution.

In between sobs, peering out at his teachers through the tears, he asked his teacher: "Mevrouw Wil, can we pray right now?" She responded by saying -- with typical Dutch directness -- that she didn't believe in God, but that Elliot was welcome to go ahead and pray for himself if he wanted to. So Elliot collected himself, bowed his head for a moment, and then came up singing (and dancing) to the words of an oft-sung worship chorus from the Zolder: "The Lord is my light and my salvation! Whom shall I fear? Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Whom shall I fear? Whom shall I fear?" And for the rest of the morning, Elliot was fine. No more tears. No more fears. He truly realized that there is no one or no thing to fear, when the Lord is one's light, one's salvation, one's stronghold... And in the process, Marci and I realized the power and potential of our son.

I'm sure there are some who would say that we've simply brain-washed our little boy -- systematically hypnotized him into mimicking our pattern of belief in the same way that any child can be taught how to use the toilet or say "please" and "thank you." And who am I, really, to say what's happening on the spiritual level with any other human being -- much less a three-and-a-half year old? But knowing Elliot's natural disposition toward anxiety and fear, and personally understanding the power and presence of God from my own life... I have to wonder if there's something to his desperate prayer and his sudden and joyous epiphany. I think any rationale human being would have to wonder the same thing.

Naturally, we learned about the experience through a blow-by-blow explanation by Mevrouw Wil herself. She even mimicked the song in her husky Dutch-accented alto. Of course, she dutifully reminded us that she herself doesn't believe in God. But she said that something definitely happened... and that something definitely made her morning easier. As a parent, it can be scary to realize that Elliot is the only child from a Christ-centered home -- among an atheist teacher, a Muslim teacher, perhaps ten classmates from Muslim homes, and one child from a Hindu household -- but really, when you think about it, why should we be scared? Elliot's environment gives him an opportunity to understand faith on a much more personal level and with a much greater potential to impact others for the Kingdom of God. What could possibly threaten Elliot beyond the extent of God's protection? Why should any of us be anxious? Whom shall I fear?

Monday, November 14, 2005

SFB shirt

Don't you hate it when you get to the point of feeling like you've worn every single item in your wardrobe at least a thousand times? Trying to pick out something to wear for the day, you feel incredibly unoriginal and hopelessly bored with your own sense of fashion... Well, today was such a day. So, feeling frustrated and desperate, I dug deep and pulled out something so old that it feels new. Actually something quite special. Thus today I proudly wear a memory, a story -- a paint-flecked powder-blue T-shirt emblazoned with the letters SFB, a rabbit, and a basketball.

The shirt is an artifact of my days at Bowling Green State University -- golden days of my reminiscence. A time of clarity, capability, comradery... Working for a church that I loved, surrounded by people that I loved, leading a life of meaning and fulfillment... I loved my years in Bowling Green. And the SFB T-shirt represents all of this. There are just ten copies of such a shirt in existence -- owned by nine of my dearest friends... and me. The shirts were printed as basketball uniforms for an intermural sports team at the University. We mockingly christened ourselves as the "Soft Fuzzy Bunnies" -- poking fun at ourselves and at a culture that tends to take its sports too seriously; the name was meant to communicate the opposite of the "cool" self-assured confidence and toughness assumed to bring success in athletic competition. The effeminate powder-blue color of the T-shirts and the silly grin on the cariactured rabbit's face only magnified the effect of the joke... But instead of inducing shame and embarrassment -- wearing the shirt came to provoke a feeling of pride and joy. The SFB shirt symbolized (and still symbolizes, to me) that certain brand of Mid-west American self-deprecating humor, brotherly friendships, and memorable experiences of doing the things we loved with the people we loved.

But a couple of years following the conclusion of the Soft Fuzzy Bunnies' basketball season, I packed up and left Bowling Green -- bound for adventures in Amsterdam. My SFB shirt managed to stay a part of my wardrobe, even to the point of being included in the suitcase that sustained me during my first days in Amsterdam (before the rest of my posessions arrived by ocean cargo transport several months after the initial landing). But much was sacrificed during those early days in Amsterdam... including the old SFB shirt. Our main occupation at the beginning of our life in Amsterdam was to build a church -- both in the sense of establishing a new community of faith in central Amsterdam, and in the sense of literally rebuilding an old canal-side attic into a place for our ministry activities. Construction projects to complete, walls to be painted, floors to be stained... it was a mess. And since my suitcase wardrobe was so limited in those days, some of my regular clothes had to become "work clothes." Thus my SFB shirt picked up flecks of orange from the wall-paint in the Zolder's cafe/lounge area... dark blue streaks from the paint job in the kitchen corridor... and dingey brown smudges from the oil used to treat the oak floorings. And when the building projects were (mostly) completed, and my family was (mostly) settled with the rest of our earthly posessions, the old stained SFB shirt found its way to the bottom of a drawer -- abandoned to mothballs and memories...

Until today.

Putting on the shirt this morning, I was again filled with a sense of pride and joy. Perhaps it's not the most beautiful shirt anymore. The jokes behind the SFB shirt's origins and meanings are not as clear to this culture and this circle of acquaintances; the paint stains and faded blue just make it look like any crummy old T-shirt, at least to the casual observer. But in a very real sense, the SFB shirt represents my life. My sacrifices, my choices, my stories, my stains. There's happiness and sadness, a sense of gain and a sense of loss. It can be depressing to look at something like my SFB shirt and remember what it used to be. Yet I'm encouraged by the words of Jesus, who reminded his disciples that "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life" (Luke 18:29-30). And I don't know exactly what that means -- nor can I feel smug in arrogant assurance that these promises are for my choices and my intentions -- but I'm still strangely encouraged. And I'm appropriately proud and joyful to be wearing my SFB shirt on a day like today.

Friday, November 11, 2005


As in any big city, it's not at all uncommon for Amsterdammers to experience bizarre encounters with bizarre people under bizarre circumstances. But when something as totally bizarre as this afternoon's episode happens on a day as totally ordinary as the gray November skies over the city, it's not so easy to dismiss.

I was loading my son into our bakfiets (family-sized bicycle) after finishing lunch at a friend's house, when I noticed a middle-aged man wandering up the sidewalk from the van Woustraat. He was wearing large sunset-shaded eyeglasses and a disco-era brown leather jacket. His hair was curly and bushy where it hadn't been ravaged by the effects of male pattern baldness. And the oversized glasses combined with the bushy curls to create an effect astonishingly similar to the brown macrame owl decoration that adorned the wall of my early childhood home through the late Seventies and early Eighties. As the Hippie Owl Man approached us, he was muttering in Dutch. Almost instantaneously, I made a decision to avoid eye contact -- an unconsciously developed reflex of city living, instinctively adapted to reduce the chances of bizarre encounters with bizarre strangers -- but I wasn't to be so fortunate in this instance.

As I finished unlocking the bakfiets, Hippie Owl Man sidled up to me and muttered under his breath. I couldn't understand what he was saying, so I asked him politely: "Wat zegt u?" He shuffled his feet a little bit and then spoke up to reiterate that he had a little secret to tell me.

Without pausing, he gestured towards a house half-way down the block and mumbled about how I knew about some little dog that always barks at you when you walk past. And well, he had gotten fed up with the little dog and just decided to wring its neck. So nobody has to worry about the barking anymore because the dog is dead. Because its neck is broken. And he just did it, so the dead little dog is right over there by that scaffolding. But hey, don't tell anyone. "OK?"

And with this disturbing revelation, he put his hand out as though a handshake would seal the deal of secrecy. Stunned, I numbly extended my hand and pitifully garbled something like, "Er, umm... it's nice to meet you, but I don't live around here... Umm, we've got to get going." And perhaps my Dutch was not at its best in this moment, because Hippie Owl Man decided to switch to English as we bid our farewells.

"Oh -- OK then," snapping into the disposition of a kindly old gentleman. "Have a nice day. That's a lovely bakfiets you've got there. Just lovely." Further disoriented and disturbed, I mumbled a weak good-bye as I pushed off on the bakfiets and pedalled off towards the Sarphatipark, eager to put distance between us and the bizarre stranger.

My son craned his neck to catch a final glimpse of Hippie Owl Man as we gained speed, and he asked candidly, "Daddy, what did that guy want?"

I responded honestly: "I don't think I want to tell you, buddy. It was kind of bizarre." His little three-and-a-half-year-old mind seemed to accept this answer, and we simply went on with our day. But I can't help but reflect on the bizarre nature of the bizarre people in this bizarre city... and wonder what will happen tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Maria made a decision
for faith...
A timid step
into the waiting arms
of a patient God.
A year of dialogue with Vera...
six weeks in our home group's Alpha course...
a simple Sunday invitation to join God's story...
And a threshhold has been crossed.
A barrier transcended.
A genesis initiated.

So we celebrate.
Smiles and applause,
left-right-left kisses,
a heartfelt "gefeliciteerd."
And our celebration pales
in comparison to that of celestial joy.

Friday, November 04, 2005

four winters

The onset of winter quickens. My heart thickens. My soul sickens. We can only hunker down and hope for the best.

September and October were uncharacteristically glorious. The cool crisp autumn brilliance of Amsterdam filled our world with light, color, clarity, and fresh faith for the future... But as the calendar relentlessly plows into November, as the skies darken and descend, as the gutters swell with rain and decaying leaves -- I realize that Holland cannot forever escape its dreary destiny, its monochromatic misery, its winter of 2005-2006. Our fourth winter on the Continent.

Our first winter in Holland was birth into the harsh world of a new reality. Naked, cold, hungry, and scared, we flailed and wailed through our first months in Amsterdam until spring's bosom soothed and secured us in our cultural infancy.

In turn, our second winter in Holland rubbed open raw and bleeding wounds -- less immediate yet actually more painful than the year of our cultural nativity. The crushing self-realization of new responsibilities following the catastrophic loss of dear friends, the sorrowful sobs of a miscarried pregnancy, the echoed emptiness of observing the conclusion to a hard-fought first year on the figurative frontier... We had never experienced -- and hope to never again experience -- such a time of tribulation and testing. Yet when the time was complete, we were rewarded by the return to the hopes and joys of sunnier days.

Our third winter in Holland was more of a dull sensation of discomfort-- the ignoble itch of a healing scab. We awkwardly learned to chart our way through life as a family of four. And we learned to hope and persist in spite of the darkness, in spite of the cold, in spite of the defeatist anthem that the mind spontaneously generates as a false assurance of winter's permanence. Still we were no less glad when spring actually showed up to conquer the despondance of winter and remind us of happier times.

I cannot say that I look forward to this winter, our fourth winter in Holland. I can encourage myself with the reminder of occasional joys that color the season -- the joyful aquatic procession of Sinterklaas into the heart of Old Amsterdam... the surprise of scent indicating the immediate vicinity Oliebollen being sold from a brightly-lit trailer... the warm glow of a cafe in the Jordaan... There is beauty in Holland's winters, which I cannot deny and should not forget. But experience tells me that the upcoming winter will not be easy. Sunlight deprivation has an empiracally-verifiable effect on the human psyche. No amount of optimism can take the sting out of cold fingers pried from the handlebars of my bicyles at the end of a wet and gray commute. And I cannot help but be reminded of the last three winters.

It's only November and yet -- already -- I hope and anticipate the beauty and warmth of spring, the return of color and creativity, the survival of four winters in Holland.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Storytelling Observed

[In my last post, I alluded to an instantaneously invented bedtime story that Elliot had recently requested, about "Elliot watching a video and eating a snack" -- such an unusual plotline with seemingly little potential for development! Yet stories can and do exist in the most mundane moments of life... And I thought it could be interesting to recreate the experience of instantaneously inventing "The Adventures of Elliot: Episode 28 - A Video and a Snack." Perhaps it's ludicrous -- but I hope you are amused, if not enriched, by the tale below...]

Once upon a time [a classic beginning to any bedtime story], on a fine autumn evening [it's always nice to give the story a sense of immediacy; all three of these words can be adjusted as needed if -- for example, the story were to be told on a "cold winter morning" instead], Elliot was playing in the living room [immediacy and acquaintance are vital tools -- unless you want to go for the opposite effect, of having a story set in a wildly fantasmical setting far, far away from everday experience] when he noticed the onset of two strange and uncomfortable sensations [I, for one, never try to dumb down the language of a story to make it "suitable for children;" rather, to a point I believe that the audience is as ignorant or as informed as you make them]: he was hungry... and he was bored [every good plot thrives on conflict, even if it's internal]... And he didn't know what to do about it.

So he sat down to think about his situation, but he had a very hard time concentrating because, well, he was hungry, and he was bored [repitition is an effective device in any story, particularly as it draws attention to the key struggles and themes]. So he went to find Mommy [perhaps the use of the name "Mommy" seems to contradict my earlier statement about "dumbing down" the language of a story -- but in this case, I think it's more of a proper name for this character in the story], who was in the kitchen washing dishes, and he said, "Mommy, can I have a snack?"

But as it turned out, Elliot hadn't finished all of his supper, so Mommy said that he would have to eat the rest of the food on his plate before he could have any snacks [notice the "rising action" -- with the central conflict being reiterated, and hopes being raised only to be dashed again -- the protagonist gradually journeying to a point of climax]. Seeing that he didn't have much choice in the matter, Elliot asked his mother to heat up the rest of his stew -- which she did -- and then he sat in his chair at the table and ate up the rest of his supper. But even after finishing his supper, he was still hungry and -- of course -- just as bored as he had been before [a good story thrives on the interaction between the protagonist (Elliot) and the antagonist (hunger and boredom); the appeal and excitement of the story are enhanced by a relatively even balance of power, here, as the hunger shows that it is not to be easily outdone].

So momentarily trying to ignore the growling tiger in his belly [figurative language can be very helpful for drawing a word picture, i.e. there is no literal tiger in Elliot's belly, but we get a visceral sense of how vicious and powerful the antagonist in the story truly is], Elliot got down from his chair and went to find his little sister, Olivia, so he could see what she was doing and maybe play together with her [Olivia offers a second episode of rising action, continuing to drive the plot]. Unfortunately at that moment, it just so happened that Daddy was changing Olivia's diaper and putting on her pajamas [rising action is countered with falling action, keeping the plotline dynamic and intriguing]. Elliot tried to make faces at Olivia -- which of course caused her to squeal and squirm with delight, but which caused Daddy to frown as he wrestled with the writhing little girl to get her into her pajamas properly. After Olivia was finished with getting dressed for bed, Elliot said, "Let's play together!" And he grabbed her hands and started to do a silly dance [a secondary rise in action, still in the secondary episode of the narrative; the battle between the protagonist and the antagonist intensifies as the plot progresses -- a figurative dual between evenly-matched swordsmen].

But Daddy said, "Now's not a good time to play, Elliot. Olivia needs to go to bed." So Elliot dutifully gave Olivia a good-night kiss and wandered back out to the living room... where he was again confronted that he was still hungry, and he was still bored [the central conflict is again reiterated in an intensified form; as the peaks of the plotline become increasingly higher, the valleys feel correspondingly deep].

When Daddy came out from Olivia's bedroom, Elliot asked, "Daddy, can I watch a video?" But Daddy said that Elliot needed to clean up his toys first, and then they would see if they could watch a video. But Elliot didn't want to clean up his toys... And he was still hungry, so he asked "Daddy, can I have a snack?" But again Daddy said that Elliot needed to clean up his toys first, and then they would see about a snack [important themes and plot developments often revolve around series of three; following the encounter with Mommy and the encounter with Olivia, the encounter with Daddy represents the third and final episode preceding the climax of the story]. But Elliot still didn't want to clean up his toys. So he sat in the red chair for a moment to think about his situation [the internal conflict in Elliot's own mind parallels the external conflict with trying to overcome hunger and boredom; the climax in imminent]. His stomach growled in hunger. He couldn't think of anything else to do [the story climaxes with a desparate moment of decision]. So he decided to clean up his toys like Daddy had asked him to do [an epiphany -- a moment of realization, offering the turning point and signaling a rapid resolution to the plot from this point forward]. And he got right to work.

Before he knew it, all the toys were picked up and put away. So he asked Daddy, "Can I watch a video and eat a snack now?" And at last, Daddy said yes. Elliot chose to watch an episode of "The Muppet Show," and Mommy brought him a cup full of raisins and loops [resolution comes quickly, inversely proportional to the amount of time spent building up to the climax]. And Elliot was very satisfied. He wasn't hungry anymore. And he wasn't bored [the central conflict is mirrored by phrasing representing the central conclusion]... And he lived happily ever after [again, a classic framing element to any bedtime story; these words clearly signal an end to this episode of "The Adventures of Elliot"].

[What's crazy is that the vast majority of this plot development happens subconsciously, even without my awareness as instananeous author! The art of storytelling is so ingrained in our psyches and in the history of our culture that it just naturally spills out in a moment of creative effort. I suppose if you even looked deep enough, you could draw moral lessons (like the reward for perseverance) and discover other classic elements of storytelling that almost accidentally find their way into a simple bedtime story. Perhaps this is ridiculous, to offer such a perspective on a silly bedtime story... But then again, maybe there really is something to this whole Storytelling thing].