Tuesday, November 30, 2010
First the more obvious ones, the tasks I tried and failed at:
I didn't post every day. This one was HARD. At least in NaNo you could make a frenzied last push and make up for what you'd missed out on. But there's no way to get back a lost day when each post is stamped with a date. Too many days this month where acedia took over, that grey listless feeling where being productive or creative seems totally out of reach.
I didn't find a good blogging time/rhythm, which makes me sad. I mostly ended up writing at the end of the day just before bed, which more often than not just makes for sleepy, sloppy writing.
I had trouble with the line between personal and public. I'm not sure this necessarily falls in the "failures" section, but I do know it's something I struggled with. Even this post feels a little odd, unpolished, confessional. My favorite blogs blend personal stories with commentary on the world. But it's so easy for blogs to turn into diaries, or self-absorbed rants that have little to no relevance outside the blogger's own head. Where's the line between personal essay (my form for a good blog post) and just personal chitchat? As I was trying to get things posted by any means necessary (and inspiration be damned!) I flirted with this line a lot.
OK, that's enough of what I tried to do. What about the things I actually accomplished?
I've posted a LOT. I've posted more this month than the rest of the year combined. By the time this post is finished, I'll have written over 5000 words... only a tenth of what my novelling buddies came up with, but still a significant chunk of original prose.
I wrote some good posts! Some faves include giving thanks last weekend, remembering the process and adventure of writing my novel and starting my new life, and grieving my dad's job loss. I also had fun with photo posts, including the image of CST fall and of course, Drew's trademark excitement over a pile of books.
I've come up with more ideas for posts. Song lyrics, movie reviews... I started to see story ideas and creative connections in everything, even mundane tasks at work. The trick, of course, is to find the angle or the act of creation in each of these everyday moments. Which is hard to do at 11pm at night. But having extra topics to talk about never hurts.
I stopped taking myself too seriously. Which is such a relief. Just being able to sit down and say, I'm just going to post a picture or a video, and then head to bed, without feeling like I had to write the Great American Blog Post every time, seriously made it easier. And I know well enough that just by showing up to the writing space, I'm doing something right.
I didn't give up. Sure I didn't make it to 30 days, or even 15 days. There were several long strings of days where I didn't write anything at all. But I could have let those gaps stretch out longer, figure I wasn't cut out for the blogging project, let my goals fade away. I didn't. I'm still here. And I plan to continue this regular blogging for a while to come.
Only first I need some sleep. Night, all!
Friday, November 26, 2010
And yet we got here eventually. I've been especially waiting for the trees to change color around here. Not all of them are palm trees here, of course. In fact, Claremont's nickname is the "City of Trees." That made me laugh when I heard it, since I grew up in Boise, which was actually named for its handful of trees that grew oasis-like by the river. It never seemed quite an accurate nickname for Boise, since it felt pretty much like a desert itself. And Claremont doesn't even have a river.
What it does have, however, is people who picture small-town New England in their heads, and are willing to import trees to get it to look that way. So I don't know what it's like outside town boundaries, but here in Claremont, at least, you can see signs of fall.
I tried, with my limited photographic eye, to document a few of those signs. Check out the CST chapel and the Village streets as they change color!
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
The insistent drumbeat of the mission got a little lost from time to time, and without making explicit Harry's decision to pursue the Horcruxes instead of the Hallows, the "ending" falls a little flat. But appearances by always-fantastic characters like Umbridge, Luna, and the Weasley family, as well as top-notch action scenes (as always) had me leaving the theatre very satisfied. Now I've just got to wait eight more months for the Battle of Hogwarts!
Friday, November 19, 2010
My dad got laid off this week. One more statistic in the crappy story of this recession. And although I know in my brain that everything will be ok now, and while things certainly aren't as dire for my family as they are for many others suffering right now, it's still hit hard. One way or another, this is going to mean changes in my family, my home, the place I come from. And especially in the last couple of years of transition for me, my home is one of the things I count on to stay the same.
It's funny, I live here at CST, what you might call the epicenter of process thought-- one of the tenets of which is that the world is in a constant state of change. And that's a liberating idea in some contexts if you're used to rigid inflexible worldviews. But right now I really hate that idea. I want to put my faith in something that isn't spinning.
How do you lean on a rock that moves? How do you trust when things are changing all the time?
You sing, I guess.
Let your love be strong and I don't care what goes down
Let your love be strong enough to weather through the thundercloud
Fury and thunder clap stealing the fire from your eyes
All of my world hanging on
All of my world resting on your love
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Today in choir, we sang this song, and it stuck with me all day. The song tells the rest of the story of Jesus' life in the first person, but the bit we sang in choir today was an Advent/Christmas carol, and stops only a few verses in.
Besides it being a catchy tune (and beautifully sung by the King's College boys' choir, below) the lyrics captivated me from the start. I have a sense that someone probably blended Christian imagery into a completely secular love song. But isn't there something fascinating-- and fantastic-- about the idea? Jesus comes to us as our true love. The Incarnation, at least according to this song, is all about Jesus calling us into the dance with him.
That simple image of partnership and creativity expresses so much. I'll probably touch on that more once Advent actually kicks off (only two more weeks!) but for now I'll just leave you with the song.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
I know this because I’ve seen the lease of his house and the signed contract that dissolved his ad agency, as well as the sympathy notes sent to his wife after his death. And I’ve read so many of his scripts and stories in between. I know for every credit he has listed on IMDb, I’ve read two or three stories that likely never made it to the screen.
This is my latest research project at work… when you work for a film/television studies professor, even the tasks that seem like mere data entry take on a new spin. My boss came into possession of Robert Smith’s files, and she wants them archived for research & study. So that’s why I have two giant storage tubs on the floor of my office, full of dusty copy paper and crumbling manila envelopes. That’s why I read through these screenplays and notes each day, figuring out about Robert Smith.
It’s one of the neatest things I’ve done at my job so far—because in a way, it’s like I’m getting a tiny glimpse into completely different lives. Like reporting, but harder—at least when I’m reporting a story, the source is usually there to answer direct questions. Here, I have to put the story together from only the clippings and pages I have in front of me.
It was a different world in 1950s Hollywood, that’s for sure. I’ll here are things in the letters and stories that make me cringe. The sexism, for instance—these stories are chock-full of long-suffering, self-sacrificing wives, and damsels in distress who drop everything for the handsome stranger who walks in the door. And let’s not forget the Japanese girl who likes being raped…
Ha. Typing this out makes me realize—and Drew would probably remind me of this—that these are hardly archetypes/stereotypes that have disappeared. Maybe they’re just more subtle about it now.
I’ll keep my eye out as I go for clippings I can share—that shed some light on what I’m learning about Hollywood, and about Smith. Mostly, I’m glad I’m getting a chance to be creative again. If my storytelling (fiction) mind wants back in the game, no better source for inspiration then hundreds of pages of crazy screenplays. Between the lines of the cheesy stories there’s usually one worth telling.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Focusing on my editing projects has been hard with all these books on the table. Between edits, I’ve been leafing through the first book that came to hand, the top of the stack—which happened to be L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, which I wrote about last night. It’s full of small gems about faith and art, and as I read, I remember how it hit me in high school when I was first starting to think seriously about what Christianity meant to me. Some of my first proto-theological insights, the “accounting of the hope within me,” if you will, were sparked by this book.
But then I got to the part of the book where L’Engle remembers writing A Wrinkle in Time—and I remember how that rocked my world. That book, with its witches, unicorns, two-dimensional planets, and villainous disembodied brains, lived in my imagination for most of my childhood years. More than most of the personal essays I’ve read. And certainly more than the ones I’ve written so far.
I guess what I’m trying to say is tonight I might be reconsidering my addiction to memoir. I’ve written before here about discovering creative nonfiction: about how telling factual stories is easier for me than fictional ones, or how prose can pinpoint images as well or better than my poetry ever could. And the questions I have, about faith and creativity, they seemed to be too big to hit in fiction or poetry without being wooden, stilted, tripping over allegory. I had—still have—this yearning to ask big questions, and to somehow, by writing, be part of the answer.
And so this past year I’ve written “serious” essays for the world, and then I’ve written cheesy fiction, for my own eyes only. And blog entries, which have been trying to be personal essays.
Maybe I’m trying too hard. I’m not moved by sermons but by stories, after all, and if I ever write something that says half as much about faith and art as A Wrinkle in Time, I’ll die happy. Perhaps I’ll try my hand at a short story again, cheesy or no. Or at least in the next used bookstore I visit, I’ll scour the children’s lit section for any and all L’Engle sci-fi, and read them again, and remember.
Which is why this morning was such a good morning, as Drew and my other CST friends introduced me to the legendary Pilgrim Place book sale. Pilgrim Place is a local retirement community for pastors, religion professors, and other faith community-minded people. Every fall they throw a festival full of parades, plays, craft booths, and food (most of which we skipped over and will head back to check out tomorrow). But the biggest draw, for us and most of our friends, was the book sale. Think about it: on the one hand, you have pastors and professors liquidating their libraries, and on the other you have future pastors & professors (or writers/editors!) who need to build their libraries. It’s rare to find a used bookstore that has this solid of a selection for what we’re interested in. And did I mention nearly every book sells for two dollars or less?
We went first thing in the morning, and after only an hour there, our count was already up to 22 books. And this was a small number, comparatively. More than one of our friends needed cardboard boxes to get their discoveries back to the car.
I say discovery because that’s the other thing that I love about used bookstores is the hunt. I’ve got a list in my mind of books that I’ve read already but can’t forget, books that I know I would turn to again and again, as resources or as escapes. And this list is long enough that no matter which bookstore I go to, or which table I peruse at the book sale, there’s always a chance that something might turn up.
Today what turned up is Madeleine L’Engle, whose books I’ve been reading voraciously since the third grade. A Circle of Quiet, her first memoir, has been on my mental bookstore list for years. I’ve read it already, on a research project in high school, but its quiet prose stayed with me, and I’ve kept an eye out for it ever since.
But then again, there’s also the element of surprise… I found A Circle of Quiet, of course, but I also found a copy of L’Engle’s next memoir (which I’ve never read—it will be new to me!) signed by the author herself. All books have a history that includes the author, of course—but this book’s got a little more of a connection to the woman who wrote it. And now that I’m reading it, I feel connected too.
I found enigmatic inscriptions as well, with a history not quite as traceable. Ruth found this in a pocket prayer book and showed it to me: For Margaret, I hope this book brings you as much comfort as it has brought me. There are snippets of memory inside these books, from people I will never know, and it just underscores the fact that these books are not only mine alone.
And I like that. I’ll admit it makes me a bit suspicious when I find used books in too good condition, at a used book sale. It might mean this was one of those books that didn’t leave an impression—bought in the airport, read once, and then discarded as soon as the flight was over.
I don’t shun these books (I picked up a couple of shiny hardcovers that looked intriguing enough to take a chance on) but if I had to choose? Give me a book that’s been lived in any day.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
I've got a neat All Saints post almost ready to go, since this week was the commemoration of one of the most underrated Christian holidays; you'll see that tomorrow. In the meantime I'll leave you with my youth group activity for today. Drew and I are helping facilitate the high school confirmation class/youth group at our church. This week the icebreaker/conversation starter was to bring in the lyrics to a favorite song, and then discuss what the lyrics meant to us.
This is the one I picked. In tough, wordless weeks like this one, I need someone else to sing for me...
Sing it out
Sing it out
Take what is left of me
Make it a melody
Sing it out
Sing out loud
Can't find the words to sing
You'll be my remedy
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Writing last night’s post brought back memories of NaNo, and last November. I talk a lot on this blog about creating with the tools we have to hand—whether that’s words or sacraments or flowers [link]. And in November, perhaps more than any other time for me, I had to create something new.
One year ago tonight, I was wedged against the cold window of the airplane with a purple notebook and a pen, starting a novel. Probably flying over the Dakotas, or someplace equally as empty; it was too dark to see the ground. I was flying home to Boise, after five months at my dream internship in Minneapolis. And I was terrified.
I was leaving for a good reason: I was ready to create a life in California, closer to the man who would become (was becoming?) my partner. That life wasn’t scary; it was exhilarating. But it was still a couple of months away. Logistically it made sense to stop over at my parents’ house in Boise for a couple of months first. Even though I felt it might have been easier just to fly right over.
Minnesota was easy by now; I knew my way around. By November I finally felt at home in the maze of skyways crisscrossing the city. I knew how to get from the bus stop to the office, from the coffee shop to the grocery store if need be, without ever setting foot on the sidewalk. I even felt ready for the legendary Minnesota winter. I did not feel ready for the familiar Idaho fall, for neighborhoods I knew too well where most of my friends had moved away. I did not feel ready for a life without structure.
And then I remembered my friends talking about NaNo. And I decided: I might not have figured out what to do with my life, but in the meantime I was going to write a novel.
I made up my mind to do this, of course, about a week before NaNo started. There are Wrimos who plot their stories out months in advance, I’ve learned; they know pretty much where they’re going to end up before they get there. I, on the other hand, barely knew where I was beginning, let alone what was going to happen from day to day. If you look back at that purple notebook, most of the early pages are full of bracketed sections in large scrawled capitals: WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE???
But I kept writing. A couple thousand words a day. Mostly written well after midnight when I was too tired to do anything but splatter indiscriminate words on the page—but still the novel kept growing longer.
And another crazy thing happened, as I wrote: I met people. Many of them were other writers, people crazy enough to bring their laptops to Old Chicago on a Friday night. Others were old acquaintances willing to sit in the Flying M coffee shop and drink pot after pot of tea with me as I scribbled—who slowly became good friends. I introduced and re-introduced myself not as “student” or “editor” but as “novelist,” and if it got me a few weird looks, it also always started a conversation. I hung on to that.
And on November 30, “novelist” became a title I could claim in earnest: I hit my goal with words to spare! Sure, my characters hadn’t finished their ragtag quests, but they also hadn’t disappeared. I’d finished the book, I was one month closer to California, and by sheer grace I had a life that made sense again.
This life in California, this life I love more than anything— with Drew’s help, I’ve had to create it from scratch. There’s not a school or internship script here either; there’s not a ready-made way for making friends like the student life committees used to work so hard to give us. I’m glad I didn’t fly over Boise, that I had the chance to write my cheesy messy novel. Because when I got here, I knew that unscripted life is possible.
Speaking of the novel: When I shut the notebook in the end of November, my characters had ended up in an enchanted city with tunnels of glass that hovered in the sky. Didn’t see that coming. But when they/we got there, it seemed familiar.
Monday, November 1, 2010
It doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? NaNoWriMo definitely sounds more snazzy— that is, National Novel Writing Month, which started today. All over the country, people are sitting down to try and churn out the first 1666 words of their story, and committing to keep up that pace each day this month—for a total of 50,000 words, the length of a short novel. I participated in NaNo last year, and making it to that final word was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had as a writer.
Of course, last November I had no job. This year I have three. Keeping up with my own small writing projects is a challenge in itself. Which is why I’m not going to attempt a second novel this month. It deserves more focus than I’ve got to give.
But the ambition and sheer cheek of the “Wrimos” still inspires me. And so I’m going to attempt my own twist on November this year, in a way that makes more sense with my current practice: rather than trying for 1666 words of a novel per day, I’m going to write a new blog post each day in November.
A different project, to be sure, but blogging and “noveling,” as the Wrimos call it, actually have a bit in common. Tonight I want to talk about one of the most important reasons why: Blogging is public.
NaNo is all about providing motivation and discipline for writers—and nothing inspires motivation like knowing the world is watching. Showing up to the write-ins or telling friends your wordcount invites more people into what is usually a somewhat lonely process. The more people I told about my goal, the more I tried not to disappoint them—and the bigger cheering section I had as I approached the finish line.
This year’s blog takes that “public” nature one step further. Blogs by their very nature are public—most of them are open for anyone on the Internet to see. And compared to working on a private project like a novel, this is a bit more of a risk. Tonight I’m not giving you just a number. I’m giving you words, and inviting you to read them. In comparison, my cheesy fantasy novel (last year’s NaNo) is still sitting under the bed. I haven’t even read it all the way through since I finished. (Cheesy fantasy melodramas are more fun to write than to read, I’ve found.) That isn’t an option this year. Pushing through November isn’t about polished writing, it’s about writing, period. Some of my posts will be rougher than others, and if I commit to this blog, I won’t be able to hide that from you, my audience and my community.
Which freaks me out a bit, not going to lie. But the public design of a blog also has its advantages. Blogs leave room for interaction, for conversation, in a way no other form can. You’ve got a comment box right there in front of you, after all. That takes the isolation out of the writing process, and provides a reason for me to step forward when I would really rather pull a pillow over my head and go to sleep without writing another word.
So, friends, if you care to be my audience/community/hecklers/supporters/peanut gallery this month, I invite you to jump in, and see where this project takes me. Happy November!
Friday, September 10, 2010
I’ve got interfaith dialogue on the brain right now. It probably started with Drew’s great series of posts exploring religious pluralism. And now, between the “Ground Zero mosque” fiasco, the Koran-burning pastor in Florida, and (on a more hopeful note) watching Claremont School of Theology take the first steps toward becoming a multi-religious university, interfaith relations are never far from my thoughts.
So maybe that’s why, when I read this article about teens becoming “fake” Christians, my first question wasn’t “How can we renew faith in our youth ministry?” but “Why do we instantly go on the defensive when considering other religions?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for youth ministry that have more spiritual substance than just weekly pizza parties. But every time this story gets reported, it’s with the lead that a scary new religion is sneaking into our churches. This op-ed by the researcher, Kenda Creasy Dean, goes even farther, with a two-paragraph intro that compares teens’ faith of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to the symbiotic villain Venom from Spider-Man. Are you quaking in your boots yet? I know I am!
But if we read further, what is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?
• A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
• God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
• The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.
• God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem.
• Good people go to heaven when they die.
A weak foundation for youth ministry & faith formation? Definitely. But an insidious new religion? Hardly. Last time I checked, Christians do actually believe in a Creator God who wants us to be nice to each other. That’s hardly heresy.
The rest, I’ll admit, is mushy. In creative writing terms, there’s no concrete detail in this list—it’s all tell, no show. And it’s mushy language like this that we sometimes resort to when we’re trying not to tick off people with other religions. You know the sort: “We are all giving honor to the same divine essence,” etc. Nothing about that captivates me as much as the particular details of the Christian story. Or the Buddhist story, or the Muslim story, for that matter.
Churches that have resisted the pull of MTD, according to Dean’s research, are more likely to “place a high value on scripture” and “explain their church's mission, practices and relationships as inspired by ‘the life and mission of Jesus Christ.’” Which makes me nervous that people who are afraid of this mutant invasion of Christianity by building even higher walls around faith—by reiterating the reasons why we are right and the “mutants” (and by extension everyone else) are wrong.
If that’s the way churches plan to get teens engaged in Christianity, I feel like it might backfire. At least it would have for the teenage Margaret. At my high school lunch table I sat with Methodists and Mormons, Hindus and Buddhists, evangelicals and atheists. What would Dean have me say to these friends? “I’m glad you’ve got your own faith, but ya know, you’re totally lost without Jesus”? I would have rejected that. If that’s what separates our religions from each other, then no wonder teens resort to bland, all-encompassing faith like that described in the article.
I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t believe in the power of the Gospel story. And I want to be able to articulate that Gospel—to give, as Peter writes, “an accounting of the hope that is in [me]… with gentleness and reverence.” But I also want to keep listening to others’ stories! Whatever the answer to mushy faith, it isn’t simply “Run from everything that isn’t Jesus-y enough.” There has to be a way to claim my faith without watering it down (or clobbering people over the head with it).
Yesterday I attended the first CST chapel service of the year. At the top of the bulletin there was an invitation that invited us to replace God-terms with terms we felt comfortable with. Underneath, it said, “This service is in the United Methodist tradition.”
Some mushy words did slip into the service—it’s hard to avoid. But there were also moments of better poetry—like when the preacher brought up Paul’s image of the Body of Christ. Of course, not everyone might use the same metaphor, he said. But we could all learn from the image of one body with many members, all diverse in gifts and all essential.
Maybe that’s a way for us to start talking.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Episcorific is a webzine written by young adults affiliated with the Episcopal Church, and it does cool work. For the Pentecost issue, the theme was "Soapbox:" what are you passionate about, what sets you on fire? For me, the answer (or one of the answers) is the language we use to speak about God. This is especially exciting since I've been reading up on liturgical language for the Worship & the Arts class I'm auditing (more on that later I'm sure). I hope you enjoy the finished product!
Thursday, August 12, 2010
This week my impatiens started to bloom. Up until now, they’ve just been leaves—but now their blossoms have come out, salmon-pink, just slightly clashing with the hot-pink petunias blooming above. My pot is a riot of color, balanced on the balcony rail.
I’m proud that they’re blooming—my balcony garden has survived its first month successfully. The balcony’s always been here, of course, but for the first six months of my time in Claremont, it pretty much functioned as a storage space/laundry annex for hang-drying clothes. Until my mom finally made a visit. She showed up at my new home with a “housewarming gift” of sorts: a balcony table, two folding chairs, and a flat of flowers ready to be potted.
The plant tags sticking out of the pot have names I vaguely remember from years of gardening with my mother: impatiens, begonia, lobelia, basil. But gardening is trickier on a balcony than it was in my mom’s garden. There are no trowels, for one, and no garden hoses. Just a couple of pots and my own two hands. I have to use the plastic plant container to scoop the dirt into the pot, and tamp it down with my fingers. Then run to the kitchen sink to get a cup of water, pour it on the plant and hope that it blooms.
There are days when I can’t write.
I do my best. I set my alarm to go off early, so I’ll have time to work—these are my creative hours, I tell myself, where I’m going to tell new stories. And so I pour myself a cup of tea, open to a blank page, and… end up on Facebook. And end up refreshing the page a dozen times an hour. I want to create, but instead I’m stuck.
I head to the balcony to water my plants. After all, I’m responsible to them. I may be able to ignore the blank screen and the blinking cursor—but if I ignore the plants, they’ll go crispy in the California sun. (There are already a few crumbly yellow stalks that attest to that.) So I fill my yellow Nalgene, pull back the petunia stems, watch the water soak into the soil.
Afterwards, my fingers smell of basil; my nails have dirt under them. I am in the world, not just watching it, not avoiding it. This pot might not be a poem, but in its own way, it’s an act of creation. Or co-creation, I suppose: I’m not the one who made the flowers bloom today.
Tonight I’ll pick some basil leaves to sprinkle over the pasta sauce—to give our standby dinner a little more pizzazz. Maybe Drew and I will even eat it at the balcony table. And maybe tomorrow the words will come in the morning. Whether or not they do, I’ll water my plants, and give thanks that creation isn’t limited to so-called “real art,” and wasn’t over on the seventh day.
~~~ How do you plug into the world when you feel disconnected from it?
For all you artists/musicians/writers/theologians out there, do you have another hobby or pursuit that feels “creative” even if it isn’t art/music/writing/theology?
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Of course, that’s not what my dad meant. He was asking, or trying to ask, whether we considered marriage worth it. Is it a goal for us, a thing we embrace? Seems like these questions are in the air lately. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her recent memoir Committed, doesn’t doubt marriage’s existence. What she doubts is whether it holds any value anymore for our relationships today.
If you were to ask Gilbert whether she believed in marriage at the beginning of the story, her answer would be an emphatic no. Both she and her partner have experienced ugly divorces, and they’ve vowed never to get married again. That is, until Homeland Security detains Gilbert’s non-American partner as he enters the States. Without a ring on his finger, the government insists, he can never enter the country again.
Gilbert is terrified—but figures the best way to cope with the fear is to learn everything she possibly can about marriage, and turn it into a book. (I love her typical writer’s solution to the problem. I’d do the same thing—that is, if I were lucky enough to have the money and brand name to get an instant book advance. But that’s another post entirely…)
Committed is an extended personal essay on marriage, each carefully researched chapter bracketed by anecdotes from her relationship, as she and her partner try to figure out how to build “a careful habitat of [their] own.”
Throughout the book, it becomes clear that she’s sorting through the pieces of “traditional” marriage—in all its complex forms—and carefully choosing the qualities that she wants. Gilbert wants a “Wifeless Marriage,” as she dubs it, where neither partner ends up taking on many domestic responsibilities. And when things are getting strained in the relationship, she wants to be able to take off for, say,
That could be threatening from some perspectives—the idea that she’s remaking marriage to suit herself. But I’m not so sure. Is marriage an all-or-nothing endeavor? I don’t know that it is, whether you come from a “traditional” pattern or not.
I went to the weddings of two dear friends this month. The first took place in a friend’s backyard, with a DJ playing a mix of video game music and Celtic airs. The second bride walked down the cathedral aisle to familiar organ tunes. The first bride plans to hang on to her maiden name; the second just changed hers on Facebook. So we know it’s official.
But I know them well enough to know that their marriages are going to look different than ever before. But I know them well enough to know that Tonight my non-“traditional” friend is probably cooking dinner for her husband … and my “traditional” friend may well be dragging her partner along on some spontaneous late-night adventure. Neither is going to be a “typical” wife to a “typical” husband. And that’s the way they like it.
What’s my marriage going to look like, when Drew and I get there? (And yes, for the record, we do “believe in marriage,” or at least it doesn’t terrify us as it did Gilbert.) The liturgy-geek in me is looking forward to designing a wedding, with words and songs and actions that reflect us both.
And the wedding will only be the first step—toward designing a marriage that will last much longer than one day. The “ordering of our common life,” as the Prayer Book puts it, will be just as much an act of creation as any story I will ever write.
It won’t be simple. Creation never is. Gilbert acknowledges the difficulty herself:
Wifeless, childless, husbandless marriages… there haven’t been a whole lot of those unions in history, so we don’t really have a template to work with here. Felipe and I will have to make up the rules and boundaries of our story as we go along…. I don’t know, though. Maybe everyone has to make up the rules and boundaries of their story as they go along.
I don’t know what it will look like, but I’m excited to find out. One way or another, I think, we’ll end up with a marriage that I can believe in.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
1.When and why did you begin writing?
The why is easy: I've been a voracious reader as long as I can remember. And when you read enough stories, you start to dream of writing some of your own. The first story I remember writing (I think I was eight or nine) was about a seagull who made friends with a beach frisbee. Their names may or may not have been Sparkle & Whisby.
My writing life really caught fire in January 2006, when I started keeping a devoted "scribble-book" or notebook for stories and ideas. Since then, I've tried to write every day.
2.What sort of genre do you write?
Creative nonfiction of various sorts. Most of it falls under the category of memoir or personal essay. I like to write about big questions--religion, ethics, love-- and bring a personal voice and an image-rich vocabulary to it. I also do a bit of literary journalism-- same kind of deal, but writing about other people, not just myself.
3.Have you been published? If so, what titles? Where can we find your book?
I've had two poems and one essay published in various issues of my college's literary journal, Saxifrage. I also have an article that I'm shopping around to magazines right now.
4.How do you define being a successful writer? What do you do to get there?
A writer is someone who writes. Let's start there. As long as I have a notebook that is filling up with words, I am a writer. Every day that I write new words, I am a success.
Long term, I want to share my stories with people-- maybe even let them change the world a little, as the stories I've read have changed me. And for that to happen, my stories have to be out in the world, not just in my notebook or saved on my hard drive. That means re-writing, re-writing, re-writing... and finally screwing up my courage to submit a story for publication. Scary stuff. But worth it if I want to be a published writer. :)
6.You come to a fork in the road. Which way do you go? Why?
Either way, I'll get lost within five minutes. No internal compass here.
8.What book are you currently reading?
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for the second time. Garcia Marquez has possibly the most beautiful writing voice EVER. In my personal opinion.
9.What are your current projects?
I'm working on a couple of essays right now-- one that takes a different angle on the life of Jesus, and an autobiographical essay about growing up female.
12.Do you have any advice that you would like to share?
Natalie Goldberg said it best: Keep your hand moving. When you sit down to write a first draft, Do Not Stop Writing. If you're frustrated or stuck, write a sentence about being frustrated or stuck, and then move on. Some of my best scenes/images have come when I thought I was out of inspiration and kept writing anyway.
Also, one of the things that has helped me the most in my writing life is the support of a writers' group. Writing's a lonely pursuit, and sometimes it helps to break out of that isolation once in a while. A group can keep you accountable to your writing goals and remind you why writing is fun. Not to mention that critiques from fellow writers are worth their weight in gold!
13.You're trapped on an island, what five things do you have with you?
Hmm... probably no wi-fi on the island, eh? OK then. A notebook, a deck of cards, a good long novel to read, a box of peach black tea, and a solar flare to call for help!
14.Quick, it's a Zombie Apocalypse! What do you do?
Grab my notebook & voice recorder and go to interview the zombies!
15.Your computer just died, does this ruin your writing day, or can you cope?
Nope-- that's what my trusty notebook is for. I actually find I'm more creative when I write first drafts by hand and then type them up. It's harder to make a "perfect sentence" without a backspace key, and if I'm not worrying about making perfect sentences, I get more done.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
“Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry… Both are very hard work. Writing is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.”
~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
As writers, we work with the material we have at hand—which is reality, and the words we use to describe that reality. Now, I’m a nonfiction writer, so reality is a bit more of an issue for me, since the reader expects my pieces to be fact-checkably “real.” But fiction and poetry have an equal responsibility to reality. Because unless the writer can create a world in her story that’s as detailed and rich as the world we inhabit, the reader’s not going to stick with it. We’re using reality, but we’re also competing with reality, which is already a sensory overload experience.
Which is why good writing draws from reality. The best dialogue has the same rhythms as conversations we’ve heard before. The best characters, while unique in their own ways, often share characteristics with people we recognize from our own lives. Even sci-fi and fantasy worlds may not correspond to “reality” as we know it, but a good writer can fill these worlds with so much realistic detail that we hardly notice.
It’s these details that can make or break a story. So where do we get these details from? The details that allow people to enter the worlds we create, and be able to see and smell and touch the world around them, clearly? How do we gather the wood for our table? Here are a few suggestions:
Get out in the world, and take notes. This is crucial for nonfiction writers—to get out there and experience the reality we’re trying to convey. We can actually go to the settings of our stories, and get details there. But this can be a useful tool for fiction writers too. If your characters happen to be musicians or doctors, see if you can find some musicians or doctors in the real world to shadow. If you’re writing a bustling town scene for your historical/fantasy book, head down to the farmer’s market and watch how people interact with each other there.
Take a notebook and a camera (or a cell phone camera if you’d rather be more inconspicuous) and watch what’s going on. Write down the little things: colors, sounds, smells. Notice the way people move and talk to each other. You could even try to scribble down snippets of conversation, to get a feel for the rhythms of dialogue. Try not to particularly think about your story at this point: if you focus on what you’re writing, you might miss something that’s happening around you. Afterwards, when you read your notes over, you can work the details into your story.
Follow your obsessions. Tamora Pierce (author of the popular Tortall teen fantasy series) said that she watched “The Three Musketeers” movie 17 times during her years at college. Did it have anything to do with her work at that point? Probably not. But it gave her material later on. This is one of the most fun parts about being a writer—the license to be obsessed with anything and everything. Read books, blogs, websites. Watch and re-watch movies. As Pierce says, “All creative people--not just writers!--expose themselves to as much information, in as many forms, as possible, in the hopes that it will be useful down the road, or even right now. You never know what will spark something new!”
Write what you know. I know, it’s an old cliché, something writing professors like to say… and then they end up with a stack of dorm-drama stories on their desk. You may think that “what you know” is too boring to ever interest anyone else. But I’m willing to bet you know some pretty odd things. Just through 20-odd years of life experience, I’ve become (perhaps too) familiar with church politics, long-distance relationships, and wasp-proofing my house. Just to name a few! Go ahead. Take ten minutes, and write down everything in the world you know about, everything you’re an expert on. Maybe one of your characters will love the same band you do. Maybe your summer job waiting tables at a resort will give you the idea for a story.
How about you? How do you come up with the details that bring your stories to life?
Friday, April 23, 2010
St. Francis of
Francis may have invited the beasts and birds to hear his sermons, but in this ancient hymn, he widens that invitation to include the greater scope of creation. The lyrics to “All Creatures of Our God and King” come from a poem attributed to Francis, known as the Canticle of the Sun—or in some translations, the “Canticle of Brother Sun.” In the original Italian, Francis names various parts of the creation with family names: “brother sun,” “sister moon,” “brother fire,” “sister water,” and even “sister death.”
I love that in this canticle, we are praising God along in communion with all creation, not just the anthropomorphic animals we love. The dogs we bless in church on “Doggie Day” are already often accepted parts of our family. It’s easy to love one individual dog, when he’s wagging his tail and cuddling in our lap. But fire and water and earth are less tangible, less huggable. If fire and water and earth are our brothers and sisters, then what does that mean? What would the Christian story look like if, like this canticle, it emphasized humans’ place within the family of creation, instead of remaining separate?
Contrast that to the story we as Christians have been telling so far. Yeah, sure, God created the world and all that is in it, and God said that it was good… but then we get to the good bit of Genesis, right? The bit where we’re supposed to be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth. That’s the part we understand. Theologian John Cobb calls this God’s only commandment that humans have managed to obey to the letter. We look at creation, at trees and rivers and animals, for how they can help us.
What I think Christians lose sight of sometimes is the fact that we humans are part of the creation. The earth, the seas, the plants and the animals have been lovingly created by God, and pronounced to be very good. And so have we.
Even “sister death” is not demonized here but welcomed into the family. After all, death is how the life of creation sustains itself. The death of one creature nurtures the life of another. Maybe there’s room for us to fit into this cycle of life, instead of trying to remake the Good Creation into what we want it to be.
What sets us apart from the rest of creation, of course, is our image of God. We know the story. We are creation made conscious, in a way that, to our knowledge, no other part of creation shares. And that means we have the responsibility to be good stewards of this creation. But maybe we can see our relationship to creation, not as domination or subjugation, but as relation within a family. On this Earth Day, we can join the earth in song. With our brothers and sisters, four-legged and two-legged, with and without voices, we can praise God together.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
[This is cross-posted from Boise's Novel Orchard, the rockin' writing community that's asked me to be their guest blogger for the month. Check them out here.]
I started taking organ lessons in college, for basically one reason: I wanted to play an instrument that was larger than my dorm room. At organ concerts, I’d admired the beautiful pipes and felt the sound rumble and echo through the concert hall. I couldn’t wait to climb up to the organ loft and pull out all the stops, to feel my whole body shake as I made music.
But after signing up, I realized I only got a few hours a week to play the “big organ.” Most of the time, I was relegated to a tiny practice room. This instrument is tiny; you could probably stack ten or twelve of this little organ in the big organ loft. There are only two stops, or varieties of sound (as opposed to the big organ’s 53) and the highest one is tinny and whiny, slightly off-key. But this actually makes the practice room a better place to practice.
When I talk about practice, I mean the slow, painstaking process of learning the notes. Figuring out how to move smoothly from one note to the next. Playing slowly, one note at a time, until it hardly sounds like music anymore. When I practice, I’m teaching my fingers the path between notes, locking down the fingerings into muscle memory, so when the lights are up and the concert hall is full of people, my fingers will know where to go. And I’m also memorizing how the music sounds. Soon I can hear the next note before it’s even played. I’ll know what it sounds like when it sounds right.
So what does this have to do with writing?
Many of us write in search of those “concert hall” moments—flashes of inspiration. Maybe a word or phrase gets stuck in your head, or a character comes to life suddenly in your imagination. Soon the words are pouring effortlessly out onto the page. But what happens when those flashes don’t happen?
What sustains me as a writer, day to day, is not those fickle flashes, but rather approaching writing as practice. Then it becomes less about the sheer power of your words, but about the little things instead. The feel of the keys as they click under your fingers, letter by letter. The smell of the ink from your ballpoint pen. The more you sit down to write, the more these sensations get imprinted into your muscle memory, into your unconscious.
The sounds of sentences are making their way into your memory too, when you practice. You might try a short punchy sentence one day, or a long rhythmic list the next. You’ll experiment with colons and semicolons and commas. And you’ll start to hear your own voice coming out.
That’s why I consider journaling, blog posts, forum posts, to be writing practice as well. You’re still sitting down to the computer, still working on finding the right words to express your ideas. You are teaching your fingers their way. So when you do get a sudden inspiration, and you grab for your notebook or computer, your body knows how it feels to sit down at the desk. Your writer’s “ear” knows the variety of sentences available to you, and can choose the right one. And the writing that comes out of this “performance” is stronger than it would have been without those hours of practice.
Malcolm Gladwell (an amazing nonfiction writer who you should check out, if you haven’t already) recently wrote a book called Outliers about what it takes to be successful. In this book he tells the story of the Beatles (way back before they were, you know, The Beatles) and a series of concerts that they played at Hamburg, Germany. This was a brutal gig—they played at noisy clubs to rowdy patrons, 8 ours nonstop per night, 7 nights a week. By the time they became a US rock and roll sensation, they had performed 1200 times. Twelve hundred. Most bands don’t perform 1200 time in their whole careers! That, according to Gladwell, was one of the things that set them apart from other bands. They had performing in their blood, in their muscle memory. They had put in their practice time.
Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become truly great at what you do. 10,000 hours! If I stuck to the college concert hall schedule, it would take me 39 years to be a great organist. Truth be told, I don’t care about the organ that much…but I do care about telling stories. And so, each morning, I sit down with my notebook, grab my ballpoint pen. I’ve got a lot of practicing to do.
Monday, April 5, 2010
I’m not a poet anymore, really. I called myself that for years—since the fourth grade, when I wrote poetry instead of listening to boring classroom lessons. Then I got to college and discovered that (a) there are people who are good at and even enjoy revising poems, and (b) I am not one of them. The craft of shaping line breaks and subtle punctuation just can’t hold my attention. I’m not knocking myself or my poetry, just being honest. Some people like poetry no matter how long it takes them to decide on where exactly to place that last comma. I am happy to leave the professional poetry to those people.
But there’s a part of poetry that I still am drawn to: the images. My early poems tended to focus on a single image, trying to describe it perfectly so someone else could see it. Even now, images still get stuck in my head.
And now I live on a seminary campus, surrounded by IDEAS. My community, full of grad students in philosophy and theology, never stops talking about racism and sexism, history and criticism—questioning always why we believe what we believe. Sometimes, I’ll admit, it’ll be too abstract for me, going right over my head. But other times, there are ideas—like Sallie McFague’s poet/philosopher dichotomy—that I can’t stop thinking about. What’s the middle ground between poetry and philosophy? Is there a way to combine images and ideas?
Christians have a wonderful story to work with, full of rich images: storms and mountaintops, gardens and tombs, bread and wine. I want to write between the lines of this story, to work with these images that have always been stuck in my head. And I want to be conscious of their implications too. If we’re supposed to be loving God and our neighbors, how do our images help us toward that goal? Good creative nonfiction, and good theology, can inhabit this middle space that McFague talks about—afraid of neither images nor ideas, with the creativity to search for images and the patience to unpack them.
Drew told me once about a dichotomy in how we approach theology. I did it to find out who I am, and he did it to create something new. Well, who I am is a writer. I’ve known that since the fourth grade. And I figure the best way to figure out the rest is to write. It’s served me well so far. To unpack, to reach that stuck point and unpack, freewrite, dig deeper, explore.
Maybe I’ll start with creating a new job description. Not philosopher, no longer technically poet. Some sort of ragtag theologian? Maybe. I am a beloved child of God, and for whatever fool reason, that God has trusted me to help in the work of creation. As she trusts us all.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
It sure feels like Lenten penance enough already, coming back to the blog after letting it lie dormant for a year. I don’t regret it though—this year has been perhaps the most fruitful of my professional, personal, and creative life. I made it through two intense writing classes, with two pretty sweet portfolios to show for it. I graduated from college. I landed an internship at a publishing house, where I spent five months fulfilling my dream of being an editor. Working behind the scenes with other people’s words, rather than writing my own.
And then I came home and wrote a novel. It’s scattered, it’s cheesy, it’s not finished, but it is a novel. Thanks to the grace of God and the support of the NaNoWriMo community.
Now I’m in California, enjoying the 80-degree February weather and the company of my partner, after 3 years of long distance. All in all, it’s been a pretty fantastic year.
And yet I still get twitchy. Especially in church. When the images that pop up in the service are all about God the Super-King, ultra-powerful and ultra-male (probably wielding a thunderbolt or two) I get twitchy. I have to wonder, is that the only way we know how to talk to God?
Maybe it’s not a Lenten discipline per se, but I’ve already committed to a challenge this year: to write 500 new words every day. (Thanks to my NaNo friends for setting up the 500 Challenge!) But when I sit down to the scribblebook today, the words that end up on the page are prayers, hymns, and midrash. Reflections on God-images, and what they really mean in our lives today.
So I’ve come back to the blog, to share these new images I’m playing with. Some will work and some won’t. Some will be heretical (and some of you won’t care). But isn’t that how we create? Out of chaos—trial and error—or to quote Anne Lamott, shitty first drafts.
Read my “drafts” on this blog. Comment on them, critique them, and above all keep me honest. I hope to keep them coming, through Lent and beyond.