Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Wrap-Up

Well, it's the last day of my November blogging experiment. Didn't live up to the goal, of course... I only got 13 out of 30 posts finished. But I've always been of the mindset that even a failed writing challenge makes me into a better writer somehow. The question is how. What did I set out to do this month? Where did I fail, and where did I succeed?

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

Fall in the "City of Trees..." and cacti

Yesterday I gave thanks for the fact that it's been at least a little bit fall-like here, after weeks of seemingly summery weather. It's tricky to locate myself in time when the seasons don't seem to be changing around me. Especially for fall, which more than any of the other seasons seems to be all about change. Fall is a transition season; always has been. First day of the new "school year," for one, but also the shifting from summer into winter. Spring is a destination of its own - we spend the winter waiting for its first day, that first flower or first warm morning - but fall is a moving target.

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

"Traditional" Thanksgiving?

Tonight was my first Thanksgiving away from home. Away from Boise, that is. We're saving our vacation time and money to go back for an extended visit for Christmas, and without family in the area, it seemed to make the most sense for us to stay at home and have a simple celebration this year. Which I thought I was OK with, until last week... being worried for my family back home ratcheted up my homesickness quite a bit. As did the fact that up until recently, it was still regularly 72 degrees and sunny. Where were the fall leaves? Where was the snow?

All that in mind, today has turned out to be a lovely day. And there are countless things I'm thankful for...

I'm thankful that it's finally started to feel like fall in SoCal, complete with colorful trees and chilly mornings.

I'm thankful for Trader Joe's, whose stock of fully cooked half-turkeys, microwavable stuffing, and boxed turkey gravy meant that we could approximate a traditional Thanksgiving even though we were only trying to feed a family of two.

I'm thankful for my mom, who kindly passed on recipes for most of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes, along with helpful tips on how to make them easier. (Yep, we went with pillsbury rolls and apple crisp this year, instead of homemade rolls & apple pie... and it still tasted delicious!)

I'm thankful for Drew, who helped me make today really special. Everything clearing off his "desk" so we could use it as a dinner table, and even getting out the wine goblets to pour our apple cider into. And he made a valiant effort at carving the turkey. Seriously, who knew it was so hard to slice one of those things??

I'm thankful for the new blog that my sister and I are going to start. More on that soon!

I'm thankful that my family still has a roof over their head and food on the table, despite the trouble. And that they're keeping their eye on the positive... my dad's planning on getting some skiing in during the un-crowded days, now that he's got the time.

I'm thankful for the fact that in only 3 weeks, I'll be home with my family again.

I'm thankful that 5 years ago on a snowy Thanksgiving, Drew first showed up at my house with an awkward smile; that 4 years ago we managed to admit that we cared for each other; that this holiday season marks one year that we've lived together with no major disasters.

I'm thankful for the little family that Drew and I have started to build, right here.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Today Drew and I went to see Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 1- or, as I was expecting from the book, Harry Potter Walks Around The Forest For Way Too Long. As the first half of a jam-packed story, I wasn't expecting a whole lot. But the whole walking-around-the-forest section ended up being one of the best bits of the movie - it allowed the relationships between Harry, Ron, and Hermione to shine. They play up the tension caused by the three teens' new responsibilities, as well as underscore the deep friendship (and budding romance) among them. And no, I'm not just talking about the much-hyped makeout scene...

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!

Speaking of Harry Potter, check out this post, profiling what you might call the Muggle version of S.P.E.W. or Dumbledore's Army. And they say fantasy is just escapist fiction with no ties to the real world!

Friday, November 19, 2010

All of my world hanging on your love

Not much time to blog tonight-- not much brainspace, either. One of the harder things about blogging through November is that I feel like I have to deal with what's real. If I were working on a novel I could disappear into it, you'd think.

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

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

I love Wednesdays. They're my "CST" day, when I stay at school and get things done. At night I usually end up taking study/food breaks with friends-- tonight I'm stuffed after a delicious meal of pasta and pie-- and in the morning I get to sing with CST Chorale.

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

Who Is Robert Smith?

I admit I don’t know much. I know he was originally an advertising exec in Oregon, but then in 1944 he wrote a story that got sold to a major studio. He packed his bags and moved to Hollywood, where he worked for the next decade and a half, writing TV pilots and feature films, before dying (too young) of a heart attack in 1959.

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

Book Sale II: nonfiction vs fantasy

OK, so I have to admit, I went back to the Pilgrim Place sale today. Mostly for the craft booths and the apple pie—I just got a couple of books this time though, a new hymnal and a new Joan Didion. It’s been a good way to fill out some of my collections: I’ve filled out collections of nonfiction writers/memoirists that I’ve been following for a while: Madeleine L’Engle, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott. All of whom I want to be when I grow up—writing nonfiction that illuminates how we see the world, how we see God.

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.

Proof of said bibliographic happiness

Our many good finds of today, plus a shot of Drew being REALLY excited about his books. Or maybe just happy to have finished his last midterm. ;) The top two are Drew's stack, the bottom one is mine.

Used Book Sale = happiness

I love used books. Throughout my life I’ve bought used books more often than new, and not only because they’re cheaper than Amazon. The smell of them, for one— dusty and faintly acidic—and the way the dust flutters out from between the pages as I riffle through. Will this book be a marked-up copy with distracting highlighter marks all through it? Or will I find fascinating margin notes, dedications, inscriptions—proof that this book has been lived with by someone before me?

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

Sing It Out

Day 7 of November Blogfest, and I'm back on the wagon. I won't bother writing a pity-me writers' block/busy life blog post, because I'm sure you've heard it all before...

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
My song

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Finding something to write about each day is harder than it sounds… which is only to be expected. But the power’s in the writing, and the trying…

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!