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You Can’t Lose What is in You

You Can’t Lose What is in You

I know you know this, but I am writing a novel. Big surprise: that’s what I”m writing about today.

Once, at workshop in the West Virginia mountains, I heard Meredith Sue Willis say,  that whatever your novel is, you should know it will change, and that you will change, too. She also said that novels are made out of scenes, and then words.

Both are true in this case. Over the past 12 years this novel has been a short story, a first-person present-tense account, and then, now, a past tense third-person omniscient. It has remained dormant in notebooks for years before coming back alive with a ferocious sprint, and then slowing down again to a light stroll with copious breaks for trail snacks. While my characters have remained (except for one that I cut pretty early on), almost everything else has changed.

How like life, to change, yet to also remain true to itself. Though things change, much remains the same and when we look through history, we cannot be surprised by what we see now. Life has always been life, and people have always been human.

The long of it is 30,000 words, and more than that. It goes beyond what I have written or typed. Now, in my notebook of new chapter drafts, I find myself copying passages of scripture, in a way of submission, instead of actively writing more of the story.

Are your ears awake? Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. –Revelation

Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God! Take the glory! The honor! The power! You created it all; it was created because you wanted it.-Revelation

I find myself copying passages about writing that encourage me.

Do not worry about the whole. Write what is next, the idea that comes now, at the moment. Don’t be afraid. For there will be more coherence and arrangement than you think. -Brenda Ueland

I find myself journaling my insecurities and whatever nonsense pops into my head. I find myself submitting to the will of God. I find myself questioning the call of this novel. Is this something that I want, or something that He wants? I want to be sure that I know, though at this point I really want to drop it, but I can’t. So, I guess I do know.

I find myself learning more about the process of writing than I find actual scenes and words for this novel. I find myself taking joy in the ease of writing poem drafts (no matter how terrible they are, I can at least get an entire draft finished in a few minutes, and that is deeply satisfying when, for other projects, there is no end in sight.)

I find myself trying to remember all that I’ve written regarding this novel. Most of it is in one of two notebooks, but a lot of it is also scribbled on loose pages that I had meant to organize with everything else. When I can’t find something I thought I had written, I feel a bit distressed, as if I’d lost something important. Perhaps I did lose something important, but really, more truthfully, since you can’t lose what is in you, I know that the exact words of a first draft are not always as vital as I imagine they are.

If I recall a scene but can’t find the draft, surely I can rewrite it. What is important will remain. Keeping every exact, initial word is not my goal. And that is true for life as well as writing.

The Magic of Novel Writing

The Magic of Novel Writing

I am in the middle of writing a novel.

I’ve been writing this novel for years. It began as a family story. It turned into a short story for a college writing class. Now, I have 30,000 words and I tell people that I’m writing a novel.

It’s true. I am writing a novel, but I’m also mothering three children. I’m teaching them to read and write and count and make breakfast for themselves. I’m teaching them to clean their own toilets and hang up their sweaters. I am a wife, a friend, a homemaker.

The novel is secondary on purpose. My family comes first.

I’ve wondered if I should give up this novel. It’s so hard to write. But then– is it hard to write because aside from the novel itself, the longest thing I’ve ever written was only a few pages long?

Some writers say that they have a hard time writing short pieces, that they just can write and write and write forever, that after a few months, they could have a draft of a novel. Perhaps I’m exaggerating the time frame, but it has always been easier for me to write brief, poetic, flash pieces. A writing friend who has been reading my novel-in-progress recently gave me some glorious feedback that should have made me want to write novels forever and ever and keep going until it was finished. She asked if it was really a first draft. She said she was deeply impressed. She said that my technique and my flow was consistent.

This got me thinking, though. The writing has been slow. Every time I sit down to write another scene (which is not often, mind you) I feel like the words are being pulled out of me like ribbons from a magicians throat. You know that trick? The one where the magician opens his/her mouth and shows some color that should not be there. They yank and a long scarf/ribbon comes out. It’s longer than you would think.

It seems I am unable to just quickly spit out words for this story. Instead, I am transported. The words travel from somewhere deep and perhaps that is why it reads like I’ve been working on it for a long time. It is not a first draft, but it is nearly so. The words that are on the page right now are new because I have re-written the novel a few times. I had begun with a different backstory in mind and when some other friends suggested that I use the real story of my family history, that it would be better, I began again. It’s not that I’ve edited the words so many times, but perhaps that I’ve held them for so long.

Aren’t all great stories ones that grew in someone’s soul for years? Aren’t they always the stories we’ve heard over and over again and then we live them or find them fresh? Aren’t they wrought with themes that we’ve known our whole lives, made new with men and women we are just now creating?

Yes, I am writing a novel. Slowly, surely, with so much fear and truth that tangles and twists and pulls at my guts and makes me want to throw up. But instead I continue to stand like a magician, one who has not trained in magic but finds herself pulling on hidden ribbons anyway.

 

The Ship’s Run Aground

The Ship’s Run Aground

A dear friend gave me a book last week. It’s Cultivate Vol. IV: Creativity Unlocked, a book created by Cageless Birds, designed to do just what it says: unlock creativity.

It certainly does.

(Please note that I am not getting paid to write this. I am simply sharing my life here.)

The book is a kind of devotional. Most entries end with prompts that aim to help unlock creativity in those who dare to take the journey. The first prompt speaks about creativity, ability, and risk, and though my answer quickly turned from the original prompting, I think it valuable to share my answers with you.

Creativity: What is inside yearning to get out. The desire to make. Not to critique, but to make in the first place. To make new. To make aground. To make live.

I later explored that word “aground” because when I reread my words I was unsure that it fit. Below is what came from my exploration.

The word “aground” refers to a ship in shallow water, a ship that is on the ground has “run aground.” This ship is not where one would expect to find it, and likely not where it expected to be found either, but it is where it can be seen fully. If I were a ship run aground, I would be seen fully, and therefore would be in a vulnerable place. Creativity is vulnerable. And it’s not just about painting and so-called artistry either. “To be creative,” as Justina Stevens (author of this first devotional in Cultivate Vol. IV) says so eloquently, “is to problem-solve, to come up with ideas during your day, to find a way to relate to a stranger, to try a new seasoning in your stir-fry. It is a drive to live, to make families, to take risks. … Your calling as a human is to live a creative life.”

Ability: What I am given. What I can do. But more than that, what I am graced for. Ability is uncovered in the process. It is not shown immediately, but allowed to be dug out. [Or, allowed to run aground.]

Risk: Scary, yet exciting. Risk is uncertain, but necessary. Without risk, life is flat. Sometimes an act may seem risky, but if prompted by the Holy Spirit, risk is life-giving and wonderful. If we prompt our own risky situations, they are likely to devastate. With the Holy Spirit, risk will always turn to good, will open our eyes, will raise our faith and give us stories that glorify God. Though in the beginning of any risk, fear may creep in, when we are with God He is with us and in His love He gives wisdom where we may see a void.

Oh, these Cageless Birds have me excited. I know very little about them, but just the words “cageless birds” paired with a drive to unlock creativity. Wow.

Cageless birds are those birds who fly in freedom, who belong to a flock, who peer into clouds and touch the line where heaven and earth meet. They are those birds who are not fed, but find themselves sustained. They are not tied to humans, but are allowed to soar.

“Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description but careless in the care of God. And you count far more to Him than birds.” -Mt. 6:26 MGS

We see birds in the sky as V’s. The birds, wings spread, look just like those pointed lines. They fly in formation, together with others. Caged birds are provided food and scenery, but the universe is a grand gift. Life is unpredictable and risky. Life requires the ability to explore.

Birds are unconcerned with blemishes. They do not wallow in the fact that they are depicted as the twenty-second letter of our alphabet. They just fly on because this is their instinct, nay their calling.

 

 

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

This blog was drafted in the Houston Airport, the day after the last of my childhood friends got married. I was sitting there, waiting for my flight, and I just started writing.

Who knows why we write. Who knows why certain events stand out to us, why we get stuck on thoughts, but in that airport I was stuck on these relationships. In the sidebar of this very blog I have quoted Flannery O’Conner. “I write to discover what I know.” This is that kind of blog post, where I may come to no conclusion.

Still, when I think about lifelong friendships I immediately think of my husband, who was homeschooled. All of his lifelong friends share his blood. Though he is supportive, he does not understand my desire to keep old friends. Perhaps this blog is a quest to try again to explain. As I write that line–my desire to keep old friends–I realize that it’s not me keeping these friendships at all. They just are. After 27 years, these relationships keep themselves.

6.26.2017

This weekend, one of my very best childhood friends was married. Now she’s on her honeymoon and I’m sitting in an airport restaurant. I am filled with tacos and nostalgia.

Years of water tell the beginning of our friendship: a river, an ocean, an inlet, a swimming pool. Together they tell stories of smiles and survival.

We lived through elementary school and puberty, high school and graduation. There are five of us girls who are still close, who spent the weekend together as adults, who just want to know that even though the memories are beautiful, the future of our friendship is available too.

Available. Uncertain, unwritten, that the future holds promise and the current holds air, holds breath, holds that which is necessary for the continuation of life.

I am wrought with a heartache that misses all the moments, a sentimentality that wants my eyes to sob.

My eyes have released enough: at a wedding so beautiful and perfect, at a garden so lush, when two families were united by two loves grown together. An unrehearsed prayer in a doorway, words were spoken of something invisible, something represented by all the caught glances and all the clanging, cheerful glasses. Dancing proved joy, but dancing also made it.

The weekend was filled with love in so many forms. A father gave away his last daughter, spoke blessings over a room. A story about sailing on our water. Sailing is natural freedom, glamorous adventure. I wasn’t mentioned, but I know that context. I’ve been on that boat too.

The bride’s dad honored his wife, credited her with the friendship that remains in their family, said that his wife taught his daughters how to be friends. Truth told of that Mama: she taught us how to be friends, too.

Oh, we lived in her minivan and by her quiet grace. Driven around town for years until we could drive ourselves. Then, we were reckless but covered. Now, we are all married, all have families and homes of our own. Differences run but the similarities we share are enough. Memories so strong.

But why are we still friends? My husband wonders this, and I do too. It appears that most people lose their childhood friends when they go to college. Why are we so lucky to have remained attached? Are we all suckers for stories? Are we all stuck together with humor and tragedy? Our childhood has all of that coming-of-age drama. All childhoods do, so what holds ours together?

Everyone close to us was funneled through our youth group. Yes, we talked about God but we also had cigarette breaks. We drank underage and we all dated and cried and stayed out too late, disregarded the rules. But we passed our classes and got out of high school and now we’re all married with functioning lives of our own.

Some thread remained tight between us and we still celebrate together. We still cry together. We still… still is a word made from glue that dries or is drying. Still is a word for the moments that seem unmoving like trees rooted in forest soil. Yet even trees can sway in the wind. Is the tree used up by metaphor? Maybe, but trees still grow and keep growing.

Where is the root of this friendship? Was it born as we sat on dark, deserted beaches, and in Sunday morning church chairs? Or as we sipped hot drinks at a coffee shop with music and scones, in a youth group that ended but never really departed?

Too much remains of these relationships to break them. Our differences never blurred, but we remain like splotches in a Jackson Pollock. All unique. All striking. Some may say, but what does it mean? Like everything, it means the world, and it means nothing, and we are left with questions that words can’t define. That’s art and that’s friendship.

Now, I am a mom and, no matter how I look back with chuckles and squints, I don’t want my kids to relive my childhood. I don’t want them to do everything I did or see everything I saw. I do want them to know purpose at a young age, but does that stifle their own growing?

I know– kids grow up no matter what parents do, and parents screw up no matter how hard we try. And here I sit right in the middle of the growing up and the trying, in these glorious moments where my kids are climbing trees and skinning their elbows and I am writing exploratory blog posts and bad poetry because that’s what I can finish in an afternoon. Because, though I treasure the friends who have known me forever, not everything should be lifelong. Sometimes I yearn to see the ending, the completion, the finishing of something, if even just a first draft of a poem about washing dishes (always more satisfying than the act of washing dishes itself).

I don’t want my kids to relive my life, but I do want them to know adventure and security, reason and frivolity, beaches and hot coffee. To know that we are always discovering and that lifelong friendships exist, but more than that, life exists and so do long friendships, and no one knows all the answers. Not even me.

 

Irma and all the Weather

Irma and all the Weather

Well hurricanes have been the subject of many an article lately. Today, Irma’s destruction is measured in my former home state and she has mostly moved north to leave those people be. Her affects on Florida are described in my text messages and all over my Facebook news feed. Destruction, yes, but thankfully I have not heard complete devastation from people I love. Oh, mustn’t we always remind ourselves that devastation is cyclical, and we are all in the circle. We all have troubles, whether or not Irma is the cause, and we all have hands for helping. Right now, Irma (and Harvey, too) is America’s news. It’s flooding. It’s roofs ripped off, fires even, and looting. Yet, hope lives on.

At my home, I sit in a quiet sunroom, surrounded by windows and the sound of cold wind and sirens. Leaves move and birds chirp, as they always do. Life is a crescendo-diminuendo, predictable yet changing, cyclical yet surprising.

And Irma is moving. “Why is she following us?” my children asked as we headed north from our Myrtle Beach resort vacation early Monday morning. Over the weekend, we had been watching Irma on the television, interrupted by emergency broadcasts where the governor of South Carolina spoke the possibilities. We watched, we listened, waiting for information that could change our departure time. Irma is following us, and Irma is in us. Who knows why she is here or where she will go. Until they hit land, and even once they do, hurricanes are unpredictable. Today, Irma is fading into scattered thunderstorms.

It is September. The air is cold out my window and the sky is one big cloud waiting to burst. The headlines: Irma Tosses Homes into the Ocean. An Alligator Wanders Downtown. Manatees, Fish Stuck on Land. Record Flooding. Power Lost. Death Toll. A professor once taught me that all great fiction requires truth. Truth, she argued, is the starting point for any great story. I say stories as if all stories are fictional. Stories are things gone by, but their affects can still bring pain. Here, I am simply speaking of the story itself, not of the lives and homes mangled by its events.

From my room, I know the story of Irma but all I see is a grey sky. All I feel is the chill of autumn.

No matter how scientific, the changing of seasons is still strange to me. The most shocking is summer to fall, when tank tops no longer suffice, when sweaters are necessities, when the scarves come out.

Autumn. That season that so many people love for its orange and yellow colors, for the beginning of family celebrations, for the turkey on the table and the aroma of cinnamon and cloves. Symbolically, though, why does autumn remind of a downward change? It’s no longer time to jump and swim, but to sit and reflect. The year is coming to a close, and I hear those words of John Lennon. And what have you done?

It’s not that I believe doing is the answer, at least not when it comes to the changing of seasons. Autumn comes, the leaves fall, then winter strikes. The year ends and another begins. This is how the natural world works. It is purposeful. Still, we all have our favorite seasons. Mine is summer, and it can’t last forever.

Like I told my 6 year-old recently, “When you get rid of old things, you make room for new things.” He was sad and crying because a pair of his most beloved pajama shorts had a hole in them and I told him, perhaps not so sympathetically, that we could just throw them out. He lost it. Humans abhor change.

America is making news, and it’s not just about hurricanes. And of course it’s not just America making news either.

Change is everywhere today. It always is, but the stirring of hurricanes and the coming of cooler days makes change evident for me. Even if we aren’t up on all the news stories, we can’t ignore the weather. It touches our skin and enters our lungs. It blows our hair to our faces. It makes us sneeze, drenches our sidewalks, and facilitates the fading of chlorophyll.

Oh, that beauty be discovered here in this solemn grey sky.

Beauty has so many definitions and I am now led to this story:

When I was in college, an art professor gave an assignment for us all to define beauty. What was it called? Maybe “The Beautiful Project”? We had to give answers for A Beautiful Face, A Beautiful Font, A Beautiful Depiction of Water. So many others, but these are what I remember. We had to gather our image-answers and display them with labels on a large matboard. Today I wish my Beautiful Project was still in my possession, but it was left in the classroom for grading and has probably been decomposing in a landfill for some time now. Likely, it is completely gone.

Can I try to recreate it for you?

A Beautiful Face: John Lennon

A Beautiful Font: My own careful handwriting.

A Beautiful Depiction of Water: a photo of military personnel giving water bottles to a group of thirsty refugees.

I suppose at the time I was an advocate for “Make peace, not war,” hugs instead of guns. Today, I admit that my perspective has shifted slightly.

The Beautiful Project was completely personal, one big opinion to be displayed. I suppose all art is. The artist brings to life what is hidden inside, and that in itself is beauty. I once prided myself on being different. Even in art class I had different ideas–beauty could not be found in separated images, but in the thoughts behind the whole of the answers–and yet today I sit in a room and ponder the weather like everyone else.

The Art of Rediscovery

The Art of Rediscovery

It’s a rainy, grayish day, but it’s really more silver. The sun is coming. I am tired though I’ve had plenty of coffee.

A bluegrass twang has resonated my day. Nickel Creek. Alison Krauss. Thanks to Pandora, the happy, soulful noise of banjo and fiddle just keeps coming.

I stepped outside for a while with my children, felt the coolness of this cloudy August day. We chatted with a wonderful neighbor. We pet a passing cat.

I don’t know if any of that is very important, but the details of the day are standing on me because I’ve rediscovered a former love. Something that I used to practice but haven’t in years.

This rediscovering began when I wrote a piece to submit to Mom Egg Review. The theme was “Mothers Play/Mothers Work” and, though it seemed an easy theme, I had a tremendously difficult time trying to come up with a thought that could support an entire essay. I had lots of ideas but they all fell flat. Then I stumbled on an old pencil case. A leather one, soft with age, perfectly wrinkled, the only leather thing that I wanted from Italy when I visited as a teenager. Inside, I found used charcoal pencils from a college drawing class. Holding them again, touching them to a paper, drawing simple lines released something in me.

We all have loves. Creating is one of mine. While speaking to my husband about this, I’ve realized that drawing is kind of like writing. It’s the act of filling a blank page. The act of using my hands to show what’s in my heart. It’s about taking what’s invisible and making it visible. It’s about giving life to the unborn, the forgotten, the buried. In the same way, I love to reuse things and I’m finding it’s not because I’m a conservationist. It’s because I see potential when others might not. It’s not about reusing, but restoring.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Yet this is more than trash to treasure. Treasure is luxury. This is necessity.

It’s always necessary to be who we were made to be. The treasure in you. But we have this treasure in earthen vesselsSomething that was thought to be nothing actually is everything. It’s just a pen. It’s just a few minutes of doodling. It’s just a few words on a page.

But it’s something more, something discovered, unfinished, continuous. This is something living, something risen. They say that stay-at-home-moms need “Mommy Time” but the point is not to just do something apart from our children. The point is to know what gifts we have and to use them. To say that this makes us better people is too cliche. What is the right way to say this, then? That if I pretend to be okay with Wake-Breakfast-Dishes-Sweeping-Legos-Minecraft-pb&j-Naptime-Sid the Science Kid-Dinner-Dishes-Sweeping, I am lying. Of course these are mostly necessary things, but there must be room within the list for me to grab a pen and let my fingers free.

I grew up thinking I was a terrible artist because in my elementary school art class the result was laid out from the beginning. There was no journey. It was more like replicating. I thought for years that I was no good at art because I couldn’t draw exactly what I saw. I didn’t want to just replicate what my teacher had shown me.

Then I took a 3-D art class in high school. I made a mobile from wire that I bent in loops with my own wrist. I made paper. I cut and decorated glass and fired it all together. I made wonder from rectangles. Then I took a pottery class. I allowed my hands to get muddy, for my body to lean into the lump before me, like an urgent prayer, bowing my chest on top of my hands, gripping a pile of stickiness and forcing it into the center of a quickly spinning wheel. I started dabbling with pencils. In college, I minored in art. I sculpted. I drew. I had an art professor ask me why I wasn’t majoring in art. The answer: because I loved writing more. I saw stories as my life’s work. Yet it seems that my writing requires a counterpart.

So last night I sat down beside my husband while he watched the Red Sox work impossibilities and I cut small rectangles from white papers. I grabbed a pen and I began to work my own impossibility.

Like a return to something I didn’t think I’d missed, I am here again, allowed to meddle in the journey of a seemingly frivolous thing. For the purpose of fulfillment.

Is there something in your life you’ve omitted, but actually really miss?