Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The crumbs and the cake: thoughts on (lack of) book writing

 "I was starting to wonder if I was ready
to be a writer,
not someone who won prizes, 
got published
and was given the time and space to work,
but someone who wrote as a course of life.
Maybe writing wouldn't have any rewards.
Maybe the salvation I would gain through work
would only be emotional and intellectual.
Wouldn't that be enough,
to be a waitress who found an hour
or two hidden in every day to write?"

~ Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty

photo credit
I’ve often wondered why I’m not working on writing a book. For the past five years or so, I’ve wondered. Other writers I talk to or read tell me ideas are everywhere, that lack of ideas is not the issue. It has felt that sometimes for me. But no, I think it lies deeper. I have ideas, but I see them as crumbs, not as the cake themselves, and I get stuck on that.

I don’t need crumbs. I need the whole dang cake.

I’m having a self revelation of sorts, and I wouldn’t exactly classify it as profound. You see, I don’t like unfinished things, at least in relation to myself. They make me anxious. And that’s a whole problem in itself, isn’t it? Because I am the textbook definition of “Unfinished” if there ever was one. But particularly with regards to conversations, I have a low threshold for unresolved tension. I want to wrap things up in one night, one fight, one conversation, one blog post. I don’t want to spend months or years trying to finish, living with the “let’s pick this up again tomorrow” mantra. I don’t want to pick this thing up tomorrow, I protest. If I’m going to get any sleep, have any peace in my gut, we’ve got to wrap this up tonight.

And I think that, more than anything, may be why I’m not writing a book. Yet.

I’ve grown so accustomed to this comfort, this immediate gratification, of sitting down to write and publishing the post the same day. And then, bam!, it’s on to the next post. The next idea. The thought of having to slog through day after day, week after week, month after month, and maybe year after year of finishing the conversation I’m having in the form of a book? It’s downright overwhelming, like telling someone who only ever hikes up their driveway to go climb Mt. Rainier. I know it’s not for the faint of heart and I question if my heart is stout enough to endure.

Am I brave enough to pick up the crumbs, bit by bit, until one day they resemble a cake?

In all fairness, though I question my strength and tenacity, I have to concede that somehow, I’ve managed to see beauty and meaning in the unfinished conversation that I’ve been living these past five years. I found myself suddenly employed as a barista at Starbucks, and then... never left. I’m still there, Master’s degree and all, and it still gets under my skin some days, how I don’t have the “next step” figured out yet. But mostly, I’m happy to be somewhere that, at the very least, affords me the schedule and relative lack of stress (I leave work at work) to pursue writing. To live a life that lines up a little more closely with my priorities (“career as my identity” not being one of them). My blog is not well read, even after more than four years, and still I keep writing, because I just can’t shut up.

Somewhere deep inside, even when I doubt it, even when I’m anxious and insecure, I must believe that I was born to write. And the success of it lies not in the book I’m working on (or not), on the number of readers of my blog (or not), or the number of places that publish my writing (or not), but in my unwillingness to walk away even though I have little to show for it. 

Hear me now, shouting from my proverbial driveway: 


(That actually felt kind of therapeutic.)


Have you noticed how everything in life that’s hard and worthwhile and complex seems to turn on a “But”? But I can’t stop here and pitch my tent. But if I want to challenge myself to continue becoming, to write the journey of unfinished and maybe never see the wholeness, I’ve got to be willing to live in the discomfort. I’ve got to set out beyond my driveway and fix my sights on the path up the mountain. One step, and then another. One day, and then another. Follow the trail of crumbs, hopefully to the cake. Risk ending up with nothing more than a bowlful of crumbs.

But - I’d be different for it. I’d have to be.

* * * * *

Joining Heather for Just Write

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ornaments of hope: The God who shows us how to see in the graveyard

photo credit

I thought I was finished with this unofficial Lent series, these ornaments of hope. But apparently I'm not. 

And this is my little disclaimer: I don’t want to detract, in any way, from the magnitude of Christ’s suffering, of the despair and darkness of his death, or those three days his body lay in a tomb. It’s not my intent to plunder the unfathomable riches of his resurrection - the climax of Easter - by taking either his death or resurrection and squishing them down into metaphors that serve my own purposes. That aside, it’s with some trepidation that I proceed with these words, hoping they aren’t everything I just said I didn’t intend.

* * * * *

As someone who loves Christ, it’s impossible not to see reminders of death and resurrection, images in our world and in the everyday, in the privacy of my own home or the closets of my heart, during this season leading up to Easter. As a writer, this tendency is compounded. Everything becomes metaphor. And this speaks to me, in a language I can understand, blood through my veins.

There are layers upon blood-stained layers to the reality of how Christ’s death and resurrection infiltrate my life.

And I’m going to venture out here and confess something to you: In my life, I often see a valley of tombs more than I see empty graves.

I’m more comfortable with death than I am with life; more comfortable, perhaps, with discouragement and despair, than I am with hope and joy. I wish for these - hope and joy - not to seem like strangers, visitors, and yet, they so often do. I open the door to welcome them inside and it is as if they spend the night in the guest room and leave in the morning. But I want to sit down and eat breakfast with them. I want them to live here, to call this address home.

And yes, I write and speak, sometimes like a broken record that plays only one song, of seeing beauty in the ugly, wonder in the everyday-ordinary, because I am continually having to come back and wash these mud-crusted tombstone eyes. I'm still acquiring a new way of seeing.

So now that I'm here, may I venture a little further with you in these deep waters of vulnerability? Our financial situation is just one area that often seems like a sealed tomb. After conversations with my husband about our circumstances, I usually sit in a stupor of hopelessness. Like we might as well write an epitaph on the gravestone and place flowers on the ground beside it, because we’re not leaving this cemetary.

Can you relate?

I’ve found that my response (or more accurately, reaction) to financial hardship is one of the quickest ways to finger the pulse of my faith. When I can’t see the way out, the neck of my faith is put on the line and I realize how quick I am to surrender my faith to circumstances.

It’s also one of the quickest ways to expose my incessant need to be in control of my life - and my frustration when I remember I’m not.

* * * * *

This Saturday morning, I went for a walk with four girl friends, and at the end of our time together, I ended up sharing some of my heart, what it's like in the midst of our financial situation. By the time we said goodbye, I felt overwhelmed - and disturbingly aware. This Saturday, the day before we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death, the day when we also remember that his body still lay cold in the tomb, I realized something big. Something elementary, fundamental.

With the reality of Christ’s resurrection, there is no area of my life that a tomb can have the final word.

I’m not saying there won’t be deaths. People die. Marriages die. Careers die. Dreams die. Physical and mental health fails. Economic deaths happen. But if my faith can take me so far as believing with an absurd degree of faith that there is a God who devised a rescue plan for this world that he loves so much, that led to him leaving his home in heaven to live in the muck of earth, to give his own life and shed his own blood to pay the crushing debt of our sins, and then triumphed over death by rising again - a God who still refuses to give up on the world and lights resurrections fires in tombstones of the gravest tragedies and suffering and injustice - who declares none of this is the end of the story - I can believe here, in this place of limited sight.

I can believe the end of our financial situation is not a tomb, but resurrection.

If in the darkest moment in history, the moment when we human beings crucified God himself, God broke open the grave and death itself and arose with the greatest beauty and hope and power this world has ever known, I can look at each tombstone in my life and believe there is beauty and hope and power beyond my ability to see.

I can read the paper and watch the news and believe there is resurrection at work, behind the scenes: in that mudslide; those lives lost in the sinking ferry; those nations in political unrest; on the brink of war; in the midst of long, dragged out wars; those shootings and earthquakes and fires and tornadoes; lives lost to cancer, AIDS, malnutrition, starvation. 

God is at work, behind the scenes, inside the tombs themselves, redeeming and beautifying this earth, even when we cannot see. Death will not have the final word, even as suffering persists and evil is real and tragedy colors our world red and gray.

This Easter Sunday, when we think about the one who rolled away the stone and scandalized the world then and now and throughout history with an empty grave, can we look into the graves in our own lives and see them empty? Maybe not now, in this moment, but maybe in three days’ time, or three months, or three years. Not in a wishful thinking, positive-outlook kind of way, but in the strength of God’s grace that courses through our veins and gifts us with the faith to believe in resurrection in the first place? The grace that rises up as fire in our eyes and refuses to limit God by what we see before us or behind us, or what we cannot see stretching ahead of us.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in our lives, moving and rumbling among the tombstones, declaring there is more than what we see. And who knows when resurrection will happen, or how it will look, but we can count on Love having the final word.

* * * * *
This is my unofficial blog series for Lent, "Ornaments of hope," where I want to learn to sing like the birds and hang these songs as 'ornaments' on the trees.  I don't know how often I will write, but I'm committed to writing out this forty day journey in some way.  And you? I know you're on your own journey, and I'd love to hear about that. But if you resonate with any of this, I hope to see you around here this Lenten season. Singing with the birds and hanging our ornaments of hope as we journey from darkness to light. Maybe we'll even form a choir.

Ornament 1
Ornament 2

Ornament 3
Ornament 4 

* Linking up with Jennifer for Tell His Story.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ornaments of hope: Resurrection songs

These Lenten reflections began with the stir of bird songs, in a place untouched by words. It only seems fitting as this season comes near to a close to end with a song that captures some of this sense of wonder and longing, but also, this sense of belatedness. For most of this season, I've felt late to the table, distracted, not with Christ in the way I wanted. Still, he was with me, showing me the way to Love. 

(Please, if you like, let the song play while you scroll through these images - it's really more lovely this way).

* * * * *

"Belatedly I loved thee, 
O Beauty so ancient and so new, 
belatedly I loved thee. 
For see, thou wast within and I was without,
 and I sought thee out there. 
Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made.
Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. 
These things kept me far from thee; 
even though they were not at all unless they were in thee.
Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness.
Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness.
Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath;
and now I pant for thee.
I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst.
Thou didst touch me,
and I burned for thy peace."

~ Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

It's not Easter yet; and still, Easter hope dawns every morning we awake with breath in our lungs, does it not?    - - - -

       To force open deafness,
           to chase away blindness,
               to awaken hunger and thirst,
                   to breath its fragrance on us.

To put resurrection songs within our bones, light as feathers, carrying us free on the wind.

* * * * *

This is my unofficial blog series for Lent, "Ornaments of hope," where I want to learn to sing like the birds and hang these songs as 'ornaments' on the trees.  I don't know how often I will write, but I'm committed to writing out this forty day journey in some way.  And you? I know you're on your own journey, and I'd love to hear about that. But if you resonate with any of this, I hope to see you around here this Lenten season. Singing with the birds and hanging our ornaments of hope as we journey from darkness to light. Maybe we'll even form a choir.

Ornament 1
Ornament 2

Ornament 3
Ornament 4 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Word Paint: The inside-outside connundrum

photo credit

"Can you be inside and outside at the same time?
I think this is where I live.
I think this is where most women live.
I think this is where writers live.
Inside to write. Outside to glean."
~ Terry Tempest Williams*

Paint me a picture, I say to myself, of this tension of inside-outside living. So my pen becomes a paintbrush and I dip it in the colors of memory, splashing across a canvas of blank white page.

I am inside and outside, a woman on both sides of the looking glass.

* * * * *

I call myself a writer, most of the time, with varying degrees of confident assurance. I have a blog, where I air my words and my heart, one to three times a week. I surround myself with good books that inspire me in the craft. I have a group of writer friends who make me believe, at times I can soar on the wings of their prose, and maybe even on the wings of my own.

I am inside.

I hold my tongue, refuse to say this is who I am, because I am just not convinced. Maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe this is the last remaining, tattered shred of youthful idealism I'm clinging to and I need to let it go. How could I ever think I'm a writer?

I am outside.

* * * * *

I am inside the church where we worship on Sundays. Where we stand, sit, kneel, sing, speak, listen and hold the silence of liturgy. I am surrounded by people, many whom I don't know, some whom I call "community." We feast together at the table of communion, we share the same creeds of faith. We love the same Jesus.

I am inside.

I look up at the landscape of the front of the church sanctuary. Men leading us in worship through instruments and song. Men serving the bread and the wine. Men praying the prayers. Men preaching the sacred word. I feel silenced, disappearing in the pew.

I am outside.
* * * * *

I wear a wedding band, possess a certificate of marriage. We share the same address, the same car, the same bed, the same last name. We're gradually crossing over for each other without losing sight of ourselves. He's immersed in my culture and I in his.

I am inside.

We coexist, side by side. We give affection and we withhold. We sleep with a wall of fear, of silence, of weariness, of distant longing between us. I inhabit a place of hope deferred.

I am outside.
* * * * * 

I wrap arms around her and she buries tears in my shoulder. Our hearts are locked together in the ache of sorrow. She has walked through valleys of loss with me, and now, I set out with her. I would do anything to take this pain away.

I am inside.

I am not a mother. I've never conceived life, never waited through months of expectancy, nor delivered life into this world. I've never seen my body stretch to make room for another. I've never grieved a womb that was inhabited, now empty. I do not know this agony.

I am outside.

* * * * * 

I am breathing in rain-soaked air, heavy with cherry blossom fragrance. I am walking, running, standing still, listening to the songs of birds and the symphony of life that arises in my silent wonder. I am drinking in sunsets. I am inhabiting moments of beauty, moments of bravery, moments of failure, moments of being known, moments of loneliness.

I am outside.

I come inside, close the door, and set my hand to write, transferring words from head to hand, my paint across the canvas.

* * * * * 

Joining Lisa Jo and the community of Five-minute Friday writers, to the prompt of "Paint."  This was NOT a five minute post, just FYI.

Linking up, also, with Nacole Simmons at Six in the Sticks, for a reflection on issues we face as writers.

 * I originally attributed this quote to Ann Patchett, but as I'm reading both authors at the same time, I got them mixed up! They're both brilliant women, by the way, worth reading...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Re-imagining imagination

It was a thought in a moment more than a tangible experience. More free write than long-thought-out words.

What is imagination?

Imagination, when I was a child, was the vehicle through which I lived a more interesting life. I don’t remember boredom growing up. I inhabited this fertile land of my own creation. I could try on different personalities, attempt things I would normally be afraid to try, live in places or times I could never visit. I was entirely in control of the story in my imaginary world. In this way, I learned creativity, but also, how to live anywhere but in the present moment, for the present moment was rarely as satisfying as what lay in my  imagination. The irony is, looking back, through this kind of imagining I learned contentment as a child and the exact opposite as a young adult.

Imagination morphed from a harmless childhood exercise to escape.

What does imagination reclaimed look like as an adult?

It’s taken years to unlearn this expression of imagination-as-defense-mechanism, as an adult, and only through tragedy and loss. Only through experiencing lack of control over many life events. Imagination has morphed, very gradually, into something that is not my own creation - a story according to my will - but the creative response to what has been given me.

I cannot entirely write my own story, but I can write my response to the unexpected.

Even the greatest authors will say they must surrender to the greater story being told; they cannot force something to become that is not where the story is destined to go. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, they must let go of their outlines, of certain plots. They must let characters grow to become more complex than they imagined. They must, at times, let some beloved characters die.

Maybe, in this way, imagination is fullness, is complexity, is letting go, is redemption. Imagination is a tiny seed falling to the ground and dying, spilling over, spreading life. 

Imagination is resurrection. I try this out on my tongue, and it feels both familiar and ethereal.

Imagination is not safe or comfortable, but wild, like the nature of God.

In marriage, in singleness, in friendships, in conflict, in race and gender and culture, in politics and religion and art- what is imagination, if not something ultimately full of life, complex, surrendered, resurrected, redeemed?

I don’t know, yet, how to write this from the abstract into a thousand simple, everyday examples. But I know this: my belief in imagination must begin with a change of definition if it is to produce the fruitful life I desire.

I ask myself, is imagination in my marriage, for example, pretending it’s something it is not, or believing, ultimately, it can become something greater than what I see?

This feels unnerving, daring, hopeful, courageous, terrifying. But it seems right, too. It’s a subtle shift of paradigm that can move mountains.

And I long to see mountains move, don’t you?

Maybe, in this place, imagination is also faith. No longer The Pretend versus The Real, but the truest thing of all. That which we cannot see yet, and perhaps won’t in our lifetime, but still believe is possible.

* * * *

Joining Heather

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ornaments of hope: How silence gives way to symphony

photo credit

"What is birdsong but 'truth in rehearsal'?" 
 ~ Terry Tempest Williams

I'm running through the streets of my neighborhood, silent, listening. My ears, eyes and nose are big sponges ready to sop up the soundtrack, sights and scent of life - this intersection of human, creature and natures' songs - going on around me.

In silence I hear 
the scuffle of my running shoes on sidewalk. 
The jangle of zippers tossed around on my backpack.
My gentle labor of breath.
The muffled roar of tires across paved streets, tiny ocean waves in the city.
"Trrrrrrrree cheepcheepcheep!" of birds I cannot see.
Wind whispers through neighbors' trees.
Trills and cheeps and caws of birdsongs overlapping in the skies.
Childrens' laughter and daddy running after bicycles.

I stop beneath a canopy of blossoms so white and fluffy I reach out to cup them in my hands, sheltered from the misty rain. They tip forward and baptize me with rain trickles down my wrists.

I want to stand still here, for a long, long time.

* * * * *

I am mesmerized by birds. By the melodies and songs they sing. They speak a language I cannot understand with my intellect, but somehow, resonates deep within my cells, beyond the confines of language. Something ancient, something shared in our living, breathing existence, speaks to me.

We inhabit parallel worlds that overlap on rare occasions.

I want - no, I hunger - to enter into their world. I yearn to know their songs. For now, I must tenuously content myself with listening from the ground below their perches.

* * * * *

I sense to know the songs of birds, in some way, is to open a door not only to another world, but also to a deeper inhabiting of the Creator's heart. They seem a link between this world and heaven.

I imagine them singing of truth: "The eternal exists! Our Creator is good! There is something greater than this life!" 

And I know, too, that their songs herald danger at times. The beautiful songs sometimes sing of things terrifying, and this is courage.  In this, the words of Frederick Buechner resound: "This is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid."

In their melodies, they communicate with each other as a species, but it is also worship to my ears. And worship is truth. I'm reminded of Christ's words, "For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." And I wonder, do these birds know this better than us?

They are not God, of course, but in them I see traces of Divine. Their 'otherness' reminds me of God's holiness; that wherever I tread, I am standing on holy ground. God has passed through this place; indeed, God is here.

* * * * *

I'm off the streets now, tucked away in the library writing. I can still hear their songs, unsilenced, indoors.

What the songbirds teach me is that there is no such thing as empty silence. That the irony of it all is this: when we are finally silent, it is only then we can hear the songs that are continually being sung in the world around us. Only through silence can we enter in.

 * * * * *

This is my unofficial blog series for Lent, "Ornaments of hope," where I want to learn to sing like the birds and hang these songs as 'ornaments' on the trees.  I don't know how often I will write, but I'm committed to writing out this forty day journey in some way.  And you? I know you're on your own journey, and I'd love to hear about that. But if you resonate with any of this, I hope to see you around here this Lenten season. Singing with the birds and hanging our ornaments of hope as we journey from darkness to light. Maybe we'll even form a choir.

Ornament 1
Ornament 2

Ornament 3
Ornament 4 

Friday, April 4, 2014

When words fall away

My words are overflowing river and dried up riverbed. They bubble and pour, spill over and nourish; they disappear and stand still. They are both.

I've written through writer blocks. I've been silent through writer blocks. I've waited for inspiration and I've learned to create my own. But at the end of the day, when the words won't come, I find, at least lately, I'd rather not force it. 

I'd rather just live.

Because so much of the time, writing and living, they lace fingers as I walk, run or limp through seasons. I couldn't separate them if I wanted.

And yet.

There are moments, days, weeks even, I'm content without words.

At the sight of blooms on the magnolia trees or the air magically caught in a snowstorm of delicate pink blossoms; pausing at a thick holly tree nearly pulsating with bird melodies and imagining the choir I can't see inside. When I sit with my husband on a dock on the lake, our legs dangling over the edge, and call to the ducks with the emerald heads and royal plumage, chuckle at the rascally seagulls; when I'm lost, momentarily, in the exuberance of a golden retriever diving into the water for a ball. The sliver of moon hanging on the edge of opaque circle, attracting my wonder; diving birds skimming the top of the water in perfect hydroplane landings, then disappearing beneath without making a splash; a lone turtle stretching out on a rock, his feet tiny paddles displayed, enjoying the last moments of light; a pair of eagles perched in trees, dark and stately feathered giants among us. 

I'm tempted, at times, to rush to write these down, and in doing so, the moments slip through my fingers. The writing replaces the living wonder - the seeing, listening, feeling, smelling, hearing miracles of being present. 

I'm learning to be still, to not immediately grasp for words. 

And if the words come and fall away before I have opportunity to write them down? I carry them, imprints on my heart.

* * * * * 

Joining Lisa Jo and the Five-minute friday community to the prompt of "Writer."