What I’ve Been Up To

I would say this will be summer themed, but… when was the last time I even did one of these??

Reading –I’ve read a fantastic amount this summer–among other things, I rediscovered public libraries and have been checking out all my local branches and, of course, walking out with books every time. I did some fun rereads: a few of the Mary Russell novels, by Laurie R. King; and House of Many Ways, which I adore (along with everything else Diana Wynne Jones has written) every time I reread it. And I enjoyed lots of new books: Meg Cabot‘s Heather Wells series was super fun; I went through a history kick and read a biography of Martha Washington and some Pennsylvania/Pittsburgh history; some Mary Roberts Rinehart Nurse Pinkerton stories.

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What I’m currently reading.

Writing–I am finally at a point where I feel like I have the mental energy to write more. I’ve been playing with a bunch of stories, and this blog has been more active: I’ve written about sermon writing and crocheting and trying to grow houseplants. I participated in Rosalie Valentine‘s Flash Fiction Dash and wrote a story about, of all things, fairies.

Off the blog, I have a piece published on Dear Damsels. I discovered them recently and they feature beautiful writing. Appropriately enough, my piece is about creating new habits in a new time of life, and the beauty of habits.

And, if you’re curious about my day job, you can find all of my sermons here.

Listening–I went on a bit of a podcast-hunting spree a few weeks ago and found some wonderful new podcasts:

  • 2298 is a fascinating science fiction podcast that I’m just starting
  • Everything Happens, with Kate Bowler, is heart-wrenching and emotional in the most honest way about the hard parts of life
  • Ologies is a funny, curiosity-filled look at different fields (-ologies!)
  • Saffron and Peri is a fun fairy tale-themed drama full of hijinks and good characters,
  • and speaking of dramas We Fix Space Junk is another one, about two women forced to run a space ship together
  • Tides is a fascinating The Martian-style story about a scientist stranded on a strange new planet, but there’s actual life as well
  • And Tumanbay is a fantastically acted and edited drama about a sultan’s city and a looming threat

I told you it was a spree!

Thinking about– The time I spend online. This article in many ways crystallized the discomfort I’d been feeling about how much time I’ve been online lately. Despite all the talk about Facebook over the past year, it sparked something that the rest of the conversation hadn’t: a reminder of how much social networks need us to be online, and the parallel realization that I’ve been spending more and more time online as a way to avoid so many other things in my life. It’s easier to scroll through whatever than it is to go do the dishes, let alone to figure out what I’m feeling after a confusing day.

OnlineThis article about caring really resonated as I try to figure out how to care more instead of ignore, just as this one about the importance of art even in the midst of really hard everything inspired me. And I couldn’t resist clicking on this article about learning from house plants and it was even more beautiful than I expected.

Watching–Lots of Stargate, mostly. I was watching and loving Castle and then my DVD player broke, so that’s on hold again for now. I’ve been dipping my toes into Star Trek Enterprise and not totally hating it?

Doing–Discovering new flavors of iced tea–my tea shelf is currently overflowing, which did not in any way stop me from going to Blue Monkey Tea Shop twice last month. TEA IS WONDERFUL. And, having lots of visitors from out of town, both family and friends. So, lots of board games, lots of chances to check out new places and show off favorites. Yes, please!

Going on lots of walks, because Pokemon Go is my not-so-new favorite thing and also because the weather is actually nice most of the time. Being outside is wonderful, and there’s a mini-park a two minute walk from my apartment. Everything is better done outside (and by everything I mean reading and writing and thinking).


 

I’m linking up today with Leigh Kramer. Go see what others have been up to for the monthly What I’m Into linkup!

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Sermon writing Saturday

I got my glass of peach iced tea, my computer with its power cord, my journal. I lit a candle. I started my computer and made sure I had water, too. Time to do this.

I pulled up my passage, copied it into a word document. I have an illogically deep fear of spending ten minutes flipping through a Bible to find my passage, so I always print it out at the top of my sermon. Facebook pulled me aside: comments answered, weird fact articles, cute puppy pictures. OK. Sermon. I read through my notes, made some more notes under the very special heading of “Sermon Thoughts.” That means I’m close to the end, close to writing the sermon. Today they were all recaps of disjointed thoughts that I liked, abstractly, but wasn’t sure how to tie together or even if they belonged together. I had thoughts yesterday; I have thoughts today; they weren’t at all the same. I wasn’t sure if I could join them together, or should.

OK, two hours. I could do this.

Maybe, except I went on Twitter. Yep, people are still upset, still posting poetry fragments. I went to the other room in search of my shepherd-related things, for the children’s moment (maybe?); I thought I might have some vapid shepherdess statuette, and actually had a stuffed sheep music box that plays “White Christmas.” That’ll work.

The sermon feels further away than ever.

I go backwards: Twitter, then Facebook. Back and forth. Texts with a friend. I haven’t been to my sermon document in twenty minutes, blank except for the text and “Let us pray:” The resistance–mine? the world’s? the friction of fear against words?–is building, and I know trying to outflank it with distractions only makes it stronger.

Facebook: nothing new has come up in the last three minutes, except an ad. I don’t recognize the company, but there’s a shirt that says “believe” with a sea monster: and I want to believe in beautiful, wonderful things like sea monsters and my work ethic. I want to believe in the unexpected, in hidden nooks and crannies full of amazement. I want to believe in possibilities.

The sea monster titled “believe” is a note of hope.


 

Message of the story: sometimes I struggle to write. 🙂

The sermon did get written, however; you can read it here.

Crocheting Lessons

I am that person who crochets through meetings. Especially long ones. I’ll bring a bag of yarn, with my work in progress on top, and once the talking starts I’ll start  crocheting.

I recently had a three-day-long conference. Read: lots of crocheting time! And so I gathered together my largest project, what will become a bedspread-sized afghan and is currently the size of a large lap blanket that barely fits into one bag with all of the yarn. Between meetings, I was the one who stood so that I could fold my work in progress, then stuff it forcefully into the bag because otherwise it wouldn’t fit.

A project that big feels progress-less. I would have to sit for days to see the blanket get noticeably larger, when it takes an afternoon’s meeting to expand the blanket with one more band of color.

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It’s not discouraging, exactly–I can see my yarn deplete, see how much yarn I’m using–but it feels slow.

And yet during the days of meetings, multiple people told me they were impressed with my progress.

I did the shy, awkward, “Thanks,” half-looking at them, because no, I had not made all that much progress, despite us sitting there together in the same room for three hours so far.

Except, of course, I always appreciate when people say I’ve done something well. And once I got over that first awkwardness, I was able to look at my blanket. I’ve been working on it for months and months. I know how much yarn and time has gone into it already. I worked on it when a band of color took all of three minutes, when I hadn’t expanded it outward to epic proportions yet and it was the size of a coaster. And I see how much work still needs to be done, how much more needs to be crocheted before it’s a full-sized afghan.

I am intimately acquainted with this blanket, in other words, in a way those commenters are not.

I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. There’s something limiting about being so close; there’s nothing wrong with having someone on the outside say, “You’re doing good work; you’re making progress.” It’s hard to see that when you’re in the midst of everything. And now I’m not talking about just crocheting anymore, because there are plenty of places in my life where I feel like I’m not doing enough, that I’m making no progress despite still working at it, still stitching or writing or working away. Sometimes those outside of it, those who know nothing about it, can see the progress you’ve made when you can’t see it because you know the final goal. Or they can see how hard you’ve worked when you just can’t.

Yes, I’m still working on that blanket, but I’m a bit more confident that I made some progress.

Tiny Leaves

My plants are finally growing.

I live in an apartment; I don’t have a yard or even a balcony, so I have to grow everything inside in pots. This method is not something I have a talent for: I’ve thrown out plants covered in mold, plants withered past desiccation, and plants that threw up their hands at life for no reason I could discern. 

Perhaps it has to do with my choice in plants: mostly I rescue them, from events and church services and other short lives as centerpieces that will end in the trash. I can’t stand the thought of plants being thrown out. It seems such a waste. They could keep growing, keep adding to the green in the world. 

Which is why I rescued almost ten poinsettias last Christmas. A few promptly died, dropping all their leaves and turning brown. The rest died slowly, dropping their leaves a few at a time until there were only two or three or five stubborn wrinkled leaves, discolored and brittle. I kept watering them; the stems were still green, mostly, except for the few that had also died, so that mostly they all looked like sticks stuck in a pot by a toddler with a better imagination than me. I kept watering them. I figured they weren’t quite dead, I guess. 

And now they’re growing new leaves, six months later. Finally. They have tender little leaves, of that brilliant green that is only in infant growth, growing out of joints on those still-green twigs. There are four of them, lined up on a shelf. They have passed the message along from one to the next, and they have all sprouted anew, right next to the Easter lily that is finally yellow and brittle and dead. 

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They’re growing new leaves! They aren’t dead!

And it gives me hope for all that I’m trying to grow in my own life, to the morning prayer and to the exercise, the cleaning and the writing, the unpacking and the decorating: everything I’ve added and taken away as I’ve been working to grow roots here, where I am. Every small thing I’ve done that felt like a tiny wave to a cruise ship when I can’t even see any windows, like whispering into the dark when everyone says only a shout will do, is something. It may not grow, like my poor Easter lily, but maybe it’s worth trying either way; maybe it’s worth rescuing no matter what the end result.

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The Painting

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I hated that painting.

Seriously. Hated it. People don’t fit into bottles; there are no fairies.

I know she doesn’t have wings! But Granny Betty always insisted she was a fairy. This happened at least once a week from elementary school through high school, so yes, I’m sure.

Nothing I did stopped her. Instead, I stopped inviting friends over after The Incident in third grade when Anita told me my grandma was crazy and I punched her in return. And still Granny Betty repeated the stories, through braces and my first boyfriend and prom.

I remember that because it was the Monday after prom: the day had passed in a haze of exhaustion after a brilliant, heady weekend, and it was all anyone talked about: dresses and dates and DJ choices. That was the only thing that seemed interesting, certainly not mitochondria or factoring. 

The bus had just dropped me off. I had a few blocks to walk to Granny Betty’s, but I didn’t want to go and do homework and hear about fairies again. I wanted to go home and sleep, but Mom wouldn’t be home for hours, and Granny Betty would never let me take a nap with unfinished homework in my bag. I stomped half-heartedly down the street, past the Grand Tower’s faded brick and the Stable Corner’s sagging cloth archway. Mrs. Finway greeted me, her Great Dane Trotter tugging at his leash, as I passed the abandoned lot that used to be The Alchemist’s Hotel. 

It was dark in there, amongst the weeds that had almost braided themselves together, brambles and ivy and saplings competing with thistles and the odd daisy pushing out onto the cracked sidewalk. A glisten caught my eye as I half-stomped by, a strange blue-gold that reminded me of a deep-sea fish. It hovered for a moment, bobbing and blinking–it must be an early, confused firefly. But I’d never seen a blue firefly, never even heard of one. I stepped closer, until my jeans were brushing against the thorns and daisies invading the sidewalk, but all I could see through the brush was tantalizing flickers. I looked left, right, behind me, as if someone was going to come and berate me for what I was about to do. Mrs. Finway was already around the next corner, and the street was deserted. Who would care what I was doing anyway? I said to myself as I stepped across that first bramble and into the lot, flattening a space for myself. I paused there, overwhelmed by what I’d done. This wasn’t a good idea; I was trespassing, someone was going to call the cops on me. I should go back to Granny Betty’s.

It was like navigating an unfamiliar house full of thorns in the dark. I could hear my heart pounding against the clenched rock in my stomach. I shouldn’t be here. There was nothing to see, except maybe the inside of a jail cell when someone called the cops. I–

Something flickered, that same ocean-fish blue that was woven through now with green, the green of phosphorescent plankton in that film we’d seen in biology class last year, the kind that filled the ocean and drew in whales to feed. They flickered behind a blackberry bush that seemed to take up half the lot, barely visible in the gaps between the brambles and the white flowers and the leaves. I stepped closer, glancing back at the street, up at the windows looking down, down at my feet, every once in a while at the light. I worked my way around the bush, painfully slowly, sticking myself with spines and thistles and dead twigs every step. 

Mr. Brown rounded a corner, and I ducked down, heart pounding. I didn’t think he’d been looking at me? I waited, forcing myself to breathe as I listened for his shout, for the sound of sirens. I heard his shuffle even from across the street; it didn’t pause, only faded.

I was shaking. This was stupid, stupid, stupid! It was just some weird firefly. What was I doing? I tried to steady my breathing as I crouched, preparing myself to stand–what if someone else was coming?–but when I looked down to find somewhere safe to steady myself, there was something glowing, glowing purple. It was crawling up a vine by my leg in great leaps. It wasn’t a firefly; it was a dragon, glowing amethyst from its wings and eyes and every inch of its body. 

I sat down in shock–and leapt up again with a curse, because I’d sat on something sharp. The dragon was gone when I thought to look again. I stood where I was, trying to–to make it make sense, to think what I could possibly have seen, because what I’d seen was a tiny glowing dragon and that was–impossible. 

There–another glow! Now I had to go see what it was–go see that firefly, that is. I shoved my way through all the growth until I was at the first light I’d seen, that ocean-life blue. It floated at the same height as a firefly would, but… it was almost the size of a quarter, and instead of an insect it was a cage of electric-blue light, dotted with gold, just like a comb jelly but in the air. In front of me. In the abandoned lot.

I almost sat down again. 

And–there! There was the green light I’d seen, and… it was a tiny woman, standing as solidly in midair as if she were standing in my bedroom. She had no wings, just as in Granny Betty’s painting.

It was too much for me. I stumbled back the way I’d come, feeling the brambles pull at my jeans, until I was back on the solidity of the sidewalk, with all of its cracks and unevenness still more solid than… back there.

I hurried to Granny Betty’s.


 

Thanks, everyone! This is my contribution to Rosalie Valentine‘s Penprints Flash Fiction Dash, i.e. a fun reason to write flash fiction (1,000 words or less) or maybe just to write at all. And I would never write about fairies or people stuck in bottles, so this was my chance!

Chips

I’m in the grocery store. My basket is almost full, with cereal and cheese and yoghurt.

I’ve come because I’ve given up on work, on the sermons I have to write. I’m hoping a break will give me the courage for the phone calls I need to make. Mostly I’m hoping it will clear away some of the fog, some of the darkness and despair and suffocating blackness that paralyzes that’s been following me around, clinging with far more strength than I have, that it would take to dislodge it. It followed me to the office; it followed me to the bakery where I had lunch, where I pulled out a book to read and a notebook to take notes and a Bible to work on my sermons. It drove away any thoughts of sermons and obligations and joy, until I gave up, put everything back in my backpack.

It’s snowing as I leave. The trees behind the parking garage have snow-icing already, and thick, fat snowflakes are drifting down and it’s better than a postcard, better than driving in snow with incompetent drivers and almost makes up for it.

It’s the first day of spring.

I try to take a picture with my phone. Every picture shows trees and the ground, snow everywhere across the landscape, with a pipe or concrete ceiling in a corner and five blurs that might be snowflakes. If I really use my imagination.

I trudge to my car, defeated. I just want to slink home. Pretend life doesn’t suck and maybe watch some America’s Next Top Model. I’ve seen every season I can watch for free on Amazon, but damn it, I am so willing to watch them again if maybe I won’t feel crushed by everything else while I’m watching the contestants be covered in body paint and hung upside down and then criticized for having tension in their face.

I really do need food, though.

Which is how we’ve come full circle, back to me in the chips aisle, holding back tears because they don’t stock my favorite flavor anymore. Or, that’s what I tell myself I want to cry about.

A Walk

It’s barely above freezing, but I’ve opened my coat. There’s still a scarf wrapped around my head, my ears and neck and chin. My hands are in my pockets along with my phone, with headphones snaking up to my ears. I keep having to shove them back in.

I’m walking. I’m going on a walk. Every day for the past week. I’ve been going down roads I had never even really noticed, not knowing where I’m going but knowing how to get back to my apartment. I think I’ve found all the hills, even though there’s plenty of ways I haven’t gone yet.

Today I started off down another road I hadn’t noticed in four months of driving past it, and ended up somewhere I’d already been: the field with impossibly green grass and one single soccer goal placed crookedly somewhere between where it should be and the middle of the field. One side of it drops away to an empty, abandoned-looking pool; the next side is a baseball field crowned with a stone building that looks like the gatehouse to an estate.

I walk around the field. “Open from dawn to dusk,” the sign proclaims, and the sun is up. It’s cold, but that’s been blunted by walking.

I’m not really going anywhere with this: on my walk, other than back to my apartment; with this piece of writing. It was just a moment, one without revelations or tragedies but not without joy and the chill of almost-snow and the ordinariness of an almost-habit.