What I’m Into (April 2017)

Reading

Oh, boy. It was a good reading month; I read a lot of amazing books. I finished both The Iliad and The Odyssey this month, and loved them both. The writing was beautiful, and I loved the metaphors because they gave such a glimpse into life of the time–they were full of images of herding and weaving and all these tasks we never think about today. I love those reminders that life was so different in ways that we don’t even think about, like the hours and hours and hours of work it took to weave cloth (let alone harvesting of the fiber, cleaning it, spinning it, and maybe dyeing it) or prepare food. And both books were full of very strong, human emotions and characters.

I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale. What a powerful story. It was so well-written that I had to pause from reading every ten chapters or so; the emotions were just so vivid, even overwhelming. Offred was such a poignant, self-aware, and observant narrator. It was a good (and by good I mean haunting) example of how religious legalism often isn’t about religion at all; in the official religion there was no mention of Jesus, and barely any, really, of God. I was so blown away/horrified/intrigued by it that I held on to my library copy for an extra week, because I couldn’t quite bear to give it up, and have now spent several hours discussing it with various friends. I’d love to do some more of that, if anyone’s interested; seriously, leave a comment or email me.  I’m now intrigued by the Hulu show; I don’t have any way to watch it right now, but I’ve heard really good things. Anyone else seen it?

And I’m in the middle of a few other good books that I’ll save for next month.

Listening

This month I intentionally searched out fiction-based podcasts, and I found some amazing ones.

Clarkesworld Magazine regularly posts short stories from their magazine (science fiction and fantasy). They’re always narrated beautifully, and they’re really interesting stories.

Escape Pod also posts short stories from their magazine. They’re just sci fi, but they have really cool noise effects and good narrators.

ars PARADOXICA is a time travel story (yes, please!), which unlike the others is one long story continued in episode form. So far it’s been creepy and fascinating, and I love our spunky scientist narrator.

The Bright Sessions is another longer story, told entirely through recordings made by a psychologist trying to treat multiple patients with special abilities. It has such good voice acting! The wider plot has been slow-moving so far, but the characters are interesting enough to keep me listening.

Welcome to Night Vale has such a dry sense of humor and I love it. I’m not sure why it took so long for me to start listening to this; a lot of people I really trust listen. I thought it always sounded weird, honestly, which is true, but it’s also hilarious and strange and fascinating. Although I’m not sure if it’s fiction so much as a series of shorts set in the same town?

Whew! I really got into fiction podcasts this month!

Watching

The Arrow, because I finally got on board that particular fan train. I’m really enjoying it, because the novelty of having an intelligent character who makes overall good decisions is just too good to pass up. Besides, season 2 of Supergirl isn’t on Netflix yet.

Writing

I had an article published on Off the Page, on finding God in nature.

On the blog, I wrote about my Lent disciplines this year.

I did a lot of personal writing, and a lot of writing that hasn’t been published yet. I worked on a short story that I’m super excited about. I submitted to a lot of magazines, and so it looks like it was pretty quiet on this front, but I got quite a bit done.

Doing

Lots of dogsitting! I don’t have anyone’s permission to post pictures of their dogs, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they were all adorable and so sweet (if not always obedient).

Carnegie-Mellon has a gorgeous campus; I walked around for half an hour, taking a phone call, and otherwise spent an afternoon buried in the library getting work done.


I enjoyed the fact that the weather has been warm and the plants are starting to grow and bloom again–so much so that I have no pictures of that, either! But it’s been wonderful.

That’s it for this month!

 

I’m linking up with What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer.

Ridiculous Expectations

I have a lot of expectations. Of myself, of others, of products and fictional universes–but mostly of myself. I’m perfectly willing to admit that other people are flawed, and do things that don’t make sense, and need days of rest. I’m almost as willing to admit that my favorite character isn’t perfect, or that the fictional universe doesn’t have to be what I really, really want it to be.

But myself? It’s so much harder to give up my own expectations for myself.

So many of my expectations are ones I don’t even realize I have. Like when it comes to adults: I can verbalize that adults are not perfect and do not have it all together. Really, though, I still believe that other adults are in fact perfect, or at least have this adulting thing down to an art, and I’m the only one still bumbling along, avoiding doing my taxes or taking my car to the mechanic. I have this expectation that adults doing avoid anything, ever, and certainly clean and do laundry on a regular basis and want to go to work. I’m not even sure where these expectations came from, actually, because I don’t actually know any adults who want to go to work all the time, and it’s ridiculous to think that no one ever avoids doing things or always does all of their chores. And, see, I can name that ridiculousness, but I still feel guilty thinking of the pile of laundry I need to do. 

And when it comes to writing–boy, do I have some expectations about that. I expect myself to write consistently, ideally an hour or two every morning before I go do some laundry or whatever. I expect my ideas to come regularly (but not overwhelmingly). I expect the words to come easily. I expect myself to always balance perfectly the need to write and writing for money and writing becoming addictive again and writing what I love and writing well. And then I get so frustrated when, oddly, I am not perfect. And, see, I can recognize that these expectations are ridiculous, too, but that isn’t that helpful when I’m in the midst of feeling like a worthless writer because I have no ideas or haven’t blogged in two weeks, or like a worthless human being because I’ve fallen into addictive, destructive behaviors towards stories, or like a failure because I want to write so much that I sit at my computer and watch Netflix because sometimes feelings are just too overwhelming. 

And, yes, recognizing a problem is the first step in solving it. Sure. But I’ve always struggled with this and I suspect I always will. I struggle with my ridiculous expectations, but I’ve also been doing the work to let those expectations go.

Rest

Sleep. Prayer. Exercise. Reading a good book; working on a craft project, a hobby, a labor of love. 

Rest.

I don’t rest. I don’t feel like I do enough in a week to “deserve” it, and so instead I shoehorn in an episode of something here, twenty guilty minutes of reading there. Guilty time, when I could be doing something else–should be doing something else. It’s not terribly restful; if anything, it’s time when I “give myself a break” by doing something I don’t have to think about much, and end up feeling even more tired and frazzled than when I started. Maybe it’s the guilt; maybe it’s the looming threat of unproductivity; maybe it’s that not thinking isn’t really that restful. Maybe it’s because getting sick of working and so casting about for anything to fill the time with that isn’t “productive” isn’t really that restful.

One of the books I read mostly in guilty spurts was Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church–except, of course, once I got to the second half of the book it was impossible to feel guilty about reading it. It got beautiful and emotional and true. I read huge chunks of it and it was restful. In it, she narrates her journey from working as a pastor to working as a professor, and all these things she realized about church and herself once she wasn’t working at a church anymore. I was struck by many of the things she wrote, but most immediately by her chapter on Sabbath. She writes of the struggles and joys of setting aside a day where there’s no housework, no work, just worship and the things that you enjoy doing–the things that refresh you.

I used to do that. I was really good at it in college–I would take walks, and read books that needed attention like Shakespeare and a history of biological thought and epic poems. I would reflect on my week, and avoid homework, and spend time with friends. It was wonderful, too–I admit, I’m not sure why I stopped, can’t quite remember. But I did. I haven’t kept a good, intentional Sabbath in–far too long. (I’m not not being cagey or intentionally obscuring an embarrassing number; I really can’t remember the last time I had a true Sabbath)

And I’m tired. I need to start again.

I have, actually: last week I took a Sabbath, and it was difficult and joyful just like Taylor described it. I rode the full ride, from ‘This is so wonderful and restful!’ to ‘I want to do something productive!!!’ I’m excited to continue that this week, and next week, and on and on. I’m excited to remember that everything does not rest on my shoulders, that leaving some dishes another day will not end the world, that deserving and productivity and everything else that I put in quotation marks above doesn’t mean the constricted, guilt-laden things I put on them. They’re not the be-all, end-all of my life. I can let them go for a day, and when I pick them up again later they’re not quite so heavy and bent out of shape.

Writing

Writing has been hard lately–so, so difficult, like pulling weeds, like coming up against a stone wall repeatedly and unexpectedly. 

Finding words has been like looking for needles in the dark, like looking for a landmark in a thick, suffocating fog.

Nurturing ideas has been like the most delicate work with a micropipette or tweezers or a scalpel–tricky, dangerous work that’s easily destroyed by one wrong choice.

Mustering up the courage to write has been like searching for the mythic white whale or white stag or unicorn. I forget, sometimes, how very much courage it takes to write well and honestly and truly. 

I hate that writing has become a battle, with myself and with the words. 

I miss trusting the words and trusting God so effortlessly that the words flowed without stopping up, with barely a ripple.

Now I’m just glorifying the past. Writing has always been difficult. 

I expected it to become practiced, habitual, easy. I had visions of sitting in a beautiful room, at a wonderful, tidy desk, writing steadily and well for hours at a time. Someday.

Funny, the things I find when I really look at myself. I would have always said that, Of course writing will always be hard work. Of course writing well and honestly will always be difficult, because the tasks worth doing are always difficult. Of course. Funny how I expected older me to somehow have perfected the art of writing into a science. 

Update

It’s been a long time since I’ve been on here. Partly I’ve been reveling in not having anything to do, taking advantage of it to read and check out new shows; partly I’ve been figuring out how to work and live without deadlines looming. It’s essentially the first time in conscious memory that I haven’t been in school. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

So, yes. My internship is all done. I’m officially able to look for a church to pastor. I moved into more permanent rooms. I’ve been preaching in local churches, since I finished my church job.

And I still don’t quite know what to do with myself. 

I know what I’d like to do: Find a church. Write, and publish. Clean and organize. Craft. Pray. Read. Figure myself out some more. Just use this time. Instead, I’ve been in a funk. I haven’t been using time so much as finding ways to fill it. 

So, this is another step in using time and living well. I’m writing again, at least here. It’s good to be back!

Sick of Scared

I’m sick of being too scared to go after my dreams.

I’ve been scared since I started my internship–of the time commitment, of my cohort, of being honest, of the emotions being stirred up, of the emotions I face every day. 

And I’ve been scared of my dreams–of writing, of becoming a pastor. They both seem too huge and impossible and overwhelming that I don’t even know where to start. There are so many places I could submit my work. Where do I choose? How do I choose? What kind of writer am I? How do I gather up the courage to keep submitting and keep writing and keep submitting and keep writing when I get rejection notices, when I am exhausted after work, when there’s too much to write about and not enough  time? How do I gather the courage to write my final sermon and write my pastor resume and write my statement of faith when, the longer I’m away from seminary, the more I wonder if I could ever actually be a pastor? How do I convince people that I’d be a good pastor when I’m not sure?

I don’t know. But I’m sick of giving in to my fear. I’m sick of avoiding my love of writing and my love of pastoring because I’m afraid. I’m sick of avoiding, period. I’m sick of being too scared to go after my dreams.

Here I go again, then. Chasing my dreams, one step at a time. One step isn’t overwhelming: one blog post, one poem, researching one magazine, writing one pitch. One step isn’t overwhelming: looking up one Hebrew word, answering one question, writing one sentence of my statement of faith.

I refuse to give up on my dreams.

Writing with Honesty

I was disturbed recently to read a very conservative opinion of Harry Potter [Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick, by Richard Abanes], which condemned the series not only for the magic, but also because there is no logic of good and evil: good deeds do not always lead to good, and wrong decisions don’t always lead to evil.

The example given was that Harry’s sparing of Peter Pettigrew’s life eventually led to Voldemort’s rise. And I’m still finding it difficult to put my visceral reaction into words. Harry’s mercy towards Pettigrew was a beautiful moment in the series. Who cares if anything good happened from that good? That mercy almost becomes deeper and truer when you consider that it didn’t immediately change Pettigrew. What is mercy without risk? 

To be fair, Abanes, was writing before Deathly Hallows had been published, and didn’t know that that mercy was in fact returned. In a way, Rowling followed the moral equation of good to good and bad to bad. As satisfying as that moment was… would Harry’s mercy have been somehow invalidated, or a bad example, or untrue, if it had never been reciprocated? 

Abanes has a picture of fiction as a place to struggle with the world as it is, but far more as a place to paint a picture of the world as it will be, a world where everything works out perfectly and there is always a clear relationship between our actions and the results. It’s an untrue picture of the world now. I’m not convinced it’s a true picture of the world as it will be. Jesus rejects the idea that our actions will be suitably rewarded or punished in this life (Luke 13:1-5). Eventually rewarded or punished? Absolutely. Jesus calls for repentance in the Luke passage; He knows that our way of life has consequences. In this life, though, this consequences aren’t always there.

And I find I’ve written myself into a corner, because I totally hate books where everyone is left in misery and nothing good has happened or been resolved. I’d like resolution as much as the next person. I think what I’m trying to say, though, is that I don’t enjoy books where the resolution is perfect, like a math equation with everything summed up perfectly and everyone getting exactly what they deserve down to a decimal point. 

I believe in a God who works with the imperfections of the world, who doesn’t tie everything up with a neat bow and a suitable reward of a 9-5 job every time. The world isn’t that neat. God works with what’s there. Sometimes that’s abuse, or a good deed that goes far, far awry and is never put to rights, or the mercy to not be given what we deserve. Sometimes that’s sitting in darkness and trying to live with awful things you’ve done or been subjected to. Sometimes that’s good people dying for no good reason, or mistakes and sin that are never addressed. That’s life, and that’s where I’ve found God.

And that life is what I love to see reflected in the stories I read. That life is the kind of life I want to reflect in my own writing, whether that’s a nonfiction piece or a fiction piece. I want to reflect the complexity and darkness and struggles of real life, not some glorified, white-washed version of reality that may teach us what’s right but certainly doesn’t teach us much about life or God. I want to write honestly. I want to be honest about life and God both. I want to write things that feel real, because that’s what inspires me and connects with me as a reader.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll write stories that are full of despair and evil. But there may be a lot of them. I seriously doubt there will be much moral arithmetic. But those places of evil and despite and injustice are where God is. It’s where we are. How could I write honestly about life, about God, and ignore them?