A Big Announcement and A Little Help

 

I came to a realization a month or so ago. I realized that I want to be a writer.

This wasn’t really an epiphany; I mean, I have a degree in writing. Clearly I had some inkling. But in the post-graduate bonanza that is job hunting, I got distracted by the mad need to get a job now, which led me to some frustrating places and an all-around bad mental state.

And then I realized it: I just, really, want to be a writer. I want to be home most of the time, and sit at my desk, and light a candle, and write. Whenever I get frustrated with my career, when all seems futile and I think I’ve just been deceiving myself this whole time, I sit down, light a candle, and write. And everything just pops into place, like when a chiropractor gives you a good crack (also, BTW, never been crazy about that phrase. It sounds like a drug reference). I write, and I start to gain hope that, yes, this is exactly what I’m supposed to do.

So I’ve more consciously thrown myself into writing, because I realized that I need to commit to it. It’s a learning curve and a challenge, but it’s one I’m prepared to take on, because, like I told my best friend, I need the pressure of failure to make me commit. It’s freeing, and also terrifying. I like to focus on the freeing part.

Long story long, as part of my resolution to commit, I started a Patreon page to get my writing out there and to get ever closer to my goal of being supported by writing work. It would mean so much to me if you would check it out and consider supporting me. I’ll be sharing weekly installments of my newest novel, and, I’ll be integrating my followers’ thoughts and comments into my ongoing drafting, almost like a real-time writing workshop. I’m super excited to see how this improves my work.

Stay posted while I keep writing. Thanks for reading, and please never stop.

(And Happy Thanksgiving!)

What am I Doing?

shy

When I was a teenager, I was awkward. Really awkward. Painfully awkward. I had a hard time talking to people and making friends. I was shy. I was insecure. Being home schooled was not helpful for me in this department. (My taste in clothes at the time probably wasn’t helpful either.)

But then I became a woman and put childish ways behind me. Well, sort of. I became a woman around the time a bunch of other awkward people were becoming adults too, and by the time I arrived on the scene with a driver’s license and voter’s registration, being awkward was incredibly cool. Introversion was in. What a time to be alive.

This is a huge oversimplification, I realize, but it makes me laugh. I spent all my teen years wondering what was the matter with me, trying to push and prune myself into assertiveness, and then I got to college and realized that it was okay to not do all that.

This was a blessed relief to me. I didn’t have to bring myself up to some standard of social interaction. I could choose what was most important to me and not feel guilty for cutting out what wasn’t. I could celebrate the personality God gave me without regret.

But my newfound pride in introversion came with a dark side: when you’re an introvert, you don’t tend to do things unless you have to. So if millennial internet culture says being anti-social, loving naps and coffee and Netflix, and getting anxiety every time you go out is okay, introverts have a hard time coming up with the oomph to disagree. We’re terrible at disagreeing with a majority, we introverts. We also have very low stores of natural oomph. Besides, the land of naps and coffee and Netflix is our native country.

Is this bad? Should we force ourselves to get off our pajama-clad butts and be more Type A go-getters? I wonder. While I’m naturally drawn to a quieter, slower-paced life, I also know myself enough to realize that if I don’t push myself, I’m going to miss out on accomplishments, relationships, and opportunities because I fall back on the introvert excuse.

I’m totally fine with missing out on some of those things; I have no desire to be some amazing networking socialite. But I know I’ll hate myself forever if I miss out on everything because I couldn’t learn to keep it together in the face of awkwardness.

Oddly enough, all the jobs I’ve had have been pretty extroverted. It’s not until recently that freelancing has given me some freedom to hide behind a computer. I’ve done food service, retail, and office work. One time I was telling my friend about my various experiences working in malls and she shook her head.

“How did you get into that business?” she asked.

“I honestly have no idea,” I said.

I forgot to tell her about the year I worked selling jewelry at house parties. I went to strangers’ houses and sold jewelry to them and their friends. Even looking back makes me cringe. What the hell was I doing? I loved that job in theory, but in practice I was a bundle of nerves. And I know I’ll never do anything like that again. But for a year I did it, and I survived. Because I pushed myself. (Also, money.)

So I think the problem is not with being an introvert, but in forgetting that while introversion has its strengths, it also comes with inherent weaknesses, just as any personality has. Introversion’s weaknesses are sneaky, though, because they wrap you in a blanket of comfort and say, “There there, just slow down. Sit this one out. You’re delicate. It’s okay.”

Yes, introverts often need more downtime than others. But giving self-care doesn’t mean we should self-coddle. The world misses out on all the thoughtfulness and sensitivity that introverts can offer because introverts are just too damn scared to speak up about it, so no one has any reason to listen.

Personally, I’m still trying to figure out the balance between self-care and self-coddling. It’ll probably take me a while to find that balance. And that’s okay. It starts with being aware of my strengths and weaknesses as an introvert. It starts with learning when to push myself and when to relax.

This week, I’m presenting some of my writing in public. I’m terrified. There are moments when I ask myself what the hell I’m doing. There are moments when I wonder what the cancellation policy is on public readings. But ultimately I know this is a time where pushing myself into assertiveness will positively impact my writing and well-being.

What the am I doing? I’m learning to do what I love and live with the pain of awkwardness.

 

Curating Empty Museums

My best friend and I are fond of “curating.”

It started when she was decorating her room and wanted to arrange her framed photos like those artsy gallery walls you see on Pinterest. It felt as if the description of every pin we found had some derivative of the word “curate” in it. So “curated” became our term for good decorating skills.

“Those succulents are so curated.”

“I love those curated quotes.”

“Look at my vase of flowers! I’m curating!”

Eventually, our definition of the word got a little out of hand. Like all overly-beloved words and phrases, “curating” and its various forms has become a general term for anything nominally attractive.

“This coffee is so curated.”

“I love your curated outfit.”

“Look at our beautiful breakfast! We’re curating!”

curating
A still life-style food spread, coffee, quotes on a napkin, and all the Starbucks advertising I can muster. A classic example of millennial “curating.”

Hopelessly millennial as it seems, I think our throwing around of the word “curating” is rather harmless. For my part at least, I find it helps me find beauty in ordinary things (how’s that for hopelessly millennial). Also, it’s a fun inside joke.

But it’s interesting, because the traditional sense of the verb “to curate” creates connotations of being selective and intentional, of prize and value. We picture stuffy professor types showing grubby kids around a museum.

These days, we’re all encouraged to be curators of our own lives. There’s so much mental noise we come across day to day, from the myriad voices on social media platforms, to email, to texts, to phone calls, to ignored phone calls, to voice messages we keep putting off listening to. We are encouraged to manage all this noise, to intentionally choose what we see and do not see.

You hate the political tirades your one Facebook friend keeps posting? Unfollow him. Spotify is playing a song you dislike? Skip it. You keep seeing ads for ___ and you hate ___? Tell the internet you hate ___ and the internet will show you ads for stuff you don’t hate.

We only hear from the Facebook friends we agree with. We only listen to the songs we like. We only see (and most likely buy from) the ads we’re interested in. Slowly, our lives are becoming curated to our own interests.

curating

I realized this most jarringly when driving home from work this week. The radio was playing one of my favorite songs, and so of course I sang along and bobbed my head and generally looked dumb while driving home. Then as the end of the song approached, I found myself reaching for the radio’s nonexistent “skip” button.

Usually, when I play the song on my phone, I skip the end, because I know what the end sounds like and I want to go on to the high of a new song. Skip skip skip. Curate curate curate.

Unfortunately, the sheer amount of mental noise makes some amount of curating absolutely necessary. I’ve personally found it very easy to become emotionally over-invested in all the stuff out there that I have to mute or block or unfollow certain people so I can maintain my sanity.

Perhaps the danger is not in curating, but in being so used to curating that we forget we’re even curating in the first place. Instead of being intentional about what we allow into our sphere, we become used to a life that is user-friendly. And then, when life doesn’t meet our expectations, we become frustrated.

But the reality is, you can’t unlisten to a friend who’s talking about politics right in front of you. You can’t skip a song on the radio. You can’t tear down billboards on the side of the highway just because you don’t like seeing ads for funeral homes. In real life, you deal with these little foils to your curating. You learn from them. You learn how to get over them. You might even learn that you like them.

Sometimes listening to a friend you disagree with makes you smarter. Sometimes listening to an entire song makes you enjoy it more. Sometimes an advertisement… okay, advertisements are trash. But sometimes you have to deal with trash.

If we’re so used to curating our life experiences we can’t function without that high level of control, I’m afraid of where it might lead us. I wonder if in the end we’ll each find ourselves alone, curators of our own empty, sterilized museums.

Learning to Paddle

 

postit-scrabble-to-do

I often feel like I’m playing against myself at life, trying to beat myself and emerge the winner.

I’ve always had these grand aspirations of being a good writer. I’ve always taken it for granted that I’ll be able to do it. When I used to tell people I was going to college for writing, I could never understand their quizzical looks.

“What kind of job can you get with that?” they’d ask.

“Um, lots of stuff,” I’d say.

“Are you going to teach?”

“Heck no. I’m going to publish books.”

“So you’re going to write the Great American Novel.”

Um, duh? I’d think, rather uncharitably.

(My hubris knows no bounds.)

So now I’ve graduated, and I’ve started grad school, and I’m entering the part of my life where those grand aspirations won’t come true unless I start doing something. I haven’t necessarily been a slouch these past few years, but neither have I written the Great American Novel (it’s currently under construction).

And while I’m breaking into the freelancing world little by little (for which I’m immensely grateful), I’m learning that my own worst enemy isn’t time or writer’s block or other people.

It’s myself.

But not in the way you think. While poor time management is a very common method of self-sabotage, time management is not how I’m my worst enemy.

I’m my own worst enemy when I assume I will fail.

I’ve been agitated since graduating, upset with myself for not going farther in the three months since I received my degree. I should be putting myself out there! Writing dawn til dusk! Publishing left and right! Getting a real job! But when life takes me a different, more quiet and unassuming direction, I get frustrated, because something in me fears that if I don’t paddle frantically, I’ll drown.

Trouble is, I’ve never been very good at paddling frantically. I’m just not the Type A, go-getter type. I’m naturally more deliberate and more thoughtful. I think this makes me a better writer in many ways (I notice the little things) and a worse one in others (okay, yes, time management).

But something I’ve learned is that writing is an organic thing. It lives and it grows in the way I least expect it. Sometimes I have to wait for life to happen before my writing gets better, because life marinates my writing and then writing marinates my life and they both need time to mature correctly. And I have to trust that God made me me, and He also made me a writer, and I have to work with who He made me and the life He gave me in order for anything I do to be worth a thing.

Also, I’ve learned that Comparison is a bitch. (Sorry, Comparison.) Comparison muscles preconceived notions of grandeur into places they don’t belong. Comparison is what makes me sure I’ll fail before I even try.

Comparison makes me lament the unique person, the unique writer, God made me to be. It makes me chase after some other person’s life until I feel God pulling me back to the more deliberate and thoughtful path He wants me on. I often sense Him bemusedly berating me. No, you idiot. Back here. Get back here!

(God and I have a very sassy relationship.)

I have to remember that the life I have is a good one. The life I have is the one that belongs to me. And if I live it well, if I live it gratefully, I won’t fail. Maybe it won’t look like my grand aspirations. Maybe I won’t write the Great American Novel. Maybe I’ll write the Great American Flop instead (but hey, I’d still be famous).

Goals are important. Hard work is important. But writing is also organic, just as life is organic. Sometimes relaxing my expectations is as important as making expectations in the first place.

I find peace in 1 Corinthians 7:17, which says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” If this is my goal, I don’t have to fear mediocrity or failure. If this is my goal, failure is impossible.

(And seriously, Hannah. It’s only been three months. Give yourself a break.)

 

 

A Confession of Feelings

I’ve spent most of the past few months being really angry.

It started with some family crap, and finished with some church crap, and neither crap really needs to be explored here. All the crap is more or less being resolved. God has a way of making crap beautiful. Kudos to Him; it’s hard work working with crap.

beach 2

And although I’ve been more of a close observer than a direct victim of it all, the result of everything has been a lot of personal growth and also a lot of personal anger.

I’ve been angry at others for guiding me too much or not guiding me enough, angry at myself for being too strong or not strong enough. Angry at all the foolishness we humans are so gifted at performing.

Thankfully, I haven’t found myself angry at God. Plaintive, yes. Incredulous, frustrated, and feisty, uh-huh. But not angry. I just can’t logically be angry with God when it’s the perversion of His law, not His law itself, that causes so much crap. It’s not you; it’s me.

pennsylvania love

I came across the tail end of 2 Peter 3 the other day. One verse stuck out like one of those horrible jumping cactus needles that lies in wait like a bandit and leaps from the sand to lodge itself into the sole of your foot. In this chapter, Peter encourages his loved ones to watch out for false teachers who twist the Scripture out of ignorance and instability.

And then he says this: “You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (vs. 17).

This cactus needle stuck out because it is the crux of my anger. While I’ve had the gift of being surrounded with Godly people my whole life, I’ve shirked the responsibility of my own stability. Godliness, for most of my life, has meant following this teaching or soaking in that Bible study or laying out a spiritual cookie cutter and lopping off God-given parts of myself so I can fit into the mold of “Christian living”.

I’m angry, because I didn’t recognize the bullshit.

PA sky.jpg

I thought never standing my ground was being flexible and “led by the Spirit.” I thought never voicing my needs and desires was being “Christlike.” I thought feeling at peace in my walk with the Lord meant I was stagnant. I thought being uncomfortable meant I was listening to His still small voice.

And sometimes, yes sometimes, that is absolutely the case. But when you find yourself guilty for feeling feelings, when you can’t make a decision because you’re striving to discern whether your emotions are fleshly or spiritual when you’ve never known the difference, you might have a stability problem.

I think it’s telling of our Christian subculture that we perpetuate these unstable ideas as Godly. I think we coil ourselves up in shame and confusion so tightly that we go numb and we can no longer recognize the bullshit. And I think we’re wrong, because Jesus Himself said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). What right do we have to add weight we were never supposed to bear? To do so is terribly blasphemous.

A relationship with God is harder than fitting into a spiritual cookie cutter, but it’s much more simple. It’s constant, it’s daily, and it’s beautiful. It’s living out the kind of childlike faith we were always meant to have. It’s cutting your own spirit-led path in the woods instead of deepening a rut that hundreds of well-meaning souls have followed.

When you learn to do that, you’re just not angry anymore.

 

 

 

 

Forest Paths

bliss

Forest Paths

Every day
I cut my path through the forest.
Some days
I cut miles and miles of new terrain,
and others
I barely make it a foot.
But I have a good compass,
and I’ll come to whatever glades and hills,
rocks and water,
highlands and lowlands
that my path is meant to cross.

There are others
who’ve cut great highways,
deep muddy ruts
scarring the once-green earth,
traveled by pilgrims
who were meant to cut their own paths,
but didn’t,
meant to follow their own compasses,
but didn’t.
They were fearful.
They were pious.

Sometimes
the great rut-makers
and rut-walkers
scorn my simple path
because it is not safe,
not logical,
and definitely not well-traveled.
They cannot see
that their own road
is wider and deeper and more twisting
than it was ever meant to be.

They have forgotten their compasses,
in favor of what was once a good direction
for one
or a few.
And now they think
it is the only good way.
They cannot understand
the thrill of the wilderness,
the beauty of pain,
and the joy of the small voice
when you’ve got a good compass.

On Children’s Tales

madeline

I have a reading list. All writers ought to, I’m told.

And for a while, this was a stressful thing. My reading list was a thing to conquer. I still had yet to tackle classics that my peers had been hotly debating since middle school. My giant to-do list yawned before me, standing between me and literary literacy. For a while I stopped reading altogether, or did so haltingly, guiltily.

But all writers ought to read, so I’m told.

So I went to the library. And on a whim, among the stacks containing the sum of human knowledge and experience, I picked out children’s books.

ccbbIt started with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the movie of which I’d watched to oblivion as a child. I can now say with smug surety that although the plot of the book is far better, the movie does have the best songs. Also, Dick van Dyke.

Then I checked out “Folktales from around the World.” This was a thicker volume, one I didn’t get to finish. But I did read a truly horrifying tale called “Blue Beard.” “Blue Beard” is the kind of story that either French parents told their children to squelch curiosity, or that French husbands told their wives to squelch independent thought. Maybe both. (Google it.)

tlpThe Little Prince was sweet and beautiful and disconcerting. The whole world is in that story; every line is packed with meaning. Like a haiku. Like orange juice concentrate.

Inkheart, my beloved Inkheart, was cozy and wonderful and profound. It’s a book about loving books, which makes you love books as you love the book.

A Little Princess, my main jam. As a kid I had the black and white illustrated version, which I painstakingly colored with crayons. It’s deliciously Victorian and deliciously hopeful. It makes me want to be six again, wearing flowered dresses and tying my curls with ribbon.

This pint-sized reading list made me fall back in love with reading. Of course, I’ve recently read some amazing, good, deep grownup books as well, but children’s books have a magic about them that adult literature is too audacious to allow. As I was reading, I worried that others might not understand this. A few times I found myself hiding my book choices as I walked to and from the library, worried that my children’s books were not sophisticated enough to deem me a serious reader.

the frog king

Well, screw that. Because any piece of writing can be serious if you’re serious when you read it. The nutrition facts on a bottle of ketchup can be just as profound as the Odyssey. (More so, actually, because I’ve been way more serious about my ketchup choices than I ever was about reading the Odyssey.) Books written for children take humanity and melt it into little Jolly Rancher-like pieces that are bright and sweet and take time to really savor. (Except children’s books are much better because they don’t give you tooth decay.)

little princess.jpgBut the best thing about kiddie lit is it reminds you to wonder at the world, to marvel at light and beauty and the simplicity of truth, and to hope for the good things always triumphing, no matter how bleak it may seem.

The things you read about in children’s stories are more poignant as an adult, because they allow you to eat the bite-sized morsels of truth with a much larger appetite. The crumbs all come together to make a meal much more complete. The childlike joy in the meal couples with an adult-like appreciation of its nutrition. (Sorry for all the food metaphors.)

This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18: “…unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Adult Christians try really hard to attain this kind of childlike faith. We strive to see God as a loving Father. We force ourselves to throw off the cares of the world. We scour our Bibles and exhaust our small group studies in an attempt to be more childlike.

In this way, we create a very ambitious “reading list” out of life. It’s a list not created out of a spirit of joy and wonder, but one of stress and begrudging piety. We read our list—we live our lives—haltingly, guiltily. It’s a thing to conquer, something to hotly debate with the people around us.

But maybe it’s more simple than we think. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe all it takes is to throw out all the adultlike self-help crap we clog our brains with. Maybe sometimes we don’t need yet another platitude, another prescription for good living. Maybe we just need to pick up a good children’s story.

Try it. What’s the worst thing that could happen; you learn how to slay a dragon? At the very least, that’s practical. At the very most, it’s a step towards childlike faith.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday

Tomorrow is Alex’s birthday. He’s not a huge fan of celebrations, but I’m hoping that this year is an improvement. Last year at this time we were on our honeymoon, and I had grand aspirations of being the best new wife.

We were all alone in a condo on the beach, I had the cleverest present already wrapped, and a delicious homemade cake was planned. It was going to be so awesome that he’d finally realize how fun birthdays can be and start to treat his own like a national holiday (like I do).

Unfortunately, this all came to naught when I got violently ill on his birthday. He spent the day mostly by himself while I stretched out semi-conscious on the couch. So much for being the best new wife.

It all works out, though, because this year we’re in the beautiful Arizona desert, I have another clever present, and I think  cake is also on the horizon (sh, don’t tell). And last year’s wonderful festivities ended up being excellent material for a short story.

So happy birthday, luv.

silly

Work Zone

Alex’s driver’s license expired during our honeymoon. We left our rented condo on the Outer Banks at five in the morning. He wore a black Nike shirt with the words drive fast emblazoned across it in neon yellow, and I was sick in the passenger seat. We were driving a borrowed car.

“Lord, I better not get pulled over with this shirt,” he said.

The last few days of the honeymoon had passed in general misery. Three days earlier, on my new husband’s birthday, I had started feeling ill. At first it was dizziness and chills, but soon it progressed to vomiting and a high fever, creating a state of complete uselessness. Alex got to experience the full meaning of his “in sickness and health” vows less than two weeks into the agreement by cleaning me up, gathering our luggage, locking up the condo, and packing everything into the car. It was ten hours home.

All was going well until Richmond, Virginia. Traffic was thick – five lanes wide in each direction. He wove in and out of the mass of cars, leaving the slow movers behind and being urged on by the faster ones.

The car in front of us changed lanes and Alex sped up to replace him. “Oh crap,” he said, touching the brakes. Red and blue lights flashed behind us from a previously unassuming white car. We pulled over.

He pulled out his wallet. We looked ruefully at the expired date on his license, but said nothing. Soon the officer, a Virginia State trooper with a light khaki uniform and a hat atop his shaven head tapped on the window. Alex rolled it down.

“Are you aware of how fast you were driving?” the officer asked in a solid Virginia drawl, every r dutifully pronounced.

“I’m sorry; I don’t know sir,” Alex said.

“You were going eighty-seven miles per hour in a fifty-five mile an hour work zone,” the officer replied.

“I apologize, sir. I was just trying to go with the flow of traffic.”

“In the state of Virginia, anything over eighty miles an hour is considered reckless driving. I’m gonna have to write you a ticket.”

Bullcrap, thought Alex. He had seen no indication that it was a work zone, people were flying past him, and he wasn’t driving recklessly by any stretch of the imagination. He silently cursed our out-of-state license plates.

“Can I please see your license and registration?”

I’d been rooting through the glove compartment this whole time, a job made much harder by the fact I couldn’t even sit upright without my eyes crossing. When our neighbor had leant us the car, he hadn’t told us where he kept the registration. All we found were coupons, endless coupons.

“I can’t find it,” I whispered to Alex. My head was spinning and my stomach twisted. I had started crying. Part of me hoped the officer would see how upset and sickly I was and let us go. This would be a really great time for my stomach to make good on its promise to reject everything I’d put into it in the past twenty-four hours. I was prepared to throw up now, over all these coupons, if it meant taking one for the team.

Alex finally found the pale blue registration card and handed it to the officer, who went back to his unmarked car and ran everything through. I envisioned the discovery of Alex’s expired license, accusations of a stolen car, detainment in a Virginia police station, and a huge fine. And I was so sick.

The officer soon returned with some papers. We held our breath.

“If you could sign here,” he said, “and take this, you can be on your way.” He handed Alex the license and the registration card along with a piece of yellow paper. After a final warning and a polite goodbye, he drove off to entrap some other unsuspecting honeymooners.

We carefully got back onto the highway. I laid my head back onto my soft leather seat and focused on the ceiling.

“Well, crap,” said Alex.

“How much is the ticket?” I asked.

“Four hundred and fifty. How did he not notice my expired license?”

“It’s good he didn’t.”

“Of course I’m wearing this stupid shirt! That was a funny one, Lord.” He laughed in spite of himself.

Five hours later we finally made it to our home exit off I-80. Just a half hour to our new apartment. Just thirty more minutes until a soft bed and fresh water and ibuprofen.

It was then my stomach decided to make good on its promise.