Tag Archives: reading

A Case for Fiction [Guest Post]

VBS 2007 035

As promised, I now introduce you to a good writer-friend, Bryn Clark. Bryn is known for his witty remarks and excellent memes (if you want to see those, head on over to his blog, allmyroads.com). I hope you enjoy his thoughts on the purpose of fiction.

 

A couple years ago, I finished my college degree. Normally, I hesitate to share more information. Because when I tell people I majored in English their reaction consists of one of three things: a) either they instantly think of the last book they read and then decide that if since I haven’t read it I am somewhat of a cretin and my education must not be valid (“where’d you go to school again?”), b) they tell me it is imperative that I read said book, it will change my life and c) they ask how long I’ve been working at Starbucks.

Now, rest assured, this is not another rant about “how I’m under appreciated” and “why English majors should get paid more” although I am and we should. But rather, I want to make the terrifically under-spoken point that you should all read more fiction than you do and you should certainly read more than the novel you’re currently recommending.

Now, there are scientifically proven social benefits for picking up a good novel (such as not sounding like an idiot when your boss references Melville or preventing you from telling an English major that they need to read Twilight) but those aren’t my focus today. Instead, I want to point out why you should read fiction, not just for fun, nor relaxation, social awareness or because the cute girl on the other side off the coffee shop happens to love Steinbeck. Rather, you should read fiction because your soul depends on it.

And I’m serious. Stop laughing.

To understand why fiction is important, we must first explore the concept of story. This is a notion that has been lost in our society. While no one today seems to think that “stories” have been abandoned, they have been, at the very least, abused. I say this because in an age of Twitter, Sparknotes and 30-second attention spans, our culture is suffering from intense story depravation. This is a vague notion to try and attach a statistic too, but in a recent poll, it was found that 42 percent of college graduates didn’t read another book after graduation. Furthermore, 80 percent of US families did not buy a book in the last year and of those who did take the great plunge and purchase one…57 percent of new or recently purchased books were not read to completion. Compare this to the number of people who access Twitter or update their Facebook status on a daily (or even hourly) basis, and you’ll see discontinuity. Its not because we don’t have time.

And to say that losing story would be a bad thing is an understatement. Whether you want to start with the epics of ancient Greece, which it is estimated were first written down in the 8th century BC (although they were an oral tradition for centuries before that), or cave drawings from the Aurignacian period in Spain dating back 40,000 years ago, we can all agree that story is nothing new. The art of storytelling has been cherished, taught and valued since the dawn of time.

And this isn’t a coincidence

Because the concept of story is universal; it’s in our DNA. A story isn’t just: “hey, let me tell you a what happened to me” or “this is how I felt after watching the Olympics”; they are not limited to the explorations of self that post-modernity preaches and are most commonly presented today. Rather, stories are a chance to venture outside of our egocentric realms and into something that is beyond us. They are, to paraphrase Cornelius Plantinga, a thousands pairs of glasses with which to see the world. Through stories I can begin to experience the Universal rather than what is subjectively important to me. In any language of the world, in any culture, tradition, time period- you name it- the idea of story is one that registers with people on one level or another. And although the forms of story change, though the tongues and traditions in which they are passed down can alter and vary across cultural lines, there are certain aspects to a story that always exist.

“Evidence!” you say. “We demand evidence!”

Okay, for instance every story must have a protagonist, antagonist and conflict. In other words, in every story there is someone or something that seeks someone or something and is prevented by someone or something from attaining the someone or something to which the aforementioned someone or something was striving.

Sorry, was that not helpful?

Okay, let me try this. If I encountered you on the street and said “I have a story for you!” then proceeded to inform you “I just bought a coffee” you’d look at me like I was Captain Ahab in the middle of your high school prom.

Because although I did tell you something, it sure wasn’t a story. Now if I had said: “Today I went to get some coffee and when I pulled into the parking lot I nearly ran into the light pole before getting out and tripping over my shoelaces on my way inside where I proceeded to make a fool out of myself by ordering a ‘small’ coffee at Starbucks (and ‘oh hey another English major!’)” then there are all the aspects of a story: the protagonist (me), the conflict (wanting to get coffee) and the antagonist (my perpetual ineptitude).  Thus, I told you a story. Although the cultural aspects of the story wouldn’t be the same if I were relaying this in, say, India, the elements of the story would still be present.

“But,” you say, “That isn’t fiction. In that example you’re discussing something that actually happened to you, and therefore we’re not talking about fiction. I understand that story is important, but why are fictional stories important?”

Here’s how: on the first day of my sophomore British literature class, my professor stood up in the room and opened with the following proposition: “fact needs fiction to survive.” I needed no further justification or explanation. The sun will rise each morning, politicians will never get along and fact needs fiction to survive.  Of these, I am convinced.

Because fiction is the color between the lines in a painting; it’s the harmony accompanying the melody of reality. It’s the third dimension of a scenic landscape, the focusing of a camera lens on a child’s smiling face. Fiction is the oxygen in the atmosphere of intellect, the chemistry between the bride of this world and beloved in the next and the salt in an ocean of life.

Without fiction, fact wouldn’t just be degraded, downplayed or lessened; rather, it would lose its very substance. Because within every work of fiction we find universal aspects of story. But rather than these aspects of story having been grasped or acquired from a previously existing notion (as is the case with non-fiction), they are being presented through the creation of one’s imagination. Thus, the imagination of an individual is creating artwork with subjective and aesthetic qualities, which at the same time feature universal elements. Not universal in it’s meaning, application or significance, but universal in it’s substance. Fiction is a created thing that appeals to a universality, which must be traced back to a Universal Source, which, for the sake of the argument, let’s call “God”.

What I’m saying is that fiction is a soul’s adventure among the mind of God, a role that fact alone cannot fulfill. Every fictional work into which we step is like us taking the hand of another and walking into the wardrobe of their creation en route to a journey with God we couldn’t have experienced otherwise. If you didn’t catch that reference then you really, really ought to take this post to heart.

“But”, say you, “what about fictional books that make a case against God? What about books of depraved morality, objectionable material? How can you say that God is present in those?” It’s simple. Because even within these books the elements of story (and thus universality) have been conjured up by a creative spirit and thus point to God. Furthermore, there’s no piece of fiction in existence that doesn’t deal with conflict. Try and present a piece of fiction in a writer’s workshop that doesn’t feature conflict and the answer will be akin to my boss at Starbucks when I called a “tall” “small”: “What da hell are you thinking?” Trust me, I’ve tried both. It doesn’t fly.

So every story has conflict. If conflict exists, then there must exist a right and a wrong. Within such, we can accept that there must be good and bad. If this universal “good” or “bad” exists, then a Being that determines and governs that universality must exist.  This is not to say that all fictional works bring glory to God, or that they necessarily ought to be read. Some fictional pieces are the equivalent of taking someone’s hand and being led to play Frogger on the crowded interstate of their utterly confused and misguided reality (seriously, have you ever sat in on an undergraduate writing workshop? It makes Alice In Wonderland read like Anglican liturgy). But even within these train-wrecked works, the elements of story intrinsically point to the existence of a Universal.

Take for instance (and I really can’t believe I’m doing this), Twilight…that one book you keep insisting that I must, must read. Now there are countless reasons why Twilight sucks, and I simply haven’t the energy to address that now. With its gross quantities of sucktitude in[CH1]  mind, however, there is all the more reason for me to use it as an example. Because within Twilight, there is a conflict between good and evil (although both sides are vampires, go figure). There’s another conflict over the love Bella has (depending on the millisecond) for Jacob and Edward. I’m sure there’s more, but after a while I gave up looking and started drinking. Despite the blurry lines, there is still undeniable conflict and thus a struggle between good and evil throughout the saga. Each clash between the two forces appeals to the reader’s sense of the Universal and thus has them gripped and rooting for some force to win. Amidst shouts of “Team Jacob!”, “No! Edward glitters!” and tight fisted grips of millions of pubescent girls (at heart) around the world, you have a readership that is drawn into a work of fiction and exposed to the Universal. Thus, Twilight, in all its depravity, is still the product of a creative mind that (albeit, in limited capacity) points to a universal truth and likewise a universal God.

If you take nothing away from this other than the fact that I completed an English degree with a good dose of snobbery and a chip on my shoulder then please take this: fiction is the act of another taking our hand and leading us into a previously non-existent realm. It’s the journey of our souls towards a land we would never have explored otherwise. Our souls need this adventure. We need these dances with the almighty, guided dives into the depths of universal truth that, though never understood, must always be explored.

Each piece of fiction, in its own way, is such a venture, and for that alone is worth the effort of a quick read. If you need recommendations: don’t hesitate to ask your neighborhood friendly English major (aka Barista). Whatever the case, do your soul a favor and start reading fiction today.

Also, I should get paid more. Oh, and, yea…here’s your Cappuccino.

 

 

Bryn Clark studied English Writing at Wheaton College outside Chicago. He actually does not work at Starbucks (they wouldn’t hire him) but is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is continually fascinated with the link between theology and literature as well as anything by Marilynne Robinson or Bill Watterson. Follow his blog at allmyroads.com.

Good Things #27: 2013 Edition

What were some of the highlights of 2013? Miley Cyrus, of course. Actually, that isn’t true at all. I made it through the year without laying eyes on her infamous performance, and I hope to keep it that way. (This might frustrate Kate, the queen of the internet, merely because it solidifies my old-fashioned and misplaced irritation with modern technology.)

My highlights might not by Hollywood-worthy, but they’re the best of another sort. And there are only six, not five or ten or fourteen, because six is how many I thought of.

grendels1

1. Cafe shopping. There’s something about opening new doors for the first time, wondering what you’ll find behind enchanting names like Breaking New Grounds, The Blue Mermaid, or my favorite, Grendel’s Den. This has been a year of finding new digs, partly because – for the first time – I have a steady paycheck and I don’t live in constant fear of “Oh my gosh, do I have five dollars in my account?” anymore. There’s something about dark wood and dim lighting that makes me want to curl up and pay hand over fist for delicious things. Good thinking, restaurant owners.

2. Making music. My friend sent me a recording. It was me and seven college friends singing “An Irish Blessing” at one of our recitals. It’s an eight-part piece and because sopranos are a dime a dozen and I have a little more weight to my voice I’m Alto I, a part I never feel comfortable singing. I listened to it over and over, remembering how the sound filled the hall, what it felt like to make music with people I’d shared so many memories with. This summer, I’ll be singing an eight-part song at my college roommate’s wedding, five years after we made this first recording.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
until we meet again,
may God, may God hold you
in the palm of His hand.

[This is a similar recording of the arrangement we sang by Graeme Langager, only ours was mixed voices.]

3. Friends. I read this quote in Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, and I paused because I have felt this intensely this past year:

They say – or maybe I said – that a good marriage is one in which each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal, and this is true also of our bosom friendships. You could almost flush with appreciation. What a great scam, to have gotten people of such extreme quality and loyalty to think you are stuck with them. Oh my God. Thank you.

I am so grateful for friends who understand me. I am also grateful for friends who, when they don’t understand me, love me anyway.

4. Christian Wiman.

christian wiman

When I first encountered Christian Wiman, I was so overcome with overwhelmed-ness that I emailed an old art professor to share my joy. It was this article that first introduced me to this man of faith and art, and what was it that caught me so immediately? This man who was faced with his own death (cancer) slowly and carefully examined his latent faith and found it there, curled deep inside him, even when he thought (and maybe hoped) it was dead. My Bright Abyss, Wiman’s collection of thoughts on faith, may very well get a post of its own, but here are some of my favorite quotes:

Life is short, we say, in one way or another, but in truth, because we cannot imagine our own death until it is thrust upon us, we live in a land where only other people die.

…it involves allowing the world to stream through you rather than you always reaching out to take hold of it.

Falling in love seems at the same time an intensification of consciousness and the loss of it. Never are the physical facts of existence more apparent and cherished, and never is their impermanence more obvious and painful.

I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers. express a sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never?

He is currently in remission, and his latest book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, is on my list.

5. Boots. This might not seem to fit with the other things in this post, but this year I discovered the beauty and ease of boots.

boots

They immediately transform any mediocre outfit into a work of, if not art, at least style. Oh, you’re wearing THAT again? Wait, what are those? Oh my gosh, I love them!

Crisis averted.

6. Recommendations. This is a blend of numbers three and four because good friends recommend good things. I get most of my music from other people, from my city-friend to my brother, and a lot of my books are recommendations, too. My friend Bryn who blogs over at All My Roads, recently wrote a post of 14 Books for 2014, and I was struck by how great they are. Not only had I loved the ones I’d already read, but I wanted to rush out to the book shop and grab the ones I hadn’t.

[And miracle of miracles, my city-friend went and bought me Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal – with no prompting from me – and I wonder if my friends who don’t know each other are in cahoots.]

It’s good to have people you trust in your life to tell you what to read. And listen to. And do.

So, there you have it. Enjoy your Wednesday!

 

Bedtime Stories

“Would you be able to babysit? Even though you have a grown-up job?”

I got a text Sunday from a friend in a bind, so of course I said yes. Monday night rolls around and I find myself kneeling by a Thomas the Tank Engine bed. His nose is red and runny, but his spirits are high and he talks with excitement in mumblings.

After I say, “Here, put this one away,” he looks me in the eye, calculates his risk, and says, “No.” Of course I make him, and I don’t even correct him when he puts the Dr. Seuss in backwards, which is a big deal for me. He picks out a second story and settles into his cozy blankets. I look at the book and immediately know what it is by its green:

giving

The Giving Tree

I want to hide it quickly under his bed where he won’t find it and make me read.

But I know it’s too late.

So I open the hardcover, its paper slipping off, and begin reading. It’s not so bad, I think, enjoying the simple pencil drawings, the smooth repetition of words. Maybe it’s not the way I remember.

He’s engrossed in the story and my face is turned from him as I start to cry.

“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.”

My voice wavered a little and I could feel him looking at me with his big gray eyes. I kept reading and the story kept going and the boy kept taking and the tree kept giving. He wanted a house, so she gave it to him.

“And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.”

By now the tears were pretty thick and I knew I should have been embarrassed in front of this boy in footy pajamas. I glanced at him – did he notice? And he whispered in a little voice, “It’s sad,” and I said, “Yes, it is,” and I wiped my cheeks and kept reading.

I finished the green book, the little old man sitting on the stump of what’s left of the apple tree, and I closed it. He didn’t say anything, but he watched me quietly, and I wondered what it would do to him to see a woman cry over a children’s picture book.

Where I’m From

I am from a thought-filled bed –

from pumpkin-pie candles and oak bookshelves.

 

I am from the white house on the slope,

homegrown apples and sage.

 

I am from the golden honey –

the towering pine whose long gone limbs

I remember as if they were my own.

 

I’m from dinners on the porch and too much laughing,

from an open-hearted mama and a dream-big father.

I’m from not enough cleaning and just the right living

and from stacks of books that beg reading.

 

I’m from “don’t wish your childhood away” and “try new food always”

and “Jesus called them one by one.”

 

I’m from cozy Christmas mornings and the yellow lights.

I’m from New and Old England,

sun-warmed vegetables and raspberry jam.

 

From sea-fishing, lake-fishing, ice-fishing,

when long-gone family breathe life again

for just that moment on the water,

 

and scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings

tell us the world.

 

[This is part of a link-up with SheLoves Magazine]

Good Things #15

I decided to write “Good Things Mondays” back when Monday morning was spent with my writing and reading and catching-up. This year, my schedule has shifted, and Wednesday is now the day for creativity.

So, are things just as Good on Wednesdays as they are on Mondays?

I like to think so.

Thought-provoking. I have recently become re-addicted to TED Talks. I posted one last week on being a twenty-something, and this week’s favorite is on body language. We’ve heard this idea before – that information is conveyed through non-verbal cues – but Amy Cuddy asks if perhaps our body language can change our thinking. It left me thinking: How do I portray myself just by the way I stand? Do I adopt a posture of powerlessness? Or the other way around?

amy

Music. I can’t remember how I found this song. Probably Pandora. And for once I was smart and wrote down the name. It’s called “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key”, and the version I like the best isn’t on Youtube. This one’s pretty good though, and when I heard his speaking voice, I was surprised he sang such folksy music.

Books. Right now I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. I bought it from an independent used book store right before they were unceremoniously kicked out of their space of twenty-plus years by outrageously-raised rent (can you tell what I think about that?). It’s written as letters back and forth so that was an adjustment at first. It’s set post WWII, and I really like that time period these days. It’s also Shaffer’s first novel, and I like reading author’s firsts.

guernsey

Fall walks, bike rides, etc. Is there any other season that begs to be walked in? The leaves are changing here in New England, the air is crisp, and I revel in the particular way the sun looks in autumn.

IMG_0855

Fall foods. Crunchy apples. Warm cider. Pumpkins (uneaten on the steps). Cider doughnuts. Apple pie (as soon as I get to apple picking).

Woo-hoo! So, I submitted a poem to a competition a few months ago (okay, more like a lot of months ago), and while it didn’t win, it was one of 17 finalists. It’s called “Almost Family” and it comes out in the September issue of Ruminate. A step in the right direction. Now if only I could write more…and more… If you click on the link, you’ll see my name, fourth from the top in the poetry section as proof!

Words. Autumnal. Puerile. Euphoric.

Reading Slump

There is a stack of books by my bed that keeps toppling over. Okay, 2.5 stacks. My sister has been gracious enough not to say anything, but I’m sure it’s bugging her. There’s no possible way I could read so many books at once, so why do I insist on having them haphazardly flung around my bed?

maryoliver1

I spend a lot of my time wishing I had more time to read. If only I didn’t have to drive so much! I could be reading RIGHT NOW! The storm this weekend gave me a glorious snow day (!), so I had three days to fill with movie-watching, coffee-drinking, and book-reading (and it was impossible to go anywhere for the first day and a half, so I couldn’t throw my books aside for live friends, like I often do to the poor things). I was ecstatic. I piled books high on the coffee table, eager, unsure of which to start first.

marriageplot

It didn’t matter which one I chose though. Cost of Discipleship was challenging (and embarrassed me a few times, actually – more on that later), but I got tired quickly. Mary Oliver, with all her beautiful expressions of nature and its inhabitants, could not take me outside my own head, and at the end of each poem, I was unsure of where I’d gone and how I got there. Jeffrey Eugenides, no matter how hard he tried with his characters’ 20th century woes and struggles with depression, could not keep me even half-engaged. Ruth Reichl, in all her food-love and witty descriptions failed to transport me to the world of the New York Times.

garlicandsapphires

I felt out of sorts, and I didn’t know why.

My book club met this week, and I was (again) the book club delinquent, arriving without having read the extremely interesting Quiet: The Power of Introverts. We had a fabulous time of birthdays and talking, but I hated that I keep not connecting with books.

dickandjane

Books have been my friends since I was five years old. The first book I read was Fun with Dick and Jane, an old green copy my mom and I bought at an outdoor flea market. Since that day, I’ve devoured all kinds of books, with the exception of science fiction (Sorry, K, I can hear you groaning. I tried.). From Little House to Anne of Green Gables to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, I read all the classics. And then came the high school standards, followed by four years of collegiate-level reading that sometimes made me want to gouge my eyes out.

lastseptember

[This was literally the worst book I read in college. It was for an Irish Literature course, and we had to write a two-page journal response to each reading assignment. I remember sitting in the library, looking down at the quad, and realizing life was too short to read such horrid stuff.]

thomas

[We sang a setting of Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” my senior year of college. I remember asking our conductor, “But what’s going on? What does it mean?” He looked at me and said, “Isn’t that your job, English Major?” I was sufficiently humbled. Here’s a recording of this amazing piece.]

I’ve been reading for nineteen years, but for the past few weeks, books have not spoken to me. I’ve tried. I’ve opened them gingerly, carefully, admitting them into my consciousness. I’ve focused on one book at a time, to see if that helped at all. It didn’t; I felt even more scatter-brained and self-focused while I was reading. I listened to music while I read. I turned the music off. I committed to a chapter a night. I made no commitments.

auden1

[I didn’t discover Auden until the fall of my senior year. “Stop all the clocks” and “The More Loving One” still make me cry.]

My relationship with books is cooling. Or, at least, it seems we’re on a “break.” It’s an awful thing to say about my dear friends of so long. I wonder if this feeling of distance – of complacency – is at all what a long, tired marriage feels like: you have loved deeply, but now you barely recognize your own love.

eliot

[This was for my British Lit class my junior year. I had a skinny little paperback that I riddled with sophomoric notes, and that has since been lost in the abyss that is my bedroom. I refuse to buy another copy.]

I’m hoping it will come back. That my eagerness for books and characters and interesting stories will surge up and remind me of all the wonderful things that can be learned, all the beauty that comes from reading. I’m hoping that a magic book will rest in my hands, transforming my view of the world and my place in it.

austen

[I read all the Austen novels when I was around 15 or 16. That’s probably the perfect age to read them for the first time. I think I’m almost ready for round-two.]

Until then, I’ll keep reading. A page here and there, at first. And then a little more, and a little more. Again, I see a kinship with that long marriage – a working-at-it until it brims over with new life.

Books teach me new things every day, even when I’m not reading them.

Top Ten Discoveries of 2012

Okay, I admit, this will be a very subjective list. They are not in order of importance, and I only chose ten because it’s a pretty number.

1. Vanilla-rose tea. After leaving my beloved loose-leaf tea shop to teach Latin, I began drinking tea with even more abandon. I NEVER thought I would enjoy a floral tea, but there’s something addicting about this sweet/rosy black tea. A little milk and sugar, and it’s like I’m drinking dessert. (Rooibos is still my go-to tea for all my non-caffeinated needs.)

2. Joan Didion. 

didion1

There are some authors who speak to you, and then there are other authors who keep speaking to you even after you’ve finished their books. Didion is one of the latter. When I think of a memoirist I want to emulate, she is high up on the list. Some quotes that stuck with me:

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself.

On Self-Respect

(I keep reminding myself that this one is only half-correct; we realize that perhaps we don’t like ourselves, but this is only helpful if we choose not to remain here, choose to reach for the truth.)

[Writing is] hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture…Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

The Paris Review

3. Teaching. Sometimes, I think surprises are funny. Sometimes, I think there are too many surprises going on in my life. Teaching is one of the biggest ones this year. While I don’t know (yet) what this will mean for me longterm, I do know that I am loving learning the language of children again, sharing my love of learning, sharing a language that will shape how they approach their own language from here on out. Decline puella? You got it. Explain how Latin uses the Dative Case? I can do that, too. I have a lot to learn, but that’s the exciting part.

4. Directing. I don’t know if I can count this as a discovery, per se, because it hasn’t officially started yet. But a week before Christmas, I went in for an interview to teach voice lessons at the YMCA, and left with a job directing the Y’s children’s musical. “Have you ever directed anything?” “No, no I haven’t.” “Are you interested?” “Yes, I guess I am.” I went home without giving an answer yet, afraid that I was – again – biting off more than I could chew. That night, we got Chinese for dinner. I read my fortune (which, let me tell you right now, I do not hold ANY store in), and was a little shocked to read: “If you understand everything you’re doing, you’re not learning anything.” Shoot. So I emailed her Yes, yes I would love to direct the musical and rehearsals start in a few weeks. More on that later, I’m sure.

5. Tom Cruise. 

tom

Okay, true confessions: I have a celebrity crush on Tom Cruise. On The Crazy. I’ve decided to afford myself this one, bizarre luxury. I don’t understand it, and I don’t expect anyone else to. The first movie I ever saw with him was “Far and Away.” I was so caught up in the story that I forgot for the moment that life was beyond the confines of this one world, and when Tom’s character falls, hitting his head and seems to die, I screamed. Literally. I ran up the stairs, angry at my brother and sister for not warning me. “Why didn’t you tell me?!?!” I shouted. Because, it wasn’t just that he died. He and the woman he loved were running for land in Oklahoma, striving for a dream together. That is my favorite image of love, and I know it’s romanticized and American and probably wrong. I can’t help it.

tom1

Needless to say, Tom’s character isn’t dead, and the movie has since become one of my favorites. So far, I’ve watched “Top Gun,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Rain Man,” “Valkyrie,” and a handful of others. For some reason, I am able to forget the fact that Tom is a Scientologist, that he’s had some crazy bouts of weirdness, that he’s made some terrible life choices. That’s the point of movies, after all – to suspend your disbelief and get swept up in something.

I feel lighter after this confession. Thank you.

6. Blogging. Yes. Writing this blog has been fun. Digesting the experiences, the blessings and the harder times, through this blog, has been really rewarding. Reading other people’s blogs and learning about their lives and what they think has broadened my own thinking.

7. Parenthood. 

parenthood

I. love. this. show. Sometimes, I sit there, tears in my eyes, and I wonder, Why do I do this to myself? Why do I watch things that make me so incredibly sad? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, but there’s something about it. The characters are annoying and lovable and funny, and even though they make some terrible choices, they love each other. The writing is strong, the characters are believable, and I love it. (Other shows I’ve been loving: “Mindy Project,” “Ben and Kate,” and “Raising Hope.” Tuesdays are good to me.)

8. Homemade granola. I wrote about this last spring. I have to make another batch; I’m going through withdrawal. There’s nothing more delicious than a little granola with Greek yogurt, homegrown (homemade? home-what?!?!) honey, and dried cranberries. Delicious.

9. Music. Fleet Foxes. Lumineers. Florence and the Machine. Ingrid Michaelson. Bob Dylan. (Some) Adele. Of Monsters and Men. Judy Collins. Joan Baez. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Ray LaMontagne.

10. Living at home can be exactly what you need. I never would have thought this. As graduation approached, I stared at the possibility of moving home, and I was scared. I thought I would hate it. I thought my family would start to hate ME. I thought I would never see my friends. I thought I would turn back into the girl I was before college, and that was not good at all.

But what I’ve discovered is that sometimes God gives you what you need, even if it isn’t what you want. I needed to be home this year. I needed to remember what it feels like to know your family has your back, no matter what. I needed to feel loved and safe, especially as I faced uncertain health issues (all is good, praise the Lord).

Above all, I needed to trust.

I discovered that trusting God looks different in different situations. For some, trusting God looks like moving far from home and going out on your own. For me, trusting God looked like moving home. It looked like allowing my picture of my future to change.

Trusting God is a constant discovery. It’s a pretty big one.

Bring on 2013. I’m ready.

Long Weekend Happiness

My four days off stretch before me – an eternity and the blink of an eye at the same time.

I woke up yesterday to the first snow. It had started the night before, and as we drove up out of the city (book club likes to hop all over the place, this week finding residence in a hilly city neighborhood), I watched the white flakes pelt the windows. I felt young, watching it snow, and later slipping along the sidewalk in my boots.

What I want to do with four days off:

  • READ. Like it’s my job. Finish Circling to the Center, make a dent in Tale of Two Cities, digest a little more Rilke, discover the four or five issues of ‘The Sun’ my writer friend lent me, EVERYTHING.
  • WRITE. I wrote my first short story in a long time this week. It flowed out of me, which was lovely, but now I’m thinking, shoot, now I have to edit it. I’m not so good with that part.
  • SING. Warm-up. Play the piano while I sing some hymns. Pretend I know what I’m doing again. Maybe some German art songs, but I may be too ambitious (again).
  • Finish my brother’s sweater. (Yes, I knit. It’s like the icing on the dork-cake. In my defense, he asked me to make him a sweater, so really I’m just being a kind sister…)
  • WALK. I miss the outdoors. I miss the sunshine, the leaves, the color of the sky. I plan on going for a number of walks in the next few days.

What I DON’T want to do, but need to do:

  • CLEAN MY ROOM. Gross.
  • Find the water heater for my chickens. It’s getting colder (or at least, it’s supposed to be getting colder), and the waterer started to ice over the other day. Not cool.
  • CLEAN MY CAR. Yeah, like that’s really gonna happen.
  • LESSON PLANS. I have a lot of planning for the next week or two of Latin. We’re starting Chapter Six in my high school class, and it’s painful. Remember how in your English classes, your teachers always told you not to write in the passive voice? Well, Latiners LOVED using passive verbs. So basically I think I’ll need to give a mini-English lesson before I even introduce the Latin (i.e., “What’s the difference between ‘Marcus hits Iulia’ and ‘Iulia is hit by Marcus’?”). And welcome to: Prepositions that Take the Accusative Case. And welcome to: The Locative Case.

Now on my way to my favorite little bookstore. Stock up on those books I’ll be reading.

The Art of Letter-Writing

There are few things that bring light to my day like a good letter. When I was little, I had two pen pals – my cousin who lived in northern Maine and my neighbor’s granddaughter who lived down in Virginia. We were very dedicated little writers; I remember getting envelopes stuffed to the brim with things like stickers, little plastic toys, homemade bookmarks.

I keep all of them in my great-grandfather’s old briefcase, the one with the gold clasps.

The one on the bottom has all my old manuscripts – all the horrible plays and short stories I wrote before I became self-conscious. The middle one is my great-grandfather’s, the leather handle almost broken off.

Almost every letter I’ve ever received (along with birthday cards, letters from my sponsor child in India, little notes I used to pass in class) is stuffed in.

The top one holds my letter-writing things: stationery, cards, my old wax and stamp kit, my address book (yes, I have an address book).

I probably never would’ve stopped writing to them, but middle school does different things to people.

~     ~     ~

Letter-writing is very personal. It’s like a journal, only in some ways, it’s far more vulnerable. You’re opening your thoughts, your life, to someone else, trusting him or her to guard it, to read a part of you without judgment.

It’s personal, and yet there are so many beautiful, meaningful letters to read. My uncle told me about this website (“Catherine, you’d love this.”), Letters of Note, and I’ve poured over it.Steinbeck’s letter to his son about love is one of my favorites – honest, straight-forward, understanding, loving.

And while my letters will most likely never be read by anyone other than the intended recipient, I still like the idea that I join a long line of people before me. Thinkers, lovers, readers, writers, artists, theologians. People who stopped, saw the beauty around them, and then made that beauty palpable for those they loved.

~     ~     ~

This week I got a letter from my world-traveling friend. I read it once, twice, disbelieving of the beauty of my friend’s artistry, both in word and paint.

Switzerland is far away, and even though I miss my friend dearly, letters like this help make up for it.

The Dirty Life

Okay, I admit it: I definitely judge a book by its cover.

But even more than that: I judge a book by its title.

Image

I saw this book in the “Self-Sufficient” section of Barnes and Noble (forgive me, small independent bookstores! you are still my number-one!), and I bought it. I love the title, and no, I do not care that it was coined to catch people just like me, those of us who are easily amused. I went home immediately and started reading, getting engrossed in Kimball’s love story (Mark was just about to make a move!) when, to my horror, I found that the book was MISSING 30 PAGES!

You cannot imagine my anger.

There was no way I was going to read ahead, so I had to wait two days til I could get a new copy.

I am about 2/3 of the way done now, and I love it. Kimball is honest and I find that pretty refreshing; she doesn’t pretend that the love she and Mark have makes farming easy.

And she’s had her own mishaps with dumb mistakes.

There are a lot of moments in the book that I appreciate, but here are a few:

One of the gorgeous and highly annoying things about Mark’s personality is that, once he bites into an idea, he’ll worry it to death, exploring every possibility, expanding it to the point of absurdity and then shrinking it back down, molding it around different premises, and bending logic, when necessary, to cram it into a given situation. No matter what he is doing or saying or thinking, the idea is perking away in the background of his formidable brain, details accruing (57).

A farm is a form of expression, a physical manifestation of the inner life of its farmers. The farm will reveal who you are, whether you like it or not. That’s art (157).

I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it (158).

The only annoying thing, then, is the fact that I was not the person to write this book.