Blog

A Few Things in May

Every now and then, with absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, I like to make a list of a few things I'm enjoying. Like these:

Things I'm Reading

Not That Kind of Girl: A Memoir

After seeing her speak on a panel at the Festival of Faith and Writing, I was curious about Carlene Bauer, so I checked out her memoir about growing up evangelical and moving to New York City to work in publishing, about virginity and faith and maturity.  I loved the first 2/3 or so - lovely sentences, apt images, strong level of self-awareness and humor.  The final section was much weaker, with too many characters to keep straight (including one never named, but called "my Friend") and a less-interrogated sense of her own self.

Frances and Bernard

I'm happy to say that Carlene Bauer's first novel shone with gorgeous prose and strong characters from beginning to end. An epistolary novel, it tells the story of the relationship between two young writers in the nineteen fifties in New York (inspired, I've read, by the relationship between Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell). This book isn't for everyone, but for people who love books, sort-of-pretentious language, faith, doubt, genius, Catholicism -- highly recommended.

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for literature last year, and for good reason. Dickensian in scope and character, it's still very much a twenty-first century novel, telling a story about a boy whose mother dies in a terrorist attack on a museum in New York City.  If I say much more about the book's themes of beauty, restoration, fatalism vs. free will, etc., I'll end up with an essay here.  Loved it.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)

The Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny has been my bread and butter this month, though, and they are perfect.  With the caveat that it took me two tries to get into the first one (too many characters introduced all at once in the first chapter, in my opinion), these are readable, addictive, lovely, and willing to engage with the big ideas that the best murder mysteries (like Dorothy Sayer's or P.D. James's for example) deal with.

My To-Read List for Summer

Americanah

The Empathy Exams: Essays

Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition)

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (Modern Library Paperbacks)

I'll also finish up the Louise Penny books, hopefully complete some of the nonfiction books that I love (but never seem to choose when I have a fiction alternative), and be reading and re-reading a select list of memoirs and biographies (because...)

Things I'm Writing

- My name, on the third page of a contract agreeing to be represented by

Heidi Mitchell at D.C. Jacobson & Associates

- A book (apparently), especially the first twenty pages or so, which I have to submit to the writer's

workshop I'm attending this July, which is going to be amazing for many reasons, not least among them, 

a room of one's own. No responsibilities but writing and workshopping, for a whole week.

-1500 words on Buzzfeed quizzes.  You'll have to read all 1500 of them to figure out

Which Kind of Buzzfeed Quiz Taker Are You?

-And my name, again, on (talk about burying the lede, here!) a contract for a new position at Taylor, as the Assistant Director of the Honors Program.  I'll be working twenty hours a week beginning August 1, helping to plan the events and programming the Honors program.  And probably going to China with the Honors freshman for two weeks in January (!!!).

Things I'm Watching

Not very much, because the internet out in the country has been almost non-existent, so there's no streaming of anything.  But we're excited every week for new episodes of Mad Men and Orphan Black.

And we watched the movie Philomena last weekend, and really liked it.

Oh, and watching Rosie at ballet, and Owen with his swords.

Michael Rachap of Readeez sent me and the kids a couple of his dvds, too, and they're quite nice.  Simple, whimsical illustrations (sort of in the style of Calvin and Hobbes) accompany fun, catchy tunes, and reinforce word recognition by showing the words on screen, syllable by syllable, as the music plays.  The kids liked them, and the music didn't drive me crazy (big, rare bonus for kids' music). There are also some Bible memory CDs available. You can try some for free just by joining the email list.

 

Things in my Garden

So many things!  Snap peas, carrots, lettuce, kale, chard, arugula, asparagus, potatoes, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, corn, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.  

And bees in the hive, and chickens in the coop. 

What are you enjoying these days?

my writing routine

This is not my desk.

This is not my desk.

I don’t do this every morning. But some mornings, if the kids slept all night, and a hacking cough didn’t keep me tossing and turning, and nyquill hasn’t made me dead to the world -- if I went to bed at a decent hour, like an adult, some mornings, I get up at 5:30.

Illuminating the floor with my phone, I find a hoodie and pull it on while I slip into the dark kitchen. I flip on the electric kettle, scoop grounds into the 10 oz french press. While the water boils, and then while the coffee steeps, I delete junk email that accumulated overnight, and sometimes check my twitter favorites list. I know, I should use those six minutes to pray, but this is me just telling you what I actually do. Maybe someday I’ll get some candles, like Kelley does, and light them with prayer as I begin, but for now I check twitter, and maybe my remembrance of those girls who’ve been kidnapped, of my friend who’s watching sparrows fall, is something like a prayer.

I stir raw sugar into the black coffee and avoid the creaky spots as I pad down the hallway to my office. Once I’m there, the phone is off limits, as is every website except google drive. Sometimes I edit.  Sometimes I write new things. Sometimes I do the brain dump of morning pages. Sometimes I just open the book that’s sprawled haphazardly on the shelf, the one that inspired mine, and read a few pages, taking notes.  How much descriptive detail, how much plot? How much interpretation and internal monologue? Is the voice sure or questioning? Is it present wisdom looking back on past naivete, or is it the voice of her youth?

By six forty-five my stomach rumbles, and I reach for the kashi crunchy granola bars I keep stashed behind the computer. I still have forty-five minutes to go: Jack will get the kids their cereal and their morning dose of Nick Jr. Sometimes I want to stop now, but I don’t.  I force a few more sentences out. Sometimes I never want to stop because I’m in that world again, and I miss it, and I want to live there. Sometimes I re-read what I’ve written and find it all so dreadfully boring, the words dull and clunky broken down jalopies, unable to transport us very far at all.

But I keep writing. What other option is there?

The Girl Got Up

I'm working on a round-up review of recent spiritual memoirs by women for The Living Church, and revisiting the quietly astounding The Girl Got Up by Rachel Srubas. Understated and meditative, the author reflects on her life and scripture in deep ways. I want to share a bit:

One her need in her preaching to remind congregants of their instrinsic worth:

Because we assume little of value can be found within us, few of us bother to look.  We fear we'll find in ourselves something so shameful or painful we decide it's better to keep busy than to be still and know God is God.  It seems more prudent to make coffee than to reckon with a feeling.  My task when I preach is to speak messages that mean, Reckon with it. Look deeper into your life. Rummage around in the stuff you cast off.  Read the book you closed long ago.  In that old Bible story you doubt can tell you anything new, in that memory you have no further use for, God may be found. God will help you live your life with love, and God will help you die your death in peace.

On why she writes:

A writer of faith may face the vexing problem of making yet one more "unnecessary" contribution to an overloaded literary market, in the service of a dying religion. Why bother?

I bother because I notice myself turning toward what is more wonderful than me.  I need to tell the story. A girl as good as dead somehow notices a healer's hand laid on her and gets up. A woman wan from blood loss who notices the fringe of the healer's garment musters just enough nerve to graspp it and be made well.  A psalmist, depressive perhaps, insomniac maybe, notices daybreak purshing darkness away and calls the light "my Lord." A moralist noticing the difference between foolishness and wisdom characterizes both of them as women. A woman notices the forturne she stores in an alabaster jar will be worthless until she spills it on one who affirms her humanity. God notices prostitutes, rape victims, infertile and repeatedly married women still bearing in their weary beings the holy love knit into them when they were formed in their mothers' wombs. The world notices when a woman gives birth to its Messiah. The seas swell, the trees burst into green applause. The mountains aspire to lift up all creatures. Among them it's the humans who were fashioned to tell stories. People notice in ourselves the signature of life's Author. In Scripture we discover God and our own precious, numbered days. The urge to recount them, to write our sacred lives, becomes too great to resist.  It is necessary.

And it is hazardous.

I Hate My Voice

Here’s the thing: I hate my voice.

Sometimes at Christmas, we watch old home videos. There’s this one where I am six or seven years old, and I’m showing my sister Katie, who’s three or four, how to play piano. She’s just having a grand old time banging away on the keys, loving the drama and the noise. I smile sweetly and say, “No, no, Katie. That’s not the way. You put your fingers like this. Here is middle C.”

and this is how you hold a baby

The first time I saw this video as an adult, I cringed. And with good reason. Why was I trying to teach a three year old to play piano? Why was I such a stereotypical firstborn? Why was I such a damn goody-two-shoes? Why couldn’t I just dance to the chaos?

Recently I’ve started reading through my ten-year old journals. It was my first year out of college, and I was living in Southeast Asia, writing sometimes for myself and sometimes for my blog. Much of my writing has the same tone I had as a seven year old piano teacher: it’s sweetly didactic, and very sure of itself. I can’t stand it. 

From the distance of a decade, my naivete shines. The truisms I trumpeted (sweetly, (falsley) humbly) lacked depth or substance. They were sincere, yes, and usually true; but they were also awfully churchy and idealistic.Now, they just sound hokey, and ridiculous coming from someone my age, writing about things I really knew nothing about, railing against the materialism of the western church, coming up with bad metaphors about fireworks and stars and young nations and old nations.

Me, as writer and director of "A Cambodian Christmas Carol" at age 23

I don’t write much now, and in part that’s because I’m afraid of that voice coming out. I’m a teacher, after all; I often sound teacherly. Even if I tell stories, I can't get away from the lesson in them.

But who am I to speak? Who am I to say what’s right or wrong, with my youth and inexperience? Even if I’m right about what I say, isn’t it already obvious to everyone?

Won’t I be embarrassed, a decade from now, of anything I say with sincerity today?

“Not many of you should become teachers,” James warned. He was talking about Bible teachers. Sometimes I wish he had written that not many of us should be bloggers, or tweeters, or preachers with national platforms. (I

really

think not many of us should be teachers with national platforms.)

But sometimes I can’t tell if my silence is born more of humility (I don't want to be wrong, who am I to speak?), prudent caution (I don’t want to be wrong), perfectionism (I don’t want to be wrong), or fear (I don’t want to be wrong). Sometimes I want to add my voice to the cacophony, and sometimes I want to stay safe. Sometimes I think that of the making of many books (and blog posts), there is no end, so I’m just going to quietly fear God in my own little place.

When your heart burns within you, is that a time to speak, or a time to stay silent?

A question for you: How do you know when to speak, and when to stay silent?

a few things at the end of spring

Yesterday, I finished grading all the essays. The chickens are pecking at the remains of dandelions across the yard, and the grass needs to be mowed again every time I turn around.   Lilac branches spill out of a silver pitcher on the dining room table, and we cooked outside this week, sipping cold whiskey-gingers.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that summer is here.  The seniors graduated and we said goodbye to our Korean and Chinese friends - goodbye for the summer, to most of them, and goodbye indefinitely for a few favorites who are going back to finish university in Korea now.
Rosie and Owen dressed up for graduation, too.


 In just seventeen days we'll be moving into our new house. In the meantime, the chickens (whose story you can read at the Renew and Sustain blog) are free-ranging in the backyard, with a portion of the storage shed cordoned off as shelter for them.


We've been very into fairy princess ballerinas around here - but the kind who dig for worms, make mud pies, climb fences, and chase chickens. (I'm a sucker for old-fashioned fairies and bought this book for Rosie and me to share.)

We are journeying into Narnia, too - Rosie and I have read the first three books, and are currently in the middle of Prince Caspian. She can't follow the stories too well, but doesn't care at all, and refuses to let me switch to Betsy-Tacy.

At Christ and Pop Culture I've been reflecting on books and television and music and theology - you can click through if you want to read -

"The Office" Ends, but Love Never Fails  (my take on the "The Office" - which had a really surprisingly great run of episodes at the end!)
Denison Witmer- Songs to Grow Up To (a new album from one of my favorite songwriters - this is on repeat at my house)
A New Wave of Complementarianism (a round-up of other people's posts)
Where'd You Go, Bernadette (a review of a really fun novel - especially for anyone who has ever lived in Seattle)
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Lesson in Community (a review of conservative columnist Rod Dreher's memoir)

Incidentally, Christ and Pop Culture has launched a new magazine for the iPad and iPhone - you can get a free trial subscription and check it out.  It's a well-designed, curated collection of perspectives on pop culture.


For a few months now, this essay's been bouncing around in my head about buying our first house and reading Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness.  Maybe now that it's summer I'll finally get to writing it. Or maybe I'll just go make some popsicles.

my (self-important) blogging manifesto

did i mention we spent thanksgiving in arkansas? we did.

So, here’s what I’ve decided about my blog: it’s personal, not professional (inasmuch as one can make that distinction in the digital age: what I mean is that I have no professional goals as a blogger, and that any professional goals I have as a writer are not, at the moment, directly connected to my blogging).  
my heart.


I’ll continue to share the journal of my life here: occasional photos, recipes, lists of books and movies and tv shows, and my (mostly unedited, spur of the moment) thoughts.  As my kids grow older, there will likely be less and less about them.  I can share my stories, but their stories should be their own.  

and christmas in georgia


I value the blog because it’s a place where I can write without having to conform to any editorial standard, without any assumed voice. It’s just me.  And I value the blog because it’s a place for connections - for my connections with my real-life friends and family, and with my online friends.  (Thank you.)

The blog is (thirdly) a place where I like to record some of my goals and the steps I take toward them, and to seek your help in that. I have one especial project to undertake in that regard, and I’ll write about it sometime next week.

A number of people have written eloquently at the start of this year about the whats and whys of blogging. Check out Andrew Sullivan, Megan at Sorta Crunchy, and perhaps especially David Sessions at Patrol:

To be a fresh and relevant writer means, I think, that you have to be something like a fresh and relevant person, one who reads slowly and widely, has idiosyncratic interests, goes new places, meets new people, and regularly changes their mind. Feeling my own perspective plundered and empty over the years has pushed me to appreciate the value of, if we use Nolan’s terms, “building up the principal.” I don’t know any universally applicable way to do this, especially if you work in the media. Graduate school has played that role for me: being forced to read difficult books I cared about but would never have worked through otherwise, pushed to make new connections and learn about worlds and historical events I barely knew existed. The more you can be forced past your current perspective, and not just by other bloggers and journalists, the better. The more you can participate in something besides consuming media and blogging, the better. The more you can really learn about something the better; good writing can’t survive all that long on nothing but voice and other people’s reporting.

I’m young, and not ready to be a prolific writer if it means plundering my own perspectives, leaving me emptied of ideas.  I want to be sure I’m busier “building up the principal” - reading challenging books, meeting new people, trying new things - than I am reading blogs and writing blog posts. I want to be a person of wide-ranging interests, one with the ability to follow a sustained, long-form argument, one with as many moments of quiet as moments of digital noise.

So there it is. My new (self-important, narcissistic) blogging manifesto. What do you think?

quiet

As we drove through Lexington today, two-thirds of the way through our 13 hour trip, snow swirled around the car.  My mild, gray&brown winter turned white and very cold.

I'm home now, snow still falling, and I feel myself quieting, a daffodil bulb tucked in for the long night, a bear in hibernation, thinking about what I will be.

Or more specifically, what I will be in 2013.

///

It's only been nine months or so since this space took a turn away from the personal {family photos, recipes, a journal of the life of a family} towards the more public {more thoughts, more sharing, more of you} - a change I processed here and here as it was happening.

I've loved the change, and through it I've met some people who truly inspire and encourage me. I've also grown addicted to response, feedback, and approval, though.  So as the new year approaches,  I want to quiet myself for a bit, think through my motives, intentions, and goals for this space.  As the new year approaches, I'm thinking through who I want to be as a writer, a mother, a wife, a teacher, a neighbor, and a friend, and whether those hopes require any change here, or any more purposeful direction.

Will you share your new year's resolutions with me, if you have them?

christmas (vol. 1)


Somehow, four years ago, Jack and I decided to record a Christmas album.

At the time, we were living in and managing a house for international students in Seattle, and I was very pregnant with Rosemary.  We had one upstairs bedroom to ourselves. So imagine, if you will, us in the grunge capital of the world, bedroom door locked, or sometimes hidden away in the basement, scratching words on paper and picking hushed guitar.  It's unpolished, it's unprofessional, it's full of cringeworthy moments, but this album is something I absolutely love (and my husband is a really, really good lyricist).  Working on this with him was the best kind of advent meditation 

Would you like to listen?  My favorites are track 3 (my protest song), track 5 (Jack's meditation on incarnation), and track 9 ( about the tradition of driving across country to get home for Christmas).