A spot of something good in the world today: the songs we've loved in our eleventh year of marriage. Jack says that this is our slowest playlist yet. Maybe we're getting old. Maybe our lives are moving so fast that we need something to be slow (as Jason Martin sings on track one). Or maybe time running out is a gift, and as another Jason (Isbell) sings, we will treasure each other and we will work hard till the end of our shifts precisely because we know that our days are numbered. That song (track 4) is without a doubt my current favorite of these, but I hope they will all bring a little joy to your week.
I'm writing from the balcony of my little monastic-like cell on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I'm here for my MFA residency, my third of five. We are studying Elizabeth Bishop and Constantine Cavafy and Willa Cather, and we are writing and revising, and we are sharing our stories, and we are taking long walks on the trails behind the university and into tow.n for food and drinks with sage and pinon and chile. On our off day, I visited Bandelier National Monument, and hiked to the cave dwellings of the Pueblo people and felt like a tiny speck in the universe and in eternity.
This week marks the six month anniversary of my book's publication. I've heard from many of you (and will respond if I haven't yet, with apologies) about how my story has spoken to you of yours. I'm grateful to you for reading.
A few quick updates: my marvelous writers' group has started a little monthly newsletter. If you'd like a peek into our daily conversations, our varied paths to publishing, and the ways we think about the writing life, you can subscribe here. The next issue is coming in the next few days, and it contains a very happy announcement.
I've also added a Speaking link to my site here. Check it out and let me know if I will be seeing you in the next few months!
This summer was Jack's 3rd of 3 summers doing PhD coursework in Pennsylvania. It's felt long and short. The kids and I tried to fill the hole in our hearts with traveling - Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, Pennsylvania. Oh, and I got a new tattoo.
This summer, I read a bunch of formulaic and very enjoyable books by Jenny Colgan. If you want to read about a British/Scottish woman, approximately age 34, who experiences a personal/professional heartbreak/setback, and moves to a charming small town and starts over by opening her own cafe/cupcakery/candy store/bakery/bookstore and possibly finds a little love on the way, then check her out.
I also read middle grade and YA, because along with British chick lit, they are perfect summer genres. I loved Wonder by RJ Palacio and Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr, and I also enjoyed The Greenglass House by Kate Milford and We Are Okay by Nina LaCoeur. Oh, and I read books about place, because as always, I'm obsessed with the interplay of rootedness and wanderlust. I liked At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider, and can only give partial recommendations for Who's Your City by Richard Florida and New Slow City by William Powers.
I watched all three seasons of Madam Secretary on Netflix, because sometimes you need to escape to a world, however unrealistic, where they are politicians you can believe in. I also really enjoyed GLOW and cannot say enough good about season two of Master of None.
As for music, next week I'll post the eleventh anniversary playlist. It's a good one.
And the only movie I got to see this summer was Wonder Woman. I enjoyed it.
The MFA means I'm not writing as much online or even for publication right now, but I think - I hope - good things are coming slowly. In the meantime, thanks for sticking around.
First: I'm sorry. If you've been looking for me here on the blog, I've been absent. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you probably know some of what I've been up to... but I'm in the mood to share a bit more. Ok, more than a bit. Let's catch up. Let me bend your ear. Settle in as I chat away.
Jack spent the summer in Indiana, PA completing courses towards his PhD in Applied Linguistics. This was our second summer apart, and easier in some ways than the first. I visited him and met his friends, and then I took the kids to Colorado, where we visited friends, family, and places that hold so much nostalgic sway over me. We hiked and fed chipmunks and swam and I remembered what I had always liked best about being a camp counselor: the way it forces you to be present to the moment, alive to the physical world around you, undistracted by other things. I felt that this summer, focusing just on the day before me, and I loved it.
When Jack's courses ended, I began my first intensive courses for my MFA through Seattle Pacific University. We met on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe and joined Glen Workshop participants (like my writing buddies Danielle and Christiana) in worship and play and craft lectures. I wrote a little bit about one of our field trips, to the holy site of Chimayo.
The day after I returned from Santa Fe, Owen started kindergarten, and Rosie began second grade. And I plunged into a fall filled with many things: helping coordinate programs for the Honors students at Taylor University, teaching 3 hours of class a week, completing MFA coursework, a (fairly new) gig writing for Our Daily Bread (more about that later), trying to help out with Relief Journal as a contributing editor, nurturing relationships outside the classroom with various students, hosting poetry nights, and of course staying on top of details related to my book coming out in February. Between those things and my responsibilities at home, I am finding my attention scattered, pulled toward so many different, good things.
Life this fall:
Jack ran a marathon with his dad in Columbus, Indiana, and we had a meal at Story Inn to celebrate.
I went on an overnight retreat with honors students, and took another group to Wheaton for a day to check out the collection at the Marion Wade Center.
The four of us went to Grand Rapids for a long weekend. While Jack and the kids explored the city, I met with my publisher and attended a conference for writers and editors at Our Daily Bread. I left feeling encouraged and blessed by the humility and sincerity of this group of people, more thankful than ever that they are the ones midwifing my book into the world.
A couple of my writer friends came to visit me. I love when people visit me. I love cooking for them. I love having the long-distance people I love see the place where I live everyday.
Rosie and Owen dressed as Hermione and Ron for Halloween, and for one night my dream of having a red-headed child was fulfilled.
Books this fall:
I've been re-reading a lot of Dorothy Sayers for the class I'm teaching this semester. Her Lord Peter Wimsy detective novels build very slowly, but they are smart and funny and worth the investment. Her essays are even better. I love smart women.
Over the summer, I read other detective novels set in Britain, mainly the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. They aren't as good as my favorites by Louise Penny, whose latest, A Great Reckoning, I read in September, but they're satisfying.
The best book I read this fall was Claudia Rankine's Citizen, a moving, genre-bending work that about her life as a black woman in contemporary America. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and I can't forget The Road Back to You, a new book from IVP on the enneagram that has inspired hours of conversation between Jack and me and our friends. I think this book has given me tools to better flourish in my relationships with others. (I'm a 5, by the way.)
Movies this fall:
I really need help staying awake in movies. We liked The Lobster, a sort of absurdist black comedy about what it means to be human, and enjoyed Southside with You, which is like Obama fanfic about Barack and Michelle's first date. I love Michelle Obama and would probably watch countless more hours of this.
TV this fall:
The shows we're adding to our DVR this fall are Pitch and The Good Place. I was less than enthused about the premise of Pitch, which is about the first female pitcher in MLB, but the writers have crafted a show that is nuanced and interesting, and that is about much more than baseball: the dynamics of male-female friendships, for example, and the politicking and money behind the scenes in sports. And The Good Place is funny, some episodes more than others, but I'll watch Kristin Bell in almost anything. Still a little on the fence about This Is Us, which I enjoy but do find to be a bit emotionally manipulative, taking the easy way out in its writing more often than it should.
Music this fall:
We're still listening to Hamilton (and loved watching Hamilton's America on PBS). And did I ever share our 10 year anniversary playlist?
Writing this fall:
Honestly, I've been struggling since I finished writing the first book. Do I have anything left to say? This is one reason why being in the MFA right now is good for me, I think. Apart from learning things to strengthen my craft, I'm also being forced to create and to pay attention to my life. Hopefully something good will come of it.
Also, I have an essay in a book that came out from IVP this summer. You can read "Teenage Heretic" in the collection Soul Bare, which includes poignant essays by writers like Sarah Bessey, Karissa Knox Sorrell, and Seth Haines.
Maybe the only other thing I've written this fall was an op-ed for the Taylor student newspaper about Independent candidate Evan McMullin. I've been deeply disturbed - I mean, there have been nights I haven't been able to sleep, I went to see a doctor because of a constant lump in my throat, I've been sick - by the religious right's support for Trump this season, by the silence of prominent evangelical men when I expected to hear them condemning the racist, misogynist words and actions of the Republican nominee. When I saw polling that indicated that a large number of Taylor students were planning to vote for Trump, I wanted to make sure they understood all their options. McMullin is a good choice, but personally, I did vote for Hillary, because although parts of her platform bother me - she's hawkish in the Middle East and more aggressively pro-choice than I am, for example - overall, I believe she's smart, hardworking, dependable, emotionally stable, and has policies that will support the common good. (More here.)
So that's what I'e been up to this fall. How about you?