Monday, February 29, 2016

the breath, the Spirit, the beginning

There is always something happening, even it if is only the breath.
                                                                                                            -Alicia Jo Rabins

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering...
                                                                                                            -Genesis 1:2

Writing hasn't come easily the past few weeks. Ideas that feel promising when I think of them on my drive to work fall flat when I sit in front of a computer to type them out. I hold down the delete button to eat my words back up. I can tell you it has something to do with working through some hard-wired shame, which makes words feel too small and throws everything into chaos, something like that "without form," that darkness that existed before the light did.

Speaking of chaos, there's a lot of it right now. And I'm not just talking about politics and race and the things we all see posted all over Facebook. There are broken marriages, there is cancer, there are interrupted dreams and unanswered prayers. The other day, my dad's car slipped on ice, and now his body is sore muscles and painful bruises. I didn't hear about it until my mom texted me three days after it happened. I didn't know what to text back.

Sometimes writing feels like this, like groping around in the dark for the right words to counter deep fears and uneasy hurts. But then I've heard some writers talk about how, after periods of long silence, certain stories flowed right out of them. They weren't easy stories, but the words had germinated inside for months or years, who knows how. When it was time, out they came, ordered and beautiful and full of the stuff that pierces darkness and covers over shame. A whole universe, it seems, formed of words.

The past few months, I feel as if I'm being taken back to a beginning, learning where words come from and how to use them. In the beginning was the Word... and through Him all things were made. I go back and forth about how explicitly I want my faith to show through my writing. I've been timid because of the way Christian artists get labeled as sentimental, derivative, not as quality. Words like Jesus and the cross are somehow too definitive and carry too much baggage. Better to be vaguely spiritual, to use words like faith or spirit (with a lowercase "s"). But when I think about using words, it is God's Word that I want to fill my heart first, to show me how to speak them in way that brings light, that opens up darkness. Without him was not anything made that was made.

Spirit of God, hover. Be the Word that is in the beginning.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

of love in far from the madding crowd

(Excerpts from Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy)

Of love, as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing.  (Chapter XIII)

:   :   :

What a way [Gabriel] Oak had she thought, of enduring things. Boldwood, who seemed so much deeper and higher, and stronger in feeling than Gabriel, had not yet learnt any more than she herself the simple lesson which Oak showed a mastery of by every turn and look he gave -- that among the multitude of interests by which he was surrounded, those which affected his personal well-being were not the most absorbing and important in his eyes. Oak meditatively looked upon the horizon of circumstances without any special regard to his own standpoint in the midst. That was how she would wish to be.  (Chapter XLII)

:   :   :

[Bathsheba and Gabriel's] was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other's character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship -- camaraderie, usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom super-added to love between the sexes, because they associate not in their labours but in their pleasures merely. Where however happy circumstance permits its development the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death -- that love which many waters cannot quench, not the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.  (Chapter LV)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

favorite essays: it will look like a sunset

One afternoon, a hummingbird flew through the open door of the apartment to the window in the corner and beat at the glass. It was panicked, trying to turn glass into sky. I wrapped my hands around it, the hummingbird heart pulsing against my palms, then released it on the stoop.
From It Will Look Like a Sunset by Kelly Sundberg

:   :   :   :   :   

On a Saturday early in December, I went alone to a bookstore. All day I had been with friends doing fun things, and yet I'd been carrying around a sadness I couldn't shake, and which source I didn't entirely understand. It was the rare kind of sadness that sharpens senses instead of dulling them. That kind that feels like a fire in the heart.

I wandered around, admired book covers and titles. I opened a book of essays by various authors and my eyes settled on the title of the last one in the collection: "It Will Look Like a Sunset." I bought the book and took it home with me and skipped to the end to read it.

Before I started reading, I didn't even guess what the essay would be about, though the title made me think of summer nights, when sunsets come late and bring warm colors. Or, at this time of year, when the sun is setting over the freeway ahead of me as I drive home from work, and the clouds and sky seem to be showing off.

But sunsets are endings, slow ones that bring with them hours of night. In this particular essay, the ending comes to a relationship. There is love and commitment, and also abuse and apologies and false hope. Near the end, a doctor tells the author that her fresh injury will change color and heal over time. "It will look like a sunset," he says. Which you, as the reader, come to understand is also how leaving looks: bruised and final.

There are many things I love about this essay: the structure, the way she handles time, her images. I especially admire her ability to make the reader understand her love for her husband. Why she stayed. Domestic violence stories can be told with so little empathy for the abuser, and even for the abused. As if leaving should be an obvious, easy choice. You forget about the love. At close of the essay - after we know that she has indeed left - the author recounts simple memories of family-hood with her husband, and her mother's advice to try hard because living without him will be hard. You get it, why she tried like she did. Why she put up with all that hurt and fear.

It will look like a sunset, but then it will heal. During the night, as the earth makes its turn, the sun still burns. Eventually, you see it again.

(Oh, and that's what happened with that sadness I was carrying around, too...)

Sunday, February 7, 2016


When I was getting ready to make the transition to living alone, I asked my mom to knit me a blanket, a keepsake to remember my first "own place" by. Deep purple with flecks of color, the blanket is thick and heavy. She made it just long and wide enough to cover my body. I use it now when I pray, laying it on my folded legs in the dark early mornings, steaming coffee and lit candle on the coffee table in front of me, heart expectant. I drape it over my legs and shoulders during weekend naps, allowing it to still me under its comfort and warmth. I think of the first story of love and separation, how God clothed his beloved to show them his merciful and steadfast heart toward them. I think of the instinct to cover and be covered, how in times of need - in sorrow, in sickness, in growth - to be blanketed is to know security and presence and compassion. It is to know love.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

literary, lately

A few links, if you're interested...

I love awards season. Though this year, the Golden Globes were underwhelming - the acceptance speeches too self satisfied, the nominees mostly ones I care little about. I'm afraid the Oscars won't be much better. BUT! We always have literary awards. Today, the Pen literary awards short list was announced.

Unofficial goal this year: read more fiction by African authors. Just added a few of these to my list.

And another reading list, this one from authors presenting at a writing conference I'll attend. Love this list of authors, some favorite and some new ones to explore.

Make this part of my writing mission statement - from Sarah Manguso in her piece on envy and what drives our writing
The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do these things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.

Lastly, I give you my favorite new instagram account: Hot Dudes Reading, Female readers, you're welcome. Male readers, take note.