Writing as Community

As I might have mentioned on here a time or two (or twelve), our family is moving to England this fall. My husband Carl has been accepted into Cambridge’s PhD program, so we are “up roots and away” for three years.

Obviously, the main reason and focus is Carl’s continuing education. But we are a team, always have been, and nothing in our lives is ever all about one or the other of us. My goal while at Cambridge is to enrich and expand my writing, to get at the heart of what sort of stories I tell and why, and to make connections with other artists (literary and otherwise).

Here’s the amazing thing about creating: it doesn’t happen in a bubble. The idea of the solitary genius scribbling away in a lonely garret isn’t really very plausible. Even outside an artistic community to help and encourage, life has to happen for the writing to be any good.

To that end, I have started a Patreon page in order to build a community around my writing, to help me get out there and live fully while we’re in England, and then to share that life with others. The most basic tier–$1/month–will access weekly journal posts. This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since we moved to New England and Carl began seminary, but without an outside readership keeping me accountable, I let other things creep in and get in the way. This way, I am committing to my readers just as they are committing to me.

The higher tiers get you access to other types of writing: flash fiction, short stories, that sort of thing.

Writing is a tricky business, and indie publishing even more so. There are beautiful perks–I often say I don’t have fans, I have friends, because my fanbase is so small each member has become a dear friend. I love that. There are also downsides–without a marketing team behind me, it’s difficult to spread word about my books and pick up new readers, thus things like “paying the bills” can become a treacherous quagmire. That is the nature of the business, and I am not complaining.

This Patreon is a way, I hope, of shrinking some of the difficulties and maximizing the best parts of a writing career. I have a built-in audience, which brings about even more joy in the writing and builds a natural community. I also have to worry less about whether or not the writing will bring enough of a return for me to justify keeping on with it.

If this is something that resonates with you, or even if you just want to keep up with our Cambridge adventure on a more regular basis than will be available through this dear old haphazard blog of mine, go on over to my Patreon account and sign up today! It’s going to be a wonderful journey.

I guarantee there will be lots of tea and scones, and much exploring of hidden paths.

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Tabula Rasa

I have to admit, I kind of love the start of the new year. All those resolutions and goals and fresh starts that everybody makes jokes about because they never last beyond March? Yeah, I used to mock them too, but somewhere in the last few years I repented, and now I love them.

I don’t really make resolutions, though. Mostly because I’m easily discouraged. Goals, though, goals I love to set at the start of the new year. New schedules that won’t last a week, plans to find and stay in a routine that never come to fruition, dreams and goals and words to live by that are generally forgotten by September … no matter, come January 1st we can lay all that aside and try again.

Last year my “word for the year” was mindful. My goals were to practice mindfulness in writing, in reading, in everyday life. Of course I didn’t succeed as well as I would have liked, but I did make a change in how I approach life. I made a start in mindfulness. That’s enough of a success for me.

This year my word is “quiet.” To be quiet within my soul, to not spend so much time listening to the noise of the world (yes, this means social media, not exclusively but largely), to listen to other people instead of talking (I used to be so much better about this), to have quietness and steadiness within and without me.

“In quietness and in trust shall be your strength,” says Isaiah 30:15, and I mean to live this year believing that verse.

I have other goals as well–refill my creative well enough to be able to write well this year. My bucket has been scraping the bottom for several months, and while I’ve been writing steadily, very little of it is anything I can feel satisfied with.  (I’m hoping the quiet thing helps with this as well–listen to the voice of creativity inside me rather than being distracted by all the other noises of the world). Get fit before our big move–I am far too sedentary for good health, and while I’ve no desire to be an athlete, I do want to be able to move well and comfortably. Stick with my reading log for an entire year; I started this last year as part of my attempt to read mindfully, but I gave up around the time we moved and even before then I was not consistent. Find a good daily routine and, as best I can, stick with it. Even though I know sickness and company and insomnia and other curveballs will come, I want a routine I–we–can return to rather than letting such things throw us off our game entirely.

And that’s pretty much it! Nothing too grand, just simple little things to help me be a more whole person.

How do you feel about New Year’s? Are you a resolution/goal maker, or do you prefer not to be bound by arbitrary dates for such things? Do you pick a word to focus on for a year, and if so, do you mind sharing it?

Happy January, and happy 2018 to you all!

Falling Into October

Some days it’s hard to believe we’ve been in our new house, new life for a month already–but most days it feels like we’ve been here forever. Which can make it tricky when we are trying to figure out why we’re so tired, or suddenly so cranky with each other. “Oh, right,” we remind ourselves. “We moved a month ago.”

People ask us if we miss the seminary life. No, not really. We miss our friends there, obviously–but we’re so close we can have them over for meals (in a proper dining room, huzzah!) or get together for tea or meet up at a park if we want to. Admittedly, we haven’t done much of that yet, but that’s more due to the fact that we’ve had house guests off and on for the last three weeks than anything else.

The girls and I have started our Thursday classes–they take Latin and Science in the mornings while I get writing done, and then I teach American Lit, then we have lunch and come home. It’s been marvelous. Not only are they getting a fun class experience and I am getting two straight hours of writing time out of it, I’ve discovered that I’m actually pretty good at teaching! Or, as Grace put it: “Your first class was really boring, Mom, but all of them after that have been a lot of fun.” What can I say, it took me that first class to figure out what I was doing.

We finished reading Johnny Tremain this past week and will be starting The Sign of the Beaver after break. The kids are all in agreement that parts of JT were interesting, but it started out too slow and none of them feel like reading it again for fun–“Not like the Harry Potter books,” one student said. (“Actually, I think Harry Potter is kind of boring,” said Joy. “But I might like them when I’m a little bit older,” she generously admitted.) I loved having conversations with them about the book and their impressions of it, and especially loved their responses to some of the assignments (the letters they wrote from book characters to someone outside the city about the events of the Boston Tea Party were hysterical).

As for the writing, that’s proceeding at a snail’s pace (when does it ever not?), but it does progress. I finished the major rewrite of Candles in the Dark (remember that? Remember the novella I was supposed to publish in June? Hahahahasob it’s coming, I promise) this past Thursday, sent it to my betas, and am now trying to figure out if I should start editing the short story collection I was supposed to publish in July (guys, I am SO BAD at deadlines) or get back to the next Whitney & Davies novel, which I had optimistically hoped to publish in September.

I think I need to stop planning on getting projects finished in the summer.

And mostly, we’ve been enjoying living life, instead of surviving it. We climbed Mt Monadnock recently, tomorrow we go apple picking, we’ve been able to have various family members out without them having to stay in a hotel, we’re working on the gardens out front, we’ve walked to the library once a week …

Our year of rest is still off to a good start.

September Brings New Beginnings

We are moved! Still surrounded by boxes in various stages of unpacking, but the kitchen is organized (it will have to be re-organized at some point; Carl put all the tea on a top shelf where I need a step-stool to reach it. That will never do!), the bedrooms are all in good shape, we are eating meals on our dining room table, and we are starting to move onto the best stage of unpacking: putting up the bookcases and replacing our books on them.

The move happened on Saturday. It went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the crew of friends who showed up to help starting at 8:00 in the morning and sticking it out until close to 3:00 that afternoon. A far cry from when we arrived at seminary, when one or two people helped out for an hour or so after we arrived and then we had to do the rest ourselves! We were setting up the kids’ bunkbeds at midnight while they fell asleep curled up on top of their toychests with blankets and pillows. This time, a friend gave us dinner once everything was moved and the apartment cleaned, and then we drove to our new house, put together the kids’ new beds (in their OWN BEDROOMS), put together our bed, and were still able to call it a night by 10:00. Thank you, God, for good friends.

We are still in the fall-into-bed exhausted each night stage, of course. Moving is never easy, regardless of how many friends you have helping. But any exhaustion-induced irritability is easily assuaged when we look around at our kitchen, where an easy meal is, in fact, easy; when the kids can go into their own rooms when they get annoyed at each other; when we have the option of using our second bathroom if the first is occupied; when we can do laundry in our own machine without having to first collect quarters; when we are able to wander around our own yard with tea in hand, discussing improvements we want to make in the gardens; when we think how God gifted us this house beyond our expectations or even hopes. Our seminary years (hashtag: #seminarylife) were wonderful, a time of growth and fruitfulness. But they were also hard, and we have been in survival mode for a long, long time.

Even in the midst of our physical exhaustion from this move, we are more at peace than we’ve been in ages. Carl is at work today; gymnastics and skating lessons and homeschool classes all start this week (I’m teaching American Lit–pray for me!) (and my students); by God’s grace I will be able to start focusing on my writing more this week as well.

Our Year of Rest is off to a good start.

beach_sunset

The clouds roll away and light breaks through

The Whirlwind

Our apartment is in a state of controlled chaos right now. Boxes everywhere: half filled; filled, taped, and labeled; empty. Piles all over the living room, each one representing something to be given away instead of packed, but no recipient yet. Gaping shelves on the bookcases, where the books have already been packed away (and isn’t THAT a challenge, as every book demands to be read instead of going into a box). Carl’s desk chair, gone, replaced temporarily by a dining room chair. My desk, emptied and waiting for a new home. School shelves, empty while I heroically resist the siren call of buying new supplies until we are in our new place.

I’ve thrown out six trash bags worth of stuff already. I cleaned out my sewing collection, holding onto only one or two unfinished projects. All the fabric and patterns–out the door. Cleaned out the kids’ arts and crafts supplies–no more junky paintbrushes and mostly-empty bottles of paint, no more craft supplies that “we might use, someday, maybe.” Cleaned out the movie collection, finally got rid of all our VHS tapes and many of our DVDs that we never, ever watch anymore.

I have an open box of books in the hallway right outside our apartment door, labeled “Free.” Several books have already been taken from it. Some are duplicates of books I am keeping–old editions of Dorothy Sayers that I’ve replaced with newer editions which will hold up to multiple re-readings, a newer edition of The Elfstones of Shannara which I replaced with the older edition for nostalgia’s sake. Some are books I bought because I wanted to read them and the library system didn’t have them, but I don’t love them enough to keep. Some I enjoyed previously but don’t care for as much now. One or two are books I bought thinking I would like but ended up severely disliking. After a few days I’ll take whatever books are left to the local public library and donate them.

In the midst of all this, I am planning out the American Lit homeschool class I’ll be teaching this year and editing the second Whitney & Davies book. Carl is putting the finishing touches on his thesis in preparation for the defense. He and the kids just got back from a weekend at his mom’s; we’ll be spending a week later this month visiting his family and mine.

Before we know it, September will be here. We’ll be in our new house–a house, it still boggles my mind–we’ll be unpacking and setting things up just as we like them, we’ll be going to Ikea to pick up household items, we’ll be buying schoolbooks and colored pencils and markers and blandly telling the children no, we don’t know where that half-finished craft project you were never going to get back to ended up, must have gotten lost in the move, oh well! Carl’s thesis will be done entirely, glory be. I’ll have started teaching my class. We’ll be feeling our way into a new normal.

We’re in the center of the storm now, but it won’t be forever.

July Fly-By

Well. July has come and gone in a flash–even more so than most summer months. Traveling for eleven days had something to do with it. The breathtaking speed with which out life turned upside down and settled into a new pattern had something else, I am certain.

First: vacation. We managed to pull off our Epic Road Trip without leaving anyone behind at any gas stations, losing any cameras or phones, getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, or being attacked by alligators in Florida. How terribly boring.

In Florida, we did get to see a dolphin and a sea turtle swimming off the end of a pier, a submerged alligator in a state park (I confess, I was FREAKING OUT about alligators before we left, and it took all my courage to even walk through this park. I wasn’t going to be a coward for my kids, though, and I saw the alligator and even kept my breakfast down), pelicans flying and swimming along the water, and palm trees and spanish moss. I am more of a northern mountains girl at heart, but Florida was beautiful and fun and I’m glad to have gone.

After Florida, we visited family in Georgia, friends in Tennessee, the Bilmore Estate in North Carolina, and friends in Pennsylvania before wearily making our way back to Massachusetts, heartily tired of the car and the interstate and restaurant food and ready to sleep for a week.

It was a great time, though. Beyond wonderful to see our friends in Nashville and PA again, and the Biltmore Estate was even lovelier than it had been thirteen years ago when Carl and I went there on our honeymoon. I developed a nasty headache partway through the house–heat and dehydration, I figured out afterward–and was afraid I would spoil the day for all of us, but some rest, water, my straw hat, and pain relievers did the trick and I was able to wander through the gardens and grounds after all. Such a beautiful place.

As for the life-turned-upside-down bit … We had started to come to the conclusion that Cambridge was better off waiting a year even before we left for vacation. A whole host of reasons why, and a real sense that we needed a year of rest in between intense graduate school and intense doctoral work. So we started looking for houses to rent locally, or apartments, or shacks, or anything that would allow us to stay at our church and keep up community relationships we have built over the last four years. Nothing that even remotely close to a possibility was coming up. When we left for vacation, we told ourselves we weren’t going to think about it while we were gone, not even look for anything.

That worked up until one of my friends texted me to ask if we’d found a place yet, which innocuous question ended with us being able to rent her house for the next year. We came home Friday evening and visited the house Saturday morning, and what do you know, we have a place to live next year, and it’s here, not in Cambridge.

And we are really, really good with that. Honestly. With as excited as we’ve been for LIVING IN ENGLAND HURRAH, you’d think there would be at least a few disappointed twinges, but we all just feel relieved and so at peace with this. It’s obviously what we need.

Oh! The other exciting July occurrence is that I finally, finally learned to ride a bicycle. I’m still a little wobbly and pitch off more than I like to admit, but I can ride and each time I go out I get a little stronger and a little smoother. I confess to being grateful I have another year to work at it before I have to ride to get everywhere!

So, my friends, it will be another year before this blog is posting out of England, but the adventures, I am sure, will be no less for being in MA for twelve more months. There’s always magic around the corner, you just have to have the eyes to see it.

June Dreams

This June was our last ballet recital. Maybe not forever, but for a while. Not only are we moving, both girls want to move on to something new. In our four years here, Grace has done ice skating, ballet, gymnastics, and then ballet again, and has decided that she really, really loves gymnastics the best and wants to pursue that. Joy did ballet all four years and loves it, but is ready for a change and has asked for figure skating lessons next year (she did skating lessons for a couple of years in Albany and loved it).

Ballet has been a wonderful experience for us–yes, all of us, not just the kids. We found our church through ballet acquaintances, we made friends who led us to our Classical Conversations community through ballet, the kids learned perseverance and self-discipline, Carl and I learned how to encourage and push without being pushy, we all discovered a deep appreciation for this beautiful form of artistic and creative expression.

I was a little emotional the week of their last classes and then the recital.

Luckily, we had family out for the recital, and my parents stayed a few days after and we had a lovely, lovely visit.

We went to all our favorite spots and discovered a couple new ones, too. We got a wee bit sunburned at the beach–but it was okay, because the recital was over and we didn’t have to worry about skin clashing with costumes! (Every year, I swear. Not this year! This year Mamma was obsessive with sunscreen for weeks beforehand.)

The kids also finished up piano lessons this month, and we got through our social studies book, hurrah! (We do math and Latin sporadically throughout the summer, so that it doesn’t get rusty.) We’ve said goodbye to a few more friends, planned visits to other friends in July, and started thinking about (gulp) packing up the apartment.

So. Many. Books.

Carl’s almost finished with his thesis, I’ve been plugging away at several different short stories as well as editing Whitney & Davies Book 2 (and gearing up to publish Candles in the Dark in a few weeks), and we’re preparing for a major road trip later this summer.

I hope your June has been lovely, friends, and that your July will be even better!