Books, critiquing, editing, goals, Life Talk, philosophy, publishing, reading list, seasons, writing

New Year, New-ish Goals

Friends, it is 2015, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not that 2014 was a bad year. Not at all. We did a lot of learning and growing and stretching in it, and also took plenty of trips to the beach. Can’t really complain.

But a new year is here, and I am ready to put into action the results of all that learning and growing and stretching. And some more beach trips.

I signed Joy up for violin lessons with someone here on campus who teaches (EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS) and realized that this means she will be taking ballet lessons, art lessons, piano lessons, and violin lessons this semester; Gracie will be taking art and ballet (possibly starting piano in the fall, we’ll see); and of course we’ll be continuing with our Friday homeschool group. Guess there’s no question but that I’m a mom of kids instead of littles now, with all these activities. How am I supposed to be a proper hermit with all this running them around hither and yon?

I have a few goals for 2015. Learn and practice more self-discipline is the big one. I’m way too prone to flutter frantically around, getting overwhelmed by life and all that I need/want to do, and not get any of it done. This is an old tale, I’m sung it before here and elsewhere, and I am well aware that the kind of self-discipline I am after will likely take me the rest of my life to master. That’s okay. I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Another familiar goal: read less, savor more, get deeper into what I read instead of charging through books so quickly that I can’t even remember them two months later without checking Goodreads. I’m working on this one already. I started Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her (I tried reading it once a few years back and never made it all the way through) and am stopping to jot down notes whenever something strikes me, re-reading certain passages if I feel the need or desire, trying to consciously slow myself down to enjoy the book instead of plowing through it like a bull in a china shop.

I’ve specifically set the goal of reading 12 non-fiction books this year. I find non-fiction incredibly rewarding, and yet incredibly hard to get through, so I figure if I plan to read one per month, by December, I might find it’s a bit easier to do.

For writing: I’m learning to slow down there, too (noticing a pattern, anyone? I told you 2014 was a year of growing). Not push, push, push to GET PUBLISHED GET OUT THERE OR ELSE YOU ARE DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU. Enjoy writing. Dig deeper into it. Be more honest. Polish it up again, even after I think it’s perfect (because six months later, I’ll realize that it’s not). Explore new genres, new ways of sharing stories, new ways even of writing. Don’t be afraid of going off the path.

But at the same time, while holding this loosely, I have set myself a few goals, because how can you go off the path if you haven’t established what the path is? So, I would like to finish the first draft of of the serial story, with the goal of polishing and publishing through a newsletter one chapter a month. I would like to get From the Shadows polished and ready to publish. And I would like to start over again with Magic in Disguise – I am almost finished outlining the new version, so that’s exciting.

I’ve got a few more personal goals/hopes for this year – but I’m holding those close to me for right now. They’re fragile; I don’t want to expose them too much or they might disintegrate.

And speaking of self-discipline … I just remembered that I need to pack today for our almost-week-long jaunt to visit family which starts tomorrow, so I guess I’d better sign off from here and get to that.

After I finish my tea, naturally. Priorities.

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Family, favorites, figure skating, God, humor, Life Talk, philosophy, quotes, Watch

To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

Family, goals, Life Talk, philosophy, publishing, writing

Sinusitis and Love

Sinusitis is no fun at all, guys. Seriously. I thought my occasional tyramine-intolerance migraines were bad until I had to deal with daily sinus headaches.

Ho-ly smokes.

I think I’m over the worst of it now, I’ve still got some pressure and pain, but I ate a tiny piece of jalapeno this evening and my head pretty much exploded and then I felt so much better. Not cured, but on the road. Thank goodness.

The downside to sinusitis (aside from constant pain, of course) is that I haven’t been able to accomplish much of anything for the last almost-three weeks. The upside is, I’ve gotten quite a bit more done on my niece’s baby quilt, since resting on the couch with a quilting hoop and Netflix was about all I could manage. If I’m very diligent, I just might get the quilt done in time for Christmas. Which would be excellent, since she turned a year old last week.

(In my defense, I am quilting in one-inch squares, no pattern to follow, no lines drawn in (the fabric is light-colored and I didn’t want to leave pencil markings behind), no stitching lines to follow, just me measuring and pinning every. single. line. as I come to it. If I’d drawn the lines in or was following a pattern, I’d have had this finished ages ago. I’m slow, but not usually that slow.)

I am, despite the burst of productivity on Miss M’s quilt, glad to finally be able to start getting some other stuff done. I set up the sewing table to work more on Halloween costumes today – I would be finished with the underdress of Joy’s medieval outfit tonight if it weren’t for the fact that the sewing machine noise keeps Gracie awake so I have to quit once they’re in bed. I cleaned the kitchen earlier today, and made a delicious, healthy supper. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering what I’ve been getting done, it’s a lot.

And just in time, since we’re having company join us tomorrow for dinner. (eek!)

Not a lot of writing done of late, but I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel for From the Shadows, and even a hint of hope that I might be able to finish the first draft of Magic in Disguise by the end of the year. I confess to feeling some discouragement that my wretched body seems determined to throw a monkey wrench into all my plans, all the time (if it’s not one thing, it’s another, she said in a gloomy tone to rival Eeyore’s), but I am determined to not let it master me.

Because in the long run, what’s a few extra weeks, or months, or even year? Am I suddenly going to lose masses of fans because I didn’t publish the sequel to Magic Most Deadly exactly one year after the first book? Or are people going to forget all about me if I’m not churning out books steadily? Is my value, my worth, going to drop if I don’t publish on a regular basis?

(The answer to all those questions, by the way, is no.)

And you know, a few weeks with constant pain has taught me a lot, even as it’s eroded my plans. Plus it’s given my husband and kids a chance to show their love for me in practical, tangible ways, like Carl making an absolutely delicious supper Saturday evening because I couldn’t move my head, even though he’d had class Friday night and all day Saturday. Or the girls playing quietly and nicely with each other several afternoons without me having to ask, just because they saw me resting on the bed and knew that Mommy was hurting again.

I dunno, as important as writing is to me, moments like that are even more important in the long run. Maybe not to me as a writer, but to me as a person.

So there are my ramblings from the last few weeks. What’s new with all you?

God, Life Talk, philosophy

Lord, Have Mercy

Saw a snide comment today on Twitter about how “all people who aren’t talking about Ferguson are contributing to the problem” and it enraged me. Enraged me to the point that I am having to do something I expressly don’t want to do, which is engage on social media about this.

There is a lot of horrible stuff going on the world right now. Ferguson, Irag, Ukraine, two Amish girls kidnapped from my old stomping grounds (thankfully they are now back home with their parents, but the media is still exploiting their story for all it’s worth), a group of kids and adults, short-term missionaries from the North Shore here brutally attacked on their way to the airport after completing a week of working overseas, atrocities still committed regularly in Nigeria …

It’s horrible. The world presses in heavily. And I don’t see that Twittering about it is going to make it any better.

If it comforts you to express your thoughts and emotions in 140 characters, by all means, do so. I can’t. I have tried to do so in the past, and it leaves me feeling more frustrated and helpless than before.

Instead, I am praying. Lord, have mercy. It’s a lot less than 140 characters, but it’s going straight to the throne of grace instead of getting lost in a sea of banality and empty outrage on the internet. Lord, have mercy.

I am acting. I am sharing food from our garden with our neighbors. I am reading to my children and giving them hugs. I am speaking words of encouragement and love to those I see.

I am living. Living as though life is worth something. Living with joy, because that is so much more powerful than shouting in anger.

I am creating. Making art, making music, writing stories. Because the act of creation trumps acts of destruction any day of the week.

Hatred doesn’t fix hatred. Darkness cannot defeat darkness. Only light can defeat the darkness. And for me, personally, spouting off on Twitter or Facebook is not contributing to the light in this world.

So, angry person on Twitter criticizing people you don’t even know, sweeping everyone under one comprehensive judgement: I understand, because there have been times when I have felt that other people’s silence equaled a lack of care. I hope I know better now, and understand that sometimes silence means a person cares too deeply to be able to say anything at all.

Sometimes it isn’t that something isn’t important enough to be tweeted. It’s that it is too important for such a useless exercise.

Family, Life Talk, philosophy

This Is Not Goodbye

Words are hard, sometimes.

This may seem an odd statement from one who has built her entire life around words, but it is true. The deepest emotions and thoughts, the truest truths, are often too hard to put into words.

This is one reason I love music; it reaches the places words cannot go. And it is what leads me to poetry more and more, the older I get—for poetry is a music of its own, the attempt of wordsmiths to capture things too deep for prose.

My great-aunt died unexpectedly on Sunday. It was a hard blow to everyone—her immediate family, of course, but to the entire extended family and community, as well. She was special, a rare soul in this busy world. When Grandma’s mind became completely clouded by Alzheimer’s, Aunt Ortha quietly stepped in, attending all our—her sister’s grandchildren—major events. “I’m not trying to take her place,” she told me at my bridal shower, “But I’m here because she would be, and can’t be.” She didn’t want us to feel bereft.

And that’s one memory. Her own children and grandchildren can tell so many more. Her church family. The people in the community she served so faithfully. She shed love like a radiance, practical love that saw what it could do and then did it without any fuss.

Her memorial service is today, and I wanted oh, so much, to be there to honor her. But I can’t. It was too short of notice, and we live too far away to make it. My dad, sharing that same quiet, loving wisdom as his aunt had (and indeed, all of Grandma’s family), suggested to me that I write her a poem instead, since I can’t be there.

Poetry is hard, as I’ve bemoaned on Twitter before. But it also satisfies in a way prose cannot. I wrote a poem for my grandfather after his death, and it helped—me in the writing of it, others in the family in the reading. So it was a gift, to myself, to Aunt Ortha, and to the family, to be able to wrestle with these oh-so-inadequate words, and shape them into something that captures the outlines, at least, of what my heart feels.

This Is Not Goodbye

Louise Bates

I will not say goodbye today
Because you are not truly gone
We see your face in so many here
Your heart in even more.
Your smile, your eyes, the family traits
Those you have passed down
But more—and far greater:

Your kindness, your warmth, your wisdom
The way you were first to help
A pair of hands for whatever was needed
A loving heart and listening ear
Your ready laugh and constant smile.

Those have not died, for they are immortal
Living on in the lives of all you touched.
And if they’ve lived on—
Then so have you.
So I will not say goodbye today.
I will smile through the tears
And look for you in the people you loved.

children, Life Talk, philosophy

My Own Dancing Star

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Saturday was Joy’s first ballet recital. She started taking lessons in November, and they quickly became the highlight of her weeks.

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“I love to watch her smile when she dances,” her teacher has told me after lessons sometimes. “You just can’t teach that.” After the recital, she said it again: “Even on stage, she didn’t look at all nervous, she just beamed. You can tell she loves it. It makes me so happy to see it.” Other people, too, commented on how much she glows when she dances.

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I asked her, as I parked the car at the school before the recital, and it was just the two of us, if she was nervous. She looked at me as though I were a little strange. “No,” she said, it apparently being the most obvious thing in the world.

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She had so much poise in the dance itself, and even afterward, despite the crowds and the noise and the newness of it all. She posed for picture after picture with the family, with her friends, alone. She never stopped smiling. When I think of how far she has come from the little girl who was crippled by new situations, by loudness, by crowds of people, by fear, it makes me want to weep with thankfulness and delight. She’s a different kid than she was even a year ago. She’s still unique, still Joy, but so much of a healthier, happier Joy than she used to be. I am so glad to see it, so privileged to be her Mom.

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She’s looking forward to a summer of fun at the beach and park, but she’s also already counting down the days until ballet starts up again in September.

influences, Life Talk, philosophy

Back Off

When the news about the Star Wars cast came out, I was beside myself with delight. Not that it was unexpected, but the thrill of knowing for certain that Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie were going to be back on the big screen, that these heroes of my youth were coming back, as much older as I was, but just as heroic? Thrilling.

I promptly went on Twitter to share my joy. Instead, I got barraged with innumerable tweets complaining about the lack of diversity, especially gender diversity, among the cast.

I get that. It’s a problem. As Michael A Stackpole put it so well, it’s a problem especially in Star Wars because the Empire was oppressive, misogynistic, xenophobic, elitist, and to not show a diversity in the cast now undermines much of what the Rebellion was fighting for.

Here’s the thing, though: at that moment, when I was nearly turning cartwheels over the thought of Princess Leia being back on the screen, I did not need to be overwhelmed with negativity. (Never mind the fact that I would be happier with ONE character with the depth of Leia than a dozen stereotyped “strong sexy women” on screen – I find those caricatures as offensive as the lack of women in general). I just wanted to share my thrill over my heroes.

And I do understand that for others, their need to share their disappointment was as strong as my need to share my joy. I’m not criticizing people for their honest reactions (although I am unhappy that negative reactions seem to shame positive ones – I felt like I couldn’t say anything happy about the Star Wars casting for fear of people throwing stones at me, as well). But for me, it illuminated a deeper problem.

I love social media for its ability to bring people together, and to allow us to connect with people we otherwise would never meet. I love that I have found other authors through it, people I can talk with about writing. I love discovering shared fandoms. And yes, I also like finding shared dislikes. But it’s getting to affect me too much.

The Star Wars tweets killed my joy. Slew it right in its tracks. And I don’t want that! I don’t want to be so tied in to social media that it can have that power over me.

Yesterday, I took almost the entire day off from the internet. I pulled out my old Gilmore Girls DVDs, and watched them while I made strawberry scones, washed a zillion loads of dishes, worked all afternoon on my niece’s quilt, made supper, and then worked on the quilt for the rest of the evening.

And it was great. It was exactly what I needed. Even Emily and Lorelai’s bickering seemed uplifting in comparison to the negative, swirling morass of Twitter and Facebook.

So, I’m stating this here, so you guys can keep me honest. I’m backing off social media. Not giving it up entirely, because I do have friends I don’t want to lose, and I do like to keep up on the world outside of seminary. But much, much less. Because it’s turning into an unhealthy relationship (okay, if I’m honest, it’s been unhealthy for a while because of how closely it hovers to an addiction, but now it’s becoming so obviously unhealthy I can’t ignore it any more), and because, of all the stress in my life, this is one I can most easily remove. I’ll still be on Twitter once in a while, still on FB occasionally, probably even still blog sometimes, but nothing like as pervasive as it all has been.

I am slowly untangling the death grip of social media’s tentacles around my throat, and I’m looking forward to being able to breathe unimpeded again.