Monday, March 31, 2014

My Writing Process

My good friend, Kate Hopper, has invited me to participate in this fun little blog tour about writing process. Kate is a brilliant writer and teacher who has published two books you might be interested in: Ready for Air: A Journey through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. She has taught at the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference since its inception, and that's how I've gotten to know her. She is fun, thoughtful, and passionate, and I just love reading her stuff and getting to chat with her!

So, here's a little bit about my writing process:

1) What am I working on?
I am currently shaping and straightening, like a hairdo, a collection of essays-in-memoir about my relationship with my dad and my relationship with my husband. It travels from youth through adolescence and then takes a hop, skip, and jump into the tenth year of marriage. The essays wrestle with body image, temptation, love, romance, obsession, faith, self-confidence, transitions from father's daughter to husband's wife, role reversal, the objectification of women, and parenting. And everything else I can jam in, too. The collection is tentatively titled, American Honey. This is the primary focus of my writing world right now, although I have sent out some poems here and there, just for fun.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
A lot of my material is rooted in faith and in doubt, wrestling between the two, and even though God might not come up directly in essays, underneath the surface he's always there. Like many essayists, I write to know more and to ask questions about what I think I know already or hope to know soon. I try to achieve what in yoga my friend, Jody, calls being "rooted and reaching" - my feet are generally planted firmly in the practical details of life while my hands are reaching upward and outward, seeking meaning beyond the physical world.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because it is what feels most urgent right now, and I don't know of many books in which marriages survive. I wanted to write a marriage memoir that shows the nitty-gritty details of daily life, with all its challenges and compromises and promises, in the midst of living. Most marriage memoirs I know, the spouse either leaves or dies. In case you don't know yet, I am still happily married to my husband, and both of us aren't dead yet. The funny thing about trying to write these essays is that my dad kept appearing, and I decided to let that thread develop in my writing, to follow where Dad led me. This turned out to be a good idea. I have learned so much about myself and my marriage and my husband and my father by following the flitting butterfly through the field.

4) How does my writing process work?
I tend to write blathering first drafts that are horrible and ugly and resemble the title of my blog, "And so" first drafts. The lovely thing about these first drafts is that often one essay actually contains two... or more... essays that can be yanked out and shaped until they look more like something someone might want to read someday. I jam writing time into the crevices of the day - I am writing this on my lunch break while my husband plays basketball and my son takes a nap - or in the evenings after the kids are asleep. Sometimes, if a thought is really nagging on me, I'll carry my laptop around the house from task to task. It sits on the dryer while I fold laundry. It sits on the counter while I chop carrots. I usually work on more than one essay at a time because I'm thinking about more than one thing at a time. Lately it's all nonfiction, but maybe someday I'll write a poem again.

Next Up!
Here are three ladies you should get to know. They will post their blog tour replies next Monday, but check them out now!

Sonya Huber - I met Sonya through the Ashland MFA Program when she taught for us, and I adore her passion, her laugh, and her compassion for others. She is a lovely writer and a lovely person.

Callie Feyen - Callie and I are social media pals. I've never met Callie in person but we've exchanged packets of writing together for over a year, and her blogs about parenting are just phenomenal.

Yankee Drawl - Jayna and I have known each other since high school. She blogs about parenting three little people, and I think she is hilarious.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I Don't Read Postcards from Hell

I got a soul that I won't sell, 
And I don't read postcards from hell. 
- The Wood Brothers

It's been about a year and a half since I wrote this post, "Crazy Jesus Parables and Dead Pigs." In hindsight, it's a rather cryptic post. I don't give any context to why driving out demons and the house of the impure spirits meant something to me right then, that fall; I don't let on that I felt like I was constantly pushing off the temptation to engage another man who was interested in me, I don't let on that I did not want anything to do with him but I also didn't mind hearing that someone found me attractive, I don't share how conflicted I felt, how guilty I felt, how weak and needy and lonely I felt, even though my husband was around, yes, around, but I missed him. I was distracted and tense, trying desperately to stay pure, to resist temptation, to keep it together.

I wrote about what was happening in my life but I didn't really write what was happening in my life. My world was under threat, and I was the first guard at the gate. What better weapon to wield than the Word of God? 

I am not sure what would have become of me and my marriage if it wasn't for the Bible. 

This sounds crazy. 

Crazy Jesus Parables and Dead Pigs sustained me. Letters from the epistles reminded me what to do when my emotions reeled, when my immediate heart's desire was to be filled, to be filled with something, anything, when the easiest access was this other man who so readily handed out compliments, who readily flirted, who assumed I wanted to hear these things... and I did.

Except I wanted to hear them from my husband, the man I had committed to love, til death do us part, not him.

As fall crept into winter and winter sloshed into spring, resistance built on resistance, brick by brick. Gradually, it passed. It passed, and I survived. Our marriage survived. The notes and emails from him didn't stop, entirely, and some of the things he said ran on a random loop in my brain, but I knew what was right. I knew what was good. I knew what was true.

Lately, my guilt and shame about being tempted at all has dissolved away into rage. How dare he? I find myself thinking, from the safe distance of a healed marriage, from behind the wall of love and security my husband has built around me. This is one truth: I did not ask for those things. The realization that what I put up with for almost a full year could have been, should have been, called sexual harassment, this realization obliterates everything else.


Because this is another truth: I was still vulnerable. There is something inside me that longed to be filled, to be openly adored and desired, and, let's face it, after nine years of marriage, isn't everyone a little tired of trying so hard all of the time? The temptation was strong. It would be a lie to push the burden of responsibility entirely onto the other person. But it would also be a lie to take the full weight of that responsibility.

From this side of mercy, Brandon and I tell each other all things. Everything has been laid bare here; every temptation, every hurt, every longing. He has seen it all, and he still loves me. He loves me, he loves me, he loves me.

From this side of mercy, I see the Word of God a bit differently. As a new believer, I viewed the Bible and its rules as guidelines to earn God's love and acceptance. The B-I-B-L-E: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. How clever. The laws of God were given to keep me in line; if I followed them, then God would bless me. If I broke them, God would turn his back on me.

Over and over again, the psalmists praise God's laws and precepts. "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long," the psalmist says in Psalm 119. What?! How could someone sing about rules? How could someone love the law, those restrictions, those barriers, how could someone praise God for the law?

From this side of mercy, however, I find myself singing along with the psalmist, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." It was the law, the Word of God, that showed me the way and said, now walk in it. The heart only wanted to be filled, immediately. I used to think the Law was given to earn God's love, but now I see that the Law was given as a gift of love from God. The Law was a grace bearer. The Law, fulfilled in Christ, delivered me. 

Here, child. I love you. I don't want to see you in pain. Here, let me tell you what to do, even though you think this is the hardest thing you could do, here, let me show you the way so that you might walk in it, so that you might walk into the valley, through the desert, and enter the promised land. You will persevere; perseverance will produce character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint. You will do more than survive, my child, you will thrive.

Daily I sing, from this side of mercy, from this side of grace, from the broken but healed side of redemption, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Beauty Everywhere

A raging feminist has been lurking dormant in my system, it seems, and lately I find myself enraged at the objectification of women, lies we're told about our bodies, lessons we learn by osmosis-- how to talk about ourselves as never meeting the Photoshopped standard, too big here, not enough there, flaw after flaw after flaw, how to measure our self-worth, whose opinion matters. How dare they, I think. How dare I be judged and judge myself only on appearance?

Because of this, I have wrongly started to resist the word "beauty," hesitate to label a person as beautiful. The beauty of a human body is too closely aligned with sex appeal in our culture. I find myself thinking, "Wow, she is really beautiful," and then flinch - oh, no, am I a product of my culture? Have I fallen slave to the sex selling machine?

I want to be beautiful. Not just the inner beauty we all tout around, I also want to be beautiful outside; to leak joy and hope, yes, but also to view my physical being, not just my spirit, as a thing of beauty. Instead, I have been trained to analyze every perceived flaw in my figure. 

Beauty, we say, is in the eye of the beholder, but I don't think that's true.

When we look at the mountains, do we think, "Well, that range sure would be stunning if the trees were a little taller." When we look at a flower, do we think, "Oh, if only that marigold had a few more bunches of yellow, then it would be beautiful." When we are overwhelmed to the point of silence by a sunset over water, clouds pierced by rays of light reflected on waves, an array of color so bright we have to squint, our eyes tear up, can we think anything except awe, anything except, "Wow. Stunning. Amazing. Awesome. Gorgeous. Beautiful."

No. The thing itself is beautiful, whether we say so or not. Even the crumbling brown landscape underneath the frozen pack of snow finally exposed in the bright March light this eternal winter is beautiful, its grasses crisp, its dirt soaked, the buds on its branches so real, so good, so true. It is beautiful because it is. It is beautiful because it is real. It is good. It is true.

The philosophers of the ages hold up beauty as transcendental, equal to and paired with truth and goodness. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are the defining characteristics of God in the church. Where one goes, the other two follow. Complete truth, beauty, and goodness is holiness; it is what Christians aspire to in order to achieve wholeness in Christ, who is the embodiment of these three characteristics. 

Beauty is fine in nature, it is fine in art, fine in landscape, fine in architecture, fine even in the perfection of math, in science, in physics, beauty as theory as measurement as precision as symmetry as color as prism as light. 

Why not the human body?

This, I asked myself today as I walked from my office back to my car, surrounded once more by college students, all in their late teens and early 20s, bodies embellished or hidden, tucked in skinny jeans, falling out of tank tops, topped with ball caps, pierced, tatted, booted, some bare, some smiling, some talking, some frowning, some laughing, and all I wanted to do was stop each one and say, "God, you're beautiful." All of you. Miraculous you. You are beautiful because you are. You are real. You are good. You are true. You are beautiful, God-breathed, unique.

There's a quote that is often mis-attributed to C.S. Lewis that says, "You don't have a soul. You have a body. You are a soul." I used to love this, loved it even after I knew that C.S. Lewis didn't say it, because it de-emphasized the part of my being that I have always been most critical of, scorned and embarrassed by. Good, see, I will shed this body and be an eternal soul, and that's all I need to worry about, my soul, its truth and goodness and beauty, not my body, withering and dull and flawed. 

But this is not true. We are souls. We are also bodies. We are also minds. We are also spirits. We are all of these things, so intricately woven together that we still cannot unravel them to find where soul ends and body begins, where mind stops and spirit starts. We are all of these things, mystery of creation and dust, mystery of growth and decay. We cannot deny that we are also bodies; we cannot rail against the structure that holds the rest of us together. To deny the body is to deny a part of our being, and now we are denying ourselves wholeness. Truth. Goodness. Beauty.

Can we begin to separate sex appeal from human beauty? Can we begin to celebrate the human body in its strength, its tone, its architecture, its flexibility, its aesthetic design, its full range of motion and its ability to heal? How drastically different would it be to think of ourselves this way, instead of comparing ourselves to the cover of a magazine, judging a woman who walks down the street, casting a downward glance to avoid the crazy thought that someone else is lovely? Can we begin to speak truth into ourselves, into our children, into our family members, into our friends, maybe even into strangers, "God, you're beautiful." Beautiful because you are

Beauty. It is not such a difficult word.