What I’m Into: January 2015 Edition

what i'm into - jan 2015

Once, in grad school, a professor walked into the room the first day of spring semester and said, “Thank God for January in Minnesota. When else would we get any writing done!”

I think about her, about this small, off-handed bit of wisdom, every year when January comes around. Most years, I’ve rolled my eyes at it — I have little kids. January gives me no more time to write than any other time of year! But now that Dane’s in Kindergarten all day, and Liam’s in preschool a couple of days a week, I find that I’m starting to understand what she meant.

There’s something about the cold, blank days: a kind of implicit permission to hole up in your imagination and work. And maybe it’s the extra breathing space I have this year, or the antidepressants, or the mild temps we’ve had this month, but I’m tentatively okay this January. The winter blues which are usually chasing at my heels have so far stayed at bay, and I find myself thanking God for January just a little bit too. When else would we get any work done?

What I’m Reading

With the first draft of my book turned in, I have been reading like crazy. I have more books checked out from the library than I will ever be able to read — but I can’t help it. It’s January in Minnesota, and I’m taking a break from my own words, and I just want to read everything. Here’s what I read this month:

book - little big liesBig Little Lies, Lianne Moriarty

Both of the Lianne Moriarty novels that I’ve read have been set squarely in the cliquey, backstabbing, judgey world of suburban Elementary-School-Parents. Yes, it’s set in Australia. Yes, it’s fiction. But it’s so realistic and compelling that I’m convinced it’s part of the reason that I’m afraid to “get involved” at Dane’s school. Apparently, sometimes it even leads to murder!! (Fun, fast, page-turner. Definitely worth the $3.99 I paid to get it on my Kindle.)

book - insurgentInsurgent, Veronica Roth

I wasn’t crazy about the second book of this series. I don’t know if I just put too much time between my reading of the first book and the second, but I couldn’t remember who any of the minor characters were, and I found it hard to get invested in the same way. Also, Tris and Four were in the middle of a really dumb fight the whole book, and I just wanted to make them sit down and talk about their feelings. What can I say? Once a junior high peer mediator, always a peer mediator.

book - accidentThe Accident, Chris Pavone

I started this one on audiobook in the car on the way to and from Chicago at Christmas and finished it after we got home. It was a fun, fast read, and the writing was really beautiful — a facet that those fast-paced mysteries don’t always have. A favorite line: “It had been effervescent, like the fizz from Champagne, flat before they left the hallway in the Irish pub, flat but still drinkable, drinkable til it was gone, which it was when they left the bar, leaving those singles and fives scattered all over the goddamned place, Lord knows how ridiculous a tip they left.”

book - yes pleaseYes, Please, Amy Poehler

I expected to laugh out loud a lot more than I actually did in this book. I will always love Amy Poehler, but her book felt a little disjointed to me, and her humor often seemed to dance on the edge of cruelty. I get the feeling that a lot of her onscreen work is done in collaboration, and I think it’s very possible that the act of working with others brings out the very best of who she is…while the isolation of book-writing…limits it. Just an opinion. Still, it was worth the read, and it had some great lines and moments. Like this one: “It doesn’t matter how much you get; you are left wanting more. Success is filled with MSG.”

book - vernoica marsVeronica Mars: Mr Kiss and Tell, Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

I am a devoted fan of Veronica Mars. I loved every episode of the show, got fan-girly at the movie, and am super jazzed that creator Rob Thomas and MFA-grad Jennifer Graham started a book series with my favorite snarky PI-girl. So of course, I pre-ordered the second Veronica book and received it the day it came out. It’s, of course, an easy, guilty-pleasure kind of read, but there’s something very fun about being able to keep up with the characters long after the TV show has ended.

book - god of small thingsThe God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

Lest you think I’m all fluff and zero substance when it comes to my reading habits, I have been trying to expand this year. I’m working on reading things from other cultures, as well as books that have won literary awards a recognition — a habit I’ve gotten out of since I finished my MFA. This novel from Indian writer Arundhati Roy is so structurally brilliant, and the language and rhythm of it is completely haunting. It’s not a simple, fast read (ahem — Veronica Mars), and it’s sad and hard — but also beautiful and thought-provoking. I still have about a hundred pages left, but I’ll definitely finish it before January ends.

What I’m Watching

Did you know that the Hallmark Channel not only has eye-rollingly sappy movies at Christmas…but all year long? It’s a little harder to rationalize this intense level of sap without the Christmas twinkle lights…but I have somehow managed to do it. Plus, I’ve gotten into a new habit of watching them long-distance with Leigh Kramer via text message. During the show we mock the plot “twists”, covet the outfits, and plan to write Hallmark movies ourselves one day. During commercials, we catch up on life. It’s the next best thing to actually living close.

Andrew and I are enjoying the final season of Parks and Recreation, and, of course, I am still bursting into random bouts of tears after the finale of Parenthood last night.

My other regular shows are just starting to come back on, and I’d like to say I used the time “away” to do Good-for-My-Brain things, like listen to TED Talks and NPR. But I didn’t. Instead, I re-watched four-and-a-half seasons of Gilmore Girls. 

damien riceWhat I’m Listening To

On repeat this month is Damien Rice’s new album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy. I love melancholy music, so it stands to reason that Damien is one of my faves. Other than that, I haven’t done a lot of musical exploration. What can I say. January.

 

Other Things I’m Into

Swoopy bangs and red pants: I can’t believe I have gone this far in life without owning red pants. I wear them every chance I get. As for the bangs, I still like them — but only when my hair is down. I haven’t figured out how to make them look cute with my hair up. Any suggestions from fellow swoopy-bang-girls?

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Liam’s first field trip: We rode on the school bus and went to the library, where we learned where to find books about turtles and tortoises — Liam’s favorite animal two years running. It was magic.

liam library

Celebrating the small, good choices: This year, for the first time, I’m finding space in the tension of discipline and grace to value small good choices rather than shaming myself for the failures. It’s the smallest mental shift — not BIG MONTHLY GOALS, but small daily decisions — treating every choice as something valuable and important. I becoming a little bit more mindful — letting things happen to me less and being more aware of my choices. It’s a good thing.

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Sixty boxes-turned-suitcases for the church women’s retreat: The women’s ministry I belong to is the most wonderful group, and just showing up, week after week, has done so much to heal my relationship with Church Ladies. One of the things that amazes me about this group is the ways they love extravagantly. There is space in the budget for gifts of love — things that don’t “matter” in a measurable way…but that communicate that each person there is seen and valued and worth the trouble.

This month, we had our annual retreat, which was a road trip theme, and I got to make the suitcase-gift box full of road-trippy goods, which I found on Pinterest and recreated to the best of my ability. It took a week of nonstop crafting, and there were points in it that I vowed to never volunteer for such a thing again. But in the end, it was such an honor to be able to be part of that ministry of love in this small way.

suitcases

Linking up, as usual, with one of my favorites — Leigh Kramer.

What have you been into this month?

On Telling Our Deepest Stories

deeper storyFor about two-and-a-half years, I’ve had the privilege of being part of the team of Storytellers over at A Deeper Story.

The site existed before I tiptoed anxiously out into the cavernous space of the Internet, and the writer’s there had already been doing the brave work of sharing their stories for almost a year.

A year of stories and confessions, doubts and fears. A year of baring their souls, throwing their treasured secrets into the world in the hopes that they might connect with someone who needed to hear them.

I’ve just stared reading Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver’s first “autobiographical book” — a series of prose, prose poems and poems called The Winter Hours. In her forward, she writes:

“I have felt all my life that I was wise, and tasteful to, to speak very little about myself — to deflect the curiosity in the personal self that descends upon writers, especially in this country and at this time, from both casual and avid readers.”

She goes on to confess that although this book is about herself, that readers should not expect it to “open to public view the important and proper secrets of the heart.”

The important and proper secrets of the heart.

I don’t, of course, begrudge Mary Oliver her privacy or her boundaries. She’s right — we do live in a voyeuristic society, and it’s easier than ever to find ourselves the paparazzi — stalking strangers for their secrets for no other reason than our own greedy curiosity.

And yet. 

On the other side of that spinning coin of self-revelation is something else. Something beautiful. A pin-point of connection, a startling moment of Me too. There is a certain kind of freedom in hearing someone else’s story. Permission and understanding and the courage that comes from knowing that you’re not alone after all.

I wrote my book, for the first time, in a place of isolation. I wasn’t naive enough to believe that I was the only one who’d struggled in the wake of growing up evangelical…but I certainly felt like it. I wrote my book in the quiet of my own heart, but it was hearing my story reflected by other brave and beautiful people in the blog-world that gave me the courage to let it into the world. I wasn’t an anomaly; mine was one tiny piece of a great tableau unfolding. And places like Deeper Story reminded me that every thread, every voice, every sentence, mattered.

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Last Friday, Editor Nish Weiseth announced that Deeper Story will be going offline as of March 1st.

Nish’s letter explains it beautifully, and though I feel the loss of it, I also know that the Internet is a changing dynamic place. That we’ll be hearing these voices in other spaces and capacities. And most of all, that the stories will keep being told, deeply and humbly and imperfectly and beautifully. For that I’m grateful.

Thanks mostly to Nish’s commitment to her writers and their work, I get to keep the rights to all the content that I wrote for Deeper Story. Maybe that seems simple or logical…but trust me — it doesn’t always turn out that way. And it’s a big deal.

I spent a couple of days this week slowly moving my posts back here into their own special series: The Deeper Story Collection. (This is why, if you subscribe to this blog via email, you might have gotten more than one post the other day.) They’ll still be accessible from Deeper Story, but it felt important to me to have them all “live” in one place where they could be easily accessed.

You can read everything I posted at Deeper Story here, but here are a few of my very favorites:

For My Sons: On Depression – September 2013

Right now you are small. Four and two. Your emotional landscapes are simple – albeit tumultuous. You erupt in big, fiery bouts of anger and your happiness is as sudden and wild as lightning. You are in your pre-school years, and this is exactly as it should be.

And I can’t explain this to you when you ask me in the drive thru, “What medicine, Mom?” When you look at me, all curiosity and concern, I can’t tell you the whole, hard truth. But someday, you’re going to need to know it. Someday, your psyche will gel into something more solid – and listen: this darkness might be part of it.

You, after all, have my eyes. [Read full piece here]

A Love Song for Delilah – June 2013

The truth is that very few of us know how to truly believe in our own beauty without the second glance from a car window every now and then, the smile from the stranger at the end of the bar.

They offer you eleven hundred shekels of silver – each – to overcome Samson with your beauty and learn the secret of his strength, but I know you. You might have done it for free – just to find out if you could. To find out if you were enough. If, of all the women in the room, he would see you most of all.

If the boy doesn’t see you, do you even exist? [Read full piece here]

Unequally Yoked – April 2013

No one told me that it is possible to feel a little unequally yoked even if you started out with a shared faith. Even if you’re both Christians. Even if you begin the whole thing with a united picture of God. [Read full piece here]

Reconstructing the Bridge Metaphor – March 2013

In the end, faith is so much about uncertainty. So much about struggle. You hang on the best you can, and you try to remember that even if you lose your grip, this Love will not let you go. [Read full piece here.]

In Defense of the 4-Letter Word – October 2012

But, here, I think is where we miss it: it’s not just curse words that can become profane. It can happen to any word. It’s possible, I think, even to make God-talk profane.

When we say the easy thing instead of the true thing. When we slouch into Christian cliché instead of listening. When we give the easy answers, dismiss one another’s pain, idly make promises that we have no intention of keeping — all of that is language abused, defiled, tossed away.

And upon hearing of a friend’s cancer diagnosis, I might go so far as to suggest that it’s more profane to say God never gives you more than you can handle than it is reach across the table, grab her hands, whisper the word fuck. [Read the full piece here.]

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If you have some time, I’d encourage you to head over to Deeper Story and check out some of the other Storytellers.

This is what I did when I first discovered the site — wandered slowly down the contributor’s page, one by one. It was in that exploration that I found some of my most kindred spirits and favorite voices on the Internet. And I hope that you will too.

And maybe, take a minute today and flip that coin. Tell a bit of your own story to someone. Maybe it’ll just be another thing someone says, and the moment will pass, and no one will much notice.

Or maybe, it will break through the loneliness, the isolation, the despair. Maybe it will spark that tear-welling moment of Me too. Maybe you will find yourself threaded together in a great and beautiful tableau — one sentence of the whole lovely thing.

Friendship and the Confirmed Introvert

My friend Cara Strickland over at Little Did She Know is wrapping up her recent series on Friendship with a syncroblog. I thought I’d join in on the fun. Check out the other posts here!

photo credit: hermitsmoores via photopin cc

photo credit: hermitsmoores via photopin cc

“Kindred spirits are not so scare as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ~ L. M. Mongomery, Anne of Green Gables

I have spent a lot of my life navigating that gray space between Alone and Lonely.

On the Introvert-Extrovert spectrum, I am about as far to the Introvert side as can get without actually being a desert monk. I’ve been this way since I was a kid — every day zipping myself into my winter coat so that I could read in my own little bubble during outdoor recess.

As I get older, my Introverted soul seems to take up more and more space inside of me. These days, given the choice between People and No People, I almost always choose alone time. I think it has a lot to do with the constancy of mothering young boys — all that talking, all that noise and energy and interaction. By the time the end of the day comes and they’re tucked into their bed, I don’t want to talk on the phone or meet for a drink or for coffee. I just want to crawl into the silence. I want to be alone.

I have also spent a lot of my life navigating clinical depression.

I don’t understand what it is about my physiology that makes this true — why it is that my neurons don’t fire on all cylinders, why there’s such a pull for me toward the gray of not feeling, not caring, not being able to move forward. I take antidepressants and Vitamin D. I own a Light Box and I work hard to make space for exercise and sunlight. And yet, I think it will always be there, the pull toward this shadowland.

It’s taken me a long time to understand that these two things are connected. That my propensity toward depression and my extreme introvertedness create a kind of vortex that seems to always be trying to pull me in. My default mode is to keep others at bay to make room for myself, and the depression makes it worse — makes me isolate and disengage.

It’s not long before Alone turns to Lonely, not long before I’m lost in my own isolation.

Eight years ago, when I was at my lowest place, I blamed the Church People. I slammed the door and hated them for not seeing me. At some level, it was true — they didn’t see me, and in some ways, they were at fault for that.

But also, I worked very hard not to let myself be seen.

“We didn’t know you were lonely,” they’d said when I’d left. “We thought you were just busy!” I was livid and shattered that day when I walked out of that House Church. I had shown up every week in the early morning at that little coffee shop. I had been there, barely holding on, dying before their eyes. How did they miss it?

It’s taken me nearly a decade to begin to see the ways I disappeared into that vortex back then, pulled deeper into myself. I was depressed. I didn’t realize it yet, but I had gone entirely away.

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Will you wrinkle your nose and roll your eyes if I tell you that for this Introverted Writer Girl, friendship is a heavy kind of gift? I want it. I value it. I desperately need it in my life, and I understand it’s immeasurable worth. But it wears me out.

But also, I’m learning to make small, grace-filled changes. I’m learning that I can run, that I am strong, that it’s lifting the heavy things again and again and again that makes me stronger still.

And friendship is a unwieldy, beautiful gift. It’s one that I want to hold tight to…even when it feels like too much for my Introverted heart.

The vulnerability of writing books and articles and blog posts is real and important and valuable. But it’s not the same kind of vulnerability as inviting someone to sit in my kitchen, eat chips straight from the bag, and talk late into the night. In those moments, I am top-heavy — too talkative, too sarcastic, too silly, too cynical. I don’t have the luxury of editing or waiting for the perfect word.

I almost never want to do it. In the tentative hours before the get-together, when the kids are loud and the insistent Introvert voice in my head wants QUIET, I’m almost always tempted to cancel. The whole thing feels too much too hold.

I’m learning hold on anyway.

And when I do, I begin to see that My People are all around me. That I was never as alone as I thought I was.

They have been here the whole time.

The Slow Work of a New Year

It’s January 22st, and I’m still easing into the New Year.

This is not how I usually am. Generally by the time the ball drops over Time’s Square, I’ve made a page-long list of resolutions divided into various subcategories: Relationships.Writing. Personal. Family/Home. Spiritual. Health. I’ve always gravitated toward the idea of blank slates and turning points. A new year; another try. A chance to get it all right from the get-go.

Normally, by the time the New Year rolled around, I would have had a completely fleshed out Blogging Plan and a new determination to Write More. I would have had measurable goals and barometers for success and all the other things that the writers of business-y books say you need to succeed.

It’s January 22nd. And I don’t.

This year, I dragged a lot of things with me into the first days of 2015, not the least of which was the almost-not-quite-finished draft of the Book #2 manuscript that was due to my editor months ago. I spent the first late nights and early mornings of the new year bent over the troubling portions of the book, writing and erasing, writing and erasing.

Finally, on Monday the 5th, I sat in the middle of the total wreck of my kitchen, finished the last three paragraphs, and sent it off.

Then I ate a cookie and put away the Christmas stuff. Or 3/4 of it. As I write this, the nativity, mistletoe and Christmas art are all still up, and I’m too tired to really care.

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks wandering around, blinking, as though I just emerged from a windowless room. I suppose in some ways I was — cloistered in the private world of the work I was trying to do. The finished pages whipped away from my email inbox — so quick, so simple — and then they were gone…off in the Void, waiting to be read by the People Who Read Such Things.

Over the next few days, I cleaned out my closets and got my hair cut. I let the impossibly thin and beautiful stylist cut a swoop of bangs across my forehead and then spent the rest of the day trying to catch my reflection in mirrors and windows, not sure if I looked silly or stylish.

I tried on a pair of fire-engine red corduroy pants at Marshall’s and sent Kim and Alissa a selfie from the dressing room. “Can I pull these off?” I asked. “YES!” They said. “Buy them!” They said. And since they were only seven dollars, and since I had finished my book, I did.

Note: It's surprisingly hard to get a photo in which you capture both your new red pants and your new bangs. This is not the best. But I tried.

Note: It’s surprisingly hard to get a photo in which you capture both your new red pants and your new bangs. This is not the best. But I tried.

I started running again. I started making green smoothies for breakfast again and started keeping a giant pitcher of lemon-cucumber water in the fridge. I never wrote on a piece of paper, No Diet Coke in 2015!, but when I walked down the aisles at Walmart past 24-packs of Diet Coke, I began to tell myself, “Not right now. If you really need some, you can come back later. Just not now.”

I didn’t make resolutions for the first time ever…but I find myself moving slowly, tentatively, toward new habits. Maybe it has to do with starting the year off working through the final chapters of my book. Maybe it’s just the Tired Thirties. For whatever reasons, I find myself deeply aware of the slowness of change. It doesn’t usually look like a sharp angle from a single resolution toward a new life. It’s the ordinary work of creating new patterns. Falling back into old ones. Standing up, brushing off, and trying again.

Maybe it sounds simple to you, but it’s a revolutionary concept for this perfectionist-idealist. This girl who wants so much to get it right the first time has spent the last year writing and erasing, writing and erasing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting.

And I wonder if coming to your life is a little like coming to the page: open-hearted, brave, bringing everything you have, knowing that some days you’ll get it wrong, some days you’ll get nothing done, some days it will be the wrong words…but that it’s all part of the process. You don’t know exactly where you’re going, but you have the general idea of what you want it to feel like when you get there. So you come back again and again and again. Keep trying. Keep writing. Keep going.

It’s all part of creating something beautiful.

It’s a new-ish year. 2015. I don’t have any resolutions this year, but I want to like who I am. Instead of berating myself for my unhealthy habits, I want to begin to slowly move toward new ones. To accept when I fail, let it go, and then get up and try again.

I want to come back to the page no matter how many words I deleted last time. I want to wear those seven dollar red pants. I want to be brave and I want to be kind, and I want to be here…whatever that looks like, whatever that means.

All this to say…happy 2015. It’s been a while. But I’m back.