In the beginning was the Word

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All of creation is a story.

The whole universe is the Author and Perfecter of our faith authoring the perfect story. It’s a gorgeous tale of beauty and joy, of loss and depravity; a story of a light that darkness cannot understand and a love big enough to cure the incurable.

It has all the things we would consider the qualities of a good story. Noble queens and brave generals, shepherds turned kings, close-knit fellowships, and miraculous happenings. All of these elements leading to the climax of a perfect God laying down his life for his sinful and short-sighted creations because it was truly the only way to close the rift between us and Him.

God crafted this story and then wrote it on our very hearts. We are part of it and it is part of us, and it echoes in everything we do.

Tolstoy is quoted as saying: “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” But I think at the heart of all great literature (and even really terrible literature) is the Gospel. The search for meaning, connection, atonement.

Threads of the story run through comic books, romantic comedies, science fiction, action movies, fantasies, you name it. We are obsessed with ideas of redemption, resurrection, sacrifice, and justice.

Sometimes in our lives it comes out sideways, as we grasp at things we think will fulfill the story, things that turn out to be nothing more than red herrings. But all of it still traces back to the narrative created by the creator of story itself: a good God who is not only powerful and just, but also deeply creative.

It is a living narrative; one in which the characters make choices and move freely while somehow still staying in the capable hands of their writer.

This Good Friday I am reminded not only of the amazing love that was displayed at the cross, but also of the beauty and craftsmanship that this millennia-long story contains. A story that continues to unfold, allowing each of us to be a part of it, a story that starts, as all the best ones do with a once upon a time, and will end with the king  and his people living happily ever after.

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An Attitude Problem (or, Future Cat Lady Traits)

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I don’t like Ernest Hemingway.

Usually when someone makes a comment like this about an author he or she means that they don’t like the things that particular individual has written.

This understanding would be a logical way to interpret my above statement.

This is not really what I’m trying to say.

I strongly dislike Hemingway, as a person.

And not just in the way that I’m thinking “Huh, seems like he wasn’t a great guy I don’t really like him.” No, I am actually irritated by the thought of Hemingway, as if this long dead author wronged me in some grievous way.

You could argue that it does really have to do with my dislike of his writing:

Maybe it’s because I’ve analyzed “Hills Like White Elephants” line by line one too many times.

Maybe it’s because I don’t like his style ( the man used “and” so many times, and I’m not a fan of the expletive construction).

Maybe it’s because I get some sort of perverse glee in disliking something that everybody else thinks is the bee’s knees.

Or maybe it’s because when I do read Hemingway it makes me feel like there’s really no point in much of anything because everything is pretty terrible.

But that’s not it (although all of the above are true), the truth is I honestly haven’t read that much Hemingway and I don’t totally hate it when I do read stuff that he has written.  I am just irritated that what I am reading and not hating is written by this guy that I have decided I would not want to hang out with (were he still alive of course, I certainly don’t want to hang out with him in his current state).

What it really boils down to is that I don’t like Hemingway in the way you might not like that girl who was mean to you in 8th grade.  I have this perception, from portrayals of Hemingway and things I’ve read about him and in his own words, that I would find him rather unpleasant. He seems sort of like a pompous, holier-than-thou, condescending, curmudgeonly kind of guy.  Hemingway (who has been dead for 52 years) bothers me, on a really weirdly personal level.

Clearly, I am absolutely insane.  I think I’ve spent one too many hours in the library. I now judge writers based not on their works, but on their supposed personalities. I perceive them based on whether or not I would want to have lunch with them (Yes to Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Parker.  No to the Brontës, Emily Dickinson, and obviously, Hemingway).

It would appear that I am well on my way to my life as a reclusive, cat owning writer.

Critically Speaking…

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Last week I finished my junior year, which included a poetry class. I don’t particularly enjoy poetry workshops (in fact, I already talked about that here) and I was very, very glad to be finished. In honor of the completion of my last poetry class, ever, I give you my 4 least favorite/ least useful poetry critiques received this semester from my peers.*

“I love the idea of this poem…”

Maybe this was just my mild inferiority complex (which isn’t as good as anyone else’s, *ba dum ching!*) but I always inferred an unspoken second half to this critique; something like “…but your execution was absolutely wretched.” or “…too bad you wrote it so terribly.”

“It would be great if you could________I’m not sure how, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

Clearly not! If I could’ve “figured it out” in the first place then you wouldn’t have to point it out in this workshop.

“The language is kind of archaic

The tone of voice used to say archaic was  the tone of voice usually associated with “slimy cockroaches” or “spoiled milk.”  I like to believe that one poet’s archaic is another poet’s…vintage.

“It’s a little bit too concerned with rhyme and form.”

I got this critique on a sonnet, which is a form poem, that is supposed to rhyme. Granted, it was a pretty bad sonnet, but I’m still fairly bitter that the biggest negative critique about this poem was that it was essentially too “sonnety.”

Bitter joking aside, while I disliked my poetry workshop I loved my workshop teacher, and I am slightly grateful that the university forced me to broaden my writing horizons (but not as grateful as I am to be finished with all that well-rounded nonsense).

*I probably gave all of these critiques at some point during the semester, sometimes we’re just looking for something to say/write on the poem to get a participation grade.

On Being Brave

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I’m taking a poetry workshop this semester, I don’t like it. Just ask my family, my friends, the barista at Starbucks, I’ve been pretty vocal about it. The other evening as I was in the midst of complaining about the fact that we are workshopping a poem every other week for a total of nine workshops one of my friends said, “That’s not that bad.” This comment rubbed me the wrong way and I spent the next couple of minutes trying to explain to her why it was in fact, that bad. Here’s the thing, my friend was right, the poetry workshop really isn’t all that bad, or at least it shouldn’t be. It is good for me to stretch, to write things I don’t feel equipped to write, and to learn from my peers and teachers.  But the reason her comment put me on the defensive is that so far this semester the poetry workshop has been incredibly discouraging. It’s not just the feedback that I’m getting on my poems, although I now brace myself when I walk into class, it’s not even that I don’t like writing poetry and I’m not every good at it, although I don’t and I’m not.

The real reason that I’m so resistant to this class is that it feeds the fear that’s always present, the voice that whispers to me when I’m stuck in traffic or can’t sleep. It’s the idea that I can’t do it, that I’m not cut out to be a writer. The belief that I am woefully inadequate and am just pretending. The fear that I will never be good at any of the things I want to do and will have to do something else.  I would probably be better able to take and process the criticism from my peers if I was more confident in myself and believed more in the material I’m letting the class read. I am afraid to write because I’m worried I’ll discover that I am actually really bad at it.

But fear doesn’t get to run the show anymore, fear isn’t the deciding factor in my life.  So I’m going to keep going to class, and not just because I pretty much always go to all of my classes, but because I want to.   I want  to go because this is the year of doing things even though they scare me. I want to go because I want to succeed, and in this case success doesn’t mean writing the best student poetry my teacher has ever seen, it just means writing poetry and turning it in every other week. It also means complaining about it a whole lot less (but old habits die hard so I’ll still need plenty of grace in this area).

So, I guess I’m trying to be brave, and while poetry class isn’t truly that bad and is normally nothing to be afraid of, the way I see it bravery is relative.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

Ask Me

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This semester is my advanced poetry workshop (having the word advanced in the class title makes it sound like I’m a lot more of poet than I am). My first assignment was to write a poem based off of William Stafford’s Ask Me (If you’re only going to read one poem please read the Stafford one), I had to use the first and last lines of the original poem as well as the same number of lines. I actually wrote two poems because the first time I wasn’t entirely clear on the details of the assignment but I kind of like them both. Attempt #1:

Ask Me
Some time when the leaves have turned to gold ask me
words that I have spoken. Ask me if I made promises
I could not keep. Circles have been run.
And steps have been retraced again
and again. I have traveled with the same people in the same directions:
ask whether they have helped me move on
or if I am still traversing the same spots.

I will listen to you without running.
You and I can watch the trees as they shed the summer.
We are sure that it is only a matter of time
before the green returns, green that cannot last
but is never truly gone. What is now will not be tomorrow
but may be next year.
What the leaves say, that is what I say.

And here is the poem that actually meets the requirements:

Ask Me
Some time when the river is ice ask me
words that I have spoken. Ask me if I told stories
that were not my own. Adventures have flown by,
some seized and some let go. Ask me
who I have taken along and who would not
venture with me, who has spurred me on
and who has tried to slow my journey.

We can talk together.
We can watch the still water
churning within, full of its own stories yet to tell.
It waits for spring to start again,
showing us how to move forward, refusing to settle
in any one place for long.
What the river says, that is what I say.

What we talk about when we talk about cake*

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I think one of  my problems is balance, in writing I mean (my balance in real life isn’t so great either due to perpetual sinus issues, but that’s not what this is about).  I lack the ability to find a middle-ground.  When I develop a character I either write pages and pages of background on their life until I know how old they were when they lost their first tooth, what their favorite cereal is, and what brand of toothpaste they buy. This is actually sort of what you’re supposed to do when you first work on character development, but I’m usually using it to avoid actually writing a story (because that involves conflict and I am so non-confrontational I don’t even like to introduce it into the lives of the people I make up).  The alternative of course is when I get in a hurry and  start a story where I spend the first several pages referring to my lead as __________ , or (need to pick a name).

Characters though, really aren’t the worst of it. For instance, writing a description of a blue sky could go one of two ways:

a) The sky was as blue as the bluest sapphire, it was luminescent and the color of a robin’s feather. It was as blue as anything she had ever seen. It was bluer than the cornflowers in may, bluer than her little brother’s eyes, and bluer than the ocean. In fact, in her mind it had redefined “blue,” everything blue she would ever see for the very rest of her life would now be held up to the standard of this blue.

or:

b) The sky was blue.

I once wrote a short story for a class in which I avoided an important conversation that was occurring in the kitchen because I wasn’t sure what I wanted them to say. My teacher called me on it, which meant that for the revision stage of class I had to figure out what exactly my two main characters were talking about (I had been hoping that if I sent them to the other room everyone would forget about them until they came back). I (probably unfortunately) decided they were speaking of cake (I think this is probably because when I revise I eat constantly and so I had food on the brain). The two sisters talked for over a page about cake and ice cream, but what they were really talking about was ongoing arguments and their complicated familial relationships (basically all of the conflict I work to avoid).  I went from no conversation to an overly convoluted, heavily symbolic conversation which revolved around dessert (one of my favorite subjects).

But perhaps the worst area of my pendulum swing writing habits is the fact that sometimes I have nothing to write on this blog at all and sometimes, I write long, fairly rambling posts that have almost nothing to do with their titles. (See above.)

Now go find yourself some cake, you earned it if you made it this far.

*I definitely borrowed most of this blog title from the title of Raymond Carver’s collection. Also, I’m sorry if you were hoping for a post that was actually about dessert.

It’s All About Me!!!!

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My first post of 2013 is a vain one, as it is just a collection of facts about me.   These are some of the things about me that are likely weird and irritating, but I choose to believe are cute:

When someone waves awkwardly it instantly endears them to me.  This is because I too, have a waving problem.  When I see someone flap their hand at me  like they’ve lost control over their fingers (in a way I am familiar with) I so appreciate the effort put forth despite inability, it makes me feel important.  Also, it’s nice to know I’m not the only human being who can’t grasp basic motor skills.

I am clumsy.   I trip on nothing.  My feet get in the way of, well, my feet. I can also walk into the same desk corner/wall/article of furniture over and over again without ever learning that I should take that turn just a little bit differently, or just actually pay attention to what I’m doing.

I am absentminded, kind of.  Really I am fairly conscientious with a near-pathological fear that I am absentminded.  I remember to put the keys in my purse but freak out five minutes later because I can’t remember if I remembered to put the keys in my purse (I have dumped my purse out several different times, in multiple locations).  I become convinced that I forgot to fill out my time card, when in reality it was complete on time and exactly the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t forget to put my name on homework assignments yet as soon as I turn something in I become positive that it is the best paper I’ve ever written but it’s unintentionally anonymous. (My caveat is that sometimes I am completely spacey and do totally inane things.  So perhaps my fear of absentmindedness is in fact, legitimate.)

I laugh incredibly easily. I laugh at movies, t.v. shows, websites, books, things my friends say, things the people at the table in the restaurant next to me say, my dad’s insistence on wearing the paper pirate hats in Long John Silver’s, things I see on billboards, faces my little sister makes at the dinner table, this commercial (every time), the list goes on and on. Anyway, I laugh easily and I laugh hard. Things that could potentially make other people chuckle mildly or smile to themselves cause me to laugh audibly and obnoxiously, while convulsing as though I’m being poked with a cattle prod. Another thing is that I don’t really like my laugh.  One of my best friends has an adorable laugh, it the cutest giggle I’ve ever heard. I am not so lucky; my laugh (which as I’ve already pointed out, I hear all the time) is something I’ve come to terms with, but not something I find very pleasant to listen to. I’m also a crier, (under the right circumstances most of the above list can also trigger tears) which is worse than the laughing.

I don’t write enough, partly because I’m lazy but partly because I’m afraid. I’m worried that if I write more I might find out that I’m actually a horrendous writer, and I don’t really have a backup plan. So, the plan for this year is to write a lot more and to be okay with writing a lot of really bad stuff.  This is because I hope that this will help me to get over my fear of writing really bad stuff (this is not to say that I am intending to write poorly, or that I’m not hoping  to actually write some good stuff too). Part of this plan is to be ok if everything that I just wrote in this post falls under the “bad stuff’ category, (which is pretty likely as I’ve just used the word “stuff” four times in the last paragraph…oops, five).

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