From the Basement

May 9, 2010

Reading to Write

I get a lot of ideas for stories when I’m listening to sermons, which is admittedly not the most convenient time. But sometimes, I go to a church where I can pretty much guarantee that the sermon will not hold my attention, and so after worship, I let my mind wander …

This morning, my mind wandered to the land of Mother’s Day and all the rich stories that unfold in such a day. There are all sorts of mothers and not-mothers in this world, and when the sermon began this morning, the ideas started flowing for a short story.

Lately, my brain has been on fire, and it’s exciting. I haven’t been this prolific in months.

This burst of creative energy is due to two things, I think. First, I’m out of school, and I’ve been out long enough to get the “it-feels-like-spring-break” schedule out of my system. I’m itching to work on projects. Second, I’m reading again. That probably sounds strange, but I had a difficult time flipping between my academic reading and my pleasure reading (while they can be synonymous, there is a distinct difference between literary theory and murder mysteries).

During college, I forgot how essential reading was (is) to my writing process. To write, you must first read. And read a lot. At the moment, I’m engrossed in one particular book – Interpreter of Maladies, a Pulitzer-prize winning short story collection by Jhumpa Lahiri, who is (in my humble opinion) one of the most talented short story writers living today. Her narratives are subtle and emotionally compelling. But my reasons for reading her work are twofold: I read to enjoy, but I also read to learn. I’m new to the short story craft, and for the last year or so, I’ve been latching onto different short story writers. Lahiri is one; the late Angela Carter is another.

Reading for pleasure and reading to learn often overlap. There are authors I read to learn from, like Lahiri and Carter. And then, frankly, there are authors I read who, while enjoyable, are also great teachers in the school of How Not To. I’m thinking of Grisham, Patterson, Brown. I just picked up Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series this month, and while I enjoy the stories, they don’t intrigue me on a structural level. It’s a lesson in How Not To.

Of course, I don’t write like the authors I emulate, either. I couldn’t write like Lahiri or Carter if I tried. I can only write like me. But that means that I need to spend time with me, reading with me, brainstorming with me, in order to learn to write like me. I can’t go for a month without writing (or pleasure reading, for that matter) and expect to pick up where I left off months ago. This is why writing every day is so wonderful – it helps me find my voice and remember where I left it.

When I’m writing and reading every day, wonderful things happen. Juices flow. Energy sparks. And if I happen to find both my voice and a story buried in a Sunday sermon, well … I’ll take it.

May 8, 2010

On Identity in Christ

I’m writing this morning in a spirit of joy, gratitude, and contentment, though the contentment is slow settling in.

The last few days have been a rocky journey. I’ve been back on campus, seeing friends all around, something that should be a source of great joy. And it has been. But simultaneously, the poison that is bitterness has been seeping into my worldview. Over the last two days, I found myself interpreting others’ actions, wondering what they thought of me, feeling that disastrous need for recognition.

The need for recognition is a great spiritual struggle for me; it is hard to overcome. For the last two days, I’ve been wallowing in it, wallowing in bitterness, an emotion that feeds on itself, eating you from the inside out – I’ve been … well, not the most pleasant person to be around.

See, the harsh truth is that my “need” for recognition means that I want others’ approval, and the fact that I “need” their approval means that I’m not confident in my own accomplishments, abilities, etc., and if I’m not confident in those things, it’s because I’m not confident in who I am. So that need for recognition spirals into this need for others to tell me who I am – a good student/athlete/artist/girlfriend/friend/daughter/actress/poet … you get the idea.

Thing is, those are transient identities that will ebb and flow over the course of our lives. Athletes get injured. So do writers (just ask Stephen King). Marriages end. People die. Ultimately, the identities that flow from those other sources in our lives cannot define us, because the world can change in a nanosecond.

For example (and if you are the praying sort, your prayers are appreciated) – family friends of ours recently had their world rocked upside down. The husband is probably sitting in a hospital right now. His wife (who my mom used to babysit for) was driving her minivan with their three kids in the backseats. Someone ran a stop sign and blindsided them, killing their oldest boy and baby girl. The mom is in critical condition. The younger boy is injured but will be okay.

A nanosecond. That is all it takes for a life – a family – to be ripped apart. Our relationships, especially those bonded in love, are things of beauty; they give so much joy. But I use this tragic example to illustrate a crucial point: though the world may change, and though what we know may be ripped from us, the love that Jesus Christ has for us knows no bounds and is present in every situation, good and bad. Paul said that he had learned to be content in all things because of that awesome, never-ending, powerful, pervasive, stubborn, glorious love of his savior.

When life turns upside down, when tragedy strikes, when we perceive that our identity is in flux, when we ask “Who am I?” … Jesus answers.

You are my daughter. You are my son. You are saved. You are loved. You are blessed. You are the sheep and I am your shepherd. You are the branches and I am the vine. You are my beloved.

When life knocks us down, or when we listen to diabolic lies, or when we are faced with the uncertainty and mutability of our own flesh, there is Jesus’ voice … in prayer, in scripture, He tells us that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain. Jesus can tell me who I am. He can tell you who you are. The people around us cannot. Situations cannot. Accolades cannot. Recognition cannot. Achievement cannot. The world cannot.

But He can. And knowing who you are in Jesus Christ is an awesome knowledge that makes your shoulders slump in gratitude, and maybe your eyes fill up with tears, and maybe you breathe a sigh of relief because goodness, the weight of the world is too freaking heavy for a human being to carry.

The love of Christ does two things: it grounds us firmly in His presence, and it casts out all fear. When I totally rest in His arms, the worry, anxiety, fear, bitterness, anger … all of those things seep out of my body. When I claim His name and ask for a spirit of loving gentleness, of wisdom, of hope, He gives it freely. What joy is there in that! And what confidence. When we are confident in our identity, we are confident in our abilities. Confidence reaps freedom and love. When we are confident in who we are, we love people so much better. Our relationships are richer, brighter, fuller.

But that’s another post. For this morning, I will close with scripture. I’m sitting at a friend’s desk (this one’s for Bam Bam), and there are “scripture treasure” cards sitting here. The two I turned to are “Victory” and “Lordship” – how appropriate this morning.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:15

May 5, 2010

An Encouragement from Romans 8

I’m heading back to Tiny Rural College Town today and am drinking copious amounts of coffee in eager anticipation. Jenelle and I will be on the road here shortly, and I want to get a post in, and what better way to start the day than by reading scripture? This is from Romans 8, one of my favorite chapters in the Bible (bar none). I discover new meaning in this passage every time I read it. Right now, I’m applying for one job, waiting to hear from another, preparing for a mock interview tomorrow and then a big interview next week, getting ready to see friends … and the list goes on. In all of it, Jesus is there, holding me in the center, in the eye of the storm, saying “I’ve got you. I’ve got you. … I love you.”

Romans 8:28-39

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

May 4, 2010

Good Things Monday

I know plenty of bloggers who do a “Good Things Friday” post to commemorate the end of the week. But I have a Good Things Monday post. Feel free to comment with the good things in your life this week (so far!).

1. An awesome new sermon series at church entitled “She.” Our pastor is centering it around Mother’s Day and Proverbs 31, talking about freeing women to serve in their full God-given capacity as the crown of creation (his words, so cool). Cool word fact: ezer, the world often translated as “helper” or “helpmeet” in English (what Eve is described as in Genesis), is only used 20 times in the Old Testament. Every other time, it refers to God. And every other time, it means lifesaver. Given that I’m sort of in a recovery stage of having gone through a tone of Grudem’s theology (grrr he makes some good points but there are times when I just want to throttle the man, which is a very human impulse, I know) … suffice to say, the sermon series is a good thing.

2. My friend Jenelle is here! We had a wonderful dinner with my mom last night – chicken bow tie pasta with pesto and a Shiraz/Cabernet blend. Mmm.

3. Today, we got wonderful chocolates, coffee, and hot hoagies in my hometown before taking a bit of a road trip to take a tour of Leinenkugels Brewery in Chippewa Falls, WI. Great tour and free beer tasting afterword.

4. Also great: our tour guide told us that at the local grocer, the 1888 Bock was on sale for $3 a six-pack. Um, yes! You’ve never seen 22-year-old women more excited to buy beer. Seriously. We were giddy. Giddy, I tell you!

5. Listening to movie soundtracks in the car (Avitar, Chronicles of Narnia, 300), talking about being a choir geek (her) and band geek (me) and totally nerding out to the beautiful crescendos in the music.

6. Walking around Barnes & Noble talking about our favorite books. Going to the children’s section and reliving our childhoods … Nancy Drew, American Girl, Harry Potter, Redwall, Dear America …

7. Enjoying pizza and bottles of said 1888 Bock with my father, all of us singing Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls) karaoke style while having a great conversation.

Life doesn’t get much better.

May 2, 2010

Acts of Service/Love

Today’s post is in honor of my friend Jenelle, who today will be driving 6+ hours to come visit me in the northwoods of Wisconsin. After spending time with both of my respective parents, we’ll then head back down to the tiny town that is home to my Alma Mater. I’ll be spending 8 days there, joyous days with friends; I’ll also be preparing for a big interview. But, today, I’m grateful to have a friend willing to come up to Wisconsin to get me.

It’s an act of service – an act of love.

I hope that you all have people in your lives who love you. I’ve talked about the love languages before, and let me tell you, acts of service is not one of mine. Just this morning, my mom said that there was a chore she wanted me to do before I went to bed last night. I looked at her blankly and she said, “Well, I just wanted you to feel inspired to do it.” I’m getting better at anticipating her needs, but that sort of inspiration does not come naturally!

I have developed relationships with so many awesome people over the last four years. And a lot of them give through acts of service. There’s the boyfriend, who gives foot rubs whenever he’s asked. Anna, who always gives me a neck/shoulder/head rub if I have a migraine (the first time, she just showed up in my room with lotion, said she’d heard I was sick, and told me to lay down – okay!). Laura and Kayla, who graciously leant me their cars almost every Sunday so I could go to the church where I felt most connected. Emily, Brittany, Mikelle, Annie, Em, Audrey, Chris – and a myriad of other friends who have offered services with or without prompting.

So here’s to the people in our lives who have loved us and been there to do things we didn’t even know we needed. I’m so grateful to God for placing each of those friends in my life, whether or not this is their primary love language, and I can only hope that I love them back as much as they’ve loved me.

Matthew 22:36-40: 36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

May 1, 2010

Hold the Scotch: On Job Hunting & Hope

After spending too much time on the online job hunt last night, I put in Charlie Wilson’s War for a pick-me-up. Now, you know it’s bad when a movie about the Cold War is a uplifting. Mostly, I spent the time fantasizing about Philip Seymour Hoffman strolling into my room and offering me a bugged bottle of scotch. I don’t drink scotch, but let me tell you, this job market could drive me to it.

I was plowing through sites like mediabistro.com and others that are heavy on editorial and freelance work. Monster, of course, is a must for jobs in my area. College nannies, college tutors, learning centers, legal aids, online copywriters, the CIA, the State Department, Hallmark, the local university – it’s downright depressing. There are jobs out there, often ones requiring experience, and I’m still trying to vault over that limitation. Several people have told me to ignore the “years experience needed,” especially if they only require 1-2 years.

The hardest thing to overcome in this market is, I think, my own level of expectation. The job I want. The job I’m excited for. It just so happens that the summer job that I a) want and b) am excited for is one that I interviewed for this week … and I won’t hear back from them for 2-3 weeks. That’s a long time to hold out when the job market, which is already thin, is about to become thinner with a flood of recent graduates.

So I’m trying to straddle this: my own desires with pragmatism, the part of me that says “This time is good! This time is for writing! And you’re writing! And you’ve interviewed for that awesome TA job, you’re waiting to hear back, you’ve got a great shot at it” – and then the other part says, ” … and what if that doesn’t work out?”

I’ve started work on some freelance articles that would pay either nothing or very little, but they’d be bylines. Also, I’m so excited about them! So excited. Applying for a position as a marketing assistant in the Twin Cities does not fill my tank nearly as much.

So where is that line? Where is that line when we sacrifice what we love for a job that’ll help us survive? At what point do you just have to say “screw it” to worldly wisdom and hold out and wait? Can you find a survival job that will not suck your passion for what you love, i.e. will you not be completely exhausted and worn out when you get home? How how the heck do you find a career doing what you want?*

Right now, I’m just waiting and praying. And drinking copious amounts of coffee. And the occasional dark beer. No scotch yet.

*On that note, this month has gone a long way in reminding me of why I want to go to graduate school. Not necessarily the state of the job market (tho’ that doesn’t hurt), but that there is nothing that excites me more than digging into literature and researching. I’m gearing up to revise a paper and possibly attend a conference (!), a possibility that has me so freaking excited that I think I’ll be reapplying in the fall. Also, I’m trying to keep one of the freelance articles from getting too heavy on the literary theory (Mulvey and feminist film crit). Yet another sign that I’m either a) brainwashed by my profs or b) still in love with the English discipline. Ah, who are we kidding? I’m still in love. Spurned, but still in love.

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