Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stuff & Things to Keep Me Happy 'Til Spring

It's snowing. Again. My flip-flops are lying in the corner in despair. Or they would be, if flip flops had the capacity for angst and sorrow.

In the midst of ice falling from the sky, let me share a couple of things that are keeping me sunny:

-We had a date night on Saturday!!!  It was our first evening out alone in six months. We went to Fugi at Kendall, and OMIGOSH, the happy sushi deliciousness! (In the front of the picture is Steve's pineapple fried rice--he barely eats sushi, but took me here because he knows how much I love it.) It was so good to talk and laugh together. I realized that I've been like a half-flat tire lately, leaking air, not sure how to pump back up again. This helped!  We shared our wonder at all God has done...and debated whether we should smile or duck as we anticipate what might be next.  It felt like we hit "reset" on life. I'm grateful to not feel flat and draggy anymore.

-This morning I read this interview with Alaskan author/salmon fisherman Leslie Leyland Fields. I was inspired by the idea of running interviews with people I admire on my blog.  And as I read the interview, so much of what Lesley said about calling and not getting trapped in the idea that any one season of life is your "forever" resonated with me. I slowed down, re-read the interview, and breathed in her reassurance:

"When I first landed [in Alaska] and immersed in the 14-hour work days [of my husband's commercial fishing business], poetry and literature fled entirely. I lost my voice and my self, consumed by fish, ocean, wilderness. Slowly it came back, though, as the years went by, as I found ways to speak and write and ways to live as a full human being rather than as just a worker". 

I could write these same sentences about this past year: how when I first landed in the world of foster parenting, writing and peace fled entirely. I lost my voice and myself.  Slowly it's coming back, though, as the months go by, as I find ways to speak and write and ways to live as a full human being.

I was so relieved to be told that it's okay to want to live as a full human being, rather than just in the log jam of whatever part of your life is most complicated or demanding.

I hope that wherever you are is sunny, warm & filled with flowers. If you can wear flip-flops today, please do. But if you're snowed in, I hope you see some sunshine, even if it pops through in unexpected places.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Book I Didn't Write

About three years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book that was "gimmick-lit": one of those project where the author does something outside of his or her comfort zone for a year and writes about the experience.  The masters of this genre are A.J. Jacobs & Gretchen Rubin. Done right, these books are so much fun: informative, entertaining, and even a bit inspirational.

My proposed book was, to be honest, an attempt to inform/entertain/inspire myself. It was a "Plan B" type of book, where I'd attempt twelve different adventures over the course of the year to help Steve and I re-envision our lives.

In the opening scene (one that I suspect will end up in a different book someday because it's as grim and true and poignant and real as anything I've written) I describe walking through Target on a Tuesday morning and catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I fit right in with the Tuesday morning crowd: I looked frumpy, pudgy, exhausted and overwhelmed. I was drowning in a tsunami of crisis: miscarriages, the death of a friend, two major job transitions, and a family health scare.  So when I saw the other ladies there at Target, my first thought was, Oh thank God...it's not just me!  But then I realized that all those other beleaguered women had babies. There was a reason for their chubby fatigue.  I had no such excuse.

That day (which really happened; it was not part of a project) was a turning point, making me realize that Steve and I had to "Return to Go" (as a board game might instruct) and figure out what we, and God, wanted our lives to look like.  I wanted us to build something with the pieces we had--a strong marriage, faith, education, access to an incredible city and network of friends--rather than lamenting over the pieces we were missing. And I suspected I wasn't alone in facing some version of this challenge.

I charted a year-long program.  I thought it might make a good book if I could balance out the sadness with some humor and discovery.  I planned a month of fitness (admitting that while I never want to run a marathon, I'd trudge through a 5k if the finish line was somewhere near an Ann Talyor); a month of spiritual growth (where I'd spend two weeks emulating Anne Lamott, and two weeks trying to be like Joel Osteen); a month of spontaneous travel (because one of the benefits of a double-income/no-kids lifestyle is supposed to be the freedom to jet off to cool places, and we have thus far failed to jet); a month of housewifery (I don't even see the dust in our house until things are furry & grey, and I've never learned the finer points of getting the grime out of the corners); and a month of beauty (where I'd make the effort to look the best I could, every day: more showers, fewer sweats & ponytails, more lip gloss, an attempt to put fancy shoes into the rotation.)  There were a few other items, but those were the ones I was most excited about.

That was three years ago. I've never run a 5k, and the dusty corners of our rooms are still an embarrassment.  Here's why: When I sent the proposal to my agent, she said something to the effect of: "This is funny, but it isn't you." She reminded me that I write about surprise and encouragement, and how those things emerge from my faith; that my books are real-happy, not manufactured cheer.  I can't remember her exact words, but the through-line of her comments was, "This isn't you."

I am so grateful that she saw this truth.  I needed to be reminded, even if it meant walking away from a book project that would keep me busy & distracted for a few months (and give me a better answer when people asked, "Are you working on a new book?") To put it in construction terms, I built the walls of that house...and then walked away because I didn't want to live there.  It wasn't me.

In the years since, I've picked away at other projects--a collection of thoughts on praying for a husband, some essays on waiting for God, a novel. A lot of life has happened. It didn't unfold along neat monthly lines, but wow, has it unfolded. Now I'm surveying this new landscape, asking God, Where is the surprise? Where are have you planted happy endings? How should I think about this or that? What do you want to me to write? It's a different perspective, and the walls are going up slow. But it's me, and I'm more confident that what I build will be something that I'm proud of.

If there's something you're working on just because it's in front of you, or because it's the hot thing, or it's what you think you can pull off with the limited resources you have right now even though you suspect it might embarrass you later, know this: it's okay to walk away. The walls (and the poignant scene at Target) will still be there, should you decide to return.  We have more time than we think we do--exactly enough, in fact, to do whatever we're supposed to do.  It helps me to remember that :)

And I prefer happily-ever-after stories that don't require me to run a 5K while smiling like Joel Osteen!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dreaming of Fail Fest 2014

Thanks for your wisdom in response to yesterday's question. Because of your bon mots, I will post my thoughts on the book I mentioned once I've finished, wrestling with the words to move beyond "Wow, I wish this had been different..." to "Here's where I think we can go as writers who hope to entertain & inspire."  Pray for me :)

On a different (but related) note, a Facebook friend linked to the Epic Fail Pastors Roundtable this morning. I'm laughing at the awesomeness of it...and plotting how to sneak away to Chicago to attend.  No snark intended: it sounds awesome. And funny. Failure demands some funny.

Reading about this makes me see that I'm a little bit in love with failure these days. (Even more so now that I know it has a Wikipedia page!) There is just so much of it! It's the stuff memoirs are made of, so it's great for me, career-wise. And as it turns out, it's part of my God-given skill set.

(And if you're wondering if I'm having a particularly bad week and if you should check on my well-being: don't worry. I'm fine.  Here's what I'm trying to say...)

I think that being good at failure is being willing to try things, and if they don't work out, having the ability to keep chugging along in a positive way (by which I mean: without wrecking everything and everyone in your path.)  Of course, the return to positive takes time--we can't just hit "reset" after a dream gets punctured. And there's much to be said to a season of neutral/just hanging on/survival mode.  Because once you've survived...you've survived. The failure doesn't define you, it becomes part of your story. And that makes us interesting people.

This has me dreaming of lots of Epic Fail Roundtables (Failure Fest? Failapalooza?)--for writers, scientists, accountants, meditation specialists, yoga instructors, librarians. Anyone, really. Imagine the hilarity?! Now imagine the encouragement. I think failure is a subject we can rally around :)

Fail on!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Question!

This morning's dilemma:

I'm reading a book that I have mixed feelings about...by an author with a public platform I don't care for at all.  And I'm trying to figure out if I want to review the book publicly, and if so, how.

So I'm requesting your wisdom/opinions/thoughtful comments.

The author is not someone I know or have any connection to. We don't share a publisher, publicist, agent, or even (so far as I know) friends in common. I'm not under any obligation to review this book. My issue is not with the writing--the writing is great. It's more questions along the line of "what does this add to the conversation?" and "why are you building your career out of making fun of/criticizing how other people live their faith?"

Actually, that's the crux of it, right there: I'm bugged by Christians who develop a public platform out of making fun of and/or criticizing other believers. Partly because making fun of Christians is like shooting fish in a barrel--it's a a bit lazy. And I'm a little tired of Christians railing at their pasts without offering some insight of the future God is drawing them toward. (Which is part of why I love authors like Shauna Neiquist and Enuma Okoro, because their books are both/and, rather than, Hey, I'm mad!)

But do I have any business voicing this opinion, or should I just keep it to myself?

Here are the options I see:

1. Shush, Trish. I should shut up, stay in my lane, write about the issues I care about in the hopes that those words will encourage others...and if someday I've reached enough people that others make fun of and/or criticize me, I'll have this awesome practice in graciousness & keeping my mouth shut!

2. WWMDD? (What Would Michelle Duggar Do?) I should post a very nice review about something in the book I enjoyed. Michelle Duggar is unfailingly lovely in every situation (honestly--she kept a positive attitude through a gall bladder attack),  and finds good in everything she sees. I admire this. I suspect that there's a fair amount of self-training/self-control that goes into happiness, and being determined to see the pony--rather than the pony poop--is a smart life choice.  In this case, I think Michelle would find some things to praise in the book (and there are some nice moments) and blog about those, keeping negative thoughts to herself.

3. Have at it.  I should review the book with candor and honesty, acknowledging the good points and the larger problems I think this project represents about Christian publishing. I review all kinds of books on my blog, particularly ones that contain elements of faith.  I work hard to write books myself, and earn part of my living helping other writers navigate when & how they publish their stories.  So it's not out of line to offer my opinion on the choices made in this book and by this author.

Perhaps what this comes down to is: Can speaking up make a difference? I don't want to use this blog to vent. But I want to change the way books about faith are generated--to suggest that when God gives me or you a book to write, we should put in the time and and effort to shoot for excellence.

What do you think?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Bubbles of Hope

I'm thinking about hope these days, how it bubbles up out of nowhere and catches me off guard...and then disappears again.  I'm reading Paul's letter to the Romans, which has crazy promises scrawled all through its pages about how God cultivates and works with hope.  So now I'm imagining it like water: up in the clouds, sometimes raining down, soaked up by thirsty ground, stored down deep for us to draw on later when we need it.

And we need it.

I look for hope in books. My friend Kelly sent me a great one yesterday. (Seriously, Kelly has been the source of so many of my favorite books lately. If you're looking for recommendations, follow Kelly Hughes on Twitter. You'll be glad you did.) It's called Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters. I opened the package, scanned the back cover, then pushed a bunch of stuff from Target off to the corner of the table so I could sit down to read.  What a gift to see the friendship of the authors, two women who met in a creative writing program, develop through letters they wrote to one another about their questions--life, relationships, failures, spirituality, how to be the people they want to be, what to do with disappointments--all the big stuff.  They don't give one another advice, exactly, but wisdom seeps out from these letters, and hope...it's as if each is of them spurs the other to think and write about things they might not have the chance to sort out otherwise. I'm excited to read more later today.

I also look for hope in Spring. I'm sooooo happy it's March. This is the toughest month here in New England. March is like detention, or being grounded (I was going to say it's like a prison sentence, but that would be a bit much): It's inevitable, so we might as well get started so we can get it over with.  March is the price we pay for April and May, and when I think about it that way, it's worth it.  So today, let the March begin.  Eventually, it will take us somewhere warm and filled with flowers :)

And finally, I find hope in small, silly things.  Princess Peach had a playdate last weekend, and in the ensuing joy & wonder, her little toy Belle lost her head.  No one is sure how it happened, but Beast was seen fleeing the scene so we all agreed to blame him, and put Belle in the ICU (read: up on the high shelf, away from THAT DOG) until some surgical superglue could be procured.  Last night Steve reattached Belle's head. I'm happy to report that Belle is recovering nicely, and will be ready to return to play at the end of the day when we pick up the Peach.

May your weekend have hope raining down and bubbling up all over. And even if it seems like everything is dry, don't believe it.  The hope is down there underneath, and it will find it's way up to you, to each of us.