The peculiarity of writing

I read this post the other day, The Romance of Certain Old Books by D.G. Myers, and found myself wanting to underline phrases and sentences in his post, which, of course, I couldn’t.

He says, “I can’t be alone (can I?) in finding something romantic about the ‘forgotten’ or ‘neglected’ books of the past.” (No, Dr. Myers, you’re not.)

And then he says, “Books could be time machines, but rarely are. They are sadly familiar to us, because they are canonical; that is, because we read them in the present, with the standards and expectations of the present, as towering figures of the present. To be borne into the past, boats beating against the current, the best books are those which are least familiar.”

I could spend the rest of the post quoting Mr. Myers, but it would be better if you read his post. If you still have time, come back and read this post to appease me.

It reminded me of some thoughts I’d once had (Going Small).

It also reminded me of this piece in The New Yorker, ”To the Measures Fall” by Richard Powers about a woman’s life with a book, which, when she finds it, is relatively unknown. (I include this reference to prove that some times–or at least, at one time–I read intellectual pieces, and it makes me feel better.)

A tidbit of the story (which I must include because now that I’ve found it to give you the title and author, I ended up rereading it [and still loving it, though in a different way than my first few read-throughs, which is exactly what the story is about, so maybe there's something in that]; also, while digging through old journals to find this story, I discovered an unread journal with fiction in it by Larry Woiwode, so score):

The book turns up in a junk shop in an old Saxon market town whose name you will remember as almost certainly having an “m” in it. Among the rusted baby buggies and ancient radios you find old cooking magazines, books on fly-tying and photography, late-fifties spy novels with cardboard covers worn as soft as felt. The thing pops out at you: “To the Measures Fall,” by someone named Elton Wentworth. There’s nothing else like it in the shop. It’s a fat tome with rough-cut pages in a deluxe, tooled binding…A 12-inch LP runs only a pound, and even a two-minute call to the States is cheaper than Mr. Wentworth’s book. Half a guinea for a used novel you’ve never heard of? Robbery. But something about that opening is too strange for you to resist (emphasis mine).

And isn’t this exactly the best way to discover books, especially ones that become part of your life?

 

And then there’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which is more along the lines of my reading material these days, when Morris “found a lonely little volume whose tale was seldom told. ‘Everyone’s story matters,’ said Morris.”

I think of days browsing my parents’ bookshelves as a teenager, finding books not assigned in school and unknown to my friends, books I fell in love with anyway. I think of the times I perused yard sales for a treasure. (This was before I had kids, which disallowed the act of perusing.) I think of the volumes passed down to me when my great aunt died, books all but forgotten to the rest of the world, books trapped by a certain time but finding a life and friends on my bookshelf.

(I think of the painting my great-grandfather painted, which hung above the hamper at the top of the steps at my grandparents’ house and which I loved, but which disappeared after my grandmother died and which is forever lost and neglected.)

I also think of my reading as of late–how I’ve fallen in love especially with international fiction, how I want to read something unfamiliar not because I want to escape my reality but because I want to broaden my reality. Because I want to give my imagination new realms.

Inevitably, this leads to a consideration of my own writing (because doesn’t everything lead back to me?). I look at this collection of short stories nesting on my computer. Who wants to read a story about a 68-year-old woman who learns how to play chess, I think, or an adopted teenaged girl who meets the ghost of her biological mother, or a woman who accidentally turns her boss into a frog during Hurricane Sandy?

These are not the types of stories populating Best American Short Stories. They are not the stories of the young and emerging. They’re not in L.A. or New York City. They’re not about dotcoms or ghettos.

I think about a novel I once wrote which almost went somewhere but then didn’t, and because I’m a different writer now than I was then, I no longer even want to publish this novel, but I can’t forget Marnie, the protagonist, and I wonder if she’ll be among the neglected and forgotten. (In my more hopeful moments, I imagine giving her a new story and setting her free, and I think, isn’t this a sort of redemption? But that’s a different thought for a different day. Really, it is. I should note it somewhere.)

I don’t mean this as a pity party. I only mean to say that perhaps, like some of the books in Morris Lessmore’s world, they are “lonely volumes whose tale was seldom told.” I mean to say that these are my stories, with all their peculiarity, and some days that’s enough, and maybe a little girl will happen upon them one day and see something, maybe familiar (if she once turned someone into a frog) or unfamiliar, and maybe for a moment, these characters who are so dear to me won’t be forgotten.

Coming to terms with failure

I sat down, depleted, after preaching on Sunday, promised myself a nap that afternoon after getting the kids down.

But it wasn’t just the exhaustion. My failure consumed me. How many points had I forgotten? Where had I glossed over something that should have been highlighted? Normally I don’t worry about these things, but this time, I felt fragmented, and some of those points and glosses meant something.

Here’s the thing: I had preached on failure. “The kingdom of God starts in unexpected, powerless places on the cusp of failure,” I had said. I talked about the hidden kingdom of God. I talked about the disciples confronted with the reality that instead of glory and power in their lifetime, Jesus asked them to go through hell on earth. I talked about a missionary, Maude Cary, who moved to Morocco in the early 1900s and faithfully served all her life despite personal and professional rejection, despite a lack of visible fruit.

I went home, and during a tickle fight, my son bit my daughter. Hard. Left teeth marks and a bruise and a mommy’s broken heart. This was a first.

Last minute, after taking the kids for ice cream for a special treat, I remembered a free piano concert with childcare at our old church, and we packed our sugar-laden kids into the car (because yes, I am that mom), rushed to the church and followed the lines of Mozart and Borodin and Bolcom, and on our way home, with Annie crying because it was late and she was tired, I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d had the guts to join the studio of the more challenging piano teacher when we moved to Texas. I wondered where my music would be. And I felt sad, toyed with ideas of regret.

Then we came home, and while getting ready for bed, Annie attacked Keegan to zerbert him, and he bit her again.

Later, my husband and I fought (so there it is–Chris and I love each other, we’re committed to each other, and we fight), and I went to bed and tried to read and cried instead because here, too, failure creeps in along the edges.

As you read this, I’m at the hospital with my mom as she’s getting her port placed and her second round of chemo, and isn’t this failure because if the time is fulfilled and the King has come, then where is this peace on earth and goodwill toward men? Why isn’t disease and death and pain eradicated?

I consider the obscurity and, yes, meaningless, of so much of my writing, this thing that I offer God again and again.

I realize that all of this sounds so small because Christians in Syria are being hunted down and killed and women in Dallas are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery and mobs lynch each other in Central African Republic, and in all these places, it appears that the kingdom of God has failed.

But I know that God is sovereign, that he delays because the world rejects Christ, and this is grace because when he comes in glory, he comes in justice, and are we ready to come to terms with that, with our own culpability?

And I know that in all these apparent failures, God is working, healing, redeeming, restoring, and he calls his people to do his kingdom work. He calls me and I offer everything, but the work is not mine. Even this sermon on Sunday is one sermon, and that is not the whole–or center piece–of the worship service. In this, I trust my sovereign God.

So I strain toward the day when God unleashes his power and heals cancer and frees the slaves and reigns in justice and peace and beauty, and meanwhile I take another step, just one, because I know that even in these small things, God’s grace is sufficient.

On Sabbaticals, And/Or Putting Myself on Maternity Leave

The little boy goes down for his one-hour nap, and I run-run-run (that’s how we say things in our house these days: “run-run-run” or “dip-dip-dip” when he wants something, anything in which he can dip his chicken or carrots or, you know, fingers) to the computer to write and edit and, of course, tweet.

But as I approach the end of my pregnancy, my run-run-running gets slower, and then the little boy wakes up and I want to lie down on the floor while he plays because not only is my body big and clumsy and not only does another little one sip all my energy through a big, fat Boba tea straw, but also I’m not sleeping well at night, and the little boy tells me, “No nigh-nigh, Mama” as he tries to pick up my head.

And some days I cry because I can’t do it all anymore, not now, and the little one crinkles up his face like his Mama’s face and says, “Mama?”

So here’s the thing: I’m putting myself on sabbatical. Or one might call it maternity leave. Either way, it’s time for this land to rest so that it can produce next season’s crop. And one of the perks of being a work-at-home mom? Sometimes I get to be in charge of my schedule. (Mostly the little boy takes charge of my schedule, but occasionally, I do.) I can’t properly take care of my family right now and do the work. Motherhood means contradictions: wanting this last month to pass quickly so I can have my body back and be me again (oh yeah, and meet the new little one) but wanting to savor every moment of just the little boy and me. Not all have the freedom to do what I’m doing, I know that. But I’ve decided to take advantage of this privilege.

I turned in a last writing project and a last editing project, and I put another writing project on hold.

And I’m putting myself on maternity leave.

See you in a couple of months.

Art Without Success

“His father, who was at first ashamed, and now is coming round, because success is much easier to understand than Art.”
- Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela, p. 302

The dictionary application on my computer defines success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” It goes on to clarify, “the attainment of popularity or profit” such as “the success of his play.”

On the whole, we think of “the attainment of popularity or profit” when we think of success. My art is successful when my book is published (then read by a certain amount of people) or my painting hangs in a gallery or my play is produced (and receives rave reviews). I’ve arrived, we think.

And perhaps this isn’t so wrong. We create (in part, at least) because we want to communicate. David Brown said, “Art is great to the extent that it has power to communicate and evoke particular ideas.” It’s part of our Imago Dei, this communication, which shares a root with the word community. We want to know and be known. We want to share these ideas in common.

But what happens when a book is never published or a painting never seen or a play never produced? Does this mean it is unsuccessful, that we are unsuccessful? If our art never attains popularity or profit, did it fail to accomplish an aim or purpose?

We get around this by talking in noble terms: I create to glorify God. I write because I must. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Good, wonderful. So we should. But what do those statements mean? So we succeed if God is glorified in our art-making. Our writing succeeds simply because we wrote because we must, and we write, therefore we are. Or something like that. When I noodle on these thoughts, they slip through my fingers wet and elusive.

Not to say these aren’t ideal goals, and sure I like the mysterious aspiration of the whole thing–God’s glory, personal understanding and fulfillment and achievement of my very humanity–but when I have an hour a day to write and I daily fight to sit before keyboard rather than nap or read or knit, I need something more meaty.

So I consider these notions of success and art and communication and why I write, why I tape open my eyes and type. What is my aim and purpose? How do I specifically glorify God or become more human in my writing?

If I say I write because it makes me more human, or because I must, I can easily argue that so would a nap (my husband might argue that the nap would moreso make me human again). If I’m writing for myself only, some sort of fulfillment, not only am I selfish for how it, in times, takes away from my family (even if it does make me happier, whatever that means), but I also then can relegate it to the role of hobby. I write when it suits me, not in a way that diligently seeks to improve craft and art. I write therapeutically, not in a way that risks rejection (which does not make me happy) or seeks to go beyond my own immediate experience.

So, no, I do not write merely for myself. I do not write merely because it makes me happy. I knit for these reasons.

Neither can I write for “the attainment of popularity or profit,” in part because those terms in themselves need clarification (how much profit? how many Twitter followers make you popular?), in part because to make this an aim is to never fulfill the aim, but mostly because it’s incongruent with Jesus’ ministry. You know, the whole “despised and rejected by man” bit.

Of course, beyond the “despised and rejected” is the “every knee shall bow,” and the premise that when Christ comes into his glory, he will honor those who honored him. Which brings me back around that nebulous cause of writing for God’s glory, which often looks like weakness and foolishness this side of “every knee shall bow.”

The subject of God’s glory and how he glorifies himself and what glorifies him is too vast to explore in any depth here, but this struck me as Chris and I prayed with Keegan the other night:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

In the simplest form, God glorifies himself by revealing himself and bringing about his kingdom on earth. For those of you who have been paying attention, I happen to have been studying that very thing through Luke and Acts recently.

Enter “ah-ha” moment.

Undergirding all else–my writing, my wifing, my parenting, my friending–I am a Christian, and I live to glorify God, which means everything I do–my writing, my wifing, my parenting, my friending–must do the same. The question becomes: how does my art contribute toward his work of restoring and re-creating humanity, and indeed all of creation? How does it reveal God? How does it image humanity and his work in humanity?

Which brings me to this: I write, in part, for the sake of beauty (which sounds to some like “art for the sake of art” except that “art for the sake of art” has art as its highest goal rather than God’s glory); I write, in part, to reveal the nature of creation and humanity in all of its beauty and corruptness; I write, in part, to restore humanity and creation.

To some, as aforementioned, this may look like foolishness and weakness. It may look unsuccessful–unknown and unprofitable. But God didn’t promise me success according to the world’s eyes–a book deal, a bestseller, a second home in the Bahamas, thousands of Twitter followers and blog subscribers. I work trusting him to use my writing as he will. I work toward the “well done, good and faithful servant.” Occasionally he treats me to glimpses of this: a reader who came across my short story in a journal and feels less alone, a weary traveler who read an article and felt refreshed, a cynic who saw something in my writing that challenged him to view his faith in a crisp way.

These may or may not be the marks of success. I may or may not know of them. But I tape my eyes open because I write for God’s glory, and that demands the wearying work of excellence and beauty and honesty. This is my aim.

The Loneliness of Art, Or At Least of Writing, Or At Least of My Writing

Growing up, I loved being sent to my room (though I hated the idea of being punished, of being accused of being wrong, or should I say, of being wrong though I maintained–and even believed–I was right, and I often slammed my door to make this–my innocence, my rage at the injustice of it all–known). I loved being sent to my room because I could be alone with my books.

Some days, as much as I adore my son and playing with him, I want to spend the day alone. Me and my books and my writing and possibly my knitting when I need to think about a story and let it ruminate for a period. On the weekends, I’ll come up with errands that Chris needs to run with Keegan so I can have the house to myself if even for half an hour. (If I send him to Fry’s for a cable, I’m golden.) I’m not the type who likes to write at cafes or pubs. I want my quiet office, no music, just me and the characters and the words.

In other words, I love my alone time (which is not actually alone time since I spend it with so many friends, er, characters).

And yet even as I crave alone time, I sometimes feel lonely.

picture by Brice Ambrosiak via flickr // You can tell this isn't me because her nails are done.

In elementary school, I started a writer’s club (and named it Writer’s Block, of all things, because I had no concept of not being able to write but considered writer’s block to be a block of writers). I loved my alone time with my characters, listening to their stories and recording them, stories about whales and princess heroes and murder mysteries on exotic sixth-grade class cruises. But then I wanted to be with other writers, to share my stories and hear theirs. (We also set out to sell our stories, aware at such a young age of the desire to communicate our art.)

Creation thrives on aloneness, but loneliness haunts me.

This is the nature of art: working alone. I sit alone at my computer typing (and deleting) words in the quietness of my office. I love this alone time.

After I write, I want to go to a pub (because that seems to be where writers gather) and talk to other fiction writers about writing and stories. I want to read their stories. I want them to read mine and give me feedback.

These days, I miss that pub. I miss the Writer’s Block.

I’ve shared a drink at this pub with other fiction writers at times, a particular conference where I connected with kindred spirits, periods of time where another writer and I exchanged work, or an actual drink with a writer at an actual pub. I envy those in MFA programs who gather with other authors. I envy those who have critique partners with whom they regularly exchange work and words.

But I suppose this is what art is sometimes–creation in the absence of community. I consider my closest friends and realize how few of them have read my stories, and that makes me feel unknown in some way. They have some idea that I write, that I’ve been occasionally published, but they don’t know what this really means, they don’t know about the toil over words and the stories that come out on the page.

Last night I said to Chris, “Is it worth it? Is it worth not napping when I’m so tired and I just want to lie down when Keegan sleeps but I can’t because of these stories, because I have to write? Is it worth giving up so many little things when I don’t even know if another word I write will get published, another story, if I’ll ever get a book deal, if I’ll ever even write a novel again?” But the words sounded forced because I know it’s worth it, and I know I won’t stop writing even if it means loneliness and unknownness because at the same time it means being known in some way if only by myself or by my characters or by the God who sees everything, including my little stories.

And this is where things get meta because then I realize that the stories that come out on the page, so unknown by so many of my friends, are about this unknownness, and this eases the loneliness of it all.

So here I sit at my desk, half-dreaming of returning to the hippo I’m knitting for the New Little One (to match the giraffe I knitted for Keegan when he was born), typing the first words of a short story though I know I should really be editing the other story that still needs so much work but I just can’t help myself because this new story is about buttons, and lately I’m enamored by buttons (meaning the kinds on clothes, not the kind you push on machines or on people to rile them up, though I’m good at that too, just ask Chris). And I pray, please God, please send a fiction writer my way, a kindred spirit with whom I can regularly exchange work (I know some kindred spirits but life demands have gotten in the way of regular exchanges, and I understand this).

In the meantime, I write.

On Being Me

Sometimes I read a blog post of lyrical, floral prose that sings in a way reminiscent of Verdi’s Requiem (which is convenient if you’re, say, walking and pretending to run and can’t read it for yourself). But that’s not my writing. Or I read essays that use succulent words that make you resolve once again to take those Word of the Day emails more seriously. Not my writing either. Or short stories so succinct they would make Hemingway weep. Uh-uh. Not mine.

My writing is more like babbling without the brook.

It’s hard to not want to write like someone else, to not envy phrases that others savor like their favorite Cab (meaning Cabernet, not taxi, although if you have a favorite taxi you like to savor, then by all means, keep that comparison), to not lust for the compact story that someone reads five times unpacking all the subtleties twisting around the thirty-five word short short.

I read bloggers who eat and digest the same messy, mundane life I do, but they poop diamonds. When not blogging, they create comestibles worthy of the wedding supper of the Lamb–homemade bread kneaded by hand, seasoned meats roasted for two weeks to perfection, cheese aged in the backyard cave, tarts made with flour from wheat they grew, threshed, milled, and whatever else you have to do to make it flour-ready. Then they write about these meals with linguistic linguine in a sauce more meaningful than your mother’s wedding dress.

I’m more of a cheeseburger-in-paradise sort of girl. (I’m ashamed to tell you what we feasted on last night for dinner: I heated up frozen wantons and frozen burritos and made mac-n-cheese from a box. To redeem myself, I will make roast beef and zucchini from the garden, stir-fry, and, of course, cheeseburgers later this week. Not that any of it is gourmet. For that, speak to my husband, who is a Master Griller and has become quite the sushi chef.)

Or I read short story writers who make a trip to the dentist sound like a safari. Or somehow come up with exotic stories about lion tamers or cowboy hands or record producers who fight in little-known (to North Americans, at least) civil wars in Africa or survived 9/11 or transported to another time.

To say the least, it’s intimidating.

I’d like to think I write with humor. In my mind, I’m like Miranda July or Aimee Bender (with a writing voice like the actresses who play Abby on NCIS or Penelope on Criminal Minds), though most often I feel more like Jack Carter in a Eureka-town full of geniuses. I have an affinity for just calling things death-rays. In a conversation with a poet the other day, he used the term “bifurcate,” and I thought, why can’t I cull words like that in conversation? But I guess you reap what you sow, and I must not have sown enough of the dictionary in my brain.

I’m not as polysyllabic as I feel I should be for a writer. Probably this is because I was a music major and so can hum any tune but tend to ignore silly things like lyrics, if they existed, which they mostly didn’t in the pieces I played since I was an instrumentalist. (Important exception: Sondheim, who so amazingly weaves lyrics and music that one can’t help but notice them together.)

I began to think: I should write prettier! More majestically! With more pizazz! I should come up with more meaningful stories about more meaningful people!

I should be them.

For a while, I felt the fraud. I set the table with lace and candles and origamied the napkins. But I’m a Jersey girl who wants a cheesesteak and Birch Beer on the beach.

These days, I’m learning that it’s okay to be me, and that me is still a writer even if I’m not like all those other writers out there and even if I’m not getting the attention of all those other writers out there (that’s okay, too: I’ll be an overnight sensation when I’m 83, and I won’t tell people that I’d been writing all my life but that I just picked up one of those newfangled whatever-newfangled-gadget-they’ll-have-then-on-which-to-write or maybe I’ll tell people I’m old fashioned and sat down at the computer that I kept in my closet because I was leaving it to the Smithsonian when I died and I opened up a Word document, which I’ll have to explain to the interviewer, and typed, which I’ll also have to explain to the interviewer because then they’ll have think dictation, which would be a mess for me, and I wrote this amazing story or book in three days without sleeping or eating because it poured out from me, and now I have this Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer and they’re making a movie out of it starring the multi-Oscar winner who got his start on the E-trade commercials, etc., etc., etc.).

Maybe I’m still a fraud and I’ve gotten so good at it that I’m deceiving myself. (I think this might be how the best con artists work, though I’ve not studied that in depth.)

Either way, this is who I am, and this is not who I am. I’m a dreamer who always missed the ball in the outfield (who actually didn’t even know there was a ball in the outfield, or that she was in the outfield rather than swimming with mermaids or dancing on the petals of a rose or sailing a ship in the clouds). I’m a committed DIY-show watcher who will never DIY it herself (although my favorites are The Outdoor Room and Yard Crashers, which are not technically DIYers because a team of professionals plans it all and does most of the work, and all, my favorite of all, House Hunters International, which is not DIY). I’m a reader who sometimes burns dinner and sometimes accidentally lies to her husband when she promises to turn off the light, just five more minutes. I’m a writer who doesn’t know enough big (excuse me, multisyllabic) words. I like tangents and parenthesis and footnotes (and sometimes I like to put a footnote in the middle of the page between parenthesis and label it “footnote,” which makes it not a footnote at all) (also, I’ve of late fallen in love with colons, meaning the grammatical marks, not the internal organ, which might be confusing since above I mentioned food and digestion). I like making up words (to make up for all the big words I don’t know). I like pretending that if we bought a new house and could start from scratch, I’d magically be a great housekeeper. I like pretending that I’d get more comments on my blog if I were diligent about having a catchy image with every post.

I know lots of things that are me, and lots of things that are not me, but you get the idea. And the idea is this: I’m learning to embrace the writer I am in my short stories and in this blog. Maybe I’m a “gorgeous mess” too.

Going Small

There’s that commercial that begins with a montage of people, in corporate meetings, on the news, on stage, on talk shows: “big, big, big, big” when one guy says, “small.”

I feel like that one guy.

We like things big: bigger houses, bigger ideas, bigger audience, congregation, or reach. The smallest coffee we can buy is “tall.” We shop at Costco to buy big quantities and swear to big resolutions for big weight-loss. We want the biggest opportunity, biggest impact, biggest legacy.

God works in the big: mass exodus from Egypt, the 3000 added to the 150 believers at the fireworks-like Pentecost, Billy Graham’s evangelistic meetings.

But sometimes God works in the small: Abraham and his only son, Jesus and his training of the small group of twelve, the church where my parents have faithfully served for over fifteen years.

I dreamed of the big, of performing with a big, top-tiered symphony; of impacting Italy developing worship in church-plants; of writing a best-selling novel. These days, God works in and through me in the small, in a dinner with friends, in days spent with my little boy, in a small group Bible study on Acts. I write short stories because that fits my lifestyle these days. Which means that when a short story is accepted to a literary journal, it reaches a small audience. Which means that I craft story and tap my fingers over word choice and write and rewrite and rewrite for few readers. This is how God works.

I’ve been thinking about smallness in another sense: not just in word count or audience but also in the nature of the story itself. What does it mean to write small stories about small people in small neighborhoods? What does it mean that I leave behind the big story of the big events and big suspenses and big ideas to find the small, the unknown, the intimate?

At the Festival of Faith and Writing, Larry Woiwode talked about his early days as a writer. He had been reading Samuel Beckett and the like and felt the need to write METANARRATIVE about the FRAGMENTATION OF TIME. One day, he wrote a sketch about his grandmother. This was the first piece he had published (by The New Yorker, no less). He learned to be comfortable writing about North Dakota, writing sketches of his grandmother.

So while I have a freedom to experiment, to take risks and do crazy things and fail, I do so not for the sake of experimentation but in order to work out the short story (or someday perhaps novel) that comes from the smallness of my life and neighborhood, to work out the globalness in my own little corner in my own little chair, the humanity in the people I see in my walk and history rather than in the headlines or in history books, the everyday tragedies and mundane beauties of suburban people not spotlighted on American Idol.

Big, big, big, big.

Small.

Magic and Craft: Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing 2012

Chimamanda Adichie said fiction is magic and craft. This sums up not only fiction (and indeed all of art) but also the Festival of Faith and Writing.

I attended because I think Jonathan Safran Foer takes risks with the form of fiction that few take and because I’m slightly in love with Chimamanda Adichie. I couldn’t wait to hear them speak about their writing and, specifically, their writing process. I was not disappointed.

They challenged me and encouraged me to play, experiment, take risks, and yes, fail. Art reflects life, and since life changes, so should art. We have freedom in this. We have freedom in the stories we tell and how we choose to tell the stories. Once we learn and understand the rules, we have freedom to bend and even break them, to see what works in this global yet fragmented society. Safran Foer quoted John Ashbury’s famous essay, “The Invisible Avant-Garde”: “Most reckless things are beautiful in some way, and recklessness is what makes experimental art beautiful.”

As a music major, I fell in love with experimental and modern music, sometimes with the beauty of the project itself, and sometimes just with the risk and the ideas and, yes, even the failings of the attempts. Over the past several years, I’ve learned more about avant-garde and experimental art through a friend sharing her love of it with me, through reading books about it, such as God in the Gallery by Daniel A. Siedell, and, most of all, through going to museums and immersing myself in the art. And the more I’ve learned about this and other forms of modern art, the more I’ve come to understand its relationship to life, and the more I’ve come to understand it, the more I’ve come to love it. I’ve also wondered–and it was gratifying to hear Safran Foer chat about this very thing–why does literature seem behind visual art and music when it comes to experimentation in order to reflect life?

Now, I leave this conference excited about the possibilities of experimentation, not for the sake of experimentation, but for the sake of stretching myself and my readers. For we do this in the service of humanity. As Adichie reminded us, we create meaning and radical truth to remind ourselves and others of what it means to be human. We enter into the conversation of humanity through literature because life is always changing and yet unchanging.

I don’t know how experimental I’ll be. Heck, I don’t even know what experimentation means for me yet. But I want to see what I can do. I want to see what magic I can conjure while playing with craft. Perhaps playing for me will be a minor thing, or perhaps it will be drastic. But I hope it means something that is both personal and global (meaning, reflecting my love of cultural studies, not necessarily something that will resonate with the whole world–I’m not that delusional yet), something that holds together tension and resolution, something that is intimate and small and echoing.

I confess: I am afraid. I fear failure. I fear not being good enough for the grand ideas in my head. I fear looking the fool. But I remember what someone once said about Miles Davis when he was a rookie, that he was brilliant but he didn’t yet have the chops. Or what Picasso said: “I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it.”

I do not claim the brilliance of Davis or Picasso, but I can pattern my artistic endeavors after them, striving, striving, striving, in the face of failure.

 

Random Writing Thoughts

After my post this week at The Master’s Artist about motherhood and writing, I read this about Andrew Stanton, lead writer of the Toy Story trilogy and writer and director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E (my favorite):

You can feel his love for his wife and his son and daughter onscreen.

What a beautiful thing to say about an artist.

I read or heard something else about someone or something relating to this, but I forgot. Oops.

Also, good to know that my writing insomnia hasn’t left in motherhood. The other night, I couldn’t sleep until I got up and spent a couple of hours editing a piece. In Bible study yesterday, someone remarked about my ability to sound coherent after eight months of interrupted sleep. God prepared me for such a time as this with a lifetime of insomnia.

Also, I’ve started a new piece. I love the energy of starting fresh, but I hate the crappiness of first drafts and having to put these words down even though yuck, just yuck. But here it is and here I am, and I’m still writing.

I’m Still Here

“Maybe I’m not a blogger anymore,” I told Chris. Maybe it was time to give up writing these posts, reading blogs about writing and art and beautiful ordinary life so that I could write and create and live beautiful ordinary. Yes, I thought, this is the time for that.

Except the next night I cried myself to sleep, wondering what’s happened to me, wondering if I still have thoughts on writing and art and the beautiful ordinary, if I still have stories to tell, or if I just exist in this space. The following morning, after a 5:00AM feeding, I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I came to my computer, and I opened these collecting blog posts in my reader, and I meandered. I read about writing and art and the beautiful ordinary, and I found a space for those things I’m still passionate about. Then I jotted down a few thoughts, interacting with these writers, stimulated by their wonderings and wanderings.

When Keegan awoke a couple of hours later, greeting me with a smile, I gathered him in my arms, ready to spend the day playing with him.

I’m still here. I’m still me, and I’m still blogging.