Tag Archives: writing

Imagination

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

— Mark Twain

 

It’s probably time for an update.

A lot has been happening around here. The end of the school year kept me hopping for a couple of weeks. Not only were we swamped with school programs, field trips, and end-of-year parties, but we also had to fit in a fundraiser, an award ceremony for my AHG troop, and a birthday party.

And the garden still languishes.

I’m digging out, slowly but surely. And it feels like it will probably just always be that way, at least until I can finally let go of some of my volunteer duties.

But that’s not the most significant update, nor is it the reason I was prompted to finally write a blog post.

The biggest update I have to share is . . .

I put my books back on Amazon about a week or so ago.

I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

And this is where I don’t know what to say next.

[An hour later . . . .]

I’m ambivalent and anxious and stuck. I have the books up there, and with that act comes the implicit promise of at least a sequel for the novel. But when I try to re-read the novel, I am only struck by how amateurish and poorly written it is. I can only hear the whispers of negative reviews and the criticisms of readers past and future who think the story is too dull, too traditional, too . . .

[fill in the blank]

It’s hard for me to remember that self-flagellation is a form of pride. This has dawned on me before. Many of us–especially women, I’ve noticed–mistakenly equate humility with self-deprecation, scolding, reminding ourselves and others of all the things were bad at, etc. We somehow mistakenly got the idea that humility means thinking less of ourselves.

As the great C. S. Lewis reminds us:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

So I stand again at the gate of pride, beating myself bloody over perceived mistakes, imperfections, flaws, etc. that may or may not even be in my work. And it is pride, because yesterday, I found myself in a spiral of “this sucks–I hate this–my work is hideous–who would like this” and on and on.

That’s not thinking of myself less. Indeed, it’s thinking of myself more.

My eyes were on the wrong place. Once again, they were back on me–my work, my writing, my stories. Even my pronouns are wrong.

Where should my eyes and heart be?

On Jesus, the great Author and Storyteller Who asked me to write these stories in the first place.

I have no idea what He wants to do with this stuff. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe the entire point of having my stories out there is to grow me for some future task. Maybe this is just about building my obedience muscle.

But the point is, that’s not up to me. That’s up to Him.

I ran across this Mark Twain quote earlier: You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

My imagination was out of focus yesterday. Not my creativity–not my ability to put words together or create worlds or envision what happens next.

No, what was out of focus was my perspective on Who I belong to, Who owns my talent, and Who I’m writing for in the first place.

Dictionary.com says that imagination is “the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present tthe senses.”

It’s not my creativity that was out of whack. It was my imagination–my ability to form a mental image or concept of my Heavenly Father’s delight in my obedience, or of the moment when He says “well done, good and faithful servant,” or of the glory of Heaven itself. My imagination was conjuring mental images and concepts that were not heavenly, but earthly–and more than earthly, they were so earth-bound that they kept me from doing what God has asked me to do.

That’s pride. And more than pride, that’s allowing the Enemy to hijack my usefulness and my joy and my strength.

I won’t give him that power any longer.

And so when my imagination is out of focus, I can’t trust my eyes. Yesterday, my eyes were telling me that my work was amateurish, unsophisticated, boring, ugly, and all the rest.

But if my imagination had been properly focused, my eyes might have said, “yes, it’s imperfect, but that’s okay. Some of the imperfections can be fixed. Some can’t. Some make it more beautiful. Some are just subjective. The point is, you wrote the story you were supposed to write. And whether you were obedient then or not, you’re being obedient now. That’s the point. That’s what counts.”

This is not a clean, tidy, perfect journey, but then, what journey is? And isn’t that the point of my stories–that none of us have perfect journeys? That redemption is a messy, uncomfortable, beautiful process of fits and starts and loss and gain? That sanctification doesn’t happen overnight?

Well, most of you probably don’t know the point of my stories. But let me tell you that yes, that’s pretty much the point of most of my stories.

I have no time at all to devote to writing or editing fiction right now, and yet, here I am–staring down the gaping maw of a sequel that I promised years ago, a sequel that, apparently, a dozen or twenty people still want to read.

So I take a deep breath, and I repeat to myself the verse that took me through the last year as a first-year Troop Coordinator: “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NASB)

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Advertisements

May

Here are several things I know about May:

May is the month after April, in which I took a trip with Mr. P and enjoyed six days away from the ducklings.

May is the month right before June, in which all of my ducklings will be out of school and home again.

May involves overnight school trips, campouts, AHG field trips, service projects, book fairs, school auctions, and Memorial Day.

May makes me feel like I have a timer running down in my head. Tick, tock, tick, tock . . .

May is a month of growth. Growth means a lot of blackberry brambles in my backyard. Blackberry brambles mean a lot of yardwork in my future.

May is the month I signed my first new copywriting client since reopening my doors.

May is the month in which Tiger turns 11.

May is also the month when I fully expect to amply supply several 11-year-old boys with pizza, soda, candy, and enough AA batteries to keep four XBOX controllers running for the course of a “sleepover.”

May promises to be a wild ride.

Till next we meet (perhaps in June) . . .

J M

Calling

It’s been an interesting week.

I’m not sure where to begin, so I’m just going to stumble into this and figure it out as a go.

I haven’t been shy on this blog about my anxiety over writing and returning to writing fiction. In fact, that’s pretty much what this whole blog is about–or at least, it has been a huge piece of this blog. I thought I’d finally found a place where I could be comfortable with the position of my fiction in my life–that I could be happy to just write it and not share it, that I could acknowledge my need to tell stories, even if I didn’t share them.

But I still had a restlessness in my spirit. I wasn’t sure how to account for it. I explored a lot of different thoughts, but none seemed right. I prayed about it, but the “answer” was unsatisfying. Why?

Because the answer I kept getting seemed to be directing me toward writing–and not just toward writing, but toward sharing.

I am always really hesitant to look for “answers” in the nudges and leanings and such that other people seem to be sensitive to. I don’t trust myself. I am too prone to seeing the answers that I want rather than the answers I need.

But this time, there was only fear, tension, and anxiety at the thought of following through with the answer. “Share my writing? God, you have to be kidding me. Don’t you remember what happened last time? Don’t you know what people will say? Don’t you understand how everything–everything!–I write is different from what’s accepted, appropriate, allowed in the church?”

I’m always amazed at how I continue to ask God if He knows things as if He doesn’t know things. I have a very short memory. I seem to assume that He does, too.

In any case, the very idea of sharing my writing again caused nothing but anxiety, fear, and dread. I argued with God a lot about this. For a couple of weeks, this was the bulk of my prayer–when I prayed, that is. A lot of times, knowing the wrestling match that would occur, I just avoided praying altogether.

But the Hound of Heaven is nothing if not persistent.

Everything came to a head on Tuesday. I found myself having multiple conversations about magic in literature–specifically, I found myself once again defending Harry Potter. The purpose of this post is not to rehash the debate over Harry Potter but rather to share my frustration over the entire discussion about the role of magic and such in literature, and specifically, in Christian literature. My frustration stems from what I think are very poor arguments against the magic in Harry Potter. In my opinion, one could use many of those arguments as justification to avoid C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein as well, but many Christians who refuse to read Harry Potter adore Lewis and Tolkein. I found myself in a very weird place on Tuesday where the same people who were refusing to read Harry Potter were encouraging me to write my worlds. I could not help but think, “how can you encourage me if you find fault with Harry Potter? Do you not know that my work and my magic systems will very likely offend you as well?”

I took to Twitter to rant. I finally tweeted the following stream:

I should not have to be braver in front of my Christian brothers and sisters than I am in front of the world, but that’s where I end up–I constantly have to defend my artistic decisions (the art I make and the art I consume) because I don’t fit the proper mold. Again, I’m too clean for the secular art world and too inappropriate for the Christian art world. One is a place I don’t want to live, and the other seems to be a place where I can’t live if I practice art the way I think I’m called to practice it. If Jesus doesn’t give me some baseball bat therapy soon, I swear I’m giving this whole damn thing up and burning my effing hard drive.”

“What’s baseball bat therapy?” you might ask. This is the form of therapy whereupon Jesus smacks one with the proverbial baseball bat to get one’s attention. This is also the form of therapy that seems to be the most useful for me. I can be rather hard-headed.

I went to bed Tuesday night ready to wake up on Wednesday and spend the day deleting documents from my hard drive. I had no intention of ever going back to my writing at all. If I was being called to share, then I just wouldn’t write. Period. Because the only way I could see to write the stories in my head–the stories that I’m quite certain God put there–was either to keep it to myself or risk being ostracized by my own brothers and sisters.

Wednesday morning, the hubby and I were lying in bed checking e-mail and Facebook and the like, and he started telling me about a weird dream he had. At the same time, I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a status update from a writer friend for whom I have great respect who writes in a similar genre. My husband said, ” . . . and they told me I had to pick up my cross and be crucified . . . ” for his beliefs in creationism.

At the exact same moment–and I’m not even kidding, literally the exact same moment–I was reading “pick up your cross and die” on my friend’s status update.

The exact. same. moment.

That, my friends, is baseball bat therapy.

Because here’s the part I haven’t mentioned: I have always–always–felt a strong pull to write fantasy from a Christian worldview for a secular audience. I want to tell God’s story through myth, symbol, metaphor, and magic, but in a way that makes God’s story appealing and accessible for the secular audience. I have always thought that might be my calling–to be a witness through story for those whose hearts are longing to meet the Ultimate Storyteller.

But I feared that calling because I knew–because I know–that my work will not be well-received by those I rely on for my spiritual support. So it becomes a choice of playing it safe, keeping close to those who share my worldview, and putting all of my writing away (or at least keeping it hidden) for fear of the condemnation I will receive from the church, or . . .

Or . . .

Be obedient to the call God has placed in my heart and on my life.

This is my cross. This is the cross he has given me–the risk I have to take.

And it’s not just a risk with the people in my community–it’s also with those in the secular literary world. They will find my work too clean, too pure, not edgy enough, I’m sure, because that’s some of the criticism I’ve heard before. They might detect my worldview and hate me for it. They might slander me with all manner of insults.

But this is the risk that God has asked me to take–to carry this particular cross.

I realize how this sounds. I realize that I sound like I’m trying to be a martyr here. That’s not my intent. I’m just trying to wrap my head around the idea that God has called me to live in-between these two spaces–one that’s safe for my content but unsafe for my worldview, and the other that’s safe for my worldview but unsafe for my content.

So this is my baseball bat therapy. This is my calling. I will still pursue restarting my freelance commercial writing business, but it looks like I’ll be working on re-editing and republishing my short stories and novels. This won’t happen overnight, and there’s a lot of work to do here, but . . .

God has really left me no other choice.

And so, I will be obedient to this call. I will pick up my cross. And I will remember that I carry it for the One who carried it for me first.

A Prayer

Lord,

Give me the patience to wait when you say, “not now;”

The courage to charge when you say, “I am giving you this victory;”

The wisdom to know the difference;

And the humility to praise you in either circumstance.

 

Give me peace when you are silent;

Fill my lips with praise that overflows my heart.

Make ready my feet and hands for your open doors,

And embolden my spirit to do your perfect Will.

 

Lord, may I know when to rest and when to work,

When to bow my head and when to lift my eyes,

When to speak and when to listen.

 

Soften my heart,

Open my eyes,

Unstop my lips,

Free my hands,

Unshackle my feet,

Engage my mind,

Fill my ears with songs that anticipate my eternal life in your presence.

 

Make me ready, Lord, for the works you have prepared in advance for me to do.

May your strength always be made perfect in my weakness.

 

Amen.

On Facebook

Confession: I can’t figure out how to do Facebook.

I don’t mean the technical side. I have that part figured out. I mean, I can’t figure out the proverbial “sweet spot” of posting and interacting on Facebook.

I’ve been back on the dreaded network for a month. A month today, actually. And I still hate it.

I’ve tried to figure out what I should post. I didn’t want to post a lot of controversial things, but as I mentioned in my last post, I did manage to stumble into a controversial topic without entirely meaning to. I mean, I knew it would stir up a hornet’s nest, but I posted it anyway. I didn’t change any minds, and all I managed to do was give myself a racing heart and a stomachache.

Thing is, I have a wide enough range of friends that almost anything I post is bound to offend or irritate someone. Politics are going to irritate my liberal friends. Religious things are going to irritate my non-religious friends. Both could potentially alienate business associates. Art-related posts will probably alienate or offend my Christian friends, because I read all kinds of subversive literature.

So I should probably stay away from anything that requires . . . you know . . . an opinion.

That guideline eliminates a lot of things.

I can post about books, but there again, I’m certain I’ll have my more religious friends in agony over my soul due to my rather eclectic and seditious taste in literature. I allow myself a fairly wide latitude in reading material for a variety of reasons, but then, I don’t tend to find most reading material particularly troublesome. In other words, most of what I read hasn’t caused me to stumble, and when it has, I’ve quit reading it.

But I do worry about what other people think if they see that I’m reading something unapproved.

I can post about business things, but I don’t really feel like an expert in much of anything. I share the occasional article about business writing or marketing or something I find intriguing, but most seem to be just adding to the noise of Facebook, judging by the lack of response to the posts.

I can post about writing. I have posted about writing. I’ve shared writing-related articles, even, especially in the last few days. Some really good things (mostly related to writing fiction) have come across my feed, and I’ve shared them for the sake of those friends I have who write fiction.

But I feel profoundly uncomfortable sharing these things.

There’s a sense in which I’ve crossed into the Teach Zone–“those who can’t, teach.” I’m no longer a doer. I’m a watcher, at least when it comes to fiction writing. And I can’t shake this sensation that by sharing “how to write better” articles, I’m really just standing on the sidelines shouting at people who are better and more dedicated writers than I am.

So writing articles are out.

I refuse to share personal things anymore. I just can’t. I can’t let these shoestring acquaintances have that much insight into my life. I know Facebook is supposed to be a more personal medium, but when I share personal things, I only end up feeling exposed and anxious. Even using a status update to share that it was my wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago felt too intrusive.

I could post about knitting, but I’m not doing much of that right now. I could post about gardening, but I don’t really know what I’m doing in that realm, and I feel weird about sharing it.

I could post the kinds of mommy updates my friends post. I could tell everyone that I’m just sooo tired because I supervised homework, did a bunch of yardwork, made dinner, baked cookies for school lunches this week, and spent some time reading a marketing book, but . . . really? I mean, then I’m just adding to the Facebook comparison monster that always makes me feel so crappy. And what I’m NOT telling people is that my counters are covered in junk, my kids bickered for most of the evening, the light in the kids’ bathroom still needs fixing, half the groceries I got the other day still aren’t put away, and there’s always something sticky on my foot when I come out of the kitchen.

What am I left with for status updates?

Quotes.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of quotes to be had. Goodreads is always ready to spit out a good one. I always find it rather interesting who “likes” which quotes. A quote from Beverly Cleary gets “likes” from all the fun moms. A quote from Thomas Jefferson gets “likes” from all the patriots. A quote from J. K. Rowling gets . . . well, it’s a rather odd assortment, but I can only assume they are mostly fans of Harry Potter.

Somehow, the idea of being on Facebook just to share inspirational, interesting, or informative quotes seems like a bit of overkill. Why am I even there? My friends can find these quotes themselves. If they want more from me, I’m not sure they’ll be getting it anytime soon.

I don’t know. Maybe I just haven’t found a good stride yet.

But if I don’t find one soon, I’m outta there again.

Identity

There are days when I go to church and wonder why I bothered.

And then there are days like last Sunday . . .

Let me set the stage. Mr. P and Boy Patriot were camping last weekend. When they camp, I rarely go to church. I am not a social animal on the best of days, and church is often more than I can take. So I really didn’t have any intention of going to church last week . . .

. . . except that I couldn’t get rid of the nagging thought that I should go.

I won’t call it a guilt thing. It was more of just an insistence that I needed to be there. We’ve been intermittent attenders lately, anyway, so it’s hard to say that I was feeling compelled out of habit. I just thought I should go.

I went to bed with the sense that I should go to church, but I set my alarm and figured I’d see how I felt in the morning.

I woke up early.

That never happens.

The nagging thought was still there.

I sighed. “Okay, Lord. I guess I should go to church. I hope there’s a good reason.”

The first song was a favorite hymn–something that set my attitude aright. I think God knows what we need when it comes to worship. And worship isn’t just the singing–it’s the listening and integrating, too. I needed that little reset in order to hear the words offered by our pastor.

And such words they were, too!

He spoke on work–our need for it, our calling to it, our warped view of it, and the rest.

I have long accepted the notion that God created us to work–that we are wired with a deep need to perform some task that brings glory to the Father. And in my head, there are different kinds of work. I’ve loosely categorized them as creative, constructive, restorative, and maintenance. There may be more, but those are my categories.

But although it seems obvious, I never really thought about God as a worker.

It makes sense though, doesn’t it? That God was the FIRST worker in history? He made things. He created. He built and molded and shaped. And when He had finished, He rested. How could He have rested had He not worked first?

So that was a revelation.

But the real revelation was this:

I have identity issues.

My crisis over the past several months/couple of years came on because of idolatry and disobedience, and I do believe that. But what I didn’t realize until Sunday was that my idolatry and disobedience were born of a warped sense of identity.

I forgot Who I belong to.

I am so used to saying “I’m a writer” that I forgot what a lie it is.

I’m not a writer.

I’m a daughter of the King, forgiven and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, given new life and restored to right relationship with God the Father, bought back, purchased, restored, covered, and adopted as a child of the Most High God.

Who happens to write.

I think that my head has been moving in that direction for a while, because ever since I had my little “come to Jesus” with . . . well, Jesus . . . a couple of weeks ago, I have found myself much less bothered by the writing posts of writing acquaintances from my old life. Where they used to feel like a punch in the gut, I can now share them with my own followers on Facebook or Twitter. I don’t know if you can call it jealousy or irritation or pain or just the grief of saying goodbye to something that was so dear to me, but for the longest time, just even reading a post about someone else’s write almost drove me to tears.

And lately, those posts just don’t bother me.

Which, really, is rather ironic considering that I have had zero time to pursue any of my own fiction work in the last two weeks.

But I think, maybe, possibly, I’m starting to remember who I belong to. I’m starting to put my identity back in the Hands of the One Who created, constructed, restored, and maintains it.

And suddenly, going back to working on or sharing my fiction just doesn’t seem all that important.

This isn’t to say I’m shutting the door or saying I won’t work on it, and it’s not angst, I promise. It’s a recognition–a position of my heart–that says that even as important and fulfilling and wonderful as writing fiction was, it pales in comparison to the redemption and grace and mercy and love offered at the foot of the Cross.

I’m 44 years old. I accepted Christ when I was five. You would think I’d get this by now. But I’m still learning.

I’m still learning that He is my treasure and my strength and my source.

I’m still learning that my hope is built on nothing less than His Blood and Righteousness.

I’m still learning that nothing I do in this world–being a wife, mother, writer, troop leader, volunteer, or anything else–can ever get me to where I want to be, because the only place my soul longs to be is in the presence of Jesus.

So.

It’s spring break here, and the ducklings are home. And I’m working again, trying to maintain some semblance of discipline so that I can have focused time to work on rebuilding my freelancing business. Discipline means office hours, free time, and the things that I and the family need built into the day without begrudging any of it.

But it also means remembering–moment by moment if I must–Who I belong to.

Because for all my talk about balance and the work-at-home life and parenting and the rest, I never had the anchor in the right place. I anchored my best laid plans in the work itself, not the One who provided the work.

So maybe I am getting it, just a little bit.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Work, Again

Well.

It appears that I’ll be going back to work in the not-too-distant future.

Faced with a significant increase in tuition at the small private school where we send Boy Patriot and Hermione (and next year, Tiger), we have been looking at what to do about schooling next year for our three oldest children.

Without going into too much detail about finances, let us say that under normal circumstances, we’d be comfortable. Mr. P’s salary meets all of our basic requirements with enough room to breathe, and breathe fairly well, at that. There was a time when my income made a huge difference in our financial world, but it’s been a few years since we really needed anything from me to make a big difference in our finances. After the crash of 2008, my freelance commercial work dropped off pretty quickly–I finished out some contracts, but by mid-2009, everything was mostly dried up with just a few trickles of work here and there. By the end of 2009, I was no longer interested in pushing my freelance work for a wide variety of reasons–not the least of which was the fact that I was pursuing my fiction writing career.

In any case, it’s been a few years since I earned much of anything as a freelancer.

But last night, Mr. P and I went out for dinner and had a long talk. In general, we can talk much more efficiently without the input and distraction of four outside voices. We agreed that we essentially have two solutions to our education dilemma: homeschool or private school. Our previous experiences with sending Boy Patriot to traditional public school have been dismal, at best, so traditional public school wasn’t even on the table. We also agreed that of the two remaining options, no matter which one we chose, my life would have to change dramatically. In other words, I’d either have to learn how to homeschool three children of very different educational levels very quickly, or I’d have to go back to work in order for us to afford private school.

I hate to admit how much of a “no-brainer” that choice was.

While it’s no secret at all that I have a severe confidence issue when it comes to writing, that confidence issue pales in comparison to the one I would face were I to undertake the massive homeschooling challenge. And while it pains me to admit this, the truth is that I just like having my kids out of the house for large amounts of time.

There’s something you don’t see on Pinterest.

But I digress.

The point is, it would take me a very short amount of time and a very small amount of capital to reengage in the world of freelance commercial writing.

Still, I was hesitant. The confidence issue, the balance problems, the frustrations of trying to work and be a mom, taxes–all of those things flooded to the surface. Couldn’t I just find a nice, easy office job somewhere? Work as an administrative assistant or receptionist somewhere? Maybe I could find something part-time. Maybe even something flexible or virtual.

So I asked Mr. P flat out what he’d rather I do–find an office job or return to freelancing.

He wants me to return to freelancing.

Now, there are a dozen reasons why, and I won’t rehash them all. He made some good points and had good insights into the advantages of freelancing over some other work option.

But what I heard–and what is so vitally important right now–is that he trusts that I can do this.

It’s not even that he trusts in me in the sense that he has to actually say, “I believe in you” or some kind of falsely sentimental platitude designed specifically to encourage me.

No, his trust transcends such statements. His trust in my abilities reaches to the point where he believes it’s an unspoken, objective, obvious truth that of course I can freelance, so why should he even have to say it?

That kind of trust is water to a thirsty soul.

But so quickly the lies leap to mind:

A better CHRISTIAN mother would homeschool.

Your work was the cause of everything wrong in your home.

You think you can write? You can’t write. There are other people who are far better, and you don’t even have a degree.

You have gaps in your resume now . . . You haven’t done this in so long . . . Who will hire you? The economy is bad . . . No one can afford freelancers . . . Maybe if you prayed harder, better, louder, whatever, God would bless Mr. P’s work more and you wouldn’t need to freelance . . .

I am such a mess.

*deep sigh*

I put the lies to death. Not everyone is cut out for homeschooling. The house is still messy and the kids still get grumpy and obnoxious, and I haven’t written much of anything in almost two years, so maybe I wasn’t the cause of all the problems in the house. I can write, and write well, and the list of former clients will testify to that truth. No one will care about the gaps in a freelancer’s resume, because that’s what freelancers do–they work for a while and then take time off. And in a poor economy, a lot of businesses prefer a freelancer to a permanent employee.

And as for not praying “hard enough” . . . I don’t know. It’s true that my prayer life could use some improvement, but as to whether it’s influencing God’s blessing on our lives? Who could say? What I do know is that God already has blessed us immensely, and I have no reason or right to ask Him to bless us more abundantly. He has already given us more than we deserve.

So, at Mr. P’s prompting and with his encouragement and blessing, I am, once again, at work.

And so the next phase of the journey begins.

Till next we meet . . .

J M