on on writing, etc.

I’ve finished my second nonfiction read of the summer (well, of the Indianapolis segment of summer): On Writing by Stephen King. Not that I’ve read anything else he’s ever written. But the movies Stand By Me and The Green Mile were based on his stories, and I loved them. That counts? Anyway, he’s a great nonfiction writer as well, and it was super cool to read a little about his life and his process. I could see ways that my process might be different, and I was definitely intimidated by some of his remarks and his natural giftedness/ability to write book after book after book – just cranking out the ideas that he gets from everywhere. I’ve struggled a lot with ideas this summer.

His anchor rule for writers is to read a lot and write a lot. It’s so simple, yet so hard for me. I love it when I’m doing it but have yet to achieve consistency. Self-destructive and self-sabotaging – that sounds about right.

I didn’t mark up this book because I borrowed it from a friend – someone I admire who is reading a LOT and discovering her gift for writing and supporting my desire to do both of those things with encouragement and books. The best. I had to make sure there were no visible pens nearby as I was reading, or else I would have underlined and starred all over. Definitely need to find my own copy. Oh yeah I was saying that because the way I’ve done these posts so far has been to go back through all my marks and reflect on the book and write as I go along.

I purchased a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style as a result of both King and Truss (the author of that punctuation book I read – lol look at this blog post and all its grammatical glory?) harping on about it. I got the illustrated version, but I would’ve been excited about the plain one.

Can we talk about how there are always too many books to read? I feel like the whole world of worlds between book covers is constantly taunting me – reminding me that I will never encounter all of them. I used to feel the delight at all of that possibility whenever I walked into the library at school. I told myself that one day, I would read them all. Oh, little Emily. Oh, dear.

Now there’s just anxiety wrapped around the reading list. But I constantly buy more books that I know are important. Why do I even try to set a course for myself? The very first book I read this summer was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It was a WONDERFUL mystery, and I knew that it would probably be followed-up, but I hadn’t yet investigated even though I definitely wanted to read more (q.e.d. too many books already). Yesterday, Nick and I went to Indy Reads Books, this great independent used and new bookstore (why oh why do I do this to myself?) where I FOUND the second in the series (WHICH I JUST TOOK A GOOGLE BREAK TO INVESTIGATE AND ATTENTION EVERYONE THERE ARE STILL 4 MORE I HAVEN’T READ AND STILL 4 MORE TO COME IN THE PROMISED 10 BOOKS IN THE SERIES OH. MY. STARS.) I bought the second book, and I intend to read it directly after I finish my current fiction selection. Then I intend to buy all of the rest and do nothing except read them – goodbye sleep and friends and food.

This post is supposed to be about Stephen King’s book about writing, but I’m sure he would approve of my taking the story wherever it goes. Hey-o! Applying what I’m learning already. Things are lookin’ up.

One thing I loved about the book is its three forewords, three afterwords, and structure of the 3 main parts: “C.V.”, “On Writing”, and “On Living”. This gave it a playful feeling, and indeed he is a humorous person. It was fun reading and helpful, and I was glad that so much of it was his personal story and experience with writing. There were some blanket statements and suggestions, but I didn’t feel like he was trying to teach me or prescribe some formula for me to follow. Now, I just have to take on the task and START. Always always always the hardest part.

(Thanks, Christina!)IMG_3208

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Marilynne Robinson has my heart

When did I stop thinking about all aspects of my life as undeserved gifts? That’s the question I’ve had to ask myself this week. Prompted by a wonderful book which I’m sure will prompt the longest post around the end of the summer when I finish it because I’ve been reading it slow on purpose. The fact that I have time to read and time to write is unbelievable. I’m trying not to fritter this time away. I’ve also had time to make some coasters with coffee beans, to finish knitting a scarf, and to bake bread & brownies. I’ve had time to consider reading and writing fiction a “productive” use of my days – to really focus on what it might take to do this consistently – to maybe gain some momentum to carry me through the days when I’m full-time-student and part-time-worker. Can I carve out the time and space and give up my procrastinating, micro and macro?

The book I’ve finished most recently is Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. She is one of my favorite authors, and I feel I can actually say that because I’ve read a few of her books, and for the most part I haven’t read enough, and I usually feel like a huge fraud when people ask who my favorite authors are and I’m like…(idk I’ve had syllabi my whole life and seemingly only time to read what other people told me to read for the last 7 years)?

Anyway, Housekeeping was Robinson’s first novel and so quietly spectacular. It’s like prose-poetry narrative. The descriptive details focus on the feelings rather than the physical elements – I didn’t know that one of the characters was a redhead until halfway through, but who cares? I don’t want to tell you why it’s called Housekeeping because I really enjoy sussing out the reasons for titles of things and want you to enjoy it too.

I think it’s worth talking about all the new words I learned while reading this book (sort of an embarrassing amount…including words that I thought I knew but didn’t really know even though I’ve read them and used context to get around that ignorance in the past):

  • insouciant – a relaxed and calm state; not worrying about anything
  • prescience – the ability to know what will or might happen in the future (so, not pre-science?)
  • moil – to make wet or dirty (in this context)
  • quotidian – ordinary or very common; done each day
  • tumulus – an artificial hillock or mound (as over a grave)
  • invidious – unpleasant and likely to cause bad feelings in other people
  • exculpatory – to exculpate (to prove that someone is not guilty of doing wrong)
  • parturition – the action or process of giving birth to offspring (as opposed to?)
  • nimbus – a circle of light
  • fatuous – foolish or stupid (I was close on this one…)
  • carapace – a hard shell on the back of some animals
  • miscible – capable of being mixed (without separation) (just say mixable?)
  • incipient – beginning to develop or exist (so…nothing like insipid)
  • noisome – very unpleasant or disgusting
  • parsimonious – very unwilling to spend money (unrelated to persimmons)

 

Definition creds: Mirriam-Webster. Yes, I did pass the SAT and ACT and my English BA. Sad, no?

The book is about two sisters growing up with their mother then grandmother then great-aunts then one aunt, the dysfunction of their upbringing and the sadness of being in a family. It’s all women, which didn’t strike me until right now. Husbands and fathers are dead or abandoned, and the children were all girls. The plot isn’t really the point. So if you’re looking for tons of action, I’d maybe not go with this one. But if you’re looking to read a moving composition of words, this is that. I find myself sitting in a feeling similar to the post-Tinkers almost-sadness. I found myself more invested in Housekeeping, advocating more for the characters and affected by the force of the writing.

So much of the plot movement happens in the first third of the book…and the writing builds in potency toward the end, to the point where I had to put it down with about 25 pages left because it felt like I had been eating something savory for so long that I was too full and needed to let my stomach rest before eating again. Or…it’s more like when something has so much flavor that while you’re chewing it you start drooling too much – dried tart cherries are like this for me. When some feeling begins to get overwhelming and you have to stop because experiencing it all at once would be too much.

My connection to the story firmed up when I read, “’I suppose I don’t know what I think.’ This confession embarrassed me. It was a source of both comfort and terror to me then that I often seemed invisible – incompletely and minimally existent, in fact. It seemed to me that I made no impact on the world, and that in exchange I was privileged to watch it unawares. But my allusion to this feeling of ghostliness sounded peculiar, and sweat started all over my body, convicting me on the spot of gross corporeality.” (105-106)

“It was difficult work, but I have often noticed that it is almost intolerable to be looked at, to be watched, when one is idle. When one is idle and alone, the embarrassments of loneliness are almost endlessly compounded.” (158)
(This is what I imagine it feels like to some people to beg.)

“I hated waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation. I expected – an arrival, an explanation, an apology. There had never been one, a fact I could have accepted, were it not true that, just when I had got used to the limits and dimensions of one moment, I was expelled into the next and made to wonder again if any shapes hid in its shadows. That most moments were substantially the same did not detract at all from the possibility that the next moment might be utterly different. And so the ordinary demanded unblinking attention. Any tedious hour might be the last of its kind.” (166)

That’s a lot of quoting, and there was so much more I wanted to repeat here, but that would have been a lot. Those are some of the moments that punched me in the gut and made me sigh out of truth. I couldn’t have described the feelings as well, but that’s part of what I love about reading. Ugh. And hate.

eats, shoots & leaves // eats shoots & leaves

My third summer book is called Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. It’s written by Lynne Truss. I purchased the book at a farmers’ market near my house. Side note: how awesome is it that there’s a book tent at the farmers’ market? (It’s given me new joy in going to the farmers’ market.)

This book was SO entertaining. I laughed out loud many times, prompting Nick to take a picture of me during one of the more uncontrollable and teary sessions (which occurred in a very quiet library).

Oh, right, the reason I was telling you that I found it at a farmers’ market is this: it came with a sticky note on the front that said, “A great book for grammar Nazis lovers.” So that’s mainly why I bought it. As we were walking home I read the back and laughed out loud, as I hope you will when you read it in the picture I’ll include at the end.

The main result of reading this book is that I am now terribly self-conscious about all of the mistakes (or minor amateur-style giveaways) I’m making as I write this. The author goes through the main marks of punctuation that we use every day and gripes about their misuse (very cathartic – where most of the laughter was induced); gives brief instructions on the correct usage of each mark; and talks about the historical background and evolution of each one. It’s wonderful. I did consider myself a “grammar…lover” or at least a stickler, but I am ashamed (and delighted?) to say that I also learned some things about my grammar methods that will hopefully help me to improve.

The biggest thing she affirmed is that you must know how to use punctuation correctly in order to deviate from it strategically. I like to think that this is what I’m doing most of the time when I throw parentheses or dashes in the mix haphazardly for effect. But you have no way of knowing that, and I probably seem amateur (and definitely am) most of the time.

I’m currently kicking myself for not marking up the book’s pages with my pen, but I just didn’t want to bother stopping at the time for the sake of my future self. I also anticipate referring to it again from time to time for the laughs as much as for the advice and rules. There was one thing I put a star next to toward the end:
“Even in the knowledge that our punctuation has arrived at its present state by a series of accidents; even in the knowledge that there are at least seventeen rules for the comma, some of which are beyond explanation by top grammarians – it is a matter for despair to see punctuation chucked out as worthless by people who don’t know the difference between who’s and whose, and whose bloody automatic ‘grammar checker’ can’t tell the difference either. And despair was the initial impetus for this book. I saw a sign for “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it, and something deep inside me snapped; snapped with that melancholy sound you hear in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, like a far-off cable breaking in a mine-shaft.”

And I shake my fist in the air and say, “HUZZAH!” And I sigh in relief that there are people out there doing the good work of spreading the word and reminding losers like me to stop every now and again and go back and remember what I was taught. I need to teach myself these lessons again, especially if I’m going to purport to be some kind of a writer or nerd or grammar person. First good sign: I loved this book.

practice

[Creepily, this thing I wrote a few years ago showed up as an unpublished post – WITH THE TITLE THAT LATER BECAME THE TITLE OF MY BLOG GO FIGURE – that I had saved and then never got up the courage (or never remembered) to publish. I don’t feel all of these things exactly anymore, but a lot of it is the same, which is kind of disappointing given that years have passed, but also comforting in the sense that my own writing spoke to me… So, since I now feel somewhat removed from it and can honestly say that I don’t exactly remember what I was thinking and feeling about when I first wrote it, I’m feeling confident enough to post it. It is also much better than anything I have written thus far this summer, and it makes me feel good about myself to publish something personal and deeper and such. Ok, preface over.]

It feels like every time I sit down to write something to potentially turn into a blog post, it doesn’t come out honestly anymore. It comes out like a perfectly manufactured parcel of writing that I know could be “successful” with the few people who read it and enjoy it, and maybe even helpful.

But how do I write genuinely about positive things, about faith, when I’ve been feeling like a completely inadequate heap of trash, like…most of the time?
How do I climb out of this self-pity pile?
How do I get back to the place of loving and not feeling shame at every turn?
Why is the hardest thing to feel God’s love? To feel that he approves, accepts, and even loves…even likes me? It makes no sense, and so I choose not to live in the truth. I live under the rule of the lie of insufficiency. I live in the darkness of his disapproval, of his hatred of me. The disbelief in even the possibility of being loved by a being so completely good. An absence of peace in my heart, and the impossibility of joy because I’m in a place so devoid of light.

This is the trap filled with mirrors. This is the quintessential fun house. The name betrays, and the mirrors distort, and it is impossible to escape, as the shrill laughter becomes shrieking and you can’t see yourself clearly, and running is stumbling and the maze only leads you deeper in.
This is not reality. This is just the fun house at the circus, where you begin to feel you’ll never get home, and all you can see is warped. Evil is real, but instead of the truth, it holds a fun house mirror up to your soul.

It is so detrimental, so so dangerous to live in the darkness of those lies. We must be compelled by the story of our loving, kind, generous, and saving God, whose power reigns over our lives. Our faith must look like complete trust, total abandonment of everything that could keep us from the truth. We have to overcome doubts about ourselves, and see through lies about our God. He sees our hearts, but he sees through them to Jesus, to his Holy Spirit living there. And how can we not sigh and laugh and bubble up with joyous relief. And how can we keep from sharing?

It really is as simple…and simultaneously difficult…as practice, isn’t it? Practice. Doing the same thing over and over and over until you know what you’re doing. But here, practice never makes perfect. Practice makes person. ha. [hahaha]
Growth doesn’t mean always learning something different. It means actually internalizing and living what I have learned and believed. God’s commands have not changed, and they aren’t going to. So what can we do but keep believing in him? Keep following, keep practicing this faith. It starts again every day – in the morning when his mercies are new.

Rejoice and be thankful! As you walk with me through this day, practice trusting and thanking Me all along the way. Trust is the channel through which My Peace flows into you. Thankfulness lifts you up above your circumstances. I do My greatest works through people with grateful, trusting hearts. Rather than planning and evaluating, practice trusting and thanking Me continually. This is a paradigm shift that will revolutionize your life.”  – from Jesus Calling

I have so much in my life to be thankful for, all the time. Last night, I went to see the Silver Pages play in Lincoln (the fact that I even got to do that!) and some of the best lyrics stuck with me… (hopefully I get them right)

“Night will turn to day,
and your church will say,
‘Take your bride away,’
when your kingdom comes!

Sorrow will be erased,
pain will wash away,
and we will see your face,
when your kingdom comes!”

Filled me up with layers of hope. When we were driving away, Hanna reminded me of the transformative power of music. It really can change my attitude and my mind. He can use it to renew my heart. Singing is mysterious and compelling. I always sing with the feeling that I have the absolute worst singing skills, and that self-consciousness inhibits true worship. I have been trying so hard to forget about myself and just sing to Jesus, and when that happens, I can stop hearing my voice, and hear his instead.

These are the lyrics to one of my favorite worship songs, “How Can I Keep From Singing.” Just seems fitting now:

“My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die
The Lord my Savior liveth
What though the darkness gather round
Songs in the night He giveth
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin
I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?”

Life is not supposed to be pancakes all the time, and even good things bring hard decisions, but God is always with us. Just because things get murky and the way is a little dark up ahead, we can’t forget that we are being protected, and we are loved, and that that changes everything. The way I live has to reflect that knowledge if I really believe it.

Goodness, all of these song lyrics coming to my brain today…I hope they are equally moving to you:

“Let no one caught in sin remain
inside the lie of inward shame.
We fix our eyes upon the cross
and run to him who showed great love
and bled for us.

Freely you bled for us.

Christ is risen from the dead
trampling over death by death.
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave.”

Yes!

On an entirely different note, I am thinking about experimenting with some different kinds of writing in the next few blog posts. I have had more time to post over the past couple months, and I think I could try some new things. I love writing, and I write fiction sometimes, but I never post any of that. I’ve posted a couple random poems that just encompassed the same thoughts I talked about in the accompanying posts, but that has only happened twice, to be exact. So, just expect some different things hopefully soon. I’m saying this now so that I have to do it. 🙂 I can’t go back on my word. [LOL OH PAST EMILY YOU HAVE NO IDEA]

[Yeah, that fun house mirror thing – so real. Also, my favorite version of “How Can I Keep from Singing” is by Ike Ndolo – check it out. My next post will be about that book I said I was still reading last time. Sometime this week, still. Trying to get that sweet content out there. Nope. Nevermind. I will figure out how to write again. I’m vexed by having all the time in the world and ideas that won’t form themselves into coherent sentences.]

the summer of Write

I came to
I came to in the library,

where every book stared back at me,
like it was I who had disturbed them.

I did come to the library this afternoon, to work on this blog post which will be the most official thing that I’ve written since we’ve been in Indianapolis for a little over a week, aside from a few embarrassing poems (worse than that one up there for sure). By the way, the downtown library in Indianapolis is kind of amazing. It’s beautiful inside and out, just like books. 😉

I did intend to write about the first two books I’ve read since being here. I brought 16 (17? 20? Who cares?) books with me for the summer, with a tentative plan to read them all, and I’m probably not going to finish them all if I’m really serious about the writing goals I also want to reach, but I have TIME so much time, and that is not SO much better than having no time, but it is better.

The point is, I didn’t bring those two books with me (to this library this afternoon). I brought the one I’m still reading, which is worth writing about, but I haven’t finished it yet. So, I guess I’m just going to write a little bit about the books anyway because what else?

The first is called Tinkers, and it was written by Paul Harding. It caught my eye one day with a white cover and…well, I’ll include pictures at some point. It had a Pulitzer Prize circle on it and a quote from Marilynne Robinson. (Either one of those things by itself would have been enough.) It’s about a dying man (George) – a tinker, someone who mends “utensils”, slang in this case for horologist. (Lots about horology lately what with S-Town.)

It gets a little too real about what it might be like to have your family members awkwardly caring for you as you rest on your hospital bed in the living room and don’t move or have meaningful conversations about anything. It jumps into flashbacks that sometimes are not flashbacks from George’s memory just flashes from the past and sometimes flashes into the first-person perspective of his father as a young man. It’s jarring at first as some books are until you figure out how they’re going to come at you, but then it makes sense.

It’s a bit heartbreaking in offshoots about the cruelty of a mother who isn’t sure whether she loves her husband and children and the bitterness that comes out of fear and a heart that won’t communicate. It doesn’t ask you to fully sympathize with any particular character, and George seems to be more of an anchor to remind you where you stand in time than a real person you’re getting to know (possibly making some sort of statement about time *wink*). I got whiffs of profundity, whiffs of boredom. It’s the understanding of life that makes it profound, but is it the sense of reality that makes it meaningful? I think I found it more profoundly sad, and I don’t want my life to end up anything like it.

After that (though it was really short), I needed something I could digest quickly. I read Someday, Someday Maybe (not sure if there’s a second comma but meh), written by Lauren Graham. The Lauren Graham who wrote Talking as Fast as I Can and played Lorelai in Gilmore Girls and Sarah Braverman in Parenthood. She’s pretty great. This was indeed a novel (I thought you might ask). The book was devoured in two days in the way that those of you familiar with Sarah Dessen might recognize with a closed-mouth smile. It was sweet, insightful in a sense, and the story was predictable in a comforting way, like watching You’ve Got Mail for the 1000000th time.

I find that I don’t have a whole lot more to say, so maybe that’s it for today and we go for it with some harder-hitting real-life writing tomorrow?
I also just discovered a post that I saved a long time ago on here – seriously, it must have been at least three years ago – that reminded me once again that my past self has consistently been more mature than my present self. Does that sound like something to worry about? I feel like I was born a 30 year old, and so maybe now I am 55 and starting to forget things? haha jk but really

 

Recommendations: Well, yes I’d recommend the books…but only if they sound remotely good to you.
Also, Deb Talan’s new album, Lucky Girl (!)
Deb Talan is half of The Weepies, and she is the half whose solo music sounds like The Weepies. And she is wonderful. yes.