Weepy Week


I’ve cried in the library already twice this week, and when I saw the news that Taylor Swift’s mom has cancer, I teared up again. Where am I? Yes, the library.

Maybe it’s stress, maybe lack of deep sleep. Maybe I’m more emotional because I’ve been reading more – you know it’s an exercise in empathy, right? Either way, I’m prone to tears right now. Give me some especially good news, and the pipes may burst. Crush my spirit, and I’ll reach for a tissue. It’s just my reality right now.

It seems like a healthy way to go through life, to let the tears come when they may. I have successfully had a good cry at a study carrel twice without disturbing my fellow library-goers. It’s a skill, I’m telling you. Then you just dab at your face so your eyeliner doesn’t create scary tear lines down your cheeks, and you’re good.

I could teach seminars on this.

Some of the tears this week have been about plans that I had that can’t come to fruition now. It was disappointing. But I’m looking ahead because God is in my there, which is obviously not where I was hoping it’d be but it’s better.

I was thinking during one of my classes today, while I was having a hard time paying attention, about what my life will be like when I make it. I had a fleeting image of Fame, where there are pink neon lights. But most of our successes don’t happen like that, do they?

I switched gears and instead imagined sitting at a pretty desk (that I somehow manage to keep organized) in a dimly-lit room that has a well-placed window for thinking-staring. I pictured myself writing a true sentence, something that communicates a deeper truth than I even thought I knew. I think that’s making it for me.

It’ll be quiet, and maybe no one will even read the sentence at the moment, but that’s what it will look like.

And I’ll probably cry.

Landscapey?


I started a post a couple days ago about how to be an empath without collapsing/crying all the time/shutting down, but I’m not totally sure how to answer that question yet. I just know that I am empathetic and have both shut down and started back up again. The words are still gestating, so that baby will be born later.

Today, Liesel and I wanted to go to a coffee shop that I told her has “plenty of seating.” Every single table was full when we got there, so we started walking.

It’s hard to go more than a block in Chicago without encountering a coffee shop, usually an independent one. But if you can’t find that, you can usually find a Starbucks.

It took us a while to find one. Perhaps we just were on the wrong street, but we just happened across one. Of course, this is their last day to be open… like ever, so it’s too bad that we’re kind of in love with it. Liesel especially likes it because they’re playing 80s music. She loves 80s music and hockey, two things that continue to surprise me.

I spent the first hour and a half here revamping a memoir essay about my time in France and learning about being a guest. And now I’m trying to come up with concrete words to describe my writing and my influences. For some reason, “cinnamon” keeps coming to mind. Also, words like “landscapey.”

You can do that kind of thing in a creative writing class. Seriously. No one will bat an eye.

So I’m going to spend some time looking through my posts and see what my writing reminds me of. If you happen to think of any concrete words that you think describe my writing and would like to share them with me – there’s this handy dandy comment feature that would help you to do that.

On to some reading on my own blog. Gosh, the narcissism.

Art and me and my keyboard


One of my professors just passed along this article to me from Christianity Today, centered around the idea that the church has made beauty subjective.

It was one of those pieces that kind of slapped me. But isn’t beauty subjective? Isn’t it in the eye of the beholder? The author, Karen Swallow Prior, says this:

“We no longer distinguish between what Roger Scruton in his lovely book, Beauty, calls “aesthetic interest” and “mere effect.” If beauty is entirely subjective, the only thing that measures its worth is “mere effect”—how it makes us feel.”

Oooh.

Are we just interested in feeling? Is that all our art is about? That’s an interesting question, because it might change how we do art if we say “no.” If you’re asking me (which, you obviously are since you’re here), saying “no, we’re not just interested in sappy feelings” would make our art much better.

What if Christian literature was more interested in speaking complex truth and creating something beautiful and masterful and possibly not easy to digest? What if our music scene was more interested in making good music than changing the lyrics of trashy pop to make it appropriate for our children’s ears?

Prior goes on to bring Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor’s thoughts into the mix. O’Connor says that our Christian fiction has reduced our “conception of the supernatural to a pious cliché.”

Doesn’t that sting? Don’t we want to cling to our pious clichés and say, “well, at least they’re pious! At least they aren’t secular! It doesn’t matter that we’ve over sentimentalized our God to something tiny and simple and cuddly. At least we’ll draw people to Jesus with this stuff!”

As for me and my keyboard, we will try to understand what objective beauty is. We will read great writers and try to determine what makes them great. How did they get there? What do they understand that we don’t? We will look at humanity and try to see deeper than the surface. We will attempt to glance at the heart of people and the heart of God, because if we actually do it well, we won’t have all the answers. We won’t answer all the questions by “The End” and will actually end up being thought-provoking.

How to write a paper


Sometimes you want to do a good job on a paper because it’s for your favorite professor, and it’s the first paper of the semester. So, when you get the prompt for the first essay, you

STEP 1: Have a small panic attack. It’s not a long paper, and the prompt is straightforward. There is nothing here that would logically induce such a response. But since you already feel the pressure, you just have a small breakdown. Then you

STEP 2: Get over it. And you

STEP 3: Start re-reading the dense animal rights and utilitarianism articles needed to write the paper adequately. You underline things and make small guttural noises of agreement and disapproval in the back of your throat when appropriate. And you write things in the margins like buzzwords and just because it’s absurd doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it. Then you

STEP 4: Go over all your notes from the articles and start to formulate a thesis. Write it in plain English, nothing fancy. Write it in a way that when you go back later to start actually writing the body of the paper, you’ll see things that make sense. Then you

STEP 5: Write out some sentences that are jam-packed with content. It doesn’t matter if they’re run-ons or if the ideas in the sentences need unpacking. As long as you can unpack them later, feel free to leave the sentence incoherent and jumbly.

STEP 6: Eat a calzone and take a little break. Actually, do that a few times throughout the process. Don’t do it all in one sitting. Drink some water, call your sister, and then

STEP 7: Start typing out the ideas from your notes, starting with your thesis (that will change later when we revise… don’t worry, it’s supposed to). Follow that up by unpacking all those ideas you jumbled out on the paper. Keep going until you get it all out. Then

STEP 8: Formulate a conclusion based on everything you’ve just written. Go back and read through your brilliant material  to get an idea of what the heck you just wrote about. Believe me, it’s harder than you think to remember it all once you’ve spewed it out in typing mode. Conclude, then

STEP 9: Revisit your thesis. Hello, old friend. We missed you while we were drawing conclusions down there. Oh boy, we didn’t actually talk about this in our essay. Did we need to? Oh, we didn’t? Well, what did we actually talk about? Oh. Let’s put that in our thesis. Once your thesis is actually about what your paper is about, then

STEP 10: Have a revision party! Invite the grammar rules and George Orwell’s rules for writing to the party. Visit every line and spread the cheer of making them clearer and more active. It’s your last hurrah before turning in this draft, so make it a good one.

And that, dear friends, is how papers come to be.

Brainstorm bathroom.


I’ve taken to writing poetry on our bathroom floor, which is neither an exciting environment nor a comfortable one, but I think clearly in there.

It’s the one place in our apartment where I can’t see the pantry from where I’m sitting. I’m guessing that has contributed to my success. It has white walls, floors, and fixtures, so that keeps me sane.

I sit there and write. I cross stuff out (never too much though, because you never know when you might see something you’ve crossed out before and it might spawn a whole other piece of work) and scribble and brainstorm and wish I had something good to write about.

Then I keep brainstorming and writing and thinking about how I have nothing to write about.

And finally, after what feels like an eternity but may have only been 15 minutes, inspiration strikes hard. It jolts me into writing mode, and then I scrawl out the words on the paper and try to get in the a good order before the lightning bolt moves on to some other lucky writer.

I have a poetry assignment for tomorrow.

Please excuse me, I need to go to my bathroom.

An Open Letter to Donald Miller


Let’s talk about Donald Miller today.  Okay?  Okay.  Let’s talk about how he responded to my tweet/Vine on Tuesday, which made me ecstatic because why wouldn’t you be ecstatic if someone you admire greatly/would like to be responded to you? Donald Miller isn’t too big for his britches.  Donald Miller responded.

Well, maybe if we’re friends, maybe I should write him a letter.  I was going to contact T-Swizzle because I look like her, but I think I’d rather write a letter to Donald Miller because I’m reading Blue Like Jazz, and I feel like someone spilled my heart out all over the pages, both the good and the stuff that needs holy Clorox wipes.

Let’s just make it an open letter, since I have nothing to hide.  It’ll travel faster than a real letter anyways.

Dear Donald Miller,

You’re not like most contemporary Christian writers.  This is a high compliment.  You don’t package up Jesus and Christian spirituality into a nice, neat little box that we keep closed most of the time but open when we’re feeling holy.  Everything I’ve read that you’ve written seems like you’ve invited the reader to your soul.  I appreciate soul invitations, particularly since not many people issue them.

I bet everybody says this, but I relate so deeply to Blue Like Jazz.  That makes little sense since we have pretty different lives.  Also, just for the sake of being honest, I’m halfway through.  I haven’t even finished.  If you take a hairpin turn in the last half, I may have to retract that statement about relating.  I promise to finish though, no matter what.

Here’s something about me: I love stories.  I wish everything came in story form.  I’m not a good verbal storyteller (since it always sounds like a more substantial story in my head.  Example: This one time – it was a Thursday, yeah, a Thursday – I went to that same store that you went to, and that same person was working.  Oh… yep. that’s it.), but I could write stories, listen to stories, dream up stories, or read stories all day.  I’m really enjoying your story.  It’s a purposeful story about a journey, one that I feel like I’ve been invited to sit in on.  Thank you for that.

I just stopped at the place in Blue Like Jazz where you said that you propose to Penny once a month on the phone because she actually believes things and lives them.  (First of all, that gives me hope for the male species.)  Second, the reason I stopped is because I really wanted to know if she ever accepted.  That was 2003, so there might be another part to the story now.  You’d think the internet would help me with this, but wikipedia is strictly professional life, and google didn’t help either.   I’m nosey, but it’s just because I love stories.  Feel free to not respond to these personal inquiries.

If I’m ever in Portland, can I meet you for lunch?

I thank God for you, Donald Miller.

Sincerely (and I mean that),

Ashley

Not Stephen King.


Today’s one of those days where I start a blog post about six times, each time with a different leading sentence.  And then I delete it and go do something else, come back later, and try again.  Delete, repeat.  It just takes one sentence to get going, but sometimes it’s just the wrong sentence.  I end up going down a path that either isn’t long enough, doesn’t have a definite shape, or doesn’t really look like a place that I want to be.

Usually, these are the days where I don’t write.  These are those days that you don’t hear from me via Facebook, Twitter, and your email inbox (if you subscribe… which I hope you do) with a new post.  Because I try, and it just doesn’t feel right.

Today, however, I’m persevering.  It’s past 10pm, so it won’t be brilliant, but I remember something that Stephen King said about being inspired.  This is a paraphrase, but he said something to the effect of : Inspiration doesn’t just come to you when you want it, but since you’re a disciplined writer, when it does come, it will find you sitting at your desk, writing.

Wow, I am so not Stephen King.  He said it much better, but I’d rather not flip through On Writing to find his exact words( be my guest).  Today is discipline day.  I’m writing and publishing (semi-publishing, let’s be real) even though it’s not going to be fabulous, and it isn’t really inspired.  It’s another glimpse into my life, not that you were asking, but this is what happens sometimes.  Most days, there are a couple ideas bouncing around together in my mind, and they collide at some point, and if I’m near my computer, they go into a blog post.  

Today, I guess not much was bouncing around in there.  Or maybe they’re just the thoughts that need to stay in my head.  I don’t tell you everything, you know.  We’ve all got to have some privacy.