Rain work.


I’m watching raindrops dance on the manhole cover in the yard right now and letting the sound of raindrops breeze in through my window.

Something about steady dripping calms my heart and mind. It’s the consistency of the noise, like it replaces the steady thought churning in my skull with a predictable pitter-patter. It drowns out anxiety and thoughts of stopping my reading to google something unrelated and frivolous (like, “what would I look like with brown hair?”). Even though part of me wants to just stare as the rain falls, the greater part wants to keep reading while the weather cleans my brain and keeps me inside.

Let the rain fall as long as it likes. I’ll be in here, thinking solely about some branch of American literature, be it Gothic, Hemingway, Moby Dick, or The Last of the Mohicans.

I will be productive today, accepting the gift of a schedule-free afternoon and the gift of literature classes.

In my British Literature class last semester, we read Paradise Lost and talked about how in both Milton’s account and the Biblical narrative, there was work in the world before the Fall. Work wasn’t a curse until after sin, when it became hard. I suppose that’s when it became a drudge to concentrate on something, when it was an effort to have to produce an essay or study for a test. But initially, work was a gift just as much as the Garden or companionship or the many fruit trees.

And it really isn’t that hard to see work as a gift, if you don’t leave it all for the last minute.

With that being said, I will continue to make progress on my work, reading as long as the rain falls.

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My food people.


I wrote an article for RELEVANT, kind of hoping that they would snatch it right up and declare it the best piece they’ve ever had submitted. But alas, they already had an article on the same subject ready to go.

Oh well. Better results next time, perhaps.

So, instead I read my eyeballs out for American literature and wrote a short story while sitting on the deck on the third floor of my building. It’s sunny and in the high 60s today, which is a welcome introduction into spring weather. I think I got a little pink while I sat out there with my laptop, typing away about two old guys who are regulars at a coffee shop.

It’s probably not an amazing story, but sometimes you just have to sit down and write something that you might know a little something about, even if it’s mediocre. Because if you try to write something you know nothing about, then it will not only not be amazing, it might really stink.

Here’s the other news: we’re talking about what an American is in my American lit class. It’s funny because most of the people in there are European, so there’s a very different lens than I’m used to. Also, I’m realizing that I’m not sure what an American is. I’m not sure what we are historically or if you can even put a label on what is really “American.” I like what one of Dickens’ character who traveled a lot said; rather than being from a specific place, he was “a citizen of the world.”

I also like cookies. So I decided to bake some, because baking feels like home, even though all the tools and ingredients are foreign.

DSCN5515

Meet Austrian ingredients. Can you read any of that? Kudos if you can. Also note the recipe with grams as a measurement. WHAT?DSCN5519

The lovely dough balls, waiting to have a chemical reaction in the oven.DSCN5520Mother dough lump.

The after picture of the cookies is basically the same shape as the before picture. They weren’t anything particularly beautiful, but my flatmate said that they were “soooo good.” And I think I agree.

On the list of great food items of the past 24 hours: crêpes. Yes, crêpes. Made by a French person and eaten with French people. And a Canadian. And a West Virginian.DSCN5528

Photographic evidence of friendships. I think true friends eat together, and this group embraces that. We hadn’t even gotten up from the table before planning what we were going to eat together next.

Oh, I like food people.

 

Literary Muses, take two.


I’m going to stay firm and not mention the Superbowl for the rest of this post, since I’m quite sure the rest of your social networking world is quite consumed with it.

No, instead I’d like to clear something up.  Last semester, when I was talking to one of my professors about my desire to be a really good writer, the kind that speaks simply about not-simple things and engages readers, he asked me which writers influenced me most.

I spouted out something completely embarrassing.  The only redeeming quality of the statement I made was that I included Charles Dickens in it.  The question had just caught me off guard.  And we should all know by now that I communicate best when I have a backspace button.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I had some clarity on the writers who have influenced me the most.  Some of them you’d expect (as would I), but some are more surprising.  All have works that are worth reading.

So, without further ado, my literary muses.

Paula Danziger – author of The Amber Brown Series.  You didn’t expect that, did you?  Well, Amber Brown was one of my childhood friends, and, actually, we’re still friends.  I think of her every time I meet someone who has a color for a last name.  And every time I make my bed while I’m still in it, I think of the line, “… the Amber Brown way to make a bed.”  And many times when I cross the street I think of how her aunt told her to look both ways before crossing the street in London because otherwise she’d turn into “road pizza.”  Sometimes genius doesn’t have to be in adult literature, with fancy words and complex plot structures.  Sometimes it’s just in the little things, written for little girls, that stick with you.

J.K. Rowling – author of The Harry Potter Series and The Casual Vacancy.  I haven’t read her adult work, but I have high praise for Rowling.  Sure, the story is gripping and interesting, but what really amazes me is the complexity of the plot, that the little things that seem like insignificant details in the first and second books are lynchpins in the last book.  The creativity of the wizarding world is incredible as well.  It might just be the fact that I want to be everyone’s friend, but I really want her characters to be real so we can hang out.  In two words, the books are: pure brilliance.

Agatha Christie – author of a million (not exactly) mystery books featuring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  I had a summer or two where I checked out ten of her books at a time from the library.  I’ve read every single one that they had.  You’d think that mysteries would get old after a while, but it continued to fascinate me, book after book, how I could never call the next step.  Believe me, I tried.  She was always able to keep me from having any idea of what was going on – even though it was right under my nose the whole time.

C.S. Lewis and Ted Dekker – The only thing these two have in common is that they’ve written Christian fiction that is actually worth reading.  It’s devoid of sappiness and unrealistic dialogue.  I haven’t ever been able to appreciate the hearts of sappy Christian writers.  I just appreciate really good storytelling, coupled with good mechanics, with a sound foundation in truth.  They both employ incredible symbolism in their works as well.  Don’t expect to find them anywhere near each other in the library though.

Jane Austen – author of Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice, among others.  I’m proud of Jane for challenging the status quo, for not going along with what people expected of women at that time.  I like her for her wittiness, for the well-rounded characters in her stories, and for writing things that lend themselves well to being made into movies.  There’s no way she could have planned that, but there are some awesome BBC renditions of her novels.

And last, but most certainly not anywhere near least: Charles Dickens.  The man must have had a lot of pens with which to write those long works.  I love Dickens for his awesome names for his characters (in case you haven’t noticed, I refrain from using the word ‘awesome’… it’s overused…. but it applies here).  Mr. Pumblesnook.  Oliver Twist.  Pip.  Magwitch.  Miss Skiffins.  Spellcheck hates them, but they’re so great.  In addition to that, he had such a great handle on putting deep symbolism into his books.  And, on top of that, he wrote about social issues, things that were deep set into the culture that he was in.  I really admire that.

And, with that, I feel redeemed.  I feel as though I’ve answered the question more thoroughly and with so much better reasoning than the first time.  Thank you for letting me fix that.

 

Me & Betsy Ray


There are a few literary characters with whom I feel very deep connections.  Granted, I feel connected to characters in almost any well-written work, but there are a few who resonate with me very deeply.

Betsy Ray in one of them.

Maybe it’s just that she was a Minnesota girl, and that she was a writer who was sort of idealistic.  Maybe it’s because I spent my summers as a younger girl reading all the Betsy-Tacy books all the way through Betsy’s Wedding. Regardless of why, she and I are nearly identical.

“Betsy was pleased to be taking the solitary drive.  She was a friendly, fun-loving girl with high spirits, touched off like firecrackers under a match by the company of others.  Yet as she grew older, she like increasingly to be alone.  She wanted to be a writer, and she had already discovered that poems and stories came most readily from the deep well of solitude.  Moreover, she had discovered that at seventeen one was growing up so fast that one needed time to think, to correlate all the perplexing changes and try to understand them… she did not look like the Betsy Ray who had entered high school four years before.  At thirteen, grown suddenly thin and tall, she had been plainly in the awkward age.  Now she enjoyed being tall and slender.  She loved high heels that made her even taller, large droopy hats, lacy clothes, perfumes, bracelets, and polished fingernails.”

Betsy and Joe, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Hello, Betsy.  You are about to be part of the graduating class of 1910 of Deep Valley High School.  I’m about to be a part of the graduating class of 2012 of Small Private Christian School.  You’re tall.  I’m 5′ 11 1/2″.  You’re obviously feminine, and I couldn’t be much more girly.  Freshly sharpened pencils are on your list of favorite things, along with new notebooks and family and rosy apple blossoms and lifelong friends.  I nod my head as I type each one of those things, feeling solidarity with you, a fictional character.  

You set goals, Betsy.  At the beginning of every school year, as you sit in the rowboat on Murmuring Lake, you make grandiose plans and write them out.  You decide who you will be and what you will do during the next year.  You plan those things out, and you don’t end up doing all of them.  Yet, when you get to the end of the year, you realize that “…you never slip down to quite the point you started climbing from.  You always gain a little.”  

We could be friends, Betsy Ray, you and I.  We could be dreamy and idealistic together and not live up to it but still accomplish something along the way, learning heaps as we go.  I’d love to join your world, to take picnics on the hill with you and Tacy and Tib.  We would get ready for the dances at Shiller Hall together, where you and your Crowd dance the waltz and the two-step and all the other dances while singing along with gusto to the music.

Have you ever read a book that you would belong in?  Not just one that you’d like to be a part of, not just wistfully thinking about living in a different time, but one you belong to.

Oh, Betsy.  At least I can read your books if I can’t live in your world.

P.S. If you haven’t read the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, you are missing out, so put it on your summer reading list.