Temporary Derailment: A Writer’s Nightmare

16 Feb

All is well now, although I have had to come to grips with a set-back of my own making. Here is an attempt at poetry to explain my absence. No more details needed…

Hard Drive Not Found

Hundreds of children, locked in the grains of a glimmering silver disk.

A plastic prison, inaccessible forever.

I brought them into the world, the scraps, the snippets, the draft chapters.

I toyed with them, entertained them, nurtured them.

Quotes, verses, hints, ideas, set aside to simmer.

Opening lines.

Inspiration.

All gone.

Think, think! I scream. There must be a way!

Capture them! Bring them back!

Character.

Aura.

Anything.

Finding only darkness.

And an awareness—they existed.

I used to ship the wee ones off to the mainland monthly.

I didn’t trust the airways, you see.

But I danced into the holiday season, a neglectful parent.

NaNoWriMo.

NoMo.

My children.

Do they ache for me the way I ache for them?

“I told you so,” said the world.
datanotfound

Hustle Along, Little Crab. Don’t Fear the Sea Gull.

3 Feb

Today we’re going to talk again about Brian the Hermit Crab, because some people misunderstood his role as Exhibit A in last week’s message about worrying.

brian_no_worriesI received the following comments:

“All I see is a cat.”

“He may be happy, but the reality is still a dangerous situation. Maybe he should be worried.”

And my favorite, “So, we should ignore the big picture?”

Sigh, no, no, no. Besides, the Big Picture is not the cat (whose name is Aslan, by the way). And the small picture is not even the crab . . . it’s what the crab is doing. In that particular photo, Brian is sleeping. I have other pictures of him zipping around the top of the cage at what he likely believes is lightning speed, taunting Aslan by sticking his tiny claws through the wires. I wonder sometimes if he sees Aslan as a giant sea gull.

The point is, Brian is doing what hermit crabs do. Going about accomplishing the inclinations of his heart: Sleeping, eating, digging, climbing, and nothing else. He’s not trying to take on the giant sea gull, or hiding in the corner in fear. I’m not sure about the brain capacity of a hermit crab, but I do believe he knows about the danger that lurks outside his wire sanctuary, yet he keeps doing what a crab does.

Which brings me to a few side points: A cage isn’t always a prison. Constraints aren’t always road blocks. And sometimes, what we view as freedom might actually lead to a trap. A wise man knows how to discern the difference. (We’ll talk about the wise man in next week’s post).

Brian has outlived the 6-months-to-a-year predicted life-span of a hermit crab in captivity (and for those of you who were wondering, he’s a gift. We didn’t plan this adoption). We’ve had him nearly two years now. I imagine he’s lived so long because he’s not surrounded by stick-fingered, frightening children (Aslan excepted), and also because I’m a nag about such things so he gets regular food and water. Additionally, I believe he has lived so long because he’s NOT trying to take on the dark whiskered beast. We know who would win that battle.

News flash: We all have a dark whiskered beast looming over us, whether we can see it or not. It strikes at different times, and in different ways. For some, through depression, for others, financial woes or an abusive relationship. The beast may use something as simple as a flat tire or missed appointment to get to us, or something as serious as cancer. And it doesn’t give up until we do. If it can’t snatch your claws while you’re happily swinging from wire to wire, it will wait until the door is opened for feeding time and stick its giant paws inside. It waits patiently for an opportunity, and gleefully approves your living in constant fear about the “what if.”

But that dark whiskered beast is NOT the big picture.

So, what is?

brian

Watermelon…the nectar of the ocean arachnids.

In this scenario, it’s us, his humans. Unseen, but very present. He has no idea we’re out here, yet here we are. We know the threats he’s facing, but we also know how to control them. We won’t let Aslan into the cage. At feeding time, we can force him out of the way, or divert him with a treat, or wait until he’s elsewhere before opening the door. Aslan may think he’s going to get in there and shake Brian up one day. He might even dream about it. But he doesn’t have the final say in that. We also do little things to bring excitement (if you can call it that) into the little guy’s life, like putting the occasional bits of fruit and nuts into his cage. He seems to like watermelon a lot. We are, to Brian (or would be if his brain could make the leap) his god.

In many ways, you and I might find it easy to compare our situations to Brian’s, but this analogy only works to a point, because hermit crabs are not humans, and we humans are not God. As humans, we can err. We might forget to feed Brian, leave the cage open, or, heaven forbid, drop the poor creature when we’re holding him. And there are potential woes outside our control, such as the heat going out or the air around him becoming too dry. He could die despite our best efforts to protect him.

However, the most significant misalignment in this analogy is that we did not create Brian or put passions and inclinations into his heart.

In OUR big picture, yours and mine, the caretaker is much, much more capable, sees much more of the big picture, and loves us SO much more than anyone could ever love a hermit crab. Also, God doesn’t err, and there’s nothing outside his control.

For instance, when God made you, he gave you passions and inclinations, and he fashioned your life events in such a way that you are now uniquely suited to do something specific, something nobody else is suited for, and something a lot more meaningful than sitting in the sand, sucking watermelon. What is it? I cannot tell you. I can only tell you that the dark whiskered beast is doing all he can to stop you and to make you doubt that it’s your purpose.

You don’t need to fear the whiskered beast, because you know the bigger picture. You may run into road blocks and wire fences, but trust that they’re designed constraints, put there for a reason. You may get a glimpse of the beast occasionally, but trust that God won’t let him touch you. Just keep doing what it is you’re supposed to do. To the beast, it will be like poking your claws through the wire. He absolutely hates it when you’re freely you.

Stop trying to figure out what God is up to and find your own purpose. Jump in with all six legs, let out your inner crab, and believe in yourself.

God does.

p.s. Is it weird that I’m fixing crab for dinner?

 

——–

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. – Psalm  139:1-6

If Worry Isn’t a Gift, Why Can’t We Let it Go?

19 Jan

This morning, while preparing to write an encouraging note for my friend Aimee, who is worried about undergoing a scheduled surgery today, I hit the synonym button to find a nicer word for “worry,” because it sounded so negative. My replacement options are: anxiety, perturbation, distress, unease, fretfulness, agitation, tension, and stress.

Folks, this is not a good word, any way you slice it. It’s weighed down with oppression and darkness, neither of which are burdens we’re designed to carry. In fact, there is a Bible verse that tells us we cannot add a single hour to our life with worry.

So why do we give worry so much of our time?

We are a nation of worriers. We worry about our weight, our families, the job, the boss, the kids, the bills, not getting the presentation, getting the presentation, getting sleep and staying healthy (both of which are hampered by worrying, FYI), overindulging, under estimating, and WHAT THE HECK IS THAT SPOT!

The list is quite possibly endless. Actually, it IS endless, because many of us, when something we’re worried about does not come to fruition, will find something else to worry about right away.

I’m not a worrier, for the most part. It still astounds my worrier friends that I haven’t used an alarm clock for about 15 years. I let the world wake me up.

“But you could oversleep,” they say. “You could be…” (cue ominous music) “late for work.”

Is that the best you’ve got? Over the many years I worked in an office, I did show up late for work on occasion, whether because of traffic, kids, dawdling, or just plain laziness, but I don’t believe I ever overslept. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have been catastrophic. In fact, I figured that if I ever did oversleep on a work day, I’d consider it a gift just to be able to do so. As corny and Pollyanna-like as it may sound, there’s a bright side to every situation.

I wonder how my worrier friend Aimee might respond when the doctor says, “Everything went beautifully” and hands over her after-care instructions? Will she fret over the possible side effects of the pain meds, or that being off her feet to heal will put a burden on others? Will she wonder how long the repaired ankle could possibly hold up?

Perhaps more importantly, would all that worry change anything? The good and the bad will come. My son is fond of telling me pessimists are never disappointed and sometimes proven right. However, I say, optimists can find something to be pleased about and probably have a more grateful heart.

brian_no_worries

Meet Brian the hermit crab. He is not worried. He’s as happy as a clam, enjoying the world he knows.

I find it easier (and healthier) to remember that I’m in charge of nothing except my reaction to what’s happening at this moment. I don’t even get to decide what’s happening. When I’m driving, I can take reasonable steps to ensure my safety, like putting on a seatbelt and staying in the correct lane, but I cannot prevent an accident. Some texting fool could still come flying through a red light and turn my car into a mangled heap of metal. If it’s to happen, I can’t prevent it, even if I put all my energy into worrying about that specific possibility.

On the other hand, how many of us pull into the driveway or parking lot and pause to be grateful for arriving safely? Considering that this safe arrival happens to us multiple times nearly every single day, we have much to be grateful for, have we not? Like waking up in every morning or getting to sleep in, safe travel is a gift.

So, I would suggest to Aimee that if she were to examine and be grateful for all the aspects of this surgery that went right, instead of feeling the pressures of anxiety, her heart might nearly burst with the goodness of it all (which could be irony, considering the potential repercussions of a bursting heart). But think of it. We live in a country filled with highly educated, deftly skilled doctors, at a time of advanced scientific knowledge where medical procedures considered impossible 50 years ago have become out-patient routines. Our hospitals have technology and equipment out the wazoo that can see everything from our pulse (with a finger cap, for Pete’s sake) to that tiny, squarish-shaped dot of a thingy hiding behind a wall of skin, bones, organs, and whatever we ate for dinner last night, and, we have doctors who know what to do about it. Modern medicine is AMAZING!

Life is amazing.

Every day, every minute, and every breath is a gift, as is every kiss, hug, sneeze and scraped knee, for they all give us reason to be grateful, even if only for the invention of Band-Aids. Find the good in the moment and share it with others. We’ve been given only so many hours . . . shall we spend them loving or fretting?

——

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? — Luke 12:22-26

——

Author’s Note: I dedicate today’s blog to my sweet and gentle friend, George, who is now dancing in sure-step with the Lord, free from all worry and the bondage of his earthly mind, and to his lovely Sheryl, who stands at the edge of a new way forward. There is goodness ahead. May you find joy amid the pain, light in the darkness, and comfort in the love of those around you.

 

To the Moon, Alice! (But Take Me With You)

12 Jan

Tomorrow marks my 33rd anniversary of marriage to a wonderful man. In previous years, I’ve used this event as a reason to wax over the ordinariness of our marriage or to tell you why my husband is my hero (much to his discomfort). By now, you pretty much know all there is to know about us . . . we’re not exactly Buzz-feed material.

However, I’m sad to say, there are still volumes to be written about double-digit anniversaries, because successful marriages are becoming increasingly rare in this fast-paced, me-first society. That is not to boast about “making it,” because, frankly, I sorta’ stumbled my way here. Given that I spend at least 70 percent of my time living in my own head and the rest judging with surprise that which has transpired while I was gone, I easily could have stormed away at many junctures along this merry adventure. I hung in there because I’m too lazy to cook and I can’t do math and Jerry is a master of both. I think he hung in there because I make him laugh—usually unintentionally.

Marriage is easy. All you have to do is say “I do,” sign the papers and ride off into the sunset. There ends the romance novel. Then comes love. Choosing to love, day after day, despite muddy footprints on clean floors, arguments on Christmas morning, less than angelic children, bounced checks, cars with mysterious dents, flannel pjs, temper tantrums, and all the other unromantic cogs that jam themselves into the wheel of bliss, now that’s the hard part.

I keep a reminder of what I believe is real love close to my heart. It came from an interview with the late Jessica Tandy and her husband Hume Cronyn, who were married 52 years. When asked the secret to a happy marriage, they replied in unison, “Frequent separations and partial deafness,” then smiled at each other in that all-knowing way. In case you missed it, the “real love” part is in the knowing look. I’ve always considered them the ideal couple. After Jessica passed, Hume compared living without her to being a quadriplegic.

My image of Jessica and Hume can only remain pristine as long as I never look too closely into their lives. I’ve learned enough about them to know they had place in their home called “the sulking room,” where one could retreat when they couldn’t stand another minute in the other’s company. I’m not saying a room like that would get much use in my own home, but I think I’d visit there a time or two.

mom-and-dad

Mom and Dad–A story with many twists and turns

So, how do we know what a good marriage should look like? My parents’ marriage lasted nearly 30 years, until my father passed away at 64. Those of us nine children who spent any amount of time with them in those final years would have called it an unhappy marriage, judging from the tears, the tiredness and the brokenness we witnessed. However, as I delve into old letters, I’m seeing traces of a different story, which I hope to share with my siblings one day soon. We’ll never know for sure, but, come on…nine kids?

nana-and-paw-50th

Never met a more gentle soul than my Old Poop of a Grandfather

My maternal grandparents were married almost 50 years. To her dying days, she called him the Old Poop. I never quite knew what to make of that, nor did I know for sure whether they were happy. They spent every minute of their 20-plus retirement years together. If ever a couple needed a sulking room…

Truth is, there is no perfect marriage, only imperfect people trying to live up to the ideals and values they’ve set for themselves and to honor their chosen mate as best they can with the imperfect tools they’ve been given. We can emulate our parents and grandparents, but without knowledge of what they endured off stage, it’s like reading every third page of a novel. Not the best how-to manual.

However, there is a perfect love. We see that in Jesus, who put others before himself and sacrificed for the greater good when the situation called for it. He showed us how to love, and, when we’re not being obstinate, it’s easy to see how loving His way can build up a marriage into the rewarding, blessed union God intended it to be. It’s something to strive for. I confess that I have, I occasionally, I often usually miss the mark, but I see my failures as blessing my husband with an opportunity to wield another useful marriage-building tool: forgiveness.

All kidding aside, I do take great delight in my marriage and my sweet husband, and I see him as a wonderful gift from God that means more to me with each passing year. I look forward to sharing with him the joys and trials that lie ahead, because I cannot imagine going through them with anyone else.

Jerry, you are my love, my rock, my steadfast friend, and my mathematician. And who knows, play your cards right and one day I might tell our grandchildren that you’re also my Old Poop. Here’s to 33 more…and a sulking room.

—-

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life, and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 9:9

New Year, New Page, New Start

1 Jan

On this, the seventh day of Christmas, I received a most precious gift, as did you.

I stayed in bed this morning as long as I could, savoring the opening of it the way one unwraps a much-anticipated present—instead of tearing into the wrapping, I glided my metaphorical finger just under point where the paper overlaps and I nudged the tape until it released its hold.

Then I pulled back the wrap and lingered over the newness of it all, inhaling the scent of promise and potential.

It is here.

sunriseThe new year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean, with a freshness of clean linen, the newness of a tighly folded flower bud, and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless possibilities of what lies ahead.

In my heart, I’m staring in wonder at a book that contains 365 blank pages, and my heart can only smile.

Right now, the pages are unstained, unblemished in any way. I haven’t hurt anyone with my sarcasm all year. I haven’t said any words I cannot take back. I haven’t judged someone for being different. I haven’t broken a promise to a friend, or missed an opportunity to put aside my work to take a long walk with my husband.

At this moment, anything is possible.

In time, the pages will fill, some with heartache, others with joy and victory. I pray for more of the latter but understand it’s not my decision, just as I also know that, when the year ends, page after page will contain absolutely nothing—a chronicle of hours burned up on mindless tasks.

I resolve to turn the pages more purposefully this year. I pray I can record at the end of each day that I smiled more, laughed more, and loved more on that day’s page than on the one before it. I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.

This year I will write a book, see more family, and meet new people. It’s going to be a blast.

How about you? What do you hope to put on your blank pages? Imagine the unimaginable with me, would you? Set your sights on the seemingly unattainable and laugh, because you can do it. Believe and make that first mark on the pristine page.

For no yearning is too big, no dream impossible on this, the first day.

—-

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Thanksgiving that Peace is Possible in Turbulent Times

24 Nov

I had intended to spend time today writing a blog about all I’m thankful for, wondering how to do that without sounding trite, which is odd, considering it’s those “trite” blessings we take most for granted—clean running water, electricity, cars, health, and family.

Then I re-discovered this most profound statement, written in the 89th year of our nation’s existence, before electricity and working indoor plumbing made it to the White House (interestingly, there were toilets installed, but no running water, so the president and his family used outhouses). It was written by a man for whom the telegraph was a modern marvel, and whose family suffered a great deal from disease, mental illness, and tragedy, a man experts believe sufferred from extreme depression.

So, I will not blog my own thoughts today, but instead defer to a “guest blogger” who understood the true meaning of thankfulness, and knew what really matters. Wishing you all a warm, bountiful, humble day of thanks.

—–

Abraham Lincoln

Abe Lincoln, spring, 1865

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

——————————

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. –Psalm 28:7

 

NaNoWriMo a No-Go…for now

17 Nov

I’m calling it A Hope Deferred because failure sounds so permanent.

More than two weeks into National Novel Writing Month have flown by with a whoosh, leaving me staring at my keyboard in puzzlement, wondering . . .

What the heck happened?

Not much, I’ll tell you that. I worked, as is evident by my blurry eyes and the onset of carpal tunnel. However, I worked on projects for others, and not myself. Somehow, the moment I committed my time to novel writing, nearly a year’s worth of “on-hold” commitments jumped out of the woodwork and into my email box. All worthy projects. Fulfilling work. Some even paying jobs. I like paying jobs.

nanomofail

The words are all in my head; I just have to write them down…

But none of which left time for novel writing. I tried, dutifully sitting down every morning and typing until the official start of my work day. I hoped to at least initiate some forward progress so that when the commitments ebbed I could catch up.

Word count? Again, not much. Let’s just say I stopped counting at 5,000 words.

My consolation: they’re good words, if I do say so myself. They’re only seeds right now, but they might grow to become part of something quite impressive. So far, I’ve crafted an opening scene, set up for twists and turns, established two solid characters and researched until I thought I’d burst from excess knowledge. Go ahead, ask me anything:

Can you unbuckle a seatbelt upside-down with your right hand? No. Can you suffer a concussion in a car accident, even when the air bag inflates? Yes. Does fog occur in Oklahoma? Yes. How many years does it take to become a doctor? 14 on average. How many artillery courses can a Marine go through at Fort Sill? Three. How does all this tie in? That’s for me to plot and you to find out.

If I ever finish writing the book, that is.

I’ve learned a lot though. First, because of all the research, writing fiction is harder than it looks. Many people have told me that, but I didn’t listen. Let’s just say I have a lot of experience filling out “official forms” and so believed writing fiction would come naturally. Anyway, I understand now that readers are willing to suspend belief to journey through the pages with me, but if the road takes them to that place of “not likely,” I’m going to lose them—roadside corn stands in February, hurricanes in Pittsburgh, a balanced budget in California—and they might not return. So, that slows me down a bit.

Second, writing fiction is a lot more fun than I expected. I’m holding a literary Gumby and I have the power to make him stand like a hero or I can split his legs into a heart shape over his head so he falls, quite awkwardly, into his soup. Bwa ha ha ha! It’s a scary responsibility—roller-coaster scary, not Cujo scary. Sometimes, just to mess with my characters, I’ll take one or two of them down a road they’d NEVER travel, just to see how long it takes before they stop, mid-sentence, and look at me with their hands on their hips and that unsportsmanlike “you-give-me-a-pink-holster-and-I’m-out-of-here” look. Geesh. As if I’d leave that in there. So, allowing my ADD side to play around slows me down some as well.

However, the primary tidbit of wisdom I’ve acquired is that I’m not going to make my goal. By the time I finish the side work in front of me, the Christmas season will be in full swing and I won’t be able to focus at all. So, rather than stuffing my work into a pity pantry and stomping off, I’ll just reiterate what I thought from the start: November is a silly month to write a novel. I’m hereby taking my novel-writing plan off the map of standard expectation and announcing that MY NaNoWriMo is January. Bring on the snow, lock me up, and send in a sandwich every few days–I’ll be fine.

To my fellow writers who are sticking it out, my hat is off to you. May your days be filled with inspiration and your fingers fly across the keyboard. Keep writing so I can live vicariously through your success until it’s my turn.

And my turn will come. Of this I’m certain.

——-

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. — Proverbs 16:9