Blogiversary #2

I love fall. The student in me thinks of September, not January, as the beginning of the year. As the weather gets cooler, I get an almost Pavlovian excitement for office supplies, pumpkin spice lattes, and new beginnings.

Photo credit: Jason A. Samfield

But what almost took me by surprise is that this approaching fall season also marks my second blogiversary. I went to write this week’s blog post and realized it’ll be two years on Sunday! Which prompts a bit of reflection.

It’s a little harder to track this year’s progress than it was last year. I do know that I’ve published a total of 95 posts and accumulated nearly 20,000 page views since starting this blog in 2011 (numbers which thrill, startle, and humble me by turns). Sometimes numbers help me step back and get some perspective on the small routines I perform regularly.

This year I have branched out to share a wider variety of art forms, including poetry, photography, and excerpts from my novel-in-progress.

Speaking of which, that novel is in its 4th (and hopefully final) draft! Sometimes not losing vision in the last stage is the hardest part. I’m both eager and nervous to set out on the road to publication.

I struck the words “recent college graduate” from my Blogger profile. Now that I’m 2+ years out of academia, I think I’m really beginning to consider myself a working adult.

Which is beginning to make sense, now that my weeks are full with 15 tutoring students, regular freelance editing projects, novel revisions, and some very dear relationships that make my life full and sweet. Sometimes living has been so sweet that I’ve clean forgotten about blogging (that’s why there’s no December under the 2012 tab).

I had a chance to share my life story with some peers a few weeks ago and it gave me a chance to realize what this blog has done for me. Not only has it kept my writing muscles limber in busy times when other writing projects have gone into hibernation, but it’s been cathartic for me as well. Sometimes it’s easier to blurt out the truth in a public forum (especially online) than it is to be honest with your close friends and family.

Here I’ve reached new levels of honesty as I’ve broached subjects like vulnerability, loss, and lament poetry. What’s even better is that some of you have come to me and shared that my halting admissions of hurt, confusion, and failure have made you feel freer to admit your own struggles. And that makes it worth it.

It’s also been joyful to celebrate new beginnings throughout the year, noticing small magic, overflowing like popcorn, and cooing over adorable hedgehogs. It’s wonderful to celebrate fullness and joy. I think honesty about the empty and the hard makes this part even sweeter.

And with that, I commence celebrating blogiversary #2. No pumpkin spice lattes in my local Starbucks yet, but I’m waiting. Oh yes, I’m waiting.

Photo credit: brina_head


In the meanwhile, let this changing season give you a chance to reflect. What milestones are you celebrating? What are you looking forward to this school year? 

Lament

Two weeks ago, I did something terrifying.

I read poetry in front of people.

Scary poetry. Honest poetry. Lament poetry.

Lament is one of my new favorite words. Merriam-Webster (almost the best dictionary ever, after the OED), defines it as an intransitive verb, meaning to mourn aloud. 

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and OmirOnia


Mourn. Aloud.

I love my church. It’s my family. But over the last year especially, I’ve been realizing that the larger church–or at least many people in it–has little space in its theology for the bad things that happen. I’m not talking about little struggles, bumps in the road. Those are a natural part of every human’s life. I’m talking about the bad things–the things for which there is no sense. Eight-year-old girls who get leukemia. Forty-five-year-old fathers who die of cancer. Classes of kindergarteners shot down by sick, deranged gunmen.

Volumes and volumes of Christian theology are devoted to understanding these things. Logical treatises, high-caliber philosophical explanations are offered. Yes, in moments of quiet, those explanations can help us understand a world that shakes us to the core. Yes, there is a place for understanding. But it’s not in the middle of the suffering.

It’s natural to want to skip past the pain to the victory; to tell thesis-driven, neatly packaged stories of conflict, climax, and resolution. We minimize the dark, torn-up moments of life because we don’t know what to do with them–instead we fast-forward straight to the overcoming, the lesson learned, the transformation accomplished. All those are good things to see and give thanks for, in 20/20 hindsight. But sometimes, when you’re in the midst of the story, you have no idea what the resolution’s going to look like. And when your feet are bloody from the road, you may not even be sure you’ll ever reach the destination.

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My pastor has started a sermon series on laments in the Bible, and it brings me joy because it means our church is talking about these things. The most helpful thing, when all the walls of your world are caving in and you have no pain tolerance left, is to mourn. To acknowledge the pain. The frustration. The fear. The confusion. The anger. The abandonment. These are real feelings. If you haven’t bled on the sharp point of these feelings yourself, others’ cries of lament may sound grotesque, depressing, even melodramatic. But listen anyway. Mourning sucks the venom from the snakebite. It keeps the sorrow from drowning you when you can’t yet see the shore. And to listen to someone else’s mourning, to be a safe sound room where their raw pain can be released, is to help them heal. 

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and anyone71

So here are a few laments. Though my lament two weeks ago was in poem form because I love the power of poetry to express raw emotion, laments can also be expressed through songs, stories, paintingsarticles, novels, and maybe even forms I haven’t discovered yet.

Here’s one of my favorite laments, a poem called Bereft by Robert Frost: 

Where had I heard this wind before

Change like this to a deeper roar?

What would it take my standing there for,

Holding open a restive door,

Looking down hill to a frothy shore?

Summer was past and day was past.

Sombre clouds in the west were massed.

Out in the porch’s sagging floor,

Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,

Blindly struck at my knee and missed.

Something sinister in the tone

Told me my secret must be known:

Word I was in the house alone

Somehow must have gotten abroad,

Word I was in my life alone,

Word I had no one left but God.

And a piece of a lament from Psalm 13 (The Message):

Long enough, God
    you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
    long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
    lived with a stomach full of pain.

And one from me: 

I am not a poet

I am just a

kid broken by the thunder of

gunfire

brimming with words that

have noplace else

to go.

Though laments are scary to share in all their raw honesty, the sharing is worth it if it frees even one other person to mourn aloud. Or maybe if it teaches someone how to listen. 

Have you ever tried writing a lament? Tried sharing it with others? 

Zucchini Cake

I don’t know what’s up with the baking analogies. I don’t even like to bake. But I have this thought that people are like cake.

So, this is a hard admission: as you may have deduced by now, I’m a people-pleaser. I’ve always wanted to be a chocolate cake.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and nosheep

Since childhood, I’ve tried to be the “good kid”–pleasing parents, Sunday school teachers, kids I wanted to be friends with, kids I didn’t want to be friends with, college professors, people at church, random strangers at Starbucks. My code of conduct went something like, “Fly under the radar, don’t irritate people, do what you’re told, appease.” Because people only want chocolate cakes, right? Chocolate cake people make the best friends, students, children, right?

Chocolate cake people: plural noun. Punctual, humble, not only faithful in but excited about prayer, churchgoing, service activities. Don’t talk too much, don’t talk too much about themselves, modest, demure, good grades, walk the straight and narrow. Also hospitable, good conversationalists, and don’t go outside looking frumpy. Ever.

So if people only want chocolate cakes, I have to be one, right? To get approval (and what else could be worth getting?) I’ve aimed for perfection, or as close to it as possible. Other people’s displeasure was my fault, my failure.

Here’s the trouble. I’m not a chocolate cake. I think I might not even count as cake. I get this frequent, sneaking suspicion that I’m made of something else entirely–something green and lumpy that won’t stick together and certainly won’t fluff in the oven. Something like…zucchini.

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Zucchini person: singular noun. Lags just a few minutes late for every activity. Talks too much about self and sometimes snorts at own jokes. Sometimes doesn’t feel like praying. Wakes up without makeup and sometimes on the wrong side of the bed. Worries about job, friends, future.

Well, zucchini is obviously an unacceptable basis for the making of cakes, especially when all cakes are supposed to be chocolate. So my solution has been to slap some nice, thick frosting on top and smear it around. See? Picture-perfect cake.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and coachen

Then there’s the broiler.

A little summer heat is one thing; if your inch-thick coat of frosting starts to melt, you just patch the thin spots. You can still hide what’s underneath. But sitting under a 500-degree hot wire for long enough is more than any coat of frosting can bear. A hot wire like eleven months of caregiving, for instance.

Hard times have a way of stripping away your layers of fakeness. Insincerity soon melts under the flame. And what’s left for people to see is…zucchini. Embarrassing, un-chocolate, imperfect, vulnerable.

This is the point, in my imagination, where people scream and go, “Ew, gross! Someone get that unacceptable vegetable out of here!”

But, to my dumbfounded astonishment, that’s not what I’ve seen happen. The more I can’t hide my true substance, the more I show people that my cake is far from chocolate, the more I’m let in on a secret.

Other people’s cakes aren’t, either.

Vulnerability is like an amoeba. It multiplies itself. Numerous times in the last few months, I’ve had the shocking experience of hearing people–even people I regard as the gold standard of chocolate cake–reveal their failings, their doubts, their awkwardnesses, their fears. Almost no one sails through life in complete confidence (and those who do are ignoring some things). No one marches into battle without sweaty palms. No one looks in the mirror every morning, smiles a toothpaste-commercial smile, and whispers, “go get ’em, chocolate.”

Vulnerability also brings people together. I used to think, not very long ago, that I really had to be perfect for people to like me. What absolutely stuns me is the slow discovery that perfection intimidates–and honesty is true beauty. People don’t like you less when you show them your hurt, your awkwardness, your doubt. Honesty levels the playing field. It expresses trust, need, connection. The ugly green truth is what allows deep, real connection to bloom.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and kyra

So, here’s my confession. I’m not made of chocolate. Sometimes, with all my zucchini-greenness going on, I think I make a miserable excuse for cake at all. You don’t have to like it. But that’s what I’m made of. And now that that’s out in the open, I’m glad I no longer have to spend my life patching the frosting.

Ever felt like a zucchini cake in a chocolate-cake world? What have you discovered about revealing that to other people? 


Blogiversary

This Saturday, September 1st, marks a very special occasion.

It’s my first blogiversary!

Twelve months of blogging, oh my. It gives me cause to look back and trace the journey.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Anusorn P. Nachol

Twelve months ago, I was fresh out of college, sitting down at my computer to start a career as a freelance writer/editor. I was finishing up the messy first draft of a 100,000-word children’s novel. Since then, I’ve picked up work as a tutor in addition to accepting freelance projects. The novel is now in its 3rd draft and is 25,000 words shorter. I’ve made new friends in the blogosphere and learned to use Twitter and Goodreads. In the last 12 eventful, rocky, sometimes nail-biting months, I’ve also learned a few things.

I remember rewriting my first blog post probably ten times. I was too nervous to share an imperfect work with the world. Now, whether I like it or not, I don’t have time to make each post perfect. Aunt Josephine tries to make sure my content is grammatically error-free, but sometimes my ideas come out half-baked. I guess that’s part of growth–admitting that not everything you do is perfect.

My first batch of blog posts were mostly academic. I stuck to writing about books, teaching, and the employment crisis of twenty-somethings. I thought I could only contribute what I knew. In December, though, I took a leap of faith and wrote about grieving during the holidays. Since then, a friend pointed out, I’ve invested more of myself into my posts. Books, Reading, and Writing are still some of my biggest labels, but if you read the sidebar, you’ll now notice topics like Caregiving, Conflict, and Singleness joining the repertoire. These posts, while sometimes raw, challenge me to honesty in my writing.

It’s also nice to get read. While it’s not something I have total control over, it’s nice to know that this blog isn’t a total waste of space on the Internet. Thanks to you, Best Beloved Readers, this blog has gone from 250 readers a month last September, to nearly 1000 this month. Over 8000 people have visited this blog in the last year! That’s exciting to me, and I’m grateful to you for continuing to read faithfully. A writer without readers may become, in Shakespeare’s words, “a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.” (Macbeth V.5)

Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the case. I’ve recently been honored to receive 2 blogging awards: One Lovely Blog and Very Inspiring Blogger. Many thanks to my friend Ellen V. Gregory, an Aussie writer who muses about books, writing, and occasionally cats, for passing them on.

I was supposed to share 7 things about myself in order to receive this award, but I think reviewing 12 months of blogging kind of covers my bases 🙂

And now I must nominate 15 other lovely bloggers for these awards. I’m going to break the rules again. I’ll give a shout-out to a few blogs I’ve especially enjoyed reading lately, but if you want to play, leave me a comment! I think you deserve the chance.

A few good blogs for your perusal:

Bekah Graham (Word-of-the-Day Toilet Paper), Rabia Gale (Writer at Play), Tami Clayton (Taking Tea in the Kasbah), Angela Wallace (Elemental Magic), and The High Calling (Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God).

Here’s to another twelve months of blogging!

What have the last 12 months held for you?