A Little Paper Reflection

IMG_3205Look at that massive stack of books with your little pink notebook on the top, open like the bud of a daisy and crawling with notes. Even those huge volumes by writers with high-brow names like Humphrey and Sacheverell did not grasp everything, nor succeed in having the last word on the subject.

Yes, even the most pompous, satisfyingly-thick, black-bound biographies have gaps in their scholarship and may fade into dust-gathering anachronisms. “Of the making of many books, there is no end,” after all.

But isn’t that comforting, in a way? And wonderfully liberating? If those authors you so admire could not write everything in 500 pages, why do you feel the pressure to do so in 20? Or 30? Even 60?

No, do not worry about saying everything. After all, your paper is only a small daisy in a vast forest of former trees, books upon books upon books that you can traverse by footnote but never fully explore.

But isn’t that exciting? After all, forests need flowers too, and you will never run out of trails to investigate, paths to forge.

So write what you can. Tend to your small bit of knowledge and watch it grow up among the leaves of books and the dust of authors past.

The Philanthropist

He began the fall in wealth,
His arms hanging heavy with green, new-money
Made in spring.
It was the cash that grows on trees:
Easily spent and easily made,
Budded by summer and
Minted by the gold-standard sun.

Investing at Autumn’s asking,
He lays a few leavings in her chill-bone hands
But scatters the rest in splendour
As on her bridal path.
He takes care to appear choosy,
Particular and piecemeal as
A widow with her mite,
Though he is secretly as prodigal as his creator
As wistful as a lover,
Plucking a piece at a time from his boughs
And sending it off,
Hopeful as a love letter,
Yellow as a first rose,
And dancing in girlish spirals
on its way down.

Down, down, down to the banks.
A copper here.
A penny there.
Soon he will rest.
Soon he will lay down his last life
And wait half-dead in winter’s retirement.
But for now,
As a bird feathers her nest,
He lines the road with dew-damp gold,
Lavishing heaven’s riches on earth
For a few more weeks, if not
For Eternity.

A Writer’s Whim

On a whim, I dug up my old “writing portfolio” last night. It was late and I was exhausted, but my mind yearned for something:

An idea.

I’d been struggling all day to compose, write lyrics, pick a blog topic… but it was one of those days when no ideas stick and all efforts are frustrated. My heart warmed, though, as I snapped open the old plastic binder in which I took such pride. I remember a friend of mine in high school had her own “writer’s portfolio” and we carried them like children and melodramatically declared them to be our very souls.

There is a bit of truth in that ridiculous statement. As I thumbed through the old pages, I saw flickers of my past that I’d forgotten. All at once, I revisited my bedroom late on school nights where I lay scribbling a story instead of weaving dreams. And I saw myself on the floor on a sunny afternoon, telling myself fairy tales in ink instead of playing outside.

I found etchings of my face and mind at different ages in the ever-evolving handwriting; from the ostentatious signatures of my elementary school writings (in which the “e” of my first name became a looping heart) to the chicken scratch of my high school years and eventual printed type, I met myself in those papers.

Skimming the stories I loved so, I see the growth of a writer. Glimmers of the novel I am drafting and the woman I am becoming shine even in those early pages of limping syntax and predictable plots. Every now and then, a single good sentence or word stands out and says, “There is hope for you yet, Scribbler.”

I have come a long way since drafting tales such as “The Magic Drinking Glass” (which is not without its charms) and have a long way yet to go before I publish anything as marvelous as Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt.” Still, as we all learned in elementary school, stories must have a beginning, middle, and end. Looking back on my beginning in these old stories inspires me to persevere in this messy middle as I work toward that the end: a future as a published author.

In this hodgepodge of childhood drafts, I did find three stories that stood out among their peers. I was reunited with the first that I deemed good enough for competition: “The Painter.” I also unearthed one which truly reflected something of my soul: “The Window Washer.” Finally, I found a draft that I must revisit now; it was oddly prophetic, though I drafted it years and years ago.

There is no real point to this post, reader, but to encourage you. Whatever your art, look back on your younger creations. In doing so, you too might remember a few important lessons…

First of all, creating something simply for your own joy is worth it. Most of these stories will never see the light of day, but they kept me entertained during dull high school classes and nights when sleep eluded me. Rereading them, I remember those late nights and sunlight afternoons and find again the joy of telling myself the story that I wanted to hear.

Second, handwriting is a work of art in itself. I’ve become increasingly digital, but I make sure my journals are always handwritten. It’s just more personal. Something about lying awake scribbling in a notebook feels more intimate than typing.

And, finally, you are meant to create. A bad day does not make you a bad artist. You are not writer’s block; you are the piles of paper covered in words that came from your imagination alone. Be the writer that you wanted to be as a child and do not let those many hours spent practicing go to waste. Perhaps one of those drafts will even be worth revisiting.

New Year, New Journal…But how to choose?

One of the great recurring dilemmas of my life is how to pick the perfect journal. Honestly, when it comes time to shop for a new journal, it feels like going on first dates: there are some options that look good but are boring, some that are perfectly nice but no spark, and some that just are a total affront to the purpose of a journal. (Trust me on this one: I once used a journal that looked like neon seahorse had been brutally poached to make its cover…it may be filled with great memories, but I am filled with regret that I endured that notebook for so many months.)

However, having been an avid writer for as long as I can remember, I have narrowed picking a new journal down to a near science.

There are the obvious factors such as:

  1. Size: Large enough to read, small enough to squeeze into a purse, medium enough for an artsy Instagram photo to prove that you do indeed write in it.
  2. Lines: Do you want lines? Bullets? Or— I’m lookin’ at you T-Swift —  blank space?
  3. Binding: Spiral? Flat? Antiquarian? Composition book? HELP.
  4. Covers: Hard, soft, over-easy, scrambled…wait no, that’s not right.
  5. Adornments: Bible verses each page? Inspirational thoughts? The full text of Pride and Prejudice in itty bitty type along each line?

But wait! There’s MORE!

  1. Stage of life: An “end-of-an-era” journal ought to look different than a “filled-with-high-hopes” journal and an autumn diary is likely to be quite different than a spring diary.
  2. Current goals: Tracking your fitness? Planning your homework? Composing poetry? Plotting your next campaign? The proper tool is key!
  3. Personal Style: As much as I might admire that hipster look, my life is lived in bright floral and, while I admire that skull diary, it would not quite match my pink pajamas.

I am about to enter not only a new year, but my final semester as an undergraduate; as such, there are exciting things happening every moment and this amped up the pressure to find the perfect journal. Unfortunately, it seems I have used every decent model sold at my go-to stores (aside from a too-expensive Monet-print leather model which I drooled over for a bit).

Anyway, after  failing, even at Target (*shakes fist at security cameras*), I resorted to online shopping which, at least for books, is not the same. Of course I use it for convenience, but it just isn’t as satisfying as strolling through aisles of shelves, picking out a new notebook or novel, smelling that fresh papery scent and feeling the smooth inky pages… I spent HOURS of non-book-scented time scrolling through Amazon, putting way too many options in my cart. Honestly, it felt like literary online dating and finally I had to just swipe what looked promising and hope it will up to its profile in real life.

I suppose I’ll find out on Thursday.

Poems and a Creek and Such (revisiting an old spot of time)

When I was a freshman in college, I had the not-uncommon experience of feeling 150682234% overwhelmed. It was honestly a feat of grace and strength that I stuck it out, but by the second semester, how happy I was that I did!

As that terrified, homesick 18-year-old, I went on a choir retreat and nearly had a complete breakdown which resulted in the composition of what I consider my first “real” poem. Now, I am not quite as proud of it and see its many faults, but here is the link to it just the same: Poems and Trees and Such

This past semester (my second-to-last as an undergraduate) has been a whirlwind, but it has also been characterized by a level of calm which I never thought I’d achieve as a freshman. Naturally, when I revisited the site of my first poem (written in that state of anxiety), I wrote more poetry in an outpouring of gratitude, mixed with a certain melancholy that the time has flown by faster than I ever imagined possible.

In the craziness of this semester, though, I forgot this scribbling and only just rediscovered it as I leafed (pun, as always, intended) through my journal. So, now that I have a bit of breathing space, I’ll share it:

This stream I knew is dry now
and its rocks are all laid bare.
It buzzes, stinging, where once it washed
with water and with tears.

The rattling, skeleton tree limbs
stretch but don’t quite reach
across the dusty canyon bed
or seasons since we first did meet–
I and this crumbling, crackling creak.

But still the lone lorn pools reflect
in their barren, dirty sheen,
the ghost of the girl gone and grown
who now returns to where she’d been.

I see myself in retrograde:
this fount is as I was.
I was first the barren stream,
the jagged soul with aching limbs,
and he, the babbling merry thing.

Then it was green and I was young,
but worn in ways I am not now.
I came to cry, but now to sing,
for here first from my heart did spring
a gush of poetry.

And, in being made so free
by nature then to nurture words
and, drinking of living water,
to be rewritten by the Word.

And now, although I have come back,
content as I was not then,
I find I cannot return that
happy favor to this friend.

My cup o’erflows and I’ve grown strong;
now I’m the one bubbling in song.
My ghost meets me in the creek-bed’s death
and, thankful, I draw in freshened breath;
Although we have now traded place,
I bless this stream and its gentle grace.

Method…Writing?

Method acting is a key point in my novel. One of the characters is an actor who has become “stuck” in the role that he last performed. He has lost himself into the character he was contracted to play. There are obviously a MANY problems that arise from this (many dark moments for this poor guy), but there is one lesson to learn for our benefit:

Method Creating.

First of all, to create art, you cannot always consider yourself an “aspiring artist.” If I had stayed in the mindset of “I’ll someday be a pianist” I would not have gone far as a musician. Instead, I learned, over many years of self-doubt that if you want to achieve something, you have to live into that dream now as if it is already reality. In much better words:

You have to live as if you already are what/who you want to be. If you want to be a great pianist, you have to live as if you already are one by practicing hard, humbly listening to both praise and criticism, and making original (even if not at first brilliant) artistic decisions. For too many years I worked my tail off and studied like mad, but was crippled by the thought that I had not yet achieved, that I was not yet the musician I wanted to be. In one sense this is true. I had and still do have far to go and we should NEVER stop pushing ourselves to be better or else our art (and, worse, our very selves as human beings) will stagnate.

However, you have to live and press forward with the conviction that you already are that musician (or artist) that you want to be, letting this motivate you to live up to your future vocation/goal in the present practice.

Oddly enough, I have never had a problem claiming to be a writer. To be fair, I probably should have more qualms about my claims to being a writer, for I am soooooooooo far from where I want to be. I don’t have a doctorate, haven’t published a novel, have not been invited to give guest lectures, etc.

But I am confident that one day I can reach these levels because I have already adopted “writer” as my current role. By living as a “writer” in the present, I am more motivated to actually pursue this goal than I would be had I remained an “aspiring writer” or “someday writer.”

So, I have adopted a sort of role even if it is not brought to total fruition yet, and my approach to my art is made the better for it.

What else can my poor method acting character teach us?

Surround yourself with relics.

My novel includes, to name a few, a Venetian mask, a violin, a huge volume of Sherlock Holmes, Italian postcards, red wine, a portrait, and about a million cappuccinos.

And I have all but the wine sitting beside me as I write. I can feel the characters speaking to me from their favorite curios. I hold in my hand the mask that the actor dons in a pivotal scene. I sniff the pages of the book another character read as a child. I drink the espresso one character conjures.

Through the little souvenirs I have gathered since the conception of this novel idea, I am able to enter into the realm of my story. I have adopted the role of writer, of creator, and, using tokens I have gathered from this world, am able to enter into another of my own making.

Give it a shot, maybe. What title/role would help you pursue excellence and dreams? And what little things can you surround yourself with to foster creativity and insight? Comment and let me know! I’d love to hear how your artistic life, dear reader, is thriving.

.

.

.

Slight disclaimer: When I say to live into the role of what you want to be, I do not mean to adopt this as your identity. The character I used as the original example suffers this exact downfall and, let me tell you, it does not go well. Our full identity cannot be found in any temporal or merely-human characteristic and any “roles” must be held subject and united to the enduring identity promised in faith. (Indeed, though, this identity too is already given and, at the same time, yet to come, informing our lives in the present by assuring us of the future!)

.

.

.

Final note: The novel featured in the photo at the top is AMAZING. Yet another reason to be excited about being a writer. 😉

Mariners

We are mariners, mariners we,

made for the land, parted from sea

from that second day and still –

striving as on the earth to fill-

drawn by its alluring, billowy waves-

we drink down the depths

to find watery graves.

.

We hear the call, that age-old call,

a whisper first, a breeze enthralls,

that grows and storms, restless ocean

which floods within the hearts of men.

And from our own mouths, it ever rails:

“Depart, depart, and set your sails!”

.

And so headlong into the deep

we crash from quick-eroding beach.

Toeing the sand was never enough;

we ached to ride the riptides rough.

.

Water there upon land gives life

but here the salt-foam drains it dry.

But never we stop to ponder: why?

Why to the sea, which roars, “Stay back!”

Why tempt a beast, that is bound to attack?

But the sea is within us; we ate of its fruit

it drowns from inside ’til shore zephyrs fall mute.

.

We fashion our ships, believing them arks

to keep us safe from the ghostly white sharks.

But up on their decks as we voyage across

we all yet shoot down heaven’s albatross.

.

Best stay inland, best anchor your soul.

Our bodies might swim, but this old sailor knows:

there is no raft or vessel that might

bear us when the steady dock’s out of sight.

Cast out the life-sucking salt in your heart!

Rebuff its waves with its own cry: “Depart!”