I came across this poem today (thanks, Rod Dreher). I’m trying to ride out some specific things in my tiny world, so it seems especially apt. Maybe it comforts you, too?
Ride This One Out
Ride this one out, as you have done before.
Batten down what can be battened. Reef
What can be reefed, avoid the white sea-shore,
Do not expect a rescue or relief.
Endurance is its own kind of relief.
The other ships are sinking. You must be
Hope’s light for them, the north star of belief,
Time’s substitute for lost eternity.
And so resist the onslaught of sad thoughts,
That useless, wavering activity
Of mind stretched to its raveled uttermost.
Resist the hopeless cries, the grim reports.
Resist the landsman’s way, to hate the sea.
And hold on for the final sunlit coast.
Once again, I just got around to watching a movie others had seen years ago–this time, Stranger Than Fiction with Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. (For the two of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t include spoilers). I’ve gotta admit, while the film has its flaws, it’s stuck with me for over a week.
The story is an unusual one. An author who’s suffering from writer’s block attempts to create a character who will live an ordinary life and then die at the end of the novel. A problem arises when the character becomes a real person who can hear the author narrating his life in third person. When he discovers he’s in a story he isn’t creating–and that he’ll most likely meet a heartbreaking, artistic demise–he must learn to advocate for his own life. He must confront his author.
The movie delves into questions about the nature of human existence and the artist’s imperative. For instance, do we own our stories, or do they live outside us? As writers, how often do we indulge ourselves by crafting stories that feel like an approximation of truth–but, in the end, rely on cynicism or well-worn tropes? Also, who’s writing the writers’ lives?
The movie’s also about depression, about what can happen to art when an artist has lost hope. It made me think about the characters I’ve created. What would I say to them if they stood before me? Would they appreciate the endings I’ve given their stories? Would they agree that I’ve said true things? That I’ve been fair?
I don’t know. I think so.
Stranger Than Fiction caused me to re-examine my commitment to creating worlds where both good and bad things happen, worlds where there’s danger and sorrow, sure, but also hope. It made me want to keep on saying the truest things I know how to say.
I owe that to my myself, my readers, and to those people whose stories I write down.
I sent my novel to an agent on Friday. She’d requested the full manuscript, and I’d worked all through the holiday season to get it ready because I told her I would. I ended up making my goal just after the New Year and was ready to ship it. Before hitting send, I re-read the first few pages, just to, you know, tweak it a thing or two.
Then something happened. I kept tweaking, page after page after page. Before I knew it, the first of the year had turned into the middle of January. Then the third week (heaven help me).
I started freaking out. I was going past the “deadline” I’d given myself and the agent. But the more I edited, the more I thought, “I’m so glad I’m doing this. I didn’t notice that plot hole the second time around. How could I not have seen that??” Also, I thought, “This will never end. I’m in writer purgatory.”
Anyway, I got through those edits and, this time, I ran spell check and hit send before I could go crazy again.
Now my novel sits in the ether, and I sit on my bed with no pressing deadlines and, therefore, no raison d’etre (kidding, kind-of). It’s true I don’t know what to do with myself now that I have nothing to do but wait.
This is how it is in so much of life–work and then wait. Work and then wait some more. Knowing this is completely normal helps me get through. I’m telling myself as long as the waiting doesn’t involve tons of Twitter, I might just be okay.
I’m something of a loner–not a complete hermit, mind you (though I eat in my bedroom, sometimes)–but someone who, shall we say, enjoys her solitude. That’s not likely to change any time soon. And yet I’ve been thinking about the trap of spending too much time in one’s own mind. Is it possible I could get lost in my head?
My sisters had an idea of collaborating on a blog where we share ongoing, three-way conversations about life. Committing to it would, of course, mean sharing creative control. It would mean responding to something other than my own whimsy. It might be complicated. But could it keep me grounded?
And then I watched this documentary about two people who wanted to “explore” their own minds (in, admittedly, controversial ways). One of them ended up making a train wreck out of his family life. The other managed to stay engaged in the physical world even after wacky forays into his own mental “universe.”
The whole thing felt like a giant parable: If you stay in your mind you will fail the people you love. If you never press in further than your to-do list, however, you will not truly live.
Back to my bedroom: I can only spend so much time here. I can only spend so many hours musing, writing, letting my eyes blur. I need time to think and pray, of course. But too much time in this isolated space is dangerous–not just for me but for the ones I love.
So I said yes to the collaborative blog. I don’t know what we’ll end up saying, exactly. But, at the very least, it’ll be a conversation, not a monologue. And that’s a good place to start.
I hope all of you had a restful holiday season. For Christians, it’s the time when we reflect on the lengths God was willing to go to in order to begin undoing the horror of this world. For others, it’s simply a time to hang with family and friends and eat a lot. In any case, it’s a time many of us want to enjoy but are secretly glad when it’s over. Because routines.
I mentioned before that I made the foolish choice to work on novel edits all through the month of December because I’d promised an agent I’d send her a full manuscript after the first of the year. It was a stressful and hard thing to do, and sometimes I had to set the work aside in order to really be with the people I love (without that glazed look in my eye).
Stuff happened in December, too, that threatened to derail my editing–things that had nothing to do with Christmas. For one, my beloved Frodo hurt his eye pretty bad and we had to rush to the vet on Christmas Eve. He sustained permanent damage. I cried. My novel languished.
But I finished the draft today. I saved the last chapter on the computer, swallowed the lump in my throat and tucked it away. I need to savor this moment because no one cares about it but me. Also, I need to celebrate this accomplishment because I could send it to the aforementioned agent and she might very well say, “That’s nice. Not for me.”
The joy could evaporate with a single email, and then I will have to regroup. When the sting wears away.
So I’m not rushing. I’m sitting with this quiet joy for as long as it lasts.
I’m not a tranquil, easygoing person. Even as a kid I planned for imaginary contingencies. I worried and wondered. I made lists.
I’m convinced this is a bit of a personality defect since I had a wonderful childhood.
It’s still true of me as a 41-year-old wife, mom, and artist. I have a good life, and I’m still a bit of a hurricane on the inside. My emotions are easy to stir up. Hard to quell.
I love this time of year. I’m a Christian, and this season reminds me why I have hope–both in this life and in the one to come. But Christmas stresses me out, too. It ruins my routines. It sinks me under the weight of its happy expectations. It adds items to my to do list and upends my fragile status quo.
If I’m honest, I miss the way we celebrated Christmas when we lived in India. Which is to say, we did Advent readings, watched good movies, lit candles, and opened gifts on Christmas morning.
There were no concerts, no expectations, no parties, no travel, no Christmas cards, no feasts, no detailed gift lists, no endless choices, no school performances, no commercials reminding us that we hadn’t bought enough.
Our Christmas dinners in India were spaghetti and mutton meat balls because that was the fanciest thing we could find in our little hill station market.
I’m in America, now, not India. Sure, there’s plenty to love about an American Christmas. But peaceful, it ain’t. Not unless I plan for it.
So I’m mostly cutting out social media this month. I’m checking my email once a day. I’m listening to Christmas music I actually enjoy. I’m drinking coffee, slowly, in the wee hours of the morning. I’m putting on my makeup in silence so I can think. I’m reading my Bible before I reach for my phone. I’m working on tricky edits of my manuscript in the morning instead of pushing them off to the afternoon when I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed early. I’m reading novels instead of watching Netflix.
I want to thrive this holiday season, not just survive. And, for me, planning for peace is the only way to go.
Should I write something about gratitude since it’s Thanksgiving week?
I’m not over this cold. Running wouldn’t be a good idea, and I am losing my mind as a result.
Why are my dogs developing food aggression all of a sudden?
There are a bazillion doomsday blog posts out there. Every second person is writing in Manichean terms–as if life is a Star Wars installment, and everyone is either on Luke’s side or Darth’s.
Everyone pretends to be Yoda, but no one is.
I need to ease up on the coffee.
Another agent requested my full manuscript and says she’s anxious to read it (!!!!!!!!!!).
No more coffee today.
I haven’t touched my manuscript since I got that email.
What is going on with me that I can’t get back to editing the manuscript?
I entered my novel in writing contest in which one judge gave me a total score of 98.7 out of 100 with glowing comments. The second gave a 97.8/100 with similarly glowing comments. The third gave me a 77 with no comments.
I cannot stop thinking about that 77 with no comments.
A 77 is a C.
The only time I’ve ever gotten a C is in an Algebra class.
Still over here thinking about vulnerability that helps connect us with others.
And now, after reading this article, I’m wondering about fake vulnerability–the kind that looks brave but is actually crafted and careful like those ridiculous #nofilter Instagram pics people love to post (No, really, she woke up like this).
The first step to creating genuine connection with others is to be honest about where you’re coming from. Story: I just joined Twitter, and I wrestled with what to put in my bio. I didn’t want to say too much (or, Lord help me, use emojis), but I knew I needed to let people know a few true things. That way, if they aren’t interested in what I’m writing/thinking about, they can move on. No harm, no foul.
So I said I’m a Christian because that’s the realest thing about me. I’m aware putting that out there may cause some people to turn away immediately. I’m aware they might assume I’m writing “Christian fiction” when I’m actually trying to do something different.
I imagine most people want you to be upfront with them, though. They don’t want to feel like you’ve Trojan horse-d your viewpoint into their consciousness. If they don’t agree with what you’re saying, fine and good. At least you’ve been honest.
The difference between real and fake vulnerability is…the truth. If someone sticks around after they know what you’re really about, guess what? You’re in a better position to say the things you really mean–and, in the end, maybe even help someone.
In an earlier post, I wrote about how I’m intentional about filling my creative well during the day, whether by noticing visual art at my local coffee shop, listening to podcasts on interesting topics, or reading a few pages of a novel before bed. It’s creative input, and it helps me stay connected to right-brain pursuits.
But, increasingly, I need “no input” time, too–protected chunks of the day (however brief) to hear myself think. These are moments when I’m not listening to, or reading, anything. I’m purposely not taking in new data.
It’s hard to find these no input minutes in our modern world, not just because “news” and trivia are the white noise in our public spaces, but also because we’re addicted to looking stuff up on our mobile devices. We stuff our brains with junk info–beyond its capacity–all the time.
Author, runner, and NPR show host Peter Sagal writes about preserving space in his day for no input. He says if he didn’t run without listening to music, he would have no time when he wasn’t taking in data. This is crazy-making and has the potential to reduce productivity and peace. So, for a few minutes a day, he runs in silence. He lets his brain chew the food it’s already trying to digest instead of gorging it with more, more, more.
I’ve started keeping track of the times I could be going input-free but am choosing not to. I’m asking myself why I reach for my phone when I’m unable to process all that’s being hurdled at me. I’m taking a moment or two, several times a day, to mull over what’s already on my mind. I think it’s helping lower my anxiety.
At the very least, it’s helping me remember my limits.