Saturday, March 31, 2018

To Understand the Generations

via Pixabay
Tonight I am curled up near my sister. We're both working in our room; she studying, and I writing to the accompaniment of Patrick Doyle's A United Kingdom. It's been a joy of a day, spending half of it in pajamas, catching up on some sleep, and going for a random pizza run as a family. Sis and I are going to hang up some fairy lights in our room later. Tomorrow we're going to be with family for Easter. And the day after that, I am going to start draft two of the sequel to War of Loyalties.

I am experiencing what it feels like to be young, with a great deal of life stretched out before me. I am not a child anymore. I have fears and aches that make the future seem more intimidating than it used to be. But I have a zest for life; a joy of risk; the knowledge that I still have wiggle room to grow and experiment and learn as a person.

Already I am old enough to have forgotten some of what it felt like to be younger--A.A. Milne's poetry last year reminded me of some of the things I used to do as a child--watching raindrops race down the car window as we were driving, and things grownups would say that would grate upon a little person. But on the other hand, I'm not old enough yet to have experienced what people a generation or two ahead of me love and dislike and fear and dream of. I am on the young end of the spectrum of life. But today I got to experience through the hands of a good author what it felt like to be on the other end.

A friend lent me Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter a few months ago. It's been lying quietly in my stack of books, waiting for me to find time to pay attention to it. Appropriate, because the story itself, about the town of Port William, touches on the theme of being forgotten and left behind in the faster pace of a new age.

Hannah Coulter is a young woman who grows up experiencing war. She graduates highschool, loses a husband, has her first child, and learns to love again. Her life is one of quiet strength. She makes me think of Paul's works in 1 Thessalonians: "Make it your ambition to live a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we have told you." (NIV) Wendell Berry's story is one of appreciative reminiscence of life. It is told through a lens that only quiet reflection can bring: not frantic to accomplish a plot line before time runs out, but a counting of blessings. Hannah's point of view has a tinge of nostalgia tempered by a practical acceptance of what life has given. While she looks back on her life farming and watches it become a lost art in the lives of her three children, she still sees it all as good and accepts the changes of the age without bitterness.

As I read about her feelings as a mother, watching her children choose their own careers and cutting their own paths through life, I felt the bittersweet realization that probably my own children will do that one day, as every generation's does. There is an inevitable divide of custom and aim between one generation. I would hope to be closer to my children than Hannah was to hers. But through Wendell Berry's skilled hands, I ached and felt as if I understood her processing as a mother. It's not a sharp ache. Just a present one that she carried with her, something that perhaps she was not expecting, but found herself able to bear.

Life is so incredibly sweet. And it is good to work with your hands, to love and be loved, and to have a fellowship of community around you. Wendell Berry captured this along with the feel of the history and the span of a woman's life from young to old. I am glad to have experienced it.

It is good to have books written for my age and about it. I am glad for songs and stories that capture what it is to be young. But it is good, too, to look at life from the perspective of different ages--the very small, the middle-aged, the older--so that I do not think my age is the only age. Each one comes with its own fears and dreams. A person is no less a person because they are not experiencing what I am experiencing. And the hands of a good author help me to see with eyes of knowledge that I do not yet have on my own.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Art Which Nourishes, Art Which Starves

via Pixabay
Last week I picked up a phenomenal article by K.M. Weiland about risk-taking with your art as a writer. In it, she said that
"...Good art is innovative art. It is not what we initially expect. It takes time for us to adjust our expectations. “Bad” art, on the other hand, is what we initially expect, in the sense that we’ve been there before. It’s familiar and therefore often cliched. It’s not risky. It’s very, very safe. And as a result, it’s ultimately forgettable."- Learn 5 Ways to Take Risks With Your Writing, by K.M. Weiland 
It made me think about several pieces of art I've come across lately and how they each took different sides of the equation.

The first two contrasts were both Christian art. One was God's Not Dead, which we borrowed off Hoopla for free on a Sunday evening. (Sorry guys, I'm many years behind on this one.) The other was N.D. Wilson's fantasy book, Boys of Blur.

Both are art. Both have agendas. But Boys of Blur is clearly innovative art, and the other is in many ways art that you'd expect. God's Not Dead is safe. It's "familiar and therefore...cliched". It's also predictable. The self-centered businessman, three breakup scenes, a conversion scene, and a Christian winning a debate. It's meant to inspire Christians to take a stand for what they believe but it lacks originality in characters and situations. It leaves me comfortable, but not always convicted or changed.

Wilson's Boys of Blur, however, is in a completely different camp. The poetry of his writing style in a book that young boys would love almost seems like setting a gourmet meal before an audience that can't even appreciate it. (And in saying that, I'm not trying to be derogatory towards school-age boys. It's just you don't normally connect them to poetic styles). It's a story that combines fantasy and war without even mentioning prayer or Scripture. And yet, in a symbolic inclusion, the church building features in various scenes again and again. His characters are priceless: Cotton, the homeschool kid. Sugar, the football player with a diamond in his ear (I just loved his character profile. He was so vivid.) Charlie, and his abusive step-dad. Flame and feathers, hotels and church, knife and panther. Published by Random House, the book is not openly Christian. But it's good art. It's art I want to savor. To own. To re-read and introduce others to.

The second category of contrasting art, funnily enough, showed up on recent television viewings.

television viewings. schuyler, stop being so formal. 

Our family loved Food Network on our annual vacations where we had cable television. We would collect recipes in the morning, watch competitions like Iron Chef in the evening, and it was part of our vacation experience. But over the years we noticed a shift. The cooking shows descended into more and more competition shows, and those shows started including more profanity, prideful competition, and revenge. Don't get me wrong. I still love Iron Chef, and I don't mind an occasional episode of Chopped. But I wouldn't call it art. It's among the junk food of the television offerings.

Recently, however, sis found The Great British Baking Show 3 with our library card Hoopla rentals. We've been savoring it, one episode per evening. Like Chopped and Iron Chef, it has all the elements of competition. But in a way that is doesn't rely on revenge for drama, it is full of art. The creativity of flavor combinations and baking skills. The diversity of the cast and their personalities. Their willingness to help one another succeed, and their regret when someone is eliminated. The standard of art is higher. You walk away after an episode feeling like you've just eaten a piece of fine cheesecake, and you can't wait until tomorrow night when you get to eat another one.

Bad art takes from you. It takes brain cells and creativity. It leaves you feeling vaguely guilty, kind of like an excessive amount of junk food. It's for entertainment. But good art nourishes. It nourishes with creativity, quality, and a deep joy of the soul. It's oftentimes risky, not always predictable. And memorable in the best of ways.

Read art that nourishes. Write art that nourishes. We'll all be a better world for it.

What good art have you been enjoying lately?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring TBR

via Pixabay
It's the first day of Spring! I'm so glad! Spring always feels like a fresh burst of energy after the cold winter season, so it's time for a new TBR stack and endless ambitions for the next three months or so. Here's what I've come up with for my stack this spring:

Crowning Heaven
You guys. My friend Emily is releasing Crowning Heaven, an epic portal fantasy, on May 15. You won't want to miss this. I don't want to miss this. I simply can't wait. You can add it on Goodreads here and check out the official announcement here.

The Silver Chair
Precious Puddleglum. I'm almost through The Chronicles of Narnia series re-read.  I have so much respect for Lewis's talents in this read-through. And not only that, but my heart is warmed and stirred by the truth and glory of Aslan in these stories.

The Last Battle
I really wrote down The Voyage of the Dawn Treader here when I was first drafting this post. Moment of distraction. Should I read the last one this spring? Should I save it? I feel like I should read it now while the spark is hot.

Hannah Coulter 
Some friends lent me this book. I've had it waiting too long, so I started it last night. I love the gentle, nostalgic look at life's memories told from the perspective of a woman who lived through WW2 in America.

The Art of War for Writers 
The kind administrators at the place where I teach are adding a highschool fiction class to the lineup this fall. I get to teach it, so I want to start reading in preparation. I cannot wait to talk fiction for an hour every week and discuss stories and brainstorming and characters and all that good stuff.

A Study in Scarlet 
Like the Chronicles of Narnia, I'd like to finish the Sherlock stories this year. I've read a lot of the short stories, so I'm going to tackle a couple of the novels next. I'm actually reading A Study in Scarlet in order this time. Normally I start from the middle, read all the backstory, and then read the mystery uninterrupted.

A Wounded Shadow 
I am so excited. SO excited. This is the end of Willet Dura's journey in Patrick Carr's latest series, a fantasy world threatened by a forest so dark that no one can escape it unscathed. Questions will be answered. Mysteries will be uncovered. I have waited so long for this.

Anne's House of Dreams 
I've been reading through the Anne series the last few years and hope to finish it this year. To be honest, I can't wait for Rilla of Ingleside, but

Good News for Anxious Christians 
I'm almost done with Elisabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity. After that, I'd like to read this one to be changed and strengthened with truth.

What's on your TBR stack? Is anything cool coming up in life this spring?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Inside Out {best movie ever}

via Wikipedia
The night before my sister's 18th birthday, we all scrambled through chores and birthday preparations so we could be done early. Then we curled up on the couch with Minky Blanket and popped in Inside Out for the first time ever.

Inside Out, if you're new to the Pixar franchise (this is my first Pixar film) is a movie about 11-year-old Riley moving to a new town and processing the emotions and life changes that come along with that. The cool thing? Riley's emotions are animated characters inside her head: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. Inside Out sets out to show how all of these emotions work together. Containing everything from the Train of Thought to the Subconscious, it showed just how much the writers thought about the brain in general, perfectly expressing the heart of a kid.

I don't watch a lot of animated kids' movies. I fell head over heels for this one. The creativity is incredible, and the emotions it evokes are deeply resonant with common life experiences. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. I teared up twice, and had I been watching it alone, I would have outright cried. In other words, it might be for kids, but it can keep adults captivated two times in one weekend.

Sadness. Let's talk about Sadness. I just loved Sadness--the sweetest-round faced girl with a pudgy blue body and a thick, warm sweater--just the kind of sweater you like to curl up with on tough days. Sadness always thinks she's ruining things, but she's so incredibly sweet you just want to wrap her in a warm hug. (The scene when Joy is pushing Sadness's little blue foot inside the chalk circle so she won't ruin Riley's first day of school is the cutest.moment.ever.) We loved the quote, "Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life's problems." Sadness brings realism, Joy brings hope, in the midst of disaster. 

The cool thing about this movie is that it's a springboard for kids (or even overthinking adults) who haven't learned that it's OK to have emotions, and they can work together in healthy ways. Emotions like Fear and Anger are often touted as bad--they should be locked away, stuffed down, or ignored, while positive emotions are encouraged. But emotions like Fear and Anger can also be warnings that keep you healthy and safe.

Inside Out shows Riley working through her emotions--sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways. Anger wants to use curse words, but none are used. There's a couple of brief instances of the mom fantasizing about a handsome man other than her husband.

Inside Out processes the joy of nostalgia, family, and memories--it holds sacred the moments of the past, as well as showing how to step forward into the future. It gives a warm picture of family meeting life's challenges together, even in their imperfect moments--and it captures the imagination of childhood in ways that defy you not to cry while you're watching them (Bing Bong, anyone?)

Have you seen this movie? What were your favorite lines? I'd love to talk about it with you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Currently // a wealth of work and stories

via pixabay
Poor Lord M is still waiting to be reviewed after finishing the late David Cecil biography. But he's a patient fellow--and I think he'd rather sit and chat about life rather than talk about himself. I have a craving to write a life post today, which can serve as the Diary I Do Not Keep.

My heart is full. I'm feeling rather like Anne from Anne of Avonlea, who loves new horizons and dreaming and a bright vista of thought and feeling in front of her. We stayed up until midnight on Friday watching it. There's so much kindred spirit in Anne. I don't have sudden bursts of frank indignation, but I do think life has so much to offer and love. I'm also a teacher and a writer. And I love her costumes in Anne of Avonlea.

But I wouldn't want to iron them.

Lark Rise to Candleford
A couple of weeks ago I picked up Lark Rise to Candleford from the Main Library. Lark Rise is about a small village and even smaller hamlet--full of people who love, who sin, who work hard and help their neighbors, who have family and find family, all in this delightful 19th century British atmosphere. Ask about the episode where they bring the harvest in and the measles come to Lark Rise. It's absolutely golden stuff. Lark Rise is one of those series you have to pick and choose. Some plots are based around superstition that borders on potions and spells, and I don't feel comfortable with that sort of thing. But other episodes are full of regluar adventures with a dash of warmth and kindness, and they're so inspirational.

Season 4 is really golden so far. I love the costumes. I love Gabriel Cochran who lost his wife and his business and is trying to build new relationships again. His character is wise, and the actor is so able to pull off eyes full of deep feeling and thoughtfulness. I love Miss Lane's hair and dresses. I love Minnie, trying to figure out her feelings towards Alf and his towards her, and her dear accent. And in season 4/episode 4, where there's a pig roast and a grand bonfire night, I love how Daniel tells Laura not to be afraid of the future, how he smiles and looks after her and they act like I've seen people who love each other. I love bonfire nights and dreaming of the future and a kindred spirit close by to share the moment with.

Sis and I have been two months strong on an exercise program since the beginning of the year. It has nothing to do with books, but it's something that's happening lately and it's so fun. Cassey Ho has free calendars (We spent the month of January doing the 30-minute workout twice a week, and now we do the beginner calendar 3x a week.) I love the cheerfulness. The fact that I don't need weights or equipment, but it's feasible for what I have right now. At first, it was confusing to figure out how to breathe right and how to do the moves, but now I'm getting the hang of it. And I love the sense of being able to do something to care for and strengthen my body. It feels good to hurt after a hard workout. It feels good to sweat, and have someone show you what to do, and strengthen your body, and sit up one morning and feel like you actually have ab muscles. When I make it to 3 months I'm going to treat myself to Celtic Thunder X with my Christmas money and try to have a reward every 3 months after that. If you're taking a look at the program, there is some immodesty to navigate on the social media channels, and once in a while, she'll misuse God's Name, which I don't like. But overall it's clean, I'd recommend it for girls who need a coach to work out with, and it's filled a spot I really needed (a personal trainer) on the budget I had to work with (nothing). Being able to have direction and challenge has been such a joy this year, and I love feeling healthier.

Outlining Folkestone Files #2 
Over the past few weeks, I've been outlining the sequel to War of Loyalties like crazy, fitting together plots, having aha! moments, and listening to lots and lots of A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman. Somehow it sounds like a song that fits one of the characters, and I think it keeps Melancholic Schuyler from listening to sad songs and plotting under their influence. The action is so much tighter than the planning process for the first book, and it's so fun to think over the story without muddling through thousands of words to try to figure it out. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence. I hate planning. But I am finding that I love a story summary, and I want to try it for more books if it helps me write this one well. Maybe this is the sweet spot I've wanted all along--and since I'm taking on more tutoring and will need to use my time even more wisely, I like learning a new process to make that productivity happen.

God has been so kind. He is kind even when life feels dark, but I am enjoying the sunshine. I have meltdown days. I still struggle with anxiety. But my heart is learning and growing and expanding. I'm studying things with friends and reading and thinking and writing and I feel like I am exercising my gifts in the spot he has me in right now. Life is crammed full of Romans, and writing short stories by hand, teaching and house help, devotions over breakfast and tearing up over Little Women dramatized as I drive to work.

I do not mind bends in the road. But this is a stretch of road I am content to linger in for now.

this post fueled by "when you're with me" by the afters. give it a listen if you want some warm fuzzies.

Friday, March 2, 2018

How to Be The Perfect Christian {by the Babylon Bee}

Babylon Bee's satirical articles have kept the world in stitches of laughter ever since they started putting them out. Having fun at the expense of well-known speakers and worship trends, they lead to half-gasp, half-laugh reactions that make Christians say ouch and amen at the same time. Adam Ford started the site, and his journey through depression and gift of humor is well worth reading about. So when their book came up on my list of review options, of course, I wanted to pick it up.

via Goodreads 

How to Be the Perfect Christian is full of classic satirical fun at what Christians love most: everything from modern church worship (your worship team had better have nine people on it), to potlucks, to forcing every movie and activity into a Gospel parallel, the authors provide a lot of classic laughs at what the American church has become. Whether you need to know how to make the worship team work for your response or review the seven essential truths of the Gospel, it's all here to guide you along the way.

I have to admit, this is a tough review to write, because I just wasn't syncing with the humor while I read the book, and I honestly think it was my own mental state at the time and not the fault of the book. While I thought the book would have been tighter divided into a modern Christian track and a legalist Christian track (someone who hated alcohol and wore denim skirts probably wouldn't go to the church in chapter one) it provides a great opportunity to get introduced to the Babylon Bee and loan it out to others.

The Babylon Bee is a fun, laugh-inducing read in the evenings after work. As for me? I read it on the way to church and back. Because after all, if you want to be the perfect Christian, Sunday morning is the best time to read all about it.

I received an ARC copy from the publisher, and not all details may be the same upon publication. All opinions expressed are my own.
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