Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Joy and Fear of New

via Pixabay
Friday night after teaching classes, I solo traveled for the first time. I am in Minneapolis right now, seeing a friend and visiting a college.

The house we stay in is scarred with life. Wooden floors creak under the weight of evening, long after people have gotten into bed. The sun shines gently on a tabletop bearing up the memory of dozens of meals, countless study sessions. It is a house of industry--of memory. Its inhabitants breath in the air of age (150 years, to be precise) and embrace the discomfort of new. New concepts. New books. New assignments.

New things are a discomfort. I find myself insecure in the face of new skills I am learning this year. I wish I was good at things from the start. Inadequacy rests like a knapsack on my shoulders, and it does not feed my pride. New skills can be fearful sometimes because I will not admit they are new, or that they should be, or that I shouldn't have everything figured out at once.

But over this weekend, new things are also a taste of joy. Ever since getting on a plane flight it has been a blessed kind of new. Walking through a quiet airport long after most people are gone and thinking of Relative Race and the family. Traveling to a home I have never been, this time solo. Here I go to a new coffee shop and taste the cinnamon foam on a chai latte. Listen to Andrew Peterson's Canaan Bound as the sun comes through the window. Wrestle with a child's trauma and the plans of spies in a story.

At night, with pizza and egg rolls on plates in the living room, we shut the lights off and turn on Thor. It is my first Marvel movie. I have not read much mythology. This too is new and somewhat uncomfortable to me. Here, Thor has his hammer and Odin isn't a random god's name in How to Train Your Dragon. Here a mythical tree connects the nine realms to one another.

"It feels pagan," I said to a friend.

She laughs. "Well, that's because it is." But then she went on to talk about Lewis, about how the threads of mythology still reflect the truth of our sin, and how you can trace that Christ's atonement is the missing answer all these stories are looking for. It made sense--that something used by the devil to spread lies still could not divorce from God's greater power to preserve truth--that natural law written on people's hearts.

Mythology may be new and imperfect (mixed, as well, with sweet and epic.) But it is a new thing worth considering and thinking over.

Here in Minneapolis, the first snow floats through the air. The trees are fire and sun, and the football stadium stands in the middle of everything. I have heard it is like the moon--you come back to it eventually. The pulsing heart of the city. Here a little girl plays with her toys on a Saturday morning and watches Kipper on a tiny phone screen. Here a baby speed-reads through a board book, madly flipping pages he has no time to deal with. Here the grownups find cash for laundry and groceries to eat and a way to balance life--or try to.

But here, too, on the weekends, we curl up three on a couch and switch the lights off for Murder on the Orient Express. I read the book years ago--so long that I remembered the ending, but the details of the mystery--who the characters were and why it happened--had gone to the lost memories dump.

Here, I encounter familiar: a historical mystery. But in the mystery, Hercule Poirot himself encounters the new. For him, it is not a joy. It is a grief. A grief of wrestling with his morality, of finding something in his world that does not fit. In the midst of glamorous characters, stunning scenery, and fascinating sets, he wrestles with something that, as my friend so eloquently expressed, has not been part of his world to this point and finds himself vanquished.

For Poirot it is a discomforting conclusion he has never had to face before. For me, it is a joy: experiencing a vivid story with friends who understand it and tell me what they love about it.

The next day I warm up leftover Chinese food (Mongolian beef, cashew chicken, and General Tso's.) and spend lunch with the new yet again--a pair of chopsticks--

smol, happy schuyler 

--and Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. This, too, is something I have never read before.

I am grateful for the new things I have experienced this week. The new in stories and the new in life have filled my cup with gladness. But even the new I am not always glad for--this too, will lead eventually to the comfortable familiarity of answers I am glad to finally grasp.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

{of love and october}

via Pixabay
This is a post about life. About friend love. About books and October.

Life has been a whirlwind. Like a big gust of autumn leaves dancing through the air and blocking your field of vision. I am learning afresh how to teach. Learning how to handle bigger classes, to answer questions about homework in emails.  Learning how to turn over a class in five minutes for the next one (sometimes I fail.)

But when a friend messaged on Wednesday and said a get-together would work out, I jumped at it. We were several months starved for a soul-chat. So, after classes, I left the pile of homework, turned on the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, and started along what is one of my favorite drives through city and country to a piece of land that holds a piece of my heart along with it.

Beauty and the Beast hits the spot lately. "Evermore" is a wonderful kind of thing, and "Something There" is positively the sweetest song to sing along with at the end of a work week when an evening of pleasure lies before you.

We sat at the dining room table, fluffy gray kitty purring on my lap, cups of water resting on the tiled surface, and a stack of beautiful magazines before us. There was much to catch up on--deep conversations interspersed with hugs. The kind of frequent hugs that are like little recharges of friendship. The longer it's been, the more you need.

We drank tea out of Star Wars mugs. Talked about church and how a friend brought us together. Ate mozzarella sticks and laughed. She handed me The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, and I tucked it into my laptop bag. We both feasted on the beauty that is the photography and writing of Bella Grace--a magazine full of soul-nourishing beauty, inspiring words, and places to journal in. I debated between saving for a Minky blanket and saving for a Bella Grace subscription. I think it will have to be both.

At the end of the night, she handed me her phone, and I tucked earbuds in to listen to the Piano Guys' newest song. And then we cuddled up in the corners of the sofa, and I held an armful of cat, and we talked about Doctor Who in the dim light of late evening.

I left at half-past eleven. The corn stalks in the field were tall and brown, but I didn't run over them, nor did I end up in a ditch and have to wake her parents. The van and I found our way home in the dark, Beauty and the Beast still playing. Parking lots were empty, and the stores were closed. After midnight is one of the best times to return when you've had a lovely evening. Everything is quiet, and in your heart there lies a contented warmth that lingers as you walk up the home driveway. The contentedness lingered as I pulled out The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane in the final moments before bed. While sometimes DiCamillo's strange old ladies creep me out, I loved Edward and teared up by the end. This is a beautiful story of a hard-hearted rabbit learning to love through painful partings from a wide variety of precious characters.

Kate DiCamillo turned into a weekend theme when her latest book came in at the library. I started Louisiana's Way Home on Sunday. I read ahead (throw tomatoes if you wish) and cried at what I read. Because the terrible sadness and trueness and wonderfulness of what she wrote captures life in its full-blooded essence. The beautiful, wonderful variety of people in the world. The questions. The little things that matter--candy bars out of a vending machine and someone giving up their chocolate sundae so you can have another one.  Louisiana is a book that can help a child (or perhaps an adult) process the pain of "sundering" and remind them that there are people still to love you.

Monday evening I saw another friend who had walked through a hard day with me. We recharged with more hugs. We looked at pictures and talked about weddings and laughed in the darkness of the van as the parking lot emptied. When I came home, I broke out the pair of winter pajama pants with foxes on it and read more Louisiana. I finished it today under the fluffy gray comforter that graced my bed after my birthday. And while I was almost too tired to feel, I had read and I had cried already, and that was good.

These are the moments that last forever. When you have a grainy picture of fox socks and remember the feel of a precious cat face tucked into your chest. When your friend at Bible study adds a little note in a future dream folder on your phone. When you are hugged and loved. These are the little moments of beauty you taste and see and write about. In an article about writing, Kate DiCamillo says, "That's what writing is all about. Seeing. It is the sacred duty of the writer to pay attention, to see the world."

I am better for each friend who has given me a piece of the world to see. Thank you, friends all, for these beautiful moments, words, books, you give me. Thank you for being patient and kind as I learn to balance new things. Thank you for loving me--and for making my world a rich and wonderful place. For introducing me to so many new and beautiful things with your presence. You are a blessing.

Perhaps the best way to end a post like this, from a full heart, is with the grace of amen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Best and Worst of Literary Teachers

She handed me an apple, skin so shiny and red it looked like crimson glass. We were discussing substitute teaching. She had been to the apple orchard and wanted to give me one from her bounty.

Teaching expands your heart. You encounter a brand new set of humanity you have never experienced. New struggles, new gaps in learning (both yours and theirs) new people to love. Apples and tears, Starbucks runs with colored grading pens, a chorus of "Miss McConkey" that is both wonderful and overwhelming, all combine together into the biggest day of the week. Each week students have a deadline to turn in their homework. Each week teachers have a deadline to prepare the next building block for their students' education. Both sides are racing towards a goal.

I am not yet the best teacher I hope to be. Still wet behind the ears and learning how to balance a spreadsheet and plan homework and use class time efficiently. That takes time and experience, which will come. The other night, I jokingly told my mom that I should try teaching like Mr. Wopsle's Great Aunt in Great Expectations. (Her method was to take a nap and let the young fry run riot.) That turned into a brief exchange that turned into this blog post idea: the best and worst of literary teachers.

Miss Stacey--Anne of Green Gables 
If I can be like Miss Stacey someday, I think I will be the teacher I want to be. She had a warmth about her. In her world, there was room for imagination, and she always encouraged Anne to be her best. Miss Stacey knew how to be correctly firm, which kept her students disciplined and on track (no Ben-Hur in class time.) But her students remembered her with gladness, they thrived, and they grew. #teachergoals.

Mr. Phillips--Anne of Green Gables 
Mr. Phillips' chief flaws were fatal to his profession. He didn't know how to keep a class under control, and he did not love the students he was teaching. I always felt a little for him that his relationship with Prissy Andrews didn't work out. But in spite of his moving last day speech, it was better for everyone that he moved on to new horizons.

Anne Shirley--Anne of Avonlea  
While I would love to be a teacher on Miss Stacey's caliber someday, Anne is a slightly more relatable teacher in my mind. She, too, understood what it was like to face a new class, and I love her imagination. I love how Anthony Pye was won over to her favor, and how she encouraged the imaginative Paul by being a listening kindred spirit.

Mr. Carpenter--Emily of New Moon 
I don't remember a thing about him, except that he seemed somewhat peppery. But I do remember the last scene of Emily of New Moon: the moment she brings her writing to him to be evaluated. Mr. Carpenter is stinging in his appraisal, a bitter, acid honesty that tears her writing down to its foundations and finds very little left to be praised. But he is also the one that plants the seed of her potential in her mind and fuels her love for writing. If I can inspire someone like that (sans acid critique) I shall be happy.

Mr. Davis--Little Women 
Amy March's infamous teacher, who confiscated her pickled limes and made her stand in front of the room for the class period, certainly seemed like a rather sour individual to have charge of little girls. He catapulted Amy right into homeschooling, but he does have the small distinction of making a successful war on chewing gum.

Katherine Brook--Anne of the Island 
She is not a villain. But she is a woman disappointed in life and despairing of adventure beyond the
walls of a Canadian girls' school. Katherine was not cut out to be a teacher and her career was short-lived. Sometimes not everyone is meant to teach, and that's OK. She turned instead to a position as a secretary for a globe-trotting employer. But her time teaching was not wasted, for it gave her a chance to meet Anne Shirley and to have her perspective on the goodness of life transformed.

Heidegger--The Adventure of the Priory School
A German teacher suspected of murder, Heidegger is "a silent, morose man, not very popular either with masters or boys." But this German teacher with Palmer bicycle tires didn't hesitate in his moment of duty. When a student goes missing, he bicycles after him, falling prey to murder in the attempt to rescue him. Watson says, "That he could have gone on after receiving such an injury said much for the vitality and courage of the man."

Mrs. Logan--Roll of Thunder
Stacey Logan had his mother for his teacher, and he couldn't have enjoyed a more wonderful woman to shape his mind. Mama Logan was well-educated and loved to teach. In a time when her students received poor resources because they were black, she cared for them tenderly, stood up against oppression on their behalf, and lost her job because she refused to water down history. She knew that truth mattered; that the past mattered; and she would not be intimidated into teaching lies. I hope she gets her job back in a later book (but don't tell me!)

Who are your best and worst literary teachers? I'd love to know! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Why I Spent $100 on Books This Quarter

via Pixabay
This last quarter, I've spent almost $100 on books between two conferences I went to. Don't worry; this post isn't going to be a personal balancing of records. I thought it would be interesting for authors and bookworms alike to know the motivation behind book buying from a real-life example. Advertising, Twitter, and good copy are all still good sellers. So here's how the process broke down.

For both conferences I had a budget, but the process for each one was different.

Realm Maker's 2018 

I didn't have an advance list of books to buy at Realm Maker's. I just knew I'd probably want to buy books there--it makes for a fun experience to come home with a stack of new reading material.

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow, by Mary Weber
I had actually tried a Mary Weber novel before that wasn't quite my cup of tea and didn't make it all the way through. This was a new series, however, and I wanted to buy one of her books to have her sign it. So it was pretty much an advance decision--the prospect of getting a book personalized. But after I heard Mary speak (and totally became a fangirl) I was even more glad I bought it. Later that month I saw the second book in the series for sale at a discount and bought it. So the chance of meeting her, her personality, and the desire to own the whole series, led to sales. However, it's definitely who she is as an author that led to the Instagram follow, the Facebook follow, and the desire to buy her upcoming novel, To Best the Boys. And that also goes to show that if your first book isn't someone's cup of tea, you can still win their heart later.

Dagger's Sleep, by Tricia Mingerink
I rode down with Tricia Mingerink and some friends to Realm Maker's. I knew she'd published books and people loved them, but I hadn't read any of them yet. So I thought I'd pick one up at Realm Maker's--Dagger's Sleep looked fun because it was a standalone start to a series, and a fairytale retelling of Sleeping Beauty. This book sale was based primarily on being personally acquainted, but I also had several books to choose from, and ended up starting with a new standalone because that seemed like a great way to jump into a new author.

Coiled, by H.L. Burke
This book actually won a purchase from less personalized means: I didn't have a recommendation from anyone prior to picking it up on the book table, but I loved the cover and the Beauty and the Beast vibe of the backstory. Sometimes I take a picture of the cover in those circumstances and save it for later, but this time I was at the conference, I wanted to buy books, and it just looked really cute. The author was there behind the table to explain more about her story--that it was based on an old myth--and ultimately I loved the cover and premise so much that I picked it up to bring it home. This was my most gamble/splurge buy at the conference. So that goes to show that cover and premise are important for grabbing readers.

The Electrical Menagerie, by Mollie E. Reader
I'd seen Mollie's name recommended by a close friend. She loved Mollie's book so much that it was definitely on my buy list, and I loved the sample of her writing on Amazon. When I heard she might sell out, I tracked her down to get a copy before that happened.  Mollie's author branding was on point, from freebie character playing cards, to signing her name with a gold pen and a star next to it. Her book delivered on the experience and was hugely worth the money.

Realm Maker Notes: 
For probably three out of the four books I looked up samples on Amazon to make sure I liked the writing before buying. I also had a couple of other options that I narrowed down; one didn't look quite as much my cup of tea as I expected, the other I wanted to get but just didn't have the money for and wanted to stay in budget. That last book I didn't have a recommendation on, and ultimately, wanting it didn't weight as heavily against the recommendations I had heard for the other books. When people close to you have read the books, you're likely to pay attention to them yourself.

Incidentally, I was sold on the last book I didn't buy from seeing the author interact on Facebook. Even though I don't have it yet, I hope to someday. This isn't actually an author I know or follow yet--but social media interactions with followers can make sales to non-followers.

True Woman 2018 

This conference I came into armed with a book list of releases I wanted to get. Before the main session started, I was down in the vendor hall and down to business. Book buying is a serious thing. ;) With the help of friendly volunteers in yellow aprons, it didn't take long before I had a stack of books and was sitting looking them over before the final purchase.

Book Girl, by Sarah Clarkson
I heard of this book from Joy Clarkson's Twitter account. Joy Clarkson is one of the queens of Twitter, and her charming, warm thoughts make this social media platform a joy to be on. So Joy's personality, mention, and the relatable subject made this a book I wanted to get. When I looked at it, it looked chock full of lovely book lists and totally worth the read.

Reading Well, by Karen Swallow Prior
I don't remember where I saw this book, and hadn't even heard it was coming until I saw it on Twitter. Seriously, I think I've only seen it once or twice, but I immediately popped off to Goodreads to add it to my list because books about books are my cup of tea. I think it may have been a sale tweet from Karen herself (I either follow her or a friend re-tweeted it.) I trust her because I've read another one of her books and an article online which I liked.

Gay Girl, Good God, by Jackie Hill Perry
I think I first heard of Jackie Hill Perry when I saw Nancy Wolgemuth respond to a tweet of hers. I have a high respect for Nancy and who she interacts with, and grew to like Jackie for herself after that. She's honest with her words, has a boldness that shines, and is faithful to the Word. I love a wide variety of people who are solidly grounded in the Word, and I'm not familiar with a lot of Christian hip-hop artists. I liked that unique juxtaposition, and was excited to learn more about her in her book. So it was a tweet from a ministry leader I respected that sold me on her book.

The Gospel Comes With a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield
I don't remember when I first heard of Rosaria; it was a while ago, though I've never actually read one of her books. A church we respected brought her to the area, and during that time my mom listened to her book on converting to Christianity. The quotes my mom mentioned piqued my interested--I thought they were hard-hitting truths that needed to be shared to help conservative Christians fruitfully share the Gospel with the LGBT sector. Earlier this summer our church newsletter mentioned her latest book The Gospel Comes with a House Key. I found the audiobook for free on Hoopla, loved the beginning, and definitely wanted it in book form. I went to the conference hoping maybe to get it. The price was right at the Crossway booth, and it landed in my shopping bag.

True Woman Notes:
I ended up getting all of the books on my list except two. One wasn't at the conference, and I could get a cheaper, used option since it was an old book. The other I decided that since I had waited this long, I could wait a little longer to keep within budget.

On another note,  I had another book on my list that I planned to get, only to realize it wasn't released yet! Moody Publishers has another book coming out called Lies Girls Believe in February 2019. Originally I planned to buy it because it completed the books in the Lies family; but at the conference they handed out sample chapters, and when I read it, I was even more excited about it because it explained a concept that I hadn't thought about before.

In Conclusion
If you ever wonder if your social media efforts are worth it, they are! I bought most of these books because I saw them recommended by friends or noticed interactions on Twitter. And a couple of buy links helped alert me to books I wouldn't have been aware of, so that works too. The authors' reputations for knowledge or being an engaging personality in their online conversations made me like them for themselves, so when they mentioned a new book for sale, I was automatically interested in reading it. In the end, I wanted to purchase books at the conferences, and the fact that I either knew the authors, loved them, or respected them from afar helped clinch these specific deals. Recommendations are powerful! If you get your tribe to love you, they'll praise your books to their friends and get more readers who are just fringe observers. But just being yourself sells books too. We receive your labors of love with eager hands.
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