Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Swing By the Shore {agatha christie and austin kleon}


Sometimes, it takes until you're twenty-four to learn how magical a swing is.

There's a beach, and a Sunday afternoon, and waves that have crept up on the shoreline year after year. A swingset perches on the sand just yards from the water. I've never sat there; never thought about it. Most Sunday outings I make a beeline straight towards a swing in the shade and stick my nose in a book. But today--

Today a dark-haired friend slips up on a swing, and in the spontaneity of the moment, I follow her. There will be time enough for Egypt and murder and Agatha Christie in an afternoon traffic slump. For now, we swing back and forth, back and forth, and slowly the rhythm returns. I pump my feet to gain height. Gradually, I realize she leans back on the downswing to gain even more height--an old memory from the past that went to the memory dump long ago. I try it, my gauzy skirt fluttering pink in the wind and the sun. My pointed toes reach out--out towards the blue water and a boat on the horizon. A weight presses down on my heart. This is a beauty I never knew about before, the magic of swings by the shoreline. It is the weight of a heart crying without tears because in this moment there is an unquenchable draught of satisfied Sehnsucht, and moments like that should stretch on for an eternity.

We wind our way home, intent on a downtown photo shoot, and as we sit in traffic, Poirot and I continue our reacquaintance in Death on the Nile. I picked it because of the upcoming movie, after being enchanted by Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie and I have a current feud, one I still nurse good-humoredly, about trying to see whether I can beat her prowess or whether she will hoodwink me. When I read on the jacket flap that this is one of her favorite mysteries, I'm even more determined to win. Christie's mysteries are perfect for a mind eager to sharpen itself with a new hobby, following the twists and turns of an investigation, but also relaxing enough to give the mind some rest in the middle of summer vacation. The characters emerge from the shadows. A rich American heiress; an adoring husband; a sullen young woman; a conniving lawyer; a mother and her son. Slowly the shadows fall away and I see the missing puzzle piece. Though I don't get it all this time, I'm proud of myself for catching some parts of the solution, and I want to try again.


A book for leisure provides an undercurrent of challenge and indulgence to the week, but a book for artistry provides something else--soul food. "You should read Austin Kleon," my mom tells me, as I agonize over homework about author branding and how to stay true to my heart while learning useful industry trends. So I pick up her new library book, Keep Going, in the middle of an enforced week of making my mind not obsess over questions. Instead, I read Kleon's thoughts about creativity and mind nurture. They're simple, interspersed with art and poetry, pages of profound mentorship tucked in a tiny square of a book.

While the questions about writing direction buzz in the back of my mind, I go to another coffee shop to drink a life-changingly yummy blend of pomegranate kiwi boba tea and plot another story. It's a spur-of-the-moment challenge. "We should all give each other a prompt," we say, and scuttle off to Pinterest to find something slightly weird and wonderful to inspire each other with. My picture has a man and a woman on the beach with a crack running through them. The story plan that comes out, scribbled on the back of an old letter, doesn't fit in a schedule, a genre, or a line-up. It's a fantasy about a Greek Orthodox female scientist who loves stargazing and pipes and purple hair. I don't know when it will be begun or if it will be finished, but the joy of blending disparate elements into a living, breathing character are water to my soul. She is mine, and I love her.

It is a week of story binging, both individually and together, as our friend introduces us to Marvel. (We clear seven movies while she's here.) Sometimes there is nothing quite so healing as prayer time and a story binge when my heart is tired and frail. In between stories, we experience the joy of cityscape photo shoots in leather and softer photoshoots with pink and sand. Of window shopping, that ends up with respective prizes of jewelry-making supplies, sushi and macarons, and big, pink peonies. Of nights talking about Enneagram personalities and a Bible study of how to walk through hard life emotions.

These are the smallest graces that weave together into largest grace. They are straight from a kindly Father who has led us into desert and promised land this year in equal measure. This week, as in every week, he feeds my mind with truth and my soul with beauty and my heart with gladness. This week he touches everywhere my eyes see with joy.

Perhaps I have underestimated too long the magic of a swing by the shore.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

You are the Hearth Fire {a birthday tribute}

A birthday tribute to Ben from War of Loyalties, a WW1 spy novel available on Amazon

Image by Jörg Peter from Pixabay

Hey, man.

We're a few days late celebrating all 127 courageous years of you, but I suppose a day doesn't matter when we've been friends as long as we have. It was you and I and a beat-up orange folder writing on a childhood bed we got rid of years ago. And it was all a joke once when someone asked what I kept in there--a boyfriend? I suppose in a funny, platonic way it kind of was, but you and I aren't each other's type, and I gave you a much better girl.

I don't remember when you first came, but it was somewhere between twelve and fourteen, so at the very least you and I have known each other for ten years. It's ten years' worth of quiet perseverance. I hope we're friends until I'm ninety-nine and you're old enough to need a calculator that I don't have the time for.

You measured up through each bloody, gritty draft that polished away the funny edges of our childhood. And we got tired trying to figure out this spying business sometimes, but it was a good, bone tired that showed up and tried again the next day and never looked back. And we're still showing up until the last spy is captured. We're going to see this thing through together.

You were quiet, and never much wanted to talk about yourself--more awkward than brave. But you never walked out. You never get annoyed with the people who matter most to you. You're a safe person in a wide world. And everyone fighting spies with you knows they could knock on your door in the dead of night and always find a refuge. Even though you're not real, I would fight anyone to say your love is real. We know.

It made me glad when there was pie in the fridge on your birthday, waiting. I didn't even remember. But grace showed up around the corner like it always does. Your actual birthday was one of those stretches where life punches you in the teeth and then kicks you again in the stomach and you only remember celebrating when you're too tired to do it. But I've seen you kicked in the teeth multiple times, and someone funny and wise once told us that brave will run itself until we get back on our feet again. And you and I, we have all these good people helping us sort life out. We know what that funny, wise person said is absolutely true.

Here's what I admire most about you: You chose kindness and courage when you got the metaphorical slap in the face. There's nothing you hate more than taking up a reproach against a friend. And you've proven over and over in this draft that you'll swear to your own hurt and won't change. I think your 127-year-old self can look back on your 26-year-old self and know that in spite of the earth giving way under your feet, you will not be moved.

I know you want nothing more than home and peace in your world. It isn't time for peace yet, or that little house with the dog you always wanted, but maybe someday there will be a Shire in Great Britain.

You're the anchor that keeps all these spies in order, and you're the hearth fire that wild hearts come home to. And I don't know, but I think I was the luckiest girl in the world to end up with a friend like you.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Feast of Summer


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

It is midnight, and I cannot sleep. The grades for the school year are all nicely turned in, the work for the week is done, and my mind, free of normal responsibilities, runs at a wild pace. So I stumble downstairs to where the bookshelves are.

Bookshelves. Quiet, simple, sometimes perhaps a little stuffy standing there in prim, orderly rows. But just underneath the surface, they are the Tardis of the real world, crammed with joy and fear and imagination. Much bigger on the inside.

Like any sane person at midnight (cough, cough) I scan the shelves and allow myself the delicious experience of pulling off anything that grabs my eye. The school year is over. It is midnight, and I cannot sleep. Why not do it? Voskamp slips to a stack on the floor. A devotional on trust joins her. A book about story writing merrily befriends this baby TBR. And last but not least, a thick, black-clad volume of the complete Richard Hannay novels dwarfs them all. They are set during WW1, spy novels, and perfect for research, I tell myself.

Creating a new book stack is delicious. I have rarely been able to make it all the way through lists. Some idealistic stacks (looking at you, Winter TBR) never really get off to a healthy start. But perhaps it is not always the finishing of them that really matters. In the first breath of creation, there is only the fresh, wild intoxication of a blank slate, a suspended moment of time, and a mental thirst that demands quenching.

Slipping from book to book in the midnight hour is akin to eating a stolen feast. This is a rich spread of history; of intrigue; of spiritual counsel and practical how-to. And here, here is why the beginning is as important as the ending. Because after a season of steady faithfulness and pouring out (essential pillars of the adult life) one must snatch--force--bend--time to make room for a season of dreaming. This is not the time for application. It is time for rest. For renewal. For feeding those "little gray cells" that have been exercised so intensely in writing final papers or finishing a deadline at work, or ending a busy season of shipping orders, or publishing a book. One cannot always be planting and watering and harvesting. One must sometimes sit down to the table with a full plate and a groan-worthy array of good flavors, and a deep sense of joy. So it is with the brain. One cannot always be honing and polishing ideas, learning new concepts. One must sometimes read for the discovery, for the exhilaration, for the freedom.

The beauty of the summer is the joy of the feast.

It does not always look like piles of nonfiction by midnight. Sometimes this feast turns into gobbling down an Agatha Christie in bed on a Saturday (scandalously late morning, I might add) rejoicing in the redemption of picking up an author that anxiety and mental illness shut out years ago. (It's a long story, which I'm happy to talk about via message.) I might add that I guessed the murderer correctly.

i was going to throw a tantrum if i didn't. 

Sometimes the feast means looking at another book when you've started six new titles and thinking, This--this too looks good. I need to read this. It doesn't always have to be in bed, either. This afternoon I gulped down the introduction to Sarah Clarkson's Book Girl, full of courageous, full-blooded ideas of womanhood and scholarship that fertilize dreams already shooting up buds and leaves in my soul. That feast was enjoyed standing on an exercise mat, sweating during surreptitious breaks from leg lifts.

They may all accompany this Book Girl all the way to the last page. Or they may not. It does not even matter. The point that matters is that they are the feast for the moment, and whether that feast is pages or chapters or the entire book, it will give my mind, weary in the pursuit of good endeavors, the rest and fresh heart it needs. After a season of output, the nutrients are depleted and the brain is starved. Sarah Clarkson touches on it in Book Girl, stating when you're stuck, go back to the books you love most (pg. 25). Another student mom I talked to said the same thing about physical health. Your body knows what it needs. And last Friday, between the hour of midnight and one, I found this to be true. My eyes and hands sought out the pages] my soul most craved.

So here's to the feast of summer. May it be gentle and glorious.
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