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Archive for March, 2008

 

I feel like I’m learning how to read again. Since I’ve become an English major, books have become a strange way of life. Of course, reading and literature has always had a huge space in my life, but now, as a student of words and paragraphs and metaphors, they have become this unsciencey-science. Books are a sort of sterile mess that I have to sort through, siphon in and then suck back out again in intro-body-conclusion form. Somewhere along this glorious road of a BA in English, I’ve lost the simple pleasure and curiosity that is inherent in sitting down and reading.

It’s spring break for me and I am about 1/4 of the way into Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. It was given to me as a gift and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s a dense novel (though short at only 277 pages) centering around an exiled princess of a nondescript kingdom named Leigh-Cheri. Living in “the last quarter of the twentieth century”, Leigh-Cheri is a young woman itching to make a difference in the world. Until she meets Woodpecker, a serial bomber and makeshift philosopher.

This story has a thickness that seems impenetrable, but not in a Foucault sort of way (did I just make the comparison? Someone kill me before I get even MORE pretentious). I’ve been reading on and off since Thursday and I am only on page 83. A better word is rich. Robbins folds in surprising little details that shock and amaze, but he walks away from them as if the little explosion on the page was nothing compared to the blast that will come. He definitely commits to his style of multi-layer adjectives and descriptions. In a strange way, each word seems to build from one to another until the bubble bursts and a bold, type-writer script number and decorative filigree signal the next chapter. In fact, each little chapter could function as a short story. A confusing short story, but a short story nonetheless.

I couldn’t have asked for a better book to usher my return to contemporary literature as a mere observer, instead of a unsciencey-scientist, with my stethoscope to check the narrative’s respiration a and centrifuge to mix in my own interpretation. It lifts me out of my English major consciousness. I can’t wrangle this bull. I just have to watch it buck around the ring for awhile.

Lately, I’ve been having many, many problems getting back into a a nice niche of fiction writing. I can’t say it’s writer’s block, really. No, I can write. It’s just horrible and dry. This does not happen in my scripts or nonfiction. Those pursuits are alive and well. It’s just this fiction that gives me fits until I want to rip out every one of my eyelashes and press the backspace button until everything is erased and gone.

Woodpecker might just be the salve I need. See, I think my problem is that after a while, my vision gets blurry. And by vision, I mean my writerly vision. Or as my Indian professor would say, “wision”. I lose track of where my story is going. I drag everything behind me like a criminal’s body through cobblestone streets. I just need to let things roll. Do some push ups. Turn some cartwheels. Shake it like a Polaroid picture. And most importantly, I need to be less critical.

Annie Dillard has an amazing point in what I like to call her writing textbook, The Writing Life. She, in a less trite way, say that your audience for your books should be the terminally ill. You can’t waste their time with a story that is not your best. Don’t put it away for another day when you’re “better” or less busy. Do it now. Work.

Tomorrow, I am devoting the day to writing and reading. At night, when my eyes are tired, I’ll sew. But in the afternoon, I am going to sit in a chair and write until I don’t want to pluck my eyelashes out. Because someday, I’m going to be terminally ill, and I don’t want there to be ink still left in my pen.

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I have a hard time letting go.

I needed to write that down. Confess it. I like to think I welcome change and growth in my friends, family, the world and in myself, but it’s not necessarily true.  I cling to my past like a life preserver in knee-deep water. All those thoughts, all those feelings…sometimes they are just excuses for me keep clinging, pretending like I’m drowning, even though I’ve swam all the way from the deep end to the shallow.

Throughout my first two years of college, many issues plagued me. Self confidence, body image, my faith, academics, anxiety/depression, my big personality, my likability, etc, et all, the list could go on for miles. There has been a lot of progress made in many of these areas, and a few have even proven to be healed over, sealed with new, pink skin. Some have been given a band-aid that has been ripped off, the scabbed picked, just to discover the wound was just as sour and painful as ever.

But I look at myself in the mirror and there’s no pain in my heart, no laments to God in the middle of the night because I was scared and shaking, no hiding from people, no lying about when I’m not okay.
Today is Easter Sunday and He is risen. Why am I refusing to rise out of the dirt? He took it all for my right to turn my back on the old and run without fear into the new and better. Focus on the new. New life. New covenant. New legs to swim.

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Just when I thought spring would never come, God delivers a gorgeous day. I even got up to go to church today.

They sang this song that has the line take the coal/cleanse my lips/here I am. Every time I hear it the image is so stark and gorgeous. It’s magical and real. Words can’t explain my attachment to the passage that the line references. The first time I heard it I was 8 years old. We did something with in Sunday school. We colored bright orange and read coals. I pressed my lips to the waxy crayon. Ever since, my spiritual life has been connected to to that verse in these winding, jig-saw ways. When they sang that song in church today, I couldn’t even sing. I just cried these unrecognizable tears. I wasn’t sad, but just extremely humbled.

Isaiah 6:5-8

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

The image of burning hot coal pressing against my lips. The power of being burnt clean. It’s all too much for me to handle sometimes. There’s a humility involved that resonates with me. It’s a call to be made lovely again.

Maybe it’s just a security blanket for me to believe that all the times I’ve been burned there’s some sort of plan behind it. And if it is (though I don’t believe that), so what? It’s not hurting anyone, and it’s certainly not hurting me. I feel so lucky to have been as close to the Lord as I have been at points in my life. I feel like I’m going back to that, though it’s a snail’s pace.

Today, I’m just really happy that I’m a Christian. I just wanted to write it down.

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