Letter #9: In Defense of Letter-Writing

Dear Aglet,

Let me explain something. I’m writing these letters to you during the tail-end (or maybe it’s smack dab in the middle, I don’t know) of a cultural shift from print to web. From handwriting to typing to texting.

Bookstores to e-books.

Cabinets to clouds.

Even noting this fact makes me a grandma, I’m so late to the game.

My point is, people my age aren’t writing letters to each other. It makes me really sad. See, I love checking the mail, because there’s nothing like the feeling of opening the mailbox and seeing my name on a good, well-stuffed envelope, which some nice person thought to send me.

[Note: we don’t necessarily count the nice lady or fellow who sends the bills in this group of people, however worthy they may be].

AND. And and and. What I love even MORE is sending such a letter. Oh, the joy that comes to this introvert when she has the chance to write down all her thoughts in a hopefully-coherent-but-still-poetical way and then bombard some poor soul with the whatever-it-is that gets written down.

It’s a lovely sensation. It’s so lovely that I’m borrowing from forty years in the future when you might actually be in existence, Aglet, and sending you these letters now. I don’t expect a reply–which makes it easier.

I’m also writing a dear friend in real life, and realizing how much patience is required in letter-writing. I had to wait to send the letter, and I have to wait a few days to properly imagine his opening the letter, and then wait a few more days to even begin anticipating a response.

I’m realizing how much patience I do not have.

But it makes it easier, in a way, to think of our communication in terms of days, weeks, and months, rather than the previous manner of hours and minutes, when a flurry of texts could be sent simultaneously. [In your case, Aglet, communication is decades away, which is at once delicious and terrifying to consider.]

Patience is a learned gift.

What a blessing, then, for someone who desires patience, to have a chance to learn it, and, I pray, learn it well! I love tangible things–even something as simple as opening a real mailbox, rather than clicking on a button which then does its code-y thing and redirects me to more code that’s been translated for me to read. The latter is cool enough, but my opening of the mailbox: that is the miracle.

To be reading what someone far away wrote down for me. To be able to understand without the aid of some other technology. To know that time was taken in the writing, and deliberation taken in the sending.

We appreciate what we think is worth waiting for. And, in the waiting, we have the privilege to hope–a peculiarly human thing to do, I think.

Sincerely,

Your Grandma, Jo

 

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The Bad Content/Good Literature Problem (and vice versa)

Have you ever been reading a book and realized “holy cow, this is kind of a bad book,” and not been able to finish it? I have, plenty.

What makes a bad book? Offensive content or sloppy writing? In English classes, professors drill it into you that a “bad book” must mean the latter–it’s just not written well. Maybe most people agree that good literature means it (whatever it may be) is communicated with excellence, or that there is something expressed in an artful way.

They don’t actually ever agree on a formula, but that’s why there’s still an English major. We like to discuss.

I read plenty of material in English classes that had horrible content–I mean, pretty dang wretched–but certain poems or novels were in the anthologies because they were good literature. Shakespeare, John Donne, Robert Herrick–they all wrote beautifully, but more often than not the subject matter wasn’t exactly edifying (looking at you, Robert Herrick a la “The Vine”).

How come we can excuse inappropriate content if it’s presented artfully, but a book that’s badly-written gets dismissed immediately, even if its content is admirable?

This is opening like five cans of worms all at once, and I know I don’t have all the answers to the questions I’m asking. I’m genuinely asking for some perspective on what makes something worth reading–whether you’re more motivated to read a book that will help you or a book that will entertain you. I want to know whether you would choose a better-written book with salacious content or, all things being equal, a not-so-eloquent book that has great themes and characters but nothing in it you couldn’t comfortably read aloud to your grandmother.

WHY DO WE HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN GOOD CONTENT and GOOD WRITING?

AAAAAH.

I need to clarify something. I am of the opinion that children don’t need to read about grown-up things until they’re grown up. I am also of the opinion that grown-ups may choose to read what suits them. I think that there is some content inappropriate for some people that’s fine for others, and here’s the key thing: I think there are some stories that require less-savory details to be included, because stories should be in some way true to life, and there are parts of life that are less-savory.

I’m not arguing for censorship, or making every piece of literature the Bible. But I am frustrated that in order to write a good novel, some writers feel they must include some explicit scene or language, even if it isn’t needed for the story. It makes me mad as a hopeful writer to be told any stories I write can’t be good literature unless they include certain “realistic” elements, as if a book must be as heavy-handed as a movie in telling the reader what’s happening elsewhere.

am arguing for imagination, and for a sense of reserve when telling a story. I think, although I don’t know for certain, that a good story-teller is like a painter in that there should always be something more there than at first meets the eye. There is more in a good impression given to a reader, than in a thousand actions described.

And then I start thinking about the fact that there are such things as “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I just really think the printing press should have been destroyed after all.

I mean really. 

To be continued, maybe, if I get mad again.

Write, Jo, Write

Ever feel like you don’t have anything to say, actually? I do. Right now, I feel that. I have been reading blog after blog which talk about how to get people to read my words, but none of them tells me how to write words that are worth reading.

So much has already been written–adding more words can feel like shouting into the whirlwind. Unless I know why I’m writing, it’s hard to feel motivated to just add something. But that’s what I’m doing, anyway. I’ve heard that, to be a writer, you have to write.

OH.

Is that all I’m missing? Self-discipline? Is it really just a matter of setting aside the time and doing it?

Probably five times since the New Year, I’ve started out writing about Thomas Hardy and optimism and the Darkling Thrush, and I’ve only gotten a sentence in every time.

It’s a great post (I hope), but it’s in my head–just stuck there–and driving me crazy.

Dear writers reading this–let’s start writing, okay? Let’s keep writing, but let’s remember why. What is it you need to say?

So write something imperfect (like this mess of a blog update), and then write something better afterward. Stay tuned for Thomas Hardy:)

Human for the Holidays

It’s a kitschy title, I’ll admit.  I’ve just been thinking about how these holidays will be a little different for me than previous Christmases, when I had four weeks of a break from school. This year, because God has blessed me with gainful employment, I get one day off, and I’m trying to think of how to make the most of it when it gets here.

So here’s my list of reminders starting now, December 6, that you are welcome to join me in, if you’d like to. They are reminders to be human, and to engage people around me well, rather than be absorbed by a screen. They’re activities I think are peculiarly human things to do, and they’re things to do at your leisure (ie, if no one immediately signs up to climb a mountain with you, don’t get discouraged and go by yourself and get mauled by a bear–or worse, not go at all). If you think of more ideas, or things you plan to do this Christmas, please share them in a comment!

Week One:

-Make a coffee date with a friend. Don’t check the phone. Listen:)

-Arrange to meet that one friend who always sends ugly pictures back and forth with you on Snapchat. Sit facing one another. See who can make the silliest face. Laugh together:)

-Wake up really early, bundle up, and take a brisk walk. Don’t put earbuds in. Just listen.

-Have tea-time promptly at 4 o’clock with a dear friend. Have cookies and tea (or hot chocolate). Chat about the weather and your health. Each of you recite your favorite poem.

Week Two:

-Find three or more friends and have game night (board games/pictionary/charades/anything) but leave your phones in the other room. Pretend you’re in a theater: you can’t text the friends who didn’t come until the game night’s done.

-Read a (good) book cover-to-cover. Warn anyone who persistently contacts you that you’re unavailable for the next two hours, but that you’ll talk to them soon. REEEAAADD.

-Knit a thneed. If you don’t know how to knit, ask a friend to teach you.

-Make a homemade loaf of bread. If possible, do this with your mother. Eat the bread with homemade butter (actually SUPER easy to make) OR blackberry jam. Or anything you want.

Week Three:

-Wrap presents/clean your room/do your homework/wash the dishes: do anything you need to do, but if possible, without checking your phone throughout.

-Play video games with your kid sister (or brother) but DON’T check your phone during it. Just play. Lose, win, it doesn’t matter, just keep mashing the button and focusing on being with the person you’re with.

-Go OUTSIDE and play football, or baseball, or tag, or blind man’s bluff (not sure how to play that last one) with your family or your neighbors or your friends. Preferably a mixture of all three.

-Make a fancy dinner for your parents and serve it on fancy dishes with a fancy candle on the table. [CLEAN ALL DISHES AFTERWARD. ALL DISHES. EVERYWHERE. EVER.]

-Sing carols all day. Go caroling at night. Have apple cider waiting when you get back.

-Watch a Christmas movie–but leave your phone somewhere else and text people later.

CHRISTMAS DAY:

As much as is possible, wherever you are Christmas day, be all there. Yes, wish EVERYONE happy Christmas and call friends and far-away family and do these things, but be with people, and don’t distract yourself with Facebook or Twitter or things that, at least the memories of which, aren’t going to be with you when you’re your parents’ age and older.

Sincerely, Jo:)

 

To Tune a Heart

“Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.”

We know this one, right? Written by Robert Robinson in the 1700s, tune by John Wyeth (as I literally just now learned)? What a hymn, friends–what a concept: that our hearts must be tuned like instruments to praise our Master Craftsman. The hymn goes on–

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount–I’m fixed upon it–mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer–hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wand’ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.
Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it–prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart–O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

This is helpful stuff. But what on earth is an “Ebenezer?”

Other than a type of Scrooge, I mean.

I looked it up in our huge, Random House Dictionary of the English Language (because I’m stubborn and because I wrote this long paper once about posthumanism), and I didn’t learn the definition. [I did, however, learn what an ebeniste is: a French cabinetmaker, if you were wondering].

SO I caved and went to the online OED, which defined “Ebenezer” so:

1a. The name of the memorial stone set up by Samuel after the victory of Mizpeh: see 1 Sam. vii. 12. Used appellatively in religious literature in fig. phrases, alluding to the sentiment ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’, associated with the origin of the name.

Okay cool–so I looked up 1 Samuel 12. It’s a great passage, all about Samuel giving the Israelites a reminder of what he’s been telling them all his life: Trust God. Serve the Lord. Fear Him.

But I don’t see any mention of a memorial stone. It’s kind of a sad passage–the people have demanded a king, even though God was their king–and God has given them Saul, and Samuel says that if the people and their king will continue to follow God, all will be well. But the people have a habit of forgetting, and it’s pretty clear Samuel knows this.

He ends with something that’s a cross between a blessing and a warning:

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve hm faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” (1 Samuel 12: 20-25)

Wherever that memorial stone is in the passage–that same idea pervades Robinson’s hymn: that God tunes our hearts by reminding us what He has done.

Fount of blessing. Streams of mercy. Redeeming love. Let these reminders bind our hearts to our Savior, who rescued us before we knew how lost we were, back when we were wandering aimlessly and serving useless idols.

What’s reminded me of this is a poem by George Herbert (my favorite poet) called Denial. I’ll give the whole thing, but especially note the rhyme and meter and how they change:

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears,
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears
And disorder.

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go anywhere, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come!
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! All day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung;
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung
Discontented.

O cheer and tune my heartless breast;
Defer no time,
That so thy favors granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

Do you see how crazy the meter is in here? And the rhymes go back and forth in each stanza until the last line, when there’s an effect of brokenness: Disorder. Alarms. Discontented. Untuned. Unstrung. 

And then. The speaker’s prayer is that God will “cheer and tune [his] heartless breast,” and that, being in tune with the will of His Father, his offering will be acceptable.

Teach us some melodious sonnet, God–and let us remember what You’ve done throughout history to glorify how good and great You are. Mend our feeble spirits, and let our hearts be satisfied with Your mercy.

Letter #8: For Jonah-days

Dear Aglet,

I’ve started writing this probably five times over the past few weeks. Just now I saw that it’s my thirteenth blog post I’ve written a draft for and not published. They’re about various, unimportant things: one is called “Purple hair dye and communion wine” and I think it’s about dressing up as Madam Mim for Halloween.

In other words, I’m not sure I have anything worth saying, but I’m writing anyway.

That last sentence may end up being my autobiography in one sentence.

I tried doing NANOWRIMO for the fifth or sixth year in a row, and all I have to show for it (so far) is one page, handwritten on front and back, about a young preacher’s wife who moves to a town called Marysville, TX, where it’s always dusty and dull and she has to do good all the time and she misses the trees in Arkansas.

I don’t like how it’s heading, so I’m retiring that story, maybe forever.

Everything ends in autobiography with me, Aglet, which is a real shame, because I’ve not gone and done a whole lot with my life thus far. Hence, I’m not sure I have anything much to say. There have been some Jonah-days here lately–days where your soul feels like the grayest of days in November, and it doesn’t seem like anything can make it better.

There have been wonderful days too–days like today, when the sun came out and various poems by e.e.cummings and Gerard Manley Hopkins kept popping cheerfully into my head and distracting me.

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

I cry about everything, mostly, even lovely things. Even while laughing, sometimes. I heard my dad’s voice and cried; heard a sad song and cried; thought about what it would be like to have cancer and cried; thought about what it would be like to have someone I loved have cancer and cried.

Worried about what might happen tomorrow, or in five years. And cried.

It’s ridiculous, especially because I have been down this road so many times, and I’ve made a choice over and over and over not to fret about what happens next (or five years from now), but instead to trust God, who’s infinitely worth trusting.

I need help trusting God and being more honest than simply stuffing my fear into my pocket and pretending that means I don’t have it anymore. Jonah-days will come to you. Whether you’re terrified of things not turning out perfectly or whether you think you’re so strong that hard times will just bounce off whatever rationalistic armor you’ve been layering on as a defense against overwhelming emotion–something will happen that’s too hard for you, Aglet.

You’ll have to decide where to run and what to do when you are overwhelmed with fear, or depression, or anger, or grief, or any of a thousand troubles that won’t be a reality anymore when we’re in God’s presence. But they’re reality now, and they needn’t be pointless. If, when you discover you’ve been horribly wrong about something important, you yield to despair, thinking you’ve ruined everything and you somehow can’t ever fix what could have been, you’ve missed something.

You’ve missed (and when I say “you” you better know I mean “I“) grace, in a way, and the precious illustration of your own desperate need for grace. Feeling heart-sick, or lonely, even feeling rage at the wrongness of the world–all these may drive us to prayer: to wrestling with how on earth lovely things and wretched things exist together, and to asking our Father to fix what’s broken, to fix us.

So yes, on Jonah-days, read Hopkins, read cummings, even read Whitman, but most of all take comfort in knowing that God is both good and great, and He blesses the poor in spirit.

Love, your grandma,

Jo

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Stir-Crazy

Some days, when I don’t understand what I’m doing, or when my eyes are glazing over from scanning the computer screen, or when I have no clue how to answer the question someone just asked, I remember that I, in fact, set my own hours, and that sitting numbly at my desk isn’t going to help anyone or anything, so I take a pause to try to remember why I do things in the first place.

They can’t be long pauses, I realize, or I’ll never get anything done, but it’s like in college, when it’s late and you’re staring at a paper and you can’t possibly think of anything to write, and the better thing would really be to go to sleep and work the next day, refreshed. There will eventually come a midnight, I know from experience, when waiting is not an option, and you must push through and turn in something.

My sister, when she’s stressed, likes to bake cookies (and she’s great at it). I make pizza.

I go into the kitchen and start tossing stuff into a bowl. I hardly ever measure anything. I prefer to approximate in cooking, which is probably why I can’t make cookies very well. You’ve got to be exact when baking desserts. Probably you have to be just as exact with pizza and I just don’t know it.

I like to experiment. Tonight I’m making spinach pizza (mostly because there’s a bunch of spinach in the fridge we’re supposed to eat up before it goes bad), but I hope to make the most exquisite, most delicious alfredo sauce to go on it, without measuring a thing.

It’s really a terrible plan. Sometimes I wonder how God created the world–did he just toss stuff around haphazardly–as in, “hmm, how about some light?” Or “I think I want to see what an ocean would look like.”

I doubt it. I don’t think God’s capricious like that, or stir-crazy like I happen to be. I think God knows exactly what He’s doing and what it’ll be like when He’s done.

I, on the other hand, still refuse to be precise when creating things, and yet have the audacity to imagine myself years from now running a pizzeria called “Mama Jo’s.”

Quality control? Psh, no. Every pizza will have its own unique character, spurred on by the restlessness of its equally imperfect maker.

Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and ceiling wax–of cabbages and kings! –And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings!”

And small books about Buddhist economics that turn out not to have been Buddhist after all.

All last summer I labored over “Small is Beautiful,” by E.F. Schumacher (1973), stubbornly trying to read the book cover-to-cover before I started another on my reading list. It was a desperate attempt to rehabilitate my reading habits from my usual hit-and-run style, wherein I start a book, get to the middle, start another book, get the middle of that one, and start another book…

I used the word “labored” but I don’t really mean it was a hard read–at least not at first. In fact, in just a bit I’ll write down some of the many quotations I took note of in my earnest but doomed attempt to really digest a book. It’s a very good book, and I recommend it, especially if you like authors who work on their words, refining their sentences until every other phrase seems worth putting on a coffee mug.

Maybe I have strange taste in coffee mugs.

Schumacher, apart from having possibly the best title for a book I can imagine (the subtitle is “Economics as if People Mattered”), is a thoughtful, sharp writer whose curiosity is evident–he inspired me to think about how things are, and how they ought to be. His main idea, as I understood it, was that economics is more than a (pseudo)science of how businesses interact and nations prosper; rather, there are deeper questions that economists ought to be asking, about human nature, about what people believe and value and why people work in the first place. He questions and he prods, and advocates, in the end, a return to certain values that have been dismissed as unproductive or lazy. Of course, he says, we oughtn’t be lazy, but nor must we work merely for money. There is, or at least there ought to be, something in men and women that makes them want to work, to produce something valuable, to create. 

But as a society, America doesn’t tend to value anything that is, perhaps, less lucrative but more fulfilling–we prize profit in monetary terms and sometimes, just sometimes, lose sight of why we’re working. The values which drive our actions get pushed to the back of our minds, and, if we’re not careful, we lose the values altogether. Schumacher takes issue with both Keynes and Carnegie, and sums up five to seven “ideas of the age” which have crept through science, education, and economics.

With that small teaser for an already small book (but a small book very much worth reading), here are some of the more fascinating sections I found.

About man’s nature:

“…we are estranged from reality and inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves (15).

“The substance of man cannot be measured by Gross National Product (20).

“We still have to learn how to live peacably, not only with our fellow men but also with nature and, above all, with those Higher Powers which have made nature and have made us, for, assuredly, we have not come about by accident and certainly have not made ourselves (21).

About pollution:

“As nothing can be proved about the future…it is always possible to dismiss even the most threatening problems with the suggestion that something will turn up (28).

“Nothing makes economic sense unless its continuance for a long time can be projected without running into absurdities. . . Permanence is incompatible with a predatory attitue which rejoices in the fact that ‘what were luxuries for our fathers have become necesities for us’ [Keynes]. . . Every increase of needs tends to increase one’s dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existenstial fear (33).

About greed:

“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success (31).

“If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than a collapse of intelligence. A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things as they are, of seeing things in their roundness and wholeness, and his very successes become failures (31).

About work:

“There is need for a proper philosophy of work which understands work not as that which it has indeed become, an inhuman chore as soon as possible to be abolished by automation, but as something ‘decreed by Providence for the good of Man’s body and soul’ (37).

“…insights of wisdom…enable us to see the hollowness and fundamental unsatisfactoriness of a life devoted primarily to the pursuit of material ends, to the neglect of the spiritual (38).

“To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-wracking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with good than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure (55).

About education:

“…The task of education would be, first and foremost, the transmission of ideas of value, of what to do with our lives. There is no doubt also the need to transmit know-how but this must take second place, for it is obviously somewhat foolhardy to put great powers into the hands of people without making sure that they have a reasonable idea of what to do with them. . . When we think, we do not just think: we think with ideas. Our mind is not a blank, a tabula rasa. When we begin to think, we can do so only because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think (82).

“What do I miss, as a human being, if I have never heard of the Second Law of Thermodynamics? The answer is: Nothing. And what do I miss by not knowing Shakespeare? Unless I get my understanding from another source, I simply miss my life. . . Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live (87).

About everything:

“All subjects, no matter how specialised, are connected with a centre; they are like rays emanating from a sun. The centre is constituted by our most basic convictions, by those ideas which really have the power to move us. In other words, the centre consists of metaphysics and ethics, of ideas that–whether we like it or not–transcend the world of facts. . . they cannot be proved or disproved by ordinary scientific method. . . but that does not mean they are purely ‘subjective’ or ‘relative’ or mere arbitrary conventions. They must be true to reality… (94).

“It is easy enough to see that all through our lives we are faced with the task of reconciling opposites which, in logical thought, cannot be reconciled (97).

Like what you read? You can find this book on Thriftbooks, Amazon, Goodreads–pretty much anywhere there are books to be found. Give it a read and tell me what you think!

P.S. Coming soon: A GoodReads thing where you can see what book(s) I happen to be bumbling through at the moment. Whenever I can figure out the blogging things.

Try to Remember

I haven’t seen the musical “The Fantasticks,” but I love a song from it, called “Try to Remember.” It’s calm and sweet and reminiscent, and I think you should give it a listen:)

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

I’m writing for a few reasons–one is that it’s September, finally. And that is worth reveling in, just by itself. The -ember months (including the very loveliest, October) have a way of waking me up inside; in fact, I’m half-convinced I’m doing a sort of sleep-walk/hibernation the rest of the year. The air dries out and a breeze comes down the trees, and the breeze is bringing fall. And it smells like smoke and cinnamon and hope and yearning.

Another reason I’m writing is to inform the blogging world that I got a job, which is weird. Because I can’t just take the job and shut up–I have to do some soul-searching and agonizing before I turn into corporate-brained robot Jo. That’s not what I meant. What I mean is that, well, I wasn’t gonna get a job this year (see The Plan for that particular bit of soul-searching). I was going to read and read and read, and relish just being with my family, and take all the opportunities that would never come once I settled down to whatever-the-future-might-hold. I wasn’t going to worry; I was going to let next year worry about itself.

I was going to be a lily.

So while I’m very thankful for this job, I feel in some way that I’ve failed by doing anything so crude as being employed. (See what an absolute idiot I can be? I can regret anything.) Enough of the regret. Enough enough enough.

The job, if you were wondering, is medical writing/editing. So I do a lot of scanning long documents for numbers and split infinitives. If I describe it any more, you might think it’s the most boringest thing ever, but that is NOT the point I’m trying to make. The point is I get to use what I’ve learned (about sentence structure and the use of semicolons) and I get to help very smart people communicate even better. Because I’m not terribly smart, scientifically, but when I understand what I’m reading, it’s fascinating.

So my job involves detective work: (1) because scientists like to hide their identity with a bunch of passive voice; and (2) because I have to look up every third word in my newly acquired medical dictionary.

And there’s a third aspect to medical writing–it’s a game Mary Poppins might call “Well begun is half done,” or “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

“In the most delightful way.”

I see if I can make it interesting–whatever “it” may happen to be. I just see if I can be intrigued, and sometimes, God grants me a curiosity about things I never would have expected to be interested in.

Not that reading an essay by E.B. White still isn’t vastly preferable (I love that how that man wrote), but today, for example, I found myself staring at a diagram of a human cell, feeling a steadily rising excitement at the prospect of defining “ribosome” or “reticular.” I like learning (or re-learning, in this case). Words make me laugh, words like “glucocorticoid.” It sounds hilarious.

Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing–either with this blog or with this job. I do know that I’d kind of forgotten what I wanted to write about, or how I wanted to write, so being reminded of the importance of communication has been lovely. The very idea that literature is valuable and science article abstracts are valuable–this has me wanting to go read Poe’s “Sonnet: to Science.” I’m not seeing the dichotomy between literature and science–or at least, I’m not seeing that the conflict has to be there.

I’m thinking of Robert Herrick and his ode to a woman’s breast and how I blushed when we read it in class, hearing the speaker describe, quite beautifully, quite unscientifically, the appearance of his lover’s body. There’s a wonder there, about the way things are, and the sort of delight that, at least in the abstract, I share. Of course, people are more than only their physical bodies, but the physical is there, and it’s funny and intricate and weird.

I think it’s when I forget that, behind the diagrams and clinical descriptions, there’s a design and a Designer, that science ever could become boring to me. It’s when I forget that the same things are signified by literary words and scientific terminology that the definition of amino acids as “building blocks of protein” fails to delight. Think carefully–of what is meant by building blocks, of what your experience of a building block is, and suddenly the picture is there.

In my mind, there’s a nursery with toys strewn around, and a very solemn and holy baby picking out the perfect little protein block to place on the next one, and so forth until a cell, an organism, a human has been knit together in the womb.

Language is lovely.

Science is lovely, if you can just remember there’s something beyond the physical that gives reason and meaning to existence. The idea that the heart pumps blood without my remembering or my telling it to pump–in a way, to my unscientific mind, inexplicable. If it can lead you to wonder at something other than yourself, it has promise, I’m thinking.

I don’t even know about this whole blog post. Better go and read E.B. White, or the rest of this Septembery song:

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender
And dreams were kept beside your pillow
Try to remember when life was so tender
And love was an ember about to billow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Although you know snow will follow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart is hollow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
The fire of September that made us mellow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember and follow

Turk’s Cap

[Lately, I’ve been working through some things I haven’t dealt with before, but I’ve known people who have lived their lives within the framework of anxiety. So, that said, I am offering something that touches a topic I haven’t thought through as much as others have. There’s a lot I don’t know, so I ask for patience while reading this whatever-it-is. I’m hoping it’s helpful, not hurtful. Here goes.]

 

Turk’s cap, brilliantly crimson,
Perfectly formed, set against green–
It could be Christmas if it weren’t
High summer.

White moths and big tadpoles,
Hummingbirds relishing the shade
Of my father’s butterfly weed.

I wasn’t always anxious–I remember,
I’ve thought of myself as brave,
Plucky
Stouthearted
(at least I’ve wanted to be).

Maybe anxieties can be developed
Same as allergies.
You’re free, then one day, later in life, you aren’t.
You feel constrained
Helpless
Absolutely idiotic
Quite possibly you are insane.

You know the right answer even before the tears come:
Don’t worry
Do NOT fret (don’t you dare!)
God is good.

And God is so good.
But you still might cry.

What is wrong with me?  you shudder.

Nothing.
Not a damn thing
Except being human like everyone else.

Tears need no reasons;
Anxiety asks no one’s permission
Before it attacks.

Here is something
Reminding me I am not invincible.
Huge emotions besieging all my cool logic
Sometimes winning
Or subsiding,
Only forcing a few leaks from my eyes
Randomly.

I am small
and helpless.

You are great and good.

Hide me til it passes over.