About Writing

There’s a Remington manual typewriter over there on my desk that I rediscovered in my closet the other week and dusted off in the naïve hope that it would get me writing. It hasn’t helped. If anything, it’s hindered me, taking up the desk space where I might otherwise put my laptop. There isn’t any ribbon and it weighs all of twenty pounds, if not more, so bringing it in here was a miserably futile move. I was wrong to think that an old-fashioned tool, purely by virtue of being old, will motivate me to write something I wasn’t writing with the newer tool (laptop) or the older still (pen and notepad). It’s like the notion that the latest technology will somehow inspire more creativity merely because it’s this year’s model. Stupidhead, Jo.

Sometimes I just have to start something, even if I am not completely sure it’s worth much. I have no idea who would read this stuff, for example, but it’s something I need to write. Sometimes I think it’s the stuff probably no one will read that’s most important to write down.

At the risk of sounding like the self-absorbed, yet self-satisfied, yet self-doubting person I am, I am not sure I can actually write worth a flip. I’m not even sure anymore that I have anything to say. And if I do have something to say, I’m not sure it’s anything worth hearing. But I’ve said for so long that I must write, that I think I must try. It’s the last thing I knew with certainty I needed to do. And whether I feel the urgency now or whether it’s faded, I keep remembering that strong, strong urgency to communicate something I could never articulate audibly, but came closer to expressing on paper. There is, or at least there was, something in me that needed to write.

I wanted to write something that would help a person understand he was not alone, even when it seems like no one around him understands or agrees with what drives him at his core. I wanted to write to the twelve-year-old girl who witnesses bullying or gossip at school or at church, and who knows she ought to speak up, but who doubts that anyone will listen. Or perhaps she is afraid of what others think—cripplingly afraid of being unpopular, even if she’s for standing for what’s right. What that girl does there, at age twelve—how she decides to respond—that is going to shape her, and it seems likely that when she is twenty-five, deciding how to act in a new, professional environment, that decision she made a decade before will influence how she acts around the water cooler.

There are things I wish I’d been reminded of when I was twelve, and eight, and fifteen—things maybe I did know, but I wish someone had told me again. I know my parents were there to encourage me to be kind and to do the right thing, even when it meant standing alone, but that’s not true for a lot of kids. And it helps, sometimes, to see things in the light of another story, a book you can be engrossed in, identifying with the protagonist, seeing where he or she is tested, and where he’s victorious, and where she fails. The reader can see redemption and forgiveness when failure happens and the twelve-year old in the story cows to society’s pressure to act cool and strive for popularity above all else.

Children see everything adults see, it seems like, even if they don’t have the tools yet to interpret what they’re seeing. Some things they shouldn’t have to see. It’s a wrong world, and all the beautiful sunsets and waterfalls and butterflies can’t quite make up for the feeling of losing a friend, or being rejected, or watching other people watch bullying without intervening. If a child is engaged with the world around him, he or she is going to deal with many of the same decisions adults face: do I tell the truth when it costs me something; do I defend the helpless; do I stand up for what’s right, and when I do, how do I speak with compassion to everyone involved? Do I listen to this gossip and do I join in, or do I change this conversation before it hurts someone (because it will)?

Maybe I forget that children are just shorter people—they aren’t some alien species that turns into humanity upon puberty or upon leaving adolescence. They are humanity—but still untamed. Kids are wild people who need to be trained in what it means to be human. If the adults in a generation decide that the only things that matter are food and sex and entertainment and getting what you want, that’s all they have to teach the children of the next generation. But they will continue to be wild. If, however, you hold that humanity is different from baboons or dogs or fish—if you believe there is both human dignity and human depravity; that men and women have the capacity for doing great, good things, and astoundingly evil things; that there is something called a soul that no physician can see or repair; that the soul has hunger pains, longing for something that nothing on earth can satisfy, not food or sex or unlimited entertainment—then you will have something more to teach the coming generations.

So I’m wondering if I could write something that would help a young person understand, at the important age of twelve, that feeling lonely in the middle of a crowded room doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you or that you will never have friends.

I’m talking about writing about close, strong friends who love each other faithfully and sacrificially, rather than superficial friendships that may look attractive but have no depth.

About the act of seeing the world clearly—not glancing back and forth at every glittering distraction—but delighting in mountain and molehill alike. The goodness of learning and training your mind and joining in the conversations that have been going on since the beginning, and the joy of noticing small wonders like smiling and music and the color of other peoples’ eyes and, all at once, understanding the wideness of the world’s horizon and its simultaneous smallness, looking at the pinpricks of starlight that aren’t icy cold, after all, and realizing how curious it is that we live on anything so wonderful and strange as Earth, and finally, finally, asking how such things have possibly come to be.

Who made this?

So we start somewhere, with a blog post, maybe, or a conversation in real life. And in the meantime we mow the yard and paint the house and work a job or two. Maybe the key is to try something, to stay motivated by a worthwhile cause while at the same time, somehow, finding contentment in the here and now.

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The Plan

A couple weeks ago I had just completed my final undergraduate assignment–reading my paper about Flannery O’Connor for faculty and friends–and I was waiting for the next day’s graduation.

So then I graduated. It was the perfect day: I smiled and cried and spent the afternoon with a few people, quietly celebrating four lovely years. I love celebrating things in a certain way–with people who understand that joy doesn’t always have to be raucous (although belly laughter is one of the best feelings in the world). Often, I find a certain kind of joy that’s real and glad and good, but that’s a little bit solemn–or maybe I mean serious. I have been seriously happy these weeks, just being with my family.

I’ve unpacked and cleaned and painted and written notes and gone to a piano recital and to the lake. I’ve mowed and picked apples and had a tea party on the floor with my niece and nephew. We jumped on the trampoline and my niece taught me how to feed her baby heifer Isabel, who had a very slimy nose. I’ve had time to read, and I’ve played Chopin and Amy Beach purely for pleasure. I’ve had coffee with my mom, which is what I wanted just about most of all. It’s been idyllic, mainly.

But then a week had gone by and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was half afraid someone from school would come knock on my door and say, “Now, Jo, what is your plan, now that you’ve graduated?” I doubted whether any of what I just listed would satisfy a future employer or potential grad school. And I didn’t feel any closer to knowing what it is I want to do with my life, as far as job titles go. Can writer please count?

If you’ll notice, I didn’t list “writing” as one of the things I did that first week–this blog post is my first attempt at sorting things out, and I’m terrified that writing is just one of the things I would tell people to try to get them to stop asking about the plan–rather than something I really mean to put effort toward.

The truth was I didn’t have a plan, and I was realizing how audacious (read, stupid) of me that was. I joked with my family that after college, I was going to be a bum for a year. Except now I kinda felt like a bum, and it had only been a week.

Every now and then, in the middle of walking through my house–I would be quite happy, then suddenly the thought would come, almost audible: what are you doing, Jo? How dare you not be planning for the future? You can’t bum off your parents forever and living on your own is going to require money. You aren’t being a productive member of society if you aren’t at least sending out your resume to work or continuing with grad school.

If you haven’t noticed, friend, this is shaping up to be a blog post about what almost all my blog posts are about, which is the struggle between working and worrying; between striving and trusting. It’s about fretting and constantly wondering if I’ve done the right thing or if the other decision would have been better. And Oh, God, I don’t know if I’ll ever learn the lesson.

But we do keep trying.

A dear friend sent the following to me, and at the time I didn’t think I needed it–I just thanked my friend and went on unpacking (or whatever I was doing at the time):

Don’t forget to find your self-worth in Christ’s righteousness, instead of whether or not you have a stereotypical job.

I don’t understand how the Holy Spirit does that–prompts people to send words of encouragement that, even if they don’t seem relevant at the time, at some point will be effective in another person’s life.

What I mean to do is make a sort-of plan for this year, a plan that’s still not quite up-to-par with anything someone aspiring to be CEO of a company would have in mind after college. It’s a plan for what I want to learn and do and accomplish, and write. I’ll be putting some updates on here, probably, as I go, and as I descend into various existential crises and, by God’s grace, come back out.

I’m starting off by reading all the books that have accumulated in the packing crates I used for bookshelves in the dorm room:

If You Can Keep It and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, both by Eric Metaxas. Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher, The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (both of which I have been reading for years now and haven’t finished yet!). The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

There are others, and when I’m done with mine, my father has bookshelf upon bookshelf of things he’s promised I may read. To keep myself accountable, I’ll try to write a quick thought or two about what I learned, so that if you’ve read the same book, we can compare notes and learn something together.

I’m also working on projects around my parents’ house, many of which involve learning handy skills, such as scraping, painting, plumbing, and things they generally don’t teach you in college. I’ll be figuring out how to save and spend money wisely (hopefully), and when to take a rest and when to keep working.

I suppose I want to figure out what is worth doing–and then I want to learn to do those things really well. It’s not that impressive of a plan, but thank you for reading:)

Late Thoughts

So, there’s this story I love, from a series of King Arthur tales by Gerald Morris–maybe you know it. It’s about Perceval/Parcifal/Parzival. There are many many variants of spelling for this particular knight’s name, so I’m just going to pick one and stick with it. In the story, Parsifal is yet un-knighted, and he’s going about the country with his page, looking for a worthy deed by which to prove himself. He’s questing for a quest. As am I, incidentally.

Parsifal, in the rendition I’m familiar with, is an innocent–he was raised by his mother far from civilization, and as a result, has no so-called civilized manners. He asks sort of impolite questions and gets himself into trouble as a result of his ignorance. But he has a kind and true heart.

One day, he comes to a castle where he and his page are welcomed in to a feast. It’s a strange feast, featuring weird rituals and an oddly-shaped dish that, when placed before the guests, gives each guest exactly what it was they most desired to eat. All of this is really neat to Parsifal, and what he wants most is to ask what’s going on. But his page has told him over and over that it’s not polite to ask questions.

There’s a king in this castle, as there very often are in castles, only this king is wounded terribly. He’s at the feast, but there’s obviously something wrong with him–his face is “full of anguish.” Again, Parsifal would like to know the king’s story–what’s wrong with him and how Parsifal can help–but he’s afraid of being rude. So he stays silent.

In the morning, the castle has disappeared and the truth is revealed: the magical dish was, in fact, the Holy Grail, and the king was someone who, had Parsifal only asked, could have given him answers about Parsifal’s purpose in life. If Parsifal had only asked a question, the king would have been healed. 


i wish we asked better questions. Me. I wish asked better questions. I wish that, instead of entering a room and instantly homing in on how feel and how ought to react and blah blah blah, I could forget me and focus on learning about someone else.

There is so much more to people than we can tell, or than we will ever know. I mean, think of how much there is to you that you feel people could never see from the surface, or that you feel people will never truly understand. And then consider that every human walking past you has probably felt the same feeling. It’s wonderful and awful at the same time.

I’ve been wondering lately why I blog, why I write things. It’s not like I’m sharing recipes or cool pinterest-y crafts or anything like that. I just…ramble. And yeah, it’s an outlet, sure. I say sometimes that I’m just trying to reassure people who might need the reassurance that they are not alone in a particular thought or struggle.

It goes the other way too, though. I’m trying to reassure myself that I’m not alone–that someone is interested in what I have to say. And as much as I protest that this isn’t the Confessions of a Girl Named Jo, who do I think I’m kidding?

I want to be known. And I want to know others well, not just surface-level.

I don’t think I’m alone in that.

I think that quite a bit of what we post on the internet stems from this deep, deep desire to be known, with all the quirky, good and not-so-good parts of our personalities. It’s so, so easy to define our worth by what others think, by how well we feel others know us–by how much we feel they care about us.

It’s disillusioning, then, to think that no human is ever gonna fulfill us in the way we crave. No amount of attention or popularity is going to fill the hole we have, and as much as we might try to know people, there will still be depths to them that only their Creator can know and love. I tend to think of the end of 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” I know that the passage has to do with a whole lot more than what I’m referencing it for here, but I love it because it reassures us that the frustrating limitations we have now won’t always be–that even though there is much we can’t understand now, that won’t always be the case.

I’ve been reading several peoples’ blogs today, and I love it so much. Give me someone’s blog any day over their Twitter feed. If social media things were at a party, Instagram would be the cool pretty girls comparing tans, Facebook would be the everyman in the middle of the room, and Twitter would be those obnoxious loud guys competing for who’s most popular. Bloggers would be in the corner talking quietly. Or maybe they’d be at home, blogging.

Tangent, sorry. Sweeping generalizations, sorry.

I love reading people’s blogs. It’s like listening to people talk about things they really care about, which is one of my favorite things ever to do. I want to listen to people say in person what they say in their blogs. And here’s where I might finally get back to the story of Parsifal. See, I’m pretty durn good at listening, but I’m so bad at asking.

For one thing, I often don’t talk. I’ve gone a whole day without saying one word, just to see if I could do it. I wait for other people to talk. I say I like hearing other people’s stories, but often I’m so concerned with my feelings and my discomfort that I indicate something else with my actions.

Oh, help us, God, to talk about things that matter and that we care about. Help us ask deeper questions, even if we’ve been told that questions are impertinent. When I get to know a person, I want to know what makes them them. I want to be the person who helps draw others out, who cares enough about knowing and loving others well that I’m not considering myself anymore.

 

Give us wisdom and courage to care for what You care for.

2016 Resolution(s)

So I thought, “Alrighty, here’s a cute little New Year’s resolution: I’ll be a better blogger.” Which turns out to mean “Alrighty, time to figure out what in the heck I’m doing with a blog in the first place.” This resolution, like most resolutions, turns out to be neither little nor cute.

On the technical side, I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea how to add a category (if that is what I ought to do), and I don’t think I really know what a widget is. And I think I came close to deleting the whole site on accident. So I’m working on that. Any technical advice would be appreciated:)

On the content side, I don’t really know what I’m doing either. I want to change something, though. Right now I feel like I just pour out words concerning whatever subject happens to be in my head, without concern for engaging others.  And that’s not terrible–it’s why I started this thing in the first place–to get the thoughts out of my head. But I’ve been finding myself wanting to engage with other people through this thing, rather than come across as saying, “here are my thoughts, take them or leave them.” That means, I think, making it easier for people to respond, if they want to. So, changing the set-up, and maybe even the content.

My reasoning is not because I want scads of followers all of a sudden. If you read me, then thanks. If you don’t, that’s fine. Some of the stuff I write feels personal as I write it–hopefully, it doesn’t come across too much that way; it’s “Ramblings of a Girl Named Jo,” not “Confessions of a Girl Named Jo.” I love being honest through writing, and blogging is a really cool platform whereby a quieter kid, who doesn’t like to interrupt, can say something and the ones who need to hear will hear, and the ones who don’t, won’t.

So, yes, thank you if you’re reading me, and if you have been reading me. The encouragement I’ve received from this project has meant a great deal to me, especially in my pursuit of writing.

Here’s where I need your help: I need suggestions for what to write about. What have you been thinking of, that I could ramble about a little, and then we can compare ramblings? When I finally figure out the whole “categories” thing, what should I add? So far, I have a grand total of one idea: it’s going to be a collection of letters to my imaginary grandson named Aglet.

….I’m hoping it will be more interesting than it sounds–just wait and see.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, please feel welcome to comment on this thing. I’m pretty certain there’s some button you can press to sign in as a guest and say “this is TERRIBLE, because of this and this and this” or “This is WONDERFUL–thanks for writing it.” Or something in between:)

My New Year’s Resolution? To actually reply, if you comment. To engage with other peoples’ thoughts, and make these ramblings mean something.

Thanks for reading.