What if this isn’t something you get over?

What if this is something God’s giving you to wrestle with your whole life?

Here is, to me, the biggest part of Christian community: individuals who are safe (as opposed to, you know, unsafe.), and have earned the right to be heard. I know this woman loves me. She genuinely desires peace and good things for me.  So a hard suggestion like that is not painful.

In fact it was perfect, because whether or not it proves to be accurate it provided the necessary re-framing I needed to lighten up.

I’ve been treating my emotional health as something like a sprint: The goal’s not far away: the harder I push, the sooner I’ll reach it!

So I read, and think, and self-analyze, and look for the right book, or bible study, or counselor. And I see real improvement, and I can feel myself getting stronger and that just encourages me to dig in harder, I’m so close!

And then find new things I need to work on.


I don’t know if I’m going to fight this my whole life (naturally I hope not), but I can see the wisdom in in treating it as a marathon and not a sprint.

The most effective teaching seems to be about slowing down. And not just about but some reasonable suggestions how. That’s been my missing link.

Not only does the shift in perspective encourage a more-thoughtful approach to how I divide my time, it also lightens the pressure on each new thing I approach or try.  This does not have to fix everything. This can be appreciated for what it is, not just how far it advances my goals.

And doesn’t that sound more sane?

Obscurity has its Advantages

One of which is realistic expectations.

Or, rather, few to none, which works as well.

I’ve gone through cycles of seeking my “brand” or identity, or audience, pouring thought and wistfulness and effort into producing content days at a time.

The closest I’ve gotten to a theme is, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

Which is overstating it, as quotes will.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats (1795–1821)

For now, I more wish to belive that the unexamined life may perhaps be lived better (than examined), but without the benefit of reproduction. And I believe a scientist would say that any outcome, however perfect, is not useful unless it can be reproduced.

While I do not strive to live as a scientist, I do wish to be of use. And I know my deepest need (for an improved life) is not perfection, but consistency.

But, returning to obscurity (we left it for a moment), I think on what is necessary to leave it: nakedness. Utter exposure, whether voluntary or not, is the cost of coming out of invisibility.

It was Edna St. Vincent Millay, I once read, who said, “A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”

My friend Becky and I have had (e-mail) conversations over this, the choice about how open to be.  She knows her audience. She has a sense of mission in her writing, and finds both power and purpose in choosing to open some very personal parts of herself.

I have none of those motivators. Much of my fragility and “intimacy” is very self-centered; they are things I want to remember on topics that are close to my heart and so are easier for me to write about.

Or maybe just easier to stay connected long enough to finish.

All my life I have heard about “masks” and “getting rid of masks.” The idea of presenting a false front is despised in all circles, even while (as a culture) we feel more disconnected from one another than ever before.

So people talk publicly about stuff that doesn’t make you blush any more, and shocking announcements are defended effectively.

I tried to explain the phenomenon to my mother (who doesn’t need anything explained to her), and she is simply horrified at the practice. “Why would anybody do that?!” she asks.

I proffered a few of my theories (the attempted explanation part), but she didn’t seem to hear any of them. And I can’t say I blame her. I don’t rightly understand it myself.

But I’m a part of it.

Apparently I’m in the early years of Generation-Y, and attribute it to what you will (I’ve read theories about this too), we are a “real” generation, where authenticity is the key word.

I’m a part of it without even knowing it.

I can’t tell you how many times someone older than me (and not always very much older) will laugh in an embarrassed way at something I just said and respond, “That’s what I love about you, Amy, you’re so real.”

Which, frankly, confuses me, because what else can a Believer be?

Continue reading »

Broken Ribs Are Broken Ribs

I like watching pilots.

My parents like to laugh when I say this, since my husband recently earned his license.

I like watching T.V. show pilots, because the good ones, next to songs, are the most compact form of good storytelling I know.

And with my journalism background, compact is meant as compliment.


In the pilot show of Burn Notice (the only episode I’ve seen) our Smart, Tough Protagonist finds himself seriously beat up in the first ten-minutes.

Later when the episode fall-man takes a swing at our STP and has his split second of triumph, the image freezes and STP narrates matter-of-factly: It doesn’t matter how much training you have; a broken rib is a broken rib. It doesn’t matter who you are or how you got it, it’s going to hurt.

Fall man thinks his punch was particularly effective, because he’s experienced enough to recognize real pain. What he doesn’t know is that STP’s already outlasted tougher punks than this guy.  And can prove it.

Other favorite line from the show: People with happy families don’t become spies. A bad childhood is the perfect background for covert ops – you don’t trust anyone, you’re used to getting smacked around, and you never get homesick.

The point is that injury = injury. It’s part of being a member of the human race and, honestly, doesn’t define who you are any more than a bloody nose (though it might be argued broken ribs and bloody noses are indicative of a particular identity).


Sinners sin, and fragile people get broken.

And there is the rub: even most of us who admit we’re sinners would rather avoid the nitty-gritty of it (fair enough), and all of us feel a bit affronted to be called fragile.

“I’ve taken care of myself til now!”

My whole life I’ve wondered about the horror of tears; why they are so desperately fought.

Why are tears so dreadful? So shameful?

Some thoughts:

  • They confess need.
  • They show weakness
  • The mourner’s core has identified a reason to spill a limited resource.
  • Observers now know too much, and/or too deeply.  Where there is often no desire or right to know.
  • The crier is on display, subjected to public interpretation.

Tears come from so deep it feels like a betrayal to have anyone either ignore or interpret them.

And if I barely know where they come from, so the effort of wondering how others see them is too great a burden.

The reality is, I break.

I bleed.

And somehow this is the natural order of things. This is part of creation and our finitude as humans.

It doesn’t matter how much training you have; a broken heart is a broken heart.

So my latest theory is of tears being as natural as bleeding. As legitimate a sign of wrong-ness, and as natural a thing to tend. Evidence of a wound that needs cleaned and protected.

Yes, I guess that means I’ve been the odd sort that was waiting for some kind of “permission.”

Words are a part of my identity. Even when I get them wrong.

I self-identified as a novelist today– for kinda the first time, and it was totally natural.

I’ve bemoaned before that I’m a compulsive explainer, seeing it as a character defect: why do I have to explain/justify my existence/choices?

Well, it turns out I’m just assuming others are as shallow as me.  That is,  I’ve been shown I revise my opinion of someone based on increased information, and by giving more information I’m hoping to project a more accurate image of myself.

If they still don’t like me, I don’t care, but I can’t stand someone being mad at what they think I am/have done.

So I ran into this woman I haven’t spoken with in years, and we did a quick catch-up on kids, ages and church.  And I corrected her “Oh yeah, I know where that is,” before I even asked her what she thought she knew.

You see, no one in our town knows what church I go to unless they have personally visited it.  It’s that invisible.

I was right, but that’s small consolation if it destroys a relationship so I jumped into damage-control, blaming it, very naturally on being a writer. (For the record, she was totally cool with being corrected.  Not offended at all.)

What entertained me so much was my explanation (this is part of why I write: it’s insanely easy for me to entertain myself).

It went something like this:

Sorry, I’m not really trying to be rude, but after years of thinking in terms of conveyed information versus received information I’m constantly thinking on multiple levels of communication. Miscommunication is a useful literary device, but nothing to tolerate in real life.

Not that I always have a choice, but we can set our own standards, right?


I am calling my 2010 NaNoWriMo effort Shaddow.

Yeah, with 2ds.  It’s a nod to when I was starting the first version of this book (Shadow Swan) and was trying to track down the novel Shadow Spinner and could not figure out why the book never showed on any search.

Yeah, because I spelled shadow phonetically. That’s a short-a, folks.

Sort of like the counter intuitive desert/dessert weirdness.  I love English.  I really do.

Notwithstanding the one semester I started German and a guy studying Spanish asked in horror, “Why would you do that? It’s, like, the one language in the world uglier than English!”

In the end I’ve simply returned to English, and find it beautiful.  Not the least because I understand it, and it submits to me.


Along those lines, it’s fun to say I’ve built a bit of a reputation in my church.

This was a rough week for me.  I came to church thinking about genuineness, and how what some people disparage as “masks” might more accurately be communicated as an effort to encourage other people or focus less on oneself.

I knew I was going to be asked how I was, and that I wouldn’t lie, but I hated thinking of the exchanges that would be likely to follow.  So mostly I positioned myself where the flow-pattern kept people moving faster than to expect a detailed answer.

One of the neatest things about these people is that they only rarely ask empty how-are-yous.  In that place I stood I got lots of acknowledging smiles and nods, but nobody pretended to inquire after what couldn’t be answered in the space of 18-inches.

By the end of the sermon I’d forgotten my initial goal, and got cornered in the kitchen while making my double hot chocolate.

One of the best smilers in our congregation walked in as I was stirring cocoa and asked a genuine, How are you today, Amy?

I felt my throat close and my chin wobble before I got out my one word.


And that resulted in a spirit- and esteem-soothing glowfest from the two other women about how I always have the perfect words to say exactly the right thing.  And the sweet smiler asked, “Can wonkies appreciate hugs?” and I gratefully accepted the other best form of love and care she could have offered at that moment.

Great Line

From a talk by Gert Bahan (spelling?), a woman who came to Christ in her 50s and later wrote a book about her life, growing up (and living– or trying to live) with money, but no God.

There’s a wonderful quote in my book The Late Liz, and since no one ever quotes it to me, I have to quote it [myself].

The quote she read was all right for what it was, but the line I’ve written was what made me laugh aloud (out on a walk with my dog…).

If I ever get a chance (I hope to in the next few weeks, same as you brave readers) to sit down and look at a print-out I can’t change as I go along, I wonder if I will end up with favorite lines like that.

And then will I wait for others to notice them or use them myself…?

An example where a fairy tale helped me

My first child’s birth was a blur. Roughly 12 hours from the first contractions till I held her.

My second’s birth was 3 hours, start-to-finish, with approximately 4-times the intensity of the first one.

Facing my next delivery less than two years after that unpleasant surprise (the labor, not the baby) I felt an understandable measure of anxiety about the impending birth.

Like many Christians I quoted Philippians 4:13 to myself, and focused on the certainty that I could trust God’s provision for every need I may have.  This took care of my rational self, but not my emotional self .

For that part I fell back to the time-tested principles of distraction and deflection when possibilities of fear or discomfort offered their presence.

Then, at some point during this pregnancy I was doing some tale-searching and came across The Princess on the Glass Hill, a story I read years ago but had forgotten the details of.  The part that stuck with me was the Cinderlad enduring each increasingly bone-rattling earthquake with a simple observation.

“Well, if it gets no worse than that, I can manage to stand it.”

And in that simple line I “found my peace.”

The line became a mental summary reconciling my emotional state with reality: See, it *hasn’t* been too much; I’m still here.

Therein is the power of story. Truth that couldn’t bang through the frantic defenses of my fears opened the door with a simple key.  And who but God could have orchestrated the finding of just the right story at just the right time?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, and I pray that someday more of those gifts will be more accessible to hurting children, without the stigma hanging over them of what some people incorrectly think fairy tales mean.

Two Randoms

I *loved* this part in the dedication of the book A Curse Dark as Gold:

And lastly to my husband, Christopher, for always being there.  If I wrote you into a story, no one would believe you were real.

The problem with finding something that expresses your thoughts so perfectly is knowing you can’t use it yourself. . .


Has anybody told you about what to expect in your thirties?

The question came from a person who is very positive, so I didn’t fear the answer as much as I would have from another source, but still I felt myself bracing for what would come next.

It’s *fabulous* (she said).  You’ve got all this stuff worked out and foundations settled in your twenties that you can just use and enjoy it all in your thirties.”

And while I have an inherent mistrust for the exaltation of any age (after all, it will eventually be over), I can certainly see this “best of the thirties” being rolled into the forties and beyond.

So I’m thankful for the encouragement and the timing.  It will be at 30 that I truly have to knuckle down to an actual teaching regimen.  The implication (and growing evidence) I could be at a “cruising” stage in my thinking and functioning takes a huge load off my mind.

Hero as Mother?

What a fascinating thought!  LitLove at Tales from the Reading Room analyzed Twilight with this view I’d never seen before; basically that the ideal romantic partner is as all-powerful, all-providing, all-protective, and all-loving as a good mother is to her young child.

So naturally I had to return to my story and see if that is in my “ideal” world as well, because, however well it worked for Twilight and vampire romance it’s not something I want to promote.

Even so, my main trouble with the idea of calling these romantic notions “maternal” is finding (or defining) the line between the healthy mutual dependence and the unhealthy.  I completely reject the idea of hubris and total autonomy (it’s actually one of my novel’s themes).

~ ~ ~

A quick mental review of my story does show a bit more give-and-take than I would imagine for the maternal model:  Yes, the husband rescues the wife, but she’s already saved his life too, so I see it as a reciprocal relationship.

At one point early in the relationship he actually scolds her for depending too wholly on his (underprepared) judgment.

“Tykone didn’t want us to go,” said Kennett.“He thought the king and queen would come up with some solution for a useless crown prince.”

“He didn’t call you useless, and you said you wanted to go.”Linnea was shivering and angry, wishing the sun would hurry up and rise so she wouldn’t be so cold.They had moved away from the warmth of their fire and shelter so they wouldn’t waken Hale, but the ground of the barren clearing was completely frozen where they stood and Linnea could feel the cold seeping up through the soles of her simple boots.

You said you would go where I go.That’s all you said.You’ve been human longer than me.You knew you’d be cold out here without the proper gear.Why didn’t you say so?”

Linnea closed her eyes, pinching out tears of cold.“It’s that— I thought you knew what you were doing?”

She looked over her shoulder and saw Kennett staring at her, open mouthed.“You can’t be serious,” he said, finally.She looked away.

Now it was Kennett’s turn to sound angry.“As soon as Tykone was gone I told you I have no idea what I’m doing.You’re the one with all the experience being human!”

In contrast it’s the fellow she’s forced to depend on while in hiding who takes the (more controlling) role that might be labeled maternal.

~ ~ ~

Speaking of relationships in general, my limited education/experience leads me to mistrust such one-sided power/surrender in a relationship.   Not because I believe men and women are the same (I believe there are distinct roles), but because I see that one-sided relationship as half a step from a controlling, then abusive, relationship.

And either could look the same from the outside.

But for all that I still see couples for whom the “total dependance” model seems to be working for.  Whether or not that stems from elements missing from her childhood could be irrelevant.  After all, “compatible neuroses” seems to be an utterly sufficient alternative to two “healthy” people when looking at the levels of peace and happiness in a marriage.

While searching for a suitable fairytale to read at a party for a 6-year-old

With three 4-year-olds from other households present I’ve been feeling touchy about what to do for our read-aloud.

“What about Snow White?” asked one of the girls, holding up the story illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

Now, I happen to think this is a very smart book.  It allows the girl to be 7  when she’s driven away, but shows her growing old enough to marry by the time the prince finds her.  Very clever illustrations.  But the story is true to the Grimm original, with the asking for the heart to eat, and dancing to death in hot iron shoes.

I read around those parts in the beginning, and actually haven’t read it for some time now, since Natasha is able to read along with me.

“I think it might be too scary for some of the younger kids,” I said dismissively.

“But it has a good ending!” Melody protested.