My Voice

I had a sudden memory this morning.

Four months ago, when I still hoped I might be able to find a place I belonged in my old church, I visited Saturday night mass at the Catholic church down the road.

(That might sound contradictory, but work with me here.)

Image © Patrizio Martorana

Image © Patrizio Martorana

During the years I was depressed and my mind burdened by more than it could carry, I found tremendous relief in attending midweek mass.  The church was 10 minutes down the road (a big deal now that I lived outside of town), and the priest has a heavy, heavy accent.

He grew up in India, investigated “all the faiths” and chose Catholicism. He met Mother Theresa. Doesn’t eat food that isn’t fresh and says that’s why he’s never been sick in the seven years since he came to Alaska.

Very interesting man. Wonderful smile.

We did St. Raphael’s VBS a few years back, and I got to learn the meaning of a parish. The idea of people worshiping together that also live near one another.

After the last day one of our new friends invited us to join them at a local park, and they got to talking about the “new” priest, and how hard is was to understand him sometimes.  I don’t know if I realized at first I was defending him, but I shared that one of my favorite aspects of visiting the church was feeling of foreignness.

That is, I imagined what it must have been like for new believers to try and understand a non-native speaker communicate a comforting but unfamiliar ritual. It all held great significance to me.

I can’t explain the warmth I felt when the other mother said, “Wow. That actually makes me like him more.”

~ ~ ~

Feeling a great deal of turmoil this spring, feeling isolated, I remembered the community and comfort St. Raphael’s had offered in the past, so I slipped into Saturday Evening Mass and soaked.

The second week I attended (the memory that struck me and made me want to tell this story), one of the women Cantors (song leaders) was an older soprano. And she had my voice.

That is, I recognized the way she sang.

There are different qualities and sounds of Soprano. I have my likes and dislikes, and my voice can be in either of those categories depending on the work I want it to do. But she was a mirror.  For the first time, maybe ever, I got to hear what I sounded like, not from a speaker, a recording or in my own head, but eight feet from the instrument itself.

Twice I nearly cried.

Now I know what people mean when they say I can sing.

I am not perfect, but I’m good, especially in the range and type of music suited to the voice. I have a good instrument, and if I’m not thoughtful in the way I use it, I can tear myself down.

And this makes me think so much about the rest of me. My gifts, my inclinations, my duties and delights.

~ ~ ~

I once was in a really foul mood, and verbally attacking myself (speaking the truth, I called it then). God somehow got my attention and gently asked if I would speak to my dear friend Jana that way.

Instantly my mind replayed all the abuse, and my imagination showed me pouring it over this gentle-spirited, loving individual. I sobbed, horrified that I might be capable of such a thing, how I’d never want to hurt someone like that.

It was as if God was asking, How are you different from her? Why treat one of my daughters this way?

I heard my voice in a new way.

And I made a change.

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 13): Life is working. Even though it’s Work.

So, to follow-up after that peaceful, grateful post about Rest, I realized it’s been a long time since I made a list of the stuff I’m engaged in. When it turned out to be seven distinct items, and I realized it was Friday, I knew I needed to jump back to Jen’s 7 Quick Takes Friday this week.

Here’s my “life activity list” the list in roughly the order of time consumed:

~ 1 ~

Managing the food.

It still feels weird to say this takes the most time.

I think this is because– judging by our stories: novels, movies, anecdotes among friends– food is invisible.  It just happens. I wish I lived in that sort of house/body. But I don’t.)

~ 2 ~

Managing the household and extras

Technically this ties back into the food, since food makes dishes.

Basically anything I have to wash clean or put away, along with the animals and outdoor work.

Now that the snow’s melted I am discovering all sorts of new work…

And honestly, it’s a toss-up about whether #1 or #2 takes more time.

~ 3 ~

Teaching the kids.

Reading, writing and arithmetic are the emphasis, but we also read novels along with books of science, history and whatever else strikes our fancy.

As I have more energy I also hope to do more management-training (items from the previous categories).  Currently I do most of that stuff because the *extra* required to get someone else into doing certain jobs is the extra I don’t have.

~ 4 ~

On-line Stuff.

Reading and writing and listening to music on-line (YouTube). Keeping up with some TV shows on Hulu (Castle, Bones, and Body of Proof).

~ 5 ~

Off-Line Stuff

Reading and writing and listening to music not-on-line.

My current goal is to swap these last two categories in terms of time.

I’ve had a surge of progress on my 2010 NaNo novel, and taken on a reading challenge that has forced me to look hard at what and why I read. I hope it will inform what I write.

~ 6 ~

Fiber work

On the edges of my life (and usually away from home).

I have the knitting I do a couple hours every Sunday morning (during the sermon and Sunday school), and the hand-spinning I do when I’m going to be semi-on-display. Continue reading »

Musical Profiles

I’ve been benefiting lately from the extra perspectives that outsiders can provide to my story.

One of the more painful realizations was that I don’t love all my characters equally.  Or maybe that I don’t know them enough.

Now, I’m not the sort of writer who feels the need to have a year-by-year scrapbook for every major character, but I do think I need to know more about them than anyone else– including themselves.

~ ~ ~

Rather than “interviewing” my characters (so far) my method has been to collect an emotional profile.

I’ve given advice before that recording details of a significant event isn’t as useful as doing anything you can to root the emotions connected to the event.

My reasoning is that a writer’s skill will only increase, and if all you have is notes of a happening you will always be limited by what you’ve written down.

If, by contrast (or in addition), you can access a deep emotional core, you can use that as building material.

With this as a sort of guiding principle, rather than interview my major characters about childhood nicknames and how that made them feel, I’ve collected songs.

Continue reading »

I think music should make sense.

The main reason I expect my music to make sense is because it has so many times helped me make sense of my world.

As a result there are times I get really disappointed (or maybe just annoyed) by those songs that don’t *match*.

For example, sometimes I trip over a song where content and emphasis don’t line up, or one that’s come to represent something that is actually not present in the song.

And then there are the poorly-done fantasies of the the music world, where I would have been willing to suspend disbelief for a good “story” (sound) but the internal logic is inconsistent.

Here’s what I mean.

I Will Always Love You is played at weddings, even though it’s about a relationship ending.

If I should stay
I would only be in your way

good-bye, please don’t cry
Cause we both know that I’m not
What you need

I Need a Hero presents as an anthem about a dearth of (or desire for) good men, but if you’re listening to the lyrics  it’s really about the impatience and demands of a woman.

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

A good clue was when I started flipping the lyrics around and realized there was no clean way to put this in a male POV— a song about what a good man is waiting for/wishing to find— without changing the character of the singer (Which I sort of did, and may share later).

Then there’s I Stand by Idina Menzel. An earnest, heartfelt song about, well, high ideals, I guess. I haven’t quite figured it out.

When you ask me, who I am:
What is my vision? And do I have a plan?
Where is my strength? Have I nothing to say?
I hear the words in my head, but I push them away.

I stand for the power to change,
I live for the perfect day.
I love till it hurts like crazy,
I hope for a hero to save me.
I stand for the strange and lonely,
I believe there’s a better place.
I don’t know if the sky is heaven,
But I pray anyway.

This isn’t nearly as iconic as the first two, but I include it because it’s a perfect example of something that affects me emotionally while offending my reason. (I use offense in a very mild way here.)

It is basically the theme song for my main character in the Lindorm Novel, which ties my feeling about the song and the character perhaps too closely together (I couldn’t find Linnea’s motivation for the longest time, either. Sometimes I still wonder).

The “offense” grows from recognizing the sincerity of the piece while feeling that sullied by its emptiness. It’s an anthem of our “believe enough and you can be sure its true” type of faith in the modern world. It is something I want to believe in, and am disappointed not to be able to embrace. It all sounds so good, but there’s no real hope, and anyone looking for clearer answers is told, I don’t know I’m still waiting too!

What songs don’t make sense to you?

Snoop & Dragons

It’s a good thing I’m not in the habit of buying new books whenever I want them, since I’ve got two new ones on my wishlist now (more, actually, but today I’m talking about:).

Snoop and Imagine Dragons.

Snoop, by Sam Gosling, is a fascinating book about using *stuff* to explore personality and how personality might be read by observing an environment. It uses the “Big Five” model of personality-typing (where I read– like most people would expect– as an extrovert), and uses particular environmental cues connected to those 5 elements.

I am loving the contrast between this typing and the Myers-Briggs model, since they really tell me very different things about myself and others.  If I still like OCEAN after finishing this book I might big-five type my main characters to see the differences.

For example, just as I am an introvert according to the M-B definition and extrovert under OCEAN, I think my MC is the reverse.

One way I’m trying to say it so far is M-B is pretty good at describing behavior (especially putting it in context with a whole individual) while I’m guessing OCEAN is more useful at predicting behavior– though both can do either, of course.

The other book is what convinced me I could never go 100% to any of the digital platforms, though I’ve convinced myself that for non-picture books I’d actually like an e-reader: if I’m buying new anyway.

  • the book takes up less space physically
  • is usually cheaper (price would determine format choice) and
  • is easily searchable
    • Most of why I hang onto a book is because I *need* some perfect line or example at my fingertips.
      • this, BTW, is what is most traumatic about having all my book collection packed away.

My favorite part of Snoop so far was in the first chapter, where the author categorized the types of stuff that fill our spaces.

  • Identity Claims
    • others-directed (See: this is who/what I am)
    • self-directed (Remember: this is who/what I want to be)
  • Feeling Regulators
    • things that exist “not to send messages about our identities but specifically to manage our emotions and thoughts.”
  • Behavioral Residue (*Love* this label. Very convicting for me)
    • What is seen because of the way you live and the choices you make.

I’m also enjoying the exploration of what makes a relationship deeper (or deepen).  hint: it’s not information exchange.  But for my current situation (where I’m living in someone else’s house– I just don’t know whose, yet), it helped me understand why I feel less settled, despite my contentment with whatever.

Beginning to think of these three elements, especially in ratio to one another, gave a bit of definition to what I’m feeling about my home.

When I prepped the house, emptied it to a showing (neutral) state, I expected to surrender the first segment– Identity Claims.  It wasn’t that important to me anyway, since visits would be about the house, not me. (Pshaw, I don’t even exist!)

What I wasn’t aware of was the “Regulating” category. Turns out books and music are HUGE regulating factors for me. And with the shift I lost both: books packed away and computers in the back room, so the music system was gone as well.

The last three weeks have involved larger and larger trips from the library (along with some buying) and an evolution of mobile music (I’ve lost my iPod Nano!) that has, I think, settled at my laptop in the kitchen with a new Pandora station.

But it’s only been with the reading of this chapter that I understand my lengthy agitation. (One that I hope is now over!)

~ ~ ~

For something completely different, please consider

I wish I could show you some images from inside the book.  They are just amazing. All this wonderful interplay between line, color and texture. (And I’m not any sort of visual artist!)

Books like these convince me I could never go 100% digital, because *what* could replace my child(ren)’s experience of studying for minutes at a time a complex image like that?  Because that’s what they do when the text is being read: exploring the picture, discovering details.

This is a book I want in my collection!

And you can believe I’ve already reserved this illustrator’s other books from my library. I am eager to see more of her work!

The book itself is a very respectable survey of dragons and lore– including stories well-summarized. The Eastern dragons may be said to be favored (commentary emphasizes they’re not-evil), but their depiction is naked enough to show them as no more kind or caring.

This was meaningful to me mainly because I like using them in discussions of dispassionate, elemental forces.

Yeah, I do that. Weird?

Anyway, I am trying to hold off on buying new books right now (at least, when they’re not inexpensive…), so I’m thankful for our library right now. It’s the patch on a big hole in my life.

It’s Still There…

I have been thankful how easy it is not to stress over what’s (not) happening with my novel.

I have reached the conclusion that I cannot do the next/final clean-up piecemeal.  For the sake of continuity (and other issues I have identified with the text) I’ve decided I absolutely have to have a serious “work week” where I work the novel from start to finish.

So naturally I have to wonder am I just sick of it and happy to move on, since I’m not even talking about it any more.  Then I got to talk it a bit today with someone (I don’t meet many people in real life who want to hear me talk stories, so I was pleased to get a chance to talk about something interesting).

I explained a purposeful contrast between men (and how I tried to illustrate their differing character) by how they took care of a toddler:

Kennett, the “hero,” and a good man, carries his adopted son on his shoulders and remembers to stoop as he goes through a doorway.  Ivan, who wants to think of himself as a good man, scoops up a child on his way out the door and just *nails* the boy’s head on the lintel.
These are on opposite ends of the story, so I don’t know if anyone will notice the direct contrast.

But even though that kind of conversation used to set me back onto my novel in the next hour, I actually forgot about the story until this evening when I set down to try and update the family blog a bit.  I turned on Pandora and picked my “noveling” station (since that is not something I’ll play with the children around).

And, wow.  I am conditioned. (Yes I know I’ve mentioned this before.)

I was nearly in my writing trance before I realized I was going under.  I let myself listen to a couple songs before I decided I didn’t want to inoculate myself and switched stations.

But now I’m stoked and actually have to make myself go to bed.  It is a genuine relief that (it appears) at the right time I will be able to return with a relatively small transition.

7 Quick-Takes (Vol. 9)

~ ~ 1 ~ ~

Last time I “taked” I felt wobbly about specializing.

This week  I embraced the gift it is.

All my life I’ve felt pulled between all the things I love and all the things I do well, and it was only recently I released most of them to consciously focus on writing as my first (extra-curricular) priority.

On Tuesday I lived a day that reminded me of the turmoil I used to live in my trying to do everything.  It was energizing and exciting… and nothing got done in my home.  My children played more with other people than with me.  Okay for a day, but I wouldn’t want to live this way.


I am so thankful for the opportunity God provided to let the other things go.

~ ~ 2 ~ ~

Fertility in fiction.  You ever wonder why there isn’t any?

I played with the idea of a closer-to-natural fertility in my novel.

That is, I sat down with my time line and two major families then calculated how many children they ought to have with normal health in a pre-birth-control era.  This quickly became overwhelming by sheer numbers and I turned evil-god and gave one family a bad marriage and the other miscarriages.

They still ended up with 5 and 7 births, respectively, but it was good practice in understanding why so many stories center around 1- and 2- children families.  I no longer am certain those choices strictly reflect a lower view of large families.  Rather, I see it as an example of something most novelists wrestle with–simplicity enough not to drown.

~ ~ 3 ~ ~

Does anybody here remember Colby? This is the sort of music I grew up on.

At my mom’s yesterday I played the record for my kids.  The “computer” elements have not aged well, but the music and the clear communication of foundational messages is still *solid*.  The music caught my emotional memory in ways I never expected, and reminded me of how much I wished I could play piano– I can’t think of another way one person can teach two-part harmony.

The sweet two-part harmonies are the exact thing I want to teach my kids and their Sunday school class.  If you ever hear of this being re-issued on CD, let me know.  I have some scruples about giving away copies of recordings, so I haven’t done that, but I wish I could get “Make a joyful noise” into every home in our little church.

~ ~ 4 ~ ~

Tonight I’ll be going to a “ladies’ retreat.”  I’ll be overnight away from home, sans kids, husband and novel.

*What* am I going to do with myself???

Is it too much to hope that I’ll get good sleep?

~ ~ 5 ~ ~

I’m considering joining Weight Watchers.  I have several friends who’ve spoken well of it and the structure it provides.

My resistance comes from the cost and the reality that I– in theory at least– already know what to do, so paying someone to *watch* me do it seems weird.  It makes me think of what my mom says about those who have that gastric-bypass surgery: “If they can change the way they eat afterward, why not before?” (I’ve been told reasons, but they’re pretty gross)

~ ~ 6 ~ ~

I haven’t been reading much since I started this last revision, but on one level I see this as a basic defense.  For me, reading (beyond the recreation and enjoyment of it) is to gather input and ideas for my own work.  At this exact moment I am not in a conscious idea-gathering stage and don’t want to be distracted from the “basic clean-up” I’m working on completing.

Honestly, if there is some huge structural flaw, or major twist or revision that needs to be worked in, I am not in a mental/emotional state to apply it, so I’d rather not increase my awareness just now.  I’ll re-engage after I send this out.

~ ~ 7 ~ ~

I have a stack of “animal-transformation” novels I’m working my way through (in the not-this-minute sense).  Also found an interesting book  called The Beast and the Blond with a chapter about animal transformations and the difference between males and females with the affliction.

All sorts of assumptions and discussions about the differences between male and female troubles and attitudes.

Fascinating stuff this.  To me.

For more 7 Quick Takes visit Jen’s Conversion Diary

Other 7 Quick Takes on Untangling Tales

Music is Everything

Not really.  But it’s the example of how you really do train yourself through familiarity.

I have been listening to the same  PANDORA station for more than half of this latest revision, and though I felt draggy when I turned it on just now (to start some folders and files flying before I crash), the feeling left both my mind and body when the familiar voices started.

It was like a switch was thrown– sort of like months ago when I’d sit down to sip some white peach tea and read over the last batch of work before diving into the current stuff.  The smell and taste seemed to slip my mind into a new groove.

Lately when I remember to heat water I don’t remember to go back.  Or I don’t remember to take the bags out.  Or I’ll have it at my elbow and I won’t finish the pot before it goes cold.  *sigh*

I need some kind of tea cozy.

Anyway.  No, I haven’t done any serous work on my novel since the 3rd.  But I had a huge break that day and expect to be done with my final 24 pages by the end of the week.  I’m only waiting until it isn’t music keeping me awake.

I don’t think I’ve said here that my annual physical ended with the complementary assurance that I’m actually quite healthy, and the various aches and pains I’ve been feeling could be neutralized by a combination of core-training (e.g. Pilates) and more sleep.  (I’d assumed it was just aging and I was stuck with it, but she assured me otherwise.)


That suggestive thought has had the effect of making more aware of my tiredness every night since.  None of my other habits have changed, so I wonder if I’m just listening louder.

Maybe that’s what the music does– it gives me something else to listen to.

Art Feeds (other) Art

At least for me.

Or maybe I’ve just noticed that a sense of competency inspires confidence which energizes another cycle through projects.

It began Sunday with being very popular (not something I’ve experienced often), having to leave one music practice early to get late to a call-back invitation.

At the theater I was one of a collection of ladies who “all have already been cast” (one whispered to me– catching me up).  I heard each one sing, solo, and was delighted by every voice.  It made me feel honored to be one of this group.

Later that evening I had a lively two-hour conversation on a variety of entertaining intellectual and spiritual topics.  I felt very clever– with the comfortable sort of self-delight I experience when a song I sing is pleasing to my ear.

Afterward it was much as though the burner had been thoroughly turned on under my pot o’ words.  So instead of crashing I revised a high-action chapter and gave it to Jay to read the next day.

He kept commenting on how “violent” it was.

“What’s the big deal?” I asked, secretly pleased I could surprise him.  “It’s only snakes.

“You don’t even watch these kinds of movies!” he said, then paused.  “I guess you did see Lord of the Rings…”

But then my Big Disappointment crashed down on Monday, and I felt all of me curling inward, like a dried out orange peel.  My mom was able to take the kids for a while after nap and I dove back into my novel (something I don’t think I’d have been able to do if I hadn’t been built up the day before) and punched out 1500 words, finishing a new section, editing an old one and beginning a second new section.

Then the next day I was again blessed by delightful, encouraging conversation.

The pregnant woman I spoke of last post actually stopped me so she could get paper to take notes on my random baby advice.  Talk about feeling honored…

Then after getting the kids in bed I returned to the quilts, and the story from last night didn’t have room to include my surprise and delight that I was able to simply put them together by feel (this stage has previously required more measuring and pinning).

The quilts had been lying fallow for some time, because they had progressed beyond the “logical sequential” roots that had prompted me to pick up the project in the first place.  I didn’t have the mental energy to make the shift and wasn’t trying to dig it up.  But talking and writing successfully– feeling competent in these areas– seem to have emboldened me to return to something else challenging.

And here we are: almost done.

~ ~ ~

Maybe this is why the gordian knot has always appealed to me, both the quilt and the story; I feel an affinity to the convoluted but working logic, and the way one thing leads interminably to the next.

And I’m so thankful for the ways God chooses to encourage me.

In my mind thse things are very connected.