Gripped


I always think of the branches of this tree as the fingers of a cupped hand. Yes, winter has a firm grip in this area. It simply won’t let go. Even last night we had a fresh snowfall, one of many we have had. Even as I type this post, snow continues its “take that and that and that—mwahahahaha” approach.

While I might think of winter as the ultimate supervillain, I can’t help thinking of Wintersmith, in which the late great Terry Pratchett depicted winter (aka the Wintersmith) as an extremely confused would-be lover determined to woo a love interest, regardless of the cost to her community.

The fingers of winter, which that tree represents, inspired me to think about the things that have gripped me lately. One of those things has been discouragement and rejection. Okay, that’s two things, you might be saying. But I typed one and the other came along for the ride. Glancing at some of my old posts (I don’t make a habit of doing that; from time to time I copy photos and links from old posts), I can’t help noticing how I use to write more from a well of greater joy. But within the last year or so, the well had run dry.

Even in other types of writing—short stories, novels, nonfiction—I picked at the words like a young kid might pick at a vegetable on his or her plate. (“Do I have to eat that? Okay, how many do I have to eat?”) It was just a chore.

Some of the feeling of writing as a chore came from discouragement over the rejection of others. (See, that’s why I only said discouragement and rejection were one thing, rather than two. Totally planned it. . . . You’re not buying that, are you?) It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve queried agents and publishers. Gotta expect a certain amount of rejection, we’re told. But every once in a while, it gets to you. I’m not made of stone after all.

And then last week, I watched a video of a guy singing and playing the piano. He had so much joy. And I realized what was missing—the joy of writing.

When I was a kid, my best friend and I used to trade stories back and forth because we loved writing them. We didn’t care about style or how “good” they were. We wrote for the fun of it.

That’s joy.

I let the measurement of others take that from me. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying I should never go through rejection. What I am saying is that I started second- and third-guessing myself because of what others have said. Consequently, writing became onerous. It bore a weight—the weight of trying to measure up to whatever standards someone else has—it should never have borne.

Please don’t misunderstand me again. (I have to throw that out there, because I’m really thinking this through and realizing things as I write this.) There are standards of excellence. I believe in that wholeheartedly. What I am saying is that I want to take myself out of the grip of a pre-rejection mindset—thinking that whatever I do will be rejected, so what’s the point?

If by now you’re scratching your head and wondering what on earth I am babbling about, think of this as a therapy session you stumbled into inadvertently. Or maybe you too have been gripped by something you want to shake free of. (See, that sentence was not exactly grammatically correct, but we’re shaking ourselves out of the grip of stuff right now, so . . . yeah.)

So I wrote this post and didn’t give it two thoughts. Just wrote it because I wanted to write it. And the fact that I wanted to write it—really wanted to—calls the tears to my eyes and a hope in my heart that I’m back. Back to joy.

Photos by L. Marie.

I’m Tired of the Line

I was thinking today of how I miss the days of neighbors being neighbors, instead of human fence posts divided over a vote (or a nonvote).

I’m tired of the line that says, “Do not cross unless you agree.” Tired of sides. Tired of suspicious looks or decisions to keep a war going without thought of the cost. Because war always has a cost. If you don’t believe that, take a gander at all of the crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

I’m tired of us and them being wielded like blades. Whatever happened to our and we? Whatever happened to together?

I remember, back in 2005, when Hurricane Rita hit Texas, where my parents live. Their neighborhood (outside of Houston) was without electricity for over a week. Since many had electric stoves, they were forced to cook on a grill. Neighbors cooked for other neighbors, gladly sharing what they had.

In geometry we’re told that a line is the shortest distance between two points (though some dispute the type of line). Maybe we could draw a line of connection between each other instead of a line that separates.

Neighbors being neighborly: https://laurabrunolilly.com/neighborly-meals/

Line image from imwithlee.com. Normandy crosses from duffelblog.

Grace and Truth: The Tension

    

The other day I heard a sermon by Robert Madu (Google him) on the topic that is this post’s title. I feel you flinching. Don’t worry. I will not preach at you (unless you want to talk privately). But I found it interesting because of the discussion on the dichotomy of grace and truth. Too much grace, and a message is watered down. Too much truth, and compassion goes out the window. Yet it is possible to live in the tension of both.

I’ve struggled to know what to post lately. With so many voices already lifted, what could I add? (By the way, for a great post on giving voice, I recommend Laura Bruno Lilly’s latest post. Click here for it.) And then I heard the above sermon which really hit home to me. So here I am.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that we’re all struggling, hurting, sad, afraid, and overwhelmed. That we all want to be heard. That we all were children once who grew up without all of the answers, no matter how much we pretend otherwise.

So, we criticize, complain, ignore, put down, demand—I feel exhausted just thinking about that list. And by we, I mean me. I’ve done all of the above in just the past week or so. “They see what they need to do. Why don’t they do it?” I grumbled. Truth without grace.

Or, I have thought, Let’s all just move on! Grace without truth.

Living in the tension of grace and truth is not easy. But we need that tension, don’t we . . . when we mess up. When we see someone else mess up. When we’re afraid. When we see someone else with a fear that’s different from ours and we are tempted to judge.

We need it from each other. We need each other.

Grace and Truth images found somewhere on the internet via Bing.

Speechless

I debated about whether or not to post at all in such a time as the one in which we find ourselves. But when I thought about this illustration, I had to post.

You may wonder what this is all about. Mel Blanc provided the voice of many, many Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, etc.). Consequently, he was known as the man of a thousand voices. After his passing, this illustration was done as a tribute. The title was perfectly chosen. And it describes how I feel these days. Maybe you feel the same. I would add outraged, full of grief, sad, overwhelmed, and struggling to the mix as well in the wake of recent events. Yet in these speechless days, I take comfort in these words:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me . . . to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3

Illustration found on Pinterest.

My Definition of Restful and Why That Might Be Weird to You

Recently, I’ve had text, email, or Zoom conversations with friends about books we’re reading, and in one of them, I made this statement: “I want a restful book.” Though you were not part of that discussion, I want to elaborate on what I meant.

By restful, I mean a book I can enjoy any hour of the day or night or during a pandemic. It is one that does not evoke feelings of righteous indignation, rage, depression, or mind-numbing fear. Though dinosaurs may or may not eat people and wealthy tyrants might be murdered in locked rooms by any number of suspects, I don’t fret about it, especially since I’m not the one being eaten nor the one whose murder is the basis of a cozy, but entertaining mystery.

My reading does not always involve murder or full-bellied dinosaurs, however. I thoroughly enjoy Mr. Darcy getting a comeuppance by Elizabeth Bennet (you know this one); Valancy Stirling experiencing life in a new way (The Blue Castle); and a small, unsupervised child crawling out of a window via a handy tree and going off by himself at night in search of a pillow. (Guess which book this is. No parenting advice will be forthcoming from me.)

 

  

Pride and Prejudice DVD case shown here, rather than the book cover, because I already had this photo in my blog library

Many of the books I’ve read in the last two months are restful in that they are familiar like well-loved walking trails. I’ve traversed these paths again and again and still appreciate the scenery.

What is restful reading to you? If books are not your thing, what have you been watching lately that you would categorize as restful?

The Blue Castle cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

“Your Wind Song Stays on My Mind”

Okay, I apologize. (I seem to be doing that a lot lately.) Why? you might ask. Because if you know where the post title comes from, that jingle is probably drifting through your brain right about now. (If you are absolutely confused, the ad is for the perfume, Wind Song, by Prince Matchabelli. Look here for more details. And no, this is not another post about scents.)

Along those lines, today I woke up with this song lyric in my head: “Here come those Santa Ana winds again.” If you know your Steely Dan tunes, that’s probably spinning through your head also. (The line is from “Babylon Sisters” for those of you scratching yours.)

Song earworms—they plague us for weeks, don’t they? Bet you’re already thinking of songs from the first Frozen movie (for some reason, I have trouble recalling most of the songs from Frozen 2) or, as the article pointed out, any song by Lady Gaga.

When I was a kid, any song by Glen Campbell or Queen would stay in my head, sometimes for months. (Bet you’re already thinking of “Rhinestone Cowboy” or “We Are the Champions.” Sorry.)

Advertising jingles are definite earworms. I had no trouble recalling that Wind Song ad (it stayed on my mind, you might say) even decades later. I can sing jingles I heard in my childhood. I am certain you can as well. (My bologna has a first name . . .)

This article from CNN health talks about earworms and why they do what they do.

Isn’t it interesting that a song can get lodged in our heads for months or years but a compliment or some other affirmation has difficulty taking root? If you’re like me, negative information is an earworm that doesn’t seem to go away. I call that a word worm.

Last week, my dad said something nice about my writing. Note the word something, because I have trouble recalling his exact words. Yet I can remember, word for word, a rejection I received for a manuscript about two years ago. Two years ago.
It’s time—past time—to take out the trash.

What do you do when earworms or word worms persist?

Wind Song perfume from FragranceX.com. “Babylon Sisters” from Discogs. Bart Simpson gif from Tenor.

What Is My Song This Season?

Anyone else feeling the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobblyness*** of the passing days? Hours seem like seconds. And if I don’t check my calendar, I lose track of days. (Feels like tomorrow already.) Anyway. . . .

Whenever we’re not bombarded with snow in my area (which has happened a few times lately), and the temperature is reasonably warm, I hear birdsong throughout the day. Lately, the various songs and sounds of birds have seemed so plentiful and joyous. Which got me to wondering , ..

Can you identify the bird based on each call? (Pretty sure you can.)

1.

2.

3.

(For answers, check the **** below.)

Some bird calls are more recognizable than others. I’ve enjoyed hearing the birds’ songs and conversations. Such normal, happy sounds. Maybe they’re happy, not only for spring and mating season, but because they don’t have to think about viruses or masks or long wait times at the grocery store.

But hearing them caused me to wonder what my song is in this season. Some days, it is the sound of irritation, frustration, and fear, like raucous notes banged on a piano. My inner territory is too narrowed by circumstances, my song too one note. I want to change the tune, even if circumstances don’t change anytime soon. The best way I know how is to pray and to look outward instead of inward, to lighten someone else’s load if I know how, or brighten someone’s day. One way I can do the latter is to give away stuff.

With that in mind, onto the winner of The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. Go here for the interview.

       

And that winner, according to the random number generator is Nancy Hatch!

Nancy, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Sparrow from Orange Free Sounds. Loon sound from Archive.org. Robin call from SoundBible.com. cloudcentrics.com. Bird silhouette from clipart-library.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

***If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you recognize this.
**** The sounds are (in order) Robin, loon, sparrow

In the Chrysalis

Nothing says Spring like overnight snow.

 

Happy Spring!

When I think of Spring, I think of chrysalises/cocoons and the butterflies/moths that will emerge from these protective shells—the pupa stage. What I didn’t realize is that the shed skin of a pre-butterfly caterpillar hardens around it to form a chrysalis. But the caterpillar of a moth has to spin silk to make a cocoon to protect itself.

  

A challenging time like the one we’re facing now is a chrysalis from which we will all emerge at some point. Instead of shed skin or silk, the walls of our home are our borders, since many states have issued a stay-at-home order. Consequently, we’re going through a lot of different emotions: fear, anger, dread, despair—you name it. Many of us have felt the hardening effect of those emotions. I know I have. I’d much rather feel joy or peace. I know you would too.

What’s really helped me in these chrysalis days are texts from friends who write to encourage, share a funny meme, a song, or a Scripture like this:

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  [The next verse provides the answer.]

These daily check-ins remind me that I’m not alone, despite the social distancing mandate.

As a result of all that has happened, I mentioned in this post that I’m giving away two crocheted child Yodas like the one below. The winners of those crocheted child Yodas are Shari and Lyn!

Because of the state-mandated lockdown, I contacted the winners ahead of time so that I could get the Yodas in the mail to them before the 5 p.m. stay-at-home order went into effect this past Saturday. I am currently making two more Yodas. If you’d still like a Yoda, please email me or comment below. I will try to get them sent whenever I can.

Photos by L. Marie.

Nesting

A while ago, I watched Dancing with the Birds, a documentary on Netflix about the courting habits of male birds. One of those birds, the Macgregor’s bowerbird, is well known for building an elaborate bower to attract a mate. I love that! This bird uses sticks, leaves, rocks, and colorful objects to create the perfect bower. According to an article on the San Diego Zoo’s website, “Bowers are not nests.” They are really courting areas. The female is responsible for building a nest for offspring.

      

The male weaver bird has the same goal as the male bowerbird. This bird, however, builds an actual nest using a weaving technique. But some species of weaver birds build nests in a group and have their own little neighborhoods. (See this article for more info on these amazing builders.)

When you think of nesting, what do you think of? This?

Or, perhaps you think of the efforts that people awaiting the arrival of their babies go through to prepare their “nests” for their little ones. I think of that too, but I also think in general of someone making a home warm and cozy, particularly in the winter when the weather is too cold to venture out. Warm, soft fabrics of differing textures, conversational seating, adequate reading materials, and other comforts, come to mind (like the Anthropologie pillows in the photo below). I also think of having the essentials on hand (besides the usual food staples): coffee, tea, chocolate, and cookies.

Speaking of soft fabrics, I saw this pattern on Yarnspirations.com and immediately thought of nesting. Wouldn’t you love to be wrapped in something like this blanket below while lounging on the couch? No? Just me then? Perhaps I’ll make it someday.

In these days of enforced nesting, with many of us anchored to home, I have been choosing craft projects to do. Before I knew about the latest crisis worldwide, I stocked up on yarn.

Speaking of which, I have an unusual giveaway just because it’s nice to get free stuff every once in a while, especially in challenging times. If you’ve heard about or seen the Disney Plus show, The Mandalorian, you know about this little guy:

I found a crochet pattern by Vivianne Russo online and have been making these. They are about five inches tall. I’m giving away two. Comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing to receive one. Winners to be announced sometime next week!

Henry is nesting with his new friends, the Yodas (for want of a species name, this is what everyone is calling them) and their guardian unicorn.

Macgregor’s bowerbird and nest from somewhere on Pinterest. Weaver bird from network23.org. Crocheted blanket image from yarnspirations.com. Pillow from Anthropologie’s website. Other photos by L. Marie.

Crayons—Promises of Proficiency

I’ve written about crayons before. Like here.

Crayons fascinate me, particularly the box of sixty-four. What an array of colors! When I was a kid, a big box of crayons made me fit for any task—whether I needed to color a page in a coloring book or make my own illustrations on a blank piece of paper. Each crayon in my hand was a promise that I could make things happen. Back then, I never doubted that I could.

 

These days, I don’t use crayons as much as I once did. And some days, doubts creep in that I’m fit for the task. The bane of adulthood. Ever been there? On days when I doubt my proficiency, I think I know what to do instead: open my box of crayons and remember the promise.

Andy of City Jackdaw, here’s a promise: you will see a copy of Charles Yallowitz’s book, War of Nytefall: Eradication on your Kindle device! Please comment below to confirm.

Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Photos by L. Marie.