for Christians

I don’t often wax on (or off) about my faith on this blog–mainly because, if you’ve found your way here, you probably did so for the writing and reading and snark, not the “religion” stuff. (Note: I’m not religious. I’m a Jesus-follower. There’s a distinct difference. If you want me to wax and polish that in another post, lemme know. 😉 )

Anywho, ballyhoo.

The current social and political climate in the United States of America is bringing me way low. Still, I sit in a place of privilege because I’m white, educated, and middle-class-ish. Husband has full-time & long-term employment, gets benefits; we’d do better financially if I took at least a part-time job, but we’re not in a position that I *have* to, so I can stay at home with kiddo and stay at home and write (sometimes); we have biological family who help us out with kiddo’s schooling and with LIFE; we have an adopted community that helps with LIFE; we have a network of local connections going back 25 years; we speak English, blah blah more privileged stuff blah.

So, I can sit here fairly comfortably at my newish laptop, reading Twitter and Facebook and news sites and bemoan the state of the Union in *empathy* with the under- and non-privileged, but it’s not like I’m out there getting shot for wearing a hoodie. I know where my next meal is coming from. I can walk into a bank and immediately get service and talk to personnel in English about my needs. I don’t have to know what month Flag Day is before I’m allowed to be a citizen.

That said, my heart still breaks…my soul is crying…my spirit feels, in many ways, broken–all because I see (with my limited sight) the pain and anguish people are suffering all over the world and all over this country, and I see the leaders of this country apparently doing everything they can to increase that suffering instead of diminishing it as they swore to do.

And what rends my heart to shreds most violently is that I see humans who claim Jesus Christ cheering on these corrupt ones instead of rejecting them.

So, I have something to say to my fellow humans who claim Him as their Lord and profess to pledge their allegiance to Him alone (wording intentional, *ahem*). If you’re not one of them and don’t want to read further, I understand, and I hold no negative thoughts or emotions toward you. If you’re not one of them and you *do* read further, please don’t hesitate to ask me anything you like about what I’ve written.

I am always open to talking of these things.
They are the core of my very existence.

If you are one who claims Jesus as Lord and feel moved to converse, please also do not hesitate.
If you are one who claims Jesus as Lord and feel moved to excoriate me or anyone else who comments, check yourself or wreck yourself. I will delete inappropriate or abusive comments and block you from this blog without hesitation.

If you’re a Christian, this one’s for you.

(I have also posted a version of this on Facebook.)

“Take a good look at her. She has had five husbands. And the sixth man in her life, with whom she is presently living, is not her husband. But Jesus Christ does the unthinkable. He introduces himself to her as her new Husband–the seventh* man in her life, the heavenly suitor who will love her like no man ever has. He will turn her tragedy into purity, her ashes into beauty, her misery into joy.

“This woman is a Samaritan; she’s a half-breed–half Jew and half Gentile. In other words, she comprises both Jew and Gentile in her body. She depicts the bride of Jesus Christ, comprised of fallen, tragic humanity, Jew and Gentile, who have been re-created anew to be the masterpiece of God’s matchless grace.”

–Frank Viola,
FROM ETERNITY TO HERE
(*7 symbolizes perfection)

So. If you’re going to ally yourself with Jesus the Anointed One of God Eternal, here are a few facts about yourself you’re going to have to accept:
(Note: every following “you” is collective, not singular.)

You are a hybrid.
You are a half-breed.
You are a wayward, fallen, tragic creature.
You are hunted.
You are a foreigner.
You are a stranger.
You are despised.
You are destitute.
You are homeless.
You are a refugee.

In His glorious, immeasurable Love, God the Father has handselected you to be the Bride for his Son.
In His glorious, immeasurable Love, Jesus the Anointed One has paid the bloodprice that is your dowry.
In His glorious, immeasurable Love, the Holy Spirit has led you to the Lord Your Bridegroom.

(Again, every “you” is collective, not singular.)

You are become His Bride, one day to become His Wife.
You are adopted into His Family.
You are a Living Stone being built into His House.
You are redeemed.
You are safe.
You are a citizen under His Lordship.
You are known to Him.
You are Beloved.
You are abundantly rich.
You are home.

You are still a refugee.

You have refuge in Him.

He does not reject the poor, the homeless, the destitute, the desperate, the alien, the stranger, the foreigner. He does not reject the refugee. He gave Himself to such as these, NO MATTER THE COST TO HIMSELF. This is His courage, His strength, His obedience, and His Love.

(Again: “you” is collective.)

And He lives in you.
His fullness lives in you.
ALL OF HIM lives in you.
His love, his courage, his strength to act in compassion and grace.

Is there a risk in welcoming the stranger? Is there danger in harboring the refugee?

Maybe. Maybe not. “But that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
With the time that is given us.
With His Love that “tabernacles” inside us.
With His strength and the courage that reside in us, the Bride of the Anointed One.

The Lord has purified for Himself a Bride who shares His spiritual DNA. As Eve shared Adam’s DNA because she was made out of him, so the Bride has a nature identical to the Bridegroom’s. There is no distinction between the two of them, and when God looks at the Bride, He sees His Son.

Jesus the unique, Anointed Son of God welcomes the refugee.

So does His Bride, the church, the collective of the Called-Out, who is Herself a (formerly destitute) refugee from a fallen world.

The Bride of Christ does not reject the refugee.

And if “the Bride” does reject the refugee, then she is not of Him; she does not belong to Him; and she is not the Bride.

Three Poetry Faves: Existentialist Slithy Flues

I had the following stuck in my head earlier today, so I thought I should share it:

A fly and a flea and a flue
Were in prison,
So what could they do?
Said the fly, “Let us flee!”
Said the flea, “Let us fly!”
So they flew
Through a flaw
In the flue.

~Ogden Nash

I’ve read the fifth line with a different word order, namely: “‘Let us fly!’ said the flea.” But I’ve written it as I learned it back in 8th grade or whenever that was.

The fly and the flea and the flue naturally reminded me of another favorite, which goes like this:

There was a young man who said, “God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no one about in the Quad.”

REPLY
Dear Sir:
Your astonishment’s odd.
I am always about in the Quad.
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by
Yours, faithfully,
God.

~Richard Knox

That one just gives me a little existentialist chuckle. ; )

And finally, I’d be quite remiss if I didn’t make note of the master of all nonsense poems, in which the poet tells a complete and comprehensible story by way of words that make no sense at all because he made them up. BRILLIANT.

Jabberwocky

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

~Lewis Carroll

You know what happens when you assume, right? (Hint: ass-u-me.)

This is a post about how I made an ass of myself.

And nobody knew about it but me.

So no one would ever have had to know.

Except that I’m putting it on the internet.

Which might make me an even greater ass.

The jury’s probably still out on that one.

I considered drawing a picture of the other type of ass but thought better of it. This isn't that kind of blog. I think.

I considered drawing a picture of the other type of ass but thought better of it. This isn’t that kind of blog. I think.

So, I was driving, right? And I stopped at a light on Memorial Road and May Avenue in north OKC, and there was a man with a sign that read, “HUNGRY — GOD BLESS,” and I was at the front of the line of cars, and I thought, “Great.”

He wants me to give him money.

He’ll probably use it for alcohol.

I don’t want to give someone money for alcohol if they have a drinking problem.

I don’t have cash anyway.

Who carries cash nowadays?

Wait. I do have a couple of dollars.

But that’s my emergency money.

You know. Just in case.

(Of I don’t know what. But at least I have it.)

I’m not giving him my emergency stash.

I don’t have anything to give him.

Oh, look. There’s the guilt.

Because I’m supposed to help the poor.

And what kind of awful person am I, if

A. I automatically assume he’s an alcoholic, and
B. I don’t help someone who needs help?

I suck.

*sigh*

But also, I’m a woman, and I’m by myself.

What if he’s dangerous?

(Not because he’s apparently homeless. Just because he’s male.)

Okay, I really suck.

But I’m still not giving him any money.

Screw it.

That was my train of thought in the second it took for me to pull up at the light and for the man on the corner to make eye contact with me.

Eye contact.

Shiny.

He held his sign higher. And the words “HUNGRY — GOD BLESS” might as well have been divine fire from on high emblazoned across the sky, searing my retinas. But still, my retinas perceived the man, and my mind assessed him. About my age. Longish, dark curly hair. Bright blue eyes. Clean-shaven. (Clean-shaven?) Backpack. Old clothes. Pain.

He held his sign higher, and I held up my hands and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

He moved on past my car, but not before he said something that I couldn’t hear but that was clearly — clearly — a derogatory response to my choice.

He probably just cursed me out.

He doesn’t know if I’m just refusing to give him what I have, or if I really don’t have anything.

At least he didn’t flip me off.

Dude, I’m sorry, okay?

I need my emergency money.

And then there’s the possible addiction thing.

Oh, God, I suck.

With both hands gripping the steering wheel and my eyes on the red stoplight, I sat there and looked at myself and didn’t like what I saw. The thing is, I’ve done this assessment in the same situation and with the same results countless times. It never changes, because I never come to an answer that makes sense to me.

Memory delivers me my old neighbor, Alex, who would come to my door asking for a couple of Euros to buy bread and cheese and meat so that he and his wife could have something to eat. Never mind that a couple of Euros isn’t enough to buy bread and cheese and meat, but it is enough to buy a beer, and if enough neighbors give him a couple of Euros, he’ll have enough to buy the number of beers it takes for him to get drunk enough (again) to beat his wife instead of fixing her a sandwich.

The specter of Alex and his wife haunts me at the traffic lights and the street corners and the mouths of alleys where men in disheveled clothing ask me for money and use God as their letter of reference. I do not know what to do with these men. I cannot know their hearts, and I cannot know the source of their pain.

I look into the bright blue eyes of the man at Memorial & May, and I don’t know what I can do for him that will allow both of us to leave this corner with guilt-free, satisfied smiles on our faces.

I’m thinking all of this as the man moves on past my car and I grip the steering wheel in miserable indecision and I look down and see a Walmart Great Value brand granola bar in the car’s center console.

I grabbed the granola bar and punched the window button, and I swear I leaned halfway out of that window, waving that white-wrapped granola bar like a white flag of surrender, with the Goodness of the universe as the enemy who opposes my bitter self.

“Sir?” I screeched out the window. “Sir! Hello!”

He was three cars back, but he came running. I prayed that the light wouldn’t change and that the drivers behind me wouldn’t be too irate, because I wasn’t rolling up that window or letting go of that granola bar until I could place it in that blue-eyed man’s tan, possibly grimy, but also possibly clean, and who cares about their condition anyway? hands.

When he reached me, he was saying something about not being able to run. I met his eyes and said, “I found this.” And I offered him the granola bar, and he took it, and he asked, “Did you hear what I said?”

I swallowed. Hard. “No, I didn’t.”

He smiled. He was already turning away, moving back down the line of cars. But he locked eyes with me one more time.

“I said, ‘I love your hair.’ God bless!”

I swallowed again, harder this time. “You, too.” It was all I could manage.

And then he was gone, and the light turned green, and I drove away and thanked God that I don’t have to be a slave to my assumptions. I don’t have to be an ass. If I’m an ass, it’s by my own choice. And I always get another chance.

Sometimes, that chance is delivered via a blue-eyed homeless man who loves my hair. We both left the corner of Memorial & May with smiles on our faces, and that’s how this story can always end.

In Which Pregnancy and Car Wrecks Don’t Mix

A little less than two days ago, I had what was probably the scariest experience of my life: At 36 weeks pregnant, I was involved in a car accident.

My car. Click to biggify and behold.

I won’t say much about the details, because I’m not certain of what legalities I need to be aware of in discussing this in public (before all insurance claims are settled, that is). But the bare bones of it is that I was driving on a city street and another driver pulled out of a parking lot in front of me. My car collided with the other driver’s.

As far as I know, the other driver was not injured. Both vehicles sustained damage. The other driver received a citation.

Me, I went on my first ride as a patient* in an ambulance. By the time the EMTs were loading me up, the husband had arrived. I asked if he could ride in the ambulance with me, but the EMT said, “No, the police need him to stay right here and take possession of your car. He can come to the hospital afterward.”

Having witnessed the understandably reckless manner in which the husband had arrived at the scene in his pickup, I asked, “Is he okay to drive?”

The EMT shrugged and grinned. “Well, he drove here.”

And that was that. In the ambulance, the EMT checked my vitals and stuck an IV and some saline in the back of my hand. Over the next 15 hours, I would come to hate that IV. But in the meantime, I lay there on the gurney, watching the highway recede between my outstretched feet, wondering what would happen if one of the cars following close behind us plowed into the back of the ambulance.

The EMT talked to me in a soothing voice, especially as he explained (after I asked) that hearing a fetal heartbeat through a stethoscope in a moving ambulance was practically impossible. I took the opportunity to practice my yogic breathing.

When we reached the emergency room, the EMTs took me straight up to labor & delivery triage. On the way there, we passed through multiple winding corridors and rode two different elevators. The EMT who had driven the ambulance looked at me said said, “After this elevator, there’s a set of stairs.”

I looked at him, looked down at myself strapped to the gurney, and looked back up. “You guys have fun with that.”

He grinned. “Oh, no. We’re riding. You’re carrying.”

I motioned at my belly. “I’m already carrying!” And I was even able to chuckle through my tears as I said it.

Once I was in a room, a nurse came in and started doing things. A fetal monitor was involved, strapped to my belly. When I said something about Braxton-Hicks contractions, the nurse said, “Oh no, these aren’t Braxton-Hicks. These are the real thing.”

I managed an askance look and a shaky, “Oh.”

The most beautiful sound in the world was our baby’s steady, strong heartbeat, loud and clear over the fetal monitor. The most beautiful sight was her snub nose and plump cheeks on the ultrasound. (This was when I finally truly stopped crying.) The best feeling was her regular, healthy movement inside of me.

From triage, they moved me up one floor to labor & delivery, where the husband and I spent the (restless but as restful as could be expected) night. Tuesday morning, my doctor came in, pronounced the baby’s condition “excellent” and my lessening contractions “normal for anyone who’s 36 weeks pregnant,” and sent me home to relax for the remainder of the week.

I see the providential hand of God in every moment of this entire, terrifying experience. I see his protection of the baby and of me. I see his kindness and gentleness in the ministrations and the humor of the EMTs. I see his knowledgeability, his efficiency, and his loving care in my nurses and in my doctor.

In the story of my life, God is always present — but in this particular chapter, he’s obvious.

Have a good day, dearies. And tell someone you love them. : )

___________

*When I was 7, my grandparents came to visit us in Germany. Parents, grandparents, and I took a trip to Berlin. On the way there, we were involved in a 10-car pile-up on the Autobahn (which word, by the way, is nothing more than the German version of “interstate”). My dad had to stay with the car and talk with the Polizei. As the only other German-speaker among us, I had to ride in the ambulance with my grandma. At age 7. But that’s another story and shall be told another time.

Why I Believe I’m Created to Create

This is pretty much the essence of how I feel about writing:

“It feels like a gift from the universe to you. And maybe it is. …(Y)ou’re so far into the thing you’re doing that in that moment, everything else doesn’t matter. I’ve gotten this feeling from other things, but where I get it the most is when I’m writing.

“It’s a relationship with words, essentially. I have one and it manifests itself through my fingers, usually onto a computer screen but occasionally with pen and paper. It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

–John Scalzi
The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Eighteen: Writing

 

Having a Little Faith

In my Twitter bio, I tell the world that I am “created to create.” If you search my blog for that phrase, you’ll find a bunch of posts in which I use it. It’s a phrase that’s near and dear to my heart lodged at the very core of my being.

“What’s the because?” you ask.

(Or maybe you use proper grammar and cock your head while stroking your chin, saying, “Courtney, dear, do please elaborate: What is the reason that this phrase resonates with you so?”)

 
At the end of this post, you will find a link to my Confessions of my creative sins. In these Confessions, I talk a lot about my faith and its effect on my life and my art. Some of this effect has been, on the surface, horribly detrimental to me as a human being and to my expression of my creativity — on the surface. Two things of great import are worth noting here:

1. The detriment was a result of my misunderstanding of “faith” in general and of the principles of my own faith in particular.

2. The detriment has proven itself superficial because I’ve learned so much and grown so much stronger as a result of the dark times. The surface was deadly…but the depths are invigorating, rich, fulfilling, and teeming with life.

I don’t often discuss my faith on this blog; I know that’s not why most of you come here. But if you’re interested in my writing and/or in me as a writer/human, I suspect that hearing the occasional tidbit about my deeper beliefs isn’t going to drive you away. Feel free, though, to correct me on this if I’m wrong. ; )

And, yet again, “What’s the because?” What’s the connection between all of this faith stuff and the Scalzi quote above?

Created to Create

Well, here’s the connection in one shelle du nut:

I believe in God.

I believe in the very first statement of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament: “In the beginning, God created….”

I believe that it’s no coincidence that God-as-Creative-Being is the first thing we learn about him.

I believe that being “created in God’s image” means, in part, that we each are created to create.

I believe that “to create” means to put something into the world that wasn’t there before. That might be a story. Or a painting. An etching in wood. Something made of construction paper.

Or it could be an encouraging conversation with a friend. It could be a hug.

A kiss.

A smile.

When I watch my cat, I see her being exactly what she’s been created to be: She plays, she stalks, she hunts, she revels in sunshine, she interacts with her humans. In every facet of her being, she Is exactly what God created her to Be. When I watch her, I marvel at how easily she expresses God’s creativity at work in her. She doesn’t think about it, doesn’t analyze it, doesn’t worry if she’s “doing it right.” She doesn’t even do. She simply Is, and that is enough.

Pippin and sunshine

Me, I have a hard time being that simple. I have a hard time simply being. But my roots are digging ever deeper, and I am growing. I understand one thing for certain: I am created to create. The cat is Cat when she’s in the sunshine, on her back, with all four feet in the air, looking about as ridiculous as a feline can.

Me, I am Human when I’m in the sunshine of creativity, exposing my belly, baring my vulnerable heart to the world, making a fool of myself by letting others read the secrets of my soul in my written words. When I am Writer, I am expressing God’s creativity at work in me.

Scalzi says, “It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

Me, I’m engaged in an ongoing love affair with my Creator. That affair, that Love, manifests itself in many ways — but one of its most significant manifestations is my Writing. When I am Writer, I am being exactly what he created me to be. This defines my Self — to myself and to others.

If you want to read more about how I came to these conclusions — if you want to see me bare the darkest times of my soul — my Creative Confessions are here.

___________

What about you, dear inklings? Any thoughts to share on faith and the writer’s relationship to the written word? Do you agree or disagree that every human is inherently creative? Whatever the roots of your own creativity — whether you call those roots spiritual or not — I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 3 Recovery, Pt. 1

Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Hook: I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee: Lightning has just struck my brain.

Sometimes, my darlingest readers, lightning-esque is exactly how apostrophes happen. They’re pretty cramazing when they happen, but I must admit they do leave one somewhat stupefied with shock.

In Pt. 1 of my Confessions, I told of how I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2, I told why I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2.5, I delved deep and revealed the fear at the foundation of the whys.

As I thought ahead to today’s post, my mind supplied the working title “Pt. 3,” and I fully expected to write the drama, the tears, and the heartache that would go along with it.

But then, my lovelies, I had an apostrophe epiphany. And that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

In the Beginning

Birthday in Germany With Kitchen Gift, age 3

In the beginning, I was two weeks shy of my 3rd birthday, and my parents and I moved from McKinney, Texas (where I was born), to Darmstadt, Germany.

At this point in the story, my listeners usually ask, “Was your dad military?”

Well, once-upon-a-time, he was. But that was back in the ’60s. We moved to Germany in 1980 — so, no, we weren’t a military family by this point.

“Oh, then your parents were missionaries?”

No. Not that, either. And here’s where I usually reveal the reason for our trans-Atlantic emigration…but this time, I want to wait a bit before I tell you. Bear with me.

Point of No Postponed Return

Originally, my parents intended to stay in Germany for 5 years. Sometime in Year 3, the three of us spent an afternoon at the “Woog,” a lake down the street from our apartment. As my parents watched me play, Daddy turned to Mama and asked, “If we left now, moved back to the States, what would you miss the most?”

Mama thought for a moment, then said, “The Autobahn.”

Read: German highway system with speed limits only in small, designated areas.

That little exchange took place in 1983. The subject of leaving Germany didn’t come up again until it was time for my parents to retire in 2007.

Growing Up “Multi-Kulti”

No, “multi-kulti” has nothing to do with cults. It’s a short form of the German word for “multi-cultural,” which is how I lived and breathed from age 3 until…well, until now, because multi-cultural is a permanent facet of who I am. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The point is, I grew up in Germany. My parents enrolled me in German Kindergarten 6 months after we arrived. I learned German from my teacher, Frau Apfelrock (Mrs. Appleskirt [yes, really]), and from the other kids. When it came time to start 1st grade, I went to a German elementary school. My German high school career began with a change to a “Gymnasium” (ask me about that sometime) at the start of 7th grade, and it ended with my “Abitur” (ask later) during the last semester of 13th grade.

At age 19, I moved to Oklahoma to go to university. Then I got married. Graduated. Moved back to Germany to work fulltime with a small church. Had grand adventures. Learned. Had terrible heartaches. Grew. Moved back to Oklahoma at age 31. And so forth.

For now, consider that brief summary of my life as a backdrop. Playing itself out in the foreground, we have what I’ve blogged about over the last few weeks:

  • developing unhealthy beliefs about God and about my self
  • fearing that God and others would reject me for my art (painting and writing)
  • giving up my creativity in order to gain approval, to which I was (am?) addicted
  • consciously acknowledging my fears and determining to overcome them.

All of this against the backdrop of a multi-cultural, bi-lingual, trans-Atlantic, resource-filled life and lifestyle.

*sigh*

APOSTROPHE!!!

Bill Weger in My Fair Lady

And now that I’ve painted for you this picture of my life, I’ll tell you the punchline. The epiphany that knocked me flat as I wrote my Confessions and thought ahead to what was going to be “Part 3.”

Are you ready?

Here goes:

The reason my parents moved our entire life to Germany in 1980 was so that my dad could pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime opera singer.

Did you catch that?

Let me say it again:

My parents sacrificed an entire way of life, everything they had always known, in order to move to the other side of the world and pursue a creative dream.

Chills pass through my body from head to toe as I write that sentence.

*facepalm* *headdesk*

Um.

Am I an idiot?

Really having a hard time not calling myself stupid right now.

Bill Weger in Aida

People, are you hearing what I’m saying?! I grew up with parents who gave up EVERYTHING* for the sake of CREATIVITY!!! They might have been afraid of the unknown. They might have been afraid of the chaos of moving and setting up a new life in an alien culture — or, rather, in a culture in which they were the aliens. Sure, they were scared of that. I’ve heard them talk about it.

But they did it anyway.

And here’s what they were not afraid of. They were not afraid of others’ rejection. They chose the creative dream over the security of others’ approval.

I have lived with their example right in front of me my entire life.

And even though I have seen it and known it and acknowledged it, the magnitude of it did not hit me until last week.

Forest for The Trees

Of all humans, I’ve gotta be one of the blindest.

On the other hand, maybe this is synchronicity at work once more.

I’ve had my apostrophe at age 34. My parents — two incredibly cramazing people!!! — packed up their lives and struck out for creative adventure when they were 37 and 34.

It worked for them.

It’s gonna work for me, too. I just have to recover from my stupefied shock first.

Mama, Daddy — thanks for being who you are. You are truly two of the most incredible human beings I know.

_________________________________
*EVERYTHING except Daddy’s 1972 Porsche 914; that, they shipped to Germany. ; )

Bill Weger in Wiener Blut (Viennese Spirit)

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 2

Tangled

Last week, my lovelies, I started telling you the story about how I forgot my creative purpose. When I first pondered relating this tale, I thought I would approach it in logical, yea even chronological fashion.

Alas and alack and forsooth, I’ve discovered that I just can’t do it. Too many threads of my personal history are too tightly interwoven with each other, and there’s nary a way I can untangle them all so that they make chronological sense.

In Part 1 of my Confessions, I talked about giving everyone in my life permission to determine what I did with my creativity. I gave it to everyone except myself. In Pt. 1, I described to you some of my thought patterns back then…

…and now, I must needs pick up a different thread and follow that into the creative tangle.

And that thread, my darlings, is the religious one.

Zounds and gadzooks, this one is gonna hurt.

Tangles and Tarnation

I won’t spend time delineating the particulars of the faith I was raised in. Suffice it to say I grew up surrounded by religious folk who were conservative, tradition-minded, and focused on Doing The Right Thing. As an adult, I’ve come to realize that within the confines of the United States, the denomination I was raised in is considered pretty rigid.

In Germany, however, flexibility was vital. The church my parents and I attended was composed mainly of American military servicemembers and their families. Because of military rotation, the congregation had a new face every few years. People came and went — people who hailed from various stateside cultures and religious backgrounds. If the church was to survive as a group, everybody had to swallow their pride in certain traditions. Some rituals and patterns of thought remained the same; but nobody had the luxury of resting on the easy laurels of dogma.

On top of that, I was blessed with parents who demanded I think and speak for myself. I asked questions, requested honesty, and made a beloved nuisance of myself to the church leadership. (Fortunately, the leadership changed every few years, so I didn’t develop a reputation.) *grin*

But in spite of all this freedom of religious thought, I still managed to tangle up a few things. I heard a lot of preaching and teaching about self-sacrifice and about putting others’ needs ahead of my own. Both fantastic principles — when understood and applied correctly.

Unfortunately, I neither understood nor applied correctly.

Over time, I developed a view of God that ate away at my soul like a ravaging disease. Somehow, I came to believe that if I didn’t do things to make God happy, he would send me to hell. And the only way I could make God happy was to sacrifice whatever I held most dear about myself.

And, of course, what I prized most about myself was my creativity.

Torture

I told myself that I loved God. I told others that I loved God. You’d be impressed with my acting skills, dear inklings: My surface faith was so convincing, it would numb your brain. I had myself convinced, that’s for sure.

But all the while, I feared that God would someday demand I pay up. I lived in terror that God would say, “You’ve put your creativity on a pedestal long enough! It’s time to give that back to me.”

I came to see myself as a type of Abraham. Abraham laid Isaac, his son, on the sacrificial altar with a knife poised to plunge into the boy’s chest.

I believed that God would require me to stretch my artist child out upon just such an altar — and rip the artist child’s living heart out.

Remember what I said in Confessions, Pt. 1 about how I bent to society’s expectations? Take what I just said about sacrifice and extrapolate:

When society insisted that I should Get A Good Job, Make Something Of Myself, and Contribute Responsibly, I thought it was God, telling me to pay up.

When individuals demanded that I write or paint only Happy Encouraging Things instead of gritty truth, I thought it was God, telling me to sacrifice.

When people I trusted told me to give up my writing time in favor of what others needed of me, I thought it was God, putting the ritual knife into my trembling, unwilling, sinful fingers.

The result?

Years of depression. Years of fear: fear of God, fear of rejection, fear for my inner artist child. I was terrified of what looked, to me, like a bleak and unbearable future. I berated myself for my secret unwillingness to sacrifice. I thought I was just weak of soul. I questioned my worth.

I all but quit writing. I had nightmares of murder and guilt. My paintings turned ever darker, and I received criticism for them. The word “demonic” was used.

I thought it was God, telling me I had no right to cause such trouble with my controversial art.

Truth

I was wrong.

That was not God.

The Creator does not work that way.

But I wouldn’t realize those Truths for a long time.

Come back Thursday. I’ll confess another thread of the story — and point us toward a happy ending.
_____________________

I welcome all of your thoughts on these things.

Shared experiences?

Residual heartaches?

Current heartache?

What questions do you have for me?

Left Brain, Right Brain, Or Ambidextrous Brain?

When I’m talking about writing or about creativity in general, I can’t go for very long without mentioning Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Creative Sees Shot, Analytical Lines Up Snails

At some point, yes, I will do a series of posts on my experiences with that book and how it is still changing how I see the world, almost three years after I worked through it. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with snippets.

Here’s another one:

In her book, Cameron says some fascinating, invigorating things about a concept called “synchronicity”:

We call it anything but what it is — the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul. …[T]hose dark and romantic notions…call to our deepest selves. When we answer that call, when we commit to it, we set in motion the principle that C. G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events.

…Don’t be surprised if you try to discount it. It can be a very threatening concept…the possibility of an intelligent and responsive universe, acting and reacting in our interests.

Cameron also writes,

Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?

These thoughts, my darlings, could be the basis for an entire year of blog posts! And yet, I’m going to focus in on a few relatively small details. (And yet, monstrous waves do begin as tiniest ripples in the sea…) Maybe the comments section would be a great place — for now! — for discussion on the subject of God-or-no-God, a responsive universe, and answered prayers as the (subconsciously unwanted?) results of “ask, and you’ll get.” In the meantime, I’m going to talk about synchronicity relating to the concept of left-brained and right-brained.

Left Brain and Right Brain

My whole life, left brain vs. right brain has been a topic of conversation in my family. And it really has been Left Brain vs. Right Brain: My left-brained mother has lamented for years the disorganization and heads-in-the-cloudness of her right-brained husband and right-brained daughter.

A junior high and high school English teacher, Mama had a place for everything, and she wanted everything in its place. Daddy walked in at night from his fulltime job as an opera singer and left a trail of clothing through the livingroom. Mama had compartments in her purse for every doohickey and whatnot a woman might possibly need while out and about. I was chronically without tissues, nail files, chapstick, and pens. The inside of Mama’s secretary was a shining beacon of organizational light. I crammed things into my wardrobe, slammed the doors shut, and wedged furniture (and sometimes my own body) in front of them to prevent explosive decompression.

“Oh, you right-brained people!” was a common, exasperated exclamation in our household. Mama’s cause was likely utterly lost when the right-brained daughter went out into the world and found herself a right-brained husband.

But left- and right-brained issues pursued me even outside the home. In high school (which, in the German school I attended, meant grades 7 – 13), I excelled at languages (English, German, and French), the visual arts, and any lessons in Social Studies or Religion that dealt with human emotion and its expression. Biology and chemistry were fair-weather friends. Math and physics were my nemeses.

Things got a little better in college, where I could specialize and focus on my arts. One semester, however, I took both Creative Writing and Media Writing. Creative Writing was a right-brained heaven. The left-brainedness of Media Writing made me feel like I had dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder). In Technical Writing, I almost floundered.

I did witness a fascinating exchange once, though: A professor asked a fellow student, “Andy, are you right-brained or left-brained?” Not missing a beat, Andy replied, “I’m ambidextrous-brained.” Laughter ensued, and among some of my friends, the concept of ambidextrous-brainedness turned into a running joke that went on for years.

Lately, however, I’ve started thinking that it was no joke. And this is where the synchronicity kicks in.

Left to Right and Back

I excelled in languages and arts but felt tortured in math and physics. However, at the end of my high school career, we all had to take a comprehensive final exam (two years’ worth of class material) in four subjects. Mine were English, Art, Religion…and Chemistry — because by that point in my high school career, my Chem and Biology grades were above average. Why?

Growing up, I fought my mother about keeping my room, my purse, my life organized. However, I’ve always alphabetized my books, and even as a kid and a teenager, I could plan out advance details of an event like nobody’s business. What was this right-brained Creative doing organizing anything?

My right-brained father, who spent 27 years as a fulltime, professional opera singer, doesn’t drop his clothes all over the house anymore. And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become far more observant of the nuances of my parents’ personalities (funny, how that works), and I’ve realized that there are a great many things that Daddy likes to have just so. Books. (Hmmm…) His knife collection. His haircuts. Certain philosophies. How does this right-brained man end up dealing with some areas of life from such a black-and-white perspective?

My left-brained mother is staying busy in her retirement. She has taken a few events-to-plan under her organizational wings. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s my primary beta reader, and her left-brain skills are invaluable for keeping me on track in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and plot structure… But she is also taking a painting class. Over the last few months, she has completed four paintings and is starting on her fifth. This isn’t abstract stuff, either. This is landscapes, scenery, and organic still-life. And every painting is better and more creative than the last. My left-brained mother — an artist?

Ambidextrous Brain

Synchronicity kicked in again last week during a conversation with my friend Brian. Brian is an architect, a job one might “assign” to an entirely left-brained person. But Brian surprised me by revealing that when he’s in the conceptual phase of a new building, he has to be “in” his right brain. And this state of mind isn’t just confined to his brain, either: When he’s working on the rough draft of a new building, his desk must be in a state of mess and chaos, otherwise he can’t work!

Things change, he said, when he moves on to the next drawing phase, getting the building out of the rough draft stage and solidifying the concept both in his mind and on paper. At this point, he says, he moves into the logical, more critically-thinking realm of accurate measurements, crisp lines, and clean structure. His surroundings change in accordance with his thinking: Now, the desk must be organized, or the distraction of the mess prevents him from thinking straight about his project.

As if these recent examples weren’t enough to get me thinking, I got another dose of inspiring and synchronous? synchronicitous? food-for-thought when Becca blogged about relating to her left-brained kid and her right-brained kid. (Go read that and come back here! It’s so very worth it!) Finally, after mulling over her article, I sat up and went, “Hmmmm…..”

I think somebody is trying to tell me something.

I Need Chaos! I Need Order! GAH!

It’s funny and frustrating how one can adopt a philosophy whole-heartedly…but then it takes years and oodles of effort and buckets of sweat and tears for that philosophy to permeate the soul and then crystallize in one’s life. I first read Thoreau in college, and that’s when I first realized (on a conscious level) that I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live with intention. Like Thoreau, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” But now, more than a decade later, I feel I’m only beginning to understand what that philosophy really means!

For me, part of this deep, deliberate living has been to get to know myself as a Creative and, more specifically, as a writer. It’s kind of like marriage: the longer you live together, the more you find out about each other, even though you thought you knew each other pretty well when you said, “I do.” The longer I live with my creative self, the more I’m finding out about myself. Some of it’s scary, some of it’s annoying, and some of it makes me ask, “Why did I ever get into this with you?!”

Some of what I’m learning has to do with my writerly habits. I’ve found out that:

…I write best in the early afternoon and late, late at night. (There’s something marvelous and darkly romantic about being the only one awake in my world at night. There’s an intimacy with my characters that I don’t get at any other time.)

…I can write happily and productively in the same spot for weeks, and then I suddenly have to switch writing spots, or I get bored with my story! (This might mean moving my laptop from the couch to the table. It might also mean I can’t write in the apartment at all anymore and must seek out an eclectic coffee shop.)

…for over a year, I couldn’t write at my desk because there were two many tax documents on the shelf above it. (The documents are gone now, but I haven’t recovered enough to go back to the desk yet.)

There’s more, but maybe you get the idea.

Now, to top it all off, I’ve got this synchronicity about left- and right-brained going on, and I’m realizing the following:

1. I’m not as right-brained as I thought I was. Obviously, I have access to my left brain; otherwise, the alphabetizing, the chemistry grades, the event-planning, and the general orderliness of my present-day home would not have happened. I am a right-brained Creative, yes — but that does not have to limit me. I can use my logical, analytical side to make myself a better writer…and a more balanced human.

2. I think I’m ambidextrous-brained, and I think both of my parents are, too. Daddy and I lean to the right; Mama leans to the left. But all three of us can access both sides at need. Maybe this is genetic…but maybe every human has this ability. I tend to think the latter, because I know we’re all capable of logical thought to some degree or another…and I believe quite strongly that we’re all creative in some way. A lot of us just don’t know it or know how to explore it.

3. I need to pay closer attention to the hows of my Writing Life. I need to be more deliberate about it — which will enable me to live deep in my creativity and suck the marrow out of it. Which side of my brain do I access during which parts of the writing process?

Left side for prewriting? Outlines, character description, plot arcs, planning chapters scene-by-scene… That definitely sounds like logical, analytical thinking!

Right side for writing the rough draft? Letting the story flow, listening to characters’ voices, deviating from the outline when the adventure calls for off-the-beaten-path… Writing the first draft requires me to follow my heart and let my characters get into trouble that no logical person would countenance.

Do I go back to the left side for the editing process? Return to the right side for flourishes and poetry in the final draft? And, as I consider Brian and the way he has to change his surroundings, I wonder if I unconsciously change mine, too. When I’m in the mess of a rough draft, do I feel more inspired amidst chaos? Do random ideas pop into my head more frequently when there are books and papers and sparklies scattered across my workspace? But do I go into one of my famous cleaning frenzies as soon as I start editing?

Time and conscious observation will tell.

What about you? Do you consider yourself wholly left- or right-brained?

Or are you ambi-brained-ous? Which way do you lean, and what are your activities when you’re accessing the other side?

Oooh, how about this one, for the bloggers: When you blog, which side are you in? Does blogging require access to a different side of the brain than other forms of writing?

(And don’t forget, you can discuss the God, prayers, responsive universe, synchronicity stuff in the comments, too.) 🙂