The Silent Years

I have always needed and loved to write. The process of a tiny thought ruminating, growing, and then hungering for expression. Taking up space in me until the floodgate opens and words gush like water. And then I had a baby. Some of the thoughts changed but they still underwent the process. And then I had another….and another. Over the course of five years, I stopped writing despite my best efforts. Whether the thoughts stopped or I no longer had the ability to process them, or I lacked the time to express them- likely some combination of the three- I’m not sure why it happened. But those years, my time of silence, was a season. And just as I had stopped writing despite my effort to keep at it, I also started writing again despite an effort to suppress.

We knew Eloise would be our last baby. She turned two, and I reflected that if our schedule had continued, I would be preparing to bring home another one- but I wasn’t. I was done. I had three beautiful girls. My oldest had just entered Kindergarten and my youngest was growing in independence- two going on 20. Third children…they grow up so much faster. My life began to ease, and I found myself with some time. Enough anyway to read- something, anything!- other than children’s books on repeat.

You readers, you know. You begin to read, your mind is being filled and yet there is always more space for response. And the better you read, the better the thoughts are that fill the space created. Once that happened, the thoughts did what they do: they grew, they hungered, they demanded to be released. Against every effort, against my defiance, they persisted. In December I succumbed. The need to write overpowered the need to rest, in fact it became a kind of rest. I created this blog, needing to break away in format and content from my old one. I needed it to be a place where I was a person- a whole person- and not just a mom. Where thought could exist outside my home.

Why did I resist? That thought is still soaking. It’s not ready to be wrung out. No doubt fear lurks in the water. Some thoughts you don’t want to grow; you are afraid to express. Some day, when I’m braver, when I understand it more myself, those thoughts can find their way out. Because after all, thoughts are just thoughts. They are not truth. But when you let them out into the light of day, you can see them for what they are. The truth or the lies they contain become discernible to you- and to everyone else.

In that, I’m learning to let go of needing to be right all the time. There is a journey in discovering what is true. We never start there. We are bent, all of us, to believe lies. And once discovered, Truth is no shallow pool. We wade in, slowly, pushing under, until we’re fathoms below, if we ever get that far. Maria Popova, on my favorite blog wrote this about Amiri Baraka, and it brought me so much freedom to speak- to speak even what I doubt, even what I fear, even what I struggle with:

Any human being who is fully alive and awake to the world has a duty to be continually changing her or his opinions, always evolving, like the universe itself, toward greater complexity. To judge who a person “Is” on the basis of their views at a particular point in time is to deny them the dignity of continual being, for at any given moment we are only ever seeing a static slice of the person’s dynamic becoming, which stretches across the evolving context of an entire lifetime.

While I probably don’t believe this in the same way Maria does, I do believe we are all moving in a direction. We are never stagnant; we are never still. We live in a current. For me to be able to write something not as Truth, but as Thought or Battle or Attempt, gives me the freedom to be wrong, and the courage to be humble.

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor

31XnCDjYnqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_A friend lent this to me. I have been interested in Flannery O’Connor. I have always journaled struggled with journaling and am trying to find a way to journal that is more doable, more profitable, and more satisfying both now and as I look back. So I have loaded my bookshelves with published journals by some of the greats. This was my first one to read. Like I said, I did’t know Flannery yet- this was our introduction. I had heard so much about this book, as well as her other stories, so truly they have had profound effects on people. But it did not leave a lasting impression with me. I wonder if this was not the place to begin with her. Who immediately jumps into your personal diary upon first meeting, anyway?? Had she been somewhat familiar, I may have read her words differently. I got stuck in the simplicity, and truthfully, the Catholicism. There was also an undercurrent of self-deprecation that didn’t seem helpful. (Compare to John Steinbeck’s use of, what I would call, productive modesty.) The last entry, though it spoke so truthfully, left me extremely disheartened. However, I am not done with her. I plan to read some of her short stories and see if that adds some perspective to her words. I’ll let you know if it does!

The Vanishing American Adult

51etAA6pA1L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_My husband and I listened to this at the urging of a good friend as we drove to Colorado this summer. I was really interested in the topic: the cultural development of unending adolescence. I was nervous it would be too political- I don’t have the patience for that. What I was not expecting was the history and philosophy that would be entwined throughout the book. Had I been reading it and not listening to the audiobook, had I not been listening to Ben’s own voice, I could have forgotten he was a senator. He wrote as a historian, as a Christian parent, as a former university president. Those were the perspectives he wrote from, and I found so much of what he had to say as valid and absolutely necessary. As we drove, this book was fuel for a lot of engaging- and sometimes robust- dialogue between me and Hubs in the car.

It’s greatest downfall (besides the hypothetical commencement speech by Theodore Roosevelt) was the practical application of his points. I loved hearing the stories of how his family was instilling work ethic and raising their kids to be full functioning citizens benefitting the world around them. But his situation is different from most, and a lot of what he said wasn’t transferable from his life to mine. My kids aren’t homeschooled. I can’t pull them from school for a few months to send them to a cattle ranch. My husband has a Monday – Friday job he has to be at. We don’t live it multiple locations nor do we have the opportunity to do most of the things his family has the opportunity to do.

So it was one of those books that sets you ablaze, winding you up so that you can spring into action, but once you close the back cover and start thinking about how you are going to shake things up…a bit of frustration and disappointment sets in. Ben, we are working on it. Already, we are doing things differently and our kids are responding, and we are thrilled. And we will keep working on it- you gave us the holistic picture we needed, both of the grim result if we don’t, and the thriving end if we do.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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I wanted to like this because people I love and admire really liked it. Maybe I went into it with too high expectations. It was sharp and funny, but I had a love/hate relationship with Bernadette. I liked her, but she was selfish, and her selfishness was devastating to others, but it read like you were supposed to forgive her for that because it was just her mysterious way. I couldn’t. I saw in her my tendency toward selfishness and the devastation that can have on those around me and I was angry with her, with me. Her excuses were not good enough. (No, neither are mine.) It was an entertaining read, but I hoped for much more at the conclusion.

The Gifts of Imperfection

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No one wants to talk about shame, but it is universally experienced. This book surprised me. I have a tendency to hate self-help books. I went into it both curious and dreading what I would read. The women in my Bible study group read it during the summer break. For me, as for most of us, it took some semantic maneuvering. All in all, it gets at the heart of some really true things. I can’t get behind all of it, but what did resonate with me gave me a lot to think about. And God- with his sovereign humor- gave me some experiences to practically apply some of what I read, on the golf course no less, so thanks for that.

The Glass Castle

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Now here is a book! This memoir shocked the hell out of me, despite hearing from several people years ago that it needed to be read. I finally did it so I can go see the movie- currently in theaters. Two things shocked me: it should have been heartbreaking, and I should have hated her parents. What could have been agonizing to read simply wasn’t. Let me give you an example- sandwiched in between talk of scorpions and Gila monsters and cats is this:

A month after we moved to Midland, Juju got bitten by a rattlesnake and died. We buried him near the Joshua tree. It was practically the only time I ever saw Brian cry. But we had plenty of cats to keep us company.

Lest you think Juju is one of the cats, it is her little brother. And here’s the surprise- despite the matter-of-fact way she presents horrific things in this book, the reader still feels the full effect of what has happened. I got to the end of that sentence above, and though it was in the middle of a paragraph, I stopped dead in my tracks and wept with Brian. And I wept all the more for the lack of tears in the story. Maybe she had to do it this way- I’m not sure I could have endured if she had not. Maybe she couldn’t have either.

The same was the case with her parents. She was gracious. She shared the awful, but she shared the beautiful too. She had come to a point of accepting all that they were, neither good nor terrible only, but a mixture of both. Despite my vigorous efforts, I enjoyed her dad. I went back and forth between anger and wonder with him….just as she did.

It is an incredible story incredibly shared.

Attempts for Dreams: A Trade of Regret

I lost you as a game of chess
waged on a battlefield
square patches of dark and light.
In the end they blurred to gray mist.
Oh chess, my downfall!
Where any game safely played
is never won.
You, my Queen,
I surrounded with pawns
unwilling to test our limitations.
I didn’t want to know them.

You would not be risked,
not even for victory.
Never underestimate the comfort
of untried possibility.

But now, having lost so
slowly, so
inevitably
I have come to think it would have been better
losing you in a sudden stab at glory!

Irony

Dear God,
Can I wonder with you?
You fashioned my mind,
made it
pulse with curiosity,
made it
question the answers,
and yet
when I wonder I ask
not looking to know
but just wanting to journey with
another curious mind who
doesn’t have the answer.
A mind as limited as mine.
And that’s not you
is it?
Can I wonder with you?
Your answer that unchanging Yes,
but mine is No
because I don’t know how.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel by [Barrows, Annie, Shaffer, Mary Ann]I read this in two days- it is so good! There is a profusion of interesting and lovable characters, and I found it fascinating to hear the story only through letters and telegrams. My only complaint was that the author waited until the absolute end to resolve the building conflict. It made the conclusion seem too quick; I wanted to relish in it longer and to see how it played itself out. This is how one usually feels when a book ends that was a pure joy to read. C.S. Lewis says, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I would have been happy for this book to go on forever.

I love the WWII era- they were such a chivalrous and scrappy people. To think of so many nations fighting the same fight. Yes, they all had their own reasons. Some entered the fray before others. Some did so reluctantly. But they sacrificed. They lived in wartime and felt the effects of it. Unlike now, when I had to explain to my little girl that actually our country is at war and has been for many years. No, we don’t see the fighting. No, we don’t feel the danger. No, we don’t have to give up anything for it. It felt absurd to say. It feels a bit absurd to live. Hear me, I love that my children don’t live in a war zone, but there is something beautiful and strong that emerges within a people who have suffered. Those who have been brought low have a greater capacity for seeing every little thing as a gift. And those who have been brought low together experience a deep connection with one another. Then think of the scale of the connectedness! These were the thoughts traveling through my mind as I read this book, where destruction from the war was everywhere. It was on the front porch, in the empty seat at the table, piled up against ruins of buildings, and in bones showing through the skin of meager bodies. But what beauty and valor came of it!

So that’s one love this book hit on for me. The other was letter writing. The book is told entirely from letters, with an occasional telegram thrown in. It occurred to me how much fluff was removed from the book because of this. Imagine if your only way to communicate was through writing! That back and forth conversation with your best friend written in the form of letters. That is the way to cut the fat of what we say! You don’t go to the trouble to beat around the bush. It’s trickier to hide behind small talk. Letter writing is intentional; nothing slips out. You speak as much by what you don’t say as by what you do. It revolutionized the conversation!

I found myself laughing out loud until my sides ached, holding back tears with a quivering lip and tight throat, and thinking upon the connections these characters made with the authors and books they read long, long after setting the book down. The poetry and stories lived on inside of them as this story will live on inside of me.

Booked: literature in the soul of me

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by [Prior, Karen Swallow]Dear Karen Swallow Prior,

I think, had we grown up together, we would have been friends. And I wish we had been, because then you could have let me ride your horse and introduced me to some of the great books you read, thereby pulling me away from John Grisham and Nicholas Sparks sooner. As a teen, the best literature I read was for English class, but as everyone else complained, I relished in my homework for once.

No, I didn’t enjoy them all. Grapes of Wrath, for instance, kept me napping like a champion. But when it was finally finished, I could appreciate it. You introduced me to another of this sort, because this is how I felt about Madame Bovary, though I don’t even have words for its impact on me, nor the timing of its message. I have never appreciated a story more, nor enjoyed reading it less. I bonded with you over a love for Charlotte and Jane- good, sweet, gentle Jane- a favorite heroine of mine. I was challenged by the characters of Tess and Pip, ruminating over the perplexities of their situations. You introduced me to Milton’s Aeropagitica and John Donne’s metaphysical poetry and I took a bath in them- my two greatest treasures from you.

But you shared more than books as you weaved them through the memoir of your life. You shared your own story, and I was equally pleased with that. It made me feel ordinary, in a good way- in the way of camaraderie.

Gratefully,

Kate

P.S. I’ll be reading your other book, Fierce Convictions, in October, and it can’t come fast enough.