Lent — day eight

Buechner once talked about a character that he wrote
as if the man were a friend, born of a chance encounter;
which, in some ways, I suppose he was. Buechner spoke
of the way the man stuck with him – a shadow,
an unasked for cat – and how he couldn’t help
but to write him, again and again.

My brother, who is twelve next Monday, is a writer.
He prefers doing anything that involves sweaty skill,
to writing; and I wonder sometimes that he’s afraid
he can’t love both, that he’s afraid he is not created
to live in all kinds of paradox, though he doesn’t know
that word yet. He is a paradoxical thing – we all are –
so, he writes. Mostly for school. Still, he writes.
And his words remind me how words can play,
and look like one thing, but mean another.

I wonder, sometimes, what it was like to worship
Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths, still a small bit
purple and slimy. I wonder what it was like to
celebrate Love itself, the one who came to rewrite
every ill-spoken, misguided, wrong word; the one
who came to look at you with visible eyes.
What it was like to look at him and see only
the promise of a story still to unfold.

I’ve been reading again.

I’ve felt rather lost and uncertain as of late. I’ve used the word “floundering” to describe how I feel so many times, the word makes my stomach hurt. It’s not that I stopped being Maggie, it’s just that I forgot who Maggie was. I knew bits and pieces. I could repeat the truth of it to myself – you’re Beloved, you’re daughter, you’re important to the Kingdom, you’re a bright, lovely creature because He said so, you are a writer – but when your heart is sick, though you know the truth, your sick heart coughs it up.

When your heart is sick, pieces of you that you thought were so deeply woven they could never come undone, disappear. They slip into the ocean inside of you and kick and splash and they’re gone. And at first, you row around on your makeshift raft and ravenously search the endless waters for the good that slipped into unknown. But time wears, and your raft hits a land you’ve never before encountered, and you count those good things forever lost. You don’t lose hope, though. Not really. You find a way to live on this new land of yours – you make the best of things (the way that you do) and this land that is only somewhat you, is okay. Even if your heart is sick.

Sometimes, sometimes in the night, you wake with a start and the stars seem brighter than usual and the air tastes sweet and ancient and sharp, and you swell. Something glimmers on a distant wave and you don’t dare breathe, because there – just beyond your reach – is the piece of you that you lost. The piece you need so desperately, that without it, you are left to repeat the truth to your fevered heart and watch it be retched up. Again and again.

I kept reading the writing of others – my pastor, my mom, my dad, my friends – and I would ache, deep inside ache, because I know I am I writer. But my writing felt stiff and foreign, an unloved thing. You are a writer – heaved up.

Here’s the profound thing – because I could not believe one truth about myself, I could not believe any of them. Because I could not remember that I really am a writer, I could not see myself as Beloved daughter, I could not see how important I am to the Kingdom. I crumbled. I stopped.

Some days ag0, Mom hid a letter she wrote to me in my bible. It took me until Friday to find it. Her words of love for me reminded me I once wrote from a deep well.  My heart seized. I found her and cried out words that didn’t express what I meant. I cried out words that expressed what I didn’t mean. She hugged me, and set a work of fiction on my desk.

The book swallowed me whole. It ran to my heart, ran right to the sickest part of it, and sank in deep. And my heart kept it. My heart took it in with great gulps. Slowly, slowly, I remembered. I remembered the promise of a book. I remembered how I loved words and loved how words sounded and tasted, and how you can, with the greatest care, caress words into death-taking, life-bringing things. I remembered how precious story is. I remembered how quickly I love people. I remembered how quickly I hate the evil. I remembered the well of story inside of me.

I jumped off the land, jumped off the make-shift raft and drank in sea water with hungry lungs.

Here’s the profound thing – when my heart knew that one truth about myself, it could take in all of them. Because I know I am a writer, I can feel the Father’s pleasure, I can see Kingdom life springing up around me. And I won’t stop.

Writing

I am finding repeatedly that there are not words for the things I so desperately want to put into words and I feel as if I am incompetent. I feel as if there are so very many words, surely some can be found… and yet, I return to the ones I use daily and they are not suitable, not broad enough, or narrow enough, high enough, or deep enough – and my heart sighs. I try sometimes to fill the void of words with the language of poetry, because it truly is a beast and tongue all its own. There are times, however, that even poetry will not encompass what needs to be encompassed, though, it may fail with more grace.

I once wrote a small something to a friend of mine in regard to one of their poems: Do you have a translator to cross for us the ground between that languid land of poetry and the usual one of simple English? I’d very much like to meet him. – I have no such translator. And really, most times, I need a translator for my soul – changing that complicated, interwoven language into some understandable, heart-breaking, and beautiful English. I cannot find one. I don’t know that anyone can. God. God I’m sure has such a translator as he lent it to David for the Psalms and King Solomon for his song of love and passion and Andrew Osenga for his songs of loneliness and whisperings and glimpses of the answer, the answer, the answer.

I sometimes want to give up – just stop trying to put into words what cannot stand to be contained. Oh, but I long so to capture it! So I keep trying, and I pray for God to lend me his translator – the one he lent to David, to King Solomon, to Andrew Osenga, to my momma, to authors – Ann Voskamp, C.S. Lewis, Donald Miller – to songbirds, to poets.  Sometimes, when I cannot stand the things pent up inside of myself, when I can hardly breathe or think because they have wrapped themselves so around me, I open my mouth and release a mournful, joyful, complicated, interwoven note. It’s rarely followed by another, rarely filled with words, but it’s an utterance of the soul and it feels free and it feels like the translator has come and gone in the seconds that the note lasts and my heart leaps at his brief presence and aches that it was, indeed, brief. That’s how it feels though, I know, when the soul is allowed to speak. Writing for hours on end when words flow like honey and emotions like milk – that’s the soul being allowed to speak. Listening to other people who have managed to contact that translator – that’s the soul fluttering in its space, bursting with things to be released and no way to release them. I can speak only the language of the three-dimensional world I know – and even that to only a certain extent – and so the four, five, six, seven dimension of the soul and its ponderings and longings are lost in translation, even if you do have a translator. So, I write what I can, how I can. Sing what I can, how I can. Become lost in a music as well as I can, however I can. Open the cage, let that fluttering bird fly beautifully and sing its song, even if I cannot see every dip and glide, even if I cannot hear every note.

I realize now that writing is not a struggle to capture what is somehow floating in the air as I often feel. Rather, it is a release of something deep inside of oneself. Writing is an utterance of the soul.

Pushing Back the Darkness

Andrew Peterson – musician, author, artist, and general extraordinaire – has this Christmas concert. It’s a culmination of a great many things of wonderment and beauty and it comes annually to a mediumish church in Milford, Ohio (amongst many other places.) The Christmas season officially begins when, and only when, we have attended said concert in Milford, Ohio and taken part in the wonderment and beauty. I hold Andrew Peterson in a slightly exalted place where he resides with a soft halo around his head, music ever playing around him and pen ever moving gracefully across the Moleskin I personally and hypothetically placed in his hands. And yes, I realize that’s slightly unhealthy – he’s simply the kind of person you really just want to be. So, when, two years ago my family and I loitered in the building until he came out from “backstage” (which, being in a church, was probably just some small room behind the “stage” – an elevated area with mics and a piano) to talk with us, his emphatic, ever-so-slightly-worshipping fans, I had a small conniption fit of glee and jumped on the chance to speak with him, half-dragging my family along behind me. We had a lovely conversation, he and my family and I , about writing – because that’s something, much to my pleasure, we all have in common. I informed him that’s had written him a letter, which he said he remembered reading and would respond to as soon as he found time, this brought on a slightly more contained conniption fit of glee. He also suggested two books for our benefit and pleasure, etc.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Bird by Bird – Anne Lammot

My mom, being the wonderful woman she is, bought the books for my dad for Christmas, breaking “don’t buy the spouse anything” rule that is in place for no apparent reason other than to be broken. She justified this rule breaking by signing the tag “Andrew Peterson,” claiming that the gift was essentially from him. We relished those books – still relish those books. They were like some strange connection to the story-telling, music-making man – he had read those words, been impacted by them, and they were in my house. They are brilliance.

Admittedly, I’ve never read either of the books. My mom and dad have both read The War of Art and at least half of Bird by Bird and I have done no more than peer lovingly at the covers of either of them. My mom has, however, passed on to me two invaluable concepts from these two books. One is a charming anecdote about Anne Lammot’s three year old and some toy keys and some choice words. I will leave you to ponder at that or read the book for yourself (or buy the book and let it sit in your house and hope that it will seep into your brain while you sleep like I so often do – that’s why there is a constant stack of books beside my bed – it has yet to prove itself as an actual method of learning things.) The second is from The War of Art and it finds its way into most of what I do most of the time. It is more a concept than a said quote or story – it may sound familiar due to the fact that I reference it from time to time on here, or it may sound familiar due to the fact that it’s a desire and a truth placed deep down inside all of us.
Pushing back the darkness.

It even sounds hopeful and brave and inviting. The idea is this: Steven Pressfield has identified this “force” in the universe. He refers to it throughout his book (of which I have now read a few pages in order to find the quote I’m looking for and be sure that I actually know what I’m talking about before I proclaim it to you, my rather smallish blogging audience who deserves the truth in spite of your unimpressive size) as The Resistance. He says this about it

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease… To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and we’re born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declares Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed us with our own unique genius.

I really would like to insert the entirety of the book above because after reading several pages past what I actually needed, I came to the realization that I should’ve read this book long ago. Though, please know before you buy it and gather up all of your children or friends or family around your feet and read to them “this fantastic book this random, rather goodish blogger suggested,” that it is not exactly G, or even really PG rated as to language and such… It may actually be close to R – but it’s a great book nonetheless. That aside. The point is that we are created to fight against this Resistance. We are created to be brilliant and glorious and to, by our words and our actions and our dancing and singing and music writing and instrument playing and whatever else, “push back the darkness” – fight against the Resistance by being what we are. It creates this beautiful image of warfare with what we love, with finding and creating beauty in the everyday places, with realizing we hold powerful, powerful weapons in our hands and realizing that God is bigger and deeper than only revivals and church meetings and giving statements and mission trips and youth groups. He is in paintings and poems and movies and songs and books, even books with questionable wording – he is not to be boxed in and he is calling us to let him infiltrate all of ourselves, and through that to join him in the war against The Resistance – that thing that keeps us from being who we are. It’s beautiful. Truly beautiful.

Yes, this is a reoccurring theme. It’s kind of my passion – get over it. Redundancy is not at all bad.

The “Tortured Genius”

I just had what I believe could be classified as a mental breakdown. I could probably give a million reasons as to why this happened (though really, I’m not sure) I am sure that my entire system tried very hard to be in war and shut down all at once because I was so very overwhelmed. There’s really not even a logical explanation for my overwhelmedness, but I’m learning that there doesn’t always need to be a reason, explanation, or formula. There are literally a million things going on inside of me at any given point in time – millions. I have so many thoughts, prayers, worries, thoughts, stories, words, more thoughts, ideas, and more thoughts running and/or rampaging through my head all of the time that its really any wonder I can spit out a half-decent sentence.

At the beginning of last school year, I was studying Western Civilization and it was while studying said topic that I came across the idea that some artist (or musician… I really can’t remember… tells you how well that course went) that was singlehandedly responsible for introducing artists and musicians as the stereotyped “tortured genius.” I ravished that. It was so very intriguing to me and I found myself half wishing to become that and was half afraid that I already had. I know for certain now that I am, at least on occasion, the tortured genius. This is not at all a claim to be genius. No, because the stereotype of tortured genius is not really so much genius as insane. It’s one who is full so completely, so constantly, of thoughts that the thoughts become a plague – regardless of the beauty, ingenuity, wonderment, brilliance of any of them because one cannot really be separated from the other. It’s a person who’s mind is like standing in the middle of 471 with cars speeding on either side of you at indistinguishable rates in numerous directions – it’s like standing there with music yelling directly into your ears while you’re trying to catch full sight of every single car while you’re working through an advanced, high-level, really-super-disgustingly-difficult physics equation… or a simple geometry problem. That’s what pushed me over the edge – a simple geometry problem. I was so very distracted and bothered by the music and the cars that I couldn’t stop or read or capture, even though (and this is the most frustrating part) they were my freakin’ cars, that I couldn’t remember anything that I used to know about geometry and I couldn’t remember how to apply anything that I couldn’t remember in the first place and my stomach revolted and my ears stopped listening to anything and I felt like screaming and crying and throwing something very hard and maybe hitting something too.

I somehow (mostly likely by some grace of God I didn’t even think I needed) stepped calmly away from my desk, leaving the scattered mess as it was, and walked into the kitchen, trying very hard not to rip the TV, which my brother was watching, out of the cabinet and fling it with good riddance into the yard. Mom was on the phone. Deep breaths. Sit on down.  I pulled myself onto the counter and waited. She looked at me questioningly – still on the phone. Still on the phone. Get off the phone – I’m having a breakdown… can’t you see from the fact that I’m calmly sitting on the counter, breathing like a normal person that I’m having a break down. “Mom?” Opening my mouth seemed to make my stomach think that throwing up was a good idea – my neck pricked at the thought and I bit my lip – the only thing I could think to do to keep my stomach in place.

What is she talking about?… Going somewhere. Going somewhere! I don’t have time to go somewhere – I have hours of work still! Out to eat… with friends… I’d rather do that… I don’t want hours of work… maybe if I move that to tomorrow- NO! what are you saying? You’ll get behind – behind is bad, very bad, remember? That’s why you’re doing geometry now… geometry… will not be sick, will not be sick, will not be sick “Mags?” oh! Right, mom – breathe – don’t be sick. I explained to her in as few words as possible my current problem (leaving out the impending stomach issue seeing as I figured if I didn’t talk about it, it might go away) and she told me to stop working and write. I love my mother.

So, that’s what I did. I returned to my desk, which was really unrecognizable underneath the great pile of unfinished things that spewed like vomit all over its top. I cleared, slowly, calmly, the pile, finding spaces for all of it in whatever drawer was nearest and had space. And once everything but my computer, my lamp, a glass of water, and a cup of cold coffee was entirely gone, I sat and I wrote this. And now that I have written it, my stomach has stopped its incessant churning and flopping and my shoulders are less tense and I can breathe without having to first remind myself how and the word “geometry” doesn’t make me want to die (completely) – you see, all of this was at least one car, and that’s one less I have to try to capture, and one less I have to try to figure out, and one less I have to slow down.

Ironically, I had earlier written the beginnings of a piece that was to lead into my fascination with the stereotyped of “tortured genius” – little did I know I would prove to the world, or perhaps myself, or perhaps neither, that I am just that… at least sometimes. And I wonder if there’s a remedy for this ever-so-intriguing and not-so-very-desirable condition of sorts. There is. Mom knew. She’s known for a long time actually. Write. Or sing. Or Dance. Or run. Or play the trombone. It’s different for everyone, really. And we all, I believe, are ‘tortured genius’ at some point or another. We are all, at one point or another, so very full of the beautiful things God put inside of us that it drives us to insanity. This point comes not because God gives us more than we can handle. It comes because God gives us plenty and we do not pay attention to it – we shove it into some dark corner for later when we have less work to do, less errands to run, less people to see, and it sits there refusing to be but under a damper, screaming in beautiful, rebellious protest until we have to pay attention and make use of it.

This – these words and philosophies and speculations and yes, insanity – is a flood of light that’s been sitting under a bushel for days because I was too busy to let it shine. We are created to shine. We sometimes cannot avoid busyness – and we can surely shine in the midst of that – but, I think each of us has something inside of themselves that deserves time all its own to be released, and once we give it permission to be, it changes things – it alters the very air around us. It calls forth some deep thing and says to it “live in freedom” and we understand, whether we know it or not. God said this to me the other day:

   “Don’t hide or shirk from that, don’t run from it. It’s part of you. I need  you as you are. I need children. I need imagination and beauty-seekers. I need C.S. Lewis’ and artists and adventurers and whimsical beings that say “marvelously” in what most would consider the wrong context. Don’t hide who you are.”

This is to everyone. Not that everyone is like that – not that anyone who isn’t like that is wrong or less glorious or whatever other bad connotation one could find. What I mean is that all of us have something that is very much only us. Each of us is a unique instrument in his rhapsody that makes a sound only we can make. God admires talent and beauty– he spread these things all over the place so that each of us could proclaim him and his truth in a vast, complex way that only we can. And by shoving those things into dark corners so that we can finish our school work on time is not doing him or ourselves any credit. What is a symphony shy an instrument? A story without every character? A clock that’s missing a gear? We have beautiful things pent up inside ourselves that we have only begun to realize and God is calling us to find them, to capture them, to make them obedient to Christ, and to fling ourselves wide open, displaying all of the glory therein, pushing back the darkness, waking things long dead with just one note, just one word, just one step, one twirl, one smile, one touch, one nail, one shot, one shout – behold! Our Maker is wonderful and we worship him with what we are.