29 November 2006

The man at the Windsor Inn

I have to tell you about a man I met while I was in D.C. He’s the owner and/or manager of the Windsor Inn, a renovated house, small and old but accommodating. No elevator. Armida stayed there.
The man has an eastern European accent, which makes him instantly charming, of course. His hair is graying and thinning. It looks like a self-cut job with that Einstein every-which-way look. That particular evening, he wore a black and white plaid shirt with a burlap tie and a corduroy jacket. You know, the kind with the patched elbows. He always held his glasses, which dove and flew through the air, occasionally subject to a good sucking while he thought. He sensed when his boarders needed something and jumped up to help with that smile that at least looks genuinely pleased that we needed him. You can’t really tell where he is looking because his eyes go different directions, but eventually his smile hides that.
This man looks like the sort of man with whom you want to be friends. He looks as if he has hidden tales, stories that twinkle in his eyes, and it’s your job to prod him along, just enough to get the once upon a time.
I tell you about this man because I want to go back and meet him again. I lost, you see, because I only spent the two minutes with him, asking about how to get to the White House. Oh, that I had spent more time, that I had gotten the once upon a time.
I tell you about this man because he just might show up in my next book. Not my current WIP, but my next book. The ideas are simmering, and this man is jumping up, pleased to help.

27 November 2006

Review - Straight Up by Lisa Samson

Lisa Samson wrote a book about the could have beens and should have beens of life.
Georgia Ella, a should have been jazz great throws away opportunity after opportunity in order to grip more tightly to the bottle. Her cousin, Fairly, mourns her dead past in a sideways manner with the young and the restless in upscale New York. The two come together in Lexington for new starts. But the question is, are there any new starts left?
This book broke my heart from beginning to end. I learned that sometimes hope is not where you think it is. For example, I wondered how the little girl fits in, and when I figured it out, or rather, figured out how the girl should have fit in, my heart cried.
The strength in this book lies in the amazing characterization. Lisa uses first person for two of the characters, and yet is able to make the distinct and real. I morphed into Georgia. I know others that read the same book will become Fairly or Clarissa or UG or Sean, which makes this book powerful for so many people and so many mistakes. Each character is flawed, man are they flawed – no wonder woman or superman heroes here – and loveable, loveable, that is, by God.
This book portrays the communal aspect of life in its negative and positive aspects. It shows that no matter how much we isolate ourselves and tell ourselves that we are only hurting ourselves, everything we do changes something for good or bad about the world. Straight Up also paints the landscape of the beautiful communion of the Christian life.
Straight Up encourages me to use every opportunity as to the glory of God, to reach out to every passing person, to practice more, to write more, to eat more, to laugh more, to serve more, and to get out of my pity parties.
As much as I loved Samson’s The Living End, I think Straight Up has passed it on my favorites list. I’ve mentioned Lisa’s metaphors before, but I’ll take the time to highlight them again. Wow, this girl is good. And you know what I think? I think her rich writing comes from a rich life, fully lived, fully involved in people and passion and art and God.
Can I be Lisa Samson?

Carnival of Christian Writers

Today is another fun carnival! Check out all the contributers!

22 November 2006

My wisdom teeth

So today I thought I’d tell you about the day I had my wisdom teeth taken out. Chris and I had been dating for about nine months, I think. My mom wanted to come up and take care of me, but I wanted my beau to spoil me. Surgery was scheduled for a Thursday afternoon. I would stay the weekend at Chris’ house to make it easier for him.
I took some pill a half hour before my surgery. I didn’t really know what the pill was supposed to do. Apparently, it was supposed to relax me. Chris had never been to the office before. Let me tell you, taking directions from someone in a drunken stupor must have been trying for him.
“Um, that was the turn.”
“Right back there somewhere,” with a very wimpy pointy type gesture.
I don’t remember them taking me from the chair to some bed. I remember a nurse asking if I could get up. I said yes and fell right back to sleep. I have a vague memory of leaving the office. I believe I was half carried out. And then there was the car ride out.
“Did you call my mom?”
“Did you call Jana?”
A minute or two of silence.
“Did you call my mom?”
“Did you call Jana?”
Pete and Repeat sat on a boat. Pete jumped out. Who was left?
Pete and Repeat sat on a boat.
And so it went.
We got back to Chris’ house. My throat felt like a Texas summer (have you seen the lakes after this year’s draught? Or rather, the cracked land where once a lake stood?).
“Are you sure you can drink water?”
“Mm-hmm. I need some.” I proceeded to put the full glass to my lips and dribble it down the front of me.
“Okay. Do you have another shirt?”
“No.” I don’t know why I told him that. I had packed a bag for the weekend with clothes. Yet, at that moment, I believed I had no other clothes in the world. My dear Chris got one of his shirts.
Now, keep in mind that we are not married at this point.
I begin to pull the wet T-shirt over my head. With Chris standing directly in front of me.
Chris: Uh, okay. I can’t just stand here and watch, but if I leave, she may fall over at the rate she’s going.
So my dear Chris turned his back to me and listened for a thud. The thud never came, and I successfully maneuvered out of the old tee and into the new.
The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful. Chris fed me applesauce, easing each spoonful into my creaky mouth.
That’s how I lost my four wisdom teeth.
Kindly refrain from the bathetic jokes of my loss of wisdom. Trust me, it was never there.

20 November 2006

The Theology Conference

I'm back! Didya miss me? Huh? Huh?
Some great things about the conference:
1. Seeing my best friend, Armida, and drinking lots of pumpkin spice lattes with her. Man, I miss that girl.
2. Meeting a blogging friend. Erin has a creative sense of humor and a creative bent on raising children. Armida and I tried to convince her to write a book on child-rearing (such a funny word, don't you think? makes me think of butts). I'll need her ideas someday. Oh, we met at Cheesecake Factory where they currently have this amazing pumpkin cheesecake. Can ya see a theme here?
3. Discovering new favorite theologians, like John Franke. This guy has some great ideas. Can't wait to dig into the new book I just bought, which brings me to point 4...
4. New books at half the price. You heard right, folks, half the price. Publishing houses galore in the exhibition room. My eyes went starry. My heart went pitter-patter. My throat begin to constrict in excitement. And my husband put me on a budget. (Well, he threatened to.) So I bought all these smarty-pants nonfiction books so that I can use big words like prologomena.
5. Walking down to the White House at night and discovering that it is exactly how I described it in my book (wshoo!).
I had a great time. It was good to be back in that theological world. Thankfully, Armida was there. She's brilliant, and I kept bugging her with, "What does that mean again?" Man, you're out of the system for a couple of years and who knows what's going on.

13 November 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

You have to see this movie. I don't know who "you" might be, but whoever "you" are, "you" need to see this movie. If you are a writer, you will laugh with the "that's exactly how I think!" moments. Like - and I am censoring myself so that I don't give anything away - like the author trying to figure out the ending. An assistant comes in, sent by the publishing house, ready to use whatever method necessary to bring on the ending, but the author knows that the ending isn't up to her. She has to find it. Or how the writer researches her books. Or when a character gives a manuscript to a literary prof to read, and the prof says yes, I'd love to read it, while throwing down the mss and returning to his book. But, but - you could see this in the character's eyes, in his stop ready to turn back and beg - please read this now. Tell me what you think. Tell me now. This is exactly how I feel every time I give anyone anything of mine to read.
If you aren't a writer, this will give you a glimpse into our lives (and shows us writers that not everyone thinks like us - hard to believe, I know). One of the best scenes (in the beginning, so I'm not really giving anything away): the writer stands on the edge of her desk, on the edge of a skyscraper in her mind's eye, to know what it feels like to jump to your death from a very tall building. The assistant walks in bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. What on earth is this writer doing? "Doesn't everyone image what this is like?" the writer asks. "No!" the assistant says. "No!" my husband repeats. "What?" I think. Of course everyone does. What does the free fall feel like? What are your last thoughts? Are you still alive when you hit the bottom? How do you overcome that fear right before jumping? Do you pee yourself mid-air? Do you change your mind and want to live when it's already too late? But, my husband says in agreement with the assistant, not everyone thinks this way.
I loved this movie. My husband enjoyed this movie but says I can't be a writer anymore. Too weird. Many laughs. Great cast - Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah. Very funny.
Typically, when I talk about movies, I talk theology or philosophy or something. So here you go: This movie demonstrates the power of story. Careful, writers, you possess heavy responsibility (which reminds me of James' warning to teachers in his letter). That whole mightier-than-the-sword pen. And, the movie is existential. Can't say anything more than that without giving away the ending.

Another good movie? The Prestige. I recommend that as well. Great acting. Stellar acting. Good twists. A good flick all around.

I'll be gone this week at a theology conference to exercise those theological chops. As an added bonus, I get to see my best friend, who lives many, many miles away.

09 November 2006

Exploring Postmodern Literature

This is a blog of random thoughts as I try to make my way in this pomo lit world.
Some characteristics listed in different sources:
- exploring subjectivism (turning from omniscient 3rd person narrative to inner states of consciousness)
- fragmentariness in narrative and character construction
- many similarities to existential crisis and literature, but seen more in a society than in an individual
- emphasis on pastiche, parody, magic realism
- deconstruction
- breaking down of distinct between high and low culture
- emphasize metaphor and symbol
Overall, they all relate to doubt, which is the reason for any worldview change. (Note: I use the term “worldview” as cultural anthropologists do, not as some churches have been in the habit of using. So I would see an Asian worldview, a Western worldview, an African worldview, etc.) For example, Descartes doubted that the physics handed down via the authority of Aristotle was correct, so he proposed knowing by our own experience. He meant an “objective” experience found in empirical data instead of the subjective way of knowing truth from authority that had been used in the Middle Ages.
So here we have doubt again. The stories past down, at the very least, our biased, if not persuasive of a particular agenda. Who can blame these questions? Scientific progress, which was supposed to improve human life (which, according to Enlightenment, always progresses and gets better) produced things like the atomic bomb and 9/11. So how exactly are we better? Trusted corporations such as Enron and politicians can’t be trusted. The church falls in shambles around us. Who can we trust?
What is real?
And the literature reflects this.
Apart from the literature side, I have been studying postmodernism as a cultural anthropologist. In many ways, we are reading to pre-modernism with a twist. We have questions that modernism can no longer answer. The world just doesn’t fit anymore. It seems to me that postmodern literature is an attempt to deal with these questions. Maybe some of the literature is poorly written. Maybe some of it answers questions in ways that I would not answer the questions, or even asks questions that I would not ask. Maybe some of it has a structure that is different than our traditional novels, like the changing structure of architecture and music.
Some examples of postmodern literature (I’m including films as a literature):
Toni Morrison, Beloved
D. DeLillo, White Noise
Stephen King, The Stand
Pulp Fiction
The Matrix
Fight Club
Run, Lola, Run

**addendum: Since posting this, I would like to add two books to the list. Straight Up by Lisa Samson, and a book coming soon to a bookstore near you by an up-and-coming author, My Name Is Russell Fink (tentatively titled) by Mike Snyder.

So these are my beginning musings on a long trek. Any thoughts?

07 November 2006

The Glory of Love

Last week, my husband brought me roses just to make me feel special, roses and the makings for a favorite drink. I basked in my husband’s love.
Then we got in a huge fight. Hurt and anger on all sides. But in the midst of this hurt and anger, my husband wrapped his arms around me and told me that he loves me. I told him not to hug me if he didn’t mean it. He held me tighter.
That night my husband showed me both sides of his love, the romance that makes me feel special, and the unconditional love that holds me close even when we have both said hurtful things.
How many times have I stomped on God’s foot and He held me even closer?
I’m teaching at a retreat in February about the bride and bridegroom, about the Church and Christ, about our hope of the wedding feast, the kick-off to an eternity of peace and joy and harmony (and melody and rhythm…), about our responsibilities while waiting for our bridegroom, who has gone to prepare a place for us. Meanwhile, God continues to send us gifts to make us feel special, gifts in the form of springtime roses and winter sledding snow and backdoor friendships. And He continues to love us when I spit in His face, when, as the betrothed, I set my eyes on another groom, on the groom of a comfortable life or writing or music. This is our love story.
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.

02 November 2006

Random thoughts and questions

So this is really a trailor for upcoming posts (cue the music).
Postmodern literature. Charis Connection did this post on postmodern literature. This is something that I would like to learn more about. What are your thoughts on postmodern literature? (Note: in the comments, the issue took a detour to the emerging church. I do not wish to discuss that issue here. Of course, you are always free to post whatever you like, even if the comment has nothing to do with the subject of the post but everything to do with, say, the genius that is Heather. My preference, let's save the emerging church discussion for another day.) I'm cheating really. I'll post an official post on this subject hopefully next week, but for now, I'd like to learn from your thoughts on the matter. So fill-er up!

Random observation: I went to a Christian bookstore yesterday and roamed the fiction shelves. I've read more Christian fiction these past two months than I have my entire lifetime. But that's not my observation. Here's my observation: this particular store shelved Dostoyevsky's The Brother's Karamazov under historical fiction. I found this amusing. I think of this work as a classic, not as a book written today but set in the past.

Coming up: Jeanne Damoff at The Master's Artist did a piece on romance fiction v. love stories. In light of um, some, well, "learning experiences" in marriage, my mind whirls with these concepts, so next week (when my eye is hopefully better and can take more computer time), I will enlighten you all with these thoughts. Aren't you just in a tizzy to here my words of wisdom?