Posted in Life

Roots

There is a bamboo flourishing on my kitchen windowsill. It’s a light green stalk, proudly standing tall with leaves sprouting out in many directions. When I first got it, I put it in a tall clear glass with river rocks, because that’s what Ikea recommended. And, of course, Ikea is the definitive guide on creativity in the home. That was about a year ago.

Now, the roots have sprouted and tangled every which way around the stones. I change the water once a week. In the beginning, per online instructions, I would pour the stones out and dry any impurities out, before adding new filtered water. It was a bit of a production, and so now I gingerly pour out old water, and add the new, careful not to disturb the delicate life within. Yet, the entire production, fits neatly in a corner windowsill, and everything the happy bamboo is, its entire ecosystem, could be moved at will.It seemed wrong for this plant to have such a portable existence, all of its undergirth subject to scrutiny and changed at someone else’s whim.

I grew up a nomad, living in dozens of places, and I have spent the last decade in pursuit of something. Pursuit of dreams, pursuit of success, pursuit of artistry, pursuit of happiness. I have been convinced that everything else is a distraction along the way.

I don’t know how many times I have moved in the last decade, and how many years I have lived out of suitcases…included the current one. And, now, something in me longs for roots. Stability. To build something somewhere.

It’s a bit of self-betrayal for those who know me. Me, the one who would be content to live on a tour bus, with a backstage pass fluttering about my neck and write about rock stars, longs for a stability.

I used to dream that I would love to marry a musician and raise our kids on the road. I would dream of the exotic life I could give them. I still would love that. But, there is something to be said about roots. Home. Stability. For what is life, if not built?

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Posted in Life

Fifty Shades of Truth

This morning I was reading an article in the New York Times called, “The Gradual Extinction of Accepted Truths.” Among many other things, journalist George Johnson argued that with the proliferation of information, truth is so fragmented, it seems that there is no such thing.

“The creationist battle against evolution is fierce and more sophisticated than ever. But, it’s not just organized religions that are considering their own alternate truths. On one front after another, the hard-won consensus of science is also expected to accommodate personal beliefs, religions or otherwise about the safety of vaccines, GMO crops, fluoridation, or cell phone radio waves, along with the validity of global climate change.”

I have seen this play out. Who knows the truth anymore? With specialized news sources, and website, opinion based reporting, and the powerful mainstream ever accused of bias, what is truth? Every day my Facebook feed is full of news stories decrying evil conspiratist government, and talking about food safety. What is right?

Is my government truly evil? I am not sure. I can scour the Internet all day, and find thousands of voices citing evidence that it is. But, I can find millions of voices citing evidence that it isn’t. What is truth?

What can I eat? I can drive myself crazy trying to find out what’s safe to eat. I know, I have seen people do it, agonizing over every food choice, and analyzing what food their food ate to make that decision. I have heard these people decry that there is no real food anymore, and we have to search high and low for true food. Is this true? Well, I don’t know.

Is it good to vaccinate children? Is it safe to drink the water? Who knows anymore?! And to evaluate our evidence, it seems our evidence needs evidence. And, so we are in this constant state of critique.

“In this epistemological warfare, those with the most power are accused of imposing their version of reality—the ‘dominant paradigm,’—on the rest leaving the weaker to fight back with formulations of their own. Everything becomes a version,” Johnson continues.

And logically, with all of this confusion, what’s the next step? We stop listening. We don’t know who to believe. So we turn all of the voices off. And so, is this how we become the dreaded “sheeple?” Those who don’t know what to believe?

I don’t know. Maybe we can’t really handle truth. Maybe there is no such thing. Maybe truth is an illusion. There are only opinion and perspective. I guess this is the end to the 24 Hour News cycle—we fill it with so many competing opinions, we don’t know who to trust or why.  So, we live, with fifty shades of truth.

Posted in Life, Writing

Great Gifts for Writers

With the back to school season winding down, it won’t be long before the Christmas trees go on sale, and the tacky Santas start popping up everywhere. If you’ve got a writer on your list, or just need a gift for that writerly pal or “special someone,” you may be stumped.

You could go with the cliché journal or Barnes and Noble gift card. While we writers always appreciate those and can put them to good use, we secretly wish you would be more creative. After all, people have been giving us those since we were ten. Instead, try some of these gift ideas compiled by surveying a group of professional writers.

Technology

Scrivener 

This writing software from Literature and Latte is a buzz among writers. Created specifically with the needs of novel writers in mind, Scrivener can do things that put boring MS Word to shame.

My favorite feature is the “snapshot.” If you are working on a passage, and decide you want to do major surgery on it, but aren’t sure if you will shred it to ribbons, you can take a snapshot. This allows you to save the current version, and then go to work on the passage. If you’ve found you’ve chopped it to death, no worries. With a click, you can revert to the original, saved right there on the sidebar. And you can have as many versions of the same passage as you want going.

That feature alone sold me on Scrivener, and it’s just one of the many things it does.  The whole thing costs a whopping $40. Compare that to the upwards of $120 price tag of MS Word, who, in the quest to be everything to be everyone, tends to be weighted down with useless features.

Kindle

With the proliferation of tablet computers, and the blurring lines between computers and smartphones, it may seem useless to buy a Kindle. A Kindle app is available on any device. But, what makes Kindles and e-readers unique is that they are designed to look and feel like a book. One way they do this is with the backlighting. You know that zoned out, disgusting feeling with a mild headache, you get if you stare at a computer for eight to ten hours straight? Kindles are specifically lit so that you don’t experience that. Even if your writer is an iPad/iPhone snob, they will still enjoy the book feeling of having a Kindle.

Headphones

Many writers find that music really helps the creative process. If they write in places where their music might disturb others, then they may appreciate good headphones. Headphones have gotten pretty sophisticated in recent years, so you can have a lot of fun choosing a great set. In that vein, iTunes gift cards are also a good bet.

Blast from the Past

Typewriter

There’s a revivalist charm to typewriters among writers, particularly the ones too young to have ever used one. A nice typewriter on display, or especially a collection of antique ones, can add a vintage element to any writer’s office. You can find basic ones at thrift stores for dirt cheap. But if you want a true antique, you can scour online ads where they go for just under $100.

Fountain Pens

It’s a new trend to have fountain pens, a nod to the writers that have gone before. Barnes and Noble sells them occasionally, but if you can find them online or at a novelty gift shop, even better.

A Moment on the Lips

Teas, tea sets and coffees

Writers spend a lot of time sipping beverages and pondering our latest pieces. We are known for loving beverages of all kinds. Of the adult variety, we try to stay away from them on deadline. During work hours, we love exotic teas and coffees. Stores like Teavana sell chic teapots, teas and tea sets. Your writer may love a nice kettle, tea set, or flavored tea. Further, we enjoy experimenting with new coffee flavors. We probably have most of the stuff you get in the grocery aisle, but we may like to try specialty blends from coffee stores.

Coffee Cups

When we are not drinking tea, we are drinking coffee. We love our mugs, and can become quite attached to the right cup. After all, coffee is just not the same if it’s not in a good cup. My favorite right now is a purple contoured mug I found at Ikea for 99 cents. It’s dainty, feminine, and fits my hand perfectly. And nothing beats a great travel mug. I found one at Macy’s that I fell in love with, and it followed me everywhere, like Little Bo Beep’s sheep. It was the perfect size, and incredibly spillproof.

Office Décor

Cushions or Chair Massage Pads

We spend hours upon hours sitting in our desk chairs. We don’t usually notice because we are so wrapped up in what we are putting on the screen. But, at some point, we can’t ignore the feeling of pure bone piercing into our spines. That cliffhanger scene where we reveal that the heir to the fortune was actually the uncle’s secret love child, must wait. We need a break. A good cushion for our chair or better, a chair massage pad, would be very helpful. As would also, a massage certificate from a local spa.

Desk Accessories

Inspirational paperweights, candles, snarky quotes from Andy Warhol, and other novelty desk toys are always appreciated.

We not only like coffee and tea, but we also enjoy cold beverages while we work. There are a number of personal refrigerators you can get online. They can keep a couple of cold beverages waiting at your desk for you. Some can even run from your USB port. Other USB goodies include a coaster-size beverage warmer/cooler, and a laptop vacuum. Just read the reviews to make sure these work first!

Nervous habit toys for the over-caffeinated are also helpful. Silly putty, stress balls, finger puppets of famous writers/philosophers, and other random accessories are great to fidget with when you are trying to be creative.  As a matter of fact, check out the entire site at philosophersguild.com. They have a lot of fun snarky stuff.

While it’s true we do our real writing on the computer, we still love great pens. We love the way they feel in our hands, and as they glide across the page, and we love the way the ink from a good pen looks on paper. We also love to play with them as we think.  A really nice pen, or a collection of novelty pens, would be a great gift.

For the Big Spender

A Stay at a Writer’s Cabin or Retreat

This is the ultimate writer’s dream—a chance to get away from everything and zone in on a project. A week, or even a weekend, of no distractions and perhaps bouncing off other writers, would be the best gift ever to give a writer. There are a number of writers retreats and writers cabins online, but even if you don’t do a “writer’s retreat,” per se, even a few days alone at a peaceful resort to work on that project would render you forever appreciated.

Books

Genre Books

Most writers write in a specific genre—historical fiction, fantasy, music, whatever. A reference book on that topic would be a thoughtful gift, especially if there’s a groundbreaking new bestseller.

Reference Books

Not a dictionary or thesaurus, we already have these in print and online. But, writers love great quotes. We love to use them, ponder them, and tweet them. A good book of quotes, literary or otherwise would be fun. Also, every writer’s library must include classics such as, “The Elements of Style,” by Strunk and White. “On Writing,” by Stephen King, and “Zen and the Art of Writing,” by Ray Bradbury.

Apart from being a writer, your writer is  of course, a dynamic person with diverse interests and needs. So, while this advice focuses on their professional/artistic leanings, trust your instincts, and be creative. After all, it’s the thought that counts. And if all else fails, you can never go wrong with a good journal and a gift card. Happy shopping!

Posted in Life

Getting Inked

Yeah, so I finally did it. I took me a while. About twelve years, I think. Tattoos are long considered a symbol of rebellion, or a wild lifestyle. But, they don’t have to be. I think it should be something to mark something, or to mean something. A mark upon the body to signify an indelible mark upon the soul.

I turned 33 this February. The final age of Jesus. I have yet turn water into wine, and try as I might, I can’t start an international world-changing movement around my persona. I’m just not that interesting.

But, I’ve had an amazing year. Among other things, I became a full-time writer. I’ve written for a magazine that was on my bucket list. I’ve written a poetry book and am learning how to self-publish. I’ve got a fully-written novel just waiting for a publisher. This has been a year of growth and defining. I am finally becoming who I am–an artist.

I was named after a classic rock song. The album art is a French painting called, “La Fille au Bouquet.” (The Girl in the Bouquet). I’ve used the painting to identity me in various places over the years, and long played with the idea of putting it in a tattoo.

I knew that this was the time. My original plan was to put in a place that would forever bar me from “business casual” jobs. I would be forced to make it as an artist and remove that back door of, “Well, I could always be a secretary.”

I ended up getting the tattoo on my left shoulder blade. But, it still means the same thing to me. A commitment to the artistic life.  A commitment to becoming who I was created to be.

I passed out once, and it hurt like hell. Ah, so is the artistic life. And now, it’s started the healing process which I’ve learned is flaking and peeling. WHA? Which, is why you’re not getting a picture of the finished product today. Maybe in a couple of weeks when it’s healed.

 

Posted in Life

On Being the Vagrant Writer

The Vagrant Writer. It’s a moniker I came up with the last month of college. I didn’t know what I was doing, or where I was going after that, but I had so many dreams. And like, every good Christian university student, I was sure God had destined me for greatness. So, I had this sort of an understood acceptance of an unknown journey.

I was not sure of much of anything in those days, and still am not. In the last decade, I have lived in more places than I can count, and held more low-paying unsatisfying jobs than I will ever care to remember. (Including the infamous eight jobs of 2008). I’ve lived on couches, and spent years living out of suitcases. I’ve called places  ‘home, ‘ where I’ve only meant to stay a week. And, relationally, I have yet to find that ‘one and only.’

Philosophically, I have swung the pendulum. My ideas on God and life began as the confused and sardonic ramblings a cynical post-church kid on an intellectual search for truth. I looked for truth in everything from existentialist novels, Jack Kerouac inspired Zen, and internet conspiracy theories.  Then for or a while, I pretended I found it in intercessory spiritual warfare buzzwords. But, none of it ever fit. And, so I continued on, a vagrant, a hodge podge theology pieced together through experiences and ideas. I still have yet to find my truth. That feeling of spiritual home, that resonates inside of me.

But, through it all, only one thing I know for certain-well, really two. I am a writer, and I am God’s. Beyond that, I am making it up as I go along. I am the vagrant writer. Wandering, ever searching, for home.

Posted in Life

The End of Compassion

I  recently attended a church service where a missionary couple to Africa spoke. As they talked about the plight of the people, the poverty, the need, the disease….I found myself throwing up walls. Not that I didn’t believe them. I am sure the need is unbearably great. I am sure that the poverty is real. I am sure the desperation is real.

But, our hearts can only break for others so many times. There are millions of terrible stories in the world. The poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless…From teenage girls kidnapped and forced into prostitution, to every neglected and abused child, and the desperate poor all over the world. I can’t take on the emotional burden of sadness around the world.

I can weep for every child beaten and denied food by cruel parents. I can weep for the poverty stricken Thai girl who dreamed of a better life when she signed to be a housemaid in a nice American family, only to be kept under lock and key, forced to sell her body. I can weep for the African children who daily walk barefoot over town dumps searching for salvageable morsels to bring home. I can weep for the pictures of diseased feet that TOM’s shoes donates shoes to help ….I can. It takes just a flick of my mind, and my tender heart breaks.

But, what good does it do anyone? Do these children hear me? Does it make any difference to those girls? And, how much of their burden can I carry? I can’t save everyone. I can’t save anyone. In fact, shifting under the heavy weight of my own burdens, in some ways, I feel I need saving myself.

And as I hear another terrible story…from human rights violations all the way to average people in my town, who daily struggle with their own crippling first world problems…I feel like I can’t take anymore. In an era of ever present media, where social awareness is trendy and fashionable, when is it overload? When does compassion wear thin?

It’s not that I don’t believe it. It’s valid. I bleed for cruel treatment of citizens under brutal regimes, silenced by fear, torture and death. But how much more can I bleed for others? How often can your heart break before it just can’t anymore?

I almost feel I have to be selective in what I “let in,” otherwise I couldn’t bear it. So, it is, I sit in a church service, listening to these African missionaries bleeding their own hearts out with their firsthand accounts of human need and suffering. As the crowd around me sits in hushed silence, with the occasional sniffle, I pull out my phone and browse Facebook.

It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I can’t let anymore in. The world is a broken and hurting place. And I just don’t have enough tears for everyone.