Heavy, wet flakes of snow are dropping steadily from the sky today, weighing down branches, muffling sound. The girls are playing a CD of a singer whose mellow voice is new to me. I have brewed loose tea in my blue-and-white Spode teapot, poured it into a Christmas cup, stirred in a teaspoon of honey, and begun to sip it down smooth. I figure I can use these cups with their holly design until January 6, Epiphany, Three King’s Day—the end of the 12 days of Christmas.I’m sitting at my computer, enjoying my tea, remembering with a sigh that in a few days, school starts up again and I will return to grading papers and planning lessons. But right now, I’m sitting at my computer, sipping tea. Continue reading
In light of Charity’s recent post about becoming masterful, I looked back on a list of Five Writing Strengths I wrote four years ago, to see if I would change or add anything—to see if I can still draw from these strengths to be the best Ann I can be as a writer.
I like to think I have more than five, but this is a good start.
The Meme Instructions:
So, here’s the challenge: make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It’s not really bragging, it’s an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list. Tag four other writers or artists whom you’d like to see share their strengths. Continue reading
Some of you have mentioned that you may begin posting a Curiosity Journal, as well. I think Monica may start up her Curiosity Journals again. If not, I’ll toss up a linky tool later today. Continue reading
Oswald Chambers spoke to me today.Not audibly. That would be freaky.No, Mr. Chambers spoke via the words he was faithful to record many years ago, preserved in My Utmost for His Highest, though even phrasing it that way seems a bit much. Maybe we could just say that I was inspired.In any case, please join me in pondering his advice. I’ve included it in its entirety here: Continue reading
Our echoes roll from soul to souland grow forever and forever~Tennyson
After a week away, I’ve just returned home, not quite ready to share my personal experiences from Laity Lodge, where I participated in a writing workshop led by Lauren Winner and met up with my High Calling colleagues for the first time in person.
Instead, as I take time to process, I’m visiting my friends, listening to echoes roll from soul to soul as I read their reflections on our time together.
I encourage you to slip over to their homes online. Through their photography, poetry and poetic prose, you will feel much of what we experienced.
Claire Burge, our High Calling photo editor, sings of the afterness, the beginning.
In her post “When Paragraphs Become People,” Jennifer Dukes Lee, contributing editor for Family, describes the process of turning our moments and lives into sentences and paragraphs, “transmitting very self to very self”:
And in a stroke of blessing, we had a small window of opportunity to touch the person we’d already come to know through word and photo alone.
LL Barkat described a quiet moment alone one morning at Laity Lodge, when she escaped to silence.
Later, she followed up with a Spam story.
In addition to being the managing editor of High Calling Blogs, she has also been crowned the Queen of Spam, rescuing precious comments otherwise trapped in the spam-filter. You’ll see her royal can of Spam at her post “Crossing the Texas Border with Spam.”
Something’s changed, he writes.
I echo that, Glynn:
Yes, something’s changed.
High Calling content editor (work) Bradley J. Moore of Shrinking the Camel wrote, “The Word Made Flesh,” in which he describes the process of connecting with us, his High Calling colleagues, in person. “Soon you come to realize,” he writes, “that these people were your friends all along. Nothing has changed, except now you are placing your hand on their shoulder, or giving them a fist bump, or sharing your bread at dinner.”
I remember running before sunrise under these same brilliant stars and dipping my hands in the Frio River.I remember Ann and Ann doing dishes side by side, and Marcus drying. Tender arms around me when I break down over the missing, and fist bumps. I think of the hike we went on with Kenny and Scott—standing at the top of the canyon. And Ashley telling me about Kenny getting baptized in the Frio right in front of the lodge and the way she made the sacred hymns come alive for me. I remember.
Welcome Editor Dena Dyer wrote of “a kind of restlessness, a yawning ache that yearns for something I can’t find.” After highlighting each team member in “Finding Home,” she pointed out that:
He’s the cure–but we won’t be cured fully until we see Him in the flesh. Until then, we reach for heaven–our only true home–any way we can:
We create a place, born from depression and hardship, that will become a haven for starved artists and limping leaders…
We break bread with one another, crossing denominational lines and reveling in the unity of our brokenness.We find home anywhere we can, with the best people we can, until we run into His arms.
Content Editor (Culture) Sam Van Eman wrote “Spoiled Rotten: When Work and Play Meet“:
As you may know, I belong to a network called High Calling Blogs. It is an online community of more than a thousand people, focused (some more than others) on the idea that God cares about everything we do. Our families matter, of course. Faith and how it’s live out matter, too. But so do work and art and music and cooking and how we let employees go. Faithfulness in all areas of life is a bedrock belief of my own workplace – the Coalition for Christian Outreach – and High Calling Blogs shouts the same from one modem to the next.
He included a profile of each High Calling team member. “They are good folks,” he says, “inspirational followers of Christ, and now friends.”
Contributing Editor Ann Voskamp wrote “How to See God: The Light of Brokenness,” reflecting on a question Gordon Atkinson posed over lunch at Laity Lodge: “This is what I want to know,” he asked. “How do you see God?”
Ann writes in her post:
He’s waving his fork in my direction.
How do I witness the face of Holiness? How does the invisible become visible to the naked eye — to my naked and ashamed soul? How does the immaterial reality crack the fantasy of our daily material illusions? How do we find the door of the wardrobe, the way higher up, deeper in? Is that what’s he’s asking me?I have no idea. None that I can clearly articulate. How does one say how they daily see the Spirit? This is a way of the heart. I grope for words. Drag my fork tines through beans.
Though not part of our High Calling team, workshop leader Jeffrey Overstreet blogged about the retreat, as well, describing it as an event “where conversations about faith and imagination were humming for three inspiring days.” He wrote:
These people like color and surprise and texture. They’re creative. They can be spontaneous. They can be absurd, for the fun of it. They can be self-effacing in everything from their wardrobe to their creative writing. They’re smart enough to take every detail seriously, but wise enough to know that they should have a sense of humor about everything too… especially themselves. And when we lose that sense of play, we die a little.
Let us play, then.
All photos except that of Bradley Moore taken by Ann Kroeker.
“I’m bored,” a child whines. Oh, no! Quick, pull out the paints or Playdough–heaven forbid the child actually sits with nothing to do.In our entertainment-obsessed society, we almost panic at the thought of having nothing to do, at being bored. The world seems to want to fill every spare moment with productivity or fun.But is boredom such a bad thing? Could boredom actually be…good?This article in the Boston Globe about boredom explored the strength–even the joy–of boredom.It quoted a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island:
“Our society is perpetually anxious, and a way to alleviate the anxiety is to delve into something that’s very within our control, pleasurable, and fun…It feels like it has all the makings of addiction.”
I value creativity, so this quote stood out to me:
As Ralley studied boredom, it came to make a kind of sense: If people are slogging away at an activity with little reward, they get annoyed and find themselves feeling bored. If something more engaging comes along, they move on. If nothing does, they may be motivated enough to think of something new themselves. The most creative people, he said, are known to have the greatest toleration for long periods of uncertainty and boredom.
And this, too:
To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one. It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe works. Granted, many people emerge from boredom feeling that they have accomplished nothing. But is accomplishment really the point of life? There is a strong argument that boredom — so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness — is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love.
My friend S. and I have talked about the fact that our kids’ generation doesn’t seem to allow much time to just sit and think. They don’t have time to create. To solve problems. To wonder about the deeper issues of life.That’s because they’re occupied with nonstop activities:They’re online, on the phone, text messaging, watching movies, watching TV, playing games. I remember long car rides when I would just stare out the window and think. When today’s kids are on long car trips, they’re often playing handheld games or watching DVDs.When is today’s generation of kids able to sort through the deeper questions of life, to develop a personal philosophy? Both S. and I grew up in settings that allowed for many hours of “down time” and alone time when we could think, uninterrupted, for hours. We’re not necessarily intellectual or philosophical giants, but we can sit down and talk about more than “Dancing with the Stars”…although, I do watch that. Did you see Marlee Matlin?? Wait, where was I? Oh, I know. I was just wondering what will happen to our kids if they don’t get some of that “down” time–that “bored” time–to think?
“When we’re writing deeply, writing thoughtfully, we are often trying to communicate with ourselves and trying to communicate what ultimately can’t be communicated — the greatest mysteries of the world: what is truth; what is beauty; what is being?” said Eric G. Wilson, an English professor at Wake Forest University and author of the new book, Against Happiness.
To write like that, one must think about it. Ponder it in the quieter moments of a day.Where are those moments?Toward the end of the article:
Paradoxically, as cures for boredom have proliferated, people do not seem to feel less bored; they simply flee it with more energy, flitting from one activity to the next. Ralley has noticed a kind of placid look among his students over the past few years, a “laptop culture” that he finds perplexing. They have more channels to be social; there are always things to do. And yet people seem oddly numb. They are not quite bored, but not really interested either.That means steeping in uninterrupted boredom may be the first step toward feeling connected. It “may take a little bit of tolerance of an initial feeling of boredom, to discover a comfort level with not being linked in and engaged and stimulated every second,” said Jerome C. Wakefield, a professor of social work at New York University and co-author of “The Loss of Sadness.” “There’s a level of knowing yourself, of coming back to baseline, and knowing who you truly are.”
Today’s Writer’s Almanac quoted Flannery O’Connor. Her words reminded me of this article, of being bored, of thinking and creating:
“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”
Boredom isn’t always disengagement, nor is it always unproductive–au contraire! Sometimes it leads to a new thought, an epiphany; a creative idea that requires our full attention.Sometimes staring leads to story.Next time your child looks up with a pitiful look and sighs, “I’m booorrrred,” just smile.”Good,” you might say. “We need more boredom in this world.”And then just wait. Don’t fill the time.See what happens.
On a recent post, I listed ideas for posting when ideas aren’t coming. One of those ideas was to invite someone to guest blog, which I said I’d never done. I meant that I’d never invited anybody to guest blog over here at Ann Kroeker, but I haven’t ever guest blogged for anybody else, either.And then you can guess what happened: Two people asked me if I would make an appearance!One was a relatively new gal in Blogdom, Nicole at tickledpinkbynicole. I think she said she’s only been blogging since November, but what an impressive launch! She seems to have this thing down to a science.Anyway, she sent me a list of questions, and I answered them.Curious about the questions? And the answers? Hop on over and check it out (my headshot is really big, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I flinched upon arrival).
The Belgian Wonder had accumulated a lot of frequent flyer miles, but not quite enough for a free flight, doggone it. He said they would expire at the end of ’07, and we were able to apply them toward magazines.Oh, my, do I love magazines–well, I love reading material of all kinds. “A-B-A-B,” or, “Always Bring A Book” actually includes magazines and newspapers. I suppose I should broaden it to be “A-B-R-M”; that is, “Always Bring Reading Material.” It’s just not as catchy. But I do stuff both books and periodicals into my bags as I head out the door.Anyway, the reading materials are finally starting to arrive. There’s more to come (insert giddy squeal)–but already I’m receiving:The Economist (it’s not really all about economics)The Wall Street Journal (it really is all about Wall Street…or money in general)Scientific American(I’m tired of looking up links)The WeekRedbookTimeAnd a friend had subscribed to Better Homes and Garden for me, and my parents got me Runner’s World and U.S. News & World Report! Oh, and I just got my LAST COPY of Family Fun…at least that’s what they told me in all caps with the latest issue.Whew! That’s a lot of reading material!So as I read, I find things of interest and want to tear them out. Sometimes I’m saving them for a writing project or the blog, and sometimes I find a topic that I think could interest a friend or family member. In any case, I don’t save the whole magazine; I tear out only what I need and recycle the rest of it when I’m done perusing the thing.But…oh, my, you should have seen the scraggly edges that my earnest attempts at careful tearing produced. They looked like they were handled by a clumsy kindergartener…until…I grabbed my trusty ruler.Tip #1: Read periodicals with a ruler in hand.The simplicity and practicality of a straight edge is not to be underestimated. Set the ruler down along the edge of the article–make sure it’s on a flat surface–then carefully tug at the top or bottom of the page. Once the tearing begins, pull steadily against the side of the ruler. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll end up with a neat and tidy edge every time, unless you get distracted and lose focus. This works great when clipping coupons, too, by the way. So fast. So straight.Tip #2: Read periodicals with a markerThen I write the person to whom it is destined at the top, next to the headline. If appropriate, I circle quotations or references of particular interest to save them time, unless I think it’s something that person might want to keep for posterity. I do this for my own filing purposes, too, because if I don’t, I’ll forget what stood out to me in the first place and lose all that inspiration. If I think my friend or I will be saving it for a scrapbook, then I don’t write on it at all; I use a Post-It. I make piles for each person until I’m done or run out of time or the oatmeal is bubbling over and needs to be stirred.Tip #3: Stick articles in envelopes. Mail or hand-deliver. Make some people happy that you thought of them.I sometimes recycle junk mail envelopes to store articles for the people I’ll see in person. I usually store the to-be-hand-delivered envelopes in my purse. Of course, I use a new envelope if I’m going to stick it in the mail for somebody who lives farther away. It’s fun to get snail mail–does anybody keep in touch that way anymore? Jot a little note and send it off–they’ll be thrilled, even if they don’t really care about that article on people in Indian slums who recycle disposable plastic cups.Then I recycle the raggedy leftovers and move on.And those, Works For Me Wednesday followers, are my low-key, low-tech solutions for sharing reading material.
Sometimes ideas are rumbling around in my brain’s gray matter, but I can’t seem to capture them and put them into words. When I try but can’t seem to compose a meaningful post for my readers, here are some productive ways to keep mentally, creatively, and spiritually “active”–and often, quite often, as soon as I employ one of the ideas on this list, I’m able to generate a satisfying and perfectly usable post:
Read Scripture. I’ve already shared my Psalter/Proverbs devotional method, but there are many ways to dig into the Bible and let it inspire you. There’s nothing like a good dose of Truth to get some ideas flowing.
Learn about Current Events: Now that I’ve started to receive all of my free subscriptions, I have more resources than ever to sharpen my understanding of world news and current events. I’ve started tearing out articles that might inspire a post and sticking them in a file for a day when I feel uninspired.
Visit new blogs: The technological savvy of today’s bloggers blows me away. Oh, and the amazing photos, clever blog-enhancing tools, and consistently creative writing ability showcased in post after post are so inspiring. It all makes me want to do more with my own humble, homely little blog, and fortunately a lot of the top bloggers are generous with explanations about how to incorporate some of these virtual gadgets. So visiting blogs to gain ideas is a good thing; I just need to keep Blog Envy and personal insecurities at bay. Overall, though, I’ve found that visiting new blogs is usually a helpful outing, like going out to coffee and enjoying a riveting conversation with somebody, then driving home and finding myself thinking all kinds of new thoughts.
Experience Something New: Trying something new is good for writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or blog posts. New experiences keep our mind active and fresh and call us to draw up new metaphors to describe sensations and feelings. It’s good for the mind and gives you fresh, raw writing material at the same time. Instead of staring at the screen and wishing for the words to come, go live a little!
Take a Walk: Years ago I read a book about writing by Brenda Ueland, and she recommended a daily walk not so much for exercise–though that’s obviously part of it–but for inspiration. Somebody copied out her quote online at this site: “I will tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.” As much as I hate the winter weather, taking that walk outside in nature (instead of on a treadmill), breathing fresh air and watching squirrels scampering up trees, is a critical part of providing fresh inspiration. It’s hard to explain, so just bundle up and go try it. Report back on your findings.
Idle Time: Puttering is freeing for the mind, so declutter a closet or organize the kids’ shoes. Plan out this spring’s garden, or even clear out some of the dried up annuals in one of the flowerbeds outside. It’s during those “down” times that the mind is free to come up with ideas that may have been stuck just under the surface. Again, I noted another pertinent Brenda Ueland quote: “I learned… that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”
Read a Book: Whether or not I like the writing style or agree with the author, reading a book engages the mind–it’s the opposite of the idle time–and gets me thinking. Ideas flow in response or reaction to the content I’ve taken in.
Link: Can’t think of anything to say? Point to somebody who said something you really like! Share that linky love and send your readers to some good stuff you’ve unearthed.
Enlist the Talents of a Guest Blogger: Let someone else do the writing for you. I haven’t done this yet, but what a great solution for slogging out of an idea quagmire.
Lists: Great idea, eh? Come up with a theme and generate some bullet points. Write a few thoughts, and presto! You’ve got a post!
As we head into the next couple of uninspiring, bleak, cold, gray winter months (at least that’s what they’ll be here in the American Midwest), may these ten suggestions help you trudge forward with hope that practical solutions for composing your posts are within reach.
Since I’m trusting that you don’t mind my mixing things up here, I decided to test you a bit.
Today’s post is about Beowulf.
I mentioned this to one of my friends. “Beowulf?” she asked, doubtfully.”Sure.””This isn’t one of your devotional posts, is it?””No. No, it isn’t,” I admitted.”Then what would you call it?”Perhaps “non sequitur”?I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure how to categorize this post. I was just thinking about it, so if you feel like reading about Beowulf, read on.As you probably noticed, a movie about Beowulf has been released.Please note: I haven’t seen it.But every time I caught the preview, I thought back to my first exposure to that early epic poem. I may have read it in Miss Flint’s Senior English class in high school, but I’m not sure. What I remember clearly was reading it for Professor Edelen’s History of English Literature course in college.Professor Edelen pointed out how much was left to the imagination when it came to the monster, Grendel. Instead of detailed description, the author built suspense and tension by focusing on his approach–his footsteps. Grendel strode…he trod…he marched across the moors….and his footsteps approached….closer….and closer….Professor Edelen pulled out two old drawings or etchings and snapped one up as if to startle us–it was an artist’s depiction of the terrifying Grendel that looked something like this.”Does this frighten you?” He asked. He walked around the room showing it to us. “Or, how about….this one!” It may have looked something like this, I can’t remember. It doesn’t really matter, because the point was made.Yawn.Those etchings were lame, especially to 20th Century students like ourselves. But Dr. Edelen argued that even at the time that the etchings were created, they were far less effective than the poem itself. More terrifying than a pen-and-ink Grendel was the Grendel in our heads, the one we imagined when we heard his approach. In the end, the strength came from what was left out of the text.Our own minds, Dr. Edelen concluded, could conjure up a monster far more petrifying than anything a person could draw. By leaving Grendel’s form and figure fairly vague and investing instead in the element of suspense–those approaching footsteps–the author of Beowulf created one of the most effective monsters in English literature.A few years later, I caught a special on PBS that reinforced this same principle. They used movie clips to make their point.One example was a scene from the film “Dr. Zhivago” when a bloody massacre is shown, but not directly. Instead, the viewer experiences it primarily through Omar Sharif’s eyes as they react in horror to the scene he watched unfold. We hear cries and clashes, swords clanging, horses neighing and clomping. Yet we don’t actually see the gorey process, the killing itself–it’s left to our imagination, which can fill in all the blanks more efficiently than cinematic special effects.Then there’s “Jaws.” The mechanical shark is not nearly as frightening as the steady approach of the fin with the pulsing music building tension.Or “Jurassic Park.” The vibration of the approaching footsteps caused the water in the glass to ripple. Fear builds with the drumming boom, boom, boom of the Grendel-ish T-Rex on the loose.Our own primal fears are fed by suspense, and our imaginations may be capable of creating creepier, more terrifying monsters than those thought up and given digital form by the visual effects crew of a movie set.So I thought of all of that when I saw the trailer. And I wondered what Grendel would look like. I wondered if I would be scared.Just as the film was about to be released, I read a review in the New York Times. The writer, Manohla Dargis, as if expanding on Dr. Edelen’s lecture, wrote:
The reader’s imagination, of course, has long been one of the banes of cinema. Any filmmaker who takes a stab at literary adaptation has to compete with those moving pictures already flickering in our heads, the ones we create when we read a book. The solution for many filmmakers is to try to top the reader’s imagination or distract it or overwhelm it, usually by throwing everything they can think of at the screen, including lots of big: big noise, sets, moves, effects, [and] stars.*
I wasn’t surprised to read the report on Grendel.
Grendel isn’t remotely scary, but he looks pleasingly disgusting, like a stringy, chewed-up cadaver with snake scales and a suggestion of [actor Crispin Glover’s] own beak.
Yawn.The filmmaker’s Grendel may be disgusting, but he “isn’t remotely scary,” because they left nothing to the imagination.Since its release, other people are saying that the special effects and 3-D make for a spectacular film experience. It’s sure to be a fun outing for viewers who like that sort of thing. And men will probably get some kind of sick enjoyment out of viewing Angelina Jolie’s character, a monster who, as Dagnis explains, “rise[s] from the vaporous depths naked and dripping liquid gold.”I seriously doubt I’ll ever see that movie. I’ll miss out on all the zing-zang 3-D Imax magic. I won’t get to see the stringy, pleasantly disgusting digital rendering of Grendel.That’s just fine. I’m not too interested. But I was thinking that Dr. Edelen might have gone, just to see. Just to compare. Just to know without a doubt that the steady beat of footsteps marching through the rhythm of ancient epic poetry still trumps technology.