Monthly Archives: February 2013

An Unexpected Trip to Memory Lane

Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s the uncertainty of seminary, or maybe it’s that The Lord is finally managing to soften my heart enough for the feelings to break through a little more. Whatever the cause, I am finding myself startled by unexpected nostalgia for the part of rural Canada in which I grew up.

It’s mostly strange things that trigger it. Some of the footage in a documentary on wolverines that the mackerdoodle requested (yes, really) made me suddenly flash back to floating down the river on an inner tube with the youth group. (although I never did that with a wolverine – just to be clear)

The freak blizzard in Saint Louis this week that gave us two snow days didn’t make me nostalgic, but riding a sled down a tame hill with my youngest daughter clinging to me in terror made me suddenly want to build a bonfire and cook gallons of hot cocoa. You know. Like you do when you live in a place that gets a lot of winter.

But the thing that really got to me this week was a random tweet from a guy I knew a long time ago, linking to the blog of a young woman who wasn’t born when i graduated from high school. If she remembers me at all, it is as my sister’s sister or as Audrey’s adopted “niece”, but she’s a young woman from my hometown, and my home church and she’s playing basketball on scholarship at Oregon State, so of course I clicked through. What I was expecting was a quick peek into the life of a college athlete/hometown girl made good. Instead I was hit full in the heart with a wave of memories.

If you just clicked that link and didn’t grow up in our town and church, it’s a post about an appreciated care package, but for me it was a time machine. I remembered the annual announcements of donations to the college student care packages, and the annual care package stuffing parties that my mother would attend. It was a part of the rhythm of our church year, and so a part of mine. At the same time, like one home movie super imposed on another, I am remembering the two years in a row that I was the recipient of one of those treasured, hand packed, cardboard treasure chests of love. I have no memory of the trivialities it contained, but I clearly remember reading and re-reading the hand written notes from a church family I was only just learning to appreciate.

The funny thing is, I didn’t have a conscious memory of the February care packages. It was something that had been buried in 20 years of living and learning and becoming a different person; Until Blaine’s tweet about Ruth’s blog post dynamited the strata of my mind and unearthed something beautiful.

I love that so many years, and so many students and three pastors later, the Baptist church in my little home town is still sending these boxes of love. Considering this is a region in which tradition is mostly viewed as the enemy, it is a tribute to the grace of this covenant community that Ruth and I share this beautiful memory more than 20 years apart.

My parents don’t live there anymore, and it’s a part of the world one doesn’t exactly pass through, so I don’t know that I will have the opportunity to go back; but thanks to a tweet and a blog post, this week I took a quick trip “back home” and it was a lovely visit.

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Stand Up to . . .

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
Henry David Thoreau – personal journal of August 19, 1851.

I have notebooks filled with things I have written since high school. Most of it is very, very bad, but there are some occasional germs of ideas that could develop into something worth reading. I spent so much time filling those notebooks with words that I began to believe the words themselves deserved to be noticed, and I deserved to be applauded as their author. I tried, in fits and starts, to convince the world that my words had value. I entered contests and joined online discussion forums and read books and did all the things that young writers are supposed to do. Each time I received a similar response: “she can string a sentence together. But there is a lot more to writing than that.”

In 2005 I was hired to be a permanent substitute English teacher – a position that came with its own classroom of empty walls and bare bookshelves. I decorated those walls with quotes from famous authors, including the Thoreau quote found above. As I hung it in a prominent position in my room, I was struck that at 31 I had spent so much time sitting down to write, but had not deliberately stood up to live.

Interestingly, the more I “stood up to live,” the more I had to write. This blog was started a year later and has been most successful when I sit down to blog about the the life I have been living on my feet. When I try to “arm chair quarterback” things, I tend to fall on my backside in a most unflattering manner. If I could go back in time and speak to the me in 1997 who was so convinced I would be a screenwriter before my 30th birthday, I would say this:

“Get out of that office chair. Put down that ringed notebook and the index cards of plot points. Stand up and live and the words will come, but if you sit there like that, life will pass you by and the words will escape you.”

Until recently, however, I have seen the two things as conflicting priorities. Either live a productive life, or write. Either achieve the to do list, or write the words. I found myself filled with words while I did my chores, but the second I sat down to write them, my mind was as blank as the screen I was staring at. It was a frustrating tension in which I felt that I was doing nothing well.

Now that I find myself with actual real writing to do (more on that in the future when I have pesky things like details) I struggled with this idea that writing meant not folding laundry or doing dishes or sweeping the floor. Then, two weeks ago, when I left my iPad sitting on the kitchen counter, I blogged more than I have since going back to work. When I relegated the iPad to “entertainment” and decided I would only write at my laptop in my properly assigned work space, I didn’t blog for 15 days.

I suddenly realized that I write better on my feet. I blogged this in snatched sentences while washing dishes and wiping counters and sweeping floors. Saturday morning in the middle of writing, I stopped mid sentence to lay out an obstacle course for my kids in the basement (which doubled as research for work. Best. Job. Ever!) and came back with sentences pouring out of my brain and dripping from my fingertips. It is not just vanity to sit down to write, these days. It is, for me at least, impractical and the first step to writer’s block.

It is not that I have decided to live instead of writing. It is that I have made the conscious decision to write while I am living. I write until the words run out, and then I get up and wipe my counters or fold some clothes, or sweep the floor, until the words come again. It is surprising to me that in doing so, I am doing more of both, and in better quality.

It should not surprise me, then, to read a quote from Agatha Christie – an author who should in no way other than this be compared to Thoreau – in which she said, “the best time to plan a book is while doing the dishes.”

To that I say, how vain it is to sit down to write when I have not first stood up to wash the dishes. . .