Friday, July 30, 2010

[Why the Name?]

I named my blog "Holding Onto the Magic" to symbolize a daily struggle I face.  When I lost my mom while I was still such a young child, I was forced, in a way, to grow up overnight.  I lost a core piece of my innocence that April afternoon.  Suddenly, I knew something most of my peers would not understand for many years to come: the transient nature of life.  Suddenly, at nine years old, I understood the Old English elegiac poems that lamented the ephemeral state of this world, that nothing stays the same, and sooner or later, everything I know (myself included) will pass away, like leaves on the trees.

Such a jarringly abrupt maturation made me skittish and desperate to cling to whatever vestiges of childhood and mystery that yet remained.  For this reason, I refused to stop believing in Santa Claus until junior high.  I still keep looking for a hidden portals to a magical world, however implausible they may be. And I never could understand friends' rush to become adults.  I knew our childhood would fade before I was ready, so why rush the moments?

So the name of my site is a core element of my identity.  I've lost so much over the years: precious loved ones, too much of my health, a feeling of "normalcy", too many of my hopes and dreams... So, I hold onto what still remains: faith in something intangible.  Yes, God (of course!), but also magic in general: that something can happen that no one saw coming and that utterly defies logic... the mysterious, the mystical, the achingly beautiful (a la Lewis's being "surprised by joy"), and that, perhaps, I won't always have to watch from a distance.  Maybe someday that magic will involve... me.

So I have to hold on to something or go crazy.  With this site and my life, I spit in the face of cynical reality and choose the magic.  I'm not going to let go for anything.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

[Good-morning, Starshine, the earth says, "Hello!"]

*chuckle* I just said that to Sassy, a la Johnny Depp's Wonka, and she stopped in her tracks, reared around, stared at me for a moment, then cocked her head in confusion.  That was the perfect reaction.

I think she may be a ghost dog. One second before writing the last sentence of the first paragraph, I looked over, and she was stretched out on the floor along the couch.  I typed that sentence, fairly quickly I might add, turned back around, and she was gone.  I looked a little further behind me, and she was already curled up on the pillows on my bed on the opposite side of my bedroom from where she was laying here in the living room.  How did she do that so quickly?

Oh, and now she's plopped on the tile in front of the door.  Antsy, anyone?

Aaand, she's back on the couch.

Today's the last day of classes (and finals) for my first foray into teaching summer classes.  I'll miss this class, but I'm definitely needing those three weeks off.  I teach a 7 a.m. class in the fall, and I'm not going to lie--I'm dreading the 5 a.m. wake-up.  My biological sleep clock is very much tied to the sun, and let's face it, the sun is still beyond the horizon at that time of day, even in the summer.  Does anyone have any hidden, mysterious secret for transforming oneself into a morning person?  Please, do divulge!  I'd rather not have to invest in four or five back-up alarm clocks to make sure I don't roll back over and bury my face in the pillow for "five more minutes, or better yet, five more hours, please!"

Sunday is new cell phone day.  Friends who want me to have their numbers should contact me if their phone numbers have changed within the past two years so my contact list is up to date. I hand-copied my contacts list out of my phone to be safe.

Incidentally, while doing so, I laughed out loud at how many times I had to revise names of my fellow ladies.  There has definitely been a wedding epidemic lately!  I probably edited half of my female contact list.

My coffee is ridiculously fabulous this morning, which may or may not explain my perkier-than-normal morning meander.  I didn't sleep so great last night, so that's not going to explain my energy.  In fact, I woke up this morning around 3 to Sassy shaking her ears (it's more effective than an alarm clock, by the way), and I pretty much tossed and turned the rest of the night, feeling just "off" from comfortable.  I did eventually doze, apparently, since when my alarm went off, I woke out of a sound sleep, but it was definitely a punctuated, weird-dream kind of slumber.

I have done a little creative writing in the past two days, but none of it is ready to share.  Even what I post on my book blog, while rough, has gone through some minor revision or polishing before I let anyone see it.  I have an opening for chapter five, but it sounds odd to me somehow.  I'll have to give it another go tonight and see what I can salvage out of it.  I like the tone (light-hearted), but some of the phrasing sounds... off.  So, stay tuned.

Well, kids, I gotta go hunt down some munchies and work clothes before I leave in an hour, so I'm off.  Have a fabulous day!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

[Still Alive]

I'm still writing, guys, just not free-style. :) I've been knocking some pages out on my book (and therefore my book blog), so I haven't been doing much in the way of ranting, whining, or rambling for a few days.  As long as my creative juices hold out, that should remain the case.  While I hardly expect to finish writing my book this year, I would like to get through a full first draft of it by then.  It's true, everyone, I'm writing for FUN.  No thesis, no creative writing class, no research essay... something I want to do.  It's nice.  It's also hard to stay focused.  I'm getting better at it though.  It really helps to set aside an hour each day just to write, even if what I write ends up on the cutting room floor.

If you'd like to keep up with my book as it evolves from loose ideas to a tight plotline and, hopefully, well-developed characters, drop me an email or message with your email address, and I'll send you a Blogger invitation for that site.  I keep it private, in the off-chance that I do have a good idea, because I want to be the one to flesh it out.  I would love feedback from friends though (so, please, if you're a reader, comment!).  When you get an invitation, accept it and set up an account (if you don't already have one) right away, because the invitation only stays open for a couple weeks or a month.

My most recent entry is not an actual chapter, but rather a collection of some loose thoughts running through my head pertaining to plot development and character development.  I do have a full, very rough, draft of chapters one through four, though.  They're still short, as I'll flesh them out when I get a full draft, but they do at least lay out the direction the story is going.  I'm getting into it.  I am going to have to take a couple days away from writing, though, as finals are tomorrow and Thursday, and I have to grade all the portfolios and final exams (and figure final grades) by Monday morning.  Then, hopefully, I'll be back in action with some interesting scribblings from now until then.

Onward and upward!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

[Fodder for a Potential Fictional Story?]

It was the twelfth wedding invitation that drove me to doing it.

I'm sure Ashley meant well when, on my personalized invitation, she assured me that I shouldn't feel pressured to bring a date, that she'd just be happy to see me at her wedding.  (After all, it's not her fault I've been single all my twenty-seven years.  Oh, I've gone a date here and there, but none of them led to a second date.  For some reason, I seem to attract the gents with whom I have nothing whatsoever in common.)  It was just that it was the twelfth (TWELFTH!) wedding invitation I'd received in six months.  I couldn't help it. I snapped.  I was done. I was gone.

I hastily scribbled an apologetic note on my R.S.V.P., with the vague explanation that I planned to be out of the country that weekend.  And it's true--I did.  Of course, I hadn't planned to do any world traveling a half an hour before opening the envelope, but I certainly planned on it now.  As I sealed the envelope, I flipped on my laptop and began the search for a cheap flat in Edinbourgh, Scotland, and posted an ad for a subletter on Gregslist.  I knew I needed more than a vacation.

A month later, with everything we owned sold or stored in my old bedroom at my parents' house, my dog and I were headed through international customs at Heathrow International Airport.  In her crate, waiting to be let out, Lilly still snored.  I, on the other hand, shook with excitement.  A short train ride to go, then our new life would begin!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

[The Bucket/Dream List]

In trying to revive my dreams and ambitions that, in trying to find security, have sort of fallen by the wayside, I spent some time this afternoon compiling the list.  It got really fun after awhile, and I'm feeling adventurous again. I'll be adding to this list on The Nikster page (link just below the header on this page on the blog) over time, but here's what I have so far:

The Bucket/Dream List:
Some are actual planned goals, some are dreams that I would love to be able to do.
  • Spend a significant period of time in the U.K. (especially Scotland).  Maybe even live there for awhile
  • Finish my novel and get it published
  • Travel through Europe
    • Ride a gondola
    • Visit Pompeii
    • Tour Vlad Dracula's castle
    • See the Tower of London again, preferably when I haven't been awake for almost 48 hours
    • Paint the Eiffel Tower... in person
    • Paint a seascape of Greece
    • Enjoy a meal (or several) at The Eagle and the Child and write a story there
  • Fall in love with and marry someone who will join me in the adventure and make sure we both live
  • Participate (probably not run... haha!) in a marathon
  • See all 50 states (and I don't just mean passing through them)
  • Get a meaningful tattoo and get my nose pierced
  • Go to culinary school and spend some time as a food critic
  • Since I have the basics out of the way, go back and get a bachelor's degree in art, music, and/or history
  • Learn how to sew and make my own clothes
  • Become fluent in Spanish and French
  • Build and live in a real-life hobbit hole for awhile

Thursday, July 15, 2010

[When Did I Become a Supporting Role?]

I have a habit of letting the things that happen to me create my "identity."  It tends to be the big events for me: losing my mom at such a young age, my seventeen surgeries, my lousy immune system, twenty-six years of perpetual singleness, etc.  It's silly, really, since I've had no control over any of these things.

See, I have my students write, for their persuasive paper, a diagnosis-solution paper for a fictional character of their choice.  I have to caution them to not let their solutions revolve around the characters' outside events (i.e. the plot), but rather focus on helping the characters fix a personal flaw or weakness that causes them to make lousy decisions. It's good advice for writing, but it's applicable to life as well.  It's also a lesson that's pretty tough to follow, particularly for me.  Instead of writing my story, my novel, I'm letting the plot write me. That's not how it's supposed to work.

It isn't the things that happen to me that make me who I am--it's what I choose to do when they happen.  What would change in my life, I wonder, if I took my own advice?  Would I be sitting home almost every Friday and Saturday night, wondering why some people have lives, but social activity seems to evade my very existence?  Would I let myself become paralyzed when faced with a personal confrontation?

The thing is that I'm not sure who I am these days.  I'm not writing my story, so to speak, I'm just letting it write itself.  Why did I go to college?  It was expected of me (though I did enjoy the whole learning process). Why did I become a teacher? One door after another closed in my face--it was hardly a dream of mine growing up.  Why do I have no social life?  I wait around for someone to invite me along instead of getting off my arse and doing something.  I don't do it intentionally, but I think I sometimes invoke the victim mentality.

You know, I'd hoped that when I got a job, a real, post-graduate school job, I would stop feeling like I was in a state of transition, but I'm beginning to believe that this is something that won't change for a long time.  Even if I get hired on full-time, I'll be thinking of getting a PhD.  If I do that, I'll be waiting for milestones like marriage and starting a family.  Then as my kids grow up, I'll be awaiting their milestones.  It doesn't stop.  Of course, if I never get out of the house, I'll be stuck right where I am right now.

Something does need to change, though.  I'm getting entirely too isolated.  Why do I never say anything interesting anymore? Well, I'm not even getting out of the house to observe people as writing material, much less socializing.  Nothing happens other than me making a different dish, Sassy doing something funny, or a student encouraging or discouraging me. I pick up the literal pen all the time to write my stories and blog rants, but I think I misplaced my metaphorical pen sometime in the last year at Truman.  I stopped dreaming and just floated along with the current.  Yes, I know, I'm mixing metaphors, but it gets the point across anyway.  I've stopped being a lead character in my own story.  I've become a stock character.

That needs to change.

The only trick? Figuring out that first step.

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

[The Partly Sunny Side of the Street]

Well, my mood is somewhat cheerier than yesterday.  For one thing, I did check with the IRS, and they've at least received my latest correspondence (unlike last time, when, in spite of its being certified and receiving post office confirmation, they claimed to have never gotten it).  I don't know if they'll consider it sufficient, but if they don't, I might just lose it. Maybe.  Mom probably will first.

And whole student thing, after thinking about it (and having a more positive experience yesterday), I'm more inclined to suspect that many of them from whom I felt "hostility" were probably thinking of the class and the work as an inconvenience.  Still annoying (since I'm not teaching out of desperation--I like my subject and what I do), but less threatening.  I can't help but wonder, though, if school is such an inconvenience, particularly college, why bother?  If your attitude is going to be negative, why not wait until you can appreciate what you're learning and the opportunities higher education will afford you?  Meh.  It's not like I can do much about their attitudes.  And really, it's not all of them, but sometimes it feels that way.  Maybe I'm too sensitive. :)

Oof... this dog of mine is in sore need of a trip to the groomer's.  Her "doggy" smell is getting distinct.

You know, I really do have some intelligent, thoughtful ideas floating around my brain somewhere, and eventually, they're going to see the light of day.  Right now, though, with the stress onslaught still going strong (even if it is finally decreasing), for the sake of sanity and preventing myself from becoming a full-on cynic, I need to rant a bit.  The good thing is that after this week, there are only two weeks left in the semester, and since midterm, I've been keeping up on entering in grades, so it should be a lot less hectic *knock on wood*. Perhaps upon finishing the summer semester and getting a new phone toy on August first, my mood will lighten and I'll have interesting, coherent thoughts to share with the world.  In the meantime, I'm using the storm clouds as fodder for creating my novel's character's trauma (unavoidable to put her in the right place), so this madness shouldn't be a complete waste. :)

See? There's always a bright side, especially when one is an artist or a writer.  Grief, stress, anger, etc., can all be powerful muses to create art with an impact.  After all, what's going to be more convincing: me writing a character under stress when my life is hunky-dory, or me writing a character under stress when I'm about to go mad myself?  You got it.  All things work together, right?

Yeah, I'm definitely in a sunnier place.  The clouds haven't disappeared yet, but I'm getting the shafts of light again.

Over and out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

[The Sphere of Stress]

Seriously, I just feel like one big ball of stress lately, and it's not just one big thing. Rather, it seems to be the culmination of about a million small-to-midsize things that have tripped me up.  It's robbed me of my ability to function normally.  I try not to let these things get to me, but when they all seem to hit at once, well, I can't defend myself anymore.

I do know I need this semester to be over. In some ways, I prefer summer classes, especially when I have a smaller group, but I can also get the flip side of the coin when I get a class that's a little intimidating.  It's not everyone, but for some reason, I feel like I keep saying the wrong thing to that class, while with the other, I keep getting things right.  They're identical except for the days of the week and the size of the class, but apparently, it makes all the difference.

Meh... I think I just have case of the blahs combined with anxiety.  I'm probably imagining half of what I sense.

Okay, I'm finished being a boring writer for the morning.  I keep meaning to write something worth discussing, but these days, I can't seem to think beyond the daily worries.  I'll try to be more interesting tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

[When Doubts Assail]

I began my Christian walk in an independent fundamental Baptist church; I'd grown up in church, don't get me wrong, and I'd always believed in some form, but when I decided to commit my life to Christ, I went to that church.  A lot of what was taught in that church has troubled my walk for many years.  It was a literal translation of the Bible, or nothing.  If you had doubts, well, that meant that you weren't really saved. Dinosaurs existed in the Garden of Eden, and the earth was only six thousand years old.  These tenets, I have no doubt, were well-meant, but in the long run, they have hindered my walk, especially when faced with doubts and a nagging belief that perhaps the earth is a little [lot] bit older than I'd been taught.  So, often, I found myself asking God to save me again and again.  I had doubts, after all!

Eventually, I walked away from that life, but not my faith entirely.  I've never been able to do that, even when I wanted to.  Through reading, praying, and studying how the Holy Writ was written, I've learned that my doubts don't necessarily mean eternal condemnation, and perhaps believing in old earth creation is an even stronger belief in God's omnipotence (after all, what's more intricate: snapping One's fingers and it all being as it is today, more or less, or starting the ball rolling billions of years ago, with an end in mind, and somehow allowing it all to happen naturally as it was always intended?  I lean toward the latter.).  I believe in ghosts and that, in spite of what I was taught, they aren't all demonic.  Sometimes, I believe, we linger--some even until judgment day.  But I digress...

I'm extremely grateful to Truman State for providing a class on Hebrew scriptures that detailed how the books of the OT came to be today.  By understanding the different storytelling techniques used in the Bible, such as history AND oral tradition.................................................

Okay, so I'm not going to detail it all. I don't currently have the presence of mind to state things exactly right this morning.  Instead, I'll get to the point.  This is who I am today:

I'm a doubter.  And that's okay.  Because in spite of these doubts, I still believe.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  I doubt that the earth was created in six days, but I don't doubt that God created the earth; and yes, I do doubt that homosexuality is a sin (and, no, that is not a thinly veiled confession of my own homosexuality, because I'm still quite annoyingly boy-crazy and show no signs of changing there).  Yes, I know what it says in Leviticus, but I'm thinking of when it was written down, and I'm more inclined to suspect that scholars at a later date recorded a lot of the Pharisaically detailed laws and regulations in response to surrounding culture than necessarily direct revelation.  I'll admit that I could very well be wrong there (and no, I'm not interested in debating the topic... I find debate exhausting and stressing), but as ever, I would rather err on the side of giving too much grace.  Either way, on this side of eternity, I don't believe we can be certain.  So what do I take literally?  Well, Christ's words, for one.  Paul's teachings that aren't specific to individual issues that had risen in certain churches (i.e., those related to gender, I believe, had more to do with culture and striving for peace within the body of the church, rather than some universal dictate on how all men and all women in all times should correlate in the church).

In other words, I believe faith to have a lot more gray than black or white.  It's complex.  I do know that I have to believe.  My heart and soul yearn for Christ, quite sincerely.  That doesn't mean I don't have doubts, and sometimes they're stronger than I'd like.  All the same, both manage to coexist within me, and I welcome that.  If I didn't, and if I never doubted, I wouldn't have faith; I would be brainwashed. It is a real, changing, growing, developing faith; sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger.  I try to learn as much as I can, pray about it, think about it, study about it, and hope that I'm on the right path.

That's where I stand today, and I hope it made some sense.

Next time I write, I expect to be a little more lighthearted. :)