Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Liebster Award

So, my friend Tasha generously gave me this web award. I say generously both because it was thoughtful of her and also because I haven't, um, exactly posted here frequently of late!

Here's how this works: 
Copy this award onto your blog.
Thank and link to the person that gave it to you.
Forward it to 5 bloggers that have less than 200 followers.
Comment on those 5 peoples blogs, to share the good news.
Here are the five people who I am sharing this award with:
Emily M., one of the smartest women I know, at Hearing Voices

Jenilyn Tolley, who I think has had this reward before, but she's one of my favorite people, so . . .

Erin Shakespear, who introduced me to Mette Harrison, at Shakespear's Stage

Rebecca Birkin, who's a fabulous writer

And Catherine P, at Bluestocking Mama, who's inspired me in many ways.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Querying is grueling--even more than I expected. In my head, I thought I could make it fun by having  a personal contest with myself as to how many rejections I rack up. Turns out, not even that can make it fun. A rejection is still a rejection.

Here's where I'm at: 19 query letters (including two I sent this summer, which was, in retrospect, WAY too early). Two requests for full. (I can't help wondering: Are they just being nice?) Five definite NOs. (All but one were form rejections). Two probable nos (given that their posted response time has come and gone). A bunch of who-knows? Any more, given the ease of electronic submissions, many agents are so deluged by queries that they simply don't respond if they're not interested.

I've also decided to stop querying, for now. I got some good feedback from a writer friend that I need to think about and figure out how to implement to make the story better. Once I've finished that, I might consider querying again.

However, today has been one of those mornings. Even though my friend's feedback was overall positive on the concept and writing, her suggestions for the characters have temporarily floored me. I'm not sure how to increase the voice in my story. I thought I was already doing that.

Sometimes it's daunting to me to see the gap between where I want to be and where I'm at. When I used to have artistic pretentions, it was easy for me to look at my picture and see the gap between what was in my head and what was on paper. It's much harder for me to "see" that gap with writing--it's more of an intuitive thing. And it's a bit galling (and frightening) to figure out that after all these years of playing with words, I *still* don't know what I'm doing.

On the other hand, I can only get better with practice. Right? Right? (Sometimes I wonder).

In any case, I'm not quite ready to give up. But I am starting to feel that vast wasteland of writer's despair that only chocolate can assuage . . . Good thing DH bought those chocolate pretzels this weekend.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The query game

People told me querying was hard. I guess I just didn't get how hard it can be.

To put it in context, it feels a little bit like dating in high school (if you were like me, and didn't date much). You liked a guy, you hoped really hard he might like you, but most of the time all you got were some kind words and nothing else.

I kind of expected that in high school.

This kind of rejection, even though it's much less personal (after all, I don't have to see the agents who reject me), is in some ways harder. I always prided myself on being smart--and on being a good writer. After all, I make a living teaching writing, and it's the essays I wrote to get into college that helped me win the scholarships I had.

In other words, my identity is more vested in the idea of being good at writing than it was in being pretty. So to be rejected because my writing isn't quite right . . . it hurts.

The good thing is, this book won't be my only shot. I hope that there will be others. And the advice my mother gave me when I worried about being an old maid applies here too: "It only takes one."

In the meantime, I'm going to take solace in Kiersten White's stages of query grief.

Writers' blog

My writer's group is trying to start a writers' blog, here. We'll see how it goes--right now, I have high hopes for it!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Writing query letters

At my writer's group last week, we decided that we were each going to challenge ourselves this month: one woman is going to do the NaNoWriMo challenge, and two of us are going to (gulp) actually try to query real agents.

I know I did this once before and had modest success (a request for a partial and full manuscript)--but I haven't heard anything from them since and I'm also realizing how unusual that experience is.

So, over the last couple of days I've been polishing my query letter, my one-page synopsis, and the first chapter of my novel. And today--just now, actually--I sent the first of those letters off into the great abyss.

To be honest, it's terrifying. You'd think the process would be more hopeful. After all, what if one of those agents loves me? But right now, I can't find hope anywhere. Not in my cold fingers. Not in my tight stomach. And certainly not in my head--which, while it knows I've written the best story I can (for now), is pretty sure that the story isn't good enough.

But I still have to try.

It's been a long time since I tried to do something that I could potentially fail at. Usually I'm pretty good about hedging my bets. Still, I think it's good for me to stretch a little. And I did (do) enjoy the process of writing the story. I've learned a lot. (I'm also learning a little about how my students must feel when they turn a paper in.)

I'm almost positive one of those emails will be a swift "no" (I was trying to change some formatting and gmail read that as "send" before I was finished with the email so I had to send a very unprofessional apology). The others will probably be no as well. (And, for the record, I'm not looking for sympathy here. Just stating a fact. Publishing is notoriously competitive).

If something good happens, I'm sure you'll hear about it.

If you don't hear anything more from me here for months and months, you'll know how to interpret my silence.

If I feel anything at all right now, it's a little bit of relief. I've taken that first hurdle and survived. Now I just have to wait.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


So, as many of you know, I'm relatively new to the whole idea of writing and publishing. (The one attempt as a teenager to send my manuscript to Tor books--yes, directly--did not pan out so well).

Right now, I'm trying to finish up revisions so I can enter Miss Snark's Baker's Dozen in a week and a half. (Self: you can do this!)

However, there's a slight catch. I need a logline. I hate writing good loglines. I have a good paragraph pitch, but the one sentence thing trips me up.

Luckily, I found this great post by Nathan Bransford, on writing great loglines. Now I just have to follow through.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Writing Conference

Today I had the chance to attend a writing conference with Mette Ivie Harrison and Rick Walton, both relatively well-known authors in children's publishing.

I'd forgotten how invigorating conferences can be. There's something about meeting with other people who share my passion and learning lots of good ideas about writing that gets me inspired to write more. (Of course, the same thing happens to me at academic conferences--and I'm going to one next weekend--so we'll see if I wind up with conflicting goals afterward!)

Mette and Rick both talked to us for a bit before and after the critique sessions, then we broke into groups for first-chapter or picture-book manuscript critiques. I was in the novel session, with Mette. It's always interesting to me how much I learn from the critique of other people's work--I learn what works in an intro, and what doesn't work as well.

And of course, the critique of my first chapter was really gratifying for me. I've looked at that chapter and revised it lots of times (I think I'm up to 7 or 8 now) and it's hard for me to see it clearly anymore. I always feel like my own writing isn't quite as good as I think it is. Mette had us read our chapter out loud (well, as much as we could read in 10 minutes). I kept thinking as I read that I just sounded silly (I suppose this is why I identify with my MC so well)--and then, miraculously, people started laughing at the right spots and I realized I'd done something right. Better yet, the only criticisms I got were minor suggestions (mostly about wording), which means I finally have the shape of the chapter down--and Mette even told me that it was ready to send out. (It's not--I mean, the first chapter may be, but I'm in a revision mess in the middle right now that I will start sorting out as soon as I sign off here). But. But. It was nice to finally realize that *maybe* this is something I can do, if I work at it hard enough.

I also realized that I'm a lousy judge of my own work. That's why I have a critique group--right?

Anyway, enough about me. I really wanted to record some of the things that stood out to me from the conference.

Rick and Mette both stressed that you need to write because you love writing--not because you want to be published. Or because you want to make money at it. If you write for those reasons, you won't find the process satisfying. If, however, you write because you love it, you'll be more motivated to keep writing (which, in turn, ironically makes you more likely to get published). I'm trying to do this. I would like to get published (wouldn't we all?), but it's true that there's a gratifying feeling to finally putting together a piece in the way that I want it to read.

Mette also said: don't quit your day job.

In our break-out session, Mette stressed the idea that every story has an inner and outer journey. That's probably old news to people who have been writing for a long time, but her comment clarified for me something that I've sensed intuitively.

When we got back together again with Rick's group, Rick and Mette took questions from the group. The questions included finding an agent (most of that was familiar to me, which made me realize how much I've learned in the last six months) and self-publishing (Mette's recommendation was: don't do it, unless you have a specific reason for doing it. Most self-published writers--but not all--self-publish because they can't get published in traditional routes, which means they have short-changed themselves, ultimately, in never learning how to take that final leap as a writer.)

I asked: how do you know if you're ready to send your manuscript out? My current hope is to send out my manuscript after I finish the revision I'm working on, but I'm not sure if that's polished enough. Mette's response? "If you're asking, you're probably delaying sending it out." (In other words, you're probably ready. She may have been under the misapprehension that the rest of my draft was as polished as the first chapter. It's not, unfortunately).

Rick's answer was my favorite, though: when in doubt, send it out!

And finally, probably the day's best advice on becoming a writer, from Rick: Read a lot and write a lot and get good at it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nobody tells this to beginners

I've been having a little (okay, not so little) crisis of faith this week regarding writing.

I entered a little writing competition (query and first 250 words of a manuscript) on a blog this week. I didn't win--but that didn't surprise me, particularly after getting some great feedback and seeing the strength of some of the other submissions. Losing didn't even particularly depress me. No, what depressed me was seeing the gap between what I recognize as quality writing and my own writing.

Now, I realize that, while I've been writing for years (and teaching writing for 10+ years), this creative writing thing is a more recent development. It doesn't help that I feel like the world's biggest cliche--how many English profs do you think there are out there who are secretly nursing a novel? Thousands.

Anyway, I'm getting off my point. My point was that it takes years of work to get good at something--even (especially) at writing.

I've found some comfort in a quote that made the Facebook rounds last week, attributed to Ira Glass:

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Sometimes I wish there were an easier way around this (and I know my students wish this!). The truth is, there isn't. You just have to slog through. And believe in yourself, which is easier said than done.

After hitting a particularly low point last night (just ask my husband), I sat down with my husband to watch Castle. Now, Castle is not usually particularly high-brow, but we're big fans of Nathan Fillion. This particular episode was so apropos that I had to laugh. At the end of the episode, Richard Castle's daughter Alexis asks him about the framed rejection letter he has in his office. He tells her that rejection is not a sign of failure: quitting is.

I think I need to take the Castle quote and the Ira Glass quote and put them up in big letters where I can see them. And then I need to stop complaining and start revising.

(After I dig myself out of my pile of papers that need to be graded, that is!)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A cautionary tale

Nothing like a cautionary tale to revive a stale blog, right?

My cautionary tale actually starts a couple of months ago. See, I went to the WIFYR conference in the spring (I've mentioned it before, I know), and in a fury of inspiration managed to write the novel over the summer. The first draft, anyway. And as any writer worth her salt knows, drafts need revision. Usually lots of revision.

Sometime in early August I was looking over my notes from the conference and saw that one of the agents had suggested that we might get a faster response from her if we submitted before school started. I don't know why I thought that meant I should actually submit something to her then (I blame it on the fact that I was pregnant at the time--but I'm not anymore), but that's what I did. I suppose I expected that I wouldn't hear back for some time and that the answer was likely to be negative. About a week later, my sister gave me her feedback on the novel and said, "I think this should be first person." Unfortunately, she was right. So I started revising to first person, got about two chapters in, and the agent's assistant wrote back: she wanted to see the next fifty pages.

I panicked and called my sister. She said, "See, this is why you don't submit stuff to query that isn't ready to query." Her suggestion? Celebrate for half a second and then revise like crazy. Which I did. I got the first fifty pages revised over the weekend and then, with a little more of a clue this time, started working on the revision whenever I had time. Between kids and a new semester of teaching, this wasn't as often as I'd like (I did, however, finally start a writer's group!).

I was about 100 pages through the revision (and in the middle of adding some new scenes) when I got another response from the same woman: she wanted to see the whole manuscript. This normally would be good news--but for me it meant that I had about 100 pages to revise over the weekend. Again, I did it. It wasn't fun. (For me or my neglected family). I'm trying to caution myself against getting too hopeful because a) a request for a full manuscript does not always lead to an offer and b) I'm still new at this and I am probably not that lucky. But at least it means that someone, someday, might want to publish my book.

In any case, I learned a valuable lesson: do not query something until you're ready to submit the whole manuscript. It can be a painful experience!

I did have one of the neighbor girls read it (she's in the target audience) and she told me she liked it. (Her mom told me she read it in less than two days). She also told me that where most of my adult readers thought the characters sounded too old, she thought they sounded about right, except at the beginning, where they sounded too young. She reminded me that we often tend to underestimate younger readers. I hope I won't do that too often.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

At Segullah today.

Please stop by for a visit! You can see my post here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Okay, maybe not so cosmic after all

It sure is nice to have friends in high places sometimes.

My sister was an assistant at the aforementioned conference. I poured my woes into her ear, and she turned around and emailed Carol Lynch Williams, who organized the conference, explaining what had happened and asking if anyone else had run into the same problem. Carol then emailed the editor, who responded that of course, I could go ahead and re-send it (but she recommended I add a note explaining what had happened).

So, the packet is off in the mail again today--hopefully it at least reaches its destination. I don't expect a positive reply, but since this is my first foray into querying (I don't count the rather embarrassing query I sent to Tor books when I was 19 and clueless and had just finished a 600 page single-spaced novel . . . ), it feels monumental somehow.

I'm also told that authors shouldn't expect to publish their first book (the learning curve is steep as you write and revise). So I'm trying not to get my hopes up too high. (Although a small part of me can't help wondering, doesn't that 600 pages count for something? Maybe that will up my odds). In any case, you'll know if something does eventually happen. That's hardly the kind of news I could keep to myself!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Cosmic sign?

In June, as the few readers of this blog probably know (if there are any readers, given how infrequently I post!), I went to a fabulous writer's conference. One of the perks of the conference was the chance to submit parts of our novels to the editors directly, without having to go through the typical agent route. One of the editors had a particularly early deadline--the middle to end of July. I dutifully followed her instructions and sent off my packet with ten days to spare. Yesterday, you can imagine my chagrin when I found the envelope crammed into my mailbox, with a "Return to Sender: Address Unknown" sticker on it. (The deadline was July 29th). One closer inspection, it looked like someone had written over one of the numbers on the address--was that why the address wasn't found? Or was the rewritten address someone's valiant attempt to deliver it? I opened the envelope and double-checked the address the editor had given us: it was exactly what I'd written.

Anyway, I was a little bummed about this for a while--not so much because this meant this particular editor would never see this project (there's still a chance she might--my sister, who has much better connections than I do, is trying to find out if this happened to anyone else), but because at the moment it felt like it might be a cosmic sign: Maybe you shouldn't do this whole writing thing. Maybe it's just a waste of energy and effort.

I think I must have been tired. I tend to get discouraged easily when I'm tired.

In any case, time spent doing something you love and getting better at it is never entirely wasted. Right? Right? . . . ?

Monday, July 18, 2011

On Grieving

I just finished reading a powerful middle-grade novel about grief called Love, Aubrey. I'm not going to review the plot here (you can see my goodread's review here), suffice it to say that I thought the book was a compelling and moving exploration of how someone can move through the grieving process and come out okay.

As usual, I stayed up later than I should have finishing the book. (Late meaning 11:30--Evelyn usually climbs into my bed promptly at 6:15 every morning).

What surprised me, was the overflowing of emotion I felt when I finished the book. For a while, I lay in my bed and just cried, until I realized I needed tissues and made my way to the bathroom. I wasn't crying for the book (though it had made me cry plenty). I was crying for the baby I lost in February, a loss I thought I had come to grips with and moved beyond until a book on grieving reminded me that I *do* sometimes feel a sense of loss (mostly for that personality that I won't ever--at least in this life (or maybe ever; our belief system is a little fuzzy on miscarriages) get to know). I wonder what kind of person that little boy would have grown up to be?

Sometimes, I think, catharsis is good for the soul. (Although not always for the mood--since I woke up this morning tired and puffy eyed!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On talents

I've been thinking about the idea of talents on and off for a few months now. I'm not sure I have anything super coherent to say just yet--this is more of an exploratory post for me, to document some of the things I've been thinking about recently.

When I was younger, I thought of talents mostly in terms of the flashy talents I saw around me: people who were good athletes, musicians (both talents I don't have), being a good student, writing, drawing--things that were immediately visible and obvious. As a teenager, I had this secret conviction that because I happened to have some of those flashy talents (in high school I was known as an artist and a writer), I was destined for greatness. In the intervening years I've learned some humility and perspective.

Among the things I've learned:

1. There are lots of different kinds of talents. Some of the most impressive talents are *not* obvious or flashy. Last Sunday, the ward I was attending had a Relief Society lesson on developing your talents. I spent most of the lesson thinking about a friend of mine in graduate school who was a wonderful friend. I know few people who can equal her in terms of her warmth and compassion. Now that, I think, is a talent worth having.

2. I'm not as talented as I thought I was.

3. Just because I'm not as talented as I used to believe is no excuse or justification for slacking off on my talents. In fact, I started thinking about this idea of talents a few months ago in the midst of a real yearning for creativity in my life. (Some of that may have stemmed from mid-semester doldrums). I'd also been reading my patriarchal blessing, which encourages me to develop my talents, and have been feeling guilty about the fact that in the ten years since I graduated from college, I have done little creative writing or art (unless you count making birthday cakes for my kids). Sure, I've done other things--I finished graduate school and I've had two children (who bring with them their own capacity for learning new talents--chiefly compassion and patience)--but I haven't done anything with the talents that I used to love, and which used to define the way I thought about myself.

In the lesson last week, I was particularly struck by the idea that we are accountable for developing our talents even if our talents are not particularly impressive. In the parable of the talents, the Lord was no less impressed by the servant who improved his two talents than the servant who improved on his five talents (yes, I know the parable refers to money--my wording here strikes me as ambiguous). I'm still accountable for what I've been given.

4. You can't ignore your talents just because you're afraid of failure. Actually, this is a little misleading--I'm still learning about this one.

Case in point: In three weeks, I'm supposed to go to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference. I'm attending one of the workshops, and I'm supposed to share 10 pages of a novel. Fifteen years ago, I would have thought nothing of this (in fact, as a senior in high school I wrote a relatively bad novel, but it was several hundred pages long). I'm not intimidated by a ten page academic paper. And I suppose I have to admit that it's not the length that scares me--it's having to submit my writing to a jury of my peers. I suppose this is good for me--after all, it makes me much more sympathetic towards my students, who I routinely require to exchange papers. And it's good for me to step out of my comfort zone. But I am horribly afraid of failing at something I used to think I was good at. Yet I've been feeling this constant nudging like I need to start working on those so-called talents of mine again. Why, I have no idea. But since it feels suspiciously like a prompting, I guess I shouldn't ignore it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anger management

Sometimes I'm convinced that the primary reason I have kids is so they can teach me my limitations. Andrew is particularly good at this--probably because we're alike in so many ways. Case in point, at his recent preschool graduation, Andrew was awarded, "most determined." I was (I'll admit) a little appalled by this, because I could see it meaning that he'd been giving the teachers a hard time (they reassured me that it was a good thing--he's just good at sticking with tasks). When I told my mom about this, she laughed and said, "well, you would have gotten the same award as a preschooler."

One of the things I've struggled with as a teenager and an adult is controlling my temper. I actually thought I'd more or less over come it; when I got married, I hadn't yelled at anyone in years. Sure, I got annoyed on occasion, but I was generally able to work through it and even have civilized conversations about it. Even after I married, Dan and I generally able to work out our disagreements through discussion, without resorting to real fights. (Although now that I think about it, Dan probably deserves more credit for that than I do. It would take a lot to provoke him to a real fight). And then I had Andrew. Even as a baby he was trying--so determined to have his own way, so frustrated when it didn't work out. And I found myself yelling, again. Not all the time, mind you--usually this happens when I've tried four times to respond calmly and the fifth time I just can't do it anymore. (I'm not alone in this--there was a NYT article a year or so ago that argued that "Shouting is the New Spanking." Incidentally, I enjoyed the comments to this article the most--it was clear that some of the well-intentioned commentors had never had children; one person went so far as to suggest that parents yelled because they lacked the vocabulary to do otherwise. Um, I don't think so. Whatever my problem is, it's not a limited vocabulary.)

This brings us to this morning. I volunteered to make cupcakes for a community fund-raiser this evening; I was supposed to drop the cupcakes off between 11-noon. I spent the morning mixing cupcakes (two different kinds); the kids helped me put the liners in the cupcake pans and then played with a neighbor kid for a while. I kept thinking this would be a great opportunity to help my kids learn about the importance of service.

Then, however, my deadline approached, and with it, my stress level increased. I tried to call my contact, to let her know I'd be late, but none of the numbers I could find for her worked. When I finally loaded up the cupcakes and kids into the minivan, I'd just about had it. I was frustrated, worried about being late (I abhor being perceived as irresponsible), and not nearly as patient with my kids as I should have been.

Later, after I figured out a contingency plan (take the cupcakes to the event when they're setting up), I was able to calm down and I apologized to my children.

"That's okay, mommy," Andrew said. "Everyone gets frustrated once in a while."

So now it seems I have something else to learn from my son: a better sense of perspective.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sometimes I am not a very nice person

I've had two occasions in the last twenty-four hours that have been honestly challenging my sense of myself as a tolerant person. (Maybe the trick is that I'm not really tolerant--I just imagine myself to be so).

I have been thinking a lot lately about some of the things said in the General Conference broadcast for my church: specifically, the idea that we need to be more invested in service and the concomitant idea that we are all equal. And not just in a lip-servicey idea of equality or equal rights, but the sense that every person has equal value before God. Sometimes it's hard for me to wrap my mind around that idea; the world spends so much time and energy trying to put people into their respective places (popular culture, economics, etc. all try to sort us into hierarchies of value) that it's sometimes hard to see outside of that. And I think I'm as guilty of anyone of wanting to feel *special*--somehow better, or more gifted, than other people. I don't think I have a lot of forms of prejudice, but I do have to confess to something like academic snobbery: I don't think I'm necessarily more beautiful, or morally superior, to a lot of people, but sometimes (and I'm almost hesitant to post this openly, except that I know only a handful of people read this), sometimes I do think I'm smarter than people. I try to fight this--honestly I do--but reminding myself that a) that's only a specific kind of intelligence--it doesn't include emotional or social intelligence (both of which I'm not so blessed in) and b) even if I am smarter on some kind of empirical scale, that doesn't make me more valuable.

Even so, it's still frustrating to me when I'm in a situation that invites me to be judgmental--and worse, when I accept the invitation. Last night I had the opportunity to go to a book group meeting where Ally Condie (author of YA novel Matched) was our guest speaker. She was an amazing person, and that aspect of the event was great. But. But. Some of the other guests honestly drove me crazy with some of the questions and comments that they made, some of which revealed a kind of insular thinking. I really struggled (and, yes, largely failed) not to be judgmental of them. For instance, one girl commented on the love triangle in Matched and, bringing up Twilight (Condie's agent also represents Stephenie Meyer), came to the bizarre conclusion that love triangles must be some kind of Mormon thing. Um, hello? Have you any other YA literature? Another guest, when Ally mentioned that she doesn't read reviews of her work (unless her agent sends them to her), agreed that it would be difficult, especially since some of the people who review books don't have the same standards we (i.e., Mormons) do, and so they might be comparing her book to a wider spectrum of books. Where, when you compare it to other, decent, clean books . . . I admit it. I just don't get comments like that. Since when do Mormons have any kind of monopoly on virtue, in the first place? And since when is literary judgment also a moral judgment? Can't you simply not like something? Anyway, there were other things, but I'll limit it to that for now.

The other instance was a sacrament talk given this morning. I should say up front that the speaker was a good, honest, upright young man who probably would be appalled to know that I took his earnest words so wrongly. Anyway, the speaker in question is heading out on a mission for the LDS church this week, and had been asked to give a talk on the priesthood. My thought is, if you have a topic like that and you're speaking to the entire conversation, find a way to make it relevant to everyone. Instead, he talked about he importance of being worthy to hold the priesthood (and where does that place me, as a woman, when I can't hold the priesthood and am clearly not part of the "we" he speaks of?). He brought in several examples of how to live worthily--all good examples (like President Hinckley's "Be-Attitudes")--but I was a little frustrated by the fact that he didn't acknowledge that such attributes were just as useful for women to develop. (He also brought up scouting--and, while I know the program does a lot of good things, it is *not* synonymous with church doctrine). When he finally did bring up women in this talk, it was basically in the context of, men need good wives to be better. And when women honor the priesthood, it makes men want to try harder. All of which are probably true, but I was frustrated by the take-away idea that the primary reason why women should be virtuous is to make life easier for men. I don't think that's true AT ALL. (And quite possibly, this is not at all what the speaker intended me to take away.) It's true that good women can inspire their husbands; but it's equally true that good men can inspire their wives--I've seen that in my own marriage. And it seems to me that the primary reason we (men AND women) should honor the priesthood is because God asks us to do so and because it will bring us closer to him. Although we should do what we can to aid others on their spiritual journeys, ultimately, we're primarily responsible for our *own* souls. My primary motivation for being good should not be to make my husband better. That, to me, seems a trivialization of my own individual worth before God.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On writing

So, my sister has more or less convinced me to go to this Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference this summer. She's gone for several years and loves it. And I've been feeling the need lately to plug into the more creative side to my brain. It's kind of sad, really--in high school I was very much into creative and expressive writing--I wrote a novella in junior high and a full fledged novel in HS (which I rewrote the summer after I graduated and which was several hundred single spaced pages long). Since then, though, my creative writing efforts have been sporadic. I took a personal essay writing class and a short story class in college, and loved both--and then I became an academician.

I feel strangely conflicted about the idea of getting back to creative writing: what if I'm no good at it? That never bothered me in high school (probably because by high school standards I was reasonably good), but my standards are much higher now and I'm not sure I could bear not meeting them. What if it turns out that the only writing I'm really good at is academic writing? (Although having weathered through a couple of rejections there I'm not entirely sure about that either). I'm also just a little annoyed at becoming a cliche--how many English professors are there who are aspiring writers? A majority, I would think. And, I'm a little intimidated. By what? I'm not exactly sure. Writing 300 pages doesn't daunt me (a dissertation will do that). Possibly this has to do with the fear of failure mentioned earlier. But yes, intimidated by good writers--writers whose skills are vastly superior to mine.

But, I think it will be good for me. I think it will be good for my soul to get back to creative writing; and I think it will be good for me to tackle something that I'm not good at, or very comfortable with. And if all else fails, I can always blame my sister . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Further reflections

You can find my previous post, expanded and more focused, at Segullah today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Grace and Grief

For the last several days I've been thinking about miracles. Two posts over at Segullah, here and here, tell moving stories about miracles in daily lives--and about one miracle that wasn't as expected (involving the death of a beloved son). Yesterday, in one of those odd confluences (that are probably less coincidence than tender mercies), we talked about some of the miracles of Christ. I was overwhelmed initially reading the lesson about the love and grace of those individual miracles; I was also moved by the teacher, who spoke of losing her daughter and the miracles that surrounded that death (specifically, that she was able to do what was necessary). The message I took away from all of these stories was this: God is always with us, but that does not always mean that he will protect us from the things we fear (pain, heartache, death). (This talk, given almost ten years ago by Lance Wickman, expresses that sentiment so well: "but if not . . ."; but if God does not protect us, we will still have faith, we will still move forward.)

In some ways, perhaps all this thinking was preparing me for something I would, frankly, just as well not have gone through. Last night, I experienced some signs that I might be miscarrying (a gush of clear fluid, bleeding). At 15+ weeks, this was not a good sign. Our faithful neighbor came over and helped my husband give me a blessing: among other things, my husband promised me that I would be safe, that God loved me. And I felt that love--I think it helped carry me through what followed. We also talked briefly, after the blessing, about grace--about how we, as Mormons, don't often talk about grace enough. But last night, in that blessing, I felt the touch of grace, of God.

Not too long afterward, we found ourselves in the ER. After some time of uncertainty and waiting, one of the techs took us for an ultrasound, where we saw confirmed what we had already suspected: no fetal movement; almost no amniotic fluid. Still, it was a wrench, that moment when I had to finally give up on the hope I almost didn't realize I was still clinging too. (My husband had very pointedly *not* mentioned the baby in his blessing; he said afterward that he felt that he couldn't.) The nurse told us afterward that the baby had probably died some days earlier, that the body was already starting to deteriorate when we came in. In other words, there is nothing we could have done.

I know miscarriages are nothing new; I know many women have them--some women have many of them. Still, this was my first; being wheeled into the bright operating room was disorienting and frightening. But we survived. We came home to a night of little sleep, and in the morning the sight of my children's faces--my two healthy children--reminded me again that I*am* loved, that God is aware of me, even if that awareness does not protect me as I had hoped. Thus this day, and this post-a curious sense of grace commingled with grief.

(I realize this is quite personal, but few enough people read this blog as to make it almost private--and this needed to be recorded while it was still fresh).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The flaws of romantic love

I'm over at Segullah again today, talking about the kind of powerful sisterly love that can exist between good friends. The post originally started out as a critique of romantic love--can you tell I'm just a little sour by Valentine's Day?--but it shifted to a more positive direction.

But I still have some thoughts on romantic love that I wanted to get out there before I lose them. And I don't need to be as articulate here as I do on Segullah (not nearly as many readers; although I daresay those readers are just as discerning!).

I spent most of high school and college hating Valentine's Day--it seemed like just one more day when I was reminded of my romantic inadequacies. I don't think I had a boyfriend for Valentine's day until the month before Dan and I got engaged. When we were dating, of course, Valentine's suddenly seemed like a fun idea--an excuse to get out and do something special for one another. It didn't hurt that I suddenly had a passport to inclusion in the romantic ideal.

I should note before I get much farther that my issue isn't with romance itself--after all, I enjoyed being courted, and I still enjoy a good chick flick or romantic novel. My problem is with our tendency in society to glamorize romance as an end in and of itself. To do so, I think, overlooks the fact that true love between couples entails much more than romance. C. S. Lewis talks somewhere (I tried and failed to find the quote) about how romantic love is a powerful emotion, but it's impossible to sustain--and those who enter marriage believing that this romantic high characterizes real love are bound to disappointment. Slowly, something deeper and more enduring replaces those initial exalted feelings. And honestly? I'm glad they do. When I look back on the year and a half that my husband and I were dating, most of what I remember are the discomforts of the drama, the uncertainty (and of course, uncertainty is a key part of the romantic tension that draws us to the romantic story), and the roller coaster highs and lows. To be honest, I'm often surprised that Dan still wanted to marry me when I remember the emotional basketcase that I was for much of our courtship.

Romance overlooks the idea that love is work. In the article by Patricia Holland that I quote in the Segullah post, she quotes author Eric Fromm: “Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object—and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it.” This, I think is one of the dangers inherent in romantic love--first, the idea that you only have to find the right object (I'm not a believer in soul mates--although obviously I think some people are more compatible than others); second, the idea that real love shouldn't entail work. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

One of the most eloquent passages I know on the idea of deep, committed marital love comes in George Eliot's Middlemarch (which in many ways reads like a primer on marital love, showing the spectrum from relationships founded on the illusion of romantic love, to the more enduring relationships between flawed human beings). Towards the end of the novel, one of the characters finds himself socially disgraced when some misdeed in his past comes to light. His wife, according to the social dictates of the time, has to share in his disgrace. But movingly, when she finds out, she comes home and, rather than reproaching her husband, she goes quietly upstairs and removes the frivolous bonnet she'd been wearing out visiting, and replaces it with a quieter, simpler one, symbolic of her acceptance of the situation. She'd married her husband in prosperity, but she'd married the man and not the position, and when he lost his position, she was still willing to stand by him. That, I've always thought, is what real love should look like.

The final issue I have with romantic love is that it sets most of us up for disappointment, somehow conveying the idea that if your relationship doesn't look like this, then there must be something wrong. But truth be told, neither Dan nor I are much for romantic gestures; I'd rather he didn't spend the money on the flowers (I don't mind them other times of the year, but I'd rather save the $30 at V-day); and I can't imagine Dan reciting a poem to me to save his life (well, maybe to save his life). Instead, our "romantic" gestures are much more mundane and domestic: he gets up with the kids in the morning to buy me an extra forty minutes of sleep; I try to keep things somewhat organized around the house so that our domestic routines are smoother. Not the stuff that romantic songs are made of, but they do make our lives richer.

Now, I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from celebrating Valentine's Day (if they so choose--our few experiences with over-priced meals on the day itself have kind of turned us off it), only saying that there's more to life than romantic love. And more to love (I suppose I should have clarified in the beginning that I mean eros when I talk of love--not philia, storge or even agape--none of these have quite the same issues of commercial distortion) than just romance.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Come visit me

I'm on Segullah today.

New Segullah post

On insecurities. Just in case you're interested you can read it here.