A Portrait of A Weekend (Plus, Thoughts on Blogging)

Last week I was inspired to scrapbook a few pictures from 2012. I didn’t remember many of the details about the pics, but I came to my blog and found I’d written about the day here, and then I was happy because I had a bunch of details to work with for my journaling.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about my blog, and blogging in general, and how blogging and the scrapbook world sometimes intersect.

When I started blogging in 2006, it was partly because of scrapbooking. I was still trying to find a niche for myself in the industry, so I could bring in some extra income while I was a stay-at-home mom. Everyone in the scrappy world had a blog, and people read each other’s’ blogs, and commented on them, and referred back and forth to each other. We knew about each other’s kids and husbands and careers and, yes, scrapbook layouts. Blogging created a type of friendship.

The good ol’ days of blogging, which seem long-gone now.

Now, blogging is much more specific; it’s no longer really about the person, but about the subject. This is, I think, part of the reason my blog is fairly not-well-known-at-all-by-almost-anyone; I’m a Jack of all trades and so a master of none. If I were a famous person, perhaps people would want to read my thoughts on a huge variety of subjects, but as a non-famous person I don’t have a huge readership because I don’t fulfill a niche. Sometimes I get discouraged at my lack of readers (but oh how I appreciate every single person who might be reading this right now!), but if I look at it through a critical lens instead of an emotional one, I can objectively understand why I don’t have a ton of readers. (I like to think the “niche” I fill is “good writing about a bunch of different topics,” but that’s not really a niche, and how many people like me are there in the world? A person who quilts, scrapbooks, reads, hikes, runs, gardens, parents, and has strong opinions?)

Looking back now, over 10+ years of blogging, I value the opinions, thoughts, and ideas I have shared. But those little, nearly-private family details I have recorded here and there mean something entirely different to me. I know that monthly reviews about what we did in a given time mean almost nothing to a general reader because I’m just a random person. But to me, looking back—they are invaluable.

Even if it does make me feel a little bit silly posting them.

So, I think I’m going to start doing this again—just writing about our life. I guess I don’t have to post it on my blog, I could just keep the details in my computer journal. But there’s also something about posting to a blog that makes it feel like I have reached out to the world.

Today, I’m writing about having an awesome weekend.

One of the drawbacks about being a librarian is weekends: usually, you have to work some Saturdays. I work two Saturdays a month, so the Saturdays I don’t work are precious family time for me. This Saturday was one of my free ones, and we ended up having a nearly-perfect weekend.

On Saturday, I got up, started a load of laundry, and went for a run in the canyon. 20170318_101123 amy PRT 6x8
I am still recuperating from last fall’s sprained ankles, so perhaps I went for a “run.” I have worked up to longer stretches between walking breaks; on Saturday I tried to do walk for 2 minutes, run for 3. Except, I did one five-minute stretch. And then, when I was almost back down, I hit the hilly spot of the trail and I just never let myself walk on uphills, and then I was so close to the end that I just kept running, so I also did one seven-minute stretch. My ankle is still hurting, but my ballet barre class is making it stronger, so even though it hurts it feels more reliable. I’ll take pain over fear any day. It was a lovely spring morning to be in the mountains, birds everywhere seeming joyful at the sunshine, and little bits and buds of green starting to appear.

After my run, I picked up a corsage for Nathan and then took him to the train. He was going with a friend who lives in Ogden to her prom and decided Frontrunner was a better plan than his unreliable car. We had a nice, friendly chat on the way and I just remembered all over again how much I love him.

Then I came home and gardened. This is my favorite Saturday routine: Run, then weed. I don’t even care that I’m gardening in my workout clothes! This was my first time in the yard since last fall; it’s amazing how fast the weeds come on. I pruned the rosebushes, pulled weeds, cleaned out all the old leaves, and started making plans for some new plants here and there. Kaleb helped me for a while, until he left to go to the Rec to play basketball with his cousin and friends, and Kendell was outside washing the car and getting the lawn mower ready for the year, and it was sunny and warm but not too hot and just…perfect. When I was finished with the front yard, I discovered some daffodils blooming on the side of my house, so I lay right down in the shade next to them and spent some time admiring them close up, until Kendell came to find me and laughed a little bit at his crazy wife.


We cleaned up and ran some errands: visited my mom for a bit, stopped by to fix his sister’s computer, vacuumed the (just-washed) car. Then we went to Thai Village for dinner, which I have been craving for weeks. Hello, pumpkin coconut curry!

On Sunday, Kendell and I got up and went for a walk in the foothills. Our church this year starts at 11:00 and this is the third time we’ve gone on a pre-church walk. I know some people would think that this is an activity that breaks the “keep the Sabbath day holy” commandment, but I disagree. I find so much pleasure and peace in the mountains; on the trail I find God in every beautiful curve and cool shadow. We walked on a trail we’ve not been on in years; it curves around the south side of the foothills and then you come around the curve of the mountain to a stunning view of Timpanogos, especially beautiful with the lingering snow and that blue sky.


Then church, where I taught a lesson about the gathering of Israel. Then a nap, and some time kicking the soccer ball at the park with Kaleb, and dinner with all four of us actually at the dinner table at the same time. While I cleaned up, Kendell, Kaleb, and Nathan had thumb wars in the front room and they were all laughing at Nathan’s ridiculously long, strong thumbs. Harry Potter for a bit, and then The Walking Dead.

This was a good weekend. No arguments, no upset kids, no one sick or injured or otherwise in pain. Just good, calm family time. I needed it!

On Not Blogging

A book I finished reading last week, called Etta and Otto and Russell and James, has this idea in it, written in a letter by one of the characters who is fighting in World War II, back home to his girlfriend:

I started to run again and ran and ran and the thought that pulsed in my head was Write It Down, Write it Down and I knew that if I kept that thought in front of all the other thoughts then I would have to be okay because I’d have to stay safe in my body and mind long enough to get back to my pen and paper, to this.

I haven’t been in a war. I haven’t been shooting anyone, or trying to run to safety, or hiding from the enemy.

It hasn’t quite been a war.

But it’s been a dark time. A dark place. A battle with lots of demons. Running away and hiding. Ever since Christmas. And I have been thinking like Otto was thinking: I’ll write this down. If I can just write it down, I’ll be OK.

Except, I haven’t written it down. Not here. Not in my journal. Not anywhere.

Part of the not-writing has been sheer busyness. I have cleaned out cupboards and storage rooms and drawers. I reorganized my bookshelves. I did a deep de-stashing of my scrapbook room and got rid of a ton of stuff. I went to as many of Nathan’s basketball games as I could. I bound two quilts, made a baby quilt, and pieced the back to a quilt a friend and I are making for a gift; plus I’ve almost finished another queen-sized quilt top. My mom had an intense back surgery (almost her entire spine fused) and there has been a lot of driving back and forth to Salt Lake City and sitting by her side. I did the prep for a writing conference I was asked to present at. I made 15 or so scrapbook layouts.

But most of the busyness was just to keep my mind off of it. To trick myself into not knowing I was in my dark place.

I haven’t written much because writing means looking around at the darkness. Writing means figuring it out, maybe. But it also means searching and prodding and digging into spidery corners. And I haven’t done it because this dark place is new territory. Maybe the corners hold something more terrifying than spiders. I don’t know what to expect from it and the hurt is entirely unexperienced. Regret. Mistakes. This feeling that I was always doomed to fail because I tried so hard but I wasn’t successful. A heartache that is large and suffocating and sometimes soft and sometimes so sharp I have to set down whatever I am holding just so I can clench my hands against it.

All of which is vague because really: what I am trying to write about isn’t something I can really blog about. Because it isn’t my story. It’s just something I am witnessing but can’t seem to influence.

So I haven’t been blogging. Or even writing.

But I also know: I’ll never get out of this dark place. Not without two things: running and writing. And my hamstrings are not getting better (in fact, I think the tension and the sadness are making it worse), so there is no running in my future. So I’m going to try—to write more. To figure this out. And probably most of that won’t be on my blog, but I also want to start blogging again. To start thinking through things with words. To think about something else. In the past six weeks, I’ve blogged nine times. That is not very much for me. But I am paying attention to the universe, trying to hear what it is telling me. And what it has been saying (even though I have been pretending not to hear the whisper, or just placating it by thinking yes, someday soon) is write it down. Write It Down. Not someday soon, but now.

Thankful Countdown #12: Creativity in Whatever Form it Takes

This year, I decided I would participate in NaNoWriMo, which is a thing that aspiring writers decide to participate in all the time. I’ve never done it—tried to write a novel in a month—and I didn’t feel quite ready to tackle an actual novel. Instead, I decided that my NaNoWriMo “word count” goal would be 28. Twenty eight days of writing, to be specific. Real writing. I didn’t care about word counts, I just wanted to get down a few of those stories that have been weaving around in my head. Polish up some of my essays. Work harder on my Persephone sequence. I wanted to use the month as a way to work out a writing schedule. To make a writing habit.

So far, seventeen days into November, my word count is one.

Yep. One day of writing. On November 1, Kendell had to go to Salt Lake, so I went with him. I sat in the Salt Lake City library with my laptop, and I wrote away. I several times found myself in that happy place when words are doing exactly what you want them to do. And the writing itself wasn’t bad. It wasn’t marvelous, but it was working.

I think it was those moments that made me not keep trying to write. It felt…precipitous. Like walking along a cliff, somehow, and if I fell—or, when I fell, by finding myself back in the unhappy writing place I’ve been in—I might never get back. Of course, not trying means not being there, too, so being afraid because I was enjoying the process is downright silly. But there you  have it.

I think if I could go to the Salt Lake City library every day, and sit by a window, and look over at the fluttering artwork hanging from the ceiling, and write, then I could write.

I also know this is an excuse.

My first NaNoWriMo is a bust I think.

It’s also just the hectic-ness of my life. I want to make it work but I haven’t figured out the way yet.

Actually what I haven’t done is figure out how to overcome my addiction. My little scrapbooking problem. Because, yeah. One day of writing this month. Roughly 1500 words. But I have made eight scrapbook layouts.

Amy sorensen year I made thanksgiving

(You can read more about this layout by clicking HERE.)

I know that if I want to pursue my writing ambitions, I need to scrapbook less. I can’t give it up altogether, of course. Because I will always believe in the power of stories mixed with pictures and something visually appealing. I will always feel like I have a responsibility to do this craft. I’ll always love it.

I just need to find a way to make it my second-favorite response to the creative itch.

While I was planning my NaNoWriMo, I was also thinking about doing what I think of as a one-topic month. This is when I pick a topic, usually something that goes with the time of year, and scrapbook as many photos of it as I can. I’ve done this twice in Octobers (Halloween), and several times in January (Christmas, although this year I’m thinking about actually doing it in December), and once in May (birthdays). It’s a good way to use up a lot of stuff and get a lot of stories down on paper.

Our happy thanksgiving

It also uses a lot of creative energy.

I sort of set myself up for a NaNoWriMo fail by printing all of the best Thanksgiving photos from the past ten years or so. I couldn’t just ignore that tempting sack of photos. So grateful for Jake
And the little pile of new supplies I’d rounded up in October. So instead of writing very much at all, I’ve been scrapbooking. But also thinking about scrapbooking, and why I enjoy it so much, and what it fills for me. Why do I turn to pretty paper when I’m feeling creative? I think it’s partly because it’s easy. In The War of Art there’s a discussion (several in fact) about resistance, and how what you want to do but resist doing is the very thing you should be doing. I want to be writing but I resist writing. I want to be scrapbooking…so I scrapbook. There is absolutely no resistance. It’s like sinking into a warm bath.

Thanksgiving 2013 haley

Plus, with scrapbooking there isn’t really the nearly-guaranteed threat of rejection. Even if I were trying to achieve some scrapbooking notoriety, the most important thing (for me) has always been my main audience, which is my family. It’s a sure thing that they will like them. Or at least not reject them!

WCS Sat Sketch Amy Sorensen 11 8 2014

(Based on THIS sketch.)

Still, as I’ve been scrapbooking and thinking about scrapbooking, I’ve also been thinking about writing. About what I want to do, about why, after having this ambition for so long, I still want to be a writer when I grow up. It is partly, of course, that crazy dream that I’d write something that people loved, and purchased—the hope of supporting myself financially with words. But it isn’t only that. It is going to writing conventions as a presenter instead of an audience member. It is the thought of having a shelf in my house with my own books on it. It is the long-awaited answer to the 17-year-old I used to be. But even more than all of those, it is that feeling. That being in a moment when words flow, when story creates itself, when time passes without me noticing because I was caught up in that process. (“At the point where language falls away/from the hot bones, at the point/where the rock breaks open and darkness/flows out of it like blood, at/the melting point of granite/when the bones know/they are hollow & the word/splits & doubles & speaks/the truth & the body/itself becomes a mouth” is how Atwood puts it.)

I have been in that moment, which is a sort of a place. One that is so exhilarating that it is terrifying; the place I want to be so badly I won’t let myself enter.

I will always be grateful for scrapbooking. I will always be a scrapbooker. But I am, today, despite my NaNoWriMo failure, grateful for the building I feel going on within myself. A sort of…burgeoning, like lava (or, I suppose, like Atwood’s melting granite). And for the feeling I have within myself that it is coming to the surface, my ability to find that place and then stay there, making something new.

Gratitude #3: Words

But not just words in themselves. The way that, say, you wake up aching from one of those certain reoccuring dream tropes (on that particular morning, for me, it was gymnastics) and then you happen to read something that isn't exactly the same but still means the same, like

the way you watch yourself
in a recurring dream.
You never lose your touch
or forget how taxed bodies
go at the same pace they owe,
how brutally well the universe
works to be beautiful,
how we metabolize loss
as fast as we have to.
                (William Matthews) 

I dream that way because I haven't forgotten how my taxed body went anyway, and because I am still metabolizing that loss, and then I felt that sad happiness that I was never able to write it that way but at least someone else could.

Later I read this, from a Marge Piercy poem:

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

And then this, from a Delia Ephron essay:

"Our job as writers, as we begin that journey, is to figure out what we can do. Only do what you can do. It's a rule I live by. . . . If you only do what you can do, you never have to worry that someone else is doing it. It keeps you from competing. It keeps you looking inside for what's true rather than outside for what's popular. Ideally. Your writing is your fingerprint."

Reading—words—writing. All of it, for me, intersects with life, and if I am open, if I am actively reading and paying attention, I learn what I need to know, I am comforted in a way I didn't expect, I find parallels between my life and someone else's (usually nothing like mine) that lift or enlighten or calm.

Words, and the intersections they make, cause me to stride through my life with much more confidence. With more peace. I need them to be who I am. That, to me, is one of the magics of words, how other people's lives, complete strangers or utterly fictious beings, illuminate mine. I come to know some of what they know, and in this way am made wiser.

I've been known to neglect seemingly-important things, like laundry or cleaning the bathroom or figuring out dinner at a decent hour, in order to keep reading. Sometimes this causes conflicts in my world, and probably it seems selfish. Probably it is selfish. Because it's about me and what I need. Even though I need it to perform the rolls I'm needed in.

It's circular.

Yesterday I read this beautiful and heartbreaking essay in American Scholar. It has almost nothing of "me" in it: it's written by a man, who has two young daughters, and is dying of cancer. None of which are experiences I am having. But still. The intersection, for thirty minutes or so, of Christian Wiman's life and mine gave me a little more life in my life. It made me feel, think, imagine, fear, and tear up. It was what he said about grief, and Christianity, and living; he made me nod and say yes:

"Experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others."

Which is saying what I am saying, except with more wisdom, and which is why reading is more than just a story, and why writing will always tug at me, and why I will always be grateful for words, despite the conflicts: because they are they way that my experiences and other people's are given meaning.

Mormon Fiction

A recent article in the New York Times has left me thinking about the state of LDS writing. Go ahead: click through and read it, it's short, but interesting. Not perfectly awesome and amazing; it makes many wildly enormous summary statements like "Mormons gravitate even more powerfully than other Christians toward genre fiction." Hmmmm....really? And I, for one, am generally the opposite of sparkly and upbeat. But it makes some relevant points.

Plus it's cool to see two of my BYU professors mentioned in the NY Times (even if one of them is sort of an egotistical jerk.)

To sum up: the main point of the article is that there are so many LDS people writing successful fantasy novels because of our sunny and optimistic outlook. As this perspective doesn't fit into the literary fiction genre (which Shannon Hale says requires the "decline and the ultimate destruction of the human spirit"), the article argues, those creative LDS types turn to fantasy because that's the only place that allows for optimism. (Also, according to the article, because novels without drinking and/or lots of sex are eventually categorized as some genre or another, but not literary. I think I could find a few exceptions...)
But I would argue that even the contemporary fiction written by LDS writers is fantasy.

Granted, much of what follows is filtered through my religious perspective, and I am far from the world's best example of being a Mormon. Perhaps if I were more successful at it, and didn't doubt and question, and need to find my own answers, and have the tendency to think, "yeah, but...," my perspective would be different.
I remember, when I read My Name is Asher Lev for the first time, wondering—and I may have even written this as an annotation—why the same thing isn't done with the LDS faith. We are intelligent, creative people, and yet often our fiction doesn't so much strive or grapple with our faith as simplify it. Much of the writing that is set in LDS families is generally very...mushy. It looks at troubles and more often than not finds a solution through faith, but it always seems entirely too easy in my mind. A few prayers, a trip to the temple, maybe a talk with a friend or religious leader, and then ah-ha! A dream is dreamed, a whisper of the Spirit is heard, or the perfect talk is shared over the pulpit! The problem is solved.
I know I am generalizing here, and I know there are exceptions.  (Read the story at this link  for example, if you want to be troubled for the next twenty years or so.) There are a few LDS novels that are the exact opposite of what I am describing, stories that explore the implications of what it really means to live as an LDS person. In general, though, the easily-fixed plot line has been my experience with LDS fiction. I confess that I hold up my irritation and contempt for such novels without having explored the genre thoroughly. I've read annotations of a bajillion of them, but my reading of actual LDS novels ended with one that was about a woman caught in a bad marriage; the solution was that her husband was killed in a car wreck and then she was free to marry the other guy she'd been sharing a sort of friendship with.
Upon further thought, this plot development seems like it would qualify for at least a little bit of darkness, but it all happened so cheerily. "Look! Through someone's death my life is improved! That God of ours sure is clever!" Killing the problem isn't really a solution; it's just the ultimate deus ex machina. Even though it is something that could have a thorough development—I mean, what if you really were in a bad marriage? And sometimes you were so mad/upset/hurt/demoralized by your husband that you wished he was dead? And then he died. To me, that wouldn't be a solution. It would create other problems, like guilt, and doubt, and...other things you'd explore in an actual novel. In this book, though, the main character mourned a bit for the death of her awful husband, and then she got remarried to the other guy, and all was sunshine and light because, well, she didn't commit adultery, did she?
I'd call it a fairy tale except I admire fairy tales.
Think of what Asher Lev grapples with in Potok's novel. In order to express a truth, Asher creates paintings that alienate his family and religious community. They do not understand his work, but he doesn't know how to say (in paintings) his own truths in ways that would be safe within his religion. In the end, he makes a choice between the truths he wants to express in his art and the truths he has learned in his religion. Asher has to agonize over decisions and he isn't always sure what is right; nor are his parents. He has his faith but he has to figure out how to live with it, or if he even can. It isn't a happy ending—but to me, it is a true one. If you recast this into a typical LDS novel, Asher might've prayed, and been given a different artistic vision, or Aryeh might have convinced his son to make less divisive paintings, or maybe Rivkeh would've interceded and smoothed everything out, but somehow there would've been peace at the end, and a happy ending.
And to me, that is the greatest fantasy of them all: that if you pray hard enough, or live righteously enough, or are a good enough person, the things you are troubled with will eventually fall away. You will conquer them and you will do this using the tool of your faith. To me, this sets up a false expectation; if all I ever read were LDS novels, I would probably think of myself as a failure at living my faith, as my troubles have not fallen away, and many of my prayers have not been answered with a resounding, obvious, heavenly yes. I don't understand everything about my religion and some of our beliefs (traditions? doctrines? habits?) sit uneasily with me. Not so in the novels. All of those characters in all of those novels, living their virtuous lives—their doubts (when they have them) are explained, their problems are solved, their prayers are answered.
To me, this is a highly immoral act of a creative person: to create a false expectation of ease. To pass off as real and true a world where praying and living righteously are methods by which one avoids difficult things. Where there are always answers we can understand. Because think of someone who has experienced something hard for a long time, or maybe their entire lives. Did this hard thing continue to happen because they weren't faithful enough? Because they didn't pray enough? Because they weren't good enough? Of course not. Who knows, really, why a person experiences the hardships they do? Only God, in the end, and if I know anything it is this: God isn't Santa Claus.
The typical LDS novel to me is a mockery of my faith. It creates a silly, shallow version of an experience which is profound, complex, puzzling, moving, frustrating, and very often unfathomable. Such novels present a black-and-white portrait, whereas living faith is multicolor, nefarious, hard to pin down. Shaded and ellusive and far more complex than black and white.
I bump against this problem so often when I am writing that it stymies me. I don't necessarily want to write an LDS novel about LDS experiences; the stories banging around in my head aren't religious that way. But how do I separate my generally LDS perspective from the world at large? How do I know, for example, how it feels to have a regular, everyday grown up life that includes drinking wine with dinner? From my LDS experiences, drinking is something people do to rebel against the constraint not to drink, so our relationship with alcohol is different than a regular, everyday American's. So do I pretend I know what it feels like to have a different relationship to alcohol than I do? Do I avoid alcohol in my stories altogether? I don't want to write my characters as Mormons but I don't know what the world looks like without the Mormon perspective.
Do Catholics write novels with, say, Muslim characters? Or Protestants with a Wiccan narrator? Or can you, being a religious person, write a novel that is not always imbued with a religious perspective? How do you write a story that doesn't look through your own religious lens while still maintaining a sense of reality?
Maybe that really is why we write so much fantasy.
Which brings me back to Asher Lev. I don't think it is impossible—obviously—for an LDS woman from Utah to resonate so strongly with a book about a Jewish artist. I would imagine that many non-Jewish, non-artist people have read and resonated with My Name is Asher Lev. This is what good literature does: it transcends the situation we are in so that we can see, question, understand, or wonder at someone else's. But as much as I want to read (and perhaps even write) a novel that grapples with the LDS faith in true and difficult ways, I can't picture many other people wanting such a book. Does a market exist for it? Who would read it? Many of the Mormon readers I know (although, not all of them!) not only want to continue to read the usual LDS novel, they see it as a sign of their righteousness. So that leaves non-Mormons, and would a non-Mormon person be able to resonate with a Mormon story in the same way that so many non-Jewish people resonate with Asher's Jewish story?
Is the Mormon perspective simply too strange—too sunny and uplifting, as the NY Times article describes it—to resonate?
I want there to be a Mormon Shakespeare or Milton. Even better, a Mormon Chopin, or Flannery O'Conner or Christina Rosetti. Or how about an LDS Sylvia Plath while we're at it? I have too much faith in the creative process and the power of literature to doubt that there could be a writer who could do this: make an LDS perspective (a real one, not a flat, perfect one) resonate outside of the LDS culture. I think it hasn't happened yet because it requires a writer to look at his or her faith through a critical perspective—to see not only its good points but its weaknesses, and then to see how the weaknesses are a counterpoint to its goodnesses. (Not just something to brush away lightly.) It would require us to step outside of the fantasy we sometimes create in our actual living, breathing lives and to be honest about what happens. In my mind, a faith that is true should be strong enough to withstand this sort of critical examination. This is terrifying, of course, but is there another way to create great literature?


When I wrote the first one, Kaleb wasn't even four months old yet. Haley was only ten—ten! Jake was almost seven and Nathan was in kindergarten. We still had all four of our parents with us, although my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's very shortly after.

I was a stay-at-home mom completely enjoying my last baby and I had no idea I would one day become a librarian. I weighed twenty pounds more than I do now, I loved ice cream, and I drank at least one 44-ounce Pepsi every day. I hadn't yet run a marathon or hiked timp.

I thought that by the time I was 40 I would have surely written my novel.

I haven't, but I have managed to write 999 blog posts. This is my one thousandth. And I also had the idea that my blog would become a wildly popular purveyor of intelligent thought. The popularity? Not so much. The intelligent thought? I hope so, but not always.

There was the post where I made fun of an author and then the author left me a comment.

The one where I explained what is like to be partly Mormon.

And this one about Mormon Mommy Blogs which I am extremely fond of. Even if it's snarky. Especially because it's snarky.

The post with my reading philosophy.

Several about people dying.

I wrote a 100 things list (which I've been thinking about doing again) and a 50 gratitudes list.

I did a Christmas Writing Challenge and a Use Your Stuff Challenge.

I've written about a lot of different things.

And while I'm still working on that novel (and some essays and some short stories and even a few poems) and while I have a tiny blog readership (translation: I appreciate every. single. reader!) I will continue to blog as well. Putting my thoughts out into the world helps me organize them, express them, understand them, and value them more than I would have otherwise. Here's to 1,000 more posts!

And tell me: how long have you blogged and would you ever stop?

Impossible Feats

"One person's 'just do it' is another person's Everest." I read that in a novel this weekend (The Dive from Clausen's Pier, if you were curious) and the idea has been sitting with me ever since. Partly this is because of a writer's conference I went to last week (more on that in another post) and how it made me think not so much about my writing as it did about my writing habits. My processes, and how I need to radically change them if I am ever to find any success, and it does sort of feel like an Everest. Except, look at all those successful writers who presented at the conference. How did they do it? They just did it. 

I think we all probably have our "just do it" things that look enormous to other people. I get that a lot with running. "I wish I were a runner, too" or "I don't know how you run for so long" or "how do you fit it in?" sort of comments come up quite often. I don't really know how to respond with a short answer. The only way you become a runner is by running, by starting slow and short and building up. I've been running consistently (aside from the dismally chubby days during my teaching career, when I could only find running energy during the summer) since 2000, but I still remember vividly my first race, a 5k I ran with Becky, back when my running clothes were biking shorts because running shorts were too short and made me chafe. (I still can't wear real running shorts. Because they make me chafe.) I had never run three miles, and I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to finish, or that I would come in last, or that I would make some spectacularly obvious newbie mistake and embarrass myself. That first 5k was an Everest of sorts.

But if you keep pushing, different things become new Everests. I tried the summit (a marathon) once in 2001, which is like...well, it's exactly like a new runner trying to run a marathon. Maybe other new runners would be successful, but I wasn't. I didn't run a marathon until 2011. But I did run a whole bunch of half marathons, and challenge myself in other ways, and even now that the marathon is behind me I still have running Everests. How do I do it? (Or any other runner, for that matter, as I'm hardly an extreme or noteworthy example.) Just by running. By doing it one day at a time, by preparing for and reading about and experimenting upon running. Just like a person who is (literally) hiking Mt. Everest. She gets to the top by taking each step.

Sometimes my own "just do it"s are simultaneously my own Everests. Like this morning, when I decidedly did not want to go running. Not at all. I was completely uninspired at the thought. I wanted to stay home, eat a big bowl of oatmeal in my pajamas, and then maybe take a bath. Getting dressed, putting on my shoes & headband & sunscreen, propelling myself down the street: had I ever even done those things before? But if I didn't run this morning, I wouldn't be able to run again until Wednesday, and as I didn't run last Friday that would be an entire week without any running. And that's another way Everest turns into "just do it." You sometimes slip back a little bit, but you don't want to slide all the way back down to base camp. Even when you're uninspired you put in the miles.

And you know: I'm not even writing about running there. I'm writing about writing. I'm trying to teach myself that the only way to fulfill this dream is by writing. By getting my butt out of base camp. By figuring out a way to make it work. To change my entrenched habits so that writing, too, becomes the thing I just do. Even though right now it feels like 29,029 feet of impossibility.

a Night of Omens and (possibly) Answers

Since the events that transpired to create this post happened, I have been in a dark place in my soul. I have doubted my decisions, my relationships, my faith. I had a dark moment on a dark night sitting alone on a cold bench in a park, so late at night that the lights had gone out.

I want to believe what I have believed. I want to believe what others have said about my choices. I want to believe, again, that I am forging a good life. But I don’t know how to do that, here in the dark alone. And I don’t know how to convey what I believe to the people who need to believe it too.

So. I’m in this dark spot.

I can’t really talk about it, because talking induces hysteria. The kind of tears that feel like a heart attack. Putting it into spoken words, the kind with sound waves, makes it feel even more real.

So I’ve written a lot in my journal. I’ve fasted for myself (not something I ever do). I’ve thought and relived and tried to see things from an objective perspective.

I’ve spent a lot of time crying in the bathtub.

Two weeks ago, my mom asked me to come to her church’s birthday dinner. Some sort of writers or artists were coming to speak—she was vague on the details—and she thought it would be fun if I came because, you know, my writerly ambitions. And while I usually feel guilty about doing things in the evening on nights when I’m not working, something told me I should go.

So I did, despite the fact that I argued with Kendell about it and I argued with Haley about it and there was a big meltdown just before I left and I left late and then I had to speed down the freeway (which is a brave thing to do in Utah right now, considering all the freeway construction). I went, taking my darkness with me and my hope that the something telling me to go was right.

When I got off the freeway and turned east towards Springville where my mom lives, I gasped. The moon was rising, very close to full, right in the valley between two mountains. A sheet of clouds hung in the lower part of the valley, so it looked like the bottom quarter of the moon had been torn off. The rest of it, though, looked enormous—you know how it looks when it first rises?

If I wasn’t late and the road wasn’t so congested, I would have stopped and taken a photo of it, even though I’m certain that my camera phone couldn’t begin to capture how that moon made me feel. A little bit of light.

I rushed to my mom’s, picked her up, and drove to the church. She was still a little bit vague on the details of who was speaking, but as I listened to the conversations around me, I picked it up: the painter Liz Lemon Swindle, who does religious paintings, and Susan Easton Black, who is a church historian and a professor at BYU. She also writes the books that tell the story behind Swindle’s paintings.

And it just so happened that my mom and I ended up sitting at the very same table as these two women.

As I tend to do when I am around successful people, I clammed up. I wanted to talk to them both, gush my admiration and ask them for advice and learn their secrets, but mostly I just listened and ate chicken salad.

I loved listening to Liz Lemon Swindle speak about her art. As art is something I am immensely fond of—partly because my grandpa, Curtis Allman, was an artist—but not anything I can do with any resemblance to actual art, I find artists to be amazing people. The translation between the idea and the finished painting—it is a source of magic I think.

But the talk I needed to hear, the one I didn’t know I came to the meeting for, was Susan Easton Black’s. She spoke of a time in her life when she found herself in bed, having given up trying to live any sort of real life, and how a sort-of acquaintance helped her get out of bed, wash her sheets, and move forward. "You just have to find your talents and then do something with them," the friend told her, and so that is what she did. She took her talent of being able to remember the details of anything she read, and she became a teacher of church history. She wrote books with her knowledge, and shared what she knew. She made a life for herself by building up her talent.


That word came up several times in these two talks. Over and over, in fact. By the end it was almost the only word I could hear: talent. Find your talent. Build upon it. Move forward by using your talent. Build a life based on your talent.

What is my talent? I thought. And what I want the answer to be is this: writing.

What have I done with my talent? I asked myself. Focused all of my education around it. Taught it to high school students. Used it to share my kids’ stories. Taught courses on it to scrapbookers around the world. Put down my thoughts about books so that other people could discover the good ones, too.

But never what I really, really wanted to use it for, ever since I was 16 and listened to a popular girl in my sophomore English class read her poems out loud and knew: my poems were better than hers even if every boy in the school adored her. Writing books that other people might read: that is what I have wanted to use my talent for.

But I got married young. And then I had things like a mortgage and health insurance to pay for. I had babies. I finished school. I tried to be a good wife and mom. I suffered through Kendell’s unemployment, went back to school, became a teacher. Became a librarian. And throughout most of those years I kept my writing ambitions a sort of secret. I kept my Madeline L’Engle moment in my head: once my kids were all in school, it would be my time to write.

And here I am: all my kids are in school. It is the time my writing has been waiting for. But here I am: in the dark. Unsure. Maybe all those years were simply my way of laying in bed, ignoring the world and trying to sleep through my life? Maybe my Madeline L’Engle moment was only an excuse for me to not try? Because trying? Trying means failing. If I never try to be a writer, if I only talk about it, then I will still have the dream in front of me. By not starting I don’t have to ever confront failing.

Because that is the hitch that all my darkness spins around: is writing really my talent? Am I good and strong and determined enough to take the road I want to take? Is it selfish of me to even try, when my kids still need so much from me, both emotionally, yes, but also financially.

I thought, and I listened to Susan Easton Black’s story, and I thought some more, and soon the only word I heard was that one: talent.

A fragment of a Mary Oliver poem skipped into my thoughts:

little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

(I am a mother and a wife and a friend and an employee. But I am also myself, and no one else can save my life but me.)

And of course the scripture from Matthew:

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

(Have I waited too long? Did I bury instead of build upon? That unprofitable servant who buried his talent didn’t just go away. He was cast into outer darkness, with much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Did I only once have the ability to write?)

And an idea from Borges:

"like every writer, he measured other men’s virtues by what they had accomplished, yet asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do."

(Can I only talk and dream about it?)

And that word:


And then the talks were over. I told them both how much I appreciated their words, my own syllables hollow. Neither one of them could know the story behind my appreciation. Because it felt like there was an answer here, somehow. An answer I still don’t know how to make be the answer. Because I have to believe in the answer so much that the other people who don’t believe in this answer are converted to it. And I have to be good enough to make it the answer. And I don’t know how to move from what I planned to someday do to actually doing it.

But it still felt like an answer somehow.

After I dropped my mom back at home and started the rush for home (Haley needed the car), I thought. I thought out loud—a sort of a prayer. I drove the long way home (despite Haley needing the car). And when I was out on the road that runs between towns, a road tucked right up against the foothills, I looked across the lake and I saw a shooting star.

Then I stopped my talking. I didn’t think, really. I just drove, to the end of my night which was book-ended by celestial lights, a sort of punctuation to the message I still don’t properly understand but know, somehow, is the one I needed to hear.

I confess: I am still in the dark. I am subsisting on shaky faith, doubt, and self-flagellation. But the dark is not so dark, quite. It is that word—talent—which is a light I can almost, almost see. And perhaps if I keep moving forward I will catch up to it.

when I am bloggily silent...

it usually means there is something I want to write about but can't yet.

That's certainly true right now.

What I want to write about is the night I had with my mother last week, and answered prayers; an enormous moon and a shooting star.

But every time I try, I change my mind. I look at the blank screen, take a deep breath, and then do something else. I balance the checkbook instead. Clean out a drawer of scrapbook supplies. Do a load of laundry.

I want to write what is simmering in me.

But this time I am afraid to, because I don't know what it means yet.

And I can't write about anything else until I write about this topic.

So if I am bloggily silent, you know why: I am trying to find my writerly courage.

Hopefully it will blossom soon.

the power of powerlessness

Sometimes I feel like the Queen of the Socially Awkward Gaffe. Like I don't know when to just keep my mouth shut to stop the words in my head from coming out into the world, where they will make me blush and feel uncomfortable.

For instance, last week at work two other librarians were talking about a person who is coming to do a program at the library. He's an English professor at a nearby university, a published poet, and one of my least-favorite people. Instead of just keeping my thoughts in my head, though, I let a little annoyed groan out, and said something snarky like "why would you do __________ a favor?"

Keep in mind that these two librarians also went to the same university. They both have Master's degrees and have certainly taken classes from this professor. Maybe he was even one of their favorite  professors. Maybe they have become friends with this professor? I don't know. But once my gaffe escaped my lips, they wanted to know why I didn't like him, and instead of making a socially deft move—maybe an awkward change of subject such as, "Oh, you know. What did you think about Cat's Table?"—I barrelled ahead with the story.

When I was at college, I took a poetry writing class from this professor. He was young-ish then, late thirties, and walked with a sort of swaggering confidence into class on the first day. He put his obligatory university-professor brief case on the desk, took hold of the podium, and said "In my teaching career, I will be lucky to meet one real poet. If I am seriously, amazingly blessed I might meet two." And then he went on to describe the publishing world with severity. And to discuss how all English majors assume they each have a inner poet just waiting to be released, but they couldn't be more wrong; most of that is just conceit and a little bit of encouragement from their public high school English teacher, who probably also thought she  had a writing career just around the corner.

Part of me knows why he started the class this way. He's right, of course: real poets are  rare. The publishing world is  severe and cruel and nearly impossible to be successful in, especially in poetry which most people don't read. I'd even heard another professor (who was one of my favorites and who taught me much about the writing craft) say nearly the same thing to a writing class: just because you're an English major doesn't mean you automatically know how to write well. The difference was tone and intent. The writing teacher I loved said this with an intent to clear away self-aggrandizement and put real writing knowledge in its place. The poetry writing teacher I (still) can't stand did it to put us all in our places. I am the real poet here,  his words and attitude said, and the rest of you are foolish minions.

Perhaps he also did it to get rid of the easily-offended. It was always interesting to me, in college, to see how the make up of a class would change after the first day. I know lots of students would shop their classes, trying to find the easiest professors and the smallest workload. Maybe Mr. Poet just wanted to get rid of the lazy students right off the bat. And honestly: I really did  want to get up and walk out of class that first day. But I wasn't most students; I was married and had a child (and would be pregnant again at the end of that semester). My schedule was carefully planned around nap times, daycare, and when I could use the car. I couldn't just change it because I hated the professor.

So I stuck it out. I did the required readings and wrote the assigned poems and tried to learn everything I could. I did whatever I could to get an A in the class. (I got an A in the class.) I didn't know that professor was teaching me stuff about how not  to be a teacher. (Like: who becomes a poetry teacher because of that one real poet they will hopefully find?) I thought about his example quite often when I was teaching, especially my creative writing classes. Sure: not everyone who loves writing or even is really, really good at it will be successful at it. But writing wealth, fame, and wide-spread publication are hardly the point for a classful of English majors, or at least not the  point. The point is learning, and while I did  learn about poetry from this professor, I also learned that gender bias? Totally still alive and kicking in academia. I learned which types of poems I could hand it to him and get an A on, and they weren't anything that seemed "too feminine." I learned to never  volunteer an answer, especially not a supposition, or to work through my thought processes aloud in front of him, because he was so swift to point out errors.

I didn't tell all of this to my fellow librarians, just the bit about the first five minutes of class. I'm pretty sure they are  big fans of this professor anyway, which is fine. I shouldn't have told the story anyway. But my gaffe and that flood of memories have left me thinking. This happened 15 years ago. Fifteen! Yet I still remember the details as crisply as if it happened last week. It left an impression because it became my story I could tell whenever people compared awful university professors. But it remains crisp also because it is one of the experiences that make me doubt my writing abilities. Make me slightly ashamed of them, in fact, as if wanting to write—no, as if thinking I could  write well—was just one of those silly notions that vapid women like me get.

Yesterday I read something that counteracted, a little bit, that semester with that professor. This is from the book Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing  by Roger Rosenblatt:

Since 1975, the number of creative writing programs has increased 800 percent. It is amazing. The economy has tanked. Publishing favors nonfiction. young people seem to prefer the image to the word. Yet al over America, students ranging in age from their early twenties to their eighties hunker down at seminar tables . . . avid to join a profession that practically guarantees them rejection, poverty, and failure.

Which sounds an awfully lot like what my professor started that long-ago poetry-writing class with, right? But he continues:

They all want the world of writing so very much—not only to succeed in it, but to be a part of it, to stroll in it and feel it wrap around them. I admire their brash impracticality and wonder if, in some way, their reckless enthusiasm for art, conceived and nurtured in an increasingly money-driven age, represents their unconscious protest against the age. . . . something deliberate and stubborn lies behind their decision to make artists of themselves. They turn to the power of their powerlessness.

The power of powerlessness. That is it exactly. I might not write poems that professor would ever admire, and I know there are thousands of poetry editors in the world who think the exact way he did about poems like mine: centered in woman and so lacking in universality. The power comes in knowing. I know the publishing world is brutal. I know  real poets are rare things and I am probably not that rare. I know  my odds of succeeding are infinitesimal.

But, it is just like Mark Twain said: a person who doesn't write anyway is no different from a person who can't write at all. Pushing forward, continuing to try despite the very stacked odds, refusing to swallow that one professor's poisons—knowing he is right and I will more than likely fail but writing anyway: that is the only power I have. He might think that it is no power at all, because it hurts no one but myself. But it doesn't only hurt me, the failure. It reminds me that I did, I have, at least, tried. And the trying gives me courage to try again, despite the inevitable failure.