Thursday, August 20, 2020

Joy, (un)Elusive

 I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart this year. It’s the first time I’ve experienced something like it. And weirdly enough, it keeps cropping back up like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole—even in the midst of Coronavirus and death.

Such an admission might have once flooded me with shame. After all, joy is a basic requirement of being a good Christian, right? And yet, if I’m honest with myself, my life has lacked joy among all other emotions. Although I don’t always have a name for them and my face doesn’t always show it, my internal array of feelings can resemble the emoji usage of a preteen. Happiness, I’ve experienced in abundance. Exhilaration, satisfaction, pleasure, wonder, and bliss—sometimes all at once—have visited me throughout my life, along with their less-desired counterparts: boredom, restlessness, discomfort, confusion, and grief. 

I’ve experienced a lot of grief recently, in fact, as my paternal grandmother died alone in a nursing home in April, a causality not of Covid-19, but of the isolation it has bred out of necessity. Nearby family members negotiated who could attend the graveside service with its maximum of ten people. A cousin kindly filmed the eulogy and took a couple of pictures of grandma in the casket for all the rest of us scattered across the U.S. and abroad who couldn’t be there to say goodbye. Then, my last remaining grandparent—my mother’s father—died two weeks later and a new wave of grief compounded the first.

But joy?

I don’t relate to Bible verses enjoining me to rejoice. I console myself that joy is a fruit of the Spirit so it’s his job to manifest joy in my life. Even David puts the impetus on God when he begs to have the “joy of your salvation” restored to him in Psalm 51:12. Most days it feels like I’m making an excuse, though, so I double-down and tell myself that joy probably isn’t the pinnacle of emotions. Furthermore, is joy even an emotion or is it more a state of being? A condition of the soul? Based on what I’ve gleaned from nearly forty years of sermons and Christian culture, many people believe joy is an intense contentedness welling up from some deep place inside.

If that’s the case, then a lack of joy might be a problem.

Read the rest of my article here.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Douglass and the Emancipation Monument

In my attempt to listen more to Black perspectives, I've been doing a fair bit of reading. Some contemporary, some historical. I came across this gem from Frederick Douglass. Among other things, I appreciate his candor and boldness regarding Lincoln at the opening of the Emancipation Monument. 

Days after he gave the speech below, Douglass made other comments about the monument in which he rightly criticized the artist's choice of  posture for the former slave. "While the mere act of breaking the Negro's chains was the act of Abraham Lincoln,… the act by which the negro was made a citizen of the United States and invested with the elective franchise was pre-eminently the act of President U. S. Grant, and this is nowhere seen in the Lincoln monument.… The negro here, though rising, is still on his knees and nude. What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man. There is room in Lincoln park for another monument, and I throw out this suggestion to the end that it may be taken up and acted upon." 

I hope this happens. 

Below are excerpts from Douglass's (much longer) speech which can be found in its entirety here:

ORATION IN MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, delivered at the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1876

"Friends and Fellow-citizens:

I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have today. This occasion is in some respects remarkable. Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lesson of our history in the United States; who shall survey the long and dreary spaces over which we have traveled; who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion; they will think of it and speak of it with a sense of manly pride and complacency. . . .

We stand today at the national center to perform something like a national act—an act which is to go into history; and we are here where every pulsation of the national heart can be heard, felt, and reciprocated. A thousand wires, fed with thought and winged with lightning, put us in instantaneous communication with the loyal and true men all over this country.

Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have today. Harmless, beautiful, proper, and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country, would have made our assembling here the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath and violence. That we are here in peace today is a compliment and a credit to American civilization, and a prophecy of still greater national enlightenment and progress in the future. I refer to the past not in malice, for this is no day for malice; but simply to place more distinctly in front the gratifying and glorious change which has come both to our white fellow-citizens and ourselves, and to congratulate all upon the contrast between now and then; the new dispensation of freedom with its thousand blessings to both races, and the old dispensation of slavery with its ten thousand evils to both races—white and black. In view, then, of the past, the present, and the future, with the long and dark history of our bondage behind us, and with liberty, progress, and enlightenment before us, I again congratulate you upon this auspicious day and hour.

Friends and fellow-citizens, the story of our presence here is soon and easily told. We are here in the District of Columbia, here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory; a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit; we are here in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws, and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broad earth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colors, and conditions of men for our congregation--in a word, we are here to express, as best we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of the vast, high, and preeminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country, and to the whole world by Abraham Lincoln. . . 

For the first time in the history of our people, and in the history of the whole American people, we join in this high worship, and march conspicuously in the line of this time-honored custom. First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things. It is the first time that, in this form and manner, we have sought to do honor to an American great man, however deserving and illustrious. I commend the fact to notice; let it be told in every part of the Republic; let men of all parties and opinions hear it; let those who despise us, not less than those who respect us, know that now and here, in the spirit of liberty, loyalty, and gratitude, let it be known everywhere, and by everybody who takes an interest in human progress and in the amelioration of the condition of mankind, that, in the presence and with the approval of the members of the American House of Representatives, reflecting the general sentiment of the country; that in the presence of that august body, the American Senate, representing the highest intelligence and the calmest judgment of the country; in the presence of the Supreme Court and Chief-Justice of the United States, to whose decisions we all patriotically bow; in the presence and under the steady eye of the honored and trusted President of the United States, with the members of his wise and patriotic Cabinet, we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of aftercoming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.

Fellow-citizens, in what we have said and done today, and in what we may say and do hereafter, we disclaim everything like arrogance and assumption. We claim for ourselves no superior devotion to the character, history, and memory of the illustrious name whose monument we have here dedicated today. We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man

He was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a preeminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Instead of supplanting you at his altar, we would exhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most cunning workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful, and perfect; let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging blue, overhanging sky, and let them endure forever! But while in the abundance of your wealth, and in the fullness of your just and patriotic devotion, you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.

Fellow-citizens, ours is no new-born zeal and devotion—merely a thing of this moment. The name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic. We were no more ashamed of him when shrouded in clouds of darkness, of doubt, and defeat than when we saw him crowned with victory, honor, and glory. Our faith in him was often taxed and strained to the uttermost, but it never failed. When he tarried long in the mountain; when he strangely told us that we were the cause of the war; when he still more strangely told us that we were to leave the land in which we were born; when he refused to employ our arms in defence of the Union; when, after accepting our services as colored soldiers, he refused to retaliate our murder and torture as colored prisoners; when he told us he would save the Union if he could with slavery; when he revoked the Proclamation of Emancipation of General Fremont; when he refused to remove the popular commander of the Army of the Potomac, in the days of its inaction and defeat, who was more zealous in his efforts to protect slavery than to suppress rebellion; when we saw all this, and more, we were at times grieved, stunned, and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while they ached and bled. Nor was this, even at that time, a blind and unreasoning superstition. Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; despite the tumult, the hurry, and confusion of the hour, we were able to take a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position. We saw him, measured him, and estimated him; not by stray utterances to injudicious and tedious delegations, who often tried his patience; not by isolated facts torn from their connection; not by any partial and imperfect glimpses, caught at inopportune moments; but by a broad survey, in the light of the stern logic of great events, and in view of that divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will, we came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. It mattered little to us what language he might employ on special occasions; it mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States.

When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, we saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag; under his rule we saw the independence of the black republic of Haiti, the special object of slaveholding aversion and horror, fully recognized, and her minister, a colored gentleman, duly received here in the city of Washington; under his rule we saw the internal slave-trade, which so long disgraced the nation, abolished, and slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; under his rule we saw for the first time the law enforced against the foreign slave trade, and the first slave-trader hanged like any other pirate or murderer; under his rule, assisted by the greatest captain of our age, and his inspiration, we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves forever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slaveholders three months' grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States. Though we waited long, we saw all this and more.

Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read today. Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress.

Fellow-citizens, there is little necessity on this occasion to speak at length and critically of this great and good man, and of his high mission in the world. That ground has been fully occupied and completely covered both here and elsewhere. . . . I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.

Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the Negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery. . . . The man who could say, "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war shall soon pass away, yet if God wills it continue till all the wealth piled by two hundred years of bondage shall have been wasted, and each drop of blood drawn by the lash shall have been paid for by one drawn by the sword, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether," gives all needed proof of his feeling on the subject of slavery. He was willing, while the South was loyal, that it should have its pound of flesh, because he thought that it was so nominated in the bond; but farther than this no earthly power could make him go. . . .

Upon his inauguration as President of the United States, an office, even when assumed under the most favorable conditions, fitted to tax and strain the largest abilities, Abraham Lincoln was met by a tremendous crisis. He was called upon not merely to administer the Government, but to decide, in the face of terrible odds, the fate of the Republic.

A formidable rebellion rose in his path before him; the Union was already practically dissolved; his country was torn and rent asunder at the center. Hostile armies were already organized against the Republic, armed with the munitions of war which the Republic had provided for its own defence. The tremendous question for him to decide was whether his country should survive the crisis and flourish, or be dismembered and perish. His predecessor in office had already decided the question in favor of national dismemberment, by denying to it the right of self-defence and self-preservation—a right which belongs to the meanest insect.

Happily for the country, happily for you and for me, the judgment of James Buchanan, the patrician, was not the judgment of Abraham Lincoln, the plebeian. He brought his strong common sense, sharpened in the school of adversity, to bear upon the question. He did not hesitate, he did not doubt, he did not falter; but at once resolved that at whatever peril, at whatever cost, the union of the States should be preserved. A patriot himself, his faith was strong and unwavering in the patriotism of his countrymen. Timid men said before Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, that we had seen the last President of the United States. A voice in influential quarters said, "Let the Union slide." Some said that a Union maintained by the sword was worthless. Others said a rebellion of 8,000,000 cannot be suppressed; but in the midst of all this tumult and timidity, and against all this, Abraham Lincoln was clear in his duty, and had an oath in heaven. He calmly and bravely heard the voice of doubt and fear all around him; but he had an oath in heaven, and there was not power enough on earth to make this honest boatman, backwoodsman, and broad-handed splitter of rails evade or violate that sacred oath. He had not been schooled in the ethics of slavery; his plain life had favored his love of truth. He had not been taught that treason and perjury were the proof of honor and honesty. His moral training was against his saying one thing when he meant another. The trust that Abraham Lincoln had in himself and in the people was surprising and grand, but it was also enlightened and well founded. He knew the American people better than they knew themselves, and his truth was based upon this knowledge.

Fellow-citizens, the fourteenth day of April, 1865, of which this is the eleventh anniversary, is now and will ever remain a memorable day in the annals of this Republic. It was on the evening of this day, while a fierce and sanguinary rebellion was in the last stages of its desolating power; while its armies were broken and scattered before the invincible armies of Grant and Sherman; while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery—the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.

Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually—we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate—for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him—but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.

Fellow-citizens, I end, as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln."

Photo credit: Public Domain. US Government - uploaded from English Wikipedia w:en:File:EmancipationMemorialPhoto.jpg

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Listen. Just listen.

With the state of things, I haven't wanted to write.

I'd like to say it was because I was crouching down, leaning in, coming alongside and listening, yes, listening to the unbearable grief of my black sisters and brothers.

But that would not be true. 

The sound and fury of it all has overwhelmed my heart and soul to the point that I cannot listen because I cannot hear it. I cannot hear it, because I cannot bear it. 

Perhaps because it comes on the heels of my own personal grief. In April, I lost my two remaining grandparents, one from each side of my family. One, who had lived in a nursing home for the past five years, died at the age of 84, alone thanks to the quarantine rules. The other died at 94, surrounded by limited family (also thanks to the pandemic), seven months after a stroke--having lived on his until last year. Neither suffered from coronavirus; both died naturally and for that I am grateful as much as I miss them.

Although my grief has been tainted by anger from not being able to join my family in mourning at a funeral, it has not be fueled by violence. My relatives died normally from old age, not because they were the wrong color at the wrong place at the wrong time as has been the case for Ahmaud, Breonna, and George and so many others throughout our nation's history.

As a Christian, I believe death is truly not the way things should, although it is way things are--at least right now. I believe Jesus defeated death through His death and with His resurrection has promised a future where death steals no longer. This is the hope I have and I rest in during my grief. I will see them again.

And yet, how do I take comfort when a death is unjust? For this I have no answers. So I just sit, in prayer asking God like Habakkuk of old: 

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
Habakkuk 1:2-4

I am white and grew up middle-class. I do not pretend to know what the black community is feeling, what my next-door neighbors (who are black) are feeling. I don't even know how to ask them. And I'm ashamed to admit that I'm afraid to ask them. I know grief, and even the searing unjust grief of a miscarriage, but my loss did not affect an entire community. My loss wasn't perpetrated by someone with a face and a name. My loss has not resulted in millions of people to fear for their own lives and the lives of their children.

Tonight I ran across this Instagram post and suddenly was able to listen:

True statement, I didn't want a son because black boys face an evil world. I didn't want to teach him how to live his life under a certain threshold. Especially, when I believe he is without limits. The second I saw him I couldn't spot a flaw, so it's disturbing that upon single glance he's seen to have the biggest of them all. 
So from day one I've strived to protect him. Still; as the days go on the world grows more grim. I told myself if I raise him to love he can overcome anything. I told myself he could be the one to draw hearts in. 
For a little guy that's a lot of responsibility. I'm basically asking him to make blind eyes see. As a black mom it's unraveling. I find myself constantly questioning. What if that was my baby saying, "I can't breathe" @shorttecake

Her beautiful son is only a few months, my son's age really. Her son is black. Mine is white. Right now, all I can do is pray that God would help me raise my son so that he fights for a world where everyone can breath the precious breathe of life that God has given us. I'm not talking about another white savior. Jesus wasn't "white" and I want my son to be like Him. I want to be like Him. I pray my son becomes a man who steps down so others can step up. Who asks her son how to not be blind and stands next to him in this unjust world as equals in the sight of God, together working to make it more just. A son who, although the "color of privilege" by no choice of his own, is willing to share his inherent privileges with others by choice.

A son who listens and acts when he hears another say, "I can't breathe." 

I pray the same for myself. Maybe I should go next door. And just listen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Beginnings Can Be Hard

I'd forgotten how hard starting a new novel can be.

Until this week when I was staring at a blinking cursor on a blank Word document.

While After Her Death is getting an initial edit under the fine, wise hand of Lee Ann Bisulca (aka, Italian Motorcycle Babe), my brain was begging me to start writing a new story. The idea for this story came to me while I was deep in research for After Her Death. I kept bumping into the little researched, little publicized (at least here in the States) situation of WW2 Polish refugees in Tehran.

At first it was this article.

Then it started cropping up elsewhere. Unfortunately, it was early 2018. I had just started seminary and was trying to finish up Meghan's story in After Her Death. Two years later, thanks to my new baby and COVID-19, my seminary studies were on hold this spring and summer, giving me breathing space to wrap up After Her Death and devote some time to this other story that has claimed my heart.

The past two weeks I've been digging up my old notes and discovering recently published non-fiction books (namely Tehran Children) that pertain directly to the focus of my new novel. I even found an old Iranian documentary from the '70s that had resurfaced on YouTube. These sources, which provide the necessary historical framework, plot direction, and details my story needs, did not exist when the seed idea for this story was implanted. Sometimes it's good to wait and let a story brew a bit.

Also, since I am neither Jewish nor Polish, I want to treat the material as sensitively and carefully as I can, which means probably spending a lot of time in research, and with sensitivity readers from theses cultures as much as possible. Honestly, I've quibbled over whether I'm the right person to tell this story, but I've concluded that sometimes stories just need to be told. Maybe with the right tools, we can give voice to a story outside our experience--especially when aimed at our own subcultures which might not have otherwise paid attention to the story. It is my hope that through this novel, I can point my readership to those from the Jewish community who can speak more authoritatively and empathetically on the issues. I plan to write more on this in a later post.

As I'm doing research for the historical storyline, I'm taking a stab at drafting the contemporary story. Yes, that means this the story has two narratives and yes, I know this is plot device is incredibly popular right now--perhaps has even peaked--but I have always written in this style (After Her Death has a contemporary narrative and a historical one). I don't think I could hack a purely historical novel, and I love seeing how our current worlds informs our interpretation of the old.

Anyway, I've drafted a rather rough first chapter and fleshed out somewhat of a plot outline for moving forward. I'm a pantser, though, so if I plot too much, I lose interest. But wow, I spent a lot of time recently staring at this blank page trying to figure out where to start. Do I start with a little background? A little setting of the stage? Or should I jump in medias res?

I always like a little bit of information about the main characters or setting before getting to some action-otherwise, I have no context, no reason to care about the conflict. So that's where I am at right now. I just wrapped up a family conflict about religious identity over Christmas Eve dinner. We'll see if that scene survives the rest of the story. I'm pretty sure some version it will make it to the final draft, but I don't know if it will be at the start of the story. As I've learned from my writing buddy, Sara Roberts Jones, novel beginnings are hard, and sometimes you have to rewrite the start of a story many times before finding your stride. Regardless, it's still productive labor as snippets of these opening drafts often influence the story downstream, making it a tighter, more complex, more compelling work over all.

But you've got to start somewhere, right?

What about you? How do you like the novels you read (or write!) to begin? What have you started new recently? Quarantining has certainly given us plenty of time for new beginnings!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Return

After a five and a half year hiatus, I am resuming my blogging activities. Or will be attempting to at least.

A lot has changed. And a lot is the same.

Mr. Amazing Dude and I have a rambunctious, head-strong, five-year-old (Rainbow Uni-Kitty), a comedic, cuddly four-month-old (Sunshine Bear), and one that we look forward to meeting in Heaven one day and are learning to live in the grief until then.

My husband still works in marketing, while I'm a mom-of-all-trades, part-time paid researcher, part-time seminarian, writer-in-the-margins, and all-the-time dreamer. We traded our tiny in-town condo for a slightly less tiny rural-ish townhouse.

Oh, and Adora Kitty still lives with us albeit crankier now that There. Are. Kids.

So why am I reviving this blog? A couple of reasons.

First, I really do want to publish. And nowadays even fiction writers need a platform. It's why I started this blog in the first place. And it's proven to be a bit of a chore to manage, as proven by my neglect of it. Life required my attention and I didn't have the emotional wherewithal to work on my novels, much less a blog, during the last five years. Things like a newborn, a couple of years of post-partum anxiety/depression, starting seminary, a miscarriage, and then the birth of our second (third?) child. I know some people find it needful to write through these times. It spurs healing. I'm generally not one of these people. I need to survive an event, find some space to breath, reflect, and then process my thoughts through writing.

I find it ironic that I'm picking this blog back up during the peak (I hope) of the coronavirus pandemic.

Second, I had a fantastic professor last semester, Dr. Sandra Glahn, who told me in her kindly honest (honestly kind?) way that I needed to be publishing. Not just writing. I can't think of a bigger compliment to receive. I was floored, exhilarated and humbled all at once. So after Sunshine Bear was born at the end of 2019, I took her challenge to heart and have submitted non-fiction pieces for publishing (which I'll link to here as they are published).

But my heart is still in fictional story-telling. Or fictional realism as I like to call it. I get inspired by real-life stories and then make them my own. My stories aren't original (is there anything new under the sun?) but they are more fictive than "based on a true story." And I'm happy to report that one such of these novels, After Her Death, is in it's third full draft in an editor's queue. One of my goals this year is to have it in a ready enough condition to secure an agent. I'm so excited that I'm this much closer to seeing this story published--a story that I've scribbled on and breathed in my quiet moments for so many years.

So here I am again. Blogging. I may be more sporadic than before, but I will try to not let five years go by again.