Trail of Tears

On Saturday, I made my way to Two Rivers Trail, thinking I would just go for a quick 2 mile run. After about a quarter mile, I felt this pull–this heaviness on my body–like someone was holding onto the back of my shirt, tugging at it, trying to get me to slow down. Jesus doesn’t let me avoid conversations for long. He never has. He makes certain that if I won’t listen to him, he will send me someone I can’t ignore–like the anonymous pastor in the Indian restaurant 17 years ago who told me to break up with boyfriend, who was, incidentally, really bad news and probably would have screwed up my life. But I digress.

Sometimes I notice that when I allow my body movement and momentum, it forces me out of my own mind. It opens up my soul and makes everything else quiet except for the rhythm of my legs and arms. I slowed to a walk, feeling His presence resting on my chest. Felt this enormous love swallow me, surround me. And then he did something that I’m not sure he has ever done before.

He started shouting.

Not the angry kind of shouting where I felt punishment and fear but the kind of shouting that penetrated me with truth. The kind of shouting that was loud for the sake of loudness so that I couldn’t hear anything else but what he said about me. “You are a prize!!” he shouted, “you are MY prize!! I have given my life, chased you down for years and years, watched you almost give up a few times, and I have never stopped trying to win you. YOU are what I gave my life for. You are so so so precious to me. You are of great worth and value and you deserve everything I have to give you. You deserve every promise. Every treasure. You are a prize!!”

Ya’ll, this went on for three hours, my skin crisping to a bright red in the sun. The thought of deserving anything was hard for me to swallow. The thought of being anyone’s “prize” was even more difficult. Every time an argument arose in my head… yeah right. I’m a lost cause. This has gone on too long. I’m unlovable. There must be something really wrong with me. But Jesus kept shouting.

And I was forced to listen.

I’m thankful that he didn’t let me talk during this time. The trail was full of walkers and runners and bikers and although this was an extremely emotional experience, it was if God was securing everything, locking it in place so that I wouldn’t unravel right there on the trail. My face and shoulders were buzzing as if a surge of electricity moved through my body. The more I allowed myself to open up to his truth–to begin agreeing with him–the more I felt his love become a part of the structure of my person–knew it to be true in the core of my soul.

So much of my calling, in the past, has been this very visible display of my intimacy with God. As a former worship leader, as a person who ministered and led in the prophetic, I was always connecting to the Father and pouring out his thoughts and heart to and about others. It was something I loved to do. It was how I experienced intimacy with God because I was His friend and apparently He liked to hang out with me. But even though I didn’t have a problem hearing His heart for others, there has always been this residual uncertainty of how He feels about me. Sure He LIKED me but there has always been this low-grade belief that He is consistently disappointed–that I can never get my own life with Him quite right.

But you guys, this is just not true. And I feel like I’m not alone in believing this. And I feel like He has things to say to you too. Even if you are struggling and feel that you are constantly failing or just cannot fathom your value and worth, choosing to believe this truth about who you really are comes first (Romans 6:6 ya’ll). It is foundational. These beliefs about who you are, are actually not true anymore. They are just a shell of your former life. Let Jesus shout the truth over you today.

New Book Review Published

We haven’t talked since the #Coronavirus has driven everyone in our country indoors. Since AWP, I’ve been trapped inside my apartment, wiling the hours away. I’ve been accomplishing everything from finishing two short story collections (Capote and Thomas Mann) and am now digging into War and Peace for one of my classes. I’ve been taking walks or jogs on the trace near my home, cooking a lot, watching Netflix, and of course writing.

I have seen lots of posts about how bad of a time this is for new book releases but I want to counter that argument. This could not be a more perfect time for authors with new books! Everyone has time to read! I will encourage you guys to make your purchases at indiebound.org or bookshop.org in order to support independent bookstores. If not them, at least purchase directly from the publisher (if they are small press) or at Barnes and Noble. Amazon is the devil.

Recently, I wrote a book review on Jame’s Brubaker’s novel, The Taxidermist’s Catalog. You can find it at Wraparound South, a publication out of Georgia Southern University.

In addition, if there is interest in purchasing this fantastic novel, DO NOT purchase it on Amazon. You can find it at Braddock Avenue Books.

Comment below and tell me what you’re reading and if you’re not reading, tell me what could possibly be a better use of your quarantined time!!

 

New Story Published AND You Have Something to Give

I have a new story up at White Wall Review. It is literally the first short story I have ever written. I began writing it in undergrad and it has gone through a succession of revisions since then. It is also a longer piece–over 6500 words–which made it hard to place. White Wall Review is a publication of the English department at Ryerson University in Toronto. You are welcome to read it, of course.

As I read through this story yesterday, after putting it down for almost a year, I found myself a little embarrassed. As a graduate student in creative writing, I have learned a lot since I first penned this. I felt myself judging  the sentimentality and the flowing, even flowery sentences. In some places, I felt a lack of honesty with my writing. I wanted to go back in and mess it up a little bit.

I think most jarring is my fear of the topics I write on, particularly that of faith themes. There is often a lot of hostility towards Christianity in secular artist communities and humanities graduate departments, but I found a bit of reprieve from this last week, as I led a discussion on Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. This Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award novel goes against the grain of the intellectual and artistic world by writing about an often taboo subject: Jesus. It’s a philosophical novel because Robinson has a PhD in Philosophy, and so it is not at all unintelligent, but it does not pull back on her own certainty about the existence of God and the subject of eternity. IT WAS SO REFRESHING TO READ. It was also refreshing to have a professor who, though she comes from a different religious background than Christianity and has no knowledge of my religion, gave us open permission to write about what we loved and to not fear judgement from others.

As an artist, it was one of the first times I felt like it was okay to be me– for my art to reflect who I was rather than what others expected of me, and I want to say the same to you. Be who you are. Art is about who you are apart from what everyone else thinks you should be. I really believe that. So get to it!

San Antonio in the Past

On Wednesday, I will be heading to San Antonio for #AWP20. AWP or Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is the writing conference. Everyone shows up to this thing. There are thousands and thousands of “word nerds” in one convention center, all standing around awkwardly looking at each other, attending specialized panels, and readings and maybe philosophizing over martinis afterward. I will be driving 10 hours to San Antonio, from my apartment in southern Mississippi, accompanied by a multitude of podcast downloads and hoping to God no one shows up to this place with Corona Virus. There has been one diagnosis of Corona in San Antonio, so far. Perfect timing.

It struck me though, as I booked a room on Airbnb, that the last time I went to San Antonio, I was a 19-year-old young woman on her honeymoon. I was a young woman that had no idea who she was apart from the man in her life. Now, almost exactly 21 years later, I have finally discovered that I am an artist; a writer, in fact. I was so insecure back then. I had no one to tell me that I could be confident with my gifts. I had no one to tell me that I had what it took and I certainly couldn’t see it, myself.

I think about all those years when I was walking around, after heartbreak and divorce, unaware that Jesus saw me. That he was gazing at me with affection and love and was only waiting for the right time to unleash my identity. He was waiting for me to come to a breaking point and stop clinging to old patterns that kept all of that hidden; that kept me tethered to someone else’s identity. And when I did–as soon as I made that decision to let go–a whole new world opened up. A whole new identity emerged.

So San Antonio, it’s time to get reacquainted.

Short Story “Woman Friend” Published in South 85 Journal

Well, I did it friends. In my first semester of grad school, I published a short story. It is called “Woman Friend” and you can find it at South 85 Journal.

I will say, I did not realize how anxiety-inducing this whole process would be. It is a learning experience, to be sure. What’s more, it is absolutely frightening for your family and long-time friends to be able to read your work, particularly if you have grown up the way I have grown up. Yes, I’m almost 40 years old but to write about having sex before marriage, dropping the F-Bomb, writing about divorce… all of these things were extremely taboo when I was a kid growing up in an evangelical pastor’s family. Maybe I have some leftover trauma but as soon as my story went up, I almost went into hysterics thinking about the possibility of my dad reading this.

But as I was stewing in my own anxiety yesterday, God once again interrupted my thoughts. You’re not writing for them. I don’t write Christian fiction. Only Christians read Christian fiction. Only Christians watch Christian movies too, by the way. I write about what it’s like to believe that you are a disappointment to everyone around you. I write about what it’s like to experience shame in a conservative culture and be confused by the religious rules that have been propagated and what it’s like to know God in a way that is different than your parents have known Him. Not to mention, I write about what it’s like to perpetuate shame before you know what it’s like to experience it yourself.

So the evangelical world can be appalled by what I wrote but I didn’t write it for them. #sorrynotsorry

An Actual Writer

One thing I have learned about grad school is that it is very easy to feel deflated or even a little disillusioned by academia. And yes, I’m already declaring this as a first semester grad student. I often feel like I don’t fit into this world but let’s be real… this isn’t high school. I’m 15 years older than most of my classmates. I don’t need to fit in. I’m here because I’m trying to improve as an artist. This has been a constant dialogue in my brain this semester.

It was a curious thing, then, when I went back to Arkansas last weekend and re-connected with my undergraduate classmates and professor and felt so much more at home. I felt so much more like an artist–an actual writer who has what it takes to be successful. I read some of my work at an academic conference. For some reason, my former professor decided to stick me in the same session as a local MFA fiction professor and a poetry professor–me–a first year creative writing grad student.

I am so unfamiliar with life as a writer. I have done one reading previous to this, on one of my very first stories, but had very little response to it that when I read this time, I was completely unprepared for questions after I was finished. Surely, they would ignore me and pelt the two professors in the room with a litany of questions. I don’t know why, but I just stared at the academic who asked me if most of my stories are about a similar subject matter and if my story was a part of a collection. I just sort of stated… “well, most of my stories are pretty dark.” I felt like such an idiot when I thought about my response later on. The question about my story being published with an actual publisher wasn’t even remotely on my radar or something I could even imagine. Of course, I had just written the story so of course it wasn’t a part of a collection but it was such an unexpected question, it was as if my brain couldn’t acknowledge its existence.

Unbenownst to me, the keynote speaker at the event, who is not only a celebrated published author but on the mfa faculty at one of the most renown programs in the country, was sitting in the room listening to my reading. After my session, my undergrad professor, the local mfa professor, a few classmates, and what turned out to be the keynote speaker, walked to a restaurant nearby. This man, who I didn’t know, complimented me on my story, telling me how honest and visceral the last scene was. When we got to the restaurant, he asked me what my name was again and I asked him what his was. Needless to say, I was a little intimidated and even embarrassed that this man was in the room, listening to my work. I suddenly felt naked, like I do when I reveal a story for the first time during workshop.

But you know what? Even after these uncomfortable moments, I think this was one of the first times I felt like an actual writer– like this could really be my life. And I realized how important the writing community is. You need community, even if you have to dig for it a little, to be successful in this world. As much as I am uncomfortable with this idea, I acknowledge the value of the other writers I come in contact with, especially the ones that are specifically beneficial for my writing. Not all of them will be beneficial. Some of them don’t know how to read my work. Those are the people whom I don’t listen to– at least most of the time. The truth is, however, that we can’t succeed without community. We just have to be selective about whom we choose to be in that community.

Wait for it…

It seems a bit problematic, as a writing student, to try to create new stories for each workshop. I often find myself trying to “come up” with a new idea. I think constantly about different angles, surprising details,  and compelling characters. There is a lot of pressure involved and this doesn’t seem to aid the writing process.  Yet it seems I do my best writing when I allow the stories to come to me– when I wait on the stories to arrive in my head as images and scenes.

There was a time in my life where I would have recognized right away that God may have given me an idea. Yes. This is my woo woo spirituality coming out again.

I try to have coffee every morning and sit quietly and do some reading from a spiritual book. Occasionally, when I’m not distracted by social media or my to-do list, I make time to listen. Sometimes I hear Him say things like, “be humble today” or “remember that I love you.” Sometimes, I think I interact with God without even realizing it. Or He interacts with me, rather, pursuing me, but my spirit has become so dull that I don’t recognize His voice anymore. Either way, I was thinking this morning about how I came up with my last story. How I was brushing my teeth and this scene came to me that seemed both beautiful and grotesque and a story began to unfold like a bloom opening up petal by petal.

And I heard God say, that was me. I almost didn’t believe Him because the story is harsh and painful and pokes at things religious people generally don’t like to poke at. But I don’t want to write about sentimental religion and I don’t think God does either. We too often bury the pain we feel after being bruised by organized religion. The church likes us to cover it up and move on but I think God wants us to sit with it and look at it and explore it a little more so that it can ultimately be healed; so truth can come after all the raw places have been exposed.

If there is anything I have learned, it is that writing is truly a supernatural process. Embrace it. Embrace the inexplicable idea that appears on the surface of your imagination. Embrace even the ugliness of it as well as the truth and the beauty. Make yourself available to receive it and testify to the gift by putting it on paper. And don’t be afraid to wait for it to come.

It’s All Hopeless (or not)

I have been working on a 25 page paper all weekend, mostly reading source material for it. This week, I will outline it and then draft it next weekend. This is the longest research paper I’ve written (I’ve written longer fiction, of course). I’m writing about southern white consciousness and preserving the memory of black trauma in Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle. I’m also discussing the subtext of Toni Morrison’s Beloved which I studied in undergrad. If you haven’t read Wolf Whistle as a white person, I highly recommend it. It is beautifully written and thought-provoking. It is a magical realism telling of the 1955 murder of 15-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi (not too far from where I live). The book was written by a white writer and discusses more of our own responses to race and repressed hatred. It is basically the only thing on my mind this weekend but it has also conjured up thoughts about the practice of hope. What could be more hopeless than seeing this repressed hatred continue in people you live in such proximity to? If you don’t believe me, look at this recent article about these dumbasses.

Okay now for something a little more hopeful. Look at these guys. I mean is that powerful or what? LAYING THE FREAKING BULLET-RIDDLED MEMORIAL ABOUT THE MURDER OF A BLACK BOY IN FRONT OF A CONFEDERATE MEMORIAL. Heck yes.

I’m just going to leave this right here.

students-carry-bullet-riddled-sign-honoring-emmett-till-ab120037-c267-4000-ac93-b1a79f66c70e-square (1)

Studying all of this caused me to think about the subject of hope, in general.

I’ve not been sleeping well this week. I’ve been feeling isolated and thinking about how I don’t fit into the graduate program I’m in and how I might be contributing to my inability to feel like I am not a part of the community. I’ve also been thinking about how powerless I feel to change these circumstances; that maybe there is something permanently broken in me that keeps me disconnected. Age is probably a contributing factor. I am 39 and honestly irritated by some of these younger classmates and exasperated by some immaturity I see. My own ego and perfectionism are other factors.

But meditating this morning I kept coming back to hope and how I need to keep partnering with God in hope. Instead of reverting to discouragement and disappointment and negativity, choosing to love and choosing to be positive and expectant of change (in myself because that is the only thing I can change) will produce a much better outcome.

 

The Story of Silence

I woke up today feeling a bit blank. I feel as if I’m writing this today because I have internally committed to writing something in my blog on Saturdays, not because I have anything of purpose to write.

This past week, I have experienced a rash of distraction. I always awake with intentions of having a quiet, meditative moment in the morning, only to find myself reaching for my phone and mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. For awhile I temporarily deactivated my FB, and I found myself more productive, but in the end, the lure of peering into the lives of others kept me coming back.

And I thought, why do I care so much? I don’t really have a relationship with 90% of these people.

I think you know what I’m getting at.

I live by myself. Loneliness makes us a bit crazy sometimes. When we are not quite content to sit by ourselves; when the silence feels uncomfortable and we feel disconnected from others, we tend to take the bait of social media. It gives us this false sense of intimacy.

You see, all of our lives we have been programmed to believe that being hinged to another is the “stuff dreams are made of.” And sure, most of us have unhealthy patterns of relating that need to be healed… but as we’re going through that process of learning and growing, what are we doing with our time? How can we be content with those hours of silence? Those hours where are eyes are not fed by the glowing light of a screen?

I can’t help but think that this silence can be a gift, and we waste so much of it on the empty ruminations of others. If we listen, a kind of purpose floods the silence. If we listen long and intensely enough, we can hear a story in the silence. We can see the images of it conjured in our mind’s eye. We can hear the dialogue and the heartbeat of the characters.

If we wait in the silence long enough, we become comfortable enough to create in it.

Why Read Women Writers? An Interview with Bill Wolfe — Jane Friedman

While scrolling through my Facebook feed some years ago, I came across a link to Bill Wolfe’s website, Read Her Like an Open Book. Someone had posted a link to a book review he’d written, and I’d clicked on it, finding myself at a website dedicated to reviewing and showcasing books by women. As a…

via Why Read Women Writers? An Interview with Bill Wolfe — Jane Friedman