Speechless

Which is, doubtless, why I’m posting this right now.

Look what I just found in UrbanDictionary.com, that eminent expert on all things making me look bad (there’s a story with that, but I’m going to save it), upon googling “Jenn Story” for the fun of it. How did they know? (In case you didn’t get that, you have to click on Look what I just found to see what I just found.)

I’m not sure whether to be insulted or impressed that they got it so right.

Freakish

In case the Northeastern corner of the United States hadn’t already had enough extreme weather samplings in 2011, and in case some of us had actually recovered from the excessive amount of snow we had last winter, we were most recently bombarded (Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning) by a truly unseasonal snowstorm with effects not unlike the Ice Storm of 2008. As The Good Neighbours reminded me last evening when I was over there trying to charge my cell phone at their house because they have a generator and I don’t and none of us have real electricity right now, we still have a month and a half before it’s actually winter. A dusting of snow in October would be dismaying, after all the above-described meteorological events. An entire foot of snow? Is absurd. And really worrying.

The Good Neighbours told me that someone told them that whatever the date is on which the first snow falls that accumulates and sticks, is the number of storms we’ll have that winter. Actually, that happened right before this blizzard I’m talking about, and it was on the 28th, so maybe we’re already one storm down (27? no problem!), and maybe that’s just a little more superstitious than even I can stand behind, but nevertheless, that, combined with the snowstorm we just had in reality makes me think my dream is about to come true.

No, seriously. I often have, as you know, vivid dreams, and sometimes I believe they signify something, but they never happen literally in real life. But I did have this dream out at camp in August where I was with some people and it got cold and snowy and I commented disgruntledly about this. One of the people I was with said, “Oh–didn’t you hear that this winter’s going to be even worse than the last one?” I woke up with a feeling of genuine dread and thought, Did I hear that? Or is my subconscious just afraid of a winter like last one and making stuff up. I hope I’m making stuff up!

Right now, as I wait for someone to come and have mercy on my neighbourhood and turn the power back on (last I heard, they’re predicting Friday. Just like the last time this happened), I don’t feel like I was making stuff up. But I sure wish I had been.

What Not to Do

You know it’s bad when a member of your church family, who you didn’t even know read your blog, comes up to you on a Sunday morning and says, “You’ve been quiet on the postings lately.” I was all on a roll in September, with 13 posts that month–a maximum, for me–but now October is almost over and apparently those rolls are still in the oven, because I’ve scarcely said anything. This is not how to acquire and maintain what is known in the biz as a “platform.”

Also not helpful: when people actually comment on and interact with a post, not only is it impolite, but it is also a strategic failure to forget to “interact back” until weeks later, as if The Readership were as take-for-granted-able as one’s friends and family whose personal emails one forgets to answer for six months. Wait–who does that?

Back before I became an on-line-dating expert (um . . . ) and well before I started exclusively dating The Boyfriend, I used to observe, somewhat wryly, to my family that they would always be able to tell when I was having “guy trouble” because my blog would get quiet. I like to think I’m fairly open on here, but I prefer to avoid posting stories about interpersonal difficulties with specific people whom I know and love, because . . . well, because it’s about more than just me, and I just don’t think that’s fair.

But, happily, there haven’t really been those kinds of “guy troubles” lately, so I’m not really sure what my excuse is these days. “Writer’s block” is so vague and sounds so cop-out-y, but I guess that’s probably what it is. This time around it feels kind of like when you’re in a conversation and everyone’s talking and you think of some story to tell, only you’re not sure if it’s totally relevant, and you suddenly feel like you don’t have the mental energy to verbalise it and find out. Something like that.

Probably there are people who never have that happen to them in a conversation, and they may or may not be the people who also are really disciplined about their blogging quota but . . . I never claimed that was me. I think I might go take a nap.

Riffing and Resting

Sometimes I wish I were a little more scientific.

The other month when I visited Boston College’s seminary, the admissions rep gave me a tour of the entire campus, even the undergrad bits where I wouldn’t have much to do, necessarily. It was raining and we were standing near the large-footed statue of Ignatius of Loyola when he (the rep, not Ignatius) mentioned to me that one could, if one wished, combine one’s theology Master’s degree with some sort of other degree. He suggested, I think, a combination of an MDiv and some sort of business/economics degree, which, I suppose, might be a good idea, but not for me. He had also pointed out the science building. “You won’t,” he observed, “really have any reason to go in there. Since the theology students don’t have much to do with science.”

“What?” I wanted to say. “Why not?” It was at that point that I wished I were a little more scientific. I know there are really intelligent, theologically savvy, Christians who are also, say, physicists, but I’m not one of them, and at that moment I wanted to be. I wanted to apply to BC and get accepted and become their first MDiv student to also get a degree in one of the sciences and help show them that science and faith are not (or should not be) incompatible. But in that case some time travel would be necessary in order for me to refocus all my energies on the sciences instead of language arts, and . . . well, as to whether that’s scientific, it probably depends on who you ask.

Recently during some Bible-reading, I re-encountered one of the stories where the Pharisees are criticising some good work Jesus did on the Sabbath, the holiest day of the Jewish week. (Do you ever wonder if Jesus rolled His eyes in the mornings when the Pharisees first showed up for the day? He loves everybody, but He had to have wished for at least one day when they were–I dunno–in meetings or something and would leave Him alone, right?) He heals someone, and they tell Him off, and He says, more or less, “Look guys–My Dad hasn’t stopped working all this time, and so I’ve got to keep working, too.”

I’ve read this verse zillions of times, but for some reason that day, I thought to myself, “I wonder why creationists who believe in six literal days of creation seem to ignore this verse?” I mean, I am familiar with the dangers of “proof-texting” and of taking a verse out of context and building a whole theology out of it. That’s not what I’m attempting to do, and anyway, there are other biblical passages (in Hebrews, for example) that hint at something like what I’m wondering right now. I’m just exploring this idea, which was, what if we’re still in the sixth day of creation?

What if Genesis 1 is a microcosmic account of all of the history of the world from the beginning of time (at least Earth’s time) until the end (and what if that’s why it looks like we have two creation accounts in Genesis–because one actually is a creation account–while still potentially not strictly literal–and one is a prologue/summary)? What if it’s got spoilers, one of which is that God rested? What if the creation being designated very good (as opposed to just good) after the creation of humanity was both a statement of the reality of things immediately after the creation of the first humans, and a statement of the reality of things after the redemption of all creation. What if the apostle Paul’s curious assertions about the first Adam and the second Adam are what tie the Genesis 1 account all together? What if our Sabbaths and days of rest are precursors in honour and anticipation and hope of the final rest, with God, instead of simply a reminder that He took a break after making us?

Genesis 2.1-3 (actually the tail end of the story in Genesis 1) is the part that talks about God’s resting on the seventh day. In the NIV translation it says, By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing. Maybe I’m just making it up, but the timing of that (even though it’s apparently in some past tense) doesn’t sound overly definitive–it sounds like it ties in with Jesus’ comment about the Father still working. Especially since I don’t believe God is bound by time. God could have made the world in six literal days and then kicked back for a bit until Adam and Eve ate the mystery fruit, and then gotten back to work so that Jesus would be right when He said that His father continues to work.

But the thing is, Jesus says, My Father is still working. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems like that implies He hasn’t stopped yet. God gave the Sabbath laws, but if they were more a precursor of the act of God than a memorial, no wonder Jesus didn’t flinch from doing good on the Sabbath, or from telling off the people who opposed it. He is the very expression of God, and and He would know what God’s up to, even on our earthly human Sabbaths. If He had any vested interest in “opposing science,” it was by doing crazy things like instantaneously healing people who had been crippled all their lives. But not so much about defending six literal days of creation by kowtowing to the religious establishment.

Writerly

Most days I check my blog stats and feel mildly morose when they drop below 10 readers a day (I’d be depressed all the time if I picked a higher number), even when it’s my own fault because I haven’t posted anything–or anything interesting–in a while. But even though I half-consciously want the whole world to read my blog, I don’t usually actively remember that I am a writer. Probably because even when blogging, I am not actively a writer–at least, I’m not living in a writer’s world, where publishing might actually happen and I’m intentionally going for it.

Then every so often something happens which reminds me that I am one and should start acting like it. It’s not that anything really significant ever comes out of these moments (although sometimes it looks like it’s going to). It’s just that they kind of remind me that I seem to have this word-gift and it might quite possibly be the best gift I have and the least-used one in my arsenal. (Can you have an arsenal of gifts?) One of these times was when I went to the writers’ conference advocated by college friend Sarah Arthur. (She has a great last name for an author, especially if she lived in New England where the r’s would drop out.) The next time was when Lloyd Alexander died and I magically got invited to a memorial event for him in New York City. It wasn’t about my own writing at all, except that there were all these writerly types there, and also he had had very strong connexions to Cricket magazine. I had sent them Trees in the Pavement before Christian Focus Publications picked it up, and they kept it for a long time, deciding, and wrote a very nice and complimentary letter about it to me, even though they ultimately turned it down.

Recently when I was having one of my “but wait–don’t I want to stay single?” moments, my parents said something like, “We would never presume to tell you that we know who God wants you to marry, but you do realise, don’t you, that we’ve been praying for a godly husband for you for years and especially this year because you said you wanted to be in a relationship leading toward marriage by Christmas?” (It’s a good thing I had temporarily forgotten that until they said it, because otherwise a pretty good case could be made that my motives for dating The Boyfriend are suspect. But I really had.) Although it might not seem like it to someone who doesn’t believe in praying, that comment was something of a reality check.

It was also a reminder, though. It reminded me that the thing about the relationship had simply been a New Year’s wish, and that my stated New Year’s goal had been to finish my next novel and be putting some serious effort into getting it published. Rats. Like a New Year’s resolution, that idea had started out well. But I haven’t looked at the thing in months. I started feeling a little bit convicted.

Then I got a sort of “plastic-burlap” bag in the mail. The last time I got anything like that, it was the bunch of copies of Trees in the Pavement I ordered soon after it was published in 2008, and the tag on this sack did say “Royal Mail” on it (Trees was published in Scotland), so at first I was afraid that CFP had despaired of ever selling another copy and that they were sending me the surplus. But when I opened it, I discovered it was copies of another book–What the Bible Means to Me–in which I have a chapter. It’s a compilation of essays from a whole bunch of more or less famous people about . . . what the Bible means to them. I’m not sure how anyone would think that what the Bible means to me is as significant as what it means to J.I. Packer (who also has a chapter in there) . . . I like the concept, though, which is that, great and small, the Bible is relevant and meaningful to people across cultures and other demographic markers.

And so . . . hey waitasecond! I’m in another published book! The writing theme continues to emerge.

And then the other day I got an email from a person I had never heard of from Seattle University School of Theology.

I’ve been hearing from and communicating with Schools of Theology a lot lately, but fortunately for The Boyfriend, this one is not one that I’m contemplating attending. Nor are they contemplating me as a student. Actually, apparently they want me to talk there. For forty-five minutes! Good grief. The first paragraph of the email went like this:

On behalf of the School of Theology and Ministry, it is my pleasure to welcome you as a featured author confirmed for participation at Search for Meaning: Pacific Northwest Spirituality Book Festival. Search for Meaning will provide a convergence of readers and prospective readers with talented local authors who have expertise in many different genres related to spirituality and theology. We are delighted to count you among our participants.

Now, I couldn’t exactly say this was the first I had heard of this event. My beloved friend KS-Christie (KS stands for “Kansas,” where she’s from, and “Kindred Spirit”), who is about as determined to get me writing as I am to be lazy about it, recommended me for this event ages ago. The thing is, this was the first I had heard about it from the people organising it. I wondered how it was possible that I was a confirmed participant when I hadn’t even received an initial invite and confirmed myself. Then I wondered how I was going to afford to get to this thing. I brought this up at the Women’s Bible Study at my church today as a prayer request (seriously), and one of the women immediately offered to buy my ticket if I’d pick up the taxes and fees. She was not going to take “no” for an answer, so apparently I’m going to Seattle in February to talk to a whole bunch of people about meaning via a children’s novel about refugees in London. The main reason for the email I received was for the program coordinator to gain information–my full name and the title of my book(s?), and the title of my presentation. I thought about this for a minute and decided on Displaced: Finding Meaning Outside the Comfort Zone. I have, as yet, no idea what that means.

Speaking of meaning.

All this to say, I’m a little excited and a little nervous and now I have a new motivation to wrap up the prep work on the novel Favored One, because I want at least to be able to say I have another novel actually in the works, when I get there.

Hallucinations

Let me just say upfront that the strongest drugs I’ve ever taken have surrounded surgeries I’ve had: wisdom teeth removal (which lead to some funny mid- and post-surgery interactions) and lumpectomy. Pretty sure the effects of the painkillers post-lumpectomy were to knock me out entirely, and not to give me weird dreams.

I’m perfectly capable of having wacked-out dreams on my own, and have been capable of this since I was a small child and got disturbing enough nightmares that my before-bed prayers began, of my own initiative, to include requests for “a good sleep with happy dreams.” I don’t think my dreams have gotten much less disturbing, but I guess I’m kind of used to them now, so usually (unless they involve the death of someone I’m close to, which they have on occasion) they don’t phase me and at most I wake up trying to remember the in case I want to retry my hand at sci-fi/fantasy writing. They’re harder to remember these days, too, on account of the fact that they’re always so weird. Lately (like, over the last year or two) they’ve involved a lot of travel to places that are supposed to be London but are actually India or something, or else chaotic camp-running experiences, or some combination of the two. Usually these days, the Youth Group of Now Church are traveling with me in these dreams. Sometimes I dream about the neighbourhood in which I grew up, which, it turns out in the dreams, includes a farm of exotic if not outright mythological or extinct animals–usually scary ones, which I end up having to encounter in some context or other. Only one dream in my life (as far as I can remember) has ever involved flying. I wish there were more of those.

Lately, however, the dreams have ramped up even from their usual wacked-out-ness. I sort of blame Dr. Who. Last weekend I dreamed I was Dr. Who’s companion and we were fighting/fleeing Nazis; one of the Nazis managed to incinerate the Doctor, but somehow the Doctor didn’t need to regenerate because he managed to escape in time and just appear to be incinerating; meanwhile all the Youth of Now Church were holed up in the building where Then Church used to meet when I was a kid growing up and they didn’t have their own building. Said kids were in danger of the Nazis even though they aren’t Jewish (well, except for one of them), and I had to somehow run away from the Nazi who thought he had incinerated the Doctor and get back to the kids and tell them that the Doctor was actually okay and they would be okay because he was coming to get them. In the middle of relaying this message, I woke up. Normally on waking from a dream directly, I take a couple of minutes to reassess all the nonsense in the dream and remind myself that such things don’t and can’t actually happen, but when I woke up from this dream it occurred to me that everything in it was actually believable in terms of an actual Dr. Who episode.

This week, more narrative nonsense has been added to the mix. I’m listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on CD, and yesterday the magician Jonathan Strange was concocting a potion to make him temporarily mad so that he would be able to see a fairy with whom he was trying to league himself, and then I went over to the Boyfriend’s and we watched Brazil, which, I said afterward, felt like watching someone else’s two-hour hallucination.

Evidently that kind of thing is all it takes to give me my own night-time hallucinations, which, I feel, is a much healthier way to have them than actually putting chemicals in one’s body to do it, if one must have them. Last night I dreamt that the Youth Group and a couple of other adults and I were planning a trip to Faerie on some sort of airbus, of all things, but once they all got on the first airbus, there wasn’t enough room for me, and I had to wait and get on the next one. The next one was being driven (yes, driven) by a man who was in trouble in Faerie and was trying to get back there, either to rectify the situation or to rescue someone who was stuck there or something. I ended up getting roped into this scheme, along with a couple of other people, and the dream ended with me trying to decide if I should bring Oscar along or if there was someone loitering about whom I knew well enough to leave Oscar with until I got back.

This is the kind of thing that’s been happening in my head since I first heard of Jack and the Beanstalk. Don’t underestimate the power of story, folks. Well . . . you’re The Readers. I guess you wouldn’t.

Week of Hope 2011

Week of Hope 2011.

This event happened back in June, but, while you are waiting for me to come up with some more insightful and comedic stories, please enjoy the slideshow. (I’m afraid you’ll have to click on the words above, because I can’t figure out how to get WordPress to actually post a video in the blogpost.)