Life on the Pond

The Pontoon–bigger than a car. And different in many other ways, too, actually

Let’s be honest. Although I didn’t marry my Paul because he lives on a pond, this fact is a distinct and added bonus. We met in the summer, so I already had a little foretaste of what summer is like with a small body of water behind your house, but it’s different (read: better) now that I actually live here.

Except for the near-month that I’ve been gone (not quite all at once) on work-related overnight trips this season, we’ve spent most of our evenings carrying our supper down to the pontoon and motoring out to some point in the middle of the pond. If we go out earlier when it’s still hot, we might anchor up and jump in the water for a bit before eating. Otherwise we just drift and eat, and then my Paul will fish for a while and I’ll read some more Treasure Island. It’s very appropriate boat-reading–although I’m happy to say nothing as exciting as what happens in the book has ever happened on our boat. So far, anyway. There is a small island in the middle of the pond, if it comes to that, but as far as I can tell, the only ones that have ever burrowed into it for treasure are ants. Lots and lots of them. There are blueberries, too, though.

One night in June, we paddled the canoe out to that island, having first loaded it (the canoe, not the island) up with our brand new camp chairs and a cooler full of cheese, fruit, wine and the requisite utensils and containers. We thought we were going to imbibe and ingest all that on the island, but it was too ant-y, so instead we pulled the canoe up so it wouldn’t float away, set up our chairs in the shallows, and had fruit, wine and cheese while paddling our feet in the water and watching the sun set. It was very quirkily romantic, which is just how I like it.

Sometimes when they’re not in a boat like three-men-in-a-tub, fishing, the guys who live in the little cabin smaller than ours a bit further down the pond, hang out by the water in their yard with a blazing bonfire and the radio going. They typically listen to classic rock or folk, which is right up my alley, so I kind of like having it as a soundtrack when we’re out there. It’s usually just loud enough to be able to tell what they’re listening to if you are paying attention, but not so loud as to get annoying or distracting (except for the other night when one of them put his drum-kit out in the yard, too, and started waling on it along to the music). One night when we were drifting nearby, Paul fishing, I thought I heard the squeaky (and, at that volume, somewhat indistinct) tones of improvisational jazz music. I listened for a minute or two before I observing that that was a departure for them, but by the time I was ready to reach that verdict, I realised it wasn’t jazz at all, but simply their dock squealing on its metal moorings in the swells of a passing motorboat. I used to work at Starbucks with a kid I called “Bentleman” (because his name was Ben and usually he ended up working shifts with a bunch of young women, so I could address them all at once by saying, “Ladies and Bentleman”) who intoned that he couldn’t stand when people protest that they “don’t understand jazz.” But see, Bentleman? Some of us actually don’t!

Yesterday some of the Girl Friends came over for a boat-picnic. It wasn’t too windy, so my Paul bravely “allowed” me to take the pontoon out all by myself (I think he had more confidence in me than I did, which was nice of him) with the girls. I set up a big platter of homegrown tomatoes and not-home-grown cucumbers (we ran out of those) on a bed of mozzarella and garnished with homegrown thyme and basil. It was very pretty. And mostly disappeared quickly. We had parmesan-and-garlic pita chips, and a bowl of cashews, and a bowl of candied ginger (for a surprise–and palate cleanser), and I set them all out on a table on the boat utilising some of my Paul’s and my more special-occasion wedding presents. And a really cool bud-vase he has, made out of a stone.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

Homegrown awesomeness

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

See? A stone vase! With a homegrown dill flower in it.

After going back and forth to the house a couple of times and going swimming a couple of times, too, and having at least one full tour of the pond, we docked safely and then gathered round the fire pit where Paul had built a roaring fire (which was a little to hot at the time, on a warm day, but became just the thing as the sun went down) and waited for supper.

Two of the Friends

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

Pond with two Jenns. And “noodles.”

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

Another of the Friends

I’d made a potato salad, but Paul grilled pork and chicken which he had marinated earlier, and also corn on the cob, and he and Alicia brought it down from the house and we all feasted together on that, and later on a fruit-salad-and-pound-cake dessert and s’mores. It was a great day, I didn’t crash the pontoon, and I think my friends felt celebrated.

I guess I like it here.

Sunny with a Chance of Outrage

Ya know?
photo credit: Val30fDr3am5 at deviantart.com

This post is probably going to fly right in the face of this other one, which is what outrage does, I guess–flies into faces. I feel, though, as if there’s some connexion between what I’m about to describe and what I described already, even though they’re going to sound like opposites; I’m just not quite sure yet what that connexion is. But I guess I probably need to tell you what I’m talking about.

Yesterday I was on Twitter and someone I follow for reasons I have not yet discerned was tweeting about donating to some fund to get that ridiculous “legitimate rape” guy out of the senatorial race, and suddenly my brain just sighed and I said, “When are we all going to get tired of feeling outraged?”

Hey. I don’t endorse abortion either, but I do think you have to know what you’re talking about when you’re going to take a public stand on an issue, and I think his comments were completely idiotic. Not to mention insensitive and just plain wrong. But I don’t think we need to raise funds to keep him out of office. He basically just shot his career to Somewhere Accepting Handbaskets I think, and as far as I’m concerned, he can campaign as much as he wants; nobody’s going to vote for him. (If they do, please, my Paul–can we leave the country? For a desert island?) So . . . do we really need a new fund?

The thing is, this “all-caps” kind of self-expression (even though the tweep in question would never think of using all caps) is pretty par for the course these days. Three weeks ago it was Chick-Fil-A (which I wanted to write about, too, and still might, even though it is, as I say, so three weeks ago), and a few months ago it was crazy homophobic pastor who wanted to fence in all the non-heterosexuals on the West Coast or something. And yesterday it was a flying turtle.

I’m not saying these issues don’t matter. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences to evil, stupidity or cruelty to animals. I just feel like Society has turned into a screaming match, so that if there ever were nuance, there isn’t anymore and nobody can evaluate anymore what actually warrants outrage, and what doesn’t. I include myself here. Can’t you feel the outrage with which I am describing outrage? I find this ironic in a world where Tolerance is broadcast with such fervour–that we’ve all become so intolerant of practically everything. And it’s not just of the ideas. It’s of people. It’s not bad to hold definite values–I think it’s good. But it seems to me that if we want people to hear or share them, yelling them at each other is the least effective way. Sometimes I think we all just need to calm down. Do I need to use all caps?

Genre

Guys! I just found out what genre Favored One is!

It’s called “spiritual fiction.” At least, I’m pretty sure my book is what the small new alternative publishing house I found out about via some strange Authonomy/Twitter web of connexions, meant when they said they didn’t want genre fiction, including “spiritual fiction.” Actually, what they said was, “This means that unless exceptional circumstances or quality apply, we are not publishing horror, westerns, science-fiction, crime and mysteries, police procedurals, fantasy, supernatural, spiritual fiction, chick/mum/lad-lit etc.”

I’m embarrassed to say I’m not sure what else there is, besides memoir, but anyway, I guess that rules Favored One out. Too bad, because they sounded kind of cool. Although, they also say, “We do clearly reserve the right to change our minds on this of course if we are bowled over by something which arguably falls into one of these categories.”

So now my question isn’t, “What genre is Favored One?” It’s, just out of curiosity (because really, what do I know about these people?), “Could Favored One bowl them over? Is it an exceptional circumstance of quality?” And furthermore, are they really trying to deter genre fiction writers from submitting? Because it seems like they could be a little more adamant about it if so. Everybody thinks they are an exceptional circumstance of quality, deep down, don’t they?

The restrictions kind of remind me of the arts festival out in Boondocks, New England, whose website says something like, “Dogs aren’t allowed, unless you really couldn’t come to the festival unless you brought yours, in which case, we sure wouldn’t want you to leave them in your hot car, so just clean up after them, okay?” Then, when you bring your dog, they hand you a little plastic bag at the entrance where you buy your tickets. (How do I know this?)

So, I guess I’m not convinced this publisher would think any spiritual fiction was of high enough quality for which to bend their rules, but maybe one day, after I’ve found out a little bit more about them, I’ll throw them a pitch and see what happens. They’re British, like my other publishers, and small, and so maybe what’s the difference? But I might still check it out. Hey, at least they cleared up what genre to call my genre fiction now.

Nobody’s Angry

Public domain Clipart

Nope. Not angry. I just carry this rolling pin around for kicks.

Yesterday was the last day of Camp for 2012 and Oscar (who comes with me to Camp every year) had picked all the pieces of processed, dessicated lamb out of his “lamb and rice” dogfood the day before, so that he had about a breakfast-sized serving, but not with any of the (presumably) delicious bits in it anymore. As I do occasionally, because sometimes it seems to work, I began lecturing him a little about how he should have thought this through and either eaten all his dinner the previous evening, so he could have a fresh new bowl of kibble in the morning, or left all of it for the morning so there would still be something yummy in it. As I was finishing this perfectly reasonable suggestion, he got up and went and hid in the corner.

I hadn’t been yelling, but obviously he got a vibe of displeasure, so I said, “Nobody’s angry at you,” and then, as light began to dawn, I continued, “We’re just pointing out your failings.”

It occurred to me then that I’ve had a lifelong tendency toward this attitude. Most recently notably,  I once had a pretty long-term relationship which, come to think of it, seems to have operated primarily on the premise that nobody was angry, we were just pointing out each other’s failings. (I spent years–during the relationship–feeling guilty that I was the only one who did this, although it latterly came to my attention that the attitude was mutual. There are some types of mutuality that prevent compatibility, it turns out.) Sometimes we did get angry, though. Also–as another example–during high school, I used to preach to my compatriots (I probably couldn’t legitimately have called most of them friends at the time, largely because of this behaviour), but they just never changed their music or movie preferences, or toned down their hormones, and so I once got so fed up with the entire student body (admittedly a small one) that I went to the faculty advisor and ranted at him about what a travesty it was that this was a Christian school and nobody seemed to care or to act like a Christian. (Presumably “except for me” was what I was thinking the whole time. Presumably, too, the faculty advisor was perfectly aware of this.)

I sat on the bed in the bunkhouse after telling Oscar I wasn’t mad, just pointing out his failings, and thought about these examples, and some other ones, and about Camp since it was the last day of it, and I wondered if there were ever virtue in not getting mad, or in being able to point out people’s failings, and also whether such attitudes and behaviour always led to anger or even rage in the end. We had had two (maybe three, depending on how you classify them) fairly major meltdowns the day before, and both of them seemed to have arisen from a build-up of frustration at other people’s perceived failings.

I thought about how I annually try to run a Camp for children and youth from ages six to seventeen, and for adult volunteers from eighteen to seventy-five, and about all the nagging that goes into it–especially towards the teens and young adults. It’s no lie to say that I work with a fantastic group of young people, but it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, and there were many times over the past two weeks when they need to be reminded what they were supposed to be doing. Or not doing. I wondered if it’s really helpful for them to be constantly reminded of their failings, but never to have anybody get mad about it. I wondered if a little self-controlled anger would be more efficient in remedying behaviour, or less so. I guess I’m still wondering. For someone who has been so habitually critical (including of herself, as it turns out), but has simultaneously had trouble creating and maintaining appropriate boundaries . . . well, I guess I’m wondering how to do that. Some behaviours are intolerable (sometimes in general, and sometimes in context). Some boundaries need to be set. Some responsibilities need to be maintained. I’m just not empirically convinced, from a lifetime of doing it, that not getting angry but pointing out people’s failings is the best way to do it. But I’m also not sure what is.

The Inside Track

So here’s an idea, which I didn’t know was legit, though I’d thought of it before.

There’s a catch, of course, which is that you’d have to set up a new profile on a new site, but it can be as bare-bones as you like, and the upside is you can read for free a whole bunch of new books (or fragments of books) that haven’t been published yet.

You know what I’m talking about. Authonomy. As you know, if you’ve been paying attention over here, Authonomy is a Harper-Collins site where people can read and rate each other’s books, in hopes that Harper-Collins will take a shine to their own work and maybe cut a publishing deal. I’ve long thought I’d like to be published by Harper-Collins, so while I haven’t given up soliciting help from literary agents and such, given the difficult-to-classify nature of Favored One, I’m starting to think that maybe getting the book noticed via an alternative route like Authonomy is the way to go.

Here’s where you come in.

Apparently you don’t have to post a book on Authonomy yourself to read and rate and even back books there. One woman (who does have a book on there, which I have yet to read because I have quite a few on my “watch list” already) backed my book and has requested others of her friends to back it, too. Friends who are on the site solely for reading and backing purposes, evidently. They aren’t posting chapters of their own. When I asked her about this, she said, “I noticed the people on the top have half or more of their backers as people who don’t have books [posted on the site]. I think Authonomy wants to see how many connections you have also, as in real life their [sic] are many excellent books, but you have to be able to help get yours out there.”

painting by Jennwith2ns 2006

Revelation 12–and placeholding book cover.

So–can we show them that I have connexions? Those would be you. About half of Favored One is posted on Authonomy right now, and I doubt I’ll put any more up, though it’s finished. You can read it here, and if you’re willing to sign onto the site and back it and comment on it, I’d be grateful. If I can ever figure out how to launch a MailChimp newsletter, I’ll keep you updated on the status of my book, as well as probably recommending other ones you might want to check out.

In the meantime, if you need someone else’s word for it that the book is worth a read, here is what some of the other writers on Authonomy are saying. You’ll find that there’s a pretty good cross-section of readers who like it–both Christians and skeptics, which is just about how I want it:

Jennifer, as a completely non- if not downright irreligious person, I’ve been reading (and enjoying) your book at face value. I’m reading it as a fantasy, but one in which characterisation is more important than the fantasy element. The story of a girl in Roman Judea is very appealing, as is Miryam herself. Joseph sounds like a nice bloke, but I suppose he would have had to be, given the circumstances. I’m looking forward to seeing how he takes the big news. The fact that although I know what happens, I’m hoping for Miryam’s sake that it doesn’t, is a mark of how successful you have been in creating her character.
I very much enjoy your use of authentic names, it makes the whole story sound so much more authentic than if you had used the anglicised versions.
What we sceptics tend to overlook I suppose is the complete and utter faith of early people. While we would all jump to Shlomit’s conclusion and never deviate from it, I can see that in the context of your story, the fantastical, if it has a heavenly source could be believed as easily as a rape is to us today.
Your writing is extremely good. You write easily, and clearly without feeling the need to sound like the King James’ Bible, yet your characters are completely convincing. Miryam is a girl in a context where childhood has an abrupt end, and her experience cannot be compared with that of a young adolescent today. I’m glad you don’t make her a squealing teenager!
Very high stars from me, I can see this book doing extremely well on Authonomy.  –Ja
ne, The Dark Citadel

This is really very good.
It is incredibly difficult to walk the line between dull and saccharin, when writing about faith, but you have danced it. I was spell-bound.  –Lindsay, A Priest’s Tale

A bold and intriguing retelling of the Birth of Christ, offering a fuller and more humanistic perspective…I have written many commentaries on books on this site and one of the most common drawbacks are the pitches, even for books that turn out to be surprisingly well written. On that score, I must say that your pitch is impressive and effective and passes for a model for aspiring writers. It goes to the heart of your story and draws the reader in. You are a gifted writer and you go about your story with the confidence and swagger of one born to write.  –David, The Evolution of Eternity

Have just read the first two chapters and no further because this isn’t something i would choose to read, however, it is very well written. The opening section in particular is quite beautifully done, it really is. To be honest, i like dark gritty fiction, so this type of thing would normally be a turn-off, but the opening was so impressive that i was able to read on. I’m afraid i dont have the requisite skills to give a real critique of this genre, but i can see it doing very well on here, and hopefull further afield too, and have given it high stars.  –Nathan, The World Is (Not) a Cold, Dead Place

Oh. And Natasha, reading it early on, said this:

Jenn, I’m sorry it’s taken a little while for me to get around to reading this. I agree with the comments below that you have a really easy, natural voice that quiets any fears or uncertainties someone unused to your genre(s!) may have. Your opening scene is lovely and it’s got me thinking about all the issues you’ve raised on your blog about how to market a book like this? I think it’d be a shame to limit your readership by seeking out a specifically Christian publishing agency, but honestly I’m not sure I (heathen that I am) would pick up a book about this subject without already being interested in the writer. Your writing is obviously strong enough to maintain your reader’s interest from the first few paragraphs, so the question is just how to get readers to pick you off the shelf…  –Natasha; Sixteen, Sixty-One

Maybe proof of a Readership will help.

Squirrel!

public domain image

Awwww . . . isn’t it cute?

I felt sorry for a squirrel this morning.

I was driving to church, and there was one making its way across the road in front of my car, as they do . . . except they don’t, really. Squirrels don’t make their way. They scamper or dash or dart. They don’t mosey or meander or make their way. This one didn’t seem to have anything wrong with its legs, but there was a definite kink in the back third of its tail. Since, I believe, a squirrel’s tail is fairly vital for its basic balance, and, one would assume therefore speed, I guess that was why it wasn’t doing any of those speedier verbs across the road. It did pick up the pace a bit as my car approached, and it made it to the other side of the road before I ran it over–or had to slam on the brakes–but it was lacking a certain squirrel grace that I never really thought about before.

I thought about it then, though, while I was feeling sorry for it and noticing. I thought about how unusual it was for me to be feeling sorry for a squirrel, and then I thought about the days when I used to think squirrels were cute and endearing. Those days were when I was a small child and lived in Honduras, where we didn’t have squirrels, so I quite enjoyed when we visited the US, seeing them gamboling across my grandparents well-manicured lawn, pocking it with acorns. I thought they were lovely in spite of being assured by the adults in my vicinity that squirrels were a nuisance and that if I tried to pet one it would bite me and give me diseases.

Guess what? Eventually they ended up convincing me. Or the squirrels themselves did. But it occurs to me that there are still people who might actually think squirrels are cute and cuddly. Presumably, for example, there are squirrels in England, where they pronounce the word the way it’s spelled (squih-rell) instead of the way it’s pronounced (skwerl), because Beatrix Potter wrote about them, but for some reason all I can remember of vermin over there are mice (one ran up my arm out of the catfood once) and pigeons.

But they are vermin, really. There’s no question at all that squirrels are and always will be more visually appealing than rats, but that’s about the only difference. They’re bullies around birdfeeders (though, to put it in perspective, not as bad as bears, which is why we don’t have a birdfeeder up) and they empty them out in a day. They dig up people’s lawns and bury acorns and other seeds in them so that oak trees turn up in unexpected places and people have to pull them up or mow them over or put unhealthy sorts of chemicals on their lawns. (Of course the people don’t have to–but sometimes they think they do.) Worse, they squirm into people’s eaves and attics and breed and infest them like other house-rodents. They’re messy and dirty and last autumn my Paul had Rosie the cat and Shemp the dog chasing a flying squirrel all round the house because those ones, apparently, infest cellars.

But I still felt sorry for that one this morning.

Conflicted

I’m sitting in the book shop which looks like a hardware store and listening to the proprietress rant to one of her employees about technology.

Her employee, an older, grandmotherly woman, said something about how she never wants to get a Kindle, and that’s what set the Proprietress off, I guess. She said that e-readers are putting bookshops out of business, and talked about how people walk into this very shop, browse around to find what they like, purchase it on their e-reader, and walk out. She told this story with disgust and understated outrage, and I can’t say I blame her.

But I got a Nexus 7 for my birthday (so did blogging buddy Natasha), and I really really like it. I’m reading Treasure Island because it was already loaded on there and because it occurs to me that as a former student of English Literature, it’s pretty pathetic that I’ve never read it before. But if I had the whole 300+ page tome, I probably wouldn’t have brought it to Camp with me, is all I’m saying. Also, I’d have no place to put it. When I married and subsequently moved in with my Paul, I came with a beautiful bookshelf made by my parents, and I proceeded to cram it with all the beautiful books I possessed, but they didn’t all fit, so I had to get rid of a bunch of them, and I couldn’t get rid of some of them, so they’re lying in random, more-or-less contained piles in random, more-or-less contained places in our already overfull Cottage.

But guys! With a Nexus 7, I never have to worry about bookshelf space again! Also, technically I don’t have to get rid of any more of the books I already have. But I do kind of feel sad about the death of book shops. Even the big chain ones. (You’ve Got Mail, anyone?) And faux-leather tablet-cases still don’t really beat the feel of a book.

The bookshop Proprietress next began ranting about technology in general, and how it’s messing with our genetics and DNA, and I don’t know anything about that really, but I wouldn’t put it past it. It sounds scary and bad and made me want to go sit outside in my garden for a few days. I just thought I’d use her free wifi to tell you, is all . . .

 

Now I Will Praise the Lord

Note to self:

Posts about language elicit comments. Posts about places elicit readers. Posts with direct questions? Oh well . . .

This is the last of my series of six Women stories, retellings of Biblical accounts about women. I meant to queue it up to post last Tuesday, but I forgot and then went away to Maine with my Paul and Alicia and Second Second Kid. So here it is (and I’m still not home, but this time it’s because I’m at Camp), and I won’t post anymore retellings for a little while. But I have more, so they’ll come up again sooner or later. In the meantime . . .

Now I Will Praise the Lord

Genesis 29-30, 35 (NRSV–link to CJB)

“Leah’s eyes are lovely,” people said.  They  meant there was not much else that could be said in my favour.  I don’t think Jacob ever even noticed that much.

He only noticed Rachel.  To him, probably even Father’s sheep looked like her, so besotted was he—at least for those first seven years, while he worked to win the right to marry her.  At the end of the seven years he said to Father, “Give me my wife, that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.”

When he said that, my heart sank, and I knew my doom had come.  My doom was to love a man whom I knew could never love me, and to be married to him.  When you are a daughter, you can’t expect much from a marriage.  When you are the ugly oldest daughter, you learn to expect the worst.  But maybe you still can’t help hoping.

I couldn’t.  At the beginning of the seven years, I tried to forget the charming man who had eyes only for beautiful, graceful Rachel.  I cooperated with all my father’s attempts to make me beautiful and graceful, too, so that I would be married and safely out of the way before Rachel’s turn came.  Maybe I would not love my husband, but at least then it would not matter if he did not love me, either.

But still no one noticed me, and even my supposedly lovely eyes availed nothing.  As the end of the seven years drew near, I bent my efforts in another direction:  trying to get Jacob to notice me instead.  I did not expect him to, but I couldn’t help hoping.  Hoping, however, was as useless as my lovely eyes.  I don’t know that Jacob was even aware I existed until he woke after our wedding night and saw I was not Rachel.

Jacob was too drunk to know who I was, that first night.  Too drunk to know how much I wept, realizing that even then he was loving Rachel, and not me.  In the morning, sober, he reached for me and smiled.  Then his eyes shot open and he stared at me.  I stared back for a moment and then shielded my head with my arm as he leapt up and bellowed.

Fortunately, he did not hit me.  He never hit me, even during the times, later, when Rachel and I fought over him like a piece of property.  Instead he marched off to Father, still bellowing, “What is this you have done to me?  Did I not serve with you for Rachel?  Why then have you deceived me?”

I did not need to be told—though I was—that Father only chuckled at his new son-in-law’s rage.  “This is not done in our country,” he said mildly, “giving the younger before the firstborn.  Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.”

At least by the end of the week, Jacob had learned that I existed.

I did not expect that knowledge to last much after Rachel moved in, and it didn’t.  But not everyone forgot me.  Someone else who is also often forgotten, looked down and saw me.  God remembered me, and gave me a son.

“Because the Lord has looked on my affliction, surely now my husband will love me,” I said proudly, and named the boy Reuben.  I couldn’t help hoping I was right.  Surely Jacob would see that the one God favored, he should also favor?  But Jacob loved Rachel, and she had no children.

Still, with a baby, I was a little harder to ignore, and soon I had another son, Simeon.  “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated,” I said, “He has given me this son also.”  But Jacob loved Rachel, and Rachel had no children.  Then when Levi came I said, still hoping, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.”

After the fourth one, however, I began to doubt it.  Jacob still loved Rachel, and she was still childless.  But the fourth one was special for other reasons, because with him I remembered the Lord again.  It was the Lord, I saw, not Jacob, who had made me fruitful.  If my husband did not love me, I wondered, was it possible that God did?  God, that great invisible One, who made the sun shine and the rain fall and had, I heard, given Jacob’s grandparents a child when they were old?  Having children was not, then, something to take for granted.  Not everyone could have them.  My sister Rachel was proof of that.  Yet God had given me four.  “This time,” I said, “I will praise the Lord.”

Then the games began, and I forgot Him again.  I suppose if the Lord loves you, you really have no cause to complain, but sometimes the very greatness of His love is too much.  It is too big to be felt, and He is too other to be seen.  Sometimes you just want your husband, small, foolish human being that he is, to hold you and love you.  Really love you.

On the other hand, maybe sometimes that human love is too little.  Apparently it was not enough for Rachel, who had it, and still screamed at Jacob, “Give me children or I shall die!”  He shouted right back at her, but both of them knew they were helpless in the face of her infertility, so she gave him her maid, Bilhah, to have children for her, and it worked.

By that time, I had stopped bearing children myself.  I did not know how God felt about me anymore, if He felt anything.  I knew Jacob still did not love me.  But two can play games, so I gave my maid Zilpah to Jacob, for her to bear more children for me.  That worked, too, but it was not the same as having children myself.

Reuben was old enough now to see what was happening, and one day he found me some mandrake roots.  Strange little man-shaped plants they are.  Everyone says they bring you children.  I never found out, because Rachel saw them.  In a surprising display of humility, she asked, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

But I was unhappy.  The Lord had apparently forgotten me just like everyone else had, and meanwhile, in spite of the games and the shouting, Jacob still loved Rachel.  “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband?” I snapped.  “Would you take away my son’s mandrakes as well?”

Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.”

It wasn’t love, but it was something, and so Jacob scarcely had time to come in from the sheep when I met him and said, acidly, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.”  I hardly even noticed the pain and fatigue in his eyes when I said that, and if I did notice, I suppose I told myself it served him right.  Besides, God seemed to reward me, for I bore three more children:  Issachar, Zebulun, and my beautiful daughter Dinah, before I stopped.

As for Rachel, at long last she had a child, too.  She named him Joseph.  With Joseph, things changed between us, I think.  It no longer mattered to Rachel that I had six children while she had only one.  He was her own one, and she softened and loved him.  And she loved Jacob.  Maybe she was at last able to see his love for her as the treasure it was.

As for me, I had my children, and I also loved them.  After the frenzy of needing more and more of them had died down, I was able to love the ones I had.  And I was able to notice something I had been too bitter to see before.  Jacob respected me.  He would never love me as he loved Rachel.  He would always love her Joseph, and later her Benjamin, whose birth killed her, more than my sons and daughter.

But Jacob respected me.  He relied on my children.  He knew I existed.  And that, when I came to think about it, was far more than I had expected.  This time I will praise the Lord.

Boondocks, New England

Boondocks, New England, is, as you may remember if you were reading around her last year, what I call the town where our Church Camp is. Today began our two-week run and, barring a few minor injuries, I’d say everything has gone quite well so far. Which is saying something, because this year we officially have more teenagers than “primaries,” which has necessitated a massive overhaul in the schedule and the mechanics of the programme. Fortunately, although today was mildly disorganised (which the first Monday of Camp always is anyway), everyone pretty much rose to the challenge and I’m feeling quite chuffed and proud of everybody.

Doesn’t mean I’m ditching my traditional day’s-end two-hour escape, though. The teens stay overnight, but the youngers ride home on a bus and I make my exit for a bit, which is really nice of the other staff, who don’t even get paid to do this. (Hypothetically we could all leave, in shifts, but usually nobody else does.)

Boondocks, New England, is, as its pseudonym suggests, in the boondocks of New England. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s part of one county but feels more like part of another. It’s a fair distance from any major city, which is nice if you’re trying to get away from it all, but if you’re looking for an internet connexion, you might have to wait five years to realise that that shopfront you thought all along was some sort of pharmacy or hardware store is really a bookstore with coffee (this coffee, even) and free wifi. The shopfronts “downtown” are old and picturesque and some of them still have shop backs, but others are empty–and still others, I’m not sure why they’re still open–or if they’re museums. For example “Liesl–The Bridge to Beauty.” Liesl reminds me of The Sound of Music, and I’m pretty sure the only change that shopfront has undergone since it was put up in maybe the 1950’s is that it’s gotten dingier. I’ve walked past it, but I sort of feel like it might crumble (or I might) if I went inside.

The town is populated with hippies and rednecks (kind of like my house) and I imagine that most of the residents of both persuasions smoke, deal or grow marijuana, but I could be mistaken. There are places to hike and organic farms and antique shops–all spread out–and a Completely Useless Walmart (well they did have one bag of flour today, which was all I needed, I guess), and the town has a common which boasts a small farmer’s market on Saturdays in the summer. Camp is on a tiny man-made pond (smaller even than my Paul’s and my manmade pond), which is so shallow you can still see the trunks of trees that used to live in the hollow sticking out of the middle of it.

And now? My break’s up, so I’d better head back. But now you know why I get quiet this time. If I do.

Everybody’s Doing It

mailchimp logo

To MailChimp or not to MailChimp. That is the question.

You would think that someone who has a book published already would understand a little bit more about how to get a book published than I actually do. Even if you wouldn’t think it, a lot of people do. So I get asked about it a lot, and then I flounder around–sort of the way I’ve been floundering trying to figure out how to get Favored One published.

I’ve hit up a few literary agents, but only one of them has responded, and that with a “not interested.” We’ve already mentioned how difficult Favored One is to classify–which makes it tough to know how to pitch. How do you pitch the retelling of a story which everybody (well, nearly everybody, I suppose), believer and skeptic alike, thinks they already know?

We’ve discussed Kickstarter (or, at least, I’ve brought it up, and TheBro discussed it with me off-blog once), but that’s not a route I want to take–at least not at this point. One thing I did do was create that account at Authonomy, which I’ve mentioned before, and will mention again in an upcoming post. Something else I’ve done lately is subscribe to blogs by professional writers (freelance, self-published or traditional) to see if I can pick up any tips that are manageable . . . or might be manageable once the summer Camp season (which for me, starts tomorrow) is over.

One writer who seems to generally know what he’s talking about, is Cristian Mihai. He somewhat recently wrote a post about Author Websites. (It probably wasn’t that recent, comparatively speaking, but I’ve been away and stuff.) In this post he talks about how every present-day writer worth his or her salt (well, that’s how I read it) has a newsletter to which readers can subscribe.

The skeptic in me balked at this. If I find a writer whose stuff I like, I subscribe to the blog and I get notifications when that person posts something new. Rarely do I even notice if they have newsletter-subscription option as well, and if I do notice, I think, “Please! When would I have time to read that?” (Sorry, newsletter writers.) So I posted a comment and he very kindly responded.

Here’s what I said:

Can you speak to the usefulness of a newsletter for an author who has one (unknown) traditionally published book and one unpublished-and-not-sure-which-route-to-go book? I already muse about my publishing options on my blog, and I don’t really have any noteworthy updates at this point. I love the idea of giveaways, but I’m not sure what I’d give away, and money’s tight right now so that even the thought of postage makes me flinch. Suggestions?

Here’s what he said:

A newsletter feels more personal than a notification of a new blog post. That’s reason enough to start one. And, also, it’s a great tool to see how many fans of your writing you have among the people who are following your blog (which is never, ever the same thing). Furthermore, it’s something all professional writers are doing, so there’s got to be something about it. Makes you look more professional.

I don’t think it’s that difficult to come up with enough content to write a short e-mail every month or so, whether is just updates on your writing, works in progress, or other stuff related to you as a writer.

Indeed, the idea is that you’d have to have something to give away. I did a giveaway with one of my short stories a few weeks ago. It turned out to be pretty cool. And it didn’t cost me a thing. That’s the idea, I guess. I can’t afford postage either, so giving away paperbacks will have to wait (that is when I’ll have paperbacks available.)

 

What do you guys think? I’ve been thinking about stuff I could “newsletter” about, and I do think I have something to say. Not totally sure I’ll have the time to say it, but I suppose I could manage one update a month. That’s what I used to do for my sponsoring churches back here in the US when I worked in my church in the UK, and there were always stories to tell. Would you all think I was more professional? (Stop laughing into your hands, guys. Go ahead, just let it rip.)

Or is Mr. Mihai a fortunate writer/blogger who’s got people to subscribe to his blog and his newsletter, but most people like me really just don’t want one more thing to read?

Also, if I were going to do this kind of thing, what would you like to see as a giveaway? I’ve already “given” you some short stories here, but . . . I could start making them commodities, I guess.