Only When I’m Telling the Truth

One of the most natural and acceptable getting-to-know-you questions for college students is, “what’s your major?”
“English,” I’d say.
Then they’d ask a question that was all at once boring and also deeply triggering if you, like me, didn’t have a real answer. “Oh, so what are you going to do with that?”
“I’m not sure,” is what I said for years. Then in my senior year I decided that I should start putting out there into the universe what I actually wanted. “I want to write for a living.” Pipe dreams. Everyone knew it.


Last night I sent some pieces of writing to a friend of mine. Something that I wrote without any audience in mind so I was able to be more free than usual. I was writing just to get this experience down on paper. Just because it was begging to be written.
This morning she texted me, “seriously, your writing is beautiful.”

I’m going to sound so arrogant right now but this is a compliment that I’m used to. It’s easy for me to not hear it and just say, “thanks” because I’m embarrassed by flattery. But I knew that she meant it. I knew that she was saying that something I said landed with her. My routine, robotic, “thanks” would have disregarded her. So instead of responding right away, I decided to hop in the shower and think about what that means. Because I don’t always write beautifully. I don’t always write in a way that connects with people. As I’m doing it I can tell, “this isn’t going to work. No one is going to hear this.” And I’m usually right. I don’t know how I know, I just know when it’s right and when it’s not.

What I wrote last night was vulnerable and even a little scary. It was all truth.


Right after graduation, I did get a writing job. My first grown up job. In Brookings, South Dakota at SDSU. This was great because I got to stay in a comfortable university setting but I’d get to be one of the grown ups! A department hired me to assemble their course catalogue and put it online. The writing part? Oh, I’d get to write the course descriptions. Yeah… that’s utilizing my talents! I’d spent the last four years writing whatever people asked me to write, I could do it and get paid for it for sure. Then, when the catalogue was up and running they asked me to write pamphlets for different courses and tracks and stuff like that.

It was the worst. I was terrible at it. In addition to not understanding the basic structure of how a public university operates (I went to a private school), feeling like a complete outsider, living so far away from the people that I loved (though my best friend did live with me at the time and that was an actual life-saver at times), writing because your life depends on it is horrible. I got the worst writer’s block. And not only that but this was stuff that I just didn’t care about. Which made it infinitely harder to dredge up any damns for the task at hand. I don’t care about the classes you have to take to keep your teacher’s certification. Some people do, I do not. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force it.

When I was fired after six months, I was relieved more than anything. I vowed to never have my life depend on my creativity. It took me years to get my magic back. But my magic is back, don’t you think? I’ll be cocky, it’s fine. My magic came back this summer.

I do write for a living, now. But “for a living” means something totally different. More like: to stay alive.


After my shower, I picked up my phone and responded to my friend’s text:
“Seriously, your writing is so beautiful.”
“Only when I’m telling the truth.”

That’s the one. That’s how I know whether or not you’re going to hear what I’m saying. When I’m just filling space. When I’m hitting an arbitrarily self-imposed deadline, you don’t care. You don’t! You just don’t and that’s fine. In fact that’s good. That keeps me here in this honest space where I want to live forever.

Thank you for keeping me here.

XOXO, Lib

[Feature photo by Jessica Dixon on Unsplash]

Feeling Known

The first time I encountered Anne Lamott, I was in college. I was living on campus during the summer but there were no classes so I was able to finally read for the joy of it all. I’d decided to pick up a copy of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz because that’s what everyone was reading on Christian College Campuses in 2005. I was entering a phase where I had no more patience for Sunday School answers and stories that turned out to be analogies about God’s love for us. I wanted a story for the sake of the story. I wanted to hear about people’s real life without it turning into a lesson. In that way, Blue Like Jazz did not deliver for me. But I did like Miller’s writing style, so I kept with it. And I’m glad that I did because he introduced me to Annie. He quoted her within that book somewhere and I’m sorry to say this, Donald Miller, but it was the most true thing within those pages. I can’t remember the quote—just that I put the book down and went straight to the internet to look and see if she had any books for me to read.

“I woke up full of hate and fear the day before the most recent peace march in San Francisco. This was disappointing: I’d hoped to wake up feeling somewhere between Virginia Woolf and Wavy Gravy.” Anne Lamott

Initially I was bummed to see that Anne Lamott was an older Christian lady because all the experience that I’d had with older Christian ladies at that point was… not exactly progressive. Combined with the fact that two of her books were available in the library at my conservative school, I wondered if this one quote (and I don’t even remember what it said) would be all she had to offer me. But I checked out Traveling Mercies: Thoughts on Faith, and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith anyway. And it unlocked something deep inside of me. If I’m not being clear, Anne is so much more than “an older Christian lady”. I mean, she is one of those too. But the image that conjures up is useless in describing her–much in the same way that basically any label isn’t a thorough descriptor of a person.

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Anne Lamott

At this point in my life I was comparing myself to the people around me and compared to them, I felt like the ultimate mess. Everyone that I knew at my school seemed to have all of their shit together. They seemed to have a plan. They were content and uncomplicated and they always had the right answers at exactly the right time. I couldn’t relate to this. I felt like a complete raging, complicated, ball of worry and confusion. Once, in a class called The Novel, we were reading The Bell Jar and I felt like I’d finally happened upon someone like me. Esther Greenwood understood the way I felt about myself and my experience among my peers. I was so excited to get to class and talk about the way that I loved and appreciated this character but before I could say anything everyone else described her as “troubled”, “scary”, “completely unrelatable”, and “sick”.

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I’m not sure I ever said anything out loud in class about The Bell Jar after that but I remember writing a paper about how I had related to her. It was completely off topic but it was all I could get out at the time. I would take a zero or I would write the only thing that was willing to be written. I wrote that it worried me because none of my classmates understood Esther the way that I did and it made me wonder if I’d end up with my head in an oven at one point, the way that Sylvia Plath did. My professor wrote a note on the back of my paper telling me that my honest struggle will serve me better in the long run and to not worry about having it all together at 21. Also he gave me a 100% even though I didn’t even write about the proposed topic at all.

So, finding a decent collection of Anne Lamott’s essays was a breath of fresh air. Her perspective on her life changed everything about my own. It was good to feel so “me, too” about someone who hadn’t gone on to kill herself. It was refreshing to see there were options and one of the options is to live a life with a zillion questions and barely any answers but a pocket full of coping mechanisms.

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.” Anne Lamott

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast featuring a conversation between Linda Siversten, Glennon Doyle Melton and Anne Lamott and I wanted to weep through the whole thing—not because they were saying anything particularly moving but just because I felt understood for the first time in a while. It’s a powerful, powerful thing when you can feel known without saying a word. It’s a feeling that “these people are my people”. Truth be told, Anne and Glennon are probably more Jesus-centric than I am but I still know that they would welcome me and love me and not ask me to explain myself. That’s really all anyone wants—to be accepted without explanation or expectation.

In that conversation, Anne said, “Left to my own devices I would be Steve Bannon: utterly paranoid and reckless with my hate. But thank sweet Jesus I’m not left to my own devices.” This is the kind of thing that makes me want to politely ask her to stop talking about me in ways that feature such identifying characteristics to a broad audience. But she’s right and I’m not left to my own devices. I’m in love and I’m in family and I’m in friendship with people who keep me grounded. I’m a citizen of this earth and my duty is to love and try not to be an asshole and this keeps me from grasping at all of my own straws.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Anne Lamott

I don’t know how to end this but that’s okay because this really doesn’t end anyway.

XOXO, Lib

Page 59: Procrastination Station

You wouldn’t believe the work that I gave myself, this week, in an effort to put off doing work.

I came up with a great idea for a brilliant blog post idea and instead of writing it, over the course of three days, I did five loads of laundry, did meal planning for the next week, bought all those groceries, prepped all the veggies that I bought, planned out my next month of blog posts, washed four sink-fulls of dishes, made two meals, kept up with the Kardashians, and cleaned my desk twice. And now I don’t even remember what it was that I wanted to write about. So here we are.

I came to the coffee shop with nothing but my laptop and my notebook in order to keep myself from the distractions in my own house. But, look, I’ve been here for an hour.

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Take photos of your coffee, in public.

So I wonder why it is that we procrastinate on these things that we really want to do? I love to write. I love to communicate these things that are going on in my brain with you and I love the way you talk back and we start a conversation. I mean, I know why I’ve been putting off doing the laundry for a really long time—it’s because I don’t really want to haul it to Tidy Laundry and back up all of those stairs and fold it and put it away. But why would I rather do that than sit down and do my favorite thing?

I was reading an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (who is my guru lately) and she was talking about how she deals with procrastination.
“I abide by Goethe’s rule: “Never hurry, never rest.” I never go into crazy fugue states, but I don’t ever stop, either. I’m a plow mule.  I’m very disciplined, and I have a great regard for deadlines — usually my own. “
She was also talking about how she has made a pact with herself that in the morning, once she sits down at her computer and isn’t allowed to stand up for two hours. Which is a really, really long time when you’re not yet in the swing of things.

So I guess what I’m deciding is that maybe it’s just that I’m going to need to do a couple of things—try out the plow horse mentality for a while and see if it works for me. And I need to probably relax a little bit. I’ve never been a writer for a living, before, I’m learning as I go.

 

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But look, though, there’s a tiny boy standing in my coffee cup.

But seriously, do you have any things that you go through in your mind when you need to reign in the monkey brain? When you need to really get down and focus.
Do you listen to anything when you need to do your work like that?

I’ve learned that this is the best time for me to listen to brand new albums that I’m not too familiar with so that I can get lost in the music and the rhythm but I don’t know the words, yet, so I can tune it out a little bit.

I think you all are great and it’s awesome that you don’t mind me obsessing about myself sometimes.
XOXO, Lib

Page 46: What Are You Passionate About?

I recently heard someone ask the question, “What is your passion?” Which is something that I’ve struggled with my whole life. It’s a really huge question—so big that when I hear it I tend to immediately switch off. This does not apply to me. I’ve looked and looked and I don’t have one of those.

What Are You Passionate About

I’ve always sort of assumed that I must not have any passion because I was not born with this innate and obvious drive to do one thing. I thought that those people were just lucky and I wasn’t so much and maybe some people just don’t have any passion?

But he followed the question up with a second question, “When you look out into the world—what makes you angry?” That’s an easier question to answer—for me anyway.

I thought about it for a little while and realized I have an answer for that question. And maybe that’s what my passion is. Maybe that’s how we discover our passion. Maybe our passion isn’t something easy to pinpoint—maybe it’s a little bit subtle and flies under the radar. Maybe it’s taking stock of the things that stir and leave an impression.

I mean, normal things make me angry—paying $11 for a watered down drink, realizing you’re out of milk when it’s 10 pm and you just poured yourself a bowl of Count Chocula. But those are the kinds of things that you forget about quickly enough.

What moves my heart and what leaves more of a mark on me is when I see people who assume that nice lives can’t be theirs. When people believe that because we live in a normal house in a normal town with a normal budget, we aren’t afforded nice things. But we can take pride in ourselves—our work and our bodies and our minds and our hearts and our homes. We can do that! We don’t have to live somewhere exciting to have opportunity.

I was an English major in college and as an English major I was forced to be on the school newspaper staff. Sorry everyone who worked with me but it was definitely not my passion to go into journalism! I did not like it. I did not like all of the recognition of athletes or political figureheads of the school. These weren’t the kind of people that I opened the paper to learn about. But I had to be on this team if I wanted to graduate. At pitch meetings, people would have these ideas and specific beats to which they were assigned and I didn’t want to do any of them. I mean, I didn’t know what my passion was but I had a pretty good grasp on what my passions were not! Finally they asked me what I wanted to write about. I said, “You know, honestly, I’d rather focus on the people that we never really learn about. The people who keep to themselves but have interesting things to say.” And miraculously, the editor told me that I could write a feature, every two weeks, about an ordinary student. And suddenly, I was really super pumped to write for the newspaper! I chose my first subject by going into the cafeteria and talking to the first person that I saw sitting by himself. And it was a lot of fun. People would inevitably say, “I don’t know how you’re going to make me sound very interesting.” But I always did. I was really excited about that skill that I had. I liked my ability to see something exciting in someone who saw themselves as just so crushingly ordinary.

We can be ordinary people with ordinary lives that we value and adore and appreciate. We can find adventure in our neighborhood and we can find gourmet in our own cupboards. Ordinary things can sparkle and ordinary people can shine if we just make a little shift into the sunbeam. I think that’s how we move from having a passive life to taking an active role in our future. Maybe I can work to help people to see some of these things. Because what’s the point in having a passion if you’re never going to do anything with it?

What Is Your Passion?

I think maybe everyone does have a passion but maybe it could be disguising as something a little more subtle.

I wonder about you–do you know what you’re passionate about? How did you come to recognize it?

xoxo,
lib

Page One

 

What I want to say is that I miss writing. I was blogging over on a different page and even have years of things stored up over there but it came to a point where it just wasn’t much fun for me, anymore.

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I think what happened was that I was going through this phase where I felt like I had spent my whole college and post-college career saying that I wanted to be a writer. And I was working at these jobs that were not in any way satisfying and I heard about all of these bloggers who, like, make legitimate careers out of just blogging and that sounded ideal to me. So then I tried to follow all of the advice and give my blog a focus! Focus! Focus! And the good lord bless people who have a specific topic for their blog but I just couldn’t do it. But I tried. And it got to the point where it just wasn’t that much fun for me at all. So what my blog provided for me was a chronicle of months and months of false starts at a time when I was trying a lot harder to be a specific type of person and completely ignoring my honest self. So, I took a break and did things that I liked to do. I spent time with my friends and started pen-palling with my niece and cooked and went to shows and took up and put down crocheting without documenting every step I took. And that was pretty nice. But then I started really missing the writing part and the thinking part and the honest part.

And I have a job that I really like so I’m not too preoccupied with making a living through my blog (though I do have some rather idyllic fantasies that I’d like to see come true if that ever did, accidentally, come to fruition). And I do have a life for which I am sometimes overwhelmed with awe and gratitude and it is nothing spectacular but it’s worth writing home about–for my own sake.

So, here’s my no-pressure do-over.

XOXO, Lib.