A Thread of Grace

I want to chicken out. I’m berating myself for telling anyone that I was writing a memoir for NaNoWriMo this year because now I can’t chicken out. That’s why I told people, because I knew that my stubborn streak would kick in no matter how badly I wanted to bail if other folks knew my goal.

I’ve read and heard the suggestion in more than one place. Write out the story of the abuse to help you deal with it and heal the old hurts. Writing is how I process. But writing makes it real. If I don’t write it down, maybe I can pack it away into boxes and pretend that since it was in the past it doesn’t have anything to do with my present. The only thing that strategy has gotten me is a pile of health problems and a heart in turmoil over things that I never faced head on. Life throws enough at us without dragging around a bunch of junk from the past because you never bother to sort through it and let the stuff that you don’t need anymore go.

The times when I’ve written little bits and pieces of my story have done more than just allowed me to face the things I’d rather not. In the writing, I start to see the lesson, the miracles, and somewhere along the way, that piece of my past doesn’t seem to hurt me quite as badly as it used to. Some days I wish I was an artist or a musician who could translate all of it into a painting or music. I feel like those mediums can express deep feelings better than mere words. Words are my medium though, and so I pick up the pen or sit at the keyboard. I think it was Steve Saint who said, “God doesn’t waste hurts.” I hope that’s true. Humans are always searching for the meaning in life, and if there’s some meaning, some purpose to the hurts, then maybe it’s easier to make peace with them. I’ve seen God bring beautiful things out of terrible circumstances. There’s something about knowing that a struggle is not in vain that gives us strength and hope. I find myself in need of both at the moment.

And so I’ll write.

I’ll write a story that I desperately wish was fiction. A story not meant to be read by others or published anywhere. Somewhere in that story, I’ll find a thread of grace that runs through the whole tapestry – the handiwork of God in my life. Maybe there’s a reason after all.

I know that I’m not the only one walking around with a bunch of junk from the past. I couldn’t avoid it forever, and neither can you. But if I can decide to deal with it, then so can you. (Really, I’m the biggest chicken in the world, and if I can be brave enough to do this, then you definitely can!) Whatever medium lets you express and process all of the overwhelming feelings you have about what happened, use it. Find that thread of grace in it all, and you’ll find God’s fingerprints all over your life, even in the hard places.

The Brave Art of Motherhood (And how this book helped me pick a NaNoWriMo project…)

Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

When I had the chance to be part of a launch team for a book called The Brave Art of Motherhood it was the word brave that caught my eye. The tagline sold me: Fight Fear, Gain Confidence, and Find Yourself Again. I’d never heard of Rachel Martin before, but oh man, I want to be brave so badly. Fighting fear to boot? I’ve never quite grown out of being that scared kid sitting on the floor of my room next to the closet. I need all the brave and fear fighting I can get.

What I didn’t expect to get from Rachel’s book was the push I needed. I’ve read the suggestion a few times that someone who went through abuse or trauma during their childhood may find writing their whole story down to be helpful in the healing process. I’ve written bits and pieces here and there, but no matter how many times I tried to write the whole story, I just never could. I kept giving up. I knew that it was something I needed to do, eventually. Reading The Brave Art of Motherhood is what it took to make me decide that this year for NaNoWriMo, I’m not writing a completely fictional novel. I’m writing my memoir. I’ve set an end date, made the commitment to do this, and I’m not going back. Whether or not I’ll ever let anyone else read it is something that I haven’t decided yet. I’m not writing this one with an eye for publication. I’m writing it so that I can let go of some of the past and finally, finally let some of the damage start to heal.

Why did I decide to use that for my NaNo project though? Why not just write it? I need the end date. It was this excerpt from The Brave Art of Motherhood that made me see the importance of that, “Don’t listen to the voice of fear of the unknown and let that override the bravery it takes to write the end date. This is the moment when you get to decide your path. You must have a date you want this done, completed…. Keep it in your head and you risk it staying there. Write it down and you risk it happening.” All those failed attempts at writing the whole story, and the one thing I never did was set a time frame.

There’s something healing about writing for me; it’s how I’m able to process the things that I can’t make sense of or come to terms with any other way. I’m tired of my past holding me, of it hurting me, and I want to break this cycle of being stuck in the memories.

“… in Haiti I made a conscious and powerful decision never to return to the mindset of victim. I was no longer going to allow others or circumstances to limit my ethos or potential.” — Rachel Marie Martin

That’s what I want. I want to stop being the damsel in distress, and start being the protagonist of my story. I want to be the brave one. The one who – despite all of the setbacks, struggles, and many mistakes I’ve made – keeps moving forward. By the grace of God, this farmgirl is going to find her voice.

When Art Imitates Life

Not infrequently, the hard stuff in life is what pushes me to write. Sometimes what I write ends up on my blog, in an article, or in one of my stories. Sometimes it only ends up in my journals because it’s much too personal for me to discuss publically. Over the past few weeks, writing has been falling into the second category.

Re-writes have ground to a halt because a sub-plot in Starry-Eyed Dreamers is hitting a little too close to home. My main character, Tess, had given up hope on a particular thing ever being resolved. Yet at the very end of her story, when she’d just given up on it for the last time, there was a glimmer of hope. It didn’t fix everything overnight, but it was just enough to show her that there might be something there worth salvaging after all. (Forgive my vagueness; I don’t want to give the whole story away!) Tess gets the scene that I’ve always hoped would play out in my own life someday. In this moment though, I’ve given up hope. I don’t think I’ll get that scene after all. Facing that hurts, and it makes me angry. You can see why I haven’t been able to bury myself in re-writes…

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Easier said than done Mr. Hemingway!

NaNoWriMo is the reason why I finished the first draft of Starry-Eyed Dreamers in the first place. Camp NaNoWriMo takes place during the month of April, and I find myself toying with the idea of diving into writing another story for Camp NaNo. I still want to finish the re-write/edit with my first novel, don’t get me wrong! On the other hand, maybe taking a month to go through the writing process with a new story will get me back into the habit of regular writing time. 50,000 words worth of writing practice can’t hurt either. Tackling another project of this magnitude is definitely crazy, but maybe it’s the kind of crazy that I need right now. In any case, I’ll be pondering the idea over the next couple of weeks…

Anyone else out there struggling through writing or edits?

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Musings on Stories

There are jokes about the self-doubt that plagues writers. There’s more than a bit of truth to them though! I found myself in the middle of it once again last weekend. Going back and forth about whether to burn everything you’ve ever written and just give up on the whole writing thing is not exactly a fun way to spend your day.

It all came back to why I write stories in the first place. If I only wanted to get published and sell a lot of books, then I’d pick a genre other than science fiction. At the very least, I’d write YA dystopian science fiction, never mind that it’s not the type of thing I like to read. I write weird stuff. I write stuff that most people would have no interest in reading. So… why do I write it?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I write the stories that I like to read. This is not to say that I’m unwilling to listen to advice and criticism when it comes to my writing. On the contrary, I value the feedback of people who are far more experienced than I am! I want to keep chipping away at and polishing my stories until they are the best that I can make them. Publishing is still definitely my big goal, but it’s not enough for me to publish just anything. I would not be happy publishing a book if it wasn’t the kind of story that I’d enjoy reading over and over.

Where does that leave me? Well, I’m going to keep writing, and I won’t be burning my notebooks anytime soon! I’ll keep working at making my stories better. I’ll keep writing the ones that I want to read. I’ve written a lot of stuff that will never see the light of day, and I’m sure I’ll write plenty of new things that no one but me will ever read. Maybe if I keep at it though, I’ll eventually end up with something that someone else might want to read too…

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NaNoWriMo Recap

So… I wrote a novel last month.

It’s just a first draft, but it’s the first project longer than an article or short story that I’ve finished a first draft for. I’m calling that a decent accomplishment. I’m officially ignoring my book until after New Year. Then I’ll start editing and re-writing like mad. For now, I’m enjoying a little break for Christmas!

What do I think of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) now that I’m on the other side of it? I’ve got to admit that it was just the shove I needed to get that draft done. I loved having a clearly set goal, and tracking my word count helped tremendously! Knowing that I was in this thing with other writers was fun too. Will I try again in November of 2017? Can’t say for sure, but I’m not opposed to the idea.

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Going forward, I think that having a clearly defined timeline for goal would be helpful for me. Having a way to track my progress is going to be a must. I’ve got a couple of ideas for things to try, and I’m hoping to figure that out in time to start off 2017 on the right track. I’m tossing around ideas and goals that I want to pursue, and figuring out what’s worth going for.

I know now that I can get through a first draft much faster than I dreamed possible. Realizing that has opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me. Instead of thinking that I’ll have to wait for the kids to be grown before I get serious about writing, now I know that it’s possible for me to fit writing in… As long as I make it a priority. Writing a little over 50,000 words during one month was a bit brutal at times. I would not be able to, or even necessarily want to maintain that sort of pace in the long run. My family was tremendously supportive while I was caught up in NaNoWriMo writing, but there were a lot of things that I had to let slide that month. I want to figure out a way to make writing a more consistent part of my life without sacrificing the things that are important to my family. This is going to take some planning, thinking, and changes. The point is… I can do this.

Anyone else thinking about plans and goals for 2017?

NaNoWriMo 2016: Let the Insanity Begin

An author friend of mine once told me, “I bleed on the page.”

I’ve got to admit that there’s something of me in everything I write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Often, writing is what allows me to process something, and to refine my abstract and disconnected thoughts into something more concrete. There’s a reason why I’ve had scribbled-in notebooks and journals floating around my room since I was a teenager!

Blogging and having some of my articles appear in print magazines has been rewarding to say the least. There’s still something in me though that really wants to write a book. Seeing my friends publish their books is a wonderful thing, and I can only imagine what it would be like to hold a book that I had written in my hands.

Fiction was my first love. It’s what I scribbled the most of in those battered notebooks. (Let’s forget the bad poetry. Seriously.) More than anything, I want to tell a good story. Getting through a first draft has been my biggest issue. I’m a perfectionist who can’t seem to get past the idea that I should be constantly editing as I go. Consistently taking the time to write is a close second. When life is busy (and when is it not?), my writing is one of the first things I ignore. I’m hoping that the insanity I’m about to embark upon will force me to work past those two problems.

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. The goal is simple, write the first draft of your novel, at least 50,000 words, during the month of November. I can do as much plotting, outlining, and character sketching as I want to beforehand, but the writing can’t start until November 1st and has to be completed by the stroke of midnight on November 30th.

Am I crazy? That’s very likely. Will I have a lot written by the end of November? Yes. I’m certainly aiming for the full 50,000 words, but even if I don’t get that far I’ll have made progress. This is going to get me into the habit of prioritizing writing regularly. That will help my writing more than anything.

So, what am I writing? Science fiction of course! You can track my progress by checking out the word-count tracker on the sidebar of the blog here. I’ll be posting updates and photos on social media as well. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, look me up on the website –you’ll find me listed as TeishKnits.

The tea is brewed, the story is plotted, let the writing begin!

Short Story: Political Theater

It’s been far too long since I posted a story on Teish Knits, and I think we might all enjoy a little satire right about now…

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Political Theater

By: Teisha J. Priest

 

Maureen slipped into her seat and handed a bag of popcorn to the guy sitting next to her.

“Sorry I’m late Dan, parking today was insane,” she whispered.

He waved his hand, “You brought popcorn. I’m not going to complain.”

She handed her own bag of popcorn to him while she struggled out of her heavy jacket.

“What’d I miss?”

“The boring stuff mostly,” he shrugged, “It hasn’t been nearly as interesting as it was yesterday when they unseated the whole delegation from Pine Town!”

“Man, I can’t believe the people there managed to get all of the free thinkers on the delegation anyway. It’s usually just a bunch of party flunkies and yes-men. I bet it freaked out a few of the big wigs here!”

“Did you see the way the vein on the Director’s forehead stood out?”

“And then the Secretary looked like she swallowed a frog!”

Laughter got the best of them and they did their best to stifle it as the people surrounding them looked on with disapproval. They quieted down to the occasional giggle by the time the nominee vote was announced.

“Ohhhh, it’s getting good again,” Maureen nudged Dan and grabbed another handful of popcorn.

As things progressed though, she started to look puzzled.

“Wait a minute, are they really going to give the nomination to the second guy? He’s the least liked out of all four of them!”

Dan nodded, “It’s looking that way.”

“But… most of the people here don’t like him. At least half outright hate him! How can they nominate him?”

“Easy, the powers that be in the party want him to win the nomination. He’s part of the club.”

“They can pick a guy that practically no one supports though? I thought the delegates at least had a say.”

He smirked, “It’s the Preservation Party. They’ll lie, cheat, steal, bribe, and pull the omniscient tally screen out of storage just to get their guy nominated.”

She folded her arms and raised an eyebrow at the outrageous statement.

“Omniscient tally screen? Really Dan? Now you’re making things up.”

Another snicker escaped him, “I swear it’s true! You weren’t here last year. See that tablet that the Director is holding up on stage?”

“Yeah, so?”

“It’s his script. He just reads the lines, and pauses for applause or remarks when noted. Last year, they were voting on a rule change, when someone threw the tablet feed up on the big tally screen behind the Director. There were a few weak ‘aye’ votes called out, and a thunderous chorus of ‘no’ votes. But even before the vote was called, his line was up on the screen for everyone to read.”

“And?”

“He said, ‘The aye’s have it.'”

They dissolved into laughter again. Their fellow spectators shushed them, and one called for security to escort them out. They managed to get themselves under control before anyone from security ever arrived.

“How many of the people here today were around for last year’s event?”

Dan scanned the crowd of delegates thoughtfully before answering, “A lot of them are back again this year. At least half I’d say.”

“They came back?!” she squeaked.

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“Oh, I don’t know, blatant corruption at the highest level of the party? Why support a party that doesn’t represent you?”

“Easy,” he shook his head, “They’re more scared of someone from the Progression Party getting elected. So, they’ll vote for whatever crappy choice the Preservation Party puts in front of them.”

“That’s pathetic.”

“But not surprising, Maureen. The free thinkers will end up running a write-in campaign. They’ll have a guy who’s better for everyone than either of the big party guys are, and hardly anyone will vote for him. They’re so scared that the other guy will be worse, that they’ll completely ignore just how bad the guy they are voting for is.”

Neither said anything for a long time, munching popcorn and observing the circus unfolding down on the floor.

“So why do you come, Dan?”

“Back in the day, I used to think I could make a difference. Now? None of the films out at the moment are worth watching, so I turn to political theater for my amusement. Besides, I figure someone will have to tell the kids and grandkids what happened. Who knows what it will all look like by then.”

“Here’s hoping the Preservationists and Progressionists will have closed up shop at that point!”

“Maybe. But something will replace them… Always does eventually.”

She sighed, “As they say, ‘If you don’t learn from history you’ll make the same stupid mistakes. If you do learn from it, you’ll get to watch other people make the same stupid mistakes.'”

Dan raised his popcorn bag, “Here’s to watching the stupid mistakes!”

Maureen tapped his bag with her own, “To political theater!”

This time, security really did throw them out, and the pair trudged through the parking lot to their cars.

“I can’t believe we were thrown out. I’ve never been thrown out of anywhere in my life, Dan!”

“You get used to it,” he reassured her, “The Progression Party is holding their event next week. One year, they created a whole new city in the middle of the desert just to win an election! You up for another dog and pony show?”

“I’m in,” she declared, “But this time you’re bringing the popcorn!”

I hope that you at least got a smile out of Political Theater. Though it is a work of fiction, a number of elements were based upon real events!

At the 2012 Republican national convention, the delegates appointed at the state convention were stripped of their status as delegates and replaced with alternates chosen by party leadership. (Remember Maine!)

In 2012, both the Republican and Democrat parties had “omniscient teleprompters” at their conventions. Videos released by attendees at each convention showed results of votes being listed on the teleprompter used by the speaker… before the vote was even taken.

A rule change was proposed at the 2012 Republican convention. According to video of the vote and eye-witnesses reports from attendees, the delegates overwhelmingly voted against the rule change. Inexplicably, House Speaker John Boehner still declared, “The ayes have it.”

Perhaps the wildest thing of all though, is this: Nevada’s statehood was rushed through congress for a number of reasons, even though they did not actually meet the eligibility requirements for statehood. There were a few reasons behind this, but one of them was so that there would be another state to support the Republican incumbent (Abraham Lincoln) in the next presidential election.

Call of the Stars

There’s just something about poetry. Unlike prose, the meaning behind the words is not always immediately apparent, but the emotions behind it… The ability of poetry to evoke deep feelings is almost music-like. John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever has been a favorite of mine for many years. His poem in part was my inspiration for this little story…

——————–

Call of the Stars

“What are you looking for that you have to go out there to find it?”

I could never give her an answer when she asked me that question. Dozens of times over the course of many years, Sari had asked me that question. No matter how many times those brown eyes pleaded with me to give her some kind of answer, I never did. Not that I didn’t want to answer, rather, I couldn’t answer. How could I explain something that I couldn’t quite figure out myself?

I ran my fingers through the black hair that I’d recently decided to cut short for a change. She recognized the nearly automatic gesture as the play for time that it was. Growing up with someone acquaints you pretty well with their “tells” and Sari knew that giving me a minute to think would yield better results than pushing for an immediate answer.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I sighed heavily, “I can’t really explain it any better than to say that I have to go.”

Sari rolled her eyes and blew out a breath in a huff. It was my standard reply to her query, and I couldn’t exactly blame her for being tired of the same answer. But, I reasoned, she couldn’t expect anything different after all of this time. If she didn’t want to hear the spiel then she should let it be. But little sisters didn’t tend to just let anything be… at least mine didn’t.

“It’s just,” the petite woman began and hesitated before continuing on, “It’s just that the last few trips you’ve been gone for so long. I know that you’d never be able to keep your feet on the ground, not for long anyway, but I worry about you.”

I opened my mouth to chide her for her worrying, but she stopped me with a raised hand and continued on, “I worry that I’ll never hear from you again. I worry that something will happen and I’ll never know about it. That you’ll just disappear… like…”

She stared down at the toes of her red shoes peeking out from beneath the hem of her brown dress. I had just teased her about those shoes three days ago, telling her that they couldn’t possibly be practical for a farmer’s wife. She waved off my comments and insisted that wearing red shoes made her smile. It was so like Sari to find joy in small things. Maybe that’s why she gave the impression of being at peace most of the time. That may seem an incongruous thing to say considering her admission of worrying about me. But she had reason to carry that nagging doubt in the back of her mind. I spoke of that reason in a hushed voice.

“Like Dad did.”

“We never found out what happened to him, and I know that we probably never will. It’s just… it’s the not knowing that’s the hardest part,” she admitted. The regret in her eyes was clear, and truth be told, I wrestled with the same feelings about Dad’s disappearance more than 20 years prior.

I tipped my head to look up at the deep purple horizon and the rising twin moons. It had been Dad that had given me my first flying lesson around those very moons. Looking past the two cratered companions I mentally counted off constellations as my eyes roamed the early evening sky. How many times as a child had I stared up into the night sky, dreaming? I could tell her that it was just because of the adventure, the chance to go places and see things that no one else had. I could tell her that I couldn’t help but follow in Dad’s footsteps. Maybe that was part of it… but it wasn’t the real reason.

I had read about archaic sailing ships from centuries past, and how men would brave tremendous dangers when they went to sea. Few ever became wealthy or well-known because of it. They went to sea because standing on the deck of that wooden ship, they knew deep down that it was where they belonged. I suppose it’s sort of a romantic notion, but I understood it in a way that I just couldn’t put into words. An ancient poem that had been written by a man who had lived in an entirely different corner of the galaxy, before anyone had traveled amongst the stars, had said it best. John Masefield spoke of the sea, but the sentiment carried through to the vast ocean of space as well.

“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…” was the only reply that I could give to my sister.

She shook her head and laughed, “That old poem? It can’t be that simple.”

My gaze wandered back to the ever-darkening sky once again, “Never said it was simple little sister. But ‘the call of the running tide is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied…'”

I looked back at her and smiled before dropping a kiss on her forehead, “I’ll be back before you know it.”

Sari stood on her toes and threw her arms around me, “Be careful. Love you big brother.”

“Love you too,” I said quietly, hoping that she wouldn’t notice the slight catch in my voice. I had to go, but that didn’t mean that I wouldn’t miss her.

I gave her one final hug before striding off in the direction of my ship. I let my fingers glide across her smooth hull as I ran through the pre-flight checklist. After boarding and strapping myself into the pilot’s seat I spared a moment to look again at the night sky. Once again the stars called to me. Maybe someday that call would grow dim enough for me to settle down on the ground for the long haul… but not today.

——————–

In case you have never read Sea Fever:

“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

 

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

 

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”

 

By John Masefield (1878-1967)

 

 

Table Talk

Last night at the dinner table, the kids and I took turns coming up with a sentence for a story. My IT staff acted as scribe, but declined to participate in the actual storytelling. This is what we ended up with…

“Once upon a time… there lived a purple turtle. He ate a rock. A shark bit his leg. A doctor came and helped him. The rock he ate was a magic rock. He turned into a Star Wars ship. The ship crashed into a cup. The mechanic fixed the ship. So they flew to Jupiter. A shark chomped them up. Luke Skywalker saved the day.”

–The End

Concerning Babies…

They are like Hobbits.

Short and slightly chubby like Hobbits. Preferring not to wear shoes like Hobbits. (Have you ever tried to keep shoes and socks on a baby?) They love to laugh and make merry like Hobbits. And they love to eat… often.

Hobbits enjoy breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. Sounds like my Little Guy! He thinks that supper is at 10 PM and breakfast at 3AM. (I’m pretty sure that Hobbits sleep longer than that though.)