Thursday, June 1, 2017

How Revelation 21:5 Made Me Feel Like a Mother

Only 7 hours.  Just 7 short hours, starting with my water breaking.  We calmly collected our things and got in the car, and as we sat at a red light, the only ones at the intersection at 10PM, I stared straight ahead and said determinedly, "We're not coming home without a baby."  7 hours, and the uncertainty was over, and I became a mom.

No one warned me about the baby blues, and I spent the first two weeks of motherhood crying my eyes out-- not just crying, but sobbing hysterically as the sun went down, crying so hard I was unable to speak, clutching my new baby in anxiety and panic and helplessness and emotions I had never experienced before.  I watched as his weight dropped-- and dropped some more-- and concern gave way to true fear, and I was so certain that no one in the history of motherhood had ever made more mistakes or gotten more wrong than I already had.

And even after the worst was over and everything leveled out and I finally found that I could breathe again, I still felt wrong.  Instead of feeling like I had gained something incredible, I felt like I had lost something invaluable: my sense of self.  I hadn't felt like myself for the majority of my pregnancy-- constantly sick, barely able to eat, exhausted, etc.-- and towards the end of my pregnancy, I journaled: "I don't look or feel like myself.  Too-short hair, too-big stomach, angry red stretch marks, filled-out face, no rings... I look in the mirror, and I don't see myself.  I wake up, and I don't feel like Erica."

It took a while to understand that I was fighting against something that could not be regained.  That old self could not exist separately from the new self that had been born with my son.  I could not have two separate identities.  I had to let go of what my life used to be and embrace the newness with all its challenges and difficulties-- and joys-- instead of trying to hold onto my old self.  It took me a long time to realize that, and then a while to accept it, but it was a pivotal moment in my understanding of motherhood.  I had to learn that it wasn't a bad thing.  It was a paradigm shift, and it was difficult, but it wasn't bad.

It was a line from a song that we sing on TEC retreats that really turned everything around for me.  The song lyric comes from a Bible verse, Revelation 21:5:  "And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'"

 I had been singing that song over and over to Benjamin for days, and that line just stuck.  And it finally clicked.  My God was making me brand new in motherhood.  I could not be the same as I was.  Fighting it-- even if I hadn't realized that's what I'd been doing-- was only hurting me.

I understand now that the difference was phenomenal, on an entirely different level than anything I had ever experienced.  Of course it took me some time to get used to it.  I have been transformed in love.  Motherhood had completely broken me, but the miracle is that it has reassembled me in a brand new and better way.  Every so often I feel a sense of mourning for my old life or the way things were, but I wouldn't trade this for that even if I could.  Not a chance.  I never knew I had this immense capacity for love.  I never knew I was capable of this much quiet patience.  I am, I think, an overall better version of myself, even on the hardest days.

I feel like kintsugi: the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery with gold so that it's more beautiful because it has been broken.  I didn't even believe that it was a thing at first.  I thought it was just a pretty photoshopped picture that Facebook liked to pass around, poetic but fake.  But it's real.  Things really can become more beautiful for their brokenness and change.  I, who fear change so desperately, have finally found it beautiful.  Difficult, but beautiful.

It's been like walking slowly in total darkness, sliding one foot in front of the other, scared to bump into something and fall.  At first, I was all but blind.  Then there was a dimness, and I could start to make out blurry edges, and with each passing week, my surroundings grow every brighter.  My sight grows ever clearer.  I keep walking forward in faith that the light will soon illuminate everything fully, and I will finally be able to see again.

Even during the longest nights, when "sleep when the baby sleeps" becomes "cry when the baby cries," I move forward in love.  This is the motherhood that I longed for, even though I didn't know what it really was when I dreamt of it.  How could I?  This new kind of love is outstanding.  I'm amazed by my child's very existence and the blessing and lesson he is in my life.  This is what I waited for and what I will do for the rest of my life, this kind of love.

Friday, July 8, 2016

On Everything

Everyone's written something at this point.  I wasn't going to.

I started a post, with no particular prompting other than just wanting to reiterate one of my favorite points (wanting to add more love into the world), and didn't finish it.  The next day, the horrifying massacre in Orlando shook the country.  I wanted to write; I wanted to finish my post, but I couldn't.  As I got my wits together and tried again, Taylor Friloux was killed in a fast food restaurant not five minutes from my house.  I was stunned.  I couldn't write.  I tried again, wondering what I even wanted to say, and then Alton Sterling was shot and killed.  And then Dallas happened.  And tensions continued to rise.

I watch Facebook, people arguing passionately, hot-headed, angry, and afraid.  I wanted to say something, but I didn't want to get lost in the mix.  And what is there to say when you don't know what to think?  It occurred to me that my great fear in all of this was saying something decisively.  But again and again I saw the Desmond Tutu quote pop up: "If you are neutral in situations on injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

I don't want to be on the side of the oppressor-- but I don't know what to think.  There is so much confusion and fear, and that clouds judgement and blinds even the best of us.  I can't find facts, which are my sources of comfort, and I can't find solid footing on which to say anything that hasn't been said before.

What I do know is this: I get to go to bed every night and not have to worry about my immediate safety.  I don't have to worry about my close friends or family.  I may be worried about the state of the world in general, but I don't have to wake up every day and actually fear for my life.  I get to wake up and worry in general, but for the most part, I get to go about my day as usual.

This fear belongs to both people of color (and, I should think, most or all minorities) and the police.  And it's hard to think straight when you live with such fear.  And it's easy to point fingers and assign blame.

There is a crazy imbalance of power.  There is an absolute irrationality of revenge.  There is justice to be demanded, and there is change to be made.  As to what the logistics of this justice and change are, I don't know.  I just know that the more I stay silent, the more comfortable I feel for myself, and we are not supposed to be comfortable.  We are supposed to be challenged.  We are supposed to bring change for a better world for the future.  I don't know what else to do besides write, but writing is better than sitting silently and watching the world go by with fearful eyes.

So many people point out things as (God help me) black or white, when everything is so many shades of grey.  It's what makes this world so intricate and interesting, so deeply nuanced.  And yet in all these varied distinctions, we still have more alike than we have in differences.

Sometimes I wish I could sit down every single person in the world and remind them all, gently but firmly, that we're all just human.  That's it.  That's it.  There is not a single thing that makes one human more or less worthy of dignity and respect than another.  We are all humans who have to depend on each other to survive, and the best way to do that is to be kind and keep in mind that we are the same.

I can't do that.  So what can I do?  I can continue sitting behind my little window to the world, my blog and the immensity of the Internet, and continue to encourage people to be kind.  Smile at each other.  Sincerely compliment those who need it.  Take the extra minute or two out of your day to help someone.  Do something you don't want to do.  Radiate love to all who cross your path.  Practice active kindness.

Until I can figure out something better to do, this is the best I have.  It's not going to change the world, but my efforts will be one less hateful presence in the world, and I hope you join me.

This became much longer than I expected.  I am sure I have said something wrong, or worded something poorly, or miscommunicated, or not covered everything that I meant to, and I fear I will upset someone or draw judgement for not seeming to side one way or another.  I side with love, and that crosses all sides, all boundaries, all imaginary lines drawn by this world.  That doesn't mean the lines aren't perceived to be there, or that injustice will suddenly disappear, or that the imbalance of power will magically level out, but I hope that we can all reach the agreement, one day soon, that we are all human, and that we are all inherently the same.  Imagine what we could accomplish when we come to this ideology.  Is it far-fetched?  You tell me.  I pray that God has mercy on us all and leads this world to the metanoia that will bring us together as brothers and sisters, as children of God.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lent When You're Sad: Psalm 51:15-17

My usual approach to Lent is to stride confidently forward, full of determination and certainty.  The sacrifices that I spent the last days of Mardi Gras season picking out have all been selected due to my assurance that they are reasonably difficult but nothing that I will fail at.  I face Lent head-on and plow through with the goal of Easter and the end of my temporary sacrifices waiting for me at the end, like a finish line of a race.  Lent is easy when you're confident and sure.

This is the year first year that Lent has actually seemed hard.  This year, I didn't stride into Lent with head held high.  This year, I limped into Lent, broken and sad, physically and emotionally.

Going into a day of fasting and abstaining the day after our brutal drunk driving accident was difficult, to say the least.  I casually made the remark that we were down one major physical possession and that this year's sacrifices, the things we'd go without, were definitely going to be different.  And it's been true.  I entered Lent with a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, a lot of physical pain, and a lot of emotional pain.  And that was just because of the accident.

For the past several months, before any of this happened, I've been carrying a few different crosses, and this was the first time I ever carried (dragged) my crosses into Lent with me.  It has been difficult and it has been emotional.  There's been a lot of late night crying, complaining, Bible reading, hope, let downs, and frustration.  Lent seemed like the perfect time to examine why I have these crosses on my back and how to let them go and hand them over to God.

But we're halfway through, and I'm still carrying them.

Why is it so difficult to give up our crosses?  These heavy burdens, these crass and base issues and feelings, full of shame, guilt, fear, anger, jealousy, and pain.  Who doesn't want to let go of their pain and misery and put it in the hands of the only person who can lighten the load and take it on entirely?

Do I actually like carrying my crosses?  Do I seek out this self-suffering martyrdom on purpose?  While I do think I have the tendency to "act the martyr," I don't think that's the case this time.  I think this time, it's just hard to find that perfect faith and trust.  Letting go of the familiar, even when the familiar is heavy and heartbreaking, is tough.  It's an act of faith.

It's been a strange and different Lent, and it's probably the "realest" Lent I've ever journeyed through.  It's not fun, to say the least.  But hopefully I'm learning.

Although the other crosses existed prior to all of this, I do think the car accident was the catalyst that sparked this need for self-reflection and cross-examination (sorry; I couldn't resist).  Nothing evil comes from God; I do not believe the accident was his doing, but everything good that happened as a result has been from his guiding hand.  And even though this journey has been painful, he is leading me through it.

And if I can't give up my crosses, it is not for lack of trying.  I will pray and offer and offer and pray until I finally let go.  One at a time.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.  The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Writer Reads: 22 Books in 2015

I started off January of 2015 fresh-faced and brimming full of optimistic hope at the prospect of the shiny, beautiful new goal I had set for myself: reading 36 books in 12 months.  3 books per month.  Piece of cake!

By the end of February, I was fully aware of how ridiculous my goal was for me.  Voracity does not necessarily equate speed.  Loving to read and wanting to read and reading in all of one's free time does not make one a fast reader.  I study the text, reread passages, and am overall a fairly slow reader.  The year's activities also came into play, filling up my calendar and sucking away my free time.  Books particularly tend to fall by the wayside when one is trying to write one's own novel.  I read whenever I could, but it just wasn't enough to allow for three books a month.

I amended my goal to 30 books in a year... and then 24... and finally, 20.  Each time I lowered the number meant pain and shame, but that's what happens when reality sets in and you have to be honest with yourself.  It was either fail or be open to change (both terrible choices for me).  20 turned out to be the most realistic number.  My mom advised me that instead of tweaking my goal, I should consider selecting shorter books to read-- advice I tried to heed towards the end.

I also had some specifications for my books: I wanted to read an equal amount of nonfiction, classics, and "other" books ("other" meaning young adult or just for fun).  This portion of the goal was meant to help me diversify my taste in literature and authors.  Now this, I did accomplish: 7 nonfiction, 7 classics, and 8 young adult/just for fun.  22 in total.

If I were smart about it, I would have written a short review AFTER reading each book, but alas, my foresight was limited.  There's no way I would be able to write a worthy review for each book now, so far after the fact, so without further ado, here, simply, is my list:

22 books: Nonfiction, YA or for fun, and a classic.

1.     Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
2.     The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
3.     This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4.     Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
5.     Stardust by Neil Gaiman
6.     Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse Martin
7.     Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
8.     Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
9.     The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
10. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
11. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
12. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
13. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
14. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
15. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
16. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
17. The Stranger by Albert Camus
18. The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived by Lee Carroll & Jan Tober
19. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
20. Binge by Tyler Oakley
21. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
22. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher

Of those, I would have to say my top three favorites were Lolita; This Side of Paradise; and The Stranger.  My least favorite were The Night Circus; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; and The Indigo Children.  (As a note, I only read that last book as diligent but agonizing research for my NaNoWriMo project, "Indigo."  See a theme?)

I'm not setting a reading goal for 2016, nor will I even hold out hope for reading more than this year.  No more forcing myself to churn through book after book or picking a book over one I really want to read simply for the sake of the genre.  I'm happy to go back to reading for the joy of reading.  After all, writers read, and readers write.  May you all have a blessed and happy new year, full of the power of words, the peace of quiet, the excitement of adventure, and the knowledge of self.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Writing About Writing: NaNoWriMo, Yarn, & Dirty Dishes

Unintentionally, my last blog post was about NaNoWriMo (the 2012 edition!).  While I was writing it, I was mulling, contemplating committing to NaNoWriMo 2015.  And here I am on the other side of it.

To set up the purpose of this post, please enjoy this snippet about NaNo 2012 from the last post in September: "I went in without a plot, without a plan, and threw myself in wholeheartedly just for the fun of it, and emerged at the other end with the beginning of a book."

I planned for this round, this month of writing diligently and religiously.  I came up with a thorough and detailed plot.  I plotted said plot on notecards and numbered and ordered them.  I wrote a five-page long outline that would serve as my road map while writing the actual novel.  I figured out how many words I needed to write per day to be safe when I took my trip to New York over Thanksgiving, ensuring I would be a couple of days ahead of schedule so that I could enjoy my vacation.  I was prepared.  I was ready, and more importantly, I was excited.

About five days in, I was near tears and downright miserable.  It was agony to write this dredge of a story that my pathetic brain had at one point considered a good idea.  The first day went well enough, but it was all downhill from there.  I was not having fun.  And I knew how fun it was supposed to be.  I knew how much fun I had last time.  Why should I keep going if I wasn't having fun?  Wasn't that the point?

But I toiled on, some days barely making my word count, some days tossing my outline aside and just throwing the characters into random situations and seeing what they did, letting these nonsensical scenes carry my word count over.  The more fun I had, the more I wrote, as it should be.

When I explain how I write (specifically fiction, and extra specifically, lengthy fiction), I typically describe one of two images to indicate how my brain is working.  The first is yarn.  The story's already there-- it's just a big, tangled, ball of yarn.  I have one end, and the goal is to unravel everything and make the yarn into one nice, neat line, free of knots.  I hold onto that end and move forward slowly and carefully, picking through the problems and untangling the ugly mess until everything makes sense and the yarn is no longer knotted.

The second image is what I like to call my "why maze."  I go into the maze, and there's only way through, but it's deeply complicated and I see so many possibilities in the paths before me.  So I just start walking and asking why.  Sometimes I walk down what I think is truly the right path, but then I hit a dead end.  I have to either back up all the way to the beginning, or back up to my last turn, and choose the other path to a different corridor.  Sometimes that last turn wasn't the problem, and I have to go back further, but not as far as the beginning.  It's tricky to figure out the right path, but it's definitely there, and I just have to "why" my way through it.

Why, why, why?  Why does Character A do that?  Why can't Character B and Character C be present in this scene?  Why is Character A being stupid right now?  I walk and why and work it out.

Just over two weeks in to NaNo 2015, I couldn't answer any of my whys, even though I thought I had worked it all out beforehand.  Crazy to think that I, the meticulous planner, the one who needs to know all the details, Madame Type A herself, can't plan when it comes to writing.  I just need to sit down and write and not worry about having a road map.

As terrifying as it was, I completely left my outline behind and essentially started the story over.  Only the most basic details stayed, like the names and locations and the one key element that had been my original idea.  The antagonist turned neutral; the older brother became a twin.  I threw in a hitchhiking Elvis and a soap making business, and suddenly, everything started making sense.  I could answer all of my own questions.  I could ask why and turn confidently down the right path in the maze.  Before, I had been making the knots even worse in the yarn, but now, I was untying them.  And it turned fun again.

And so I was able to pull through and hit my 50,000 words by November 30.  Barely.  But I did it.

You can see where I started struggling around Day 4, where I started throwing my characters into random situations between Days 8-13, where I considered quitting around Days 13-14, and where I gave up on the original plan and forged ahead, plotless and planless, around Day 16.

I actually don't have a nice, neat way to wrap this post up, except to say that I'm pleased to have finished another NaNoWriMo, and I'm looking forward to actually finishing the story and starting the editing process again.  Hopefully it won't take me 3 years like last time, but if it does, it does.  I just want to keep having fun because it's what I love to do.

And I do need to take a moment to thank the greatest and most patient husband, Mmmmichael Tran, for putting up with me for the full 30 days (and every other day, tbh).  He did a really wonderful job of picking up the slack in housework while I was slumped over my laptop bemoaning my own stupidity and frustrations.  He never once complained about the amount of time I spent writing and rewriting (perhaps this was because Fallout 4 was also released in November?).  He made me so many grilled cheeses when I chose writing over cooking and constantly encouraged me when I was on par for word count and had no fear of telling me to get back to work when I was far under count for the day.

Now, on December 1st, it is true that my grace period was over, and I found a disturbingly large pile of dirty dishes in the sink, edging beyond its confines and to the surrounding counter, which I continued to let sit for a couple more days just to see if maybe they would wash themselves.  They did not.  So I spent over two hours just washing dirty dishes and putting them away, in gratitude for the full month of extra cleaning and extra support that Michael had just given me.  Was it payback?  Enh, I owed him.  That break was over.

But I'm still enjoying my break from the thirty solid days of intense writing, and that means that I don't have to rack my brain for that nice, neat blog post ending.  I'm relishing in the pleasure of not needing to make word count.  I have the luxury of just ending this, and so it shall be.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

...It's about a girl who loses her brother and how she overcomes her sadness and herself.

Oh, my friends.  My wonderful and patient friends.  I have written so many drafts of this post.

A lot of you know that I have been doing my best to write a book for the last three years (actually, just two months shy).  This all started when, surprising even myself, I committed to NaNoWriMo in November 2012 during my last semester of college and pounded out 51,000+ words in thirty days.  It was a rush.  It was incredible.  I went in without a plot, without a plan, and threw myself in wholeheartedly just for the fun of it, and emerged at the other end with the beginning of a book.

Of course, once the rush of NaNoWriMo is over, it's difficult to stay on that high and ride it out to a successful end.  I did keep working, on and off, but I struggled to work consistently.  I wrote in bursts, reworked a lot of stuff, removed a lot of my original 51k, drowned in discouragement, floated in jubilation at the joy of writing, and floundered a lot in uncertainty.  I wrote an entirely new beginning, wrote the beginning of an end, came back to the middle, filled it in, and just kept going.  In August 2014, I finally wrote the last paragraph of a fully complete draft and was able to officially say I had a beginning, middle, and end-- and everything in between-- in the correct order-- as it should be.

Then the true editing started.  I just finished a fifth full edit and will be happily handing it over to my wonderful best friend, who works in the editing biz.  While I know she's not a fiction editor, and can't move my book along the lines or accept it at the publishing house where she works, I'm thrilled to have someone look at it with a professional eye and help me keep my dream afloat.

I always feel like I owe an apology to everyone, because while everyone KNOWS that this novel is a thing, a dream and goal of mine, I don't talk about it.  I don't like to talk about it.  It's this entire world that exists in my head; I and I alone live there, and I don't know how to communicate it to everyone outside of it.  My wonderful and patient friends ask me about it, they want to know how it's going, they want to know if they can read it, they want to encourage me, and I am always at a loss for words because I am so, so alone in this.  Everyone is around me; I am surrounded by love and support, and yet I can't feel anything but alone.  I don't even know how to communicate what I'm writing about because there is this terrible fear of not being taken seriously, of being just another one of those crazies who thinks they'll get published.

But someone has to get published.  I mean, look at a bookstore.  They're filled with the proof of people who got published.  Someone has to do it, so why not me?

I have been writing my whole life, though I have only been working on this particular project for three years.  And I will not quit.  If this isn't it, I'll try again.  I'll write another one.  I'll write as much as I can.  I'll send the manuscript out as many times as I need to.  I know that what I have right now, if it were to be accepted, may not be what actually gets published-- it could turn into an entirely new story by the time it gets through professional editing.  I don't know.  But I will not give up.

So thank you to everyone who has inquired about it.  To everyone who has seen my editing selfies and liked the pictures.  To everyone who has assured me they will read it when it's out.  I'm sorry I'm not better at talking about it.  I'm always so afraid of sounding self-involved and self-indulgent.  It's such an immense thing to say you're doing.  In my head, it sounds pretentious, pompous.  Before I even say it (and I avoid saying it as much as possible), I smell the judgment of others.

I will get there, as soon as I stop being afraid of myself.

Thank you all, my wonderful and patient friends.  Please know that I am grateful for it all.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Priez pour Lafayette

It's a terrible feeling to receive a text saying that there was a shooting in Lafayette.  It's terrible to immediately check Facebook for confirmation, to see it plastered down the length of your newsfeed, to see it as the top trending news story, to see it as the first article on Yahoo, to turn on the TV and see the same scenes played out over again under a caption of BREAKING NEWS.

I think about how there are people in this sweet and friendly city who simply went to see a movie and will not be returning home, and I feel sick.

I think about how Lafayette was nothing but kind to me for the three and a half years I called it home, even when I was miserable and wanted to be anywhere but there.  I think of all the familiar places that become standard from the mere act of living there, and of all the lovely nooks and crannies I got to explore with Michael as we geocached our way through the town and came to know it as well as I know my hometown.  I think of all the times I spent in that very movie theatre.  Tuesdays were student discount nights with your UL student ID card.

Shootings happen, but they happen elsewhere.  They don't happen so close to home.  They don't happen to people you know.  To be dealt the horrific crime against the beautiful Mickey Shunick and then to have the community at the mercy of a random shooter?  My heart aches for Lafayette, and yet I have seen the people rally before.  They will rally again.

At a difficult time in my life, I once asked a close friend if he thought people were inherently good or inherently self-serving.  I was surprised when he answered good.  And I have accepted that as my own belief.  I do believe that people are inherently good.  I have seen it time and time again; I have so much evidence of it, and that makes it all the more shocking when things like this happen.  People are inherently good, but I do so wish that it didn't take instances of the opposite to reveal that goodness.

Please, be kind to one another.  Be good to the people in your life and to those that you meet in passing.  Be careful.  And please, live out your inherent goodness day to day, not just when a tragedy begs for it to be seen.  Please let love be your guiding force that defines your actions so that we may all find peace.