Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Tyranny of the Blank. White. Page.

If you've read this blog, you've heard me talk of it.  It.  The thing that haunts me, haunts every writer at one time or another.  Even the great ones.

The Blank. White. Page.

I am 9 pages and 2,800 words into my novel.  A novel that, when finished, must be 150-320 pages or 15,000-80,000 words.  So, only 57,200 words to go (my goal is 60,000), but who's counting?

The Blank. White. Page.  You and I will be friends in the end.  We will make a truce, come to an understanding, learn from eachother, and, one another.  Just wait, my friend; it will happen.  I am Not. Giving. Up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Five Years

Last Friday my husband and I celebrated five years of marriage.  We dated and were engaged for a year before that, and we had been friends for ten years before we started dating.  All in all, I've known Justin for sixteen years, almost half my life.  And I've finally figured out how to love him.

Well, sort of.  We're definitely a work in progress.

You see, I've always been a fear-based person.  Afraid of everything, really.  When we got married I was constantly nagging him to be different, to do things differently.  I think I was subconsciously afraid that if we didn't completely gel - you know, the stars-in-your-eyes, Hollywood, we simply "get" eachother version of relating - than we weren't meant for eachother.  We would somehow deteriorate into nit-picking and nagging and eventually divorce.  Certainly we could never continue to like eachother since we didn't really like anything the other person liked.

I love fancy vacations on the beach; he'd rather rough it in the mountains. 

I love clean, tidy, spaces; he could care less about clutter.

I would rather read a book, go to a museum, enjoy a wonderful meal.  All of these things bore him to tears.  He wants to hunt, fish, and do things.  He prefers activity to chilling out.  In other words, you'd never catch him lounging by the pool.

I have an evangelical bent to my worship.  I pray out loud, lay hands on people as I'm praying for them, worship along to contemporary Christian music.  I like to talk (a LOT) about what Jesus is doing in my life.  My husband is the strong, silent type.  I would probably never hear what God is doing in his heart, or how they are relating to eachother, if I didn't ask.  He likes calm, quiet liturgy.  He prefers to pray silently (but he will pray aloud when I ask him to).

This last was the place that scared me the most.  How could we make it if we didn't relate to God in the same way?  Where will we come together, where is the common ground?

In the early years of our marriage I used to seriously stress out about this.  I would nag him to be more like me.  I would try to be more like him.  I would force him to sit through countless talks (you know the kind I mean) sifting through my anxieties until he would say something incredibly wise like "I love you, you love me, that's enough."

He's right, of course.  Love covers.  He's always been right.  I've been on the sideline waffling through moments of panic and bliss, and he's been steady-as-she-goes the whole time.  Providing the foundation and covering I need to gain security.

I mention this because, in the most real sense, my husband has modeled Jesus for me.  He has re-presented Jesus in a tangible, daily way.  He lets me freak out, fear, cry, be anxious, get impatient, become angry when he doesn't respond by doing what I want him to do.  But he never, never caves.  He never becomes something he's not simply to apease me.  He remains true to who God made him to be, and, in so doing, he is perfect for me.

Because we are different, we sometimes have to work harder to come together - definitely.  But because we are different, when we come together it means so much more.  I know that he is willing to sacrifice what he wants in order to love me in tangible ways.  I learn more about myself - about what I'm capable of, for instance - because I try new things in an effort to bless my husband.  In general, life is simply spicier because we each bring different ingredients to the recipe that is our life together.

Last Friday we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  We went out to a nice hotel and did nothing.  Literally.  Nothing.  He meandered around the grounds enjoying a good cigar while I holed up in the hotel room with my favorite TV series on DVD.  The beauty of the whole thing was this: I didn't stress out that we were different, had different wants and different needs.  I was thrilled, actually, to release him to get what he needed/wanted and to allow myself to do the same.  It felt so light-weight, so comfortable.

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:30)

I may be stretching things a bit, but this is what I experienced last Friday night.  In a word: TRUST.  I've become so sure that Justin loves me I'm able to walk in trust more than fear.  I loved holing up in the hotel room, and I loved that Justin was not with me.  Don't get me wrong - we had couple time while we were at the hotel (a romantic dinner, a leisurely breakfast).  But we also let the other be who we each are.  Finally.  Five years in I'm finally comfortable enough in our skin to simply be.  (Justin has been there the whole time; I'm the late-comer to this party.)

So this is what it means to carry an easy yoke, a light burden.  Satisfaction; deep, pervasive joy; light-heartedness; rest. 

Thank you, God, for giving me a husband through which you teach me how to belong to you.  Thank you., God, for love that covers.  Thank you, God, for the freedom that comes when we feel safe.  I thank you.

Linking up with Soli Deo Gloria today.  Go check them out!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I just had a remarkable experience.  I read something worth reading.

I mean really worth reading.  Not something that made me smile or gave me a moment’s “hmm” of reflection.  Words that lifted me outside of myself to the point that I could look down upon my corporeal self and reflect.  See.  Understand.

It is a new work from my all-time favorite author, a woman I believe deserves to be in the lexicon of worldwide literary greats.  I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, a new autobiography from Maxine Hong Kingston. 

Opening the cover, feeling the hard, perfectly-proportioned binding in my hands, turning the page, listening as the paper scrapes against itself…this is a holy experience.  Set apart.  I am transported.

Her voice, her form, her effort, her experiences.  Thank you, Chocolate Chip, for taking the time.  Because of you, my time is not wasted.  I love your half-spoken words, the suggestions of images and thoughts that are at once complete without being over-stated.  Oh, that I could write like you.  Did you ever rewrite, I wonder?  How many drafts to achieve such perfection, such poise balanced on the tip of your pen?

I am on the fourth draft of my first novel, a novel I have not finished yet.  I rewrite before I complete.  I need to let the story breathe, I realize, let ink flow.  Poetry, not prose.

Last night I watched an episode from season four of The West Wing.  In it a reporter asks Sam Seaborne (one of the President’s speech writers): “how does it work?”

“How does what work?” replies Sam.

“The State of the Union,” the reporter responds.  “How do you start?”

After an explanation of how they narrow down topics, Sam states: “and then, for the second time, you find yourself standing in a hellhole that makes you want to kill yourself.”

“Why’s that?” the reporter asks.

“Why?” responds Sam.  “Because it’s the blank page.  Because.  It’s the Blank. White. Page.”

Something all writers can understand, I believe, even Ms. Hong Kingston I’m sure.  The tyranny of the page.  It must be defeated.  How?  By letting the story flow.  By being true to yourself.  By ceasing to self-doubt, self-criticize.  By letting you – your voice, your form, your effort, your experiences – be. 

“This well-deep outpouring is not for anything.  Yet we have to put into exact words what we are given to see, hear, know.”  (I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, Kingston, p. 4).

Back to the page now. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Piecing it Together

That's a picture of a puzzle my husband and I started the week after Christmas.  It has 1,000 pieces.  Miraculously, we've managed to keep our one and two-year-olds from messing up the process and losing any pieces (at least, we hope we have!).  We work on it at night when we're not too tired.  Today I had a few moments so I re-engaged the puzzle.  As I did, these thoughts emerged:
  • Pieces rarely, if ever, fit where I think they will.
  • If I can't find that missing piece, it's normally because I've categorized it into the wrong pile (I pile pieces according to puzzle sections before I begin).
  • I always have to take a second look before I find the piece I'm looking for (and normally a third and fourth look).
  • The longer I look, the more of the big picture I am able to see.
  • It's easy for me to see the path to finishing a puzzle that's not meant for me - a two-year-old, "large piece" puzzle, for example.  It's much harder when I'm dealing with a puzzle that fits into my life stage.  I have to follow where the pieces lead, rather than directing them myself.
I want to be a good puzzle-put-together-er.  (I know, no such word, but you get my meaning.)  When I think about how to craft my life, how to steward the gift of this lifetime He has given me, I want to follow, not lead.  I want to let sight unfold, acting as more of an active, participatory observer than an author.  I want to quit thinking I know how things should fit together and instead let the pieces fall where they will.  The picture is much more beautiful if I let the Puzzle Master have His way.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Random Musings

A good friend recently posted some fun facts about herself on her website.  She's inspired me to do the same, particularly because I've spent the last ten minutes internally laughing at one of my quirks.  For more, read on!

The Librarian

As a child I had friends, and was even considered popular by some.  Regardless, I always had a book in my hand.  This was such a habit that a childhood friend dubbed me "The Librarian" (an incredibly geeky nickname!).  I would be in the middle of a party, completely engaged in the conversation in my mind, yet I seemed like a loner, cowering in some corner with my nose in a book.  What can I say?  The books were more fascinating than my girlfriends' latest rants about New Kids on the Block or who was going steady with whom.  They also gave me a safe place to retreat to when I felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable.  Most importantly, though, they partially satisfied my insatiable curiousity.  My favorites in elementary school?  The Anne of Green Gables series, hands down. 

I'm so grateful to my friends.  All of them, from elementary school until now, have gently teased me about my obsession with books, but they all also support/supported it.  Especially in elementary school, this acceptance for my quirkiness was crucial to my self-esteem.  They blessed my hungry intellect, rather than disparaged it.  For that, I owe them much (if you're reading, my friends from Doss, thank you!).

How does this relate to today's stint of laughing at myself?  I currently have eight - count them, eight - books on my bedside table (this does not include one book on my dining room table, one book in my computer bag, and several books on my desk).  I am actively reading all of them.  Call it A-D-D if you will (it's not, but whatever): I yearn for information and have a hard time shutting my brain off.  I never read only one book at a time.  It's, like, impossible, for me to read just one thing at a time.  If you ever find me doing that, run out and buy the book right away.  It must be a doozie.

A Proud Daughter

Another piece of random information: my father is a lung transplant recipient (three years now - thank God!).  I've never really talked about how the process of learning he needed a lung, waiting for one, then finally getting one affected me.  I'm not yet ready to talk about it still, but I wanted to share this link about my dad: Forrest Roan at the American Lung Association.  I'm proud of him.

What If?

My stepmother recently hosted a Christmas party during which she asked all of us to write down on a piece of paper what we would be doing with our lives if money, intellect, or talent were no object (in other words, if we had no limitations).  My answer?  I would be running a goat cheese operation on my wind energy farm in West Texas, and possibly running cattle on the land as well.  If it were viable, I'd dedicate some of the space to a solar farm.

What would you be doing?

XOXO, Jenny "The Librarian" Forgey

Linking up with Soli Deo Gloria today.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Heart Jane Austen

Okay, I must confess: while I did "nothing" yesterday I also watched the BBC's mini-series version of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.  All six hours of it.  This is, at least, my 1,000th time to watch the DVD's.  I'm an addict.

While watching I was also doing homework in the Writer's Market book for Children's Books Illustrators and Authors.  I read the chapter that included a Q&A with several agents, outlining what they do and do not like to see in the submissions that cross their desks.  One agent said (I'm paraphrasing): be authentic; write what you know; there's nothing more unique than your own experience.

That's when it hit me: this is why I love Jane Austen (one of the reasons...I could go on for days).  She was true to herself, her perspective, her experiences, even the banalities of her daily life.  How refreshing. 

I don't know why this struck me as so inspirational.  Perhaps it's because...well...I can do that.  I can be who I am.  I can write what I know.  My characters can laugh at the things I find funny and cry at the things I find sad.  I don't have to overcomplicate; I just have to write.

So, for those of you who are interested, here's an update on my writing career:
  • I have submitted five children's picture books and received two rejections & one offer (which I rejected).  I'm waiting to hear on three of the five, and I need to resubmit the other two. 
  • I have started a middle-grade fantasty fiction novel.  I'm very excited about it and plan to finish the outline, story plot, and first three chapters during a writing retreat to Marfa, Texas this spring.  I want to be able to submit it to agents beginning in May (feel free to hold me accountable to that timeline!).
  • I'm submitting a decade's worth of poetry to a publisher this month (wish me luck!).
Now I must put down my computer and take up my pen (my preferred way of writing).  And, of course, raise a glass to Miss Austen.  Here's to you, girlfriend!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

True Lies of Motherhood (or Womanhood?)

It's Thursday, a writing day.  Typically I drop the kids off at 9:30 (at their preschool), head to my favorite writing spot, and write for at least two hours.  This is my Tuesday/Thursday routine - the only time, truth be told, that I focus exclusively on writing.  The rest of my days and weeks are filled with kids, home, husband, general household stuff.

This week I've had a hard time getting back into the swing of things post-holiday.  My house is back together, but I still feel a little upside-down.  Graciously, I've felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to use Tuesday & Thursday to rest this week.  There has been no pressure to be productive.  No pressure from Him, anyway.

Here's how my day has gone today:
  • 6:20 a.m. up with my youngest
  • 7:00 a.m. both kids up and eating breakfast; husband wakes up to help
  • 7:15 a.m. husband is changing diaper of oldest while youngest eats and I make lunches
  • 7:30 a.m. husband sits with oldest as he starts breakfast; I load youngest into the car along with everything we need for school later - we head off for our weekly blood draw
  • 8:10 a.m. we finally arrive at the lab (across town in rush hour traffic) for our blood draw
  • 8:40 a.m. we leave for home, making my husband late - argh!
  • 8:40-9 a.m. call Lily's doctors (two of them) regarding certain testing; call my dog's Vet to discuss the two tumors we found in his mouth last week; return a friend's phone call
  • 9:00 a.m. arrive home, load oldest into car, double-check 'provisions', kiss husband goodbye, head to school
  • 9:15 a.m. stop by Starbuck's on the way to school to treat myself to a hot chocolate
  • 9:30 a.m. drop kids at school; hugs and kisses all around
  • 9:45 a.m. back at home, I ask God how to order my time...there's a lot to do.  I start the laundry while thinking.  I put away stray toys while thinking.  I make beds while thinking.
  • 10 a.m. brief Quiet Time
  • 10:15-11 a.m. pay bills, balance our budget, return emails, keep laundry going
  • 11-12 eat an early lunch, bake brownies, continue laundry, clean kitchen, research a property we're trying to sell
  • 12 noon I pick up where I left off with regard to researching how, when, where to submit the four finished picture books I currently have in my reservoir
  • 12:30 I can't resist actually writing, just a little, as I think in my head..."I'm a sloth...I've done nothing today.  Am I dishonoring my husband by making him work so I can sit around and be a kept woman?"
  • 12:35 p.m. I start this blog post, laughing at myself and wondering how many of you can relate to these thoughts

"Kept" woman?  If I stop and think, I never sit around and do nothing.  Even if I'm watching TV with my husband, I'm also going through the mail, running the dishes, keeping the laundry going (a never-ending task), reading a book, or writing in my journal (often I do more than one of those things at once).  How many of you, my female friends, are exactly like this?  How often are you still?  And if you ever are, how guilty do you feel about it?

This week I've been struck several times by how fleshy I am.  I don't feel condemned - not at all.  Instead, I feel sad.  The moments where I've witnessed my sinful nature have been full of regret and desire for change.  I know I can do nothing to change myself.  This must be a work of the Holy Spirit; He must engage my flesh and transform it into His image.  My job is to allow Him.

I wonder how much more this might happen if I actually chose to be still?  (Psalm 46:10)  I wonder how I would be transformed if I ceased to indulge in guilt and self-reprimanding, if I stopped acting as my own judge.  All morning long I've been plagued by the ghost of the thought: "you're not good enough.  You need to do more, be more."  The thought was not that clear, but that was the heart of it.  That's what is behind my need to feel productive, my fear of disappointing (in this case, my husband, by making his sacrifice seem like it's for naught).

The struggle is cliche.  It's been written about countless times, yet I still wanted to share.  I wanted to put it out there to say to all of my mommy, housewife, career women friends: you do enough.  You love, you inspire, you produce.  You are plenty good enough.  I'm not sure what else to say, other than: I hope these words speak to your heart.  I hope you feel the deep approval God has for you in them.  I hope you are encouraged, dear ones.  With love, Jenny

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Stripping

It's really hard to becoming something when you're already something else.

This is the thought I awoke with as I asked God what to write about today.  "What are you doing in my life right now?" I asked.  "Stripping," was the thought that returned.  "So true," I responded in my mind.

I'm in a process of stripping, sometimes intentionally and sometimes I watch as God takes things away that I no longer need.  It's happening in all areas of my life: relationships; old patterns; lifestyle choices.  It doesn't feel like a change or a transformation.  I literally feel like he's sloughing off dead weight.

So often in life we take on things that don't serve us well.  More precisely, we pick up things - relationships, activities, commitments, ideas - that don't serve Him, not just well, but at all.  Perhaps we intend to simply pick up things for a while, perhaps we don't even mean to pick them up at all.  Eventually we not only wear them, we become them.  They seep into our identity, our fiber, our skin.  And we wonder why we feel so heavy at times, why life weighs down on us to the point of exhaustion, or worse, depression.

The picture that came with the words this morning was that of a rose.  To keep a rose healthy so that it can keep blooming, you have to strip it.  Take off the dead weight of blooms that have outstayed their usefulness in order to make room for new growth.  What do you need to "dead head" in your life today?  I'm clear about some things and still wondering about others.  I know that it will be interesting to see where this season leads.  I look forward to a lighter way of life. 

I'm linking up with Soli Deo Gloria today - check them out!