We Toss Up Our Questions

This was the sunset over the Bryson City Cemetery last night.  I was the only one up there…snow still covering the entrance road:

Bryson City Cemetery

I love old cemeteries. The older the better. I have a built in compass for them. What does it mean if you grieve for strangers? A pitted tombstone having been worn away from years of rain, ice and lichen growth. Timecapsules that will never be opened.  This graveyard is high on a hill. But my home is on a higher hill and I can see the cemetery from my writing window. I wonder when we’ll run out of room for burying people.

We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees. – Annie Dillard

Bryson City Cemetery - Great Smoky Mountains

*****

A woman came into the book store the other day. It was slow and we got to talking. She asked: Have you read Annie Dillard?  I told her yes, that The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was in my top 10 list. She nodded and said well, I don’t know what Annie Dillard looks like, I’ve never seen a picture, but I imagine if I met her she might look like you. You have that vibe about you. When she said that…I couldn’t remember what Annie looked like either, except for the 1970’s picture on the front of my copy of Tinker Creek, and it looks more like a painting than a photo.

And then a few minutes later: She knows nothing about me except for the few words we’ve exchanged.  Right now I’d say I resemble Scooby’s Shaggy, not Annie Dillard. I know I’ve been compared to Hilary Swank before but that’s probably because we both have big teeth.

When the woman left and I suddenly had the thought she might be Annie Dillard herself. She wore an outback style hat and a big warm coat.  Annie would wear something like that. I mean, if I were Annie, I’d wear something like that.   I’ve really never met anyone famous that I can quickly recall while writing this, except for Johnny Cash…but that was just in a dream. He grabbed my hand and said thanks for coming. He was old, older than anyone really remembers him. And he knew my name. Brett and Boo were walking to the park the other day and found a copy of The Life of Johnny Cash sitting right in the middle of the road.  Isn’t that so strange? They brought it back for me and it sits on my shelf. “Winners got scars too” the cover reads. Printed in 1974, same year as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

No one ever said to me: you must read Annie Dillard.  I’d pulled a random book off of a shelf , opened it up and was drawn deeply into its pages.  The book was Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. And I thought: I have discovered this amazing Annie Dillard. But apparently everyone else already knew about her.

You know I bought and moved the old depot.  Annie Dillard wrote An American Childhood in an old pine shed. In the back of my mind I think: My childhood will come back to me in an old pine shed. And I will write about it.  Yes, I know it doesn’t work this way.

I went to pick up Boo from school today, but showed up as the only person in the carpool line, not knowing they extended the day to make up for the last few snow days.  On the drive back I passed a woman standing alone in a parking lot….the lady from the book store.  I waved at her and she waved back. I thought about turning around because maybe, just maybe, Annie Dillard had dyed her hair black and was posing as a backpacker right here in my small town.  But I didn’t turn around.

At the end of An American Childhood, Annie asks:

What would you do if you had fifteen minutes to live before the bomb went off?  Quick: What would you read?

I’d probably read Annie Dillard. Or maybe Janisse Ray. Janisse reminds me of Dillard. I don’t remember how I found Janisse’s books. Or maybe they found me. Maybe everyone else already knows about Janisse too. Better late than never.

I read the other day that scientists discovered a giant black hole 12 billion times more massive than the sun.  But it’s not a new black hole…it’s been around since the dawn of time. Black holes eat matter.  Half of me wants to know this information and the other doesn’t. There. Documented. 900 million years old. Better late than never.

“As a life’s work, I would remember everything – everything, against loss. I would go through life like a plankton net. […] Some days I felt an urgent responsibility to each change of light outside the sunporch windows.” -An American Childhood

Urgent responsibility to the change in light over the cemetery two days ago:

schoolhouse hill in Bryson City, NC

This:

annie dillard quote - an american childhood

Sometimes it’s a cemetery. Sometimes it’s SDSS J010013.02 (the black hole that eats matter ya’ll).

P.S. Will try to get my “sometimes weekly letter” out tonight…but might be morning at the molasses rate I’m working today.

 

Snow Scenes from Bryson City

…and it’s snowing again. I love the snow as long as I don’t have to be anywhere….and we have food and heat.

snow in the great smoky mountains

 

And I have snow boots! (I knew I held on to these all those years for a reason…I think I’ve had these since high school.)

snowboots

A picture I took at Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Deep Creek Park Bryson City

 

The view of town from our hill:

Snow Dusting of Bryson City, NC

 

A wildflower:

Deep Creek Park Smokies

 

Toms Branch Falls in the national park:

Toms Branch Falls in Deep Creek Waterfall Smoky Mountains

 

The depot where it now sits:

Old Train Depot Moved - Bryson City
This could have been written right here:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

-Dust of Snow, Robert Frost 

 

Snow Type Ode

We are snowed in again.

snowedin

Brett and Boo played in the snow with the neighbors and I painted tiny:

typewriter

I’m going to spend the afternoon writing and see what comes out.  Things I don’t like to write about?  Shoes. And random objects. But sometimes you have to stretch yourself. And…sometimes a class helps when you are lazy like me when it comes to writing about things you don’t want to write about. I need accountability.

An ode to my Dr. Martens:

Black, round, cord laces wrapped around the ankle falling into the deep creases created from many steps. 8 eyelets on each side but only 6 are ever used. Tongue marked with criss-crossedover-under lacing, wearing down permanent grooves into the leather. The signature yellow stitching above the sole. Broken yellow traffic lines. Passing zone. Morse code, queue lines, mind the gap. The translucent gummy soles. Resistant to: OIL FAT ACID PETROL ALKALI. Raven black buttery calf skin. Soft brushed suede on the inside. Ready for combat. Military style. London, Trainspotting, Guy Ritchie. Rugged, rebellious, battered. Pearl Jam. Idgie Threadgoode. Made in Vietnam. A lifted toe. Spirited. Dark. Wrinkled creases below the toe. Furrowed brows. Grunge. The more imperfect the better. 

 

docmartens

 

If you want to read some amazing writing every Tuesday you should subscribe to my friend Maya Stein’s 10-line Tuesday…I look forward to it each week. She inspires me:

“In June 2005, I began a weekly poetry practice. The goal was simple: to write a 10-line poem every Tuesday. The purpose was to have a manageable deadline to create new work and a dedicated platform to share it. I sent my first 10-line Tuesday poem to about 200 people. More than eight years and almost 4,500 lines later, I continue to write “10-line Tuesday” each week, and these poems now go out to nearly 1,100 people around the world.”  You can read the backlog of her 10-line poems here. 

Tiny Paintings

It’s an internal struggle for me some days: should I write or paint?  Sometimes I’m split in two. I’ve decided on small goals: one small painting or drawing a day to help me warm up for my writing practice.  3.5″ x 3.5″ each. And so it’s been three days so far…I’ll try not to be too hard on myself if I skip a day.  It takes about 20 minutes to do a painting. I make myself write for at least 10 minutes a day…a few hours if I’m on a roll.  That’s only 30 minutes a day.  I can’t use “no time” as an excuse.

John Steinbeck

john steinbeck

 

 

 

The American Goldfinch

goldfinch

 

Emily Dickinson

emilydickinson

 

 

A view of the train and downtown Bryson City

bryson city

 

I also can’t use “lack of tools” as an excuse either. I just use the cheap watercolors from Michaels and a scraggly paint brush that I trim down here and there with scissors. And writing? The cavemen used mud on a wall, what’s my excuse going to be? I have mud, I have walls…but hopefully it won’t come to that.

And my painting classes from school are slowly coming back.  A lot of times I paint upside down so I just focus on the shapes.

Any requests? Because I do much better with assignments.

 

P.S. Today (Feb 23rd)…every purchase of a Choose Joy necklace comes with a free bag of Choose Joy bracelets!

 

 

 

To Tell a Better Story

Recently I’ve been working on a course by Storyline for creating a life plan. I thought it might direct my biographical writing a little more if I had a process in place because otherwise I have zero process.  One of the first steps in the course is creating a timeline of significant turns in your life, both positive and negative turns.  I had Boo list the big events she remembers in her life so we could make a timeline for her too. I thought it would be neat to look back on later in life and see what she thought were significant events…something I wish I’d done earlier on.

Things she listed: my father’s funeral (she remembers the bagpipes and the hearse); when I was diagnosed with cancer (she doesn’t remember much, just that I had cancer and lost my hair); the time she was wrapped in wrapping paper at a party we hosted for our church’s youth group and she was crying from being claustrophobic inside, moving to North Carolina, starting a new school, and getting her dog Max a few weeks ago.

Timeline

At first I was really sad and disappointed that her memories have been mostly sad and traumatic up until our move to NC. (How could she not remember that birthday party?  Or Christmas? Or the time we went to Disneyland?) I made each event into a little strip and taped it to her timeline and when we looked at the events together she obviously noticed the same thing.  After a few minutes of contemplation she asked me to change the rules of the process:

“we don’t have to put things that just I remember, you can help me remember big events that were happy that I was too little to remember”

She is my greatest teacher. And it’s true…we need other people to help remember our stories, the perspective of another lens to look at our life through. A biography to compliment our autobiography. My timeline takes up 4 pages to her 1…but her 1 pager is already such a great story. My job is to help her see that.

The cool thing is that no matter how crappy things have ever been at times children can see the positive changes we make in our lives…the impact of being determined to tell a BETTER story. Living that out.

I love this quote:

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.” -Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

We can edit our own life. Always a rough draft. I have this quote cut out and pasted into one of my journals:

I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be. -Joan Didion

One night Brett asked me if I knew what my purpose was in life. I answered: I don’t know, and I don’t know if I will ever know, but I think I get glimpses of it.  I don’t think we are ever supposed to know, otherwise it would be like we’d reached our story’s arc: hey, I know what my purpose is! now I can retire at age 37!  It seems like it would be all downhill from there. I think we do get some signs to help us head in the right direction, sometimes they are u-turns. And so I can reinvent myself every day towards the story I want my life to tell. I can safely say that I may never find myself, and I’m okay with that.

It’s never too late to be who you might have been. -George Eliot

 

 

 

 

Snow Angel Bombing

Today is the 2nd snow day this week.  Boo and I stayed in all morning and watched the resort cam of downtown Bryson where we could see Brett working on his building and the snow accumulating at the Great Smoky Mountains Train Depot. Then I asked Brett:

Hey, will you stop by the train depot parking lot and do a snow angel for us?

And I captured it:

It made our morning.

You can view the resort cams live here:

Bryson City Resort Cam (at town square)

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Cam (at the depot below our house)

Hope everyone is staying warm today. A few views from our small town of Bryson City yesterday:

Morning snow:

bryson1

Early afternoon clearing up:

bryson3

Venturing out for lunch:

bryson2

 

And this morning…

Snuggling in with Max who just had surgery yesterday:

bryson4

Walking to the neighbor’s:

snowday

I’m just glad to be here!  I was flying back from Seattle on Sunday and my flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Bryson City.  I had just gotten off a long flight at 7pm:

flight

Because of the forecast I knew if I didn’t get home Sunday night I wouldn’t be able to get home for a few days…so I rented a car and drove the 3 hours to Asheville to pick up my truck. There wasn’t a single solitary soul at the Asheville airport at 1:30am when I dropped off the rental car.  A little eery.  I cranked up Ruby, checked her transmission fluid, and drove the remaining hour and half home to Bryson City.  As I drove I thought:

I have never been so content, after navigating the cities and airports and highways and rental cars, to get into my rumbling little 1982 truck and drive the rural winding mountain roads of NC at 3am.

And this is what was waiting for me on Monday morning…our first snow in Bryson City. Probably Max’s first snow ever…he’s not so sure about it:
snowangel

Denim Fabric Silhouette Portrait on Canvas

 

Recycled denim crafts - silhouette Michaels Makers

 

This month’s challenge for Michael’s Makers was to create something using denim, one of the new craft trends for 2015.  For my project I took a side profile photo of Boo and collected the following materials: a stretched linen canvas, a roll of denim, and red embroidery thread:

denim6

I carefully cut out Boo’s silhouette:

denim5

And traced it onto a piece of the denim:

crafts to do with old jeans

Before cutting out the image I used a paint brush to apply glue around the image to keep it from fraying:

what to do with old denim

Once it was dry I carefully cut out the silhouette and applied glue to the back:

repurposed jeans

I spread the glue to the edges using a paint brush and then pasted it down onto the center of the  pre-stretched linen canvas:

denim7

Next I used a needle and the embroidery thread to stitch Boo’s name and date:

denim11

A small detail but a nice personalized touch:

denim9

 

denim10

The finished silhouette:

denim1

Gift or home decor idea! [Read more…]

My Worth Isn’t In the “List”

list

Sad to say, as the New Year begins, my productive, “A” game self usually disappears by February 1st.

In January, however, I am nothing short of AMAZING:  my best self; completely owning each and every resolution.

Healthy eating…check.
Exercise…like a boss.
Making my bed like a real grown up…before the sun even rises.
Implementing kids’ chore chart…a well oiled machine.
Best wife ever…on so many levels.

I am in charge, the “A” game has been brought, and I for real see 2015 as my year.

IMG_1833

And then comes February.

And I’ve suddenly jumped ship.  Donuts and poptarts become acceptable meals, I have NOT made my bed once this week, kids’ chores..why bother as we are destined to just be buried in our mess, and I think I just lost my mind toward The Hubs because he asked me, “What’s for dinner?”

Not ok.  You guys, this is NOT OK.

I love productive, driven, organized Jodi.  She’s the best.  And as for this new girl who comes on the scene come February, she has no right to just show up and ruin productive Jodi’s spotlight.  The nerve.

So while I have been excessively dramatic with my self-loathing pity party this week, I was reminded today of that time I declared to make only one resolution ever again–And I wonder perhaps if I need to revisit that thinking in 2015.

Because we all are so uniquely different, wired and designed by God to be like no other, how are we to think that making lists of similar resolutions each New Year would play out with much “lasting” success?  What if there was a more effective approach to developing the habits we long to see established in our routines?  And what if that was via ONE resolution for each and every year?

Several years ago I was challenged by God to chuck my list; for my type A, in control, list-making self, this was a true challenge!  I felt impressed to learn and study the phrase “self-leadership” and to make that my one and only resolution.

Maybe our Creator is best honored when we simplify our aspirations and learn to lead ourselves the way He made us, AND this then becomes the filter by which we accomplish ALL things.  When we better understand how we think, how we behave, our strengths and our weaknesses, we can trust the ways HE leads and guides and inspires us.

Maybe instead of feeling defeated because we haven’t succeeded in the traditional lists of resolutions:  healthy eating, exercise, chore charts, and so forth, we decide to see ourselves as graciously as our God does and we celebrate how He made us to be.  Not beating ourselves up for what we haven’t done, but finding joy in discovering how to lead ourselves with Him.  This requires self-awareness, depth, and honesty, and is certainly a personal commitment to explore, but it is one area that is so very critical to our personal and spiritual journey.

IMG_1836

So do I still make my lists, have goals, and pursue new habits?  All the time.  Discipline can always push us toward developing lasting change.  But rather than keeping a list of resolutions, my forever goal and life’s resolution is to learn to lead myself as God designed me to–toward Him, for Him.  Self-leadership with my Creator is honoring how He created me.

Perhaps I will never be great at making my bed each day or serving organic greens for family dinners, but my worth isn’t in the “list.”  I will find joy in rediscovering myself as His daughter again and again and again.  So if your February imposter has started creeping in, I invite you to do the same.  Because just maybe this is when we are at our very best–with Him.

-Jodi

 

 

When Life Opens Up

My day today…writing with my new little buddy Max. It’s wet and cold outside.

writing

What am I writing? Who knows. I’m all over the place. But I write for myself. Writing makes me see things. And maybe one day someone will read it all.  Maybe some of it will end up in a digital landfill.  Maybe I’ll print it all out one day and save it for my daughter.  All the writing and letters my mother saved for me I think are priceless.

anniedillard

I’m branching out more this year. I’m stretching myself to new things and I like the discipline and deadlines they bring. I joined a virtual book club, I am starting Patti Digh’s Verb Tribe this week, and I am in a church small group where we dive deeper into each week’s sermon.  I’ve surrounded myself with people I admire and inspire…who also challenge me to think and write deeper.  And it’s all very interesting, for a reason hard to explain.

I love Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life…except for where she says “write as if you are dying.”  Well, I am dying…we are all dying if you stretch the timeline out long enough. I think I can quote Fight Club here and it’s appropriate: This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time. And that’s not supposed to be depressing, at least I don’t read it that way. I think it’s freedom.

There is a distant goal. It changes along the way. I reserve the right to change my mind about any and all writing projects I’m working on. In the past few years I’ve been asked to write creative books, DIY books but my heart wouldn’t have been in those.  And that in a nutshell is why I blog…to release those things freely as soon as those projects are finished so I can move on quickly to the next.  The creative projects? And the exploring and wandering? I like how Henry Miller described it:

“I turn to painting when I can no longer write. Painting refreshes and restores me. It enables me to forget that I am temporarily unable to write. So I paint while the reservoir replenishes itself.”

Some think I’m crazy for turning down opportunity but it wasn’t hard for me to say no:

Them: But you’ll be published! 
Me: And I won’t enjoy one second of doing it!

I think you have to weed and prune out all which doesn’t speak to your soul.

Holy crap I wish you could listen to what I heard in church yesterday.  I could see people reeling afterwards at the magnitude of it. A church member, Debi,  spoke about how we find ourselves with boundaries we didn’t set for ourselves: sickness, isolation, financial difficulties, but we know that God has only good intended for us:  When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at will change.  

Writing changes the way that I look at things. I make connections and I find strength and redemption in painful things. And I will not live a life of numbness. I did for too long with ro-bo-tic-dis-con-tent. But all of that was so I could get here.  One day life can just open up, it cracks open from the pressure.  Let. it. crack. There is meaning in all of it. And the sun is going to rise again tomorrow no matter who you are, or where you live.  Write about it.

And just so I can say I quoted Fight Club more than once (I haven’t seen the movie in years, but dang it was good, even though I do not condone violence or fighting.):

The things you own end up owning you.

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f–king khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.

You wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.

Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life.

Inspiration is everywhere, even in Fight Club. I think the Super Pretzel I’m eating right now is pretty darn inspiring, inspiration dipped in mustard.

If you can’t find any inspiration go hang out with a 4-year-old. Yesterday we gave our neighbors a ride to church. 4-year-old Natalie was waiting by the mailbox 10 minutes early for us. As we drove towards church she said cheerfully:

“Look at all the beautiful things outside today! The leaves are blowing, and the trees are growing.”

Her view was of an unkempt hillside on the maintenance side of the hospital. That. is. enthusiasm.

And then today I offered to watch her and her sister for a few hours while their mom went to a doctor’s appointment. And Natalie told me that she’d been to Florida once…and when I said really? She answered: YES. Florida is for REAL. 

You guys: Florida is for REAL!

And Emerson was right:
enthusiasm

Good grief, all I was going to share was the Annie Dillard quote and somehow I ended up on Fight Club.

Tick.

Tock.

 

A Single Drop of Rain

Sometimes I just stop by the river to hear the water, the white noise. Especially when it is raining.  Time stops and deepens. Good things are magnified. Disappointments disappear.  Everything just is.

Sometimes I pull out my phone to capture the place, just to remember: I met myself here today. I caught up. 

I didn’t realize until later that I’d caught a single raindrop right as it was hitting the water.

It takes a lot of slow to grow Eve Merriam said in her poem A Lazy Thought.

river

“When I am dying, reevaluating my life, I would like to remember only these moments, those in which no clocks are ticking, in which I am aware of my excruciating and increasing vulnerability, in which I am so grateful for my lot in life that I could fall prone to the ground, overwhelmed with gratitude, moment by moment by moment. My life has been saved in moments. In moments, my life has been made worthwhile.”
-Janisse Ray, Drifting into Darien

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