The Thing About Story Children

I think about my stories as my children. Sometimes I use the term to mean the entire story. And before the story is written, I think of the individual characters as my children, too. I will sit down at my desk to work, and my characters will start talking to me all at once. They aren’t from the same stories, either. On the days when I’m already having trouble concentrating, those insistent thoughts and ideas will block me. I know which story I was planning to work on, but there’s a niggling feeling I’m going to miss something important if I don’t listen. And I don’t want to neglect these ideas and personalities in my head. So, who do I listen to?

I have one story-child who is very troubled, and I haven’t figured her out yet. When I visit with her, she craves the attention, even while she refuses to tell me what she’s really looking for. Her world is super alluring to me, but it’s also a black hole of research and details that swallow me up for hours. I finally come up for air with less than a thousand words to show for it.  Another story-child is part of a plot that’s more like a ball of knotted yarn. The protagonist knows exactly what she wants, and I’ve tried to work out the kinks of the story arc so many times I’m cross-eyed. The more I concentrate on it, the more it tangles. I will step back and tell her that her story isn’t ready to be unwound yet, but it drives me absolutely mad. I so want to be done with the story, and there are times I’ve contemplated burning it. A third story-child just wants to be read. I’m in love with each of its characters, but the story ending just needs something. I don’t know what that something is, but I tend to ignore that story the most. It’s like I’m telling that child, “You’re the most put-together of all my story-children, so I’m going to neglect you because you don’t need me as much as the others do.” What? What kind of reasoning is that?

I think it’s ridiculous that I go around with a burden of guilt for not finishing my unfinished stories. Yet, that’s what I feel. It’s like I’ve promised these imaginary people something grand. I really believe my promise when I make it; but as the journey with my characters progresses, I lose confidence.

Years ago, I was part of a discussion where someone theorized that writers’ half-finished novels become a shadow of their own lives, and that finding the answers in your life journey frees up your subconscious to find the resolutions in your story. I wish I’d never been exposed to that theory. Before I heard that, I worked from the opposite premise—that when things were too much for me, I wrote about a scenario and a conflict I could resolve. It was both therapeutic and productive. It gave me a way to think calmly while I waited on reality to make sense to me again. That’s how I coped. Now, my stories take to haunting me. They tug on my shirt sleeve and look at me imploringly. What’s a writer to do?

Behind the Mask

I’ve been honest about my secret love of not having to go anywhere during quarantine. It gets worse. Truthfully, I love wearing a mask. Mind you, I’m not having to sport an N95 here, just a cloth mask. I find wearing a mask so comforting. First, my own breath warms me. So many buildings I walk into are cold. I have my own little cozy cave on my face. Also, I like that no one can see my expression. Friends say my face is easy to read. Family members tell me I get so wrapped up in my thoughts that I start scowling at people. It’s nice to keep my expressions to myself for once.

Even though I like wearing a mask, I’m tired of repeating every single word I say. I’m convinced there are way more people than I realized who rely on looking at my mouth when I’m speaking. I’m also convinced that when I go somewhere with my mask where people are not wearing masks, they feel judged. I had one lady inform me it was useless to wear a mask. Contrary to her opinion, I find it very useful. But I just nodded in hopes that she’d stop talking, and I might have stuck out my tongue. Yeah, I like wearing masks.

My Superpower Meets Realm on Steroids

I had a tough week last week. Realm’s hands broke out due to poison ivy or sumac or something. He had it terrible, and I had a terrible time for him, especially after he got a steroid shot. Realm on steroids can’t quit talking. When anything comes into his head, he’s got to get it out. We had some friends over… to the backyard, that is. I found myself thwacking him on the arm, demanding, “Let them talk!” He couldn’t pause; he couldn’t take a breath. He and I sat down together, and I began in this way: “Do you feel like your tongue is a little looser than usual?” He thought about this, and by “thought” I mean he spoke of two instances where his co-workers had to tell him to calm down that day. “It’s like I’ve kind of lost a little bit of my inhibitions and things just fall out of my mouth,” he observed. I nodded. That was all the response he gave me time for, but I could empathize with him. This has happened before. When he had minor surgery, the nurse who brought him out looked relieved when she handed him over to me. About five minutes and two billion words later, I understood why. It’s not just the talking, either; it’s the feeling he exudes. Something must be done, and it must be done right now. He’s antsy; he’s nervous. He’s sticking his nose into everything and asking why. And when I tell him why, I feel annoyed… and silly for being annoyed.

I lay in bed that night, wide-eyed and irritated that Realm was fast asleep. Steroid or no steroid, he was out, while my brain wouldn’t shut down. It started its old information mud pie ritual, amassing anything and everything to make mountains out of molehills. It was then I realized Realm’s wired behavior had sent me into a reactionary tailspin. Last week, I talked about my sense of dread at facing a virus-wary world that doesn’t really understand the protocol anymore than I do and tends to overreact. What I didn’t explain was that I suffer from Bipolar Mood Disorder. Last year, I finally got a fitting label for what I’d always thought was an angry/depressive personality. I don’t experience mania, but I do experience a hypomanic, irritable, “fast-forward” state. It makes for fun times when I can’t stop panicking and crying after I’ve agreed to take on too many responsibilities during a “productive” spell. Having a mood disorder makes it easy for me to become emotionally dysregulated. I get flustered over simple things I’m not sure how to handle–which happen all the time and, generally, will happen in a public setting. I can’t always tell if I’m reacting appropriately because I feel things so intensely at times. Plus, I’m unconsciously influenced by peoples’ moods–meaning, I tap into someone’s mood without realizing I’ve even been “listening” to them. This mood-appropriating superpower gives me intuitive insight into personalities, which is great when I’m trying to write a novel, but it’s awful when I’m standing in these social distancing lines with folks who are frustrated. Their moods hang over me like a storm cloud. They don’t like the change in their routine, the embarrassment of doing the wrong thing, the inconsistent policies enforced on them. Their anxious talk shifts to injustices happening around the nation and conspiracy theories. And, yes, there are some very serious injustices going on. There are people stuck mid-travel without places to stay. There are families without homes right now and without jobs. I find myself wracking my brain at times, trying to figure out how to right the world’s wrongs. It’s not realistic; I have no power over any of it. The end result? I wear myself down so I can’t focus on the things I ought to be able to tackle easily.

For weeks I’ve been allowed to be at peace handling responsibilities in my home sphere. As the go-go life returns, the conflict inside me returns. I don’t always feel I’m doing my best when I really am doing the best I can. But I’m learning to come to terms and accept that my best isn’t nearly what I think it should be or what others think it should be. That’s the price I pay for my superpower, I guess. I’ve made a long journey in just a few short months. I look forward to better days and greater insights to come. While the inner battle may sap my strength, I’m still wearing my cape… and hoping Realm doesn’t get another steroid shot.

Going Pains

Well, I’ve been out every day since my last post. My hopes of cutting back on errand-running and appointments have been dashed. This introvert isn’t happy, but I’m not stressing about it. On Friday, I had a sad time standing in line in the rain at the DMV. On Saturday, I had another lousy experience standing in another line twice, only to receive exactly what I didn’t want. On Sunday, we were still under the ten-people-or-less state order for worship, so we, as a family, sang in a couple of church members’ yards. (We asked them if we could come by beforehand.) No hugs, no touching, just singing from afar, and a little time to ask if they had what they needed and were doing okay. It was so good to see my church family, so I didn’t mind going out for that. It was, in fact, the highlight of my week.

I utilized the pickup option for my groceries Monday.  While I’m concerned about coming in contact with people, I’m beginning to wonder if sanitizing the groceries we bring in really matters. It takes forever to put food away now, and are the sprays and sanitizing wipes, used to wipe down the products, actually worse for our health? Regardless, I’m glad I didn’t have to go into the store for the stuff.

Tuesday, I drove across town to find an open oil change shop that I trust. Realm’s vehicle was overdue for one, and the regular shop hasn’t opened. I must have looked wary when I was handed a form to fill out because the mechanic assured me things were sanitized at 8AM, noon, and 4PM. I wasn’t reassured, but it was a drive-up service. I sanitized my hands as I rolled up to the service station and sanitized them again as I rolled away.

On Wednesday, I had an appointment at the doctor’s office. I was only there to get blood taken and a form filled out. That hand-sanitizer was at the ready many times, and my hands felt dry for most of the day after that. (Does hand sanitizer really work?)

Realm is blessed to be back to doing his job. He showers immediately when he gets home. Like Mr. Rogers, he has his “around the house” clothes. I keep a separate basket for washing his work clothes. I’d like to buy us all house slippers to slip on at the door, but that’s only because I watch Asian dramas and I’ve been wanting to do that for years. I don’t think it would have any effect on a virus spreading or not spreading because everybody kicks off their shoes when they come home anyway.

Realm is also part of the prep team to help worship and Bible classes start up again. He’s reading articles about viruses in the air, coming from noses, from mouths, from ventilation systems. He’s considering room dimensions; he’s reading up on aerosolized respiratory droplets. We’ve discussed some of the “what-ifs” one might calculate to come to some assuring-but-purely-theoretical safety proceedings.

It is my hope that I’ll be going out tomorrow. By “going out” I mean, going to my backyard to get some fresh air. It’s weird; every time I leave the house and return, I want to hole up in my room. It’s like I’m making up for the outing by trying to be a hermit for the rest of the day. A friend is vacationing in Panama City Beach and that sounds lovely and horrifying at the same time. So, basically, I have COVID-19 paranoia. And, yes, we all know that’s a thing, but I think I’m going overboard.




Strings Attached

A mom on Facebook posted about calling her adult daughter and asking how things were going during the Coronavirus shutdown. Her daughter rattled off a number of activities happening and mentioned having bloodwork. The rest of the conversation was lost on the mom. The first thing she asked was what the bloodwork was for.

Moms are like that. We’re concerned about how our babies are doing outside of our home nests.

Even though my twin daughters are home with me, I wonder about how this surreal time is affecting them. We have spent some evenings staying up a little later to talk through anxieties and fears. I see the end of Alabama’s Safe-At-Home order as a promising heads-up that the end of quarantining is approaching. I don’t know if I can go back. I’m truly nervous about how I’m going to respond to having to go places. Not only will it be necessary to get to places on time again, I fear there will be protocols… protocols I will overlook inadvertently. I’m going to be feeling pretty silly and awkward, trying to work out the new hygienic social etiquette rules.

end of quarantine meme

In preparation, I enlisted Pearl, my youngest (but only by one minute) and craftiest, to help me sew our first face masks. Sewing is not one of my great skills, but I’ve always imagined I would become a great seamstress. As Lady Catherine DeBourgh puts it, “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne…” I have tried a number of times to get my daughter interested in sewing. I asked her on this occasion if she was willing to sit at the machine. Pearl decided she’d do best to stick with the cutting out and ironing.

“Sewing is not my thing,” she said. “There are too many strings attached.”

I grinned and laughed. She’s a witty one, I thought, and, inside, my heart turned over. As her mom, I want to prepare her for anything and everything she may meet when she gets out on her own. A few sewing skills might come in handy, but one can’t be sure of what the next generation is going to need to prepare for the future. I remember the novelty of email, how much phone money I saved at college by writing electronic messages instead of calling. Here we are, during this threat of a pandemic, communicating almost entirely online. Strangely, it isn’t that big of an adjustment. But what’s next? What does Pearl need to know?

Pressing the sewing foot down on the material, I lowered the needle. One thing I’m sure about: whether she sews or not, Pearl will always have to deal with having strings attached. Our heartstrings are attached, and this mom is grateful for every minute I get to talk, laugh, work, and enjoy this short time with her.


(26) Returning Home, Part 4: The Second Return (final post)

The Chinese proverb, “Talk doesn’t cook rice,” refers to what happens when one makes plans to do something but doesn’t follow through. Ezra was active in motivating the people to separate themselves from lawless marriages, but what about the men who were wrapped up in these marriages? The nation needed a system to sort through all these unlawful unions.

 Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah were employed about this matter: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them. – Ezra 10:15KJV

Bible versions that record the participation of Jonathan and Jahaziah vary regarding their part in Ezra’s request for taskworkers. Currently, I believe their names were recorded by Ezra to indicate their role as civil servants overseeing this work. If you come to a different conclusion after studying this, please share your thoughts.

And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain heads of fathers’ houses, after their fathers’ houses, and all of them by their names, were set apart; and they sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. And they made an end with all the men that had married foreign women by the first day of the first month. – Ezra 10:16-17

It took three months to sit down with the individual fathers’ houses and sort out the ties that were breaking the civil laws of Israel. In the last verses of chapter ten, Ezra records the tribes and names of the men who separated from their unbelieving wives. This list is extensive, and it is more about cleansing the genealogical lines of the Hebrew race than it is about shaming these men. Ezra could have called them out before they’d agreed to this separation, but he records them in God’s book as they are reconciled with God. This documentation was necessary to prove the pure-blood lineage of the descendants of these men in the years ahead.

When speaking of keeping the genealogical line untainted by non-Hebrew blood, it is good to address the confusion about Jesus’ lineage. Namely, how could Rahab and Ruth be part of Jesus’ lineage when the men of Ezra’s time had to divorce their non-Hebrew wives? Both Rahab and Ruth were not of Hebrew descent, but both made personal declarations of their faith in Jehovah (Rahab’s declaration and Ruth’s declaration). Their genealogies also prove they taught their children to follow Him. Their marriages were not political alliances because they separated themselves from their people and their religious beliefs to obey God. Further, the commandment to the Israelites not to marry “strange” women in Deuteronomy 7 includes context that implies that these non-Hebrews married with the intent to continue in their opposing religious ways and beliefs. So, the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7 are viewed as turning away from God’s guidance to seek out an alliance with godless nations. This didn’t happen with Rahab or Ruth; they were proselytes. Lastly, when Ezra writes Nehemiah’s account, making alliances with other nations through intermarriage rears its ugly head again, and its result is clearly a godless future.

In those days also saw I the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people. – Nehemiah 13:23-24

The Law of Moses was written in the Jew’s language of Hebrew, and the children coming from these marriage alliance had not been exposed to the language. Being unfamiliar with the Hebrew language meant these children had no hope of following God or His covenant.

And among the sons of the priests there were found that had married foreign women: namely, of the sons of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and his brethren, Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah. And they gave their hand that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their guilt. – Ezra 10:18-19

Ezra first lists the men of the priestly line. These priestly sons, in repentance and obedience to the law, complete their reconciliation with God in a way specific to the priesthood: they sacrifice a ram to atone for their guilt. Had this situation continued, the service of the priesthood by these men would have been rendered useless to God. Their worship would have been empty for the whole nation.

The rest of the men who returned to God are recorded in Ezra 10:20-43.

Readers of the last chapter of Ezra sometimes come away with the wrong impression of God’s command to separate from these unlawful marriages. Some try to apply this practice to current-day situations, superimposing this command on Christian relationships. It’s clear that the practical intention of this command was to retain the bloodline of Abraham. Christians don’t retain physical bloodlines for any religious purpose and are at liberty to marry from any nation. Furthermore, the guidelines of marriage given by God are revisited in the New Testament. I Corinthians 7 speaks of marriage to an unbeliever as a sanctified union. God recognizes this marriage; it is valid and it is sacred in His eyes. It’s true there are many dangers and little support in a marriage where one is trying to live for God and the other isn’t. A marriage like this has risks and battles beyond that of a relationship where both spouses are devoted to keeping personal relationships with God. The Israelite man of Ezra’s time, on the other hand, could not keep his relationship with God at all and still remain in that law-breaking marriage.

Concluding his account of his return to Jerusalem and that of the first expedition, Ezra writes one last telling statement.

All these had taken foreign wives; and some of them had wives by whom they had children. – Ezra 10:44

Ezra ends his account by speaking to broken families and the suffering of children with no choice in the situation. I hurt every time I read this statement. These are people who had to live with consequences that brought a great shadow over their lives. I hear the solemnity of both the scribe who wrote it and the God who created him. God knows what His child suffers in order to return to Him. And He doesn’t nag the sorrow-worn with statements like, “Well, you made that bad decision. What did you expect?” He is not callous to pain; He stands beside you, grieving with you. He is the father in Luke 15. Your return means so much to Him.

Returning home is about recommitting to healthy relationship. The book of Ezra outlines this relationship process, beginning with commitment to the one you love. It continues by reigniting that love when outside forces try to tear down the relationship. It undertakes the third step, a renewal of one’s heart to build and grow. Lastly, it invites a second journey, challenging us to face and deal with the hidden motives and intentions that work to infect the relationship. All of us mess up in our relationships–that includes the covenant relationship we begin with God. Sometimes we aren’t given the chance to start over, but Ezra illustrates that everyone is given the chance to return home to Jehovah.

Movie Quote Game Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday’s movie quotes.

Movie #1: Eliza Dolittle, My Fair Lady

Movie #2: Princess Ann & Joe Bradley, Roman Holiday

Movie #3: Sara Crewe & Becky, A Little Princess (1995)

Movie #4: Peter Parker, Spider-Man (2002)

Movie #5: Hubert Hawkins & Revenhurst, The Court Jester

Movie #6: Lina Lamont, Singing in the Rain

Movie #7: Felix Ungar & Oscar Madison, The Odd Couple

Movie #8: Molly Brown, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Movie #9: Jacob & Uncle Louie, Lost in Yonkers

Movie #10: HAL, 2001 A Space Odyssey

Bonus Movie: Elwood P. Dowd, Harvey