03 July 2004


3 July 2004

Many years ago I subscribed to a writer’s magazine.  I enjoyed receiving it for a time–  reading about what made writing work and learning various people’s tips for making it in the world of writing.  However, eventually, I found myself increasingly cranky as I finished reading the new issue.  Instead of coming away with new ideas for things to try in my own writing or new author’s whose work I should be on the lookout for, I felt depressed and discouraged.

After spending some time reflecting on what I had been reading, I noticed a pattern, more and more of the articles published were about ‘real’ writing and how you could become a ‘real’ writer.  Which seemed to imply being a published and paid writer.  The implication was that writing for fun or as a hobby was somehow demeaning or unproductive.

I freely confess that one of my fantasies is to be a published (and paid) author.  I would love to see my name on the spine of a book cover.  However, something a friend said many years ago stuck with me: Do you write because must write, or because you want to have written.  Thinking about what he said made me realize that part of me wants to ‘have written’-  to be famous or see my name in print.  I also realized that, while I love to write,  I’m not willing to put in the work necessary to become a professional writer.  From what I have seen from the outside, unless you are very lucky, it takes a lot of hard work and business sense to become a professional writer.

I’m content to be an amateur.  I enjoy writing essays for this site and I enjoy writing fiction for Tales of the Tai-Pan Universe.  I also enjoy bringing my latest story to the writer’s group I belong to, getting feedback, and trying to improve the piece and push it as far along as I can given my current level of skill.  After doing this for 15 years, my writing has definitely improved, and I would say that I can do solid journeyman’s work.

However it is unlikely that I will give up other interests to make more time for writing.   Hopefully I will continue to improve over the years– not just in the mechanics of writing, but in the quality of my ideas and my ability to execute them but I realized that there is a limit to how much time I’m willing to invest in the process.

Am I not a real writer, because I choose not to make it my full time job?  If that is true than I must not be a real mother because I am not with my son twenty-four hours a day seven days a week (and don’t even get me started on the dual standard for validation of the work done by stay-at-home moms).   When other people try to tell me that I can’t be having fun doing what I am doing, that what I am doing is not ‘real,’ what they are really saying is that I am not real.  That what I find interesting, entertaining, and even fun should not count on my life’s tally-sheet.

Now I don’t mind if folks don’t enjoy what I enjoy.  There are many things that I see people doing and I can’t imagine how they could possibly be having any fun.  However, my fear of roller coasters should not detract from someone else’s enjoyment of them, unless they force me to go on one ‘for my own good,’ in which case, they deserve what they will get (which is a panicked me screaming in real fear for the entire ride, needing a year’s worth of therapy to get over the nightmares induced by the experience, a lecture on how they are never ever to do that again, and me never ever trusting them again).

The world needs it amateurs, very few of us will ever do anything that will make us or our work famous, or even well known.  I believe that if I limit myself to doing things the ‘real’ way I will only be binding myself to the expectations of other people, and for the most part, other people who could care less about me as a person.

So I will keep writing my stories and essays and journals.  I will occasionally get out my paints and brushes and dabble in art.  I will noodle on my recorder.  I will work on those things that I find personally rewarding and it will be real to me, and that is sufficient.  And to anyone who tries to tell me differently, remember that my path is not yours.  My decisions are not yours to make.  My life is real and, more importantly, it is mine to live.

30 May 2004


30 May 2004

Most days I don’t allow myself to believe in an afterlife.  I think that Jesus did the world disservice by coming back from the dead, though I realize that it is necessary to show that he is indeed part of God and so completing the cycle of birth and death that shows us that God lived and died with us.

As a Christian it can be difficult to remove myself from the afterlife.  It permeates scripture, the prayer book and our hymns.  I think that is one of the many reasons that I do not make it to church on a regular basis, even though I think about God and my relationship to the divine almost every day.

These past few months I have been making some effort to attend church more regularly.  I do consider myself to be a Christian and feel that part of that is going to church.  I believe that my son should learn the ins-and-outs of church, which book to use when and the tunes to most of the hymns so he will have a framework to structure his own search for the divine.

I don’t believe that there is only one path to the divine.  Saying there is only one path puts god in a box and is dismissive of the journeys of other people.  If there is only one path, then those who are on the path are tempted to look down on those not on the path.  If there are many paths and many ways to see the divine then we each retain our humanity and find that we are all searching together.  

Any religion that claims to be the one true path is one that has been corrupted by the human need for power and control.  Looking at the world we live in, I believe that the only thing I can control is my own behavior: how I choose to act toward the people around me, how I choose to spend the resources given to me, where and with who I choose to spend my time.

I cannot control the weather.  I cannot control my own health (except in very limited ways).  I cannot control the health and well being of my friends and family.  I cannot even control my own moods (though I can do things to influence them).  This is all very difficult for me.  I have an urge to control things, to put things into order and the church exacerbates that tendency.  With the structure of the service, with the prayers, and with the sermon it tries to give some structure to a chaotic and unpredictable world.

Church life creates the illusion of control in the structure of the service and regularity of the rituals.  It sometimes forgets that the rituals that comfort us are also those which constrain us.  For me, putting the divine in a box, hemming God in, creates a tension that must be released.  I need time away from church before God explodes out of the box.

The one place that I do not feel this tension in the church is in the singing.  The poetry of the hymns ranges from ethereal to prosaic, and is, for me a living testament to the different ways people understand god.  Each hymn is different and they are contradictory in their presentations of God and God’s will but they tap into something that reaches beyond my day-to-day self.  When I sing the hymns I feel a close connection to all those who have sung them before me.  There is a feeling of both timelessness and individuality that comes to me when we sing.  It is the one time during the service that I feel connected to the community of believers and it is wonderful that all sing and sing loudly together.

So for all the issues that I have with the church, all the contradictions, all the limitations, sometimes I just need to join in and belt out “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” and feel a truth flow though me that cannot come if I am silent.

14 May 2004

Grace Notes

14 May 2004

I have a very clear memory of whiling away at least one science class thinking about what I would name my children when I had them.  

Keep in mind that there was no prospective mate in the picture when I was dreaming up baby-names.  There was also no interest on my part in having children until I had completed college.  Apparently coming up with names for potential children was more interesting than what ever the teacher had on his agenda that day (the feminist in me requires me to note that the use of the male pronoun is intentional as there were no female science teachers at my high school).

I have always had a very strong connection to my family.  Even when I was a teenager and was having difficulties with family of the specific kind, family in general, family history, and family stories were things that I have found compelling.  It was natural that I would think about continuing my family, at least in the abstract.

For nearly fourteen years, those names were dormant in my memory, popping up every now an then as I remembered bits and pieces about high school or as I thought about what the future would bring.  I went to college, met my future husband, got my degree, got married, moved, got work, lost work, moved again, found more work, saved, bought a house and finally had a child.  He didn't end up with any of the names I had picked out when I was day-dreaming in class.   

My life took the path I expected when I was sixteen but I find, looking back on those dreams, that I was sorely lacking in imagination.  I dreamt that I would attend college with my best friends.  Instead I choose to go to a small strange school a thousand miles from my hometown.  I dreamed that I would get married before having children.  I never could have imagined what a smart, creative, loving, kind, generous, and above all persistent person I would ultimately fall in love with and marry.  I dreamed that I would live in a house with a yard.   I was surprised to find that the house for me would include a wonderful housemate as well as husband and that the house itself, along with being funky, would be one long, on-going project.

All this was brought home for me last Saturday as I watched my five-year-old son perform in a mass violin concert put on by his music school.  He stood up with fifty or more people, ranging in age from four to full grown adult, in the dressy outfit that he had picked out himself.  He paid attention to the teachers and played when he was supposed to.  As one of four people who got to hold him just after he was born, I was deeply moved to see him so grown up. It was equally amazing to see him return to his more casual self and insist on staying after the concert to give all of the teachers a triumphal high-five.

My life is just what I have imagined, but it is also so much more.  My dreams were pedestrian and mundane compared to the wondrous life I have stumbled into.

This is not to say that I do not have difficult times, but rather that, for that one moment Saturday last week, I was given grace to see clearly the amazing people that share my life.

My moment of glory did not center around a thing, or accomplishment, or anything that I could control.  The light fantastic that brushed by me reminded me that my gold, my treasure lives in the souls of my family of blood, family of choice, and in my friends.  That shining moment also reminded me that such treasure is ephemeral and should be cherished even more highly because it cannot be earned. It is a gift bestowed by those who choose to let me into their lives.  It is a gift of grace, and love.

07 May 2004


7 May 2004

Earlier this week I had someone ask me if I was a grammarian.  I immediately said ‘no’ and I was taken aback at the vehemence of my own denial.   It seemed odd for someone whose favorite occupations are reading and writing

In school I was exposed to grammar in several different ways.  The most obvious was the classic grammar unit in English class, complete with diagramming sentences, verb tenses, and all the other components that sent me fleeing for the hills for fear of losing my mind.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was actually learning grammar though reading and writing.

Reading has always been a joy for me.  I enjoy sinking into a book and losing track of my surroundings.  I can not remember a time when I could not read, and more than that, I can not remember a time when concentrating on reading was at all difficult for me.  I could read anywhere there was enough light.  My surroundings could be noisy or quiet.  I could be travelling or curled up on the couch.  My parents, and now my husband, would have to repeat my name several times to pull me out of what ever I was reading at the time.

Writing has never been easy for me, but I enjoy doing it none-the-less.  I like words and I find it stimulating to try to convey an idea to someone else via the written word.  My writing has always been marred by grammar and spelling idiosyncrasies, though with the advent of spell checkers, a husband who is a natural copy editor, and twenty-plus years of trial and error it has seen some improvement.

Throughout my years of struggle with the written word, I have never considered myself a grammarian, but the more I have read over the years, the more I have come to respect the need for structure in language– a certain rigidity that forces authors to mold their thoughts in patterns that readers can understand.  When I first started to write, I felt that others should make the effort to understand me.  Then I learned the lesson we all learn, which is that the world does not revolve around me and, if I want people to understand my thoughts, the effort would have to be mine.
I learned various bits and pieces of grammar with each paper that came back covered in red or purple ink.  Each teacher that took time to mark awkward sentences, explain the importance of the serial comma, or try to get me to understand the uses of the every mysterious semi-colon helped me build a style manual in my head.  My style manual still contains some of my own idiosyncrasies but each year I learn more.

This was recently brought home to me in my Norwegian language class.  I have gotten to the point where I know enough words that I can make baby sentences, and I have enough dictionaries that I can get myself in real trouble when I try to write something on my own.  In order to go further, I have to start paying attention to grammar and the rules and exceptions that make words and phrases ‘sound right.’  Unfortunately for me, regardless of the language, I seem to have a hard time understanding the rules that people have distilled from the way language is used.   Past tense, participles, prepositions, all dance around in my head and refuse to be pinned down into rules I can use until I can set up a feedback loop.  Once I am shown something, try to do it myself, and am then corrected (many times) I can then create a rule I can remember. 

For me the rules and structure of language come long after I know what it should sound like.  I don’t know that I will ever be a grammarian, but that will not stop me from loving words and the structure they need to thrive.

23 April 2004

Spiral Learning

23 April 2004

There is a model of learning that says that, in general, people progress from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to unconscious competence, to conscious competence.

Basically, a person starts out not knowing how much they don't know, progresses to the 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing' stage, then begins to understand how much they have yet to learn, and finally, if they stick with it, they master a particular subject or skill.

This learning model has always seemed spiral in nature.  Many subjects or skills have levels of mastery that can be attained that leave the student with something that they can teach the next person coming up behind them while at the same time allowing the student to continue to learn, if they so choose.

Something this model leaves out are the feelings attached to each learning stage.  During unconscious incompetence is when I feel the most optimistic.  It is also the point at which I am most like to underestimate how long a particular project will take me.  

Conscious Incompetence is always accompanied by a sinking feeling in my gut.  This is the time when I am most likely to be derailed by illness or distracted by enthusiasm for a new project or skill set.  This is also the phase during which I am most vulnerable to mixing up the difficulty I am having learning my new subject with my own self-worth.  I, like many, tend to see my own worth in what I have accomplished, and when I am learning a new skill and taking two steps back for every one forward, it is hard not to take that struggle personally.  

Unconscious Competence is a slippery time emotionally.  Frequently, my evaluation of my own skills lags behind my actual ability. Really, I think that is the entire point of this phase of learning.  I spend so many years being conscious of my own incompetence that the time that I become fluent in what-ever-it-is, I'm in the middle of learning something else new and am dealing with a whole new round of sinking feelings.

Conscious Competence is not something I have a lot of experience with.  Perhaps I take it for granted.  I have always thought of it in terms of mastering an academic subject or a difficult skill.  I tend to assume that any skill that I can learn is one that others can master and take further.  In the past, I have seen this as an exclusive, rather than inclusive category, something obtained by professionals who have stuck it out in their field for many years.  

Upon reflection, I have come to realize is that Conscious Competence is fleeting.  It is a hilltop moment followed by another round of Unconscious Incompetence and all the steps that lead around the spiral to the next break in the clouds.  It may be, that as I spiral up the mountain, the cloud-breaks will come more frequently and last longer.  However, the trade-off is that the air is thinner and it gets more and more difficult to make it round the next bend.  At some point I have to decide when it is time to scale a different mountain and enjoy the moments of clarity that come with breathing easily. 

It is also important to realize that each skill, each mountain, does not require the same effort from each person.  Just because as skill is easy someone else, does not mean that I can follow where they lead without making sacrifices or stumbling on the path that they seem to walk with ease.

What I must remember is that the reverse is also true.  Subjects and skills that come easily to me may come to others only with long practice or much stumbling around in the dark.  Each person has to decide how much of that they are willing to put up with. 

Desire is what motivates the next step along the path.  How much do I want to be able to do what-ever-it-is that I am learning?  How much do I need a particular skill for what I want to do next in my life?  Answering these questions is much more important than asking how difficult the journey will be.  For me and the way that I learn, 'Why' is ever so much more important than 'How.'

17 April 2004

Choice, Regrets

17 April 2004

When I was in High School I faced a choice of how to spend a part of my summer vacation.  Option 1 was to travel to Oregon, as I had every summer since I could remember, and spend time with my relatives.  Option 2 was to attend a writers camp in the wilds of northwestern Wyoming.

Both events appealed to me, but in different ways.   I enjoyed the summers spent visiting my cousins and, that particular year, my Grandmother was turning 80 and the whole family was in on the party. On the other hand, I enjoyed writing and the idea of spending an entire week with people who not only understood my compulsion to write, but shared it seemed an opportunity too good to pass up.  The fact that several of my long-distance-friends were planning to attend the camp only made the choice more difficult.

There was no way I could attend both events. No manipulation of time or space that would allow me the luxury of not having to choose between being with my family on a very special day and being with my friends doing something I felt passionate about.

This was also the first time I had had to make such a choice (that I can remember).  My parents discussed the pros and cons of each choice while leaving the actual decision up to me.  Not only did they not interfere, they committed to helping me attend either event, since, as a teenager, both funds and methods of transport were limited. The only factor in the decision was which event was the one I could least bear to miss.

Life as a responsible adult is full of choices that, once made, cannot be unmade.  In the greater scheme of things this first choice was a like a driving lesson for steering though life.   I can still feel the echo of the emotions of that time and the confusing pain of realizing that regardless of my choice I would have regrets.  

I choose to go to the writers camp, and now, twenty years later, I don't remember a lot of the specifics of that week.  I do remember it being a roller-coaster emotionally, but that equally was true of my day-to-day life.  What I do remember is how beautiful the camp setting was and how much time we spent writing.  

I wonder if I would have more vivid memories of that time if I had gone with my family instead or if  memories from twenty years ago would fade, regardless of the event they were attached to.  Would my life have been richer?  I don't know.  I was fortunate to have another six years to spend with my grandmother, including celebrating my wedding with  her on her birthday five years later.  

What I have learned is that I cannot do everything-- each choice, large or small, carries with it seeds of regret for opportunities missed.  However, it is important not to let regret crowd out the joy of living.

10 April 2004


10 April 2004

I write as a hobby.  Most of the short fiction that I write is set in a shared universe (Tales of the Tai-Pan Universe).  Since I don’t write professionally my muse comes and goes as she pleases.  I can set stories aside for months or even years if I don’t feel inspired to work on them.  

I have many other interests and sometimes writing just takes a back seat to what ever my current passion is, but I always come back to writing.  It is what I do when I am stressed, how I cope when the world seems out of kilter, and it can be a lot of fun when the plot and characters are cooperating.  When the muse is with me, my fingers fly over the keyboard, scenes flow together like water running downhill, and characters talk to me, narrating their story as I try to keep up with their conversations and arguments.

When the characters are silent writing can be a hard slog thought deep mud.  When I am trying to write my way though a museless story, every line is work and every paragraph feels like it has been dragged from me, rather than flowing willingly onto the page.  The characters stubbornly refuse to answer my questions and I find myself getting up and walking away from the computer or checking my email every five minutes to see if something new has come in.  My mind rebels against the hard work of carding the wool of the imagination, much preferring to work with finished thread.

However, just as I always come back to writing as the primary outlet for my imagination, sometimes I find that the hard work of writing calls to me more than the easy stories my muse provides.  Writing to the dictates of a muse is easy and fun, but like cotton candy, it is quickly gone and leaves one feeling hungry and hyper.  

For me, putting emotion and feeling into a story is difficult.  To a certain extent, I have to feel what my characters are feeling in order to write with any depth.  My muse is fickle and does not like difficult situations and she frequently deserts me just as I get to the emotional climax of a story.  Sometimes I go though three or four drafts before I have the courage to write the tough scenes and, even though I know that about myself and my muse, I haven’t quite gotten to the stage where I can sit down and let my emotions bleed into the page on the first draft.

My muse requires coaxing, she reveals more and more about the story with each draft, and is willing to go deeper only after playing about in the shallows for a time.  Sometimes I have to leave her on the shore and dive on my own into the deep water.  Someday I hope to be able to write more consistently and be less reliant on my muse.  Until then, I will keep slogging away seeing the clear path of a plot disappear into the murky swamp of words. 

02 April 2004

The Jesus Archetype

2 April 2004

I fell asleep one night meditating on two of my favorite characters in fiction:  Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP from the television show Due South and Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, Night Watch from Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series.

Both characters have a lot in common.  They are boys from the country who move to the big city.  They know their way around their respective cities as if they have never lived anywhere else,  yet retain their otherness and naïveté.

More importantly, they give their full attention to each person that they meet, regardless of that person’s status.  They remember each person as an individual and their authors write them in such a way that you believe that both characters will know that person if they meet again, regardless of how fleeting the first meeting was.

Finally, they frequently get the reaction 'is he for real?' from other characters in their respective universes.

I think one of the reasons I like these characters so much is because they are simultaneously a person you would want to have be on your side, while at the same time, they really would not be comfortable to be around on a day-to-day basis.  By their very actions, they make a person feel like they should be nicer, better, and more generous.  Which is much harder than it looks from the outside.

I have long known that I have a weakness for men who are strong and compassionate, naive yet aware of the people around them, and able to fight with the best of the action heros yet preferring to find peaceful solutions or talk their way out of a difficulty.  What I didn’t realize until just recently is that many of those characteristics are also attributable to Jesus.  I’ve been reading the bible as part of an ongoing project and was surprised to find such strong parallels with some of my favorite fictional characters.

So now I have a category for these two characters, men who, even though they are imaginary, inspire me to try to be a better person.  They embody the Jesus Archetype for me.  And by doing so, they allow me to examine my relationship to my faith, friends, and family in a friendly and welcoming way.  For one thing about the scriptures, they rarely make me laugh, while both Terry Pratchett and the creators of Due South make me laugh and think and learn.

26 March 2004


26 March 2004

I spent the evening with my husband, sorting though the stuff that we have accumulated over our 12 ½ year marriage.  I find sorting, organizing, and evicting things puts me in a meditative state.

As I look over each item, I remember how we came by it, and sometimes even, the plan we had for it.  I know some people who can’t bear to part with the smallest thing and others who manage to keep their possessions to such a minimum that they can fit in tiny one bedroom apartments.  I fall somewhere in between. 

We have a large house and it is full of the possessions that three adults and a child accumulate over 36 and 5 years respectively.  However, very little of it goes unused.  Our problem, if you could call it that, is that we have so many interests.  So we accumulate, and as we accumulate I go though boxes and send objects off to the landfill, or thrift store, or friends and family.

As I sort though boxes and consult with my family about what to keep and what to send forth into the world, I think about the past, where these objects were acquired and I think about the present, which we will go into without these objects, reminders, keepsakes, and projects.  I feel lighter when a box of some-things goes off to the thrift store, or a load of books find their way to new homes.

It also serves as a reminder that I should focus on living in the present.  I have memories of the past and expectations of the future but this moment is the time that I am alive and able to act on my hopes and dreams. 

Tomorrow the pile of odds and ends will go to the donation truck or the dump– it will lose its association with me and my life and live only in my memory.  It will make room for different projects and allow new skills and ideas to enter my life.  For, as there is only so much room in my house, there is only so much time in my life and I must decide now, at this present moment, how I will live, and not bind myself too tightly to either past or future.

19 March 2004


March 19, 2004

I recently had the opportunity to hear my mother preach a sermon.  She had travelled to the East Coast to do some work for the Episcopal Church and was invited to be a guest preacher by a congregation there.  Luckily for me someone recorded the sermon and posted on their website.

I  enjoyed hearing the recording of her sermon. She is a  really good speaker (daughterly bias not-with-standing). I sent the link to several other people, some that I know very well and one that I only know through the internet.  Mom talked about the Jesus transforming people’s understanding of who is blessed.

Then, as now, it was easy to think that people who ‘have it all’ are blessed while those who are poor in health, wealth, or connections are somehow being punished for something.  It is a trap that is easy to slip into, given how little control we really have over the world and what it does to us.  One part of Jesus’ message was that all are blessed, that God’s love extends to everyone in creation regardless of outside factors that may dominate our lives for good or ill.  

In light of various debates raging around the Christian faith about same-sex marriage, reaction to the “Passion of Christ,” and the ever-present struggle between organized religion and the faith of individuals, it was very powerful and refreshing to be reminded of the central message of the love of God.

God knew that life was hard and still sent Jesus to come and share the journey with us.  From birth to death an aspect of the divine has come down to remind us how important we are, how much a part of the divine we can be when we make the effort, and yet, no matter how close we come, or how far we may stray, ultimately, we will all join Jesus in death.

What happens after that is up to God.  All we can do is live the life we are given to the best of our ability.  It can be hard to live with an awareness of death but it can also be invigorating, like diving into a lake when you know the water will be cold.  Jesus jumps in first to show us that it’s not as bad as we might fear.  We will all join him in our own time but until then, his presence can make the deep water less frightening.

When we can release the twin burdens of the illusion of immortality and the fear of death we are freed to live our life near the lake and enjoy the hot sunshine and cool water, to give time to our friends, family, and family-of-choice, knowing that each moment with them is a gift of this life, existing only in the moment and in our memories.

Like a gift, each, conversation, telephone call, email, or letter is a surprise waiting to be unwrapped.   Hearing my mother’s voice, listening to her tell stories about Jesus and his tendency to move in close and draw listeners closer was a gift.  I found myself leaning into the speakers of my computer. Hanging on each word because she is my mother, because she is priest with something to say, because she is a person with a lifetime of living to draw upon, she draws me deeper into her story.

Between birth and death we are given a life to explore– talk to people who share the path with you.  Listen to their stories.  Share your own.  The dark pool will claim us all eventually but until that time we can play in the sun, picnic on the grass, and be there for each other.