D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: writing

2016 in writing

It's been a hard year for so many of us. It wasn't the worst year of my life but it was pretty darn close. I am still struggling to come to terms with it all, honestly. Being on social media less helps, a lot (I will most likely go dark for the majority of January, for mental health reasons). But looking back and reflection helps me too.

It felt like I didn't get to write or read very much this past year. I had two kids to look after, one which needed my attention an awful lot. I helped at homework clubs and english classes and started a welcome center at an elementary school. I published my first book (which was so much more work than I could have ever realized). We moved into a house around the corner. We started going to church more. I tried very hard to hang around and get to know my neighbors, which takes a lot of time.

But I just went back and looked at the past year. And you know what? I did manage to write every now and again. In fact, I wrote over 30 articles for various publications. This doesn't include my monthly newsletters and the countless blog posts  I wrote (including one every day in the month of November). Also, I was on 7 podcasts and was interviewed 6 times, and spoke at 4 different events/conferences. How is this possible? It truly feels like I spent all of 2016 picking bits of crusty food off of the floor and staring despondently at the news on my phone. 

But it all happened. And moving forward, I will keep writing. Because it will be the artists who teach us how to resist evil and injustice. We need to keep reading and writing and singing and sculpting and crafting and creating music. We need to keep producing for the sake of our hearts and minds and souls. We need to immerse ourselves in the works of people on the margins, because they will be the ones to lead us. 2016 you got me down. But I am going into 2017 with a goal: I am looking for truth and hope from the artists. 

And with that, I will leave you with a few of my favorite articles I published in the past year:

 

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Sadly, I feel like I could write this all over again today. After spending a few days in Montgomery this is fresh on my mind. When will we ever truly repent and lament our history of white supremacy and violence against people of color?

 

Shane Claiborne-again

This piece was heavily edited but I hope the spirit and heart behind it shines through. I have been so influenced by the life and work of Shane and so many others, and I wanted this to a be a sort-of love letter to people who want to do this kind of work moving forward.

 

Raising Ramona in a 21st Century Portland

I got to write about my daughter, Ramona Quimby, and sneak in a bit about gentrification. Perfection!

 

Staring into the Sun

I think this piece is a good summary of my life and work within refugee communities, and the challenge of maintaining hope in traumatized communities. 

 

Gentrification in Portland

This was probably the biggest piece I wrote in the past year and I am still so grateful for the opportunity and the experience. I pray the church wakes up to the moral crisis happening in Portland.

 

Chimayo

This essay means a lot to me because I got to weave in a few very personal reflections on death and motherhood and inequality and injustice, as well as do a bit of travel writing (which I love). 

 

 

 

So there you are. Read, enjoy, and then go and work on your own stuff! We have so much work to do in 2017.

 

 

 

update city

 

 

how we be rollin' these days

how we be rollin' these days

 

 

heyo. A few things have happened in my real life that has made it hard to update you all about my writing life. But for now I am sitting in a house (housesitting) while my baby naps and my 4 year old watches Spongebob, so I may as well do it now. 

 

1. Firstly, for the month of July I had the incredible honor of being Image Journal's Artist of the month. Seriously, the nice things they said about me almost made me cry. They also re-designed their website and it is AMAZING. Plus, they went ahead and made their content more accesible, so if you never got the chance to read what I wrote for them, now is the time! Be warned: this particular essay is probably one of the bleakest I have ever written, and in a sense I was trying to explain what it means to burn out AS you are burning out in a literary fashion. Anyways, here is a link to that piece: The Rule of Life.

 

2. Secondly, I also had the honor of receiving the VanderMey NonFiction prize from Ruminate Magazine. If you have never heard of Ruminate, you might want to remedy that right now. It is an absolutely gorgeous journal, chock full of art and poetry and a bit of prose, and it feels incredibly fresh and awake to me. If you only had the choice to subscribe to a few journals, I would put this in the top of your list. 

Anyways, I submitted an essay to their non-fiction contest and in return got some lovely words from none other than Scott Russell Sanders himself (squee!). Which just goes to show: submit, submit, submit! While you can't read the essay online, you can buy PDF versions of the journal for the bargain price of $5

 

3. Thirdly I, like everyone else in the world, wrote about Harper Lee's new book Go Set A Watchman. I had a bit of a controversial take on it (spoiler: I think GSAW was her original intent all along). You can go on over to The Curator to read the rest

 

4.  And lastly, I wrote an intense little piece about Cosby, Dr. Dobson, and not raising polite kids over at Christ and Pop Culture. I have to be honest and say I did not think this essay would blow up like it would, but so far it seems to be resonating with a lot of people. You can go on over and read it here

 

 

Well, when I type it all out it certainly gives me the illusion that I have been productive in spite of living out of a suitcase for the past month or so. Even though our car broke down (for good) and we don't have jobs yet, things are looking up for the ol' Mayfields. We move into an apartment on Wednesday and I am sure at some point I will tell you all about it. I just can't seem to help myself.

 

 

 

 

Write Like A Mother

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Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin wordshumilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up for half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand. I had turned 35 a few weeks before. I was two months pregnant with my first child. I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.

--Cheryl Strayed (as Dear Sugar)*

 

 

 

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I have two friends who are very pregnant right now, and both of them are writers. They are smart, thoughtful, beautiful souls, and when they pour themselves onto the page you just want to stop everything and sit with them. They both have other children (beautiful, loud). And they both told me that with the upcoming birth of their next child, they felt like the writing part of their life was going to be over.

I understand where those thoughts come from--the hormones, the panic, the sleep deprivation that acts like a very bad batch of drugs for a very long time--but I can't condone them. I know my friends, and I know the work they have produced, and I know what is in their future. They will experience the mess and the chaos of birth and newborn land and shifting, growing families. They will cocoon inside of themselves, for months and even years perhaps, pouring out their bodies as sacrifices of love, rocking and shushing and feeding and cleaning and wiping, all while they tend to the endless minutia of everything else they are in charge of in their lives. They will continue on in that long obedience of selflessness, the continual little deaths and rebirths that parenting is comprised of, and one day they will lift their heads up and find that their head is clear and their mind is itching. They will start writing again. And they will be better than ever. Their babies will make them better writers.

 

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If you asked me, point blank, what my thoughts on motherhood were, I would hem and haw for as long as possible. I have nothing eloquent to say, except that it wrecked my life in so many ways, and it healed it in just as many. Marriage for me was no big adjustment, just a lot of fun to have a partner to roam the world with, and we made a lot of space for us to be our individual, introverted selves. But motherhood was the great shedding of selfishness that I didn't even know existed, it was the time of confronting how very tied up my own identity was in being productive for God: helping others, loving my neighbors, teaching ESOL classes, volunteering with refugees, working full-time. Then I got pregnant, developed a rare-and-life-threatening condition, and found myself both very ill and with a premature baby to care for. Suddenly, I could not do most of those things that had always defined me as me. I was alone with a sad baby who was not quite ready for the world, and it was my job to keep her alive.

When she was 6 months old, possibly 8, I started to write. In earnest. The hours of being alone-but-not-alone, of rocking and shushing and swaddling and feeding and cleaning and walking and breathing, had built up to a point of pressure in my mind. I started, for the first time, to objectively look at my life. To assess my background, how I grew up, what I was taught to believe, and what that meant for my life choices. My baby, with her round-the-clock-needs, turned me into a bird that soared high above my own life. It was the first time I was able to step outside of it. The first time I realized how important honesty and vulnerability were to be in my life going forward.

I wrote for her, that chubby-cheeked spitfire sitting on her bumbo on the kitchen table while I slowly started sending pieces off into the void. And she helped me, in so many ways, push beyond the narrow confines of what it meant to be in the world, of where my value came from. And this, my friends, is the backbone of what it means to have prophetic imagination, of what it means to be a creative in a very conforming world.

I learned to write when I became a mother, because that was my vehicle for stepping outside of myself. For you, perhaps it was something else; something tragic or wonderful (or some combination therein). Something that helped you to see your small place in a very big world, to wonder at what your response might be to it all. Motherhood certainly doesn't necessitate great art (in fact, many can cling to the trappings of motherhood as yet another symbol of productivity in the world) but I have known enough great writers now to know that it spurs you on towards the deepening of things.

Motherhood, for me, has been my agent of becoming small, of living a true upside-down life, of whittling away at my draughts of self-absorption. I am more afraid than ever, and yet I continue to do very brave and hard things. And I just want to say to all of my friends out there, the ones who adore and fear the changes coming: write like a mother. Write like the souls that you are, the ones who were put here to notice whatever it is that God placed in front of you.

The kingdom of God comes through babies, I imagine Christ whispering to his disciples as they tried to shoo the unkempt, uncouth, loud and beautiful children away. They didn't understand, because they so badly wanted to be doing something so good for him, their savior. But later, through their own forms of death and rebirth--watching Jesus slowly die as a failure in front of them, huddling up in an empty room together--they would be cracked wide open by the pain and joy of being so connected to everyone in the world.

And luckily for us, some of them stopped and wrote about it.

 

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a little present i have been making for some dear friends . . .

 

 

 

 

*to read Strayed's entire advice column (of which I "Christian-ized" a bit in this post--sorry, Sugar!) go here. You will not regret it. While you are at it, why don't you go and read all of her columns? You will not be left the same.

 

 

Places My Name Has Been

I've got a few things floating out in the wide world and I thought I would just quickly tell you about them. I also thought for a few of you it might be interesting to know how I got myself into writing these pieces/what they were about.  

 

 

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1. Books and Culture

Firstly, I wrote a book review that was published in the September edition of Books and Culture. I had e-mailed the editor (the illustrious John Wilson) out of the blue a few months before because I so admired the high level reading and writing they had going on in this publication. To be honest, I also wanted to write for them because most of the reviews I saw were written by very academic (and very smart) folks who all worked in colleges and had published highly-acclaimed books. Since I am none of those things, it made me want to try just a bit harder. John Wilson was very gracious and sent me a book on labor trafficking to review (Life Interrupted, by Denise Brennan), which sent me down all sorts of rabbit trails (the best kind of book there is, in my opinion). Since then I have read and reviewed another book (I believe it will be coming out in January) that John also sent to me and now I must say I trust his taste implicitly.

If you like to write, then reading/reviewing books is such an excellent way to hone your skills/figure out what the power of the written word means to you. I regularly now find myself reviewing at least one book a month (although, I have discovered that if I just truly don't like a book, I can't bring myself to review it. There are too many good books out there to focus on the bad. And let me tell you, there is a lot of bad in mainstream publishing). Besides Books and Culture, another favorite place of mine to read (and review) books is over at Englewood Review of Books. They are the coolest (they started out as a church community that read/reviewed books together, and now it is a big beautiful collection of fascinating reads from people all over the country).

The review is online, but is behind a paywall. I do highly recommend the subscription, however, especially if you like your scholarly + theological sides to be challenged/unlocked.

 

 

 

2. Timbrel

Timbrel is the Mennonite Women USA magazine (I know!). My good friend Claire is the editor of Timbrel (besides being an awesome writer herself, as well as an occasional model for Christian Amish book covers). She asked me to write about my journey in pursuing foster care as a means to growing our family for their "mothering" issue.

I am not someone who writes a ton about motherhood or things that can be strictly considered "women's issues" and to be honest this was one of the more difficult pieces I ever had to write. Motherhood, mothering, and growing your family are all so very personal, and I am well aware of the variety of experiences. Just a few short months ago we made the decision to stop pursuing adoption through foster care, after many months/years of prayer. I hesitate to explain our decision because it is tied up in the lives of so many people we now are in relationship with--so many of our friends and neighbors who were in foster care themselves when they were young, or who had their own children taken away from them). As we have journeyed into the system, and seen others do the same, there is just no way around the brokenness to be found in every corner of this world. While we most certainly do believe there is still a definite need for people to be involved in foster care (and many children need permanent homes) we also realize there are many ways to support families in crisis, and we are being drawn to help families stay together.

I know, big topic right? It is so hard to even address in anything fewer than a hundred thousand words. The wounding of our families in this country is incredible. The space for transformation is breathtaking. Lord, may your kingdom come. This article is also not available online, but you can purchase a subscription here. I also have a few copies of the magazine if anyone desperately wants it I will send it to you!

 

 

 

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3. Image Journal

My friend (and amazing photographer) Fritz Leidtke got me a subscription to Image last year and it has been one of my favorite gifts ever. It is a beautiful, meditative, smart and thrilling journal. I mean it. I have always been a bit out of my mind and so I decided that Image was one of my favorite places to read I should most certainly send something in. Perhaps it is because my identity has never been tied up with being a writer (but oh my, don't you dare touch my do-gooder/missionary/social justice identity or I will cut you) but I don't seem to suffer the paralysis or nervousness that can affect some. I tend to read good things, get inspired, and then type away and send my stuff out into the cold world. And sometimes, it works! Like with Image--while I can hardly believe it, they accepted a piece I sent them and published it in the October issue. Now, sadly, there is nowhere to go but down (also, I sense a theme: being the least qualified writer in the joint. This makes me feel a teensy bit proud but also pretty insecure).

This piece was born out of a really intense season this spring. I thought: I have never read a literary exploration of what it means to burn out. I know people toss that phrase around like old change, but that truly is the sensation I experienced. Being surrounded by people ricocheting from one chaotic situation to the next really took a toll on me. Writing it out helped me more than I can say (as did making a few changes to my schedule). This is probably the most personal (and raw) piece I have ever written.

If you don't already subscribe to Image, I would highly encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed. I believe you can sign up to get a digital copy for free--so check it out, and I trust you will be astonished as I have been by the craft and care of this publication.

 

 

4. Interview

Lastly, a few months ago Heather Caliri asked me a few questions about how I read the Bible. I think I thought it was for an e-book or something and would be highly edited, so I dashed off some (ahem) casual thoughts. She just recently put the answers up on her blog as a part of a series she is doing called "Quiet Time Confidential" (all the evangelical kids shiver a little bit when they read that). So if you have been dying to hear about what I think about reading the Bible, you should go on over and read it.

 

 

Thanks for reading!

Your Correspondent, srsly has got to go eat something with pumpkin spice in it right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book

As per usual, I couldn't take a glamorous picture because I have a very crappy phone (which blesses me and allows me to feel smug and superior, but is annoying on the whole instagram level).  

 

 

 

 

 

It was a hard spring and summer, harder than I care to admit; now that everything is better I realize what level of stress and sadness I was operating under. Coming out of a winter where it was colder than mars, we ran headlong into a season of chaos and being crushed under the burdens of trying to neighbor well in intense situations. I thought I became allergic to something, found my throat closing up, started gasping for breath at the most inopportune times. I went to the doctor and had them stick all the needles in my back, but it came back negative. The doctor gently told me that there was no biological evidence that I was allergic to anything. You might want to consider panic attacks, he told me, and I instantly felt foolish. I didn't know that was what they felt like--I assumed shaking and jittering and crying. Not wanting to drive or talk on the phone of feeling like your throat was closing in on you--this was just my new normal.

Now I breath clear and fine, I have forged through rough relationships and came out tender and new on the other side: what lesson better than forgiveness can we ever take to our graves? It is truly a mystery, finding yourself rock solid in selfishness, having the Spirit crack you wide open, deciding that you are the worst and everyone is the worst and why don't we all consider the lilies together? Because there really are some lovely ones in my neighborhood.

This summer I went back to Oregon for a visit, the place of my family and my people and so many of my threshold experiences. I visited with the Somali refugee family that changed my life, nearly a decade ago now. The girls are tall and tower over me, high schoolers who take inordinate amounts of selfies, giggling into laptops, cooking the evening meal. I wrote a book, I told them, feeling more than a little nervous. They were non-plussed. Oh yeah? I thought you liked to write or something. I pushed ahead. The book has a lot to do with you guys. They look at me, but don't say anything. You know, how you guys changed my life. How you taught me so much about God, about what it is like to be a refugee, what America looks like to you . . . I trailed off. I suppose I was looking for their approval. They shrug their shoulders and look back at their screens. Yeah, you did learn a lot from us, both of them say. This has been apparent to them since day one. They are bored of this conversation, and pull out a baseball cap that is completely covered in large gold studs, the bling just dripping off of it. Want to take your picture wearing this hat? they ask, and of course I say yes.

 

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Very few people I see everyday care about books. They do not read the magazines I read, they do not adore the same authors, they do not understand the intricacies of industry and marketing and platform, the great big desire to be noticed, to be new, to be good, to be admired. They do not understand how people who publish books can sometimes become giant cardboard cut-outs of themselves. They do not know how easy it is to fall into those categories, to wander in the way of self-righteousness, irony, elitism, hubris, or easy breezy moralism. Most of the people I hang out with are refugees, many of them non-literate, the majority of them all carving out lives in the hard stone of the American Dream. The other person I hang out with is 4, and she is a wormhole of ferocious need, an excellent advocate for herself, a barreling ball of kingdom values (truthfulness, faith, love), and she most emphatically does not like anything that takes my attention away from her.

It is good to be small, good to have more than a handful of identities (wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, neighbor, teammate, teacher, advocate) that vie for your attention, split you up and keep you on the ground. For awhile I looked in despair at the discrepancies of my life: living and working within one population (people experiencing poverty in America) while writing for another (mainly Christians who come from somewhat privileged backgrounds). But now it starts to seem like a gift, an authentic whole, a way to beat back the sin of pride (which comes at me from every direction). To be small, everywhere. Living in the upside-down kingdom, and writing about it. To try and be honest, to be vulnerable, to open yourself up for the inevitable misunderstandings and criticisms, to forge on ahead and practice forgiving and being forgiven. What lesson better than forgiveness can we ever take to our graves?

 

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I was born a reader and fed by a mother who let me be interested in the world, by small-town libraries, by a quest to know truth. But I did not start writing (beyond the college paper or a re-cap of a missions trip) until a few years ago. I now pinpoint the shift to when I had my daughter. I was made small and still by that experience. I had many more hours to contemplate (feeding and rocking and jiggling the baby), and it seems to me writing happens in your head when you give yourself some space to think. So I wrote a few things and sent them off, was legitimized by places I adored and read religiously. And I was surprised to find that the element underlying my new obsession with writing my own words was this: I finally wanted to be as honest as I could. And the only way I could be honest with myself is if I wrote it down.

And in the past 3+ years, that is what I have been doing. Eventually I realized I had written a book. It took me a long way to get to the place of saying I am ready for people to read that book, but here I am. I am over the moon. I am entering into this new part of life, this plan I never expected for myself. I just signed a contract with HarperOne (such a dream choice!) and I am excited for the expertise and the bridge-crossing that this particular publishing house is capable of. I'll be sure and give you all the particulars as I come to understand them, but for now I just wanted to say thank you. It's been a hard season, it has been one that has changed me. I am still coming to terms with all of my different selves, especially the ones that I never lived up to. When I started writing, I was finally able to be honest with myself and with God. And it became my way of considering the lilies--especially the ones that the world forgot. When I started writing, I started to finally start being able to understand the radical nature of honest in relationship to reconciliation and forgiveness. And I know I will have to keep re-learning it until I can learn no more.

I guess I just want to say thank you to everyone: thank you so much for reading along with me, for encouraging me and praying and being the cup of cold water that I generally always seem to need. But most of all, thank you for letting me write it out as I need to. It means more to me than you can possibly know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer's Gonna Write

from Austin Kleon, "The Life of a Project"  

 

There's this thing where writers tag other writers to answer questions about writing. I would hate it if it wasn't so darn interesting. My fancy writer friend Christiana tagged me (she's in my online writing group, she writes killer YA, and she is bursting forth into the world with her wonderful creative non-fiction--where she writes about Mennonite intentional communities, chickens, and death. Also, she is a poet, and once sent me a magazine of poetry in the mail. Swoon.)

 

So here I go. Writer's gonna write (especially about themselves!)

 

1. What are you working on?

Big picture: I already finished the manuscript for my first book, and it is currently off in the wilderness. I look forward to a rigorous editing process, hopefully sooner than later.

Small(er) picture: I currently have 2 different book reviews due (I love reading and I love talking about books--but writing about books can be so difficult at times). One is Americanah by Chimamanda Adiche, and the other is Life, Interrupted, a book on trafficking into forced labor. Reading these books (especially the latter) has led me down many rabbit trails, specifically in the area of how the U.S. has historically treated migrants (hint: abysmally). I have been sucked into the worlds of James Agee, Robert Coles, and an exceptional Edward R. Murrow documentary. I think I have something else due as well, but it is currently escaping me. Not very professional, D.L.

I am also working on some other creative non-fiction stuff (which isn't fit for public consumption). And I would die if I didn't journal/do morning pages nearly every day.

 

 

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

How do you answer this question without sounding terrible? To be honest, sometimes I feel like I am in a unique position of being someone who lives and works among the poor but who also devours McSweeneys, Image, and O! magazine (just keeping it real). People writing about life in the margins of American society tend to be male, make their own clothes out of burlap, and are not too concerned with literary merit. I love those guys, but that ain't me. I do, however, have a similar message in regards to finding Jesus in the outskirts of the Empire.

I like writing about poverty and privilege, and I also like taking a piss at myself every now and again. I am also deeply interested in how writing can be beautiful, and am not too terribly concerned with things being tied up neatly (either theologically or in a story arc). Where I live, there is a lot of sadness, despair, death, and destruction. There is also so much beauty and humor and people who transcend the word "survivor". I really, really like to write about failure, which seems to not be a super popular thing to do. So I guess that is different? I also use a lot of the "passive voice" and "run-on sentences" which I think is arty but my good friend Amy makes me edit out anyways.

 

 

3. Why do you write what you do?

My life choices are an obvious jumping point. I often find myself overwhelmed with life and writing helps. I also see huge gaps in the narratives we are being fed about who the blessed really are; I see how many of us have no real concept of what it means to be poor in America. As I catch a glimpse now and then I can't help but share what I am seeing, mostly out of a sense of isolation. If it was prime-time news I think I wouldn't feel the urgency.

I wrote my book primarily because the world could always use another reminder that the the upside-down kingdom is here, all around us. Also I think it is intrinsically an interesting story--one where I start out trying to convert everyone, and slowly start to realize how heretical my own view of God is. As an activist at heart, a small part of me must believe that what I write could change a minds towards a belief in the words of Jesus. Because once we start to believe what he said, everything starts to change.

I also have made a conscious decision to write for people who might not agree with my conclusions. It is important for me not to get bogged down in an echo chamber of agreement--only interacting with other writers/readers/thinkers who believe the same thing. I like writing about WIC for conservative Christian websites. I like disguising an essay on downward mobility and reconciliation as an argument about alcohol for a traditional Christian magazine. I like being surprised by what I read and I want to do the same thing with my writing.

Remind me of this the next time I complain about the haters, mmmmkay?

 

 

4. How does your writing process work?

 

I am forever in the throes of a busy season. I teach ESOL to non-literate learners 4 days a week. I also take care of my daughter in the afternoons/evenings. I have a variety of community events/relationships I am involved with and I also have multiple commitments with the non-profit I work for.  For an up-coming writers workshop I am supposed to write down when I write. Thus far it looks like this:

Wed: write during nap time. 40 minutes.

Saturday PM: write for 30 minutes, fall asleep.

Every Other Friday: write for 1 hour, check FB and Twitter for 45 min.

 

Soooooo, not great. The problem is that by the end of the day there is not a blessed thought in my head. But I am loathe to wake up early (as my many talented friends do). I am hoping for a few reshufflings in my schedule for the fall, but I never know what will happen. For now it is a very part-time gig, and I have honed my skills at writing fast and furious when I get a chance.

As far as what I choose to write--when the mood strikes, I often pitch ideas to various places and usually find myself writing at least 1-2 essays a month. I try and scare myself a little each time I write. Blogging is currently not a huge priority for me (see: time) and as I have said before the crazier it gets the quieter I have to be in my writing. For now I take the stolen minutes I get and type into my laptop (usually sitting on my bed, or the couch) and I consider myself lucky. When I get super stuck for ideas or I hit an editing fog, going on long runs really seems to get my thoughts in order (also, cake helps). Being in an online writing group has been the best motivation ever (they believe me! they really do!) and now I am in an awesome IRL one as well. I am basically surrounded by beautiful, talented writers who force me to keep producing content. It is awesome, and I highly recommend this to everyone.

 

 

 

 

Oh man. Now I'm done talking about myself and my "craft"! So now I get to gleefully tag two writer friends so they can also answer these questions and populate the world with more art and beautiful (and sometimes cranky) words.

 

The first writer is Becca over at Exile Fertility. I just love everything that comes out of her mouth. She gets it. She gets that everything is terrible and everything is beautiful. She is my favorite writer when it comes to womanhood, birth, beauty, and radical self-care. I wish she would write more, but I understand that her arms are very full at the moment. Go on over to her place and check it out.

The other writer is Kevin Hardagan, who I think is the Joel Osteen/N.T. Wright of Ireland. He could go either way, really. He is wicked smart, a little cantankerous, half the time I do not know what he is talking about but when I DO I really like it. And he always makes me think (a good sign, right?). I would dearly love to know what he is working on in regards to his PhD (I think it has something to do with mammon. Mammon!) and everything he writes is funny. Including a response to a blogging round robin.

 

 

So there you have it. I would love (and I mean this from the bottom of my heart) to hear from any of you in regards to what you are working on, what your process is, and how you see yourself fitting into the writing world. So please comment and share!

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful ruins

I wrote a little stream-of-consciousness style post that is up over at A Deeper Story today.  

Here's the beginning:

 

 

 

 

Q: how do you ruin your life?

A: Start with a scarf. Start with shoes, hip glasses, the coffee in your cup. Start with that, but don’t stay there. Dig deep into the roots of why you must connect your purchases to your soul, that gaping chasm that feels the disparity of the world, that part of your spirit that can’t un-see or un-know all those tragedies of birth and geography and class that didn’t happen to you. Buy that beautiful scarf made by women half the world away, and tie it fiercely around your neck as you head out into your own kingdom of darkness; a world where the devil is prowling like a lion, hungry to see us satiated and superior and calm. You will need every bit of beauty you can take with you on the journey. There is a Calcutta everywhere you look, especially in your own heart.

 

 

 

 

aaaand, it just sort of goes on from there. Click on over to A Deeper Story to read the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A piece of the body torn out by the roots

   

 

photo by Walker Evans. Please go look at all of his gorgeous photographs right now.

 

Sorry I have nothing to write about. Life is extremely loud and incredibly private, etc etc.

 

However, I have been thinking about Artists, Experts, Poverty, War Photographers, Sentimentality, Detachment, Acceptance, Fame, Privilege, Power, and Money. I have been thinking about all the people I know and the exquisite terror of how beautiful and complicated and made in the image of God they are. And, as always, I have been reading. Here is a long quote I have been mulling over:

 

 

 

"If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite the novelty; critics would murmur  yes, but is it art; and I could trust the majority of you to use it as a parlor game.

A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.

As it is, though, I'll do what little I can in writing. Only it will be very little. I'm not capable of it; and if I were, you would not go near it at all. For if you did, you would hardly bear to live.

As a matter of fact, nothing I might write could make any difference whatsoever. It would only be a "book" at the best. If it were a safely dangerous one it would be "scientific" or "political" or "revolutionary". If it were really dangerous it would be called "literature" or "religion" or "mysticism" or "art" and under one such name or another might in time achieve the emasculation of acceptance. If it were dangerous enough to be of any remote use to the human race it would be merely "frivolous" or "pathological" and that would be the end of that. Wiser and more capable men than I shall ever be have put forth their findings before you, findings so rich and so full of anger, serenity, murder, healing, truth, and love that it seems incredible the world were not destroyed and fulfilled in an instant. But you are too much for them: the weak in courage are strong in cunning; and one by one you have absorbed and captured and dishonored, and have distilled of your deliverers the most ruinous of poisons; people hear Beethoven in concert halls, or over a bridge game, or to relax; Cezannes are hung on walls, reproduced, in natural wood frames; van Gogh is the man who cut off his ear and whose yellows have recently become popular in window decoration . . .

However this may be, this is a book about "sharecroppers," and is written for those who have a soft place in their hearts for the laughter and tears inherent in poverty viewed at a distance, and especially for those who can afford the retail price; in the hope that the reader will be edified, and may feel kindly disposed toward any well-thought-out liberal efforts to rectify the unpleasant situation down in the South, and will somewhat better and more guiltily appreciate the next good meal he eats; and in the hope too, that he will recommend this little book to really sympathetic friends, in order that our publishers may at least cover their investment and that some kindly thought may be turned our way, and a little of your money fall to poor little us."

 

James Agee, introduction, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

 

 

 

Your correspondent, has a very bad head cold and needs to go think some more thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D.L. Recommends Vol. 3

  It's time. Time for another volume of completely arbitrary things that I, D.L, recommend.

 

 

from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

 

 

Moone Boy

Pretty sure I have recommended this before. But I am going to recommend it again. Because it is even better when you watch it a second time and you actually start to understand the Irish accents/slang/inside jokes. Go watch it! (You can find it on Hulu).

 

James Agee

The ultimate War Photographer. You guys, I can't even. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is bizarre and wonderful. In it, Agee goes to write about poor sharecroppers in the South and leaves a shaken man. It is lyrical and uneasy and so very worth reading. Now I want to read everything about this man who saw every human as being excruciatingly unique and worthy of honor.

 

The Empathy Exams

This book, by Leslie Jamison, is worth the hype (and it is what pointed me to James Agee). There were a couple of her essays where her self-consciousness was crippling, but I am all for anyone who is trying to feel it all. I read later that her mother is a pastor who works with the poor, and that influence to me could be felt rippling under the surface.

 

Planting Things in the Ground, Even though You Feel Skeptical

It really helps a tired soul find a few seeds of hope.

 

Looking at Pictures of Babies

Squee!

 

Lupe Fiasco

OK, OK I really only listen to one of his songs when I plod along on my jogs: The Show Goes On. What is better than a white girl sweatily running and singing about throwing her hands up in the air? A lot of things, actually. But this one consistently works for me.

 

Adult Bands Pretending to Be Kid Bands

Did you know this is a thing? It is. My friends are in an awesome band named Destroy Nate Allen and they do kick-butt shows for kids (Ramona loves them). And they introduced us to this band called Koo Koo Kangaroo which is basically like the Beastie Boys taking over Yo Gabba Gabba (complete with gold fanny packs). My husband is currently obsessed with their album which is all about cats.

 

Custard

Don't ever go back to plain vanilla ice cream. Don't.

 

Longform Podcast

I am loving this. It basically interviews an interesting long form journalist/writer/essayist and they talk about the craft. I have found some new favorites from this podcast (including Alice Gregory).

 

Fosterhood in NY.

The best, most honest, transparent, hopeful, exasperating, beautiful and tragic blog ever written on what it means to be a foster parent. I love how the author is SO committed to being in relationship with the birth parents and their extended families. I cannot stop reading this blog, and it is more gripping (and harrowing) than a novel.

 

Thunderstorms

Or, as I call them when I am pretending to be from Northern Ireland, "tunderstorms". Being a transplant to the MidWest, I find a lot of pleasure in the wilds of the storms that we get here in the spring.

 

Image Journal

I wanted to think that this literary journal was a bit snobby, a bit elitist, a teensy bit out of touch. But I consistently sit down and find myself carefully absorbing every word in the latest volume. I highly recommend supporting this endeavor, and I wish it wasn't such a rare unicorn of a journal.

 

Signing With a Literary Agent

It has been a long road to this point for me, and I can't say that it has been easy. But I did it. Here's to one more step on this adventure.

 

Applying for Crazy Things

I heard about the Collegeville Institute from a tweet; I applied for a summer workshop on a hope and a prayer. And now I get all-expenses paid week at a monastery where I get to hang out with awesome people like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and have lots and lots of time to write. And be alone. Basically the dream of every poor writer. Take THAT, Donald Miller (or, as I like to call him: DonAHLD Miller). All the deadlines for this year have passed, but bookmark the site and apply for next year. You never know what will happen until you put yourself out there.

 

Taking Uncouth Selfies

Everyone should do it, or else you will get a big fat head.

 

dorkily excited about the article.

 

 

 

 

So that's it. I haven't watched anything great lately and I would love some recommendations there. Also, I need a few light reads for my summer. Hit me up, people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I kissed whiskey goodbye*

  mmmm. milk.

 

I wrote a piece for Christianity Today that ended up being the cover (!) story. I am super excited about it, but I am aware that it might ruffle a few feathers. In short, last year I quit drinking, mostly due to my experiences with my neighbors. While I am not asking you to stop drinking, I am asking all of us to be a bit more thoughtful about it (or at least how we portray it/possibly exclude others). Really, I am asking all of us (myself included) to put ourselves in the position of minority/learner. Hanging out with alcoholics has changed my life.

I can't think of much else I want to add to this discussion that wasn't in the article. I will say that in doing the research for this piece I was so encouraged by the witness and testimony of all of those stout-hearted temperance women. Women who cared about the poor, about equal rights, about social inequalities. It's a pretty fabulous, and a very different story from the common ones we have heard of moral piety.

So do me a favor and read the piece. I would be very interested in hearing thoughtful push back.

 

 

 

*title suggested by the one and only Darren Prince. Sadly, it did not make the final cut.

 

 

 

 

 

Upside-Down Art

I'm having my annual reminder of how much I cannot write on this here site, which is slightly frustrating for me personally, but wholly preferable to you all being subjected to the lifestyle/mommy/missional living blog that runs inside my crazy head. Trust me on this. Being a part of a team, a community, a diverse neighborhood, working with refugees and people who have been consistently marginalized by the world, being in the precarious position of asking people to support us--these are all unique constraints on my writing life. And I am grateful for them, truly. But it sort of makes an odd conundrum--the louder my life, the quieter my writing. What is formative now will hopefully be settling inside for many, many years, and I trust something good will come of it.  

So. . . life is pretty loud right now.

 

Which brings me to this space. I am so grateful for the readers, the ones who stick around, who challenge me and encourage me. I don't want to leave this a blank space (because life is anything but blank). So I have been thinking about what I like to read about, and--to follow my favorite writing advice--I will start the blog series I want to read. Which is: Outsider Art.

Outsider Art traditionally refers to art made by people with absolutely no contact with the art world--the insane, children, extremely marginalized communities. It has been referred to as brut art (raw art) or folk art or naive art. I am going to be my rebellious self and use this term while gleefully ignoring the boundaries associated with it. I would like to highlight and talk about and drink in and absorb all different types of art that I feel like are being passed by in the strange insular worlds I inhabit here on the internet.

You know the books that everyone is reading, the music everyone is listening to, the photographs being shared on Buzzfeed. If you are anything like me, try as you might your Twitter feed is rife with the same types of people recommending the same types of things. I am not here to knock this system, but I am here to say that unless we immerse ourselves in new and different perspectives, we will become hopelessly myopic.

So here is where I need your help: I need you to share with me, with all of us. Who are some artists--writers, thinkers, painters--that bring in a fresh, raw, outsider perspective to your world? Is there a book or a painting that has been formative to you that has been overlooked by the majority culture? Is there an important perspective, a heartbreaking work of genius, a cheeky thinker, a window into a world so very different from our own? If so, I would love to hear about it.

 

I am looking for short, succinct essays on art (writing, visual, audio) that have brought on outsider perspective into your life. Something that has broken through the barriers of culture, which has expanded your world, opened your doors just a little wider in order to love God more. If you are interested, please e-mail me at dlmmcsweeneys [@] gmail [.] com. We will start this series in earnest in March.

 

I am in the midst of curating my own collection of art that is nourishing my soul, but for whatever reason is not getting the attention it deserves. From time to time I will post my own thoughts on art that is moving me (which should be very outsider-y in it's own right, since I took one horrible community college class on Early Art and basically bombed it. So, I'm a real expert here). In a few days I will be posting about a painting that made me stand still in the middle of an art museum and bawl my eyes out (so artsy!) and caused me to reflect on how there are so few images of Christ that I connect with in our world. Again, to be clear that I am using the term "Outsider Art" very loosely (and incorrectly), this painting is by a Dutch man in the 19th century, at the bequest of a wealthy king. So, not exactly a mental patient. But still, the content struck me as so new and so outside of my traditional education, that I found myself crying and scribbling in a journal, wanting to share this piece of beauty with the world.

 

So, that is what we will do.

 

I look forward to hearing from you, my well-read, smart, artistic friends. I look forward to hearing about art from the upside-down kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember: You Will Die-- Guest Post by Jenny Stockton

Jenny is a wonderful human being who is genuinely interested and curious in so many aspects of life. We bonded after writing pieces for the same issue of Conspire! magazine (one of my favorite publications out there, btw) and I love how this story underlies the freedom that we gain when we finally give up trying to be "normal". Because there is no normal, is there? There is only radical love, which asks us to takes risks and reap great benefits. Be sure and check out Jenny's site (she is always introducing me to new artists/books/writers) and say hello on Twitter.

 

Remember: you will die.

 

For most of my life, I pictured my future as an adult in a static manner: complete with spouse, house, kids, meaningful work, Carrie Bradshaw’s wardrobe, and the obvious contentment that comes with acquiring it all. I spent a number of years and a lot of dollars I didn’t have chasing after those things, convinced that if I could just get them and keep them under my control, I would be happy and things would stay that way forever.

At a certain point during my college career, however, the Jesus of the Bible began toteach me that seeking the kingdom of God is actually the most important thing and, try as I might, I couldn’t deny it. I decided to become a teacher out of a desire to serve the poor and help young people learn to seek truth for themselves. It felt like the best way for me to help build God’s kingdom. It felt like a noble, selfless decision and it led me to some of the most valuable and worthwhile work I’ve ever done. I’d be lying, though, if I said I never imagined myself as Michele Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, saving kids by wearing a leather jacket and pointing out the similarities between canonical poetry and popular music. I thought I’d find a place to become that lady, then stay for 30 years while I worked on building the rest of my static, perfect life.

Guess what? It didn’t really work out that way.

Last April, as I wrestled with the feeling that I was wasting my days as a classroom teacher (because so much had changed since I started and I often found myself requiring kids to do things I thought were a waste of their time), I read a post on Donald Miller’s site about the process of maturing from consumer to creator, and it struck to the core of everything going on in my heart and mind. Justin Zoradi’s words encouraged me to see myself in the middle of this transition from consumer to creator, and though it was a bit scary, I knew deep down it’s what I wanted. I wanted to be a writer.

I’d spent seven years working full-time in a field that provided me with a decent salary, good benefits, and the promise of retirement security. The idea of simply walking away from all of those things seemed crazy. Eventually though, I came to the conclusion that if I continued doing what I was doing, it would be solely because I was afraid of change. And let’s face it, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Luckily for me, I married a man who has believed he’s meant to be creative his whole life. He doesn’t compromise his principles about life and work and doing things that are meaningful with his time. He’s earned his living for the last seven years by playing the drums, and he is not at all concerned about acquiring an extensive wardrobe. When he took me out on our first date, he wore a watch with hands that read “Remember: you will die”. He’s constantly encouraging me to fight my fears and to press in to the inevitable change that comes with being alive.

I quit my job last year to spend more time writing and to work with my husband and his band. I let go of my need to have a regular job so that I could buy new clothes all the time. I discovered, quickly and easily, that we actually need very little. Over the last year, I’ve bought less new clothes, but I’ve spent most of my days doing just what I want. I’ve been able to rest and write and pray and travel with my husband and help kids in my community get new books. I’ve had time and space to dream about the future. And miracle of miracles, we’ve still had enough money for for everything we need, plus a mani/pedi for me every month.

I’m learning to believe and to trust that my desire to be a writer is not simply a selfish, nonsensical one. That maybe it’s one of the things I’m supposed to do before I die. That maybe things are always changing and the best I can hope to do is learn to find peace in the face of fear.

There is a sense of adventure in my daily existence now that I never believed could happen to me, much less would. And there is SUCH freedom in the ability to spend so much of my time as I choose. There is SUCH freedom in the knowledge that my husband and I could go, tomorrow, wherever we feel called. There is SUCH freedom in the deep peace that comes with recognizing that it’s God’s kingdom already. That He has rescued it and that we get to help in the work of redeeming it. That nothing in life is static forever, and that one day I will die.

 

 

 

Jenny StocktonJenny Stockton's development as a writer started at a young age, when she self-published her first work of fiction as a first grader. It was entitled The Bear Who Got Married, illustrated by the author, and dedicated to her sister Amy. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband Dann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all posts in the Downward Mobility series please click here.

talking about writing, or how much i love myself.

1.

Last year there was a very fancy literary writing conference held in Portland. I could not afford to go. In the evenings some of the teaching authors would hold short readings that were open to the public. It was held at a beautiful college just a mile away from my apartment (it may or may not have been the college that Donald Miller wished he was a real student at). I went and sat in the outdoor amphitheater, awkwardly pretending to be just fine thank you at being by myself, the only frumpy sober single gal, while published authors read tales of desperation and beauty. It was like I could touch that world, the world of being literary and great, a world where all the girls wore floppy summer hats and had agents, but I wasn't allowed in. For the rest of the summer, while my husband took our daughter to the park for a few hours a week, I would get dropped off at that same college campus. It was like an oasis from my noisy, crowded life, those two hours every so often. I would wander the library and read literary journals I had never heard of, the sit down at my old laptop and try to produce 1,000 mediocre words.

2.

This fall, I applied for a scholarship for my dream writing conference, more of a workshop really, where like-minded artistic Christians gather round for a week in the high desert to talk about faith and creativity and worship. I sweated through the application, mailed off my best stuff, and received a 50% off discount for the prestigious conference. But even then, at that rate, I could not afford to go. Besides the expense of getting there, the conference was 8 days long. I don't think it was designed for people with young children or limited amounts of time off. Regretfully, with visions of sun-soaked cabins and intense discussions on craft, I turned it down. That kind of life was for other people, not for me.

3.

Last month, I attended a free day-long writing conference held at a very well-known literary center here in the Midwest. It was put on through the public library, and seats went fast. I snapped one up, eager and excited that the cards were finally falling into place. It was free! It was local! It was literary! I arrived with a notebook and a pen and excited for a delicious day of not being a mother/wife/esl teacher/neighbor/friend (no offense to all those dear roles, I just needed a bit of a break). The keynote speaker was wonderful, a Native American woman who had some grand stories and a gentle activist spirit. The workshops on memoir and short essay writing were a bit dull, and very author-centric (they could have used a bit of the War Photographers ethics, if you asked me). But most surprising and most saddening to me was that the crowd was homogenous to the point of being laughable: the vast majority being older, white, (and by the looks of it) upper-to-middle class women. All the things my current neighborhood isn't. The conference was free, less than a mile from my apartment, and yet none of my neighbors came. I realized abruptly, sitting in that prestigious literary center, that my questions, my assumptions, and my experiences are only just starting to scratch the surface of this whole ethic of living with my neighbors in mind. Because the truth is that we are even writing about things like downward mobility because the American dream (the upward trajectory) has left a good many people behind. And even as we change surface-type things (hosting free writing conferences for the community, for example) it doesn't change the heart. It doesn't change the fact that my neighbors didn't attend. Maybe they didn't have access to a computer in which to register for the class. Maybe they are tired of being the only one with their perspective in the room. Maybe they don't feel like their voice would be valued.

I don't know the answer, and that is part of the problem.

 

//

 

I've been thinking a fair amount about downward mobility and writing. or, you could say i have been thinking about myself, which seems to be my favorite thing to do.

I've spent a fair amount of time on this blog debating how we should approach writing (or photographing, or sharing in general) people who are different from us. I walked away from that conversation with some great convictions on how to walk through life with integrity--because I realized I love living and hanging out with people very different from me, and I really love to write. And the reality is, I have to be very, very careful with that combination.

But beyond the actual content of writing, there are the practicalities. First off, I recently decided that I don't actually self-identify as a writer. There are a myriad of reasons why, which I am only just now sorting out. I am very grateful to my friend Ben over at Ragged Band for sending me some prompts about my writing process/writing life, which led me to some great conclusions. You can head on over to hear all my rambly-pambly thoughts about it.

Secondly, how does one learn to write better? I have always wanted to go to a writing conference, for instance, but it doesn't really pass benchmarks I have been trying to live by: is what I want readily available for my neighbor? Is what I want good for my neighbor? I don't know who first introduced me to these two questions, but they sort of ruined my life. They make every decision that much more complicated, the stakes just a bit higher--even attending a writing conference. But those questions are spurring me on to be a better neighbor, to always carry thoughts of them with me, wherever I go.

 

Writing, identity, vocation, art, community, solidarity, downward mobility. It isn't nearly as nice and tidy as I would like it to be. I'm still figuring out this writing thing (I have had a few other adventures in community writing classes, the likes of which I don't feel comfortable sharing here yet), but I am grateful for the struggle. It makes me sharper, gracious, acutely aware of how far the kingdom is and blessedly assured that just a little leaven goes a long way.

 

Our little attempts to love each other mean something. All these questions, means something. We are hanging on to what Jesus said sums it all up, the laws and the prophets, the dreams and the aspirations: we are trying to love our God, to see him everywhere. And we are trying to love our neighbors, even as much as we love ourselves.

 

In the vein of writing/identity and all that, you can also check out an interview I did over at Heather Caliri's site. She is doing an amazing series on what saying "yes" can do. She interviewed me by Skype and I got ALL evangelical up in there. It is quite the sneak peek into my every-day life, which I don't talk about too often in these parts. 

War Photographer: Melissa Gutierrez

I just recently discovered Melissa Gutierrez, and boy do I like her. In fact, the "About Me" section of her blog reads like one of the most elegant soliloquies on what it means to help others. Here's a little tidbit, in her own words:

I’m one of those young suburban twenty-somethings, so I’m in this process of what I think is “growing up,” and I often think that that’s unique (since I’m the only one on the planet who seems to be mysteriously changing, of course), and that I’m entitled to some amount of sarcastic little quip-complaints about it. It’s totally valid, sure, but I keep boring myself. And if there’s one thing I have learned in creative writing graduate school it’s that if you’re boring yourself, you’re boring everybody else. And boring everybody else doesn’t get you very far if you’re trying to love other people all the time. Because love is exciting, people.

 She has one foot in academia and one foot solidly in the world; Melissa is bringing the kingdom with her wherever she has her pen and paper.  Thank you, Melissa, for bringing it here today. Ya'll can go check out her blog here

photo

The Storm in the Streets

I’ll tell you right away that I’m a different sort of War Photographer. My front lines are actually way in the back, and you know what, we have cushions and catering back here. I’m in graduate school studying English—I’m making a living off of talking about fairy tales, and I take classes in a place called the “Poetry Center.” Let me tell you, we’re not on anybody’s terror-target lists.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a battle. When it comes to sharing hard stories that aren’t our own, writers are the best there is. The walk-a-mile-in-her-shoes thing is our business, empathy and point-of-view our trade. They would give us bows and arrows (or at least millions and millions of dollars) if we weren’t so moody, or so frail. But we are, and they don’t, so we end up lurking around in corners, watching everybody else and reading everything we can get our paws on.

This past winter, I got my paws on my dad’s copy of Runner’s World magazine, in the upstairs bathroom magazine stack. Usually this is where I learn about the top ten energy-boosting foods or the best way to build to a 5-K while I relieve myself after a heavy Christmas dinner—but what I found in the January 2013 issue this time worked up my insides in a different way.

Last November, the New York City Marathon was canceled in light of Hurricane Sandy (which “ended” officially just six days before the scheduled race). So this January, Runner’s World ran (pun, yes, haha—do you think they’re bored of that at their office yet?) this twelve-page spread: a “2012 NYC Marathon Special Report” covering controversial questions surrounding the marathon and its cancellation, everything from “Should the Marathon Have Been Run?” to “Does Running Have a Blue-Collar Problem?” (spoiler alert: yes) to “Can the Race Make Peace with Staten Island?” These are all really good questions. I can tell they’re good because after they’ve been asked, I still have more.

Like, for example: how can Runner’s World print this article right after (we’re talking directly after; not even an ad separates the two) the 14-page cover story, a month-by-month guide entitled “New Year, New You!” involving subheadings like “Spring-Clean Your Gear” and “Rediscover Your Mojo”?

The easy answer is this: by putting it all into InDesign and printing 600,000+ copies and sending them all to homes and stores and newsstands. The hard answer is: “I don’t know.”

I don’t know why I keep being surprised that we ultimately care about ourselves first and most, that “New Year, New You!” takes up the entire front page but “After the Storm” gets relegated to the bottom corner, near the mailing label and the barcode. I do know that it ultimately doesn’t matter. Runner’s World has been around the block—they know what works and they know how to make and sell a good magazine. They’re not in trouble, here, for putting an underwear-y runner girl on the cover of their magazine; in fact, they’re actually pretty smart for sneaking in a bulk of humanitarian content in the pages underneath her lean, long, healthy flesh.

That Runner’s World asks these questions and opens this discussion in not just in a normal, runnerly-reflective way (i.e. the monthly “I’m A Runner” column on the last page) adds further complication. A particular tension brews in the post-Sandy conversation between NYC marathoners and NYC natives, because both groups are especially experienced in handling hard things. Runners are equipped with this cool metaphor for life: they understand what it means to really push through pain and reach a finish line. And New Yorkers? They had 9/11, and now this wet cold mess. There are different kinds of pain, sometimes bigger kinds, sometimes kinds so much more immediate. With so many of us in such a small space, how can we come to know which pains take preference and precedence?

This was the question for NYC, and it’s a question for the world. At first it seems silly to compare running 26.2 miles for fun to something like the Israeli-Palestine conflict—until you remember that the guy that the marathon was named after was fighting in a war. And what is war but a storm of hearts and grit and bodies? I’ll make the stretch and compare the Sandy/NYC Marathon outrage to the Jews and PLO, though, because the reason that an article like “The Storm (And Everything After)” is happening at all is because two very different people share a space. This twelve-page spread in Runner’s World is about, ultimately, the actual streets of NYC—the pavement and the asphalt and every inch of land beneath—and the question of what to do when the feet that walk upon that territory disagree.

In that sense it’s appropriate to start another war, to put “The Storm” article right next to “New Year, New You!”: to make these ideas share a space. This encourages me because the people receiving this information are obviously in good enough standing (money-wise and health-wise, as I’m assuming the sort of demographic that would buy a running magazine is) to actually do something about something like Hurricane Sandy. What better place to put an article like this than with an audience that understands the power of moving and making physical improvements?

So I guess it makes some sense to put the Stormy Un-Marathon article after the Make Yourself Better one. When you take care of yourself, you can better take care of other people. Or, you can take care of other people while you’re taking care of yourself, and vice versa. Which is what, I learned as I read page 76 of the January 2013 Runner’s World in the bathroom on Christmas day, some of the NYC un-marathoners actually did.

In the sub-section “Were All Marathoners Self-Absorbed?”, Amby Burfoot (winner of the ’68 Boston Marathon and RW editor) doesn’t get around to answering his title question. Instead he talks about ways that the runners—who’d already booked tickets to and hotels in NYC from places all over America and the world—decided to use their stay now that the run had been called off: “Many were able to put their well-trained muscles and pent-up energy to good use, removing heavy, damaged furniture and wet debris from devastated homes,” he writes. This, I think, is brilliant. What do you do in a high-tension space? How do you respond to pain? How do you help make space for healing? Use what you are and what you have for others.

So for the NYC un-runners, their able-bodied bodies. And Runner’s World, the pages of their magazine. And me, my pen and laptop keyboard. But no matter how much I write, or how much anybody runs, or how many pages of articles like this RW publishes, the conflicts and the questions will never ever cease. This is earth and it is spinning: there is always weather, and there are always different kinds of people trying to take shelter in the same small space. The storms will keep on coming—but there will always be an eye, so long as there are lots of other “I”s trying to care about themselves and others. So long as there is us here trying to share.

War Photographers is a series on how we share the hard stories (that might not necessarily be our own). Look for more installments every Thursday for the foreseeable future!

i'm the christmas unicorn

Two years ago, I saw Sufjan in concert, promoting his new album, the Age of Adz. It was a disconcerting experience. People were flapping around in grubby bird costumes, Sufjan was dancing like a tired kid at a rave, everyone was wearing neon colors in a decidedly self-conscious way. The auditorium was packed with people just like me, enraptured with a story that seemed to have no soul. I myself felt like I was watching the concert behind a plate of glass; I was separated, simply by my need for something real. That concert was the first time my husband and I had left the house together as parents; our first date since everything changed for us 3 months earlier. Since we had our baby, long before she was due. Since I almost died, long days spent in the hospital, longer days spent quarantined at home. Life was now filtered through a different colored lens, and it made frivolity and noise seem juvenile, pretentious, and more than a little stupid. Sufjan, in an interview with Pitchfork, admitted that The Age of Adz was a departure from songwriting, more like an experiment with sound and excess. “This is not a populist album”, he said, “It isn't for everyone.” But from where I was sitting, perched up high in the balcony, I was the only one left wanting more. I was the only one who yearned for an actual message, not some trussed up exploitative meandering song based on another man's mental illness. I wanted my own illness to be addressed. The gaps were widening between the people who were content with strutting and dancing and making art; and those of us who were barely treading water, wanting something to clutch as we floated along.

Like many long-time Sufjan listeners, I wanted something spiritually significant In all my sleep-deprived emotionalism, I nearly cried that night as I watched the performance. I couldn't find anything to hold on to, at all.

//

I am going to see Sufjan again tonight, a part of his Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice Tour. I'm a little nervous, but my expectations are quite a bit lower. I no longer feel the need for popular music to validate my experience; I am getting a tiny bit more sleep now than I was back then.

But Sufjan's music continues to dig into my soul, causes me to lay awake at night and think Big Thoughts. His new Christmas Box Set is no exception--for every silly song about Santa there is a gorgeous, haunting hymn to go along with it. The music seems to sum up the mood of myself, and so many others around me.

I did a weird little review of the album for The Curator, which in my opinion is one of the websites to read on the internet (intellect+wit+soul=magic).

Here's the intro to the piece:

 

Being a Christian in the midst of Christmas is hard. I have tried making presents by hand; I have tried not going to malls. I have tried abstaining from peppermint lattes; I have sat in midnight mass and prayed to feel sober and holy like I should. But time and time again my good intentions get crowded out in the collective search for a holiday that is my own invention. I am overwhelmed by the nostalgia of times with family, before people got sick or moved across the country, before we knew what things were really like around the world. I find myself longing to forget my troubles, my struggles, and instead find myself looking fondly at all the cultural displays—presents, Santa, spiked eggnog. I guess everything does look better under twinkly lights.

 

Why don't you mosey on over and finish the rest?

mission trip

“But I want to go to jail,” he said, not even for one second caring how crazy he sounded. “I want to be persecuted for my faith. I want to be like all of those people in the Bible--Paul, and . . . and all the others.”I looked at him, trying hard to appear composed but allowing my eyes to open wide, mentally imagining them to protrude an inch from my face. It would all be so funny if we weren’t in the middle of Turkey, on a mission trip composed primarily of middle-aged women who were more interested in the spice bazaars than proselytizing. The team was crashed in various rooms of the small and quiet hotel, sweating on ornate and uncomfortable couches, recuperating. I had found myself in a conflict of wills with the team leader: he, the only man on the trip, filled with visions of grandeur; me, barely in my 20s, bewildered at my own unwavering convictions on this point. I said it slowly, emphasizing his altered mental state: “I’m not leaving this room until you promise not to pass out the Bibles”.

“But I want to do something!” He sounded like he was pleading with someone, his ambitions and insecurities sweating out of him, all the slights of the pastoral life catching up to him at the same time. He was only a couple of years older than I, freckled and determined for something big to happen. His wife stood next to him, trying to be supportive but failing just a little. My sister, who had agreed somewhat warily to come along on the trip with me, stood next to me in solidarity, blocking the door. We were all feeling pretty insignificant, for different reasons.

There were the gypsy children, coming up to your tables while you ate your kebab, putting their tiny brown hands under your nose for a few small coins, saying the same words that you don't understand over and over again. There were the crowds of people milling about their everyday life, not sensing your urgency or your desire to help. There was the heat, making everybody listless and angry, the flaws in their plans becoming glaring. There was also the church, the wonderful pastor with his unmovable eyes and welcoming building, the smattering of the dedicated followers. There were the women who loved Jesus, even though it meant losing everything else in their lives. There was you, not understanding how you fit into anything in this situation, but hoping that there would be some redemption somewhere in all of this.

All four of us stood that room, all of us shocked by our convictions making themselves known: on wanting to do something big for Jesus, on our fierce desires to see the shepherd and the sheep of the small church protected. We would stay in that room until he promised me, promised the room, not to pass out the box of Turkish Bibles we had brought. And finally, deflated, we went to sleep.

In the morning, we would go back to wandering the streets with the rest of the team, ushering the women around as they looked for yellow saffron and cold diet cokes. And we were all starting to realize that proclaiming the gospel is much more difficult than any of us would like to admit.

Writing as Process

Hey! I am currently feeling sick as a dog yet somehow needing to entertain my toddler all day--who knew that sick days when you grow up are truly like the Worst Days Ever? I think we will be watching many movies today, which should thrill the child. On a separate note, I have some stuff up at a couple of different places.

First, my new column for McSweeney's is up here. Just to let you know: it isn't very good. I guess everyone needs a throw-away column, and this one was mine. This is what happens when I try to be funny.

Secondly, my new post is up at A Deeper Story. This one was very cathartic for me to write, and as I was telling my sister about it she is the one who said: wow, can you say "self-fulfilling prophecy"?. I had never thought of it like that. I really truly believe in all the gifts (one of my parents speaks in tongues, one does not) but I could never really deal with how that culture made it all very personal--to the point that it took away from an actually relationship with Jesus (for me, at least). I am now at a point in my life where I desperately want to be open to the Spirit, and that starts by combatting some of the lies (prophecies) that have been spoken over me. I am looking forward to the fire growing.

New Directions.

Hey guys! So . . . I updated the blog a bit. To be a bit more professional and all (many, many thanks to the hubs for helping).

With the new look comes a new slant on things as well:

I am not going to be writing on here as much.

Not like this is a big deal at all, but at Storyline I realized that I had no desire to be a big-time blogger (which, trust me, takes a LOT of work). I didn't want to build my brand or crank a bunch of posts out of my butt that I don't know anything about.

And I can't write about what is really going on in my every day life (the internets: the are rife with mean people!). All my funny stories about refugees or babies or husbands just aren't suitable for a public space.

But, I love to write. It is how I process things. I am starting to realize it is also how I come to my best epiphanies, about things both large and small. So, I am going to write--just not here.

I will be writing about the current great adventures in my life at my old blog (some of you are already privy to it--you lucky people!). If you would like to be informed of the random happenings of babies/refugees, please let me know. Even if I don't know you in real-life, I would be honored if you wanted to read along on our crazy ride. E-mail me at dlmmcsweeneys[at]gmail[dot]com for details. Seriously, don't be shy. We have some crazy things coming up in the future (a move across the country!) and we will need all the support we can get.

Secondly, I am going to work on writing a book. I don't know what this looks like. All I know is: I like to write (well, as Donald Miller says, I like to have written). What had become crystal clear is the fact that I want to write really, really well. And blogging safe and tame things (that I really don't know anything about) is not going to help me at all.

 

So, there you have it. I will still be here periodically, so feel free to check in. But the winds are changing. I know what has been given to me to do.

And I want to do it well.

Find Your True Calling

I am super, super excited to be joining a team of excellent writers over at A Deeper Story. The tagline is "tales of Christ and Culture". A couple of my favorite lady-bloggers write over there, and I am honored to be a part.

Today I am writing about about our future, and reveal a big step I made recently . . . expect me to be writing more about this, ok? And expect support letters soon (J/K. Or . . . maybe not?). Of course, I somehow managed to sneak in a little such-and-such about Oprah. Just like I do.

It would thrill my nervous little heart if you felt like heading over and checking it out (and maybe commenting?). This feels pretty legit. I have a headshot and everything (and I look a little pissed, which is funny).

Ok, time to get back to worrying frantically praying patiently waiting for our next grand adventure.

Guest Blog

So I got the chance to guest blog for my new internet-friend Jessica over at her blog. She is one of the founders of this amazing non-profit called Hill Country Hill Tribers. I have heard of this organization since last year, and I am just in awe. Burmese refugees in Austin, TX, are making some of the most beautiful jewelry out there! I seriously have a girl crush on Jessica, and not just because she is awesome and enjoys spending all her free time teaching ESL classes to refugee moms. You can check out the guest blog here; it is a nice summary of my thoughts as of late.

Speaking of non-profits, one of my Bhutanese neighbors maybe/sorta wants to start her own small business. She is an amazing crochet-er (is that a word?) but many of her products would be  . . . difficult to market in Portland (she favors intense color combinations and things like TV covers from the 1960s). But she does make some killer baby turbans.

I am not rushing into anything, but I want to help in any way that I can. Here is my baby in one of the turbans:

Seriously, I need some more opinions. Do you think we could sell these in Portland? Would you buy your baby a turban?

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