Hidden

Magic could be defined as a sort of knowledge. It’s a knowledge that is unknown. Or not understood. Unseen. Hidden.

It also has certain connotations, both good and bad, depending on what perspective you are coming from. I’m a writer and a Christian. As a human I find the concept of magic to be morally neutral. It’s just is an aspect of existence in our universe. You can’t see it, or measure it, or prove it, but it’s real. However, I also believe that certain expressions and manifestations of it in this world ought to be treated with caution and even avoided. Maybe when you see it the way I see it you’ll understand why.

A nightmare I had last night is a good illustration of this concept. At the time I woke, I had some nausea and was frightened. I recorded it immediately. This is what I wrote:

General folk wisdom recommends that you don’t draw faces, especially certain faces. If you do, it conjures evil spirits. Everyone knew this in my dream world. I didn’t.

There were rules too. Certain things you could not talk about. Or think.

Mother breaks one of these rules. I try to warn her, but it’s too late. A mysterious stranger appears.

A conflict ensues. She is knocked unconscious.

I must fight off the stranger alone. I manage to elude him. I hide.

The rule is: I must not think about my hiding place, or I will no longer remain hidden.

The trouble with magic is that even when you don’t know the rules, they still affect you. Life is all about these hidden rules. Some are called science. Others are called morality. True magic is not created by humans. It is discovered. Harnessed.

Gravity is a hidden rule. So is falling in love. And even more so unconditional love.

Just as ignorance of the rules cannot save you, knowledge of them is no guarantee of safety either.

What I’m Reading {December 2017}

It’s day sixteen of my 21 Day Writing Challenge. Today’s prompt is reading, specifically, what am I reading right now. In the past month, I haven’t done much actual reading, but I have given it more serious thought than ever before.

My typical method of reading has been to pick up whatever book interests me at the moment. In the not so distant past, I would need to get up early in the morning to avoid disturbing anyone. In those days, reading or writing was not an activity I was encouraged to do or had all that much time to do.

Since then, circumstances have changed, and once again I have the opportunity to read as freely as I did in college. There are only two differences between now and then. One is that I have far less time. I have a newfound awareness of its brevity, and the need to manage this limited resource a whole lot better.  The other is direction (the simple complex decision of what to read). So many books, so little time. It’s a cliche because it’s true.

Most of my reading lately is focused on spirituality, psychology, and self-help. It’s been a difficult year. I am in transition. My choices these days are Psalms and Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton.

I spent some time this month adding and organizing my books on Goodreads for the first time ever. It’s daunting to see people with hundreds and even thousands of titles on their virtual shelves.

Last night I spent hours rereading my personal journals for this year, reflecting on what I’ve learned and on my progress.

In the upcoming year, I hope to read more poetry, memoir, and certain books in the magical realism genre.

Other books I’m slowly but surely working my way through:

–Necessary Losses by Judith Viorst
–The New Diary: How to use a journal for self-guidance and expanded creativity by Tristine Rainer

Books I’m thinking about reading soon will possibly be:

–No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin
–The Penguin Book of the Sonnet

And, of course, I also read poetry blogs.

It can be a little overwhelming, and I’m still in the process of creating a comprehensive list of what I’d like to read.

Bedside Table

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Christmas 2017

One peek at my makeshift, colorful bedside table is all you would need if you wanted to know my preferences and personality. It’s a big deal for me, a little space to call my own. More than special, it’s a necessity.

I’ve been in transition for a while now. When I set up a cot in my mother’s tiny apartment a year ago, I made it a priority to create a makeshift bedside table out of a plastic storage container. Soon after, I acquired a pretty, pink and white basket to put my important Stuff in.

Having a place for my Stuff was much more than practical, it was calming and comforting. It gave me a sense of ownership and control over my environment when I possessed neither. It spoke. It said, “These are the things that matter to me.” I carefully selected them. I chose them according to their practical, personal, and aesthetic value.

Books were central to the arrangement. My goal was to fit as many as I could, while still leaving room for other objects. I stacked them neatly, spine-side out, beside the basket. Then, inside the basket, I arranged as many as I could fit–covers outward. It was an ongoing process, and it largely depended on my current mood and interests. Spiritual, self-help, and psychology went inside. Poetry and fiction were outside. They were a constant visual reminder of what I was striving for– a life of reading, writing, growth, healing, and self-awareness.

I didn’t read the poetry and fiction as often as I wanted to. I got stuck on the self-help. It was a difficult year. But the others were there waiting for me until I was ready for them.

Because I had no space to write, my bedside table also served as a desk. I kept two containers for writing utensils. There was a decorative, etched glass which held my favorite colored gel pens. Love gel pens. The other was a tiny, blue-painted metal pail. It was for my markers, mechanical pencils, and twist-up colored pencils.

Later, I needed a place for jewelry, so I found a small blue and white bowl with a chevron pattern.

At the front and center was a small stack of writing pads. It included sticky notes and a to-do list pad with the words “happy thoughts” written across the top.

The final touch was art. Behind all the books, I placed a watercolor painting of a beach scene. I made it one day at my daughter’s place after a fun day at the beach.

This small piece of furniture turned out to be more meaningful to me than it had ever been at any other time in my life. I’ve since then dismantled it for what hopefully will be a permanent transition to my new (and first) home.

Reading: Preferences

One of my goals in the coming year is to read more and to make a daily habit of reading.

Deciding what to read has been a challenge for me.

I come across many book recommendations, but in all honesty, I don’t always agree with them.

I’ve always feared this was a liability as a reader, a writer, and an educated person.  However, I’m just now realizing that I don’t have to worry about feeling guilty about not reading something that just doesn’t interest me.

Sometimes I find a subject or genre interesting, but I don’t enjoy a particular author’s writing style, or their perspective is so opposite from mine that I have difficulty appreciating it. I do believe it’s important to be a well-rounded person and to be able to see the world from different points of view. However, I don’t think I’ll be reading much military fiction, romance, or young adult fiction in the near future. They’re just not for me.

I recently came across a free novel by Ernest Hemmingway. Even though I recognize his skill as a writer, I know I’m probably not going to enjoy Islands in the Stream. So I’ll be passing it along.

Preferences are something that I’m going to need to pay closer attention to if I want to succeed in my goal of developing a reading habit. As with any other choice that we must make about how to spend our time and energy, reading material is no different. I’d like to be self-aware and discerning, and I definitely plan on making more conscious choices in my reading selections this year. I am hoping this helps me as a reader, a writer and as a person.

A {Writing} Place of My Own

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Photo on Visualhunt
Having a comfortable place to write is important to me. It should have everything I need. It should be inviting, clean and pleasing to the senses.
 
That seems like too much to ask. Maybe I should learn to write in crowds, or at a restaurant, or on the beach. But I know I can’t. It’s a feature of my INFJ personality (extroverted sensing so my surrounding environment affects me), and it’s also because I’m a highly sensitive person(HSP).
 
If I’m surrounded by mess, or the temperature is too high or low…if the wind is blowing my hair across my face… if there are too many ants crawling on the picnic table… if there is a strong smell of smoke or perfume or garbage… if I’m hungry or thirsty and I’m far from refreshment… if television is playing in the background, or loud conversations or music is part of the environment… if there are frequent interruptions … or any conditions that might affect me in a negative way, it is nearly impossible for me to focus.
 
Today’s prompt suggested that I try writing from a different location. But I don’t have one right now. That happens to be one of the more annoying aspects of my current circumstances.
 
I write from a couch, which also happens to be my bed. And sometimes I write at work when I have the opportunity.
 
I enjoy nature. But a cold front has just moved into central Florida, and I’m not eager to go anywhere outside.
 
I don’t even have a clean table to work on. It’s not my house, and I’m not up to cleaning it right now.
 
I need a place of my own. I’m working on it. But I’ve been displaced.
 
I’ve never had a place of my own to write. I don’t know what that feels like.

My Secret Ingredient

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I am told that I make good pancakes.

Even if I weren’t told this, I would know it. Because I taste them, and they taste good, and I have good taste.

They’re the perfect color. Golden yellow with light brown edges. Crisp on the outside but fluffy and soft on the inside.

I am patient. I wait until the just-right amount of bubbles appear on the surface of the round puddle of mix. A puddle that is not too thick and not too thin. I resist the urge to peek, and I stand guard as they cook. When the bubbly surface begins to look dry-ish, I know it’s time to flip them. Timing is everything. You cannot flip them a moment too soon because you must only do it once. Multiple flips will mean the texture is lost.

They look good. But the taste is what really sets them apart. Sweet but not too sweet. Delicate, not doughy.

I have a secret.

The secret ingredient is buttermilk, and it makes all the difference.

Writing isn’t much different than making good pancakes.

It starts with good taste. You don’t need anyone to tell you your writing is good except you, though it is encouraging when they do (and it helps).

You need patience. A sense of when a piece of writing is finished, not over or underdone.

But most of all you need a writer’s secret ingredient: persistence. You have to show up and write consistently and persistently enough to grow and produce work of quality.

Memoir of a Failed Memoirist

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Please don’t ask me to remember something. Don’t say, “Remember the time we…” or “Tell me about when…”.
 
The past, for me, is a wasteland of vague impressions, abstractions, and perceptions. Memories are not movies playing out in my mind. They aren’t clear and vivid photo-quality images.
 
I’m good at remembering odd, insignificant details. Like how I decided to name my fat, orange goldfish Garfield. Then I named his skinny, gray swimming partner Simon. I thought it was clever to reference the famous Sunday comics cat, while also indirectly suggesting a famous sixties folk-pop duo. And yes, Garfield is close enough to Garfunkel to make this witty in my mind. I remember how they died. Simon went first. It was a nameless, tumor-causing fish disease. I was glad that Garfield outlived him by several years, even though he eventually succumbed to the mysterious belly up-disease.
 
Looking at photos is helpful. So is listening to stories that friends and relatives tell. But I can’t seem to shake the uncomfortable realization that vast chunks of my life exist somewhere in a black, inaccessible void. This is what scares me. It makes me feel sad and wholly inadequate to describe my own past.
 
It’s not that I don’t remember any of it. It’s that I remember it differently than others. It’s selective at best. My memories are often random and always subjective. I’ve come to accept this as a by-product of being an INFJ. My dominant cognitive function is introverted intuition. Which means I can’t also have introverted sensing. I’m not able to file sensory images away in my brain and retrieve them at will. I’m much better at thinking abstract thoughts and finding patterns. It’s also why I miss exits on the highway when I’m talking to someone.
 
For day three of my21 Day Writing Challenge, I have decided to consider the past. I’m drawn to memoir and I’m not sure why.
 
So far I’ve managed to capture two interesting childhood moments in the form of a memoir. Was this a stroke of luck? An un-reproducible, isolated phenomenon? Am I doomed to fail at memoir writing?
 
I’m sure I have a few more where those came from, so I’m going to try and suspend all self-deprecation from this point forward.
 
Maybe there’s a reason I like memoir so much. Maybe I like the idea of struggling with the elusive past, fishing something out of the depths of time, and re-working it into a meaningful story.