Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snapshots of Fall

I am sitting at our old kitchen table.
The thing is scarred, stained and wobbly and has been through quite a bit and every time I sit down at one of the old rickety mismatched white chairs that are pulled up around it, I think man, we need a new table. However, my attention is diverted at this moment to the backyard. It is early October and it's one of those perfect end of summer/beginning of fall mornings. I have a steaming mug of coffee in my hand and the kids are at school, the house is clean, all errands have been run, I've baked some banana nut bread for our afternoon snack and just got off the phone with my best friend Kate. I have the whole house to myself and I am in the perfect frame of mind. The sun is high and bright in the sky, a couple lazy clouds drift by, and a lackadaisical breeze shifts through the trees, the highest of whose leaves are ever so slightly beginning to fade. The air is cool and fresh in the low 70's and I have all the windows in our bay window in the kitchen open, while I sit and watch the trees. Our large backyard has quite a few hardwoods and most of them are tall and mature, so I can tell it's going to be a beautiful show when the leaves start to change. I can hardly wait.

I am in the middle of a cane maze.
It's mid-October. It's the pumpkin patch field trip for my daughter's second grade class and I'm one of the chaperones. The cane stands tall in the foggy morning air, swaying slightly to a tune that only it seems to hear. The kids are going wild in the maze, running back and forth to tell each other what they've discovered just around the corner, shrieking and pretending to be lost while they look for the exit, and forging new paths everywhere where the cane stands tall and undisturbed. The day is cool and breezy, and the fog begins to burn off as we walk, the sky emerging a bright and hopeful blue. We are walking on straw underfoot, that has been laid down on top of the wet dirt paths, muddy from rain the night before. A second grader runs by on the adjacent path, screaming Help!, chased by several other second graders, finally getting caught and tackled as they all end up in a squirming pile struggling to stand up in the close-knit stalks, giggling uncontrollably. The other moms I am walking maturely and calmly through the maze with, denying my sudden impulse to run and shout and play, chuckle indulgently and continue on.

I am standing in my backyard.
The day is overcast and kind of gray and the air is humid, but still cool. I'm lounging in an adirondack chair underneath a huge oak, in the exact place where I will put a hammock next spring, and the kids are jumping on their trampoline. It is surrounded by a huge net with posts, giving the entire humongous contraption a birdcage look. Occasional leaves float lazily on the cool, hazy air and drift quietly down into this net-contained space. They are jumping and diving and the boys have recently figured out how to do front flips. They're front flipping with complete abandon, and asking me every ten seconds did you see that? Did you see that one? What about that one? And watch this Mommy! It is the end of October. It seems almost like it might rain today. I hope so. I've heard that the more fall rain there is, the better the colors are when the leaves change.

I am standing on my front patio in my socks and flip flops.
It's kind of cold on this afternoon early in November, but in that perfectly crisp way that you don't mind if you have a good sweatshirt on. The sun is shining down on me and all three kids are taking turns with the water hose, washing off the gourds and pumpkins we have just bought at the hardware store. We are decorating our front patio for fall. They soap up each tiny nubby gourd I've purchased, misshapen and blazing with all sorts of wildly splotched colors - green, yellow, orange, magenta, brown - and rinse them (and each other) off before moving on to the large green speckled swan gourd and then finally, the several orange pumpkins we have in varying sizes. Meanwhile, I plant yellow mums in a huge terracotta pot, and then a small cheerful hosta in a little one. I separate and re-pot my fern, getting it ready for colder weather and making it easy to bring inside if I need to. All up and down the street the leaves on the trees are changing, half-yellow and brown, many of them a bright scarlet color. There's an especially beautiful tree at the end of the street in a blaze of glory. It has lost almost all of it's flame-tipped leaves, and they lay discarded in a wide circle all around the base of it's trunk, like a molten pool of fragmented shards. 

I am standing in Woodward Park.
I hear Derek suck in his breath as we pull into a parking slot and the kids and we start to climb out of the van. The trees alone are enough to render him and me speechless, and I am standing under a massive oak that stretches out over the parking lot, and must have been here for a hundred years or more. I let my eyes stretch all the way down to the end of the park, as the grassy knoll dips and rises and tree after tree, hundreds of them, and all huge, stretch their branches wide and drop their leaves, humbly acquiescing to that brilliant death. We walk toward the lower end of the park, wading through thousands of leaves on the ground, in all shapes and hues. I stop frequently, trying to capture the breathtaking beauty with my camera, though I know it's futile. There are photographers and small parties of people everywhere. The leaves are almost at peak and everyone is getting their Christmas photos done. It is mid-November and the world is aflame. This is my first real fall as a resident in Tulsa. I think I'm in love.

I am jogging down Riverside Avenue
It's cold, in the high 40's, being only nine o'clock in the morning and when I dropped the kids off at school a little while ago I made sure they had their coats for recess. I run lightly, with the Arkansas River winding it's way on my left, wearing my sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt, starting at 41st and heading north, to run the two miles to 21st and then back. I am listening to the sounds of the wind, birdsong, and the traffic that zooms by a couple hundred yards away. It is toward the end of November, but not yet the week of Thanksgiving. I can see my breath as I run and after a rusty start, my stiff muscles start to warm up and loosen. The trees are right about at peak, and a few of them have lost most of their leaves. As I run down shaded parts of the path, the sun filters through the remaining golden, burnt orange and red leaves, rendering the path below my feet in a strangely dappled pattern, each leaf's silhouette quivering and spinning. My feet are crunching through leaves on the ground and I am like a child at Christmas, looking all around me, taking it all in, thirsty for all the color and meaning this season holds.

Now I sit and type all of this, looking back in my mind's eye at all of these moments of autumn that I have recorded. Thanksgiving is this week, and as I watched the landscape change over the last six weeks, something inside of me changed too. I found fall in my own heart. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose." As the irresistible green and growing season gave way to a restless display of spinning leaves, with cooler nights and shorter days, and then switched to a soulful and melancholy settling in for the colder winter months, I found in my soul the same settling, the same tucking away of this year's greener memories, the same surrender and gratitude for all the growth. Like the trees, I find myself able to now digest experiences that have stretched me, in a hibernation of sorts. I feel the closure that was sure to come from watching the trees cathartically release all of their life and growth to the stillness of winter, and I feel the hope that starts to grow, even now, in anticipation of the buds of spring.

It is with a truly thankful heart for the faithfulness and mystery of God that I find living in the beauty and order of seasons, that I render these snapshots of fall.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm Looking for a Bunch of Rejects

Writing is harder than it looks.

Here I am, with my little blog, attempting, by describing my life, to impact the world for better, and I often doubt the value of anything I might have experienced or have to say regarding what other people are doing.

After every post, I find myself filled with self-doubt and fear of rejection. While I understand the importance of writing honestly and being transparent, in order to be fully effective in my gift, it is with fear and trembling that I traverse the country of vulnerability.

At least in my poetry, I can hide from most people, with cryptic messages that will hopefully reach the right kindred spirits, those who don't misunderstand me. Why do I feel the need to be so understood? Why do I place my value in how well I can do something? They aren't related, worth and ability.

It's hard to transfer this from my head to my heart. I hold back from using my abilities out of fear of my inabilities. Maybe it is this kind of author who never arrives at the glowing destination they dream of, be it getting published, or arriving on a bestseller list, or better yet (and seemingly so unattainable), joining those hallowed souls on the classics lists. Oh to be not just a writer, not just a good writer, but to be a great writer. It is one of the most layered, for better and worse, and intentioned prayers of my soul.

Maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe I should be content right where I am, in so-so world, where I haven't worked hard or achieved that English degree that I know will help me immensely, and I haven't been published, and I almost always have a hard time hitting "publish post", and just having the respect of family, fellow moms, friends and other Christians usually suffices to satisfy.

Well, if I squint my eyes and let it get blurry it satisfies.

I often wonder if this goal is completely wrong. I want to be the kind of writer who adds to the world, who contributes to the great conversation, who asks and is willing to answer hard questions that polarize most people into two groups. My personality is kind of polarizing, so it seems like I would write the issues I am pondering, but I don't. I often steer away from them in fear. Fear of rejection.

I need strength and courage to be alone on the stand. I need to give myself grace to be exactly what I was meant to be, especially if it has nothing to do with greatness. How hard to lower my expectations. I know some of us struggle with not expecting enough of ourselves, but I struggle with expecting too much. Typical Type A who can not, will not, must not, under threat of failure, go easy on myself. I expect excellence. I crave it in everything I encounter, be it friendships, food, music, nature, child-rearing, fiction, organization, marriage...

I recently started forcing myself to write a few times a week, about whatever I'm thinking of. Having never done it before, I wasn't sure, after all these lofty ambitions, if I could actually do it. If I could actually find subject matter that was intriguing enough to spend my time and energy on that frequently. I found it was possible. I had it in me. I found it required tons of hard work. And sometimes I find myself being lazy, not really reaching for that excellent way of putting something or that well-placed sentence or better word that hits the nail on the head. Laziness. Hmm, I didn't really expect to find that in there with all my wannabe over-achiever goals. So that's definitely something I'll be working on. I want to want to work. It can't all be a pizza party, this writing thing.

I started wanting to write a book when I turned 30 last year. But about what? I tend to skip over the small, necessary steps in pursuit of the large gold medal moments. Derek, wise as he is, recently suggested doing some short stories and seeing if that takes me anywhere. Start small, he said. So I think that's what I'll do.

But it's submitting my work that freaks me out most of all. Putting yourself out there like that, in such a look at me way, with the hugely probable chance of getting a rejection slip back in the mail, is simply terrifying. I'm scared to death of that kind of "professional" rejection. But most published authors get tons of rejection slips before getting published. I know one of my favorite childhood authors, Madeleine L'Engle, writes in her journals about getting turned down over and over for A Wrinkle in Time, the book that went on to win a Newberry Medal, and other awards too. So getting rejected is good, right?
Whatever the case may be, I'm striving for growth on this blog. I'm striving to become a better writer, a more honest communicator, and trying to set some goals toward getting my work out there. I'm looking to work harder, be lazy less.
And I guess I'm looking for a bunch of rejects.