April 29, 2012

My time in New York is winding down, and I think that is making me appreciate everyday here even more. Things are getting busier, but there’s still been time to squeeze in some fun.

A few of us recently went to see George Saunders read at NYU, and we got there so early that we explored the area a little bit beforehand. Even though I intern in the same neighborhood (Greenwich Village), I have never really walked around NYU’s main campus…it’s beautiful!

The reading was in this middle looked like an old home on the inside!

The reading was fantastic. Saunders’ stories are always the type that I have to read slowly and more than once, so I wasn’t surprised I had a little bit of a hard time following the reading itself. The Q&A made up for that though. Even though many of the questions were kind of disappointing (a lot of askers seemed like they just wanted to know how they could be as successful as he is, so there were lots of questions about which magazines he submitted to early on, what the timeline of his career looked like, etc.), he turned a lot of them kind of upside down by explaining how he doesn’t really think getting published should be the end goal of writing. He talked about how writing is something worth doing in and of itself, and about the importance of living a life outside of your writing career. Overall, his answers were really refreshing.

Our class has also gone to a few more museums…

The Brooklyn Museum.

The Brooklyn Museum

The Contemporary wing of the MOMA

…and I saw a cool dance performance at the NYCAMS studio Friday night.

Yesterday, Christian and I went to New Jersey for a New York Red Bulls soccer game. Our friend Hayes is interning for them, and he got us free tickets! We enjoyed hot dogs and cool weather, and the Red Bulls won. We met up with Hayes for dinner afterwards and he gave us the inside scoop on all the behind-the-scenes stuff (he gets to go in the locker room with the team afterwards!).

Next Thursday is my last day at my internship, and Friday is our end-of-semester reading for the program. I am sad that both these things are coming to an end, but I’m also looking forward to going home for the summer (and no more morning commutes on crowded subways!).

But before we leave, a week to explore! I’m really excited to do all the things I haven’t gotten around to yet (botanical gardens, Coney Island, the Bronx…) and go to Dunkin Donuts 5 million times.

More visitors

April 22, 2012

This weekend, Christian’s mom and step-dad visited! We always have such a great time with them, and it was especially exciting because Kai had never been to NYC, and Christian’s mom hadn’t been for decades.

One of the first things we did was go to the top of 30 Rock. It was amazing. It actually felt way sturdier than I thought it would (though I could have done without the clear-ceilinged elevator on the way up).

Isn't it crazy how much of the island Central Park takes up?!

Fun 30 Rock (the TV show) Fact: in one episode, Liz leaves her cell phone in a taxi cab, and she goes with Kenneth the page to go pick it up in the taxi cab garage in Long Island City (where we live)! As soon as a very nervous Kenneth gets out of the car, he is attacked with spray paint…luckily, I have never had that experience.

Also, I saw Hazel (the new creepy page) from 30 Rock at a subway stop last week! And I may have followed her for a few minutes.

On Saturday morning, we walked through Central Park. Even though I have been here 6 or 7 times, I end up in new parts I didn’t know existed each time I go. Here’s Turtle Pond.

That little line sticking out of right side of the island is a bunch of turtles!

Then we walked the Highline…it never gets old.

Next we took them across the Brooklyn Bridge. Some of it was under construction, but we still got to see a lot. We went to a park we had never been to afterwards, and had the best ice cream ever (organic!).

We rode the subway a lot,

My new favorite subway art.

Somehow this is the only picture I managed to get of Kai...

and ate LOTS of great food.

Last night, we saw Memphis on Broadway, which was fantastic. The music was so so good, and it was really funny.

Kai had to fly out (to China!) early this morning, so Christian, his mom and I went to brunch, and then wandered around a flea market and a few shops in Williamsburg before she flew back to Arkansas. We were soaked by the end, but so happy.

He can never hold a straight face for very long.

Even though we choose to take Christian’s mom and Kai to a lot of the same places we took Zac and Anna, the city always feels new and exciting to me. It was another fantastic weekend… we’ve had so many here!!

A special nothing

April 18, 2012

Unlike God, the novelist does not start with nothing and make something of it. He starts with himself as nothing and makes something of the nothing with things at hand. If the novelist has a secret, it is not that he has a special something but that he has a special nothing.

-Walker Percy, “Questions They Never Asked Me”

I don’t fully understand what Walker Percy means above when he talks about having “a special nothing,” but I am at least continuing to learn that writing isn’t all about voicing ideas I already had before I wrote.

This week in class, my professor asked each of us for a “status update” on our writing, and when I actually got to thinking about it, I realized that something is starting to change in my story. My protagonist is being humbled, and so am I.

I noticed this week that I am pretty judgmental of my characters. When I write an argument scene, I tend to over-simplify the whole situation in my head. I usually know whose side I am on, which character is more “right.” And so far, my protagonist has usually been “right.” (She’s not meant to be an autobiographical character, but I naturally sympathize with her the most.)

But the other characters are finally starting to come to life. That is, they are finally starting to feel not me-ish. They are challenging my protagonist’s assumptions, and mine too. That’s one of my favorite things about writing; I haven’t experienced it much, but it is just so cool to be humbled by characters, to get out of my own little writer-ly head for a little while!

Last night at the studio, the wind carried the first four pages of my manuscript right out the window! At least the woman in the building across from us got a good laugh.

And speaking of getting out of my own head, I got to recommend another manuscript last week! Most days I still can’t believe I get to read all day long for work, and it’s even cooler when I am reading something that teaches and inspires me. (Although really, even if it’s a rough manuscript, finishing a novel is in itself a pretty admirable feat….)

Those other deaths

April 14, 2012

“The feeling of having to obey every impulse and gratify every desire seems to me not happiness, but a kind of slavery… nobody talks about it as such though.” – David Foster Wallace, in a 2003 interview

Lately I’ve gotten to write several reader reports for fiction, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a happy ending.

In a few of the manuscripts (and a few published novels) I’ve read this semester, the author chose to resolve the story by having their protagonist get what they want (and modern “happily ever after”s are often bizarre…they involve things like divorcing boring husbands or dropping lousy friends). There is little sense of sacrifice or humility; it’s all about “finding oneself,” which sometimes is just another way of saying “doing what I want to do.”

As readers, do we admire these characters, or do we just like them because they give us permission to live like they live? (I could ask myself this question about a lot of things…the shows I like, the blogs I read, the music I listen to.)

I wonder if admiration is important in literature anymore. Of course, it’s not like every protagonist should be admirable; often characters teach something true about life or about humanity by being ugly. But it seems like too many novels (and memoirs) today are trying to celebrate ugliness, to call the slavery that Wallace talks about above freedom. (By the way, it’s crazy cool to me that a greatly respected secular novelist like David Foster Wallace so closely reiterates the Apostle Paul’s words from thousands of years ago.)

I don’t know how my own writing project will end, but I don’t want it to be just about my character getting what she wants. I’m not sure how to write an admirable character (that is, at least not cheaply admirable), and I think a big part reason why is that too many of my own days are about getting what I want.

Sometimes I trick myself into thinking that if I were to indulge myself less, I would be missing out…that if my day became less about me, it wouldn’t be as full. But Madeline L’Engle (and Jesus before her) reminds me that it’s just the opposite really.

“I must never lose sight of those other deaths which precede the final, physical death, the deaths over which we have some freedom; the death of self-will, self-indulgence, self-deception, all those self-devices which, instead of making us more fully alive, make us less.”

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn

P.S. I also just read that one of DFW’s favorite books was The Screwtape Letters…That is really unexpected and exciting to me. More motivation to re-read it this summer.

Easter in New Haven

April 10, 2012

This weekend was wonderful. We had such a nice visit with Matt and Julia in New Haven.

On Saturday, Matt showed us around Yale. The campus was beautiful…I could just feel the smartness in the air.

The Rare Books favorite place on campus!

One of the best parts about getting together with Matt and Julia is that we usually have really good conversations. Since Matt’s field at Yale is cognitive psychology, he always has a lot of cool news about what is going on as far as new studies and discoveries.  This visit, Matt was explaining to us how most cognitive psychologists today actually think that belief in God is natural to humans (though, since most believe it is irrational, they say we should learn to repress it). One of the big guns, Paul Bloom, even recently talked about how to silence “the big booming voice inside you that says God exists”… I had no idea! That information might have been helpful in all those hours of Torrey debates about innate belief : ) Anyway, I’m excited to have a friend who can translate some of the important but way-over-my-head stuff that’s going on in that field, and even more excited that he’s in the midst of it all.

Julia and I also had lots of really good kitchen talks about careers and prayer and friendship and art…spending time with her is always so good for my soul.

On Easter, we all got up early to go to a sunrise worship service on top of a hill with the most beautiful view… even though we were tired and cold, it was worth it.

After a homemade (as in Julia-made) breakfast of French toast casserole, we walked across the street to their church to celebrate some more.

In the afternoon, we took a nap and then cooked A LOT…our first Easter meal without any help from mothers or fathers! Julia had all these amazing ideas… but leave it to me to over-whip the frosting for the raspberry lemon cupcakes. Luckily, that was the only real mishap (besides none of us having any idea how to carve a ham!) and after hours of cooking, it was so great to sit down together and enjoy the food.

Afterwards, we played cards and talked some more until bedtime.

Christian and I left Monday morning very thankful to have such admirable, wise, fun friends, and a God who is risen!

We wake eternally

April 6, 2012

Atop a mountain in Ukraine, 2010

“Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—”

The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton

I cannot imagine the pain of crucifixion, public humiliation, or deep betrayal. I cannot imagine watching my friend being arrested, or my son dying in front of me at the hands of the government.

I can imagine, I think, the despair and the confusion  some of the disciples may have felt as they heard that Jesus—the man who had promised them new life—was dead.

Surely they were heart-broken, but I wonder if any of them were angry too. Not just at the Roman soldiers, but at Jesus, for not being who they thought He was. And maybe at themselves, for being foolish enough to believe Him.

Today, His is the death that makes us able to hope, but the disciples didn’t know that yet. For three days, Jesus was just dead. On Easter, I think we see a glimpse of the front of the world, but Good Friday reminds me that most of the time, we, like the disciples, only see the back.


Death, be not proud, John Donne

 Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Long Island

April 2, 2012

On Saturday, Christian and I took a train out to his relatives’ (I forget exactly how they are related…mom’s cousin and his wife maybe?) house near Ronkonkoma, Long Island, and it was wonderful. They treated us to lunch in their downtown, drove us around to see a pier, a lighthouse, and a ton of beautiful old houses, took us to see The Hunger Games, grilled a delicious dinner, and then took us to frozen yogurt. Basically, they were really generous!

Unfortunately, the weather prevented us from spending a lot of time outside (hence the movie), but we made the best of it. I loved loved loved driving around such a historic town. We went to a general store that has been there since the mid-1800s, and one of the churches we passed was from the 1600s!! It was so cool to look around a town that knows newer is not necessarily better, and has fought to keep landmarks around.

Here's the store that's been there over 100 years.

At the Post Office, the eagle's wings flap back and forth every hour on the hour. We stood outside in the rain just to witness this momentous occasion, and it was worth it.

Michelle (Christian’s kind-of aunt) knew a lot of random historical facts, so we felt like we had our own personal tour guide. One of the most interesting things she told us was about this thing (I didn’t get a picture, so I just googled one):

Many of the houses on the water had these, and Michelle said it is called a “widow’s walk” because it is where a sailor’s wife used to walk while waiting for her husband’s ship to return.

So many of the houses reminded me of the homes in my favorite gothic novels, and the romantic in me loves that places like that still exist!! (Though I might be scared to actually live in one, with the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff wandering around and all…)

This coming weekend Christian and I are visiting our good friends Matt and Julia at their home in New Haven, Connecticut, and I can’t wait to see more of the North East. I have heard that New Haven isn’t the nicest town, but I am really looking forward to touring Yale at least (especially given the fact that most of my pictures of what the North East looks like come from Gilmore Girls…).