Friday, May 23, 2014

Maybe We Should Call Him Rocky...

We were glad to get to the end (or what we thought was the end) of a long, tiring day yesterday. I was breathing a sigh when we’d finished up family prayer and nighttime reading. It was a little after 10, and the sweet girl was headed for bed. Her dad and I were headed for an episode of “Elementary” (we’re hooked) and then also to bed.

And then came the noises.

I didn’t hear them at first. It was my husband who came out of the kitchen with a puzzled look on his face. “I think there’s somebody in the attic,” he said.

You have to understand that we live in an apartment in a very old building. We’re housed over a warehouse which belongs to a local business (the owner of which also owns our building). The attic space above us is sometimes visited by workmen during the day, but there had never been anyone walking around up there at 10 at night.

“Are you sure?” I asked. And then I heard the sweet girl, from her room, shriek, “Mom? Dad? What was THAT?”

We hurried to her room. “What did it sound like?” we asked. She looked seriously alarmed. Thud, thud, THUD, she told us.

I was starting to wonder why everybody in the house was hearing noises but me when I heard something too. I went into the kitchen and looked up at the ceiling, where the sound seemed loudest. Creaking (was it footsteps? I couldn’t tell) and a kind of a bumping noise. And then some kind of scraping noise that sounded like metal. Like someone might be dismantling pipes. Or like Ron Weasley’s ghoul might’ve decided to move in.

We were all getting a little weirded out by then. I went next door to see if our neighbor was home and to see what she made of it, but she didn’t answer my knock. The sounds kept coming. I had misplaced our landlord’s home number, so went hunting through the book. We didn’t want to call the cops if there was something going on in the attic (“but what?” we kept asking ourselves) that he had authorized.

I found a number that looked like it might be right and tried it. It turned out to be my landlord’s somewhat elderly but very kind mother, who happened to be up watching t.v. (“Oh, I’m always up late!” she assured me cheerily, and then promised to call her sleeping son and wake him up and get him to call me pronto.) When the phone rang a couple of minutes later, I apologized for having him wakened, but then explained there were a lot of really strange noises in the attic. “I’m afraid there might be a person up there,” I said.

“Oh no, I don’t think so,” he assured me. “The trap must’ve sprung. I’m pretty sure it’s a raccoon in a cage.”

It turned out, as I discovered, somewhat to my merriment (it’s amazing how relieved you can be to find out it’s only a raccoon, when you’ve been having visions of pipe- dismantling ghouls) that they had recently figured out that a raccoon was somehow getting into the building’s attic. A friend of our landlord’s, who is at trapper, figured this out from paw prints on a blanket they left up there. He also set a cage to catch the creature, complete with the enticement of red licorice. Apparently, the first time around, the raccoon managed to abscond with the licorice and not get caught. Not last night.

“It must’ve worked and the door closed on him. He’ll be OK until morning, and then my trapper friend will get him out and set him free.” (And presumably they will seal up whatever they can so no large wild animals can roam into the attic looking for the licorice bar.)

“All right,” I said, as there came a loud THWUMP from the ceiling, followed by a shake and a thud and a kind of rattle. “Just to let you know, he’s pretty loud up there. I don’t think he’s very happy.”

He did settle down eventually, our friend Rocky (we figured we may as well name him, since we were sharing a building with him for the night). We all had a good fit of giggles over the entire thing, not a bad thing following the stresses of the day. My landlord called back to check on us a few minutes later and to apologize again.

I hoped for Rocky’s sake that there was a bit of the licorice left so he could have a midnight snack. D. had to get up early for a breakfast meeting and heard him again. Apparently Rocky decided to get up with the sun. I’m pretty sure by now he’s out in the wild again, no doubt a bit grumpy about his night’s adventure. Perhaps he’ll post about it on his blog too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Encouragement...It's For Every Day

Today I had the opportunity to read (over the shoulder, as it were) two very kind messages. One was an email my sister wrote to my parents to let them know about the passing of a dear family friend they hadn’t seen in many years but still prayed for regularly. The other was a tribute that a friend’s mother wrote to her on Facebook, congratulating her on the achievement of my friend’s younger son graduating from high school this week – and marking the culmination of 25 years of committed and creative homeschooling by my friend.

Something about both of these beautifully written messages lodged in my heart. Both were sincere and heartfelt and wonderfully kind, a quality that makes my heart sing whenever I see it. But the quality that most stood out to me in both was encouragement.

Encouragement is one of those gifts that I think we get a little lazy about in the church (and in the world at large, but I’ve been pondering on this from the perspective of Christian community). We tend to compartmentalize it by saying “well, so and so has the gift of encouragement,” as though that lets the rest of us off the hook when it comes to offering encouraging words. But the Scriptures make it clear this should be a part of our daily, ordinary practice as Christians. We are to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and “encourage each other every day” (Hebrews 3:13).

I’ve been trying to get better about this in my own life, offering kind and affirming words to others when I’m prompted to. It sounds easy, but so often I either fall into critical mode (especially with my daughter or other people close to me) or I choose not to speak because I think I’m not the person that someone needs to hear from, or that they probably don’t need encouragement since they seem to have it all together. But it’s not necessarily my place to judge how much someone needs encouragement. It’s my place, as a follower of Jesus, to just give it, sincerely and from the heart, when he prompts my heart to do so.

Encourage. To give someone courage. To inspire them with hope and confidence. I know how much I need encouragement every day. So I’m finding new ways to try to say what I often think. “You’re really good at that.” “It meant so much to me that you took the time to….” “I hope you realize what a difference it makes when….” “I’ve heard such good things about…” And with my eleven year old, sometimes words like, “I know how hard that is for you, and I wanted you to know I noticed how you kept at it.” Or even just “you’re really growing and learning!”

Sometimes it feels like the world tries to take our courage. Even when we feel thin on courage ourselves, we can still spread seeds of encouragement wherever we go.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Poetry: The Art of Subtraction

I woke up two hours earlier than I usually do on Saturday and couldn't get back to sleep. It took me a couple of groggy minutes to realize it was because the early morning stillness was calling me to the page. After I had a brief quiet/devotional time, I got pen and paper (creeping around so I wouldn't wake anyone else up) and then snuggled down under a blanket to write.

I thought it was my novel calling out, and I did end up working on the beginning of chapter eight (you don't know how happy it makes me to be able to say "chapter eight" after about two decades of never getting past chapter three in a longer piece of fiction). I even worked for a bit on some notes for a possible script adaptation, one D. and I were talking about late last night before we fell asleep ~ ideas had apparently smuggled themselves into my sleeping hours. But much to my surprise, it was poetry that ended up being the most fruitful part of the writing morning. I wrote the draft of a poem yesterday -- first time in quite a while I'd dipped into poetry -- and this morning wrote three more!

I'm chuckling over the delight in quantifying the poetry writing experience.Unlike fiction writers, who love saying things like "I managed 800 new words today!" or even "I wrote 20,000 words this month!" poets seldom quantify. You rarely hear someone say "I wrote seven poems today!" or "wow, 246 new lines this month!" Maybe it's because anyone who has written a good deal of poetry knows that lines are going to be rearranged a dozen times and words and images pared down. While it's true that bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to fiction either, I think it's possible for a good novelist to start with 20,000 words and still end up with that many when all is said and done, even while tightening and revising considerably. Stories have a way of expanding, filling up space, talking longer than we think they will. Poems, on the other hand, have the habit of getting quieter and smaller and tighter the longer we work at them, almost like a flower that's already bloomed re-closing into a bud and then opening again in a smaller, brighter, more perfect version of its earlier self.

My poem drafts are filled with cross-outs and parentheses, places where I realize I am being excessive with images or adjectives, lines where I question whether or not I really need to explain what I've just presented. Usually I discover that the image can speak for itself, or that if it can't, I need to work harder at helping it to. When I compose poems via the keyboard, a different kind of experience entirely, then the pages are filled with multiple copies of the same poem (thank goodness for copy/paste) with lines subtracted, rearranged, reformed. I still prefer writing first drafts by hand and revising via keyboard, but sometimes poems come unexpectedly and I do whatever feels right or handy in the moment.

The thing that still mystifies me most about poetry writing is where the ideas come from. It's such a lovely gift in that you never know what will spark the writing. The four poems I've worked on in the past two days each had a completely different seed kernel. The first came to me initially as a memory and a sound, the second was inspired by my reflection on a devotional reading this morning, the third mysteriously brought together two things I'd been thinking about but hadn't consciously put together (both things read about and contemplated during school time with my daughter), and the fourth was just a playful bit of response to a book I know and love well (the one I was working with for a possible script adaptation). Of the four, I think the one that's potentially the most powerful is the one where the two ideas came together in  a surprising way. One way I can tell that it's working is that I've already gone back to it twice to cut and polish.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Reading Roundup, Early May

Having enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, our night-time family read has us nearly to the end of Through the Looking Glass. I’m not sure how this can be true, but I think it’s my first time through the whole book. So much of it is familiar though – this is really where so much of the great Alice stuff happens! Jabberwocky! The Red and White Queens! The talking flowers! The Walrus and the Carpenter! The White Knight and Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast! It’s unevenly paced for a read-aloud, but we’re having too much fun to mind.

In the mornings, we’re almost done with The Door in the Wall, Marguerite de Angeli’s beautiful medieval novel about a lame boy named Robin. It won the Newbery award in 1950. This is actually a re-read, but the sweet girl was so young the first time we read it together, she doesn’t remember it. I really do love de Angeli’s beautiful prose.

As for me, I am still on a P.D. James tear. I’m reading her books more or less in order, and have finally made it into the 1980s with the Dalgleish novels. I’m bogging down a bit this week with A Taste for Death (“what a terrible title!” my eleven year old scolded me, though I did point out that it was a quote from a poem) but I’ve got a feeling that I’m about to turn a corner and pick up the pace soon.

I’m also perusing a lovely medieval costume book that’s helping me think through clothing and fabrics for my work-in-progress. Yes, I’m at work on the novel again.