//I choose to be the moon

Tired. Exhausted. Worn out. These are the adjectives I would use to describe my soul right now – and not just mine, but the collective soul of everyone around me. Everyone is stressed, everyone wishes they could just rest somewhere until they felt energized and inspired again. Nothing is easy, and each day seems to add on more weight. My social media feed is filled with angry political arguments, or those desperately attempting to make peace. I start out the day feeling fine and halfway through the day I just want to curl up in a blanket fort and watch every Studio Ghibli movie consecutively.

My family is here for me. My spirit-wife Arielle and my best friend Lauren are here for me. But I’m used to being there for others, too, and lately I’ve felt, more or less, like I wasn’t ‘doing my job.’ I’m supposed to be the one helping other people, uplifting other people, encouraging other people. Instead, I’m tired. I’m struggling with my confidence in writing, although my novel is coming along well (and I’m even enjoying it). I’m struggling with my confidence in art, in my ability to be a kind person under pressure.

Last night, after all the lights were out, sat down on my bed and I prayed. It wasn’t much of a prayer, but I confessed I wasn’t feeling like I was doing my job. Whatever light I have that I’m supposed to share was too dim, and a dim light equals a useless me. As I sat there in the dark, a single phrase came to me – I am the light of the world. And I blinked in surprise, because wait just a diddly-darn second.

That was the problem, and the answer. I had been relying on myself and my own light, but the trouble with personal light is there’s only so much of it. Personal light can flicker out when the oil runs low. Personal light can be depleted. And yet here I was, exhausted with my seeming inability to do the work I feel like I’m supposed to do, because I was doing it all wrong.

I remember a tacky glow-in-the-dark tee shirt that was all the rage in Christian stores back when I was thirteen or fourteen. (It might still be all the rage; I wouldn’t know.) It was one of those itchy, thick cotton tees and on the front it proclaimed ‘be the moon’ and on the back it finished, ‘reflect the Son.’ Cheesy, right? Very. And if you’re going to make a ‘Christian statement’ you might put it on soft cotton, I’m just saying.

But as tacky as the shirt was, the statement was one that stuck with me.

I am not the light of the world, He is. I am only one person; He is the God of the universe. I’ve been relying on my meager flame to ‘light thousands’ and wondering why I felt so drained and used-up.

And so my prayer to get me through the current climate isn’t grand or complicated – it’s only a request to reflect. To stop relying on myself, to stop thinking I can light up the world alone, because I can’t. Nobody can. So I choose to be a conductor, to reflect Him and not myself. I choose to be the moon.

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//what makes us who we are

“You make so much more sense now!”

I’ve heard this joke many times over the years, and it never fails to make me laugh. I say something random – about what I loved as a kid, or what scared me, or something my dad or mom did when they were my age. The older I get, the more it amazes me just how much those little, seemingly insignificant things from childhood mold who we become. They plant seeds that continue to blossom and grow, higher and higher, bean stocks reaching to who-knows-where. I can look back a long list of things in my childhood that helped shape who I am today (for better or weirder) and I thought, why not write about it? It’s a list, isn’t it?

Instead of writing the whole thing down (because logically that could take years) I’m just going to highlight a handful of the things that I can see influenced me the most.

What made me, in no particular order:

  • the battered paperback copies of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings my mom would leave lying around the house. I personally think this was her way of indoctrinating me from a young age. I can even remember the first time I picked one up and tried to muddle my way through a chapter – it was in The Two Towers, when Gollum first attacked Frodo and Sam. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.
  • a heavy book with a green spine called The Book of Virtues. We had another, slightly smaller, companion book but it was ‘the green one’ that held my attention. Stories and poems and myths and tales of good men and bad men and magnificent feats and arduous quests – I spent (literally) countless hours with that book in hand. It was my reading material of choice.
  • we had another book, an illustrated collection of myths, from the minotaur to the sphinx. This is probably where I first became enamored with fantastic beasts of the Greek sort, which led to being enamored with fantastic beasts of any sort – not to mention the idea that trickery and cleverness can get you out of all kinds of life-threatening situations. And sometimes win you a spouse or a weapon or both.
  • which is probably why the illustrations of Apollyon in a little copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress fascinated me so much (a lion’s head?? Scales?? Dragon wings??), not to mention the other fanciful illustrations of giants and huge monsters and terrifying people who would most definitely 100% kill me if they could.
  • sea monsters. I’m fairly sure the Apollyon illustrations (I know this wasn’t the intention of the book I’m so sorry to everyone, I promise the story did sink in) led me to create my own oddly cobbled-together sea monsters, and I would fill page after page after page of hideous underwater creatures with huge teeth and multiple eyes and various fins. Usually I would give these pictures to my dad. (I’m surprised he didn’t drown in them.) (The Apollyon illustrations also led to my creating a fantastic hero called Amanda, with long blonde hair and a sword, who would kill monsters like those Christian faced. Giant serpents, sometimes dragons, etc. and I remember once distinctly asking my mother for permission to draw Amanda chopping a giant cobra in half. Those were the days.)
  • my sister Maralie listened to many, many soundtracks before she married and moved out, and I would sit on her floor and listen to the soundtrack for Zorro or French Kiss or Ever After and I would ask, ‘What’s happening right here? And what’s happening right here?’ ‘This is where they kiss for the first time,’ she would say. Or, ‘This is where he’s running away from the police.’ Or, ‘This is where she tells the prince who she really is.’ This is why I have difficulty writing without music most of the time – to me, music is almost necessary to the act of creation. I need music to fully create the scene I have in mind.
  • mimes + puppets. When I was young, I had two favorite things to watch: the puppet scene from the Sound of Music (and, being way back in the misty past, I had to call somebody to come re-wind it for me over and over and over and over because it was only so long, you know) and a kid’s video featuring Arpeggio, a mime. Now, Arpeggio scared me. He scared me a lot. What kind of person paints their face white, grimaces all the time, and never says a word? Who DOES THAT?? Nevertheless, I did want to watch him. I wanted to watch him frequently, but I couldn’t do it by myself, so I would beg somebody into watching it with me. (Also, I once punched a good friend of mom’s in the face because she was wearing makeup that reminded me so much of Arpeggio, I literally remember Arpeggio in this situation and not said friend. I was only a few years old, but I did get reprimanded for this.)
  • when my dad was in college, he slept in a coffin instead of a bed. If you think I’m joking, you can head over to said college, where we recently discovered they still talk about this. Also, my dad went spelunking and brought a pet bat home. This is the one story that makes people say, “Ohhhh, I get you now” more than any other. In case you were wondering. (Dad also answered the phone as a kid once and said, ‘Neal’s Mortuary, you stab ’em we slab ’em!’ But when your father, who happens to be a pastor, is the one calling – it doesn’t go over as well as you think it might.)
  • my mom fell in love with my dad at first sight, and then had to set about chasing him so he could catch her. Once she laid outside in her swimsuit while it was raining, and when dad ‘happened along’ (she knew his routes) she told him she was rainbathing. I’ve always loved this story, ever since I was small. Don’t ask me how this shaped who I am today, but it did. It’s probably why I’m a sap.
  • the Twilight Zone. This didn’t come along until I was twelve or so, but it had a huge impact on my desire to write and my desire to write unexpected, creepy, poignant things. (Nobody did unexpected + poignant + creepy like Rod Sterling.)
  • Alice in Wonderland. This was the Disney movie I could watch over and over and over. My small soul reached out to Wonderland and whispered, ‘This is my aesthetic’ before I knew what ‘aesthetic’ was. Peter Pan (book + movie + play) was a close runner-up.
  • Riders in the Sky. I loved this song. I still love this song. When I was very little, my baby sister and I had a tape of cowboy songs we would play on repeat. (Yes. A tape. Ask somebody to explain this device to you.) This song was by far my favorite – I don’t really remember the others, but I would listen to this song as often as I could. There was something so sweepingly sad and haunting about it, but also something so urgent and nostalgic. It gave me feels, ok.
  • Robin Hood + King Arthur. I grew up reading stories about these two legends – reading stories, watching stories, listening to stories on audiobook. I’m fairly sure this is where my love for ‘motley crews + gangs of diverse people Doing Things’ came from. I am pretty sure.
  • when I was a little girl, I got sick and had difficulty breathing what felt like /constantly/. I’m not sure how often it really happened, but it felt frequent. Dad would take a rocking chair outside (it was always at night) and wrap me up in a blanket, and together we would rock and I would look at the night sky. He told me that when birds began to sing, that meant dawn was almost here. He would rock me until dawn sometimes, too. I’m fairly sure this is why the night sky means so much to me, and always has. It is, quite literally, connected with my ability to breathe, and connected to a strong sense of love and home.

There are more – many more – things that influenced me as a young bean (Beatrix Potter, Labyrinth, Edgar Allen Poe), but this is a list jotted down on a Sunday morning before I’ve had a second cup of coffee. It might be lacking in more areas than I realize, but writing it down was a bit of a revelation for me as well – a way to put pieces together and better understand the full picture.

If this idea was fun to read, I encourage you to write your own post about what influenced who you are today! I’d love to read it. 

//sunday, 5:13 pm.

It’s been nineteen days since my last blog post. This number seems huge to me – almost three weeks? I didn’t quite expect that. It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say – it’s just I seem to be rediscovering how to say things. Every once in a while – well, it’s usually an annual thing – I go through a re-adjustment. Usually this re-adjustment takes a couple months and something changes – my writing improves, my art improves, my self improves. This year is different. This year I’ve been readjusting since March. October is nearly here. I’ve been readjusting for nearly seven months. I read stories of people readjusting for large things – illnesses, deaths, new jobs. But I rarely hear of people taking seven months to adjust to…nothing, really. It’s strange, how life can feel chaotic in the midst of calm; how my mind and heart can be thrashing in turmoil even though there is nothing new to upset them.

It’s something of a comfort, to be able to look back on life since March and see a trail of things that help this odd upheaval make sense. It’s been one thing after another in some ways – and not everything is large or heavy, but after a while even the smallest stones, when stacked on top of one another, create a lot of weight.

Sunday is my hermit day. Most people who know me would argue that I’m already 90% hermit (and they’d be right, on most days) but Sunday is the day I eschew social media. It’s the day where I don’t communicate with anyone outside of my house, and for most of the day, I communicate only with myself. I do what I haven’t done the rest of the week – I sketch, I read, I watch a movie or two. I keep to myself. I pray.

Today has been large mugs of black coffee (as usual) and Death Note movies. I’ve sketched several sheets in a sketchbook rapidly running out of room (it feels like I just bought this sketchbook, honestly) and I’ve read half of the latest issue of Bella Grace. Usually it’s an article that speaks to me, but this time around it wasn’t an article – it was one phrase, a quote from the order of St. Benedict.

‘Always we begin again.’

The second I read this quote I wanted it tattooed on my skin as a constant reminder. I wanted it tattooed because in four words, it managed to sum up the essence of everything I try to learn, year to year and day to day.

It’s something I’ve always had a hard time articulating. In fact, I’m not much good at articulating anything unless I can write it down. If I have a pen and paper, or fingers and a keyboard, I can say anything (usually). It’s the brain-to-mouth function that doesn’t work very well – and unfortunately, my default response to ‘how are you’ is ‘I’m fine!’

And usually I am fine. But ‘I’m fine’ is a very paltry phrase. It doesn’t say much, if anything. It says please don’t worry about me, don’t speak to me, nothing new to report. So while I usually mean it – I am fine – what people understand is not what I mean.

Change tends to give me a melancholy air, or sometimes a downright bleak one. People think I’m sad or angry when really, I have ‘begun again’ and don’t know where I am, or how I feel, or what I think. Somebody asks me how I am, or if I’m okay, and all I can say is ‘I’m fine,’ because I won’t be able to give a full, unabridged response until I’ve figured the new beginning out. I don’t think this is a bad thing – the bad thing is my difficulty engaging in the world around me during times of change. I’m more comfortable in my own head. I’m more comfortable observing and not speaking. I’m more comfortable staying inside rather than going out – but sometimes it reaches a point where I realize my inspiration is running on zero. The things that inspire me most are stories – books, songs, movies, shows. Good stories, stories that teach me how to tell my own stories. But I’m inspired by other things, too – by new sights and sounds and smells, by brief interactions with strangers, by singing at the top of my lungs in the car with my mother driving and my sister in the back seat.

I show favoritism to my inspiration, and eventually, certain aspects of my inspiration will run dry. I’m realizing more and more that in order to remain connected during these renewals, these new beginnings, I need to make an effort. I have a tendency to drift whenever I’m in upheaval, and the problem with drifting is that often it becomes so relaxing that I forget to swim. And when I forget to swim, I sink.

I haven’t sunk, but I have been drifting, off and on, since March. And so I’m embracing St. Benedict’s mantra – always, I begin again. And I will begin again as many times as I need to, over the course of my life. And I will readjust and change and shift and keep myself pointed in the right direction, and I will correct my course if I have to and drift now and then when I’m where I want to be, and if the tide rises, I will rise along with it.

I will face each new beginning with excitement, because each new beginning is a new road to endless opportunities, choices, and adventures.

I can’t always choose which door opens, but I can choose to hold my head high and step through without hesitation to face the new beginning, no matter what it looks like.

//in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger,

I leaned my head back and stared at the globe hanging overhead. It swayed back and forth in the breeze from the fan in small, hypnotic circles, casting a shadow twice as big against the ceiling. Earlier that afternoon Arielle and I had been trying to dissect the reasons I’ve been so stressed lately. One of the things I told her was that I didn’t feel like I had the energy to keep up my online presence much right now. Not many people have seemed to notice my lackluster internet appearance lately, which I’m grateful for – in fact, I’ve had several people recently urge me to get Twitter, or Instagram, or a Youtube channel. I don’t even have the wherewithal to toy with the ideas. In fact, I don’t have many ideas at all lately.

After a while Arielle asked if maybe I needed to take something of a hiatus from my social media platforms. I bucked at the thought at first – wasn’t I already doing that?  – when I realized I hadn’t officially said anything about it. I’ve kept thinking tomorrow, I’ll be better. I’ll feel better. I’ll have energy and inspiration again. And each day that passed without those things added another few pounds to the guilt I was feeling over not being My Usual Self.

I was amazed. In fact, I was amazed at every detail as we pulled my current state apart. Since I had the flu several weeks back, I’ve had next to no appetite. I’ve lost ten pounds. I don’t sleep well. I’ve been working on the same chapter for three weeks, and every time I attempt to sketch or begin a commission, I’m unhappy with it. Frankly, I’m a mess. I just didn’t realize how much of a mess until yesterday.

It’s the kind of mess that can be fixed, of course, but I’ve come unraveled and I need to comb out the tangles before I can put myself back together again. I’m going to do something I don’t usually do – I’m going to take a break. I’m going to focus on my inward circle of life – my family, my closest friends, my college daughters, and myself. I’m going to spend more time with God. I’m going to focus on my art and writing as I have the energy and ability. I’m going to watch kdramas that aren’t pertinent to what I’m writing and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Essentially, I’m going to re-charge.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

I’m not dropping off the face of the earth, but I won’t be as present as usual. I may write a blog post if I feel like it, but they won’t be as regular. I won’t be sending out novel chapters – honestly, I need to get my mojo back. I’ll continue working on art commissions until I’m happy with them. I won’t be as present on Facebook, either. I’ve also let go of my position as a staff writer of The Fangirl Initiative temporarily, and the team is graciously letting me return when I can.

BASICALLY…

I will still be around, but I’ll be much quieter. I’ll be working on breaking this habit – the habit of being a Personality instead of a Person. Sometimes to reconnect with yourself you have to take a step back, which is what I’m doing. However, I’ll repeat: it is only a step. I’m not quitting the internet to go live in a cave. I’m not going radio silent, I’m just turning the volume down. I’m taking a semi-hiatus. Hopefully I won’t need long to recuperate – just a few weeks is my guess, but I can’t be positive. However, one thing I can tell you—

I love you + I’m grateful for you, and I’ll see you around.

I’LL BE BACK.

//invasive thoughts and other flora

There’s an astonishing amount of bamboo in Georgia. Growing up, I equated bamboo with Pandas and pagodas. Bamboo was something found in eastern Asia, not the American south. I was wrong. As Mom and I drove to my chiropractor appointment this morning, we remarked on a fast-growing grove of bamboo on the side of the road. It’s a little bigger each time we pass it.

“It’s a very invasive plant,” Mom remarked. “Like the blackberry bushes.” She was referring to the wild blackberry growing in our backyard. If we aren’t careful it tries to climb through the fence, over the fence, under the fence. My mind wandered, comparing bamboo and blackberries to dandelions. All three plants are hardy and invasive. They will flourish and thrive in the barest conditions. All three are beautiful and supremely useful, and yet, once we stick the label ‘invasive’ on them, they become synonymous with weeds. Pests.

Like thoughts. It’s easy to label certain thoughts or ideas as invasive, particularly spiritual ones. Voices of the conscience that whisper, you shouldn’t be doing that, or you should do this. Voices that suggest maybe we aren’t perfect, maybe there’s something to fix, maybe we don’t know everything.

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When something threatens to throw off our structure, our perfect landscaping, it’s natural to react with negativity, to pull out the pruning shears and cut these invasive thoughts back until they’re out of sight. We don’t want them growing through the fence, or over it, or under it.

But ‘invasive’ is not always synonymous with ‘bad.’ Dandelions are one of the most versatile, useful plants in America – brought over intentionally to supply pioneers. It grows quickly, it’s pretty, you can use the leaves in salad, you can make tea with it, you can make wishes on the fluff.

Unfortunately for dandelions, they grow quickly. They spread. And so we spray them with chemicals, hoping to kill them off, to make the environment a hostile one.

It’s easy to do, with uncomfortable thoughts; with recurring ideas that keep pushing up through the dirt, growing four inches overnight. Sometimes they really are weeds. Sometimes they need hacked down. But sometimes the uncomfortable, invasive thoughts – the mental dandelions, the thorny blackberry bushes – sometimes they’re invasive because we ought to pay attention to them, because they’re saying something important. Because they’re useful, or helpful; because if we pay attention to them and use them to their full potential, they will result in spiritual growth.

Sometimes that weed is the voice in the back of our mind saying, you should talk to that person. You should understand their point of view. You may be misreading this situation. Perhaps you’re in the wrong.

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Sometimes the invasive weed is actually a life-saving resource. It’s an ongoing process, knowing the differences; learning what to pull, what to cut, what to water, what to keep. Learning what to encourage and what to discourage. But like anyone with a plant, you’ll eventually learn what they need; not all are the same. My pot of mint needs as much sunlight as possible, my blue moss needs shade. My mint needs lightly watered on a daily basis (occasionally it gets coffee. Sometimes I let my coffee cool off accidentally, all right?) and my moss needs to be damp at all times.

However, sometimes a weed really is a weed, and that’s where discernment comes in.

Years ago, I planted a row of fairy rose-bushes along the side of the fence. The roses are ‘fairy’ roses; small, delicate, in varying shades of pink. They’re also surprisingly tough. We cut them back every winter, and every spring they grow three times their previous size, bearing loads of blossoms that I can, on a good year, bring inside. This year is not a good year. The bushes are green and thriving, but the roses are pale, dying just a day or two after they bloom.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized I’d been forgetting to pull the weeds that grow around the base of the bushes. I don’t know what these weeds are – they’re vicious and thick and they grow at an enormous rate, springing up overnight like malignant beanstalks. We’ve had enough rain that I haven’t needed to water the roses, which meant I hadn’t been tending to them every few days. I usually water the roses right after pulling the weeds. Because I hadn’t been watering, I hadn’t been weeding, and the weeds have been growing at an alarming rate, draining the nutrients in the soil needed for the rose bushes.

My own neglect is causing a disappointing bloom this year.

When the sun goes down and the heat fades, I need to put on some gloves and take care of the weed problem. Once they’re pulled out from the root, I should have beautiful roses back within a week or so. They bloom through fall, so there’s plenty of time still left.

That’s the difference. An invasive thought you should tend won’t drain the nutrients from your soil, but feed it. An invasive thought you should root out will leech away your health.

The moral of the story, from a coffee-and-sleep-deprived mind, is pretty simple: you don’t need a green thumb to be a good gardener. All you really need to do is pay attention, to learn the difference between useful-invasive and detrimental-invasive. Sometimes the best lessons, the ones that stay with us, are learned only after our hands are scratched and bleeding from reaching through the thorns.