Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Musings: Quiet Joy and New Year's (Reading) Resolutions

... being a post in two parts

Part 1: Quiet Joy

Last week I wrote about my surprising disconnect from the Christmas season this year. Turns out I just had to wait a bit longer.

The joy cameunexpectedly—in a quiet way. First, my friend Stephen shared his article from last January where he quoted from C.S. Lewis' chapter in Mere Christianity on Christian marriage:

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do.
Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.
At the time, I only took this passage to mind in the way Stephen originally used it—in regard to fandoms and not killing the joy of partaking in stories by always demanding the first and strongest thrill from every interaction. But God brought it back to my mind later.

Our associate pastor had asked me a few weeks back if I would write and read "a poem or something else" for the Christmas Eve service. I had written up a villanelle on a family trip two weeks ago, but the more I looked at it, the more it felt forced. As though I were trying too hard to get an old thrill instead of allowing the words to say what they wanted. So two days before the service, I reworked it into a "something else".*

This small (or large) act of revisiting a project served to lighten my spirits a great deal. When the service finally came, I found myself thinking back to Lewis' words. "It's the small, quiet joys," I thought, "that keep the thrill alive. Even at Christmas."

And it was a good Christmas after all.

Part 2: New Year's (Reading) Resolutions

One thing that usually happens around here at Christmas is that I get books. This year, despite my best efforts at making a wishlist for our parents that consisted of not so many books, I still wound up with quite a few:

  • Tolkien's Beowulf translation
  • Tolkien's Sigurd and Gudrun adaptation
  • Glamour and Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis
  • Christian Mythmakers by Rolland Hein
  • Goldenhand by Garth Nix
  • I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells
  • Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
  • The Celtic Vision by Esther de Waal
  • A Life Observed by Devin Brown
  • The Book of Common Prayer (this edition, to be precise)

And most of these went straight to my bookshelf in our bedroom (also known as the "read this soonish" shelf). Once they did, I realized I had a problem. The shelf, already filled to overflowing, was now almost unmanageable. So I purged the shelf (i.e. I took the books that had moved down my priority list to the library downstairs). In order to keep myself from winding up in the same position next year (and in order to maintain my wife's sanity when it comes to my frequent book-buying urges), I am making a couple of resolutions.

  1. I shall not buy a book (even at a library sale or McKay's) without first having read one I own. [This is a revision of a rule I used a few years back; originally, it was read two to buy one.]
  2. I shall not add a book to the bedroom shelf without first having read a book on the shelf (and removing it).

For the sake of transparency, here's what the bedroom shelf looks like now:

There are also a few books on the shelf that aren't included in the "read it and remove it" clause: the Bible (on the top far right) and the three large books on the bottom left: Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and A Dictionary of Irish Folklore (which is here partly to keep the shelf weighted on the bottom :P).

So what about you all? Any resolutions for the new year, reading or otherwise?

* Here, for those of you who are interested:

Christmas Musings
Above Bethlehem, star and nebula, cloud and angel, from heaven to heaven,
The universe was holding its breath.
An unexpected arrival, long promised
Long looked for, long cherished and feared
The Word had come to conquer death.
Since Seth and before this entry
Had been prepared, prophesied, planned
Still, the universe held its breath.
Angelic glorias and humble praise, difficult journeys and worldly edicts
Preceded His coming.
Temple-dwelling Anna and faithful Simeon gave praise to God
For the end of the night
For the Messiah, this child, the Word made flesh
The Son of Man come to conquer our death.
In the Jordan, with John’s praise and heaven's dove
The voice of the Father announcing His might,
The Word revealed Himself
And the universe withheld a silent breath.
Outside Jerusalem’s walls—continually before Him
Who bears our names on His hands—on the skull-strewn heath
Darkness—with nails and spear—put out the Light of the World.
The Word, crowned with thorns, was conquered by death.
The Son rose with Sunday
And above Jerusalem, star and nebula, cloud and angel, from heaven to heaven
With the joy it had reserved since His birth

The universe shouted for the Word had conquered death.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Musings: Confessions of a (Surprise) Christmas Curmudgeon

Before you start telling me about how wonderful the Christmas season is, believe me – I know. It's my favorite holiday season, just as autumn is my favorite season of the year.

But this year, it seems a bit more distant than usual. Autumn felt the same. My two favorite times of the year seemed to take forever to arrive this year, yet they have come and (in the case of Christmas, nearly) gone without much more than a whisper of my usual joy.

In autumn's case, the dissonance between this year and previous autumns lies in the delayed cooling of the weather (and our cold snap coming before Halloween). I also didn't have as much of a boost in my creative drive as I usually do. I made one cross stitch sampler and a pair of fingerless gloves this year (the former for Samwise's room, the latter out of necessity). 

Normally, I'm bouncing from project to project in the fall, both craft and writing. This year, not so much. Part of that probably comes from anticipating Samwise's arrival and our recent move. Now that I'm driving 40 minutes each way twice a day, there's a little less time in the day for leisure.

Don't get me wrong, the move was a good one, and in some ways necessary. But the shorter hours for writing, making, and reading are one side-effect of the move I'm still adjusting to.

But Christmas. Christmas is a season I hardly ever have to strive to be in the spirit. It's like putting on my fingerless gloves – muscle memory, hardly any thought. It just happens. I have to resist the urge to listen to Christmas music all year long (and I don't always resist). I love buying gifts for friends and family, and eagerly look forward to receiving my assignment for this year's Secret Santa months before we even put our names in the hat. I begin working on narration and drama for the church Christmas production no later than August. Christmas is at the heart of me. But some days this year I've felt a little too much like this Relient K song:

Now that we're 6 sleeps away from Christmas, I'm finally asking why it has felt so distant this year. And the answers came more quickly than I anticipated.

I'm a father of a two-month-old. That's new, and wonderful, and something we're all still adjusting to. (As a side note, Samwise loves staring at the lights on our Christmas tree; sometimes me rocking him near the tree is all that will calm him – and other times it has no effect. Babies. ;) )

I haven't been involved in the church Christmas as much as usual. In fact, all I did this year was write the narration, give a little direction, and let my wonderful drama team handle it. And handle it they did. Better than I could have hoped.

We haven't been in church as much, period. We've been to services twice in the last two months, slowly easing our way back into attendance because babies are fickle and immunosensitive and such. It's been great to be back the days we've been, but there's still a gap in our worship time I'm hoping we will bridge soon.

Life is just a little crazier than usual. We're celebrating with our parents and my brother and his fiancée this weekend. Then we're heading south for that same brother's wedding to said fiancée next weekend. There have been extra trips (which are bigger endeavors with a baby on board) and there are still changes to our schedules and lives we're figuring out post-Samwise.

All that to say, I'm trying to find the joy of Christmas I've been missing. Seeing the choir and drama team perform yesterday lifted my spirits a great deal. I expect that this weekend will do much the same as we celebrate on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with family, church family, and friends. Sometimes, it pays to just rock and watch the lights go by. Sometimes the small moments make up the bigger experience.

Has anyone else experienced a strange shift in their experience and enjoyment of Christmas this year?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The End of One Year, The Beginning of Another

It's been a crazy couple of months since I last posted. Our little Samwise joined us, and our lives haven't been the same since.

I haven't been idle with my writing in those two months, though I'm still learning the balance of having a writing life with an infant in the house. I've been making a lot of progress with Albion Academy's publication. We have a cover, which I'll officially reveal in an upcoming post, and I'm a few chapters away from the end of the galley proofing, which means the official manuscript will be finished before long!

Some of you may remember the Almost an Inkling flash fiction contest I participated in last September and October. The winning entries in that contest have finally been released in an ebook from Oloris Publishing. You can pick that up in EPUB or MOBI format here.

In anticipation of Albion Academy's forthcoming publication, I'm going to be overhauling Inexhaustible Inspiration. This change will come in two main ways: one, I'll be redesigning the look and feel of the site, attempting to make it more streamlined and user-friendly; two, for the first time ever, I'll be setting myself a formal blogging schedule. That schedule will be as follows;

Monday Musings: Anything from writing issues to philosophical questions to book reviews; these will be posted every week.

Top 10 Tuesday: Once a month at least (probably the first Tuesday of each month), I'll bring out one of my Top 10 lists.

Watercolor Wednesdays: I'm taking up watercolors this Christmas, and this will be a place for me to share my trials and successes (but mostly the former, ;) ). I may also post pictures of sketches and such. No sense limiting ourselves to one art form. These will come at least once a month. More often if I can get the painting time in.

ThrowBook Thursdays: Once a month (second or third Thursday), I'll post a book I've read before that still means something to me. It may be one I've mentioned before (Narnia, anyone?) or something that surprises you all.

Saturday Snippets: On the last Saturday of the month, I'll post some snippets of what I've written that month. For the foreseeable future, these will most likely come from the second book in the Albion Quartet, as that will be my primary focus. The goal is to have that one ready to go to the publisher around the time Albion Academy comes out in July, so that we can release it a year later. Then it will be on to book 3! (But let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

Thank you all for sticking with me over the last few years. I can't wait to see where this next year takes us all!