Hope Doesn’t Go on Furlough: Thanks for the Pies, Canada

 

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 The government shutdown has caused so many issues (here is a running list of some of the real-world consequences), that discouragement is natural. For the remainder of the shutdown we will be sharing the ways people are stepping up to help each other, proving that humans can show empathy and not behave like ninnies. Feel free to share any that you see on our Facebook page, and please join in to help when you can.

What’s more stressful than being an air traffic controller? Working as an air traffic controller without pay, while you’re hungry. Thankfully our cooler cousins to the north understand that. Thanks for feeding us, Canada.

 

Accepting the Challenge to Create

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Skyline view of the Boston Public Garden, oil pastel by Kristen Allen

In the beginning, God created a writer. And it was good. Still, the writer was convinced that she could not draw, paint, or sculpt. Visual arts were not a gift meant for her to enjoy.

By and large, I suck at visual arts. I have some challenges with spatial relations, and getting things out of my head onto a canvas or drawing pad rarely works out. It’s just not my jam. I am a Word Girl through and through. I even dream in narrative. Seriously, most of my dreams have an off-screen narrator telling me what I am watching.

As my husband was putting our Christmas decorations away in the attic, he came across some boxes that needed repacking. As luck would have it (or the Almighty Creator willed it), he found the only art portfolio I have ever assembled. It was for the drawing class I had to take in order to get my final three fine arts credits to graduate with my BS degree.  Oh, I dreaded that class. I hate sucking at things, and here I was paying an obscene amount of money to suck at something that someone else was going to judge and assign a grade to.

The class was life-changing. The professor, Iris, was a quirky, earthy-crunchy, painter-teacher-spiritualist. I could not help but love her. This was a summer course, so she had some liberty to do some unconventional things—like have the class meet at a different location around Boston each week. We went to the Arnold Arboretum, the Boston Public Garden, the top of a campus building in Porter Square in Cambridge, and we even took a boat out to Thompson’s Island in the middle of the Boston Harbor, one perfect summer day. (You may know the island as the site for the film, based on the Dennis Lehane novel, Shutter Island.)

Slowly, but surely, throughout the course, my perception of the lofty “ART” changed. I found that I began to look at the world differently. First I started noticing details, then color, light and shadow, texture. I began to see in pictures, not just in narrative.

The most remarkable change was when I was sitting under a tree, by one of the abandoned school buildings, on Thompson’s Island. I realized that I had started thinking about WORDS differently.  I was seeing narrative descriptions in terms of color and texture. Words began to have a flavor. A new phrase would swirl around my mouth like the first taste sample from a bottle of fine wine. I suddenly understood toddlers’ compulsion to repeat a word or phrase incessantly, a preschooler’s delight in reading the same story over and over.

That class was a very long time ago. I still suck at drawing and painting. I still cannot cut a straight line. I still am not a visual artist.

I am a writer.

I am a writer who has a better understanding of the gifts that paintings, drawings, statuary, pottery, needlework are. I am a writer who is looking forward to seeing—and experiencing—my visual artist sisters’ and brothers’ view of the world for a bit. I’m a writer hungry for some new colors, textures, flavors.

 

In the Beginning (of 2019), Let There Be (Clumsy) Creation

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I have never been a visual artist.

This is partly a lack of natural talent, and partly a lack of training. My hometown did not provide funding for arts education for most of my elementary school years, so my main memory of art class involves being instructed to draw a portrait of myself brushing my teeth in kindergarten. I recall being frustrated at how awkward and unrealistic I looked on paper, how big and clumsy the hand was that held the toothbrush, and especially how my art teacher praised the way I added the detail of the toilet paper trailing down from the roll in the background. I know now that she was using a standard technique of good teachers everywhere: find something to praise. At the time I latched onto it for dear life. In my head, I was The Official Drawer of Toilet Paper from the Side.

There’s not much call for my specialty.

More than forty years later I’m still focusing more on toilet paper rolls than organic forms, more on drawing lines than on color and shade and nuance. I can see and appreciate many forms of art: thoughtful gardens, paintings and sculpture, textile and fashion, beautifully decorated cakes, intriguing makeup, architectural whimsy, even graffiti. I just don’t see myself as a co-creator in any of it. Don’t tell anyone, but I suspect I consider it a waste of my time.

I don’t consider the appreciation of art a waste of time, and I don’t consider someone else creating the art a waste of their time. I firmly believe that art is an important part of life. I have simply disqualified myself from the process because I’m not good at it, so it isn’t pragmatic.

I’m not sure when I became afflicted with pragmatism. It wasn’t during childhood—I could spend hours sitting and watching the waves on the water, or listening to music, or making “acorn soup” in a frisbee to leave by the trees for the fairies. (Feeding fairies may actually be pragmatic, depending on how you view fairies.)

Somewhere between shoeless summers spent in the lake and now, things got busy. I became a responsible adult, with the emphasis on responsible (more on that another day). I still take time to enjoy things in my life, and I still create to a certain extent through writing. But even writing has become something I do with an end goal in mind: did I finish the blog post on time? (Hint: this is at least three days late.) Where could I submit that poem? If I take the plot of this story down that rabbit hole that will likely dead-end, isn’t that a waste of time?

I realize that I have begun to value time and activity in terms of the end product. A number of friends recently shared this article, which intrigued me and inspired me to reconsider how I structure my time. But even its counterintuitive suggestions are still justified by an end goal of greater output.

If I were to list out my beliefs and priorities, the importance of production would not be anywhere on the list. Not just not at the top—it wouldn’t be anywhere. I believe that life has value because it is. I believe that people have inherent dignity because they are. Yes, we have to make a living and earn money for food and shelter; I’m not talking about providing the necessities of life but of the things that preoccupy our hearts and minds. I believe that we are not only capable of joy for its own sake, but that it can and should be found in surprising places and in surprising ways, and that if we are in fact aiming to please our Creator, we do so best when we take joy in creating.

When did I stop applying this to myself?

I don’t really know, and I’m not going to waste time on the answer. What I am going to do is try to spend some time this month creating—joyfully, messily, poorly—for its own sake. Not with intent to produce, or sell, or even display for evaluation, but just to spend time creating in the presence of my Creator. “I am here, creating with You.”

It may be the most sincere prayer I can offer for 2019.

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Today’s Sign of Hope: A Demonstration of Glee

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Photo by Andy Allen

 

I already noted that this Christmas has been unlike any Christmas I’ve ever experienced. One of the biggest changes was not hosting at my home in wintery New England. Instead, my husband, two of my children, and my brother have come to Florida to celebrate at my parents’ new home.

I will admit to feeling a bit unrooted by this.

Yes, I know, I am still with (most) of the people I love best in the world. We have feasted and feasted and feasted. We have played games, laughing uproariously. We’ve seen beautiful Christmas lights.

Still I’ve struggled. Then something absolutely astonishing happened.

After Christmas breakfast–outside, on the lanai–we went for a boat ride. As we left the canal and entered the bay, my brother spotted a dolphin. We watched it breach the water and then swim alongside the boat. So nifty.

Then suddenly, we were surrounded by dolphins. We had cruised into a pod of at least eight young ones. My Mama noted that they must have known that “they have the day off of school” and were out to play. They seemed to be racing one another. Before we knew it, they were leaping and diving and flipping, playing in the wake of our boat. None of us, not even my folks, had ever experienced anything like this. It was the very illustration of “glee.”

And in that moment, I knew that we would all be able to create new traditions, and find new joys in the season.

Happy Christmas!

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Photo by Kristen Allen

 

My middle son called us this morning to wish his parents, baby brother, and grandparents a Merry Christmas. “There’s ice on the deck and frost on the ground. It’s 34 degrees and the dogs are grumpy about it.”   We were sitting poolside, drinking our first coffee of the morning at my parents’ new house while he was describing the scene back home.

It’s noon on Christmas. My mother has decorated THOROOUGHLY.  (This is a woman who understands the power of a good theme.) My brother should be here any minute. My daughter’s flight comes in tonight. I am looking forward to the week altogether.

It doesn’t look anything like any of the Christmases I’ve celebrated before, though. And that is unexpectedly more challenging for me than I expected it to be. It’s not bad, though. Just different.

What hasn’t changed is our love for one another, a good meal, and laughter. We have all of that in abundance here. And that is a beautiful thing.

However you are taking in this day, be blessed. Good will to all!

 

 

 

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Stepping Out of the Shadows

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I have had a VERY long drive for Thinking All The Thoughts. Among the things I’ve been musing on is the New Testament reading for this Sunday—Hebrews 10.

The unnamed author of Hebrews (I like to agree with those who have suggested that it was penned by Paul’s companion Priscilla) begins the chapter by noting that all scripture is merely a shadow of the good things to come. She admonishes us for sticking with scripture and ritual sacrifice when the coming of Christ IS the good thing the scripture foretells. Christ, not the rituals, brings forgiveness and redemption.

She’s calling us out for CHOOSING TO STAY IN THE DARK when the Light of the World is here.

Well, dang. That sheds a whole different sort of light on things. (See what I just did there?)

I am certain that some of my struggles are real battles with darkness. They are. Still, there is something for me to poke at here.

Where in my life am I clinging to promises that have already been fulfilled? Are my rituals ineffectual? Worse, are they an affront to the Creator? Am I stubbornly refusing to step into the light? Preferring instead to stick to the dark places I have come to know?

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Today’s Sign of Hope: Laughing Through the Darkness of Depression

Welcome to Kristenmas! Kristen’s birthday was December 17. When her youngest was in his early years of school and had just learned about Hanukkah, he declared the 8 days between her birthday and Christmas to be Kristenmas. (She claims his goal was to get his own holiday with fried foods and presents.) In honor of Kristenmas we’re going to post a sign of hope every day, because–well, because we need it.

I have been traveling, delivering my folks’ their new truck to their home in Florida. Of course, the truck was in New Hampshire, so, yeah. LOTS of time in the truck traveling the east coast of this fine nation.  Anyhow, because of the road trip, I have had limited access to the interwebs. This was supposed to be posted on Saturday. It is still relevant today, though. Trust me.

After Mary’s beautiful post about battling depression this Advent, I was inspired to share some of the work of the blogger who inspired me to enter the blogosphere–Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess. She is smart, kind, and extraordinarily funny. She also has been very public about her battle with depression, writing (and joking) about it regularly. Check her out. You will not regret it. You can search her archives for all her writing about depression, but I am going to leave this recent post with you, because I laughed until I cried reading this.

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