this online thing [or why i am still here, with you].

We spread a leopard-print blanket across the table for the still-life art project Erica will teach the kids from the local mission later that afternoon. She asks me about the pinched forehead, what is wrong.

Oh, the internet, I say, dropping buzzwords from Impromptu Sex Week and the Superbowl Beyoncé Flare-up and so on. I’m not explaining well, I’m fumbling and frustrated and can’t decide how I feel about anything. My gut-reactions don’t translate to formulated thoughts until much later and sometimes I want the noise, inside and outside, to just stop.

You know, you don’t have to do this, she says, her eyes all honesty and looking to the deep like always.

The afternoon sun flecks through high windows above a wall with hand-me-down paint onto hand-me-down chairs that sit in this room that was handed down to Erica to make a bit of beauty and a bit of difference in a city whose poverty and violence is downright ugly and shocking. The context of her words isn’t lost on me.

I am standing in the middle of as-real-as-it-gets Waco, talking about what to most is only a virtual reality.

And I know what she means, at the heart of it–there is a danger in spending your life and love online completely. And maybe there is a temptation to construct an online reading and writing life as a venue to simply “make a lovely little speech to yourself,” as a beloved professor once quoted.

This I understand, struggle with some days. Do I talk a good talk and trample my neighbor? If I debate and spin poetry and retweet and  and have not love, caritas, agape, the kind of love that acts and habits and moves and shakes: sharing blessedness and wills the Good to my neighbor (both on- and offline), then I am only a gong or a cymbal; I am nothing, I gain nothing.

You don’t have to do this.

This online thing. I know.

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But I do.

Because first of all, this isn’t virtual reality, a veneer, pontificating. The stuff I read and the stuff I hope to be writing is the stuff that composes your real life and mine, and it matters.

It matters.

Feminism, spiritual practices, abuse, relationships, parenting, growing up, sexual ethics, justice, racism, prayer and all of it. All of it affects and informs the way I live and love in that caritasagape way. It is the perhaps the matter itself of that living and loving.

Because here is another beautiful and difficult thing about this online business:

we come with our bad and good rhetoric as well as our bad and good stories;

with our tempers and with our grace;

with our education and experience and sometimes without it;

with numbered lists and paragraphs and randomly bolded words;

we come with our best theology and our deepest hang-ups;

with our passion and with our reason;

with typos and flare-ups and words we didn’t mean;

with a dash of sacred profanity and the temptation to make the sacred profane;

with our heresy and our holiness;

with our arbitrary semi-colons and run-on sentences like this one.

It’s kindof a mess but isn’t that how life is?

So that means it takes a bit of bravery to navigate these waters at times for one reason or another, and I’m not the only one who thinks about giving it up sometimes. But I guess I’ll just say I’m not altogether afraid to get my heart a little too involved with my patience, my prayers, my compass and the stars to guide me.

Because like I said, these things matter, and with the humility, tenderness, care, and whole-hearted truth-seeking I have witnessed in my blogroll, I think these things can matter and manifest in a holy and faithful way, to lead us to the good work that needs to be done.

On- and offline.

I’ve seen a bit of magic and a lot of Church here, and I want to join the effort to pass the peace with the person sitting in this pixelated pew with me.

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when it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.

–Beasts of the Southern Wild

The rest of the story is that I keep reading you people because there’s a whole mess of URLs  undeniably threaded into this growth-history and future of mine and a big part of why I brush my teeth every morning next to the same God.

[and sometimes, every once in a while, online friends are real friends, too.]

So, cheers, Deeper Story and Prodigal and She Loves and Sarah and Suzannah and Micha and Rachel and Emily M. and Emily W. and Joy  and Alise and Alece and Nish and Dianna and Leigh and Seth and Amber and Hilary  and Margaret and Annie and Amy and Elora  and Addie and Elizabeth and Alyssa and Shaney and Kiefer and of course Preston and the other lovely, ragged, brave, hollering, gentle, hella smart, pastoral, preachy, comforting ones that I haven’t named or known yet.

Thank you and keep going–keep changing my life.

writing young.

It’s kind of a funny story. I meant to sit down and write a post for Preston Yancey’s synchroblog, but somehow I ended up writing about it, around it. Here I share a tiny piece of the mosaic of hangups I have about writing, creating. I share this now, with the promise (eek!) that I will actually answer P’s prompt before the synchroblog ends. 

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She orders an omelette, and I’m not sure whether I should warn her that the restaurant we have come to for this Pulitzer-winning-author-student breakfast is notorious for overdone eggs and slow service. Not only would her meal be mostly brown, but cold, too.

I decide against it. I’m nervous, and there’s no way I’m telling Marilynne Robinson what she should order for breakfast. I’ve already made a fool of myself by bumbling through a conversation about Nicholas of Cusa, making it painfully obvious that I hadn’t finished my class reading for the week. Instead, I had worried about meeting her.

We make some small talk, the group of us, while a row of redundant plain coffee mugs keep watch from a high dusty shelf, far out of reach. Very. Small. Talk. I crack a tired joke about the bustling metropolis of Waco. Someone finally asks something about gendered writing. Oddly, she seems more entertained by the former. It’s really not even a very funny line.

A question that has been forming slowly for months now bubbles to the surface, quietly, while she talks about writing male characters.

I think it began with that creative writing professor, the one that scared me away from composing much of anything for over a year. Almost as if he thought he was at a cocktail party rather than a room full of students, he mused that young writers don’t make anything worth much. He scoffed at the naiveté of those who think otherwise, fiddling with the thick pinky ring on his left hand.

That moment, and his highest praise for a poem I wrote in five minutes about thai noodles, made me question writing anything ever. I still have my doubts about modern poetry as a whole.

And then that day when Mom and I visited that prestigious writing center. I wore a too-trendy, too-tight belt and we got a ticket for parking illegally. The lady from admissions shifted in her seat when she mentioned the age thing.

“While age isn’t necessarily a factor,” she began, “most of our students do come in older. You know, after they’ve had more experience. After they’ve lived some life, you know.”

I was expecting this, I told my mom in the car. She thinks it’s crap. I think some is, but not all. Mostly, I use it as a way to put off creating anything. I’ll just let it all age, like wine, I think. Conveniently, I neglect the fact that the whole thing starts with picking grapes.

Back at the breakfast table, I finally ask my question–Marilynne is a writing teacher, after all. I nearly blurt,

“How would you respond to those who might say that a writer needs to be older? That she needs to, you know, do things first?”

I start to babble.

“But then, I guess there are plenty of great writers who were quite young, like…”

Oh no. Which John is it? Keats? Donne? Keats?

“…John Donne, who wrote everything he did before he died at 25.” Not much older than I am now, I think defeatedly. Somewhere along the line, I think it entered my head that all good artists are freak child prodigies or eighty years old. No in-between.

Marilynne Robinson squints at me a bit. She knows it’s a loaded question for me. I’ve gone on longer than I have transcribed here, and later Wikipedia would tell me that I did get the Johns confused.

Finally, she quiets me by opening her mouth. She’s calm, but also seems confused as to why I’m bothered by my own question. It’s an easy answer.

“If you have a story happening inside you, then tell it. If you have something to say, then say it.”

I lean back in my chair, staring, as if to say, that’s it?

The waiter finally comes by with her omelette, and it looks just right.

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If you have something to say, then say it. Won’t you join in Preston’s space to do just that, young ones?

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