Psalm 42b

 

 

My women’s Bible Study group started Renovare’s Prayer & Worship: A spiritual formation guide last week. One of the things you’re asked to do at the end of the first chapter (on worship), is to pen your own psalm. Using Psalm 42 as an example, the book examined worship as a thirst for God. It’s this theme that inspired my own “psalm”.

Psalm 42b

A psalm by Lee

I do not thirst for You as a deer thirsts for water, Lord; that would be too easy.

I am not always sure that I thirst for You at all.

And yet… And yet there’s something, Lord.

I look for it on the Internet and in books, on blogs and at the bottoms of cookie jars, in saying the rights things and trying to act in the right ways, in having a clever answer and a chip on the shoulder, at the tops of fluffy white clouds and at the bottom of the soles of my feet squishing into soft grass, in good humour and PMS and quiet moments and deep, long sighs.

I perpetually pat my spiritual back pockets, checking to see if that something is still there, but I do not know what it is.

I therefore must conclude that it’s You, Lord. Can it really be that easy?

I’d rather it be harder, I think; that way I can get more credit for trying, and thus, more leeway for my standard ill-appreciation of Your grace.

What, after all, does the deer do, other than thirsting, for You to answer it?

What a scandalous notion, that my thirst is answered on no account of my own!

And yet… And yet it makes sense that You. omniscient, loving, kind, patient, forgiving and forbearing, make no sense at all.

You are not human logic but Logos. “Love” is the Word.

In the meantime, I will check mashed potatoes for that something, and being irrationally irritated by minor inconveniences. and judging people by their velocity in supermarket aisles.

Just in case, You understand.

Man! It looks like I’m a deer thirsty for water after all!

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Book review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

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I’m happy to report that after years of living as a “late returns” fugitive, I’ve been granted amnesty (literally: South African libraries have a national, annual “book amnesty” week at the end of every March) and I’m now able to partake of the hushed, thoughtful aisles of my local library again. Gilbert’s Big Magic is one of the first books I picked up post-exile.

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have picked a book I feel more ambivalent about if I’d tried, however.

Big Magic is one author’s attempt to quantify the creative process. Gilbert writes about the lessons she’s learned during her many years of writing and publishing. The book feels like chatting with a particularly warm, slightly ditzy and self-centred pal, coffee in hand and an afternoon to while away. It has that same strange paradox of painful self-awareness and painful self-ignorance that characterised the only other book I’ve ever read of hers, Eat Pray Love.

On one hand, Gilbert’s insight into the creative mind feels very genuine. She’s someone who has worked at her craft and has clearly spent a lot of time trying to understand why she (and creative people in general) do things the way they do. It’s from this place that she tries to give guidance. And she’s roguishly charming about it, of course.

On the other hand, I spent the majority of my time reading Big Magic thinking that she isn’t nearly as aware of her privilege as she believes she is. Her advice often veers from innocent into the downright naive. It’s condescending to hear someone who has achieved so much commercial success warn others against its improbability, for instance. She’s someone who’s encountered one or two locked doors and equates her experience with someone who faces a hallway of them.

Overall, one of those “take what resonates and leave the rest” books.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2015)
Rating: 2.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.9/5)
The best feature of the book: It recounts some amusing anecdotes and has a few charming turns of phrase.
The worst feature of the book: Not everyone is going to be taken with Gilbert’s spiritualisation (even deification?) of creativity and inspiration.
Trigger warnings: None that I can think of other than white middle-classness.
You’ll like this if… If you’re a fan of her work I’m sure you’ll love this book; many ardent fans gush to that effect on Goodreads. If you dislike her you’ll inevitably dislike the book, as the acidic reviews on Goodreads can testify. There doesn’t really appear to be much of a middle ground.

Shipping Shyan as a subversive act of self-definition; some thoughts

I don’t usually do writing prompts, but I’m in the mood to write and have no idea what to write about. WordPress’ prompt for today is “Interest”.

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I think the above picture sums up my approach to “interest” pretty well. Generally, I either like something or it’s nary a blip on the radar. It really is like a switch being flicked in my brain, and my Pinterest boards – most notably the “Fandom” one – bear testament to this switch being flicked on and off on various interests: knitting, crochet, Harry Potter, Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, Tom Hardy, BBC Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, drawing, photography, dolls, bullet journaling, Bible journaling, Pokemon Go, Dungeons & Dragons, Stranger Things, Jane Austen, historic fashion, 1900s New York and so on. Pinterest is like a beach littered with the junk of past interests.

My current interest (read: obsession) is the web series Buzzfeed Unsolved. A friend put me onto Unsolved: True Crime, where two guys dredge up unsolved cold cases and discuss the cases with likely (and sometimes wildly unlikely) theories as to what could’ve happened. There’s also a paranormal version which sees the hosts become the world’s unlikeliest (and unluckiest) ghost hunters. It’s fun and funny and the hosts have great chemistry; great enough that I googled whether they’re dating. The results were: they’re not, but a whole lot of people on Tumblr think they are, could or should be, and there are gifs to back up all positions.

Tumblr is sort of Obsession Ground Zero, at least for literature, movies and series. It’s ubiquitous enough that “Tumblr fangirl” has become a sort of slur among the kind of bros who generally don’t recognise their intense and obsessive interest in for example sports as being on par or even exceeding the dreaded “can’t even” of “Tumblr fangirls”. It’s interesting to contrast these double standards among the sexes’ stereotypical interests. Men’s interests are normalised: “Guys like sports.” There’s no stigma. But women’s interests don’t get the same acceptance. It’s “weird” when a woman obsesses over something. But this is an old ballgame. Men’s interests are seen as inherently reasonable (although reason is usually far from the mind of someone on the edge of their seat during some game involving a ball and several men), but women’s must tiptoe around the ever-present accusation of being “hysterical”.

I wonder why society, in general, seems to be so leery of women liking things or having interests. It is because it’s a fairly new concept, insofar as a hundred and fifty years ago, women’s interests tended to be restricted to certain fields? Is it because historically there’s been a lack of space for the female expression of interest, notably female sexual interest (which is often a big component in “fandom”)? Or is there something inherently threatening about how active an interest makes you – it’s an involved thing, one that requires initiative and pursuit, traits that are usually masculinised?

A great example of this was the fight for the Democratic nomination between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and later the election that pitted Democrat Clinton against Republican Trump. Clinton’s campaign engaged a large sector of society, most notably the female African-American vote. Her supporters received a lot of flack, not just from Republicans but especially from so-called “Bernie bros” – white, male Democrats who wanted Sanders (an independent) for the Democrat primary. Most of their criticism and engagement was gendered in nature. “You’re only voting for Hillary ’cause she’s a woman,” they argued, totally oblivious to (or in denial over) the fact that their interest in Sanders for the nomination was spurred on by his “white guyness”.

The fact remains that, at its core, their criticism of Hillary supporters often boiled down not to disputes about politics, but rather irateness that women of all colours had an intense interest and vocal investment in the elections. It seems that the world just doesn’t like women taking an interest because inevitably this interest is different than men’s, and demands the same platform, a platform they are not willing to part with. In his book The Ironic Christian’s Companion, Patrick Henry writes that people tend to dislike a roundtable approach for this very reason: with a roundtable, it’s not always obvious who is in charge. Taking an interest challenges the status quo.

Is all interest equal, though? No, probably not. But it doesn’t have to be in order to achieve a – I want to say higher purpose? Taking an interest is a fundamental act of self-definition: you like something or you don’t, and that says something about you saying something about yourself. It’s the “saying something about yourself” that’s important. In that way, women having interests can be a subversive act, because it’s a way for us to say something about ourselves in a world where we have more often been talked about than spoken with.

A note

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I’ve been meaning to write that post… The one that’ll explain the reasons for my periodic absences from blogging, the one that poignantly describes my ongoing issues with depression without being depressing, the post that will (hopefully) encourage others struggling with the same thing.

But guess what?

It ain’t happening.

Some struggles aren’t blog-worthy. I think this is something we tend to forget in our Instagram-filtered lives, where even people having a tough go of it manage to smile and wave at the camera, perhaps with some witty/self-deprecating/snarky comment. I’m not there, though.

There are good days – treacherously good days. Days that remind you what it’s like to breathe, to exist, to take up space; days you forget to ponder your veins and the slow passage of time and the creep of life. But the bad days? The bad days swallow you whole, and sometimes there’s just no energy to ride it out, much less do something that requires spirit, effort, passion.

So when I’m here…hey, thanks for stopping by. When I’m not… It’s not laziness or apostasy or even busyness, it’s just a temporary inability to function as well as I want to. But like the good days, I’ll be back. It might just take a while.

-Lee

Book review: The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer

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I always swear up and down I won’t read any more young adult fiction – my days as a Twihard haunt me still, though perhaps not as much as they should – but inevitably a YA title makes it way into my reading list, and here we are. Sometimes the experience is unpleasant – Jennifer Armentrout’s “Obsidian” and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series both come to mind – but YA fiction isn’t always like being stabbed in the liver.

In that vein, I’ve got to say I enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles without worrying how it would look if I died with these books on my bedside cabinet.

Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and Winter – with a bunch of novellas stopping gaps between the major instalments – follow the lives of various heroines loosely based on old fairy tales. In Cinder, we learn about cyborg Lihn Cinder, mechanic and outcast; in Scarlet, about the red-haired, red hoodie-wearing Scarlet, whose grandmother is missing; in Cress, about a girl with tangles of hair stuck in an orbiting satellite; and in Winter, the final instalment, we meet Princess Winter, the beautiful envy of her evil stepmother…

Half of what makes these stories so intriguing is the ease with which Meyer introduces her story world: an earth far into the future that still feels familiar, teetering, as it is, on the edge of dystopia but not quite there yet, although not for lack of trying on the disease and enemy fronts. Meyer tells you about the society through the experiences of her characters, so the narrative isn’t slogged down with her story world’s history.

The other half of what makes it work are the characters themselves. In many ways they’re your typical YA fare: the misunderstood heroine, spotted – against all odds – by the handsome or misunderstood or enigmatic or blasé-but-really-deep-deep-down boy, with the requisite angst, intrigue and romance. But as in all good YA, while the boy fights for the heroine, these heroines fight for themselves and the people around them. There’s a depth to them that colour them interesting.

And, you know, it’s fun. It’s fun reading Meyer’s adaptation of familiar stories into something else, something unexpected without robbing them of their quintessence, and reading it, I was excited to see how she would sketch all these characters into a cohesive narrative. The plot doesn’t slow down – I finished all four novels inside a week – so it’s fair to say that Meyer did a good job.

Why these novels aren’t more popular – the first I saw of them was a random pin on Pinterest – baffles me. I’m assuming it’s because they were published right between Twilight’s last hard fandom encore, and the then nascent Hunger Games frenzy. Meyer exceeds both Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins in technical writing ability, though I suppose you could say that The Lunar Chronicles had a slightly younger audience in mind. Still, it’s a shame that these books were overshadowed by other series when they have such interesting characters and such an intriguing narrative.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter).
Author: Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4/5 for the whole series (Goodreads rating for comparison: an average of about 4/5)
The best feature of the books: The heroines are all pretty cool. Skimming the reviews on Goodreads I noticed that more than one person disliked Cinder, the main protagonist of the series. She’s hardly perfect, but I found her relatable and well constructed. Also, there isn’t a single love triangle in sight; not a one.
The worst feature of the books: If I had to nitpick, I’d say it’s the fact that Levana could have solved a lot of her own problems, but reading the books you understand why she misses obvious opportunities. She’s a pretty despicable villain, but I find it a pity that her despicableness is so related to the typical “evil woman” stereotype – a lost or rejected lover, etc.
Trigger warnings: General creepiness. While aimed at a slightly younger audience, these books don’t mess around when it comes to mentioning things like rape, and there’s quite a bit of graphic violence. There’s also some serious ick factor when it comes to the Lunar gift (a form of mind control).
You’ll like this if… You like YA fiction in general or need to read something interesting but ultimately harmless.