Sometimes you stumble across a literary landmine. Blown away. Can I be infused with this man’s sense of humor and word sense?
Fear. I wish I could cut it from my soul with a scissors. I wish I could lay on a comfy couch, talk its existence into oblivion, then charge myself $100/hour. I’d collect my fees and go on a vacation to the beach.
I have an active imagination, so I fear things most people haven’t even thought of. Example: Swings and Things. Everybody else just dons the batting helmets. Me, I think What is the probability there’s lice in there? I mean, how many scraggly heads have been inside that thing today alone? And everybody knows you’re not supposed to share headgear…
How about door handles. Am I the only one who considers the millions of invisible germs crawling all over those suckers? Or speaking engagements. Truly. Frightening. Or posting my innermost thoughts for the world–
You get my point. But I try very hard not to let fear stop me from doing anything. I charge it. Get it over with. The hardest thing is the waiting. A hard thing looms on the horizon and I just want to compress time so I can face it and put it in the rear-view mirror.
My kids have to live with this philosophy. I homeschool them, which you’d think is inherently insulating. And in some ways, it is. Or it can be. Who hasn’t met the socially backward, jumper-wearing, yellow-toothed homeschooler who hasn’t seen a hairbrush since 1995? That’s what I’m working against. I can conjure up all sorts of uncomfortable hard, fearful, tearful, engagements where my little ones’ homeschoolness will be showing, oh yes, and in those fearful, tearful, weirdful moments when they want to crawl into a hole and die (or at least crawl back home into their fuzzy blankets where math problems are their only problems)– in that moment, they get a glorious chance to rise. Rise and face whatever “horror” I set in front of them. Today it was meeting the herd of cross country kids at the stadium, all of whom came from class while my guy stands outside the locked gate (an apt image, as it were) waiting to be let in. “I wish there was just one other homeschooler, so I wouldn’t have to be alone,” he says. Inside I sigh and understand completely. With my outside voice I tell him to embrace this because he’ll be stronger for it.
I’m not a tiger mom, contrary to the opinion of my family. But I am driven to certain opportunities: fearful, tearful, weirdful opportunities at which they can rise and overcome. God help us.
Child: “I hate this. Why do you force me to do x?”
Me: “To prepare you to face a world that doesn’t care about you, without me.”
Imagine this. My six-year-old wearing his fuzzy pj’s makes this imperious proclamation: “I wish I could be public schooled so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the kitchen to get my rods.”
Those rods, to which he referred, were little color-coded blocks that enabled him to learn his fractions and multiplication tables like a boss. Just, they were manipulatives. Manipulatives must be manipulated. One must touch them. One must get them out and place them on the coffee table next to the couch before one sits down to do his math. Else, one must expect to get back up.
A truer grass-is-greener thought was never uttered than when my son, who had zero-minus-infinity idea of what public school entailed– wished for it anyway because it was the antithesis of his present, horrible circumstances. That of having to walk the twenty steps from our cosy spot on the couch to the kitchen drawer, where his math rods were stored.
Nevermind we live barely less than two miles from the elementary school where code dictates he’d be walking to and fro every day, unless his mum rescued him with a car ride. Nevermind traipsing through the halls to get to classes, lunch, the bathroom. Each and every time, far more than the twenty steps to the kitchen to get his rods. And the pj’s: out of the question. Public schoolers have to wear clothes.
We all do it though, don’t we? Decide the grass is simply not green enough. Sometimes when life gives me a backhand I look longingly at the freeway and think how nice it would be to get in the car and just… go. Anywhere. King David had no freeway, but he and I comiserate: Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6) He was a king and wanted to be a dove. My son was homeschooled and wanted to be public schooled. I am a homeschool mom and wanted to be a gypsy.
Better yet, I wish I could be a superhero, then this thing called adulting wouldn’t be so dang hard…
Father moment: Bob walks in the door after a ten-hour workday, lunch bag in one hand, mail (bills) in the other, trying to shake the day’s garbage from his head and wanting very badly “to get horizontal for a minute.” Out of necessity Bob has perfected the power nap. Still, his head doesn’t get to touch the pillow. When he walks in it’s like a magnet just stepped inside and everyone turns to iron. Phoom! There’s the sucking sound of displaced air as we all beeline for the man with the answers, the wallet, the brawn, the sugar.
“Dad, will you swim with me?”
And another. “Dad, will you fix my windshield?”
Or this. “Dad, can I have X dollars to do Y activity?”
And I tell him, “The fridge is leaking. And I ask him, “What are you doing tonight?” It doesn’t really mean what are you doing tonight? It means, “Let’s walk the dog because I miss you.” I tell him about the fridge and ask him for a walk as if those two pieces of information exist in entirely different cosmos, as if the fridge needing attention and me wanting attention can be simultaneously acknowledged. This, we expect from fathers: superhuman strength and the ability to transcend time and space.
And his hamstrings are tighter than a compound bow from the running, but walk he does. Fix the windshield he does, swim, shells out X dollars for Y activity. This father works all day, sets himself aside all night and drops into bed. I am a witness.
Thank you for loving us so well, for so often putting your dreams aside for your family and in so doing– offering an example and a challenge to those of us blessed to be called yours.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. – Romans 12:10
Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein, is really an allegory. It’s the parenting memoir she couldn’t write. Parents of pubescents… follow me.
Victor builds what he hopes will be a beautiful, incredible masterpiece. He works tirelessly on his legacy. So intent on accomplishing his ends, Frankenstein doesn’t ask, “Should I?”
Sounds like many parents I know who should’ve stuck with cats. But really, is anybody ready?
Said creation doesn’t turn out the way Victor imagined. In fact, when his creation hits puberty and lumbers around to the sounds of creepy Psycho chords, Victor realizes to his horror: I meant it to be beautiful, but I made… a monster. Too late. What’s done is done. All he can do is damage control. And the monster– it might want love and affection, but it’s hard to say for sure, so irrational and unaware it is. But it wants a girlfriend, of that, it’s certain.
So Victor, for the whole rest of the story is basically wrecked over this creature for which he’d had such high hopes. All he can do is follow it around trying to make sure it doesn’t hurt people. He fails. Parents do. But we keep going to the ends of the earth, like Victor Frankenstein. His monster runs away– of course it does, thinking the grass is greener somewhere else, everywhere else in fact. People get hurt. Ugly words are exchanged. The monster roams and the maker frets.
Frankenstein ends in death. Victor, his wife, his creation. All perish. As for the memoir: the reality of adolescence is that a death occurs there too. Adolescence itself dies and out of the seed springs something entirely new– a rational and beautiful adult. And the grey-souled parents, dead but only half-dead like a bony tree, breathe a sigh of relief.
I like telling you about my car accidents. The slaps of fate, I consider my teachers. So when life smacks me down and I taste the dirt, my natural response is to share what it tasted like. This isn’t new. My very first attempt at voluntary writing (age nine) was an apology to the Almighty in response to a botched attempt at digging up a dead cat. How does one botch the exhumation of a dead animal, you wonder? Could the unearthing of rotting pet go well in any reality? It could’ve gone better, I submit.
One of the farm dogs got wind (haha) of what we kids were doing and decided he was going to get himself a little dead cat dinner. Black hefty bag and all. Digging in, girlie, don’t mind if I do…
To say I felt “bad” about my friend’s cat strewn about the farm like confetti, my little experiment gone wrong, was quite the understatement. You’re going straight to hell for this one, Kelly, straight to hell. And so’s the dog.
I penned my confession to God about how profoundly sorry I was, how things didn’t turn out the way I intended, and could God forgive?– I just had a strange curiosity as to what a dead thing looked like. I’d never been to a funeral, never died myself. It was an honest mistake made in the name of science. Kind of like Victor Frankenstein.
Meanwhile, back on track. I had another wee car issue recently. Remember the gal I rear-ended? This time I scraped a car as I pulled into a spot at the YMCA. As soon as I heard it, I went into denial mode. That did not just happen. That was nothing. I actually pulled out my how-to-write book and acted like I was going to sit there and read it because what did I have to hide? I didn’t really scrape the car next to me. It was the tiniest feathery touch. Nothing to worry about.
But my stomach did that dance it does, like when I get pulled over by a (love you so much thank you for your service) man in blue. It’s the Dance de Guilt. So I did what any selfish, overworked, underfunded, stressed out, petulant irresponsible 44 year old would do: I backed my car out and parked in another space.
As I did so, my headlights fell upon the “little scratch.” Eeeeeeck. All pretense of its being feathery left my horizon. It was a bright line the same color as my car, running the entire length. My Dance de Guilt made its way into my heart and began a stomp dance while I deliberated with God about why I should just go. Go! No one saw. It was still just a scratch, went my reasoning. I had no time to do the right thing, went my reasoning. And I was so very tired. And poor. And did I mention I was poor?
We’re not poor, not really, but I didn’t feel rich enough to write my name and number on a piece of paper and put myself at the mercy of whoever’s car I’d redesigned. I hoped the person would come out and not even see it and leave while I had it out with God, that my opportunity to do the right thing would pass, and I’d be de facto absolved.
I kept chanting no one saw, no one saw. God saw.
I tell you I did the right thing for Him. Not for any other reason than for the fact that I love God and God calls me to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. (Like I could forget, it’s on the right margin of this very blog!) I wish I could tell you it’s my knee jerk reaction to do the right thing.
For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13
I wrote the note and placed it on the windshield. It went something like:
I’m very sorry I scraped your car as I was pulling in the spot next to yours. I do have insurance, but if you don’t mind, I’d rather pay for the damage outright. Here is my phone number, and again I’m very sorry to have caused you trouble. – Kelly Griffiths
Waiting to hear from X Car Owner made me physically sick. I braced myself for the call from some car-obsessed victim junky hoping for a windfall, who’d start the conversation with a hit and run threat, spiced with expletives, who’d rip into me with what the hell’s wrong with you?
Just yesterday this was said from the pulpit of my church (I know you’re going to want to go there when you hear it): We’re going to make holiness sexy again.
He actually spoke those words. No joke. Holiness. Sexy. Again.
People acting like God and it’s attractive.
I’m determined not to forget the little accident or the elderly, phlegmy-voiced man who called and said he’d buff the mark out, no worries, no cost, who said it was real nice of me to leave a note when I could have just left, and don’t worry, honey, I wouldn’t take advantage… I’m a Christian man.
A Christian man? How peculiar. You have my number because I’m a Christian woman.
Holiness. Attractive. The following theoretical scenario is part of my salvation journey, part of what convinced me to follow Christ. It was the first time holiness was sexy to me. And it goes like this:
You’re walking alone down a dark alley in the middle of the night in a shady section of town. Ahead, you see a gang of men walking toward you. (I lived in San Diego at the time, in a section where you couldn’t get a pizza delivered because it wasn’t safe.) Walking alone… a gang of men walking toward me… yes. Quite terrorizing.
Wouldn’t you feel relieved to know those men had just left a Bible study?
Yes, of course. That changed everything. Holiness, the pursuit of it– had I known the men were leaving a Bible study, my hand would be off the trigger, my heart would trust. I could smile at them and they could smile at me.
And we’d all live holy ever after. Holiness. Sexy.
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10
I’ve been toying with the idea of changing my novel around. This morning I decided to change the point of view from 3rd to 1st– just to experiment. I’ve read many 1st person novels and loved them. Right now I’m reading We Were Liars by e. lockhart. If you want to hear a distinctive voice, read it. If you want to not put your book down for many uninterrupted hours ultimately putting your reality on hold, read it. My son was assigned We Were Liars for his summer reading; he read the whole book on the drive home from Pennsylvania. Then he had his girlfriend read it because it was too good to keep to himself. She also devoured it. I’m halfway through, but it’s definitely one of my favorites. Required reading that doesn’t feel required– way to go, St. Ignatius.
So this 1st person book and the others I’ve loved (The Fault in our Stars, The Screwtape Letters, Out of the Dust, The Book Thief, Telltale Heart) made me wonder if my story would be better served from 1st person. Even the book I hate the most, Catcher in the Rye, I hate because I hate the distinctive voice of the narrator. Many people love Holden Caulfield… or they love to love him. To admit loving Catcher in the Rye is to wear a sort of rebellious intellectualism like the green Masters jacket. It might be legit, but it might be off the racks of Goodwill. No one knows for sure.
Of course changing point of view would mean re-writing the whole thing which does make me want to weep. But I’d rather love my story, and in 3rd person, I’m not sure I’m lovin it.
So today I began the 1st person experiment. You know what? I love writing in 1st person. The few short stories I’ve written, the ones I like, are in 1st person. Since I might be reworking the whole thing, I’m not sure the 57,548 words I’ve written will ever reach the final draft, but in chronicling the journey, I note them.
I’m also itching to write a short story, so I have something about which to hope. Right now I only have three stories in the hoping queue. One is a local library contest, one the behemoth Writer’s Digest contest (my longest shot), and one to a web-based journal, East of the Web. I haven’t been able to join any of the local writing groups because my schedule has me driving or watching sports events. Not complaining, it’s a glorious season, but maybe when I can get back into those arenas I won’t feel so starved for validation. A writer sends out manuscript after manuscript, hoping for affirmation, but aware rejection is just as likely. It’s a boot camp of the soul.
Like buying lots of lottery tickets, I’ve got to get more hopes out there while I whittle away at my novel.