Tuesday, November 26, 2013

#17, In Which I Experiment With and Ask Questions of Generosity

For the most part, Mark and I have systematically given away a percentage of our income since we were first married sixteen years ago. We've had years that were lean, cars that broke down, surprising and large-scale medical expenses and yet, (except for a year or so of re-evaluation of our giving) we still gave.

There's a biblical principle of giving that states (in my way of summarizing) that if you give, more will be given. Surely, there's not a formula here, not a calculation on returns, and perhaps the "more" is sometimes less tangible than what is given away, but more nonetheless. And, I would conclude that as we gave over the years, we were given more, we've were given enough.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as our income has grown, my concern over spending has grown along with it.  We have more income now than I could have imagined having when we were poor as crickets living in a basement apartment that oozed black slime through cracks in the kitchen linoleum. That money concerns me now almost as much as it did then disturbs me. That we've found so many things to spend it on disturbs me. Yes, there are three children now. Yes, we are paying for more vitamins and doctor visits now. Yes, we've traded in our white noodles for proteins and vegetables and healthy fats. All of this costs more.

More and higher expenses makes me, a "J" on the Meyers Briggs test, outline precise budgets and hold to them (read: I experience it as failure when I don't). And so, even though we give a respectable amount of our income away to pre-determined places, I haven't been very fluid in responding to the needs that happen right in front of me. I haven't risked spontaneity in giving more, money that wasn't pre-allocated, money or goods or supplies that someone needed right in the moment, right now. It was easy for me to say, "I've already given this month, therefore I cannot give to you." It was easy to say, "I cannot give to you because all I have left is my savings/grocery/phone/miscellaneous money."

But what if it's the right thing to give those things in those moments? And what if it's precisely the wrong thing to turn away from the Philippines relief fund on Facebook or another struggling minister because I've already given, as if this excuses me from relieving and refreshing those who need refreshing most in the moment?

And if the biblical principle holds true, then won't I continue in abundance?

I experimented this month. I gave a small sum, a little more than was allocated. I responded to two different needs in two different moments. On one of those days, after giving, I sat in prayer and mentioned to God the upcoming medical expenses, the Christmas gifts for our kids, the holiday travel. The next day we received a check in the mail that was five times the extra I had given. It was a random, just-because gift from a relative, but really it was a gift card from heaven, a memento reminding me of provision.

And then, a few days later, a car engine started rattling badly. And then, a second car's ignition broke. And the batteries in our cordless home phones suddenly gave out.  And my replacement cell phone dropped every eight out of ten calls. This culminated all on one day, a day I was near tears and my husband and I were a little less than patient with each other due to the mounting anxiety about repair costs. But then, when the cars were rounded up and brought home in their various states of disrepair, while we waited on appointments with mechanics, while I suddenly remembered we had an old-fashioned (read: not "smart") cell phone tucked away for emergency use for our kids, I was able to calm my anxious heart down and I heard in my head the inaudible words watch and wait.

So that's what I'm doing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Perfectionism, Self-Worth, and Why We Write

Is it okay to take a moment to say that perfectionism is killing me? There are a lot of checks a writer must make before a book is finalized, and in my case--because us Ovenbird authors retain more control than usual over the interior--there are a lot of checks. But honestly, everything's looking pretty good right now. It's just that the anxiety of there being some sort of unseen problem with the book is almost overwhelming--it's almost enough to keep me from ever stamping my approval. Sometimes, I have to tell my OCD-self that my editor-self made an editorial decision that is just, simply, out of my hands. Tough luck. Deal with it. This is a collaborative effort, after all, between editor-, artist-, and OCD-me.

That aside, I've had a few readers purchase the Kindle version (thank you!) and I've already heard back from some of you (mostly friends and extended family). You are reminding me that I opened wide a window to my life that doesn't normally get cracked in the day to day. Obvious, yes. But when you spend so much time objectively and robotically proofreading a manuscript, you might forget that it's about something; you might forget that what it's about has to do with things that move people, things that make people feel connected with you in a way you weren't even thinking about when you wrote those things.

Now, in truth, there is a corner in my mind rooting for this book to make some sort of impact, some kind of (splash is entirely. the wrong. word.)...maybe what I mean is that I am hoping it will color the world in some way, if only by hue or tint--some shade (nuanced is fine) that reveals its having been here. I'm rooting for a plop into the pond that will send ripples (minute ripples are fine!) to the farthest reaches of the water. And, let me be perfectly and shamefully honest, if those ripples did happen to shimmy all the way over to Oprah's living room, I'd be ecstatic.

But forget about books and writing for a moment: don't we all feel that we want our very existence to make ripples that reach the far side of the pond? To find out, at the end of the day, that we made a difference, that we made some contribution that shifted the landscape of a soul or altered the dialogue of a community or a world? That Oprah would find us interesting and meaningful enough to sit us down in her living room and ask, ask, comment, ask, offer her two cents, mention Nate Berkus, and, when it's all said and done, give us a car? 

I remember Anne Lamott describing the faulty expectations of insecure writers that, once they were published, self esteem would arrive by phone, fax, and mail. Thank God I didn't publish in my twenties because I'd be an absolute basket case after having found out that a book in print wouldn't do anything to soothe my raging need to BE OKAY. So, if it's not self-esteem we slightly less neurotic versions of ourselves are after--what drives us? What do we want? Conversation? Dialogue? The catharsis that comes by storytelling? Or, to be so dramatic: the healing of the world?

I don't know. I really don't. But, like any author, I hope this book is widely read. I hope it matters to strangers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Because the Kindle Edition Has Been Released

If you need something to read this weekend, you can snatch Dear Boy up for your e-reader. It's been released in its Kindle edition two weeks ahead of the print release! Happy reading, readers. And, if you want to chat about Dear Boy, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section of the post!

Friday, November 15, 2013

On the Occasion of the Boy's Birthday, an Excerpt:

I'm told that Ovenbird Books' new web site should be up and running in the next week or so, and Dear Boy is set to release shortly thereafter in print (so many considerations in the first stages of founding a press and its first releases!). And, ironically, today is the Boy's birthday, in honor of which I'm posting an excerpt, the memoir's opening letter:

Dear Boy,     
I wrote you an email last year, addressed to your tattoo shop. Did you ever get it? It was about our cousin’s wedding—you were invited, but she didn’t know where to send the invitation. You know, your house really was out in the middle of nowhere. How many houses are there in that tiny town, anyway—five? And a church? And some railroad tracks? And just a little bit up from the churchyard, that narrow country road where you landed after flying out of a car.
You never saw this house I live in, and you’d been living in your home for years before I ever visited. We weren’t too busy, but were we scared to act like brother and sister? Today I was thinking that it’s still July, a few weeks before your blood marked the gravel with a great brown stain, but the leaves on the silver maple in my front yard have turned sunny gold speckled with mildew. Meaning the accident already happened. Too late for me to ask you how the distance between us unfurled, why your once-tight grip on my hand loosened into a flat, retracted palm.
Too late now—but death demands an account. The closer the death, the more detailed its demands. And all this accounting I must do with you, Boy, is like sending a hundred years’ worth of birthday cards and getting none in return. But so it will be. I have no other way to speak to you.