Although I hope to finish a few more books in the next couple of weeks, I’m going ahead and calling my top books of 2014!
Rainbow Rowell Fest: Rowell was my favorite author of 2014, hands down. I read Eleanor & Park in 2013 and knocked out the rest of her oeuvre this year: Fangirl, Landline, and Attachments.
Sci-Fi: Julie Cross’s Tempest trilogy was a fresh, highly addictive take on time travel that really deserves the movie-or-TV treatment. And Rick Yancey followed up alien-invasion story The 5th Wave with a bang that left me going, NO. WAY.
Dystopia: I waited until the whole trilogy was out to tackle Divergent, and I’m so glad I did. It consumed me for a couple of weeks. While I understand the gamut of complaints about it and wasn’t super thrilled with the ending myself, I still found Tris and her world so thought-provoking I could probably write an academic paper on it.
Coming of Age: In The Probability of Miracles, a teenager dying of cancer spends a summer with her family in a town known for its miracles. I promise it’s funnier and more uplifting than it sounds. I also just finished Since You’ve Been Gone, about a shy-ish girl whose flashier best friend disappears, leaving her with a list of daring tasks to complete in her absence. Loved it.
Contemporary: Isla and the Happily Ever After was a great conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’ cities trilogy.
V. Mars Still Rules: I wasn’t sure how Veronica Mars would translate to the page, but I really shouldn’t have feared since creator Rob Thomas started as a novelist. Can’t wait for the next installment. More Logan, please!!!
Memoir: I really can’t say enough about Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I also loved I Don’t Know What You Know Me From by perennial movie best friend Judy Greer, and the relatable and funny Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without A Date.
Daring Greatly: Stitches, Let’s All Be Brave, and Beauty and the Bitch all brought grace and Wholeheartedness into my life without mincing words.
Life: Jonalyn Fincher’s Invitation to Tears might be the most honest, helpful book for grieving people I’ve ever read. And Revelations of a Single Woman gave me a needed vocabulary for random aspects of the unexpectedly single life. It was so reassuring to hear her describe things I’ve struggled with and go, Oh. This isn’t my own weirdness, this is a thing.
Culture and Faith: I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion as a book club selection. I probably never would have picked it up on my own, but I still can’t stop talking about it. In City of God, Sara Miles’s bringing of Ash Wednesday ashes to the masses gave me a lot to think about.
So what should I add to my to-read list for next year? Leave me recs!
Finch and Violet have a meet-cute with an edge: at the top of their school’s bell tower, both thinking about jumping. Outcast and abused Finch, recently “Awake”, thinks he might rather die than fall Asleep again. Popular Violet is weary of her grief and shame after her sister’s recent death in a car accident. When they both come down from the ledge, he’s fascinated by her, and she wants to pretend the whole thing never happened. Then he volunteers her to be his partner on an Indiana history project. As they wander the countryside exploring natural springs and homemade roller coasters, they give each other something and someone to live for, proof that life can still be good. But for Finch, even that may not be enough.
In her author’s notes, Jennifer Niven says All the Bright Places was inspired by a true story and a boy she loved, which (for me) gives it an even bigger emotional punch. It’s an unflinchingly honest, but sympathetic, picture of mental illness. Being pretty unfamiliar with bipolar disorder, I had a hard time grasping what exactly Finch was dealing with until the end. While his family’s abuse and neglect was also tough to read about, these issues have needed more representation too. In contrast, I loved Violet’s healthily supportive parents. (You know I’m getting older when I admire the good parents in YA novels and want to congratulate them.)
This book and Niven herself have garnered comparisons to John Green and Rainbow Rowell, and I’d say that’s accurate. And since I’m a huge fan of both authors, that’s one of the best recommendations I can give.
Recommended for fans of: The Fault in Our Stars, road trip stories, Garden State
Also: anyone who is or loves someone struggling with mental illness, or just wants to understand it better.
I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages. – Charles Spurgeon
When I was in Hawaii, my friends and I had a beach across the street from our guest cottage, and Kaneohe Bay in our backyard. Many times a day, alone or together, we’d patter down the steps from the back deck and into the rocky tide pools behind the house. As a tropical Atlantic girl, I was endlessly fascinated by the giant lava rocks. I did the Ariel “part of your woooorld” pose more than just the one time for a picture, because it was fun. I kept swimming around the rocks, climbing onto and over them like a kid, looking for the best places to sit and look out to sea without getting concussed.
On one of our last afternoons, I decided to venture out to the furthest rock point accessible from our house. I knew the waves would be rougher out there, but the challenge made it more appealing. YEAR OF ALIVE!!! Sure enough, the water’s force as it crashed through the rocks was unsettling even for an ocean veteran. But I found a good place to stand and hang on. In some unexplainable way, I wanted to contend with the waves and experience their might. I wanted salt spray in my face and wind in my hair. I needed to feel small and brave at the same time, to be enveloped by something much more powerful than myself, but to be part of it nonetheless.
After a while I started my descent back into the water, congratulating myself on completing the adventure injury-free. That’s when an enormous wave took my feet out from under me and scraped my legs across a rock. I had no defense against it, no control over my own body aside from hanging on. Realizing that this could have been bad, I thought, Okay, ocean. You win. Good game. I went back to the house bleeding but weirdly exultant.
Last week, applying lotion to my now winter-dry legs, I was surprised to notice pink lines standing out on my calf from my game of chicken with the ocean. Huh, I thought. If I’d thought I’d still have scars from that almost three months later, maybe I wouldn’t have done it.
Except I totally would have.
As I rummaged through my five bins of Christmas decorations last week, I realized I wasn’t in the mood to over-deck the halls this year. I took out only my favorite things, and it was very freeing!
I used to have a traditional (fake) pine wreath, but last year I picked up my white wood wreath on clearance at Target. I’d had my eye on it for years. It’s simple and classy, and neutral enough that I can leave it up through January.
My dining table remains basically the same throughout the year – I just change the placemat or runner under my ruffled bowl, as well as what’s in it.
This is the Nativity creche I grew up with, which was passed to me after my parents got a hand-carved set from Bethlehem. When I was a kid, I used to add my Little People to the scene. I don’t know where the creche came from. Last night I checked it over to see if it’s a Fontanini like the one Alanna just got. It is not, so no need to feel bad about the years of abuse it took!
My tree is flocked, pre-lit, and even has tiny pinecones. I love it. Still haven’t figured out how to keep the star from drooping over, though.
Some of my favorite ornaments: a golden aspen leaf that I picked up in Colorado last year, and a lobster from Maine; an ornament I made from fabric scraps at a crafting event with Hillary a few years ago; a snowflake made of sheet music from Pottery Barn; my initial (from Kirkland’s, I think) and Charlie Brown.
To me, this will always be my cat Gandalf’s ornament. It was actually given to me by the same former boss who gave me Gandalf himself. The ornament makes music (or used to, before the battery died), and its song freaked him right out. He was simultaneously intrigued and terrified by it. I have a short video of him smelling the ornament, meowing and pawing at it, then rushing into my lap like “HELP!!” It’s now something I would save from a fire. (The video and the ornament.)
I kept the mantel simple: a Charlie Brown tree, a bowl of pinecones, a glass star, and some verses from Isaiah. The poster design came from a free printable I found on Pinterest, but rather than pay to have it printed up at size, I freehanded it myself on black posterboard with a metallic Sharpie and White-Out. Then I stuck it to a canvas I already had with double-sided tape. I am ridiculously pleased with my work. I didn’t realize until later that the laurel leaf pattern matches my stocking (and tree skirt!), and then it all felt like destiny.
And that’s it! I might put up a string of outside lights this weekend, but with or without them, this is a pretty pared-down Christmas and I’m happy about it.
In order to join my new church, I had to write a personal testimony or “Gospel story.” The process was surprisingly difficult for me, for reasons I’ll talk about later because I think others will relate. But I finally submitted it this weekend. It’s nothing revolutionary, but I thought I’d share a slightly edited version of it here.
Please note that a testimony and a statement of faith are two different things (thanks to Alanna for helping me articulate this). If you have questions about who Jesus is to me now or why I became and/or remain a Christian, I’m happy to talk about it – and may write another post along those lines.
When I was ten years old, I responded to an altar call in Sunday school at my Pentecostal church. I had attended church for as long as I could remember, so God, Jesus, and salvation weren’t new concepts to me. But that morning, my Sunday school teacher asked whether we were sure we were going to heaven if we, say, died in a car accident on the way home. I wasn’t, so I prayed the traditional sinner’s prayer along with my teacher. Although I mainly did so as spiritual insurance, I think it was somewhat genuine. Two years later I decided to be baptized, and was happy about it.
Outwardly, my teen years were pretty smooth. I was a people-pleasing good girl who prayed and read the Bible regularly, went to youth group, and didn’t drink, smoke, or sleep around. I was so busy with school and activities that I didn’t have much energy to question or wrestle spiritually, but sometimes the weight of the works-based theology I lived under was overwhelming. One night when I was seventeen, watching TBN with my mom (did I mention I grew up Pentecostal?), I “rededicated” my life to Christ. I don’t remember my reasoning, but I have a lingering impression that it was less about guilt over sin and more about being spiritually exhausted and at the end of myself.
Contrary to stereotype, I didn’t go crazy in college; it was actually one of the most intense periods of my faith. Also contrary to stereotype, I thrived spiritually at a big, bad public university. I developed relationships with Christians of different backgrounds, like my Catholic roommate (who’s still one of my best friends). After a couple of years of heavy involvement at the Baptist Student Union, I felt at the end of myself again. I was aware on a new level that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t holy and could never measure up to God’s requirements. I couldn’t reconcile that with constant messages about holiness and walking ever-narrower spiritual roads. Around that time, someone invited me to a Reformed University Fellowship large group, and the things I heard there turned everything back right side up for me. I wasn’t crazy – my sinfulness was real, but Jesus hadn’t come to hold me to a set of rules. He came to earn God’s favor for me. I didn’t have to worry often about my salvation – it would hold because Jesus doesn’t lose His sheep. It was the first time in my life that I fully understood and appreciated grace. While I believe my faith was real before then, this was a major turning point.
I got married when I was 25. I had met my husband at RUF and was basically in love with him for several years before we started dating. For our first few years together, I was so in love and thankful to be with him that I failed to notice how one-sided our marriage was. While I wasn’t a perfect wife (who is?) and now wish I’d done some things differently, he routinely neglected me and put his hobbies and interests ahead of our marriage as well as his relationship with God. The message I got from church and Christian books was that if I just submitted more and prayed harder, God would change his heart and set our relationship right. Things got steadily worse until I was exhausted, depressed, and felt more alone than I ever have. I felt like a powerless non-person, a blank slate only existing to serve others’ needs and be what everyone else – including God – wanted me to be. Eventually I decided I couldn’t live that way anymore. I started going to counseling and believing that God loved and valued ME, myself, and created me on purpose. That He didn’t intend for me to endlessly pour myself out to the last drop… not because I was a woman, and not because I was a Christian.
This soul work was put to the test in November 2009, when my husband confessed to an affair. I was completely devastated, but still loved him and wanted to work things out. He waffled, left briefly, and then agreed to reconcile. While I was totally committed to the marriage, in the aftermath I set a much higher bar for how I expected to be treated. So, six months later, he told me he had cheated again and was no longer interested in staying married to me. He left that night, and my divorce was final a few weeks after my 31st birthday. During this worst time of my life, I have never felt closer to God. I knew in my soul that He was grieving with me and wasn’t okay with what had happened to me. I was heartbroken and all my plans had turned to dust, but I felt God’s presence and a deep conviction that He was still at work and would bring good out of my suffering. From day one I wanted to use my experience to comfort and advise others in similar situations, and I still try to do that, mainly through my blog. It means everything to me when people, especially other divorced people, tell me they were helped by something I wrote. I don’t know much about God’s plans for me, but I know that’s one of the reasons why I’m here.
I started my post-divorce life overflowing with hope even as I grieved, but that hope has faded. I believed that after this long (four years), I’d have an amazing new life with a fulfilling, purposeful job, a relationship with a wonderful Christian man who would love me as Christ loves the Church, and maybe even a family. That’s how God turns ashes into beauty, right? Instead, I’ve made no progress in my career and still lack a bright and shining purpose. I haven’t had a close relationship (even a platonic one) with any guy, and hadn’t even been on A Date until this year. (Many other Christians I know have divorced and remarried in this intervening time.) I’m 35 and am slowly accepting that I probably won’t have kids. I doubt increasingly how much my story and experience are worth after all, because people want a happy ending. I have an active, fun life and more than my share of loving friends, but the years the locusts ate have not been restored, and I’m no longer sure if they ever will be. I don’t really know how to cope with that anymore, so I have trouble imagining how others can be encouraged by it. My intimacy with God has suffered as I try to find a positive framework for a future that might always fall short of my hopes.
However, God has definitely provided for me this year by bringing me to my new church. It’s a place where you can be loved, valued, and useful regardless of your gender or demographic, where people aren’t afraid to admit they’re broken, where people are dreaming big dreams for themselves, each other, and our city. I’ve wanted to belong in a place like that for a long time. I’m excited to be part of it and hopeful for how God might use it in my life.
I refuse to engage in any Christmas activities until Thanksgiving is over. But now that December is here, I’m firing up the holiday music! I love to hear about people’s Christmas-music traditions and favorites, so I thought I’d share mine. Shamelessly.
The two albums I can’t do without in December are Mariah Carey’s classic Merry Christmas (the recent sequel wasn’t even close) and Barenaked Ladies’ Barenaked for the Holidays. Yes, I’m serious. In addition to creative takes on Christmas classics and excellent inclusion of Hanukkah songs, BNL’s album boasts my favorite holiday recording of all time, their “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings” featuring Sarah McLachlan. On my second tier are Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas – of course – and Hanson’s 1997 masterwork Snowed In, recorded before Taylor’s voice broke. I dare you not to feel Yuletide cheer listening to their “Merry Christmas Baby.”
More recent favorites: Over the Rhine’s Snow Angels (“New Redemption Song” has become a year-round staple) and Pentatonix’ amazing PTXMas. The Hotel Cafe presents Winter Songs has some original songs and unusual variations, including a perfect duet by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, which still makes me cry every time I listen to it.
My childhood in the tropics is reflected in my love of Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island… and then there’s “Feliz Navidad.” This bilingual classic is tied to one of the craziest stories in my family’s history. Sometime in the 1960s or maybe early 70s, my uncle was running the Delta ticket counter at Miami International Airport when Jose Feliciano tried to board a flight with his seeing-eye dog. My uncle insisted that no animals were allowed on the plane, and when Mr. Feliciano insistently disagreed, a fistfight broke out. Actually, the story goes that my uncle leaped over the counter and started throwing punches, and from what I’ve heard about his temper at the time, it seems plausible. Obviously I don’t condone this behavior AT ALL, but from a distance of 50 years it totally cracks me up. I can’t listen to the cheery song without picturing my uncle and Mr. Feliz Navidad whaling on each other in front of the Delta logo. In my head, it’s like a scene from a Tarantino movie.
Well, no further discussion of music will be exciting after that, but feel free to partake of my Ultimate Holidays Playlist on Spotify. Please share some of your Christmas favorites, especially the less common recordings. I’m always looking for new tunes!
I’m always looking for cool phone wallpapers. I also still miss Hawaii over two months after my trip there. So I created iPhone 5 wallpapers from some of my favorite Hawaii pictures for your free download and enjoyment. They may work well enough for other phones too!
Click on the thumbnail to go to the full-size image. You know what to dooooo.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown (5 stars)
More solid advice from my life guru. In fact, I already need to read this again.
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff (3.5 stars)
A series of essays about love and faith, most involving a story from Bob Goff’s life or one of his friends’. Bob encourages others to see life as he does: totally without limits. While he has a lot of wisdom and inspiration to share, his pride in ignoring social and practical boundaries rubbed me the wrong way at times. In fact, some of his “capers” bordered on rude. I also wondered how his advice might sound to someone trapped in a difficult situation without the resources he has. Still, I enjoyed it, and the good parts are really good.
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (4 stars)
The final installment of the trilogy that began with Anna and the French Kiss. Isla has been secretly in love with Josh, St. Clair’s best friend, since their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. After a chance meeting in NYC while they’re both home for the summer, they finally connect for real as their senior year begins. Their relationship is everything Isla dreamed of, but she can’t seem to shake her insecurity – about Josh, her inability to form real friendships, and her uncertain future after graduation. Although the title pretty much gives the ending away, this story takes plenty of turns. Nothing compares to the original Anna, but I related to Isla the most of Perkins’ heroines (and definitely liked her more than Lola).
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (5 stars)
If you’re wondering, Yes Please is as good as Tina Fey’s Bossypants and maybe even better. This half of the best comedy duo of our time also has plenty of insights and hilarious stories to share. You’ll get lots of info about Amy’s childhood and amazing family, the start of the Upright Citizens Brigade, and Parks & Rec; inspiring words about womanhood and living authentically; and funny, relatable essays (I especially loved the one about things people ask you after your divorce). Fantastic.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell (5 stars)
Georgie, a TV comedy writer, has finally gotten her big break. She and Seth, her best friend/writing partner, only have a few days to write the show they’ve been dreaming up since college. Unfortunately, it’s Christmas. After Georgie sends her husband Neal and their two daughters off to Omaha without her, she realizes how disconnected she and Neal have become – and that he might not have left her just for the holidays. When she calls him from an old phone at her mom’s house, she reaches Neal fifteen years in the past… during the weekend between their breakup and his proposal. Unsure if she’s supposed to change the past or make it happen, all she knows is that she loves Neal then and now, and is ready to do whatever it takes to get him back. I didn’t love Landline quite as much as Fangirl or Attachments, but it’s classic Rainbow Rowell – funny, hopeful, and REAL. I read it in one night!
24/6: A Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life by Matthew Sleeth (4 stars)
An engaging examination of the importance of the Sabbath, and how ignoring it is affecting us individually and as a society. It wasn’t a coincidence that I read this at the start of a month that ended with me realizing I’m burned out. I’ve failed at intentional Sabbath-keeping for years. Anyway, Sleeth is an experienced ER doctor who applies lots of his war stories to the subject of rest. Good stuff.
Books for November: 6
2014 year to date: 69
Image credit: Photiq Photography
November’s main event was my best friend Alanna’s wedding. This was probably my last bridesmaiding gig, and it was a great way to go out! I was so happy to spend time with our friends from out of town and get to know Alanna’s family better. As glad as I am to get back to normal, I’m already wishing for another excuse to get everyone together.
SIPsters and bridesmaids gather at Muddy’s Grindhouse
I participated in the True Blue 5K again, running the whole way and setting a new PR! In other Tiger news, football season continued and basketball season began. Kathy, Daniel, and I have moved down at the Forum from row T to row J, i.e. in front of the banners! HUGE DIFFERENCE. The way the team is playing, it looks like we picked a bad year to make the jump, but I’m still holding out some hope.
I served on a jury for the first time in November. Maybe I had an especially good experience, but I don’t understand why everyone gripes about jury duty. You get to be out and about downtown in the daytime, meet interesting people, and do something that’s really helping the community, all instead of going to work. I was finished by Wednesday afternoon. What’s not to like?
My friend Myla’s family invited me (and our friend Becky) to spend Thanksgiving with them, and I had a wonderful time! My parents live here, but my family has split up on Thanksgiving for about a decade – it’s a long, hunting-related story – and I wasn’t up to traveling for the holiday this year. So I had a fun, restorative day on her family’s farm. Myla and Richard brought their cat and introduced her to some horses!!
Just this week, I’ve realized that I have a serious case of burnout. That might sound ridiculous since I am not a parent and don’t work long hours, but trust me. I’ve been feeling down, unmotivated, and exhausted for several weeks and thought I was mildly depressed. That might still be true, but I now believe burnout is more likely. I don’t know yet what I can feasibly do about it, but I know I have to do something. More on this as it develops.
Amy Poehler’s Yes Please was my book of the month, hands down. Also great: my last unread Rainbow Rowell, Landline, and my guru Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection (which I already need to re-read, apparently).
PS: My Kindle Touch has stopped downloading – galleys, library books, or purchased books. Everything goes into the cloud and then gets stuck on Pending. I’ve contacted customer support, tried all the basic fixes, and nothing has helped. Anyone?
Contact (with Jodie Foster) is one of my favorite movies of all time. Interstellar is its spiritual sister. Both movies are about wormholes, unseen aliens, and fathers and daughters. And McConaughey is the common denominator. Who knew?
Mockingjay Part 1 was fantastic. In the hands of lesser actors, these movies could have been a joke, but this cast gives the story the gravity it deserves. I especially loved Elizabeth Banks’ Effie in this one. Even in unforeseen circumstances, she remains exactly who she is and keeps on doing her job.
I didn’t travel anywhere in November. Thank the Lord.
I was enthralled by the New Ballet Ensemble‘s Nut ReMix at the Cannon Center. It’s an adaptation of the Nutcracker set on Beale Street, and every year it’s a little different. By the way, the NBE just won a National Arts and Humanities Youth Programs Award. Pretty awesome.
While downtown for jury duty, I finally had lunch at the Littlest Tea Shop, an institution among downtown workers. I ate an entire basket of their cornbread by myself and wasn’t even sorry.
After I confessed to propping my phone on top of my shower doors for musical purposes, my friend Stacy pointed me toward a brilliant invention called the ShowerMate. You can stream anything from your phone to this surprisingly quality Bluetooth speaker. So far I’ve brought three people (that I know of) into the church of the ShowerMate. JOIN US!!!
I read about the Makeup Revolution Iconic 2 eyeshadow palette on The Budget Beauty Blog and finally decided to give it a try. It’s an exact dupe of the famous Urban Decay Naked 2 palette, which retails for $52. The Revolution palette is under $20 including shipping from England. I’m having a lot of fun with it!
I kept Alanna’s two cats at my house while she was on her honeymoon, bringing the total to an unprecedented three cats. They were a lot of fun, and I didn’t have to feel like a crazy cat lady because they’re not mine. Woo! My Peach wasn’t phased by them at all, but they didn’t share her desire to be friends. She and Charlie reached an uneasy truce by the end, though.
Pinterest Quote of the Month:
Quote by Finn Butler. You know I really love this rendering because I can overlook the misspelling of “breathe.”
On The Blog:
In addition to the posts I referenced above, I shared my favorite roast beef recipe; analyzed a Taylor Swift song; looked at YOLO from a different angle; confessed that I often trust Hollywood writers more than I trust God with my story; and was thankful for my involvement in the arts.
Posts I Loved:
♥ November is a tough month for me. Several people I love were born in it, but it’s also full of personal sad memories and milestones. And being so close to the holidays and at the cusp of winter, it’s an unfortunate time for such things. So I appreciated bloggers talking about that experience this month: my friend Becca reflecting on nine years without her mom, and Amy at The Messy Middle talking about dealing with bad news at the holidays.
♥ Jamie the Very Worst Missionary: #Blessed.
♥ Heather Caliri guesting at Little Did She Know: Bible
♥ Such Small Hands: What Happens When You Go Viral: On Wanting to Give Up
♥ The Memphis Flyer did a fascinating interview with Memphian/jookin’ superstar Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley: Most Buck
♥ Jayson D. Bradley: The Gospel’s Too Silly To Be Mocking Other Faiths
♥ Smile of the Month: Night of 10 Trillion Elsas at The Sparkly Life
I don’t really keep thankfulness lists, at Thanksgiving or any other time, but last weekend I realized something I’m thankful for that’s off the beaten path. I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to appreciate and participate in the arts all my life.
Like many little girls, I started ballet at the age of three. I loved it and continued taking classes until my family moved to Memphis after fourth grade. That was the end of my real training, so I never got to go en pointe, but I’d often do barre exercises by myself. In college I took ballet for my phys ed requirement. I’ve taken adult ballet a few times (one of the classes was taught by a former Bolshoi dancer who revolutionized the fundamentals for me). When I was in college, my friends and I went swing dancing every week at one of the campus ministry houses. I took a few ballroom lessons when I was engaged. Most recently, I was part of a line-dancing group for five years. By the standards of the dance world, I’m over the hill at 35, but I feel more at home in my body and more interested in dance now than ever. It kills me not to have room in my schedule right now for a class (maybe modern or even hip-hop?), because I miss it to a physical degree.
My grandmother is an artist. When I was a kid, we often went to art museums and talked about the pieces, or did projects she’d come up with. She encouraged me to think outside the box and color people’s faces purple if I wanted to. I’ve never been a great visual artist (though my high school notebooks were full of cartoonish fashion designs), but I’ve always loved messing around with color and different mediums for my own enjoyment. I’m happy to have that creative outlet.
In my school system growing up, band started in sixth grade. My mom made a rule that my siblings and I had to learn an instrument for a year. If we didn’t like it, we could quit when the year was up. I ended up with the flute, because my cousin gave us hers, and 24 years later I’m still playing it. Music and band culture are part of me down to my bones. My marching band years in high school were some of the best and most formative of my life (as everyone hears about if they meet me more than once). Again, I’ve never been a spectacular musician, but hopefully my heart makes up the difference. After I joined a community band last year, I tried to explain to my dad why it felt so positive and important to me, and he said “You don’t have to have a reason.” The best I can do is, no matter where I am or what’s going on in my life, I can sit down in a band rehearsal and I’m home. Playing with a group centers me in a way almost nothing else does. It’s my second language. I will always be thankful to my mom for this gift. (PS: I want to learn the oboe, but switching instruments at my age is pretty daunting. Not to mention buying an oboe.)
And of course, there’s writing. I seriously cannot remember a time when reading and writing weren’t constants in my life. I think my mom has “stories” I wrote in preschool (probably about The Flintstones, one of my early obsessions). When I can’t write out my thoughts and feelings (if only privately), I feel crippled and incomplete, like Harriet the Spy without her notebook. Words are my air and my lifeblood.
I know creativity is common to most people and I’m not a special snowflake or anything. But the arts connect me to God, other people, the universe, and even myself on a daily basis. My life is so much richer because of them, and I’m so thankful that I’m part of them and they’re part of me.