Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shifting Perspectives

Twice I've had the privilege of flying in a small, private airplane. In any mode of travel, I love to look out the window, and plane travel is no exception. I like the view much better at 5,000 feet than the higher altitude of a commercial jet. You can see cars driving on roads like tiny bugs and groups of windmills like white needles coming out of the ground. Golf courses are perfectly smooth and green, but look as if someone came along and scooped out a few spoonfuls for the sand traps. Over the Midwest, almost everything is flat. Fields and roads look like they were marked out with rulers. The only things that look natural are the rivers and groups of trees around them, and sometimes you can see how the water has shaped the landscape, leaving wrinkles in the otherwise even fabric of the earth.

Being removed from the surface changes your perspective in interesting ways. Rather than feeling the wind blow snow across the ground, you can see the strange patterns it makes settling into the fields. The haze of the horizon becomes a perfect circle you can see all around you. Suddenly, you become aware of how large the earth is, and how that enormous distance to the ground is just a thin layer of air and vapor. (How often do pilots have existential moments?)

Simple placement can change how you see things. This is imminently obvious, but the impact of physical space on our minds and emotions isn't always so.

Today, I moved back into my dorm room. I spent much of my last week at home sitting and pondering how weird it was that soon I'd be returning to different spaces and routines. After a month and a half of near-uninterrupted calm, the idea of going to classes and seeing brick buildings out of my window instead of trees and an empty cornfield was almost inconceivable. Now, everything feels normal. The sight of the road leading onto campus was practically more familiar than my kitchen.

I've moved several times, so I very quickly adjust to the idea of different places being "home." Taylor University is home. Lying on the couch with my cat on my stomach is home. Driving in the car with my boyfriend whilst talking about superheros is home. Still, each of those places can change how I see the world and myself.

When I think of the view at 5,000 feet, I wonder what it would be like to  see my life like that all the time. Small things would fade away. Maybe I would be instantly granted a permanent serenity, an ability to transcend my surroundings. Or maybe I would just laugh at the existential moments and the dramatic wording that comes with them. If I try, maybe I can take the new perspective that comes with the shift in surroundings and unite with it a little more wisdom.

Hello, spring semester. I'm trying to see you with new eyes.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Letter Writing Again

The best gift I received this Christmas was a journal full of letters written just for me. Almost nothing shows you care more than taking the time to write to somebody. It's a reminder that in another time and place, someone was thinking about you. This is why I write letters. This is also why when I don't write them for long periods of time, I feel like I'm missing something.

On a related topic, the Month of Letters is about to start again. I probably sent more letters last February than I did the rest of the year combined, but mailing something each day made me happy in a way that I've found hard to replicate. 

It's an illustration of the principle that it is better to give than to receive. Receiving letters is great (in my dorm, I'm known to turn from an empty mailbox with an exclamation of "Nobody loves me!"), but it results in another kind of satisfaction that isn't exactly the same as that of sending one. In writing letters, you give a part of yourself. In that letter, you, as the writer, are frozen in that time and place forever. When someone receives it, it can read it in many times and places. To quote Mary Robinette Kowal, it is "both lasting and ephemeral." 

If you're interested in writing or people at all, I'd recommend sending letters. They don't have to be long. They don't have to be especially eloquent. They just have to be. Need some tips for getting started?
  • Be quirky! On the back of letters to my cousin Kara, I write poems about mail. (T. S. Eliot used to address his letters with poems.) Sometimes, I write quotes. Sometimes I like to draw on envelopes. What's life without a little whimsy?
  • Who needs to buy envelopes, anyway? The poor college student must save money any way possible.
  • Get to know the people in your post office. I once stopped in for directions to a pumpkin farm, and the lady behind the counter offered to take me there herself if I couldn't find a ride. I've met some really neat people employed by the postal service.
  • Get sappy. Valentine's Day is in February, you know. See the second sentence of this blog post.
This is not a plea for the people who know me to send me stuff so I can feel loved. Rather, it's an encouragement for everyone to spread a little love around. I'm almost certain that you (yes, you) have family and friends who aren't near you at the moment. Go ahead and send them part of yourself. The impact will last much longer than it takes to write the letter.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fighting Myself

This is the second year I've been home for J-term, and I hope it's the last. Not because I don't love being with my family or just being sacked out on the couch with my cat, but I miss Taylor. I know someday I'm going to graduate and go on to other things, but right now, I miss the environment. I miss trying to balance classes with theater and noveling and friends. I miss the challenge, going to chapel, and having random theological discussions. The truth is, I feel a lot more removed from God when I'm at home.

This is stupid. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, etc. My problem is I know this -- I've learned it and experienced it in many ways -- but I currently have a hard time "feeling" it. Spiritual dry spells aren't new to any Christian, and I can't say that this is a particular low point in my life. But it's frustrating.

I'm a very strongly emotional person.  Because I can easily fall prey to feelings, I also have an exceptionally high regard for sincerity. (Lying to or manipulating people is one of the few things that can really make me unwilling to forgive.) I hate manufactured emotion, and I have a very hard time being cheerful when I'm not.

Is this a good thing because it makes me want to be sincere with God? I dunno. Is this a bad thing because I'm less willing to praise God when I don't feel like it? Almost certainly. I've heard this point argued a dozen times before. I believe emotions are useful and enhance our relationship with God, but things purely emotional are transient.

For now, I'm fighting myself. I guess it's just good to know that God always wins.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Specializing in Generalities

A few months ago, I took a workplace-oriented strengths test that was supposed to tell me what my talents were. (Before that, I didn't realize that "context" was a talent.) In the introduction, the writers stressed that people don't play to their strengths. Humans apparently have some kind of negativity fixation that makes us pound away at the things we aren't good at, resulting in endless mediocrity for us all. If we stick to our strengths, then we will excel.

There may be some merit to this, but not enough to satisfy me. 

According to Robert A. Heinlein, "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

By these standards, I'm about 2/3 of a decent human being. I'll see if I can get them all by the time I die.

On my bucket list, there are many things I plan to do: learn how to play piano, build a treehouse, perfect a spatula-less egg flip, martial arts, contact juggling, longboarding, bake a yule log, sight read music, perform a standing walkover, beat my boyfriend at Settlers of Catan, and speak another language fluently (since Ubbi Dubbi doesn't count).

More than almost anything else, I love to learn things. This occasionally results in a kind of procrastination ("I can't work on my story, I'm learning how to knit") that can take away from big projects, but I have to think it makes me into a better person as a whole. When I learn something new, I'm better equipping myself to do whatever I may be called on to do. I'm learning not just a new skill, but how to struggle with difficulties and overcome them. The results are often less than perfect, but they're still results. Maybe someday I can use them to do good.

And when I find something I can't do, it's a nice reminder not to take myself too seriously.

I'm not great at everything. Teach me how, though, and I'll try anything. The struggle is good. The overcoming is good. And occasionally, failing is good, too.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Scared to Miss

Being home for Christmas and January has not, so far, been very productive. Though holiday busyness has wound down, it doesn't look like I can plan for every day to be a writing day. Now, I get to decide whether to bemoan the fact that I don't have time perfect for writing, or I can write anyway.

I've given the first ten chapters of  Void to a few people for feedback. One early responder has informed me that it does not, in fact, suck. This is encouragement enough to face my month-and-half distant deadline with defiance. Fourteen more chapters, ha! You don't scare me, February 15th.

But it does. Not just the still-present possibility that I could fail my deadline, but giving everything else up to it. It is important to take care of the house for my parents because they're at work all day and I am not. It is important to work out with my sister because I don't spend much time with her. Sometimes, it is needful to take a break and catch up on a book or favorite blog to recharge ideas.

Noveling isn't my only project. I want to rescue other parts of my life that have fallen by the wayside. Writing letters used to be important to me; I'm working to make it so again. Blogging is both a creative outlet and a discipline; thus, I've resolved to post every Sunday. Being away from school has resulted in squeezing Bible reading into the cracks because it doesn't "feel routine" anymore, but lack of routine is a terrible excuse when I've been relieved of school responsibilities for a month. If I don't take time to be with God, it's certainly not the universe's fault.

What will happen if I do not submit Void to Tor by February 15th? Nothing. I will still have most of a finished story. I'll still have friends and family who care about me and support me in their own ways. Maybe I'll finish by the 17th, or the 1st of March. Maybe it will be a better story if I wait and revise that long. But my goal is still possible. And I have to remember that the last-minute deadline rush is something I'm very good at.

Am I scared? Yes. Scared to miss my deadline and a bunch of other things. It's not some monstrous fear I must remove from my path. It's a smaller fear, one that's not so much an obstacle as a companion. It might even help me to grow.