Friday, January 31, 2014

You learned English? / Just in cases. ... A treatise.

[Drafter's Note: I'm resisting the temptation to explain away my absence--especially in light of certain resolved notions. And while I should be working on some official word work for my ekklesia, what better warm-up than writing about words? ...And why else have a blog if not to use it for base procrastination?]

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"Chandra doesn't make fun of you for what you meant to say," some friends like to say. "She makes fun of you for what you actually said."
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"Beautiful Aurelia, I've come here with a view of asking you to marriage me. I know I seems an insane person--because I hardly knows you--but sometimes things are so transparency they don't need evidential proof." (Richard Curtis, Love Actually)
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I found myself distinguishing myself from her in college: I wasn't the snippy English Major who told you that you really meant lay, not lie (donttellmewhatImeanttosay), I was the nice English Major who would correct your papers (and silently, and with only slight eyebrow activity, judge your grammar).
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Ya know, it's hard out there for an English major. 

Nobody's written an Academy Award-winning song about it, but it's true. (I'm sure the same principle applies to anyone and their particular specialty/obsession/fandom, but I was an English Major and this is my blog so that's what we're talking about today.) This isn't meant to be defensive or reactive--just a little trip inside the mind of your favorite word nerd...

A) This Is Just the Way My Brain Works. Your eyes give you away, but it's not true: I'm not trying to show off (...most of the time) or make you feel foolish, but when English is misused my brain makes a little tweaky sound, like when you're overzealous in cleaning a mirror. It's jarring, and, particularly when the error is in writing or in some other way official, frustrating. I don't tally up how often I've caught errors from this person or that organization, and I don't have an internal maniacal laugh when I suggest that we know how to spell "mannequin" prior to using it in our PowerPoint. I just want you to sound intelligent, and I want the poor and ever-shifting English language to be treated as nicely as possible as long as we're at it. (Part A-2 is I Don't Actually Correct Everything--the times I speak up are only the times when it's particularly problematic or, admittedly, when I'm predisposed to get annoyed... Or, yes, show off...)

B) I Don't Talk the English Perfect-like, Either. Case in point, just as I started writing this post, I texted my friend Anna and used your instead of you're. In proofing this, I caught the wrong principal/principle in the opening paragraph. There will be something else I inevitably will miss until after I've clicked Publish. I make stupid mistakes as consistenly as anyone else, and have occasionally had the, "I've been mispronouncing that word for 15 years" moment. (I learned only a couple years ago that the expression was not "up and Adam"--I didn't know how that made sense, but I used it anyway--but "up and at 'em.") And I trip over my own simple words endlessly: favorites include "Kia Chat" instead of my coworker's Chia pet cat, and "baple macon bar" in place of Voodoo Donuts' slab of divine deliciousness. And while I'm quick to make fun of myself on this score--the aforementioned "Chandra Doesn't Make Fun..." rule works both ways, after all--I'm equally amused by others' reactions, frequently rendered in all-caps. My hold on this language is faulty at best! So let this be a place of public confession: that most recent time you saw me epically fumble this beloved language of mine? It won't be the last time...

C) The Newly-Learning Are Awesome. "He would drive you crazy," she says, describing a friend of hers, "English is his third language, so all his sounds are mixed up." I'm hurt by this--and do my best to correct her assumption. As someone who spent 6 years in French classes only to have, at her peak, a vague competence with the accent and a toddler's range of vocabulary, I am awed and amazed at anyone actively gaining mastery of a second language. (This extends to learning a first language--I don't snag small children by the ears and correct their subject-verb agreement, I swear.) I am, in fact, in love with the beauty and confusion of shifting language to language, and I find learners' errors and missteps fascinating and endearing rather than upsetting. Some of my fondest memories of my six weeks in Argentina include helping English learners to refine and understand the strange hiccups of any language, particularly ours. I can't imagine I'll ever be able to think of this and not see Euge's scandalized face when she heard me say "schmooze" and though I meant "smooch." And yes, our English lessons included the occasional dollop of Yiddish. Naturally.

D) In Which I Try Awfully Hard Not to Be My Grandmother. There are many wonderful things about my paternal grandmother, so please don't misunderstand, but she was nothing short of infuriating in her defense of The English Language As It Was When She Was an Undergraduate. One of the things I find most fascinating about language is its life. Each generation shifts tone and emphasis, adding their own words and labeling others with an italicized "Archaic." Each infusion of peoplegroup brings with it a smattering of new vocabulary.  And I am of the same stock as my grandmother: it's difficult not to lurch into lecture, to demand that the old ways--which are really quite new, so, more accurately, your ways--are respected and bowed to. (She's been gone 5 years and I still can't say "short-lived" without feeling her distaste in my allowing the short i rather than the long. I still say it,but I feel the judgment.) At only 30, I already blanch with seasickness as my language shifts beneath my feet: "nu-kyu-ler" becomes an acceptable (albeit secondary) pronunciation for, and the next ten years--possibly five--will see "irregardless" earn a Websterian stamp of approval. I will want to insist that these are wrong, I will want to detail how simple it is to be right--but I will try very hard to recollect an 11-year-old self, already in love with language and rolling my eyes at Gramma. This love of mine is a living thing, and I must let it move and breathe and renew itself, as it did before I learned to speak, and will long after my lips are dust.

I love language, and more specifically English (though to be fair, aside from French I haven't given anybody else a shot)--and like any love, I take it personally--probably too much. I don't get defensive about many things, but using words well is one of them. If my defensiveness has ever proved offensive to you, I ask forgiveness in the spirit of the unrequited frustration of a woman and the words that cannot love her back.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tribute Tuesday: Nina

My awesome cousin Jenny has started a link-up, Tribute Tuesday, which is A) an awesome idea and B) something that's been on my brain a lot lately. I love this concept of taking a few moments to give tribute to someone--not just a thank-you, but a on honorarium, a memorial of their grace, love, sacrifice. And nothing like a little public pressure to actually ensure I do it--whether or not I do it on a Tuesday...

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[Okay, Jenny, I tried to used your amazing linky sticker deal, but all that appears, published or no, is HTML gobblydeegook...]

Tribute to Nina

You would not need to spend much time on this blog of mine to figure out that I love stories: reading them, sharing them, hearing them, passing them along, making them up. When you think of a story--your own, or a favorite--you likely think first of the main characters, the major plot arcs, the larger themes. And this is true of me, but I love, almost as much, the little pieces. The tangents. The minor characters. [Cue English major diatribe. This is why Dickens drives me insane: the man doesn't believe in minor characters. The old woman you bumped into on the street in Chapter 2 is also the bookshop owner in Chapter 17 who ends up being your wealthy grandfather by the book's conclusion. CRAM IT, Charles, real life isn't like that.]

Ahem. Finding the track again...

I find myself understanding a story better for its little tangents and minor characters--minor in number of lines or time spent on the stage, but not necessarily in importance. And every time I find myself telling my story--the central one, the one that matters, the one of how God came and found me and continues to bring me to Himself over and over again--every time, I find that it has to include Nina.

And Nina is a minor character in my story. (I don't think she'll take offense to me saying so.) She was my music teacher when I was very young, and my mother's friend, and I've seen her just once or twice since she moved away when I was 8. But like I said--sometimes the minor characters aren't so minor at all.

I was 4, and my dad had left for reasons no one--maybe not even him--fully understood. My mom tells this part of the story simply: we were in her classroom after school as we always were. Matt was likely doing homework; I would have been knee-deep in Legos. "Kids," Nina says in the story, "Grab your stuff--you're with me tonight. Peggy, I'll have them home before bedtime." And she took us, and allowed my mother a few hours to be something other than a swamped single mom. I don't know what my mom did with those hours--knowing her, she was cruising the bars or getting yet another graphic tattoo.* (Just a moment of comic relief, people. For those who don't know my mother, this is the untruest statement there ever was. Just to set the record straight...)

This is my story, so I can only relate what I've heard from others, and tell what I remember. And what I remember is sitting next to Nina on the hard black bench, pressed as close as I could be without compromising her army's range of motion across the black and white keys, and looking out at a dark room that sang back to me. The choir in the dark knew the words, but they were still new and foreign to me, and have long since fallen from memory. But in those first few Wednesday nights I caught my first glimpse of God, however unaware I was at the time: beautiful and unknown; mysterious, but in a nice way. 

What started as Nina getting us out of our mother's hair for a few hours each week (because from then on, each Wednesday afternoon brought her to our door) molded into something much larger and lasting: my mother's return to the Church after years away, my brother and I growing and finding father figures and extra grandparents, our family learning that what is broken and rebuilt is more beautiful, and certainly more interesting, than the perfect and pristine. By the time Nina moved a few years later--acting as another saving grace in another woman's story--we were ensconced in a fellowship of shared lives. All of us have left that place now, moving hundreds of miles away in different directions--but members of that family remain close, and we have found new fellowship-families in our new places. My mother quilts love and grace into the lives of people, some she doesn't even know; my brother (and sister-in-law) prepare a house for study, reflection, and prayer; I encourage and love and pray with women of all ages and walks of life who come through our doors.

Is this all because a woman stopped by her coworker's classroom and took the kids out for Roy Rogers and children's church? Of course not--thank God, He is weaving too great a masterwork to be dependent on us. But when He calls us to step into someone else's story (even briefly, minorly) and we answer and go, He works simple wonders and small miracles. 

Am I a follower of Jesus Christ, am I a part of a grace community, do I minister to women because of Nina? No. 

But when I sit across from a newly-single mom, two cups of coffee and an ocean of brokenness on the table between us, Nina floats across my mind--not every time, but most. My prayer is always that I would be Jesus to this woman--but having no better face to put to such a prayer, the one I see is Nina's.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

5MF: See

Not sure where the energy--physical or creative--is coming from, but I'm riding it... In part, because I think this is how I'll keep tabs on my word count resolution--a week-end tally, after concluding the week with 5-Minute Friday. (And, I'm sorry, what were you mumbling about a timestamp? It's still Friday in Sacramento...)


"We'll see."

Crushing words to a child, tantamount to NO but somehow harder, crueler in their ambiguity--a distinction too hard to describe from your kid-brain, but no less real. The way sarcasm isn't okay but facetiousness is--you know it's wrong, but you lack the words for how.

I hated those words--for years, long into teenagehood and into my twenties, loathed them.

But I start to catch the other side now--the places where the light catches on the curve and the truth of the turn-of-phrase shows itself. Habakkuk's millenia-aged transciption cracks out from the pages: we wouldn't believe Him if He showed us. But by the time we are the us we'll be, we'll be able to stand it, our eyes will be able to process to our still-kid-brains what they're taking in.

We'll see.

I don't know how some things--most things, all things--work, or will work out. If my dreams will turn to life or ashes. If this man I keep waiting for is only in my head. Why children die from diseases their parents helplessly fell to. How there is no end or depth of cruelty we can invent. There are answers I wish I had, and if I search for them in my own hands I only end up frustrated and clawing. But if I glance up, drop my hands--or, better yet, raise them--there is promise and hope and who-knows.

We'll see. One day, somehow, with eyes that aren't yet ours, we'll see.


(Don't know the deal about 5MF? You should it's awesome. Check this week's out here.)

Jan 4-10: 2,226 bloggy words! WOOH! (Cheating? Certainly, but only by a few hours. We're calling it grace and getting out of here...)

7 Quick Takes: Life-Altering Children's Books

[Drafter's Note: The 7 Quick Takes idea stems from Jen over at I was led to it by my awesome cousin Jenny at Life in the Cookie Jar. But when I went to join up, there was a different set of takes (duh--this caught my attention a few days ago), and when I went to link to Jenny, I realized I had shifted my idea a bit from hers. But the list is made and the images have been found. There's no going back now!]

I, like Jenny, have an exceptionally hard time picking JUST seven, and so, as you'll see, I cheat. But an important distinction (and cutter of some possibilities) was that these are not just favorite or beloved, but Had Some Impact on My Life. I also, just to be fair, had to remove all fairy tales and Greek mythology from the running--that's a different 7 Quick Takes altogether, and I'd still need four of them... But here, in rough order of personal discovery, are seven-ish children's books that had some kind of altering power to the woman you know as Chandra.

Go, Dog, Go!
The book that started it all. While I'm sure this wasn't actually The First Book I Ever Read, that's how I remember it. (I somehow thought, at the time, that it was the first chapter book I'd read. I seem to have been confused on what chapters were...) But this is the book I remember carrying triumphantly to Matt, to my grandmother, to anyone who would sit down for seven minutes: I could read this. Not from familiarity, but from actually putting together the sounds and making them mean something. The first power I ever knew, and it hasn't lost any magic in 25 years... 

The Sweet Smell of Christmas
I like that Amazon calls this a "scented storybook." Nothing will bring me back to my childhood faster than the worn-out, scratched up pages of pine trees and oranges in stockings. It is not Christmas until I have paged through this old tome (yes, my original one, though I bought new copies for godchildren and cousins' kiddos this year). And aside from the olfactory enjoyment, it's a sweet story about the best part of Christmas, as a child: the anticipation. And I think, in its own weird way, it reminds me what it's still about: enjoying and embracing each simple little thing. And making gingerbread. Clearly.

In the Night Kitchen
Narrowly beating out its better-known brother, Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice's tale of Max's dream (?) steals the show for me--somewhat unsurprisingly. It would be hard to overestimate how much of my kitchen mysticism stems from my love of this book. So much collides in it: dreaming, flying, moonlight, and the magic and community of baking. I cannot love this story enough, and just got really annoyed to discover that I don't own it. Must make a trip to Longfellow Books post haste...

Yertle the Turle and Other Stories
This is almost more representative than particular. The distance by which Yertle beats out How the Grinch Stole Christmas, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!, and Bartholomew and the Oobleck is infinitesimally small--my love for Theodore Geisel is deep, and I give him a large piece of credit for my love of playing with words. But my love for this one in particular comes down to a solid memory I have of snuggling in the children's area at the Eastham, Mass library. Most other kids on vacation at Cape Cod would have been dragging their parents toward beach-ward cars, but I was perfectly happy on a beanbag with Morris the cat (real) and Yertle (fictional).

Island of the Blue Dolphins / Julie of the Wolves
I was pretty sure I had a rich Alaskan heritage as a kid--I have a clear memory of arguing with kids in Mrs. Fuhrmann's fourth grade class that I was an Eskimo. But I quickly latched on to anything that secured this identity, and Island was at the top of the list. A few years later, Julie of the Wolves would try to take its place, but while I had no frame of reference for tundra, the sea was my second home.  ("Weird," those in the know might be saying. "I thought this took place off the California coast, not Alaska." Fun fact: It does. And I didn't know it until just now when I went to pull the cover. Karana's interactions with Aleuts positioned the book firmly in the Aleutian Islands in my mind, and I never questioned it. Just for that, Julie gets a little also-ran tag here.) Regardless of geography, Karana was my hero for years. Ya know what? She still is.

Westmark Trilogy (Westmark, The Kestrel, The Beggar Queen)
While Lloyd gets a little more press (and terribly-adapted Disney screen time) from his Prydain series (which are also awesome), my heart belongs to Westmark. I don't remember how I stumbled on these--likely pilfering from Matt's bookshelves--but I felt like I had found something I wasn't old enough for, in a good way. A guy DIES in the first chapter, for crying out loud--and not the fairy tale, "her father passed away" poetry--it's intense. The whole series is big and epic and nerve-wracking in a way that I didn't know books could be. (Half a generation later, bajillions of kids my age would have similar feelings about Mr. Potter.) There is a grit and grime to it that was missing from the other YA reading I'd had, and I loved it. It was real, and hard, and I dare you to read it and not cry. Characters were broken, sometimes they let you down, sometimes they died. (This is about where Matt interjects the ridiculousness of reading Where the Red Fern Grows in school around the same time. "Not to be insensitive... But this is a coming-of-age story about a dog dying?!") It was life, in pages, and I loved it.

Say Hello to Zorro!
I suppose every adult comes to this shift: from the children's books they loved as a child to those they loved as an adult. This book (and, surprisingly, its sequel) is sweet and funny and worth buying your young child in its own right, but I will forever love it because the second time I flew out to the west coast to see my cousin and then-18-month-old goddaughter, this was The Book. The one that gets flipped over before you've flattened the last page, accompanied by the "AGAIN!" grunt. And while it's a great book, her parents were more than happy to hand Zorro-reading duty over to me for a couple days. At a rough count, I'd say I read it 20 times in 4 days, but maybe that's memory playing tricks. At any rate, I will love it forever for bringing my Ru-ster to my lap without fail all day every day.

Honorable Mentions:
Where the Sidewalk Ends, and everything else Shel Silverstein wrote. The man's a genius. Repeat Seuss-directed comments (ever-so-slightly quieter, which I don't think Shel would mind at all).
The Phantom Tollbooth. "It's bad enough wasting time without killing it."
The Black Book of Colors, which I found at a conference a few years ago. Gorgeous, ground-breaking, and well-deserving of the many accolades its received.
The Little House on the Prairie series. In terms of epic as a genre, it pales in comparison to Lloyd's stuff, but when looking at volume, Laura Ingalls Wilder prepared me for a lifetime of, "I'm about to start Book Six!" It's hard to imagine tackling (to say nothing of finishing, wolfing down) series by Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and J. R. R. Tolkien without Laura warming me up.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Acceptably Pretending

The screen door would give you away--that was the secret. Of course, that's the secret all screen doors share, but as a child you don't know these things. You learn the language of the door, the way to press slowly, but only to there; to let it fall free behind you, but nick it with your toe before the hard slap of wood and buzz of spring coil. From there, feet flee across concrete, through another (quieter) door, and then it's around the side of the house, ducking low to avoid detection through the pantry and den windows. Across the grass--a space of half a hundred feet, but by the time your hand is slipping the wire loop over the post and pushing the gate across tall grass, you have crossed to a world free of parents and expectations. You close the gate behind you--one less witness to your whereabouts--and a new world falls out before you, camouflaged in grapevines and apple trees and a hill that slopes down to the sheep pen. This is the second secret: to get to the slope, to where it is impossible to be seen from road or house, and where everything can become what it wanted to be but didn't know how.

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It was easier in Connecticut, of course: there was a dog. A girl can pass through doors without suspicion with a tennis ball in her hand and a golden retriever at her heels. Down the concrete ramp, a few casual throws toward the skunk-cabbagey woods before the dog has found the welcome cool of the swamp, and you are free to slink across the wide yard to the Rockies, the small range towering 8, maybe 10 feet over the prairie of garden and lawn. (Of course, there was a secreter way, but this involved passing were the yellowjackets were. You had been there once, but that was with Gretchen, and somehow the gold-plated buzzards had kept respectful distance from the soft German accent, the smell of potato pancakes providing some sort of cloak with which you could pass them unstung. But without these protections, the overland route was safer.) And up in the altitudes of the unseen, you were no loner awkward and alone, but strong and purposeful, with work to be done.

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"What do you pretend out there?"
You are too old to play pretend, make believe, imagine things. You have tried to squelch the inclination, but it elbows and eeks its way out. This day, it had started as service--walking along the edge of the pond, you had seen how the water was choked in its draining, leaves and branches nearly blocking the paved way. Finding a dry branch, you had cleared the rest, and watched the water pour out and onto other places--how water could be so determined after sitting so still was its own kind of hypnotic and soon the branch had become something else, and you hadn't realized you were skipping and swinging and talking until too late--and across the glaring, blank, exposed water, you see straight through windows, straight into eyes. You had forgotten the secrets, somehow. You try to unskip, unswing--to drop the branch so that it would be forgotten. You wander idly. You feign watching a duck, a jet trail in the sky. You return, slowly, waiting for the watchers to distract themselves. Entering the house, you had been hopeful--food was being set on a table, life was churning again--but the question is posed and none of the secrets help you.

Years later in a college creative writing class you will identify this moment as when you started writing in earnest: because it was the only acceptable way to keep playing pretend.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


[Drafter's Note: Crazy kudos to my equal parts beautiful & inspiring sister-coz Jenny, as she has been blogging nearly daily, in and around mothering three children under 4. She is a rockstar. I--caretaker of one cat--am pathetic by any measure of comparison. Ah, well...]

I have, mayhap, mentioned my sheer loathing mild distaste for New Year's resolutions. And I have, also mayhap, mentioned how I inevitably end up making them, against my idealistic will (and sometimes completely ignorantly--see the last time I signed up for Planet Fitness, having received a special offer in the mail... on January 2...). 

But this year, I've determined to just embrace it. Yes, as I've mentioned before, August 22 is just as good a Day for Change as January 1, but that doesn't mean there's something wrong with a new year bringing on new changes. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and embrace the cliche. 

So, a few resolutions--and true to form, these aren't glib promises, but pieces of processes. Hopefully that means they'll see me past January 20...
- Getting Better at Getting Fit. My beautiful friend Anna suggested we start going to the gym together back in October, and that was an awesome plan--accountability is a gorgeous thing. We (somewhat predictably) slacked a bit in the last couple weeks between bad weather, holiday/family schedules, aaaaaand occasional "OR we could come back to my house and watch Anchorman...?", but we have jump-started our plan... with a kick. In an effort to A) avoid the resolutionaries who will be slamming PF after work and B) nip excuses in the bud, we're going before work now--which meant a 4:50 alarm this morning. But it also meant starting my day chatting with Anna, getting the body cranked up and going, and cracking up to Mark Driscoll comparing Xerxes to Charlie Sheen. With an increasing bend toward negativity elsewhere in life, this is exactly what I need--the physical exercise is practically a side effect. Practically.
- Writing, Since I'm, Ya Know, a Writer. Between SOLC, 5MF, and a any given Google search for "writing prompts," it's a little ridiculous that I'm averaging a singular blog post a month these days. (This is where I assure you that I write elsewhere and not just here. Umm, yes, but not enough to make the argument stick.) So this is The Thing I'm Going to Start Doing, true resolution style: A thousand words a week--actual writing, sitting down and letting words work. A pittance to any real writer, but a place to start. (Thanks to my awesome buddy Ruth for passing along the #nerdlution word count idea... Though I'm not cool enough to tweet & connect about same...)
- Seeking Out the Plan. God uses weird things to keep me in line, and recently it's been my Bible app on my phone. That baby comes out every morning, first thing, before my feet hit the floor, and come mid-July I'll have read every word in a year. (As opposed to the last effort for same, which took five...) But I've realized in the last couple weeks that in my efforts to blaze through my daily reading, I've neglected my daily time--prayer journaling, being still, waiting, listening. And, as usual, there are some pretty large decisions looming around in my life, and I keep trucking toward them rather than tapping the brakes. So without forsaking the reading, I'm making a renewed effort to tap into the plan--not anything that I'm going to figure out or narrow down, but the real plan: "For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Eternal, 'plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that. At that time, you will call out for Me, and I will hear. You will pray, and I will listen. You will look for Me intently, and you will find Me.'" (Jer. 29:11-13, The Voice translation).

So I am, to some degree, resolved. The part of me that grates against New Year's smiles a bit as I realize I cannot end with some pithy comment about Day One, because it's already January 2. 

Cliche, you have been foiled.