STORY 2012 : I Am So There.

Though these past few months I have been retreating quietly from my beloved blogosphere, there has been some excitement in these parts. The unforeseen upside to blogging is the real relationships that it culminates, the connections that it derives, the tangible opportunities it gives. One such opportunity to celebrate takes place this week, and miracle of miracles, I will be there.

STORY is a conference for the creative class at Park Place Church in downtown Chicago tomorrow and Friday. And you guys, Anne freaking Lamott is speaking. If you have followed this blog in any capacity over the last nine months, then you know how out-of-my-mind excited I was to know she would be there. And then I was devastated when I thought I couldn’t go due to financial reasons. And then I jumped up and down and all around my office when I got an email with the news that there was a ticket with my name on it.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, there will be hundreds of other people in attendance, and several dozen of them are people that I’ve “met” online, but have yet to greet face-to-face. People like Lore Ferguson (she’s staying at my apartment! Woot!) and Elora Ramirez and Kristin Tennant and Addie Zierman and Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner and Tony Alicea and Katie Axelson and Brandon Clements and Ed Cyzewski and Alece Ronzino and Sonny Lemons.

And there are people I have met that I haven’t seen in awhile that I will get to reconnect with, like my favorite Prodigals Darrell and Ally Vesterfelt, and Tammy Perlmutter and Emily Miller. And to top it off, my husband gets to go with me!

These last few days I’ve been contemplating why this opportunity means so much to me, why meeting these people that I’ve “met” but never met matter so much. I mean, not that long ago, meeting someone you only knew online was a taboo thing. Even talking to people about it now, the idea that this group of people matters this much to me when I have never met them in person raises some eyebrows.

And yet, when I am feeling withered and wallowy about writing and other struggles, these digital connections feel so tangible to me in a way that other parts of my life don’t.

Honestly, up until this point in my life, I have never had a community of people that have understood my creative drive. Or even more to the point, I have never been a part of a community of writers. In high school? Don’t make me laugh. In college? Creatives : Yes. English majors : There were only 2 of us. Writers : Zip.

The people that I am meeting at Story 2012 make me feel like I belong. Like I am understood. Like yes, I’m crazy, but so are they – in a good way! We’re all in it together.

If I’ve made you gag with my mushiness, I’m sorry not sorry. As you can tell, I’m totally geeked, and for good reason. Expect a full recap in the coming week.

Fear and Fiction.

Once upon a time, I tried to write a novel. For class credit. I got 60 pages in before my computer ate it. Every single word, all 20,000 of them, were wiped away with the rest of my hard drive just two weeks before the end of my junior year of college.

My attempts to rewrite the damn thing were feeble at best. I pretty much bombed the class from there on out. My professor tried to be understanding; it was completely outside of our control, sort of like a natural disaster – a tornado had hit my hard drive, destroying everything in its path, including the only draft of my novel. No, I had never even bothered to print it.

But I think he and I both knew the unspoken issue that kept me from a better grade.

I didn’t want to rewrite it.

Oh, I cried and bit off all my finger nails over whether I would earn the credit for the class and graduate on time.

But secretly, I was relieved.

Secretly, I had hated all sixty pages.

Even though my prof had diligently met with me and talked me through the process of writing fiction and the importance of story arch and character development and setting and the whole shebang, my nugget of an idea about the story and every word I wrote slowly soured in my mind and began to feel wrong all wrong what the hell am I doing this sucks its all completely WRONG, as though my vision for the story was a piece of fruit that rotted away over the course of the semester. Possibly, my demon laptop sensed how terrible this was and mercifully decided to execute it so that I wouldn’t have to.

I rewrote the bits and pieces I remembered, and I still have that on an external hard-drive. Sometimes when I am looking for another stored file, I wander into that folder and take a peek, wondering if this rotting piece of fiction has fermented into something fabulous, like a good bottle of Merlot. But no, still terrible awful no good very bad fiction. The kind that I hope no one ever finds in the event of my death.

So why do I keep it?

Maybe to remind myself :

Once upon a time, I did manage to spend a semester writing fiction.

Be humble. Failure is just as important as success.

Be vulnerable. My real failure was in my unwillingness to let myself be vulnerable enough to write even the crappiest first draft of a manuscript. I became afraid of my own ideas, of the clumsiness of learning to write fiction.

Buy an external hard drive. And don’t forget to “⌘ + S”.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be a fiction writer. I still wonder if I have the imagination for it, or the patience, or the vulnerability. But I write this as an admission of my fear. Maybe someday I won’t be afraid of fiction anymore.

So tell me : what are you afraid of?

Stitches in Time.

Routine : thin threads of truth tying me together. All the loose, uneasy parts of me that threaten to fall apart are sewn quietly, steadily, in each cup of morning coffee, in each word that finds its way to the paper, in every whispering rise and fall of pages turned, in each sunrise and sunset and swift chop of the knife over dinner, each sweat of garlic in the pan.

Someday these wounds will heal, though the scars may show. For this time, I stitch, one loop after another,

My name is Bethany. 
I am 24 years old. 
I lost my mother. 
I do not feel like myself. 
But I am loved. 
I am known. 
You are not impossible. 
You have made a way for me. 
Everything is not lost. 
Grief is good. 
Grief is necessary. 
I will not try to escape my grief. 
Everything is not lost. 
I am a woman.
I am a wife. 
I am a writer.
Everything is not lost.

Stitch, stitch, stitch.

This is the steady rhythm of my life.

Labor Day and Letting Go.

Our family has spent every Labor Day for the past ten years at my aunt’s cottage in northern Michigan. It sits at the end of a dirt road and on the edge of Manake Lake, where cell service and internet and television are completely, blissfully unnecessary. Last year I didn’t make it up there, but this time around, I knew I couldn’t miss it. I knew my soul needed it.

I spent four days alternating between laying in the hammock with a good book, swimming, eating, laughing with 20 family members – parents, siblings, spouses, uncles, aunts, cousins, dogs. I’m sunburnt, but for every sting of red skin I smile a little at the memories made, the yard full of tents and RVs, the hugs and talks and jokes and boats and bonfires and meals and tears and the last rays of summer enjoyed before autumn is upon us.

I think in removing myself from the internet and work and obligation, I finally gave myself permission to feel. I even gave myself permission not to write. It would have been lovely to get up before everyone else and sit on the porch swing and let the words pour out of me so that I can have a stockpile of blog posts and articles, but I let myself sleep instead.

It has been a strange, busy, stressful, frustrating season, one that I have been desperate to get past and also desperate to learn from. I don’t think I understand my life any better than I did a week ago, but I did realize that clarity and peace aren’t always achieved in words, even though I am a writer. No, despite my desperation to achieve, succeed, survive, overcome, conquer whatever I face, I am learning to accept that sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the most necessary.

This is the season for letting go.

[Photo of Manake Lake courtesy of my brother.]