Friday, May 28, 2010

Books 13 &14

Book #12 
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
I did not like this book at all.

I was eager to read it to relate it to my own Mennonite heritage, and I expected some good-natured ribbing of Mennonite culture, but I didn't expect the mean-spirited and destructive bashing of all things Mennonite.

It should be noted that the Hartzler side of my family is Mennonite, and I attended a Mennonite church with my family until I was about 12; perhaps because of my youth my memories tend to be rather golden . . . when I talk about growing up in a Mennonite church with a friend of mine who lived in a much more conservative Mennonite community until she was well into adulthood, our experiences and perspective differ drastically.  Just as within any denomination, there are wide differences between churches and forms of legalism.  The church I went to, and the one I now attend, doesn't require women to wear head coverings or dresses or anything near that form of Mennonite.  . . .  I could not love any church more than the Mennonite church we now attend.  

I couldn't place what form of Mennonite community the author, Rhoda Janzen grew up in, and perhaps if I'd have had her experience I would be bitter too . . . but it seemed that the only purpose of the book was a cynical and violent attack of her family and friends.  

I kept reading, hoping the book would redeem itself, and I think at the end she was trying to show her softer side, a gradual appreciation of her upbringing . . . but too much damage had already been done.  No one in that community was safe from Rhoda exposing and shaming.  I feel bad for all of the many people she mentioned by name and told humiliating stories about.  (Her childhood truly did not seem at all bad-- compare it to Jeannette Walls of the Glass Castle, who experienced a horrific childhood and yet wrote with far more sensitivity and respect to her family).  The really irritating thing about the book is the way that she prides herself on being an "intellectual" . . . she has a PhD . . . and everyone else is "undereducated" and ignorant.   She only left the impression of one of the "mean girls" from High School who finds great pleasure in smearing other people.

This book was nothing but destructive, the total opposite of the gentle, generous, and peaceable Mennonites I have known.  

Updated:  I should have clarified that the fact that Rhoda is no longer Mennonite, or her theological views (not that she spent much time at all on theology), really didn't bother me-- I felt that her stories were poking cheap fun of people on a personal level, such as the way the dressed, their personal habits, etc.)

Book #13
I can't believe I have never read this book!  What joy.  And what a contrast from the previous book, the difference of Art as Gift.  Loved it, will likely read this one again and again.

"Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything."
- Madeleine L'Engle, 
A Wrinkle in Time

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Problems solved

I think I've finally found a way to get the baby to stop fussing, and my two-year old to work out her energy .. . today I'll just be here enjoying the silence while Annie bounces Josie.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Facebook is like these chips I'm eating

This house is on a diet . . . (but I can't call it a "diet" because then I get all rebellious and just want to eat all the time) . . . I'm trying to cook healthy, not buying junk . . . you get the idea . .. so I've started buying "baked" potato chips . . . they look like potato chips, they act like potato chips, but they don't work. There's nothing there.  And they only make me want the real thing.  It's like eating ice and calling it ice cream.  Or commenting on facebook and calling it conversation.

I can't decide how I feel about facebook.  Lately I'm just really annoyed with the whole thing, likely because I spend A LOT of time nursing or bouncing a fussy baby, I can't get anything else done and so I gravitate toward the computer . . .  it's mindless, distracting, and feels like fellowship but it's NOT, and leaves me feeling anxious, distracted, and unsatisfied.

I think that the most frustrating thing about facebook is seeing all of these people I love . . . nearly everybody I've ever known . .. all right there . . . popping up in my feed with these neat little sentences . . . and yet they're still so unreachable, we're still so distant from one another and a 420 character status update tells me very little,  only makes me miss the person more . . . and hungry for real, authentic relationships and stimulating conversation.
"...people have developed less a sense of community than a loneliness which they attempt to assuage by being with other people constantly, and on a superficial level only." -M.L'E
Feeling a bit more anchored to my house now with three kids, and a restlessness that comes with trying to console a fussy baby all day combined with the malnutrition of facebook has me thinking about and missing some of my richest times of conversation . . .

College, when meals lasted for hours and there were always friends around to talk to . . . the kind of freedom that comes during that time of life to be serious or never serious, grown-up but irresponsible, to talk as easily about deep things as about nothing and always laughing really hard.
A community, to be truly community, must have a quality of unselfconsciousness about it.  We knew that we were struggling to be Christian, and that we often failed, and we knew that we couldn't be community on our own, and so the grace of community was given to us.-M.L'E
Drinking coffee with my dear friend Sally . . . taking roadtrips together, making plans, dreaming big dreams . . . feeling inspired and understood.
Our communities are joyful and creative for me only when I can accept my own imperfections,  when I can rush out with my sins of omission and commission and hang them on the cross as I hang out the laundry. -M L'E
The friends I worked with as a waitress all those summers . . . that one golden summer when we never slept.
My moments of being most complete, most integrated, have come either in complete solitude or when I am being part of a body made up of many people going in the same direction.-M.L'E
When I lived in Haiti . . . staying up all night talking . . . spontaneous adventures . .. conversations over long dinners with some of the most inspiring people I have ever known . .. waking up in our tiny apartment with my sweet friend Shan , talking talking talking, making coffee when the electricity came on and talking . . . entire weekends spent playing Rook at the Murphy's and long debates and laughing . .. always laughing.

It is difficult for me not to make impossible demands on my communities as I sometimes make them on myself. . . It is difficult for me to accept that all my beloved communities are going to die, and that even while they exist there are incredible spaces between human beings, and even the closest.  And, despite my urgings toward community I will always be, like Abraham, a wanderer, far from home.  But the people who are most aware of their own impermanence are the most able to throw wide the doors of heart and hearth to a stranger, to hear his message, receive his blessing.-M.L'E  

The first conversation I had with my husband . .. I said hello in passing and left the coffee shop, stunned, two hours later . . . then talking on the phone for four hours and me hanging up amazed and unable to sleep . . . our second date to the art museum, and later sitting in a Mexican restaurant somehow discussing children, I said that if I had kids I think it's important to talk with them and reason with them rather than spanking, and he laughed and said he could imagine my blue-eyed daughter and me trying to reason with her . . . and now we have three blue-eyed daughters who are all unreasonable.
My love for my husband and his for me is in that unknown, underwater area of ourselves where our separations become something new and strange, merge and penetrate like the drops of water in the sea.  But we do not lose our solitudes, or our particularity, and we become more than we could alone.  This is mystery.  I cannot explain it. -M.L'E
. . . And yes, conversation can still happen and it does, occasionally . .. halting, and interrupted by crying or whining or questions every. two. minutes. . . . or me just so tired (why now does sleep seem so immensely important?) . . . or distracted by the dishes, the laundry, How-Did-The-Entire-Sandbox-End-Up-On-This-Floor?

The last time I attempted to talk on the phone for more than five minutes, this is what happened:
. . . Annie took a hammer to the wall . ..  sigh. . . however a rare chance to catch-up with Sally is totally worth it.

. . .And yes, I am thankful for the friends I have, for the bits of conversation we get during playdates, the rare moments when Jim and I can complete a sentence, the occasional Girls' Night Out . . . and I am thankful for blogs and yes, I suppose I am even thankful for facebook, unsatisfying as it may be . . . and I am thankful for these beautiful people I have known, and these beautiful memories I have of rich conversation and growing debate and soul-satisfying laughter . . . I cannot recreate these communities, but it this Irrational Season of life that I am in I can treasure whatever form of community I find . . . even if, on some days, it's facebook.
Today I must seek community in a different way. . . . In life as I live it today, community must have a new form.  I do not know what it will be, and I suspect that I won't know until memory tells me that I am having it right now without knowing it . . . 
(all quotes taken from The Irrational Season )

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Irrational Season- Book 12

I knew that I wouldn't get to do a lot of reading in these first weeks with a new baby (some women are able to read books while nursing, but I've yet to master that) and so I wanted to choose the right book.  It took me six weeks to read The Irrational Season , but it was the PERFECT choice for this time in my life.

In typical L'Engle fashion, she came like a wise old friend and spoke to PRECISELY the matters of my heart at this moment.  (When I was struggling to find the courage to make art and to integrate it with my faith in a fiercely left-brained world, I read Walking on Water .   During a time of simply wilting I read The Rock that is Higher and Bright Evening Star and it was like finding my breath).

The Irrational Season would likely drive someone inclined to structure crazy, because it tends to ramble and jump from topic to topic, but I loved it for that . . . it is just how my life is now . . . wrestling with who God is, the question of evil . . . battlefields and slums and insane asylums as she keeps coming back to . . . the Noes of God, the silence of God . . . and in the same moment living the ordinary struggles of motherhood, trying to find balance and to resolve the conflict between mother and writer . . . loneliness and community . . . friendship, marriage, church . . . even the joys and frustrations with living in a small town.

I related to aspects of her childhood (the very things I have been reliving as I consider sending my children to school) and how these things allowed her to "find herself within, rather than without . . . so that the larger world of imagination and intuition was not closed off for me as it was for many of my contemporaries."

This book probably isn't for everyone.  But for this season of my life, these weeks in particular, it was life-giving.
This is the irrational season
         When love blooms bright and wild
        Had Mary been filled with reason
                   There'd have been no room for the child.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

some fresh links

I've removed my blogroll but I'm hoping to get one back up again sometime.  I read too many great blogs (it is what I do while nursing or bouncing the baby) and this list wasn't doing it justice . .. until then thought I'd link to a few of my current favorites . . .

A creative mint  .. . I'm not sure how I happened to find this, but I found the link scribbled in a notebook and revisited it . . . I am just breathless over these photographs!  How can a pair of blue scissors make me so. very. happy?

I have been enjoying Across the Page , which I found from Ruth's blog , also one of my favorites.  Janet writes a lot about faith and books, a good combination.

My recent infatuation with city living has led me to these humorous city-mom blogs:  Hollywood Housewife and Motherhood in NYC .

This is my brother Joe's friend, Barak at 50 year plan.  He's hilarious.

And these are the oldies but goodies, the blogs I always read first when they arrive in my reader:
Maya Made 
Simple Mom
Small notebook

Hopefully I'll link to more soon, but the baby's awake and the day begins!

Have a great day!  Chuck the to-do list and go paint something . . . (this is my goal for another rainy day today,  I'll let you know if it actually happens).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just what the world needs: more parenting advice

Baby is sleeping which is how I am able to be here writing at the moment.  She's not a great sleeper . . . in fact during the day she doesn't sleep much at all but finally, by the third child this doesn't stress me out.

(Here I am beginning a rant about babies and sleep again, and coming dangerously close to offering more unsolicited advice to any new parent who may be reading . . . because if you are a new parent the thing you need more than anything . . . even more than a mr. milker or fetal kick-Twitter updater  . . . is more parenting advice.  Especially sleep advice).

Sleep is apparently the most accurate indicator of your child's future performance in life.  In fact, in some Christian circles getting a child to sleep through the night is nearly as crucial as total emersion, and the earlier a baby sleeps eight hours the more likely he is to be a missionary to China, or a wealthy tithing church member.

And I have a newborn and I can't help myself, I have to talk about sleep.  It's the number one thing that controlling concerned parents want to talk about: how to get baby to sleep through the night so we can get back our uninterrupted t.v. schedule early morning prayer time.

So here is my wealth of insight on the issue:
Sometimes babies sleep.  Sometimes they don't sleep.
Sometimes they wake up at really inconvenient times, like mine just did.
What you decide to do about that is up to you.

Insert: it is now three  now it's five seven days later . . . after Baby #3 woke up, I got a call from my mom who was watching the older two, but Annie was having some constipation issues and was upset and wanted me to be there.  So I went.  And since then we have been dealing with this issue on a daily basis . . . it typically involves several hours a day of on and off the potty accompanied by a panicked, hysterical toddler and bribing with chocolate.  I am sure there must be a Christian parenting book on getting this particular function into a schedule, too, but I've yet to find it.  

The first house we lived in when we got married butted up directly to the house behind us.  I pretty much could have popped my head out my kitchen window and into their kitchen window to borrow a cup of sugar.   The lady who lived there was a precious little lady who used every square inch of her yard to plant something.  (She'd dig up her border of spring bulbs to make room for planting beans, and then re-plant the bulbs in the fall).  And she used to bring me little bits of things- a cup of cole slaw or a few beets or piece of pie they couldn't eat and she didn't want to go to waste . .. like I said, Precious.

And she told me one time . . . in the fall as I was hugely pregnant and she had likely brought me a head of cabbage or a dish of leftovers . . . that the greatest thing about becoming a mother is that, for the first time ever you get to do something any way you want . . . your baby is all yours, and you get to decide now how you will do things.  Of all of the parenting advice I received, this is the one I remember.

And along with this little dish of advice I would also offer this one:

Kids are inconvenient.

They are babies who cry and don't sleep and you don't know why, and in the moments that you will most desperately beg them to sleep because you simply cannot survive one more night without it, they will cry and cry and not stop crying, and you must get your sorry tired self out of bed and care for them.

Then they are toddlers and at the most inconvenient times they cry and they still don't sleep and still you don't know why . . . maybe because they are teething, or have ear infections or they're just simply miserable but you don't know and so you must pick them up and rock them, and talk to them, and kiss their toes and make them laugh or finally just dump their toys out in the middle of the night and lay on the couch and weep because you're just. so. tired.

And then surely they'll become two year olds who cry because they're afraid, or frustrated, or just because they are two and life isn't easy on two year-olds . . . and they throw fits in front of your grandmother and color on the walls and become constipated on the days when you don't have time to sit on the bathroom floor all day . . . but they are two and that's what two year olds do.

Parenting is clumsy and messy and hard.  It requires sacrifice and selflessness and, yes, sleeplessness.  This is the advice that expectant parents need to hear . . . Somebody needs to write a parenting book with the title, This Isn't Going to be Easy.

For a hopeful perspective from a mom on the other side of the baby phase, read Charrette's excellent post, Beyond Baby Tenderlove .

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In Defense of Mothers

I read a post this week that annoyed me.

It went something like, "I gave up my life for my children for too long and now I'm asserting my right to be a real woman and get a real job . . . because I don't want my daughters to grow up believing their mom was a loser like I thought my mom was a loser because she stayed at home to raise her children and didn't do anything with her life."

eye roll.  groan.

And even as I am preparing to write about it I feel like I sound like a huffy mom with bad hair and an attitude, who thinks every woman should be at home making crockpot dinners and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with her ten kids.

I'm not.

Some of my friends are great mothers and they have a career too and that suits them.  Some of my friends work a little, some not at all; we're all working on finding balance and wholeness and having a healthy and happy home.

And there are moms who work whose children resent them because they are stressed out or unhappy, and moms who stay at home full time whose children resent them because they are stressed out or unhappy . . . it's not what you do, it's who you are.

Madeleine L'Engle compared our life to a sonnet- the structure is there, but what we say is up to us.

I have come to believe that what we do- our chosen career path- is secondary to what our lives speak . . .

if a woman is confidant, and creative, and embraces life . . . if she can give her energy to something she is  passionate about and still laugh out loud, then it matters very little if she works outside the home or in, if she has a professional career or if she clips coupons and blogs during naptime.

we each must decide how best to use our time and talents, and I think that the conviction that what we do matters . .. that we are living generously and somehow bettering humanity with what we do each day is the only way to feel successful . . . and the only way that our children will grow-up respecting the role of mother, however we choose to live it.