Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anatomy of a Book List

“Woe be to him that reads but one book.” – George Herbert

Here’s a recent progression of reading (it’s like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.)

I wanted a new book to listen to on CD for my long rides in the car. Work is a ½ hour drive and not even NPR can hold my attention once the financial market comes on. I browsed over the titles on the shelves hoping for something to jump out and grab me. I ended up looking at the cart of recently returned titles and chose “Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading!” by Maureen Corrigan. Although I found several chapters on Catholic Secular Martyr books less than particularly interesting, I did enjoy the chapters on Female Adventure Heroes. She spoke of her own journey to adopt her daughter, Molly, from China.

Once I returned to the library, I decided to search for any other books by Corrigan. I found the book version of the “Leave Me Alone…” but nothing else. She was placed on the non-fiction shelves. As I began perusing I noticed a title, “The Russian Word for Snow.” I checked it out. The story was of a couple from the United States who ended up adopting their son unexpectedly through international adoption – he was found in an orphanage in Russia. I’ve decided I don’t have a desire to visit Russia. The picture painted was rather bleak. But I’ve also discovered that international adoption is beautiful, giving, trying, and full of endless paperwork.

Upon returning to the library I remembered Corrigan discussing a book that was her favorite about the adoption experience. She should know, she is the chief book critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air.” She remarked wishing that “The Lost Daughters of China” had been written before she was hoping to adopt. I found it to be a remarkably eye-opening read by Karin Evans, who had adopted her daughter from China.

The next book? Corrigan had spoken several times about Anne Lamott’s journal of her son's first years. I’m a fan of Lamott’s writing, but had never read this specific memoir. She tells of her story as a single woman managing through that first amazingly trying year. This then led to “Grace Eventually” and “Thoughts on Faith” by the same author.

A comment on my sister’s facebook wall led me to “The Time Traveller’s Wife” and some coaching from friends led me to purchase “No Other Gods” and “Humility”. My sister also handed me "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" the last time we saw each other.

But now I'm drawing to the end of my list. I’m in a fiction dry spell and am looking for the next books to pick up on CD or in print. I'm open to just about anything, although I do find Science Fiction to be a dreadful challenge for me. So please, comment and recommend away!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Commas and Apostrophes

It’s National Punctuation Day, everybody! This post is therefore dedicated to all things dotted, quoted, and slashed!

If you enjoy punctuation humor (and I do believe it has its own genre!), you'll want to check out these blogs:

Here are Five Lessons in Punctuation. No really, it's interesting! You can finally be sure of where to stick those darn quotation marks....

I recently listened to the radio series “Cutting a Dash” that inspired the book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” It was completely fascinating, not to mention hilarious! And host Lynne Truss is British, making everything that more delightful to listen to. Instead of a plain old “sem-ee coal-uhn,” we are treated to the pronunciation “sem-eye coal-awn.” I was also delighted to hear the opinions of several young British schoolchildren, especially as they tried to describe punctuation such as commas (which they likened to a tiny boomerang).

“Cutting a Dash” is also where I first heard of the poem “Apostrophe” by Roger McGough. I find it absolutely charming, and hope to memorize it soon so I can spout it off during a lull of conversation and impress everyone around me with my ability to recall enchanting little poems off the top of my head, and also with my appreciation for things like funny poems, and also apostrophes. Without further ado, I give you “Apostrophe.”

twould be nice to be
an apostrophe
floating above an s
hovering like a paper kite
in between the its
eavesdropping, tiptoeing
high above the thats
an inky comet
the highest tossed of hats

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The culture is calling...

I work in the Children’s Ministry of a large church in Arizona as a writer and producer of video curriculum. My goal is to create relevant work that is eternally significant.

My specific audience are children, but my area of supposed expertise is the tween generation. I’ve had my fill of Hannah Montanna, The Jonas Brothers, and High School Musical. So the question I face on a weekly basis is how to respond to the culture and to my kids. My hope is that these cultural trends motivate me to reach kids in innovative ways.

Ephesians 2:9-10 says that we were created to do good works that God prepared for us in advance to do. We are God’s “poiema” – God’s work of art, and we’ve been created to create.

I feel and believe that we’ve all been called to play a part in the eternal story of God. As believers, we quite literally have the Master Creator, the divine, dwelling within us. Therefore, we are called to a higher level of creativity – for our purpose is greater than just entertainment alone. There’s more to reaching this generation than just re-packaging secular material. Why should the material we produce be merely a marked down version of popular culture? We must step up and take up the challenge this entertainment saturated generation presents us.

I don’t think I need to give specific examples, but I want to know how throwing the word Christian into a secular slogan does not constitute ripping off someone else’s creativity. Stealing the marketing ploys of the general culture does not make us relevant or remotely original.

How do we reach them when Ecclesiastes laments that there is “nothing new under the sun”?

Every generation is unique. Cultural historians can look back and define entire decades with a single word: hippie, punk, grunge. It can be overwhelming to consider that the generation we’re building now will be defined in a particular way in ten or twenty years because of the impact we are making in their lives today.

For this reason, I’m a part of a team that writes and produces its very own video curriculum. This is not a role we take likely, especially in a world that seeks to influence their every move. Why our own? It’s the same reason I sought a degree in Theatre Ministry. While the roads have been blazed in the past 30 years to open up the church to the arts, there is still a long way to go. My desire has always been to communicate Christ in effective and exciting ways. My desire is to take my cue from Christ – as the story-teller, and to change up the methods, but always hold to the message.

John Piper in his book “Don’t Waste Your Life” writes, “the word cool…it’s cheap. And it’s what millions of young people live for…Who takes them by the collar, so to speak, and loves them enough to show them a life so radical and so real and so costly and Christ-saturated that they feel the emptiness and triviality of their CD collection and their pointless conversations about passing celebrities? Who will awaken what lies latent in their souls, untapped – a longing not to waste their lives.”

Every weekend we strive to show our kids that Jesus did not ask us to be cool, but to be servants. He did not require us to be number one, but asked us instead to be humble. So, how do we challenge children to release the hunger for popularity and possessions? What if this next generation could be setting the culture rather than simply following it?

We start with what God has given us, the mighty power of his Word. In a fun and exiting format we promote scripture memorization and sharing with friends, provide tools for Bible reading, and build genuine community. Every piece of the service is carefully planned and purposed around the theme of the day. From the worship music to the videos, our ultimate aim is to see our kids mature spiritually and challenge the status quo. As ministers to this next generation, we have a calling to originality, relevance, and truth.

The culture calls, but we must be louder.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ready and Waiting

I feel ready.

That's the only word I can find to describe my current mood. There are possibilities in the air.

I don't know exactly what it is, but it must be a combination of a lot of factors. It's having a good hair day and a closet full of clean laundry. It's the gorgeous and cool weather we had today. It's being barefoot and reading good books and being delighted and receiving save the date cards and laughing on the phone. It's knowing I'll be "out of the office" for the next few days. It's anticipating the Emmy's on Sunday. It's knowing that the Beach House is probably okay. It's a full tank of gas and everywhere yet nowhere to go.

It feels like the Beginning. I'm excited for what's coming, even though I have no idea what I'm anticipating. But it's about to start.

Is there a soundtrack for this feeling?

The days are full of anticipation.

I want to dance in the street and run on the beach and tackle my friends in huge hugs and laugh over all the new exciting things.

I'm ready to go and see and do. I'm ready for change. I’m ready for something new.

I want to come with you wherever you're heading.

Are you ready? Let's go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The mixer, the master, the mighty mix master says...

So when I said that I would never move again, what I really meant was that I would never move again without paying movers. Yes, this makes move number 12, maybe 13, since starting college. The best part about this move? Two months ago I moved from an apartment, placed all of my belongings in storage, and rented a furnished room in a condo. What did I do last week? I left the furnished room, moved to an apartment complex that is literally next door to where I lived in June, hired movers to haul all of my junk out of storage, and did it all over Labor Day Weekend. I tell you what, moving is a very special way to celebrate not working. Thankfully I once again had help from friends as I unpacked everything and tried to get settled. Aside from discovering that I have far too many books, I was pleasantly disturbed to find that I apparently have an affinity for mixers. Do I cook? Yes. Do I bake? Not very often. I’ve probably baked about 15 times in the entirety of 2008. Here's what I think happens when I do decide to bake. I head to the kitchen, check the recipe, take stock of what I have and decide that I need to go and buy a new mixer. I have three mixers. (See above photo) All three were under $15 at Target, I’m sure of it. Maybe I can turn a profit on them. I could sign them and send them to you for $20. People do stuff like that on their blogs all the time. You could put it on your shelf and then tell everyone about it. Maybe be like, “Oh…you don’t read That Reminds Me? Wow, you are really missing out on a mildly entertaining commentary on life by two white, middle-class 20-somethings. Yeah, I don’t even use this mixer. I’m saving it to pass down to my grandchildren one day.”

But I digress. I tried to get rid of things before I moved the first time…but somehow I ended right where I started (or in the next complex over) with three mixers. I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention, or if the state of moving simply blinds me. (Although it did not cause my eyeballs to fall out, even if that would have proved to be far more entertaining writing.) All this to say that I’m never moving again, at least not with 3 mixers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'm a Big Kid Now!

I started reading Gone With the Wind in seventh grade. Something about attemping to read my Biggest Book Ever made me feel like a grown-up. Of course, I was about 12 years old, and felt very far from being a grown up.

I have a distinct memory of the very night I began to read that book. I thought about Future Valerie. Grown-Up Valerie. Not necessarily Married Valerie, or Mom Valerie, but certainly Adult Valerie. Someone who bought her own clothes, drove her own car, had a job, paid bills, had finished college, made her own dinner.... That was my vision of myself 10 or 15 years down the line. And because that future self felt so distant, I felt like I didn't know this person. And I felt like this person wouldn't know me. So I seared into my memory that night I started that very big book. I made myself remember exactly who I was and what I felt like at that moment. I didn't want to forget me.

I realize this sounds pretty silly to you. And it probably doesn't make much sense. You wonder why I am even bothering to write about that night here. Well here is your reason, dear reader: I recently realized that I had become Future Valerie.

Weird, right? But think about it-- I am that person! I am the one that Past Valerie worried about. The me I am right now is the me I was afraid would become someone else. Someone completely different. I am the Adult Valerie that has a job in Marketing. I buy my own shoes. I pay for my apartment. I get myself to church on Sundays, and I volunteer to bring food to Bible study. I plan trips to other cities, and have friends in other states. I am responsible for me. Future Val. Current Val. I am a grown-up.

Or at least, I suppose I am. Because being an adult means you have your name on a little rectanlge piece of plastic, right? You think about things like insurance and coupons and gas and laundry when you're a grown-up. You adjust the temperature on your thermostat when you leave your house. When your crazy front door lock is sticking you fix it all by yourself. People ask you if you've been watching any of the Republican National Convention. You go to an office every day, and have business cards and to-do lists and time sheets. You are responsible!

But really, it seems like I was just that kid reading Gone with the Wind, you know? I was just outside playing on the trampoline. Ginger and I were just playing keepaway with my little brother's stuffed dog to make him cry. I remember climbing that big oak tree in the front yard. I remember pulling out the Barbies. And I'm still that kid that looked forward to the Balloon Festival. I'm still that kid that took piano lessons and acted in the school plays.

So I may be surprised to find myself an adult, but...I did it! I made it here, and I acheived my goal: not only did I become Future Val, but I remember what it was like to be Past Val. Little Val. Gone with the Wind Val.

We're both still here.