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A New Blog Address

To my loyal followers who still subscribe to this nun blog, I wanted to let you know I have started a new blog: infinitytrees.wordpress.com. If you’d like to continue following me on there, I’d be flattered 🙂

 

Either way, I’m grateful for the overwhelming amounts of support I received with this nunningincircles blog!

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To Be Young

Just finished reading Kathleen Norris The Cloister Walk, the book that inspired my decision to live with nuns. A friend of mine recommended a chapter out of the book for me many years ago. She was reading the book for a theology class at Boston College, and a particular chapter on the “otherness” young artists feel. It was such a powerful chapter that I went back and read the whole thing. This time I underlined passages to reflect on later in my writing career.

Norris is full of wisdom and possesses just enough irreverence to keep me reading. Today I had a realization about why I’m drawn to certain mediocre spiritual writers over others who are unarguably geniuses. I’m not calling Norris a mediocre writer, by any means. However, I realized any spiritual reading I come across that is void of confession, no matter how brilliant, doesn’t hold my attention. This is no doubt a sign of my youth and immaturity. Reading older, wiser writers who focus too much on healing and spiritual bliss are at a phase of life I can’t relate to. As insightful as I like to pretend I am, let’s face it: I’m only 24. I relate better to pieces about hangovers, promiscuity, and self-destruction than I do about enlightenment. I especially enjoy art that combines such things.

I felt a moment of impatience, wishing I could have wisdom now, which made me laugh. Wanting immediate results is the opposite of wisdom. It was a reality check, reminding me to stop taking myself so seriously. I need to appreciate the phase of life I’m at–naivety, out-of-control passions, and all.

Surface Level Update

Life is extraordinarily busy right now, which is part of the reason I haven’t updated. The other reason is that I  hit a wall in my writing, and I didn’t have the energy to break through. I dealt with this by shutting down, refusing to go through the process of translating ideas and images into sentences and evaluating the worth of each word. Even sending e-mails was getting to be too much writing. I owe a lot of people e-mails and phone calls. My apologies. Work and appointments have taken over my life. Working with kids is draining, even though I absolutely love it.

I’m no longer doing an official independent study with Marya. My plans changed so dramatically since she’d first agreed to work with me. Getting into grad school changed my priorities too. She said I wasn’t in a place where we could be productive enough together. Since I already had time off work and tickets to Chicago, she agreed to continue to work with me–just not in an official structured way. It’s actually pretty cool. I get to pick her brain about the huge range of life experiences she has and writing. She’s a very busy woman, so it’s incredibly kind she still makes time to meet with me and puts up with a million questions. I feel pretty lucky to have access to someone whose been through the whole publishing young thing. She suggested I abandon writing a book for now. It shocked me to hear she regrets publishing her first book. At only 23, she published Wasted. It was a New York Times Bestseller and nominated for a Pulitzer, so she lived every young writers dream.

She said that you can’t escape the first impression you make as a writer. She’s 38, and yet everyone still talks about what she wrote and thought at 23. I haven’t given up hope of writing a book young, but it’s not a priority anymore. Instead, I want to use my masters program to learn everything I possibly can about craft, discipline, and teaching at the college level.

Three weeks until I move south and start my program. It’s sneaking up on me, and I’m a bit overwhelmed. I have guilt about all of the people in my hometown I haven’t been able to meet up with; I owe a lot of people phone calls and e-mails. It makes me want to hide in bed under the covers when I get home from work. This is my only weekend at home before I move, and I’m supposed to be cleaning and packing. I’d rather do just about anything rather than pack. Packing makes me depressed every time. I don’t fully understand why, but I think it might be a reminder of life’s impermanence.

This is just a lame, surface level update. I’ll try to do a more detailed update soon. Despite being busy, life is good.

Goodbyes

Last Saturday, I moved out of the convent. Moving out was bitersweet. One or two of them cried when they hugged me goodbye. The nuns sure know how to make a person feel loved. They put The Sound of Music record on and sang me the “So Long, Farewell” song. Then they presented me with a picture book that has notes from each sister, a giant container of chocolate chip cookies (my favorite), a big cookie cake, these chocolate truffles they keep around that I adore, and some plastic ice cream bubble blowers. They said the bubbles were because I can’t have real ice cream (due to the dairy allergy I discovered I had while living with them).

Three of the younger ones (when I say younger, I mean: 79 & 80) hung around the door to say final goodbyes when I left the building for the last time. One of them made a joke that they aren’t used to people leaving the retirement home feet-first. As I hopped in the truck with my dad, they handed me a white napkin. They said when they were young nuns, if someone very important was leaving the convent, they waved white flags. One of the jokesters made sure to let me know she was never important enough to have white flags waved at her. They used the white napkins as flags, waving them at me and instructing me to wave mine as we drove away. It’s another example of how they exemplify making the little gestures have great meaning. It will forever stick with me as a moment I felt overwhelmingly loved.

I went out for beer with my best friend from growing up and some of her family. We went to a small town festival. People were filling my cup, teasing me that getting out of the convent was like getting out of prison, encouraging me to drink more. My friend’s cousin told me my blog makes her uncomfortable, because it’s too confessional. I laughed, because I write this for an audience. People ranging from my mom, to my grandma, to former bosses and teachers have told me they read this. Confessional memoir is the genre I write in most, but I don’t treat this blog as art. Because of that, I don’t take risks I might otherwise take in my writing. There’s certain topics I don’t even address on here to keep it reader friendly. My book will be much more intimate. Guess it’s good to know I keep it raw 🙂

I’m Back

It’s been a chaotic week or two. After lots of traveling, I’m exhausted. Took a trip south to visit my new graduate school  and find an apartment. Also had an overnight adventure to Chicago to meet with my ind. study instructor. It feels great to be back at the convent. The sisters greeted me with warm welcomes and the silence is refreshing.

Rode south in a truck with both parents. Three people scrunching in one truck for a road trip is a bit much. Surprisingly we had a rather easy trip. The drive went well, we didn’t want to kill each other, and I found a cute one-bedroom apartment. I feel much better about moving now that I met some people from my program and saw where I’ll live. My apartment has a balcony and a glass sliding door in both the front and back, creating lots of natural light. I want to set a peaceful mood with the decor, so it’s a place that fosters creativity. It certainly has potential.

Chicago was okay. Meeting and planning my class went well. My instructor is everything I could want in a mentor: kind, understanding, talented, driven, and funny. I’m incredibly excited to be working with her. However, for some reason, the trip triggered my anxiety pretty severely, so I was ungodly tense the entire 24 hours of traveling, which really kills my spirit. Being that tense is exhausting. My body was in fight or flight mode for too long; it drained me, causing some depression. Luckily, it was temporary, and a full night’s rest upon my return helped.

The photo book I had made for the sisters came while I was away. I got to show my mom today when she dropped me off. It turned out beautiful, full of nature photos I took on the property with powerful quotes. There’s also pictures of the sisters given to me specifically for this project by a few helpful outsiders. I’m going to give it to them as a going away gift when I move out on Saturday. I think they’ll really love it. They appreciate the little things, and I can picture them all looking at it multiple times in their library. I gave them a framed pen and ink drawing I did of a tree for Christmas, and they still rave about it. It’s not that I’m all that great of an artist, but they sure make me feel like it. I hope I can make others feel as special as they’ve made me feel. I’m feeling a bit of grief as this powerful experience comes to a close. Like everything–good and bad alike–this, too, shall pass.

On a walk last night, I watched two foxes interact for about fifteen minutes. It appeared to be a mom and a younger one. I wasn’t super close, which is why they continued to go about their business. They’d look at me, occasionally, making sure I wasn’t moving toward them. They were lying on top of a mound of dirt in the cemetery. I’m guessing their den might be inside. I got such joy just watching them behave like my dog. They look so cute when they were doing ordinary things, like scratching themselves or doing the downward dog stretch.

The night before, a fawn stumbled out near me. It didn’t see me. As soon as I saw it emerge from the bushes, I sat perfectly still. Because it didn’t see me, it didn’t get scared. I loved watching the little thing frolic around. It must have been pretty young because it had a lot of spots and didn’t appear too stable on its feet. I didn’t see a mother around anywhere, though. I’m certainly going to miss living in such a beautiful location.

My friend, Tammy, spent the weekend here with me. The sisters love meeting my friends, and I love showing my friends what my life is like here. They’re both such foreign lifestyles to one another. Tammy and I went to a nice Mexican restaurant with the best margaritas. I don’t like mixed drinks very often, but these tasted perfect. The sister who connected me with my living situation recommended the place. I’d been there once before with my friend, Emily. I wish I’d have discovered the place sooner to take some of my other visitors there.

On Saturday we went to the local history museum. I never liked history in school, but it amazes me when I visit places and learn about the people who came before. It’s easier for me to imagine the people as actually living instead of being dead stories passed down. History reminds me of poetry in the way that both are not taught very well in school. These subjects should come alive, but are instead presented as facts to memorize and analyze.

This weekend I’m going South with my parents to find a place to live in August and meet with the director of my program. It will be interesting to see this foreign place I will call home for the next three years. Moving is such a shock–physically, mentally, spiritually. I was nervous to move in with the sisters, and that turned out great. It helps my confidence to remember that. Whatever the future brings, I will adapt.

Reading Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead on a swing outside, overlooking ancient trees, gave me chills. If a more intimate way to love life exists, I’m not aware of it. The man is a poetry god. I saw him speak on a panel once, and spent the entire hour wondering how someone so young and stunningly good-looking speaks fluent truth and lyrical language.

I have a hard time considering myself a poet. There’s something intimidating about the label. I write poetry. It’s not my strongest genre, by any means, but I enjoy it. My prose is often inspired by poetry, and I admire gifted poets like no other. This might make me a poet. Not sure why that label makes me feel undeserving.

It took me a long while to embrace being called a writer, too. I recently reflected on the way I can’t even journal without being a “writer” and obsessing over language, crossing out weak words, or criticizing how many times I used the word “I.” When it’s a journal! Of course the whole time is spent talking about my thoughts, myself, my experiences. Who am I trying to impress? Sometimes I just want to write for the sake of writing—without worrying whether the words pack any punch or are worth writing out.

The sister who got me connected with where I live, and is also a poet, asked me to write a reflection to publish in their monthly newsletter. I’m being OCD about it, taking forever to write the thing. I’m trying to remember that many of the sisters taught grade school English and are therefore appalled by the way creative writers regularly break grammatical rules. Writing in unconventionally punctuated sentences allows me to feel most true to myself. I’m trying to return to composition-class-style writing for this reflection. It’s restrictive, though. Grammar is such a powerful tool when used properly, as well as when abused consciously. It took me forever to learn my English teacher in high school was right—that I needed to learn the rules of grammar before I could successfully break them. I was slow to catch onto grammar—never fully grasping it until college. That’s why I loved working at the university’s writing center. We strived to empower students, many of them coming in with low self-esteem about their writing ability due to some struggles with grammar.

I wish I could make all of the grammar snobs take a linguistics class. The rules for speaking are very different than the rules for writing. I’m an English major, and I still say I’m doing “good” when someone asks me how I’m doing. I know, if I’m writing—even an e-mail—to use “well.” I’m not uneducated, yet people who like black and white thinking are quick to assume such things when someone doesn’t speak like they learned a person is supposed to. What a shame there’s not more poets out there, encouraging people to test the limits of language.

Not what you see, but what you perceive:

that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement

of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.

 –From “Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Terrance Hayes