“Maybe I’ll just set it in a small college and then get my editor to help me change everything to high school details after the manuscript gets accepted.”

“I think I should Snapchat my sister who is actually in high school and see if that gives me more inspiration.”

“These problems are pretty universal, right?”

“Do they still use bells to make you change classes? How do you know what class to go to on the first day? Do you just like, show up and go to an orientation seminar?”

“Teachers in the movies like Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver are pretty realistic, right?”

“How do you know which bus stop is yours? Maybe I should find someone to let me do a ride along. For research.”

“This is the only circumstance where I can see having a kid would really help your writing, but it’d take too long to wait until he or she is in high school, so I guess I’m stuck at square one again.”

“Teenagers read Dante in high school these days, right? They HAVE to. Right?”

“How do sports work?”

“I think I’ll just write this about theater kids. Or summer camp. Yeah, summer camp.”

“Do they still use blackboards? Or do the teachers use powerpoint now?”

“My college cafeteria was basically the same as a high school one, right?”

“Maybe I can get experience in schools by volunteering with Planned Parenthood to give sex ed lectures! That would be like, double reverse karma to fix past life and future life issues.”

“Ugh, cheerleading is confusing.”

“I think I’ll just re-watch Mean Girls.”

this post is dedicated to and inspired by conversations with the lovely Kassie.


I’ve been living in people’s spare bedrooms and out of suitcases for a year now, following the end of my marriage last January. Moving again this morning broke my gumption a bit, calling for some black humor about the whole situation. Appropriate for Epiphany, perhaps? So, here are Some Things I’ve Learned:

1) Never be 100% financially dependent on your spouse, no matter how great things are. Get yourself a credit card in your own name in case of emergencies and put all vehicles and accounts in both your names. Especially if you’re driving in the snow while crying because it’s cold and you’re sick of waking up alone. You might need to replace a broken axel and a fancy mailbox and get a tow. And some coffee. Have a financial safety net that’s in your name.

2) Flying/moving with a pet is less complicated than flying/moving with a baby. Thank your lucky stars that cats don’t need diapers and it’s humane to put them in crates for travel.

3) To preserve sanity, keep around a couple friends who can put up with your swearing and are willing to supply emergency Cheez-its or bourbon. Or both.

4) Living out of your suitcase for a year is the best way to unlearn type-A/Groverachiever/first born perfectionism.You’ll get packing down to an art form. And now I know all the quickest ways to de-wrinkle a sundress in 5 minutes.

5) Netflix is cheaper than therapy/spa days when you need alone time. All of Doctor Who is on there. But Buffy is really the best for female empowerment/I-can-do-this-shit girding up of loins for times when Life Sucks In General.

6) When you can’t get quality alone time because you’re a guest in someone else’s house, your car becomes your office/local coffee shop/vanity station/crying chamber. A woman with an automobile doesn’t need any redemption!

7) People are generally going to be nicer than you expect, but don’t count on anything. Pave your own path with your own stones. And remember that almost all gifts come with strings [either positive or negative] attached.

8) You don’t get a day off from unexpected life interruptions. Or from grief. Or from unexpected happy things. Play hard, rest hard, work hard.

9) Today is a day you can get through. Don’t worry about tomorrow if it’s too much. You’ll muddle through it when it arrives. Just do today for now.

10) Never underestimate the power of fuzzy blankets, fuzzy socks, bear hugs from good friends, or coffee to revolutionize a bad morning.


Dear Stieg Larsson (and everyone who loves The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo):

Sometimes I wonder, when I turn the page, how much of this is a translation issue. If so, please disregard. If not, we need to have words.

I love a good mystery as much as the next girl. I like kickass heroines and I like twists on old tropes. I’m in publishing, and your newspaper characters stroke my inner narcissist — see! we are interesting!

You had everything going for you. I thought, as an insecure fiction writer, that a strong plot was the best part of a story. Everyone loves this book. I’m late to the game, I know. I was excited. This was going to be good. But 221 pages into your novel, I realize that I was wrong.

Plot isn’t everything. Prolific writing + a good editor, though, may be.

Your prose is SO PAINFUL. Don’t tell me about their technology specs (timeless this won’t be), don’t tell me about HOW they do things, don’t suddenly pop in a sex scene because you’re bored with your own writing.

If you’re bored with your own writing, so am I.

If you don’t know your characters well enough to communicate emotion without qualifying every action with an adverb, I won’t be able to connect with them, either.

If your character is fronting intense security but still reads as insecure, so is your writing and so is our author-reader relationship.

Even a kickass plot can leave me SO BORED if you’re not confident in the skin of your own characters.

Makes me wonder if you’ve ever really been in love or really known someone intimately.

Makes me wonder if you self-narrate your life with “Stieg hesitantly buttered his toast. He knew it would be a long time before he ate toast while he read fanmail over coffee alone in the mornings ever again.” Aren’t you bored?

I will probably finish your book, but I really really want to go wash out my head with Walker Percy now. Should I just watch the movie instead? Do you narrate that too?

Sincerely, [she signed the letter, sighing over her coffee, wishing that she hadn’t chosen to write this on the train when she knew that she would get agitated and didn’t want the other passengers looking her way]

Hännah

p.s. If you’re thinking of reading this book, go read Elora’s novel instead. So much better.

 


It’s been a quiet week for me online. I’ve been working ahead on some things, and hopefully I’ll have some more regular posts up next week. While this is a few days late, here’s some great reading to ease the end of your weekend.

The Gifts and Benefits of Doubt, Experimental Theology

Preaching Grace is Risky Business, Internet Monk

Plutarch and Paul on Husbands and Wives, newlife

An Open Letter (from a conservative Christian to her lesbian friend. Read the response and the follow up post as well.)

Modesty is a Chameleon, Soul Nation

Is your clothing made by slaves?

Marriage isn’t the silver bullet for all social problems, and we shouldn’t pretend it is: The Magical Mystery of Marriage, Dianna Anderson.

Why I’ve Stopped Living Like Each Day is My Last, Elizabeth Esther

The One Thing About Being A Therapist, Nicole Unice

Valerie Eliot passed away this week. Maybe scholars will have access to his papers now!

Susan Wise Bauer, Washington Post. I never loved her homeschooling stuff, but I’m really excited to hear what she’s up to now.

How To Live Without Irony, NYT blog

Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriend, College Humor (ridiculously funny)

The word of the year is “GIF.” Here’s how it was chosen, in GIFs.

Favorite meal this week: Cheeseburger Buns

Lauren went to Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park and now I’m ridiculously homesick.


Last night, I was on a street corner in NW, checking the bus times on my phone. It was later than usual and I was in a hurry to find the nearest bus home.

A man in a burly overcoat approached me. It isn’t that cold out, I thought, as he walked up. In his hand was a little bunch of posies, like the ones my little brothers bring my mom in April. Those are usually short stemmed, with bits of grass and weeds crumpled in the fistful. This, however, was carefully arranged, with little bits of this and that fixed to look just right.

“I’d like you to have these,” he said to me, holding up the flowers.

I glanced down the street for my bus, attempting to convey the DC vibe of  I’m-busy-don’t-harass-me (practiced to avoid NGO volunteers asking you to sign their petitions or donate your pocket change). “Oh!” I said. “But I don’t have anywhere I could put them.”

“Put them in water.” He was grinning now. “Do you know what these are? These are mums, this is evergreen, this is boxwood, and these are hydrangeas.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond (and I knew he wasn’t naming them correctly). “They’re lovely! But I don’t have anywhere to put them right now.”

“They’re for you. I want you to have them.” He put them in my hand, and I couldn’t refuse. “But,” he said, “I’m homeless, and I’m hoping I can find a dollar. Can you help me?”

I was undone. I only had a couple of pennies in my change purse, after stopping at the office vending machine for a snack in the afternoon. The night before I had given my only cash to my husband for bus fare, and I just don’t keep cash on me habitually.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, “I wish! I don’t have any cash on me or I would. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay!” he said.

“I can’t take these,” I said. “You should give them to someone else.”

“No,” he said, and he stuck his hands in his coat pockets and started to cross the street. “I want you to have them.”

***

This encounter left me stunned. DC has a lot of homeless people, and the juxtaposition of this homeless man meeting me on the same street corner where I had seen Jill Biden two weeks ago was unnerving. I don’t really know how I should be relating to them, and I don’t have much to offer. My expensive-looking phone came to me as a good deal at little cost, and I try to look snazzy like all the other Dupont Circle commuters, but I’m just faking it.

We don’t have a home of our own to open up, and I feel nervous about interacting with these people (like offering to buy them lunch instead of giving them change) because of your standard mom lecture about women traveling alone and predators and rape and pickpockets. Some of this is common sense, some of this is bullshit, and most of it is just me being a Christian who hasn’t been outside the bubble of the middle class church world enough. I felt sick and ashamed and convicted. 

And then I remember, with some irony, a discussion with a friend about the phrase “become like gods” in the book of John, and what it actually means in terms of our orthopraxy. My guilt at receiving this bit of beauty without being able to give anything in return – is this not a microcosm for grace? I, who am to be as Christ in the world, got given something beautiful I didn’t deserve and didn’t buy. And it upset me deeply. 


Have you heard of a “commonplace book”? It’s an old idea, and has been most recently resurrected by hipsters bearing Moleskines. Basically, it’s a notebook full of  accumulated everyday notes – your shopping list, a quote from the book you’re reading, the recipe copied from your mom’s cookbook, a sketch from the metro of the weird bag lady, the outline for the novel you’re planning on writing.

I think I’m going to steal the idea for these link roundups I’ve been posting and call the series “Commonplace Links.” The theme is this: I think they’re all worth reading, to expand one’s understanding of the world and compassion for others. They intrigued or tickled my fancy, or perhaps they sobered me and challenged me to step outside myself. I may not agree with all the ideas presented therein, but I will pretty much always think the concepts contained are worth weighing out without bringing my own presuppositions and baggage to the table. If you read them too, I ask that you give them the courtesy of a fair read, even if you instinctively disagree or it’s not terribly well-written. This will be a weekly feature on Thursdays, and I’ll take recommendations if you have anything you’d like to pass on.

So, here we go again! Commonplace links for your perusal.

“Is ambition a sin?”  – Rachel Held Evans responds to the “Top 200 Church Blogs” fiasco (basically a lot of really good women bloggers were missing for weird reasons and the compiler of the list wrote a patronizing apology) with a graceful analysis of the deeper assumptions involved.

“In Defense of the 4-letter Word” Addie Zeirman posts on the appropriate use of strong language in a Christian’s vocabulary. After a particularly rough week, my brother said he was feeling shitty, and got jumped on by some well-meaning friends for using “foul language” and not “representing Christ well” and not “using words that build up.” Here is a lovely, succinct post which captures why the comments of those kids rubbed me the wrong way.

“Jesus Was Otherwise Engaged: Impacting All Women, Not Just One” – Ortberg reacts to the discovery of a text supposedly from the 4th century which indicates that Jesus may have had a wife. His response is calm and thoughtful–the discovery, if true, doesn’t change much. Jesus already drastically impacted how women are viewed (in historically positive ways), and he elucidates on the beauty of this.

“The Dark Side of Weight Loss” – NSFW, but worth seeing. One woman photographs the ravages of her major weight loss on her body. This is art.

“Why Women Hide Their Pregnancies” – NYT article on pregnant woman in the workplace/on the job hunt. Makes me want to just move to Scandinavia. Women there get 6 months off work after they give birth, guaranteed. Humph.

“Julia Gillard Launches Blistering Attack on Sexism” – After I finish with Sweden, I’ll just to Australia. This video is the most epic blast of calm reason. If our presidential candidates could speak half this well, voter turnout would spike. Just watch it.

“Espresso and the Meaning of Life: Embracing Reality through Everyday Liturgies” – I’m happy to be introduced to this new webzine, Fare Forward. This post on the ritual of making coffee for the love of the thing is beautiful. Walker Percy, of course, is involved. It goes very nicely with my series on incarnation and eating.

“Ask a stay-at-home dad” – Last week, some bloggers said that stay-at-home dads are “man fails.” Utter silliness. Take a look at this delightful interview with a Christian dad and enjoy his apologetic for why he chose to stay home with his son.

“Bamfield’s John Vanden” – My brother- and sister-in-law introduced me to The Bills last week on the roadtrip. Some of the best new folk I’ve heard in a long time. If you like Allison Krauss, Mumford and Sons, or The Avett Brothers, you’ll like The Bills. Go listen!

Have recommendations for me? Email them to me at mattiechatham [at] gmail [dot] com.


Commuting 1.5 hours each way every day for a month has given me new respect for career addicts and long-distance commuters. It’s also given me new respect for working moms–how do they find time to be moms, let alone make dinner and do the laundry and dishes and have 20 minutes of downtime before bed? With that commute, I would get home at 7pm at the very earliest, and if I had any errands to run at all (grocery shopping, pharmacy, Goodwill drop), I would be home at 8pm at the earliest.

By that point, the idea of making dinner becomes a Major Life Trauma and I would be hiding under a blanket eating a piece of cheese to stop the blood sugar crash (have I mentioned that my brain turns off if I don’t eat every few hours?)  and taking mental stock of what we had in the freezer that could be cooked up in less than 20 minutes. Finding nothing easy to fix up and eat (I was raised to Cook From Scratch Because It’s Cheaper and More Healthy! and still shop accordingly), I would eat Cheez-its and stare at the inside of the fridge making depressed sounds.

And that’s about when Kevin suggested that we move into town. But after looking at apartments on Craigslist for a few evenings, we admitted that the cost of living inside the Beltway would be prohibitive, and maybe we’d just get some healthy freezer dinners and try to make this work for the time being.

However, a whim  of a search on Craigslist one morning a week later led me to an ad that was so perfect, it could only be a scam–except there was a phone number posted. I emailed it to Kevin: “Honey, can you call them and see if this is legit?” He called the couple who had placed the ad, and that evening we walked into the tiniest basement studio apartment I have ever seen. It wasn’t a scam at all. It was just less than 300 square feet.

But it had nice tile floors. And a renovated kitchen with brand new cabinets and appliances. And three nice windows above ground! And free laundry, parking space, and internet hookup. Oh, and utilities were bundled into the price of rent, causing the expenses to break even with what we were currently paying for our spacious place so very far away from our new jobs.

The best part? It was in the nicest neighborhood in DC (outside of Georgetown, that is), and was literally across the street from our church.

Kevin was in love instantly. I was not interested.

Objectively, it seemed like a good place, and it made sense financially. It would save us a lot of time to not have to participate in the mass exodus to and from the suburbs and the city every morning and evening. It was near our church. The landlords were okay with our cat.

But I had a visceral reaction to the concept of a basement apartment, and there were a couple irrational things about it that just left me with a bad feeling about it. I might have thrown a hissy fit about how small and dark it felt. Kevin might have backed off on the whole idea altogether.

A few days of talking it over, and one more visit to measure the space (and searching ApartmentTherapy for stories of living in less than 300 sq. ft. and creating a Pinterest board for decoration and organization ideas), we settled with the landlords and gave ourselves 3 weeks to move in. I was rationally pleased with the decision, but still going back and forth about whether or not I liked the place and felt like I could make it a home.

Kevin really salvaged the whole thing by suggesting we repaint it before moving in and negotiating with the landlords to let us in a couple evenings before we were to move in, so we could paint. It was what we now call “vomit beige” and was done in flat paint, in one sloppy coat, and it looked hideous.  (I wish my camera wasn’t still missing! These are from Kevin’s iPod)

Ktichen, pre paint

Main room, from front door

Main room, looking at kitchen/bathroom door

With the very cheery help of his siblings and a few good friends, we utterly transformed the place with a few evenings of work (and lots of pizza). I cannot tell you what a difference it made to have nice fat thick coats of high quality satin paint in nice colors! Simply painting the trim in a bright white made me feel optimistic and excited about living there.

In the end, we did these colors in the main room (the blue on the side with the two windows, and the white on the opposite two walls):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this one in the kitchen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll take pictures of the finished space later this week to show off. It looks really nice. The cool, bright colors give the room a much more spacious feel, and the contrast of the dark blue with the white trim is really lovely. Kevin’s got plans to do a wall arrangement like this sometime soon:

Image from Pinterest

I think we’re planning on using white picture frames and mirrors. It’s going to look lovely. He has a good sense of space and color.

On an opposing  (light blue/white) wall, I’ve been working on a light decoration out of mirror thread and twinkle lights, but I need to switch out the lights we have with ones with white wire, rather than green. Once that’s complete, I’ll show you all. It looks nice enough for the time being, but it will really pop once I change the lights.

We also got a darling loveseat in eggplant purple from Craigslist. It was brand new and in perfect condition, and we were thrilled to discover that it was the updated version of our previous couch set, which we loved. And it’s PURPLE.

Pair that up with this rug from Urban Outfitters:

…and you have a happy girl who feels like this apartment is becoming a home.

[coming!] Hot and Sticky Part 2: Moving into a Basement Apartment in a Swamp in July


I think I avoid writing because I’m not comfortable talking about what really matters to me. And I’m not comfortable talking about it because I’m afraid of the criticism and friendly “heart checks” I’ll get from my parents and the good people who knew me mostly during 2000 – 2008.

I am happy to either 1) let them think I haven’t changed that much and am a happy newlywed making home and love and reading her Bible and working a little and having a beautiful life, or 2) simply bulldoze them with long arguments against the tenets of conservative fundydom and leave them reeling.

There is no comfort in vulnerability for me. I want to be happily ignored or a force of reason to be respected.

And when I don’t have happy housewife blog posts to write (and really, I should just let the gushy poetic types with good cameras, etsy shops, and cute kids have that genre) or a new tour de force about feminism & grace or some such thing, I hide. I bury my need to write in absorbing a never-ending stream of information, blog posts, essays, and piquant news articles.

Upon reflection, I’ve realized that this is an addiction in the truest sense of the word: I self-medicate against my intense need to write (journal, blog, ponder) by numbing my mind with an overflow of words and ideas from others.

In high school, I used to think that I could be a good writer if I wrote regularly. But then I realized that I needed to read good books in order to write well, and I “took a break” from writing, which turned into a 3 year self-directed course of reading all the “classics” I could get my hands on (being in a conservative environment, this meant reading anything written before 1940 and the post-war cynicism of true 20th century literature), and eventually a degree in English.  I still wrote, but it was a strange mixture of half-baked jabs at hard questions, platitudes, and detailed evaluation of little moments. I was sure I hadn’t lived enough or read enough to write well. (I’m still convinced that the good writer is a regular reader of good writing)

But I think this discipline-turned-habit has become a way to avoid writing, now. And I think I do have some things I can say better than I could before, but I’m afraid of the consequences. I’m too much of a people-pleaser.

This year for Lent, my husband and I stopped drinking alcohol. We do this every year (or have for the last three) and it’s a good idea, especially as we have family history of alcoholism and mothers who are concerned for us because of the simple reality that we think alcohol tastes good.

In retrospect, though, I think I should have given up reading my rss reader feed and keeping up with the various news outlets and social media hotspots I have on my browser’s bookmarks. I don’t think I’ll give it up completely, now that I realize this about myself, or that I’ll suddenly start writing honestly instead of finding something to distract me.

But maybe I can open up a little more, and be okay with the fact that I’m not really the goody-two-shoes who kept her parents and church friends satisfied with her behavior throughout high school and [most of] college. Maybe I’ll admit that I am normal and that’s okay. That I liked Hangover II and I like reading The Bloggess. That I write better when I drink whiskey. That yes, mom, I wear a bikini to the pool and that’s just fine. That I have an anger problem which is tied to anxiety which is tied to not being okay with letting go and not having control over everything in my life. And sometimes I like to use strong language, because I feel strongly. That I’m using birth control pills and think that’s an acceptable moral thing for a Christian to do, if it’s a careful, educated decision. That I really respect stay-at-home homeschooling moms with 9, 10, 11 kids, if that’s a careful, educated choice. That I’m afraid of being a mom someday, but I’m also really at peace with having a family with Kevin because he’s a good man. And so forth.

The funny thing is, none of that is “shocking.” I just tie myself up in lies, thinking that it is and trying to ignore it or laugh it off.  I’m going to try to stop being an internet voyeur in order to ignore real life. And perhaps I’ll try to write more frequently (in general, not necessarily here).


Here is a little link round up for you.

I don’t really have a rhyme or reason for this, but that’s okay. You can make one up for me:

Because I feel like it. Because it’s Winds-day. Because Christian Patriarchy is worth reading up on. Because I had coffee this morning. Because getting up early makes me feel productive. Because I have an attractive husband.  

Well, maybe I just wanted to say that last one. But it’s still true.

Links!

Happy Winds-day! Husband and I are heading up to our alma mater this weekend for homecoming, the event-anniversary of our engagement, seeing old friends, and generally having more fun than should be legal.

Oh, and can I brag on my guy? He got into the National Philharmonic Chorale. The end.