Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Year in Words

At this time of year, the proliferation of end of the year lists can be a bit overwhelming, but I want to offer up one of my own if for no other reason than that it helps me to see what I did in 2016. Invariably, I accomplish less than I hope to in a given work week, especially now when so much of my time is consumed by teaching rather than writing, and yet somehow I end up stringing words together, creating essays, reviews, sermons. And there's more to be done next year.

"Write as if you were dying," Annie Dillard says, "At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?" Here at the end of 2016 her words are the closest I can come to describing why I press on. "At its best," she continues, "the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace."

Here, in no particular order, my year in words:

"Contentious Women of the Old Testament," originally published in Leader magazine, cross published here.

"Pencil Skirts and Power Ties," in Rhubarb magazine. Consider buying a copy here.

Two posts for Words & Spirit, here and here.

An op-ed for Religion News Service about my pastor's credentials being revoked, as detailed in the article above.

A review of 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams for the Englewood Review of Books.

Hunger, an essay about women and soccer, for The Other Journal.

A series of six columns for the Mennonite World Review: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A ten-week series of snarky feminist commentary on The Bachelor last winter, on Patreon, because over analyzing bad TV is my preferred form of self-care.

Oh, also: I finished my book. Forthcoming from Cascade books in 2017. Time for some champagne...or a really long nap. Cheers!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Link Roundup

Meghan Florian, Hannah Heinzekehr, Megan Ramer.
The biggest news of the week is that the Femonite and the Femmonite finally met in person! Hannah Heinzekehr and I started our respective blogs back in 2012 within mere weeks, with no knowledge of each other at the time. Four years later, she's the Executive Director of The Mennonite, and I sometimes get to write for her there. As Drake would say, Started from the bottom, now we're here/Started from the bottom now the whole team here...

Now, on to this week's recommended reading:

Alexander Chee on historical fiction.

David Remnick speaks with ANNIE DILLARD! This is a fifteen minute recording; I wish it were 1500.

I loved this piece about makeup and men’s unwelcome, uninvited opinions on it.

Pickled radishes on Reading My Tea Leaves. YUM.

The P.G. Wodehouse Society of Lahore.

A new comic from Kate Gavino on Catapult.

Laura Turner on The Insufficiency of Self-Care.

Book-wise, I finished 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams. And now I’m trying to figure out what to say about it. I'm also slowly working through Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. It's phenomenal.

Tonight: I have a hot date with Elena Ferrante’s fourth Neapolitan novel, The Story of the Lost Child. Unless I collapse from exhaustion and spend the evening watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries instead. Stranger things have happened.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Link Roundup

It’s been a big publishing week for me! I'm giddy and exhausted, excited and also sad, insofar as I'm writing a lot about events that I lament. Here are the links:

In case you missed it, my article about my pastor’s suspension, in The Mennonite: Love is a verb, not a suspension.

An op-ed I wrote about the same situation, this one aimed at a general audience, over on Religion News Service.

The RNS article was republished by Sojourners.

And finally, a short piece about Lucy Knisley for Words & Spirit.

This is probably a good time to alert my readers to some changes to my Patreon page. Check it out here. If you don’t know what Patreon is, you’re in luck, because there are some links below that will explain. Some people think of it as a subscription, others as a sort of online "tip jar." One thing I’m noticing with Patreon, though, is that people hesitate because they still seem to think they need to subscribe at a high rate, maybe because they’re used to giving larger one-time amounts to Kickstarter style campaigns, or maybe because we assume that for artists to be paid art has to be “expensive” somehow. These are just guesses, but in any case, with Patreon, you really, really don’t have to pledge a lot. My Patreon is set up as a monthly subscription. It’s a little at a time, over a long time (the kind of time it takes to make art, incidentally). Personally, I subscribe to several writers I like on Patreon at the $1 level, because that’s what I can afford right now. But if a writer has hundreds or even thousands of readers at the $1/month or $5/month level, they can make big steps toward making a living by making art. It’s pretty simple.

What I’ve been reading:

How do artists make a living? An ongoing, almost impossible quest, by Monica Byrne (who is also on Patreon writing brilliant fiction, here).

On the flip side, here’s a Jacobin article about the issues with crowdfunding. Yes, I realize it seems weird for me to share this article while also saying, “Hey! Subscribe to my Patreon!” I'm nothing if not nuanced, eh? Ultimately, I want to see both the economy and the publishing industry completely revolutionized. But that won’t happen next week, next year, or maybe even in the next decade, unfortunately. (Call me cynical, but really, can you make an argument that I’m wrong about that?) So Patreon just makes sense. I mean, really, HOW is it acceptable for well-known publications to just not pay their writers? Writing is labor, and these publications don't exist without us, yet the choice is often write for free, or don't get published at all. We're screwed, over and over again. So, I'm slowly realizing that I'd rather write for small publications and crowdfund than write for big publishers who could pay me but won't.

99 Stories of God by Joy Williams. Yes, indeed, it’s summer and I’m reading a book. I’ll be reviewing this one for the Englewood Review of Books. Look for that in the next print issue.

What I've been listening to:

This week's Book Riot podcast: I listen to this podcast every week, but I particularly recommend this episode because it includes a nice breakdown of what Patreon is and why it matters for mid-career writers in particular.

Nicole Cliffe talking about her conversion to Christianity. I adore Nicole Cliffe, and was super confused when one day she started tweeting about looking for a church. I thought she was an atheist! Well, turns out she was, and then things got interesting. Hear her tell the story on this podcast. It made me cry, in a good way.

Friday, April 29, 2016


You might have noticed that I haven’t posted a roundup in about a month (or maybe you haven’t, and could care less, which is do you). I was on the road for about three weeks straight, first attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual meeting in LA, then back to North Carolina for a couple days at the coast with my sister, then up to Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Festival of Faith and Writing. Upon my return to Durham, it was time for final papers (which I am still grading…), so I haven’t had much time to decompress from either of the conferences, much less read the many articles and essays sitting in my Instapaper account. I have a lot I want to think about and discuss from both AWP and FFW, but it will keep for a while. I’m not much for hot takes lately, anyway. I’ll let ‘em cool. In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve been enjoying from airplanes and hotel rooms over the last few weeks.

The best thing I did to prepare for all the flying I did in April was download some audiobooks to my phone. I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and the first half of Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, both read by the authors. (Bonus: fend off chatty strangers with headphones.)

On paper, I finished The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. It was great, and confirmed some of my instincts about where I've been directing my own time and energy. I’m waiting until I post my final grades to start the last of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child, so I can savor it over glasses of wine on my porch. Then, on to the huge stack of books I acquired at AWP! More on those later.

I re-read this older essay from the now PULITZER PRIZE WINNING Emily Nussbaum on Sex and the City, and I still love it.

Nicole Chung wrote a fantastic piece about money and anxiety that resonated with me.

Apparently I’m having a throw-back kind of week, because I also re-read this essay from Laurie Penny on sexism and storytelling. Yep, still good.

Have you heard about Kazoo magazine? I can’t wait to get a subscription for my nieces. (They’re not even a month old yet, so I guess I’ll have to get a subscription for myself in the meantime.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dancing in the Dust

Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship
March 27, 2016 - Easter Sunday
Isaiah 65:17-25

“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”

These words from Isaiah prophesy a beautiful future, a renewal and rebirth – triumph over death and destruction. Easter.

Weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday we remembered that we are dust, beginning the journey of Lent with a collective acknowledgement of our mortality. During Lent, we follow Jesus into the wilderness, emerging only to follow his journey to the cross during Holy week, to hell and back again. But once we’ve arrived at Easter, how do we make sense of what it is for death to have lost its sting? For a dead body to rise from the ashes, alive?

The Lenten season of preparation for Easter often focuses on denial, discipline of the body, submission. There’s a sense that our bodies are something to be feared and tamed. That bodies are dangerous.

But instead, in light of the resurrection, we ought to considered all the ways our fragile bodies, made of dust, are sources of joy. That God delights in us so much that God would join us, become embodied with us, and in so doing conquer death.

This year, my Lent “discipline,” if you can even call it that, was rather simple. I wanted to practice being embodied. That is, just to pay more attention to the joy of being made of flesh and bone, the gift of this life made from ashes, from dust. For me, this meant I did a lot of slow, gentle yoga. I took long walks.

I snuggled newborn babies. I gave and received hugs, especially the kind of uninhibited hugs the kids seem to love, that come out of nowhere, when someone leaps into your arms or grabs onto your leg and won’t let go. And I danced. I danced so much I had to take a few days off because my knee swelled up like a grapefruit. I quite literally danced until I couldn’t dance any more.

Our bodies are dust, I thought, as I sat with an ice pack on my knee, but they are also a delight.

Still, there’s a lot of dust swirling around us. What are we to make of it?

“No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days,” Isaiah says, “or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.”

I read these words, and they don’t sound like the world I know, a world where people die too young, where we struggle with illness, where pregnancy and giving birth are not always as simple and beautiful as we hoped they would be. A world where some bodies are valued and others are not, where some bodies are erased by laws created out of fear and pushed through by leaders who missed the memo, it seems, that we are each and every one of us a source of God’s joy, a delight to the risen Lord.

After HB2, the anti-LGBTQ bill, passed this week, I remembered a song by Mount Moriah's Heather McEntire that I first heard her perform at Motorco called “When You Come For Me.” Heather told the story behind the song, and I've never been able to hear it since without the one sentence she offered by way of explanation ringing in the back of my mind – one sentence that it seemed to me contained a whole world. This is a song, she said, about wanting to be buried on her family's land, to be accepted by them.

She sings, “Mama, I dreamed that I had no hand to hold
and the land I cut my teeth on wouldn't let me call it home.
So lay me down easy, in the valley or the pines,
tell me that you'll be there waiting,
standing in the light.”

It is a song about death. About longing for home, for a safe resting place. A longing for love to triumph in the end, for love to win even in the face of death, for love to have the final word.

As I listened to the song again this week, I anticipated Christ’s triumph over death on Easter morning, and I wondered what it means to long for acceptance even in death. To believe that a good life leads to such a resting place, held by the mountains that birthed you, your body's dust returning the land where you were raised. As we celebrate the resurrection, we continue to live in a precarious world of death and destruction. We wait for the final fulfillment of what Isaiah promises. We make our home here, and pray this land, these people, can sustain us. We plant, and hope that others will continue to harvest after we’re gone. We build, praying that others will inhabit for years to come.

When protesters of HB2 lined the street in Raleigh on Thursday chanting “I believe that we will win,” they no doubt hoped that could be in their lifetimes – but they, and we, will labor on regardless of whether we see the fruits.

People who support exclusionary laws like HB2 have clutched their pearls this week, saying, “Think of the children!” as if such laws protect, rather than hurting, children. Jesus’ resurrected body and these words from Isaiah push me to turn the question back around. Indeed, think of the children, and the possibility that they might grow up in a world that loves and accepts every fiber of their being, where they know their bodies, however they identify, are a gift. That God delights in them. What would it mean to build a world like that?

“They shall build houses and inhabit them,” Isaiah says, “they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit...for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity, for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord – and their descendants as well.”

How do we live in the light of this promise, and the knowledge of God's triumph over death, in the present reality of the dirt and dust of daily life? How do we live the story that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again?

We continue to dig into the soil, to plant and to harvest what we can. We build. We cook, we feed each other. We hold babies. We sing and we dance. Especially the last, if you're anything like me.

When I dance I've found I come home to the present moment. This fragile frame and it's tentative movements can somehow get lost in a song and a crowd and stop caring about looking foolish because it feels so free, to move your feet on this earth, to trust the ground that holds you, to believe God made us good and delights in our particular embodied joy.

I thought about this freedom of movement, about bodies full of life, on Friday night, at the Pinhook in Durham, at the Queer Sweatcore dance party. After a week like this the Pinhook, where the bathrooms have always been inclusive, felt like an especially beloved place. Micky Bradford was there, dancing. You might have seen footage online of Micky, a black trans woman, at the HB2 protests, as she danced in front of the governor’s mansion, on a street lined with police officers, her grace a beautiful, powerful, risky resistance against those who would deny her body’s freedom, her right to exist. “It’s important to see a black trans woman be unafraid of police and policing,” she told a reporter. Anger, exhaustion, and sadness moved her body in this act of protest, rising from the ashes, announcing her presence to the man inside the gates, a testimony to life in the face of death.

On Friday, at the Pinhook, people danced in a different setting, in a club with a sign posted on the wall reminding everyone of the necessity of consent on the dance floor, of respecting other people’s bodies. You don’t put your hands on someone else without permission, without an affirmative y-e-s. This weekend that sign, something I’ve never seen in any other bar or club or anywhere, had a heightened sense of meaning to me, considering our legislature’s violent efforts to control and erase certain people’s bodies. Part of the freedom of dancing in that space on that night, it seemed to me, came from the knowledge that the gathered bodies were respected and celebrated, that no one would intrude upon that freedom of movement. You can dance without fear. You can dance with joy.

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem” Isaiah says, “And delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”

As the disco ball spun around reflecting glittering light on people’s faces, I imagined that, for a couple of hours at least, instead of dancing in the face of destruction and injustice, we were dancing in the dust around Jesus’ empty grave, dancing a victory dance, basking in the light of God's love, which has already won, which will win in the end.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Link Roundup!

I finished The Queen of the Night and I am still contemplating the final line. It’s gorgeous. I can’t bring myself to start another novel yet, because I’m still walking the streets of Paris with Lilliet Berne. I'm finally planning to read some reviews of the book this week, so I'll report back with my favorites next week.

Danielle Dutton On Terrible Writing Advice From Famous Writers.

David Ulin considers John D’Agata and the Art of the American Essay. There are things I love and agree with about this, and others things that I...don’t. But that’s a topic for another day. A good read, either way.

Mallory Ortberg reviews The Ninety-Five Theses, Part I.

Jessa Crispin on women traveling alone.

“You were not born scared and self-loathing and overwhelmed,” writes Caitlin Moran to teenage girls. Gorgeous and gutting.

Sarah Ditum, A Woman’s Body is Not a Disgrace.

My essay "Pencil Skirts & Power Ties" is finally out, in the Winter 2015 Issue of Rhubarb Magazine. LOOK HERE IT IS: