Jet lag and other sources of humility

I have been in Lithuania for almost a full week and this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and write. Not that I have been incredibly busy. I haven’t, really, and certainly not enough to warrant such silence. But since I landed in the city I have had the most stunning case of jet lag, and I mean that literally, as in I felt like I have been shot with a stun gun. Both body and mind have been lethargic and it has been all I can do to stay awake until 8pm, and stay asleep until at least 6am. Usually I get hit with a wall of tired around 6pm and struggle to make it a few more hours, but then I wake up rearing to go at 4am. Ugh. What this really brings home to me is how weak I am, or rather, how dependent I am upon the whims of my body. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Actually, I think it is rather healthy for me to be reminded of my limitations, whether they are physical, emotional, and certainly spiritual. I must depend on God for strength, even if it is to haul myself up off the couch to cook a little dinner. I am humbled by my inability.

 

There are some few hours during the day when I have been fully conscious and able to manage the most basic of necessities and to begin to make myself at home here. I have ventured to the grocery store across the street a whopping total of five times; I have now managed to ride the bus to the university twice by myself (though the first time was with the assistance of a little old lady who sat beside me, who spoke no English. We pantomimed and pointed to pictures in my guidebook. Nonetheless, it was a success. Again, talk about humbling. But the woman was very good-natured, and I am thankful for her help). I have filled out employment paperwork at the university and met my director face to face for the first time, not counting Skype. On Sunday I went to church with some of my friends who have lived here for several years, and was introduced to several others who I hope to count as friends in the near future. They took me to a traditional Lithuanian restaurant for lunch after church and it was lovely. The food bears close resemblance to what I have had in Poland, which is not surprising considering so much of their shared history. I had potato pancakes stuffed with meat, with sour cream on top. So good.

 

Today, after my second visit to the university (for a little more paperwork) I enjoyed the day exploring the Old Town. And by explore I mean get lost. Still, I took some pictures, enjoyed the sunny day, and finally made it back to my bus stop to again test my solo traveling prowess. As I am at home now writing this, it is safe to assume I made it.

 

Below are some pictures of my rambling today. I don’t know what half of them are, but you can get a sense of the city. The first two, at least, are of my university, and the third is St. John’s Church, which is a part of the university campus.

 

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Rejected

It never feels good to be rejected.

I just received a rejection letter in the mail from an agent I had queried about taking on my fantasy novel. Because of the explicit presence of God in my book, and my own religious convictions, I was submitting my manuscript to agents who dealt in Christian fantasy. It turns out, there aren’t that many. Since the majority of readers of Christian fiction are women, and middle-age women at that, the best sellers tend to be romances. Amish romances, to be specific. Or historical romances. With Amish characters. (Just kidding. Kind of). There is just not a large readership for Christian fantasy, excepting the classics: Lewis and Tolkien. A writer at a Christian writers conference I attended jokingly suggested that if we wanted to write fantasy or science fiction, we should consider including an Amish character.

An Amish vampire returns to Pennsylvania to unlock a dark secret…

Amish aliens land on earth, warning of an impending war…

A young woman accidentally picks up an enchanted book, transporting her to Amishlandia…

I have nothing against books with Amish characters, or the writers who write them. I am glad there is such a healthy market for Christian writers. However, I don’t write Amish fiction, and I don’t foresee myself doing so in the near (or distant) future. So, as there are so few agents or editors who handle Christian fantasy, there are not many options for a writer such as myself. **A disclaimer** My manuscript is currently being considered by an editor in the Christian market, so my options in this avenue have not closed. It is with the agents that I have had so little luck.

I have now exhausted my list of agents who will represent Christian fantasy. I have been rejected by every one of them. It wasn’t a big list, but as each deadline to hear back approached, and then was surpassed without interest in my novel, my hopes slowly, slowly sunk, until today when the last agent responded with a rejection.

So, here I am, a little heart-broken, a little frustrated, a little confused about what to do. I love my novels. I love the process of creating and writing. I love my characters (I cried when I killed one of them off) and the stories they inhabit. And I want others to read them and love them too. I believe the inspiration for these books comes from God, as does the call on my life to write. Without representation, it will be that much harder for me to negotiate and advocate for my books, though I dare say it can be done. So, at this point, I have a few options:

1) I can continue without an agent. Many editors and publishers will not consider unsolicited manuscripts; they get manuscripts through agents. This would limit my access to the market.

2) I can abandon the Christian market. I can edit my manuscript to make it more acceptable to a general (ie: non-Christian) audience and query general market agents for representation.

This latter option makes me a little sad, though the potential to reach a wider audience is there. What this essentially means is that I would go through my manuscript and eliminate the mention of God. I would erase His name from my book. Can I do that? The Christian morality that is the foundation of my novel would still be there; my characters would face the same dilemmas and have the same choices to make. But instead of actually writing ‘God’ in my novel, I would skirt around Him. I would find ways to hint at Him without naming Him.

Reaching the general market would make my books available to readers who might not otherwise read Christian fiction. It would expose them to Christian morals and values without putting that label on them. And this is what I want, what I hope for. Maybe this is what the Lord has wanted all along. But it seems like a betrayal of some sort, not to write the name of the One who gave me the stories in the first place.

I don’t have to decide right now. But as each of my options is eliminated, one by one, I will have to consider alternatives. It will require some serious wrestling. As in Jacob-style wrestling.

 

 

To Do Lists

I’m a list person. I don’t just make To Do lists, I make To Do lists organized by type of activity and deadline; I have lists of songs I like from the radio that I want to download; I have lists of books I want to read, organized, of course, by genre and purpose of reading (ie: leisure, academic research, writing inspiration, personal enrichment, etc). One of my greatest pleasures is completing an item on one of my lists and being able to cross it off. Yah, I know. Don’t judge.

 

Right now I have a list: To Do Before I Leave

 

That’s right. I just bought my ticket to Lithuania, and I now have a deadline: August 11th. (I checked that off of my list of Needs for Lithuania). I have one month and eleven days to get ready–and you can be sure that I cross off each day on my calendar (On a side note: yes, I still use a paper calendar. Like I said, don’t judge). Part of me says, “I’m ready! Bring it on!” and is rearing to go and get to know this new culture. But the other part of me says, “Uh, a month and a half is not enough time. I have too much to do. Too many lists to complete!”

 

The issue is, like with many things, the unknown. I am one who likes to be prepared as much as possible in advance–hold on, I feel like I’m revealing way too much about myself in this post. Oh, well. So, as I was saying, I like to know what I am getting into in advance, which makes the life I am living a little, well, disconcerting. If you’ve followed my year in Macedonia, then you know that I was completely not prepared for the craziness that ensued. Not in my wildest and most insane dreams could I have imagined my year would go like that. So, on one hand I am trying to relax and realize that no To Do list is going to prepare me for what lies ahead. I can only do so much–the ultimate outcome is in God’s hands. The list-maker in me is tearing out her hair and screaming. Or rather, putting that on her list of Expressions of Terror as Time Ticks Away. If it wasn’t on my list before, I’ll add it just so I can cross it off and feel good about it.

 

Yah, I know. Don’t judge.

Graduation and moving on

The end of the school year is always a little bittersweet. It signals an end and a beginning. This last weekend I attended my university’s baccalaureate and commencement ceremonies. I processed with the faculty at both celebrations, so I was finally able to use my cap and gown–which is good since it cost me six years and several thousand dollars in student loans to earn!

I did not have any students graduate this year, so it was perhaps less personal for me than other faculty who had been there longer and had watched their floundering little freshmen grow into confident, learned young men and women. But there were two things about both ceremonies that I really appreciated, and that have characterized my time as a faculty member at this particular university.

The baccalaureate ceremony was, for lack of a better description, one giant worship service. After all of the students and faculty had marched into the auditorium, the student worship band led us in several songs of praise. Even the speeches, two from students and one from a faculty member chosen by students, were really declarations of praise and gratitude. The night ended in taking communion together.

At commencement, all proceeded as usual graduation ceremonies do, but there was an added element. As each student crossed the stage, shook hands with notables and received their diplomas, their final stop was to receive a small white towel from the president. The towel, we were told, was to remind students that even as they were going out into the world as leaders, they were also servants.

Having taught at this university for a year, I see how both of these ideas–worship and servanthood–are indicative of my experience here. Students and faculty worship side by side at chapel each week; there is no hesitation to talk about God, about His character, about spiritual matters, outside, but especially inside the classroom, and not in an artificial or preachy way; prayer requests are frequently sent over email to let us know what is going on with the people we work with. Likewise, even though I am just a ‘lowly’ adjunct (and boy, have I felt that distinction elsewhere), there is no sense of hierarchy or superiority from the full-time faculty in my department. I was invited to participate in ever aspect of our department, and my time and opinion was valued. The head of my department, in particular, exemplified servant-leadership. She was such a joy to work for. She was approachable and kind. As I was leaving graduation, knowing that I was leaving the school in a physical sense (I’ll continue to teach online courses) she took the time to thank me for my work, for what I added to the department. It is a bit sad, but no one has ever done that for me before.

I have been so blessed to be a part of this university. God supplied the job in a time of need, and has used this time in the U.S. to encourage me, refuel me, and provide more opportunity to teach and gain experience, all the while in an environment that honors Him. What a gift!

A name change

You’ll probably have noticed that the blog is no longer called A Call to Macedonia. You’ll look at the title and go, “What?!? Dia-do-a, huh? What is that word? Is it even English?

No. It’s not. It’s Greek. διαβαινω (dee-ab-ah’ee-no). It means ‘come over’ or ‘to cross.’ It is the word used by the Macedonian man who calls Paul over in a vision. Since I am no longer serving in Macedonia, though of course I will always be connected there through my dear Macedonian brothers and sisters in the faith, I thought it was time to change the name of the blog. But I wanted to keep the feeling of that initial call. Hence, Diabaino: Coming Over.

I have accepted a position for next school year in a university in Lithuania, so that means I’ll be ‘coming over’ a little farther north this time around. I am still working out the details, and have already had some bumps along the way, but I am excited about this new calling out to teach, to write, to serve.

Disillusion and revision

DSCN2723I spend the last five days in the redwoods, in Mount Hermon, at the Christian Writers Conference, learning what it means to be a Christian who writes.

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I went through a similar process as I was finishing my PhD, trying to reconcile academia and my faith, and I see many parallels. But I have returned home (to the ‘real world’, I guess) and have been suddenly struck with what I can only describe as depression. Not clinical, don’t worry. But I’m overwhelmed by a serious sense of bleh, and I have been trying to think of why.

The realist in me knew that I would not leave the conference with either an agent or a book deal, but if I am honest, that was my fantasy. So, when the conference ended and I was sans agent and book deal, as I had predicted, I was of course disappointed. One critique I had with an agent was especially hard to hear, though I have been through such critiques and I would like to think that I know good writing advice when I hear it. Still, it stung.

DSCN2704 And that is not to say that I did not have positive feedback. One publisher and one agent asked me to send in more. This is a great first step. Even the agent who ripped my manuscript apart said he would be happy to look at my work again after I’ve revised. The door has not shut completely, even though the sound of the initial slam is still echoing in my ears.

The time at Mount Hermon forced me to revise more than just my writing. In one session, our teacher asked, “If you knew that God was going to use your writing to touch the lives of people, but it was not going to be in the form of a shiny new book, would you still write?” What he was asking, really, is, to whom does my writing belong? Is it God’s or is it mine? If it belongs to me and I am writing for selfish reasons, then I can pretty much write whatever I want, cater to the general market and run with popular trends, even if the content is not edifying or honoring to God.

But if my ability to write, and the stories themselves, are gifts from God, then they belong to Him and I have a responsibility to use them for His namesake. And I have to trust Him with it, to open up opportunities when and where and for what He chooses.

DSCN2727 So, I have revised my writing in more ways that one. I have to come before Him again and surrender myself, and my writing, to His uses and his timing.

On this Good Friday, I am especially reminded of the great gift of life I have been given through the sacrifice of my Lord. I am reminded that I do not belong to myself. I have been bought with a price.

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Why aren’t you writing?

One of my friends posted a meme on Facebook that had Idris Elba (that alone got my attention!) with the words: Why aren’t you writing? blazed in bold across the top.

Huh. I thought back to my past few days, few weeks, few months, and I realized: I had not written anything! And here was Mr. Elba asking me why not?

Then I logged on to my course website and looked at the back log of student assignments I had yet to grade and there it was. I wasn’t writing because all of my intellectual and creative energy was being siphoned off to my students. Whenever I thought about writing something new (as if my brain were even awake enough to generate new ideas) or to pick up a project that had sat dormant for far too long, I would glance at my desk and see: papers to grade, online curriculum to create, lecture slides to prepare, novels to read and re-read in anticipation of the next class discussion. And then all of that enthusiasm to write drained down to my toes.

Many of my former classmates have FBed, blogged and otherwise bemoaned the difficulty of studying/teaching/working while trying to have a healthy and productive writing life. In fact, several of my former colleagues have suspended their graduate studies because of this. It’s a little late for that for me. I’m on the other side, trying to earn enough to pay off my (inordinately massive and incomprehensibly stifling) student loan debt without selling off pieces of my soul–in a figurative sense. (NOTE: I’m grateful to say in the literal sense my soul is no longer my own. Ask me if you’d like to know how that happened). All of this is not to say that I don’t enjoy my job. I do. I can honestly say that teaching university students has afforded me some of the most soul-stirring, joy-filled moments of my life. I love talking about literature. I love mentoring young people and seeing their creativity blossom.

But I hate grading papers!

After Mr. Elba’s meme-message shook me awake, I had to ask myself the startling, sad question: If I am not writing, then can I call myself a writer?

Because I want to be one. Every birthday-candle-blowing, penny-in-the-fountain-tossing, shooting-star-finding wish that I’ve made for the last 20 years, not to mention the last 12 years of schooling, has been with the intent of being a writer. I want people to be moved by my stories.

But how can they be if I’m not actually writing them?

*sigh* Mr. Elba, your meme has cut me to the quick.