Getting the kinks out

There are always little hiccups at the beginning of each year, especially when you have to get to know a new university, new facilities, new colleagues. This was my first week of classes. My first class meets twice a week, in two different locations. The first location has no technology whatsoever (ironic, I know, for an IT facility). We made due with my laptop and a lot of enthusiasm. The second location has technology; however, for nearly twenty minutes I was not allowed in the classroom. It seems that the electronic schedule did not match the schedule in the key office (teacher’s must check out keys to their classrooms), so the woman in the key office would not let me sign the key out. Hence, no classroom.

It took several calls to various administrators to work things out, and all in Lithuanian, so I was really at the mercy of their good natures. Fortunately, one young woman was particularly helpful and the situation was worked out, and just in time for class. All was well. Or so I thought.

I had a video I wanted to show my students. The projector worked fine, but when I pressed ‘play’ there was no sound. Ten minutes of fiddling and still no sound. We skipped the video and I improvised. Again. Moments after the class ended, I went back to fiddling and what do you know? Speakers worked. At least I know now, and hopefully this will mean this week will be kink-less. But I doubt it.

The joys of the beginning of the year.

Opening Day

The first day of school is one of ceremony and celebration no matter where you are. My day began with a bus ride to the university. On the way, the sidewalks were filled with children and teens in ties and blazers, some accompanied by parents. The children carried small bouquets of flowers–tall stalks of gladiolas and lilies, stumpy bunches of wildflowers. I’ve been told it is customary for students to give flowers to teachers both on the first day, and right before exams–a kind of good-natured bribe for a good grade. A little girl on the bus whacked me in the head with a bunch of Gerber daisies. I took it as a good sign.

Opening ceremonies at VU began on the front steps of the university, with the raising of the university flag and the dedication of a statue of a famous Lithuanian writer. A poem of his was recited, but I only discerned this by the change in rhythm of the speaker’s voice. I suppose the sing-song exaggeration of a poetry reading is a universal. There was also a traditional Lithuanian song performed in traditional costume, and cheerleaders with pom-poms, a little less traditional.

After this, and a short speech from the Lithuanian president, we adjourned to our respective faculties. I followed a herd into the Foreign Language Institute where yet more dignitaries gave yet more speeches, all of which were variations on the same theme: learning multiple languages is beneficial in the current globalized world. Good luck with your studies.

The day culminated in a grand procession of students and professors from the parliament building to VU’s main courtyard. I’m not sure how to describe the procession. We don’t have anything like it in the US, unless you think of a mix between a very friendly mass protest with flags and banners, and a float-less parade. The students in the Foreign Language Institute waved flags and shouted slogans, none of which I understood, but one was set to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

I’ve attached a link to the VU’s YouTube video of some of the highlights so you can get a better idea. Besides some sore feet from a loooooong walk, it was a grand time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIjDZsV1A30&feature=youtu.be

Once in the square, there were more speeches (this, I think, is a universal in the academic world. I didn’t understand these either, but then, I rarely understand academic speeches in English). There was also a lively rendition of “At Last” from a woman dressed like a lounge singer, and an orchestral medley of Blues Brother’s hits accompanied by interpretive dancers. At the same time, the crowds were buffeted with balloons that were batted back and forth, even by the dignitaries in the front several rows. For those of you who know me, you know how deeply traumatized I was to have all of those balloons flying overhead. One or two even touched me. I had to fight the urge to run and hide.

Thus ended the day, and thus the academic year was officially opened. When I walked back to the office with my director, she asked how I enjoyed the day. I told her it was like nothing I had ever seen. It was certainly a cultural experience.

 

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.

 

DSCN2907 DSCN2906 DSCN2908 DSCN2920 DSCN2926 DSCN2929 DSCN2933

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.