Taking Home With Me

Monday, March 29, 2010

On a recent visit to National Futures Association, I could have walked right into my office and gone to work. Well, I would have had to displace the lawyer who was sitting at my desk and enjoying my view of the Chicago River, but everything else was much the same. My former colleagues were dealing with the same people and the same issues, the same legislation was pending in Congress, and I even heard some of the same complaints. Of course, I had only been gone for two-and-a-half months, and the regulatory world tends to move slowly anyway.

And yet, everything was different because NFA no longer felt like home. Nor did I want it to. On January 1st, I moved on. My new workplace is now home, and it just feels right. (Okay, so it is also in my home. But it is the situation, not only the place, that feels right.)

Thomas Wolfe wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called You Can't Go Home Again. I haven't read the book, but the title has become a cliche for the idea that things will never again be the way they once were. Especially in your home town.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I grew up in a village on the eastern tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. When I returned to DeTour (shown in the picture) in 1995, I discovered that our old parsonage had been turned into a pizza parlor. The raised front porch had been enclosed, and both the porch and living room were filled with tables. Although we usually ate in the kitchen when I was a child, we did sometimes eat in the living room while watching a favorite TV show. As an adult, I consumed my meal in much the same location, but it wasn't my mother's cooking and I was surrounded by strangers. Everything was different and, in Thomas Wolfe's sense, I couldn't go home again.

Nor did I want to. Why should I care if my childhood home was a pizza parlor? The memories are good, but I don't live there anymore. As I grew up, I changed and moved on. Home is wherever I am at the time.

Like a turtle or a snail, I carry my home with me. And that's the way it should be.

A Room With a Personality

Monday, March 22, 2010

My local newspaper carries Marni Jameson's "At Home" column every Thursday, and I usually read it. Well, I always read it. I don't need decorating tips very often, but I enjoy her writing style.

In the March 18 column (titled "Putting the you in your home design"), Marni interviewed a design psychologist about how our design choices match our personalities. As I read, I started thinking about my favorite room in the house: my office. Not only do I spend most of my day there, but it is a room that I don't have to share with anyone, so the space planning and design choices are entirely mine.

My office has no windows, so some people wonder how I can work there. Actually, I prefer it. According to Marni's column, that's because I'm an introvert. Design psychologist Toby Israel explained that extroverts like large windows, while introverts feel exposed without window coverings. I don't mind a room with a view, but it takes up valuable wall space. A window or another bookcase? No contest.

"Someone who operates on reason and logic . . . will lean toward utilitarian, minimalist environments. Someone who runs on feelings (actors and writers) wants comfortable surroundings that evoke emotion." Got me again. The logical side of me wants practical, while the creative side wants comfort and lots and lots and lots of books.

The picture shows the logical side. My desk is totally practical. It is L-shaped so I can spread out my research materials on one section, allowing me to compose on the computer and swing a mere quarter-turn to check my facts. All my most important resources are close at hand in the hutch. The cork board with goals, outlines, and inspiration is within sight; and my supplies are only a few feet away.

(Facebook only picks up my blog text, so if you are reading this on Facebook and want to see the picture, go to http://kathrynpagecamp.blogspot.com/.)

As for comfort, I have my easy chair for reading and a footstool so I can put my feet up. I did, however, specifically pick a chair that doesn't recline since I don't want to fall asleep there.

What the picture doesn't show is the two walls with bookcases. But they are there, and most of the shelf space is filled.

Marni's column also mentioned that favorite childhood places can be design inspirations. Although I hadn't realized it before, parts of my office are reminiscent of our enclosed back porch, where I used to curl up on an old couch, surrounded by books, and lose myself in a novel. My current chair is not a couch, but it is a comfortable place to read, and I am still surrounded by books.

So my office has a personality--mine.

Believing is Not Seeing

Monday, March 15, 2010

Science tells us to believe only what we can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. Even emotions are observable as electrical brain activity. Yet most of us know that the world is broader than our experience and that our personalities are more than a mathematical equation based on heredity and environment.

I just finished reading Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, and it got me thinking about how much we rely on the five senses to shape our individual worlds. Since some of you may want to read the book, I won't give away the plot or the ending. However, I am going to share one of the many insights I got from the book.

Till We Have Faces is billed as a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, but the main character is neither of those two. The story is told by Psyche's older sister, who labels it "a complaint against the gods." Orual's narrative shows us the war within her as she waivers between her tutor's Greek philosophy (seeing is believing) and her nation's religion (which requires faith in things unseen). And as the book progresses, the reader realizes that Orual cannot even see what she experiences; she is blind to her own motivation and the effects of her actions. So how can she judge the gods?

I'm Orual. Not only am I blind, but I also lodge complaints against God. "How can You let a good Christian friend get cancer?" "Why haven't you convinced a publisher to accept the novel I wrote to glorify You (and, okay, to glorify me, too)?" "Can't you make the Cubs win the World Series before I go mad?"

The gods answered Orual's complaints. And God answers mine in His words to Job. Since the entire passage in Chapters 38-41 of Job is way too long for a blog post, here are some highlights.

- "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." (38:4)

- "Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare if you know all this." (38:18)

- "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?" (38:33)

- "Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane?" (39:19)

- "Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?" (40:8-9)

Or, to put it more simply, God's answer is, "Trust me, I know more than you." (Lots more.)

I am clearly unqualified to second-guess God. Instead, I must learn to trust in what I do not see.

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Have you ever read a book where you identified with a character so much it convicted you of your own faults? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

Reading Out the Library

Monday, March 8, 2010

Before you can be a great writer, you have to be a great reader.

I spent most of my growing up years in a small town in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan (or the U-P, as we called it). DeTour's school library was equally small, and I quickly read every fiction book in it. Over and over and over.

Every other Saturday we drove to Sault St. Marie, Michigan (the Soo) and went to the library there. That library let you check out only six books at a time, and I had them all read within the first few days. And, as with the school library, I soon read out the Soo library. Again and again and again.

Since books cost money, I didn't own many. My personal library consisted mainly of juvenile paperbacks purchased at school through the Scholastic Book Club. I did, however, have subscriptions to American Girl, the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and a weekly British magazine called Judy.

I made good use of whatever opportunities I had to read something new. In visits to my cousin, I read through her collection of Cherry Ames books (think Nancy Drew as a student nurse). When visiting my grandparents, I devoured the books my mother read during her younger years.

Then I reached junior high and discovered Mama's books from her high school and college years. The back of our house had an enclosed porch that my parents used for storage. But shelves covered one wall, and Grace Livingston Hill, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare lived there. For me, those books were diamonds and rubies and sapphires that I mined while curled up in one corner of the room on an old couch. I also read a few of my father's books, but his taste ran to non-fiction and theology, and mine didn't.

I've always been a murder mystery fan, and I must own every Agatha Christie book ever published. Then when I became an adult I rediscovered middle-school novels. For a while, I claimed that I was reading them for my children's sake, but I still enjoy them as an empty nester. Classics by the likes of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Lucy Maude Montgomery, and C.S. Lewis, and more recent books by authors such as Rick Riordan and Richard Peck and, of course, J.K. Rowling.

So many books and so little time . . .

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Who are your favorite authors?

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Monday, March 1, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night. Or not.

I entered the world at a hospital in Southern Michigan, and I don't remember a single thing about it: especially not the weather. But, like Snoopy, I was born to write (hopefully with less cliched opening lines).

My first attempts to be a published writer came in high school. I submitted a murder mystery (so bad I shuddered when I read it years later) to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and a children's story (better) to Jack and Jill. Both magazines rejected my work. I also submitted several poems to a regional poetry magazine, which published them. Unfortunately, I can't remember either the poems or the name of the magazine.

Even with that success, I never thought about being a full-time writer. For most of my early years I wanted to be a teacher or a doctor or even both (following in the footsteps of my favorite teacher and her husband). Then came my junior year of high school and a re-evaluation: now I wanted to be Perry Mason.

I eventually realized my dream of being a lawyer, but I never became Perry Mason. It didn't take me long to discover that I couldn't think on my feet well enough to be a litigator. But that was okay, because lawyers who don't litigate still write, and I loved writing. I also loved being a lawyer. For the longest time, I couldn't picture myself in any other profession.

That changed in the summer of 2003 when Roland and I dropped our son off at camp as a prelude to our first childless vacation in twenty years. While standing in the registration line, I noticed a rack of books for sale. One was If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. The title intrigued me, so I bought the book, took it on vacation, and consumed it. That's when I knew God was calling me to a new career.

Did I start immediately? No. I was enthusiastic enough, but Roland wasn't. And I believe that God was in the details, teaching me to be patient and trust in His timing. So I went home and started writing on the side.

In 2006, I added a writing day by becoming a part-time lawyer, although I still put in a four-day week at my salaried job. But I've finally stepped out of the boat. We paid off our mortgage in November, and I retired on December 31st with Roland's blessing.

I was a practicing lawyer for thirty years, and that's what I was meant to be at the time. On New Year's Day I finally became a full-time writer, and it just feels right. Now if I could only interest a publisher in my great American novel . . .

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Are you doing what you want with your life? Or are you ready to step out of the boat? I'd love to read your answers.