Can't think of a more peaceful and beautiful reminder as the last day of 2010 ebbs quietly away.

hiding place - selah
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Tonight, I was updating my interests on my Facebook profile, and out of curiosity, tested the automatic link that is under "Current City," and was directed to a Facebook/Wikipedia page for Grand Rapids that included the history of the city, along with demographics, population, industry, economy and cultural information.

Can I just take a minute to say that I am so thankful for a city that has...

I think I'll stay here. :)
Hello, readers. I know you're there.

This wonderful age of social media and internet analytics just offered up another cool twist recently. Google added a stats tracking tool to blogger.

Apparently it took effect in July, but I didn't find out about it until this week, when I was talking to a fellow blogging friend who pointed it out to me.

Here's how it works: When you log into your blog and land on your Dashboard (the administrator homepage), underneath "Manage Blogs" in the same toolbar where "Posting" appears, on the far right, there now is a tab called "Stats." Click through, and you'll find you can look at an overview or hone in more specifically on traffic sources and your audience demographics by country.

Screengrab of my stats page -- you're looking at the audience tracker tab.

So guess what that means? If you're reading this post right now from the U.S., Italy, Brazil, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine, Serbia or anywhere else in the world, I can look on my stats page and find a record of your visit and, in some cases, see what searches led you here. I don't know who you are or anything about you, but I know you're out there, and I hope you'll visit me again.

If you've landed on my page and you hail from somewhere outside the U.S., leave me a comment! I'd love to hear the story of how you landed here and what you're looking to find.

** Clarification: A reader brought up a valid privacy concern. Let me be clear that the only information Google Blogger Stats lets me see is the readers' country of residence and the search terms/search path they used to get to my page. It does not share individual IP addresses or personal information. **
I think it would be sweet to have 180 as a house number. Then it would seem like every time you turn around, you've turned around.
It's kind of ironic that the ArtPrize entry that has moved me probably the most so far was installed at Take Hold Church. I felt as if it actually did take hold of me. Rockford artist Alyson Dells' "Composed Existence" is a series of portraits painted on salvaged windows. They are arranged in the church's Division Avenue storefront space in such a way that viewers can walk around and amongst the paintings and become part of the work. The faces look as if they are standing behind the windows, peering out. I think that's why it grabbed my attention. When I stand at a window and gaze out, I tend to be lost in thought or struggling with something internally, and stuck motionless watching life continue outside.

The gazes found on these faces, whether direct or turned away, are hauntingly familiar. The expressions convey emotions we all, at one point or another, have felt, or will feel.

"Wheelbarrows and Shovels" is a 3-D installation at Grand Rapids Public Museum that was in the Top 25 but didn't make the Top 10 cut. I appreciated artist Cal Lane's method of using plasma cut lace patterns in construction site objects to illustrate the clash between masculinity and femininity. It's a beautiful piece done with exquisite skill and attention to detail.

This pointillist painting hanging in an upstairs corridor in DeVos Place reminded me of home. It's a quiet lane with the sun shining through the trees -- simple, beautiful and peaceful. I didn't catch the name of the artist, but whoever you are, thanks for helping me feel at home in a conference center, if only just for a moment.

If the last piece made me feel at home, then this work (found at the Women's City Club on Fulton Street) caused the opposite sensation. I can't imagine anyone feeling at home in a subway station. It screams chaos, busyness, movement, change. Just the fact that this piece was created using duct tape, something we use as a temporary fix, then throw away, speaks to the scene's impermanence and fluidity.
If you want to read the official artists' story behind the SteamPig Experiment, an ArtPrize exhibit at the corner of Fulton and Ottawa streets, you're more than welcome. Or, if you want to look at alternate renditions penned by elementary schoolers across the region, be my guest.

(Here's a quick photo of the pig's ugly mesmerizing head):

But, what I really want to know is -- has anyone thought about the fact that this entry's name is suspiciously similar to a movie filmed here in Grand Rapids, "The Steam Experiment," later retitled "The Chaos Experiment"? No? The idea was initially suggested to me by a friend I'll call "Ace" (he requested a pseudonym for this post), but then when I started thinking about it after seeing the monstrous pig for the second time tonight, I realized there actually are similarities between the film and the artwork (if it can truly be called such a thing).
  • "The Steam Experiment" is about a deranged man (played by Val Kilmer) holding several people hostage in a steamy room until the local newspaper agrees to print the truth about global warming.
  • "The SteamPig Experiment" is a monstrous elevated flying ship pig, and it's holding Grand Rapids and ArtPrize voters captive and culling excessive local media attention.
So you probably don't need anymore proof that there's a definite connection here. All I'm saying is, after the pig makes it into the ArtPrize Top 10, don't be surprised if the artists who designed it admit they had more than one source of inspiration for their work.
I tell ya, there's nothing that gets my brain juices flowing quite as much as ArtPrize. Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons, but this new Grand Rapids tradition makes it even better. This is the first in what I hope to make a series of blog posts about the competition, and here's some mind candy to get you started:

This exhibit by Woody Jones, in the Grand Rapids Public Museum on the third floor, is called "Where do you get those ideas?", and it's a mixed-media sculpture/mechanical assembly with parts operated by a hand crank. It represents the inner workings of a person's mind. Here is the front face view:

And here is the side view, with the head open to show the mechanical scenes, equivalent to thought processes:

The artist was there to discuss his work, and he told me he was so down to the wire with time and short on money to buy supplies that he ended up carving the figurines in the right foreground out of pieces of his own bookshelves at home. I thought that was a little crazy, but I also thought his artwork ended up looking a lot like an artistically executed version of what me and my siblings did to our basement playroom when I was little: a mass network of mini eco-systems. So NOT crazy. :)
At this time last year, my friends and I were gathering excitedly in the Stelma kitchen, writing birthday poems for Katie and decorating the screen porch as we waited to jump out and surprise her. This was the look on her face:

Fast-forward to last night: Same scenario, different setting. (This time, Emma and Lauren blindfolded her and walked her to Salvatore's, where we all were waiting.) I can't believe she was surprised. Again. Unless she was faking... which seems a little unlikely, given this evidence:

But the opportunity to share in birthday joy with her, two years in a row, is the main point I'm writing. I remember when I was wrapping up my high school years, looking forward to college. I wondered if I'd make those lifelong friends I'd always dreamed of having -- something like what my mom has with her suitemates from nursing school. It's almost 40 years later, and they're still friends.

I've always wanted that. And now, as I reflect on the sunny August birthday party of last night, as I remember the faces of my dear friends, I begin to think we'll be the kind of friends that high-school me was dreaming about.

It's good to be August again.
I just want to take a moment to say ... I'm feeling really grateful right now.

Grateful for my friends (even though I don't always stop to thank them), grateful for my job, grateful for Adam, grateful for a place to live and a car to drive, grateful for my family, my neighbors (and their cute cats), my window air conditioner and my cute little bedroom.

It's the simple things, really. I am not sure why God has blessed me so much, because I don't even always acknowledge Him from day to day, but today I just want to take a moment to thank Him for providing above and beyond what I need -- even to the extent of the extra things I don't need.

Also, because I know that a grateful life is a generous life, I pray that He will guide me and give me a selfless heart to reach out in generosity toward those around me (literally) who don't have the same advantages I so often take for granted.

By writing it here, I'm basically making a promise to whoever reads this that I will try each day to use my resources (my "talents," see Matt. 25:14-30) to glorify God in whatever way possible.

I have some ideas about how to do that. Stay tuned.
I'm so excited because a couple of people read my mind and got me Barnes & Noble gift cards for my birthday. I love to read and listen to music, so this is perrrrfect. Here's what I picked:

No. 1: Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri -- a 2000 Pulitzer-Prize winning collection of short stories about Indian-Americans caught between Western and Eastern culture.

No. 2: The Passport, by Herta Muller -- The 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This tale woven by a Romanian-born West Berliner is about a German miller trying to emigrate from his Romanian village to West Germany during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

No. 3: Stuff Christians Like-- Christian humorist, blogger, thinker and pastor's kid Jon Acuff lampoons Christian culture in this collection of short essays drawn from his blog.

No. 4: Three of singer Brandi Carlile's soulful, crazy, gritty, heart-wrenching alt. rock/indie pop/folk-infused albums -- her self-titled release, and these two:

  • The Story

  • Give Up the Ghost

Yay for bookstore gift cards!
I moved about a week and a half ago to Grand Rapids' West Side, a place where the rent is cheaper, the houses are closer together and the neighborhood lives life a few decibels louder. :)

When my roommate and I finally ended our apartment search of two months in one warp-speed afternoon in early May, we mostly felt relief rather than bubbling-over-joy. Our leasing agent accidentally double-booked our showing, so when the other prospective renters expressed just as much interest in the place as we did, we were informed it was a matter of who could pay a deposit the fastest. The others didn't have the money ready, and we did, so basically we filled out application and wrote checks in the driveway, walking away that afternoon with a new place -- after having seen it for maybe 10 minutes. Woo boy.

You can imagine the things we found waiting for us (or maybe didn't find waiting for us) after we actually signed the lease and moved in a few weeks later.

Sarah's bedroom had no door. She later found it in the garage, minus one hinge and the doorknob.

When I tried to use the shower my first morning here, I was arrested by the sounds of a screeching downstairs neighbor flying up our stairs and pounding on the door. "STOP THE SHOWER!! STOP THE SHOWER!!" Apparently it was leaking into their kitchen. We'd been promised a new shower before we moved in, but it seems the plumber who installed it forgot the ultra-important drain seal.

The list goes on. Two out of three smoke detectors were missing. (We couldn't detect them.) The carpet between the living room and hallway wasn't tacked down, several windows were (and still are) missing screens, the front door seal was worthless and the stove pilot light wasn't lit.

Gradually, our very helpful property maintenance guy checked things off the list, but it was pretty frustrating at first, discovering broken or missing things one by one. I felt kind of like I sometimes feel when I suggest my friends and I go see a particular movie and then none of them like it but I really do. It's the picker's pain. I felt a little bit like I let Sarah down by leading us to a place with so many things wrong with it. (Don't get me wrong. She's been a trouper.)

Thankfully, the frustration has faded. The longer we're here, the cleaner it smells and the more we decorate and rearrange, I'm starting to really love the soul of this place. (Houses do have souls.)

And there have been adventures, too.

Our downstairs neighbors, Shica and Alicea, are very friendly. After the initial shower crisis, they invited me in and we talked quite a bit one night. They understood it wasn't my fault, were very gracious and ended up giving me several great tips about the neighborhood and our landlord. Since then, we've had several positive interactions.

I also had my very first laundromat excursion, because no, this place does not have a washer and dryer. (You get what you pay for.) I went to the Bridge Street Superwash to launder said clothes, and that's when I met Felipa.

First, I just needed to master the basic skill of understanding the machines. The attendant was pretty helpful and courteous to me; she explained you'll stretch your quarters further if you don't sort the loads. Put them all in one large commercial washer versus two smaller washers, she said. Cool. I don't usually sort my laundry anyway. (Sorry, Mom.)

I thought to myself, "Man, she really seems like a decent person." Only minutes later though, I watched her transform into Maleficent the Dragon when a young mom and her two-year-old child walked in and the kid started running and pushing carts around the place's interior perimeter. He wasn't bothering me, that's for sure. I thought he was cute, and he didn't seem to be breaking anything, so what was the big deal? But I guess he knocked something over, and then the attendant started screaming at the woman, "Get out of here, and take your little brat with you! If you don't leave now, I'm gonna b****-slap you!! In fact, I think I'm gonna anyway!"

The woman seemed annoyed but not surprised. She yelled back a lot of Spanish words I didn't catch, then let loose a string of very clearly English curses, then left.

The attendant stayed outside for a second to make sure the pair really were leaving, then when she came back in, she brushed by where I sat with my book in my lap, and spat the words, "You're welcome."

I was incensed when she said that to me. "He wasn't bothering me," is all I trusted myself to mutter as she swaggered out of hearing range.

Off and on since that incident, I've been bothered by her treating me so decently and then turning around and SINGEING THE HAIR OFF this other lady and her kid. I'm not sure it had to do with racial discrimination, because she was really nice to Felipa, who also is Hispanic.

Felipa is an adorable, tiny woman with tightly permed brown hair, dark, dark eyes, barely wrinkled skin, and gleaming white teeth.

The first thing she said to me as she inched closer to the waiting chairs was, "Guess how old I am??" I laughed, and the woman sitting next to me chuckled and answered for both of us, "I don't know; 65??" Felipa threw back her head and just cracked up like it was the funniest answer possible. "No! I'm 75!" she crowed.

The woman sitting next to me, middle-aged, with graying black hair pulled back messily behind a headband and hairband combo, grinned and acted shocked. "No way! You don't look that old!" She played along.

Felipa winked and conceded, "That's because I'm not. I'm 92!"

This time we really were shocked. She was so agile and fun-loving. I wanted her to keep talking. And it seems I was in luck, because she wasn't even close to being done.

"You know how I stay so young?" she asked. "It's because I'm such a troublemaker. I'm naughty. I'm mischievous. Always have been."

For the next 1o minutes, she inched closer and closer until we were eye to eye (my sitting head and her standing head) and regaled us with tales of her adventures spending summers in Mexico with her grandmother and going back to Texas in the fall. She told us about how she's always hated "visiting" (but not socializing, I'm assuming) because she'd rather spend her time quilting or garage sale shopping.

"I can talk anybody down," she bragged, confiding that she does her haggling by flirting until she gets the price she wants. She told us how she didn't like the Bahamas when she visited there, but she absolutely loves Hawaii, and "you would, too."

After a half hour slipped pleasantly away, I was almost sad my clothes were dry and it was time to leave for Streams of Hope to volunteer with middle schoolers.

Maybe my volunteer calling isn't to work with kids. Maybe I should visit nursing homes.
I can't say I'm experiencing a great deal of circumstantial turbulence right now, (just a wee bit), but I definitely have my ups and downs like we all do. Today has been a good reminder that no matter how heavy things can get at times emotionally, spiritually, relationally, etc., God still gives us moments of clarity and beauty in the midst of it.

Like when you get the apartment to yourself, and you're dancing with the music turned way up. And you know that just for a minute, you get to be alone, just you and God, and you wonder if your dance makes Him smile.

Take a minute to enjoy the simple but profound thoughts found in this cherished old hymn penned in 1897.

Count Your Blessings
by Johnson Oatman, Jr.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.


Count your blessings,
name them one by one, Count your blessings,
see what God has done! Count your blessings,
name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.


When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings.
Wealth can never buy your reward in heaven,
nor your home on high.


So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
There are times when I strongly identify with The Preacher in Ecclesiastes. I know I'm still young, but I often find myself questioning the cyclical nature of life.

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Why do I wash a dish and put it back, only to take it out and use it again? Why do I go to work to pay for the lifestyle that is maintained by going to work, which pays for the bills I incur by living?

What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?

Why do so many things give but a fleeting sense of pleasure to a mind/heart/body that is never satisfied?

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

I love to learn, but I find myself yearning to uncover an idea that has never been discovered before.

Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

My heart delights in many things, but the delight lasts only for a season.

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.
So what is the point, I ask myself? Even the conclusion to which Solomon came is disheartening.

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink
and find satisfaction in his work.
This too, I see, is from the hand of God

Last Sunday, I was listening to Pastor Krogh preach on this passage (Ecclesiastes 1-2) at Grace Community Church, and he said something that captured my attention.

If you find within yourself a desire that cannot be satisfied here on Earth, it must mean you were meant for a place beyond this world.
That way of looking at it has been coming back to me today as The Preacher's words have cycled through my mind and as I have battled an oppressive sense of discouragement. I have so much to be grateful for, so I have been trying to understand why it is my heart still wants to question and probe and is not satisfied with these blessings. I have been feeling that my restlessness is a slap in the face to all the people surrounding me with their love and encouragement and generosity, and even more than that, an insult to the Giver who has showered His love upon me.

But, if Pastor Krogh's interpretation of The Preacher's lament rings true, then it might just be that what I am experiencing today is not ingratitude, but an acknowledgment that there is more to my existence than taking pleasure in blessings. My heart longs to understand the character of a God who gives good things to His children but does not allow them to be satisfied by it.
I don't know the answer, but I do believe that the pleasures I enjoy here on Earth are only shadows of something more.

With that in mind, it almost becomes like a game to try to imagine what good things will be better in heaven.

  • Could the scent of bacon frying possibly get any better?
  • Will we be able to eat salty foods endlessly without dehydration?
  • Will chocolate be good for us in heaven?
  • Will peppermint be even more refreshing than it is now?
  • Will everyone have the ability of perfect articulation?
  • Will I have a photographic memory?
  • Is it possible I actually will be able to dive into deep blue?
These questions just look ridiculous in writing ... but who doesn't have an endless list? I want to know the answers ... we all want know so bad.

When I was a kid I had a pretty vivid imagination and sometimes had a hard time distinguishing between the things I dreamed up and reality.

For instance...

I used to think the mourning doves cooing outside my window...

...were actually the toadstools greeting the day.

I used to think the chirping of crickets...

...was the sound the stars make when they twinkle.

And I used to imagine the moon... the pendant hanging from a giant gold necklace.

When you were a kid, what kind of things did you imagine?
I have some random smatterings bouncing around in the brain today. This will be an empty-me-out sort of post.


I have been reading a book published this year that I found out about on and NPR, called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." It's the true story of the woman behind the HeLa cells scientists used to find vaccines for several diseases (including polio) and which have been kept alive in culture for decades. I'm planning to review the book on this blog when I'm done, so no spoilers for now, but here's a quick peek: Henrietta Lacks (HeLa) was a black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. The doctors took a sample of her tumor without her permission or her family's. The book probes the development of the question of informed consent in research. All along I have been thinking: Isn't that something that should be a no-brainer? But then I think of historical examples like the Tuskegee Institute syphilis study that started in the 1930s, and I wonder how humans get to the point of justifying acts that, in retrospect, seem like obvious examples of injustice.


Switching gears a bit... I love wordplay. Today I learned about a comedic technique called "Paraprosdokian." It's a figure of speech where the second part of what is said is surprising or unexpected and causes the reader/listener to reframe what was said in the first part.

Mitch Hedberg, a comedian who died in 2005, was master of this style. Some examples:

  • "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long."
  • "I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too."
  • "I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it."
  • "This shirt is dry clean only. Which means... it's dirty. "

And some Groucho Marx:

  • "She got her good looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon."
  • "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it."
  • "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."


Ever since attending a friend's Arbonne party on Saturday, I have been pondering the angles used to market cosmetics to women. (My friend Pam Elmore also blogged about women and cosmetics on Friday.) I want to be better at recognizing companies' sneaky half-truths so I don't get sucked into buying products I don't need. More importantly, I do not want our culture's view of beauty to shape my thoughts on the topic. Here are a list of implied philosophies I noticed lurking behind the sales pitch on Saturday.

  1. The way you look now is not good enough.
  2. You are foolish to use a low-grade product when you could be using quality.
  3. Using this product will change your life.
  4. Aging is shameful; youthfulness is desirable.
  5. Self-empowerment is key. This product will give you that power.
  6. This company is environmentally friendly. If you're using anything else, you're a part of killing the planet.

Those are just some of the arrows I felt flying toward me Saturday night. The funny thing is, I knew beforehand the whole night was going to be a guilt trip, but I went anyway, out of some sense of twisted obligation to support a business I can't even fully agree with. I think most women feel uncomfortable at these sort of events. Why do we go?


Last week I said I was going to try to blog twice per week, and I ended up only blogging once. Seeing how easy it is to let other things clutter my schedule gives me an enormous respect for writers who discipline themselves to write every day. I refuse to throw in the towel this week.


It might look like I am copying the "7 Quick Takes Friday" style started by the Conversation Diary blogger, Jennifer Fulwiler, but I only really had five things to say, and I like to pretend I'm original, so please don't mistake me and think I'm plagiarizing. :)
With my unfailingly encouraging, challenging, insightful and supportive sweetheart Adam as my witness, I'm making an effort to regain consistency in my writing. Here is my first shot at what I hope will be a twice-weekly regimen.
From my living room window, I watch the snow wrestle with the wind and lose, time and time again. The trees sway as if to a melody only they can hear; they try to shake the frozen weight from their branches but cannot, so they go on swaying – an eternal dance.

The sky is a dull white. It doesn’t project, or pierce, or see. It simply hangs, and window-gazers lose their way trying to stop feeling its heaviness.

The earth is devoid of color. All a blank, it moans with weariness and wishes for the spring. It wishes to feel soft and green and new again. The dancing tree boughs ache for birds to hop amongst them and brighten the Earth with their songs.

Other houses look like sleepy giants with their blinds and shutters drawn low, using rest as a defense against the season. No matter how I try, I can’t imagine life inside them.

For some time now, I have felt as heavy and frozen as the winter. I try to feel colorful like September, alive as May and as warm as July, but February dominates. So I go about (nearly) all my life’s activities, feeling numb within.

I want a cure for the restless unease I’m trying to beat down, but the listlessness is powerful and pervasive. I know myself to be blessed just as much now, or more, as I was before winter, but the power to glory in the source seems to have escaped me somehow. I seek it by going through the same motions I went through before, but all feels shadowy to me now.

These feelings that grip me cannot abide – I know spring is coming. But in the midst of winter of the soul, it is so hard to remember that.

People all throughout time have felt the way I do now, I am sure, and so my heart goes out to them. Whoever you are, you are not alone. Do not reproach yourself. Instead, hang on, because February is short. March is interim. April approaches. May will bring healing.
I don’t know how to explain my absence from this blog during the last part of 2009, but I do know that it wasn’t because I lacked material, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to write.

Since I don’t fully know the answer to the why question, let’s just move on. It’s 2010 now, and the things I learned in 2009 and the ways I’ve grown as a person are filling me with a new desire to dust off my keyboard and get back to work. Because let’s face it, writing is work.

Most of the lessons I’ve learned the past year have been word- or writing-related. In the spirit of year-end/year-beginning lists, here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

1. If you can say something in fewer words, do it. As my friend Matt said to me one time when we were talking about communication: “I like short sentences. They’re punchy.” If I can take his answer a step further, often one wise sentence has a greater impact than whole pages of floweriness.

2. Inspiration to write comes and goes. Sometimes you just have to do it, even if you don’t feel like it. (Thanks Pam, for showing me a December’s worth of examples of how sluggish Novembers can be overcome.)

3. Words connect people. This might sound basic — but this year I looked around me and discovered that many of the people I care for and admire most — whether from college, church, work, or even this blog — had become dear to me through the beauty of shared ideas in writing, reading or conversation — or all three. It’s something I don’t want to forget, and I hope I can challenge all of you to express gratitude for your fellow word-loving friends and for the ways words connect us.

4. Perfectionism is a serious hindrance to writing. In her guide to life and writing, “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott stresses the importance of giving oneself permission to write the “shitty first draft.” Perfectionism, she said, is like a muscle’s defensive reaction to protect the site of an old wound. In writing, it doesn’t work to let that guardedness mask “the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliation suffered in both — to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again, to keep foreign substances out,” because if we do that, “those wounds never have a chance to heal,” and we’ll be “writing in tight, worried ways.” Perfectionism is the mistaken belief that I have to do everything right in order to be accepted, like I believe there’s a judge somewhere waiting to pounce if I do things wrong— or maybe even worse, like I fear no one will notice what I write at all. In writing, there is no real “right” — there’s just the doing of it and the learning to do it better next time. So if I let myself be held back by perfectionism, I’ll never improve.

5. Just recently, the book “Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies,” by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, reminded me of the importance of loving words for their own sake. One of my favorite chapters in the book was called “Love the Long Sentence.” This may seem to contradict the first item on my list, about using fewer words, but nevertheless, there often is great satisfaction both in writing and reading long sentences. McEntyre makes the following argument for the long sentence:

No doubt many long sentences need to be cut up into more digestible pieces; some are mere verbal self-indulgence; some are simply “rabbiting on,” as my British friend puts it – betokening a rather boorish inability to recognize when the audience has had enough of a good thing; some are the explanatory overkill of condescending pedants. But some long sentences take us on journeys worth making from the beginning of an idea through its permutations and possibilities, gathering modification, nuance, definition, and direction as it goes. Long sentences ask us to dwell in a thought rather than come to the point. They invite us to relax into a slow, syntactical tour, like wandering the halls of a museum, rather than hastening on to the verb, the object, and out the door.

As a journalist, I am not used to appreciating the long sentence as its own living entity. But I like the idea of being an art lover on a slow tour through a winding gallery, even if it’s just for an occasional visit. In this next year, I want to take some time during which I don’t feel the need to chop, condense and dissect sentences, even though I’ll still have to have a machete handy for my editing job.

6. This may be the most personal of all my observations tonight, and it comes as a culmination of things I began to learn in 2008, but the lessons were more fully solidified in 2009. I’ve found there is something qualitatively different about the inner life of a writer than for someone who does not have that aptitude. I am not necessarily referring only to vocational writers, and I’m not sure I can really speak for all writers, because I have not been in everyone else’s shoes. But for at least a half dozen of my writer friends, and definitely for myself, there is a deep well of thought and another level of feeling and processing that goes on within our consciousness, and it must be guarded, nurtured and given space in order for us to keep operating in a healthy way. I have found myself at times painfully inadequate to explain this to friends and family: the why of needing time to write, the why of staying at home instead of going to that one fun party, the why of sitting alone just thinking for what might be hours at a time. It’s often in those times I feel most me, and most grateful, and most alive, and most apt to listen to the things God is showing me about myself or about what I’ve seen around me. And, when I’m done, I’ll go back outside in the real world and notice the colors and sounds and faces again.

7. If I have a wish, a desire, a gift to write, but do not use it for the edification of others and to add wisdom to the collective pool, then what is the point of my wish, my desire, my gift? Don’t sit on it, friends! (As a wise person once said, when I point a finger at you, I have three fingers pointed back at myself.)

Those are my thoughts for now. I am praying something I’ve shared tonight will be an encouragement to you. And, if you have follow-up thoughts, whether confirmations or challenges, please feel free to share.