“Welcome to Illyria!”

“Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome…”

I’m a big fan of stories. I’m always consuming some kind of story, whether book or TV show, magical realism or Grimms-inspired sci-fi, anything I can react to, analyze, or write about.

Come watch me write about stories, even if you should be writing yourself. Especially if you should be writing yourself. Reading about writing isn’t writing, and reading other peoples’ writing isn’t writing, but it’s a lot of fun.

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Seattle Reality Checks

In 2015, I wanted to move to Portland, Oregon.

When people asked me what my Plan was, I’d tell them, “I’m going to move to Portland and work at Powell’s.” Some people thought this was a cop-out, not knowing I was describing my Dream Life. I couldn’t wait to work at my favorite bookstore in one of my favorite U.S. cities.

That did not happen.

My quest to move proved a discouraging failure: I couldn’t find a job or affordable housing and all my predictive budgeting put me in massive debt. My dream started to look impossible.

In the wake of that disappointment, a new idea formed: What if I moved to Seattle? Continue reading

What I’m Reading: August 2018

I have two difficult drafts that I’m working on that I keep editing and restructuring and sometimes avoiding, which is why I haven’t been posting as often. I need a break from the emotional energy required by those posts.

So on to books.

I am currently reading…

  1. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
    This is a reread; I bought an awesome paperback edition of this classic on my last Powell’s trip and have been itching to revisit the story. I’m picking up on more of the humor this time around and the story is flying by. Goldman’s word choice and structure are so creative. I’m having a lot of fun.
  2. Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett
    A quick Google Search of this author proved…unfortunate. So that’s kind of bumming me out. But I’m not very well-versed in matters of race and institutional prejudice. I want to be better. I’m trying to get woke.
  3. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    This one may take me a while to get through, but I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. I normally don’t like history – and Claire’s husband Frank is a history buff, which is the WORST – but the female characters in this book are so enjoyable that I’m loath to skip this adventure.
  4. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    I’m a little horrified that “autism romance” is a genre…but I just watched a documentary about the diversity and progessiveness of romance, so I’m able to appreciate this story more than I might have a couple months ago.
  5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
    Woof. This might be going on the Books to Sell pile soon. I’m only a few pages in. My uncle talked it up so much – the author is a Christian, this book won the Pulitzer prize – so I want to give it a fair shot. All my Googling, though, shows there’s not much to the story: a dying pastor chronicles his life for his young son. I’ll try my hardest, but no promises.

I plan to pick up…

  1. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
    I’ve honestly avoided this book since its release. My last foray into folklore-inspired fantasy became a drudge when an initially-interesting novel asked me to commit tons of worldbuilding details to memory. But people have been losing their minds over this book and I’ve heard the romance is reminiscent of Zutara. I saw it, I checked it out, here we are.
  2. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
    I’m into bummer accounts of marriage these days. Ooh, a woman struggles to stay faithful after her husband’s imprisonment? Sounds like fun.
  3. Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
    I followed a Youtuber’s recommendation and fell in love with the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. That Youtuber raved about this series and its romance, so I bought the first book.

I had to put down…

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
    Much as I loved the writing style, I wasn’t all that interested in the title character’s sad life. Just did a Wikipedia scan; I made a good choice.
  2. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
    I loved the first third of this book, but reading about her marriage for some reason kicked up my anxiety. I’ve decided family drama is too stressful.
  3. I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
    I don’t think I like Forman’s writing as much as I once did. I revisited If I Stay recently and felt nothing. As soon as the first-person perspective started in this novel, I found I did not care.
  4. Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
    WORST Spiritual Health book so far. de Bono comes across as an arrogant, small-minded asshat. His book opens with a claim that his method is the MOST IMPORTANT cultural change in the last three hundred years. Doooooooouche.
  5. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
    I knew this book would be brutal, but I couldn’t stomach the rape that occurs at the end of the first chapter. I tried my best, but that was too much for me.
  6. The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
    Berg writes a perfectly fine account of author George Sand, but the protagonist spends more time on her family history than I can honestly care about.

 

I’ll be spending lots of time with these books while I puzzle over my upcoming blog posts.

Support Rise, Inc.

Fam,

Some of the people I love most have been raped by those closest to them.

Some of the people I love most have struggled against a system that protects their abusers.

I often hesitate to offer support when others ask, but for them? Yes. Of course. Without question.

So I support Rise, Inc.’s fight to claim rights for rape survivors around the world.

You can further the cause by signing their petition to pass the United Nations Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Resolution.

The act is small, but the need is great. Let us come together in service of that need.

The petition needs 200,000 signatures and we are so close.

Sign for those who have suffered violence.

Love,

Lauren

 

Spiritual Health Month

I’ve been on a health kick recently (and not just because my antidepressants are making me fat.)

After reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I retooled her basic premise: What if I pursued not happiness, but health?

In June, I worked on my physical health, prioritizing yoga, meditation, and meal prep.

In July, I focused on finding comfortable, work-appropriate clothing that looked good on me.

This month, it’s time for spiritual health. I’m spending the month of August growing closer to God by asking big questions.

I initially balked at my own imposition. I dreaded doing “intense” Bible study involving maps of Israel and historical commentaries. I despised most of the theologians my friends and family loved. What else was there for me to do?

Read books. Obviously.

Instead of forcing myself to read “spiritual” tomes (C. S. Lewis is great and all, but he’s not for me), I checked out books by authors I respect on topics that interest me. For once, I’m excited about theological exploration. This never happens.

Here’s my August book list, with brief explanations behind each choice:

  1. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee
    Justin Lee fascinates me. He created the Gay Christian Network as a space where those who believe in monogamy and those who support celibacy can dialogue. In my experience, genuine dialogue between different camps has been rare. I’m used to Christians “standing up for the truth” by digging their heels in and refusing to listen. I’m excited to hear Justin’s story and learn more about his mission.
  2. Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found it Through Science by Mike McHargue
    Many of the churches I’ve attended believe that faith and science are incompatible. In college, it was a shock for me to meet dedicated science-lovers who called themselves Christians. I’m more inclined to encounter God in art instead of science, so I’m interested to see Mike McHargue describe his experiences on the other end of the spectrum.
  3. Rising Strong by Brene Brown
    So…apparently Brene Brown is great. I’ve seen her quoted in plenty of depression studies and namedropped by Liz Gilbert. Her writing process is pretty unique – she records brainstorming sessions with friends, then writes her books using the transcripts. THAT’S NUTS. Also, SHE ARGUES ON BEHALF OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH. THAT IS A DREAM COME TRUE FOR ME. This book explores vulnerability and failure, two areas I struggle with. DON’T LET ME DOWN, BRENE.
  4. Space at the Table: Conversations Between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son by Brad and Drew Harper
    How do one’s beliefs change when a family member comes out as gay? I WILL FIND OUT.
  5. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell
    Confession: I chose this book because of its controversy. At some point during my college years, my then-church deemed Rob Bell a Bad Christian. My crew nervously accepted this idea without knowing exactly what Bell had done. At the time, I heard that Bell no longer believed in Hell. Just recently, I read the perspectives of several pastors (including my boy Greg Boyd) who came to Bell’s defense. I want to see what all the fuss is about.
  6. The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage by Rob and Kristen Bell
    A marriage book about give and take written by a husband and wife team; in other words, an egalitarian’s dream. Gimme.
  7. The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
    A few years back, I had a traumatizing experience with some traveling missions recruiters that put me off missions for good. I bristle when missionaries return home and demand their fellow Christians move with them to rural Mongolia. It’s hard to express these feelings when many of my friends dream of sharing the gospel overseas. I want to see if Jamie Wright feels the same way I do.
  8. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
    I love punky little misfit churches that don’t fit the nice, religious image of what a church “should” be. I want to read about the places freaks and oddballs call home.
  9. Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction by Caleb Kaltenbach
    I’ve wondered how new Christians deal with this exact scenario many a time. In the past, I’ve asked a number of specific questions about the LGBTQIA community that no pastor has felt comfortable addressing. CALEB KALTENBACH TO THE RESCUE.
  10. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
    The aspect of my former Bible study that really rankled was its adamant focus on history. Other interpretations and lenses were dismissed or ignored in favor of yet another examination of ancient warfare. Calling attention to writing style or poetic language (WHICH I HAVE A DEGREE IN) prompted hardened, “NOPES,” and hasty returns to Pre-Christian Jewish culture. I thought, If this is the only way to read the Bible, I’m no longer interested. That Evans wrote an honest examination of the variety in Biblical texts gives me hope that my interpretations are valid. If what she says is true, I’m not limited to poring over maps of Israel or cross-referencing historical events. Thank God for that.

 

Update: I couldn’t wait for Spiritual Health Month to start, so I dug into my book pile four days early and ended up finishing two (going on three!) books. Luckily, the authors recommended additional books for my ever-expanding list.

New books include:

  1. Sex God by Rob Bell
    A look at the relationship between sexuality and spirituality. I can’t find a print copy at my local library, so I may have to PURCHASE this one. Desperate times, fam.
  2. Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
    My friend Stacia, knowing how much I love personality tests, recommended this one. In it, De Bono describes the six roles small group members can play (I already know I’m the red hat.) I’m a little skeptical due to De Bono’s cheesy website (it takes a special kind of Christian to make a website that lame), but I’m trying to keep an open mind.
  3. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr
    A liberal theologian explores the advantages of a scarily-accurate personality assessment!? OH. HELL. YES.
  4. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
    Hill details his experiences as a celibate, gay Christian in an effort to encourage other gay believers. I’ve heard good things and I needed a wild card.
  5. Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin
    Apparently this is THE book to read on relations between the church and the queer community. Andrew Marin seems both passionate and sincere concerning this topic, so I’m on board. Also, this book won awards, and that fact has never once betrayed me. Never.
  6. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
    Come on, it’s IN THE TITLE.

Book Betrayal: Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender

Between the fall of 2016 and the summer of 2017, I read a number of trashy YA novels for stress relief. Kale, My Ex, and Other Things To Toss in a Blender marked a breaking point for me; after reading that mess, I decided to stop altogether.

Before hitting my limit, I picked up a book called Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer at the Seattle Library. Right away I noticed similarities between the book cover and the film Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst; the publisher had gone to great lengths to mimic Sofia Coppola’s rock-and-roll palette.

Though the title seemed pretty self-explanatory, I scanned the book for more details.

This was the back cover:

Image result for marie antoinette serial killer

This, I thought, looks AWFUL.

I checked it out immediately.

I should mention that I love serial killers. Not, like, in real life. And NOT the twist-ending-it-was-actually-a-demon kind. Serial killer literature – with actual human serial killers – is my ultimate guilty pleasure. The best books make me paranoid and antsy. The worst make me laugh. I almost like the second kind more – nothing like an unintentionally hilarious serial killer mystery to get me through the night!

I expected Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer to lean toward terrible. Sure enough, the book opened with Marie Antoinette’s ghost murdering a young girl!

Are you KIDDING!? I thought. She’s also an IMMORTAL GHOST!? Immortal ghost books form one of my favorite subsets of serial killer lit. I’ve had some hilarious times reading sexy Jack the Ripper novels.

But anyway.

The first few pages of this book had me cheering. I couldn’t wait to keep laughing.

Things did not proceed as I expected.

After the gruesome murder, the book introduced its protagonist, Colette.

Colette had befriended the popular crowd early in her high school career. She tried to maintain the illusion that her family was as rich as theirs.

Ugh. Really? CLASS DRAMA? GET BACK TO THE MURDER.

The book kept returning to Colette’s friendship with Alpha Bitch Hannah. Through reconciling with an old friend and working out her feelings with the popular betas, Colette realized how toxic her friendship with Hannah had become.

That really got to me.

When I picked up this book, I was in the process of ending a friendship. That phrase implies an active choice and a clean break when in reality there were multiple epiphanies and unacknowledged hurts. There wasn’t a clean mutual break. I didn’t write this person a Dear John letter about my need for independence. Through our interactions – and some of her inaction – I realized a person I’d invested a LOT of time and energy in did not care about me. At all.

I kept having moments while reading this book where I would go, “Colette, just dump her! Just dump- Oh…”

Hannah and Colette had a surprising number of positive interactions. Hannah would do something kind only to demean Colette a few pages later. Most of the time, Colette dismissed her own hurt feelings. She told her other friends some version of, “Nobody’s perfect. Everybody has flaws.”

“All people are flawed,” her friends agreed, “but you get to decide what you’ll put up with.”

I’ve forgotten almost every detail of the book but that one line.

The book goes even farther, extending the theme of toxic friendship to Marie Antoinette herself.

(This goes into spoiler territory. Ye be warned.)

The mysterious ghost turned out to be Marie Antoinette’s best friend, the one who led Marie and her family to be executed. In the book’s climax, Colette essentially acts as a corporeal mediator for a centuries-long ghostly dispute.

I wiped tears away as I read. Was I SERIOUSLY CRYING? Over a GHOST SERIAL KILLER NOVEL? WHAT WAS MY PROBLEM?

Colette put the ghosts to rest, ended her friendship with Hannah, and followed her tour group back to the States. I should mention Colette had a cute French love interest who helped her with her ghost quest. I wasn’t all that fond of him; Jules, the French tour guide, seemed like the focus group answer to “What do the teens like?”

I expected Colette and Jules to exchange lofty promises of fidelity over long distance.

Not so.

Colette bid farewell to Jules, reflecting that their relationship, though temporary, was both valuable and worth remembering.

WHAT KIND OF MATURE NOVEL DID I JUST READ???

cute shrug