Failed Plans and Schedules

The main article in my new zine is called My Favorite Time Management and/0r Productivity Books, wherein I share with you, yes, my favorite time management and /or productivity books (catchy titles have never been one of the more creative aspects of my zines).  If you have read the article, you will know that none of these books have succeeded in making me all that much more productive as a direct result of reading them (though I do think that, when taken cumulatively, they have had a net positive effect). An artifact in my Box of Important Papers is an envelope labeled Failed Plans and Schedules, which are just a fraction of my actual failed plans and schedules (more recent ones are a bit less fleshed out and live inside various journals). All of the ones in the envelope date from the mist-shrouded, long-ago years of my Godly Woman Phase (as you can see from the Biblically-appropriate illustration of the busy mother, working diligently in the home).



I like looking through this stuff because some of the plans/planners are actually kinda impressive. I have thought that I could make some money designing and selling printables for homeschooling and life management. I would seriously be rich  if I had a million little businesses selling all the many services/products I have created over the years. I’m not sure if I am just truly lazy and don’t want to do the work of production, or whether daily living tasks are indeed so time consuming that I just can’t get to “art and business” regularly enough or is it that research and development really can take decades?

Looking at this stuff put me into Plans and Schedules Mode, but my current approach to that is thankfully a bit more organic and merciful than it was in the past. Beginning to see everyday memoir as a process is helping me to clarify my business objectives as well as channel my self-improvement tendencies into something less neurotic, more helpful, and something like market research on myself. I assume that whatever niche or demographic I am meant to serve with my creative talents and/or offerings is comprised of people who are something like me, so if I make and try something, if I like it, I assume there is probably a market for it.

A few days ago I had a lot to do in a few different “categories” of my life, and I was feeling overwhelmed. I decided I was going to take two hours and dedicate that to house and home stuff, then the next two hours would be dedicated to art and business stuff. One problem I have always had with a housekeeping “schedule” (do this or that on such and such a day) is that, well, either I just rebel against the schedule – being a natural lawbreaker – OR there is another area in the house that really needs work or a chore that really has to get done if my sanity is to be taken into consideration. So, what I did on that day was walk around and see what was really bothering me the most and/or what I felt like I could handle, and I did that stuff for two hours. Then I went in my art room and did a few different things for two hours. I liked that because it alleviated boredom but still required focus. I would not let myself move from one task to another until I was done with at least some pre-determined segment of the current task. It was cool to realize what stuff “fit” into each category. Today when I was in my two hours of “house tasks” I wouldn’t look at Facebook, but it was fine to look for rice pilaf recipes for dinner. No matter what I am doing, it’s always “acceptable” to make notes in my new mini-journal.


I am thinking that after having a four hour block of “productive” hours (two “house and home” and two “art and business”) I will have a personal hour where I can exercise or read. I don’t expect this to work perfectly or be The Thing forever, but it combines the best of both worlds (Freedom Within Form).

Introducing Everyday Memoir, Part 1: My Box of Important Papers, Part 1

I have mentioned my Box of Important Papers elsewhere. What is in my BoIP is a lot of stuff that is important in the chain of my Everyday Memoir, mostly things that are individually printed or handwritten sheets and not bound like a zine or art journal. Since I am about to begin an online collaboration with a few other women, I was thinking about another online collaboration I was involved in – back in 2005  I was part of a woman’s blog called Intellectuelle, with a few women I still know (at least peripherally) through Facebook.

Intellectuelle was sponsored by The Evangelical Outpost (which still has a website that comes up blank for me). To be a contributor, you had to be one of the top 5 or 6 in an essay contest. I wrote some kind of post about apologetics, and was chosen to be one of the ground-level contributors, along with my still-friend Marla Swoffer. That first essay is the only one I don’t have a copy of (who knows why) and I’d love to see it, because I was never a whiz at apologetics and can’t imagine what I might have said about it that won me that contest.


The first post is my “introduction” and it is dated June 30, 2005, and titled “Everyday Living Gives Us a Lot to Think About”. The final post was not even three months later, September 16, 2005, titled “Another Resignation”. Every one of my measly 14 posts began with a limerick. Some examples:

…from the post titled “Concealed Estrus, or Why is the Ovulation of the Human Female Hidden?”

There once was a thing, ovulation,
Necessary for human creation.
But it cannot be seen, and what does this mean?
Is there a Christian Explanation?

…from the post titled “Memento Mori”

There once was a gal quite alive
Who could think of no way to deprive
The spectre of death from a-stealin’ her breath
But she knows in the Lord she’ll survive


This whole thing was nerve-wracking for me because 1) I had to make some appropriately intellectual post EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK and 2) I’m really not all that intellectual and most of the other contributors really were. They were doing stuff like reading difficult books and writing thoughtful commentary about them, probably seamlessly integrating all their other knowledge into the post as well. It’s likely they even spoke French and so were true Intellectuelles, while I was pretty much a poseur. We were also buying and moving into our first house at that time, and I’d had three miscarriages in the past year, and in general this was my last attempt to prop up a certain fantasy about myself as A Great Thinker, and I got out when I finally admitted that to myself, and I haven’t looked back.

This is an interesting pit stop on the Trail of Everyday Memoir (sometimes known as the Avenue of Absurdity). I could write a blog post or zine article on any of the same subjects I did at Intellectuelle, but I know my tone would now be different and my thoughts about most of the subjects have changed, maybe significantly. It’s both humbling and encouraging when I look at my past self, because I see definite evidence of sanctification while I simultaneously still possess some of the annoying and/or sinful traits of my youth, which range from actual bad behavior to well-hidden but impressively crappy attitudes that are rarely seen by anyone except me and God.

We’ll come back to the Box of Important Papers again in a few days.






Creative Stuff Goin’ On

The last month and a half has been a proverbial whirlwind of creative busy-ness, planning, and some surprises. I spent a lot of August finishing my zines and being very nervous about sharing them outside my usual crowd. I went to an event called The Dallas Zine Party in early September, which was a panel of longtime zinemakers talking about their work in the zine world. Even though I’ve been making zines for more than two decades, I still experienced mild Impostor Syndrome symptoms when I was there. Unfortunately, the only antidote to those symptoms is to act like you aren’t an impostor, which can be difficult. But I handed my zine packages to the panelists and they all just seemed happy to get some new zines and not hell-bent on exposing me as a fraud. Later that night when I was making more zine packs for Day 2 of the event, I realized that I had a misspelling. On the zine COVER. The zine I had just given to 10 people earlier that day while pretending not to be an impostor.

I was mortified for about two minutes, then exhausted at the thought that I had to print new covers. Then I had an epiphany. I saw that I could “fix” the problem while simultaneously reinforcing the main theme of my zine – being “productive” while also accepting my very real limitations as a fallen human being. So, with the help of my trusty Pigma Micron pen:


So, that ended up being a happy accident, and it was good for me to have to walk the Accepting Failure Walk, instead of talking about in an inspirational way (which is a good way to distract people) while behind the scenes I was eradicating any evidence of actual failure.

A few days after the Zine Party, I became a paid, published author. That had been in the works for a few years, and I don’t know if I believed it would ever really happen. The piece that was published began as an article in one of my zines from a decade ago, and it was interesting to see how it came to be a 22,000 word spiritual memoir. I have never had a huge interest in being a published author apart from my own self-publishing, and the reason Mark Galli (Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief) knew about me at all was because I sent CT my zines (way back in 2009, I think) in the hope that they would consider writing an article about zines and how they are an underused medium by Christians. So, it was a pleasant surprise that something I wrote so long ago would come back to benefit me in some way, and would be read by maybe tens of thousands of people instead of the (maybe) fifty or so that was my usual zine readership.

I was personally contacted by maybe 15 people after the CT piece was published. It was encouraging to know that my writing resonated with at least some people who don’t know me and don’t consider it their job as my friend to be encouraging about all my weird ramblings. Then, about a week after that was published, I got an email from someone at a Pittsburgh radio station inviting me to be interviewed on their show. That was a terrifying prospect because while I am fairly eloquent and somewhat funny in writing, I am not known as a super articulate speaker. I had visions of being introduced and then nothing but the sound of my drooling would be heard. But John and Kathy put me at ease and asked good questions, so the drooling situation was mostly avoided. My delusions of grandeur (that every single one of John and Kathy’s listeners would immediately order my zines) also did not come to pass, but I don’t think I could have handled that much business anyway. But I was invited to be on the show again, and that is happening this afternoon. They even made me my own graphic!


I’m just as nervous about it this time and I have no idea what I am going to say about “the act of creation: what is it, how does it work for you, why is it important for Christians to create and flourish?” (which is how they are promoting my segment). Hopefully we can bypass the drool scenario this time, as well.

And then finally, my dear artist friend Donna has invited me to participate in an online teaching group called The Creative Circle , where three of us will regularly write and have videos about our own creative practices and our creative struggles, as well as “teaching” various techniques or art things that we do. That is a nerve-wracking situation for me, mostly because I am afraid of not getting the stuff done and proving myself once and for all to be an incorrigible flake. Realistically, I don’t expect that to happen, but the aforementioned Impostor Syndrome always has a serious flare-up when I think about having to come up with fresh content to “inspire and inform” people. The blog portion of the Circle will begin in November, and come January we will open it for subscriptions, which is how you will be able to access videos and other content and “Support for Your Creative Practice”. Go here if you want to get in on the ground floor.

Oh, and in the next week or so I am going to buy the domain and get started offering my own zine/mail art subscriptions and tools to get you started on an Everyday Memoir Practice. So, I have a lot going on, which is interesting but also mentally exhausting. One of my perpetual challenges is trying to simultaneously do enough to avoid boredom and feed my alter-ego Self Improvementista, while also giving my Introvert enough downtime (she has been known to create drama if I don’t do a good job with that).

One cool thing about being an Everyday Memoirist is that I know in a year’s time, I will come back to this post (the printed version, of course – since I’m all about paper) and I will have Thoughts About It. I will compare my delusions of grandeur and/or worst case scenario for my artistic career with whatever the reality is, which I actually consider to be a fun and edifying activity.


In Which I Read Three Books

I actually read three books this week. It has been more common in the past few years to read maybe one book in three months. I may have spent all my energy in reading them and have none left to write about them.

The first one was Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. She is the originator of the Bechdel Test, which asks the question: do two women in a fictional work ever talk to each other about anything but a man or men, which is supposed to be a good starting point for discussing gender inequality or sexism within the work. The test definitely has its limits, because there are shows like Buffy which are full of strong and capable women who also talk a lot about guys and romance. Ms. Bechdel is also the author of the long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. Yes, she is a lesbian. I guess Fun Home would be considered a coming-of-age or family memoir, in comic form. It didn’t have the look of a graphic novel to me, which are usually too busy for my taste artistically and/or filled with too many unrealistically huge-breasted female characters who may or may not have conversations about archery or philosophy or other non-man subjects.

It’s not all that prominent a theme in the book, but the title comes from the fact that Ms. Bechdel’s father was a part-time mortician in his family’s funeral home (their family was way more dysfunctional than the Fishers on Six Feet Under). The main focus of the book is her father, who she eventually learned was a closeted homosexual who had/attempted to have inappropriate relationships with underage teenage boys. She never condones this fact about him, and in general presents him as a tyrannical figure in her family’s life. He died young and she believes his death was suicide, although it was officially determined to be accident. Her relationship with him became somewhat closer after she went to college and came out as a lesbian, although he was always mysterious and often communicated with her through esoteric passages in literature (he was an English teacher when he wasn’t embalming people).

This book has caused controversy because some students at Duke University refused to read it because it offended their Christian sensibilities. There are about 7 panels in the work which depict nudity, masturbation, and sexual acts. I’m all for people not reading things they don’t want to read, but why choose a secular university in 2015 if you are bound and determined not to encounter any shocking, offensive or immoral ideas? And as someone who had early and prolonged access to pretty hardcore pornography, I think that even most non-pornogrified adults are aware of the sexual act portrayed and have probably even engaged in it at some point. Even if you think gay relationships are wrong, how damaged can you be by a single black and white panel in a comic book? And is God really mortified if you see it?

I can’t say I really loved this book, but not because of the sexual themes. It was somewhat interesting but kinda slow, and it didn’t have any emotional punch for me. I didn’t develop affection for the narrator, Ms. Bechdel (not that I actively disliked her). But it did solidify my desire to draw comic memoir, which scares me. But I already have so much memoir-ish writing I could illustrate, including but not limited to my spiritual memoir that Christianity Today published. If I get up the guts I’ll make a few small comic memoir zines, to break it into manageable chunks. My new zine (which should be listed on etsy this weekend) has a two-page comic chronicling my early zinemaking history, so that’s a start.

Book Two was Jen Hatmaker’s new book For The Love. I had little love (perhaps a vague but fleeting affection) for this five-star favorite. There is no doubt that Ms. Hatmaker is funny. I think she might be more enjoyable as a stand-up comic. There are probably fewer upper-middle-class-yoga-pants-wearing Christian mothers on that circuit. Ms. Hatmaker seems to be wildly inspirational in her demographic, but like She Who Seems To Be Spiritual Godmother Of This Tribe, Ann Voskamp, her writing mostly depresses and annoys me (though I don’t think their writing is necessarily all that similar). On a literary level, I get tired of stuff being called A Thing. Or hearing that someone Just Can’t Even. I’m tired of Women (supposedly) Just Like Us for whom housekeepers and nannies are Things. I Just Can’t Even. Do (insert Thing) because I don’t have those amenities (though I acknowledge that many others probably can and do).  I also can’t imagine having a close knit group of couple friends to cook gourmet home-cooked meals for at our monthly Supper Club (even if my turn only comes once every three months) where we sip wine, have deep fellowship and cheer each other on in our ever-expanding repertoire of successful projects. I don’t exactly begrudge Ms. Hatmaker for having those things, but hearing about them makes me discouraged instead of inspired. I fully admit that this doesn’t demonstrate my deep generosity of spirit. It reminds me of how I felt years ago when I was reading the Mitford series of books, and I realized that the reason Father Tim and his wife Cynthia could be so productive and read so many good books was because they had a full-time cook and housekeeper who did everything necessary to their neat and well-fed existence.

I have to be clear also (because I’m not really bashing Ms. Hatmaker as a person or even as a writer) and say that in general I don’t like inspirational as a genre, and in fact my idea of inspirational may not be the norm. Whenever something degenerates into what seems like an affirmation, especially, I turn off. So while I appreciate, say, Brene Brown’s basic thesis about shame and vulnerability, I’ll start rolling my eyes when she says something like You Are Enough. I’m not necessarily saying that I don’t agree with that or other inspirational soundbites on a basic level, but it can just start sounding like an overly simplistic feel-good mantra or even like propaganda, and that turns me off. I have this same struggle in the art journaling world, which is full of often technically impressive pages which insist that we should “soar”, “bloom”, “connect”, “discover” or (insert inspirational mountain you can ascend if you can find just the right word).

In a peripheral way, my general dislike of some of these wildly popular “trends” (for lack of a better term) in books or art make me curious to know if my writing or creative pursuits could be categorized as “fitting in” with any other writer or visual creative.

Book Three was The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. I haven’t read any of her three memoirs yet, I just know about her from reading at Mockingbird. In addition to being a memoirist herself, Ms. Karr has taught memoir for years at the graduate level, something that still seems to surprise her a bit, considering that she came from a redneck family full of abuse, alcoholism and other dysfunction. This book contains her thoughts on the memoir writing process, the nature of truth in memory, as well as chapters dedicated to some of her favorite memoirs. I think I may be at some disadvantage as a memoirist because I am an only child and don’t have anyone my own age to compare memories with. She makes it a point to share her manuscripts with the people in her memoirs, even when the stories or memories are not pleasant or flattering. I have never done this with my mother. Not that I have written deeply about her as a person or about our relationship per se, but my childhood is such a volatile subject for both of us that I just don’t want to go there. After reading this book I wonder how much of that may be my avoiding the possibility of her challenging my memories, even though I don’t really think she would.

I find it ironic that so many people who like my writing say they are drawn to my honesty, but I don’t think I’ve ever been deeply honest in anything I have written. Even in my illegibly written journals. That makes me wonder how extremely guarded other people really are. I joke that telling the truth about my life is my spiritual gift, but that’s a lie. I’m still too afraid of my pain and my shame and am unwilling to unveil it all even to myself. And I do think about whether I want to name anyone in conjunction with it and tell their part in my suffering (even when it wasn’t their intention to hurt me or their fault in any real sense).

I need to read Mary Karr’s actual memoirs and see how she writes about her experiences of childhood sexual assault, a mother who was a serious drunk to the point where she sometimes brandished a gun in intoxicated anger, as well as her own drug use and alcoholism and her growing into her own sexuality.

I can tell that little by little, I am becoming more honest. With each zine I make I have a few more sentences or even paragraphs that say something real.

Being an Artist and a Christian

The first thing that God tells us about Himself is that He Creates. Before He was King, before He was Savior, He was Artist. A lot of His great work was done before the Fall…you know, nature, animals and the few people who didn’t have to use their creativity to process the angst of life. Nowadays God spends quite a bit of His time directing what (from His perspective) are miniseries-length features that follow the trials and tribulations of each of the seven billion people on this planet. We know from Romans 1 that most folks believe they are self-producing these works. I certainly thought I was the proverbial Captain of My Fate for two-thirds of my life.

But even in those years of unbelief I worked with words and color and form – kinda like I was created in the image of a Creator or something. I used these things to explore my Inner Landscape, which is not the most scenic territory. I had to put on the mud boots of art and slog around in there. It wasn’t glamorous like being an archaeologist or anything; it was more like being the person who runs the dump. If that person is an artist, and there are any beautiful things in with the trash, she will find them. If there is not anything beautiful, she will take things that are ugly and repurpose them into some kind of work with meaning and power. Or, at the very least, she will solder all the junk together and make a cool lawn ornament that looks like an alien with a car muffler for a head.

goddessWe know that God has the ability to create out of nothing, and some people who are not God can even face a blank canvas without having a panic attack. I have never been one of those people. For most of my creative life I have needed some kind of jump start to get going, which led to pursuits that combined words and images in some way. This worked well with my propagandist tendencies, or rather my bad habit of thinking art always needed to Make A Statement. In my early creative years, The Statement was usually some pseudo-deep affirmation that The Answer Was Within, and various feel-good variations of that answer looked great written in gold pen on brightly-painted watercolor paper cards with Goddessy-looking women on them. I didn’t learn until much later what the question actually was, and so whatever answer I proposed was invariably wrong.

My greatest works of propaganda are found in my earliest self-published zines. I used those as an artistic platform to be as obnoxious as possible in my libertarian beliefs. Not necessarily because I wanted to be obnoxious, but because my naturally excessive focus on “issues” (plus that lovable in-yer-face attitude of youth) gave me many years of comfortable emotional repression. At some point I got tired of being repressed and was ready to try feeling things at a beginner’s level, so I started creating zines about my own life.

Initially, those read like I was my own psychiatrist, writing about myself with professional detachment for a scholarly journal. Then I got brave and wrote an article called Adventures In Impurity, about the effects of my very early and extended exposure to pornography. That was illustrated with classic nude paintings made edgy black-and-white, complete with bars covering the erotic areas. I was slightly transparent in this one, although I never did make it through to the nitty-gritty of my brokenness in the love-and-sex arena of life. But despite falling short as a gut-wrenchingly honest memoir, this article was the catalyst that got me thinking about the relationship between my Christian faith and my art.

A friend called me and said I really shouldn’t have written that article. And those illustrations were just too racy. And I thought…wow, I barely even scraped the surface of the truth with that one, and here a friend is telling me I shouldn’t have even shared the scum off the top. Understand, this piece was not pornographic, so the message I got from this not-so-constructive criticism was that some parts of my life – my actual life which we reformed folk affirm came to me directly from the hand of God – were simply not appropriate for the light of day. This censoring of negative experiences is just one kind of limitation Christians have put on the making of art. Kinda like that old idea that the rock music beat just might be of the devil. Or pursing lips at Christians taking life drawing classes because they will see nude bodies they are not married to. Or insinuating that every creative work a Christian does has to be properly evangelistic or moralistic so as not to be a waste of time that could be better spent winning souls.

For a while I bought into that last idea, which is just a baptized version of my Statement Art problem. I mean, as Christians, everything we do should be an anvilicious statement about what God has done for us, right? Or better yet, what we have done for God. So when I was at the height of my Godly Woman/Proverbs 31 Phase (which has been exhaustively documented elsewhere), a lot of the creative stuff I made was centered on that theme. My zine at that time was called Eclectic Domestic, and it propagandized in a fun and quirky way the Homeschooling-Wife-and-Mother life that I still live. So, with every zine order I included handbound Proverbs 31 journals that had little pictures of happy women with brooms on every page.

Not long after this, cracks started appearing in my Proverbs 31 facade, and as that crumbled I was slowly starting to understand the gospel – that radical idea that my standing with God did not depend on what I did for Him. Which was impressive, you understand, because I made Him look good by binding these journals that would inspire great piety and/or encourage more frequent sweeping. But I knew in my heart that I was a hypocrite, because my kitchen floor was often left unswept while I made judge-y blog posts about how a Godly Woman looks well to the way of her household, which includes having clean floors.

I finally got it through my thick skull that I bore the title of Godly Woman because God had made me look good by dressing me in the nice white robes of Christ’s righteousness – much, much cleaner than I could ever get my laundry. I mean, I don’t even sort anything or own any bleach. Plus, all my righteousness is as filthy rags which are always falling apart in the wash anyway.

Now, I am absolutely not saying that a Christian artist should avoid having overt references or allusions to faith in their work. I am saying that I personally did not get the concept of calling – that liberating notion that doing things to the glory of God does not mean that everything has to be a sermonette. So, a Christian plumber does not have to have a slogan like “Clearing Your Drain For Jesus” on the side of his truck. A Christian artist doesn’t always have to paint gospel narratives or make films without any gay characters (unless, of course, they are there as a sad cautionary tale). And with my growing understanding of that idea we find ourselves back at the phone call about my inappropriate article.

At first I took the criticism personally, like my article was just poorly written or something. Then for all of five minutes, I wondered if she might be right. Finally, I remembered that I wasn’t a propagandist anymore. I was an artist and a writer, and those people tell the truth.

One of my favorite books is Chaim Potok’s novel My Name Is Asher Lev. The main character is a Chasidic Jewish boy who discovers at a very young age that he is an artistic prodigy in a culture that distrusts art at best, and at worst, thinks it comes directly from the Sitra Achra, or Other Side (the bad side, of course). Despite the fact that my artistic talent is meager, I relate to Asher Lev. We are both Jewish, we both have somewhat stereotypically Jewish mothers, although I have never yet made a huge oil painting of mine nailed to a cross. Asher does this scandalous thing because his mother has lived a life of suffering, and he found no image in his own tradition which captures suffering so well as the crucifixion. As you can imagine, his parents and the entire community are scandalized, and Asher has to leave. The phone call from my friend was different from Asher’s experience only in degree, not in kind. We both created something that didn’t sit comfortably with the people in our community, and we had to ask ourselves whether the real problem was in the work itself (or, by extension, with ourselves as creators of the work) or in the reactionary response of others.

I guess a lot of Christians have a “life verse” from the Bible, but I think the verse of my Inner Artist has always been from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator, there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place.” God has given us our particular lives. He has given us our personalities and our talents. My personality is melancholy, introspective, temporally cynical but eternally optimistic. A lot of my talents reside in the right-brain sphere which likes stuff many Christians find questionable, like psychology, hippy-looking clothes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like a lot of creative types, my inner life is often in some turmoil and my life outer life looks more bohemian than BIble Belt.

I got that phone call from my friend about 6 years ago, and it has taken a lot of those years to accept that I don’t need a personality transplant and that there is a place for artists in God’s economy. But what exactly is my place, my niche? If my job as propaganda minister is no longer available, if I don’t have to give up bookbinding and zinemaking to go into publishing tracts (or better yet, a more womanly art like sewing matching clothes for my five children) what should my life as an out-of-the-closet Christian artist look like?

Initially, I was kinda disappointed that it didn’t look much different than my usual life. The reason Rilke’s quote is my verse is not because I embody it in such an impressive way, but rather because too often I am absolutely not poet enough to call forth the riches of my life. Normally, I don’t find piles of laundry, mounds of dirty dishes or constant chatter and/or bickering from children to be inspiring. But as Rilke reminds me, that is my problem. Then there is the fact that someone greater than RIlke – namely God – tells me to be content, in addition to having prepared all these good works for me to do…which I assume consist at least partly of the aforementioned things which don’t inspire me. I waste a lot of time being annoyed by those things and seeing them as something to get through as fast as possible so I can get to the art and the writing – ya know, the good stuff. But you see the paradox here. The good stuff is supposed to flow from my life, right? And I am supposed to be faithful in small things before I will be entrusted with more.

Recently I was reminded how working “little and often” can really add up. I sorted through all my writing and creative work spanning the last two decades, and I was smugly (I mean humbly) pleased that I had an impressive little stash that was made in fits and starts during twenty years of nursing babies, changing diapers, cooking meals and (insert futile-seeming household task here). There were my old propaganda zines and my more recent memoir-type zines. Dozens of hand-bound and illustrated letters to friends. At least half-a-dozen handmade art journals, handmade rag dolls, and a few mediocre specimens of my recent foray into actual painting (most of which – thankfully – have no underlying message).

I was encouraged because not only had I managed to keep everyone in my family alive for twenty years and also prevented the house from being condemned, here was all this cool stuff I had made. And if anyone ever goes through it all, I am most proud of the fact that it documents God’s great grace in my life. I mean, all you have to do is look at one of those first zines and you will believe that God can indeed do miracles within the human heart.

I think that my creative work in the world has more to do with helping others develop their own creativity than it does with people seeing or buying things that I make. This might be because I am a pretty good example of the “those who can’t do, teach” maxim. Eventually I see myself developing and teaching art journaling workshops that will help people make peace with their own lives by ideally coming to see God’s hand in it all. I believe I have a somewhat unique perspective in the art journaling world, being that I hold to the doctrine of original sin and so positive affirmations like “Dream” or “Soar On The Wings of Your Own Awesomeness” or (insert heartwarming morale-boosting statement here) don’t really resonate with me. What is kinda humorous and/or ironic is that although I have come to this perspective without any hidden propaganda motives, I might find myself pigeonholed as a Christian Statement Artist in that medium.

A creative life is our birthright as humans created in the image of God, but in this day and age, non-Christians seem to grasp that truth better than believers do. Maybe we Christians fear art because we know that our creative faculties are fallen just like every other part of us, and so we are afraid not of making bad art, but rather of making art that exposes how we have both done and endured many bad things in this world. This may be behind the type of concern my friend expressed about my shocking article, or behind the common idea that novels or television shows that portray sin and conflict are somehow “not edifying” at best, or at worst are glorifying sin. I’m not sure about you, but there is no way anyone could make a television show about my life without showing all kinds of sin and conflict, which too often originate with me.

They say God is a God of order. Some of His creatures manifest this attribute by having an alphabetized pantry. My pantry isn’t exactly terrifying, but if you start looking for a can of tomatoes in there, you will quickly realize that I work better with the intangibles. Some artists do a great job depicting the beauty in the world, in people, in nature. I can do beauty. I have painted lots of pretty red-haired women, but believe me, they all have issues.

We know that God will make all things new, and in a very real sense we who are in Christ are already new creations. But my personal Ms. New Creation has to spend a lot of time decluttering and rearranging the stuff left by Ms. Old Creation, who happened to also have a lot of boxes and things handed down from her family. My job description seems to include making some order out of all that and relating it to the general human experience, hopefully in a way that is at least somewhat humorous. We Jews love to laugh in the midst of suffering.

The fact that we are all a veritable stew of issues is Part One of the gospel. The paintings that are not beautiful, the gritty television dramas, the disturbing songs about depression that make a lot of Christians uncomfortable – these are all telling the truth about the hard edges of the human condition. Even after someone is regenerated, they will keep bumping into those edges. Some of us are totally covered with bruises and bandages because we hit one of those stupid things whenever we turn a corner. But the art of love and beauty and inspiration also tells a part of the story.

There doesn’t need to be a war between the Christian creatives – the hip cynic going up against those wearing rose-colored glasses. The battle belongs to the Lord. So get in ranks, people. Pick up your paintbrush, your camera or whatever – and remember, while there are all types of art to be created and shared with the world until the end of the age, you are already on the side that is victorious.

Me and (Former) Pastor T

Pastor T is really the first “celebrity” pastor I ever listened to (the only other is Tim Keller). While I was familiar with his name, I wasn’t interested in listening to him until I heard Michael Horton interviewing art historian Daniel Siedell about Modern art and the Christian faith. I looked Mr. Siedell up and saw that he worked in some capacity for Coral Ridge, where, of course, T was pastor until a few days ago. I think my road to liking T started years before I knew he existed, way back when I was early in my midlife crisis and still coming down from my own legalism and self-justification projects as an unsuccessful Proverbs 31 Woman.

I bought the book Search for Significance, which I had seen many times at the thrift store but passed up because I assumed it was just “worldly psychology”, because, you know, it’s not doctrinally correct to desire a sense of worth and significance because we’re miserable sinners who don’t deserve anything (and I do assent to that fact in a certain theological sense). But I was starting to see that I did indeed have those desires and had been trying to manufacture my own worthiness by my performance as a Godly Wife and Mother.

I finally admitted that I really wasn’t all that great at fulfilling the womanly roles as defined by the Godly Family Subculture (which I mistakenly believed had proper definitions and proper understanding) and I was left with despair, with anger and with confusion about what it means to be a Christian. Although I had sat for years under a pastor who regularly taught that our identity and our justification were found in Christ, I didn’t get it. I grew up without a foundation for a strong identity. I’m not talking about touchy-feely self-esteem, but the basic safety and belonging needs (as defined by our friend Dr Maslow).


So, all my life I have tried to build my sense of worthiness and/or  (in Tullian or Mockingbird Speak) justify myself with:

1) my beauty and desirability (in my teen years especially – a fail)

2) intelligence or debate skills (in my mid to late 20s and early 30s – a fail)

3)  the aforementioned womanly arts or gender role fulfillment (my early 30s to late 30s – a fail)

4) my creativity and physical fitness (my early to mid 40s – a fail), and

5) probably other things I have forgotten, which were undoubtedly failures too.

And then to deal with the discouragement of being a constant failure and/or disappointment, I have self-medicated with pot off and on during all these years.

Understand I am not saying that I am a literal failure at all those things, like I’m not the ugliest person on the planet and I’ve had my share of attractive men who have found me attractive; I am fairly intelligent and articulate (at least in writing); I have kept up our home and am raising what so far appear to be five non-psychopath children; and my artwork, while still untrained, shows promise. But that’s the whole point. That desire to feel justified, loved and accepted is bottomless and can never be quenched no matter how objectively well we perform. I know other people have said it, maybe better and with more traditional theological language than Tullian, but he was the one who made clear to me that these functional saviors are actually idols, which always require sacrifice but never deliver.

When I had my 5th baby, she was such a clingy type that I didn’t have much time for my Identity-Enhancing Activities. At first, that didn’t help with my identity issues. My mind was always still swimming with plans to improve myself and ideas for art and writing and other creative stuff that could generate income and also maybe a teeny tiny bit of fame and/or human approval for me. I reread Natalie Goldberg’s books and was intrigued by the Zen idea that a key to being content is non-attachment, which is not the same as having no “attachments” (people, things, activities you love and enjoy) but is a practice of:

1) accepting the impermanence of all things in our lives (All flesh is grass, and all it’s beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. Isaiah 4:6-7)


2) observing your circumstances and thoughts and emotions without constantly judging them, fearing them, letting them determine your actions, trying to control them or thinking they define you. ( Though certainly as Christians, we are supposed to examine ourselves, repent of our sin, etc. and those things are really not part of the Zen mindset – although they do value kindness and compassion, which are Christian virtues if not always our practice as Christians.)

Anyway, I’m pretty much the most attached person in the history of the world, and I think all my self-justification schemes are the ultimate form of attachment.  Of course, I’m not really a Buddhist. I just find the Buddhist way of describing my inner landscape to be very accessible.

How does all this fit into my experience with Tullian? Well, one of his main themes is that we do indeed let our circumstances and thoughts and emotions define and control us, which definitely causes “suffering” (a key Buddhist term). We look to our actions and our internal situation and either feel good or bad about ourselves or think that God changes his opinion of us, depending on “how we are doing”. Tullian slams home the fact that we need to look outside of us to the objective work of Christ, because when we don’t, we either fall into despair when we are doing poorly (struggling with sin, depressed etc.) or become prideful when we are doing well (giving so much money to worthy ministries, having long and fruitful “quiet times” etc.).

Another thing I heard from him numerous times is a quote from J. Gresham Machen: “So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seek after grace.” I literally never understood the severity of God’s law until I heard Tullian the So-Called Antinomian. I didn’t get that Jesus was serious when He said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Because I had come to the end of my very short and frayed rope of self-righteousness, I was able to really hear that for the first time.

When I was a very young Christian and reading Francis Schaeffer, I was drawn to his distinction between psychological guilt feelings vs real moral guilt. While I think his point in making that distinction was to help modern semi-nihilists understand the holes in their philosophy, I was reminded of it when I would hear Tullian talk about the Big-L Law (God’s actual moral law) and the little-l law (all the “shoulds” we deal with in this life.) From Paul Zahl:

“The principle of divine demand for perfection upon the human being is reflected concretely in the countless internal and external demands that human beings devise for themselves…Law with a small ‘l’ refers to an interior principle of demand or ought that seems universal in human nature. In this sense, law is any voice that makes us feel we must do something or be something to merit the approval of another . . . In daily living, law is an internalized principle of self-accusation. We might say that the innumerable laws we carry inside us are bastard children of the law.”

I think this idea must have it’s roots in Romans 2:

“They (those without the law) show that the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”

We know that standards of righteousness and morality differ from culture to culture, but that everywhere people have some standard of right and wrong. Even in the most secular of societies, we devise expectations for ourselves and for others that may have little to do with actual righteousness or morality, but under which we can still feel unbearably burdened. Again, Paul Zahl:

“In practice, the requirement of perfect submission to the commandments of God is exactly the same as the requirement of perfect submission to the innumerable drives for perfection that drive everyday people’s crippled and crippling lives.  The commandment of God that we honor our father and mother is no different in impact, for example, than the commandment of fashion that a woman be beautiful or the commandment of culture that a man be boldly decisive and at the same time utterly tender…  The weight of these laws is the same as the weight of the sublime moral law.  Law, whether biblical and universally stated or contextual and contemporarily phrased, operates in one way.  Law reduces its object, the human person, to despair.”

Since I have been a Christian, I really haven’t had many times where I felt like God didn’t love me or I wasn’t really “saved”. I have mostly lived under the burden of little-l law or misinterpretations of the Big-L Law. But ultimately, I have fallen prey to that because even subconsciously, I was (to quote Tullian) “…seeking (my) worth in anything and everything but the gospel of God’s grace, (so I)  kep(t) seeking and keep wearing (my)self out in the process.” I was “… setting (my) sights on something, someone, smaller than Jesus.” Namely myself and my ability to perform, to improve, to be impressive.

Even before I heard Tullian I considered that I should consciously practice relinquishment. It has been so exhausting trying to fit Identity-Enhancing Activities into my days, which of course didn’t enhance my identity because it was another failure – a failure to fit in the Identity-Enhancing Activities. So practicing relinquishment doesn’t mean giving up particular things, art and zinemaking or whatever. It means relinquishing Identity-Enhancement  itself. It means believing that “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Of course, I will fail at relinquishment too. Tullian:

“Because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak; because Jesus won for me, I was free to lose; because Jesus was someone, I was free to be no one; because Jesus was extraordinary, I was free to be ordinary; because Jesus succeeded for me, I was free to fail.”

Lots of people in the blogosphere are saying that beliefs like that are what led to Tullian’s sin. And yes, it was a big, big sin. A friend pointed out how in his formal statement, he tried to shift blame to his wife, which I agree is also a big sin. This sin of his is hurting a lot of people and even giving non-Christians ammunition against us, because they believe we think God loves us because of how good we are. But as Michael Horton says in Christless Christianity”

“If the focus of our testimony is our changed life, we as well as our hearers are bound to be disappointed.”

I’m disappointed that I won’t be hearing any more preaching from Tullian, even though I agree that he needed to step down from his pulpit. But I don’t feel like he personally disappointed me, because I didn’t put my faith in him. I don’t think any of his correct statements are tarnished by this sin. I’m sad that the Liberate site is no longer up (which I guess I understand, as it was an outreach of Coral Ridge) but I don’t think we need to do damage control when a person falls into sin.

In one of his sermons, he quoted Brennan Manning. He made a joke that the next day, he would get all kinds of calls asking why he was quoting a heretic. I’m writing this because I still owe a debt of gratitude to Tullian, and that doesn’t change because he’s now an adulterer, any more than it changes my affection for thinkers and writers I don’t always agree with. Because, as RC Sproul Jr. wrote just today, “We serve a God who delights to make straight lines with crooked sticks.”

God put Tullian in my path when I might have been on the road to denying the faith, because I could see that the theology of glory was a lie, but I didn’t yet know about the theology of the cross.

May Tullian (and may all of us) always turn to God in repentance, saying “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” And when we know we have received that mercy, in hearing the gospel, “God reminds us again and again that things between He and us are forever fixed. They are the rendezvous points where God declares to us concretely that the debt has been paid, the ledger put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess. This re-convincing produces humility, because we realize that our needs are fulfilled. We don’t have to worry about ourselves anymore. This in turn frees us to stop looking out for what we think we need and liberates us to love our neighbor by looking out for what they need.”(TT)


FOCUS – New Zine to Be Published Mid-June

This feels like a transition time. Baby is almost 4 and seems to be finally coming out of a long-term, hard-core gotta-have-Mama-at-all-costs phase (which has, in all honesty, lasted her entire life). My score of readers knows that I always have a lot of things I want to do or feel like I should do, but right now the overarching important thing for me to do is relearn how to FOCUS, both for my own sanity and to facilitate actual progress on the to-do list items.

I regret what has happened to my brain and my nervous system during the childbearing years way more than I regret my stretch marks or other physical signs of motherhood. I saw a documentary once about stress, and it said that many people in our culture are always in fight or flight mode. That put into words how I have felt for years, maybe all my life. It’s the pressure of “perceived threats”. That can mean being afraid that my past will come back and haunt me in some way, or worrying myself sick about what might happen in the unknowable future. There are also the ever-present threats of the present – like my all-too-common (though usually mostly subconscious) sense that somewhere, someone (could be my husband, the old woman at the grocery store or someone reading this blog) is judging me or expecting something from me that I cannot deliver.  All these things are actually incorporeal  – my feelings, neuroses, angst – but FEEL physical like threats that I want to run away from or come at with teeth bared. What that looks like for each of us will be different, how we manifest fight or flight –  but I assume (as a fellow human being in an often scary world) that you also deal with this unfortunate aspect of life in some way and have developed a few more or less ineffective coping mechanisms and/or annoying habitual behaviors in response.

I honestly believe that my body now reacts to the constant interruptions of children (and the over-complication young kids bring to otherwise simple or straightforward tasks) the way a proverbial caveman would react if they were suddenly being chased by the proverbial saber-tooth tiger. This doesn’t mean that I literally think my kids are out to get me (although they can be as manipulative as any sinner at any age). It’s like this:


And that’s just one example. It’s like my brain can no longer hold a thought for more than 10 seconds even if I am alone. I think this is probably what they call neural pathway development (or in my case, neural pathway destruction). I notice this problem especially when I try to read, but it has affected everything I need or want to do. Having to do something like run a simple errand or do a basic household chore is almost a trigger in itself. I get anxious  and even somewhat panicked even thinking about doing whatever it is because I know it will require so much more from me than chopping celery. My body interprets it as a threatening situation. I can fight by literally fighting – or at least getting really grumpy and showing it. I can take flight by simply not doing “it”, whatever IT is.

My own self-improvementy thoughts (completely apart from dealing with other people) usually also feel, if not always threatening, then at least exhausting.  In practice, this makes me inefficient, because I will let my ideas (if I am feeling competent and/or productive) or my emotions (if I am feeling depressed and/or stagnant) distract me from what I am doing. I will literally be in the middle of washing dishes (a good and necessary, if sometimes maddeningly mundane task) and in response to a thought like, “Such-and-such would be a good thing to have in my next zine”. I will turn from the dishes like some mind-controlled person in a sci-fi show responding to her master’s inner call or something, and head to the computer or notebook. That’s if I’m feeling productive. If I’m feeling depressed the thought at the sink might be, “Oh crap, I’m already washing these dishes but those (insert your favorite expletive) sheets have to go in the washing machine. Man, I am a total failure at this job.” So, I turn from the dishes (in the same sci-fi manner, only looking more despondent) and go get the sheets off the bed. The most likely next act in this scenario will be someone in the family inserting their need or request or simple comment into the fray, and neither the dishes, nor the zine work nor the sheets will get done.

So, I need to focus in at least two senses. I need to focus on what I am doing at the moment and, yes, pay attention to it in a zen-like manner but mostly just finish it already. I also need to plan at least some focused time for the things I say are most important to me. This could be having a mental date with myself at 2pm every day for a workout DVD, or a plan to sit with my 7-year-old for thirty minutes to read aloud, or setting aside the whole day for only basic housework and zine stuff. I’m not sure of the specifics, in fact it is specifics I am afraid of, because when something has been specified or codified that’s when it’s most obvious if (or when) you deviate, which (in perfectionist-speak) translates to FAIL.

A new zine comes into this situation because it, in itself, is a form of focus. So, it’s a natural container for six weeks or so of my thinking and planning and (most importantly) execution of FOCUS. It should be ready for mailing by mid-June. I don’t think it will a Thirty Days Zine exactly, but it will be done quickly, in that Thirty Days spirit. I’m going to charge for this one. Not sure how much yet, but that info will be made public when it has been determined.


My First Painting That Will Hang On Someone Else’s Wall

This is my second painting done using the basic technique I learned in Jane Spakowsy’s last workshop. In general, I like it. I can see that I am making progress in skin tones and shading, though that is still a challenge for me. I really wanted the background to be more of a deep maroon, but when I did the final sanding, with all the underlayers it became this more reddish brown color. I do like how all the texture underneath shows up well. This is the finished piece and a detail picture:



Here are some of the process pics:

marla1 marla2 marla3 marla4 marla5

The only thing I may still do to the final piece is change the eye reflections a bit, as I seem to have a lost a bit of the “looking right at you” quality. In some ways, I almost always prefer the “almost done” stages when I look back on them. They are more raw. marla6

My influences in this piece were, of course, Jane, and also Klimt for the gold. Although I wasn’t thinking about his work when I did the painting, if the portrait reminds me of the work of any Master type, it would be William Waterhouse (without the bright trueness of his colors.)


My natural style is obviously somewhat realistic. Whenever I try too hard to achieve a more quirky look or the more skewed realism of modernism, it hasn’t worked all that well.

This will be the first real painting that ever leaves my house and will live on someone else’s wall.

Forty-Six Things About Me or a Not-So-Lurid Confessional of Middle Age, Part 2

Part 1, Here

10) Natalie Goldberg says, “Get to know your obsessions…ask yourself, what monopolizes my mind?” It has always been the “big” topics which have monopolized my thinking since childhood. Death. Sex (not having it necessarily, but rather how twisted ideas and my twisted experience of it has affected me – see #14). God. Philosophy and Psychology. All of my lasting interests and obsessions fit into one of these categories. Unfortunately, I have not yet taken all that deep stuff and produced mounds and mounds of honest writing.

11) I don’t usually think of myself as a person with a lot of regrets, but sometimes I find myself not starting something in the present because I wish I would have done it in the past. For example, I just got Danny Gregory’s book Art Before Breakfast (which I like best of all his books) and one of the suggestions is to draw your children. If I started doing that, I know I would regret not having drawn my other children, so I might not even do it now because I don’t want to feel that regret. Of course, later I would regret it even more since I won’t have drawn any of them. One of the unhealthy manifestations of my life as a memoirist is this weird feeling that I should be chronicling my life more thoroughly and consistently than I do, which is, of course, one manifestation of my sometimes almost crippling perfectionism.

12) I am really trying to be less emotionally repressed. Even when I was a kid (my childhood life being the start of my emotional problems) I was emotionally reticent, but I still felt my feelings. As I have gotten older I feel things less, which I know is a protective mechanism of some kind. One thing I am doing to try to combat this is to listen to more music from my past, which I usually avoid because, well, it does bring up feelings. I’m not talking about the music from my young childhood, I can’t listen to that at all or I get an anxiety attack. But music from my young adulthood and the babyhood of my older children can be hard for me to listen to. I have also been watching some television shows that are about family life and all the varied emotions that brings up. I seem to be able to feel negative emotions more easily, and some of those are normal, like the frustration that is all too common when dealing with the never-ending demands of young children. I also feel anger a lot (not that I really fly into rages or anything) but I do believe that most of my anger is a cover-up for all the emotions of vulnerability and abandonment and stuff like that. I’m trying to look at my anger when it shows up and see if I am turning my pain outward. I heard a Tim Keller sermon where he talked about anger, and how to make it productive rather than destructive. He recommended we ask ourselves two questions about our anger: What am I defending? What am I attacking? It’s embarrassing how often what we are defending is some selfish desire for our own comfort or peace or relaxation or whatever, and how often what we are attacking are those people we see as getting in the way of that. But I see how those two questions can help me when what I feel seems to be anger, but on closer observation the real underlying emotion is probably some kind of grief. I am learning to recognize when the the anger is only a front, and trying to let myself just feel whatever emotion wells up when I look deeper.

13) I am absolutely not into nature. I mean, I like being outside on a nice day (which means way below possible sweating temperature) and the quiet of a natural place (sans kids) can be meaningful. But I don’t really enjoy outside activities (except walking while listening to podcasts) and I don’t get inspired by nature in a creative way. I am so bored by the journaling books I have purchased that are full of drawings of plants and animals. If I were to draw something, I would always go for some kind of man-made object in my house, rather than go outside to draw trees or flowers. If I were forced to draw outside, I would likely draw my mailbox or the barbeque. What I most appreciate about nature is listening to birds, which I can do quite well from inside with the windows open in the morning. If I could have any kind of experience in the natural world, I would love to be transported to a time when wild birds were everywhere.

14) Although I still don’t love it (meaning it doesn’t turn me on) I think that it has been a positive thing for me to see mild to moderately graphic sexual situations in television shows when they are not stylized depictions of impossibly beautiful people having impossibly perfect sex or are abusive in some way. I’m not making any moral pronouncements about whether or not we should see these things, so please don’t give me a hard time about it if you disapprove. Being exposed to a lot of pornography before puberty really messed up my idea of myself as a sexual being, and I pretty much grew up having the cognitively dissonant thoughts that 1) my worth was totally dependent on how sexy I was and 2) that I was inherently undesirable. So, as you can imagine, in my mind I was screwed (no pun intended). In the past, whenever I would see a sexual scene  (I never really had this problem if it was a sex scene in a novel) , I would get high anxiety from this weird unarticulated feeling that sex was for other people, that somehow in the game of sex I would always be chosen last like the loser kids in P.E. Of course, I have been married for a long time and so have had a fair amount of licit sex, plus various pre-marriage illicit sexual experiences and people who have been attracted to me though we never had any kind of sexual contact. Seeing sex scenes in shows like Six Feet Under where even older people are having and enjoying sex, and some of the British shows where everyone is average looking has somehow helped me see that I’m entitled to my place in the normal human sexual experience, about which pornography lies.