things not expected

He looked for himself but he could not find himself anymore. -Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Well. Here I am again. Post-blogging break, post-everything break. I did, indeed, get that life sabbatical, and so many things that I wanted to happen... well, they happened!

I went off to England for two weeks, and followed it up with another week in Louisiana. Three full weeks of change: I swapped time zones, I swapped cultures, I swapped food and habits and patterns.

I searched for beauty and found it. I looked for good reading and found it. (My nightstand is piled with books, books of all kinds. I'm an unabashed reading glutton, lately, and I am loving it.)

And I wanted to write aimlessly and vulture-free, and oh my friends, did I ever do that.

Quite aimless. Quite vultureless. In two weeks of English rain and English sun, I filled a notebook with crazy drawings, copied conversations, notes on what strangers were reading, lists of street names, ideas for the future, thoughts, descriptions, and pure heedless rambling.


There's just one catch.

I promised myself I would come back with something to say. I went off looking for new ideas. A new gist, a new crux, a new kernel that would turn into something, something great. Ideas for novels, chapters, character names. Ideas for our Etsy store, ideas for this lovely blog.

And it's funny. I searched everywhere for ideas, and all I found was a huge plateau of silence.

I'm back home, facing my computer, and where there used to be tangles of words and armies of characters, milling around in my brain, there's just peace and quiet.

At first, I was completely taken aback.

And then, being me, I asked myself "what the heck does that mean?" a dozen times, and in a dozen different ways.

I've settled out what it means for my writing life: I'm taking this peace and this lull, and turning it into days of reading, studying, diving into creativity books, savoring new pages of my trusty dictionary, and generally praying my head off.

Not a bad way to spend an August.

But as for the blog: well, my friends, I'm not going to be posting anymore. Not for the foreseeable future, anyway.

The foreseeable future: a phrase that's made me laugh lately. This summer has taught me many things, one of which is: I can't see five minutes in front of my face, let alone The Future. Three months ago, I felt sure of all kinds of things. And now, I'm sure of ... well, not much.

But there's such peace in this quiet, peace in the not-knowing, that I'm not sorry for it. And no, I wouldn't trade it for the three-months-ago me.

It's a lovely break from the Jenn who knows everything. For a while, I get to be the Jenn who doesn't know much, and it's a stunning relief. Like mental rain after too much sun.

If that's not a life sabbatical, I don't know what one is.

So. Here is the last thing I have to say:

It is an enormous privilege to have an audience. To be read by my friends and also found by strangers. And so, for all your kind listening, thank you.

Good luck, with everything you're doing. I know you're doing big things: I wish you well in that.

But take some time, this late summer and early fall, and seek a little mental rain. Bring a stack of books, and a cup of coffee, and know that I'll be doing the same.


... and straight on 'til morning.

One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdowns is the belief that one's work is terribly important. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important. - Bertrand Russell

They say in the blogging world that you shouldn't stop writing for a while. "Your readers simply won't be there when you come back," is what I've heard.

But a break, my friends, is precisely the thing I need. I've been in a strange place mentally, and I've been there for quite a while. And I'd like--actually, I crave--a good step back, from everything.

"Like a life sabbatical?" my sister asked. Yes. Like a life sabbatical.

I've had a few months of wondering and wandering, and then this past week, a time of real malaise. Now I'm itchy with a restlessness that I've been fending off for nearly a year, and so yes, I think it's time to pursue a break.

Because I do weird things in this frame of mind. Yesterday I chopped three inches off my hair, without quite realizing I was doing it. One moment, long hair. The next: well, not so long. (Or even. Hmm.) I had to put down the scissors and back away, because who knows what else I might do? Turn my Dickens collection into a series of paper cutouts? (Interesting idea, though.)

So. I'm off in search of real rest, in search of beauty, in search of good reading. I want to write aimlessly, without a vulture sitting on my shoulders, snarking at me over the usefulness of every word. (Yes there are vultures at my desk. Aren't there some at yours?)

I'm taking a break from blogging too. I'll come back in mid-August, which, I know, is kind of a long break from a blog. But I'm taking courage from others who have had breaks as well: habit is on summer vacation after all, so ... there you go. They always seem so wise and savvy.

I'm off to put my pieces back together. And I promise you this: when I come back mid-August, I'll come back with things to say.

that says it.

Here's a quote for your morning: the genius Nick Hornby was able to define a condition that I've noticed all my life...

Xenagorabibliomania: an obsessive curiosity about the books that strangers read in open spaces.

I knew I had it; I just never knew what it was! I can be a complete reading parasite if I'm not careful. I've literally read whole chapters over the shoulders of strangers... yes, really, it happens.



what started it all...

Every time I watch this brilliant video, I get the goofiest grin on my face. And laugh my head off.

Watch it. Be blessed. Celebrate a few good things.

And happy Fourth!!

PS: Thanks to Chris, for showing me this in the first place. You always have good taste. :)


not a tale of love and devotion.

This is The Amazingly Improbable Celia.

Why improbable? Because her face and her body don't really match up: she stole the face from a pug, and the body from a beagle, and no, it really isn't that cute. (The photos... well, they make her look good.)

She has a rude sense of humor, lies through her teeth, and is even lazier than I am. I spent a lot of time with her recently, calling her as many names as I could think of, and then rhyming them all in a long ballad of Celia-ness. (Not a flattering song, but oh-so funny.)

She doesn't have many good qualities, but I will give her this much: In spite of my not-especially-warm reception of her, she still wanted to sleep curled up at my chest, staring at my face.

Which was kind of endearing.

And I just might admire that kind of insane, blind, foolish devotedness. Just a little.

Or, I don't know, maybe she just wanted to bite my nose off, as soon as I closed my eyes.

(Wholly undeserved. After all, she was the one who devoured The Joy of Cooking, not me, I don't care what she told you.)

But even in that case: I'd have to admire her cunning.

And her general Celia-ness.


i'm not always so good with pep talks.

The significant, life-forming times are the dull, in-between times. -- Jan Karon

Sometimes I get homesick for the way things used to be. For faces that are more home than any house is. For patterns and moments already past.

For the feel of a certain kind of night (the velvet fog, the street light tenting down, that one path, the paper coffee cup, remember?). For the smell of a particular day.

And sometimes I get homesick for things that haven't happened at all.

Do you ever get this way? It's the beginning of a storm, the start of a trip, or maybe the first crazy itch an insect feels, before it wriggles right out of its skin.

I'm gearing up for something, something big. Many somethings. Not all with names and faces, and certainly not all have endings in sight.

In fact, there are no guessable endings at all.

I find myself saying the same things over and over in conversations. Do you get this way too? I hear my own voice echoing around my ears later: We'll see, I keep saying. We'll see, we'll see, we'll see.

Just to switch things up, I also say: I'm learning a lot!

It's in a perky voice, too, and I wonder who I'm trying to convince: my listeners, or my own stubbornly scared self.

Maybe I say, I'm learning a lot, to drown out the little whine that begs, but could I please just learn one thing at a time?

Do we need seventeen lessons all thrumming along at once? Because I'm feeling just the littlest bit sore and tired.

I don't like that whining voice.

Because of course, I am learning. Each day has more in it than I can hold, and I spill over, all the time. All this thinking, pages and pages of writing, all the reading I'm doing, the wondering, going in circles that are sometimes familiar and sometimes not.

The air is extra-charged, and any moment the spark will come, will set everything off. Maybe burn off all this mist, and then I can see clearly. (We'll see.)

I usually don't mind learning. But sometimes, I don't want to we'll see, I want to know. To have learned.

To get out of the car at the end of the road, stretch my legs, get the crick out of my back, and smile and smile.

Poor cowardly heart. Poor cranky brain. 

Sometimes I don't want to grow anymore. I just want to settle. ... It's one more reason to love (already-written, already-published) books. When the suspense is too much, you can skip ahead, can't you? Skim a bit, get the feel of things, and head for the finish line?

But I know I'd regret it, I'd hate it, if I turned around now.

What happens to the bugs that decide to stay in their old skin, all zipped up and buttoned down tight? Do their little insect brains blow up?

Sounds like a nastier fate than being tired.

Besides. I can just go make more tea, right? Right.

And then keep going, somehow, somewhere. We'll just have to see, right? We'll just have to see.

(Because I think, eventually, eventually, and by the grace of God, the view will be well worth it.)


a summer 100

Hula Seventy is good at so many, many things. One of them is appreciating summer: she always inspires me to love summer better. (And on ugly humid days, I need the inspiring. Not today, though. Today's been perfect.)

Go peek at her list, and the rest of her lovely blog, and get your summer off to a yummy start.


what's still there.

The Source of Stories was a hole or chasm or crater in the sea-bed, and through that hole, as Haroun watched, the glowing flow of pure, unpolluted stories came bubbling up from the very heart of Kahani. There were so many Streams of Story, of so many different colours, all pouring out of the Source at once, that it looked like a huge underwater fountain of shining white light. -- Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie

How can I describe it? A moment impossible to catch, even as it happened, and a sensation I don't know the name for, though I've felt it before.

And what called it out? Some kind of alchemy, brought about by the Illinois highway, through perfect wheatfields and growing corn, the old watertowers, the clouds tangling at the horizon.

Maybe the music (Mumford & Sons, Freelance Whales) lately doing dances in my ears. Maybe because my busy full brain was sitting back in exhaustion. Detaching for a while, and letting go of all it held.

And there it was.

If Salman Rushdie didn't talk about a Stream of Stories, I'd think I was crazy. (At least now if I am crazy, I'm in elite company.)

I could literally feel its presence on my skin, the otherness of its air, and my eyes tricked me into seeing it, flashing in and out of the shadows beside the road. Real glimpses of impossible places, keeping pace with our car.

Rushdie calls it a stream, and I agree. Though this time, it was a river: fast, cold, and deep. I've felt the current of it before, and best of all, that giddy conviction that there are stories there for the drinking, thousands and thousands. Some have my name on them, and they're looking for me.

And if there was a way to reach them, I'd have stuck my fingers out, my hand riding the wind, and I'd have trailed my fingertips in it...

For now, it's enough to know it's still there. Under the exhaustion, busyness, recent conversations, errands, activities, distractions... it's still there.

Fast and cold and deep.