Friday, July 24, 2009

An Afternoon Tea Party

My daughter sells wonderful loose-leaf tea from a company called Lets Do Tea. Wednesday afternoon I hosted a tea party for ladies from my church. We sat on the deck with china teacups and plates of cucumber sandwiches and lime curd tarts and tasted different flavors of tea.

“Am I supposed to just swish it in my mouth and spit it out like wine?” Joyce asked. I assured her she wouldn’t get drunk if she swallowed.

We started off with an iced herbal blend called Passion Flair. Then we sampled the hot chocolate almond tea, and a mixture of green tea and blossoms called Treasures of the Inca. We finished off with After Seven, my favorite rooibos with hints of chocolate and mint.

Some of the women had brought a teacup from home to share what was special about it. Joyce had a Royal Albert cup from her first trip out of the country—to Canada. Jen had one that reminded her of when she used to live in California. My mother-in-law told how all the cups from her wedding china had broken over the fifty years of her marriage. She recently found replacements on the internet and was thrilled to be able to use them again.

My mug came from the Borders in Indianapolis where my critique group used to meet. I bought it then because the sides look like a bookcase filled with good books, a teapot, and even a cat sitting on one shelf. But now it serves to remind me of that group. There was a special chemistry that stimulated all of us to better writing. A couple group members were fellow-believers, committed to Jesus Christ. Others thought the Bible was nothing more than a collection of fairy tales. Together they held me accountable and demanded that I show faith in action and not rely on religious clich├ęs or preachy explanations.

At the time I thought this was what all critique groups were like. I have discovered since that isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes one member dominates and is threatened by other talented writers. Sometimes the members have differing goals, or are more interested in talking about writing than in doing it. Or maybe the chemistry just isn’t there.

My Indy group has scattered. We all look fondly back on those Sunday evenings in the Borders coffee shop. I now travel to Maplewood Library in Saint Paul once a month to meet with a group of ladies who write for children and young adults. The relationships are growing, and they have already made helpful suggestions on the sequel to Glastonbury Tor. I may have to buy a Maplewood Library Tea Mug for my collection and invite them all for a tea party.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Another culture

A few days after leaving the sci-fi/fantasy world of Convergence I plunged into yet another “world within a world”. I skated my Adult Bronze tests that qualify me for the Adult Nationals figure skating competition in Bloomington, Minnesota, next spring.

No torn fishnet stocking or flowing wizard capes here. I saw more blue velvet and silver sequins. The hairstyles were less diverse as well. Everyone with hair longer than her chin wore a ponytail since hair in the face gets in the way of jumps and spins. No visible tattoos or body piercings. Figure skating judges tend to come from a generation that frowns on that kind of thing.

The hang-loose attitude of a crowd of gamers having a good time was missing in the silent, near-empty arena where judges sat with their clipboards, writing neat comments and scores that would determine whether or not I passed or needed to ‘retry’ the test at a later date. (There are no failures in skating, only the need to 'retry'.)

I passed—even though I found out twenty-four hours earlier that the rules have changed and the Preliminary moves-in-the-field test that I took years ago did not qualify me to take the new Adult Bronze Freestyle test. I tend to be obsessive/compulsive and have run through a version of those moves every warm up since 2003. So I had an hour lesson on Wednesday afternoon and tested in the evening. I even earned a few extra tenths of a point for ‘grade of execution’ before taking my sit spin all the way to the ice and having to ‘retry’ it.

After more than ten years, my family still stands politely on the outside of this skating world, wondering what on earth gets me up before dawn to skate around a chilly arena, obsessively practicing tricks that have no use in the ‘real world’ off-ice. There is certainly no Olympics in this old lady’s future. Those outside a world don’t share its values or partake of its worldview.

I participate in several other ‘worlds’—the world of children’s writers, the world of international missions, even my evangelical subculture. Each has its own customs, core values and standards that seem obscure to those outside.

What worlds do you move in that others in the mainstream culture might miss?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cross-cultural in the USA

In case you haven’t noticed from this blog or my books, I am interested in different cultures—another time (Glastonbury Tor), another place (The Wooden Ox, Beads and Braids), another world in the midst of the familiar mainstream culture (Crossovers, my unpublished skating novel.) This weekend I plunged into yet another cross-cultural experience when I went with my daughter and family to Convergence—a convention of four thousand (4000!) science fiction and fantasy fans at the Sheridan South hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota. I was there primarily as nanny to watch my grandchildren when my daughter and her husband were otherwise involved, and to attend some of the panels on writing for this genre.

From Thursday night until Sunday, geeks and gamers, many in full costume, transformed the hotel into one giant party. There were role-playing games, computer and board games, discussion panels, mock battles with nerf swords, and two 24-hour movie rooms, not to mention three floors of themed parties around the pool area at night. I wasn’t surprised to see Klingons and members of the Star Ship Enterprise crew walking around. The samarai and kimona-clad tea servers came out of the Japanese anime tradition. There were gray-haired women in long wizard cloaks or butterfly wings, and a whole classroom of Hogwart’s students and professors. I hadn’t expected the large number in costumes from the Industrial Revolution, most with tears, burns or dirt smeared on them.

“It’s called ‘Steam Punk’,” my daughter explained. “The idea is the innovative experiment gone wrong.” (Think Sean Connery and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)

My daughter and her friends run an election campaign of candidates you don’t want to see in office. Last year Batman’s archenemy the Joker won over Vizzini (Princess Bride) and Senator Palpatine (Star Wars) in a race that would have had Al Franken and Norm Coleman in court for months. This year it was Dr. Evil (Austen Powers film series), Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) and Dr. Horrible. If you have heard of the last, you are officially a geek. Forget TV and movies. Dr. Horrible is the beloved villain of three fifteen-minute internet segments of singing video blog (known as 'vlog' to initiates, and yes, I said SINGING video blog.) There were at least five versions of Dr. Horrible walking around ‘Con’, and he won in a landslide. Next year the committee plans to go with at least two female candidates. How about Cruela deVille, the Wicked Witch of the West and Sarah Palin?

Sunday morning I attended a panel called “Using Spiritual Gifts in Writing.” I had a feeling it would not be based on Saint Paul. The panelists were a pagan, a Scientologist, an Orthodox Jew who wrote a book of horror stories from the Bible (think Jael and the tent peg in Judges 4), and Taylor Kent, aka the Fandom Snark. When he introduced himself as someone who had converted to Christianity a few years ago, I had something specific to pray for.

For three days I ate bagels, raw broccoli and M&Ms and stood in line like a homeless person for an inch or so of soup in the bottom of a Styrofoam cup. (Geeks don’t eat; they graze.) I saw way more tattoos and boobs than I needed. But I had some good conversations with my daughter’s friends, and even prayed with a woman who had just lost her job. I do not feel “called” to a new ministry with the sci-fi/fantasy community, but I haven’t felt more culturally stretched since attending a rural Mozambican wedding. And I am very glad that God has his people there like Taylor Kent.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

So what is J. S. Bach writing these days?

I have long lamented the lack of time for all the things I would like to do. I once took Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain onto the hills of Mpumulunga and spent enough time to know that I didn't have the patience. But photography! If I had another lifetime... If I could take pictures like the ones in National Geographic...

I was somewhat disappointed when our daughter did not go into architectural conservation and restoration since it is a field that has long fascinated me. I will be refinishing an antique dresser in the next couple weeks (if it ever stops raining), and a friend has assured me that reupholstering is "easy." There are quilts and calligraphy, wood carving and cabinetry, all skills I would love to pursue, not to mention all the books I haven't read and story ideas I would like to develop. Don't get me started on what I would do on the ice if I had the time and money to skate every day and take multiple lessons per week. If only reincarnation were true, I might have the time to develop a different skill in each lifetime.

A couple years ago it hit me like a speeding semi that God is Creator. Duh. What I mean is that it is part of his basic character. He created me in his image. Why do I assume that all that will end in eternity? God can't change who he is. Surely creativity will go on.

Last night I finished reading Andy Crouch's Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. This evening I plan to start again at the beginning. There is too much meat for one reading. This book belongs on my shelf next to the writing books and Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water. It is about culture defining the limits of what is, and is not, possible, and about changing culture through circles of influence that start as small as two or three creative people thinking and acting together. Even the founders of MySpace couldn't guarantee the impact it would have on society. But as they created and their friends caught their enthusiasm and told their friends, the world has changed. As Christians, we want to change the world, but changes always start small with people in community thinking beyond their horizons of possibility. Culture Making maintains that creativity is a ministry as divine as preaching. Crouch tells us to examine whatever we are doing and ask, is this good enough for the New Jerusalem?

Long ago I asked the Lord to make my room in heaven a two-story paneled library with a fireplace, a teapot, and French windows opening onto a garden terrace. One of these days in eternity, I'm going to ask him to freeze over that Crystal Sea in front of his throne and let us do an ice show for his glory to the live music of Michael W. Smith and the heavenly choirs. Maybe my resurrected body will even be able to do a triple Axel. Who needs reincarnation when you have all of eternity to plumb the depths of his gift of creativity?