The Wedding

Up here the sun sets late and rises early, and the relatives go to bed later and get up earlier. My mattress on the living room floor was not an ideal place to catch some zzzzz’s. In the morning I pulled a blanket over my head to block out the light and the feet shuffling and the coffee sipping.

Then suddenly the shuffling was right next to my ear, because my curious uncle had picked the book I’ve been reading, and was flipping through it.

That woke me up properly.

(The book, in case you are wondering, is Stories of my Life, by Katherine Patterson. Katherine Patterson is the author of Bridge to TerabithiaJacob Have I Loved,  etc.)

I drank tea and then wandered over the property, with its meadows, its Christmas trees that never sold, and it’s broken-down machinery. I took a picture and then tried to upload it for this blog post. It was too big. I couldn’t figure out how to re-size it, so I made it black and white and then it uploaded. Colored pictures will have to wait until I have a better internet connection, I guess.

The wedding was at 10:30 am.

As much as I pretend, while I’m at college, that I’m an expert on Mennonites, I really have no clue about some things. This wedding was much more somber than the weddings I’m used to. Which was fine, until the preacher (who, incidentally, was the same uncle who examined my book) started saying funny things in his sermon, and I was the only one who laughed. Out loud. I couldn’t help it! Isn’t laughter the proper response to humor?

(Apparently, in some Mennonite weddings, a silent smile is the proper response to humor.)

After a couple hours of ceremony and a couple hours of reception and a couple hours of napping afterwords, I hung out with my family and washed towels and tried to pretend that I don’t have homework to work on this weekend.

Tomorrow I road trip home. As much as I’ve enjoyed this weekend I’m also eager to face the open road. It’s been waaaaay too long since I’ve had a proper road trip.

Grandma 

Grandma brought 15 cans of prune juice in her carry-on bag. (“No,” said Grandma, correcting me, “it was 6 cans of prune juice and 5 cans of pineapple orange juice.) We checked that bag, after all. 

Grandma got to keep her shoes on, but she was still patted down by TSA for having hankies in her pocket. 

Grandma wandered off to find a bathroom and I thought, “what if she never comes back and we have to board but I can’t find her?” Her “cellar” phone was in her bag, which was with me. But she came back. 

Grandma told me about her friends and her scrabble games and how handsome the flight attendant was. “Something about him attracts him to me,” she said. 

Mom and Dad picked us up in Minneapolis, and we went to a hotel for the night. A bag of granola had burst in her suitcase. 

“Why did you bring granola?” I asked. 

“Because I have my own kind.”

In the morning we all left for the 6 hour drive to Pelkie, Michigan. I was discussing eyebrow trends (I don’t recall why) when Grandma said, “I don’t keep up with the trends, I’m not trying to get a man.”

“Why not?” I asked. 

“Who wants to take care of another old man?”

“What if he’s 15 years younger than you, and spry and handsome?”

Grandma launched into a story about a friend of hers who dated a guy, but then broke up with him because she didn’t want to marry again. “She enjoyed his company, though,” she said. “I don’t know why they didn’t just keep doing things together.”

“So you don’t want to marry again, but you might want a boyfriend?”

“Well, yeah,” she said. 

Maybe I should recommend I Kissed Dating Goodbye. 

We should reach Pelkie shortly. 

A Quick and Pithy Update

Weird photo just because no reason.

I’m finally traveling again! Tomorrow I’m flying to Michigan with my grandma, where I’ll attend my cousin’s wedding and then road trip home with my brother and cousin.

“And you’ll…just…leave your grandma in Michigan?” asked my friend Matt when I told him this today.

“No, she’s flying home with my parents, who left today, so they’d have time to hang out with my grandpa, my other grandpa, no relation to my grandma, unless it counts as a ‘relation’ if your children are married to each other…”

I quickly realized the impossibility of succinctly explaining our travel plans. Let’s just say that most of my family will end up in Michigan one way or another, and like the Wise Men, most of us are returning home another way.

Grandma will not be stranded in Michigan. (Lord willing).

I reached 1,000 subscribers! Nifty. Now, one of you dear readers should go like my Facebook page because I currently have 299 “likes” and 300 is a much nicer number.

I appreciated your insight on my random post about money and blogging. I may re-institute ads someday, but for now my blog will remain free of them, as well as sponsorships and subscriptions and whatever the cool kids do these days to earn money through blogging. I’ll continue to view my blog as a gift to my readers, as well as (maybe someday) a platform to promote my books (which I shall write abundantly in the future, surely) and a place to gain writing practice.

However, I’m toying with the idea of hiding my ancient archives from the public and compiling the best bits to sell as (cheap) e-books. So if you’re feeling stalker-ish and want to know what random things Emily was mulling over in 2011, now is the time to get clicking.

I think I’ll begin another section with an exclamation point! Just, you know, because I can.

I’m graduating on June 17. For seven years of my life I have invested nearly all my resources into my own education. I have lots of thoughts about this. (I’d better–how ironic would it be if I invested in education and had no thoughts to show for it?) I haven’t formed them into blog posts. Yet.

My open house is on June 18, from 3pm-5pm, at my house. If you are reading this, consider yourself invited. (At some point I will send out real invitations, with pictures of my face and stuff.)

I may post updates as I travel. I may not. So long, for now.

Money and Blogging

When I opened my blog today, the first thing I saw was a bright pink Planned Parenthood banner ad.

I did some frantic googling. Is there any way to choose what ads go on your WordPress blog? No, it turns out, there really isn’t. So I spontaneously pulled all ads off my blog.

I’ve never really had problems with WordPress ads before. I never saw any half-naked women, or any “a mom in Arizona cured cancer with this one weird trick,” or anything that led to spammy websites. The ads were few enough that they didn’t make my website run slowly. A week or so ago I did have a problem with a video advertisement playing automatically, with sound, which I found really annoying, but that has not been a consistent problem. (At least for me. If you’ve had bad experiences with ads on my blog I’d like to hear about them.)

But I don’t want to promote Planned Parenthood. No way. That is where I draw the line.

To be clear, I only ever earned about $100 a year or so from advertising. I mostly did the advertising thing so that my blog would be self-sufficient–so that it would earn enough money to pay for its own domain name and fund things like an occasional giveaway, or a new point-and-shoot camera if I needed one.

I’ve always felt torn when it comes to earning money from blogging. I want people who read my blog to feel like they’re getting a gift, not like I’m trying to sell them something.

…at the same time…

As I discussed in my blog post How To Write an Opinion That People Will Listen To, posting on my blog takes effort and revision. Blogging isn’t the fun casual social media platform it was back in Xanga days. I usually enjoy blogging, but if I’m not earning anything from it I have little motivation to post consistent quality content.

…at the same time…

Would people rather get free, sporadic rough drafts or see some advertising, suffer through a few sponsored posts, and/or pay a little to get thoughtful polished blog posts on a regular basis?

I realize that this is not a unique struggle. All creatives face a tension between art for art’s sake and art for money.

Anyway. At this point I am fine with freely writing this blog as I always have. However, my hasty decision to pull advertising this afternoon just got me thinking about such matters. And I REALLY WANT YOUR OPINION on the topic, whether you’re a blogger yourself who has struggled with this question, or whether you’re a blog reader who cringes through sponsored posts.

 

How to Criticize People Kindly and Effectively

Unlike most college classes, where you’re expected to do your best on your own and hope for a good grade, fiction writing classes thrive on peer criticism. It’s called “workshopping.” You write a story and give it to your classmates, and the next class session they all sit around and talk about what worked well in the story, and how it could be better.

The first fiction writing class I ever took was at LBCC in 2012. When it came time to workshop it, everyone took turns saying things about my story, and they all said nice things. No one criticized a single thing. I was elated. I had done it. My story was good. 

Now, of course, I chuckle a bit at my past self and her fixed rather than growth mindset. It shouldn’t have been about being a good enough writer, or being a better writer than my classmates, it should have been about being the best writer I could be. And for that to happen, I needed criticism.

I’m in my fourth fiction writing class, now, and I’ve changed my tune. I submitted my story last Tuesday knowing that it felt a bit skeletal–like I should add something to it–but with only the vaguest idea of what I should add. And today, it got workshopped.

My classmates began, as is the custom, by saying what they liked about the story. They liked the characters. They loved the dialogue, which made me happy, because I love writing dialogue but didn’t actually know if it worked well in the story. They firmly established that my story was good, that it had potential, that I had writing talent.

And then they switched gears. By the time you reach a 400 level fiction writing class, saying only good things is no longer an option. It’s not fair to the author. It’s not true. Every rough draft in the universe could be improved in some manner.

I didn’t have enough of my character’s family in the story. “This scene here, on page 7, where the parents are lonely,” said Sarah. “That’s so good, but we don’t know why they’re lonely. You should put them in earlier scenes, so we understand this better.”

“I would have liked more description,” said Justin. “Like on page 9, where you wrote, ‘we sat on the porch and watched the horizon.’ I want to know what that looked like.”

Just like the first time I had a story workshopped, I left the room feeling elated. But I felt elated for different reasons. Not because I thought my story was awesome, but because I thought my story was full of possibility, and I had a very clear idea of how to make it awesome.

Tonight as I was weeding the hedge in the muggy twilight, I thought about how in my opinion, real-life criticism works best when it’s done like workshopping criticism.

First of all, we should limit our criticism to those who have “signed up for it” in some sense–such as family members, friends, and those whom we’ve invested in. Not randos on the internet we happen to dislike. (In fact, I don’t know if it’s ever appropriate to offer personal criticisms over the internet. That may be up for debate, but I definitely recommend face-to-face if possible.)

Second, we should begin with establishing why they’re great people in general, and what they’re doing well. This not only makes the criticism “sit” better, but it also is helpful too, the same way it was helpful to know that my dialogue was working well in my story.

And then, finally, voice our criticisms. But not a vague, “you’re annoying sometimes.” A very specific, “you tend to talk with your mouth full at the dinner table when you get really excited,” or “during Bible study, you dominate the conversation.” Things that are legitimately fixable.

Hopefully, this will leave people excited about what they can become, rather than feeling shamed about who they are.

I’m very curious about your thoughts on the matter. What has your experience of offering/receiving criticism been like?

10 Interesting Aspects of Singleness That No One Talks About

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I always click on articles that have “singleness” in the headline. Maybe because I’m single. Maybe because I secretly hope I’ll get some never-before-seen insight into my own psyche. Or learn how to catch a man, once and for all.

Instead, what I usually get is a very feelings-oriented person informing me that “singleness is hard.”

“You know, because your heart has deep longings and stuff.”

“But just trust in Jesus.”

“The right one will come along. Maybe. We hope.”

Okay, fine, but what about all the other interesting aspects of singleness? The things that are sometimes a struggle, and sometimes nice, and sometimes just things you have to deal with?

Here is my list of ten aspects of singleness that I find interesting, and wish people would talk about more.

(Disclaimer: These are coming from a very Mennonite, very female, very 26-year-old frame of reference.)

1. Being single at 26 is an entirely different ballgame than being single at 20.

…and, I’m assuming, being single at 32 and 47 and 63 are all distinctly different stages.

Between the ages of 18 and 23, my feelings of singleness were lumped in with a whole host of dubious feelings about life, identity, figuring out my future, etc. And though I felt single, I was young enough that the rest of the world didn’t necessarily label me as such.

23 on, I’ve felt more settled and sure of myself in general. At the same time, my “singleness” has become more of a core part of who I am in the eyes of the people around me. 

Most of this post will be focused on 23+ singleness, but before I get there, I have one thing to say about the 18-23 stage.

2. The hardest thing about being a 20-year-old single Mennonite female is deciding what to do with your future.

Okay, maybe not the hardest thing, but definitely a hard thing that people don’t talk about much.

Good jobs for females within the Mennonite community are scarce. Going outside the community is intimidating and requires a large time and money commitment, and, let’s face it, a decreased chance of finding a nice Mennonite boy to marry.

I like to talk to Mennonite girls about the possibility of going to college, and I see this struggle written all over their faces. Sure, if they’re going to be single, they want to have a job they love which pays decently. But if they’d happen to fall in love and get married, they don’t want to slave away to pay off student debt, they want to stay at home and raise babies.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a Mennonite girl who hasn’t had this struggle to one degree or another.

Now, on to the interesting and varied aspects of 23+ singleness. Such as…

3. Who’s pretty and who’s not pretty changes a lot between 20 and 26.

Honesty time: have you ever Facebook stalked that gorgeous girl whom all the boys liked when you went to Bible School together, only to discover that she’s had a few babies, wears an unflattering hairstyle, and, while not ugly or anything, looks, well, like a normal mom?

My pet theory is that the effortlessly beautiful girls got by on looks alone for so long that they never had to learn to present themselves to the best effect, and it came back to bite them as they aged. Other girls really blossomed in the latter half of their 20s. Obviously this isn’t true in every case, but my point is, the fact that the boys didn’t think you were cute when you were 20 doesn’t really mean anything when you’re 26, and I find that really interesting.

4. The older you get, the easier it is to figure out which guys are worth your interest and which guys aren’t.

I am convinced that people change as much between the ages of 18 and 23 as they do between the ages of 13 and 18. I look back on my pre-23 crushes and feel a palpable sense of relief that I never married them. But how could I have known at the time that we’d eventually disagree on so many key values?

When you’re 26, people have figured themselves out. The intellectual guys have gone to college, and the nice guys are helping out their community, and the lazy guys are living in their parent’s house and hopping from job to job. You can peg people easier. You don’t have to do as much guesswork about what they’ll eventually become.

5. Making big life decisions alone feels overwhelming.

This has been my most recent struggle with singleness.

Preparing to graduate college, a whole world of possibilities is open to me. I am overwhelmed. How will I ever decide?

“You know, these decisions become so much easier once you get married,” my mom says.

6. Always getting crushes is exhausting.

Staying single until I’m, say, 35, doesn’t seem like that big of a deal until I think about the crushes.

I can just imagine myself, 34 years old and crushing on the latest nice cute guy I met. “I’m too old for this,” I’ll think. “Crushes are for 16-year-olds. People were not meant to have crushes for eighteen straight years of their life. This is exhausting.

But the only other alternative is to not have feelings at all.

7. No one really knows what you’ve gone through, romantically.

If you’ve made it to 26 without getting married, chances are that something romantic has happened to you which you’ve felt deeply. The guy who you thought was interested, but never actually bothered to ask you out. The wonderful friend that DID ask you out, but you didn’t have feelings for him.

Some single girls have spent YEARS silently pining for guys who never noticed them. Some girls have had a far bigger heartbreak over the “unofficial” boyfriend than they ever did over the “official” boyfriend.

Yet few people really know about any of that, which is so interesting to me.

8. Everyone will try to figure out why you’re still single.

…as though there’s some mathematical formula that explains it. How come no one comes up with mathematical formulas to determine how certain people ever managed to get married at all?

This isn’t just a community thing, it’s something we do to ourselves. “Why am I not married?” I ask myself. I have multiple answers.

Answer 1: The guys I liked didn’t like me back, and vice versa.

Answer 2: Mennonite guys think I’m weird and college-y, and college guys think I’m weird and Mennonite-y.

Answer 3: I never wanted to get married as badly as I wanted to get my college degree.

Take your pick.

9. It’s hard for a single Mennonite to properly belong anywhere.

Life encircles some people like a protective womb. They are surrounded by people like them. I have to carve out a place for myself wherever I go.

This is fine. I like that I can hang out with 15-year-olds in the youth group even though I’m more than 10 years older, or with the married ladies even though I’m not married, or with grad students or international students or homeschoolers that host Pride and Prejudice-inspired dances because really, hanging out with people who aren’t like you is one of the great joys of life.

But sometimes it’s lonely, and exhausting, and I just want to belong somewhere once and for all.

10. You will probably eventually get married, statistically speaking.

But knowing for sure would make being single a lot easier.

This has been my last post of the April Blogging Challenge! Jenny posted on day 27 here, and Mom posted on day 26 here.

Tuesdays with Ashlie

Today after class I grabbed my purse and some tea and drove down to Roseburg, to hang out with my friend/former roommate Ashlie. We grabbed tea and ate olive bread at a nifty bakery full of plants.


The main thing I wanted to see, though, was her workplace. Ashlie works at this really cool restaurant housed in the old Parrott House, and I’ve wanted a tour ever since she first told me about it.

“Woah, that’s so amazing!” I said as I gazed at the mansion before me. “Can we go up in the tower room?”

“Of course,” she said. “I mean, normal people can’t, but since you’re my friend you can see it.”

But first she showed me around the rest of the property, fancy dining areas, kitchens, and massive, beautiful chandlers.

Interestingly enough, no one was using the little round attic for anything, even though it was by far the coolest room in the house (in my opinion).

We took a walk through the neighborhood, and the air was not too cold and not to warm–spring, maybe, finally.

I didn’t get home until 9:30 pm.

“Where were you?” asked my dad.

“Roseburg,” I said.

“Roseburg!” said my mom. “I knew you were going to hang out with Ashlie but I didn’t know you were going all the way to Roseburg!”

I shrugged.

“I’ve been refreshing your blog all day, waiting for you to post!” she said.

“Mom, I explained it to you!” I said. “I don’t have time to write the interesting post today, I’m waiting until Friday to post it.”

“Oh.”

So. This has been the April Blogging Challenge day 25. Jenny posted here on day 24, and Mom posted here on day 23. Stay tuned for the “interesting” post, coming on Friday. (Probably after your bedtime.)