Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Little Fish: Swimming Against the Stream

With less than four weeks and counting down toward my "Westward Ho" adventure, as my dad has named it, planning is kicking into high gear. And let me just say, it ain't easy, my friends. I figured it would not be, and the hard stuff has begun.

Swimming against the stream officially began when I started earnestly looking for apartments last week. How do people relocate? I guess most sensible people tend to have jobs before they move cross country, and for some reason, apartment renters, otherwise known as landlords, like you to have an income before they are willing to rent you a space. Strange, huh?

Of course, I still have my job here for a couple more weeks, but I am a massage therapist by trade, and it is difficult to get a job doing massage until they actually test to see if you can give a decent massage. I'm pretty good if I do say so myself, but giving a massage from three thousand miles away is a bit of a stretch of my skills. If only I were one of those new agey, aura crazy, energy manipulating therapists who don't waste their time trying to loosen up pesky muscle knots, but instead think about fluffy clouds while creepily cleaning their clients' energy channels. They don't actually have to touch their clients. Maybe they could land a job in California without actually being there. My technique is a little more hands on. Thus, my little fins were starting to feel the strain.

I have wonderful friends in Atlanta who have been connecting me with people they know in the

Los Angeles area, and thanks to this, I was able to put out feelers for apartments with some of these connections. One of them seems to have paid off greatly. I am about 90% sure that I have found an apartment and a roommate. I was not even planning on having a roommate out there, mainly because I had my dog and two cats that were going to be with me. Now, as you know if you read the post about my sweet dog Rocco, I am only going to have my two cats with me. So now, I am more open to a roommate. I was not actively looking for one, but this situation seems to have fallen in my lap, and if the Lord is willing to provide, I would be stupid not to be open to it. So, it seems I have a reprieve, and the waters have swelled me forward a bit, allowing me to rest in the upstream journey. But only for a little while.

Tonight I sent an email to my father, who is accompanying me, along with his wife, on my trip. They are not staying out there- but they are helping me get there. This is a wonderful thing, because without their help, it would be a much tougher, scarier, longer road to travel. The email I sent him contained a list of what I am trying to take with me. I wanted to see if I was on the right track as far as how much I was packing, or if I was significantly overpacking. Well, you might guess what his answer was, because most women I know like to pack heavily, and I personally need about 5 bags with me just to leave the house every day.

But I have spent the last few months methodically organizing and packing my belongings, giving things away to friends, family, and good will, and separating lots out to store back here in Georgia. It was not enough, though. I am going to have to cut down on what I want to take by at least a third, maybe even by half.

But it makes sense. If a little fish, or any fish for that matter, is trying to swim against the stream, the effort can only be made easier if they are not dragging a lot of extra weight. The lighter my load, the easier it will be to get there. But the hard part will be in the shedding. How do I decide between my Shakespeare and my Lewis collection? How do I leave behind perfectly good clothes? But I will, if that is what I must do, and more than likely, I won't miss them much.

I've always had some strange romantic desire to pick up and hit the road with not much more than the clothes on my back. Like I said, this is a highly romanticized idea, because if I did that, I would probably not enjoy it at all. No matter what I like to think, I like my creature comforts. But this may be as close to that desire as I will ever get. I will say, though, that with every trip to good will, I have felt wonderful- indeed, lighter. So, even though this shedding is tough, I believe it will be a blessing. And who knows? Maybe one day, I will hit the road with no plans, and see what dreams may come. For now, I am hopefully taking a step toward being a person, and a fish, who is less concerned with things than with where I am going, and who it is I need to be. And eventually, God willing, my little fins will build endurance, and the road less travelled will become simply the road travelled.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Robin's Deep Dark Confessions Part II

In my last post, I promised to let you in on what got me out of my creative slump last year. I told you that it might shock some of you. Here's a hint: it was nothing short of magic.

Right after I realized that I had lost interest in my writing, I reached another nasty conclusion. I had even lost interest in reading!

Well, that was just going too far. Maybe I could give up writing and live a somewhat normal life, but do without reading? I had always been the type that reads obsessively. Once I started a book, I had to finish it. I would stay up until the crack of dawn, make myself late coming back from lunch hours. Yes, I've even been known to sneak out a book in class and surreptitiously read it under the desk while the teacher lectured. Even if I could manage to separate myself from a novel physically, my mind tended to drift back to that world.

But not anymore. Not only was I apathetic about the stories I was making up, but I wasn't all that excited by what the pros were writing, either. I was still reading books, but I was having to schedule reading sessions like a chore. Even if a book seemed fairly enjoyable while I was reading it, I had no trouble ending the session and moving on to the next activity. Reading was okay, just sort of ...blah.

Something had to be done.

It didn't take me long to realize that a major problem was my selection of reading material. There was nothing particularly wrong with any individual book, but they were all pretty much the same. I was reading mostly genre fiction written in the past couple of years. I was choosing books because they were popular or were selling well, so I read them to try to learn from them--under the theory that then I could be popular and sell well, too. The voices and the stories began to sound the same. It was time to shake things up a bit.

A few weeks before my mid-life creative crisis, I had been to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. A big topic of conversation there (and at the library where I worked, and almost everywhere else in the world) was the release of the last book in the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). I didn't necessarily care what the rest of the world had to say, but I was fascinated to hear Christian writers and editors so passionate--and so divided--over a work of fiction.

I heard a good Christian woman denounce the series as unhealthy interest in the occult while another lady behind me was bouncing on her seat, wanting to protest. I sat at a lunch table where the subject came up, and one conferee said he liked the Harry Potter books but really wished there was more religion in the world that Rowling created. The editor at the table, someone I admire very much, declared that Deathly Hallows was in fact a very Christian book in its themes.

Now, I had spent years avoiding the Harry Potter books. I figured that a series about educating children at a school for witchcraft was not for me. But now, I at least wanted to take a look.

I started checking out the audio books from the library, and in about ten minutes was hooked. Seldom have I ever encountered a fictional world so inventive, so full of wit and humor and fantastical detail--and yet so homey. How was it possible to create a school of magic set in a medieval castle, with unicorns and centaurs in the forest and mer-people in its lake, that felt so familiar? Probably because that castle was filled with people I was sure I'd known in my own life. People so real that I raced through the entire seven-book series to see what would happen to them--because Rowling's world can also be a very dangerous place, particularly by Book Seven.

I still understand why some folks want to avoid books that have witches and wizards as the main characters. I myself wish Rowling had used some other terminology, but other than that, I didn't find characters any more offensive than Glenda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Somewhere during the experience, however, I did rediscover my own imagination.

Not only did I have fun imagining what was coming for Harry and friends, but I found myself daydreaming, starting to rewrite my own stories in my head. For years, I'd been caught up in things like point of view shifts and short paragraphs and active voice. Now, I was finally getting caught up in my stories, in my own little boys and their heartaches and struggles and magic. I started getting excited about making my own worlds so magical and homey, so dangerous yet sunny. And as far as genre--well, editors and agents have battered me for years with the rule that I've got to pigeon hole my stories into one genre and its guidelines. But Harry? Where does he fit? Book One is a children's book, Book Seven? Whoa!

Again, I'm not telling you to read Harry Potter or anything like it if you're uncomfortable with the idea. But I'll always be grateful to J.K. Rowling for helping me get my own magic back.

Oh, and what does all that have to do with why I started this new blog? Well, a couple of things.

First of all, I not only fell into the Harry Potter trap myself but I took Kristi along with me. We had so much fun going through that series together (with me a few books ahead)! I think that series sparked both our imaginations, and led us into discussions that turned up fascinating and important questions for a hopeful novelist and a Little Fish about to try her luck in the motion picture industry.

How can a serious Christian discern what they should or shouldn't read? Watch on TV? Act in?

How can our imaginations be used to point readers to God and glorify him? Why did C.S. Lewis think that our desire for fantasy reflects a desire for the eternal? How could we learn to write works that will reflect God's truth while tapping into those desires?

And so we started this blog. And that, as they say, is the rest of the story.

Or at least, it's the beginning.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Robin's Deep Dark Confessions, Part I

Little Fish Kristi has been busy telling you about herself and her plans. I've been sort of lax about that, so I thought I'd better introduce myself to those of you who don't know me. For those who read my other blog, I wanted to tell you how I got here.

If you don't know, for about two years I had a blog called The Queen of Perseverance. I laughingly gave myself that crown and dared people to challenge me, because I figure I've been writing and trying to publish a book longer than just about anybody. As a matter of fact, I sometimes feel that my whole life has been about God teaching me patience. I've become an expert in waiting.

For example, I didn't get married until I was thirty. I used to fret that Mr. Right would never come into my life, but finally he did. Then we started waiting for the babies to come. That never did happen.

As for writing, I knew I wanted to be a novelist when I was seven. When I was eighteen, I sent away my first novel manuscript. Now here I am, still on that elusive road to publication thirty-two years later. (Yes, you can do the math. I don't mind.) After thirty-plus years in this game, I figured I had a lot to share about writing and waiting. I had discovered things about writing that I wish I had known earlier. And as I learned those lessons, I finaled in a contest, drew encouragement and support from two well-known authors, and signed with an agent.

God had also shown me so much about the process of waiting. He taught me that sometimes you hold on and keep persevering--and sometimes you let go. I know now I'll probably never have children. That was one of my dreams I had to relinquish.

When I was younger, I knew a lot of people who wrote or painted or did all sorts of creative things, but their dreams fizzled out. So I started The Queen of Perseverance to share and to encourage other people to hang in there with me through those long dry spells.

But a sad thing happened. The more I wrote about persevering, the less I seemed to want to hang in there, myself. Here's something I wrote and almost posted about a year ago:

Last week, I ran completely out of perseverance. Not because God isn’t good or he can’t energize you. I just flat out wasn’t interested anymore. And it’s hard to write a blog and try to encourage everyone else when you don’t even want to be encouraged yourself.

I was really stuck. When I did grab a moment to sit down with my writing, I wanted to scream. I stared at the same sentence on the screen, with that stupid cursor blinking at me. I would pull up the blog and couldn’t think of anything to say, except, “I want to quit.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I figured that wouldn’t be very encouraging. So there I was, stuck.

This feeling came to a head last week, but it didn’t start then. Oddly enough, my desire to quit started growing right when I started this blog labeling myself the “Queen of Perseverance.” Does God have a sense of humor, maybe?

I think there’s a Scripture that warns you to be careful of setting yourself up as a teacher—or thinking you’re very strong in a certain area and don’t have to worry about temptation coming from that direction. Because that's exactly where temptation will come from. It will catch you off guard. I seem to be living proof of this.

I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was seven years old. That’s approximately 42 years ago. I’ve thought about writing and publishing a novel every day since. I couldn’t imagine not being a writer.

In fact, sometimes I was afraid that I was too obsessed with writing—not only with my publishing dream, but with my characters and their worlds. Every now and then I would panic and think, what if God asked me to give up writing? Maybe I’m placing too much importance on it, even placing it before him. But how could I possibly give it up?

I finally managed to pray the words, at least in my head: if you want me to do something else, just show me, and I’ll stop writing.

The story of how God kept me writing during that time is, I think, pretty amazing. But for now, let me return to the current crisis, which is completely different from anything I’ve experienced before.

For the first time I’m not sure I want to be a writer. Instead of telling God I’m willing to quit, I’ve been praying for him to let me quit.

Stories no longer fill my head. The only time I think about my stories is when I sit there in front of that blinking cursor, forcing myself to think about them. And finding time and energy to sit there in front of that computer screen gets harder every week, not easier. I find myself asking, “Why exactly are you torturing yourself? You’re the one who started this. No one is making you do it. In fact, all your family and friends would be happy if you quit, because you might actually have time for them.”

I decided that this year is going to be sort of “my year of the fleece.” I’m laying a fleece before God, that if he wants me to keep writing, he will show me in some definitive way this year. Hopefully this will involve some kind of encouragement. I’ve sort of committed to my agent to finish two novels this year, so I want to try to do that. But after that, if nothing has changed, I’M TAKING SOME TIME OFF. This does not necessarily mean I’m quitting. But it will mean a big change.

So there it is, the sad state I was in about a year ago. Fortunately, I didn't post that whiney little diatribe, although I did tell my readers that I was trying to make some decisions about my writing. When I ran across the draft of that post a few days ago, it shocked me. Had I really reached such a low point in creativity? Had I really been that angry and frustrated?

Because here I am, a year later, itching to write. I am no closer to publication, no more successful, but for now at least, my passion is back.

It's always good to end on a cliff-hanger, so I'll tell you next time what happened to get the creative juices flowing again. I'll have to confess something that may shock some of you, but I've decided to go for it. So tune in for more of my Deep Dark Confessions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Introducing Little Fish (and Dues Payer)

So, some of you may have been wondering why I have two "aka"s listed under my name on the right side of our blog page. Or you may not have cared a whit (perhaps more likely). "Dues Payer" is a user name I have adopted as an online header for a while now, after I established a (sort of) production company, named Dues Payer Productions. I have now written, directed, and produced two short films, both under the Dues Payer flag. (One film is still in the post-production phase, and is not available for viewing yet).

The first film I made is called Changing Baby, and is viewable at www.myspace.com/duespayerproductions OR www.myspace.com/kristi_israel_rivas. It is a strange little film, so if you take a look at it, be warned. The second film, which is now being edited, is called For Closure, and is a pretty bleak look at the end of a marriage. It should be finished in a month or so. I plan to write more in the future about these films and the process of filmmaking in general, but I wanted to mention them now in the context of revealing more about my nicknames.

"Little Fish" is a new nom de plume I have adopted especially for "Dimensions." When I decided I wanted to start a blog, I had the idea that it would be primarily a way for me to keep loved ones informed of my adventures in Los Angeles, where I am planning to move at the end of April. I fully expect to have both success and failure there, and foresee many rich storytelling opportunities awaiting me.

Thus, I thought, what better nickname under which to write about these adventures than "Little Fish." After all, that is exactly what I will be. Actually, I may be more like Plankton or Algae, so insignificant will my Hollywood presence be at first. But Little Fish is just more poetic than Plankton, so there you go.

So, I plan to blog about my adventures in Los Angeles mainly under the name "Little Fish", and if I write about new productions for the Dues Payer company, I may use that name. And sometimes, if I am feeling particularly exposed to the elements of harsh reality, I may just write under my own name, Kristi Israel. After all, I love my family, and they gave me that name. I am proud to take it to California. Hopefully I will make them proud as well!

Stay tuned- Little Fish is online apartment hunting in Los Angeles over the next couple of weeks. We'll see what kind of adventures lay in store for me in that department. I will be making a big faith step by renting an apartment without actually seeing it, but when you are poor, you don't have much choice. Any of you out there who pray, feel free to send up some requests to the Lord on my behalf for a reasonable, decent apartment in a pretty safe neighborhood, which meets my needs both seen and unforeseen!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Next Weekly Prize: An Amazon Gift Card!

The winner of this week's drawing for the handmade, beaded bookmark is BunnyBx. If you're Bunny, send me your mailing address and I'll ship your prize to you right away.

This week's drawing is for everyone's favorite--a gift card! Each comment you leave on the blog between now and Sunday, March 29, will get you one entry in the drawing for a $15.00 amazon.com gift card.

As always, subscribers will be entered in the drawing, as well.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

I did something truly bizarre last week. I read a current book of fiction--something that's actually popular right now.

I'm always playing catch-up, not just with laundry and dust-bunnies, but with popular culture. I generally get excited about books that other people read years ago. But a couple of weeks ago, a colleague recommended a book called The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, by Joshilyn Jackson. In fact, she handed it to me, or I probably still wouldn't have gone out and looked for it. I opened it up and this was the first sentence: "Until the drowned girl came to Laurel's bedroom, ghosts had never walked in Victorianna."

Whoa! That's my kind of beginning. I'm not into the occult and don't like books that dwell on that sort of thing, but I love a little creepiness right around the edges. And the ghosts in this book are more of the literary sort--kind of like Hamlet's father, who shows up to make Hamlet realize there's something rotten in Denmark.

The ghost of Molly, whose body is found floating in Laurel's swimming pool, seems to be making a similar point. After all, how did a thirteen-year-old girl end up dead in Laurel's yard in the middle of the night? Why was she even in their back yard? Does Laurel's own thirteen-year-old daughter have anything to do with it? Laurel's husband? Is there a pervert sheltering in one of the neighborhood's pretty Victorian homes?

Laurel doesn't feel she has the emotional stamina to pursue these questions, so she calls in her bold, unconventional sister to help her investigate. As they interact, it becomes apparent that this isn't the first violent death in their family, or the first ghost to try to draw Laurel's attention.

Although the story kept me turning the pages from start to finish, I was afraid I saw exactly where this book was going. Victorianna is a pleasant suburb where people seem content with their jobs and families and traditional lives--including Laurel and her family--but I've read enough books that start with a premise like that. Based on past experience, I expected Laurel to realize how shallow that life is, what a sham her marriage is, how unsatisfying it is to be just a mother.

Laurel's sister, Thalia, certainly seems determined to draw Laurel to that conclusion. So I braced myself for the finish--and was pleasantly surprised. I can't say much more without giving away all the delicious twists and surprises, but just let me say I found the ending to be positive and satisfying.

Even so, I have to warn you that this is most definitely a secular book. As I mentioned, I don't read a lot of current, secular fiction so the foul language and sexual references that occasionally sprang up jarred me. If you're trying to stay away from that sort of thing altogether, you might want to give this one a miss.

I'm glad I read The Girl Who Stopped Swimming because it reminds me of the theme and structure of one of my works-in-progress, and it's quite well-written. It weaves in the secrets from the past with a current crisis in a seamless way. It also breaks some rules that I, too, would love to flaunt. For example, that opening that I loved is in the much-maligned omniscient point of view. Oh, and have you writers ever heard the "rule" that you can't give back-story until page 35? Jackson begins the back story in the second paragraph. And it works! In fact, both these devices made the story richer to me--and I want to learn to do that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Harry, Me, and Graves for Our Friends

My dog died last Wednesday. He was going to be thirteen this month. I had had him since he was a puppy. He was there with me through so many moves I can barely count anymore, through a divorce, through highs and lows, goods and bads, all of it. His constant little presence was a source of reassurance to me so often- love, loyalty, and friendship without judgment. He was a Yorkie and his name was Rocco.

He was going to be my little California dog soon. He was going to take the long trip West with me- he would have seen the Grand Canyon, and maybe the Hoover Dam. My roommate, Claire, said that we had been through a lot of adventures together, and that he just wasn’t up for the next one. I think she was right. But mainly, I think the good Lord spared Rocco and me from many ends which would have been worse. If this had happened in California, I could not have buried him at my family’s house. I am thankful I was able to bury him at the house where I grew up- somewhere I should be able to go back to and where I can visit his grave in the foreseeable future. I am so thankful that I did not have to make the decision to have him put down. I just came home Wednesday night, and he was gone. He had been showing signs of age, but he seemed to feel fine for the most part, and it happened very suddenly. I am so thankful he did not suffer. And I am thankful I have my family still close to help me through this.

As I said, I buried him at my childhood home. My father was out of town, so my Uncle Donny helped me. I had been so exhausted, having not slept much for the couple of preceding nights, and did not think I was up for much physical labor. When I got to my dad’s house and met my uncle, though, I found myself WANTING to do the work. I knew I could not do it all myself, not properly. I wanted to bury him beside a small holly tree, and that meant having to contend with roots. I was not strong enough to break through those roots, but Donny was. Thankfully he was there to handle that.

The rest, though, I wanted to do, so Donny found two shovels, and I dug as much as I could. As I worked to break through maybe 2 ½-3 feet of dirt and red clay, I could not help but think of a scene from a book which moved me greatly when I read it, but which came back to me with a greater depth of significance when I thought of it as I helped dig Rocco’s grave. Does that sound strange? I was certainly dealing with the harsh reality of the situation, but even while living in that, my mind went to this fictional scenario in which one of my friends- a fictional friend- dug a grave for someone dear to him.


DISCLAIMER: I understand the Potter series is a controversial one among Christians. I know wonderful people on both sides of the issue, and am not writing this post to start a debate over whether or not Believers should read fairy tales with wizards and witches as protagonists.

Now that is said, the two of you who are still reading this will hopefully understand some of the connections I want to make. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series, Harry has to bury one of his friends. This is not the first friend, nor is it the last, he loses in the fight against Voldemort. But this is the only one that Harry, himself, buries. It is Dobby, the house elf, who gave his life to save Harry and others.

Since the second book, Dobby had become a loyal helper and friend to Harry. He was small, and he was greatly abused by the Malfoys, his former owners. In the Chamber of Secrets, Harry secured Dobby’s freedom from the Malfoys, which also meant his freedom from abuse and a life of misery. But even before that act, Dobby was loyal to Harry. He stood by him throughout the series, though not always at the forefront. You just knew that somewhere, Dobby the house elf was nearby, and would show up at some point when Harry needed him the most.

Unlike the funeral of Albus Dumbledore, a grand, standing-room-only affair held on the grounds of Hogwarts at the end of the Half-Blood Prince, Dobby’s funeral is held by Harry and a small band of fugitives in hiding. Harry and his best friends, Ron and Hermione, are on the run from the tyranny of the evil they are fighting, the same evil that just killed Dobby, and must bury their small friend at the safe house where they are taking refuge. Harry wants to dig the grave for Dobby himself. He refuses to use magic to do it, but wants to honor his friend by expending his own energy and sweat in a labor of love.

At this crucial point in the story, Harry has been struggling with a choice- does he proceed upon a path of faith, or upon a path of fear? It is through his efforts to secure Dobby’s laying to rest that he is finally able to see clearly, and make the choice of faith.

He took responsibility for his friend. There was no one else to do it. Dumbledore had many friends. Dobby had only Harry. And in the end it was his love for Dobby, and his efforts on his behalf, which helped lead Harry to choices which, when all was said and done, conquered the evil which threatened the world. Life from death. Salvation from sacrifice. Remind you of anything?

Finally, I wonder what is it we can see in fictional scenes that we cannot see when we are going through similar events in our own lives? One answer is beauty. There is a beauty in such poignant scenes which we cannot see or feel when we are facing the real sadness of loss. In this case, does fiction become more truthful than what we call reality? I tend to think so. In such times, we may be blinded by too much reality, and cannot see the objective Truth fiction can show us at times, the Truth revealed by our involvement in a scenario which is close enough to affect us to almost Otherworldly yearning, but which is distant enough to not BE us. Digging a grave for my dog is not going to save the world, I know, but through Harry’s and Dobby’s experience, I was able to appreciate a beauty in my last moments with Rocco that I would not otherwise have known.

Thank God for fiction!

And thank God for Rocco! He was a truly wonderful friend.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cat Imagination, Part II

Wendy yearns for Narnia
"I've got to get back! I'm a Queen there!"

If you're looking for Part I of this post, it's over on my other blog. A few weeks ago, I told how my cat, Wendy, either has a rich life of the imagination or is going completely insane. I'm still not sure of the answer, but let me catch you up on the latest.

First of all, she's developed an obsession for the TV show, Lost. I avoided that dread condition myself for years by refusing to watch the show, but Kristi was devious. She gave me season 1 for Christmas, and of course after watching season 1 I had to go out and get season 2, and so on, and so on. During one of the early episodes, the characters went down a hatch and into a tunnel. The scene was dark with flashlight beams bouncing all over the screen. Wendy bounded to the end of the bed and stared, enraptured, with her little head bobbing to follow the action.

After that, she was as hooked as all those folks you work or go to school with. I'm not making this up. Wendy generally ignores TV, but when Lost is on, she hunkers down on the chair or footstool and drinks it in.

One night, I pulled up a recent episode on the computer. She had curled up on my lap as she often does when I'm computing, but when the Lost episode loaded, she sprang up and started yipping in excitement. She climbed onto the keyboard and appeared to be trying to jump through the screen and onto the island. (If she had actually been in a Lost episode, it probably would have worked.) I had to pull her off the keyboard about three times and try to calm her down.

All this is nothing compared to her addiction to shadows. In the other post, I talked about her cute habit of watching shadow puppets on one particular wall. Now she follows me around the house just so she can lunge at my shadow. If I'm in one spot, she plops down and watches the movements on the opposite wall. I hardly ever see my cat's face anymore. She always has her back to me.

In the "Narnia" pictures at the top of the post, Wendy was actually watching shadows. The interesting thing to me was that, for ages, she was totally uninterested in what was making the shadows. She fixated on the silhouette of my wiggling fingers on the door, but when I tried to get her attention and get her to actually play with my hands, she wasn't interested. Right back to the shadows.

We've mentioned how a great book or a great movie can create a longing in us for Heaven or for God. That the fiction can provide road signs to the Real Thing behind the allegory. Watching Wendy, I was reminded that those of us with fertile imaginations need to be careful not to get so absorbed in the shadows that we forget the Real Thing.

When I get "lost" in a story, I need to make sure it's drawing me to God, not pulling me away from him. I don't need to sit with my back toward God, caught up in my own little world, and ignore the truth.

Wendy eventually did turn around and decide to come play with me. And we had a great time.

Of course, she still watches shadows. And I figure that's okay, as long as she doesn't forget I'm there.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Winner and A New Contest!

The winner of the very first drawing on this blog is...Kathleen Morphy! Which is interesting, since Kathleen was the first winner, I believe, on my other blog, The Queen of Perseverance. I'll be mailing her a copy of the book, Art & Fear. Thanks for sticking with me, Kathleen!

And now, for the Week 2 contest. I'll be giving away a lovely shepherd's hook bookmark, handmade by me.

Trust me when I tell you that I'm better at making bookmarks than at taking pictures. In my humble opinion, the pictures don't do the product justice. But it features a butterfly carved out of rose quartz, a porcelain flower bead, and sparkly Swarovski crystals.

This baby will add springtime and elegance to any book you're reading.
To enter the drawing, subscribe or leave a comment on any post between now and Sunday, March 22nd.
Have fun!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Joy: Sampling the Eternal

Hey everybody. It's me again, Kristi. I thought I would share with you all today something I wrote a little over a year ago, while I was in school. It was for a Senior Seminar class, and we had been working all semester on figuring out where we as "artist/scholars" were at that present time, and where we wanted to go in our artistic endeavors. The term "artist/scholar" was big in our Theatre and Performance Studies department. We were pushed to strive for both.

This theme, though, is one I have been thinking a lot about lately, as I plan to move West very soon. It helps me to remember why I am going, and what my goals will hopefully always be- what they should be, I believe.

I focus on C.S. Lewis in this piece, because through his writing and discoveries, more than any other author's, I have made amazing realizations about who I am as an artist, and what I believe art is. I plan to write a lot about this on our blog, because it really is what we are trying to relate through Dimensions. (I think Robin would agree- I hope so, anyway!) I believe God led me to Lewis' writings, and enabled me to make these incredibly important connections. Maybe you can make some connections as well. They have truly been life-changing for me. For now, though, I hope you enjoy this post!

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country… even now I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like nostalgia and romanticism and adolescence. The secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly longing for it. And we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of the name, “Heaven.”

C.S. Lewis

The students from Dead Poets Society who stood on the tops of their desks, quoting Walt Whitman in a show of support for their teacher, understood the concept of yearning, of the “inconsolable secret”- what the artist/scholar C.S. Lewis called “Joy” (with a capital J)- specifically brought about by encounters with art. Lewis had experienced this Joy in art, and his efforts to find its true source, to understand this Joy, eventually led to his conversion from Atheism to Theism, and finally to Christianity. These experiences of what he calls that “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” were the central story of Lewis’ life. In his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes:

I had become fond of Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in

a casual, shallow way for its story and its vigorous rhythms. But then,

and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far

more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the

pages of the book and found…

‘I heard a voice that cried,
Balder the Beautiful,
Is dead, is dead’

…instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described…and then…found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.”

For Lewis, there was no doubt that Joy was a desire, but a desire for what? Did he really long to be inside of the poem, at the moment when Balder fell? Did he long for the things, people, and places he found there? Did he long for Joy itself? After many years of searching, he wrote that “the form of the desired is in the desire”, and that “it is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low’… Inexorably Joy proclaimed, ‘You want- I myself am your want of- something other, outside, not you nor any state of you.’”

My own run-ins with Joy after certain artistic events have led me on a similar search. I have lived through powerful, emotional days, sometimes weeks, of bittersweet agony after some of these moments. I wondered, “What is this I am feeling? What is it that I want?” Though I was already approaching the question as a Christian, I did not immediately make the connection. I began at basically the same place as Lewis. If I have one such experience while watching Out of Africa, it must be for Africa I long. But then when I remember that I do not even like camping that much, and that I greatly enjoy the comforts of an air-conditioned room, I must conclude that African safari is not the desired object. Then what is?

Certainly, we as humans relate to the beauty of love between dear old friends, and the great loss experienced when one dies. We long for the kinship that exists among unlikely comrades, and we ache at the mere existence of a so-called impossible bond. But there is more than simply relating. These instances of Joy go beyond empathy, beyond understanding. These moments are, as Lewis describes them, “something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something… ‘in another dimension.’” Though this “broken and exalted” Joy has come to me at moments in various art forms-animation, children’s literature, epic films, paintings, music- I list heavily toward the genre of science-fiction/ fantasy. The connection between this artistic realm and the heavenly realm is there. Considering Lewis’ search for the Source of Joy, it is natural that he would have made that connection. In his book Of Other Worlds, Lewis writes about the brilliance of the author David Lindsay and his book Voyage to Arcturus:

"His Tormance is a region of the spirit. He is the first writer to discover what ‘other planets’ are really good for in fiction. No merely physical strangeness or merely spatial distance will realize that idea of otherness which is what we are always trying to grasp in a story about voyaging through space: you must go into another dimension. To construct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw on the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit."

Here we find the call to destiny on a greater scale. Though we may relate to this call, the imagined world is larger than life- a world apart. And when the enemy must be faced there- and the enemy must always be faced there, the stakes of the battle take on epic importance. The hero comes to the edge of defeat, but here the risk of loss knows only the limits of the imagination. And finally, after an otherworldly quest has been undertaken and the heightened battle fought, victory is that much more rewarding- to have fought against all odds and returned from the edge victorious, he is able to share in camaraderie with those who have struggled by his side. We have participated in something known and relatable, yet somehow totally foreign. Lewis himself loved this genre so much that he created his own imaginary world, in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Then, there are those episodes of Joy sparked by that occasional piece which brings together all of the elements in one grand synthesis. Why am I an artist? So that perhaps one day I can create something as wonderful as Michael Mann’s film Last of the Mohicans- a piece in which all of the elements speak to the spirit, and all of the technical elements come together to create a whole which is greater than its parts- something which may spark in someone else that which has been sparked in me- something by which I could whisper a hint of that “inconsolable secret” into the ear of another.

The artistic realm is the only place I have ever experienced these moments, these “road signs” which point “to something other and outer.” The artist has been given a unique gift- the gift of creation, a sampling of the eternal. Perhaps as a creator, the artist represents one meaning in the Truth that man is created in God’s Image. My hope is to point others, through my creations, to Him Who is greater than me, Who is Other, Outside of, and Higher than me- the Master Artist, the Great Creator. To show others the Joy which has been shown to me- this is my goal as an artist.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Prize Drawing Every Week: Week One

From now until the end of April, we're going to have a prize drawing every week for lots of fun things, including hand-made jewelry, books, gift cards, who knows? Then, at the end of April, we'll have a grand prize drawing for a $50.00 amazon.com gift card!

Tune in at the beginning of each week to read about the latest prize. Every comment you leave during that week will get you one entry into that contest, plus one entry into the grand prize drawing!

Want something simpler? A little less public? Then try subscribing! Subscribers automatically receive one entry into each drawing. Just use the "Subscribe Here" form over on the right-hand side of the page. What could be easier?

The first week's drawing is for a copy of the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. For a little more about this book, see yesterday's post.

Have fun!

Monday, March 9, 2009

What Was I Thinking? I'm Terrified!

I absolutely adore the name of our new blog. Dimensions: Art and Eternity. Sounds like the sort of profound, spine-tingling, spiritual and artistic quest-type blog I'd love to read--if C.S. Lewis or Madeleine L'Engle were writing it.

Unfortunately, it's just Kristi and me.

Kristi just got out of college so maybe some of that deep thinking is still ingrained in her. But me? Yikes! What have I gotten myself into here?

Actually, it's the word "art" that scares me. Dimensions and eternity--well, that's stuff that God is in control of. I can have fun exploring, thinking about it, but in the end I know that none of us can really grasp it. No need to pretend.

But art? Am I saying that my poor little romance novel is art? Am I saying that I understand art? Do I even really know what it is? In my experience, "art" is something you stand in awe of, that you spend years studying and that requires a special vocabulary, and that professors can write hundreds of books about and still not really grasp. Art hangs in museums and when you go visit it, you speak in hushed tones.

Will people who do know about art visit this site, lured in by the title, and then laugh their heads off when they see my little musings?

Fortunately, just as I was reaching panic level, I opened a nifty little book I'm reading which is called, oddly enough, Art & Fear. I am not making this up: in the first paragraphs of the introduction, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland say, "This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people--essentially (statistically speaking) there aren't any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time."

This is a blog about art like that. Art made by ordinary people. By folks like me, who love to tell stories or string together beads, because arranging the stunning colors of jade and quartz and agates lets me participate in God's handiwork. Because the brilliance reflected in a row of golden glass beads reminds me that Heaven is real and beautiful. Because my funny romance novel tells me that He made us for joy and that for those of us who love Him, there really is a happily ever after.

I want this to be that kind of blog.

And since their book fortified me to actually start blogging, I've decided that the first week's give-away is going to be a copy of Bayles' and Orland's book, Art & Fear. I'll hold a drawing at the end of this week for the book, so be sure to post a comment to be entered. (And make sure I know how to contact you if you win.)

As always, subscribers to the blog automatically receive an entry in the drawing. But every comment you leave between now and Sunday will get you one more!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Introducing Kristi...Again!

Hi folks,

In case anyone missed the email/post I sent out and posted to my various sites a couple weeks ago, I wanted to use this as my first official post on mine and Robin's new blog. If it is redundant for some of you, I apologize. I promise- new content to come from me soon! Now, without further ado...here it is.

Greetings! Some of you know me well, and some maybe not so much. But here I am anyway, writing to let you all know about a couple of awesome things that are going on in my life right now. So, patience, Grasshopper- this is a little long but quite informative! Many of you may be aware that I finally finished my bachelor’s degree in May, graduating from Kennesaw State’s cutting-edge program with a Theatre and Performance Studies major, and a Film Studies minor.

Before I graduated, I began to pray in earnest about what my next step should be after graduation. I spent much of my twenties “gathering life experience”, or as some might call it, wasting time. Don’t get me wrong- there were some bright lights amidst the fog- not all of that decade was time and energy lost. But one day, during an extremely difficult period, I asked God to take over anything I was trying to hold onto, because that is the only way, I truly believe, to make the most out of every second- to really be who we are meant to be. I did not- do not- want to waste time anymore. And now, thanks to God, here I am, a few years later, officially educated.

But the question has still remained- or at least it had until a few months ago- what next? I tried a few different possibilities- sometimes the process of finding God’s way for us is by having doors closed in our faces, while others stay open, or are thrown open wide. Usually through this process, we learn a lot along the way, if we are open to it. That is the attitude I tried to take as I put in numerous applications for grad school last year, dragging members of my family around the Southeast with me as I auditioned for various MFA acting programs, as I wrote treatments for filmmaking programs, as I tried to demonstrate my ability to handle an MA/ PhD program, and as I failed to get into any of them. That is the attitude I tried to keep as I graduated, still working the same job I had before I started. I tried different paths in and around the Atlanta area, some resulting in failure, some in success. I had an amazing experience building a new show from scratch for the North Carolina Renaissance Festival. That collaboration and travel experience taught me so much about myself and working with others to make a production where before there had been none. My two partners in that process were wonderful, and I will never forget them!

And yet still, the question remained- where do I go from here (here being the Atlanta area), or do I stay here, and if so what do I do? I had been playing with the idea of moving to Los Angeles for a while (much to my sweet mother’s dismay). Over the last couple of years, a growing feeling- maybe even a calling- seemed to be settling in my heart for the West. Still though, that is a big move, and I just was not sure. Until probably 5 ½ - 6 months ago. I had been reading a series of fictional books which moved me so much, not only as a reader but as an artist- as a PERSON- that I knew I had to go for it. Do you ever have an experience like that- where one event in your life can have so much impact on a seemingly unrelated second event? I find this seems to happen a lot when God is involved. There was a peace inside me now about what I had to do that I had not known before. I had to follow my dreams, the dreams I believe God has laid on my heart to seek. I have asked myself, what is it I am seeking? Fame? Money? A secure spot on Hollywood’s A-list? Not necessarily noble ventures. The main thing I have to seek is God’s glory. I want to explore through poetry of performance and writing, and hopefully eventually, my own filmmaking, God’s Truth and Beauty. Does that mean every venture I undertake will be puritanical in nature? Not necessarily. Sometimes to find Truth, ugly and uncomfortable elements must be exposed first. Does that mean I won’t have to do a few cracker or toilet paper commercials? Please. I hope I can get those gigs! But the glory of God is why I believe I am being led to go there, and God willing, I will be successful in following Him.

Now, on to the second exciting development in my life recently (and I will try to make this brief)--- I am starting a BLOG! Actually, I will be sharing a new blog with fellow artist and wonderful aunt of mine, Robin Johns Grant. She is a writer, and we are sharing many similar experiences in our walks as Christians and artists these days, and are both very interested in exploring the crossroads of the two. How does one stay true to God, and true to her calling as an artist? This is one of the questions which will be a recurring theme in our blog, but we’ll be delving into other important areas as well, such as will there be another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, or whether or not Rupert Grint is too young for me. Or where exactly is my position in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? I will also be giving updates on my progress as I ready for my move to the West, which is scheduled for late April. My dad and his wife are generously helping me relocate, and we will be viewing some of the West along the way. What an adventure! I will share my victories and losses once I get there, and of extreme importance- my celebrity sightings!

Can't wait to hang with you all in Cyberland!


Kristi Israel

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do Not Panic, This is Only a Test

I've been working on getting all the features into the new blog (whew!) and decided we needed a test post. If you read this, please test the comment feature so we can see if that works. There is still much to be done but I'm out of time for now.

How do you think the site looks so far? Yes, Kristi's picture is much smaller than mine, but I can't seem to find any way to resize the photos. Oh, darn. And it makes me appear as though I'm the star, too. What a shame. Tut, tut.