Amy Mitchell is a stay-at-home-mom blogging at Unchained Faith. Her passions are faith, social justice, and creativity, all of which she fuels with caffeine and sarcasm. You can read her short stories at Amore con Formaggio.
While I was classmates with Ashley in college and enjoyed her feminist sass in class discussions, we never got to know each other very well. I always looked forward to her submissions to the school’s literary magazine I worked on — her pieces were well-written and punchy. I knew she kept writing after graduation, so I was excited when she submitted a couple stories for this week. This one stood out, and I think you’ll enjoy it just as much as I did. -H
I was delighted to get this submission from my best friend’s husband. I didn’t realize Michael was a fiction writer, and I’m pleased to tell you that he’s doing just fine for himself in this department. I hope you enjoy this piece of his. – H
Stories get me excited. Especially ones that are true, honest, cutting to the quick of an emotion, a moment. This is why short stories are my favorite — there’s not enough space for a saga, just enough to cast for the reader quick character studies and a moment or two that let the reader in on their deepest emotional realities. In essence, the short story form provides case studies on being human.
Today’s first offering comes to us from Samantha Fields. Be sure to leave her some feedback in the comments and let her know what you think!
There’s a poem that’s stuck with me, become part of me, since I first read it as a junior in college. It’s a sonnet from the novel Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (just read it. Lord Peter is fantastic.), and after some frustration over not having my copy with me, I found it online. Here you are:
That Still Centre
Here, then, at home, by no more storms distrest,
Folding laborious hands we sit, wings furled;
Here in close perfume lies the rose-leaf curled,
Here the sun stands and knows not east nor west,
Here no tide runs; we have come, last and best,
From the wide zone through dizzying circles hurled,
To that still centre where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis, to the heart of rest.
Lay on thy whips, O Love, that we upright,
Poised on the perilous point, in no lax bed
May sleep, as tension at the verberant core
Of music sleeps; for, if thou spare to smite,
Staggering, we stoop, stooping, fall dumb and dead,
And, dying, so, sleep our sweet sleep no more.
At one point, this picture of marriage is what I hoped to live out with my ex — I craved to have that tension and stillness, to dwell in a stable core of life in the middle of a whirling crazy world.
Obviously, that didn’t really happen. But what I have begun to discover is that still point, the fixed center of my experience of life, isn’t dependent on who I’m with or what I’m doing. (And honestly, I’ve been discovering that since this time last year when things started disintegrating, but as usual, I write about what I learn about a year after I walk it out.)
The still center is something I have to fight for at times, but it’s some unspeakable core of me, grown together with my sense of grace (it’s got me and I’m stuck), my constant struggle to make for myself a place, and a growing self-awareness of who I am and how I am and why. I know it sounds self-preoccupied, but when you grow up with codependency and party-line positions as defining norms, this is a big deal. Knowing who I am and liking it and not accepting the hurtful things other people have said about me or to me if they don’t ring true with this core-of-me is liberating.
And everyone keeps saying that this is defined by my identity in Christ and that is true in a sense, but it’s more helpful for me to see that inverted: I can be comfortable in my own skin because this is how I was made to be. I’m not absorbed in Christ, but a creation of his. And he called it good.
But in the busyness of responding to the over-50 emails and Facebook messages I got last week (thank you, everyone. So much kindness.) and the face-to-face conversations where I have to tell my story again because I love this person and owe them that, and the busyness of my real life day job that keeps me on my toes, and so many ideas (Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week! Grad school! Career ideas! Writing a novel! Writing poems! Writing ANYTHING! READ ALL THE BOOKS!), I have been having to fight to protect myself from myself, from saying yes to everyone and everything that is good. I’m so bad at this. I am too curious about stories and ideas and want to absorb it all. It’s not obligatory commitment guilt, it’s can’t-turn-off-the-curiosity overkill.
However, it’s been good for me, in other ways. Structure, ideas, creativity — these things keep me from lingering too long on things I shouldn’t give into, and I am thankful for that. But this is partly all to say: I love everybody but if communication is slow or I’m not able to see you in person, please be understanding. Be patient with me?
Today’s a snow day, so I’m playing catch up and working from home and enjoying the slower pace. Not commuting for 3 hours gives me a lot of my day back!
In the meantime, here’s my current reading list for kicks and giggles. What’s overwhelming you this week? What are YOU reading or writing about?
- Dangerous Angels, Francesca Lia Block — happy light reading for my tired brain, thanks to friends who understand. And Weetzie is darling.
- The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen — picked this up at Kramerbooks on Friday, and started it on the train home. No verdict yet.
- The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris — Oh my word, this book is balm to my soul. I read this most mornings on the train and her meditations are the perfect way to start the day. I have lots of thoughts about her discussion of celibacy and the virgin martyrs. Anyone else want to talk about this? It’s really good. My grandmother foisted it on me over Christmas and she knows everything.
- Theology of the Body for Beginners, Christpher West — Not a Catholic, but super curious about JPII’s magnum opus as theology of the body (er, lack thereof) is one of my favorite Evangelicals-are-missing-something soapboxes.
There are others I’ve started and neglected sitting around my room, but these are my buddies for right now. And I’m starting to really miss having the rest of my books out and with me. How do other transient reader folk deal with this issue?
I was talking with some friends this week about favorite childhood books (we’re still not over Sheftu. True story.) and I realized that reading good stories with strong female characters built a lot of subconscious mental structure which helped me see women as equal to men, and drove me to be skeptical of the soft patriarchy in complementarianism and question other elements of privilege or inconsistent treatment of people in the church.
I just needed to have the lights flipped on in my head to bring these two parts of my mind together and see how they didn’t line up. But before I realized that I was a feminist, I was the girl who ate up stories about strong women and female warriors and brilliant females from history.
Maybe my first awareness of feminism came from my fierce, academic grandmother, who halted me mid-sentence one day when I was 6 or 7 (and probably prattling on about how “we” didn’t like something as a family because dad didn’t like it), and looked me in the eye and said, “well, you’re entitled to your own opinion.” That idea stuck with me — I remember yelling it in fights with my sister when I was in middle school. “I’m entitled to my own opinion! Shut up!” (Sorry, Heidi.)
That idea gave me permission to enjoy the host of strong female characters in YA historical fiction, in the books on the Sonlight reading list, in the literary classics I gobbled up, despite my mother’s concerns about attitudes in books like Ella Enchanted. (Was I the only one who had to write a book report about that one with the expectation that I’d be critical about the negative portrayal of obedience to parents?)
But books were my gateway to feminism. Before I even knew the term “slut-shaming” and what it meant, I read The Scarlet Letter and I realized how inappropriate it is for the church to treat a woman like Hester was treated.
I read fairy tales and I learned how hard life is and how it’s possible for a woman overcome terrible fates if she’s quick with her mind.
I read Till We Have Faces and I learned that the agony of a woman’s soul can be beautiful. That a woman’s spiritual journey is deep and intense and full of meaning.
I read biographies of Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael, and I delighted in how fierce and true they were, and wanted to be like them.
I read The Scarlet Pimpernel and realized how destructive a marriage can be if there’s no intellectual equality, honesty, or companionship.
I read the Anne books and learned that making mistakes and learning by experience is a valid way to live (and not everything has to be dominated by principles and ideals), that women in the “olden days” went off to college and were the better for it.
I read Little Women and felt a kinship to Jo and her misfit spunk and how she embraces her own huge personality, and most of all, I related to her as she grew into her writerly self and took courage from her confidence.
I read the Little House books and every time Pa called Laura “strong as a little French horse,” I wanted to be like that, too.
I read the Brontës and Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, not so much for their stories and poems (though I adored them), but for their ability to do what they loved with their lives, despite gender norms.
I read The Ordinary Princess and loved Amy for her communion with nature and her spiteful attitude toward an arranged marriage.
I read Lord of the Rings and wanted to be Eowyn.
I read everything I could find by Madeleine L’Engle and coveted the intelligence and bravery of her heroines.
I read stories of women who disguised themselves as men and fought or spied or traveled. I read all the books I could find about female heads of state throughout history, and read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for more stories of brave women who defied cultural standards. I wanted to be Joan of Arc, Hatsheput, Boadicea, Sacajawea, Margaret of Austria, etc., etc.
And I never wanted to be a feminist, because feminists hated men and were selfish.
But then I went to college and two things happened while this English major was just a baby English major.
1) My scary-wonderful-smart Brit Lit prof asked us: Could we name a book where a male author succeeded in creating an authentic and rich inner life for a female character?
And we couldn’t give her a single title. [She retorted that it was just as well, since the only one she knew of was Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.]
2) I met feminist literary theory, in particular: I learned to read the absent female narrative in a text, starting with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar on the madwoman in the attic (and damn, there was a lot of female silence in literature), and I became acquainted with the concept of semiotics and the works of Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous.
And I barely scratched the surface with those authors and theories before the light switch in my head flipped on after reading A Handmaid’s Tale.
I was a feminist. There were voices missing. Feminism wasn’t the feminism my parents had grown up with — it was much more mature, nuanced, thoughtful than the second wave feminists who scared them into complementarianism. This was a feminism that was intellectual and observant and, I began to realize, compatible with my Christianity in a way that didn’t just complement it, but reinforced it and made it more holistic and loving and thoughtful.
Then I went back and I reread the four gospels. And I sat on my bed and cried over how Jesus treated women, because it was so beautiful and tender and respectful. Because it was so very, very different from what I had seen presented for women in the church as I grew up.
And then I realized: I’m entitled to an opinion of my own. I’m a feminist.
I love reading. When I was in third grade, my mom had me make a list of all the books I’d read in the last year. Once we got through the library loan records and my Sonlight reading list, I discovered that I’d read between two and three hundred books that year.
When I was in tenth grade, I fell behind and stopped working on most of my schoolwork for a lot of reasons–my mom had just had twins, I was babysitting for her a lot, I was stressed and probably depressed, I was socially isolated in unhealthy ways, and I coped by reading everything in sight. I read and drew and wrote lots that year, but mostly I read. Sometimes I think that books were my lifeline to sanity while I lived at home.
During college, people would ask me why I chose to be an English major. I’d jokingly tell them that it was so I could get good grades just for reading all the time like I would do anyway.
Writing has always been part of who I am, as well. I wrote a historical fiction “novel” in high school, various short stories, and lots and lots of essays. In the last few years I have begun to explore poetry, write more fiction, and really focus on honing my craft.
But my favorite thing is still reading, challenging myself to read the greats and develop a good ear for quality language and voice and presence. To push myself to enjoy what I might not find easy in order to learn and stretch my own writing. And to just read for reading’s sake, savoring the presence of an author’s story and losing myself in someone else’s world and words.
Short stories are my very favorite of all. They fit well into a busy life. I love how they can be tight and focused like poetry, but the genre allows them to also be broader and more narrative. However, the form seems to be fading, and fewer authors are writing short stories and fewer schools are studying them. They’re not yet outdated, but there’s a slow fade happening for short stories in the publishing world. And that’s sad, because you’d think there would be a bigger market for them in the world of e-readers and online publishing venues and Twitter and blogs.
Inspired after attending a speaking event by Lorin Stein a few months back (promoting The Paris Review‘s new short story collection, Object Lessons), I decided I wanted to do more here with writing and promoting this great genre.
So here’s the plan:
During the first week of April, I’m going to host a short story week on Wine & Marble.
And I want you to help.
I’d like to feature a short story every day from March 31st (Easter Sunday) to April 6th.
That’s seven stories.
You write it, I’ll help you clean it up, and we’ll publish it here.
I’ll be accepting submissions from now until March 23rd. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To kick this off, I’d like to give you a short story I wrote a couple years back.
Click here to download Wine at Christmas.
It’s been a quiet week for me online. I’ve been working ahead on some things, and hopefully I’ll have some more regular posts up next week. While this is a few days late, here’s some great reading to ease the end of your weekend.
The Gifts and Benefits of Doubt, Experimental Theology
Preaching Grace is Risky Business, Internet Monk
Modesty is a Chameleon, Soul Nation
Is your clothing made by slaves?
Marriage isn’t the silver bullet for all social problems, and we shouldn’t pretend it is: The Magical Mystery of Marriage, Dianna Anderson.
Why I’ve Stopped Living Like Each Day is My Last, Elizabeth Esther
The One Thing About Being A Therapist, Nicole Unice
Valerie Eliot passed away this week. Maybe scholars will have access to his papers now!
Susan Wise Bauer, Washington Post. I never loved her homeschooling stuff, but I’m really excited to hear what she’s up to now.
How To Live Without Irony, NYT blog
Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriend, College Humor (ridiculously funny)
The word of the year is “GIF.” Here’s how it was chosen, in GIFs.
Favorite meal this week: Cheeseburger Buns
Lauren went to Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park and now I’m ridiculously homesick.
I feel like I should have posted more this week. I know I wanted to write another Immodesty Rail post, and I wanted to tell you about the author readings and book signings I’ve been to this last month (Lorin Stein, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins). But it’s been an exhausting week, and some people took offense at my post on loneliness, and my sister is moving, and I’ve been remembering that I’m an introvert and the emotional fullness of this week has taken its toll. I’ll get y’all caught up soon. But when I’m ready.
For the time being, I’ve found some noteworthy pieces worth your reading attention.
Makoto Fujimura, one of my favorite Christian thinkers and a gifted artist, lost a lot of his more recent work in the rising waters of Hurricane Sandy. There’s no insurance money or FEMA help for the damage done to the gallery and his art, and they’re taking donations to try to repair the damage.
Justin Welby is the new Archbishop of Canterbury. I admit I was hoping John Sentamu would get this post, but we will see how Welby does.
Rachel Held Evans writes her best post yet, and what I think should have been the preface to her latest and highly controversial book. This is a fantastic read.
A Christianity Today blog post on reading modern-day assumptions into the Bible and Mr. Mom.
My dear friend RoseAnna reflects on what she’s learning in dating after her divorce about grace and people.
The Greek island Ikaria is, according to the New York Times, the island where people forget to die.
Preston writes a beautifully poetic post on what the phrase “pro-life” evokes in his mind.
I just discovered this blogger this week, and I was surprised and impressed at his love poems–they’re quite good.
This may very well be the best thing I’ve read all week: The Trinity in Gender Debates. It’s the perfect follow-up to this post I read earlier, where Libby Anne observes that Debi Pearl’s concept of wifely subordination is based on her assumptions about the Trinity (which I found to be hugely problematic and borderline heretical). I recommend reading the Love, Joy, Feminism post before reading the first essay, to understand what this looks like in practice before digging into the theological nuances of such statements.