Writer’s Block: Pitting “well-rounded” against authenticity

originally published in The Moody Standard, issue 78.2, on September 26, 2012

Authenticity is a struggle in both writing and editing. Every writer thinks and writes differently, and when I edit an article, I have to remember that my voice is not the writer’s voice. The writer’s voice is the one that should be heard.

I’ve run into the same issue after reading an author with a strong, unique voice. If I write anything immediately afterwards I catch myself trying to mimic the cadence of another’s words – and typically failing.

I’ve found that my writing is strongest when it is my own and no one else’s, and our newspaper is richer when each piece clearly communicates from within the parameters of each writer’s style.

I’m learning that my life, like my writing voice, is fuller and richer when I’m not striving to be some other girl.

There’s a culture among many women today, the newest incarnation of the “Renaissance man” of ages past. I’m tempted to call it the Pinterest culture, but it’s a prevailing theme on the internet at large and seeps into our everyday lives when we’re not looking.

According to the internet, women are supposed to be extraordinarily well-rounded. And when I say well-rounded, I mean a crafty, resourceful seamstress who knows how to scrapbook and crochet while preparing seven-layer rainbow cake for a baby shower she planned and decorated after updating her knowledge with the latest movies and all the books  she reads while visiting all the most important landmarks in her respective city.

For a Moody girl, this might mean being well educated on both historically significant and current theologians; being well versed in current Christian and classic literature; having strong healthy relationships with your floor, your brother floor, your boyfriend, and at least a third of the rest of campus; and decorating your living space in a way that shows just how crafty you are. It can mean maintaining good grades; dressing well, yet creatively; cooking for the boys at open house; working out regularly in Solheim; and accessorizing your French-braided hair every day.

Oh, and don’t forget about knowing where the best secret coffee shops are, being deeply passionate about at least a few current issues, and being witty enough to get a few laughs at every SDR meal.

And despite this attitude being perpetuated the most by female-dominated websites like Pinterest, Moody men could probably compile in half a minute a similar list of all the things they feel expected to do and be. It’s not a gender-specific issue.

I’ve come to realize that this “be all-do all” attitude essentially steals much of life’s joy. I’m learning that I don’t have to do everything a so-called well-rounded person does. No, I don’t know a lot about the latest theologians. I’m can’t make a card for everyone who has a birthday this week. I don’t knit anymore, and I’m not going to cook a complicated dinner for anyone anytime soon. I can’t make it to every Joe’s event, floor event or conference.

But I am learning to cook a few small things. I’m using the year to read a lot of fiction. I’m enjoying my new job even when I’m editing into the wee hours of the night. And I’m excited to start attending a small group with my church on the weeks that I can.

There’s no sense in thinking that I must be good at, participate in, and enjoy the things someone else is. I can’t be all.  I  can’t do all.

Because when I seek to do everything that everyone else does, the only result is a parody of a life – a caricature of all the shiny people in the internet and on the streets.

If instead I focus on what I actually like to do, the activities I’m skilled at, and the ministries I have time to pour energy into – the things God has given me a penchant for – I have more time and energy to fully enjoy them and do them as best I can.

From now on, Pinterest can still be an interesting three-minute break from homework once in awhile – but it will no longer dictate my to-do list.


Writer’s Block: Stepping beyond shallow questions

originally published in The Moody Standard, issue 78.1, on September 12, 2012

When writing a profile for the newspaper, I interview the subject from a long list of prepared questions—basic questions, unexpected questions, questions intended to guide our conversation—so I’ll have as much information as I could possibly need when I begin writing. Yet some of the most interesting information often arises from questions that aren’t actually on my list of introductory questions, ones that naturally lead from our dialogue, that take a path far from shallow conversation.

You can get to know a lot about a person when you stop asking shallow, rote questions in an interview.

Yet so often we just stick to the shallow, easy questions in real life. How often do we move from a quick “Hey, how are you?” to the deeper “What are you dealing with?” or even “Do you want to talk about it?” How often do we ask about pains and passions, struggles and personal triumphs?

Some of you are good at this – and you’re welcome to stop reading now.  But I’m terrible at asking the right questions: knowing what to ask, how much to ask, when to ask. I tend to feel like I don’t have the right to snoop into someone’s life, because after all, why would you want to tell me?

There are an awful lot of us who avoid asking these heavier questions, and there’s danger in this, especially when we avoid asking about pain. I tend to think people don’t want to talk about – or even think about – the pain in their lives, the struggles, the fears. And if they don’t want to think or talk about it, why would I bring it up by asking? Why would I remind someone of something that hurts?

But that’s not actually how it works for the majority of people, is it? Yes, there will be times that we’re not ready to speak of certain things. We have the right to decline to answer. And we can respect that in others, certainly.

But this year, my last year here at Moody, I want to personally explore the idea that there is no harm in asking. Which is worse, after all? Caring enough to ask and being quietly denied, or never asking at all in a situation where discourse is sorely needed?

As humans, we need each other as we go through the things in life that don’t come up in small talk, topics we avoid in shallow conversation. We need to talk to each other. We need to vent our frustrations, share our pains, console and comfort, and receive strength and prayer. We need to be able to rejoice in battles won, lessons learned, and emotional gains. We all need it to different degrees, but we need it.

So what happens when we don’t ask? Some people will share anyways. I’m like that. Sometimes I’ll share my hurts with friends even without their asking, because I know I need it, because I’m willing to request that listening ear.

And not everyone will do so.

There are many secret pains here at Moody. Some people put on a happy face because they’d rather you thought they had it together. Some hide what ails them because their reputation is precious, and no one seems to care enough to ask, to promise a safe place from judgment. Others don’t think you’ll believe them.

But if we don’t ask, it often just looks like we don’t care.

So let’s get past the blocks in our minds that stop us from broaching the questions that matter. Let’s stop giving those in pain the biggest reason to keep it locked inside – that no one asked. The facades we use to blanket our struggles and fears and hurts can engulf our relationships, and I suggest we help one another set them aside.

It’s time to walk past “What’s up?” and step into each other’s lives.