When Writing is (not) Writing

Writing is getting decaf coffee and answering pesky emails that keep crowding your conscious thought stream.

Writing is taking care of the insurance application and those couple of photos left to edit before you devote the entire rest of your day to the writing.

Writing is updating your operating system and getting a refill on the decaf while your writing machine updates.

Writing is downloading all that good music you’ve been keeping in the notes tab on the phone (for the writing).

Writing is getting lost in deep tracks and longer itunes clips, which reminds me: writing is finding a good streaming source.

And then writing is writing.

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Confessions. Blast!

So, I’ll just get to it.  Lots of things are a little bit off. For starters, I am having a hard time balancing. It’s (surprise!) difficult to experience, article-write and express my own sentiment all at the same time. I sort of thought this would all be in the bag. For optimal quality, each task requires being fully present, and my brain is evidently only capable of two things at a time. I can experience and internalize, but not fact-gather. I can fact-gather and express, but without much sentiment. I can internalize and reflect, but I can’t, in that moment, be experiencing. We are always experiencing, and I am totally backlogged.

Here’s the kicker: I process through writing. So backlogged means I am currently a jumbled mess of girls’ schools and street kids and TV antennas made of metal padlocks and vocational centers and genocide and escape stories and reconciliation stories and coffee communities and traditional dance and outdoor kitchens and church services and landscapes and moto bikes and rainy season and memorial sites and stretchy green bread and music and orphans and polygamy and widows and ancestral spirits and gorillas and laundry and language and ways in which the ancestors screw up fertility.

Plus, when your job becomes your former hobby, you get kind confused about which content belongs where. I feel safe writing about scarves and Wait, what? moments, but I haven’t even told you the basics like where we’re living, or who we’re with, or the type of work we’re doing, or what we’re eating, or what the weather is like!

To make things even more complicated, the World Wide Web is— as you might have guessed— worldwide. Everyone is on Facebook and WordPress and twitter. Gone are the days when I could see something and throw it on the Internet for all 8 readers to vicariously experience without risk of harm. Today we’re all right here in the same space—you, me, and the person or community I’m writing about. I post a story, WordPress publicizes it to Facebook and twitter, and my host sister is reading it ten seconds later in the next room. This takes a special kind of crafting, understanding, permission and respect. I refuse to be a reckless observer.

And a layer below that? It’s about to get real.

Because I refuse to be a reckless observer, I don’t feel competent. What can I possibly offer that hasn’t already been written or expressed about Rwanda? How can I share these things—the history, issues, people, stories—accurately? I can’t wrap my head around the genocide. And, once I stop trying to put that piece together, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that life continues on the other side. That people are working and eating, walking along these same streets and attending these same churches, that kids play and women do hair and taxis commute and bikers bike and people laugh and sing and purchase data plans and watch 24. All this with an entire ethnic group almost entirely wiped out of the population, resting in mass graves under this very ground.

Everywhere I look I can see the stories I’ve heard playing out in my mind’s eye. In my field, we call this vicarious trauma. A tiny corner of my heart feels bruised every time I walk out of the house and look around me at the land, while the rest of it functions as normal in present day.   I just can’t make sense of it.  The only two thoughts I have, and they’re not fully developed, are this: here is an entire country demonstrating the reality of post-traumatic growth.

If you look at the Disaster Response Phases graph below (provided by my pal Mary, who teaches the Foundations to DMH class at the Red Cross in Indy) you can note the different responses a person or community has pre, mid and post disaster. There is a new term emerging, though, after a post-traumatic event called post-traumatic growth, wherein the person or community, on the very far right of this graph, actually ends up at a higher level of functioning than they were before the event. So, the person reaches a level a growth that would not be possible had that event not occurred. This country is living out that term.  This doesn’t mean things are spectacular.  There are still—and will always be—triggering events and memories generations deep, but I have met people coping and forgiving at a level I am not even able to comprehend. They are not doing this in spite of the event, but because of it.

God restores, is my point.

DMH Graph ARC

My second thought is the truth in this statement, which was originally printed in my NOLA church bulletin on the 5 year anniversary of hurricane Katrina, adapted for Rwanda as we head into memorial month: We will remember [the genocide] and give sacred honor, but in worship we inherit all things anew for this day.

Yeah, you do, Rwanda.  I am so thankful for all things newly inherited by you today.

…And then (you thought I was done?) someone posts this article, which cracks open another forgotten corner of my heart, and I remember where I was and who I was three weeks ago, which seems like at least ten years ago. That familiar ache returns for a minute, and I can’t find the words for the prayer.

The world spins, I can’t make anything fit into any categories, my brain and heart are totally unorganized, and I am tethered by a poem shared last week by my friend Kim (I’m always snatching content from her, but God uses people, I think):

You can only pray what’s in your heart.

So if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

If your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

If your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

Or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

Pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

Pray the rage,
the murder and
the mourning

Pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

-Elizabeth Cunningham

2013: World Next Door

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So. I’m not really sure how to lay this out, because normal 30-somethings with a mortgage and stable employment don’t up and join a non-profit for a year to advocate for and work alongside social justice organizations around the world.  But you’ll never believe what Jeff and I are about to do…

Yes, okay. You might have just guessed it. 

In March 2013, Jeff and I will be putting our lives on Pause to join an organization called World Next Door. It is a Christian-based non-profit that seeks to inspire and mobilize people here to work alongside and support international mission organizations fighting injustice all over the world—something Jeff and I feel passionate about.

We will be traveling to four different countries, beginning with Rwanda in March and Cambodia in June. We’ll be working hand-in-hand within different social justice missions and capturing their work through writing and photojournalism. In Rwanda, we’ll be working with ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Movement) on leadership development, reconciling relationships, and transforming communities through economic empowerment, education, health promotion, and orphan care—among other programs.  In Cambodia we’ll be working with the Center for Global Impact to combat sex trafficking through a dress-making program called The Daughter’s Project, a culinary training center, and a micro-enterprise initiative called byTavi. Our goal through the writing and photojournalism piece is to bring people to places like Rwanda and Cambodia so that they (you?) can get an inside look at what is happening and how to fight injustices that exist all over.  

If you know us a little, then you know that Jeff and I have passions for social justice, photography, and writing, and we are both inspired by our faith. So, this is a perfect fit!  Also, as you might already know via FB and blogs, we’ve been through two years of infertility, and this is the first thing that has given us excitement and purpose beyond having a family. We still hope and pray that God will give us a family someday, but right now we believe we are still living a life of adventure and purpose, just in a different way.

We would like to partner with others who feel inspired to join this mission- in prayer and/or program costs- to offer a bridge from your home to the other side of the world. We would like to put together a prayer support team, and a fundraising team. We are required to raise half the cost of our year-long mission for World Next Door and are looking for 35 people, families, or groups to contribute $100/mo for a year (2013). This may be the most intimidating part in the whole endeavor. Taking leaves from our jobs, deferring our school loans, and leaving our families is nothing compared to raising a year’s worth of money in three months!

Although we know this is mot the majority, there are individuals and families who set aside a designated amount of monthly or yearly funds to contribute to missions or charity organizations. Maybe that’s you, and you feel inspired to support us individually. Or maybe you know of friends or family members who support different missions you could pass this info along to.

Another option is to pool money in groups (friends, co-workers, life group, small group, Sunday school class, etc.) to donate $100/mo? There are creative ways this could be done, but, given the challenging economic times, maybe you are just not in position to support us financially. We definitely understand and your thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated.

Thank you so much for reading and considering, and if you have more questions, let’s talk! My cell phone is (260-249-9068) and my email address: brkwilson@gmail.com

Here are several links to the organizations we’ll be embedded with: 

World Next Door: http://www.worldnextdoor.org/about/
ALARM:
http://alarm-inc.org/
Center for Global Impact:
http://www.centerforglobalimpact.org/projects.html

TO DONATE (tax deductible):

If you want to contribute financially, just let me know, and I’ll email you a pledge card. You can fill out the pledge card, attach a check, and mail it to World Next Door.

Checks are made out to “World Next Door, Inc.” and designate “Fellowship 4” in the memo line. Mail it to:
World Next Door

5501 N College Ave
                                          
Indianapolis, IN  46220

To Give Monthly (Automatic Bank Payments)

Did you know that most banks allow you to set up automatic monthly payments for free? 

By entering World Next Door as a recipient with your online banking service, your gift can be automatically sent straight to WND mailbox (5501 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN  46220) without you having to ever lift a finger.  How cool is that?

Check out your online banking website for more information (if your online banking service requests an account number, please use the phrase FELLOWSHIP 4).  *You can also donate Monthly on PayPal by visiting www.worldnextdoor.org/give

Love & Hugs, 
Jeff & Brooke

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I Might Be An Ecoterrorist in Mexico.

This is the reason people hate blogs: I’m getting ready to talk about myself, and no one even asked me to.

Sometimes we go through these spectacular seasons, like living in the land of Mardi Gras, having daily coffees and margaritas and bagels and shrimps and po-boys; becoming a scholar, trained by all the best trauma & Disaster Mental Health people around— even if they don’t actually lecture you, but start out their year on sabbatical, which leaves you staring at theories of attachment slides from the 60s, but whatever. You stumble upon an accidentally perfect international project to culminate your learning experience, and it happens to be in Belize, your fave, with all your favorite people, and you are sort of forging the way for this kind of work there, and you feel a tiny bit like floating because the project was executed so flawlessly with such a kind and encouraging supervisor. And you come home to a two-week graduation festival/margarita marathon with free dinners and parties and regalia and sleepovers, and you walk away from New Orleans with a diploma in one hand and a certificate in the other hand—I mean, so what if you ran to the LBC for your big congratulatory reception through the rain to find four stale pieces of cheese and two hundred confused family members? (Tulane was sorry, they dropped the ball: would your family consider coming back for another reception? We promise cookies this time.) It doesn’t even phase you. Your family’s there, your best friend is on your one side, and your boyfriend is looped through the other arm, and two weeks later, at the top of the Hancock building in Chicago, at dusk, in the snow, he proposes.  Seriously. A spectacular season.  It doesn’t get any better.

Then you come home and move into your dad’s attic. Although, to be fair, he did clear out a lot of drawers and squares of closet space to be the most accommodating. And you’re not actually living in the attic. All your stuff is up there, but you have a nice cozy bedroom on the main level. You start the job search.  You! The best most awesomely trained Master Social Worker with the best resume in the world, straight out of New Orleans with your shiny new diploma and your new fiancé and your new city—Madison WI, of course, which you prayed and prayed and prayed God would help you love. And he did. You love it.  So you start applying.  The first place contacted you way back in Belize, so you go though two rounds of interviews with seven board members, including an hour-and-a-half role-play while they watch you through a two-way mirror, and they say, “We’ll let you know by the end of the week.”  Two months have passed.

You apply for more jobs—part time, full time, lots of types, lots of interviews, lots of blasted role-play, lots of promising contacts, lots of people affirming your resume and experience despite your age, which is great because your smile is getting a little droopy, and you’re starting to wonder if Tulane lied to you.  But nothing materializes.

So you go home. Or, really you feel like you leave your new home to go back to Indianapolis: land of boring familiarity with grey winters and no fiancé (not to mention a super bowl loss to your OTHER city), but a curious job opportunity.  You didn’t apply for it. It found you.  Before you know it, you’re sitting in a second-round interview with an unexpected chance to be the Social Worker at a level 1 trauma center, and the option to pick up shifts at the children’s hospital you always wanted to work for.  It’s a dream. EXCEPT IT’S IN THE WRONG CITY!  You’re like, “Hello, God? Remember that part about how I’m supposed to be in Madison?  Wrong hospital. Call Meriter or UW or something. If I’m good here, I’ll be good there, too.”  God’s plugging his hears & humming like, “I can’t heeeaaaaarrrrr youuuu….”

In the meantime, fiancé gets an opportunity to go to Haiti with an international organization and a team of PTs. Your joint dream has always been to find a way do these types of things together! This is perfect. The two of you put together a proposal explaining the need for a Disaster Mental Health worker on the team and list your skills.  The agency, to your surprise, believes you, and they schedule an interview for the next morning at 11am.  The hospital agrees to give you the six weeks off to go. You wink at God and say, “Okay. Okay God, I get it. Yep, this is it. This is better. We must be supposed to go to Haiti.”

You and fiancé spend the weekend weighing out the costs, benefits, problems and solutions of leaving for 6 weeks before a wedding in 4 months.  You don’t really trust yourself making huge, life-altering decisions, so you’ve been praying all along that God will only open the door you’re supposed to walk through, and so far you haven’t had to make a decision. So, in the same way, you promise that if the Haiti door opens, you’ll walk though it.  But if it doesn’t, you’ll trust the provision.

The door doesn’t open.  You glare at God.

You’re disappointed for you, and for fiancé. You realize with the Haiti door closed, and the Madison door closed, you’re back to the attic. (Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with dad’s attic, if he’s reading this. You have lots of food here and free laundry and water aerobics on Wednesday nights!)  But you feel exhausted from stacking up every possible opportunity and then starting to build a life around each option, attempting to get a head start on every possible thing.  On top of that, you did hot yoga and almost died.  You really feel, physically and metaphorically, like every single thing in entire world is flowing in the opposite current you’re trying to walk through.

You don’t understand why God isn’t helping.  You thought you were clear with your order. Obviously God didn’t write it down when he was at your table…

Then you read this, by Donald Miller (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years):

A while back I was working on a novel about a performance artist-turned-ecoterrorist. I never published it because, well, it was about a performance artist-turned-ecoterrorist, and I couldn’t exactly find a market for the story.

I’d get up every morning and make my coffee and toast, I’d put my laptop in a backpack, and then I’d walk…  I’d create my stories while I walked, thinking about what I wanted my characters to do, what I wanted them to say, and how I wanted them to throw headlong into whatever scene was coming next. By the time I got to my desk, I’d had plenty of time to plan whatever was coming in the book.

But stories are only partly told by writers. They are also told by the characters themselves.  Any writer will tell you characters do what they want.  If I wanted my character to advance the plot by confronting another character, the character wouldn’t necessarily obey me. I’d put my fingers on the keyboard, but my character, who was supposed to go to Kansas, would end up in Mexico, sitting on a beach drinking a margarita. I’d delete whatever dumb thing the character did and start over, only to have him grab the pen again and start talking nonsense to some girl in a bikini.

And as I worked on the novel, as my character did what he wanted and ruined my story, it reminded me of life in certain ways. I mean, as I sat there in my office making my worlds, and as my characters fought to have their way, I could identify with them. I was also that character fighting God, and I could see God sitting at his computer, staring blankly at his screen as I asked him to write in some money and some sex and some comfort [and some job in some city].”

Maybe I’m the ecoterrorist in Mexico. Who knows.

But I accepted the job at the hospital. Translation: I accepted three more months away from fiancé and the nights & weekend shift.  I’m closing both eyes and crossing my fingers that a loving author is writing something perfect for the two of us…

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Brooke vs. Lady

At the risk of sounding desperate and pathetic, can I send this to the Angry Life Changing Email lady?

I’m not sure where it falls on the continuum between being rightfully assertive and crazy-angry, but it feels so good inside. That probably means I should keep it to myself. You know my policy, though: full disclosure. Here goes.

Dear Stacey:

I think you’re right. Clearly, I misunderstood the objective.

I wrote about life-changing moments. You are collecting LIFE CHANGING MOMENTS! The difference (I mean, besides the ALL CAPS which say: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SOMEBODY READ THIS!) is whether or not the alleged “moment” is accessible to the reader in his own life, or entirely out of his reach.

The thing about life changing moments, Stace (can I call you that?) is that they’re different for everyone, and they don’t typically happen with fireworks and a bullhorn, although I’ve heard that in some states an e-mail is sent confirming you’ve just had one. My friend got one. She lives in Arizona.

Anyway, I appreciate your feedback. I have appropriately renamed my collection of short stories: Unauthenticated Life Changing Moments.

Brooke

PS. I’ve put together a quiz for anyone wondering if they’ve experienced a TRULY LIFE CHANGING MOMENT. Please take a few moments to answer the following questions:

1. Was your experience accompanied by a bright light? If so, proceed to the next question. If not, please skip to number 10.

2. Did you see any Aliens? If so, proceed to the next question. If not, please skip to number 10.

3. Did people around you congratulate you for your experience? If so, proceed to the next question. If not, please skip to number 10.

4. Have you been contacted by Oprah? If so, continue. If not, please skip to number 10.

5. Did your experience involve at least 3 of the following: a massive car accident, being dead for 40 minutes and coming back to life, inexplicably growing a pair of fairy wings, the realization that your father is actually your half-brother, a magic beanstalk, a 30-day stay in a drug/alcohol treatment facility, a close encounter with a poisonous snake, a chance meeting with Audrina Patrige from The Hills, a unicorn sighting. If so, continue to the next question. If not, please skip to number 10.

6. Have you ever felt like you had extraordinary powers but no one could see them but you? If so, continue to the next question. If not, skip to number 10.

7. Have you ever found yourself at “fork” in the road? If so, continue to the next question. If not, please skip to number 10.

8. While at the fork, did you feel a “tugging” over your soul? Were you inclined to begin narrating your own life out loud? If you answered yes to both questions, continue to number 9. If not, please skip to question 10.

9. Congratulations. You have officially experienced a TRULY LIFE CHANGING MOMENT. Please consider submitting your experience to our new line of books entitled, TRULY LIFE CHANGING MOMENTS.

10. I’m sorry, but you have not experienced a TRULY LIFE CHANGING MOMENT. Please try again at a later date.

Back off, lady.

Hello.
Yes, I’d like some rejection, please.
And then for dessert, I’ll just have a big fat slice of rejection.
Thanks.

I thought unemployment was the worst. Turns out, unemployment is better than rejection.

I got two emails from a publishing company looking to collect inspirational short stories for an upcoming series. They wanted stories about life-changing moments, a thousand words or less, and if they liked what they read, they would hire me on a contract basis to continue to submit stories, and then to interview others with the hopes of uncovering more life-changing moments.

I believed that inspirational life-changing chicken soup for the soul-ish moments were sort of my thing. I mean, have you seen the blog? They had. So I rewrote some old stories—ones about quitting jobs, moving to other countries, car accidents, death, birth, adoption. I sent in samples of life-changing moments in the middle of life-changing, or sometimes just ordinary, experiences. We had been emailing for days so I could get a clear understanding of what they were looking for. We seemed to be a good match.

In return, I received this:

Brooke,

I may not have been clear; the stories we accept are truly ONLY LIFE CHANGING MOMENTS – not simply nice little stories. Please let me know which of the ones you have attached would be best considered a TRULY LIFE CHANGING MOMENT. Thanks.

Were the ALL CAPS really necessary? Isn’t that sort of aggressive for an email? It’s like she’s yelling at me in type.

For normal people life-changing moments don’t happen with fireworks and a bullhorn. Usually they happen on a stoop or in the back of a pick-up truck or something. I sort of thought the decision to relocate to a developing country would make the cut, or learning how to say ‘I love you’ in French, or being run over by a semi, or a simple conversation with an 8 year-old from the B&GC. But, apparently, those are not TRULY LIFE CHANGING MOMENTS, and I guess there are people whose entire jobs are to decide which moments in a girl’s life are TRULY LIFE CHANGING or not.

On top of that, I got an email from the Parkview Housekeeping Department thanking me for my application and explaining that they had decided to go with someone more qualified. The housekeeping department.

Where do I go from here?

(Dairy Queen)
(The liquor store)
(The cookie isle)
(Pizza roles)
(Uplifting and encouraging star 88.3)
(Greys/The office/30 Rock)