All posts by Jennie L

About Jennie L

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Teaching high school English has taught her many things, including how to sing the parts of speech, and break up hall fights, but perhaps most important, spending her days with words and writing continually reinforces their power. Give her a beach, some dark chocolate, friends and family and she'll be one happy girl.

Surprise: Golden Links

greatexpect

1997

The summer between ninth and tenth grade I read Great Expectations on the deck next to the trees. Not equipped, or just too fresh to understand, it eluded me. But because it was assigned reading, the pleasing, achieving, insecure girl sat and read, and told myself I liked, and even understood it. I’ve always meant to go back and read it again.

2014

17 years later, a quote flew onto my desk. Literally. It fell out of a binder I pulled from a shelf. The quote read,

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” – Great Expectations, Chapter 9 

2005

The first link on a memorable day I walked into a class to meet my student teacher mentor.  Still the pleasing, achieving girl on the inside I stood up straight, smiled, and walked in. She briefly gazed up, half smiled, looked me up and down (or maybe that was only in my head) and appeared somewhat annoyed as she helped a student. She said, “one minute…have a seat.”  I pretended to look around the classroom, but really I was looking at her.  She was beautiful, probably in her late fifties, wore high-heeled boots and leggings on her thin legs. She wore lipstick and looked polished. It made me slightly intimidated, but I loved that she cared about how she looked while standing in front of rambunctious teens, but wondered why at the same time.

Now

I’ve thought about calling or stopping by this teacher’s house who became a friend and mentor. We promised we’d go to lunch here and there. Intentions. She made a scary thorny rite of passage like student teaching fun and personal.  A lady who laughed and rolled her eyes at the silly and ridiculous, who stood up for me when students cheated and parents disagreed, and who wanted to talk about neighborhood royalty and design instead of grade point averages when we sat at parent teacher conferences. And – she always asked about my love life. I liked her whimsy, romance, and moxy. She had independence, a hard work ethic, a bookcase organized by color, and five daughters. She also had or would have the beginning stages or Parkinson’s, but no one knew.

My last day of student teaching, she gave me the book A Gift from the Sea, which confirmed parts of our souls were kindred spirits. She told me her tradition of screaming as loud as she could while driving away on her last day of school and gardening all throughout the summer. I walked away feeling accomplished and perfectly placed in my teaching assignment for more important reasons than teaching philosophies.

A few years after our time together she retired to care for her husband and herself. I ran into her at a restaurant and she looked and sounded the same. She said she was writing her history down.  Now this is no ordinary history, and even when she told me I knew it would have the English teacher spice and her own vision.  She read me two pages and they were funny, detailed, about nothing and said everything.  Just the thing children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would actually want to read one day. Her voice will lift off the pages.  The sterile dates and details transformed. She is doing it in vignettes and then letting them come as they do – she’ll order them chronologically later she said.  She said she feels pushed to do it.  That she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll have her memory.

The importance of writing our voice and memories down rested heavy in my chest as I listed to her read her words over the phone. Write stories down.  Hers were as simple as a childhood memory playing a game, or how she felt about being one of many Judy’s in her class.  That one was entitled “No Nomenclature”

And I am the larger. Better. Enriched.  My life has many amazing people and chain of events. Sometimes I fear I’m letting my golden chains rust over.  The momentous day I met her was so ordinary. The uncomfortable joy. Now for my promise of lunch to continue, and polish the chain.

What moments and people in your life have unexpectedly marked and changed you? What is it about these experiences that we hold close?

Passion: Under Water

iceberg

I’m teaching Hemingway in class.  A Farewell to Arms- where war, love, food, nature, and alcohol litter the pages.  Selling the plot to a bunch of 17- year- olds was quite easy. Like I said, war, love (or let’s be honest, sex), food, and alcohol. But I know, and hopefully they will too, it contains more.  Nuances, often unspoken, unseen, but felt. Maybe their young hearts are too fresh to grasp or understand it in its entirety, but, maybe not. Hemingway’s sentences are short, brave, and true. Then there are long parts of serene scenes of nature and of leaves falling and of clear water and it is usually crisp and clean and followed by a manly scene with shrapnel and blood (and of course a lot of the conjunction and thrown in for good measure). I’m drawn to his lack of explanation at this time in my life.

A few days ago I put Hemingway’s “iceberg theory” on the board for the class to discuss:

“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.” – Ernest Hemingway

The dignity of movement.

That phrase held me captive.

Movement and stillness.  I have been on the move and felt as if I have not had a moment to breathe, to dive deep; to just be still lately.  And ironically, because of the reliable tide and current of the days I’ve felt stagnant.

Some critics say that Hemingway’s omissions created distance from the characters, and lacked a sufficient amount of action. Distance and insufficient action is one way to put life lately –it’s easy to live on the surface.  But I think the depth is there. Sometimes forgotten, but there.

It’s made me think that to stop and get to know a new person, or unearth new scriptural meaning,(or to even take time to read them at all), or to take the time to ask new and refreshing questions to friends and our Heavenly Father is to believe in the dignity of the underneath.  The underbelly.  And sometimes searching requires ugly dive gear and sacrifice.

I’ve begun to see that though it is simple, to exist solely on one-eighth of potential and possibilities without believing more exists, depletes passion and gratitude.

The dignity for me also comes in believing the movement below awaits discovery – directing the course of the visible.  While not always seen or acknowledged, it exists.

Later, that day I found some waves drawn on the board with the words “go under water”.

I am going to try and take that advice, while marveling at the dignity of the seen and unseen.

 

 

Our Binders Full of Women

diana barrysI hovered over my desk and turned on my computer. Too busy to sit, I became a frantic bird and flitted about from one thing to another, never finishing the item at hand. I walked back and noticed the homepage had skipped to a different site. Thin legs sucked into dark denim glared at me.

The caption ‘how to wear boyfriend jeans 18 different ways’ taunted viewers in bold block letters.  Do I really need an article to tell this to me? And 18? Come on. I thought. But I clicked anyway.

I looked away, and thought back to the weekend.  My college roommates had planned a short get-a-way to California.  This was no small feat: jobs, babies, and husbands were left in order for 5 girls to travel from 4 different states for 3 days. We run 13 years deep, and have known each other through boyfriends, break-ups, unfortunate fashion fads, heartbreaks, marriages, moves, wishes, and defeats.  We are women now, but laugh and relax as the clear-eyed, open-hearted 18 year olds we were when we walked through the doors of college life.

The rarity and blessing in the lack of competition, drama and the ease of support, transparency and laughter is not lost on me.  In moments when I forget there is divine construction of people and events in my life (which happens mostly in dramatic dating woes and familial angst), I remember these women and how I’m wrapped in their stories, and they in mine, and am brought back to a warm knowledge in the strength and holiness of my associations in all realms. I’ll just say they are my Diana Barrys and leave it at that. Continue reading

Everyday I’m Hustlin’

This is for my hustlers.

hustle beats talent

hustle good things happen

Aside from the urban hip-hop feel this white girl gets when saying hustler, there’s not much I like about the word.  I’ve seen a lot of quotes and thoughts lately that want us to hustle for the dream, hustle to survive, and hustle to make it happen.

Questions that inevitably pop into my mind when I read about the hustle -hustle- grind are, what is the dream I’m hustling for, does survival really require hustle, and just what does make it happen mean?  What is it?

I just can’t afford to buy into it anymore.  My reserves are low and the hustle flow is not regenerative.

Now I know that the intent behind the words is probably rooted in good intent.  In deeper values and ambition than the side effect of feeling of less it creates.  At least, that’s what I’m finding it creates in me.

I have a friend who runs.  You know that friend who is way too energetic and covers 10 miles in the time it takes you to eek out half that distance.  Ya, that friend.

I make her tell me the story about how she stopped continually training for marathons a lot. She was about half way done with a long training run and stopped.  Picture Forest Gump’s abrupt halt after months, years (whatever it was) of constant running.  At least that’s how I picture it in my mind. She said something inside of her was wearing down with years of training and in an instant a switch went off inside of her and she thought to herself mid run coming down the canyon, “why are you running, and who are you running for?” And that was that.  She called her sister to come pick her up and her constant training and miles to be covered ceased. She said in looking back, the joy had stopped, and she realized she had been mindlessly running for months because she was a runner.  Her identity tied her down to the label. But she had changed. The hustle told her she had to run – she had to be fit – she had to be working, running, striving toward a goal.

A result.  A measurement. She had to hustle.

For her, running and pounding the pavement was cold and lifeless.  For others it is an escape that enlivens.  But the point is, she didn’t want to hustle just because she was supposed to.

Brené Brown, psychologist and researcher, uses the phrase “hustle for worthiness”. And that’s just what the hustle becomes. Somehow it has become a hustle for worthiness. True worth can’t be found outside yourself. Not in the goal to go and grab, or the hustle to hurry and secure your perfect job or status as amazing wife, mother, lawyer, teacher.

You are not the hustle.

I know there is a part we can’t escape, and I don’t yet know how to stop the hustle completely, but I’m working on reasons why to find stillness and worth inside my story instead of outside.

So don’t hustle darling.  Let’s be still and know, ponder, sit, say no, walk in the grass, turn off the phone, read, and do whatever that thing is that brings a little bit of peace instead of pandemonium.

What false messages do you find in the hustle? How do you manage everyday life with the counsel to be still and know?

Inside Out

Outside looking in:

That first night my nose and cheek pressed against the cold block wall. I turned over and back and over again. The cinderblocks were bright white and surprisingly clean. As I shifted on my squeaky twin bed I felt a lump in my throat. I was sharing a room for the first time in my life. With a stranger. Not only did I choose to do so willingly, but I actually paid for this. I believe my exact thoughts were, why did I come here?

I was a nervous freshman at BYU who felt so different than the people walking around campus. A fraud. My internal dialogue gossiped inside my own head. I thought who am I?….I didn’t pray with my family, and I’d never even read the Book of Mormon straight through. And plus, my idea of fun was not cramming together in a tunnel to sing hymns. Nerds. I felt restless.

An Inner Calm:

That first week I walked into my Book of Mormon class. The teacher was tall with broad shoulders. He wore a suit that actually fit and his shirt was crisp and white. He smiled, locked eyes with every student and shook each hand. Double handed style. I remember thinking, I like this guy.

What that class and teacher did for me is too overwhelming to simply say in words. But that is exactly where the enlightenment came – words.

One of the first things we did was memorize part of a talk by Ezra Taft Benson“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of the people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”

The teacher said he wanted to work from the inside out that semester. He was laying the groundwork and practicing what he preached. Little by little, the internal message cracked my heart open. The authenticity of this message and the teacher’s vision lead to different words running through my heart and mind about where I belonged and what I believed.

He challenged us to read every day. To write every day. To ponder every day. To be still every day. And to do it imperfectly. To just try. To change our habits. These ideas were my bricks. Foundations. Necessary and sure. Concrete and true. An intent only working from the inside out could create.

My religion changed in this class to an uplifting hope instead of a damning fear.

These words became a mantra of sorts. The phrase from the outside in would echo in my head during walks to class, or when I felt like a small unnoticeable dot in the sea of Cougars.

I had fought and still fight against working from the outside in. The enticement of profiles and of trying to be and look and project and do and open and seem causes narcissistic fits of disappointment.

I have come back to this quote time and time again, and it is usually in those very fits of disappointment where I have lost my center of gravity. Where the words, and His words have become mere acquaintances instead of kindred friends.

The twisting and turning and coming head to head with brick walls and self-doubts originates from looking at things from the outside in. From counterfeits and false intents. But it is all so easy and alluring.

But what happens on the inside eventually manifests on the outside. The light. Or the dark. When your insides turn on you, look in look in look in. Look into His words. Look into your purpose. Look into your questions. Look into your self. Frankly this is the only way I’ve found peace in the windy outside that blows opinions, heartbreak, and fear.

So when you feel like you’re in that slum, look in.

What does looking in mean to you?  How does one work from the outside in?  What keeps that inner calm and focus when all around us we receive messages seeping into our inner thoughts?