All posts by Bianca Wargo

intent.

There was one particular line in this week’s article to read that intrigued me and that I would tend to agree with when it comes to the use of AI in writing. The quote was this:

A computer, while not explicitly bringing its own intention, can disrupt the writer’s intention.

AI Reveals the Most Human Parts of Writing, Katy Ilonka Gero

That word intention has a lot of power behind it– it’s the why in anything you write, say, or do. I don’t think I mentioned it too much in my blog from last semester, but one of the first questions my abuelita ever asked my dad (through the translation of my mom) was “what are your intentions?” If you’re going into a relationship just to stay in a relationship, or if you’re going into a relationship based on feelings that can come and go from time to time, what kind of a relationship is that? If you’re going to build a house, are you going to build it on sand or soil that could wash away in a storm? Or would you rather build on a solid and intentionally built foundation?

In many ways it’s the same concept with writing. An author builds a relationship with the audience through the language of the piece– what is said, how it’s said, and why it’s said.

When it comes to using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in writing, I don’t think it’s a great tool if it’s the main source of language in any case. However, it can, for some writers, be a great source of inspiration– I personally don’t like this for most of my own writing unless I’m using it for an idea I already had and just have trouble putting into words. For some this is an incredibly useful tool to chip away at the infamous wall of writers block. AI writing is not my cup of tea for the most part though because it does not bring the same intention that human writing so often does. The intention of AI writing is in its code– its intention is to formulate a sentence that makes sense about a topic provided for it. That said, AI does not feel, and has its limitations on how it can perceive patterns of how certain emotions are expressed. Intention then becomes distorted in formula. A destination is reached in writing, but what does the journey mean– or is there a journey at all– when it’s based on a formula rather than a purpose?

There was another quote from Ilonka Gero’s article that also had me thinking about what it really means to be an honest writer, or even an honest person. (Not to say that writers using AI are inherently dishonest– the point is that AI might sugarcoat that honesty or in some ways limit the full truth the writer is attempting to convey).

Most writers are eager to get eyes on their work, and a computational eye may feel less frightening than your best friend; the computer might judge you, but not in a way that’ll impact your future relationship with it.

AI Reveals the Most Human Parts of Writing, Katy Ilonka Gero

What sticks out to me here is that while making things “less frightening” is sometimes helpful, making it so readily available can take away part of the experience and development of the writer as a person. Fear is, to some extent, necessary for healthy human development. Growth is uncomfortable. This fact is well known and not some sort of major plot twist or revelation.

I mean even if you think about it from a Biblical standpoint like I do, even Jesus Himself said that there would be hardship in this world. There will be times when speaking up or standing up, however necessary, will be scary and difficult. Example: Jonah. Example 2: Moses. Example 3: Gideon. Example 4: Jesus in Gethsemane. There are numerous other examples, but my point is that what is the point in expressing thoughts that everyone is already having? Express the thoughts that might face some opposition and that start genuine conversations where people might learn a thing or two from one another.

And that brings me back to another part of what the article said:

…other writers simply take pride in sitting down and pumping out a thousand words. It’s like exercise. You need to keep it up, otherwise your skills atrophy.

AI Reveals the Most Human Parts of Writing, Katy Ilonka Gero

Pushing limits and boundaries is not comfortable, nor is protecting your own boundaries at times. But it takes practice. And to make it so readily available that AI can “protect us” from the sort of interaction that might help us to develop as people and as writers is something to be wary of.

This all said, the use of AI in writing isn’t entirely bad. Much like with what and how we actually write, how we use this technology is also important to take into consideration. Computers to not bring their own intention into creating, but might suggest a way of phrasing or displaying the intentions of the user that is actually behind creating the piece at hand. Something someone said in e-lit last semester that I think is really applicable here is this idea that creation submits to its creator. I would agree wholeheartedly that is how it’s designed, but as we human beings don’t always submit to the will of God, technology doesn’t always submit exactly to the will of man as we picture it to either. In the case of technology not always doing things exactly how we might picture it, sometimes that can turn into a beautiful, serendipitous moment of inspiration. So using AI as a tool alongside human writing is a beautiful thing of course, though I personally feel convicted to avoid that for the sake of challenging myself more. The question for me is more along the lines of how this might get out of hand.

What do you go by?

Something that’s been on my heart a lot lately is the simple thought that God doesn’t see you by your sin or the things you’ve done wrong. He got up on that cross and died for you by name, He rose again on the third day for you by name, and He has gone to prepare a place for each one of us by name that accept and live by His unending grace. He is coming back soon to call us home by name.

So I guess the question I have for you to think about is this: what is the name you go by?

At some points in my life, I called myself the loner because regardless of whether or not I had friends around, it often felt like I was there just to fill the space. I still have my moments, but moments are not the whole picture. I know that now.

There were some points where I just considered myself a disappointment. I let myself down on promises I made to myself often. I forget things a lot when my mom gives me a list of things to do. Even in moments when I had told someone a friend’s secret for the sake of my friend’s safety I used to consider myself a disappointment to my friend because I’d betrayed their confidence, regardless of the reasons.

Sometimes I felt defenseless or like a victim more than anything, for a number of reasons that some of my past creative pieces outline.

I could go on with the names I used to go by, but ultimately none of those names I give myself matter. None of those were the name that Jesus called me by, though He considered what I called myself in how He called me. He never compromised the identity I was born with, and nor should we when approaching others, but He used the identity I once held to show me just a fraction of the great magnitude of His grace.

I mean think about it, Paul was once the greatest persecutor of Christians, but in every letter he wrote in the New Testament, he introduces himself as a servant of, an apostle of, or a prisoner for Christ, and in a couple of those openings his pupil and friend, Timothy, is included as such. Simon Peter was a fisherman and a gambler, but in both of his letters included in the New Testament he calls himself an apostle, and in 2 Peter he adds that he is a servant of Jesus Christ. When we accept Christ as our Lord and savior, we are dying to ourselves– the identity we held before is no more and we are made new through the power of Jesus’s blood. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” This is echoed from Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Paul continues to build on this idea of becoming a new creation in Christ in Philippians 3 as well, but I think before quoting this it’s important to say that even when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior we are not yet perfect– on this side of heaven we are consenting to the process of sanctification. We are committing to not only resting in God and His promises and trusting that His work is enough to make us perfect come Judgement Day, but we are also considering that He doesn’t keep us from the fiery furnace– He walks in there with us. Philippians 3:12-16 says this:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

So while in this very moment we are not perfect, the Word tells us of God’s promise to wash us clean of our sins (Isaiah 1:18) and to create in us clean hearts (Psalm 51:10), the work is as good as done. What God says will happen, will come to fruition. What God says will happen is as good as done.

God shows this in a myriad of ways, but I want to go back to Daniel for a moment, before Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walk into the fire. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace be heated to seven times its normal heat, which was so hot that even the guards outside the door that threw the three into the fire died. The significance? Seven days of creation, opening line of Genesis is seven words, symbolic of fullness or completion. In that opening line of Genesis, the middle of those seven words in the original Hebrew is two letters– alpha and taw– which are the beginning and end of the Hebrew alphabet.

In other words, when God is at the core of who we are, what we do, how we live… there is nothing that can stop His power that is living in you. Culture changes. We change. Things and people come and go. But one thing is sure, as it’s said in Isaiah and quoted in 1 Peter:

A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6-8

And while we are in the exile that is this life on this earth, Peter points out that we should be conducting ourselves in a way that shows gratitude for the payment of the debt we could not pay. The payment that, when we place full faith in Jesus, makes us righteous before the perfect, holy, and just God. The payment that makes us adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God.

So I ask again, what do you go by? The changing states of mind, past traumas, or other struggles you deal with (not that those are any less valid hurdles in life)? Or do you call yourself a servant of God, a child of God, and someone that– however undeserving– God calls beloved?

It’s me, again

I could go on about myself like I did last semester for e-lit, but that sounds a bit redundant. So if you’re interested in learning (or re-learning) a bit about my faith, my past self, my present self, and who I’m striving to become, it’s in the hyperlink above. If you’re anything like me and don’t really feel like reading two whole posts for the answers you could easily be getting in one, I’ve got you there too. Here’s some of the basics about me:

faith

If my other blogs, or writing pieces, or social media accounts, or my JLY sweatshirt (15% off code : BIANCA) on the first day of class didn’t give it away enough, I’m openly and unapologetically Christian. I’m not exactly about denominations– the Church is the Church, as far as I’m concerned, and the Bible doesn’t outline anything about any denomination being more or less righteous than another. That said, not every denomination holds doctrine that is actually backed by the Bible, so that’s why I simply consider myself a Christian.

I’m also not exactly the type to seek out conversation, but I am more than happy to talk or just listen if anyone is curious, hurt, or confused by anything Church- or Bible-related. I promise I won’t bite or judge, as it unfortunately seems that being judgmental is a stereotype for most Christians. The questions you might have, I’ve probably had at some point too or at least had a friend wrestle with that question. Ecclesiastes 1:9 mentions that there’s nothing new under the sun; that applies to struggles, doubts, fears, you name it. You aren’t alone. That said, I may not have all the answers, but Galatians 6 talks a bit about this co-learning process that this class is even modeled around.

You’ll probably find that faith is a huge part of what, how, and why I write, and that’s because it most certainly is. On my last blog post from last semester, I talked a lot about why that is, though it also is in many ways an overflow of gratitude for all He’s done and how He loves us.

why i write

I’ve said this many times to friends and as part of my testimony, but I genuinely believe that writing as an art was the crutch God gave me to make it to the moment I came to a place of full reliance on Him. That’s really just how I started writing though. I kept it up for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is a crutch in many ways when I’m walking through a difficult season of life.

Among these other reasons, I write because it helped me feel heard– like I had a voice at least the pages would listen to when no one else would– and it would be selfish of me to keep that entirely to myself. I consider this especially now that these issues aren’t as prevalent in my life and I understand writing is a resource, not The Source.

Writing also takes up a large portion of my prayer life. I keep a few different journals for prayer

other things i do & other commitments

I might’ve mentioned this at some point last semester as well, but one of those commitments I have other than school is that I’m a youth leader at Sparta Church, where I go just about every Sunday for high school core classes, services, and also for work. But as for youth, I’ve been doing this every Sunday morning and night for almost two years now. My senior girls have a special place in my heart, and I’ll be missing them so much as many of them leave for college at the end of the summer, but so proud of the bold, bright lights they are for Jesus. In many ways, the co-learning structure of this class makes me think of them because they teach me so much more than I think they’ll ever realize.

While this was a daunting challenge at first as well, I was a camp counselor last year for Sparta’s summer camp, Breakaway Day Camp. I’m an introvert, and though I like trying to be more extroverted at times, this was a lot to handle. I can’t say that I didn’t love it though. As exhausted as I was, these were some of the best weeks of my summer last year. And if I end up sticking around this summer, I’ll be so excited to go back.

I’m also going to be in-season as a swim coach for both the Sussex YMCA, and for my former high school, Pope John XXIII. I’ve been a swimmer since I was eight years old, and it didn’t take long after the pandemic forced me to quit the swim team here at Kean after half a season and lots of progress for me to want to jump back in somehow. Ever hear the saying “you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the girl?” Yea, same thing here. Something about the love/hate relationship almost every swimmer has with this sport tends to keep us roped in somehow.

The high school season will be keeping me roped in at least until early March though, as we’re entering championship and state’s season, both for team states, and for individual states to top it off in March.

that quote that bugs me from Penn Jillette because he’s not wrong about it either.

I think I already mentioned that laminin is going to be difficult to finish before it’s due. That said, I think most of it should make enough sense and enough of a point to say that it’s finished enough. I’m not planning to rush to finish this though, so I’ll continue working on it probably for some time after this even.

I think the only major hiccup I have for that is publishing my piece from Twine so it has a live link. I tried using the link my browser gives me when I click “test from here,” but if I open it on any other browser or device, it doesn’t work. It will simply lead users to create something on Twine themselves. I’ll probably figure this out by asking one of my swimmers after practice tonight, but if anyone has suggestions on how to do that, I’d really appreciate it.

Other than that, there are still so many testimonies that I’m prepared to add to this, and so much more from the Bible to add too (as that really is meant to be the center of the piece anyway). And I know there may be people that read those Bible passages and might not get it, or maybe some will roll their eyes because they’ve been hurt by Christians. I get that. I used to do the same thing, and I know a few people in my life right now that continue to do that too. But here’s the thing– it bothered me when I first heard this quote, and it bothers me now even more that I do believe:

I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.

Penn Jillette (from Penn & Teller)

While I have no intention of shoving my beliefs down someone’s throat (which is how most people get hurt by the Church), I wouldn’t be loving people if I didn’t at least tell them about the God I know to be real, true, loving, just, merciful, faithful, and kind, among many other things. Is it awkward sometimes? Yes. But in a world where everything is broken in its own way, having the One thing that keeps us whole is going to be uncomfortable, it’s going to make you stand out, and it’s going to hurt sometimes. But He still holds us together. I mean that’s the whole point behind this piece and that’s why I’m in no rush to get it 100% finished (and just to finish it well enough to hand in).

That’s also why I named this piece laminin. I wouldn’t doubt there have been times in other people’s lives, as there have been in mine, where it felt like God was allowing everything to fall apart. And maybe on the surface He was– though He doesn’t cause things to fall apart (that’s just what the broken nature of this world does), He allows it for a bigger purpose than we often might see. But deep down, He was still holding us together through those times. How?

Laminin is a glycoprotein that essentially holds the cells of our bodies together. Is it a coincidence that it’s in the shape of a cross? Is it a coincidence that the cross, as Rome had ‘perfected’ it until Constantine I abolished its use, used to be a symbol of the most excruciating, humiliating, shameful, and gruesome deaths that one could experience? Is it a coincidence that this symbol now also represents new life to how many millions of people around the world, that it’s a symbol of life so strong that many of those people are continuously being persecuted to the point of death?

And I want to bring that back to the point I made with that quote from Penn Jillette for just a moment. It’s not as common (though also not completely unheard of) in America that Christians are persecuted to such a point. While I’ve seen and heard such threats, Pastor Russell Johnson at the Pursuit NW being one of them, I’m also hearing much more from even people within my own church that are afraid to make things awkward or to lose friends due to sharing their faith. But first off, are they really your friend if they don’t hear you out and still love you as a human being, even if your beliefs are a bit different? Also, were you really their friend if you don’t love them enough to care about their eternity? And finally, if God isn’t enough for you, then what is? God is the one and only thing that will never fail or break or forsake you, so if He isn’t enough… what is?

And that’s the other point I’m starting to build on within this piece– Christians should be bold. There is no greater love we can give than to lovingly share the Gospel and spread the good news of God. I’m hoping this will be an encouragement to people in the faith that are scared to be bold because I get it. My social anxiety has been crippling at times. My trauma and certain triggers have forced me out of otherwise fun things or things where God was moving. But God. Do I still feel the anxiety or get bothered by certain triggers and stuff? Yes. That doesn’t usually just disappear. God can, but I’ve found that my anxiety has been that thorn in my side, as Paul wrote somewhere in the New Testament, that reminds me to rely on Him when I need it most. And when I do rely on Him more, it gets easier to move through, even if the circumstances don’t necessarily change. I don’t have to retreat from social or triggering situations because there’s no safer place than where God calls you to be. And I’m hoping that laminin will be that encouragement to Christians too.

laminin

The idea for this piece started out as some sort of a “family tree” type of idea. As a writer, I’ve always held a deep-seeded belief that testimony is powerful, and that belief has only continued to root itself deeper in the almost two years since my faith truly became my own.

Eventually the story map started to look a lot more like a bush… then a bush that hasn’t been pruned in a few years… then a bush that hasn’t been pruned in a few years and has a bunch of vines tangled in there… and then I wouldn’t even know how to explain it from there. I was wondering for some time what to do about it. Would it make sense? Would there be an actual story to it? Would the point be apparent to any reader, regardless of how readers navigate through the piece? Would it all hold together?

I don’t remember how the conversations came up, but I had a series of a few conversations with different people at church, none of which were otherwise related conversations, about laminin. Much like Louie Giglio, I didn’t have a picture in my head of exactly what laminin looks like, or what makes it so special. So in the midst of most of these conversations, I was rather confused. Louie explains the fascination some Christians have regarding this portion that essentially acts as the “rebar of the human body,” and it was in this very short clip from one of his messages that laminin made sense, especially with the context of Colossians 1:17.

To gain further context on the church at Colossae that Paul was writing in this letter, I looked to a few different sources, one of my favorites to go to being the Bible Project.

One of the things that Paul addresses with the church at Colossae and that Louie is addressing in the full message he mentions laminin in is the many pressures we experience in life. For me, some of those pressures included admitting “me too,” pressures to conform myself to what people expect of me, pressures to be the strong one as my friends or students or swimmers are falling apart, pressures from myself and my own goals and hopes and dreams, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… For my friend, who for the sake of this project is named Maacah, some of those pressures included an eating disorder and body image issues, abuse within relationships, loss, family pressures, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… Or for another friend also under a pseudonym, Bithiah, some pressures she’s seen in life are homelessness, fatherlessness, other family pressures, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… And for Abednego (another pseudonym), pressures with chronic health issues, pressures of being a first responder, pressures from family and friends, pressures from inside his own mind and often being too hard on himself, pressures from the storms of life, pressures of being a Christian in a world that speaks and acts and persecutes so boldly against such a faith… The list of things we all go through goes on and on and on. Some parts of these lists might be similar or nearly identical to some that may not hold the same beliefs. Some of the struggles we deal with my be vastly different.

And while it might not seem like it right away with Giglio’s full message, it is a point that hits hard towards the end: that God does hold us together when life gets hard, when pressures seem to be crushing you slowly, when it doesn’t seem like things can or will ever work for good… in Him all things hold together– including us, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It may not feel like you’re being held together sometimes, in fact this past week has been one of those weeks for me, but He is holding you together, even if not in the ways you want Him to.

And a great example of that I’ll add in here I just saw this morning. You can watch parts one and two at their respective hyperlinks. Pastor Russell Johnson has been crushed and press like olives… to make oil. He doesn’t even mention the threats that his church is currently under. He doesn’t even mention the bricks being thrown through the windows of the new location of The Pursuit in Seattle. He doesn’t mention the present threats and letters that his family has received for being so bold in faith and yet he and his family remain persistent in faith. Yet he is still held together as a person, his family remains held together, his church community remains held together, all in One name.

That’s what I’m hoping to get across with this piece. People ask so often why bad things happen to good people but I’d argue that there are no “good people.” I’d say that we are made good by the grace poured out to us. I’d say that bad things happen because this world is so diluted and adulterated from the actual Truth that we don’t actually know what “good” is half the time. I admit I even have trouble understanding in certain circumstances what really is best for me, and when I choose for myself rather than trust God, things tend to fall apart even more. So maybe I’ll get to outline that for people reading who aren’t Christian. Maybe I’ll encourage or convict those who are that read this. There’s a greater purpose to this piece than just a project– there’s a kingdom purpose to it.

That all said, I’m pretty far along on this, but I’m honestly not sure I’ll be able to say I’m satisfied with it by the 19th. It’ll be complete enough that it’ll make sense, but I think continuing it will be a winter break / next semester issue.

Where’s my worth?

“What people say will make a difference to what Hana feels, and how she behaves.” From the very beginning of Hana Feels, Inglis tells us that there are three possible outcomes to this piece, though what those outcomes are remains untold. Given the context of the piece given in the author and editorial statements, I think it’s a safe assumption that at least one of these outcomes is truly tragic, to say the least.

Will

I liked how Will’s patience is demonstrated on the first page of the actual story. I’m personally not great at handling that awkward silence between statements, but as time has gone on and I’ve had to leave this space for my Bible study groups to speak or even just sit and think for themselves, I’ve built more and more of a peace about these silences. It’s still not all that comfortable, but they are necessary. We need to give people the space to be heard at the very least.

The first three responses to choose from as the reader are all important questions. Asking someone’s name might say to a person ‘I want to know who you are. I want to be able to hear you as you want to be heard.’ It may not be the most open-ended question (as is usually the most useful to start with when helping someone through a mental crisis), but it is a question that may help an individual re-center. It is a question that helps you to meet that person wherever they’re at. The other two questions are powerful and much more open-ended in different ways. For some, it helps to immediately blow off steam and talk about what’s on his/her mind– hence the question of is there something you’re worried about? It could be a simple no sometimes, or it could be a complex no, or it could be a yes. No matter what worries a person though, to be given the safe space to express anxieties is crucial.

A slight tangent from Hana Feels:

I’m speaking this Sunday at youth in a series on doubt and learning not to demonize it. Christianity has a reputation for not wanting to address doubt, or telling people of faith who do express doubts that they just “don’t have enough faith” or “just need to pray more.” We forget that without expressing doubts, we can’t challenge them– whether that means doubts about God or about ourselves as human beings. The question of is there something you’re worried about? plays a major role in challenging doubts, especially doubts about ourselves, our abilities, and situations we may face.

Doubt is not exactly bad, we just tend to steer in a negative direction when we have doubts, or maybe we end up taking the longer route to where we’re going because there were fewer perceived risks involved.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming:

Should I talk for a while? is an underrated question in these situations. Some people just need to be given the chance to slow down their own thoughts, and to hear about something else can really help to center someone and calm them down. I’ve done this a lot as a youth leader and as a coach where a student or a swimmer might be beating his/herself up about something and I’ll tell them about how I did the same thing when I was their age and how I can look back at that moment and laugh or smile. For some, it gives them a bit of hope about their situation. For others, it just makes them laugh or at least crack a smile. Sometimes I’ll just tell some other sort of funny story that has nothing to do with anything (as we see Will does when you select this response). Typically this elicits more of a response than we get from Hana, but that doesn’t mean how Hana is reacting is wrong at all– there is no “wrong” way to react when you’re in a state of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. You just know you’re not in a healthy space for yourself and you’re trying to claw your way out of there… or in severe cases you dig deeper because it’s unfortunately what you’re used to. Speaking from my own experience at both ends of that, it’s hard to even know what to open up about– let alone how to open up– and we all figure it out in our own ways. Is every way healthy or good? No, but it can all be used for good.

I mean think about it: the cross is a sign of death and humiliation and pain and agony and it’s how the worst criminals died when the Romans used this form of punishment… but God used it to defeat that very death, shame, humiliation, pain, and sin that we deserved… God turned that cross from a symbol of death and condemnation into a symbol of life, love, grace and mercy.

In learning about Will, I realize how much I used to worry about saying the wrong thing, and how I’ve largely stopped worrying about saying the wrong thing over the past year since I started volunteering as a youth leader at church. This isn’t to say that I don’t think about what I say– of course I do– but I think it’s more related to the fact that I’ve started to be more attentive of who or what I allow to speak into my life. I might’ve said this before on another blog, and I know I’ve said this loads of times to my girls at youth, but you cannot pour something out from a cup unless it was first poured in. So I started guarding my mind and my heart by being mindful of the content I take in (whether TV, social media, etc…) and who I allow to speak into my life. Since I’ve started doing more of that, I’ve been able to reflect from time to time and see improvements not only within myself, but also in how I’ve treated and spoken to people.

I do still ultimately feel a bit like Will– the new guy that’s afraid to say the wrong thing– but it’s not something that I beat myself up over anymore. It’s still a struggle, but it’s one I’m able to move through, as Will shows us he was able to as well.

When Hana calls back, she has a response that’s very much like one of my friends who over explains everything. “I didn’t want you to think …” and typically that blank for him is something negative that he believes about himself. In Hana’s case, she doesn’t want to be “that guy.” She explains what she’s assuming Will is perceiving her as four times in the span of four sentences, and what she thinks she’s seen as is what she views as negative. Personally, I avoid saying anything that might be taken as verification, so I didn’t select thanks or I’m glad you called back. The open-ended questions tend to be best anyway.

Each page from here has at least one line that sticks with me. When Hana mentions how weird it is that she’s talking to someone she doesn’t know and can’t see, Will’s line stuck with me: “Some people find it easier to talk to someone they don’t know.”

When Hana says she has a small but big problem: “What is it you really want to talk about, Hana?”

When Hana says she feels like she wasted Will’s time: “You didn’t.”

Hana’s Journal

The guy who answered was called Will. He didn’t call me an idiot for phoning or for not getting to the point. So that was encouraging.

This in particular might be an insight into what Hana’s life is like on a day-to-day basis. Whether that means at home, at school, or elsewhere, it’s clear that not only does she not really feel she has a voice, but she’s also being put down for not using the voice she’s not even sure she really has. And the fact that she’s calling and she did speak to Will shows that she’s in the process of discovering that voice.

Christine

Just from her bio, there’s enough to say that Christine is under a lot of pressure; Hana works for her, so naturally I thought to myself something along the lines of I hope she isn’t the type of boss to take it out on her workers. But from the options on the next page, I noticed that there were more negative statements than positive, open-ended questions to choose from. So I chose the statement that at least showed the most concern for Hana as a person rather than Hana as an employee.

And still, there does have to come a time to address what landed Hana in that office in the first place.

Everyone messes up an order from time to time. But in the space of last weekend, you served a rare steak to a vegetarian, a double whisky to a recovering alcoholic, and some Thai noodles to one unfortunate allergic lady with enough peanuts in the sauce to kill her.

And sure, her apology is warranted, but I could imagine how she said it should raise some concern. I imagined her retreating into herself, voice disappearing once again just as she had been starting to find it the night before.

Another slight tangent from Hana Feels:

I saw a clip from a Michael Todd sermon that talked about things in the beginning stages of development being the easiest things to destroy. That most likely isn’t Christine’s motive here, but I admit that there are better and more loving ways to phrase things when holding people accountable for their actions. Employees are people too, though I understand even from my own experience that it’s hard to keep that in mind when your bosses don’t keep that in mind about you.

Todd talked about how Herod had ordered every male child under the age of two be slaughtered when news of a new king reached him. Why? Because (from the assumption Herod and many of the Pharisees were going off of) why would Herod wait until this King was fully developed and capable of leading his own army to come after him?

And I see the same thing of Hana’s voice here. John 10:10 puts it best that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” And that’s exactly what’s happening to Hana here– I know because I’ve been there too. Just as I finally felt like I could speak up, there was something just before the door to scare me off again. Often times it continues to be the case that there is opposition to a lot of what I have to say or express, even if not opposition from other people. More often that opposition comes from my own mind– from anxiety, the occasional bouts of depression, flashbacks, body image issues… you name it. And I’m seeing that process going on in this narrative through Hana.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming:

The only response that sounds even remotely framed in a positive light is “This isn’t like you.” So that’s what I went with. And from there the response was elongated in an even more positive light where Christine made sure Hana knew her abilities are truly recognized. She still does get to the point that she needs to as Hana’s boss on the following page, but he important thing is that Christine isn’t putting Hana down or making her stress Hana’s stress. She turns Hana toward her goals… or at least what they once were. She continues to remind Hana that she’s more than she recognizes herself to be.

Hana’s Journal

But then came the uniform issue that Hana seemed worried about in her journal. She didn’t explicitly say why, but there have been hints of it throughout the narrative so far that really was summed up in one line from this entry:

I feel more stressed after that telling off. Even though I think she was trying to help, in a strange way. I’ve just got to keep turning up and get through it. And practice my fake smile.

I did it again tonight, just to take the pressure off. I feel totally trapped.

I don’t even think I need to say what “it” is here… If she’s stressed about wearing a new uniform that’s “more like a cocktail dress than a tunic,” then I think we can put together that covering up something is part of the issue running through Hana’s mind.

Jen

Jen also kind of reminds me of myself in the beginning of the conversation she has with Hana. I wouldn’t be the one to dye my hair orange, but I would be the one to open up with a light and seemingly pointless conversation like she did. I’m the one that has a lot of people I consider friends, but there’s only a few that I truly value their input into my life.

I also typically find myself asking my friends the questions about the people they meet, but at least in the past few days have had some of those questions directed towards me for the first time in a couple years. And I’m more than happy to talk about it, but sometimes I worry as I’m talking that I should leave more space for my friends to talk too. So I started to wonder what Hana must be thinking or what she might want to say, if anything other than what’s being expressed. So naturally, I had Jen ask what’s going on with Hana to give her that space to talk.

She doesn’t say much, and though I know it would help her to talk about it, it could also do more harm to push her. But what else is there to do when you don’t want to talk too much more about yourself or the guy that you basically just met? So I had Jen ask about work and the reply kind of surprised me, but it also didn’t.

She wasn’t at all told that she might be fired, but because of the way she views herself and talks to and about herself, it does make sense that Hana would assume the worst. Jen’s reaction might not be the worst, but it is enabling these thoughts in Hana’s mind. Rather than “What a bitch!” I would’ve rather said something like “Was that all she said?” or “What about your future?” But that’s just me trying to leave space to acknowledge mistakes but not be negative (or even somewhat hostile) toward anyone regardless of involvement in the conversation.

Asking about her mom also seems like an important question, so I went with that one. Hana and her mom aren’t on the best terms at the moment it seems. Was this always the case? There’s not much to tell from, but Jen saying “I never understand why you two don’t get on” makes it seem like this has been a consistent issue at least since Hana and Jen became friends. Maybe this could be a reason she thinks of herself so negatively?

Hana’s Journal

There’s not much to take from this entry but how Hana feels about Jen: a good friend that cares, but can also be a bit much. But something that stuck out was how Hana is placing an expectation on herself based on what the people around her want from her.

I should be flattered because she’s got lots of friends. I’m going to try harder. But it’s not fun for me at all.

Should Hana completely isolate herself? No. But she shouldn’t force herself to do it more than she can handle. She shouldn’t feel like she has to force herself out there.

Will

I could imagine all the alarms going off in Will’s head when Hana starts asking about the confidentiality and anonymity of the helpline. All of the potential responses would likely elicit some sort of information on why she’s asking these things, so I figured why not ask if there’s any reason she’s asking instead of cloaking the question in some other statement or something of the sort? She might have issues trusting people, so it’s probably best to just be upfront with her.

What really set the alarms off for me is the defensive “No!” when Will asked her to clarify whether her hypothetical about her being suicidal was actually a hypothetical or not. He handles it well and just answers her question , and the options below could pressure her, or the one I chose (“You said before, you think you have a problem.”) gives Hana the chance to dial back from worrying whether or not she would have the cops called on her or not for suicide risk. And when Hana asks if Will feels under pressure, he’s quick to answer and turn the question to her because, (at least from my experience with these situations,) the things a person asks are indicative of the things they want to express but have trouble doing so. Without being asked the very things we ask, we allow our thoughts about the question with regard to ourselves to sit there and do exactly what Hana expresses to Will:

It builds up and up. Sometimes it’s just stupid things like how somebody looks at me or something they say. I get obsessed with what they’re thinking about me… I know I’m tired, but everything keeps going round in my head.

Another slight tangent from Hana Feels:

I’ve heard a couple of rather “Christian-ese” quotes and ideas having to do with this that have helped me a lot to keep my attention on the One thing that matters.

The first thing is something I have written on a taped index card in front of my desk at home: “Comparison is the enemy of all progress.” God designed each of us with unique talents, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, fears, etc. But the thing with comparison isn’t in the differences between us: it’s in where our focus is. We’re all human, so if we are our main focus, we will find something to beat ourselves up about. When Jesus is the main focus, we can only find the forgiveness and grace that He made available to us through the shedding of His blood on the cross. When Jesus is the main focus, our weaknesses are the greatest thing we can boast about because His power is made perfect in weakness. When we focus on ourselves, all we realize is that all is vanity. When we focus on ourselves, there’s always a part of us that understands there is nothing we can do to earn right standing with God. But when we focus on God, this world may be vanity but there’s a greater world to come free from the brokenness of this one. When we focus on God, we don’t have to do anything but believe and live out our faith in Him to receive (not earn) right standing with God because He paid the price to get us back.

The second is that a relationship with God is like walking up a down escalator when God is at the top. If you stand still, regardless of how trapped you might feel, you still have a choice to continue taking the next step towards Him. Once you stop taking those steps, your body may be still but you are moving away from Him. Feeling anxiety or depression or struggling with any mental health struggle may not be a choice, but how you react to that struggle is your choice. God wants you to keep taking those steps. He is not stopping you. He wants to encourage you in your journey up the escalator if you want to hear His Word.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming:

Saying everyone has times like that can help to know that you’re not alone, but part of me also finds it slightly demeaning to the thoughts that may be running through your mind. I tend to think questions lead more places and therefore can be the most powerful use of language we have available to us. I mean think about it, God didn’t come into Eden guns blazing when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, He came in asking where they were and how they knew they were naked even though He already knew. So I decided on having Will ask Hana what’s been going through her mind.

And here’s where I found myself relating the most to Hana:

Like, am I wasting my life? I’m not stupid but I screwed up my exams. I have a shit job and I can’t even do that right. I don’t have any savings — because I’m a terrible cook and I just get takeaways all the time. And the idea of a relationship with a guy terrifies me.

I’m nearly twenty. I should have a direction, right? I should be thinking about buying a house and moving in with someone. And confronting bad attitudes with proper feminist arguments. Instead I’m going to get old living in this shitty flat, buying a small carton of milk every day because I can’t get the landlord to fix the fridge. And I’m going to be lonely.

I turn 23 next month. My high school graduating class already graduated college this past spring, and here I am, “a year behind” (though I’m not really giving myself grace for taking on two majors). Even more of them have started their full time careers and seem to really be enjoying it. My jobs aren’t always what one might consider ideal, and sometimes I mess up with them too. I’m not quite where I want to be, even with all the joys I’ve found in what I am doing. But here’s the thing: my worth isn’t in any of that, nor is their worth in any of that either. It’s so so so so easy to compare ourselves. It’s too easy. That’s what we’re used to– the broken state of this world is all we know so of course living by faith in the only One that could make us whole is going to be uncomfortable! What’s hard for us to grasp (especially in a society highly driven on instant gratification) is that the valleys we’re in today prepare us for the mountaintops of tomorrow, often in some of the most outlandish ways.

And not everyone takes the same journey in life, so that’s what I had Will say.

It doesn’t sound like Hana is the one putting the pressure on herself, but she does sound like someone struggling to let go of it. Though there’s so much more to the Gospel than Shia LaBeouf says he got out of it, one of the major points it does make is this point of letting go. Who the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36), and the Son, in His own words, is the Way, the Truth, and the life (John 14:6). Asking Hana how she thinks she could fix it might continue to add the pressure. As much as I’d love to ask another question in response, her mind seems to be at a place where she doesn’t need encouragement for it to move any faster, so I had Will acknowledge “That’s a lot to handle at once.”

And I wish that I was given the choice of what to say to Hana before Will asked how Hana deals with pressure. Personally, I’d have taken a bit more time on that conversation to remind Hana that her struggles, her worth, her anything, is not dependent on or comparable to that of anyone else.

Hana’s Journal

But when reading her journal, the point Hana made that “[Will] seems to understand what I’m saying. At least he doesn’t tell me I shouldn’t feel the way I do,” I realized that maybe continuing that point isn’t necessary in every situation. People will eventually find reminders of that regardless.

Jen

Why can’t Hana make the double date? I was curious what her reasoning is, though to be honest, dealing with one’s own mental health is enough of a load (and one that should take priority) over dating. She didn’t provide real reasoning though, she tried making an excuse. But in pressing that Hana can be honest with Jen, she finds her reasoning without mentioning too much of the deeper issues going on; she makes a good point too, I wouldn’t want to go on a date with a guy I know literally nothing about except some made up bit that he likes books. But after that, I’m not sure there really is a good response.

“If it helps, you don’t have to wear orange.” Nothing wrong with a bit of lightening the mood, I suppose. But I still don’t like how Jen is trying to drag her out for a date. If it were just her trying to take her best friend for a day out, then sure, I get that. But when you think something is wrong you should be focusing on the individual, not trying to fill some perceived gap in their life. I know Jen is well-intentioned, but I don’t like that she is helping by trying to shove a guy into the mix.

Hana’s Journal

What concerns me most about how Jen is trying to pull Hana of her “rut” is pretty clearly expressed in Hana’s journal entry here:

She thinks she knows me so well. But if she really knew what was going on in my head she’d never pick up that phone. And that’s why I can never tell her…

I can’t cope with this pressure from Jen on top of everything else.

Mrs. Adams

What caught me off guard is that I kind of expected “Hana’s mother” to be more than a subtitle if she came up. It’s pretty easy to understand why though once she says “Never thinks of anybody but herself” about Hana when she gets a call from the hospital.

Final Thoughts

Hear me out on this last thought, which is heavily based on that last statement from Hana’s mother:

I wouldn’t say “never” thinks of anyone else, but in a way, many of these issues take root and fester in someone’s mind when he/she thinks so much of his/herself. Comparison. Wondering what others think of oneself. Focusing on who or what you are. Trying to become someone else because you don’t like yourself.

When I say these are “self-centered” thoughts I don’t mean they are selfish, I just mean that oneself is at the center of every thought– in cases like this, clearly in a negative light.

Something that my friend has struggled with a lot is pride on both extremes– holding himself too high as well as beating himself up like this in the name of humility. (That’s not what humility is, by the way). Here’s the issue with that: when we put ourselves on our own throne of our own hearts, no matter how hard we try there will be a God-sized hole in there somewhere. That manifests itself differently in everyone’s life. But with God at the center, His power is made perfect in weakness. Does that mean these issues will magically disappear and we won’t have mental health struggles? No! My anxiety is the thorn in my side, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12. It’s still there and very real, but I trust in a God who’s never failed. I may not be enough, but I have a God who was, is, and always will be. I may not be enough, but I have a God who still loved me enough to come down and take on the death I deserved to make me enough regardless of all I’ve done/do against Him.

So when that’s my first thought, it’s still difficult to push through, but I do. When I am my first thought… when what others think of me is my first thought… when my assumptions of what I seem like are my first thought… when I am somewhere at the center of my thoughts, that’s when I slip. I used to think the same of myself. I used to over apologize. I used to think everyone thought I was trash or some weird kid no one wanted anything to do with. But now, even if that was the case, God wanted so much to do with me that He died for me. I think that’s pretty remarkable, and even more so that He’s extended that love and grace and mercy to every single one of us if we’re open to taking His hand and trusting Him.

El Relato

Given that I was away over the past weekend, I didn’t get to sit with my mom and translate Bastardo, with her at all, so I had to do things the easier way with translate. I still tried to read what I could in Spanish, like the first page after the title. I think it was really interesting how Núñez pointed out how many chapters there are, the number of combinations to the story, and how much of the world’s population it would take to explore every single possibility at least once if every person had a different adventure through the piece. Maybe it’s to set the vast number of possibilities, but it could also be for the opposite– the limits to the choices we as readers are able to make. There may be no other reason to including these details than to explain how the piece works.


Mi Nombre Fue…

The second page had so many names on it. I know fue is past tense, translating to was, and used in the first or third person (in this case, first), so I didn’t need the translated page for this one. Considering this piece is described by the author in the previous page as hyperliterature, I expected to be able to click different names and start going in different directions, but this wasn’t the case. That said, the sound effect of the typewriter that automatically repeats once you click the play button did almost create an illusion of typing things out myself in a way.

What was also strange is that Henry Morton Stanley and the given name Henry were repeated a lot. A coincidence? Deliberate choice? One way to find out, I guess.


Iteraciones

The third page gives the option to print, which would be nice to use if I had a printer at the moment. Unfortunately for me, I do not.

I also noticed that the sections were in different order on the original and the translated page. What was nice is that each section was still the same, so as long as I could find the matching section, I could easily find the translation. That said, why is each section numbered rather than given a title for the characters they are about?

Funcionamiento

I was quite interested in the page on the piece’s functioning, particularly because of the first sentence:

En Bastardo, la finalidad es combinar fragmentos de forma exponencial para que cada lector decida, en colaboración con las herramientas digitales, cuál es su relato óptimo.

The translation was rough for me before looking at the page, but I could tell it’s about the power the reader has in the story he/she creates from Nuñéz’s creation. That said, my attention then turned to the end of the sentence— cuál es su relato óptimo— because I’ve been in a season of learning to relinquish that control of my own ideal reality or focusing so much on what I want. Like I mentioned briefly in my last post, my grandma recently passed away. Did I want that to happen? No. Did I feel ready to let her go? No, but truthfully I don’t think any amount of time could have prepared me for that. But God. I’ve seen His hand in bringing together people in my family that don’t necessarily get along. He’s brought back prodigals in the family and we were all able to welcome back these people with open arms in celebration of my grandmother’s life. I’ve been able to reflect on the example my grandma set for me as a woman and a child of God, especially with how I observed her running her business, Holland Mountain Farms, which closed about ten years ago before her dementia started to set in. I thought about how her business was her boat, and how Jesus was not only in her boat, but preaching from it through her too. (That analogy will make more sense in scrolling through my recent Instagram post).

My point is, this “relato óptimo” isn’t always the best one. It seems like it on the surface at times, sure, but is it purposeful? Is it challenging? Is it what we want, or is it something we may not have even realized we needed? Where does your plan lead you? Where could it lead you that you might not have considered? There are so many questions when we as human beings try to take more control than we are able– we are limited in knowledge, wisdom, strength, and abilities with undoubtedly imperfect wills that inevitably lead us in the wrong direction at some point in our lives. That’s why I believe what I do, among other reasons. I don’t want that control, as it’s done nothing but feed my anxieties and it’s led me down several dead ends in life. I’ve come to understand that God’s will is always good, even if it doesn’t feel or seem like it to us in the moment. I don’t want my “relato óptimo” anymore, and while it’s still nice to imagine it sometimes, I don’t.

The other part of this page that struck me (though this one I needed the translation for) was the Funcionamiento Literario talking about a “search for identity based on a historical figure.” In a way, that’s kind of how the Bible has been working for thousands of years now (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Our identity and purpose is found not in our imperfections, not in our past, not in the physical makeup of our bodies, but in the redemptive work of Jesus. And I guess that’s where this would differ, as Nuñéz explores the several identities of Henry Morton Stanley who is undoubtedly just a simple human being like the rest of us.

Back to Iteraciones

14

My first thought was of Jeremiah 17:7-8 with los ríos mentioned. Water is necessary for life, and I think it’s important how this passage mentioned “That time he didn’t listen to the water” and how it ended in wasted or lost time and this going astray from the water source left John feeling orphaned and alone. No longer does John want to be known as John the orphan, even if just to himself (at least that’s how it comes across).

I’m no orphan, but I’ve been and felt so alone that I almost considered myself to be one. I’ve had that supposed need to make a new name or identity for myself and not once did that work. Even if it seemed to, it was slowly eating away at who I actually am– as a survivor, as a human being, as a daughter, as a granddaughter, as a writer, as an artist, and most importantly as a child if the Most High King. He stood at the door and patiently knocked, even when I refused to hear the river of life in His voice that was on the other side of the door. I gave myself so many identities and labels I couldn’t keep up. So I don’t think John needs the new name, the one he has is just really difficult to accept and live with sometimes. I get that. It’s nice to have that control for a moment, but just because you can change something at the surface, doesn’t mean it will change at the core. We all need water. Anything living needs water. That won’t change no matter what control we have on anything.

19

And now I start to wonder what John did. Did he make himself an orphan? From what it sounds like, maybe it was self defense.

I also wonder how this passage could be part of some relato óptimo. Beatings? Scarce food? Fragments on the ground that (I would assume) are that of a glass bottle of some sort? How does this seem ideal? Nuñéz wants readers to make an ideal reality out of this. It just sounds like the reality of this world– this broken, broken world.

62

“Is war hard?” What kind of a question is that?

I’d have replied rather tersely too, to say the least. And that applies to all wars: international wars, civil wars, internal wars, verbal wars… any of it can be really, really hard, regardless of whether you’re fighting or witnessing it. And Henry covered some wars– reported on them– and witnessed them before going to Africa, as Nuñéz mentioned Henry had done.

I understand wanting the answers to a question, but sometimes there are things best left unsaid or not discussed. Sometimes there are things that need to sit for a while before they are discussed. Some things need time to process, and it’s sometimes hard to know when to respect that, and when to push that conversation into the light.

Maybe later… maybe not.

Dan Hett’s c ya laterrrr had me considering a number of things I’ve dealt with or been through in my life, or even what I’m going through right now (hence why this post is a bit late). I think in a way it’s served as a reminder for me about the kind of hope I still have through my faith that death is not the end.

And through loss or the fear of it, most people have a family they can turn to. Over the past week, my grandma had a fast decline of health and passed away. I had family I could turn to in ways I never had before over the past week, and some family had turned to me in ways I never thought they would, considering I was literally a child last I saw many of them. I got to know people that knew her before she was a grandmother, and before she was a mother, and even before she started dating my grandpa when they were in high school. In some ways, I was looking back to Retratos Vivos de Mi Mamá, but in looking at c ya laterrrr I also thought about the one page that says this:

This is the first time you’ve physically been with most of your family since this began. It feels really, really weird. You and your sisters were the last to arrive, everyone else has been here for hours – everyone looks so strung out. 

Sitting in the middle of this group feels really strange. Everyone’s responding in different ways. Your mother is moving around a lot, talking to everyone. Your stepmum is quiet, wrapped in a blanket. You dad is quiet. Really really quiet. Your brothers friends are in similarly conrasting states. It’s a weird mix of people. You’re not sure what to do.

I don’t have this many siblings, but I do have one and three cousins on my dad’s side of the family. Seeing them after so long was awkward at first, but it didn’t take long for us to realize not only why we were there, but also that we all have different ways of coping with this one big “c ya laterrrr” to Grandma. My brother seemed more willing to open up and ask what everyone’s been up to, but I’m more of the introvert that waits for conversations to come to me. So naturally, of the hyperlinks on the above quoted page, I chose to speak to my parents as the relationship I have with them has really opened up a lot since we all started going to church again and since my dad and I found studies to go to.

Yet for us there was no police, there was no questioning, there weren’t reporters, there were no crowds, there was no mass tragedy, and there was no explosion. But it kept us up all week– knowing that she probably wouldn’t make it out of the hospital but still (perhaps selfishly) hoping she would make it and we’d hear her mumbling or see her smiling again. When I was talking to my parents and my brother about it too, I didn’t say it like Hett wrote of the situation he was facing:

You mention it to your sister, and you agree it felt like a TV show this morning. 

It doesn’t now. 

It just didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t, to be honest. It doesn’t feel real that I’ll only see one grandparent every time I go to the home and former flower nursery. I never imagined them apart.

And the last thing you’d expect when your brother goes to a concert with his friends is that he won’t come back.

What people don’t realize about high-stress or traumatic experiences such as a terrorist attack or losing someone is that being still can sometimes be the only way you start to fully understand what’s going on. You can’t fully understand how your mind is processing anything if you don’t take a moment to slow down and listen. And more often than not, that’s frustrating and even enraging when all you can think about is someone you love is or could be gone. And though I can say by the evidence of my grandma’s faith (James 2:14-20) that she’s truly home now (Hebrews 13:14-16), I still also found myself asking whether or not I should be crying, even though the shortest and perhaps most profound verse in the Bible is two words: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

I think what’s really profound about how Jesus wept for His friend– though already knowing when Lazarus would die and already knowing He would raise Lazarus from the dead and already knowing He would see Lazarus again in Heaven– is the fact that He still loved Lazarus so much that being separated from him was difficult. Do I have the same understanding of the hope found in the work of Jesus that Jesus Himself did? No. I’m not God. But I do have enough of an understanding to know that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Does this make it easier to not be able to hug Grandma (or for Hett, his brother) again in this life? Still no. But it gives a hope that only One can provide.

Yet still I can’t imagine what it’s like for my grandpa right now, but I think Hett has a line describing the morning after everything that might just scratch the surface: “A morning like every other, but not at all. No morning will be like the others now.”

And before leaving for the youth retreat I’m writing this from, that’s how mornings were feeling but with dramatically less pressure than Hett describes because this wasn’t super sudden, publicized, or terror-driven event. But still, it seemed like this fit my life too well right now:

The house is weirdly busy. You’re not sure what you expected, but it wasn’t this level of action.

You spend a long time hugging and conversing and catching up, you don’t even recognise some of the people in the house. 

More arrive, relatives from fairly far away who jumped on the first flight they could. Everyone wants to be here. 

Your mother is unreal. Endless cups of tea, everyone sorted. Like nothing happened. You wonder how long this can last. 

November 11, 2011

A picture from one of the last times I saw Abuelita (from left to right: Tití, Abuelita, and my mom)

I wish I’d learned to speak Spanish when I was younger, and I still wish I had the time to set aside to learn it now. I have a promise to keep to myself– a promise I made almost eleven years ago now after Abuelita passed away– that I’d learn to speak Spanish one day so I’d never have to deal with the language barrier with any of my family again. I guess the barrier isn’t a huge deal considering my mom’s side of the family that I’ve met and that lives in the states are bilingual, but I’ve had this idea for a ministry to serve the people of Puerto Rico one day too (hopefully before gentrification runs the native population from their land) and my mom has warned me before that if I ever go to the island, speaking the language is an important safety an communication skill.

So I guess that’s why I was automatically drawn to Retratos Vivos de Mamá, it’s related to the similar culture of Colombia, and in a language I can half-understand at least. And when I read the statement from the author, Carolina López Jiménez, the last line really hit home and left me in a moment of prayer– of recognizing there is something about that season in my life that the Lord’s been trying to tell me but not quite knowing what it is yet. All I know is that 11 years is coming up fast.

Retratos Vivos de Mamá is a web literature project inspired by mourning: mourning caused by the death of a mother and the possibility of overcoming it through creation.

And on top of that, it’s a refreshing experience to have something to sit and read together with my mom since Spanish is her native tongue. Sure, I used to ask for her help on a word or two in high school when I had to take Spanish up to honors Spanish III, but this just felt like it meant more to both of us because as much as I know we’ve both lived past losing Abuelita, I sometimes wonder exactly how much either of us have truly dealt with the grief or how much it lingers and how much we have yet to learn by looking back at her life and example.


Death is not the end.

The finite nature of this life is all that I really knew as a kid, and by the time Abuelita had passed, my family no longer went to church on a regular basis and all I knew were some Bible stories (and not even the real lessons behind them, to be honest). I think that this was also something that my mom struggled to articulate, or even to believe at the time her mom passed.

Though I already had a rough translation of the title in my head– Pictures of Life of my Mom– I asked my mom to translate the title quickly a few hours before we really got to sitting down and reading this piece. Her translation, though similar, had such a greater depth to it that I could even see in every true Christian I know: a depth of knowledge and assurance between the life they had versus the life they have in Jesus. My mom said something like this:

You have to be careful with how you translate it, too. Otherwise you get the right translation but the wrong idea. This means more like Living Pictures of my Mom.

my mom

And in a way that’s exactly what the cross is– though pictures are still moments of the past and though the cross is a symbol of the most humiliating and excruciating death someone could have taken on, they both bring life to what was once dead in their own ways.


The tab titles :

  • Intro : I think the translation here is pretty self-explanatory
  • Cuarto Oscuro : dark room (probably like those red rooms for developing pictures, given the context)
    • Diario de Puelo
    • Papel Quemado
    • Carrete de Recuerdos
  • Soplo : puff (of air)
  • Revelado : revealed
    • Ensayo : trial
    • Hiedra : ivy
    • Voces : voices
    • Planto : I plant
  • El Proyecto : also a kind of self-explanatory translation, but this is “the project”
  • Conversemos : let’s talk
  • Apoyanos : support us

The Pencil Icon

Below the menu button in the top right of the home screen was a pencil-shaped button. All it said when I clicked on it was this:

A todas las mujeres que han sabido no callar.
Y al silencio de mi madre, para que nunca más se ahogue.

With my own experiences of my mom speaking the little Spanish she does to me (which is mostly just basic commands), I could roughly translate that to this:

To all the women who’ve known not to shut up.
And to the silence of my mother, so she never drowns again.

If there’s one thing my mom and I talked about, it’s this. There was a time when I think I knew how to shut up a little too well. For her, she at least knew when she needed to speak up… but no one believed her. It’s something I’d only ever heard her address once before: when my parents knew I was upset one day (though I refused to admit it) and insisted on the truth. When I finally told them, she told me how the last thing she would have done is blame me or brush me off because she experienced it herself. She may not have been silent, but she was silenced. So I’ve been learning to not shut up as much because of it but with social anxiety… it’s not easy.


Cuarto Oscuro

In this dark room queda trazado the walk of my pain: la caída y el ascenso, the days of ruin and of mudez. Also las cicatrices, todo lo que mom resounds in me:

all memories. all wounds. all happiness.

Like I said before, I only know so much on my own and my mom and I spent so long talking about the pencil icon page that we didn’t get to much else. The above is what I like to call the “Wargo translation” (meaning the translation that wants to try to do this herself and is too stubborn to use Google translate).

In the rest of the passage that I didn’t type out here, it goes on more about the last days of the author’s mother and the pain within them. The last sentence hit me pretty hard though. It translates to this:

So I’m also reborn through writing.

And not only because of my own experiences does this hit me so hard, but also the fact that there are promises God speaks over our lives that we don’t even notice He fulfills every day. Healing? I’ve seen it in the recovered addict my brother is. Comfort? He put a pen and paper in front of me before anything I could’ve hurt myself with when I was a kid. Provision? One of my best friends grew up in a single-parent home, often on the brink of or actually facing homelessness, yet the Lord provided. Redemption? New life? Forgiveness? Confidence? Assurance? Look to the cross.

It’s just interesting to me that the author brings up this idea of being reborn even in the page titled “dark room.” I guess what it is that struck me was that light can overcome darkness, but where there’s light, all that’s in the darkness is brought to light… brought back to our attention and our sight… and from there we choose whether to continue to hide in the shadows or to be seen and, in a sense, reborn.


Planto

Going through this one a few times, I noticed that the passages were in a different order each time. I didn’t go back enough times to see if it was a pattern based on where the moving button was on the page or where you clicked, but I did notice that the same passage wouldn’t ben in exactly the same spot each time. Was there a significance to that? Maybe. Maybe not. But it did have me thinking about how there really isn’t any struggle we deal with that someone won’t relate to, even though the season and circumstances and people involved may not be the same.

The other passage on this page that really struck me was this:

Hablan de esos abortos extraños en los que la mujer
They talk about those strange abortions in which the woman of
tus treinta y siete años feliz a pasar de no tener hijos
your thirty-seven years is happy despite not having children
(y en mí quería tener a su hijo pero algún evento externo la obliga
(and in me she wanted to have her child but some external event forces her
en parte debido a ello)
in part because of it)

Some of the other passages didn’t quite seem to make sense in just the author talking to or about her mother, it seemed like she had to be experiencing some level of motherhood too. One of the next passages that came up was translated to this:

So enigmatic from a very young age, in that crashing noise one day and
refined sugar of mine for identifying with the mother, that’s how I managed to understand you when I
felt like a woman, my body, like yours, had to expiate the guilt.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this because I hadn’t quite expected to think this much about my stance on life (which I don’t consider political at all despite how highly politicized the issue has sadly become) in class. It really made me think about a piece I wrote last semester that I titled Hills Like White Elephants, Part 2. It made me think about Ernest Hemingway’s original short piece Hills Like White Elephants and how the girl clearly had to convince herself to do this “procedure” to “expiate the guilt” or the evidence of the affair between the two characters that she was carrying.

So I could be horribly off with how I put these together in terms of Retratos Vivos de mí Mamá, but it seemed like this was something that the author came to understand about some of the grief her mom carried. Whether it is this matter of life or maybe a matter of one’s innocence, this part of the piece left me thinking a lot about how these things that the world likes to sweep under the rug are still there. I didn’t know until last summer that my mom had gone through some of the same trauma I did around the same age I did… but like I said earlier, she actually did speak up and people had drowned her out. Because I was afraid of how she would see me of all people, I never told her until almost seven years after the fact. Because it’s a topic we only have two extremes on: it’s either shameful and taboo, or it’s normal.

Agape

Waber’s statement and bio on his piece, a kiss, was an interesting one. The man grows 320 different kinds of tomatoes? I guess I get how gardening can be relaxing and make a person happier– it’s something that definitely brings me back to the happier days of my childhood when my grandparents were still running their flower nursery– but 320 kinds of tomatoes? I didn’t even realize there were that many, let alone over 10,000 varieties.

But in all seriousness, the other thing that struck me about the author’s statement was in these words:

a love letter, a brief moment in time… the largest project ever accomplished in Twine. A novel-length hypertext included in many digital literature classes.

It’s not all that new to me to think of an entire book as a love letter (in particular I’m thinking of a collection of 66 different books by about 40 different authors that was divinely inspired and written over the span of about 1,500 years that we now call “the Bible.”) Both have in common that it’s written about “a brief moment in time” that is key to the piece, one clearly much less brutal than the other. But the idea that both of these moments are moments born out of love still stands, regardless of circumstance.

I have yet to find the “how shared stories connect us” lexia of this hypertext novel, and I’m hoping I eventually will. The fact that our stories connect us in so many ways has always fascinated me and (aside from writing having been more of a coping mechanism in the past) it’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve continued to write. As I’ve grown as a writer and as a person, I’ve realized that it’s not so much the story that matters but rather the One behind it that ultimately redeems the broken parts of us and our stories.

But much like I didn’t realize there were so many different varieties of tomatoes, I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds of love until I started studying the Bible. In Greek, the primary language of the New Testament, there are seven types of love– this concept of different kinds of love is something a vaguely thought of, but never really knew to be true. Though not all of them are specifically used in the original texts, I figured I would try to distinguish which lexia I came across display which type of love throughout my own venture through Waber’s a kiss.


eros

part of speech : noun

This love is most often referred to as a sensual or passionate love. Eros is meant to be the kind of physical or sexual attraction between husband and wife, but in secular culture has expanded into other seasons of life as well.

observed in the following lexia :

zoom out from the kiss

zoom in to the kiss

what he loves about onions

a conversation between their feet

other ways to describe the hug

words their moths could be forming

philleo

part of speech : noun

One might recognize this kind of love from Pennsylvania’s own city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. This is the kind of love held between close friends, and is often confused for agape love in real-life application.

observed in the following lexia :

other water they’ve kissed near

what the curtains looked like

the benefits of breathing

kudos

part of speech : noun

This one probably sounds familiar because we use this word as it is in English as well. Kudos is a congratulatory kind of love that might be translated also as “praise,” “fame,” or “renown.”

observed in the following lexia :

a story about the house

peonies

storgé

part of speech : noun

Though not directly written in the Bible, storgé love is still rather important and all-too-often taken for granted. This love is an affectionate, particularly familial love. A naturally occurring feeling.

observed in the following lexia :

the fourth cat

the recent obsession with LPs

philautia

part of speech : noun

We might call this kind of love “self-care” these days. Philautia is often related to feelings of confidence and maybe even a bit of pride for oneself.

observed in the following lexia :

who is the daughter?

other ways to describe the hug

the benefits of breathing

an analogy he uses when she tries to get him to eat right

pragma

part of speech : noun

A committed, compassionate kind of love. Built on mutual understanding, interest, or goals such as raising a family. Not to be confused with agape love.

observed in the following lexia :

her favorite mushrooms

why no one answers

the fourth cat

the benefits of breathing

other things you can sync

agape

part of speech : verb

The only kind of love that is not merely a feeling. Not only is this a committed love, but it’s a love that puts commitment to action. The choice to love and remain committed, even when feelings fade as they are bound to sometimes. This type of love is what makes the others last, or at least remain in steady and healthy cycles as this love relies on communication and application of what’s said and the feelings of the other six kinds of love.

observed in the following lexia :

the fourth cat

movies they’ve watched recently

a unused balcony


I went through several other lexia aside from the ones that are listed above, but I found some other ones that really spoke to me including one lexia saying “you can’t buy what’s freely given” that lead me back to the beginning of the piece. I mean, all the hyperlinks on that page lead back to the beginning of the piece but this one in particular is something I’ve heard a lot lately, especially as a Christian that encounters a lot of people from other denominations or that aren’t Christian at all that feel like they can’t earn or deserve salvation.

This is going to sound blunt at first but, these people are right: we aren’t able to earn or be deserving of it by our own power. That said, that’s exactly why we have Jesus. He gave up His spirit, He died and rose again so we could be with Him regardless of how many times we’ve nailed Him to that cross. So yes, we can’t buy what’s freely given.

Though this story is far from based on faith, love, along with the rest of creation, is designed to reflect this perfectly good agape love that is presented to us as a free gift. To be honest, had I taken it from any other perspective I would undoubtedly be happy for the author that he has someone to write about like that, but also pretty depressed or lonely or disappointed in myself. I’d still be viewing pieces like this as a picture of some sort of goal rather than a journey– the kind of journey that real love is– even though this piece did display plenty of the journey surrounding a kiss.