Sunday, October 21, 2012

Well Suited

Suits at a shop in Dublin, 2012

The other day, I interviewed for a position as an adjunct professor. Something about twenty years of academic calendars and CV-centric activities had elevated Being a Professor to the holy grail of vocations (never mind that this position would be teaching introductory composition courses). I had always assumed that teaching as a professor would be a benchmark of success.

Last year, I taught at university level for the first time since grad school. It was just a comp course—not my dream of teaching creative writing—but I was doing it!

I felt absolutely unpinnacled.

The whole hallowed-halls-of-learning-in-a-classroom seemed a bit overrated. I realized that I’d learned more in my ten years out of a structured educational system than my twenty years within it.

The evening before my recent interview, I had dinner with a sage friend. I was telling him (well, maybe whining) about my quandary. He looked at me and said, “You can get whatever you want. But do you want it?”

Did I?

I thought about what I wanted as I chose my outfit to wear for the interview: a skirt suit of mix-matched vintage pieces I loved.

Ah, the owning of a suit: that was another thing I had thought marked grownup-edness. Well, a matching suit, that is. As I looked at myself in the mirror on the way out the door, I laughed. Why on earth did I think I was a matching-suit kind of girl?

Don’t get me wrong, if a Neiman Marcus box showed up on my doorstep with an Akris or Lanvin suit inside, you’d see me wearing it. But looking at the reflection of my A-line tweed skirt and creamy Japanese wool jacket—both courtesy of my local Goodwill—I let the idea out of my ideal.

The invention in my head (my idea of success) finally bowed to the more worthy principle (my ideal success). Success for me is creating. That usually looks like writing and painting. Sometimes I get paid for those things, sometimes not. The beauty is that I love the act of creation regardless of any external value that might get assigned to it. That is my new ideal for success. And my ideas about it are finally starting to align.

I was offered the teaching position and graciously declined it. If anything, I needed to live my ideal first. Some day, I might accept such an offer. But until then, I’m happy with my nomadic, bohemian, off-CV life. Such a life brings me life. You could say I’m well suited for it. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Favorite Landlord

I’m a great tenant. When I moved out of my historic apartment in graduate school, my landlords offered to write me a letter of recommendation. All kinds of parties—the millennium included—had happened inside my walls, but I kept even the ceiling molding clean. I took great care of that apartment because I was honoring the agreement I’d signed to rent it. After my two years on Walker Avenue, I not only got my deposit back, but I left the place better than when I’d found it.

My best renting situations were those where I signed an agreement: everything spelled out, everybody’s expectations traceable to a page. I did make the twenty-something-mistakes of renting a few hairy sublets that A) I shouldn’t have rented in the first place and B) had no spelled-out rental conditions. Here, a redux of those experiences blended into the voice of one, conglomerate landlady:

“Hey, want to rent my room while I’m in Milan for four months?”

Two months later: “Hey, I’m coming back to town. With my boyfriend. Can you sleep on the couch?”

One day after they returned: “Can you move out? And where is my pairing knife?”

Yes, I love the rental agreement: I promise to pay you X per month. I can stay here for X months. I will get my deposit back in full if X, Y and Z haven’t broken, fallen off the balcony, or gone missing.

The pairing knife’s location has remained a mystery, but my understanding of the landlord-tenant relationship has clarified. In fact, as I was reading the Book of John recently, I noticed something. In the spiritual version of the landlord-tenant relationship, I have been thinking that God resides in me kind of like a tenant does in an apartment. Even the “Christ in me, hope of glory” can seem to work when I hold role of landlord. Unexamined, that mindset is kind of crazy: God renting a room in Annaland?

What’s really happened is that I entered into an agreement with Him; I signed over all of me for all of Him. With my full permission, He’s got full ownership. Lordship. Landlordship, if you will. I agree to keep my place in working order. I take out the trash, I keep the windows clean, I notify Him of backed-up plumbing. It isn’t always easy to keep to the contract, and I admit that I’ve done more than a few things that should dent my deposit of faith.

As is the norm, my Landlord is holding onto that deposit for me. Beyond the norm, He’s invested it not for Himself, but for me. Its interest is growing in ways I can’t yet see. I don’t want to jeopardize its growth by punching holes in my walls of hope or dragging heavy anger across my polished wood floors. When my rental agreement in this life is up, I want the most gracious Landlord to write me a letter of recommendation. I want it to be filled with words like well done and good and faithful. That will be better than any party I could ever throw—on either side of a rental agreement.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dating an Older Man in Jacksonville

We are listening to the orchestra’s first morning rehearsal. By ‘we,’ I mean the Britt Festival and I. This year, he turns fifty. I have a ways to go until my golden years, and sure, the Britt’s grown a bit crotchety—putting up literal fences and all, but I’ve brought coffee, and everybody’s happy. We enjoy State-of-Jefferson-blue skies and share a bit of history.

For many summers, I’ve come to this outdoor amphitheater for concerts in and outside the fence—dinner picnics for both. Mornings, I’ve stretched here after running the woodland trails or brought pencils and sketched the vineyards and hills beyond the band shell. Off-season, I’ve sat in the empty benches and chatted with God until the stars came out. And once, on the lookout above the vacant sound booth, I kissed the man I didn’t marry.

I still wait for someone to witness my life as I hope to witness his. But there are years and years that he’ll never know. Meanwhile, the Britt hill has seen a fair amount of my life beneath his shady trees. He’s waited for me to return from extended bouts of expatriotism. He’s refrained from commenting on a curly cowgirl hat and an anemic stint of vegetarianism. He’s seen the few men I loved on his grassy slopes. And, like a patient and wiser suitor, he has kept an eye on me while waiting for his moment.

And it is here. For the first time since the Rogue Valley has been my mailing address, I love the Britt with the love that comes of finally seeing the gift that’s been my neighbor for the better part of a dozen years and several continents.

Dearest Britt: here’s to patience tall as your pine trees.  Here’s to the orchestral sound of hope.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Half Moon, Whole Heart

Last summer, I camped by the Salmon River for the first time. The riverbanks spread wide their stony shores, the August waters low. I drove shuttle for kayakers and practiced the art of waiting by water.  After a few hours, the water begins to speak.

Beneath a spring half moon, I’m back. Now the bars of rock are thin, rushed by water that flexes its green and fast muscles. Like men at a gym, this constant roil—noisy and strong. Yet gentle too, like mothers humming lullabies.

How do we hear the river?

When God speaks, we are often the crowd that hears thunder or angels—everything but his words.

I thought I heard the river telling of men and women. But I think it was also speaking of “other.” Of whatever it is I haven’t learned to listen to.

Perhaps the weight-lifting—wait-lifting—water is the sound of women building muscle beneath the frothy soft of their surface. Perhaps it is the song men sing when no one is listening.  Perhaps it is every word we open our hearts to.

When we see an other approaching and we hear nothing but the rush of water, we pretend that’s the only sound a river makes. Oh the strength and sweetness we will miss.

And now I am off to listen to distant seas. Here's to hearing.

Open my ears.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anna's New Book: The Heart Takes Flight

The Heart Takes Flight is a children’s book for grownups, celebrating all those who wake into their dreams. With its inked images and text, this illustrated vignette invites you to try on your wings.

Written & illustrated by Anna Elkins.

Anna currently resides in the mythical State of Jefferson, where she writes, paints, and teaches. Her words have appeared in various journals and books, and her art has been exhibited at home and abroad.

Available for purchase through and select bookstores.


A Heart Wakes: The Beginnings of The Heart Takes Flight

A couple of summers ago, I posted here about a card line I’d created called “The Heart Takes Flight.” Well, that heart has grown up, and the idea has turned into a book.

But back to 2010. That autumn, I was part of a team that travelled to the Bay Area to conduct a creativity conference called “Awakening.” I had been asked to teach on writing in the Spirit.

I had taught writing, but not in a Spirit-led sense. I was an itsy bit nervous. So I was glad that the morning I was scheduled to speak, the conference began with a long and gorgeous worship segment. I invited the Holy Spirit to tell me whatever was on His heart. I didn’t realize He would do so through someone else. Within a few moments, I felt a hand on my shoulder. A man began to prophesy over me. I had only met him once, when he coordinated the team on arrival the day before. I didn’t even know his name.

He began to speak of and into my life in the way a prophet can. He described my life’s callings and affirmed some secret questions I’d asked God and no one else.

Then he said, “You are a writer. You need to get started on your next book.” He didn’t even know I’d written a first one—years prior and still unpublished. When he gave me that call to action, I didn’t have an idea for a second book. I just knew I’d better start dreaming of one.

I learned far more than I taught that day.

That conference was a trip with Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry out of Redding, California. I came to study at BSSM from a small island in Micronesia, where I had been teaching literature and art. That journey is another story, except for this part: on my application to BSSM, I wrote a little vignette about being Sleeping Beauty and being awakened to God’s promises. Kind of trite, but true.

I didn’t remember the cards or the application during the Awakening conference. But when I returned to Redding, the idea of writing another book kept growing. I had enrolled in a writing class, mostly to meet other writers in the Bethel community. The instructor gave us writing prompts that wakened my poetry from its sleep. For one of the last assignments before the Christmas holidays, I completed a little storyboard about a heart waking into its dream. I called it The Heart Takes Flight. It charmed me, and I wondered if it might be the book I needed to write. But the holidays came and went. Life came and kept coming.

A year passed. I went home for Christmas and reread the prophecies that had been spoken over my life since I had been at Bethel. I read the one about writing a book and felt a little knot in my heart.

My storyboard called to me. I pulled it out. Aloud I said to it, “I need a writing retreat.” A few days later, friends of mine asked me to housesit while they went out of town for New Year’s. I packed my storyboard, my Japanese ink, and some brushes. I got to the house and fed the cat and canary. I covered the Balinese dining room table with thick layers of newspaper and began painting in the winter light that blossomed through thin silk curtains, birdsong my soundtrack. I painted line after line, “revised” the images over and over. For every simple image in The Heart Takes Flight, dozens and dozens ended up as the crumpled base for winter fires.

If I could distill my heart’s journey to its simplest story, it would be that of this inked heart. I wanted everything about the heart’s home—the book—to reflect that simplicity. The interior is black and white. The cover is so basic, that when you see it from across a room, all that is visible is a heart suspended in sky.

The Heart Takes Flight was to be both timeless and yet almost to feel as if it had been designed in the year of my birth (without the 70’s color trend of avocado-goldenrod-tangerine). The heart’s journey parallels my own: I was born in the natural, I was born again in the supernatural, and then I awakened into an understanding of how to live in both. And that is the background to a book with fewer words than this paragraph.

The Heart Takes flight is as complicated and simple as waking each day: as complicated as crossing from one world to the next and as simple as opening our eyes.


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Enjoy playing in its pages!