Thursday, February 13, 2014

Filling Teacups: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Rose

But surely you think of the grey times, 
the dark, fruitless days with no sun? 
I recall filling teacups with sunshine, 
my dishpans as battlefields won.

Dinner-time conversations are always interesting ones. We sit around the long wooden table that's scuffed and marked and dinged and has seen more flour spills and soup spills and milk spills than you can count, and in between the chatter, the high giggles, and the interruptions of "pass the rice, please," and a less patient "where's the butter?", we drop seeds with our words. Not all thoughts are brilliant ones — and when we're hungry, the majority are far from it — but every once in a while, the seed falls just so, working its way through the old wooden table and the fabric of our clothes, and nests in our bosoms. There it stays, silent, hidden, until an unexpected splash of water calls it into life and the small green bud pushes itself out of uncomfortable soil and into the light.
Several weeks ago we had a guest for dinner, which meant our own free clamor was diminished as Daddy guided the conversation into more significant avenues. The talk turned to grandparents, specifically my father's father, who passed away in 2011 at the age of ninety-two. Our favorite stories of Grampie are those that take place several decades before his death, way back into the high summer of my own father's childhood, a mismatched bundle including the story of the Native American man who ran a campground store and supposedly answered "Me fixum lantern" to my grandfather's request, the stories of playing at being business men in my grandfather's office and sneaking gumdrops from the secretary's glass jar, and the old, old tales of when he was a pale, skinny boy living in that tremulous time between the Great War and the war that followed it. But this night in particular we discussed his last years.
"You know," Daddy says between bites, "my father didn't retire until he was in his eighties." He went on to say how my grandmother had encouraged him to retire at an earlier age, but Grampie would not give in. He didn't think it was right to stop working when one was still hale and healthy and sharp of mind.
My father's words struck me curiously, though I didn't recall them until a week later, when I was bent on the ground, reorganizing a lower cupboard that flatly refused to stay neat. The sentiment came gushing back over me in a sudden rush. You see, my grandfather was not one of those men who lived for the profit. He didn't scrounge and save his money for retirement and spend his autumn years in the tropics, though he could have if he wanted to. Despite the polio that never left his leg and forced him to walk with a cane more than half his life, he rarely complained and he always worked hard. Even when we visited him in his later years, he was still lively and busy, always reading, always learning. He greeted us with a smile, a cheerful laugh, and an able mind, despite his clumsy, stiffening limbs. 
He was a simple man who lived a simple life in a simple town most people have never heard of. But he taught my father the value of honest labor, of taking pride in your craft and not the money it makes for you, and my father in his turn passes it down to us. 
I need hardly say that our world no longer regards labor as a legitimate virtue. We either squander our time in frivolity or we trudge through jobs that are only a means to an end, eyes alight for the next vacation or break. Work is loathsome, uncomfortable, and dirty. It forces you to sweat, cry, and sometimes even bleed. It's too much for our frail frames to subject ourselves to such conditions without receiving much in return. We shouldn't have to feel the splinters in our hands.
Are you ready for the harsh truth?
Writers do that too.
We're not exempt from the ploys of society, though we'd like you to think so as we hide behind our horn-rims and our third mug of tea. We too sometimes get so caught up in the next release, the next book-signing, and the next blast of confetti that we forget about the innocent pleasure in putting words down on paper. We've lost our thrill. We seek cheap extravagance in the lowlands because we've forgotten what it is to feel a breeze blow over us in the highlands.

when did we lose our healthy pride? when did we lose our simple joy?

Writing is one of the hardest jobs a man can work, and most times, he ends up with little but stacks of inky pages to show for it. The books that become bestsellers are those that are pounded out for the modern public, full of every ungodly excess that the author knows will win him approval. The classics are not classics until an age has passed, and more often than not, the author does not live to see it. More than one author who we now quote in Pinterest graphics and herald as a genius died in a small, cold room, his passing unmarked by all but his family.
We cry, we struggle, and we shake, but we push forward. Even if it's only five hundred words and our goal was two thousand. Even if we know this book may never see the light of day, let alone a publishing house and a reading public. The man who labors faithfully, pouring his all into his work and taking pride in his creation, is no less a writer than the bestselling author whose name is on every tongue. Honest labor is a joy. We don't write because we want to appear on morning talk shows and New York Times top twenty-five lists. We lay down sentences together because our God is a God of creation, and to understand something is to spin it out again in new words.

we won't always live to see the results, but that should never keep us from pressing on towards the light, creating and crafting to our utmost ability.

About the author: Elizabeth Rose is a young lady of tender years who takes pleasure in a variety of pastimes, chief among them being writing. She lives in the southern United States with her large family, and has been home schooled her whole life. When she's not scribbling, she reads, dances, drinks tea, folds towels by the basketful, and blogs at Living on Literary Lane. Her debut novel, VIOLETS ARE BLUE, was published in April 2012.


  1. A lovely post, Elizabeth!!! Sometimes, one needs that little bit of encouragement to persevere in the work, and write and bleed a work of love for the work's sake and not for the transient fame, popularity, esteem and money. Ha! I was having a conversation on my facebook on the definition of 'classics'. And the thought struck me that often those authors were obscure and little-known, little appreciated during their lifetimes. What a halo of glory we give them now, but the truth of it was that they wrote and suffered for... the work's sake. For the pure bling whirl of joy derived from the creativity and imagination they were given.

    Thanks for this lovely post. It was lovely reading such a reminder :))

    1. I'm glad you liked the post, Joy!

      It's one part amusing and one part sad to me that so many esteemed authors died penniless. It's encouraging to know that they weren't heralded as gods of the literary world during their lifetime, as it makes them seem a bit more human, but it also opens a window into the reality of creating. We don't come to work, fill our hours, and earn a paycheck at a set time. It's a whole different life, and that's something we need to accept before we can prosper at our wordcrafting.

  2. Very encouraging! I've been reflecting on this as well, but you expressed it so beautifully. The joy is in the creating. And it's worth every minute. That some people read it and call it good is an added blessing. Even though only a handful of people may read our work, we can feel like a best-selling author every time someone tells us they enjoyed it. But the feelings of fulfillment are definitely in the creative ability that God has placed within us! May we feel that in everything we put our hands to!

    1. I agree, Kelsey. I'd rather have a few trusted friends who enjoy my work and can give me constructive criticism than hoards of screaming fans who miss the whole idea of the story. I like to think of us all as the Inklings on a smaller scale, huddled in a pub with our mugs of coffee and ale, enjoying the process of creating even in its obscurity. In the words of Andrew Peterson, "The joy in the journey is enough to make a grown man cry." That is the truest Reality, the small shaft of light that beams down from Heaven, and not the roaring audience.

    2. ^Andrew Peterson is a brilliant person.

      I hope you got as much joy out of writing this as you've surely given to your readers!
      To find that kind of joy in work is so hard, but so rewarding. Praise the Lord that we can do so!

  3. Beautiful and encouraging thoughts. It's so much easier to spend your life reading get-rich-quick books than it is to work with your hands for eight hours and save pennies. It's so much easier to browse the blogs of successful authors and dream about the day when you can be JUST LIKE THEM than it is to sit down and write a thousand words that no one but you may ever read. But what a sweet reward we're given, if we can only find the joy in simple labor, whether with our hand or pen.
    Thanks for this, Elizabeth!

  4. I remember a few years ago, I played a really difficult Schumann piece for my grandmother on the piano. It was extremely under tempo and probably not played very well, but my grandmother told me it was beautiful. With tears in her eyes. To this day, she's still my favorite audience. No one's as purely appreciative as she is. So many people in this world treat art, practice, and work, as simply a means to an end. They dispense kindness and praise in a similar fashion, as a means to feel good about themselves or acquire the friends they want. It's so refreshing to find people who have that innocent and pure pleasure in their work, who are passionate about what they do simply for the sheer enjoyment of doing it!


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