Everyone who reads for pleasure has favorite writers. Personally, I could never name just one favorite, but a list would be simple. I think we gravitate to certain authors based on topics or style, though in the case of “favorites,” I’d argue it’s the combination of the two that brings us back to certain writers again and again.

Today’s guest blogger, Lisa Ahn, might be surprised to hear that immediately after discovering her blog, I’ve considered her one of my favorites. I say “surprised” because I don’t comment on all of her posts. Sometimes I’m speechless or feel I have nothing to add. Her topics, her word choice, her rhythm, her weaving together of sentences—all of it fills me with wonder (and jealousy).

Lisa has published both fiction and non-fiction in literary magazines. She also manages to homeschool her two children, which only deepens my admiration for the time she dedicates to getting her work out into the world. Her essays have especially motivated me to spend more time in that form, to eventually go deeper than I have on the blog so far, as well as explore the world of creative non-fiction.

I’m honored to have Lisa’s reaction to my call for essays on the topic of “Hobbies and Habits,” a guest series I run every four to six weeks on the blog. I knew I had to share her submission about doubt and faith with you.

There’s nothing more I can say. Discover Lisa here, then find her on her blog and on Twitter.


by Lisa Ahn

In the book of my history, the pages are stitched with winding threads of habits. My preoccupations are a guiding theme, small and prickly motifs.

I am a host of sticky patterns, some new, some ancient, and some just shadows of a grief that I’ve relinquished. At nineteen, I quit drinking in the stark certainty that it was either sobriety or a coffin. More than twenty years later, I can still recall the taste of gin in bitter, watery dreams.

Clearly, my compulsions linger, even at a distance. Still, they are far enough away to fit neatly into narrative. I can look at them unblinking and find the points of light. I can see their underpinning, the fuel that held them up. I can see the smudgy thumbprints, the shadow-marks of Doubt.

There aren’t many full-blown optimists who bite their nails or drink themselves to blackouts. If an optimist sees a glass half full, and a pessimist sees a glass half empty, a doubter is looking for the hand that will send the whole to shatter on the pavement. And doubt is very sly. It tucks itself in mundane thoughts like what to make for dinner or how to teach the alphabet. It pokes you in the ribs, and eats up all your scraps. Doubt is a rasping texture, a subterranean itch.

I am very good at doubt. I am very good at harboring a suspicion that everything will not, in fact, turn out alright. That I am not the mother, wife, writer, or person I should be. That my skin is stretched too thin, haphazard.

Doubt is my oldest habit, cranky ancestor to all the rest. But every habit has a backside, a reversal. Even doubt. Flip the penny and the other side of doubt is faith, a stunning-blind adventure. Doubt whispers, sleek insinuations. Faith says, “Come along, and jump.”

Doubt hints that I have failed my kids in some amorphous manner. (Doubt rarely gives specifics.) Faith parades a string of moments, beads on a chain of years where my children have wrapped themselves in me because, though far from perfect, I am still theirs, inviolate.

Doubt fills the margins of rejection letters from agents and publications. Faith insists that I can learn from anything, and isn’t that the point?

Doubt tells me that a recent injury will never fully heal. That I will not come back from this particular edge. Surprisingly, faith laughs at such a dire prognosis, such absolute inversions. It giggles, chortles even, at the sour inventions of its cousin. Doubt is a narrow vision, focused only on the chance of falling. In faith, I have a wider view, windows and doors flung open towards a near infinity of maybes.

Faith, in the end, is a choice, a step away from habit. It is both a breakage and a widening of self.

In the book of my history, my habits – even doubt – have stitched me into being who I am. They have embroidered me with humility and grace and a strength I could not imagine twenty years ago, fully soused. My habits – good, bad, and incredibly ugly – are an opening. A chance. What will I do with this? Where will I go from here? I might do anything, anything at all, behind the back of doubt.

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, a lead writing instructor at ModernWell in Minneapolis as well as ModernWell's book club director. She reviews 50 books a year on her blog, writes reviews for other sites, and has a friendship advice column at The HerStories Project. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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