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Wonder Woman, For Real

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WONDER WOMAN, FOR REAL

I met a remarkable woman yesterday, fittingly just after seeing the new Wonder Woman movie. I was standing in front of her in the checkout line when my great niece and nephew jostled past her, trying to get their last-minute acquisitions of peanut butter and jelly on the conveyer belt with the rest of our groceries.

“You guys, you’re being rude — apologize!” I demanded to no effect. “I’m sorry,” I said, turning to her.

“That’s OK,” she said. “I raised twenty-six foster children.”

“What??” I stopped arranging groceries and gave her my full attention.

“Yup, imagine having nine teenaged girls in the house at the same time. I was a single mom, too.”

I glanced at my nephew’s four teens, who always seem to generate a slight cloud of dust and a not-so-slight barrage of noise wherever they are, especially if food is in any way involved.

“Oh my God,” seemed the only appropriate response.

Me, after an average day with four teenagers

“Yup, I had a nasty divorce and I moved my three girls to a big farm in Maine with all kinds of animals and then started getting bonus children — I don’t call them ‘foster,’ I call them ‘bonus.’”

Twenty-six in all, she said, over five years. “Animals are the best therapy for abused kids,” she declared. “I had each each child choose one animal as their own. They had to do everything to care for it. It was great for them and great for the animals.”

I asked if she still heard from her grown “bonus” children.

“Yup, I’m a grandmother many times over,” she boasted. She was quiet for a few moments and then said, “Course, I couldn’t do it anymore. I don’t have the energy. I’m seventy-eight now.” She brightened. “I’m cooking for an assisted living group now and I love it. Best job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had plenty: I retired six times! Got the cooking job on my way home the same day I retired from my hospital job.”

I think at this point I was probably just gaping at her, wondering if she was about to shed her grey fleece jacket and reveal a Wonder Woman outfit underneath.

“I like to keep busy,” she said unnecessarily, and followed that with, “Someone told me I should write a book, so I did. Poems and rhymes, but every word of it is true.”

Surprisingly, I did not resent this as I often do when someone just tosses out, “Yeah, I wrote a book.” For an aspiring author who has spent years cycling through random ideas for a first memoir but has yet to land on a framework or theme, these can be hard words to hear. But from this woman, it was OK. If anyone deserves to have her name on a book, it’s her.

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A Writer’s Attention Deficit Disorder At Play

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A WRITER’S ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER AT PLAY

Multi-day writing conferences are bad for my Attention Deficit Disorder. Or maybe I should say they’re good for it. They feed it, encourage it, even celebrate it.

“Rejoice!” such venues declare. So many ideas! So many stories! So many topics and characters to be enthusiastic about! And most of all: so many directions I could go!

Since I was diagnosed with ADD a few years ago, I’m more patient with myself in such situations. I don’t mind letting my mind out to play, to imagine, to dream. No harm done.

I know this hyper-excitement and bouncy brain syndrome will lessen within a few days of the closing session tomorrow. I’ll lose the business cards I’ve collected and forget all my new writerly best-friends.

The passions that are real and meant for me will stick, and the rest are harmless mental entertainment.

The time I’ve spent sitting in this quiet seminary library researching the possibility of a Princeton Continuing Education Certificate in Ministry and Theology will blend into one of countless similar memories.

Seminary Musings

Whenever I spend time with a bunch of pastors as I have at this Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop, I suffer from a mild case of WannaBe, even though I am technically already a pastor at my church. I feel like a pretend pastor, because although I’ve taken a few seminary classes and am a “certified” Spiritual Director, I’ve not done the real stuff, the painful stuff — the heavy duty Christian History and Comparative Theologies and Advanced Homiletics and Old and New Testament I & II.

Why would I? Life is short, and I’m fairly certain my studies wouldn’t help anybody. Nobody cares what I know or think about theology, it doesn’t help suffering people, and I’m sure I’d find some other reason to judge myself “not good enough.”

I never know where the Holy Spirit might lead me, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be to these hallowed grounds. Never say never, though.

Forget the Christians!

I did get some important clarity and focus today, which is, as any ADD-addled person knows, a nugget of pure gold.

Drum roll, please:

I think that I may have decided on the “audience” for my writing. Actually, if this sticks, it will be a huge step forward in my meandering wander towards an intentional, serious writing project.

Surprisingly, the clarity came during a ridiculously brief fifteen-minute meeting with a former editor of Christianity Today magazine. This teensy time slot came with my registration for the conference — time with an editor or publisher or author of your choice — so why not?

I went into the meeting with my usual random scattered thoughts and a page of notes that involved a number of question marks and read: outlets, publishers, trends, niche, spiritual, de-mystify, different kind of Christianity, CIA, environment, drug addict, pastor, memoir, audience.

Somehow in all that, my new best publisher-friend found a way to help me through my confusion.

“You are writing for the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd, and there are a lot of them. Not Christians. You’re not writing for Christians.” 

The relief and certainty I felt about this “not Christians” directive bordered on euphoria. I hadn’t realized it, but the thought of writing for Christians makes me tense, like I have to quote the Bible a lot and throw around names and phrases like Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and orthodoxy and reformation.

Christians have historically believed that they have the answers to all of life’s big questions right in their big book. They tend to like certainty. I got nothin’ for folks like that. No answers, no resounding Message.

Gratefully, I think an increasing number of Jesus’s followers are moving away from that fixed mindset. As Anne Lamott said on the opening night of this conference, “I don’t want to read ‘message stuff.’ I want to know who are you and what have you figured out here?”

That, I can write about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Words

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Frederick Buechner wrote in one of his memoirs that “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”

Or as Anne Lamott said last night, we want to say, “Me, too!”

The power of words to connect us seems to be a theme at this third annual Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Seminary. At this morning’s keynote, author Diana Butler Bass referenced “the tender power of I,” suggesting that the word “I” connects us to one another and to God. When Moses said, “Here I am,” and God said, “I AM,” it connected them and placed them on sacred ground.

Dogwood on sacred grounds of Princeton Theological Seminary

Many times as Diana told her personal story, I found myself thinking, “Me, too!” Her journey along “the road to an unexpected vocation” resonated with me and made me feel just a little less crazy for chasing this writing dream.

“Writing is a spiritual path,” she said. “Cherish your own path . . . Who are you? To me, that is the central question writers must struggle with.”

Writing Good Into the World

As intimate and personal as writing can be — especially memoir writing — there is also a strong communal element to it. Who am I in the world? What is my calling? How can I be of help?

I don’t know if it’s the spiritual nature of this conference or the dire times we live in or both, but this sense of mission and calling seems to be another big theme this week. 

Like Anne Lamott, Diana expressed “deep distress” over what’s going on in America. She thinks it’s a critical time for people of faith to “write for the world” as a way to counteract evil and inspire people.

“We are living in the age of the anti-word,” she said. “There is evil surrounding words right now . . . amazing technology that could spread beauty is instead being used to spread evil. Words are being purposefully used to undermine truth and beauty and wholeness . . . Malevolent forces are taking words and using them for oppression.”

Diana urged the two hundred-plus people crammed into the auditorium this morning to “write to reach people’s hearts” and to “engage intentionally to build goodness and beauty and to embody the Word.”

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Writers Resisting Trump

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Writers Resisting Trump

I can’t let this weekend go by without writing. First of all, today marks one week until the unthinkable happens and an arrogant, greedy, pu**y-grabbing, power-obsessed man-child marches up Pennsylvania Avenue and then gets his DNA all over The People’s House.

Which means of course that we are also saying goodbye to Barack and Michele and Joe and Jill and oh, I can’t bear the thought.

From class to crass.

Also next week the Congress continues its three-ring circus to decide how and when to gut my health insurance (along with twenty million other people’s) and replace it with . . . what? Nobody seems to have a clue. A bunch of tweets telling me what a loser I am? A premiere Russian healthcare plan? Something Ben Carson dreams up — oh wait, he’s a housing expert now, I forgot.

The Resistance

In addition to all the fun in D.C., this Sunday is Writers Resist day. While I sometimes have trouble thinking of myself as a real writer, I have no trouble at all calling myself a member of “the Resistance.”

To resist means to withstand the action or effect of something, in this case a Putin-approved, race-baiting, Muslim-hating, fear-mongering, planet-threatening, money-worshipping . . .

I guess if I’m playing a writer today I should limit my adjectives, or so the experts tell me.

But you get the idea. You know who the guy is. Bottom of the barrel. Even his supporters know who he is. They just don’t seem to care. I can’t imagine that the Russian black-mailers have anything on the man-child that could possibly surprise any of us. Kellyanne Conway says that if we want to know the real Trump, we should look into his heart and not at his words or actions.

No thank you, Kellyanne. What a horrifying prospect!

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

#WriteOurDemocracy

Writers Resist is a national network of writers concerned about the “growing public cynicism and an alarming disdain for truthfulness” that is eroding our democracy. The group understands that writers “have tremendous power to bypass empty political discourse and focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate society.” 

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This Sunday, writers all around the nation are gathering on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday to share their words of resistance. If you’re a writer, visit this website and join others at an event on Sunday. Or invite your friends for coffee or wine and host your own event!

Word By Word

Throughout our history, writers have used their craft to resist illegal, immoral, unethical, unthinkable situations. The British taxation of tea, women’s suffrage, slavery, child labor, civil rights, poison-peddling tobacco lobbyists, fake reasons for going to war, black lives not mattering, climate denial.

Letter from a Birmingham jail.

Word by word, we write our democracy.

And we resist.

I can imagine some small hairy Neolithic guy carving himself a sharp chisel and then finding the perfect smooth rock and gouging out, “Hell, no!” before throwing it an alpha male’s head.

Just Write No

No, we’re not registering people by their religion or ethnic background. And no, we’re not paying millions of tax dollars to build a wall around our country, pretending that Mexico is going to pay us back. And no, we’re not going to reject science and common sense and abandon the progress we’ve made slowing climate change. And no, we’re not going to “punish” women who make the heart wrenching decision to end their pregnancy.

No, no, no, and no.

Hell, no.

{Author’s note: I recognize that I am not yet in a place to expound on the ideals of freedom, justice, compassion and the like. I am still astounded and angry and terrified. But I’ll come around and share something edifying at some point. I trust that God will not let me live in anger and fear for four years.}

Waiting for Willa

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Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT

SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK

WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER

COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE

“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia

254

251

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Recovering From My Social Media/Trump Addiction

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RECOVERING FROM MY SOCIAL MEDIA/TRUMP ADDICTION

I’ve decided to take another fasting day from social media and Donald J. Trump. Yesterday I got just a glimpse of what I’ve been doing to my psyche. I felt as if I’d been set free from an abusive imprisonment after just a few hours away from Orange Man and his tweet-world.

I read the Bible, read a book called Courageous Gentleness, and took time for prayer and meditation and napping. I prayed for Haiti. Every five minutes, I would absentmindedly flip open the cover of my laptop and see written in pencil across the top: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard.) Then I would close it.

Yes, I watched the VP debate, and then I and stayed up late watching pundits and tweeting about it. Not at all how I want to spend my life. I’m not even going to add to the ruckus by commenting on it here.

This morning I am journaling, which I neglect more and more as I get sucked into this social media/electoral addiction. I will share with you a few snippets from my first week here at my little haven in New Hampshire:

September 28

Arrived & well-settled at Quiet Hills. I took off Monday, watched the first presidential debate over pizza and wine at the Scottish Inn in PA and then made it here with an hour to spare on Tuesday evening before the Garrison Keillor show with E.

What a gift for story he has! It’s beautiful and touching. He started out just by humming a note and without using hand gestures or anything, he soon had the whole theatre humming it and then started us all in singing, “My Country Tis of Thee,” or whatever it’s actually called. Lovely. He went on for two straight hours, digression after digression but somehow tying it all together. No notes, all memory, flawless. He talked about the beauty of words and language, went from high-brow to low-brow, sonnets to limericks, funerals to urination. Remarkable.

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On the way home, E & I saw an owl standing by the side of the road (probably over an unfortunate mouse) and it took off and flew right over our windshield. I am here.

September 30

I’ve started my time up here not too well — too much computer, obsessing over political articles and polls. I’ve committed to post a blog every day while I’m here. Yipes. Tomorrow the calendar turns over its page and I can see the end of my time here already. Mustn’t think that way! I have three weeks left. Smile. What a stretch!

Kind of funky weather. Cloudy, rain possible for the next four days, in the fifties. Humid. Not good house-airing weather.

October 1

Honestly, I am the luckiest. Quiet, early evening. The sun sets twenty minutes earlier here than in D.C. — 6:30. It’s 5 now, tea time. (When is it not?) Want to light a fire, but I’m going in to town for a cello/piano concert at St. James.

I’m thinking about doing a story on Badger Balm. At the pizza party they hosted last night, I met Bill, the founder. I joked something about “All you need is a dream right? No work at all,” and he responded, “There are invisible forces at work.” What a fun interview that would be! KInda want to do it, pitch it, and get it published in one of those “good news” magazines. Lot of work, but it would be good to get back into practice. Know what? I have the chops for this.

October 4

Dearest Book, how I neglect you! That dreadful laptop takes all my attention. Today I am fasting from it, and hence from Donald Trump. This morning I checked polls (Hillary 72% chance of winning) and headlines: Trump & Hillary stuff and nonsense and a massive hurricane hitting Haiti right now. Really, God? How much farther into the ground can those poor people be driven? I read that they don’t want to evacuate because their few belongings will be stolen. Hard to fathom. I am so grateful to have been to the slums of Nairobi so that I can *begin* to fathom and empathize. Prayers.

I have kept my commitment to blog every day. Not even sure why. I thought it might get my writing muscles moving each day, but it clearly peters out and turns into wandering the internet and falling into social media.

So very ugly in the Twitter world. I fear for my country. Such contempt & disdain & viciousness. I felt it from the Hillary people when I supported Bernie; now I feel it from the “still Bernie” people because I support Hillary. And the Trump people, OMG. It’s like a bunch of sociopathic middle schoolers have taken over adult Twitter accounts.

Afternoon:

Oh, this is *so*  much better! I can’t believe I’ve been living like that, trapped inside my computer, held hostage by mental busyness. I was mistaking that for life. I’ve read the Bible some, written prayers for church after reading the upcoming sermon, and read a bit of Frederick Buechner. 

I note in my gmail that there’s a debate going on about race and police on my Facebook page, but I have not clicked to see what’s up. Have at it. I think it might behoove me to turn off the modem. Gmail is also unhelpful.

Oh! There is the sun on green-gold maples leaves out the window! And that sweet goldfinch song. And a pileated! It’s been drizzly and dreary for days, but we’re at the beginning of a nice stretch.

I have a candle lit, signifying my intention to be present to Jesus, and I’m going to meditate now. Sweet.

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Day Eight in my daily blogging adventure

Daily Writing: Discipline or Drivel?

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I don’t know how this will go, but I’m considering blogging every day while I’m hidden away here at my New Hampshire writing retreat. The theory is that blogging will get my pen moving and words of some sort flowing, and the moving pen and flowing words will continue beyond the blogging and miraculously become a full-length memoir. 

 

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Could happen.

Or more likely, the blogging will siphon off just enough creative energy each day that there’s nothing left to flow elsewhere. Worst case — which happened yesterday — is that I post a blog and then get lost in articles, political blogs, pollsters, and youtubes and end up blowing the whole day. Although the video of Ellen DeGeneres and Michelle Obama shopping at CVS was pretty funny. 

So consider this fair warning. I have no idea what you might find on this page over the next month. The good news is, it will likely be shorter than my usual offerings. There may be reflections and photos after a walk in the woods, a poem or two, a to-do list with commentary, struggles with my sermon prep, snippets from my journal, snarks about Trump. Who knows the places we’ll go!

I will be volunteering for the senate and presidential campaigns while I’m up here, so you’ll hear about that. Volunteering in my very-blue home state of Maryland makes me feel virtuous but probably doesn’t do much else. Here, though, every vote counts towards keeping the old red, white and blue from being tainted with orange hair dye and tanning cream.

Sorry, that was mean. Donald Trump does not bring out the best in me. Or anyone, for that matter.

Anyway, I’ve volunteered to make scads of food for busloads of volunteers coming up from Massachusetts this weekend. So who knows? Maybe I’ll share some “recipes from the campaign trail” with you. The possibilities are endless! Got any suggestions for topics?

Day two. Short and (mostly) sweet.

Photo attribution: Woman Writing Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Public Domain, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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