Saturday, April 26, 2008

Watching Last Week

There was a robin huddled near my back doorstep. I think it was sick or depressed cuz I got this close to it.
In Zimbabwe, Mugabee continues to off his own people. Now it includes children and babies.
We’ve been getting updates on little Jace, just a month old, going from hospital to hospice at home, the only home he’ll know in this life because he has Trisomy 18 and isn’t expected to live long.

We live in tension, knowing these exist while we eat broccoli cheese soup with friends (thanks, Kelly) and sleep under polartec while the cold wind howls out there. (And it really did blow this week. Only yesterday another foot of snow fell in northern Minnesota.) There are comforts I love and celebrations that are so fine. But, I often grip the sides of life, asking what it means to be faithful wherever we turn up in life. How to be here or there, and do it well. One thing is sure, some of us need to remember what this little song by Katy Bowser is about -- The Weight of the World. Only Jesus can carry it -- it’s unbearable for us. Thanks to tech, the burden of knowing is heavier than ever. But think of it, while peoples in some other parts of the world had to have been killing one another and sacrificing their children to whatever gods, Jesus went to a wedding and made wine. I need to remember he did this on his way to the cross.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Writers Talk

Some quotes from the Festival of Faith & Writing. I wrote them down as spoken. I hope I got them right, but can’t vouch for every comma.

….most machines were put on earth to hurt me.
- Mary Gordon. From her lecture: “Is Fiction Moral?”

I was raised a pagan, a savage, and I still need to be careful not to convince myself that Jack Daniels and crack are not sacramental.
- Mary Karr. From her lecture: “Writing & Praying Your Way to Truth.

Last night I [Alan Jacobs] met Mary Karr who asked me, ‘What made you write a book about sin?’
I said, ‘Didn’t they teach you to write what you know?’
‘Oh,’ she replied, ‘I thought they said, you reap what you sow.’

After a lecture a young man approached me and said, ‘Mr. Jacobs, I love your work, it has changed my life. I don’t think I have the talent to be a fiction writer or a poet, but I think I could be an essayist.’
- Alan Jacobs in his discussion on personal essay.

As a historian, I ask: which would be more interesting? A memoir by Louis IV or a memoir by the servant who emptied his chamber pot? The farther down the social scale, the more interesting.
- Carlos Eire. From his lecture: “Where Falsehoods Dissolve: Memory as Witness.”

If you lie in a novel – you’re a terrible writer.
If you lie in a memoir – you’re a terrible person.
- Haven Kimmel. From her conversation: “Writing a Life.”

I followed the mosquito.
- David Athey from Moose Lake, MN, on the 18 years it took to bring Danny Gospel to press.

Eternity is written in the hearts of saints and fools. It’s in their movies, too.
Sometimes we learn of glory through its absence.
- Jeffery Overstreet. From his lecture “Through a Screen Darkly.”

The artist who can’t play, can’t create. Go home dancing – to create beauty in your life and in the lives of others.
- Katherine Paterson. From her lecture “Stories of Beauty.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For "that" or "which"

On the eve of the writing conference I’m attending. Staying alone in a hotel room, I made a decision. Because, you see, being here is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing will be to sit with my jaw dropped, listening to so many talented writers, Carlos Eire, Edward P. Jones, Mary Karr, Yann Martel. The wonder of their gift, their determination to write no matter if no one cooks and you eat boiled eggs five days in a row. The curse is that when you meet the writers of the writing who make it hard to breathe, you start to wonder what the -- were you thinking YOU can write? You can’t even remember when to use “that” or “which.” So I made the decision: re-read something you’ve written. Sometimes it comforts. I can see, okay, no Pulitzer Prize here, but not too bad, it flows. And yes, I’ll keep doing this. I give God a lot of credit, you know. He’s helped me delete a lot of adverbs and other things. So I pulled up a chapter I revised just two weeks ago with some of my best, newest insights, written with just the right twist. We even went away for five days so I could fully concentrate. I worked until my eyes ached. The old one was there, but I can’t find the revised work. It’s gone. I don’t know where it went or what I did. It’s just gone. All that work. I suspect I had too many open documents, mis-named one, deleted it later, who knows? And Denis is at a concert tonight so I can’t call him.

Tomorrow I’m supposed to meet with an agent. We’ll pitch each other and try to figure out if either of us are worth it and will we be able to work together and make good business. Or not.

Maybe this post is cathartic and a Starbucks will cheer me in the morning? No. That’s deluded.

So many have passed this way before us.

Evening Prayers on the Sixteenth Day.
O Thou whose eternal love for our weak and struggling race was most perfectly shown forth in the blessed life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord, enable me now so to meditate upon my Lord’s passion that, having fellowship with Him in His sorrow, I may also learn the secret of His strength and peace. - John Baillie

Saturday, April 12, 2008

If You Are Moving

Last week the NYT told what $500,000 would get us in housing.

Providence, R.I. 6 Bedrooms. 4 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 5,010.
Happy Valley, OR. 4 Bedrooms. 3.5 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 3,700.
San Diego, CA. 2 Bedrooms. 2.5 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 1,475
Paris, France. 2 Bedrooms. 1 Bathrooms. Sq. ft.: 740.
Brooklyn, NY. 0 Bedrooms. 1 Bathroom. Sq. ft.: 700.

What this tells me:
You don't sleep in Brooklyn.
Most Americans bathe alone.
We could probably afford a home in Koochiching County, MN. (see above)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Drunken Dandelion

I can’t ever remember my husband dressing me, or brushing my hair. I’ve never really wanted one of those Francine River moments where I let down my hair and my lover tenderly brushes my locks before we have hot sex. I mean, not that’s it’s totally of no interest. I was only towel-drying my hair after I got out of the shower when something happened to my neck. I managed to inch into the bedroom and fall on the bed moaning for Denis. When he arrived he was so concerned I thought of faking a faint to see where that got me. Anyway, he got my shirt on backwards the first try, and he kinda of brushed my hair - gouging my scalp, and scraping my ears. (It’s been a long time since he’s had hair of his own.) By then I was heavily into meds and didn’t care if I looked like a drunken dandelion head, but the occasion wasn’t entirely lost on me – it was a first.

With little ammo dumps going off up and down my right side, I shuffled into the chiropractor who, I think practices a form of chiro-voodoo. He doesn’t chant or anything, but he’s so cheerful about pain, which bothers me a little. “Lie down,” he says, “and we’ll have a look. Oh, you can’t get down there.” Thankfully, his tray table stands on end and if you can walk over, plant your feet in front of it, and lean forward slightly, you can ride the thing to a prone position. After gently tapping my spine, bending my knees, and asking me to look over my right shoulder – which I couldn’t do in any case, he said, “Okay, then. That should calm down, now.” “So what’s WRONG?” I wanted to wail, but I said it quiet, like I was only marginally interested in my ruptured disks and severed nerves; I couldn’t even breath without screaming. Inside. But no, he said I’d just wrenched my neck. I did start to feel better, but my day was shot, and I was discouraged.

Back home, Denis got me settled on the couch so I could watch daytime television. I wanted to see Jack Van Impe talk about End Times even though he makes me want to convert to Islam (temporary feeling). I want an illustration for my next Notes, but no Jack. Only Paula, the blonde with witch-nails. (I’d like some myself, except I don’t think I could afford them.) She’s sitting in a Queen Anne Chair, saying sincerely, “…you wouldn’t miss a doctor’s appointment or an appointment with your hair-dresser, so should you miss an appointment with GOD?” No, ma’am. I move on. An interior designer is re-doing a house so the know-nothing bachelor can sell. Charles Bronson is killing someone. A young lady with a thin waist and gorgeous, fat lips (I’d like them, too) is in a top register pitching notes, “You tore up my heart…” Oklahoma is under a tornado watch and flights out of LaGuardia are 70 minutes late. I shut it off, disappointed.

I was getting ready to nap when Denis brought the mail. I swear I never get packages, but today I got four! Two from Jeremy who sent me a pound of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and a CD mix of Page France and Sigur Ros. Another package is from friends in Ghana – a tote bag, perfect for my computer. From Ann in Turkey, I get a disgusting, sick, beaded, smiley-face coin purse. I’d like to know how God managed to converge these things from across the globe and dump them all in my lap on the same day I wrack my neck and my husband dresses me and brushes my hair.

From evening prayers: Before I sleep, I would for a moment rejoice in the loves and friendships wherewith Thou hast blessed my life. … whom now, with my own soul, I entrust to Thy keeping through the hours of darkness. And for all who this night have not where to lay their heads or who, though lying down, cannot sleep for pain or for anxiety, I crave Thy pity in the name of our Lord Christ. Amen. John Baillie.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What Are You Tapping

I’m in the midst of revising a manuscript I’ve written on coming to faith as a child – much of it reflected upon and seen through the prism of my adult eye. Over a year ago, I thought it was finished and as an afterthought I sent it to a consultant. (If all you want is validation, there are cheaper ways to get it.) He listed many strengths that were in place, and then he let me have it. Boom. I had plenty of wonderful stories, but what was the point? He wanted me to go deeper into my faith, deeper into who is God as father, (and he not a man of faith himself!) but for a year it sat, until I picked it up again last December. I knew he was right. So some of the colorful neighbors may have to leave along with my mother’s Maytag wringer-washer – which caught a hank of her auburn hair and ripped it off her scalp.

Today I read, The greater the depth at which you tap your own personal truth, the greater relevance your writing will have to humanity.Gail Sher. Sometimes Zen Buddhists get it right. I’m afraid of finding an empty, meaningless shell at the core of my being. But that fear is a temptation to believe rot. I know God sits at the center of who I am and rather than making it my goal to be relevant to others, I prefer, I want, I need to write for his pleasure. All the time. And if it’s relevant to anyone else that’s just extra cream in my coffee. You know? Oh. And don’t ask when I’ll be done. I swear, if our income depended on the speed of my writing, we wouldn’t be starving, we’d be dead.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Talent Envy

Today, this is what I see if I look up. Every once in awhile we get to the North Shore of Lake Superior where a friend owns a cabin on the rocky shore. The waves have been high all night, pounding, thumping into caverns, throwing icy spray across the cliffs. It’s quiet. At least to my way of thinking -- no urban sounds. Denis is no distraction, he’s absorbed in writing for the next issue of Critique, and grading papers for a recent class he taught at the seminary. So I have no excuse not to concentrate on my writing. In preparation for this day and the few days to come a portion of a prayer stays with me: “…from thinking lightly of the one talent thou hast given me, because thou hast not given me five or ten: O God, set me free.” A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie.