Manna

~ by Lindy Thompson

 

 

I used to pretty much want to be my pastor.

I wanted to be just like her.

I wanted the robe, I wanted the love I saw coming from everyone’s eyes.

I wanted the hands that could bless bread, make it more than it was.

I wanted to be her.

I definitely didn’t want to be me.

 

Stuff catches up with a person.

Even a fairly self-aware person who has been trying.

Who has been working on it.

You can’t just will things to be different.

They are what they are.

Your scars are whatever your scars are.

And you can work with what you have,

or you can pretend.

Those are the choices.

I didn’t like what I had.

I liked what it looked like she had.

And I wanted that.

 

I have been told that God made me.

I suspected for a long time that that was only partially true.

Because what God makes is good – the Bible tells me so –

and the suffering, desperate parts of me have never seemed good.

They have felt desolate, in need, almost frantic.

I would never have labeled them good.

And the behavior they have driven could not be called good, either.

I have much to not be proud of.

 

***

There has been a lot of interior talk lately.

A lot of listening.

I am pretty sure every part of me has had a chance to speak, at least a little.

The circle slowly gets bigger because I am making everyone welcome.

And when one girl tries to let go and sink down into a ball on the ground,

the others go partially down, too,

until they can help her back up

because they won’t let go anymore,

so we are now all in this together.

 

Most of the eyes looking out of the faces

are warm with compassion.

The disdainful eyes, the scared eyes, the desperate eyes

are all still part of the circle,

but they are closed, waiting for blessing, waiting for healing.

Waiting.

No one leaves – no one wants to.

We are now all in this together.

 

***

I wanted to be my pastor.

And without question the thing I wanted most was to give the bread.

To give the blessing.

To be so blessed myself as to have plenty to spare,

plenty to give away.

To grasp the holy, look into the eyes of other people,

press a piece of God into the palms of their hands

and tell them the truth:

that God made them, that they are good.

Beloved,

cherished,

and good.

 

The girls in my interior circle

are teaching me something.

They are teaching me

that no one owns the bread.

The bread is given.

And the only way to have more

is to give more away.

 

What is in my hands these days?

Laundry, dishes, a steering wheel, a pencil,

a phone.

Roughly in that order, I’d say.

But also, sometimes . . .

 

words.

 

Words, ladled up from somewhere,

poured out in cascades,

stirred, ladled up, poured again.

Served.

 

The blessing

that is mine to share with other people

are the words

that pour out,

come flooding out

as soon as they have the opportunity.

 

This is what I have been given.

This is the bread that my hands hold.

This is what I have to give away.

 

Not dressed in a robe.

Not standing in a chancel.

But in brief moments

in my little closet-office.

All the girls and I hold hands,

and everyone gets a chance to be heard.

 

Take, read.

This is my manna,

written for you.

 

 

 

 

Paper, a Pen and the God Theory

 

by Kamau Sennaar

 

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9
(King James Version)

 

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (English Standard Version)

 

A long time ago in the city of Jamaica, Queens, a young boy ambled through a large, public library, searching for an interesting book to read. He came upon the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series published by Bantam Books. The boy opened “Return to the Cave of Time” by Edward Packard and saw he was given choices to make at the ending of each chapter. He sat down with the book, amazed at all the possible story outcomes for the main character. It was like real life; the story was driven by the reader’s choices. Imagine Mr. Packard crafting the numerous storylines for me to (I’m sorry – I mean, the boy to) make his own decisions.

 

Go back further to a time when a theoretical physicist (somebody who tries to figure out how nature works) started a research program that developed over time into the String Theory. He was Dr. Werner Heisenberg. The String Theory is usually called “the theory of everything” or “the God theory” because it tries to explain how gravity and quantum physics (the study of the smallest stuff in the universe, basically atoms) work together. This research is still vibrant and happening now. It is a source of both amazement and controversy (conflicting ideas and debate of the theory).

 

The String Theory works due to these key features:

 

  • Energy is in all objects in our universe. It is composed of vibrating filaments (strings) and membranes (branes or layers).

 

  • There is a relationship between general relativity (gravity) with quantum physics (what is physically real). Reality is created when this relationship is explained.

 

  • At the smallest level of life (energy), all particles are made up of bosons and fermions. Bosons exist in multiples while fermions exist individually. Both the extrovert and introvert are needed in the creation of all things in nature.

 

  • Several extra (usually unobservable) dimensions to the universe must exist for the creation of all things to happen. This is known as “the Multiverse” – different realities happening at the same that lead to infinite outcomes. This last key feature brings us back to the boy at the library.

 

“My intent was to try to make Choose Your Own Adventures like life as much as possible with regard to the consequences of your choices.” – Author Edward Packard in an interview conducted by Grady Hendrix.

 

The book cover said, “You are the star of the story!” That announcement really appealed to me, that young boy in the library. It wasn’t just a story. It was interactive. The author was interested in my input as the reader. We would share the journey as I read his writings and made choices. I was 14 years old at the time (a few years after I was baptized). I connected these fictitious adventures to the free will God gave me to use in my own life.

 

Like the String Theory, there is much debate about whether free will/choice is infinite, limited or non-existent. When I learned of the String Theory, it gave me hope in my belief of complete free will/choice. The Multiverse component of the theory illustrates, through science, how God could offer choice while creating each small instance or step in someone’s life. Some believers think that God pre-destines your life because your “steps are ordered”. (Psalms 27:33) But I can see through the example of the Multiverse that God has put in place multiple realities at the microscopic level. They are individualized to each person and governed by that person’s choices.

 

What is also fascinating about this correlation between storytelling and the String Theory is that God uses genetics to build character and reveal purpose. Genetics provide strengths, weaknesses, history and potential in biological and biographical detail for the character. Genetics become the tools that help to inform the character’s inner analysis. This analysis drives the choices one uses in the Multiverse.

 

PBS once showed how this could work on its show “NOVA: The Elegant Universe”. It starred Dr. Brian Greene and discussed his views on the String Theory. The viewer sees him at a bar getting a drink. There are several different versions of him at the bar at the same time that the Multiverse could play out depending on his choices. This, to me, is the craft and underpinning of a great author – setting the stage for the character to evolve through its journey of choices. The author allows the character to present itself and then reveal the truth of who they are by their use of free will. Once the author applies the pen to the paper, worlds appear and their inhabitants. God spoke to the darkness and the universe was created. Witness the power of the word In Genesis 1.

 

It is interesting to me that one of God’s attributes is being long-suffering. This trait seems to be a mainstay for most artists or creators across the board. During the interview with Mr. Packard, it is established that the longer he wrote his book series, the less outcomes he created. At first, he did around 40 endings. Towards the close of the series, he was doing half that amount. He reasoned that he chose plot over the reader’s choices. He, as the author, wanted a stronger hand in the flow of the stories. God, on the other hand, doesn’t do that. Instead, more realities are created in the Multiverse to accommodate one’s choices in their life. We drive our plots. Our hands are on the steering wheel of God’s car.

 

Like the boy who grew into a man using God’s Multiverse, the desire to grow from an avid reader into a writer has taken shape in me over the years. I am now ready to start working on stories for a future, unknown audience with characters who will live their own lives. My intent is mostly like Mr. Packard’s but also a little different: to explore storytelling driven by choice but use parallel lives being acted out instead of interactivity.

“Who Do You Think You Are – Writing a Meaningful Memoir in an Overshare Age?” – Rachel Held Evans video

 
Rachel Held Evans is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and Searching for Sunday. In this video she discusses various aspects of writing memoir, drawing on her own experiences.
 
Topics in this presentation include:
 
– Self-doubt
– Finding your unique voice
– How to take care of yourself
– “My inspiration board”
– Writing tips
– Effective storytelling
– Areas that are off-limits
– Dealing with criticism
– Recommended reading
– and more
 
Click here to purchase the video.
 
 

The Wonder and Power of Writing!

by

Mary F. Sanders

October 23, 2018

 

The ability of the ancients to engrave hieroglyphics on cavern walls, to write/etch on parchment/papyrus or as we do in modern day, write letters on plain or beautifully designed stationary.  And though no longer a phenomenon to many, the capability to enter data into a computer and then convey messages via email, twitter, Face Book, snap chat, etc., is a monumental feat!  As a result, the art of writing has been revolutionized.  This process, known as writing, has provided a means to:

  • preserve special memories
  • preserve family histories that otherwise would be lost
  • preserve secular and non-secular histories
  • write books, poems and articles and
  • hear and know the voice of God.

In today’s world, because of technology, family albums are no longer a popular method to maintain family pictures.  One afternoon, I decided to dig-out my family album.  Perhaps, it was the realization of the pending high school graduation of one of my great nephews that gave me the impetus because as I began look at the photos, I asked myself, where did the time go?

There is something warm and loving about being able to hold and touch each picture, an experience that is lacking when I view images from my photo gallery.  As I slowly turned the pages, an envelope fell to the floor.  An envelope that I recognized immediately; it contained notes that were written to me from several of my nieces and nephews when they were very young.  Notes that were written on whatever their little hands could find, yellow paper, blue paper, white paper and strips of torn paper.  I can still hear the excitement in their small high-pitched voices echoing as they tried to secretly write their expressions of love and affection for me.  The word “love” was written in large letters with crayon surrounded by big red hearts.  Some of these notes even included drawings of family members holding hands; stick figures of course.  Happy Memories! Precious Memories!  Memories that place a smile on my face!

In the United States of America, the history/culture/tradition of most African Americans (and other people of color) was not documented; it was ignored.  Early census gathers did not register the name or any other information about the enslaved, except maybe their gender and approximate age.  Thus, as a consequence, much has been lost. To add to this dilemma, many of the story tellers, oral historians in these families were sold; some were murdered by plantation owners or bounty hunters.  So, as a result of separation, family historians did not have anyone to pass the family story.  When family historians were murdered, the stories were buried with them.  Also, unfortunately, many family histories have vanished because of the lack of interest by ensuing generations.

I believe that all of the reasons above describe my sketchy family history.  It would be phenomenal if I could authenticate family lore, a story that was told to me by one my grandmother’s first cousins, Rose.  According to Rose, their mutual grandmother, who would be my great, great grandmother, was captured and brought to America from Africa at the age of 11.  No one knows if she was alone or other family members were captured also.  Remarkably, she survived the treacherous voyage of the middle-passage.  Confirmation of this story is almost impossible because written history is silent.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that my great, great grandmother’s stamina is the source of my inner-strength and determination.  It is embedded in my DNA.

The significance of documentation or the written word is indeed paramount!  It is because of the written word that we have the ability to access information that would otherwise be unavailable.  Libraries are filled with books that holds the history of worlds, civilizations; their rise and fall.  It is from the written word that we learn of heroines and heroes in the human struggle.  It is from the written word that we learn of discoveries and inventions of people who have made great contributions in medicine and science for the well-being of all.  Some of these inventors are well- known, while others are not.  Consequently, it is only via the written word that the significant contributions of obscure human beings are found.  People such as Sarah Goode who invented the first folding cabinet bed, Jupiter Hammon, Poet Pioneer, the first black writer in America, Phillip B. Downing invented the street letter box, the predecessor of the mail box, Dr. Patricia Bath invented a method for removing cataract lenses that transformed eye surgery and Willie Johnson invented the egg beater.  It is important to note that not only Hammon is African American, but all of the above are African Americans.  The written word affords us the opportunity to know and enjoy the works of past artists; operas, plays, stories, poems and music!  The written word fills the pages of newspapers and magazines; from these pages we are informed of local, state, national and international news.  Community newspapers provides information of interest to specific neighborhoods.  Last, but not least, written documentation preserves family histories, which helps to fulfill the innate desire within most to know who they are and from where did their ancestors migrate or for the enslaved to know the place from which their ancestors were captured.

The Holy Bible was written by inspiration from God.  Without this written documentation, we would still be dependent on oral tradition.  What a gift!    The written Word allows every individual the privilege to read, to meditate and to discern the genesis of human beings, the earth and its content.  It informs us of God’s expectations of the vertical and horizontal relationship between God and human beings and human beings toward human beings.

Jesus found inspiration and strength through quoting the written Word.  When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He said to Satan, it is written…(Matthew 4:4, 7 and 10).  Likewise, we can also be inspired, encouraged and find strength and comfort in our times of trials and temptation by reading and speaking the Word to our situation.  Most of all, the Word teaches us of the depth of God’s unconditional love and Christ giving himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor (Ephesians 5:2).

There are a number of examples which illustrates that God did not only dictate scripture but God was a writer as well.  The ten commandments were written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18; 34:1) and a message was written by the fingers of a hand on the wall to Belshazzar (Daniel 5:5).  God spoke directly to Moses to write these words…Exodus 34:27.  God also told Habakkuk to write the vision and make it plain upon the tables that he may run that reads it (Habakkuk 2:2).  Likewise, many people today construct vision boards to plot their plan of action to hold themselves accountable so that they will stay on course.

The art of writing has been a means for me to express my thoughts by penning poems and short stories.  Unfortunately, I did not save most of this work because writing was simply a way for me to release….  Writing is also a means to document dreams that come to me as I sleep.  Currently, I am writing a book to wrestle with the origin and continued effort to maintain the subjugation of women, as well as ways to change the narrative.

One of my greatest ambitions is to discover and document my family’s story for the present and future generations.

Taking One’s Time

 

One of my writing heroes is James Taylor, though our arts are different. He can carry a tune, for one thing.

“Sometimes a song will be finished for a deadline in the studio the day the thing is cast in stone forever,” he once said, talking about the art of crafting pop songs. “I know that songs and arrangements evolve and develop over time,” he went on, “that somewhere around the twentieth time it’s played for a live audience, a song finally completes itself.”

His art and the art I make are different, no doubt. If I learned nothing else from this fellow traveler with whom I have journeyed down different roads all my life, I learned this: if it takes twenty passes for a lyric of a few dozen words to grow into itself, then taking one’s time with twenty or thirty or forty thousand of them is probably not a waste of time.

 

– Robert Benson “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

 

Writing Intentionally

by Rev. Lorri Baldwin

 

I always knew someday I would finally sit down and intentionally write, a book or two and my memoir … It has been in my heart and spirit ever since I was a child and a major part of my last two vision boards. Interestingly enough, I have been writing all of my life – from poems, liturgy and ministry materials, to lyrics of songs, and prayer guides. Even in elementary school, I started writing a book about what my teen and young adult years would look like by following three of my best friend’s lives from puberty. It’s interesting to realize how this seed has been growing within me over decades. What I now know, this is definitely a spiritual process.

In my twenty-one years of ordained ministry, as well as growing up active in the church, as a youth leader; director of Children/Youth and Family Life Ministries, I was required to write all of the time.  From skits, to dialogue and narratives for the explanation of liturgical dances and even a 26-dance rendition of the Passion – I Know a Man.  As editor of the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) newsletter and a reporter, feature writer, eventually having my own column in my high school newspaper – the Calumet Crier; I was unconsciously utilizing a skill of creative writing that had gone pretty much unnoticed.  And the journey continued …

While living in Los Angeles, I was a contributing writer to my church’s newspaper: The Bell-ringer’ sponsored by the United Methodist News Media network. Upon returning to Chicago, I assisted in transforming my home church’s newsletter the St. Mark Voice into an actual printed newspaper with the connection and knowledge I acquired in L.A.  In my new church setting, as a seminarian, the Assistant Pastor learned of my newsletter/paper writing experiences. I was again, invited to be: feature writer, assistant and managing editor of the “Mufundisi” (in Shona, meaning Preacher/Teacher) of our newsletter.

Somewhere along my journey, I have taken a few creative writing courses and workshops at a community center, retreat and even the museum. I volunteered at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago writing articles about the museum’s activities for the Women’s Auxiliary Board newsletter and worked as a curator assistant researching and writing the informational cards for exhibits as an intern.

Yes, writing has been an intricate and very important part of my life, as a coordinator of programs, ministry leader, Youth and Assistant Pastor. I believe some of us take for granted just how much we write creatively because it is so much a part of what we do in our everyday lives.

When I began to create for intentional, purposeful reasons like educational and teaching moments; the time, work and effort it takes to accomplish my goal hardly ever comes into the equation. I believe it is because I love what I do and know it will encourage and enhance others’ wellbeing … It’s a labor of love. Therefore, writing especially spiritual writing like preparing for a Bible study course or workshop/retreat and a sermon is life-changing and a true calling. It becomes the very fabric of the reason why I do what I do in the first place. I love it.

In hindsight, my writing has been pragmatic and intentional utilizing my skills I honed as a city planner and project manager when writing grants, proposals and project reports. In grant writing, funders love the personal, heartfelt stories about those constituents who are helped and their lives made better because of grant-funding with city/government programs and projects. What I enjoyed most is sharing life experiences, giving hope to the readers that lives can be changed by generous contributions to society through their grants and programs. This too, I counted as ministry for most of my professional life I focused on improving the lives of those I served.

Therefore, when I began to seriously think about how to approach the research and studies for my doctoral program – It became very apparent, God had already chosen me for this task. Even before entering school, looking back on some of the research papers and thesis proposal paper, I realized I had actually written much of my research ahead of time.

Journaling is one of the daily writing practices I have always done. As I looked for material to see what exactly I had already written – the light-bulb experience reminded me that I had at least two books in the making in (8 – 10) of my journals; I have kept chronologically sharing my experiences: challenges, obstacles and successes on this faith-journey called ministry/mission. While overseas, I catalogued everything from my first impressions on a traveling seminar to the Congo (the first time) with McCormick seminary in the middle 1990’s to my field studies in ministry/missions for four months in Zimbabwe in 1996 and everything in between.

As a missionary, I utilized my Bible study lessons about women in the Bible with a home-based Bible study group in Mbuji Maya, West Congo actually originating from vignettes and Bible studies with my Chicago-based women ministry the Circle of Ruth.

You see, my ministry work with women especially as the Advisor to the Women and Children Department of the Presbyterian Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as a Clergy/Mission Worker gave me the opportunity to see the issues I would lift up as an inter- denominational, universal challenge for women in ministry worldwide. Also, my experience with women of all creeds, nationalities and denominations/religions has equipped me for this.

As I wrote my thesis hypothesis on the issue I wanted to solve in ministry for the Doctor of Ministry degree at Chicago Theological Seminary, I was somewhat astonished that God had prepared me over the years ‘for such a time as this’. Being an originating member of a Women’s ministry that became an inter-generational, inter-denominational, aggregate of women who had to challenge the status-quo of the Church in order to acknowledge, hear, preserve and value the voices of women and their needs in the Church universal.

My re-imagined call of ministry at this time in my life.  Therefore, writing intentionally.

Making Sense of Social Media Platform Choices

For those new to social media, the choices can be daunting.  How do you choose among so many alternatives? This article summarizes my answer to that question.

First the bottom line, then some explanation.

 

  • Top priorities
    • Facebook, blog/website, email, Twitter, Amazon
  • Secondary
    • YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, podcasts, Goodreads

 

Please keep in mind that these are generic recommendations – your priorities may differ.

So let’s sort through some of the rationale behind these recommendations.

First, as Mark Schaefer points out, you need a stream of strong rich content that can come from your blog, podcasts, or video.  Unless you are particularly photogenic and charismatic (video), or have an excellent speaking voice and a bent for talking for long periods of time without making mistakes (podcast), my recommendation is a blog on your own website.

Once you have a platform for your rich content, you need to get it broadly distributed (“ignition” as Mark would say).  If you already have a strong email list, that is the most effective means, because people who agree to allow you to send them emails are more likely to have a stronger connection to you than Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

But how do you get those email addresses in the first place?  That’s where Facebook and Twitter come in. Specific exceptions may be if you have particularly visual content (Pinterest) or are targeting business customers (LinkedIn) or a young audience (Instagram). Otherwise I think Facebook and Twitter are top, with Facebook the more important of the two.

Twitter tends to get bashed, but there are many people there who you want to connect with.  As a company they’ve struggled, but a large part of that is because their company valuation was over-inflated and their expense stream could not be supported by the modest revenue model that is more realistic.

Amazon is there because they are the largest distribution channel for books, and because it doesn’t take much for you to establish your author page there.  Low maintenance after that.

Now of course there are exceptions.  If your target audience is on the younger side, Instagram is more important (and it is growing in importance in general). If your niche is in visual areas such as cooking or fashion, Pinterest is more important. If your market is business, prioritize LinkedIn. The bottom line is, as always, go where your customers are!

Again, your results may vary; however the above recommendations are based on my work with a series of different authors and businesses.

 

 

The Divine Call to Writing That Goes Nowhere

by John Bachman

 

What if your call to write takes you down a blind alley?

I’m guessing you see the paradox in that question. Call implies a purpose and a Caller (God, the Universe, the One, Reality, etc.). The direction may be unclear, but there is a direction. Blind alley, according to one dictionary, is “a course of action leading nowhere.”

So we have a Caller that calls us to go…nowhere. Or somewhere that appears to lead nowhere.

Until this year, my writing was fairly consistent in direction. I wrote articles for spiritual media, including my own blog. I’d count them up at year-end and feel good if I’d published 15 or more. I worked steadily on a book manuscript. All of this felt like a call.

Several months into 2018, it dawned on me that something had changed. The pieces I wrote were longer and deeper and took much more time. Now, with the year almost over, I’ve placed two academic papers and have completed two pieces of creative nonfiction—a genre I have never once explored and may not do terribly well.

I have no doubt that this is call. I have some doubt whether God has lost her mind. And yet…

The tangible results are by no means there, but something is happening. A reader or two has remarked on the depth of this year’s writing. The creative nonfiction shoved me into an entirely different process, assembling far-flung vignettes around a theme and then seeing how they play with each other. The essays revealed sides of me I’d never seen until I wrote them.

But where is this all heading?

Don’t ask me. I have no idea.

And that might be the point. Writers who are building a platform—who hope to make a living or a reputation or a lasting impact through their words—have to think about tangible results. Some spiritual writers (including me to some extent) are in that boat, and I don’t begrudge them a thing.

But this, to me at least, is something that distinguishes spiritual writers: there is another party in this transaction, other than writer and reader. There is a Caller, and a call that the Caller issues. Because we follow it, we are not in control.

And because this Caller is inscrutable, we sometimes are led down what look like blind alleys.

I am learning, slowly, to embrace this. It is hard, because it looks inactive and unproductive and even lazy, and we (especially we Americans) have learned to avoid those. They’re not part of our zeitgeist.

But if this Caller is at the core of our lives—the core of what makes our writing spiritual writing—perhaps that is what we have to follow.

Contributors Notes

 

– by Jennifer Grant

 

On my seventh birthday, I was given Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. The cover is burgundy, the title in gold lettering. My mother’s message on the first page, dated 1974, is printed carefully, the way we write notes to small children so they won’t have trouble deciphering them. Such a gift, I was sure at the time, was only given to someone old enough to appreciate it. Owning it gave my life consequence.

I read the poems carefully, and I fell in love with Stevenson’s writing. For the poet, birds not only fluttered, but quarreled. (Yes, yes, yes—they did quarrel. I’d heard them out back in the willow tree out back for as long as I could remember.) Stormy nights were a man galloping by on a horse. Galloping, yes! I had fallen in love with poetry.

Years later, when I was a teenager, another poet named Robert captured my imagination. Robert Frost told stories in his poems as enthralling as any novel I’d ever read. I didn’t want the story to end in “The Death of the Hired Man.” I could see that “small sailing cloud” hit the moon. I knew Mary and Warren.

I could hear their argument:

“Warren,” she said, “he has come home to die:

You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.”       

“Home,” he mocked gently.

 

“Yes, what else but home?

It all depends on what you mean by home.

Of course he’s nothing to us, any more

Than was the hound that came a stranger to us       

Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.”

 

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in.”

 

In college, my friend Jon gave me Wendell Berry’s poetry collection The Wheel. Since I first read it, I leave the cover flap between pages 14 and 15 to mark “The Rising.” In it, the speaker, in his “awkward boyhood” follows the farmer up and down the rows. The elder works by “desire” while the younger works by “will,” after “having danced until nearly time to get up” the night before. “He troubled me to become / what I had not thought to be,” the younger man says.[i]

That phrase—like so many in the poems I’ve read—has become a part of me. I now read those words through the eyes of a parent: How can I trouble my children to become what they’ve not yet thought to be? I read them through the eyes of a believer: In what ways is God troubling me to become what I’ve not yet thought to be?

Ever thirsty for new poetry, for decades I’ve splurged, buying literary journals after seeking them out in expansive bookstore chains or in dim, dusty city bookshops. Opening a literary magazine, I page past fiction and essays, ever on the lookout for exquisite lines of poetry that catch me up in their melancholy or severe beauty.

I still love little literary magazines, but when I open an issue now, I skip past not only the prose but also the poems. I find myself interested in something I never used to read: the contributor notes. Now the writer autobiographies are what most capture my interest, even more than delicately crafted images or outpourings of love, hope, grief, or disbelief in the pages that precede them.

I read the contributors notes to discern how other writers craft a life by way of the classes they teach, the anthologies they publish, and the ideas, faith, and doubt that linger with them. I suppose it’s because I am starting to see the ways that my work, the friendships I’ve lost and gained, the jobs I’ve had, and the marriage and faith I tightly hold to are beginning to take shape.

The mystery of how lives and careers and bodies of work come together compels me, so I hurry straight to the back of the book, hungry for answers as I fit the shards of glass of my own life—the relationships, the writing, the convictions, and the memories—into a carefully constructed mosaic, the narrative my own life tells.

[i] Wendell Berry, “The Rising,” The Wheel (Place: North Point Press, 1982), 14.

 

Finding a Writing Rhythm

 – by Tony Jones

 

Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.”

 

I work best under deadline. A book I’m editing that is a tribute (aka, festschrift; aka liber amicorum) was due last Thursday. After putzing away at it here and there in the preceding months, I buckled down and worked on it night and day for the ten days prior to the deadline. And it got done — done well, I think.

There’s a certain kind of rush that comes when a deadline approaches. My creative adrenaline spikes. I become singularly focused on that project.

However, when the deadline is months away, there is no such adrenaline, no such focus. That’s especially true when the book manuscript is due over a year before the book will release, because I know that there’s lots and lots of time to edit the book, to fix mistakes, and to tighten up the prose.

So here are some things I do:

 

Schedule Writing:  Mondays and Fridays and some weekend days (when we don’t have the kids), I write. It’s on my Google Calendar now, every Monday and Friday between here and Christmas: “7am – 2pm Write.”

 

Multi-Task: I don’t need to focus solely on writing when I’m this far out in from of a deadline. I’ve got to write 1000-2000 words per day. That’s not an overwhelming amount for me (my record is 19,000 words in 24 hours — that’s another story for another day). So, today as I’ve been writing, I’ve also been canning and baking. So far, I’ve canned four jars of dill pickles, and made bread dough, which is now proofing. The great thing about baking bread, for instance, is that it’s got to proof for at least 5 hours, which gives me plenty of time to write between tasks.

Set Artificial Deadlines: In order to hit word count thresholds, I set alternate deadlines for myself, in advance of the Big Hairy Deadline of January 1. For example, I bought a plane ticket to go see my editor early next month. I know that I’ll be terribly embarrassed if I don’t have ample progress to show him, so that meeting will spur me on to have the book at least 1/3 complete by September 9.

 

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