It’s been seven months since I blogged about my old friend, acedia.
Not because we haven’t been hanging out at all during those months… he’s never too far away. But I try to keep busy, which helps, some. But obviously not enough, since he launched another full attack at me during this past weekend, when I was BUSY: hosting a party on Friday night, watching the air show over the Mississippi River and then enjoying a rehearsal dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse on Saturday night, attending a wedding (which my husband officiated) and dancing at the reception on Sunday night, and then having good friends over for a cookout on Monday night. So how was it that throughout all those festive events I felt the presence of this demon?
Picking back up Kathleen Norris’s book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks & A Writer’s Life, I read Chapter XII: “Day By Day.” While Norris’ circumstances at this point in the book were more acute than mine (her husband was dying and she was diagnosed with perpetual posttraumatic stress syndrome), I can identify with her feelings of emptiness, numbness, and nothingness. It’s just that I can’t “excuse” them with such circumstantial reasons for having those feelings. But they are real. And they are mine.
These words of Norris’s help:
“Acedia contains within itself so many concepts: weariness, despair, ennui, boredom, restlessness, impasse, futility.”
So, boredom and restlessness share the same sentence as despair and futility? I read on:
“Spiritual dryness is the state explored by the sixteenth-century Carmelite John of the Cross, a patron saint of poets, in his long poem Dark Night of the Soul. His characterization of the signs of this condition is easily recognized by anyone who has ever felt stymied, whether in writing, art, prayer, marriage, or parenting.”
Stymied… in writing. Yes, I think that’s what’s going on with me. I’ve been so BUSY that I haven’t carved out the necessary time to finish revising my novel, and that makes me feel bored and restless… irritable, even. (You can ask my husband.)
But I wouldn’t have related that boredom and restlessness to spiritual dryness, as Norris does. Here she quotes the Carmelite Constance Fitzgerald:
“The most confusing and damnable part of the dark night is the suspicion and fear that much of the darkness is of one’s own making.”
I almost quit reading at that point… the last thing I need right now is another shitload of guilt and self-loathing. But I did read on, and discovered that Norris (through Fitzgerald) was about to point me in the direction of “psychologists and theologians, poets and mystics, who over many epochs and in diverse cultures have insisted that ‘impasse can be the condition for creative growth and transformation if the experience of impasse is fully appropriated.’ In other words, the dark night must be entered and endured. There are no shortcuts, only the passage through.”
Shit. I was definitely hoping for a shortcut. But the events of the weekend have reminded me that drinking (and over-eating) isn’t the answer (did too much of both) and that surrounding myself with people also isn’t the answer. Not that I didn’t enjoy the party, the wedding and the cookout. But I won’t be content until I work through this impasse—in general, and until I finish revising this book.
To that end, I’m going to pull in from a busting social life for the next week or so (except for one previous commitment) and work on revisions. That also means not checking in on Facebook and emails all throughout the day, which is really hard for me. Someone suggested taking my laptop somewhere to write where there’s not wi-fi, but I love my “room of my own” too much to leave it right now. As I swivel in my chair and look at my book shelves, my eyes rest on a small pottery plate I purchased from a new friend a few months ago, which says:
Hope is the thing with feathers.
It’s from Emily Dickinson’s poem, which continues:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches on the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all….
Two treasures arrived in the mail while I was in New York. Both are magazines with articles about the next two books in my “to read” stack. First up was the July/August issue of Writer’s Digest, with a terrific interview with Adriana Trigiani, author of The Shoemaker’s Wife (and a dozen other books.) I haven’t started the book yet, but Jessica Strawser’s interview with Trigiani makes me want to move it to the top of my list. One reason is that her words mirror some of the advice I received from my freelance editor after our first meeting about my novel, Cherry Bomb. Mary Ann (my editor) says I need to make my images more vivid, so the reader can see the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt (one of the settings in the novel) and also smell, hear and taste its aromas, sounds and flavors. I’m shooting for literary fiction with my work, so I know she’s right. Read what Trigiani says about this element of her writing, begining with one of Strawer’s questions in the interview:
S: Your books are very atmospheric. How do you go about bringing a place to life, and why do you feel that descriptive quality is so important to a story?
T: …. when I was a young writer I always worked hard on imagery, and I knew that the root of imagery were the senses–and that if my readers could feel, taste and see what I was talking about, I would be able to tell them a story. Sometimes I get criticized, because there are readers that don’t want all that [description], but I think it’s important. It’s the hallmark of my work, and I would never change that. It sets the stage for those real characters to come through and tell their story.
What a treat to read this interview just as I’m working to improve the imagery in my novel.
The second publication that arrived in the mail was the spring issue of Memory: The Magazine of Health and Hope, which is published by the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. It always contains the latest news on Alzheimer’s research and treatment, but also personal stories.
In this issue there’s an article about Diane Keaton‘s memoir, Then Again, which shares that top spot on my “next book to read” stack. Keaton has always been my favorite actress, but when I discovered how much we have in common, I loved her even more:
We both have mothers with Alzheimer’s.
We both have adopted children.
We have both struggled with eating disorders.
We both lost our fathers to cancer.
We both love hats.
(Okay, I guess that last one isn’t so significant, but I was thrilled to be told I look like Diane Keaton once.)
One thing I love in the article is what Keaton said when asked what advice she would give to caregivers (of people with Alzheimer’s):
“I don’t feel like advice is what people need. They need to be heard. And they need affection.”
Keaton went on to describe what she learned about caring for her mother during her decline, and also her father, when he was sick with cancer:
“Because you’re supposed to do the right thing, you are making that time you have together conflicted, unpleasant. It’s unpleasant anyway. I think that’s all you can do, to make them comfortable. Bring the dogs and cats in. Whatever they want. Who cares.”
Keaton and Trigiani. Can’t wait to dive into both books! Have a great weekend, everyone!
SHOPPING is always a treat here… on Fifth Avenue, in the Chelsea Market (new to me this year), and in the cool boutiques on the Upper East Side and down in the Village.
The Metropolitan Museum of ART is always a must see when I’m here, and this year the rooftop exhibit was a special treat, as well as “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde.”
Our choice of a BROADWAYP PLAY was “Once,” which received the most Tony nominations of any show on Broadway this year. The writing, set design, acting, singing, and choreography were all fabulous. Before the show and during intermission, they opened up a bar ON STAGE where audience members could buy a drink while being serenaded by cast members! (see photo)
After discovering a FAVORITE NEW DRINK, the “Moscow Mule,” in Denver in April, it was fun to find another new favorite here in New York, the “French 75.” It’s got champagne, gin and lime. Nothing fancy, but the mix was wonderful, and we enjoyed them on the patio of a cafe just a block from our hotel… several times:-) Evidently it’s named after a WWI artillery gun, because it’s got quite a kick.
I guess a trip to the Big Apple wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the APPLE STORE across from Central Park. My hubby has been wanting to get a Mac, (he got a MacBook Air) so we spent our first afternoon here at this store, which had a cool see-through elevator that went through the core of winding steps down from the sidewalk level. My favorite part of the store was the “kids’ table” where there were always a group of techy tots having a great time, like these two little girls, who reminded me a lot of my granddaughters.
We’re headed back to Memphis this afternoon. Next year’s ASH (American Society of Hypertension) meeting is in San Francisco (my husband was speaking, which was the reason for the trip) so I’m saying goodbye to NYC for a couple of years. I’m actually ready to get back to Memphis and finish revisions on my novel. Have a great hump-day, everyone!
When I was in Denver in April, I read Dinty Moore’s wonderful new book, The Mindful Writer.No. 49 and Dinty’s comments on the quote made a big impression on me when I first read the book, and now as I pick it back up to re-read some my favorite pages:
“Writing is a struggle against silence.”—Carlos Fuentes
An excerpt from Dinty’s comments:
“It is wise to remind ourselves on occasion why we write and why it matters so much. There is too much left unsaid in the world, either because what needs to be said is deemed to be impolite, because it is deemed dangerous, or because it contradicts the accepted version put forth by family, government, religious leaders, or the society we live in….
… the very act of giving yourself permission to write, to speak, to share the truth no matter whether the truth you understand is the truth others want to acknowledge, is brave, powerful, and important.”
Why are these words so meaningful for me right now? In addition to being in the middle of final revisions on my novel (before querying agents) right now, I’m also starting a book tour for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. My next reading/signing will be at Burke’s Books in Memphis on July 12. David Waters, Religion Editor for The Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper) has asked me to contribute a guest editorial for his regular column, “Faith Matters.” The column will appear sometime in late June, and he has offered to promote the Circling Faith event alongside my editorial. Generous offers, so I went to work right away.
I sent a copy of my first draft of the editorial to my two best friends last week.You know—the draft you write without any “watchers” censoring you? There were things that needed to be said, but not necessarily in a large city newspaper. As I take out my editor pen and begin to cut and shape the piece, I’m thinking about Dinty’s words with each slice and tweak:
Will my words be deemed to be impolite or dangerous?
Will they contradict the accepted version put forth by family members or religious leaders?
If I give myself permission to share truth that others may not acknowledge as truth, am I being brave?
The answer to all three of those questions would be “yes” if I were to submit the unabridged version of my editorial. But there’s another force at work here, and it’s coming at me through the wisdom of close friends as well as my own conscience when I step away from the writing long enough to tune in to that inner voice. (Which is different from the voice of “watchers,” by the way.) That inner voice tells me to ask some different questions as I edit the column:
Will my words convey anger or frustration, rather than compassion and peace?
Can they be written with respect to family member and religious leaders?
Can I still share “my truth” with honesty and integrity, knowing that some others may not acknowledge it as “their truth”?
One of the best pieces of wisdom a friend shared with me about my approach to this piece is to remember that I’m not writing a memoir that people can choose to buy or not to buy. This is not my book. I’m an invited guest of a newspaper (and specifically a religion editor) that is read by thousands of people in the greater Memphis area and beyond.
I’m thinking about mystery and manners now and wondering what would Flannery O’Connor do? Or Madeleine L’Engle? Or two of my favorite contemporary memoirists, Mary Karr and Anne Lamott? I know all of them would “tell it true,” (and with a masterful command of prose) but I also know that their words would be seasoned with grace.
And so I return to the work with all of these thoughts in mind, as well as Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians about “speaking the truth in love….” (Ephesians 4:15.)
Watch for the results of all this posturing in about a month… I’ll link to the column here when it comes out. Thanks for reading!
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, and have a great weekend.
If you can’t make it to the event, just call Burke’s at 901-278-7484 and order an autographed copy to pick up after July 12.
One month ago today I posted my “Denver Bucket List” where I described 9 things I wanted to do while visiting Denver. As I pack to leave tomorrow, it’s fun to look back and see that I not only did all 9 things on the list (and several of them many times) but I added a few more during my 5-week stay, including speaking/reading at the Boulder Writers Workshop’s monthly Literary Salon on April 21.
But mostly I loved hanging out with my kids and grandkids. It was such a joy to be here long enough for Grace and Anna to scream excitedly, “SuSu’s here!” each time I visited them, and to allow me to stay with them several afternoons while their folks were at work. And to be with my daughter during the birth of her first daughter, Gabby, on April 23. And then to have 10 days to bond with her before flying home to Memphis tomorrow. I’m sure there will be tears shed tomorrow morning when I leave.
So, tomorrow I return to my busy life in Memphis, where I look forward to working with a web designer on my first web site, meeting with a freelance editor and doing final revisions on my novel before querying agents, driving to Jackson to visit Mom, and, two weeks from today, flying to New York City with my husband for the annual American Society of Hypertension Meeting. Thanks for reading and helping me feel in touch even while away from home for so long. Have a great weekend, everyone.