Mental Health Monday: Living With Ambiguity

I’ve been thinking for a while about organizing my blog posts by subject. Mondays would be my day for posting about mental health. (I know, I know, today is Tuesday, but I’ve been in Denver with kids and grand kids for a week, so I haven’t had much time for blogging.) The drawback to this sort of organization is that I don’t want to paint myself into a corner. What if I don’t’ have a mental health post in mind every Monday? (Or a post about writing on Wednesday and a post on spirituality or personal stuff on Fridays)…. So, don’t hold me to it, but for now, I’ll share a mental health treasure I recently discovered.


Barbara Gordon

Barbara Gordon was an Emmy-award-winning documentary producer in New York City when her life began to unravel. Married to a sick, abusive man, pushed beyond her limits by a stress-filled career and personal life, her downward spin began with Valium and continued until she landed in a mental institution. She tells us her story in I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can (1982) now out in paperback. (I read it on my Kindle.)

I’m a bit of a mental health junkie, always hunting for treasures between the covers of books on psychology, psychiatry, spirituality, abuse, addiction, etc. And now I can’t remember how I even heard about Gordon’s book, but I’m so glad I did. Of course there are the common themes that one finds in many such books—friendships formed in residential treatment centers, relationships between patients and therapists, each person’s struggle against her past, abuse, neglect, addictions, and ultimately her self. But there were a few elements of Gordon’s story that caught my attention. And of course I identified with many parts of her story, beginning with the denial she held onto in the beginning:

“Someday I’ll learn what’s behind all this shit, I promised myself. But right now I’ll get more Valium. I’ll work on the film. Everything is all right when I work.”

When she first tried to free herself from the things in her life that were causing her craziness, she was overcome with a new struggle:

“So lonely. A friend once described lonely by saying that if it were a color it would be white. At first I was too busy being sick to be lonely; too wretched to miss anyone; too busy warding off the intrusive thoughts, fighting the feeling of numbness to be lonely. I didn’t know that acute symptoms are the psyche’s way of saying you are frightened, lonely, loveless, depressed. That’s why you feel all this insanity, all this psychotic pain. You would rather make a hurricane in your head than experience on legitimate emotion—loss, fear, anger, sadness, anything.”

One of the first lessons Gordon learned in the five months she spent in an institution was something I’ve probably heard or read before, but it never resonated with me the way it did when I read her words:

“… mental illness is an exaggeration of the human condition…. We all experience the same conflicts. It’s only that in mental illness everything is blown completely out of proportion.”

This reminded me of some of Kathleen Norris’ writing about depression—specifically the difference in the garden variety we all face and the more insidious version that can become a true mental illness requiring medication or therapy.

The main “take-away” for me from Barbara Gordon’s experience was what “Julie” (Gordon’s therapist) helped her discover about living with ambiguity:

“The world is what it is, imperfect, a world of people—no heroes, no villains, just people. And you’ve got to learn to accept that, in yourself and in the people you love….You must learn to live with ambiguity, Barbara. Yours and everyone else’s. Life is not a film with good guys and bad guys. I would be easier that way, I know, but it isn’t like that.”

We all have people in our lives that we might tag “good guys” or “bad guys.” And it’s so easy to blame the bad guys for our problems and become overly dependent on the good guys to save us from ourselves. I find myself identifying strongly with Gordon’s struggle:

“Could I … learn to live with ambiguity, accepting my own flaws and conflicting emotions about people I loved? Could I ever learn to become a whole person again?”

These words may or may not resonate with you, but if they do, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment here or on my Facebook post. I’m headed back to Memphis today. Leaving my precious grandchildren and children I’ve just spent a joyous week in Denver with, and returning to my every day life at home with my husband, my writing, my church, my community. It won’t be perfect. But maybe Gordon’s book will help me learn to live with the ambiguity.

Must Love Words

A few weeks ago I participated in an “Orthodox Synchroblog” with a group of Orthodox Christians who blog. My post, “How We Use Our Words: ‘Christian’ is Not an Adjective,” addressed the issue of tacking the word, ‘Christian’ onto art, writing, music, and other venues for art.

I was thinking about the topic again today after reading an essay by Richard J. Foster in A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art. Foster’s essay, “Made Visible and Plain: On Spiritual Writing,” gets deeper into the heart of the matter. If I had read his essay before writing my post for the synchroblog, I would have definitely mentioned some of his concepts.

Foster discusses three elements of spiritual writing: heart writing, incarnational writing, and risky writing. Although most of his writing has a strong Christian message, I think his discussion of spiritual writing is applicable to people like me, who are Christians writing about many subjects, not just Christianity. So, whether I’m writing a blog post, an essay, or fiction—like the novel I’m revising right now—I think his observations are helpful. I’ll share a quote about each concept and make a brief observation of my own.

“Spiritual writing is heart writing. It aims at the interiority of the reader: the heart, the spirit, the will…. It is personal. It is intimate.”

I have received both criticism and praise for the personal nature of my writing. There are people who don’t appreciate it, calling it “overly confessional.” While I understand where they are coming from, I also wonder if they approach all writing, all art, with such a hands-off stance. As Foster says:

“With spiritual writing we hope to make it untenable for our readers to remain bystanders. Instead, we want them to feel drawn into the action…. Some readers are not prepared for this openness into spiritual participation.”

His words about the reader’s participation remind me of some things I shared in my essay in First Things a few years, ago, “Icons Will Save the World.” I was writing about the place of iconography is our spiritual lives, and I quoted Henri J. Nouwen on this subject. Nouwen wrote a reflection on the time he spent quietly meditating on four icons, which was published as Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons. Nouwen found that icons are “not easy to see.” He even called them “rigid, lifeless, schematic and dull” at first. But he gazed at these four icons for hours at a time, and, after patient, prayerful stillness on his part, they began to speak to him. As a man who loved the art of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Marc Chagall, he could have chosen any of these Western treasures for his meditations. But he chose icons. Why?

“I have chosen icons because they are created for the sole purpose of offering access, through the gate of the visible, to the mystery of the invisible. Icons are painted to lead us into the inner room of prayer and bring us close to the heart of God.”

That’s what spiritual writing should do for the reader who is willing to give it more than a cursory reading. And if it doesn’t bring the reader close to the heart of God, it should at least bring him close to his own heart—help him get in touch with his interior thoughts and feelings.

“Spiritual writing is incarnational writing…. In the way we learn to stand with our readers in all their confusion and wonder and fear and joy and sorrow and hope and pain… We handle words as treasured…. Words are the place where zeal and wisdom meet in friendship, in which truth and beauty kiss each other…. Our desire is to love words—to love their sound, to love their meaning, to love their history, to love their rhythm…We are willing to hurt, to cry, to sweat in order to capture the great image….. This is the agony and the ecstasy of spiritual writing.”

And maybe because of the incarnational nature of spiritual writing, it is also “risky writing”:

“Spiritual writing always has a prophetic edge to it. We begin by watching the culture carefully and discerning where that watching will lead us. Then we cast an alternative vision…. We step out where others dare not go…. We inch out on a dangerous limb….”

Sometimes casting that alternative vision brings rejection. Sometimes we can become self-indulgent. And a third risk—and the one that scares me most—is that we “run roughshod over people, treating them as objects to be manipulated rather than precious persons to be treasured.”

While Foster names among his favorite spiritual writing St. Augustine’s Confessions and Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle (and I think both are excellent), I would also include writing that isn’t necessarily Christian in nature. Including writing that does not have as part of its purpose to convert readers to its point of view, but to delve deeply into events of the human heart and allow the reader to form his own conclusions, feel his own feelings. A few of my favorites:

Lit and Facing Altars, both by Mary Karr

Dry by Augusten Burroughs

The End of the World as We Know It by Robert Goolrick

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Appetites: Why Women Want, and Drinking, A Love Story, both by Caroline Knapp
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The End of Suffering by Scott Cairns

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The Sunday Wife by Cassandra King (Conroy)

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and The Secret Life of Bees, both by Sue Monk Kidd

Effie and the M & Ms

Susan, Effie & M & Ms, September, 2011

Friends are often asking me how my mother is doing. She’s 84 and has Alzheimer’s. She’s been a resident of Lakeland Nursing Home in Jackson, Mississippi, for almost four years. I visit her about twice a month, and the progression of the disease is sometimes subtle, and other times more obvious. But she always has a big smile on her face and seems content there in her own little world. It’s just that her world keeps getting smaller, and her ability to carry out everyday tasks of living is declining.

Last week during my regular visit with Mom, we sat in the lobby where she can look out at the trees and flowers, which she loves. It was too hot to sit on the patio, so we stayed inside, enjoying the view. After a little while, I brought out her “treat.” I alternate taking her giant cookies from McAllister’s deli, or M & M’s—her two favorite snacks. Or at least they used to be. But when I showed her the package, she looked confused.

“What’s that?”

“It’s M & Ms, Mom. Your favorite candy.”

“Is that so?”


I poured a few into a cup. Mom has a slight tremor now and it’s easier for her to pick them up from a cup than out of the package. But she just stared at the cup, so I poured 3-4 of them onto her “lap buddy,” which keeps her from getting out of her wheelchair unassisted. (She has a hip that never healed after surgery a few years ago.)

“What am I supposed to do with those?” She pointed to the M & Ms, one orange, one blue, one red and one green.

“You eat them, Mom, like this.”

I poured a few into my hand, put them in my mouth and began to chew.

She finally picked them up and put them in her mouth. But no chewing. She just stared at me. After a few seconds, she said,

“They’re not moving around in there.”

“You have to chew them, Mom.”

Once she started chewing, she remembered that she liked them, and eventually ate the whole package. But her brain has already begun to forget simple tasks. I’ve asked the nurses about her food intake, and she seems to be eating enough to be nourished. She hasn’t lost weight and seems healthy, other than her mind. I would imagine that at meals it’s more obvious what she’s supposed to do with the food on her plate, since everyone else is putting it into their mouths and chewing.

You have to keep a sense of humor about these things.

You can read more of my posts about Mom here:

“Disappearing Stories.” At the end of that post there are links to a dozen more. If you know someone with Alzheimer’s, or if you are a caregiver yourself, I hope you can also find the humor here, amidst the dark side of this awful disease. And if I find myself in Mom’s place one day, I hope someone will remind me to chew my M & Ms.

Scammers, Spammers and ‘Bots, Yuck!

When I created my web site and moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress a few weeks ago, I decided to start tagging my posts in order to attract more readers. A marketing move, you know? And I’ve definitely had more hits on the blog. But all of them aren’t readers. What I wasn’t prepared for was the SPAMMERS (or SCAMMERS) who wanted to catch a ride on my wave. At first they were just irritating. And then I began to get a kick out of their crazy posts. I’ll share a few (since I mark them as SPAM and don’t allow them to use my site to advertise their wares for free.)
The first one is from someone selling mobile phones:

I do consider all of the ideas you’ve offered on your post. They’re very convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

This next one is from a GAMING site… trying to leave this comment on a (serious, not funny at all) post about Christmas:

This is funnily enough just the thing I’ve been looking for! Superb and thanks very much!  

This next spammer is promoting GUILD WARS, and they were trying to comment on another post about Christmas – ‘The Appearance of God.” Really?

I found something like this elsewhere and really found it interesting. Some more of this please! Thanks very much.

Lots of the spam I get is from the UK… not sure why, but it is. Like this one, trying to sell GREEN TEA (which I don’t even like) by commenting on my post, “How Can I Know?” which was about knowing God:

Greetings from across the sea! This is just what I was thinking of, and you did it well. Thanks very much.

Just one of several attempts at selling Fake Oakley Sunglasses on my site, this one recently tried to leave a comment on a post from August of 2007:

Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

These next guys are selling antioxidants, pomegranate juice, etc., and tried to leave this comment on my post, “Emotional Truth and Imitation of Life.” (Notice it’s the exact same text as a previous attempt, above, by the Guild Wars people.  They must share a robot.)

I found something like this elsewhere and really liked. Some more of this please! Thank you.

And on a very serious post about Orthodox Holy Friday, more spam attempts from the GAMING website:

Hey there my name is Jill and I’m a student and this site really helped me. I’m inspired! Thanks very much!

This final comment is from a guy in Eastern Europe promoting a machine for shaping up abs. He tried to leave this comment on a post about “The End of Faith,” which was part of my review of Sam Harris’ book, back in 2008. (The spammer is just now trying to advertise on that post from four years ago!)

Great points altogether, you simply gained a new reader. What may you recommend in regards to your submit that you made some days in the past? Any certain?

Any certain? Really? You would think they would give up after so many rejections, but I guess their robots are hard to discourage. I’ll just keep marking them SPAM and maybe eventually they’ll quit. And now I’m thinking I shouldn’t use tags for this post that might attract them, like guild wars, fake oakleys, green tea, and antioxidants…. but I bet they’ll find me anyway.

This site by WordPress addresses the issue, but it’s too complicated for me to figure out. Any simple tips?

Shooting in Colorado: Guns and Cameras

When I logged on to Facebook this morning, the first news I read about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, was posted by my son-in-law. Kevin and Beth (my daughter) live about twelve miles from the theater where the shootings took place. Kevin had even thought about going to this very theater for the midnight opening of the new Batman movie, but stayed home with his wife and his daughter, Gabby, instead. My hands were shaking as I replied to his post and quickly texted my son (who lives in Arvada, Colorado) and daughter. I am so thankful that they are safe. I can’t imagine the devastation the families who lost loved ones must be feeling.

The emotions that people feel (or don’t feel) when impacted by such an event are discussed in an interesting manner by author, Karen Spears Zacharias, in her post on Patheos today:

“Colorado Shooting: Guns & Cameras.”

Karen Spears Zacharias
[photo by Steven Savage, Fairhope, Alabama]

Karen approaches the tragic event from a different point of view than most of what you read in the media today. She’s asking the question of how people impacted by a horrific incident like this might stuff their emotions, hiding behind the lens of their cameras and iPhones as they seem to calmly report and record what they have just experienced. Does this technology prevent people from feeling what they need to feel at times like this? Or are they simply acting in a state of shock, and the emotions will register later? Your thoughts?

[Note: Karen was writer-in-residence at the Fairhope (Alabama) Center for the Writing Arts (where photo was taken). It was there she completed her true crime tale,  A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder (MacAdam/Cage, April, 2012). I’ve never met Karen in person, but having been a colonist at the Fairhope Writers Colony in 2010, I can appreciate the wonderful literary town that has produced and is peopled with so many great literary writers.]

Wordless Wednesday: WTF

A few weeks ago a dear friend gave me this fabulous hooked pillow. The gift giver knows me pretty well. Her daughter actually said, “Oh, Mom, this looks like Aunt Susan!” when they saw the pillow in a gift shop. And the colors and textures are perfect for my “editor’s chair” in my office. I was so taken with it, I Googled it to find out who made it. The pillow came from “Jilly’s Happy  Home.” I kid you not. And Jilly even writes a sweet little blog. Who knew that someone as sweet as Jilly could make such a, well, colorful pillow.

Last weekend when Wendy Reed, co-editor of Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, was visiting us from Alabama for our book tour, she saw the pillow and loved it. I mentioned that my husband was kind of embarrassed to have it on display in our home, and she said (without missing a beat):

“Oh, but why? It’s a perfect way to spread our message: Write The Faith!”

And that is what makes Wendy such a good editor!

The Snarl and Gnarl of Revision

Three months ago today, I put my finished manuscript, Cherry Bomb: A Novel, in the mail to a freelance editor in Oxford, Mississippi. I was in Denver, awaiting the birth of my third granddaughter, Gabrielle Sophia, who would make her appearance one week later, on April 23. I’ve never given birth (my three children are adopted) so being with my daughter in labor and delivery was the closest I had come to this experience which my best friend describes as a “holy war.” Bloody. Messy. Painful. Joyful. Full of every extreme of emotion known to the human heart.

Giving birth to this novel is proving to contain some of those emotions. In my naiveté I had envisioned whipping through the final revision process in a matter of weeks. Just as an expectant mother might hope for a speedy delivery.

Especially since my “first completed draft” wasn’t really a first draft at all. Unlike most writers I know, I don’t write “shitty first drafts” and revise later. I revise as I go. I just can’t seem to help myself. So by the time I sent the competed manuscript to an editor, it had been through dozens of rewrites. Some sections had gone through the scrupulous process of critique sessions at writers workshops. Others had been under the knife of a writing critique group. And the first 50 pages had made the short list for Novel-in-Progress category of the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition hosted by the Faulkner Society’s Words & Music Literary Festival. I thought my work was almost finished.

Three months later I am moving at a snail’s pace through the revision process. Of course I have also been traveling and involved in personal and family events, so my time hasn’t been guarded this summer. There has also been the joy of a few events surrounding the publishing of Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, which contains my essay, “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow.” I am enjoying those events, but I also look forward to the month of August, which I am “bookmarking” as “finish the revisions” month!

In the midst of all this bloody work, I stop to read a bit of what other authors say about this process of revision. This morning I read Diane Glancy’s essay, “After the Fire of Writing: On Revision,” in a wonderful anthology, A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art (2008, Paraclete Press). Glancy puts a spiritual spin on the revision process:

“In fact, when I write there usually emerges both a death and a resurrection. I begin a piece. I find it dies on the page. It isn’t what I had hoped. It falls short. It falls flat. It goes nowhere. Then I find a new beginning somewhere embedded in the piece and start writing into it again.”

She calls this rewriting “the snarl and gnarl” of the writing process, saying, “It is never clean. It is never under control.” Images of the labor and delivery suite at the hospital emerge as I read her words. But what all is involved in this painful and messy process? Glancy describes several elements, including SOUND, PERSPECTIVE, DEPTH, and VOICE:

“I also tinker with the sound of a piece, reading it out loud for the rhythm…. Taking out words here and there to tighten the momentum, until what I heard in the inner ear was there on the page when I read it.

“What is the piece about? Revision develops perspective. Just what is it I want to say? Just how am I going to say what I say?

“Revision develops layers and dimensions. It gives the necessary depth.

“Writing and rewriting are about finding voice. That term, voice, takes revision to define. Voice is when the imaginative being from your head is on the page when you read what you have rewritten. Your style of writing, the way you write, is tempered or revised by the voice of the piece.”

Whew. Hard work, this labor and delivery stuff. Maybe if I had gone through the physical process of bringing children into the world I would be better prepared for this holy war. Instead, I rely on the expertise and experience of a brilliant midwife (freelance editor). I can hear her voice as I work, whispering in my ear. I have written some of her dictums on sticky notes and placed them all around my computer monitor so I can be reminded as I continue to push this child through the birth canal:

“Make the voices distinct. Elaine—sophisticated; Lou—complex; Mare—fragile.”

“What is each character struggling against?”

“Consider using exposition instead of dialogue to share information about graffiti and iconography.”

“VISUALS—shape of alcove in church wall; differences in two churches; street scene in 4th century Egypt.”

“Use more SOUND… and SILENCE.”

I remember standing beside my daughter as she gave birth. Her husband and I held her hands and chanted our mantra for hours. “Breathe. One, two, three, four, five….” And “good job!” Whatever we could think of to ease the process. But she had to do the work. And it was grueling. It was hard not to wish for a C-section during the pain of a complicated delivery. And I wonder if adoption might have presented as a pain-free option in the corners of her mind. But Gabrielle Sophia is the reward of her labors, and she is magnificent!

The metaphor breaks down, of course, when you try to compare a book to a person. A novel to a human being. A published work to a newborn baby. But for me, right now, this is my labor. And I’m trying to listen to my midwife, and to the wisdom of those who have been here before me. When I feel like my book is stuck in the birth canal, I’ll try to remember Glancy’s words:

“It is in the vital act of rewriting that I find and hopefully achieve the voice of my work. Revision, for me, is the act of passage through the nascent stages of writing.”


[P.S. I’m driving down to Jackson today, for a reading/signing of Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, at Lemuria Books at 5 p.m. Wendy Reed will also be there. So if you’re in the Jackson area, please join us!]

Strong Women of Passion


Wendy Reed, Susan Cushman, Beth Ann Fennelly, Marilou Awiakta


[Beth Ann Fennelly, Marilou Awiakta, Wendy Reed and I gave readings from Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, at Burke’s Books in Memphis last night. Here are a few thoughts and photos from the evening. THANKS SO MUCH to everyone who came, listened, and purchased books. And to Corey and Cheryl Mesler, for hosting us! If you’re near Jackson, Mississippi, on Monday, July 16, Wendy and I will be at Lemuria Books for another signing/reading at 5 p.m.]


Marilou Awiakta

“Where are your women?” It’s a question Memphis author, Marilou Awiakta, asks in her essay, “Amazon in Appalachia,” which appears in the anthology, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. But it’s also a question that Attakullakulla, a Cherokee chief asked when he met with the white men to negotiate a treaty. The Cherokee revere women for their wisdom, their strength, their nurturing spirit. Awiakta writes about those wise, strong, nurturing women. She calls one of them “Grandmother.”



“Grandmother, I need your courage. Sing to me about your life.”

And she does. She says things like this:

“Women share in all of life. We lead sacred dances. In the Council we debate freely with men until an agreement is reached. When the nation considers war, we have a say, for we bear the warriors….

Awiakta responds:

“My own voice is small, Grandmother, and I am afraid. You live in a culture that believes in your song. How can you understand what women of my time have to cope with?”

The Grandmother explains to her about the importance of work. And joy. And hope. “Hope—that quality so necessary for survival. The Beloved Woman never loses hope.” This same Grandmother raised daughters born to a white trader, and took in many orphans. Twenty years before the Trail of Tears.

As she reads from her essay, I can see that Marilou Awiakta has become a Beloved Woman herself.


Beth Ann Fennelly signs her book, “Great With Child,” for Candice Baxter, who is, well, great with child

The poet and author, Beth Ann Fennelly, isn’t from the South. She hails from Chicago, but she has embraced her new home—Oxford, Mississippi—to the point of telling her husband she wants to be buried there, near William Faulkner’s grave, if possible. But in the interim, she writes poetry and prose about everything from kudzu to nursing babies, and most recently, eating dirt. As she writes in her essay, “Taking Terroir on Faith,” (also in Circling Faith):

 “I wanted to take one small step closer to full membership in my adopted home, my quest to be a Southerner. I wanted to eat dirt.”

Fennelly reads to us about the five main theories she has discovered in her research on geophagy. Is it an illness or a cultural practice? Pregnant women often crave dirt. Some experts say that it helps children’s immune systems to develop. But Fennelly offers a sixth suggestion (her own): taste. Some people just like the way dirt tastes.

What does eating dirt have to do with spirituality?  According to Fennelly, it “… puts me in the mind of, well, faith, to tell you the truth. I’ve been engaged in a similar, though more serious, quest to understand what I feel about religion for some time now.” And she goes on to describe her “deep internal conflict with the (Catholic) Church’s teachings.” But it’s her segue on geophagy that gets really interesting:

“… my interest in geophagy has mirrored the pattern of my interest in faith. The questions they present are similar. Both faith and geophagy are, for many, deepened by daily ritual…. Both tastes are often passed down, inherited from our parents. Both seem absurd to nonpractioners…. Can I make an intellectual decision to grow faith, or to crave dirt? Some people claim to be born with the desire to know God, the way some people claim to be born with the taste for clay….”

And so Fennelly went church-shopping, just like she went dirt-shopping, in order to taste and see for herself which religion she prefers. She and her husband have found a church that works for them right now, but she still doesn’t “wake up on Sunday mornings with an urge to go there.” Does she attend anyway?

“Maybe the only way I’ll learn whether I can nurture a craving is by feeding myself…. As for me, I took the body of the South into my body, and truth be told, I do not feel redeemed. But I’m sticking with it, at least for now. And I’m sticking with my Sunday services, too, though the dreamed-of clarity has not yet descended. So many others have found nourishment here. Maybe educating my palate is the first step. Maybe the leap comes next.”


Wendy Reed (co-editor, Circling Faith) introduces the authors

It was my blessing to be included with these wonderful authors, along with Wendy Reed of Waverly, Alabama, co-editor (with Jennifer Horne) of Circling Faith, last night. Our stories are diverse, but our message is united—the South is full of strong women of passion, and many of us have longings to taste something beyond ourselves. Whether that something comes from our ancestors, as it does with Awiakta, or from intimacy with this place we call home, the South (as Fennelly seeks), we all want it.

Susan and Marilou signing

Like Awiakta, I want my culture to believe in my song. I want that joy that Awiakta’s Grandmother speaks of. And I want that satisfaction that Fennelly seeks. But most of all, I want to swim out into the middle of the river of life and continue my spiritual journey from there.

Balance. That’s what I write about in “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow,” my contribution to Circling Faith.  And I’m pretty sure that my journey will continue to involve writing. It’s a gift which, as Madeleine L’Engle said, “is indeed something given us and which we must humbly serve, and in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness.” As I write in Circling Faith:

“Learning to serve the gift through writing and painting is bringing wondrous newness into my life every day. Once it surfaced in an essay about how anger blocked me from painting icons and how the beach, a dream, and a soft rock song helped me get unblocked. At other times that newness has shown up to cheer me on as I embrace the darker aspects of my Mississippi childhood by laying down difficult chapters of my novel-in-progress. Sometimes I feel its presence during the sacrament of confession, when I’ve been up all night facing down my demons, often chasing them with vodka or wine. Maybe my brokenness, like the egg yolks that I use to make tempera paint for my icons—themselves a form of life interrupted—is part of my offering to God.”

Nancy Mardis, Deb Mashburn, Corinne Elliott, Pamela Mashburn (thanks for coming!)


Susan with friends, David and Cindy Twombly and Jack Turner

Your Password is Incorrect

This morning I read an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal by Alyson Ward, “Build better passwords to be secure online.” I couldn’t find a link to the article on the CA website, but I did find it here, in the Houston Chronicle:

“Does Your Password Pass the Test?”

 It’s a good (short, concise) piece with a few helpful tips.

 When I read the piece, I remembered this hilarious cartoon I saved a few weeks ago. Enjoy!











(P.S. If you’re in the Memphis area, please come to my reading/signing of Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, at Burke’s Books tonight at 5 p.m.!)


I just read Mary Alice Monroe’s new blog post, “What’s In A Name—or Signature?” It got me to thinking about how I’m going to sign my name on the books I’ll be inscribing at my first bookstore reading/signing tomorrow night, at Burke’s Books in Memphis.

First, though, it’s all about the method of delivery. The pen. I love Sharpies… especially the ones that don’t bleed through the page. But what size? Fine point? Ultra fine? And what color?

Next, should I consider what impression the style might leave with the person who purchased the book? I like my artsy, boxy style of printing, but it’s much slower than my smooth, loopy, cursive. Does one say something about me that another does not? Does any of this really matter? Check out these signatures by famous authors. (If you can’t tell who they are, click here.)

And just for fun, here’s an article about what happened when one man tested a credit card signing pad, pushing his luck a little too far. (I’ve recently gone to scribbling on those things, tired of taking the time to sign my name legibly. Maybe I need to re-think my laziness.)

Happy Hump Day, everyone!

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