Writing on Wednesday: Riding the Rejectivity Horse into the Next Town

This conversation really began last Wednesday, when I wrote:

“Querying (Again) and the Creative Process.”

I knew it was going to be difficult, and a lot of just butt-in-the-chair work to research which agents to query, find their web sites, and follow the submission instructions—often cutting and pasting writing samples into the email for those who refuse to open attachments. Sometimes this process can be fun, but sometimes it’s just draining. As I said last week, I had already received 10 rejections from the 29 agents I had queried. Almost all were personal rejection emails, giving sometimes specific, understandable reasons, and other times frustrating, vague reasons for not choosing to represent me and my novel, Cherry Bomb. Like this one:

Thank you for sending me these pages. While I loved your pitch, and your credentials are impressive, I had trouble with Mare’s voice and story; something about it didn’t feel authentic to me, and so I couldn’t engage with the narrative. Thank you for thinking of me for this project, and I wish you the best of luck.

The voice and story didn’t feel authentic. Ouch. Five plus years of writing and revising, working with several editors, pouring my heart and soul into this book and it “didn’t feel authentic”?

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I had coffee with a writer friend yesterday and shared my frustration with her. She has read the novel and given me feedback during the final round of revisions, so she’s completely familiar with the story. I was validated by her reply that these agents just don’t “get it”—but how can I find one that does? The more we discussed the issue, the more my friend began to hone in on the story’s insistence that the reader suspend belief in certain places in order to embrace the plot. It’s not magical realism, but there is a strong thread of mysticism in the book. Given that—and the fact that the protagonist starts out at age 12 and is only 21 by the end of the book—my friend suggested I query agents who represent YA (Young Adult) fiction. I agreed, and so I spent several hours yesterday afternoon querying 10 agents, all of whom rep YA and most of whom also rep literary and upmarket fiction. I plan to continue the process with more agents today. I’m casting a wide net.

Of course this is so difficult, emotionally, and as I was licking my wounds this morning I read this quote from Harper Lee:

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.

indexLee contributed those words to the September 1961 issue of Writer’s Digest, in response to a request sent to some top writers and editors from WD, asking “What advice would you offer a person who aspires to a writing career?” This quote was published again in the May/June 2016 issue of WD, in which I also found validation from literary agent Barbara Poelle, who was asked the following question in her column:

I’ve been getting a few rejections on my novel saying things like, ‘The narrative didn’t resonate,’ and ‘I couldn’t connect with the execution.’ What does that really mean?

Poelle’s answer began with this:

First, if you’re getting anything beyond a form rejection—which you are, as agents or editors have taken time to point out a resonance issue—then you are just riding the subjectivity horse into the next town. Keep querying! This sometimes simply means that one man’s Colour Me Good Benedict Cumberbatch is another man’s The Goldfinch.

sunset-ride-heather-swanPoelle went on to describe some structural issues that also could be contributing to the rejection letters, but I’m sure the person who submitted the question was more interested in Poelle’s first comments, because we need to believe in our own work before we can believe that someone out there will also embrace it.

And so here I go again today…. Continuing the querying process, riding that subjectivity horse into the next town….

 

Mental Health Monday: Refueling

0af53dd512b1b9d1087806c4ab807f6dRunning on empty, so I’m trying to refuel.

Please come back on Wednesday!

Faith on Friday: Flannery O’Connor and the Mother of God

This past December I did a post about Flannery O’Connor that included this quote from A Prayer Journal (published after she died):

I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.

cat-sees-her-lion-reflection1Writers—and maybe musicians and artists and even people in other walks of life—must have a measure of self-confidence in order to attempt a book, or even an essay or a short story or a poem. It takes courage to put your creative efforts out there for all the world to judge. It would be so much easier to work in a field where your daily assignments are black and white. Balance these books. Add these numbers. Repair this engine. But… make up a story from scratch? Or brazenly tell a true one?

O’Connor acknowledges God’s part in her creative work, and yet she surely must have had some degree of “self” confidence to keep on keeping on, in the face of numerous rejections and other discouraging aspects of the writing life. So how does a Christian balance this self-confidence with faith?

Mother Melania, an Orthodox nun who lives in the community of Holy Assumption Monastery in California, says this:

Self-confidence is a much valued trait in our culture…. What is a Christian to make of this? After all, we would be very hard pressed to find any saints in the Church who ever bemoaned their own lack of self-confidence or tried to increase it in their spiritual children. That’s not to say that the saints were not confident people.

And then she goes on to give examples of saints whose courage and faith inspired generations. And then she says:

The different between their confidence and our self-confidence has to do with at least two things—the purpose of this confidence and the person in whom it is placed. The saints had confidence in the goodness and power of God…. We, on the other hand, have a multitude of purposes for our self-confidence—an easier life, more money, increased status… even to do good for our fellows. But if the purpose is not to love God and neighbor, what possible sense does it make to place that confidence in myself?

0793a0fae18b6d8b626bd5f3fb5ddecbToday is the feast day of the Annunciation in the Orthodox Church. We commemorate the event described in Holy Scriptures when the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she would become the Mother of God. I can’t even imagine the confidence it took for this humble young girl to respond with “be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:28). She was facing public humiliation and scorn and disbelief on the part of many. Her life was about to change in ways she could barely imagine. Any plans she had for her future were immediately set aside. Was it “only faith” that allowed her to respond so obediently? I think she also had a measure of confidence—in self and in God. Again, from Mother Melania:

The root word in ‘confidence’ is fides…. ‘faith, trust, confidence; belief, credence; loyalty; honestly; allegiance; promise; security; protection.’… to place our confidence/fides lovingly and humbly in the Lord of the Universe Who willingly died that we might share in His life is an unspeakable privilege, a great adventure, and unimaginable joy. Grant this, O Lord!

I love this video, “Be Done Unto Me.” May it inspire you on this Feast of Annunciation!

Writing on Wednesday: Querying (again) and the Creative Process

bored_writer_mouse_pad-r57595c77cf1c47aea8999335bb66604e_x74vi_8byvr_630I’m bored with my current memoir/essay project. The one I blogged about so enthusiastically here:

The Architecture of Essay vs. Memoir

And here:

Shaping the Chaos

Turns out shaping the chaos is a lot harder than I thought it would be when I set out to organize those 126 pages of previously published work and write new material to tie it together. Maybe I’m not bored, just tired. Partly I think I’m tired from trying to market my novel and my essay collection. Here’s what that work has looked like for the past two months:

For the novel (Cherry Bomb) I’ve queried 29 agents and received 9 rejections. Two agents are now reading the full manuscript, and I haven’t heard back from the other 18. Lots of positive comments in the rejection emails, which softens the blows a bit, but they are, nonetheless, rejections.

For the essay collection (Tangles and Plaques) I’ve queried 27 presses and 2 agents, and I’ve received 7 rejections from presses—some indie, some academic.

QUERYINGJOURNEY

 

 

It’s not that all the rejections are negative—several have been quite positive, with comments to the effect that the writing is good, the subject matter is important, but the timing is bad, as their press just did something similar or doesn’t handle this type of book (essay collection about long distance caregiving for a parent with Alzheimer’s).

The time and creative work involved in the query process zaps my energy away from the writing process. So maybe I need to take a break and refuel. I’m reading three diverse but satisfying books right now, and yesterday I gave myself permission to read for several hours during the middle of the day. It was refreshing. I think I’ll do that more often for a while until I get my writing energy back. It’s hard for a writer (and probably for artists and musicians and others who work from home and set their own schedules) to allow herself these breaks. I have a friend who is a fine artist/painter. She and I have talked about the need for refueling, and how she often spends time just thinking about her work, and that is part of the work itself. I’m going to try to remember that as I slow down for a few days…. But of course there’s always the temptation just to daydream about the beach!

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Mental Health Monday: Joie de vivre!

Susu beachA number of years ago I discovered the wonderful book French Women Don’t Get Fat (published in 2004). The author’s simple but revolutionary (for Americans, anyway) approach to eating—and to life—is something I find myself returning to over and over, at each stage of my life in which I find myself needing a radical return to a mindful lifestyle. It inspired my efforts when starting a 1000-1200-calorie “budget” last fall. Basically it encourages us to enjoy excellent food in very small amounts (tiny, for those of us over sixty) and to exercise regularly and drink lots of water. Simple to understand. Very difficult to execute, at least for me it is.

And so now I find myself six months into this new attempt, having lost 17 pounds and gained back 2 of them, “stuck” as Winnie-the-Pooh was when he ate too much honey and couldn’t get his fanny out of the hole in the tree. My “goal” was to lose 33 pounds (or more—I’ll know when I get there) so I reached the half-way point and hit several walls. Family emergencies. Travel. Holidays. Boredom. Anxiety. All things that can easily derail a diet or any healthy initiative.

Forever Chic coverEnter Tish Jett’s book Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance, which jumped off the shelves of The Hidden Lantern Bookstore in Rosemary Beach, Florida, when I was there last week. My husband and I are going to Paris in May (bucket list item) and I’ve been doing some related reading. A few weeks ago we went out to dinner with our good friends who are going on the trip with us. Tim asked each of us what we were most looking forward to during our ten-day immersion trip in Paris. Some of the answers from the others included art museums and galleries, food, local markets, and the must-see tourist attractions. My answer? French women. I want to sit at a sidewalk café and observe them—their bodies, their hair, their skin, their clothing, the way they walk. This book confirms my interest, and I’m taking in the wisdom from the American author who learned it as she lived in Paris for years and became herself a femme d’un certain age.

I’ll share more from the book in future posts, but for now I’m focusing on some words of wisdom from the first chapter, especially because of my “stuckness” with weight loss right now. And while I want that je ne sais quoi that French women seem to have, losing fifteen to twenty more pounds is in the forefront of that dream for me. Jett reminds us in this first chapter that “discipline will set us free”… and that need for discipline increases with age:

… the difficulty factor has amped up as the forces of the elements, our hormones, and life in general throw additional challenges at us. One of the nutritionists I interviewed noted that menopause requires cutting two hundred fifty calories from daily intake just to keep weight stable.

But French women aren’t thrown by reality—they are pragmatists. As Jett says, “Frenchwomen eat well, drink little, and take the time necessary to perform their serious daily toilette, the ritual ablutions of skin, hair, and body care” (more on some of that in future posts).

So how do French women deal with binge-eating, backsliding from their healthy routines? It seems that American women tend to get depressed and go into self-loathing and more weight-gain when this happens. I find those wolves at my door right now as I have grown a bit weary of my low-calorie routine. I gained another pound while at the beach last week. So how should I look at my situation? Jett says:

And no, discipline does not preclude the occasional flight of fancy. Even the most disciplined Frenchwoman wanders off course from time to time. It’s part of enjoying life to the fullest. Remember that other famous French expression, joie de vivre? How could one possibly have joy in her life if she didn’t allow herself chocolate cake and champagne Exactement.

chocolate fonduExactement! My friend and I walked an hour to an hour and a half each day at the beach, so we got our exercise, and we enjoyed excellent meals and drinks every day, often sitting outdoors at lovely cafes along 30-A, the Gulf coast’s Champs-Elysées, soaking in the fresh air and sunshine along with the martinis, wine, seafood, and yes—chocolate fondue at La Crema, an amazing tapas and chocolate bar in Rosemary Beach. And that was after brunch on the porch overlooking the green at The Pearl—a lovely boutique hotel just across the street. The weight gain wasn’t because of the excellence of the food, but the amount. We were on a four-day vacation, enjoying a month’s worth of food and fun! Now that I’ve returned home (and, interesting timing, entered into the season of Great Lent with its prescribed fasting regimen) I should be able to get back on track, right? And yet I’ve been eating junk—potato chips and Cokes especially—and not enjoying it at all. Jett’s book is reminding me that discipline will free me from this plight. Discipline and joie de vivre!

And so I begin again. With more advice from Jett:

The smallest effort has major rewards, everything from setting a dining table with care—every day—to getting up, getting dressed, and getting out there to see what adventures the new day holds.

When I read those words with my morning coffee, still in my gown and robe, I got up and got dressed and came to the computer to write this post. Next up? Elliptical. Then I’m getting “out there” to run a few errands before driving down to Oxford this afternoon for a 5 p.m. reading at Square Books. My first cousin, Johnny Jones, is editor of a new book about forced integration in our high school in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early seventies. Watch for a future post about Lines Were Drawn, and read this interview with some of the editors. Meanwhile, I’m going to see what adventures the new day holds!

Faith on Friday: Being Known by God

Daphne with Rev. John Wallace, Rector at Apostles By-the-Sea

Daphne with Rev. John Wallace, Rector at Apostles By-the-Sea

Many saints and theologians talk about knowing God. Some say it is the goal of the Christian life, and surely everything along the spiritual journey leads to knowledge of God. The same could be said of loving God. But I’m stuck in a spiritual childhood when it comes to these things—unable to soar to the heights of loving and knowing God. The best I can do, most days, is believe that God loves and knows me. And being loved and being known are enough, for now.

Two things recently reminded me of this. The first was this past Sunday when I visited Apostles by-the-Sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach, Florida. The first words out of the pastor’s mouth were “Jesus loves you.” The authentic smile on his face and the joy in the faces of the people in that small chapel reflected that love to me. His second words were also printed in the Sunday bulletin:

The first thing we’d like you to know is that we love Jesus and we want everyone to know the love and joy of living life in fellowship with him…. People are never quite the same after they encounter Jesus. Some are fed. Some are healed. Some are forgiven. Some get mad! Some are known more deeply than ever before.

I embraced the reality of being known more deeply. And as a first time visitor, at that moment I believed that God loves me, and as we sang hymns and recited Scripture and prayers, I heard my own grownup voice telling God that I loved Him, too.

The second experience was my visit with my mother in the nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi, yesterday. It was so hard to leave Seagrove Beach after four glorious days in my favorite place on earth, and stopping in Jackson to see Mom wasn’t necessarily making the trip home easier. It was just the right thing to do, or as Father Philip Rogers said in his homily at St. John Orthodox Church this past Sunday (I wasn’t there but a friend told me about it), “It’s what we do.” (Something he learned from his mother. I can’t wait to listen to the rest of his homily once it’s posted online.)

Susu Effie St Pat DayAnyway, when I got to the nursing home, Mom was dressed (wearing someone else’s glasses) and in the dining room with the other residents listening to some really good country music. It was Saint Patrick’s Day, so they were serving lots of green refreshments and everyone had on green beads. Mom was smiling and fingering her shiny beads when I pulled up a chair beside her. (The aids can’t find Mom’s glasses and thought these belonged to her. Hopefully their owner isn’t too blind and they’ll sort it out soon.)

“Hi, Mom! It’s Susan. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.” And I gave her a kiss. She always puckers up when she sees my lips approaching hers—and I love that her kissing reflex hasn’t been destroyed by the Alzheimer’s. But so much else is gone. She no longer knows me, and that makes me sad. But then I thought about how important it is that she is known. By me. By God. By the sweet people who work at the nursing home and always smile and say, “Hi, Miss Effie! Oh, look—your daughter is here today!”

MargaritavilleWe clapped (and I sang along) while the musician played and sang “Margaritaville” and I laughed at the irony. I had just driven six hours from the beach to the nursing home to find Jimmy Buffet bringing joy to a roomful of people who would probably never see the beach again in their lifetimes. And yet his music was there. And that music—and the green beads, cookies and punch—were tangible ways in which these people were being known. Being loved.

As I enter in—a few days late—to the Orthodox season of Lent, which began on Monday, I plan to look for ways to see that God loves me and knows me. Participating in last night’s Compline service at St. John helped, as the many readings of Holy Scripture and the beautiful Lenten hymns washed over my soul. And hopefully, as Lent continues until we celebrate Pascha on May 1, I’ll step a little bit closer to the experience of knowing and loving God right back.

Writing on Wednesday: Somehow It Works

412azisJy5LI’m leaving the beach this morning with little time to blog, but I wanted to share a treasure I’m late in discovering…. Peter Taylor’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Summons to Memphis, which I started reading just this week and can’t put down.

The prose is impeccable and the story line is fascinating…. Whether or not you live in Memphis (like me) or Nashville… or anywhere, for that matter.

Since I moved to Memphis in 1988, I didn’t know much of its history, which Taylor fills in nicely, with contrasts to Nashville, the city from which the protagonist and his family (including his son, the narrator, moved in the 1920s.)

As a writer I can’t help but read every book with a critical eye… wondering, for example, how Taylor, as narrator, was privy to conversations between his parents when he, as the narrator wasn’t there. It’s the old argument about third person omniscient point of view. But I wonder if I would have even noticed those issues if they hadn’t been beat into my brain at writing workshops. So I was interested in reading the review by my friend, the author Sonja Livingston on Goodreads:

Hardly any action/plot/scenes, lots of repeated info, a starchy male speaker with a rather straightforward ‘dry’ writer-to-reader delivery, yet, somehow this novel works. It would be easy to slam it as not worthy of its prize, but I choose to appreciate for the way it somehow entertains and informs, despite breaking almost every rule we’re taught about fiction writing.

thYes, somehow it “works.” And won a Pulitzer.

Makes me want to quit worrying about so many “rules” as I write….

Mental Health Monday: Gift(s) from the Sea on Clean Monday

sunset lakeFour days at the beach is a gift, but also somewhat of a tease. It often takes several days to unwind from “city life” when one arrives at a paradise like Seagrove Beach, Florida. In the years 2011-2013 I was blessed to spend one month each year in my own little “writing retreat” alone at this beach. When you know you have several weeks to do everything you want to do—explore, relax, walk, read, write, eat, drink, shop, sleep, sunbathe—you lean into the experience slowly, with no need to hurry to fit everything in. When spending one week here, I can sometimes acclimate in a day or two. But this time I knew I needed to seize the moments as they came.

Susan Daphne beachSharing this experience with a best friend helps. We both seem to cherish the specialness of the trip, beginning with the eight-hour drive with its opportunities for non-stop conversation or relaxed silence, both rich with blessing. We make room for the other person’s wishes—another hour at the beach or drive into Rosemary or Seaside for lunch? Church on Sunday morning or not? We opted for the lovely service at the Apostles by-the-Sea Anglican/Episcopal Church that meets in the town hall at Rosemary Beach yesterday morning.

 

At Apostles by-the-sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach

At Apostles by-the-sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach

The rector gave a wonderful sermon, and the people were welcoming. I couldn’t help looking around at everyone during the service and imagining what their lives were like, living in this paradise. On the Western calendar, it was the fifth Sunday of Lent. This congregation, like all of Western Christendom, is preparing for Palm Sunday and Easter, while we in the Eastern Orthodox Church are just beginning Great Lent today, with “Clean Monday.” I almost envied their place in this annual cycle.

 

Gift from the SeaI always bring books with me to the beach. Ironically, one of the first things I read, today, in one of those books—Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—was this:

The beach is not the place to work, to read, write, or think…. one carries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books…. The books remain unread….

She goes on to describe what she considers to be the gifts she receives from her times at the beach, and how receiving those gifts sometimes means having a receptivity that might be hindered by too much “busyness” like reading and writing and thinking. And yet the book unfurls with wisdom that must have come with some degree of thinking, and at some point she had to put pencil to paper in order for us to have her words with us today.

As my friend and I walked for an hour along the shore Sunday afternoon, listening to the sound of the large waves crashing at our feet (the red flag was out) she commented on how the tide coming in and pulling back out works on her psyche, and I agreed. It has a healing affect. Lindbergh talks about this in her book:

Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.

I love what Lindbergh says about women’s lives, remembering as I read that she was writing this in 1955. And yet much of it is timeless:

With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.

How to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life. Here I am at 65 without children at home or a nine-to-five job I must attend. I have stepped away from most of the volunteer activities that once filled much of my days. My focus during this cycle of my life has become more centered—on marriage, friendships, and writing. My children and grandchildren live in other states, and I only see them several times a year. They are not “distractions” but vital interludes into my routine during this season. I visit my mother in the nursing home once a month, also in another state, and am sometimes “distracted” by the paperwork involved in her care, but the pain of watching Alzheimer’s take her away is a centrifugal force that I feel as strongly as the tide pulling the ocean’s water away from my legs.

The problems of remaining balanced and strong, which Lindbergh also addresses, linger in my mind today. The book kept me up late into the night and early into this morning, as I experienced a rare sleepless night. Finally around 2 a.m. I walked outside and the stars and the moon on the beach took my breath away. I rarely see the stars living the city. And there it was again—the sound of the waves crashing and the tide pulling and pulling and pulling. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, allowing it to pull whatever it was that needed to leave my brain so that I could sleep. I’ll close this post with the last words I read before returning to bed:

I want first of all… to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.

after sunset

 

Faith on Friday: Kneel and Kiss the Ground

This coming Sunday is known as “Cheesefare Sunday” or “Forgiveness Sunday” in the Orthodox Church. It’s the day before “Clean Monday,” the official start of Great Lent. Our parish (and many others) has a tradition of asking and giving forgiveness to everyone during the service called Forgiveness Vespers. We actually thread around the outside of the nave facing each person and saying “Please forgive me” and receiving the words “God forgives and I forgive” or something similar, followed by a hug. And then the process continues until everyone present has exchanged a very physical, verbal and spiritual kiss of peace. (Read a nice article about this service by Frederica Mathewes-Green here.)

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Each year my experience at Forgiveness Vespers is very different and very personal, marking spiritual landmarks in my life. I can remember evenings many years ago when I was so distraught over my sins that I fell prostrate on the floor in front of several people, asking their forgiveness during this rite. That’s not a reflection on my piety, but truly a gift from God that was needful at the time. But I can also remember at least one year, and maybe more, when I didn’t go to Forgiveness Vespers, intentionally avoiding the opportunity to give forgiveness. I was withholding it from certain people, and so I entered the Lenten season with a hard heart. I don’t ever want to do that again.

And yet I will miss the communal kiss of peace at St. John Orthodox Church this coming Sunday, as I’ll be at the beach with a friend. I don’t think I’m running away—the dates of our trip just happened to conflict with the beginning of Lent. But forgiveness is always a messy venture for me, and perhaps for others. It’s not cut and dry, black and white, one and done. It’s a process.

Father Stephen Freeman writes about it in a recent blog post, “Forgiveness—the Hardest Love of All.” One of his suggestions really hit home to me:

Do not struggle in a small way but throw yourself into forgiveness.

Throw yourself into forgiveness. He’s speaking specifically about forgiving people who have hurt us or those we love and haven’t acknowledged that wound. They haven’t asked for forgiveness. I can see how one can only achieve this by God’s grace and throwing ourselves into it. How can we do that?

CrimePunishmentIn another post, Father Stephen writes about the advice given to Raskolnikov, the axe-murderer in Crime and Punishment. Sonya the prostitute tells him:

Go now, this minute, stand in the crossroads, bow down, and first kiss the earth you’ve defiled, then bow to the whole world, on all four sides, and say aloud to everyone: ‘I have killed!’

The spiritual concept of each of us taking responsibility for the sins of the world—in imitation of Christ—comes into play with Sonya’s advice. Perhaps I will find the grace to hear her words and act on them while I’m at the beach this Sunday, as Father Stephen says:

We take a burden far greater than Raskolnikov’s into Great Lent. Bow down, kiss the earth you have defiled, then bow to the whole world, on all four sides, and say aloud: “Forgive me!”

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Maybe I’ll make those bows on the beach. Or maybe I’ll make them in the privacy of my heart, or with acts of kindness that God makes available to me in the coming weeks of Great Lent. As Rumi says, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” One of my favorite music CDs is Kris Delmhorst’s “Strange Conversation.” I especially love “Everything is Music,” (adapted from Rumi) where she says:

Stop talking now, open up the window
The one right there in the middle of your heart
Give us your hands, sit down in this circle
You know you got no need to keep yourself apart

Today you wake up sad and empty, don’t go back to sleep.
There’s a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Writing on Wednesday: Genre-Bending in Oxford

Maude Schuyler Clay discussing her photography at today's presentation

Maude Schuyler Clay discussing her photography at today’s presentation

For hump-day of my birthday week I took a day trip to Oxford (Mississippi) to attend a presentation by two talented women: the poet Ann Fisher-Wirth and the photographer Maude Schuyler Clay. You can read more about “Mississippi: A Collaborative Project” here. The presentation was at the Gammill Gallery at the Center for Southern Studies (Barnard Observatory) where the exhibit will be up for several more weeks.

Ann was a speaker at a writing workshop I attended several years ago, and I’ve enjoyed keeping up with her and her poetry ever since.  You can read a post I did after one of her readings here:

“When You Come to Love”

I recently purchased a large “coffee table” book of Maude’s work—Mississippi History—and I own several books of Ann’s poetry, so I was excited to see/hear their collaboration. Sadly, the slide projector wasn’t working at the venue, so we couldn’t view Maude’s photos as Ann read her work, but we were able to view the exhibit in the adjacent room after the presentation.

 

Ann Fisher-Wirth

Ann Fisher-Wirth

During the Q&A I asked Ann whether she considered her poems in this collection to be ekphrastic (poetry written about a prior text or work of art). I first learned about ekphrastic poem about six years ago at a workshop led by Scott Cairns. His definition at the time was this:

Ekphrastic poetry should give voice to an artifact… making meaning with narrative about something the piece of art might be saying.

Ann said it was more than that, because it wasn’t just a reflection on a piece of art (in this case a photograph) but it was more of a fictional story-telling exercise. For each photograph, she made up characters that could be (but weren’t) in the photograph, or got inside an imaginary viewer’s head and reflected from other points of view. It’s really kind of genre-bending what she and Maude have done together, and I love it. They’re hoping someone will publish the collaboration as a book some day.

Listening to Ann read and looking at Maude’s photographs inspired me to view art in a different way. And yes, maybe I’ll try my hand at a little genre-bending poetry the next time I see something that inspires me—a photograph, a painting, a sketch, a statue, a building. We’re going to Paris in May, so that should provide plenty of opportunities!

Delta Delta Delta house on Ole Miss campus

Delta Delta Delta house on Ole Miss campus

So thankful for the chance to get out of the rain (it was only cloudy in Oxford) and enjoy a delicious lunch at Bouré and some shopping on the Square. Found the perfect lightweight raincoat at Neilson’s. It always inspires me just to be in that town so full of literature and art and beauty.

And a little walk down memory lane … I parked right in front of the Tri Delta house, where I was a member 45-46 years ago! I watched a few girls come and go from the house (it was lunch time) and if it had been a Thursday, I might would blossoms Ole Miss campushave dropped in and asked if they still served grill cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on Thursdays! (Or was it Tuesdays?)

Even with the clouds, the campus was showing signs of spring and it was 73 degrees. What a great day.

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