New Year’s, Zombies, Lamentations

I set out today to write about New Year’s Day and the blank wall it seems to offer each year. I sat and stared at that blank wall, thinking, “Well, there’s that then. Time to get on with the big bright shiny blank new year.”

It’s not really blank, you know. There are variations in the paint, chips here and there, maybe a faded handprint, if I look real close. I might spend too much time looking at it real close, finding the variations, finding the handprint. I forget, in those times of looking close, that the wall isn’t the thing. I stare at that blank wall for a long time, thinking about how to fill it, thinking about what to hang, how to paint, putting in a window or a fireplace. How hard would it be? How expensive? How long will it take? How messy?

When I look into the start of the new year, sometimes it’s a blank wall I see. Other times it is a dark and deep hole in the ground. How deep is that? I wonder to myself. I drop some coins into it. I listen for the plink into water or thud into the dirt, at the bottom. It does not always come. I peer into the dark a long time, waiting for my eyes to adjust, making out anything possible, anything moving, anything bearing just a little light.

I woke up today cranky, and it was not because I stayed up too late, or at least, I do not think that’s the reason. I moved through my familiar shuffle to the coffee pot. I greeted the now fully-waked children, who were already deep into the new box of cereal. I poured out a little prayer as the coffee dripped into my cup. Morning always seems promising. The first coffee bolsters that promise. The “New Year” catches me in a current, and I am riding it– so far, so good. But it doesn’t last, and my cranky mood takes over. What is it? I think to myself.

I know what it is. I remember it now as I sit to examine the sharp tone of my reprimands, the exasperation when I see the stack of dishes in the sink already, the tightness in my chest when, despite my best intentions, I find myself comparing my “New Year’s Eve” to the pictures I see on the computer, my last year to everyone else’s last year. It’s a new year. Why am I still so far from the goal?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
-Lamentations 3:22-23

After the second cup of coffee, a closing of the social media windows and maybe one more round of “why” I make a slow descent into prayer. I don’t want to go. I’d rather stare at that blank wall. I’d rather stare into the deep well in the ground. It’s astounding how fruitful that promise of the blank wall or the deep dark hole in the ground seems and yet, we both know Henri Nouwen is right when he tells us about the descent into the heart through prayer, don’t we?

“To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seing, within you.”
— Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart

The start of the calendar New Year is a trap for me. It sets up a false expectation that change came in the night while the fireworks went off while the clock hands moved past midnight while my children slept soundly in their beds. Resolutions are made whether I meant to make them or not. Force of habit. Promises, not kept from last year, resurrect like zombies rising, arms outstretched and groaning. Remember me? They say, with voices that are eerily familiar from years of repetition. But it’s a trap. The idea that I woke to a blank wall or a deep well that formed while I slept and that the world somehow “reset” is flawed, at best. I just don’t buy it. I cannot buy it. It’s too expensive a cost because it is such a large purchase every year.

But the descent into the heart– not a deep staring into the dark once a year, but a daily, “new every morning” kind of looking, that’s an investment worth making, no matter what day of the year it is. The blank wall will be there, but great is His faithfulness. The deep dark holes in the floor will open up, but great is His faithfulness. The turning of time on the calendar will continue, along with the many and varied ways I can showcase my failings, but great is His faithfulness. Great is His faithfulness.

Nearly Orthodox #AmazonGiveaway

It’s the time of year when the kids are headed back to school and I am headed straight for my writing chair. I’m set to deliver a draft of my new book in the next couple of months and that got me to thinkin’ that it’d be nice if I gave away a copy of Nearly Orthodox to some lucky duckie.

Are you that lucky duckie? Well check it and see. All you need to do is click the image below and give it a shot.

Don’t cost ya nothing 😉

Nearly Orthodox #amazongiveaway

Enter to Win!

Monk in the world…

I’m pleased to have a piece up on Abbey of the Arts this week for their “Monk in the World” guest series. I hope you’ll take a moment to check it out and to browse the rest of the site. It’s a sweet group of folks and there’s a whole catalogue of wisdom there!

Monk in the World

In other news…

In lieu of posting about the recent elections, my predictions about aliens landing or the zombie apocalypse, my pre-occupation with donuts or badass unicorns, I am just letting you know that the Englewood Review of Books has posted a nice write up on Nearly Orthodox.

That, my friends, was one long sentence. Sorry.

In any case, I hope you will take a few moments to check out the kind review from Amy Gentile –

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And if you haven’t had a chance to pick up the book, maybe this would be a good time to do so…

You can find it at Amazon of course, but if you’re more comfortable with the independent spirit, consider picking it up at Eighth Day Books:

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Or directly from the publisher:

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As always, I am grateful for you!

Weekly thoughts: unrelated

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks over here at Carlson Central. We’ve had illness and a return to health on a few fronts. We’ve had battles of wills and pestilence and dust bunnies. I think I was the clear winner on the first two and the sore loser on the third. I just cannot reach far enough under the bed to really do a thorough job. That’s the truth. I’ve tried swiffers and vacuums cleaners and brooms with stuff tied to it. The last time I used some dusting spray stuff that assured me that the dust would be attracted like a magnet. That was a damned lie.

I can see the piled up dust under my bed every time I come up the steps. I feel like I have two options in this case, ignore it or buy a dust ruffle and forget it’s there.

I freaking hate dust ruffles.

It might be the word “ruffle.” I only like ruffles if they refer to potato chips. I freaking love potato chips.

This morning I put my oldest son on a city bus with explicit directions to get off at a certain street, turn right and walk one block to his school. Yesterday I rode with him, I tried to be sure to point out markers for him to follow, what to listen for on the speakers, words of wisdom. He assured me that it all sunk in. I asked if he wanted me to ride with him again today but he declined. 14 years old, too cool for school.

I was uneasy though so I told him I’d follow the bus today and make sure he got off at the right stop. Just for today. It’s his first time riding a city bus alone, give me a break. I’m entitled to be a little overprotective, right? So as I rode behind the bus I realized two things at the same time, my back right tire was low (again) which means the patch on it is coming loose and second, I didn’t have my cell phone with me. I thought, “I’m sure it’ll be ok…” and I just did like Elsa would do and I let it go. Mostly. I drove slowly, avoiding potholes so that the tire would hold up juuuuuust a little longer and I pulled up next to the bus at the stop Chet was meant to take.

I breathed a sweet sigh looking at his face through the window. He didn’t see me. I didn’t realize it was his stop in that moment because I was caught up in this feeling of letting go and such. He didn’t realize it was his stop either, apparently. When the bus and my car reached the expressway a few blocks later I was yelling in my car, alone, “GET OFF THE BUS! GET OFF THE BUS!” and scouring the stops to see where he’d finally exit. It was here that Chet did indeed find his way off the bus. I was stuck a few cars back, watched him dial his phone in a nearly calm manner and look around to get his bearings. I imagined my phone ringing back in my other coat at home. I considered whether to cut around some cars to reach him. I considered honking to get his attention and we sat there, hanging in the tension of that “what now” moment. I was close enough to see his brow furrow, to see him turning left and then right and I saw the moment melt from his face then when he spotted my car. He broke into a wide smile.

When he climbed into the car he said, “I missed my stop!” and then he laughed. “Were you worried?” I asked. He shook his head. “Nah. I’d have figured it out” and I believed him but I still drove him the four blocks to school because he’s my first boy and he’s a daydreamer and he’s growing up. It’s hard to let go. It really is.

Next week I do my first book reading at Parnassus Books in Nashville. It’s important I tell you this in case you’re not already subjected to my daily, maybe hourly harping on it on Twitter or Facebook. I’m an equal opportunity harper. If you’re local I hope you’ll come! You can find the info here:

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https://www.facebook.com/events/355481744600509/

That’s all I got for you fine people today…cling to each other well this week. Time is fleeting 🙂

Share the love…

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It’s a full on social media blitz over here at Angela’s Book Release Headquarters.

I promise I will do my level best to keep it to a dull roar on weekends and after 10pm on school nights but for the balance of the time I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit crazy for a while. I apologize in advance if that’s annoying. I intend to post more about my love of doughnuts and pre-occupation with the zombie apocalypse as time marches on so that’s something to look forward to, right?

For those of you who do not already know I’ve written my first full length book and the fine folks at Ancient Faith Publishers have decided to put it out there into the world. For a writer who has been pitching books like a crazy person for the last 10 years (me) this is kind of a big deal. So now that the hard work of writing the thing is done we now enter into the hard work of telling everyone I know that I’ve done this thing and ask politely if anyone within earshot would like to take a look and maybe pick up a copy for their own perusal.

The book, Nearly Orthodox: On being a modern woman in an ancient tradition is best described as spiritual memoir. It began as a detailing of my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy after a lot of years of wandering from my roots but it’s more than that, struggle, redemption, humor, maybe a little angst-ridden ranting. It’s a book for anyone who has been on a road they did not intend to take. Lonesome pilgrims, sign in here. Fellow travelers, represent.

If you go to the publishers website you can even read a full chapter to whet your appetite, how great is that? If you like your books the Amazon way you can grab it up there as well by clicking here: NEARLY ORTHODOX. You say you like eBooks? No problem! Go here and get it! The point is, the book is here and it’s waiting for you. All of you. No matter what your walk, your journey, you ice cream flavor preference.

Now, the best possible way to get the book into the world is for me to reach out to you lovely friends, family, faithful readers to let you know it’s out there. If you like what you see the crucial part is that I need to ask you to do this really important thing.

Share.

Are you on Facebook? Put a link to the book on your timeline-  http://store.ancientfaith.com/nearly-orthodox/

Are you on Twitter? Write a quick tweet to say you’re excited about the book and post the link- http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Instagram? How about posting a picture of the book when it arrives in your hands? And tell ’em to go here to buy a copy- http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Google+ is your bag? Simple. Post this link and some words of affirmation- http://store.ancientfaith.com/nearly-orthodox/

Other unnamed social media sources? No problem…post this link, friends! How easy is that? http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Online social interaction not your jam? Are you a live and in person type? Easy peasy. Get you a book and carry it around. That stunning cover art ought to open all kinds of doors. Then you can pull out a pen and just write “Nearly Orthodox by Angela Doll Carlson” on their palm. Well, okay, maybe write it on a piece of paper to avoid awkwardness.

In any case, what’s going to make this thing happen for this untried first time author is your participation. It’s just like your kindergarten teacher always said, “It’s good to share.”

Thanks in advance my dear, wonderful, kind pals! Your support over the years has been a true gift.

-Ang

Slings and Arows

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
-Shakespeare “Hamlet”

I guess I knew that putting a book out might be risky on some level. Bad reviews are bound to happen because honestly, it’s not likely that everyone is going to like my work. In fact, there may be people who hate it. I like to think that getting a bad review is a way to become a better writer for my future work. I take feedback seriously. The trick is to not let it define me or completely shut me down I suppose.

But this is different.

I got a bad review this past week but it was not about the book. It was personal. I know the commenter. She was not interested in shrouding herself in anonymity and for that I suppose I should be grateful, though even if she had been anonymous I’m pretty sure I would have known who it is. At the same time, I confess, I had no idea this person hated me to this degree. I know that we ended our friendship and that she was unhappy with how things went down while we were friends. I thought we’d talked it through and at least reached some stasis, but given the libelous nature of her “review” for my book, I guess I was wrong.

It happens.

What’s hard is that all I could think to do was comment in return asking if she’d even read the book, asking why she still held this much anger towards me, asking why none of our shared friends ever mentioned that she believed me to be so very evil and abusive. I did not comment immediately. It seemed like a losing proposition and a poor way to dialogue about it.

And you know, the reality is that I don’t really want to be in relationship with her at this point. To engage and try to understand or smooth over or make it right, especially with someone who is so hell-bent on making sure people know the depth of some fabricated deceitfulness feels like walking into quicksand and I’m not willing to do that. Even so, in the midst of all the slings and arrows I do wish her well. I do hope the best for her.

A bad review of my work is an opportunity. I can always learn and study and revise in the future in order to become a better writer. Bad reviews of my work are words on a page, from strangers or near strangers. I can place those into the appropriate categories when they come (and they will come.) But an attack on my character is different, it’s personal and it’s ugly and the accusations are false. I begin to wonder if I ought to look deeper at what happened in our short friendship. I begin to question and worry. I wonder if I should counter the charges. I wonder if I should try to make a plea for peace. I wonder if there some hidden split in me, a Mr Hyde to my  Dr Jeckyll, that I do not recall or realize.

In the end there is really nothing I can do about it except to trust that my work speaks for itself, that my true character shines through and maybe too, that Amazon will expose it as a personal attack rather than a legitimate critique of a book I’ve poured so much of my self into over these last three years.  Time will tell.

Vacation…all I ever wanted.

I can’t even hear the word vacation without launching into my best Belinda Carlisle. If that reference is lost on you then I’ve kindly attached the video for that GoGo’s song. Watch and learn, grasshoppers. It’ll stick to you forever.

you’re welcome.

In any case, I’m headed out on vacation this week. So if you see or hear less of me then that’s the reason, though I am not opposed to you believing instead that I’ve been abducted by benevolent aliens who are teaching me the secrets of the universe. Good sci fi logic and storytelling insists that I’ll forget all of those secrets when I’m returned safe and sound next week to Chicago. Sorry about that, humanity.

In the meantime, I will entrust the internet to you all. You can have a few friends over but NO UNDERAGE DRINKING and try to keep the music down. I’ll be at Lyric Springs, walking the overgrown trails, breathing in the fresh warm air and splashing in the pool if the forecasted rain lets up.

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The magical mystery tour!

This morning when I stirred my coffee I picked up the wrong spoon. Instead of the nice clean spoon I’d taken from the drawer moments before I picked up a spoon left on the counter from dinner last night. Somehow it had missed the last train into the dishwasher before I went to bed and so it sat there all night, lonely and covered in spaghetti sauce. I stirred my coffee without realizing the error. I walked to my comfy morning ritual chair without noticing and I took that first sip, maybe even the second sip in utter bliss. The third sip revealed my error. Nothing like aged tomato sauce chunks in a person’s coffee first thing. I mean that.

All of this has nothing to do with my post this morning. I just needed to tell someone. Thanks for that.

Now, to the business at hand- my new friend, Cathy Warner has invited me to be a part of what she calls a The Magical Mystery Blog Tour 2014. I was very excited to be offered a seat on that tour. I love the Beatles. Imagine my surprise when I read her actual post this morning and found no evidence of the Fab 4, no walruses or no Strawberry Fields. It was not quite as bad as discovering the floating chunks of tomato sauce in my coffee but I’ll confess my initial disappointment that John, Paul, George and Ringo were not a part of this tour.

In any case, I moved past that because I really do like Cathy Warner an awful lot. Her writing is lovely. Her blog is beautiful and intimate even though it’s not psychedelic like the cover of that Beatles album that we shall no longer name in this post. It’s still pretty far out, man.

The tour itself is about connection. Cathy answers some questions offered up by her friend, poet Cary Taylor and then Cathy pays it forward by tagging other writers that she likes a whole lot. Thus explains how I’m involved in a blog tour (that has no walruses, strawberry fields or LSD inspired art work. Sorry.)

So, now that I’ve gotten a fresh cup of coffee (that has no chunks of tomato sauce floating) here’s my contribution to the cycle of questions and answers that make up this tour today:

What am I working on?

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If you’re my friend you know (because I have been pounding you over the head with this information) that I just finished a book, “Nearly Orthodox: On being a modern woman in an ancient tradition.” The book has just been published by Ancient Faith Publishers and now is wending its way through the world of books. I guess in theory I’m not “working” on that anymore as far as writing is concerned.

So, in light of that I’ll change my answer to say that I’m working on research for my next book, which is a sort of “theology of the body” for normal people. Most of the work out there about how we see our bodies (for religious folks in particular) is tough to decipher. I’d like to write a book we can all cling to when the couch is too comfy and the pastries are calling.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

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When I began to write the book, Nearly Orthodox I wanted to tell the story of my conversion but I couldn’t just tell that story because I’m not a single story. I’m a collection of stories. All of us are collections of stories. We are the product of all the years we’ve lived and all the stories we’ve created. So, instead of telling you about my conversion to Orthodoxy I wrote the stories that explain why I’m so neurotic. It’s far more entertaining, and, it’s all true. I thought maybe it’d be like therapy and help me not be so neurotic but I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen. You’d have to ask my husband to find out, I guess.

I’m not sure that answers the question but it’s been a rough start this morning, with the coffee and blog tour shake up and all. Forgive me.

Why do I write what I do?

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Remember that part of me being neurotic? That’s why I write. Online quizzes on Buzzfeed and the like tell me I’m a verbal processor which means I need to talk about things to understand them. That was driving the grocery store clerks crazy so instead I put my creative writing degree to a good use and began to write about things instead. I have to write it down to understand myself and that’s why I write what I do.

I also write poetry which is what happens when too many words on a page make me want to dig my fingernails into my skin. Poetry is a way for me to make beautiful little tasty morsels instead of a full on Cake Boss cake wreck. That’s not to say the kitchen is any less a disaster area whilst creating those tasty morsels. The process is always messy. I could really use a cleaning lady.

How does my writing process work?

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Remember that disaster area and cleaning lady comment?It’s safe to say that that’s an apt metaphor. I wish I could emulate the sort of writer who can just sit quietly each morning, soak in sun rays, sip coffee (without tomato chunks) and summon the muse but it’s messy. My best ideas come when I have no chance of writing them down. It’s like the best conversations my kids want to have with me come at bedtime when my brain cells are gone and my attention span is depleted. I have to force myself to find time to put it down someplace and hope I can decipher my notes later. It always reminds me of that episode from Seinfeld when he wakes up late at night, laughing, scribbles down a note for a joke then spends the rest of the episode trying to figure his handwriting. When he finally does, the joke is not funny at all. I feel some days I spend a whole episode reaching for that great idea I thought I had and some days I never do reach it or I reach it and realize it’s all about the flaming globes of Sigmund but some days there’s gold and those are the best days.

What’s next for this tour?

Well, this is where things get really interesting because I’m tagging my pals for posts. You’ll get to click on over and see posts from my friends, Karen Beattie and Lance Burson.

Karen has written a beautiful book about loss and grief and gifts in the process. I hope you’ll check it out and while you’re at it, read her, a lot. She’s awesome.
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My pal, Lance has written a few books over the years but his latest is here. Also, check out his blog if for no other reason than that picture of Brad Pitt. Why not?

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If that doesn’t do it for you, you can also read him on LeftyPop, his hard left leaning, news gathering, opinion spouting website.

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Look for their posts in the coming week or so and continue on this magical mystery tour! It’s a virtual pub crawl of awesome, except I’ll tell you right now there is no actual beer being given out. It’s BYOB, people.

 

Book release….Nearly Orthodox!

So, this is cool. I got the release date for my book, Nearly Orthodox.

If all things go according to plan and the zombie apocalypse doesn’t hit you’ll be able to pick up a copy of Nearly Orthodox on or around July 31st. You’ll have plenty of time to sit on the beach, sipping a mai tai and drinking in the finer points of my conversion story.

But it’s not just a conversion story.

It’s something more, details and memories, moments, insights, confusions and rants. While I was writing I kept thinking about who might read the book. I was thinking about the people I know who will pick it up because they love me and want to support my work (thanks, Mom!) But I was also thinking about the person who has no idea who I am and no real care about conversion or Eastern Orthodoxy, the one who sees it on a shelf and likes the picture on the front or the idea of it or the title or the genre of memoir overall.

I tried to weave the words so that anyone, regardless of religious leanings, gender, position or intention might find something in it, something they would read and find some connection to, some “yes” or “me too” or maybe just a slow nod, a remembrance, a prayer, a sigh, because that’s the point of it all anyway.

We’re all in the daily struggle of finding meaning in our lives, not the wide grand struggle we see on television or in the movies but in the momentary search for meaning- in this breath, in this batch of cookies, in this load of laundry, in this spreadsheet, in this commute, in this blog post. I hope I wrote it well. I hope you find yourself in it and I hope we can connect there, in the words.

More to come…