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.

 

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Good Letters: Jars of Clay

I’ve got a post up today on Good Letters, the fine blog offered by that Image Journal magazine I like so much. If you’ve got a moment take time to check it out. In light of the heat the band (and front man, Dan Haseltine in particular) took a few weeks ago over a Twitter discussion on marriage equality I just wanted to check in with my friend, Stephen Mason. He delivers some lovely words and sage thinking. Hope you’ll give it a read! 20130614-jarsofclay-600x-1371228007-300x240

The problem with poetry…

Last week I was fortunate to have an essay I’d written picked up and published at Art House America’s blog. This week I had the opportunity to do a Q & A with poet, Scott Cairns for Image Journal’s Good Letters blog. This morning as I drove through the alley that takes me to and from the safety of my garage I saw the broken glass that littered the sidewalk just where that alley meets the road. There was another shooting last week here. It was at around 3am and it involved known gang members, as is usual for shootings in Logan Square.

It was after another such shooting a few months ago that I wrote the essay that was picked up by Art House America. This one was a few blocks away. The scattered safety glass glimmered on the blacktop and spilled onto the sidewalk. After the driver was shot the car must have hit a bordering tree. Police tape flapped in the wind and I thought, does poetry matter here?

I went home a little shaken, not because of the shooting but because of the idea that perhaps my love of poetry was frivolous, extraneous and maybe even elitist. I have the luxury of reading poetry. I have had the privilege of studying it, of writing it, of discussing it with smart people in many beautiful places. But here, in the broken glass and police line tape, does poetry matter here?

The essay for Art House served to assure me that poetry was more than frivolous for me, it has been life blood in all of the difficult times in my life. My family, though smart folks, were not intellectuals. We did not sit around reading for fun. We did not discuss or debate literature or poetry. We were as ordinary and maybe a little more troubled than most of our neighbors but my parents valued higher education and pushed for it. They instilled the idea in my siblings and myself that going to college was an honor and a necessity in a time when going to college was not a certainty for most kids of my generation. I had to work hard to make it to college. I had to work hard to pay for it. I had to work hard to keep my grades up and keep my meager scholarship and aid money.

But unlike the kids in my neighborhood, I did not have to worry whether I’d live long enough to do any of those things.

Sometimes I think about being able to have a short talk with the gangbanger boys I see in my neighborhood. I don’t see them as dangerous or degenerate. They are all someone’s son. Many of them are the ages of my own children. I consider asking if poetry matters to them. I want to ask about their hopes and dreams, about their family lives. I want to ask them to write a poem, to imagine this poem would be read someday far in the future by anthropologists and literature professors and young people who want to know about life in this time, in this place. What would they say, I wonder.

And I just want to understand, not so that I can fix it, because when my white savior instincts kick in (and they do) I try hard to remember that these kids are not a problem to be fixed. They are someone’s son. I don’t have the solve them so that I feel safer in my neighborhood or so that I feel better about my own worth. I want to understand so that I can avoid being part of the problem.

While I will profess my undying love of poetry to all who will listen (obviously) in moments like this, the day after another shooting, another loss of life, it is sometimes difficult to know that poetry matters here, where the alley meets the road.

friends…

Essayists, like poets, are born and not made, and for one worth remembering, the world is confronted with a hundred not worth reading. Your true essayist is, in a literary sense, the friend of everybody.

William Ernest Henley

I can’t say for sure that I was born an essayist yet I sincerely hope one day to be one worth remembering. In any case, I like this idea of being the friend of everybody. That resonates. So, hello friends. Happy monday.

fotos: friends

308422_10150422813081667_1626045117_nI have a two-part interview of one Sarah Masen up on the Image Journal “Good Letters” blog this week. It led me to this foto and I felt all kinds of sad, grief stuff for having left Nashville and the tremendous beautiful people we are now missing and then I was able to circle around the block and park in front of grateful once again, thankfully. I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the pieces on Good Letters and ultimately to listen to (and purchase) Sarah’s work. She really is remarkable and I’m not just saying that.

 

the last supper…

The spread in the calendars divides me this year from my “western leaning” Christian friends and family. On this day, the Gregorian calendar informs us that it is Good Friday. In about 5 weeks the Julian calendar will issue its own proclamation of Good Friday and I’ll be in the throes of Holy Week finally. In between I’ll be scrounging and stockpiling marshmallow peeps and waiting.

I ran across this poem today though by Ranier Maria Rilke and thought I’d post it for those of you who are embracing the dark and the hope-filled this weekend. Our calendars may not agree but the sense of what we’re doing here, why we follow this narrative and not another, on that point at least we agree.

The Last Supper

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

[On seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, Milan 1904.]
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
Rainer Maria Rilke

summer…

It’s so very far from a summer day here in Chicago’s March. In the midwest we live under the constant threat that winter is just never that far away from us and can blow back in at any moment. It holds us hostage all during January but in February we begin to question it, we begin to sass back our captors a bit. In March we put on our winter coats with a grudge and sigh aloud when brief bouts of warm air greet us in place of icy blasts. Still, we know we’re not far from winter’s iron grip. It’s Chicago. We do what we must.

But a few days ago I was reminded of  a poem I love most by Mary Oliver. I was reminded not because it’s titled “The Summer Day” but because so often I feel held captive by fear and doubt, no matter the weather and Mary Oliver reminds me in this brief poem that we are all temporary here. I have only this one wild and precious life. I cannot let myself be too often bundled up and hiding away.

Enjoy this today!

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?