Last night was the Oscars. I had seen if not all of the movies nominated at least some of them so I was interested in more than the fashions of the evening. I was pulling for a few underdogs and personal favorites. Yes, I loved Spiderman, Into the Spiderverse getting Best Animated Film of the evening. There were plenty of moments I loved and a few things that seemed just right. I don't have a big must have for the Oscars as an evening. Although, over the years I've always had a few moments that stood out to me. Usually, that was the acceptance speeches. The part that many people think of us blah, blah, blah yeah we know - they thanked their Mama and their families and the director and the guy that held the ladder for their 7th grade school play. But to me - that's the moment that counts the most. The thank you's. And the moment where someone gets their due although I'm sorry for the people who didn't. I'm still stinging over Bill Murray not getting the award for Lost In Translation so I feel it when the hurt comes. But - back to Last night.
My highlight Oscar's moment was when Lady Gaga won for best original song. I loved when she said "There is a discipline to passion." Then she went on to speak to people sitting at home about getting back up after they've been knocked down. Once, twice, three times. She said that she had worked very, hard to get where she is. I believe her. Because art is work.
There may be days that are gloriously inspired but even those require finger to the keys, pencil to sketchpad, smile to face. For all of us. All the creative work that we do and I include the art of being human in that. Maybe, mostly in that. But then there was that word - passion. It's a buzzword of mine. When it comes up, I listen. When I say it, I mean it. When I live my life from that passionate place I am spot on, following my true north, and answering the call that is my life. But it still requires me showing up. Although I am extremely passionate about the novel in progress that I am STILL two weeks away from finishing - it requires that other word, Discipline. That word is not one of my favorites in my workbook of words. I've tried it on for size from time to time. For instance - little known fact - for awhile in my life I was what I'd consider a gym-rat. Funny thing that. Day one, day two, day three - not so much of a difference. Day sixty-two, day ninety-one, day two hundred - mind blown what you can accomplish. What things can emerge, change, develop - find their way to completion.
I've always been good on the lock-down. The retreat. The all or nothing. Today -we will move that mountain over there and put it over here. OK. Good deal. Let's go move a mountain. I'm in. But instead if you say to me - today - we are going to go over there with this little shovel and move one shovel of dirt to this spot to that one - I'm out. I'm not a one shovel a day kind of girl. It's why I don't like housework. Because most of it has to be done everyday. Some. A little. Everyday. I don't mind Spring cleaning and painting the shutters and working hard for days or weeks on end. But every, single, day. A little bit. Where you have to get up and do it again. What is this but some strange turn the wheel insanity. It's like saying River, do you want to drive to Clarksville, Tennessee? No, I do not Sam I Am. But hey - River? Do you want to get in the car and drive insanely across the country so that we can watch the sun drop and set into the Pacific. Yes! I'm in.
Back to Gaga. And to Divine Timing because that was in the title up there somewhere.
I have a new book coming out April 2. (The sneak preview kick-off party is at Parnassuss Books Friday March 29 at 6:30 and the whole world is invited.) That strange, peculiar little, genre-busting book is about being a southerner, a novelist, about believing in signs and wonders and it looks like it just appeared from thin air. No book. Ta-da! Book!
But it was actually four years or more in the writing. One draft. The editor liked it and said it just needs a re-write. I rewrote it. The editor liked it and said it just needed a slight tightening and a rewrite. I went through some life changes and when I returned to that draft I didn't like any of it. I threw out the entire book. The whole thing. I sat down and wrote a different book. The editor loved it. And, said it needed a rewrite to just clarify a few things. I rewrote it. Then line edits. It amounts to - a lot of work but it's the work I was born to do. I'm a storyteller. But I can't just lie in bed and the stories find their way to the page. In spite of the fact that the new novel runs through my mind twelve hours a day - it doesn't get the words to you unless I write them down.
If you are a writer, an artist, painter, musician, songwriter, toy train maker, then your work is the same. We must return to the space, the place, the moment, the studio, the sunbeam whatever it is that is the gym of our creating. For a little while in my life I was that girl lifting weights and running on a treadmill six days a week in the gym. That was discipline. For a number of years (not one but many) I said a prayer for a stranger everyday and most days I told someone they were my stranger. That's a different kind of discipline. We'll call that one - inspiration.
What I'd like to live is a passionately, inspired, disciplined life. To realize that the word discipline doesn't distract from the passion because I can't stand the idea that something - anything - would water down my passion.
When Gaga stood up there and said those words I realized, Yeah, when you are as passionate as I am about story, it takes a certain amount of discipline to contain and direct the fire, so that the power ends up where it's meant to be. Maybe, and here's a crazy thought, the more passion present, the more discipline required.
Let me try to connect that Divine Timing thing.
Here's a story of me finding a book at a used book store that had been cast aside. Just lying there. A really old library book from another state. No doubt headed to the trash bin. But when I saw it I knew it was mine. That little free book. Something I wouldn't have bought, ordered, picked up or even read if a friend had pressed it into my hands and said read this. I'd have thought - nope, too old, too outdated, too conservative. Not my cup of Christian - thanks - I'll get my cup filled over here.
The book I found?- Harry Emersons Foskick's The Meaning of Prayer. It was first published in 1949 by - get this - the National Board of the Young Men's Christian Associations. You get my drift on why I wouldn't have bought this book, right? I have a reprint that looks as old as that mountain I was moving earlier in this story. It was reprinted in 1962 and again in the 70s.
The first line of this reprint has a preface that begins,
"This book was first published forty-seven years ago. I was then a young minister in my first parish, still bearing the scars of a nervous breakdown which I had suffered in seminary days."
Stop. the. clock. When honesty abounds in a story, I listen. The preface goes on to talk about how Mr. Fosdick sent off his manuscript saying he didn't think there would be much demand for such a book on prayer and thought if they could ever sell even two thousand copies they'd be lucky. Almost fifty years later he wrote the preface when it had been translated into eighteen languages, and sold close to a million copies. Then this battered little, old copy that was taken from a church library in Kentucky found it's way to me. I have read and underlined and highlighted portions. I have feasted on the words in small portion because they are serious words full of wisdom.
And they were the first thing I thought of during Lady Gaga's speech.
How can you possibly take a cultural icon like Gaga and partner her up with a some old, pastor of Christian theology. Passion. Discipline. Hard work. Faith and fortitude.
Fosdick wrote about a few examples in his work unanswered prayer. About how God has given mankind the ability to pray, the power of prayer but also given us intellect, the ability to think and to work and that one is not to be substituted for the other but to work in Divine partnership together. Like inspiration and writing novels. It still takes some thinking. And some working. I imagine that Lady Gaga has seen a few ups and downs in her life. I actually know very, little about her. But I do know a lot of authors who are either famous, well-known, or on the verge of being discovered. They have all paid their dues and put in their time at the page. They have employed - and here's that word I don't like - discipline.
Today - as I wrap this wordy blog entry - I am praying that your passion finds a new discipline. Because I pray for you what I need for myself. Should you be lacking in passion for any reason, I'll give you some of mine. I've got more than enough to go around. Fosdick quotes The Book of Nehemiah from the Bible which happens to be one of my favorite books from the Bible which surprises people. (I'll tell you why later to save us both some time.) About how Nehemiah prayed to God - and set a watch day and night. About how Cromwell said, "Trust God and keep your powder dry." And, how Spurgeon said, "Pray to God but keep the hammer going."
For writers maybe it means we keep our laptops charged, our pens and notebooks at the ready. Whatever our tools may be I know that it requires that same discipline those gym-rats use to get great biceps. It requires that we show up at the page. Not just on weekend of that wild, wonderful full moon but each and every day. Shoveling that mountain of a novel, one sentence, one word at a time.
Did you see all those recent photos on Instagram. Well, they are a lie. Ok, not a lie. Exactly. What you see are these vistas and landscapes. The sea. Dandelions. Feet on the ferry. New friends. Great faces. What you don't see is me in my dorm room thinking - this is a terrible idea. This is crazy. Why am I here? What was I thinking? I want off this Island!!!
For those of you who didn't catch the most recent blog I was off on a new adventure, a dream of a lifetime opportunity, and had been accepted at the MFA program that was my #1 choice for multiple reasons one being - the degree of difficulty. Yes, I am known for being that person that expects it to be hard. Who wants it to be worthy. Who believes climbing the mountain is the reason we get to look out at the view and wax wordy because we climbed the peak. So why was I crying?
I don't know. Because it was all those things. Because I'm an introvert. Because I was cold coming from a heat wave in Tennessee to a charming, foggy island wonderland. Because I twisted my ankle in a classic Chevy Chase fall that curtailed anymore rock climbing. Because it was actually what I was expecting back in application phase. Difficult. Challenging.
To start with the Art and Faith reading was Laurus, the Russian equivalent of The Name of the Rose. And, yes, it's a masterpiece. We were supposed to read it multiple times before residency. Along with a collection of poems I'll discuss later. We also had Chapel everyday at 8:30 (by choice) and Communion on Sunday. I'm down with those things. And that's good because it was Chapel that presented a poem/writing by some 18th century person that will now carry me through the rest of my year. If it hadn't been for chapel that day, and the car keys of a new friend that said - sure, just take my car and get away - that re-centered my entire life in a few hours, I'd still be crying. The lesson behind this is - go to chapel when you can and certainly when the spirit leads - and always take the free car keys.
When you are in a low-residency program as I am where you aren't on campus everyday it means your together time will be distilled down like fine bourbon. You will be shoved into a barrel and aged together. You will eat together, play together, read together, write together, workshop together, attend lectures together. For introverts, this is a LOT OF together. Did I mention I am an introvert? People think I'm not because I will follow you trying to tell you a story till the cows come home but it takes a lot of quiet, alone time to pull off all that extroverted storytelling. And, no, it really doesn't matter that you DON'T WANT TO HEAR the story. It's a compulsion that can't be controlled.
I was called and referred to and painted as - A HOLY Fool. This did not make me cry but laugh and feel downright holy fool proud. (Holy Fool's play a very, important part in Laurus)
So I'm home to a very happy Rescue Kevin who has stayed under my car depressed figuring if the she that mostly feeds me ever comes back this Beasty is one of the first places she will go. (yes she is my best little bff of a beasty on the road.)
That Greyhound bus trip that involved over three buses and ten hours of stories? OH, that is so rich it's going in the NEXT BOOK!
Peace to you all you beautiful wandering souls! I hope you are living your dreams out there and just bouncing off, climbing over, tunneling through all of the obstacles that stand in your way!
(More Pictures and words to follow.)
Today I was missing camping but for certain in my neck of the woods it's too cold for camping. There will be a fire in the fireplace tonight but not a fire ring. I've been following Kaya McLaren's daily walk through cancer and her raw, vulnerable letters on facebook. I thought if there was anything I could send her it would be a warm Summer evening where we all camped together, sat around a perfect fire ring, a just right kind of fire so you can see the smiling faces of your friends above the flames on the other side. That kind of perfect evening of drinking some fine wine or herbal tea, sharing stories heartfelt and funny, watching the sky for shooting stars as the fireflies climb higher and higher into the trees before morning light. That's what I'd give her right now if I could. I love the sharing of stories. it's the best kind of medicine.
Sometimes people ask me if I still pray for strangers in the middle of watching Star Trek Discovery and going to see Star Wars and reading great mysteries such as, By Gaslight. Yesterday I wrapped two days of speaking at the Writing for Your Life conference. Nothing excites me more about writing stories but sharing stories about writing stories. Mine and those of my friends. It occurred to me that yesterday I mentioned the name of five author friends, talked about their books and their publishing stories, and even their upcoming titles that weren't out yet to watch for. (And now I'm suddenly looking out the window thinking - Gee - I'm a good friend :) ) ) But seriously - how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who write stories. I'll have to write more about my experiences with those attendees on my teaching page here on this website. But for the record. On that praying thing which I still do in the middle of my Star Trek, mystery loving heart. I do. Mostly. Differently. Sometimes and always.
That is - a woman asked me to sign my book for her at the event yesterday and then she stopped and asked me - Does the book tell about how the experienced changed you? I smiled. Good Question. It does I told her. And I paused for a moment to think back all those years ago at the kind of person I was. I was and still am what you would consider a good person. Kind in all the right ways. Standing up for the weak and the underdog. Protecting small children, stray animals, and those who might be on the outskirts of society. The helpless, the homeless, the forgotten, the beat down. The overlooked.
But - it was those years of Praying for Strangers and telling someone almost daily that they were my stranger for the day that cracked open a part of my heart I didn't know was sealed. It gave me a much better, closer, more intimate look into humanity as a whole. While I may have been willing to stand up for the forgotten I never knew how lonely, forgotten, fearful people were that were surrounded by family and friends. Who maybe went to church regularly but were still in many ways all alone. If people weren't concerned about their situation they were always concerned about the situation of someone they loved. And in that I began to care more deeply than a passing moment when you lock eyes with the woman living in the alley behind that store you frequent.
So how does that play out in real life? Back to the conference. I've been speaking for years at conferences, teaching writing for years at events, workshops, and writing programs. I've always loved my students and connecting with them, celebrating their good words and accomplishments. But last night as I was thinking about the people at the conference and in particular those who had signed up with a one on one with me and taken time to tell me their story, ask my advice in some small way, I prayerfully lifted their writing projects, goals, dreams up in prayer. Hoping that their words found their way to readers the way that mine have done likewise. Praying that they would do so. That they would continue in their good work and write the best story possible.
I closed my talk yesterday by reciting The Artist Prayer that I wrote years ago and have shared on Facebook. Many of the attendees asked me to please send it to them by email which I have but I am also closing with it here. In the event that you or someone you know would benefit from a few words fashioned as a prayer that will help us all bring the story home.
An Artist Prayer
Creator of the deep,
of the secret places,
of the wide, blue skies -
open in me a place today
that may be willing to create.
To write words worthy of my breathing,
to paint images of human longing,
to sing of heart’s satisfaction.
Help me to capture
the softer edges of our existence
to share with my people now and forever.
Let there be a hush,
a holy hush,
in the space of my beating heart
all that is good,
all that is well,
all that will stand the test of time.
Empower me to translate
this amazing existence
we call life.
Some years ago I spoke at the Gulf Coast Writers Conference about the act of birthing a new book. I broke the book down into trimesters, comparing the significance and similarities between the stages of conception to delivery. The attendees loved it.
People rushed to ask me, "What book were you reading from? I want to buy that book! I must have that book."
"My journal," I said. "I just wrote this this morning." I got lucky. I was inspired. One of those magic moments when things pour out of you and through you.
And, somewhere in my journals of musings I have that original draft. Wish I could lay hands on it now. But this morning that day and that analogy came back to me so powerfully because I feel that restless, obsessive sense that the time isn't only near, it is arriving. The contractions have begun.
Almost everyone knows there are different stages to giving birth but if you have delivered a baby you have a different perspective. That sense of urgency and that you cannot escape what is happening. You will not eat dinner, watch a movie, or stare at that spot on the wall without thinking of pushing. It's all about the delivery at this point.
The weeks leading up to going into labor are hot, heavy and boring. They were for me. The nursery if you have one has been fixed. The maternity clothes are no longer cute. They are hideous. All those little booties and onesies you awwed over - you are waiting to fill them but bouncy excitement has been replaced with a solid determination. I WILL have this baby! And - it is TIME TO HAVE THIS BABY. When you are 91/2 months pregnant with your first child it feels like 10.5 years. People looked at me and instead of saying all those, "You're just glowing!" declarations they now said, "I'm sooooo sorry," as I waddled on swollen feet.
I went from being afraid of the pain of giving birth as a young mother for the first time to saying - bring it on! After four thousand hours in labor I finally gave birth to a ten pound baby. Then the doctor apologiesed saying he just had no idea and didn't know the baby was that big or they would have done a c-section and so on. (I tried to tell him I couldn't breathe!) But the baby was healthy and I survived the ordeal. Excuse me - miracle of giving birth.
When I had my second son I knew it was D-day the moment I woke up. I told my sister who was going in the delievery room with, "You better get off from work because today is the day." Like the amazing sister she is, she believed me. She did. And on a list of errands a day long while standing in the grocery store marking things off the list I went into labor. We had to leave a few items still on the shelves.
It was not a long delivery but it was an unplanned completely natural one as the only shot person could not be found. Enter the pushing method via all natural method. I didn't ask for natural.
The BIG PUSH
For some (see many) months I've been overdue on my final manuscript submission for Confessions of An American Mystic. But something wasn't right. It wasn't just that life had derailed me, it was more. I was having trouble with the content. Having completed the book once and submitted all it needed was a good rewrite. But when I went back to the pages I thought it needed more. I just didn't know what.
You can't just say - ok, I decided, it's time. I've been elephant pregnant at this point and I'm gonna have someone just take it out. Nope. Doesn't work that way. Conceptions is it's on act. But so is growth, development, and something mystical, a mystery we can't lay our hand on even if we say we can. The miracle of something coming to life. Of the sacred story making it's way - finally - into the world.
The baby is ready to be born. I'm pacing the floor, talking to myself and going back to hitting the keys.
What's being born in your world? Are you going through that moment when inspiration first hits? Like that kid in the picture when that moment first arrives it is pure delight. The big Eureka moment. It's a moment worth savoring and enjoying. Because the time to dig in, roll up your sleeves and begin the real work will start soon. And, there isn't always a certainty of when that looks like.
Sometimes a story midwife needs to be called in. One like the excellent Blake Leyers. I did that recently because I couldn't see forest for the trees. You might need a professional eye on your words. Although a writers critique group can be invaluable sometimes it's a good thing to get a read from a professional outside your circle. The world of editors are worth more than their weight in gold. They illuminate the manuscript, see the parts that need to come to life, or need to be cut away.
That 2nd part of the trimester is not the bubbles moment of conception but it is when you put the words to the page and then work them.
But when the push comes, regardless of who is with you in the delivery room, no matter how many cheerleaders, when it comes to writing a book only you can know exactly when it's time to say -
A story is being born.
Godspeed with your words.
For months now I've had an itch, an inkling, a constant whisper that I needed to just offer a pop-up creative class for writers and other artists. For those who might not be familiar with the term 'pop-up' it's simply a short handed way of saying it wasn't there and now it is. Seemingly overnight, inspiration hits, the muse speaks, and we all benefit.
I was invited in what seemed like a spur of the moment flourish to speak at 'pop-up' secret group of creatives in the Nashville area. Secret because you had to be a member of the closed group and maybe nominated or added by someone who knew you. Then and only then could you receive last minute invitations to a party, dinner, gathering of like minded cool creatives from all corners of Nashville. So overnight - there is this guy - who sends out an invite and oh, about 40-200 million people show up the next night. POP-up. My invite - I showed up not certain of the group because hey - they could have been strange in all the wrong ways… except I really trusted the person who suggested me and was going. Turns out - they are AMAZING people from all walks of life. Scriptwriters, movie distributors, directors, film-makers (ok, so it's a little wonderfully movie/TV heavy), storytellers, writers, and PR people.
On the drive home I thought - yep, the pop-up has its place. At least for me it means I can guide a class without spending a year planning it.
THE LOW DOWN
Between shootings in Paris, bombings, and threats of nuclear attack from North Korea, ping-pong news about talks about war and peace around the world - ships on the move from Russia, Fleets getting ready - hmmm, this heating up of crazy - I've never been more convinced that the creativity of good people is more needed or in demand. I've never been more certain that storytelling is our lifeblood, and that partnering with the divine in that telling is a sacred act.
All that being said: What is it that would help you get to the next level in the writing of your script, novel, song, or story? What would it take for you to go home and actually pick up your paint brush, get out your easel? Turn off your phone? Who needs to tell you that you don't have to wait for the perfect day, hour, life to embrace that sacred space inside you?
If you are a professional who has hit a wall in your creative thinking - this is for you.
If you just want to add a little jazz to the great work your already doing - this is for you.
If you are at the end of your rope and feel like you are going to just die if you don't simply begin somewhere - this is for you.
It has been my experience in traveling, creating, writing and speaking for more than 20 years now that it is conversation that make people bloom.
Often the Q&A after speeches provide the greatest opportunity for learning and creative growth. The reason being those Q&A's and conversations is a two way street, and the room becomes a roundtable.
One week from today I'll be hosting a gathering for those who would like to take part in a new series:
The Sacred Art of Storytelling.
Teaching and Creative Conversation:
Where: Capitol Coffee Company - Bellevue, TN
When: Friday, April 28
To claim your spot email Tomi Wiley at email@example.com -
Leave it All Behind. Renew Your Muse
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.