Tanya speaks my mind.
This is her prompt for today, Day 76 of her 365 day challenge:
Try it! Truly, there is nothing like it--except teaching at times. Singing and storytelling are performance, too.
My character Alice is a performer of story partly because this is something I have experiential knowledge of and partly because I love telling a story that tells a story. I love telling stories that are both literal and allegorical, both logical and associative. I like how multiple story both progresses as in familiar narrative overlaps and also piles up as in collages and the workings of a single mind. Minds are too connected to heart, body and spirit to work on a single plane. They are singular only in being one of a kind.
So, to work with Tanya's topic, "whatever I most want to avoid," I'll start with a free-write rant. I'll start here and now. Then I may shape it a little immediately. Then I'll stand up and dance with it, continuing a creative process that I have given Alice and I have been trying to articulate in the episodes (chapters) of my novel.
The Free Write
I most want to avoid falling on my face. I mean that literally. See this tooth? It's an implant. And see this chip? Implants are expensive so I learned to live with the chip. These are the remaining scars of two separate falls, both of which also broke my glasses, cut my face, scraped flesh off my knees and ruined my clothes and my composure. One happened in front of a movie theatre and drew that date to a close. The other happened in San Cristobal de los Casas in Chiapas, a state in Mexico. That one was very costly even without fixing the chip. The first was more embarrassing as getting an implant occurs in stages--surgically removing the rest of the tooth that broke below the gum line and living with a temporary plate for several weeks before the surgeon embeds the screw and the dentist sculpts and attaches a new porcelain tooth. That temporary plate fell out several times while I was teaching, revealing me to my students as the gap-toothed witch that I truly am deep inside. Talk about vulnerability and fear! No. I want to avoid falling on my face most of all. And I wouldn't mind not falling flat on my face in other ways as well. Like, I don't want to fail and make a fool of myself when I publish the novel I am writing. I don't want to have to defend what I know is a shoddy piece of work. I want to be proud of it; I want it to be note-worthy. And I don't want to publish it myself like I had to do with the poetry books. I want it to be wanted. Pride goeth before that kind of fall. And I don't want to catch myself counting my chickens before they hatch. And I don't want to resort to cliche--though it may be safer to say things that were successful before. Aargh. I see the Catch 22 here: Wanting to live on the edge of risk and not wanting to risk anything at all. I most want to avoid writing recognizable characters and opening up controversy--but I want the types to be recognizable amid real places like the Women's Center and This River of Women Theatre Company and the Michigan Women's Music Festival and the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. And I think I can't have one without the other. I may want to avoid finishing the book, therefore. Hmm. It was fine to read aloud in front of people who don't know me or the movements involved. What about ones who do know? I most want to avoid being silenced when I am enjoying myself so much. I'm even enjoying the jigsaw puzzles of collage I am building to keep real folks and their friends from seeing themselves in my words. They may certainly see a resemblance and suspect they are the model, but I can honestly say that except for in one major case--that of the director of one of the theatre pieces--no character is molded from only one real live person.
OK, that's 15 minutes of simply writing without a plan, free writing. I see I could go back and talk about the aborted date in the first paragraph. I could say why I was in Chiapas. Those would be fine reasons for divergence, but would stalling in these spots be useful? Should I return to them later instead? I could talk about my encounters with the craft in the second paragraph. Hmm. I could explain my identification with characters in Heller's novel Catch 22. I could physically get smaller and smaller until I have to find a way to get bigger again--in body and in voice. I'd love to show a spirit growing from a peanut into a glowing bell inviting me to ring and to sing. But of course, this writing is unfinished. It warmed me up and revealed a danger--a hard truth--to me, but it is still a free write journal entry.
What is the dangerous truth? I have to watch out for familiar voices of mine telling me that I probably can't and I maybe shouldn't finish and publish and disseminate this book. I could act out these voices on stage as well. I know most of them well, though sometimes I forget: "Don't embarrass the family." "Don't reveal private matters you could be arrested for someday." "Don't talk about gender, sex, lesbianism, cohabitation, women's community, where you were last night, etc." I'm writing about all of these things and more.
I can't shape this into a performance now, but you can imagine the voices and dialogues all portrayed by one solo performer. I'm going off to think about the revelation above. Because I haven't written since I left Pendle Hill, and I won't until I return from visiting my family. And I worry. I guess I will not read sections to them as easily as I did to strangers. But truly, I doubt anyone will ask. That thought is consuming. And relaxing, too.
I'll write more as way opens.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
I made an outline and cut the chapters I read to the core—and I liked them so much that I think the originals need this cutting as well. This was the outline:
ENTER AS Alice
Rd Ch 1 and 2
Pause for a summary of the major conflicts and events:
—the invitation and losing her job
—the laptop and Ricky’ visit
Rd Ch 22, 25, 26
Discussion: Helen as linear narrator
What’s like me, what’s different
Vertical 4-D writing
What I learned here
What I take home
2 weeks before I can write again!
And this was my prayer:
Many Pendle Hill staff people came and two interns and and two guests! Let me see if I can walk my way around the table: (From my left) Lloyd, Jesse, Amy, Anne,Laura, John, Amadeus, Ricardo, Helene, Joe, Shirley, Steve, and Angela. I wish I had taken a picture or asked someone to take one. And I am not yet able to record the responses except to say they were generally positive, very positive. Gosh.
I addressed my entire outline with a little prompting from Jesse to talk about the role of prayer in my writing and to talk about the space in which I worked.
Here is the "discussion" part of the presentation in a much more organized form than my actual talk. I wrote this earlier in the afternoon while planning what to tell folks about my work as Writer-in-Residence:
I’ve been thinking a lot about how narrative writing grows. In my novel Alice in Wonder, I started with my own solo performances, making the character I once played be the core persona of the drama in a semi-autobiographical semi-historical novel.
I made her 10 years older than me and financially independent. I replaced my life as a teacher with hers as a storyteller. I replaced my need to reveal what radical feminist community was all about with her reluctance and resistance to returning there—but otherwise we share a lot. I was involved with women’s communities and did find Quakers first at the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. Alice’s lovers are quilted from my own and those of my friends. Her experience working on racism and discovery of her own racism are my own. My own spiritual life has deepened by exploring hers.
Here at Pendle Hill, I continued to write in a linear narrative, letting Alice’s conflicts and catastrophes lead me forward, but as I worshipped more and more I began to write vertically as well as horizontally, as if I were switching to 4-dimensions and exploring the depths and dimensions of single moments. I hope the chapter I read aloud illustrates that.
Essential elements of my time here included leaving home and its involvements, joining daily worship and starting daily prayer in three different modes—silent, in writing and in color drawing. Also the food and its consistent scheduling--including my time with the kitchen crew around the dishwasher-- contributed a lot. My weekly consultations with Jessie kept me on track, made me aware of creative patterns I can take home with me, and often eased anxiety as well. She’s careful to meet when she can be fully present. She’s a good listener and a skilled mentor.
Finally, the events I participated in and the people they brought me in contact with expanded me—including my lunchtime writing sessions, the three sessions of readings I did before this one, the Monday talks and book signings, the Commencement ceremony of Radical Faithfulness and last weekend’s full conference on Transformative Justice in Community. Wow. Without the residence program, I feared there might be too little conversation and dialectic, but in the end it was just right. I’m so happy that the last event of my residency will be Marcel Martin’s book signing event for Our Life is Love. That is providential!
According to Tanya Taylor Rubinstein, the Global Story Coach:
The world has conditioned us, whether we are coaches, writers, artists, business people or other kinds of creative folks, that we need to always be moving outward. [But] we don’t. [We can center and then] from a place of deep abundance, we truly can remain open, and receive what is meant for us. This is the point of attraction and power. It is not a passive path. It is not a hermit’s path either. It’s one of powerful intention and receptivity. And, it’s one of conscious awareness of being led by something greater than the individual self.I have been reflecting today on what I take away from Pendle Hill, and Tanya's assertion is one of them. To have a chance to learn this experimentally is a great blessing. One of the first things that Jesse said to me was that despite what I said I would be doing here, I should see what is on my heart right now and let it lead me.
I find I stop writing to pray often about both this world and the fictional one. I thrive in the writing cave and morning schedule I’ve made here and will build those in at home. I also take back with me the uses of my weekly check-in with Jesse and have begun to gather a spiritual support team to read my work, to ask me questions about both the work and the process of writing, and to worship with me. I think we’ll meet once a month. But I would love to hear from others about what they have found supportive.
Finally: It’ll be two weeks before I can return to writing. Obligations I’ve put off have crowded in—shopping Friday, sessions Saturday, Upper Dublin Sunday, Doctors Monday and Tuesday, and then Wednesday a drive to upstate New York family. It will be March 28th before I can become writer-in-residence in my own home! I have to look into this business and figure out a way to get a well-cooked meal at least once a week back here at Pendle Hill.
I’m hoping to finish Alice in Wonder this year, even if writing about her wonder leads me to more books or more wonders and avocations. I don’t know yet whether writing is the calling or the path to another calling.
But I thank God and everyone for this stop on the road.I will write more as way opens.
Kevin is simply a musician I love, so I bring him to you.
I give my 4th reading--this one a final presentation less than an hour
long--and this the hardest of all because I have to pull it into clear
boundaries without slopping over or forgetting to say something essential.
to begin? Where to end? How to begin again?
Alice enter to tell the Helen story.
an excerpt from these posts about the residency.
the last chapter--the one I wrote during this long weekend of stories on the
theme of transformative justice at the Beyond
Crime and Punishment: Fostering Transformative Justice in Community Conference here
at Pendle Hill.
all folks. The end. Any questions?
timed a bunch of sections today; I've picked up a costume and a few props from
home. Now I need to make a check-list and then print a few pages and
stand up to rehearse. That's all.
then I take the paraphernalia of my trade home, hollow out wall space to
put my work up in place of Grandmother's and Mom's. And then, call in a
committee to keep me accountable.
I'll write more as way opens.
I'll write more as way opens.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
I felt that if anyone could tell the emperor (me) that she has no clothes (substance) that would be someone in this group. But I couldn't tell, really couldn't. And then we didn't pray at the end. And we cancelled next week's session. And after the hugs and the Alleluia on the door step, I stood there bewildered. I felt so drained I went straight to bed.
And then I woke up to read this most wonderful message from Julian, which I am putting here to save, to contemplate and to share. Quote: "BEING in the promised land is not the thing. Knowing what it looks like AND pointing yourself toward it, heading that direction... that is the thing":
On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 10:25 PM, Julian Brelsford wrote:"we've got some difficult days ahead but it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. I've looked over, and i've seen the promised land" - MLK
I enjoyed hearing a bit about your past living in a community of radical feminists. In particular, what caught my attention was the part when you said something to the effect of "we thought we were going to re-make the whole world""i may not get there with you but i want you to know, tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land"
In my mind, where I went with that is...
BEING in the promised land is not the thing. Knowing what it looks like AND pointing yourself toward it, heading that direction... that is the thing.
Having a big picture vision is my thing (sometimes) and it's not particularly radical or great,all by itself.
But what I loved about your story today was that in my hearing of it, there was a sense of turning toward God, walking toward/with God toward the promised land...but it was the walk that was important and not the arrival. God wants us to have a good time getting there (you had a good time writing and I had a good time listening!) and without that, some imagined final destination is,well, not our paradise
Sunday, March 6, 2016
|Good Morning from Wallingford, PA|
I now have 121 pages of Alice in Wonder.
On Monday night, two friends listened and then Saturday morning four listened, including three who hadn't heard any of it before. The first group heard Alice's Helen sequence and reflections on This River of Women Theatre Company. The second group heard Alice's reflections on the theatre company, and her performance of Breakin' Block-on and Rip Van Winkle's stories. They then witnessed Alice's need to change her performance venue. They also heard this poem:
And they loved it! I am "a good writer," at least from what they heard. We took turns reading, so I got to hear parts of it as audience. I think it "reads" better aloud than on the page--that it's still a performance. But the event left me grinning. I am happy with the listeners' responses and with the questions they asked about what more they wanted to know that might expand their knowledge of the main character. I am already in the middle of making the visual life-line for Alice suggested by the Arts and Spirituality Director Jesse. By doing this drawing, I'll see where more highs and lows are needed.It will take a lot more work to make it a page-lingerer rather than a page-turner, but I am going to lay that aside for now. First I will write on until the end which is at least another 120 pages away.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
|A wall of my writing cave at Pendle Hill|
The world has conditioned us, whether we are coaches, writers, artists, business people or other kinds of creative folks, that we need to always be moving outward.
We don’t. From a place of deep abundance, we truly can remain open, and receive what it meant for us. This is the point of attraction and power. It is not a passive path. It is not a hermit’s path either. It’s one of powerful intention and receptivity. And, it’s one of conscious awareness of being led by something greater than the individual self.Tanya says that this is radical faith, and I agree. I have been reflecting today on lessons I am learning at Pendle Hill, and Tanya's assertion is one of them. To have a chance to learn this experimentally is a great blessing.
Taking time out of the revolutionary work of Undoing Racism in making Black Lives Matter, building a West Philadelphia Friends Meeting, and continuing the witness of Buds of Jesus was absolutely necessary to my progress in writing my autobiographical novel. I have 116 pages now. I revised the first 60 and added 70 more during my stay (which isn't over until the 17th of March). It is a gift I gave myself every day because God led me through the entire year from application through back surgery and physical therapy to retreat. This gift of time made the writing a priority and I've rarely felt more alive.
One of the rare times I've felt similarly animated was when I became a member of Williamsburg Meeting of Friends in the mid-1990s after attending various meetings for 15 years. I had spent 2 years in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Spiritual Formation program. This included witnessing the presence of a power larger than myself on a daily basis and included readings and the discipline of writing daily. I buzzed--quaked (?)--with presence and knew that the work I did was important to God, that God had led me to it. My hands felt larger. I directed theatre and taught how to make it with a voice that came from beyond me. I felt like a channel even if I didn't know what the work was for. I trusted. I knew I wanted to study and write about Quakers in theatre but didn't know when or how. I wrote performances instead, and looked forward to the day I could take a break from earning a living and have a spiritual retreat.
But I felt caught up in my ego: me, me, me ... and I was afraid to take the retreat or begin the research project. Partly I needed to earn economic security. Mostly I feared both failure and success at achieving my goals. If I hold something like my novel in front of me as "a possible but unlikely future," and never give it any time, I don't ever have to learn if I'll succeed or fail. I never have to learn how it's part of my calling and ministry.
I'm over that hump now. I am in the embrace of something.
The performances I did back in the 1990s are the meat of my novel about an aging woman who was radical in the 1970s and 80s. The transformations of those times are what I am led to write about now. I am not certain of all the reasons why. This is radical faith.
|A prayer for my novel|
After the next two weeks, I will continue to write the novel at home until I am finished even if I have "to miss out on" some other aspects of life. I will take my cave from my Pendle Hill room including a huge display of outlines and sticky notes of ideas, plot points and additions to incorporate. I will take my consistent practice of writing until noon and walking after lunch, letting the rest of the day assist me in faithfulness.
I will continue to pray with visual art forms and writing itself--for myself and others and for my novel's characters. The spiritual development is making the creativity possible and vice versa.
And--here's another discovery--I will enjoy all of it! This is not an occasion for suffering but one for joy; this is not a break from living but life itself.
|A prayer for Alice, the protagonist of my novel|
I will write more as way opens.