The Chaos of Serious Writing

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Where We’ve Worked

The group I have worked with for the past 8 days includes several university professors, PhD’s and people engaged in more intentional writing than I’ve ever been able to practice. I have entered the whirling chaos of serious writing. I use the word “chaos” advisedly. I have a new appreciation for the fact that this is about walking in the dark with enormous possibilities pressing before and beneath and above and beside me. Just with the piece I brought with me to workshop: I’ve figured out there are about 8 different directions I could take it that I would not have even envisioned and each of them could be a book.

The feedback I got was unsparing and direct and it wasn’t about getting out and leaving this work to those with the gift, who know what they are doing. The word is, get serious. That means reading more. Writing more and in different ways. Getting my work ready for publication.

The encouragement of tough feedback is why I came, so this time has been wonderful in a painful sort of way. The piece I brought was an extended reflection on the days leading to, and immediately after, my mother’s death. The larger project explores the way in which life unraveled for me between June of 2011 and June of 2014, when Daisy, my dog, Spot, my cat, and I, folded ourselves into my car and drove to Lowndesboro to build a new life. Grief, loss and failure are hard to talk about and one of my great fears was that my writing was too sentimental and overwrought. In fact, my readers said it was the opposite—I went into analysis too quickly, didn’t take the evocative writing far enough, left them wanting more. Those are things I can work on.

There’s another reason this is such a meaningful moment. My grandmother was a trained journalist who ended up writing very little and instead, spent far more time caring for an alcoholic husband. My mother spoke yearningly of writing and her life was filled to the brim taking care of lots of people, including, and in some ways, especially me, because of my hip problems. By the time the space had opened when she could write, I don’t think she had the energy and she did not trust her voice enough to speak the truths she’d tried to learn. When I write, I write for her and for Vera, my grandmother and namesake. This is only the beginning and I hope I can make them proud.

Some Pictures and Half-Baked Thoughts

The Bachelor Farmer Café

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East of the Mississippi

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Mills Ruins Museum

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The Mississippi River

Minneapolis is a really cool city. I saw only a small slice: an absolutely charming restaurant called “The Bachelor Farmer Café” with yummy and healthy food, and even more, style to delight the spirit. I would not trade my life in Alabama for anything and I am also grateful to be in a space where I hear many different languages at once, where faces are amazingly different with skin colors of all kinds and features that are compelling in so many different ways. I sat at a table next to a young person I was pretty sure was transgender and I was so glad for a safe space for this beloved child of God to be true to herself.

Because the day was stormy, we only had time to walk for a bit through a park called the Mills Ruins Park, on the banks of the Mississippi which is nothing like what I have experienced of it in other times of my life. I’ve lived in Memphis and I’ve lived in New Orleans where it is so wide and deep and muddy and somehow, more slithery and ominous, certainly so omnipresent that it is like having a giant in one’s midst. In Minneapolis it is younger looking and less intimidating, more fun and at least seemingly manageable—after all you can walk across a bridge here in about 5 minutes. My new friend Hannah and I ended our visit at the home of some friends of hers who live in a suburb between Minneapolis and St Paul. That’s where I got a glimpse of yet another truth about Minnesota, in the form of a back yard that had cherry trees and apple trees, pear trees and a hedgerow of raspberries and a mom from where the women are strong, a dad from where the men are good looking, and three cherubic little tow headed boys who were obviously above average and could have come straight out of a Prairie Home Companion.

I have spent today not in church, but writing. There is so much you can figure out with the kinds of blocks of time I’ve had this week. It turns out the project I’m at work on had been writing itself for years now—bits and pieces reflect in many of my blog posts, in many of the stories I’ve heard myself tell. Any number of times now, I’ve started out to write something I thought I had very clear in my mind only to figure out that, though the starting place was precisely right, there was something totally different to consider and explore instead. The hard part now is realizing how much I want to have time just to see, take in all the colors and shapes and absurdities of my life, and how that can make it so easy to sidestep life as well. I only have two more days after this one before the journey home and I have a feeling I have still only received a tiny piece of everything this workshop has to offer.

Collegeville Institute

We’re at the half-way mark of the workshop and tomorrow we will not have any group time. My plan is to work until 11 and then head into Minneapolis-St.Paul with another member of the group.

It’s been an intense, productive, illuminating time. Our workshop leader is remarkable. Each day, I leave our group time with new ideas, new resources, especially new inspiration. I write about 4-5 hours a day and by the end of the day, my brain feels like it trembles like a worn out muscle, though it feels like I’m building some endurance along the way. Most important, I’m making headway on my writing project.

The little bit of Minnesota I’ve seen is beautiful. I almost feel guilty about how well we are being cared for—my apartment is comfortable, there’s healthy food and some treats always available, beautiful spaces to work in, and kind people who are committed to helping us do our best writing while we’re here. I miss the Spouseman and critters, and that’s OK too.

Here are a few pictures of where I’ve been. It is on this campus where the first Minnesota Public Radio broadcast took place and St. John’s University was the site of the first MPR station. This is where Garrison Keillor also got his start with Prairie Home Companion  and there’s a lake nearby that is the inspiration of Lake Wobegon.  There’s a lot else, lots of rich and interesting history. But mainly, there is spaciousness and hospitality.

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View From My Deck Early in the Morning

The last two pictures are of an art installation located in the forest close to where I’m staying on campus.  Very viking-y which fits with a landscape that is remarkably like the landscapes of Sweden.

Happy Hen Party Treats

DSCN3295I went out to feed the chicken girls early, before getting ready to catch my flight.  The sunflower that’s been growing for a while now, a volunteer that’s come from occasionally giving my girls “Happy Chicken Party Mix”with sunflower seeds.  Beautiful, huh?

Off To Write

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Where I Usually Write

This morning it was really hard to preach. At the first service, I almost broke down and wept, overwhelmed by all the death, terror and brokenness of our world. Some of it hits so close to home. Some of it is so incredibly large, complex and deep, going back generation, after generation, after generation–how can we ever draw closer to that reign of God Jesus talked about so eloquently?

I have thought often of my Hebrew Scriptures professor in these past months. I remember Mr. Griffin carefully, thoroughly, walking us through Genesis, helping the class wrap its mind around the notion that through this one book in the Bible, it is possible to trace how sin cascades, amplifies, ripples out in ways that simply devastate. I have never been and don’t imagine I’ll ever be a “hell and damnation” kind of person.But neither can I ignore how human brokenness and failure weaves its way to every corner of existence. Today, that knowledge comes close to paralyzing me.

When I got home after church, I allowed mysef the luxury of a Sunday afternoon nap and have been packing and preparing for tomorrow. That’s when I leave for Collegeville. Eight days of writing and exploration.

When I went on my first Ignatian silent retreat, my wonderful friend Robin recommended I take a camera as a way to look for God in everything. My camera is already in my backpack and I anticipate walks through the Minnesota spaces that I understand are deeply reminiscent of Scandinavia- In our beginning is our end and back again. I am profoundly thankful for this opportunity. I know how hard it is to get in and how hard it is to get a ‘no’. There are others far more gifted than I who have not been yet. I will use this time to the best of my ability, which is the only way I have to honor the gifts of writing they have offered so generously through the years.

Twenty Eight

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I bought my wedding dress out of a Talbots catalog.  I also made our wedding cake and a lovely lady in Huntsville helped me frost it.  The flowers came from Archie Stapleton’s farm in Sewanee.  My best friend, Carolyn, and I had our hair done and then, on the way to church to get dressed, I realized the A/C had conked out in my car;  when I rolled down the window, it was so hot, it felt like a hair dryer was running on my face-I wondered if it was an omen that marriage is hell.  With the heat index, it was considerably over 100 degrees and that was the hot as all get-out summer when syringes were washing up on the Jersey shore.

Today is going to be a humdinger for heat like that Saturday, 28 years ago.  Sherod’s out early doing some mowing; the work I intend to do today is to clean my dad’s little cottage, after a quick run to the curb market and a hospital visit.  I’ll be worrying about the chicken girls in this heat and trying to keep my plants from scorching.  In this horribly broken world of ours, I will also be giving thanks for the crazy Mallowman I love and for the wild ride we’ve been on for all these years.  I know we don’t have forever, none of us do, but we have today and that is more than enough.