Writer Gonna Write

I’ve been on Facebook for a bunch of years now. Around 2011, Facebook became a ‘portal’ for my efforts to write—a quick and easy way to point people to the blog I’ve kept for 6 years now. It has also been an incredible tool to reconnect with people I had completely lost touch with. Perhaps the moment of greatest Facebook glory came in 2012 or so, when I went to a mini high school class reunion in Fort Lauderdale; that would never have happened without Facebook. I have gotten to read amazing pieces, learned a whole heck of a lot and made new friends through this social media giant. All those things make me grateful.

Today, a post of mine got too close to doing harm and sowing division I had not intended. I took the post offline and realized, this just isn’t how I want to do things. I will continue writing on my blog (www.revrosa.org) about once a week. It’s a blog folks can subscribe to if they want to keep track of my musings, for what they’re worth. I won’t, however, link any more blog posts to my FB account. I’m not completely dropping out either; I will check FB about once a week as well. I belong to a couple of groups that are really important to me and I can see where, from time to time, I might send someone a PM. Now though, the work I have is to  keep writing my book. Life is short and I hope to practice more kindness and truth. There are better places to do that than Facebook.

So, Another Yes

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Earlier this afternoon, I submitted my application for another summer writing workshop at Collegeville. This one is a continuation of the workshop with Lauren Winner I got to participate in last year. The title for the workshop she’ll lead in June is Revision, Christian Spirituality and the Writing Life. The focus of this one is the painstaking, less glamorous and yet, profoundly spiritual work of trying again, then again, and then one more time,to get closer to what the writer has intended to write so the words really shine, really illuminate, really draw the reader onward in pilgrimage.

Hitting the send button, I felt the same trepidation that made it almost impossible for me to complete my application last year. I am as insecure as ever, though now I am doing more to overcome the nasty little voices of ‘no’. I have been able to achieve some clarity and peace about the low-residency MFA program Lauren encouraged me to consider as part of a move towards greater depth and professionalism in my writing.  This year I have learned to say out loud that writing is an essential part of my vocation. I have also come to see that the bottom line for now is, I can’t start on that MFA. Maria still has enormous needs. I see my dad’s fragility daily, and I have learned I can’t anticipate when he will need more of my time and attention. Work is endlessly surprising and there aren’t enough hours in the day to do the work I want and need to do to honor and serve a community that’s put their faith in me as a member of the leadership team. And most of all: the time I have with my squirrel-whispering guy is beyond precious to me. I don’t take it for granted.

So, I am not jumping into an MFA. What I am doing is finding other ways to sharpen my skills and become a better writer. I have found a person who is well prepared to serve as a writing coach and does so incisively and with love. I’m putting together the reading list of a Creative Writing MFA program and I will work through it on my own time table. I’m pushing myself to keep writing even when it seems those shitty little negative voices scream louder when I get closer to breaking through another barrier to luminescence, which is what I aspire to, in my writing.

Like last year, I have no guarantees. All the workshops at Collegeville are rather fiercely competitive.   Now though, I’ve been, I’ve seen just how much I received because I kept taking the risk of rejection. I will keep writing, while I wait to hear, sometime in March, if there will be a place for me this year. And in the meantime, I know, having also gotten their gentle no in the past, how life and writing will go on. It’s a whole string of yeses of my own that now ground my work.

This is the way I have to begin a new year, “filled with truth and grace” as the prologue to John promised once again on Christmas Day.

Then There Was Rocky

When I woke up this morning, there was a message that had come in late last night.  A neighbor’s daughter’s cat had gotten a baby flying squirrel. At first, Kelli thought the end was near but the little one had rallied. I checked in with her after I read the message and heard he was still alive.  Baby squirrel has now come to join our menagerie and is comfortably settled in Mama Sherod’s pocket. I am waiting for the roads to get a little safer (had us some freezing rain/sleet last night and my temperature gauge says it’s 21 degrees outside) before I trek into town for some more formula.  Kelli got to name this little one.  Meet Rocky.  

My Town

The population of Lowndesboro is under 150. I can drive through it in less than 5 minutes.  And it seems there’s always something new to discover. I had heard there was a very small graveyard in town and had tried to find it a couple of times before.  A week or so ago, with the leaves all fallen and a better line of vision, I got a glimpse of a small building and fence in the general location where I’d been told I could find the cemetery.  Yesterday, I went exploring.  This is my town.

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Under the Shadow of Thy Wings

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This Christmas was no different from others, stars of joy against the quiet darkness of solitude and sorrow. My daughter far away and we here, my dad’s grief in the absence of my mother, for whom Christmas was all light and wonder.  Those flashes of joy still light up the night, a thoughtful email, the laughter that just can’t stop when old friends fuss and then make up. There have been deaths, as certain as the birth we remember; one defined the age-old meaning of blessing—to die rich in years and descendants. The other two are tragic, totally unexpected, incomprehensible. All of it the night sky.

For the most part, I am the celebrant at the Wednesday evening services and I have come to deeply love those services, held in our small chapel, usually with very few people; it is more participatory and more flexible, much more reflective than other services we hold week in and week out. This picture was taken in the chapel on Christmas Eve. It  captures the beauty of light and dark, simplicity and shocking color that receive us each week. These days, even when things feel rocky, unsure, so terribly confusing, with the darkness of winter gathered around our small congregation of night visitors, it is as if we are enfolded in wings of mighty and gentle strength.

Freedom, But Not Too Much

 

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Cardinals Abound Here-And That Is Still Amazing To Me!

When Krista Tippett interviewed Michael Longley, one of the great poets of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, they had a fascinating exchange about “the mystery of place.”  Longley and his family have a cottage in County Mayo that they have returned to year, after year, after year since 1970.  It is remote and difficult to get to but he, his wife and their progeny have continued to return to that place, and he expressed his delight that his children are now bringing their children too.

Speaking about travel, he acknowledged that it can ‘broaden the mind’-but he went on to add that it can also “shallow the mind”; for Longley, returning year after year to this cottage, undertaking a journey that includes fording a stream by foot, and crossing a channel before hiking through fairly arduous terrain, has taught him each return “does not exhaust the place”, but rather allows him to go ever deeper into it. (http://www.onbeing.org/program/michael-longley-the-vitality-of-ordinary-things/transcript/9026)

Earlier this year, Sherod and I began to dream up a trip to Normandy in the late Spring. I felt real joy imagining us in a small Airbnb flat, with a pair of rented bikes and access to the local bus system to get around. I wanted to taste Calvados, an apple brandy of that region, in a small local cafe, having seen where the apples grew that were used to make it.  I knew my husband would find great meaning, standing in the American Cemetery.  But since those dreams began to take shape, some tough realities and new possibilities have emerged and I don’t think we will ever get there and we certainly won’t in 2017.

In fact, I am no longer certain how much travel we will ever do, except the trips that take us to our girl, or help us bring her to be with us, the shorter trips we’ll take to see the people we love in Indiana, in Kentucky, in Georgia, sometime soon, in Louisiana.  I think each of us will be called to make the changes they can to help our fragile Earth survive a period of massive environmental deregulation and disbelief in climate change.  Air travel has enormous impact on our carbon foot print; I can make a difference by staying home.  I am more serious now about being self-sustaining.  I don’t know how much difference it will make to put more money in savings, but I can’t shake the sense that doing that has become even more important than ever.

Over dinner tonight, Sherod and I talked about the ways in which the weeds and weather defeated our gardening last year, and what we might do differently this year.  There was also something thrilling about realizing we’re going to make a really big pot of gumbo later in the week, and the tomatoes the recipe calls for were put up midsummer, freshly picked from  our garden. The thyme to season it with will also come from my little herb patch. I am drooling over pictures of the flowers in the seed catalogs starting to come in the mail.  You just don’t leave a farm, even a small one, at the height of the growing season.

But most of all, there is the fact that living in this little corner of the world, I totally understand what Longley means when he talks about how each return to his cottage is a going deeper into the wonder of it.  Each time I drive into the farm after work, I discover something new to marvel about. There are so many small and large dreams I have for living here.  I have travelled a lot in my life.  Were circumstances different, I would want to keep traveling.  I am content, though, to be where I am.

Early this morning, I let my chicken girls out to range, and because our office was closed at Ascension and I knew I’d be here most of the day, I planned for them to be out for several hours. After the encounter with an eagle in the spring, that resulted in the death of one of my Buffs we got very cautious and only allowed them out of their coop when we could supervise the hens.  I’d decided a few weeks back to be less obsessed with keeping them safe and more concerned with letting them dig and roam and be real chickens.  I’ve been trying to let them out for longer and longer periods, though Mo, the 85-lb Canine Torpedo, is mightily interested in them, so after a time, they have to go back inside when he needs to go outside to take care of business.

About three hours after I let the girls out, I went out to check on them. I started at the end of the garden that’s the farthest from Fort Yolk.  No chickens.  They know my voice well and when I want them to come to me, I always say “Hello Ladies, how’s it going? Y’all ready for some nice worms ?”(I keep 5-lb bags of mealy worms as a treat for them).  I began the conversation as I headed back towards the coop. Nothing. (Except a tendril of anxiety).  When I could see the periwinkle outline of the coop, I breathed a sigh of relief.  They were all back inside, on the perch, on the roof and one with her little head tilted back, chug-a-lugging a nice drink of water.

Freedom. But not too much.

While Shepherds Kept Their Watch

 

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                                                Huh? Huh? What? What? What’s That? What Is It?

Less and less is Christmas about holly, jolly—or even spectacular and beautiful—for me. I understand the shepherds, doing the unglamorous work of keeping watch, of tending, even to what is no longer lovely or exciting. During the regular evening Eucharist on Wednesday, we did a modified version of the “Blue Christmas Liturgy” that recognizes how complicated the holidays can become for many of us. As I prepared the liturgy, I ran across this piece by Ann Weems (Kneeling in Bethlehem) that spoke to my heart:

Into this silent night
As we make our weary way
We know not where,
Just when the night becomes its darkest
And we cannot see our path,
Just then
Is when the angels rush in,
Their hands full of stars.

On my watch, the visits have all been made for now. By their very nature, these were visits to the most vulnerable amongst us. Those with dementia. People struggling with life threatening illnesses. The very old. The widowed. Some who are not able to hide their heartbreak. Yesterday was a bit harder, with a funeral and at the end of it, the devastating news that the daughter of one of the people attending the funeral had died unexpectedly as we were entrusting C into our Lord’s arms. Then, an unplanned trip to the hospital, only to find out the person I had understood was in the hospital and very sick, was home and doing relatively well. I took the back roads home, with the night so very dark and bones aching in the chill.

There are family responsibilities to tend to now; later, some simple cooking for a simple meal with my husband and father tomorrow evening after services, a sermon to finish, and some more quiet. On my way home a while ago, I came by one of the farms with sheep. I try to carry my camera most days now and I was amused, watching ewes grazing and their little lambs literally frolicking about, on this day before Christmas Eve. It is good work, the work of keeping watch.  My hope for all of us is that we too may see the angels rush in with hands full of stars in the nights ahead. When the unexpected call comes, may we be, as Daniel Ladinsky suggests,  “the midwife of God. Each of us.”