I Go to the Rock

StAndrew2019

My husband and I sat with my father at mass this past Sunday, the ritual and order of the service familiar to each one of us, imprinted in a combined nearly 200 years of experience with the Roman Catholic Church. This church, which was renamed the Church of the Resurrection after three predominately Black churches, St. Andrew, St. Agnes, and St. Mark were merged, is where my parents attended church together for the last several years until my mother passed away in 2017. Continue reading

Day of Reflection and Preparation

Last week, I devoted one day—I call it my Quiet Day—to a day of quiet reflection and preparation for the year ahead. This has been an annual practice and it is my way to start the year in a less rushed state of mind. I don’t bother with resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Nearly 20 years ago, I went through the training to earn a certification in coaching, and even though I no longer coach clients, I still use many of the tools when I want to work towards change in my life.

I began with a look at my 2018 calendar, going week by week to see how I had used the days. I remembered little victories, trips I took, days where I stayed home and enjoyed working in my yard. I thought about the people I spent time with, the meetings and events I attended, and then I wrote down on one sheet of paper the highlights of the past year. It is easy to quickly forget what we have done, felt, or experienced. I saw many happy, positive moments, and the exercise also helped me see where I had spent time doing things that I did not feel were in alignment with my goals, values or needs. Nothing to feel bad about, just something to observe.

Once I had looked over the past year, it was time to dream ahead. I identified a few areas where I want to focus, of course, one is my writing, and then I thought about the steps I would have to take to move forward. I felt a strong desire to try a new thing this year, perhaps something that is a stretch for me. I have not yet pinned down exactly what it will be; I have a few ideas, but I am certain the answer will come to me soon.

This morning, a question popped up as I mulled over an invitation. My inclination is to sometimes say yes, forgetting that no is also an option, often because it’s nice to be included, I am truly interested or curious, I like the people, the place, or the issue, or a sense of if I can, I should. But today I asked myself, “What is most in alignment with my goal or need for this moment, for this day?”Only then did I realize that although participating might be a good thing, it was not the best thing, for me, at this time. I’ve always said that as you get clear on your Yes, the No or Not Right Now becomes more apparent.

Because I can look back with gratitude and understanding that I am still learning, I can move forward with my dreams and goals for 2019, eager and excited to see how it all unfolds. Taking a quiet day is transformative for me, but it does not have to be done at the first of the year. Any time is a good time to look at your life and see if you are headed in the right direction.

Writing and My 2018 Reading

November will be over in a few days and it is time for another writing update. My progress on the short story has been slow, mainly because I have not decided how to end it. I worked on the piece today, and instead of writing with an absolute end in mind, I decided to slow down the pace and see where the story wants to go. It can take time to get to know my characters, even if I think I should know them better since I wrote them. I’ll continue working on the story, but I don’t expect to be finished by the end of the week.

Switching to fiction this month was also a reminder that nonfiction is probably my first love; it is what I write most often and what I usually read. Last December I set a goal to read 50 new books during 2018 and I’ve read over 40. I’ll have to see if I can actually make my goal, but the cold days of December are perfect for reading. I tracked whether the books were fiction or nonfiction and it did not take long to realize that over 65 percent of the books I read are nonfiction—essays, memoir, spirituality/inspirational, design, history.

So, it’s back to working on my essay collection, while trying to be intentional about reading more novels in the future. I missed working on the essays, and tend to believe being away from them for several weeks has given me a fresh perspective and new ideas. Changing my focus, if only for a month, made me miss that work and ready to get back in my chair and write.

Thanksgiving This Year

Autumn candle

This year was a milestone for me—I turned 60 and it was the first birthday that my mother was not able to celebrate with me, call me, or sign her name with my father’s to my card. When she passed away in late summer of 2017, I had no idea of how her passing would change me. I learned very quickly it was a hurt for which I had no words or experience.

I was excited about my 60th birthday and had planned a party (theme: Honey, I’m Grown) months in advance. As the June date drew nearer, I became apprehensive about how I would feel on that day, and wondered if in the middle of the celebration, I would realize that it was not a good idea. But that didn’t happen. Continue reading

November – Writing and a Road Trip

IMG_3205

The short story is coming along, at least the first draft of it. I am enjoying the process; this form is so different from the nonfiction I usually write and I am not quite sure of how the story will end. I think I know the ending but have to figure out how to get there, or if it is even the right way to finish the story. I’ll keep working on it, I have a little over two weeks to get it done.

I took a couple of days away from writing to visit a friend and we took a road trip to Amish country. We had a filling lunch, looked at Christmas decorations, and made a special trip to pick up the region’s best apple cider. At the market in Sugarcreek, the workers were sorting apples and filling bushels in an adjacent room. The aroma of different types of apples was enticing, but since I cannot eat fresh apples I had to make do with just enjoying the smell, watching the apples rumble and roll through the line,  and observing the cheerful chatter of the workers. Here are a two photos from that trip. I love day trips like this—they can be both relaxing and inspiring, and new story ideas often take root after some restful time away.

IMG_3200

 

IMG_3204

 

Do you have a favorite day trip destination?

 

November Writing Goal

Reporter working at typewriter.

I am sitting in the middle of office clutter that I wouldn’t want you to see if you happened to stop by for a cup of tea and a chat. It is not junky, but it is not as tidy as I like. Pens of all colors fill jars, a tote bag, gray scarf, cough drops, and lip balm are nearby, and a stack of papers bump against my left elbow. I am ignoring all of it—right now it is more important to write than to clean.

You might remember two years ago when I did National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a global event where you commit to writing 50,000 words during November. I participated, ended with more than the 50,000 words, and that stretch goal was a good exercise for me. I wrote a bit about what I learned here.

Now that book, or better said, draft, did not make it to the best seller list, but I enjoyed the journey into my characters’ lives, and it gave me the start for a different book I will complete one day. But this year I have decided to set a personal November writing goal.

It has been years since I have written a short story; I typically write nonfiction. But this month I am going to complete a short story that has been dancing around in my head for months. I will finish the first draft, and at least begin the initial round of revisions. I’m just starting out, so it is hard to say how long it will be, certainly longer than flash fiction (under 1,000 words) but no more than 8-10,000 words. I’ll let you know each Monday how I’m doing.

The office cleanup will have to wait.

 

Black Domers – selected as book club selection

FullSizeRender 5

I have great news to share—Black Domers: African-American Students at Notre Dame in Their Own Words, edited by Don Wycliff and David Krashna, was selected by U.S. Catholic Magazine as its January 2019 book club selection. My essay, which describes my experience as a Notre Dame student years ago, is one of many in this anthology.  The book tells how Black students first began to attend Notre Dame, how we made it through, what challenges and opportunities we faced, and what we have to say about our time there and relationship to the University, now that there has been time to reflect. The book starts with the first Black student, Frazier Thompson (class of 1947), and continues to alumni who graduated last year. The stories begin in the 1940s and provide interesting historical context.

Writing the essay was a rewarding experience for me, because it reveals what I love best about the essay form. Not only can a good essay connect us to a more universal story, but it requires the writer to do more than recount what happened. Writing an essay requires that you try to make sense of how the event or person has shaped you, what you took away from it. I learned there is not one typical ND experience, nor did we all respond the same way when confronted with challenges. All of the stories are not upbeat, but they demonstrate the resilience of the students.

I hope you will be able to read some of the stories, and would love to hear from you if you do.

Update: Some have asked where the book can be found. It is available on Amazon and in the Notre Dame bookstore if you happen to be in South Bend, IN. Thank you for your support and interest. I also wanted to add that in lieu of any payment, the authors agreed to support an endowment for scholarships so other students can have their own ND story.

 

 

Travel, poetry, and place

art artistic blank page book

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a full summer and August was heavy with travel, a weekend at the Newport Jazz Festival, and a trip to Bremerton and Seattle, WA. I had not been to Rhode Island or Washington state before, so they were fun firsts. I’ll write more about Bremerton and Bainbridge in a future post.

Last week, I went to hear Tracy K. Smith, US Poet Laureate, read and give a talk at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN. I have always been impressed by this small college, which has invited so many amazing women over the years. It was at Saint Mary’s that I first saw actress Cicely Tyson, and I can still remember her entrance on the stage, she wore winter white and was positively regal.

Ms. Smith won the Pulitzer Prize and I am a fan of her memoir Ordinary Light but have come to enjoy her poetry too. She spoke about understanding poetry, writing it, and also considers poetry a form of activism. She spoke about the “impossible resilience of black people despite attempts to annihilate us,” and many in the auditorium seemed to understand how these are challenging times. I love how poetry can convey a feeling or emotion or experience with its use of rhythm and imagery, and Smith left us feeling that poetry should not be inaccessible, it is for everyone.

I love summer but I am going to embrace the fall weather that is only a week or so away. On my nightstand is the book Poets on Place by W.T. Pfefferle, and I want to read it to learn how poetry and other writing can be used to express the heart of a place.

Until the next time…