Bless, O God, my little cow,
Bless, O God, my desire;
Bless Thou my partnership
And the milking of my hands, O God.
Bless, O God, each teat,
Bless, O God, each finger;
Bless Thou each drop
That goes into my pitcher, O God!
One of my favorite small-prayer practices is that from the Celtic tradition – small prayers for smalls tasks. Part of the worldview that created these prayers is such a hearty acceptance of immanent theology: not only can God join us as we do the dishes (and wants to join us), but God is in the dishes, in the soap and grime and water basin too. Entering into small tasks with small prayers turns our eyes to the life-giving reality of how God makes and sustains these tangible things.
THERE ARE CELTIC PRAYERS FOR ALMOST EVERYTHING A DAILY CHORE-LIST WOULD ENTAIL: LIGHTING THE KINDLING, MILKING A COW, STEPPING OVER A THRESHOLD.
Blessing of the Kindling
I will kindle my fire this morning
In the presence of the holy angels of heaven . . .
Without malice without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.
IN HIS BOOK CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, EVAN B. HOWARD CREATES A MODERN DAY CELTIC PRAYER:
A Celtic Blessing for Receiving Phone Calls
Here is a child of God,
image of the Father,
redeemed by the Son,
invited by the Spirit,
I welcome this person,
with the heart of Christ.
I love that part of my computer stand is a box from Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas - which has been making the best fruitcake in the world since 1896.
Maybe some of the cake's dense, fruity goodness will seep into my writing! Or at least remind the writer how good a good thing has the potential to be :)
I have always enjoyed reading the weather forecast as set by Met Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service: whoever helps describe the coming daily weather, I imagine, must have a love of all the different nouns and adjectives to differentiate between slight variances of weather. But this last Sunday's (July 15, 2018) was an exceptionally beautiful example, and I couldn't help making a found poem from it.
Fresher, drier, clearer
in the evening
in western areas
With an old Polaroid recently given to me, I have been taking photos. And as I 'watch myself' taking photos, I've realized that I'm absolutely uninterested in normal, good-looking, well-framed, in-focus photos. My iPhone, old as it is, does that really well. I want to take imperfect, fuzzy, strangely framed photographs.
The aesthetic I'm going for is toward the kind of photo that you would find at the bottom of a shoebox in the back of the closet. A splice of a moment in time, rather than glossy documentation perfect for social media platforms.
I think there's a nostalgia within this aesthetic, a nostalgia for all things analog and akin to the Stranger Things craze; it's also a reactionary pulse against what technology makes so easy with all our filters and fixes. But neither of these explain the deeper appeal these Polaroid photos have for me.
I think that appeal is what children and young adults do with a camera - they see and capture things in a lop-sided way. Not just literally lop-sided (though that too) - but a kind of eye that makes smaller things bigger and bigger things smaller. Things that will be important to adults and their critical social imaginaries are just not that important to kids' perceptions. They want to get the hot dog on the rotting picnic table. Or, who cares that the edge of the car is in the sublime vista?
That's what it is, I think, that I find so alluring here - a kind of freedom from typical adulthood framing devices, which ultimately calibrates what's worth framing and what's not.
The Polaroids in the bottom of the shoebox at the back of the closet tell the stories no one ever thought to see.
"They walked down the hill and leaned on the bridge to watch the stream run into the lake. She always remembered how, in the fields, the rabbits showed white scuts and undercoats as they played, and the geese shone like pearls in the mud and a gull over the lake showed white wings as it turned to the shore. She always remembered those small shining pieces of white."
This quote from the novel Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden is one of my favorite quotes about the Irish countryside. It's so true: amongst all the greens and browns and blues come these bright small white shining creatures - usually, for me, birds - the wild geese and the swans and seagulls. Their livingness informs my livingness.
Among my favorite gifts that my son has received is the little set of books from his great-aunt, a fellow book-lover: The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. Sendak, well-known for his incredible Where the Wild Things Are, puts his genius towards these four small books (encased in a perfectly sized small box): a counting book, a book of the months, an alphabet book, and a cautionary tale.
What more is needed in a little set of books for a little one starting to learn of the world? Perhaps deep whimsy as well; facts are facts, but alongside Sendak's imaginative drawings in aqua, green, and yellow hues, these facts of numbers and letters come alive with gentle, comic, loving humor. Life is rather strange, after all, and a little silliness goes a long way.
"Cause when a Texas fancies he'll take his chances
You know chances will be taken that's for sure . . ."
- "London Homesick Blues" (lyrics by Gary P. Gunn)
Thanks, Jerry Jeff Walker, for the song. Thanks, Grandma Gloria, for the album. And thanks, Half-Price Books on Highway 6 in Sugar Land, Texas, for being one great store, one which I always make sure to visit when I visit my old home.
One of my favorite evenings to recollect is June 24, 2012. It was a lovely, fresh evening on the North Shore of Prince Edward Island. I was there for the bi-annual L.M. Montgomery Conference (this one on cultural memory), and after all the interesting papers and presentations, we were visiting the site Maud called "hallowed ground" - the MacNeill Homestead where she lived until she was about 36 - and the place where Anne of Green Gables was born. No buildings remain, but the view Maud would have looked out on does - the old trees, the bright summer flowers, the long green hills.
After a look-around, we walked to the nearby Cavendish United Church to hear some of the Island's best-loved poets read aloud. It was here that I heard David Helwig read from his most recent book, The Sway of Otherwise.
The poems were so beautiful to me. There is a delicacy of diction in Helwig's work, and a kindness of vision: from a special shade of evening light to finding an old photo, not much is lost on this poet. With grounded, real words he gently spins ordinary moments into widening fields of thought and revelation. This was my kind of poet. What a gift to hear him in person in Montgomery's beloved Cavendish, and to buy his book and have him sign it.
I'll close with the last stanza of one of my favorite poems in the collection, "Poetics":
Lines, spaces, the unspoken between lines,
and the silence between the spaces—a tiny
peeping bird in silhouette against the cloud
of a November afternoon, exact, trans-
parent, counterlit, and defying syntax. Any
word said is perjury against the still unmade.
It was such a special find. I found this book while walking ever so slowly through a used bookstore in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. Just to be in the setting of my beloved Anne of Green Gables, and to be exploring the home of the author L. M. Montgomery - whom I had long cherished as a kindred spirit - was enough. But I was hoping to find a book that was unusual, something I wouldn't know about unless I stumbled across it in the small, dusty kids' corner of a bookstore. I wanted to take home a book that resonated with that part of me that resonates with Avonlea.
And that's when I found this - a small, gentle, good, warm, real collection of poems for children by the poet Charlotte Zolotow. Here's one of my favorites:
We turn out the lights
and the color is gone.
The shapes are gone.
with tomorrow's clothes laid out,
in the bookcase,
on the floor,
the bright curtains,
the red rug
are covered by friendly dark.
Only with eyes closed
can you see now.
One of my hopes for The River Boy was getting the story to readers I've never met and probably never will. This is one reason why I took copies of the book to libraries. I loved the idea of someone finding the book on the bookshelves and taking it home - as I did with so many wondrously good novels during the long summers of childhood.
Another way was to contact bloggers who write about children's books. After searching, I gathered a list of bloggers who were willing to read self-published books. Out of these, two replied back to me, willing to read the book and review it. The blogs were award-winning sites, well-written by passionate readers; I could not have been more excited. These blogs were:
I share this here to encourage you to reach out with your writing. I know a few people out there who are self-published . . . it's hard to know how to carry out your own promotion, but it's usually worth it. What good content - and good people - you get to connect with. AND a new circle of readers forms through virtual connections!
Blessings for the writing journey, my friends!
This is a small jar of fragrant black tea.
About a year and a half ago, a very dear friend and I went to Oxford together - we had both lived there in our early twenties (we were actually there at the same time without knowing it!) in study abroad programs, and for both of us, it was an incredibly formative time. Our trip together was a time to walk, talk, listen, share - but as my friend so aptly put it, "show each other our Oxfords." I took my friend to one of my favorite tea houses (The Rose on High Street), and just before we left, she bought me this small glass jar of tea to take home with me.
She knows that "my Oxford" is more than a town/gown affair; it was when I started writing regularly, from and in the deeps, and where dreams began, dreams not reached these seventeen years later.
I keep my canister of tea on my bookshelf next to books that are in the world of ideas I'm thinking about, books in the world of ideas I'm getting ready to write about. In this way, the fragrance of the tea is the world of ideas - the great gift it is to enter this world, and think, and write, and dream.
But dreams are difficult to carry, and it's wise to learn (and re-learn) how to adapt, modify, extend, and deepen them, or perhaps for a season, or longer, let them go. The fragrance of the tea is also the fragrance of being seen, held, known, loved, and encouraged. Thank you, my friend.
here's a poem in progress, I think it's almost there . . .
"The Lovers must leave a distance, a boundary, for love: then they approach and retire so they love may suspire. This may be the economics of eros; but it may also be taken as the infinite passion of faith: Dieu se revele en se retirer. Love and philosophy may seem to have had the most to say, but friendship and faith have been framing and encroaching by night and by day."
I will need to re-read this book again, if only to understand it a little better than I have the first time reading it. But to me this book puts forward - in the face of the hardest things, atrocities, sickness, death - a praxis of love that is wise in its humility, strong in its flexibility. When love can learn, reflect, adapt, seek, let go - when its has muscles, heart, and brain - in other words, when love is living enough to work: this is love that makes our human experience achieve its best form.
What stories show this kind of love? Do you recommend a novel, film, or memoir that shows this working love? One story that comes to my mind is Places in Heart, by Robert Benton. The story is so much about the transformation within the characters' capacities for love. Modes of love at first formed by brittleness, prejudice, and fear start to soften, share, see, and 'flesh out' so that by the end love is operative, and real.
Must we use words
Can there not be
A silent, flaming
Leap of heart
- Elizabeth B. Rooney (1924-1999)
I love words. But I think I also see in my love of words a compunction to use them. They are safe. If not islands in the seas, they are at least floatation devices.
Sometimes, I like to see what happens in me if I let loose for awhile my leash on words - slacken for a time (day, week, month) the way I use them to structure and hold, describe and name (all very good human capacities). Like many writers, my compunction for words is woven with a compunction to write, with unease - even a kind of febrile angst - quick to arise if I'm not writing. I've learned to hold this angst and let it be part of the task and work of writing. But sometimes, it is a gift to drop the rope, let wordlessness come upon me.
I think this is a way of freedom. Even replenishment. The need to write and my love of words is not going anywhere, but it seems good to let my soul know: you exist, and are seen and loved, regardless of your writing.
"Man's most important problem is not being but living. To live means to be at the crossroads. There are many forces and drives within the self. What direction to take? is a question we face again and again.
Who am I? A mere chip from the block of being? Am I not both the chisel and the marble? Being and foreseeing? Being and bringing into being?"
I didn't read one of my favorite children's novels as a child; I read it when I was twenty. I had just spent my first year overseas: my brain was teeming with images and ideas and plans. Back home in Texas, I joined my family on a road trip to Montana, to mark out a little of the Lewis and Clark trail from our hired minivan. I had the soundtrack to Almost Famous in my transportable CD-player, and the wide vistas of last frontier out the windows. That's when I read the novel Sarah, Plain and Tall.
After all the theology and philosophy and literature I had read that past year (all really good stuff, igniting deep fires in the brain), Sarah, Plain, and Tall arrived like a goldfinch, at first - gold, bright, melodic. Then, it went deeper. The story settled within me, like ballast.
The story is a healing one, a story about trust and love, told in simple terms and kind words.
With Sarah, Plain and Tall on one side - Simon and Garfunkel's "America" in my ears - and the long spread of green, mellow pastures with rising mountains in the distance on my other side: I started writing The River Boy. It was in an old school spiral. I wrote double-spaced, the thick line of empty paper between each line of words, markings in pencil.
Good stories alight. Great stories settle in. They change us, help us. And sometimes, they even compel us to see etchings of another story - a new one, our own. Characters never seen before ask to come closer. Props like quilts and stones and rivers are suddenly at hand, eager to be used. The cadence of words sound out along the lines of what hopes to be a good story . . .
Great news, readers! Here's another review for The River Boy -
Clara and Josiah's story is going further out into the world!
This blog, called Bookworm for Kids, has received several awards - and with reason: it's a clear, fun, helpful, good resource. Its tagline is "Reviews for children books - from toddlers to teens and everything in between," and the site is easily navigational between the different age groups. If you've got a reader in your life, this is going to be a boon!
At the time of writing this post, I am in the middle of revising three novels. One is the sequel to The River Boy (yay!); one is a novel set in medieval Rhineland, about a beguine; and one is the fantasy novel that I've been working on for years.
For Penny's Story (the sequel), the revision needed is for minor plot-points, working out the soundness/logic of a few beats. Then there's the last line of the novel: that needs work. Also, I'd like to add either a pair or trio of scenes between the characters, just to give it that abundance-of-good-story-ness. This is fairly straightforward writing/re-writing work.
For Consider the Nightingale (the medieval one), I am doing much more heavy-duty and intricate revisions. It's like I'm using my ear to sound something out: listening to strange structural noises underwater. I'm "unweaving" all the flashbacks, making the story fairly chronological, and writing new work for the last fourth. I think I'm doing the right thing here - but for all the analytical thinking skills (which I love employing), it also feels like deeply intuitive work - sculpting while blind-folded.
And as for Eight Travelers (the fantasy novel) . . . I took that as far as I could go on my own. I've handed it over to a very, very good reader, and she is making copious notes. We'll see what kind of revision list I make after I receive those notes, and sit with it for awhile, and listen with story-hearing ears to the story-sound-shapes the story is making.
Revision - a straight-forward word for a murky, multi-faceted process . . .
Revision is one word that could different kinds of writing work. What revisions are you doing now? Do you enjoy them? What kind of writing/re-writing does revision usually mean for you?