Love's Work

"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."

- Gillian Rose, Love's Work: A Reckoning with Life

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.

Sarah, Plain and Tall

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 . . . 


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?

"giver of form"


"This is why God as creator is called dator formarum, 'giver of form,' the latter word needing to be understood in the philosophical sense which naturally goes beyond the concept of the visible or material form, and designates the whole nature as being under consideration . . . 

 . . . the artisan's gestures are a reflection of this divine activity, and are like its continuation, whether is be the gestures of the quarryman, the potter, or any other artisan."

- Jean Hani, Divine Craftsmanship: Preliminaries to a Spirituality of Work