The Plot Sisters — Part II

In April 2014, I wrote about The Plot Sisters, a vibrant group of five Dayton area writers who I first met in Katrina Kittle’s Character Development class.

Traci Ison, Cindy Cremeans, Christina Consolina, Jennifer Harper Messaros, Ruthanne Templeton Kain (not pictured)

They celebrated with me after I successfully pitched to a New York agent. I was thanked for a “well-crafted pitch, the agent noted that my story has a compelling narrative arc, and she asked me to send her a proposal … after I built my platform (a large enough number of followers for a New York agent to actually represent me.)

Christina pointed out that Dayton has a lot of good writers and we support each other. She said, “We can be part of your platform.” Her words were music to my ears. And she didn’t disappoint. She agreed to be one of my beta readers and gave me valuable feedback that strengthened my memoir.

Even though I didn’t build a large enough platform to interest a New York agent in representing me and my publishing path went in a different direction, that hasn’t stopped the Plot Sisters from supporting me. They invited me to be their guest at their December 21 meeting. And do they ever know how to treat their guests.

Jennifer Harper Messaros, Jude Walsh, Cindy Cremeans, Ruthann Templeton Kain, Christina Consolino, Traci Ison (via FaceTime), and me

Some changes have occurred for The Plot Sisters. Traci moved to Oklahoma, but continues to attend their meetings via FaceTime. And Jude Walsh has joined their ranks. Because writing is a solitary activity and can be discouraging as what we have poured our heart and soul into receives rejections, having a support system is vital. I’m grateful for my connection with these wonderful women.

After sharing with me a little about the state of their writing, we launched into a spirited discussion about A Long Awakening to Grace, my writing style and the narrative arc. They noted the humility with which I told my story and how that draws the reader in. They wanted to hear all about my decision to self-publish and we discussed the pros and cons of that publishing path. They inquired as to what I’ll be writing next and had some great suggestions.

Because this meeting occurred on the eve of winter solstice, they brought goodies to share with each other and included me in the sharing. I was thrilled. But then they surprised me with a gift bag. I pulled out a lovely box of notecards adorned with butterflies. What a lovely gift.

And then Jude said, “There’s a little something else in the bottom of the bag.”

I rummaged through tissue paper and pulled out a velvet jewelry box. My eyes widened as I opened the box to find a beautiful butterfly necklace decorated with Black Hills gold. They couldn’t have known how significant receiving this gift was.

When I was twelve, I spotted a birthstone ring in the window of the local jewelry store. It was mounted in Black Hills gold. I fell in love with it and was thrilled when my grandmothers joined together in gifting me with it on the occasion of my confirmation.

The mounting wore away as the years went on. My dad wanted to place it in a new mounting. I protested. Because I loved the uniqueness of that mounting so much, he refreshed it instead. It continues to be one of  my most important treasures to this day.

And now, thanks to the generosity of The Plot Sisters, I have a matching necklace. It is already one of my favorite treasures … a lovely reminder of the importance of supporting each other as writers and as women. You all are the best and I am blessed by knowing you and being known by you.

My Return Visit to ImagoLand

Eight of us gathered in a circle in Marcia’s living room for a “Giving and Receiving Love” advanced Imago training.  I flinched, surprised at how startled I felt as our trainers, Marcia and Orli, vulnerably revealed their childhood coping mechanisms and the ways these sabotage their efforts to give and receive love. I had not entered ImagoLand for over five years because I retired as an Imago Relationship Therapist in 2012.

It was as though I was a fish who had been out of water for a long time. My initial shock at being plunged back into my natural habitat gave way as I relaxed and began swimming with the current.

In 2002, I learned something about the current in which I swim when I met Marianne Paulus and read her book, Four Paths to Union. Her first chapter titled “An Inner Urge” begins with a quote.

“Our hearts are restless until they come to rest in thee.” ~St. Augustine

Paulus writes about a deep spiritual impulse within all of us … a powerful force at work that motivates our choices and illuminates our differences from others. This inner urge reveals itself in ordinary ways through personality patterns, preferences, interests, and activities. These are easily recognizable when we become familiar with the four broad Pathways we paddle through when we become conscious of our desire for Union with the Divine. She goes on to describe each pathway in detail … the Paths of …

  • Devotion
  • Action
  • Contemplation
  • Self-Mastery

While these Pathways are not mutually exclusive, in each person one urge tends to be stronger than others and determines our predominant way of interacting in the world. I like to think of it as the way The Divine created us and calls us to offer our gifts to the world. It makes sense to me to be faithful to our “true selves.” Life seems to work better that way, though not always smoothly.

World religions grew up around these various urges and cultures arose out of the religious orientations that emerged. Paulus hopes that by knowing this, we will find it easier to respect other people and their choices.

I share her hope because after reading about these four impulses, I realized that my strongest urges reside in the Path of Self-Mastery, one of two paths (the other being the Path of Contemplation) that are least understood and respected by the Western culture in which I live. I declared to myself in astonishment, “No wonder I feel so different. No wonder I don’t fit in.”

It is no surprise that my Self-Mastery inner urge led me to United Theological SeminaryLiving in Process, a twelve-step program, and Imago … all places where I would be challenged to evolve into my “true self.” Paulus says that our inner urge acts as a kind of homing device. In these settings, I could attend to my greatest challenge, changing myself.

Paulus says that our predominant urge is also our greatest opportunity, but because I was more focused on how I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t conscious of that until I wrote my memoir. In the writing, I needed to draw on the strengths found in the Path of Contemplation, a more cerebral path of using language to reflect deeply on the large questions of life. If one is determined to write with the depth and honesty requested of memoirists, and I was, exploring those large questions as they pertain to one’s own life is imperative … and for me exciting and enjoyable.

As I wrote about and reflected upon the meaning of my life, I discovered that my difficult circumstances had provided me with just the opportunity I needed to learn to give and receive love. As insurmountable obstacles presented themselves, I was forced to surrender to a power greater than myself. As I surrendered and received love from the Divine, my “true self” rose to the surface … the part of me who knows how to give love without conditions … even and especially to those who seemed responsible for throwing obstacles in my path. These are clearly important spiritual lessons. And without my predominant urge, I might never have learned them.

Those of us who follow the Path of Self-Mastery believe that mastering our own functioning will be our primary contribution to the world. And so it is, that my account of mastering myself forms the backbone of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. I can’t imagine any greater gift I could offer the world. I can’t imagine any greater gift I could offer to those I love up close and personal than to master the parts of myself that sabotage my ability to give and receive love.

And so, after my initial shock at being plunged back into ImagoLand’s ocean, I relaxed and enjoyed the flow. All of us self-mastery devotees swam in a current matching our personality patterns, preferences, interests, and activities … our natural habitat.

It felt good to be back. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Larry spoke for all of us when he said of our experience, “I got to be a part of what is best about humanity.”

In good “self-mastery form,” I’m grateful for the opportunity to be enlightened about the parts of myself that sabotage my capacity to give and receive love … to be given another opportunity to master myself. I couldn’t have had better trainers than Orli and Marcia. They shared from their hearts as well as their intellects. And swimming with Mike, Margaret, Suzie, Deborah, and Larry in ImagoLand’s ocean waters … well what can I say. It was just so much fun to be back in my natural habitat.

Orli (from Israel), Larry, and Marcia (from Michigan)

 

Angels Among Us ~~ Alice

Friends who have read my memoir and especially those who have accompanied me on my journey the past eight years of bringing my book into the world have been remarking about how just the right person has come along at every juncture in my life to take me to the next level. That, too, has amazed me. If I ever doubted that the Universe has my back, writing and publishing my memoir has dispelled any lingering uncertainty.

Shirley, the Angel in my November 24 post, and Alice, the Angel I am featuring today, were people from the church who extended love to me at times in my life when I needed to know that I am Divinely loved, that I am a person of worth, and that I am capable of much more than I realize. The Universe had plans for me I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

I’ll bet if you think about it, you can point to a person or persons from your childhood or youth who changed the trajectory of your life. That one person for me is Alice.

Alice

Alice moved to my hometown when I was about twelve to serve as the parish worker in our church. She appears in two places in my memoir because her influence in my early life was great.

Because she was new in town and didn’t know many people, she welcomed frequent visits from my friend Saundra and me. We always had fun at Alice’s apartment. My most precious memories, however, are the times when I was alone with Alice. I carried the following secret in my  heart related to Alice. When she read A Long Awakening to Grace, she was shocked to learn about it.

“I remember most how Alice made me feel. When we spent time alone, she treated me as someone important to her. She listened as though interested in what I thought and how I felt. She didn’t seem to consider it ‘weird’ talking about serious topics. She gave me the individual attention I received from no one else. I felt ‘at home’ with Alice and wished she could adopt me so I could live with her.” ~Page 27 of A Long Awakening to Grace

And then, when my high school graduation was nearing, Alice changed my life’s path. She asked me what I planned to do after graduation and recommended I go to college. I didn’t think I was smart enough, no one at home or school had suggested it, so I hadn’t given it any thought. I am forever grateful for her suggestion. And I’m grateful I was wise enough to follow it. Going to college opened opportunities that I would otherwise not have had … including meeting people who could take me to my next level of my development.

It took fifteen years and a second recommendation for me to heed her next suggestion. Alice was the first person to suggest I consider a career in the church.

“‘You should think about being a parish worker like me.’ … I tucked Alice’s recommendation in the back of my mind …” Page 11 of A Long Awakening to Grace

Alice’s suggestion led me to Bowling Green State University and a major in Business Education. I didn’t know myself well back then and chose a major that wasn’t a good fit for me. I took a circuitous path through United Theological Seminary, Living in Process and Imago Relationship Therapy trainings that revealed a counseling ministry as a better fit.

And now, after publishing my memoir to such high praise from readers, I wonder what life might have been like had I pursued creative writing. Even though I was selected by the faculty to be the editor of our high school newspaper, that was a possibility that never occurred to me. I knew no one and had never heard of anyone who had followed such a path.

It is not too late, however. What lights up my life these days is increasing my learning about the craft of writing. Despite my eighteen-year-old attitude that I wasn’t smart, thanks to Alice, I have emerged at seventy-five into a life-long learner. It is what makes my life meaningful.

“Conscious aging is about having meaningful goals for our elderhood that spring from our authentic selves and using the power of intention and inner work to make our vision a reality. It is about having the courage to aim high in an unconscious world.” ~Ron Pevny in Conscious Living, Conscious Aging: Embrace & Savor Your Next Chapter.