On NOT Being “Humor Challenged” … Seriously

“…the Spirit prays for us with groans too deep for words.” ~Romans 8:26b

If the Spirit prays with groans too deep for words, then I’m okay with my moans and groans about writing on the topic of “happiness.” Writing is for me a spiritual practice … writing letters to the Divine in my journal is a prayer practice for me.

I often moan and groan until an opening occurs and what is too deep for words emerges … wisdom flows from my pen as though from the still, small voice within. The Divine doesn’t always speak to me this way, but I have experienced these transcendent moments enough to trust that my moans and groans are leading me to a deeper place of awareness. Being in league with the Spirit isn’t a bad place to be.

And so, while I moaned and groaned about writing on the topic of “happiness” for my writing group, I trusted something deeper would emerge. And it has and continues. Here’s the latest!

Growing up, my family dubbed me the weird, serious one. They reveled in joke telling and laughing uproariously. I didn’t get some of their jokes, didn’t find some of them funny, and couldn’t join in their merry-making.

I inevitably forgot or messed up the punch line of most jokes I attempted to tell. My family happily reinforced my thinking about myself as “humor challenged.” That presented a dilemma

If you have been following my blog posts on happiness, you have probably guessed that my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is not a tale of “happily every after.”

“Be kind to your readers. Color your darker moments with humor to lighten the heaviness of your story,” those of us writing memoirs are taught.

As you might imagine, that unsettled me. How could a “humor challenged” woman prone to melancholy make her less than “happily ever after” story funny?

“Comedy comes from pain.” ~Kevin Hart

According to Forbes, Kevin Hart, was the highest paid comedian on the planet last year. That makes him pretty popular. And he makes people laugh by making fun of himself and finding humor in painful situations in his life … like his fear of the dark and absurd reactions to his mother’s death.

I’m no Kevin Hart, but fortunately for me, I have good friends and many of them find me funny … not for the jokes I tell … I gave up on jokes a long time ago. They find my  comments about the absurdities of life and my wry comments, usually made at my own expense, funny. Sometimes they even laugh uproariously.

If you have ever experienced that side of me, just know that is a sign that I feel really safe with you.

And fortunately for me, I had a good editor. After reading my manuscript, she would not accept my perception that I am “humor challenged.” Hmmm. Had she noticed something in my writing that would at least give my readers a chuckle.

Hey, I’ll take a chuckle anytime.

But, since satire had never automatically flowed from my fingers before, the tongue-in-cheek humor that emerged as I wrote about “happiness” filled me with happiness. 🙂 I noted it as the presence of the Transcendent.

Then, last weekend, some bonafide funny words popped out of my mouth in a phone conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked with for awhile. She was excited to hear that I have finished writing my memoir and that it will be published in 2018. I told her:

“My memoir is in three parts:

The first part is: ‘I’m a mess.’

The second part is: ‘I’m getting my act together.’

The third part is: ‘I think I’m getting the hang of this now.'”

We both chuckled. Later she sent me an e-mail.

“It was so delightful to talk with you this afternoon.  I can hardly wait until your book is published!  Please keep me in that loop so I can get an early copy.”

You, too, could be “in that loop.” All I need is your e-mail and permission to add you to my list. You could send me a message on my contact page. Or, if you haven’t already, you could sign up to receive notifications through my blog. Just saying.

I never cease to be amazed and in awe at the way Spirit works in my life. Today I’m grateful to know that I am seriously not “humor challenged.” My editor confronted me several times with this truth. She will be happy that I finally get it. Groan! Forgive me. Sometimes I can be a slow learner. 😉

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I moaned and groaned with the other women in my Cincinnati Writer’s Group as we came to our gathering to share what we wrote about “Happiness.” Today, I am quite happy that we chose to write and share on this topic because it has led to an important awakening in my life.

After contemplating Gary’s profound piece on Transcendent Happiness, I realized that my moans and groans related to my 1950s-60s socialization.

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

The promise of “happily ever after” portrayed in co-dependent ballads that I loved as an idealistic, naive young woman: (think Johnny Mathis’s “Voice of Romance” … Misty, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never) and musicians who made my heart be-bop (think Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Tommy Sands) tripped me up.

“Happily Ever After”

I actually believed that “happily ever after” was how life was supposed to work. Somehow I missed that it is a MYTH! I missed the mark.

When my life didn’t work according to my expectations, I wrestled to make sense of it.

At first, I made myself the problem. “What’s wrong with me?” I tried to whip myself into shape with a long list of self-sabotaging messages. More “Missing the Mark.” 

When I learned about misogyny and sexism, contributing to women’s low self-worth, I reasoned that life was unfair. True, but knowing that didn’t help me hit the mark.

Eventually I found a more productive route. Focusing on “What am I doing wrong?” produced a lot of fruit. There was indeed a lot I was doing wrong. I made a concerted effort to clean up my act.

The tongue-in-cheek perspective in the next paragraph that appeared in my original treatise on “Happiness” makes me happy because it flowed from my fingers automatically … a sure sign of the Transcendent engaging me. 

Not everyone in my life liked my journey from “dysfunctional” to “more functional.” I can’t say from “dysfunctional” to “functional” because I’m not functionally perfect, though a very dysfunctional part of me wishes I were.

Pay Dirt

 

“The whole idea in life is growth. I mean you stop growing, you stop asking questions, you lose your curiosity. That’s not a life you want to live.” ~Goldie Hawn

Gary’s writing on Transcendent Happiness made me curious about my moans and groans. That opened my eyes to how off-center and out-of-balance my 50s-60s mindset throws me … how much I still carry that longing within me for “happily ever after” and how far from the real treasures in life that obsession takes me. Knowing how I miss the mark when it comes to the topic of happiness, I think I can let go of “happily ever after” once and for all. What a relief.

The Comparison Trap:

“Aggregate happiness has not risen in countries where incomes and educational levels have risen. There is much evidence that people compare their income with other people and, if others become richer, they feel less happy at any given level of income.” ~World Happiness Report

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

“When I compare myself or my life with others, that is a sure sign that I have moved too far away from engaging or allowing myself to be engaged by the Transcendent.” ~Linda A. Marshall

I think my friend, Pat, who described her true happiness as having a sense of peace even when things around her are not going well is on to something significant. She attributes her peace to her relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working through her…what I believe Gary was saying in different words.

For me, I much prefer to focus on The Pursuit of Meaning. That leads me to be right on the mark … growing in consciousness.

Thank you, Gary, for opening my eyes a wee bit wider and my heart to the true treasures in life: my blessings as well as the strength, resilience, and wisdom that can flow from adversity when I am open to receiving it. That is “happiness” I can embrace.

Transcendent Happiness

As we gathered, the female’s in my writing group groaned about our topic of “Happiness.” Our lone gentleman just smiled.

Gary, one of the deepest and most reflective men I have ever met, noted that on July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence named the pursuit of happiness as our inalienable right.

And then on April 10, 2017, 240 years later, Gary received this from Sounds True, “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness.”

Sounds True was advertising a Rick Hanson masterclass. Hanson has written many books including Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence and offers several masterclasses through Sounds True.

Hanson is a psychologist with a special interest in neuroscience’s research about our brain’s neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to get our emotions back in balance. He says that happiness is far more than a positive feeling that comes and goes. It is a skill that you can develop. Bridging neuropsychology with the great contemplative traditions, Dr. Hanson helps people learn to let go of negative experiences to make space for positive thoughts and feelings.

When Gary received this advertisement about Hanson’s masterclass, he asked himself, “Am I happy? Do I need to take this class?”

He began to write his reflections on these questions and after three drafts, felt happy with his result.

Personally, I think “I felt happy with the result” is an understatement.

Gary realized that he is and always has been a happy person. He hadn’t known that in quite the same way and that led him to ask, “What is the source of my happiness?”

His answer was profound. “I am happiest when I am ‘Engaging the Transcendent.” He went on to share the various forms in which he engages the transcendent.

You can read what he wrote here.

How would you answer Gary’s question: “What is the source of my happiness?”
In what ways do you “engage the transcendent?”

 

Merriam-Webster Happiness

The question at the end of my last post: What words come to mind when you hear the word “happiness?”

Pat wrote: Peace

According to Merriam-Webster, happiness is the state of being happy.  Don’t you just love definitions like that?!?

Happy is followed by a very long enumeration of synonyms:

  • cheerful, cheery, merry
  • joyful, jovial, jolly, jocular, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed
  • thrilled, elated, exhilarated, ecstatic, euphoric, exultant
  • buoyant, radiant, rapturous
  • gleeful, delighted, blissful, blithe, beatific, sunny
  • pleased, satisfied, contented, gratified
  • carefree, untroubled, lighthearted

Interesting that “peace” is not among them.

A happy person is described as being in good spirits … in a good mood.

Happy people are:

  • smiling, beaming, grinning,
  • in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, walking on air,
  • jumping for joy, tickled pink, happy as a clam,
  • over the moon, on top of the world.

It was Merriam-Webster’s description of “happy” that influenced me as I contemplated writing my essay on “happiness” for my writing group.

It is a rare occasion for any of Merriam-Webster’s words to describe me. I am an introvert and we are notorious for our discomfort in jubilant, jumping for joy crowds. A quiet evening at home holds more attraction than a room full of merry, exhilarated party-goers.

My “awkwardness” insecurity rose to the surface. Where do so serious-natured introverts fit into the “central mandate of the American character” to pursue happiness by doing the “Next Big Thing?”

How to write about “happiness?” I mulled that over for a couple of weeks, and then I was saved. A television program featured a segment on the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Aha! I had a way into the topic! Much less threatening to write about a country’s happiness than about my own or lack thereof. And my research project began.


What feelings are generated in you when you read Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for “happy?”

How would you approach writing about the topic of “happiness?”

Carol suggested highlighting the unexpected benefits pointed out by Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and author. Now there’s a guy who pursues happiness!

Not a bad idea, Carol. Why didn’t I think of that? Must have been that “awkwardness” brain fog. 

 

Happiness

Happiness was the topic chosen for the April meeting of my Cincinnati Contemplative Writing Group. Of the six of us, four of our essays referred to the pursuit of happiness enshrined as a right in our Declaration of Independence:

My essay turned into a research project. I will expand on this topic in my next few blog posts. This is my first installment:

I found a 2013 Time magazine article written by Jeffrey Kluger titled “The Happiness of Pursuit.” He points out that Americans have made the pursuit of happiness into a central mandate of our  national character … “an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing.” Even though there is no guarantee we’ll achieve happiness, we are free to go after it in almost any way we choose.

Kluger points out that the kinetic nature of our modern world is making achieving happiness harder than ever. He cites a 1972 survey showing that only one-third of Americans describe themselves as “very happy” and a poll showing that Americans identifying themselves as “optimists” has dropped from 79% in 2004 to 50% in 2013. In our lifetimes, more than 20% of us will suffer from a mood disorder and 30% from an anxiety disorder. By the time we are eighteen years old, 11% of us will have been diagnosed with depression.

This gap between our optimistic expectations and our reality has, according to Kluger, spawned the vast happiness industry that has become big business.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

Interesting that in our group of six, only one of us professed to currently being and always having been a happy person. Other terms used to describe our views on happiness included:

  • superficial
  • egocentric
  • uninteresting
  • highly overrated
  • fleeting
  • ephemeral
  • elusive
  • momentary
  • over-used
  • pressured expectation

Except for that one “happy” person in our group, we seem to be following the trend noted in Kluger’s essay.

What words come to your mind when you hear the word “Happiness?”

In what ways have you pursued happiness?

Where do you see yourself on the “optimism” continuum?

How would you write about this topic?

I look forward to reading your comments. More to come on this topic in future installments.

And by the way, did you notice I changed the name of this blog? 

Influences: My Father’s Shining Example

Robert E. Marshall 1918-2009

Robert E. Marshall
1918-2009

In 1951, when I was nine and my brother eight, our parents sold our house in Sidney, Ohio, auctioned off most of our belongings, and moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. Leaving our numerous playmates and beloved neighbors was not easy. I remember the morning we left, sitting in the backseat of the car with my stomach in knots, holding back tears as we said our goodbyes to John, Celeste, and Annie Voress, neighbors who were like family. I had no idea when we embarked on this one-year odyssey that it would have such a profound influence on me.

Dad dropped out of high school after his junior year. Sugar in his urine shattered his dream of joining the air force at the beginning of World War II and becoming an airplane mechanic. Never abandoning his fascination with flight and eventually the space program, he actualized his passion by focusing on car mechanics.

dads-gas-station

When we moved to Florida, Dad purchased a gasoline station. Because of the long hours involved, it became a family business. In order to spend time with Dad, Mom often worked there. Self-service was not yet a reality. Many a customer’s mouth dropped open when Mom approached their car to pump their gas. After school, my brother and I hung out at the station. I mostly remember causing trouble, but I’m sure we were given chores. I observed with keen interest this new environment, learning a great deal about the culture of The South, and being influenced by my father’s behavior and attitude.

The previous owner of the station attempted to teach my northern father how Jim Crow worked in The South. Jim Crow laws replaced earlier “black codes” which were designed to restrict and deny civil rights and liberties to African Americans. In 1951, they were part of the state constitution of Florida and mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. The previous owner showed Dad how to cheat “negro” customers, though he used a derogatory term when referring to them. He didn’t need to tell Dad about the rules regarding the use of the one bathroom and one drinking fountain. “Whites Only” signs were prominently posted.

As soon as Dad took possession, those signs came down. I don’t know who influenced my father, but Dad always had a soft spot in his heart for the underdog. He treated his black customers with the respect they deserved. We developed a large black clientele.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7

When these customers needed work done on their cars but couldn’t afford to pay for it, Dad gave them odd jobs to do around the station in exchange. One day, a black gentleman approached my dad asking for a loan. Even though Dad wasn’t growing rich as a business owner, he loaned the man the money. I was there the next afternoon when this man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, returned the money. “I didn’t need it after all,” he told my dad. Later, I overheard my parents speaking of the irony around the way blacks are viewed in relation to whites … comparing the integrity this black man displayed with the lack of character demonstrated by a white male employee who stole from us.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I began listening to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration written by New York Times Best Selling and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Isabel Wilkerson. Tuesday, I learned some shocking information about Florida I’m fairly certain my parents didn’t know … some facts that I’m sure the man who asked for a loan did.

Florida was one of the first states to secede from the Union in the months leading up to the Civil War and was one of the first in the South to institute a formal caste system designed to restrict black people after the war. Because Florida was shut off at that time from the rest of the world by its cypress woods and turpentine camps, it instituted its own laws and constitution, allowing this state to commit among the most heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated anywhere. Violence had become such an accepted way of life that a 1950 special investigation, just one year before we moved there, found that there had been so many mob executions in one county in the 1930s, there weren’t any negroes left to go to trial. In this culture, no negro man could have grown up without the fear of being lynched. That would have included the courageous man who asked dad for a loan.

I doubt when Dad removed the “Whites Only” signs and when he treated his black customers with fairness, he knew he was breaking the law, laws that continued in force until 1965. I’m sure he didn’t view this as an act of civil disobedience, even though that is what it was. I like to think his behavior wouldn’t have changed if he had known. It is the aspect of my father for which I carry the most pride.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

I didn’t know until this week the enormity of the action my father took when he removed those signs. To him, he was only showing respect for another human being. To me, he showed compassion for the struggle of those relegated to the ranks of so-called “losers.”

Dad demonstrated that same soft spot in his heart after we moved back to Ohio. At that time, New Bremen had about 1500 residents. Sometime during the next eight years before I graduated high school and moved away, black people were employed by the alfalfa mill on the edge of town. They lived in run down houses near the mill. I don’t remember seeing them in town except for one high school student two to three years older than I, a beautiful young woman who had the courage to attend one of the weekly dances held for teenagers at the hall above the hotel. I admired the farmer boy who asked her to dance.

I don’t think it was her family, but a fire destroyed the home of one mill family who bore the same last name as ours. Dad went around town collecting food, clothing, and household items for them. Someone asked him why he was doing that. He said, “They’re my cousins.”

“You are the salt of the earth;” Matthew 5:13a

001-2

2008

During the 2008 presidential election, Dad was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. After the election, his health deteriorated rapidly as he grieved the loss of my mother who died early in the morning following Thanksgiving Day. He said he wanted to live to see how Obama fared in office. Sadly, he died on January 3, seventeen days before the inauguration. I have sometimes been grateful he didn’t live to witness the bigotry and obstructionism foisted upon our first black president. It probably wouldn’t have surprised him, but it would have only added to his grief.

In recent weeks I have been contemplating what influences people to be who and how they are. After twenty-six years as a political prisoner, Nelson Mandela transcended his anger and embraced forgiveness while his compatriots continued to harbor revenge? I read a story this week about a Muslim man who was shot in the face by a white supremacist after 9/11. His faith led him to forgiveness to the point he tried to save his assailant from death row and give his life to educating people about the transformative power of mercy and forgiveness. His actions changed the white supremacist’s attitude from hatred, which he had learned from his step-father, to admiration for this Muslim man and his parents who he realized were extraordinarily good people. These and other stories have caused me to reflect upon how influences in all our lives can be seen in our behavior for good or for ill.

I will never know the influences on my dad. Dad wasn’t a religious man, but in his interactions with those less fortunate than he, I see him doing his best to live “the way of love.”

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13

What I do know is that it is Dad who influences me to use my talents in the service of deeper spiritual values like respect, compassion, justice, forgiveness, authenticity, beauty. It is Dad who influenced me to write about Leymah Gbowee, Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl, and Elizabeth Lesser, people who embody these values. It is Dad who influences me to continue to seek and lift up voices of wisdom, inspiration, and hope who bring light and enlightenment to our dark and murky world.

Thank you, Dad.

I have never been more grateful for your shining example.

1942

1942

1991

1991

1945


1945

Who has been a shining example in your life?

 What values have you adopted because of their example?

How have they influenced your behavior today?

In what way is your behavior contributing to “the way of love?”

A Synchronistic Meeting

sychronicity

After I retired, I joined a spirituality forum held at our local senior citizens’ center. A few members of the group gathered for a brown-bag lunch following our two-hour meeting. One day a new member joined us and during lunch mentioned that she was writing her memoir. I said to her, “I’m writing mine, too. We should become writing partners.”

Nita agreed to give my suggestion a try. That was in March or April 2012. With few interruptions until recently, we met every two weeks. This provided a structure to move forward. Every two weeks, I needed to have written something to read to Nita for her critique and vice versa.

As I listened to Nita’s story, it became clear to me that she was just the kind of woman I expected to judge me. Her marriage is fulfilling, her husband is supportive, she has four high-functioning children, and she developed a successful career. Of course, she faced challenges. Otherwise what would she have to write about in a memoir. But she handled her challenges with wisdom and skill.

My story is full of family challenges that it took me a long time to learn to handle with wisdom and skill. As we began meeting, I carried a great deal of shame and it took every ounce of courage I possessed to read some of my chapters to her.

Nita gave me excellent suggestions for improvement without an ounce of judgment. We developed a ritual of giving each other a hug as we came together and before we departed.

After we had been meeting for a year or so, I wanted to send Nita a card by snail mail. I searched for her zip code through google. Up popped a whole page of entries about Nita. I sat back in awe, exclaiming to myself, “Wow, she’s a famous artist! I had no idea.”

That gives you a picture of Nita’s character. She is confident and humble and doesn’t have a need to flaunt her success. In fact, she may not be happy with my writing about her success in this blog post. But, to me, it is an important part of our synchronistic meeting.

One day, after reading a particularly painful part of my story, Nita said, “I think I was chosen to hear your story.”

I replied, “It was definitely Divine guidance that brought us together.”

Recently, Nita and I were forced to put our memoirs on the back burner and take a break from meeting. My daughter’s healthcare crisis and her subsequent moving in with me took first priority. Nita’s publisher wanted her to put together a thirtieth anniversary edition of her first book, Exploring Color, and she needed to focus on that.

ExploringColor_CVR.indd

Links to Northlight and Amazon

My daughter is stabilized now and Exploring Color is out in the world to enthusiastic acclaim, so Nita and I are meeting again. Our memoirs are written and in various stages of editing. We no longer need to read passages for critique. But we find each other’s support invaluable as we continue the process toward publication. We still hug upon greeting and departing.

When I suggested to Nita that we be writing partners, I had no awareness that a “magical” connection was being made that would propel my soul’s longing forward. How blessed I am that Divine guidance chose Nita to be the first to hear my story.

A Fabulous Start to My Weekend

On Friday evening, September 16, I enjoyed dinner with Alice, a very special influence in my life, her husband, Duane, and my childhood friend, Amy. Alice is the parish worker who recommended I go to college when I was an insecure high school student who didn’t think I was smart enough to take that step. (See my July 1 post).

Alice Hegemier

Alice Hegemier & Linda

A few weeks prior to this, we reconnected through a wonderful hour-long phone conversation. I called her after receiving a Facebook message from a former classmate who had talked with her. Evelyn said Alice wanted to know if my my memoir had been published because she wanted to buy it.

Alice doesn’t do computers, so she is unable to keep track of the progress I post on my website and doesn’t have access to my blog. Because she expressed so much interest in my writing, I told her I would make copies of some of my blog posts and send them to her via snail mail.

As I was addressing the envelope, fear of disapproval raised its ugly little head. Since much of my writing is about my spiritual journey, I wondered if she would think less of me for my contemplative bent. Some refer to us as “navel gazers.”

contemplative-quote

Since silence is the response that distresses me the most, I asked Alice to be honest about her thoughts and feelings after reading my writing, especially if she didn’t like what she read. I explained that I find it easier to deal with negative feedback than with silence, which I most often interpret as disapproval for who I am.

I need not have feared. When she heard I was visiting my hometown, she called to arrange for us to have dinner and told me, “I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog posts. Thank you for sending them to me.”

Whew! Alice’s opinion matters to me and I felt grateful our relationship hadn’t been damaged.

Before I left for New Bremen, I made a copy of the pages in my memoir where I honor Alice’s influence in my life. I decided not to make her wait for its publication to read what I have written about her.

pages

After dinner, we gathered back at Alice and Duane’s home for desert and more visiting. I heard more about her journey. Her parents also thought girls would just get married and have children and didn’t need a college education for that. She, however, believed in herself and had the confidence and determination to pursue her dream. Whenever she spotted a young person in New Bremen who she thought had some special quality, she encouraged them to actualize it.

How blessed I am she saw something in me that she encouraged. Her recommendation that I go to college opened doors for me that has enriched my life beyond measure. My college education made it possible for me to make a difference in the lives of many others in a way I wouldn’t have been able without that degree. In addition, college was part of what prepared me to meet more effectively the life challenges that lay ahead for me.

When I handed Alice the memoir pages I had copied for her to read later, she said, “I’m amazed at the depth of your writing.”

music-notes

Her words were music to my ears. I felt a little like that shy insecure high school kid all over again…receiving encouragement to be all I can be in the world. I fell asleep that night with a big smile on my face and a heart filled with gratitude–aware and in awe at the threads of influence in all our lives.

And that was just the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous weekend.

A Second Chance

“Seems to me that every memoir is about the wisdom we’ve gathered in the part of life we’re writing about.” ~Susan Tweit

I have learned much about the writing of memoir from my friend, Susan Tweit. She is generous in sharing the wisdom she has gained in writing several published memoirs as well as the wisdom she has garnered in the writing and revising of her yet-to-be-published memoir, Bless the Birds.

SCN Conference

Click picture for link to Susan’s website

The purpose of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is what Susan calls “Soul Work.” Not all memoirs serve this purpose. But for those of us who approach our writing as “soul work,” we must go deep within. We must reflect on the good, the bad, the sublime, and the ugly about ourselves and our lives.

“In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited–sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair–for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings–that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it–are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.” ~Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro

Click picture for link to Dani’s website

I think my editor’s comments about my manuscript are a reflection of the purpose of my writing:

“Your manuscript is more intelligently written, more thoughtful, and more reflective than many memoirs I have read.” ~Judy Plazyk (my editor)

Those who have known me for years often confront me with, “You are so hard on yourself.” And that is true. I have a vicious voice in my head that I’ve needed to tame. I think that is why Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul, is one of my favorites.

The Untethered Soul

Click picture for link to Michael Singer’s website

He points out that nothing is more important to personal growth than realizing that we are not the voice of our mind…we are the one who hears and observes that voice chattering away. Being able to distinguish my “true self/soul” from the abusive voice chattering in my head has been foundational for my “soul work” and for the writing of my memoir.

In the  writing of my memoir, as I turned the “powers of observation” on myself, I found myself wanting in extending love to my children. As I pointed out in my May 12th blog post, “Atonement,” my relationship with my daughter continues to heal.

In the weeks following May 12 life intervened:

  • two hospitalizations;
  • two stints in rehab;
  • moving in with me;
  • realizing she can no longer manage the steps in her apartment;
  • realizing she may not be able to work again;
  • dealing with the financial impact of that;
  • adjusting to her being on oxygen 24/7;
  • adjusting to her living with me;
  • cleaning out her apartment;
  • deciding what needs to be thrown away,
  • what she can bring to my home and what needs to be put in storage;
  • finding a storage unit;
  • finding financial resources and appropriate housing for her;
  • and on and on.

STRESS!! As one of my local writing friends noted in a blog post of her own, “We are not at our best when we are under stress.”

In these almost three months during the aftermath of my daughter’s surgery, I have been caught in the “incoherent immediacy of the moment.” When it became clear she needed to move in with me, I felt overwhelmed, resentful, and burdened. The voice in my head berated me while I grieved for the loss of solitude in my home sanctuary.

And my “soul,” observing the clutter of painful feelings and depressive thoughts, sent me deeper down to a quieter place of pondering. My soul asked my resistant self, “What is your growth edge in this circumstance?” The treasure I found is the “opportunity” my daughter’s living with me gives. I am being given a second chance to extend love to her, up close and personal, in ways the immature self of my past was unable.

I take on the challenge, knowing I still possess limitations. And grateful for the wisdom of Richard Rohr who writes in his daily meditations about the The Spirituality of Imperfection, the spiritual path introduced to me in 1984 that continues to save me from my perfectionist tendencies.

Richard-Rohr_home-view

Click picture for link to his Daily Meditations

Spirituality of Imperfection

Click picture for link

“Letting your naked self be known by God is always to recognize your need for mercy and your own utter inadequacy and littleness. You realize that even the best things you’ve done have often been for mixed and selfish motives, not really for love.” ~Richard Rohr

 

Synchronicity: Anonymous Gifts from the Divine

I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art, and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence when we think we are alone.  ~Charles de Lint

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the journey I’ve taken in writing my memoir. With amazement, I noticed several synchronicities that tell me a power beyond my own is supporting me in writing and publishing A Long Awakening to Grace.

Julie and Linda

Julie and Linda

I never intended to write a book about my life, but there was this nurse who emphatically told me I needed to do that. My July 5, 2014 blog post is about Julie. It took me eight years to heed her encouragement. Once I made the decision to do it, synchronicities began to emerge.

First, the title came to me and seemed a gift from the Universe.

Then, in 2012, I found the perfect writing partner for me at our senior citizens’ center. I wrote about Nita and some of our adventures together two years ago today, on April 27, 2014. She has been such a gift to me and if we hadn’t met every two weeks to read our work aloud to each other, I never would have made it to the editing process where I am today. Writing a memoir is quite a task. My friends keep asking, “When am I going to get to read it?”

All I can say is, “I’m getting closer to publication.”

In addition, without Nita’s support, I probably never would have had the courage to pitch to a New York agent. Rita Rosenkranz’s comment about my story having a compelling narrative arc has kept me going at times when I have doubted myself.

Being introduced to Brené Brown’s work is another synchronicity. Following her modeling and guidance, I have developed the shame resilience needed to tell my story honestly, even the parts that reveal my less than desirable qualities. Next to learning the craft, this is the hardest part of writing a memoir and will prove the most challenging once it is published.

Local writer, Jude Walsh, introduced me to the Story Circle Network (SCN), an online organization for women writers founded by New York Times best-selling author, Susan Wittig Albert.

Susan founded SCN because women write better in community. Jude recommended me for the Works-in-Progress discussion group. Two major synchronicities have followed from that.

Susan Tweit, one of my sisters in the SCN Works-in-Progress discussion group, provided one of them. Just at the time I needed to find my core message, a spirited discussion about this topic arose in our group. Susan’s contribution helped me dig deep. What a joy it was to meet her in person at the SCN Conference this month (April 14-17). When I found her waiting for the shuttle to the Austin hotel where the conference was held, I literally jumped for joy, shouted Susan, and ran to give her a big hug.

In addition, I found the perfect editor for me in the SCN Works-in-Progress group. In October 2014, Judy Plazyk talked about how she works with authors. I was impressed with her commitment but my manuscript was not close to being ready for editing. When she talked about being her author’s biggest cheerleader and greatest fan, I was sold. She and I have developed the perfect author-editor relationship. I feel so blessed to have found her. (Unfortunately, I have no picture of Judy to share with you.)

Then, I think I’ve found my publisher at the SCN Conference. Brooke Warner, one of the founders of She Writes Press, was our keynote speaker. I am so inspired by what she had to say about She Writes vision and mission, (Click here to see what inspires me).

Brooke’s keynote took me back to 1975-1976 when I was a student in seminary and women were knocking on the door of the church, a male-dominated institution, and saying, “Hey, we are called to serve as parish pastors. Let us in.” I am proud to have been a pioneer in that movement.

She Writes Press has been founded to champion women writers, as has SCN. Women’s writing and life stories are not valued in the publishing industry. A gender bias has existed for centuries and even today extends to awards, prize winners, book reviews, and job opportunities. How exciting for me to be a part of a movement to address this inequity. I find it immensely rewarding. That makes She Writes the perfect publisher for me. We’ll see if that is what the Universe has in store.

If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. ~Joseph Campbell

follow-your-bliss

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