Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Day Has Arrived

I was thirty-seven when I first began writing something other than newsletters, press releases, and minutes for government and church meetings. I enrolled in a UC Extension class and wrote clunky anguished poetry and made my husband and closest friends read every labored word I wrote.

In response my dear husband bought me a bookmark emblazoned with "one day you will write a book" by Ashley Rice.

At the time I never thought that I'd write a book. I never thought I would see any of my words published. I thought the only people who would read my writing were those in my family and the half-dozen strangers in my first writing group where we met at Jumpin' Java, circulated copies fresh from our printers, and fortified ourselves for criticism with coffee and baked goods.

That was fifteen years ago, and it turns out the bookmark my husband gave me—a bookmark I kept tacked on the bulletin board in my office until we moved two years ago—was prophetic. I did write a book.

It wasn't what I set out to do. What I set out to do was write one poem at a time.

Inspired by talks at the Academy for Spiritual Formation, the hospitality of a clergywomen's retreat, the vision and mission of the United Methodist Church and my role in the Conference, the natural world around me, the writing groups I have been a part of, conversations with loved ones and my prayer partner, I took up a pen to respond, following one thought, one feeling, one impulse, through the warren of my mind and set it on paper, smearing ink (the curse of left-handedness) while I scrawled in a cheap college-ruled notebook.

Since then, the poems have been typed and revised, and many many remain, as they should, inside little electronic folders with titles like Spiritual Poems, Relationship Poems, Nature Poems, Short Poems, satisfying my organized left-brain that allows the creative right-brain its messy romps. 

Today I celebrate the publication of Burnt Offerings not because I'll become famous (which I won't) or because having a book in the world allows me to legitimately claim the title writer (which it doesn't). I celebrate like a senior in her last days of high school, pouring over the yearbook on the quad with her friends, pointing to photos, laughing and exclaiming, remembering what she's been a part of and being slightly startled at the way it's been captured on paper.

What Burnt Offerings will be for you who choose to read it, I cannot say. But it is my hope that the poems will gesture for you to come close and sit down. May they call forth your own memories and longings.

In an ideal world, I would become the book fairy and slide a copy under your pillow while you sleep tonight. The best I can do in this world, is let you know that if you purchase a paperback copy from my publisher, you'll get the ebook version at no charge.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Two Years and Counting

I can't recall exactly where I've heard it, but it seems to come up a lot in conversation, this idea that it takes two years to feel at home in a new community. And maybe I'm paying particular attention to that folk wisdom as my husband and I entered this new year as two year residents on this island.

I know settling in can be done faster, and I think particularly of military families with children in school, and clergy in the United Methodist churches, finding themselves appointed for year-long stints in locations they didn't choose. They jump into their jobs and into community building; they don't have time to "waste."

It's different moving to a community you've selected based on intuition and feel without a particular role or position. In that way it's more like retiring, moving to a place you think you'll feel comfortable. I laugh now at my own naiveté, thinking that when my husband and I moved 900 miles from our friends and family, we would live largely the same life we did in California, just a bit more enlightened in a new location.

In California we had an unground doughboy swimming pool. I did a lot of floating reading.

I learned to knit and felt in California. An interstate hobby.

We hosted most of the family gatherings in California.

Maybe because we are surrounded by familiar furniture and dishes and pets the new didn't feel stark and glaringly unfamiliar, it felt welcoming, richness to uncover, beauty to explore. And yet, since we chose to remodel a home with our own two (four) hands, those two (four) hands needed to spend most of their time in our home running drills, wielding crowbars, rolling paint, sawing trim, drawing plans.
The pets are happy as long as someone's in bed somewhere.

We didn't invite strangers to dinner when remodeling, does anyone? We got used to climbing over boxes and building materials stacked in the dining room, and our old friends and family didn't think twice, but the neighbor's we just met? We were reluctant to find out.

Would you entertain in this disarray? We ate out.

When your home and its renovation (as well as looking for a job) becomes your job, you don't sign up for dance lessons or yoga classes. You don't take up a new hobby and join the amateur astronomy club or become a wooden boat aficionado.

But that's not a permanent state. When unemployment benefits ran out, we could call ourselves entrepreneurs instead of out-of-work. My husband began making contacts and connections in the construction trades working side-by-side with those he hired. I volunteered to help with a church event (and was put in charge of organizing it). We began to have responsibilities outside our home, deadlines and projects that didn't always involve each other.
Ready for his first day at the project house.

The two-year mark was approaching and we had places to be and people to meet.... My husband has become a real estate investor and employer, with all the joys and headaches that come along with running a business and dealing with county regulations. A contractor is finishing up the to-do list on our home remodel, and freed from those daily responsibilities (and from weed pulling in the winter) I find myself organizing a church event, having my first book released, and leading my first series of spiritual writing workshops in Washington, all within one week of each other.

What happens next is open for exploration, but our gifts and talents have been uncorked, and wherever we go, it's clear we're meant to use them.

On the theme of using our gifts and talents,  invite you to listen to my latest poem "Full Ablaze" on my website.

Let your light shine!

I also invite you to spread the word about my book of poetry, Burnt Offerings, which is out on Tuesday, January 14, at electiopublishing.com.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Burnt Offerings, my book of poetry, will be released next week. It's a book fifteen years in the making, the poems arising from my participation years ago in a UC Extension writing class, then clergywomen's retreats, the Academy for Spiritual Formation, and lately the Amherst style writing group I participate in.

In those situations I have gathered with a group of like-minded people to learn and grow and express the longing of our hearts. I am away from my home and all responsibilities that exist outside those rooms and retreat centers. At retreat centers I show up to prepared meals, sleep in my small cell, shower in a communal bathroom, bundle up my sheets and towels when I leave and drop them in a laundry shoot.

In the writing group, someone else keeps time, someone else holds space and guides responses. In those settings I am fully present. There I write with pen and paper. There I nearly always choose poetry.

At home, I write alone. I am distracted by phone calls and UPS deliveries, by the dryer's buzz and oven timer, by cats who jump in my lap, sit on my keyboard, sail my paperwork to the floor with their flicking tails. I write with a computer, constantly editing as I write, the quick availability of technology interrupting my forward progress. At home I nearly always write in prose.

Interesting how I am shaped by those environments. When I think back to college I remember the debates over "nature versus nurture" and I think about my life wondering how much of what happened is me responding to the settings and their content and context, and how much was simply due to my natural bent.

I probably won't come up with a definitive answer, but it's interesting to speculate, and that's what I do in my poem "Shaped."  Enjoy listening and thinking about your own shaping.

The view from Skyview Observatory Columbia Center Seattle