To Parker J. Palmer

You are an elder

or so I’ve read

a sage

filled with wisdom

for the age

a voice of reason

in unreasonable times

I read your books

and wonder

if I will ever achieve

that place of honor

of being an elder

filled with wisdom

whose words

are quoted

by the likes of ones

like me

who strive to write

with the same passion

and depth

or will I fade

into the twilight

a mere shadow

of who I once was

whose words are dust

that blow away

in an autumn breeze

never to return

lost forever to time.

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A Novice Writers Blog

Cycling gives me time to think, if only I could figure out a way to get those thoughts down on a page then I would be golden. As it is, a thought is fleeting, there for but a brief moment the lost to the myriad of other thoughts that blaze across the screen, that is my mind. One though did stick and I need to journal a bit about it and this thought has to do with my blog. Yes, I have a blog on WordPress, I’ve used it to write some of my musings, poetry and an essay or two, but really haven’t caught on to the blogging concept. Good blogs have something that grabs peoples attention. There is something in the way a blogger writes that is engaging, informative and needed by those who subscribe and read the blog daily. Readers offer comments, many are helpful, some complimentary while there are the few who are negative if not down right mean. My blog has not caught on fire, even though I have over 200 followers, my blog is missing that “it” factor, the thing that makes it interesting, a blog that people want to read. So I thought, why not make my blog about writing from my novice perspective. A blog about trying to overcome all of the obstacles that stand in the way of my writing. I could use it to vent on a shitty day of writing, or ask for some advice on a piece I’m working on, or just tell about a possible project I’m attempting. Maybe someone will read it, maybe someone, another novice writer, would find it helpful. I can’t say that it will bring me fame and fortune as a writer but it does get me out there in a way that is accessible for most folks. Whatever I do, it will be raw, filled with mistakes and poor grammar. It truly will be a shitty first draft and maybe that’s not so bad because it’s from those shitty first drafts that I learn from, and hopefully will help others learn. Throwing oneself out there can be a two edged sword but that is the nature of the beast. Writing without any kind of critique is just a lot of words on a sheet that mean nothing, writing that is exposed is writing that has potential, we just never know what that potential is until we hit the publish button. So, here I go, I’m going to now take what I’ve written, copy and paste it into my blog, and then see what happens.

So it Begins

As I approach another change in my life’s story, I begun to reflect on how I have arrived to the place I am now. It’s one of life’s great mysteries, how the choices we make, the challenges we face and the decisions that got us to where we are, have impacted our lives and the lives of those whom we have come to know. It’s a mystery because in the moment we don’t fully understand that a simple yes or no can have that kind of impact. In fact, in the moment, we seldom truly think about what might happen but only think of the initial gratification we get in making the decision we have made. When we were young, just beginning our conscious life, everything we did or did not do was filled with drama. Coming to the realization that we are, as Shakespeare once said, all actors on the great stage, had the twofold effect of us trying to improvise our lines or surrendering ourselves to the script that has already been written for us. I would tend to be cautious about our script already being written for us and that we are merely players on the grand stage, it’s a bit too Calvinistic, a bit too cut and dried. It makes us puppets and that our actions are not our fault (a built in excuse for making bad decisions), but merely our following what has been predestined for us to say and do. On the other hand, I believe that we are the captains of our own ships, that we set the course, and head blindly into the consequences of our own thought process. We hope beyond hope, that what we decide and what we do will turn out for the best and when it does or doesn’t we only have ourselves to look to for either admonishment or astonishment.

Each step, each word is indelibly carved into the memories and like many others, I carry those memories with me like a Red Cap at the airport, taking them from the curb to the terminal and back again. Some of these memories are heavily weighted with regret and grief, memories of words not said, of love not given, of turning one’s back when, at that moment, they needed your front. It’s funny, at least for myself, that it’s the failures that seem to take front stage. There they are, like a really bad comic, bombing their lines in front of an unforgiving audience who throw rotten tomatoes at you. In many cases I have come to find out that I am both the bad comic and the audience member with an oozing piece of rotten fruit ready to toss. I am both one and the same, I am both in every moment of life the player and the played and yet, I carry on. Why? Why do we carry on, why not blame someone else, after all that seems to be the favorite thing to do today, point a finger and yell loudly. I for one have come to realize that many of my decisions, many of my deeds, I have done willingly and with a huge dose of naïveté. Not an excuse, it just is what it is, all part of being human and living today.

Memoir, is that written account of that kind of life. A life of ups and downs, of digging oneself into a hole and hopefully, climbing back out. Each moment we either leave a piece of ourselves or we gain another piece to carry along. We shed old skins, the skins of jealousy, of anger, of words unsaid and of the pain we to have suffered. It is not about perfection, or even having that unique story because no one is perfect and every story deserves a telling.

I will begin my story, I will tell my tale and I will do it to the best of my own flawed memory. Accuracy is not the point, at least not for me, but honesty is and that is done in telling the story truthfully, without embellishment or false heroics. I will write in private, I will share one day and I will learn anew of a life lived fully.

A Non-Bloggers, Blog

What do I do? It’s a question that seems to be ever evolving as I move through these last weeks of being a full time clergy person, something that is becoming a bit rare given the current climate of our culture. My mother, at age 95, always tells me that time goes by so fast and yes, she is right, but if time didn’t go by then where would we all be? Stuck, that’s where. We would never grow, never learn, never take the chance to love and to be loved. I know that my life will take on a new dimension and I also know that being a retired priest does not mean not being a priest, it just means that I will now have to focus my energies elsewhere.

It is all about discernment, of listening to the still, quiet voice in the silence of my heart. It means that if I want to write, I mean, really write then I need to go deeper than I’ve ever gone before. I need to plum the depths of my feelings that seem at times to be all over the emotional map. It also means actually sitting down daily and writing, which is where I tend to get sidetracked. There is always something else, some other thing to be doing and before I know it, I’ve lost another day to trivialities that could have been handled at a later date. That, and staying away from social media, the great time sucking divergence that, as far as I can see, holds little redeeming social worth. Sure, some postings are good, and yes, there are some positive aspects to social media and what is out there, but overall, it just sucks the life out if you’re not careful,

So as I write this, trying to be conscientious in developing a writing habit, I’m wondering, what do I write about? Basically, I write whatever seems to show up in my head. I just put words to paper, in this case to my iPad, and go from there. Sometimes I post this drivel to my WordPress page, my attempt at being a blogger, while sometimes I just let it sit here and fester. To be a blogging sort you have to have an angle, something that is at once witty and yet, provocative. A blog that grabs the attention of a few who then pass along your stuff to others thus creating a following. I know that I am far from being all that interesting and I truly have no angle, all I do is just write what I feel and then let the chips fall where they may. However, is that enough?

There is more to every story and more to every person, the challenge is to let those stories out and see how they take the light of day. Will it grow and be fruitful or will it shrink and die in the harsh glare of the critics eye? I did get a compliment from a writer, someone who is actually published and now teaches at Grub Street in Boston, who said that I do have a story to tell. So I will write that story, I will share bits and pieces, I will lay myself wide open to the opinions of the critics, good, bad or indifferent. After all, growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and to not take this chance to write, well, then I may never know and that would be the real tragedy.

Wrestling Jello

I’ve been trying now, for a couple of days, to write something cohesive and interesting. So far all I have are bits and pieces of incomplete sentences and thoughts, a nonsensical pattern of my scattered mind. It seems that I flit from topic to topic, writing about this and that but never getting to the core of why I’m writing this stuff. I try my hand at poetry and now I have a journal full of one liners and things that have popped into my head and made it to the page. None of it is ready for prime time, as they say, but at least they are somewhere accessible instead of residing in the labyrinth of my own thoughts. Being an introvert and a major procrastinator, if I don’t write down what I’m thinking at the moment I’m thinking it, then it is lost to the ages. Sometimes it does repeat itself in one form or another later but then I’m stuck trying to remember why I thought that thought in the first place.

So now here I am, using my blog to post my writing angst for all to read not knowing what people are thinking. I think, and this is just me, that bloggers write to be heard in a way that they are not in their daily lives. If not as introverted, as I tend to be, then it becomes a question of not feeling like you’re being listened to, that your ideas, questions, deep thoughts are somehow a nuisance to others. For myself, and this is not a psychological profile (or is it?), I remember school days when you were just a number, one of many kids all vying for attention in a Lord of the Flies kind of way. Being quiet and not feeling all that smart, I tended to seek the quiet corner, what I now call, as an adult, keeping myself under that radar. Even now, as a priest, I still tend to stay back when at a gathering of my colleagues and let the more extroverted ones have their say. I find it exhausting trying to step into the fray and the few times I have tried it has been dismissed as one would dismiss a bit of fuzz on their lapel.

Maybe, I’m being too harsh. Sure, I don’t just jump into the deep end and yes, I am unsure of myself even after all these years of living. It might just be that I take all of this way too seriously and I want what I write to mean something, to have some meat to it rather than a skeleton of dried, dusty bones. I’m not saying that I need or want to be famous, or widely read. I have just started reading, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser. I have only gotten into the first couple of chapters but this caught my eye; “You’ll never be able to make a living writing poems”, and I have to guess that I will never make a living writing in my blog, but at least I’m writing.

Maybe one day, when the dust has all settled and I am in fact the dust that is settling, one of my grandkids or even a great-grandkid, will happen upon this old man’s musings and take it upon themselves to write. Maybe they will create the next great novel, or become a world recognized poet, even a poet laureate all because of these seeds I am sowing now. Yes, it’s a nice dream but isn’t that the reason why we write because we don in fact have dreams. Dreams are the soil upon which we, upon which I, through out the seeds of my thoughts. These seeds are in the words, the images, the very heart of all that I see and reflect on. These seeds come in the quiet moments, when I sit down and take pencil to paper or when I pop open my iPad and begin tapping away at the keyboard. I never really know where it will take me, or what it will look like but there I am struggling with the muse who has entered into my life.

I guess what I am trying to say is that my writing is more like wrestling jello, I just can’t seem to get my thoughts to settle down enough to write about them. Right now, I have three thousand words of a piece of fiction that I’ve been working on for months. Where will it end up, I have no idea but there it sits, on my iPad as a Pages document taunting me to delve into its mystery. I have no idea where it will end up but at least I’m writing.

Writers Block or Not

I can’t really call it “writers block” since I just read a litany of quotes that deny the existence of such a malaise, for instance:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.”

– Elmore Leonard

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.”

– Jennifer Egan

“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

– Philip Pullman

“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen — whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book — it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”

– Jeffery Deaver
“Writer’s block is a luxury most people with deadlines don’t have.”

– Diane Ackerman

“Lower your standards and keep going.”

William Stafford

I love the last one from William Stafford mainly because, I can’t lower my standards much more than I have already. Then again, what are my standards? That’s a good question and one I’ve never given much thought. Sure, I would love to write that one great piece or that one great novel or poem, but do I really have the stuff, the inner smarts, to write like that? No matter what some may say, I believe that the really great writers have a skill that us mere mortals do not. Somewhere in the genes, in that magical mix that makes us human beings, the great writers got something else, a bonus gene that allows them to see the world through different lenses. Sure, many of us can describe a sunrise or sunset, a forest full of tall pines or the view of the ocean from atop a mountain, but can we see what’s underneath, the glimmer on the glass, the undulating waves, the various shades of green that fluctuate as the shadows of the clouds pass over the distant scene.

There is a sense of the magical, of wonder and desire that some people can easily write about. Love in it’s infinite ways of being, how it feels in the deepest parts of our souls, how just to look at one’s beloved brings a depth of feelings right into the core of who we are. No wonder we say, they are broken-hearted, for love can and does not only break a heart, it shatters the fragile flesh.

There I go again, off on a tangent not at all sure how I got to this point when the point was about writers block and my own style. Maybe, and this is a big maybe, it’s really not a block but a more of a drought. Ideas, ones you thought would make for a great story, once written down seem flat, dead and rather silly. Yet, each day I try to write, something. A small piece, a bit of poetry, micropoetry, something that forces me to dig below the surface and mine the richness that is waiting to be exposed to the light of day. That is if all I discover is a vein of fools gold, it looks all bright and beautiful but upon inspection and retrospection is found to be worthless. As I write this, I’m thinking, isn’t this all part of writing and wanting to write, the self doubt, the fear and wondering if what is written is any good?

I’m sure that most of this sounds familiar to many who have read some of my stuff, it’s become my theme and maybe my vocation. It allows me to express my doubts, fears and inadequacies and put it out there for all to see and read. I also hope that by voicing my own lack of confidence that it might just help someone, who has more talent, to go ahead and write that one piece that has been rattling around in their head for so long. As for me, I’ll continue throwing out the words that I see with my minds eye. I will continue to write knowing that I tend to jump from one thing to another in the most haphazard of ways and really, isn’t that the reason to write?

My 800 Words

 So, I started watching this Australian show on Acorn, the Brit equivalent of Netflix, about a guy whose wife has died and he moves himself and his kids to a small town in New Zealand. Called 800 Words, it centers on their new life and on his vocation as a writer, a cute show and I’m sure we will continue to watch it but what struck me was the way it treated writing. Now, I’m sure there are writers out there who can just sit down in front of their laptops and the words just spill out in perfect order and symmetry but for myself that’s not the case. In this show, the main character, a writer, does just that, sits at his laptop speaking as he writes with little or no editing. The reason the show is called 800 Words, is that is the title of the column he writes for a newspaper, as he limits his subject to just 800 words.  

When I write, it takes time and I’m constantly editing my work to the point of being a bit overly anal about it. Every word, every sentence, I try to make perfect and this coming from an English class failure. It’s not in my nature just to sit down and write straight out and if I do I’m consumed by doubts and fears that what I’ve written is just pure shit. Lately, I’ve tried my hand at poetry and that seems to go along okay, I’m no where near being a good poet since I have no idea what I’m doing, but it has caused me to reflect on my own style.
 Right now, I’ve got several pieces, of fiction and nonfiction all in various stages of the process. My problem is procrastination, my mind is a turbine of words and thoughts as I try to write, so much so that I tend to get lost in the spinning blades. The only editing the author in this show did was to eliminate one word to make his 800 word limit, I wish it was that easy. Here I am at over 300 words watching the word count meter ticking up as I write, having no idea where I’m going with all of this. 

 Am I a writer? That’s a good question and one I continually ask myself. Eson Kim, one of the instructors at Grub Street in Boston, has been most encouraging when it comes to what I have written, but then that little voice of doubt creeps in saying, “That’s her job. To make you think you can write, after all you’re paying for the privilege of indulging in your fantasy of being the next Hemingway.” Yes, I do have fantasies of being a decent writer, then I wonder if I have the discipline and smarts to be one. Writing daily so many words, tying each paragraph together, developing characters with some depth, the kind of people easily identifiable by the readers who come upon my hieroglyphics. 

 I know I have a story to tell, it may not be the rags to riches fare, or about lifting oneself from the depths of poverty, despair or some other great tragedy, but there is a story to be told. Is there an audience that will read what I write? Is that really the question I need to ask, is that the only reason to write to find an audience, to be published? It was Eugene Peterson, a writer and minister who I admire, who wrote that he writes because of a deep need to do so, whether or not he has any readers is not the point. I guess that being an Episcopal priest and a person of faith, I should just allow myself enough slack to write and let the words fall where they may. Whether it is poetry, prose, fiction, nonfiction, memoir or just my own reflections on what I hear and see going on, I need to write. 

 Too much is bubbling up inside and like a volcano where the magma has been building up over years, the lava of words just need to be released. It may be messy, incomplete, full of nonsense or just plain nonsensical, but these are my words and my thoughts. 

 So I will plug along, slowly like the tortoise, I’m too old to compete with the young guns out there but each day I will challenge myself to write. Maybe this will eventually become my version of the 800 words. Not a daily write but maybe an occasional reflection on what I see in the world around me. For those of you who have volunteered to ride along on this train, beware, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. My word count is now 795, time to stop writing.