Monday, December 29, 2014

25 Years of Journals

I started keeping a journal on December 31, 1989, shortly after my 15th birthday. The first one was a Christmas present from my parents. I had been admiring blank books in my local bookstore all that year and was so thrilled to get one. It seemed so full of potential.

I started keeping a journal because I knew I had a poor memory and I wanted to remember how it felt to be fifteen. Interestingly, it took me a little while to actually trust my journal. I started out by writing fictionalized names and changing details a bit, but within a couple months, I settled into a more truthful routine. My plan, even at 15, was always to bequeath these to a granddaughter someday. Very presumptuous of me, I know, to imagine a future in which I have a granddaughter, and to think that she would want these!

At 15, I couldn't even imagine being 20, much less 40, yet here I am. I have now filled 23 of these books, writing on average once a week. In the pages are also tucked various memorabilia of life, making most of the books bulge a bit. I just finished the last one Christmas night and started book #24 yesterday (not in the photo). I keep the books in three decorative boxes. When I took them out for this photo, I flipped through some of the pages. Many of the events I barely recall (I told you I had a poor memory!), yet it was interesting to relive them.

After all of these years, I sometimes wonder about the wisdom of the practice. While an examined life is a good thing, our minds tend to sort out our memories. We remember the highlights, the pain of the bad moments eases, and the good memories remain. I think that is a gift from God. Maybe life isn't meant to be remembered in all its detail. And while on some level, I would love to have journals from my grandmother, at the same time, now that I am a parent myself, I think that perhaps we aren't meant to know our parents and grandparents on such an intimate basis. Maybe we are supposed to get the edited version in the stories that they share with us, and that's it. Maybe too much truth is not a good thing.

And so, I'm left with all these books and no idea what to do with them. I don't think that they have any real historical value. They are mostly a record of the goings-on of everyday life. I make no great insights on the world at large, and my life, while of value to me, has been very small. I have made no great accomplishments to the world that the world at large would care that I lived. Perhaps I will die unexpectedly and the decision won't be mine to make. In the meantime, I will keep writing and recording because at this point, it is so much a part of the fabric of my life that I can't imagine stopping the practice. And because, every once in a while, it's interesting to take a trip down memory lane.

Have any of you kept a journal for most of your life? What do you plan to do with them?

Monday, December 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo - My Half-Marathon

I had written back in October that I was thinking about doing National Novel Writing Month this year, and I'm happy to report that it worked out well for me. It's the second time I've done this and both times I went in with the attitude that I would write what I could write doing the month, knowing full-well that 50,000 words simply wasn't going to happen.

This year, I actually started October 28th, but I had to skip a few days during November so I figure it all works out in the end. I've often compared NaNoWriMo to a marathon experience. In light of that metaphor, I apparently wrote a half-marathon with a final total coming in at 25,024 - 92 double-spaced pages. I'm happy with that and thankful for the experience.

I'd love to say that I'm going to continue and finish by January 1st, but let's be reasonable - this is December, and in the list of priorities in December (actually, in the list of priorities for most months), writing fiction is pretty low on the list. Writing fiction is not my primary role in life. In all honesty, it's more of a hobby than a job even though I make a miniscule bit of money at it. As hobbies go, it's not a bad one and I'm thankful for the gift of inspiration which comes from God, but I have to assign it its proper place in the big scheme of life.

I don't know when/if I'll finish my story, but I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

by Robert Benson
Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2014

Robert Benson, who writes and speaks about the practice of faith and spirituality and the art and craft of writing, has been writing for over forty years and has authored nearly twenty books. As such, he has something valuable to say about the art and craft of writing and has shared his accumulated wisdom in “Dancing on the Head of a Pen.”

Benson freely admits that he is only sharing what works for him in his writing journey and has a humility and honesty that is refreshing in a world where people are often shouting “Look at me and the wonderful things that I have done!” No doubt individual writers will take or leave different parts of his method and advice, but there is something in these pages that will benefit every writer. 

Here are just a couple words of wisdom I valued from this book. There are many more – pick up a copy and read it for yourself!

“I write what I think of as a series of letters, letters to people I know and people I love, people with whom I must use my real voice and people with whom I cannot be phony.”

“I learned not to chase the words but to listen to them.”

“Whether working on a book at the moment or not, a writer should always be writing.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gearing up for National Novel Writing Month

In the interest of full disclosure, I have only done National Novel Writing Month once - back in 2008, and even then, it took me until January to finish the book. Still, I wouldn't have done it at all without that impetus and for that I am thankful. Those efforts turned into Through the Open Window, a novel about a woman who attempts National Novel Writing Month for the first time and gets much more than she bargained for.

In the intervening years, I've written one other novel and part of a third, but November has always found me involved in other activities, and NaNoWriMo has passed by with just a wistful glance.

This year, I do have a novel (novella?) that is perking. The germ of an idea came to me about a month ago, and I've been tossing it over. Is it worth it to invest time and energy in another story? While I am incredibly thankful for the small group of people who have read and enjoyed one of my stories, my writing career can certainly not be considered successful by any standard. And yet, that small urge is there, whispering inside of me.

In doing the writing retreat a couple weeks ago, I discovered that my life is such now that I can write a little most days in between taking care of my responsibilities. I can carry a notebook with me or leave it on the kitchen counter and scribble a few sentences here and there. I can make progress, even if it is small progress.

And so, I've started working on character sketches - figuring out who the people in this story are. As I craft them, they are telling me where they come from, where they have been wounded, and who they want to be. It is the mystery of inspiration and I know it is a gift. I plan to start writing soon, probably just in time for NaNoWriMo, although I suffer from no illusions that I'll finish the book in a month. It will be done when it is done, but the starting, well, that's something. I don't have that unbridled enthusiasm I had six years ago. My writing dreams have pretty much died and been buried at this point. And yet, I write, because I am a writer. That's what I do.

I wish all of you attempting NaNoWriMo for the 1st or the 10th time all the best! May your writing days and nights be fruitful.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Loyola Writing Retreat Day #5 - Writing to Savor

Day 5 of the Loyola Writing Retreat was about Writing to Savor.

As I write this, I am grasping a few moments of precious solitude in the cafe area of my local grocery store, indulging in a Coke Zero and a pumpkin muffin. I haven't done this in such a long time, it is a moment to savor all by itself.

But my moment of choice is actually from early this morning. The sun was coming up over the horizon and was hitting a tree in the backyard in just the right way so that the leaves were illuminated, the early morning dew glistening on each one.

Meanwhile, there was a flock of birds, tweeting furiously, that chose that moment to descend upon the yard in search of breakfast. Some landed in the trees, while others picked the ground in eager anticipation of whatever tasty morsel they might find there.

I watched for a minute, before the duties and chaos of the day called me away, but it was a grace-filled moment of beauty and peace.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Loyola Press Writing Retreat Day #4: Writing to Dream - If Earth Were More Like Heaven

Today's task on the Loyola Press Writing Retreat was Writing to Dream

The assignment I took on was to imagine an Earth more like heaven. It came with fill in the blank prompts.

When Earth becomes like heaven, people will value people more than things.

When Earth becomes like heaven, I will stop struggling with envy and insecurity and instead rejoice in other people's accomplishments and be content with my own small successes.

When Earth becomes like heaven, my neighborhood streets will be peaceful. Nobody will live in fear. Everyone will have food, clothing, meaningful employment, and a place to live.

When Earth becomes like heaven, there will be no conflict.

When Earth becomes like heaven, decisions in community will be made . . .  I gave this a lot of thought but I truly have no idea. If I had the answer to this, I'm pretty sure I could win the Nobel Peace Prize!

When Earth becomes like heaven, we'll have much more peace and much less pain, hunger, and suffering.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Loyola Press Writing Retreat - Day #3 Writing to Discover - A Room of One's Own

Today's assignment for the Loyola Press Writing Retreat focused on Writing to Discover. I had to describe my perfect room. This was a fun exercise! It's less about writing and more about imagining. We could use images as well. I actually had to think about this a bit. For me, a room of one's own is the room inside my head. I can always retreat there. I work in spurts, whenever and wherever I have time. Even for this retreat - we are supposed to spend a half-hour of uninterrupted peaceful time a day. That would be lovely, but I've been leaving my notebook out, working on it whenever I could during the day. That being said, alone time in a library is pure bliss!

In my room, I would have:

1) A huge arched window letting in lots of natural light, looking out over a wildflower garden with a pond in the distance.

2) bookshelves flanking a comfortable window seat.

3) A comfy couch with a homemade quilt - perfect for taking a nap.

4) A large farmhouse table to do artwork or writing on, with some accompanying chairs.

5) Art supplies and writing materials.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Loyola Writing Retreat - Day 2: Writing to Remember

Here is my assignment for Day #2 : Writing to Remember. I could have written about a lot of painful memories, but I chose a happy one. There's enough pain in the world. 

It’s dark outside and it feels late, but it is winter, near the solstice when the days are shortest, and it is actually only late afternoon. I’m a little girl - three, on the cusp of four - in the living room of the small ranch home where I grew up.

Christmas is right around the corner and I’m brimming with excitement. The Christmas tree is on the other side of the room, against the faux brick wall with the bricks that periodically fell off, requiring my father to reattach them with rubber cement. There are presents already wrapped and under the tree, waiting to be opened. Even that young, I know there is no Santa. My parents give me my gifts. I still look forward to them and enjoy shaking them, eager to figure out what they are. 

I’m sitting next to the orange-brown couch, circa 1960s, no doubt purchased when my parents were newlyweds. It is a concept hard for me, even as an adult, to imagine. Born when my parents were in their thirties, I somehow always thought of them as old. At the time of this memory, my father is turning thirty-eight and my mother is thirty-six, both younger than I am now. 

I sit on a stool in front of a stand-up organ keyboard which leans against the wall. Above it is the shutters for my sister’s bedroom, put there when the dining room was converted to a room for her so that she and I could each have our own room. She is ten years older than I and needed her privacy. At this age, she is my hero and I want to be just like her. She sits nearby with her guitar. I’m looking up at my mother, who seems to tower over me. 

My sister is part of the folk group at Church. She practices often and I sing with her, songs that would make traditional Catholics of today cringe, but brought my family such joy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The group has asked me to sing with them at Christmas Eve Mass. What an honor! I get to sing with my big sister, way up in the choir loft in the back of the gigantic church. How exciting! 

We are practicing – my mother, sister and I. I sing my heart out. I think I have a beautiful voice. The world has yet to tell me different. In retrospect, it was the voice of innocence. I can still hear the music:

All night, all day, angels watching over me, My Lord.
All night, all day, angels watching over me.
Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
All night, all day, angels watching over me.

We practice over and over, my sister strumming her guitar, my mother singing along with me, until the headlights of my father’s car pull into the driveway. He is home from work. It’s time to put the music away and get ready for supper. We’ll practice more tomorrow.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Loyola Writing Retreat Day 1 - The Hope Chest

This week I'm taking part in an on-line writing retreat put on by Loyola Press. It's being directed by Vinita Hampton Wright, author of The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers

Today's topic is Writing to Pay Attention

Today’s assignment was to pay attention to an object that had some significance to you. I live in a home brimming with objects, many of which I am quite comfortable with. They are old, familiar, and like me, showing some wear and tear. But I am not a “things” person. I’m constantly trying to cull, to remove unnecessary objects from my environment. Therefore, this task posed a challenge. I had to choose an object that mattered. 

I perused my home. I ruled out photos, which I do value, because they are not prized because of what they are, but rather what they represent – the moment of time preserved by dots of ink on a piece of paper. I did the same with art prints which are like old friends to me, but are representations of something else.
I ultimately decided on a miniature cedar hope chest sitting on my bureau which I have owned for over twenty years. It is still in excellent condition, the surface polished to perfection, smooth to the touch, appealing to the eye. 

These 8 ¾” x 4 ¾” x 3 ¼” chests were made by the Lane company and given away by a local furniture store to all young women graduating from high school in the city. I imagine it was a marketing ploy by both companies in the hopes that we would one day purchase a much larger and more expensive Lane cedar chest or some other piece of furniture from the store. In my case, it did work. I ultimately did buy a large cedar chest, although it was an antique and from a different company, and I did purchase a bedroom set at the now defunct furniture store. Mission accomplished.

It didn’t matter. As a young woman, I loved that little box. It came with a lock and key which made it a perfect place to hide love letters, the kind that came on notebook paper folded into tiny squares or triangles, an art form perfected in the days before email and texting. A few years later, I would use the chest as the subject in a watercolor still-life. I don’t remember what happened to the original painting, but it lives on in a print hanging in my parents’ living room.

Today, the hope chest holds more mundane items: two combs, some ponytail holders, two hair clips, a barrette my daughter found at the park featuring the heroine from Tangled, a safety-pin, and a medal of our Blessed Mother - a somber visage on one side with a miniature depiction of Lourdes on the other. While I still own the key, I haven’t had a need to lock the chest in many years. 

Still, I keep the box because of its simple beauty and because it serves as a reminder of the young woman I once was in a time that now exists only in the mist of memory.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

For Those Who Hate E-Books

I finished reading The Heroes of Olympus - Book Three: Mark of Athena today. My eleven-year-old son had asked me to read it, and given the number of books I ask him to read, it's only fair that he gets to pick one for me once in a while.

Rick Riordan is a great writer who has made reading and learning about the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods cool and I've read several of his books, but his books really aren't my preferred genre. Still, I came across the following passage and reading the whole book was worth it!

For the record, I don't hate e-books. I understand their usefulness and why some prefer them. Still, I do prefer to read an actual book.

"That is not a book," Achelous insisted. "He gave you that just to get under my skin, didn't he? He knows I hate those things."

"You hate . . . .books?" Piper asked.

"Bah!" Achelous's face flushed, turning his blue skin eggplant purple. "That's not a book."

He pawed the water. A scroll shot from the river like a miniature rocket and landed in front of him. He nudged it open with his hooves. The weather yellow parchment unfurled, covered with faded Latin script and elaborate handdrawn pictures.

"This is a book!" Achelous said. "Oh, the smell of sheepskin! The elegant feel of the scroll unrolling beneath my hooves. You simply can't duplicate it in something like that."

He nodded indignantly at the guidebook in Jason's hands."You young folks today and your newfangled gadgets. Bound pages. Little compact squares of text that are not hoof-friendly. That's a bound book, a b-book if you must. But it's not a traditional book. It'll never replace the good old-fashioned scroll!"

Friday, September 5, 2014

New Catholic Fiction Writing Contest - Aquinas Award for Fiction

The first Aquinas Award will be announced in the Fall of 2015. The winning author will receive a specially designed award and a cash prize of $1,000.

Any works of fiction (novels and collections of short stories) published since January 2014 are eligible. Books should be sent to me at the following address:

Joseph Pearce
Aquinas College
4210 Harding Pike
Nashville, TN 37205

The books will be judged by an independent team of reviewers.

Any books published in 2014 up to the deadline for receipt of submissions (June 30, 2015) are eligible.

At present, e-books do not qualify.
New editions and reprints are not eligible.

The judging criteria will be at the discretion of the independent panel of judges. I will not be on this panel.

Anyone is eligible to submit a work of contemporary fiction (i.e. novel, novella or collection of short stories), including those who have self-published.