I have never been one to set writing goals.  In fact, despite the fact that many creative and prolific writers swear by them, there is something about having to write a certain number of pages or for a certain number of hours every day that sucks the creative wind right out of me. I prefer the romantic notion of waiting for the muse to inspire over the practical matter of sitting down and hammering out a certain number of words a day.  

But, in writing as in life, the practical often trumps the romantic and we are forced to create within the bounds of deadlines and responsibilities.  For me, that means delivering a 60,000 word manuscript to my acquisitions editor by February 15, 2009.  This is not a loose deadline.  I am contractually bound to make it happen.

To get there, I’ve set a personal goal of writing 1000 words a day, six days a week for six weeks. 

In an effort to prevent self-sabotage, I’ve decided not to “bank” words.  If I write 1500 words today, I still have to write 1000 tomorrow. If I succeed in writing at this pace I will have a rough draft by December 15 and two months to rewrite and edit.  I’ve never done this before, but I think this sounds like a workable plan.

And yet, I keep wondering…

“What about creativity?”

“What about beauty?”

“Is it possible to write (or paint, of sculpt) artfully on a tight deadline?”

“Is creative discipline an oxymoron?”

Would love to hear your thoughts… 

         

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After more than four years of drafting, bumbling, abandoning projects and starting new ones I am thrilled to share that a large publishing house has agreed to take on my first book. It is a personal narrative called (surprise, surprise) Flirting with Faith: My Journey from Atheism to Agnosticism to a Devoted Life.  

This is a mini-miracle for several reasons.  

  • I’m still floored by the fact that I wound up a Christian in the first place, so becoming a Christian author is further evidence that God both has a sense of humor and that He can (and does) do things that are beyond our wildest expectations.
  • New and untested voices are risky for publishers and I am about as much of a nobody from nowhere as one can be in this marketplace.  
  • While I’ve had articles published in magazines, I have no big ministry or church or radio/tv show to use as a stepping-off point to promote this book. This is a real sticking point for most publishers.
  • I am writing a personal narrative which is a tough sell in any market, not to mention today’s competitive and changing publishing marketplace.
And yet, against the odds, I find myself with a fantastic agent, an incredibly supportive editor and a February 15 deadline to produce and deliver a 60,000 word manuscript for release in Spring of 2010.  
 
So, like my own blogging reality show, I am shifting the focus of my ConversantLife.com blog.  From today forward (with a few exceptions I am sure) I hope to open a conversation with other aspiring and working writers about the joys and challenges of writing.  From esoteric questions like what it takes to find and authentic voice to practical matters like what it takes to find an agent, I am hoping that this blog (which has now been moved from the “Spirituality” category to “Creative Arts”) will be a source of shared information, encouragement, collaboration and prayer for people who feel called to write.
 
In addition to sharing anything useful that I have learned so far and my ups and downs as journey from here to Spring 2010, I am hoping to interview authors, agents, publishers, magazine editors, marketers, book club leaders and anyone else who might help us to grow in our pursuit of the writing life.  
 
If you are a writer or you’re interested in writing, I hope you’ll join me.     

There is a trend among some Christians that I would like to bounce of you.  

Some churches, having heard and acknowledged that the capital-c Church has done many “unChristian” things over the centuries (and today), have taken to apologizing for current and past sins that have been committed in the name of Jesus. From hypocrisy to slavery to poor treatment of homosexuals to the Inquisition, supporters of this trend believe that it is important to take responsibility for these warts on the nose of their faith in hope that it will lead to healing and, potentially, reconciliation.

Others feel that apologizing is either not warranted (since they were not directly involved in these actions) or that, since direct amends cannot be made, the apologies could appear to be pandering rather than a genuine desire for reconciliation. 

I believe an argument could be made in either direction.  

That is why I thought I would take the question outside of Christian circles and ask the people who would would be receiving the apologies…people who feel like they have been hurt by Christianity or the church.

If that is you, I would love to hear from you. Specifically, I’d love to know:

  • What happened?
  • How did you respond?
  • How did the church/Christian in question respond?
  • How would you feel if you got an apology from the person/church that perpetrated the “wrong.”
  • How would you feel if a Christian who had nothing to do with it apologized to you?

Hope to hear from you.

Joan 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not giving up on the Church… 

Despite some unfortunate evidence to the contrary, I believe that the church can be a place where broken and hurting people of all stripes can go to find Jesus shared and reflected in the lives of leaders and members.  I believe that it can be a sanctuary where poor, struggling, addicted, mentally ill, self-harming, harsh and hard-to-love people can mingle with and be supported by people who are wealthy or stable or sober or emotionally healthy and peaceful without feeling judged or unwelcome. I believe that Christians of different ages and backgrounds and interests can worship together out of respect for one another and Christ’s call to unity, sustaining the whole by putting the needs of others ahead of personal comfort, preference or ambition. And I believe that the core teachings of the faith—even the controversial or hard-to-swallow ones–can touch people without being watered down or hidden from view when they are delivered with love and compassion.

Since becoming a Christian in 2003 I have sought to find this kind of Church.

In some ways I feel like Goldilocks of Christianity. There I was lost in the woods without knowing it and I come upon a lovely house. 

Sanctuary.  Safety.

I walk though the door naïve and hopeful, only to find dozens of diverging choices, approaches and versions of what it really means to be a Christian or how one is really supposed to follow Jesus.

So I try a one church… too hot.

And another…too cold.

Searching for, but not finding, the elusive just right…

I hoped to land in that one community of people with the right approach with whom I could settle-in and ignore (or criticize) the‘other ones’ who clearly have it wrong. Regrettably, this approach assumes that it is possible (or advisable) for me to become part of “a church” and divorce myself from “the church.” 

I wish I had simplistic “how-to” list to encapsulate how I turned it around, but this is not a challenge with a single pole solution.  And, if it were, it is pretty unlikely that the big answer would come from the pen of this New Age seeker, turned atheist, turned agnostic, turned Christian.  No, I am not suggesting that I have the solution. I’m just hoping that we can do our best to remember that the Church is a family, whether we like it or not.

 Because really…who wants to step out of the woods straight into a big dysfunctional family?

Both of my parents died six months ago. It was April.  My mom from cancer that she’d been battling for a couple of years. My father from a stroke that took him in 5 days.  He went first.  Twenty—or was is 22—days before his wife of 46 years.  They were young by today’s standards.  Sixty-five and Sixty-seven. 

I’ve cried a few times.  Quickly.  Quietly.  Willing but not quite able to muster the turning-the-corner-into-anger sort of tears that would signal my official descent into the widely accepted stages of grief. 

I’ve purposely not spent too much time reacquainting myself with the stages of grief.  Rather than stack the deck against myself by the power of suggestion, I figured I’d allow the emotions and memories to gather together like raindrops on windowpane, linking together slowly, one by one, until their combined weight was enough to draw them downward.

Then, earlier this week, I started to see my parents everywhere.  “Doesn’t Sarah Palin look a little bit like my mother when she was younger?” I asked my husband.  He did his best to mask the not-really tone in his voice “Well…maybe a little.”

Drip.

Walking down the street toward my favorite writing café, I saw a man in the distance that I could swear was my dad.  He wore a baseball cap over his blonde-gray hair and had his hands in the pockets of a Members Only-style baseball jacket.  There was something in his slightly curved posture and sporty white sneakers that brought him home for a moment. But only for a moment.

Drip.

When I found myself in a state of unsettled sensory-overload last night, I figured I was just tired.  I’ve been staying up too late and I teach early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I figured I just needed a good night’s sleep.

Drip.

Then I started to snap at my husband and the drummer for our band because they were having trouble nailing a rhythm.

Drip.

And today I find myself wearing this kind of free-floating anger-at-everything-and-nothing-at-once like a heavy, scratchy and damp wool blanket.  I am not fighting it.  I am confident that this anger will weave its way toward acceptance in time.  All I can do is pray for strength and do my best to be loving toward the people while I make my way through what I know is a painful but healthy process of gathering them close so I can let them go.   

Whoosh…   

I find myself in the exciting, yet precarious position of having everything I ever wanted…except for money. I have a fantastic marriage to a talented artist and musician who is, hands down, my best friend.  I have three healthy and mostly happy children who, at ages 19, 18 and 10, are constantly growing and changing and becoming the people that they are meant to be.  I live in a 100 year-old home that is ripe with the kind of character that comes from slightly crooked ceilings, original moldings and recently repaired plaster walls. I am an adjunct professor at a welcoming University and a writer whose work is slowly but surely finding an audience.  I play the bass in my husband’s Spanish rock band and I have good friends who are interesting and creative.  

All in all, in the midst of historic economic uncertainty, I am living just the kind of relaxed, avant-garde lifestyle I’d aspired to when I was an idealistic kid.  Back before I abandoned these dreams to go out and make some money, 

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against money.  And, when I was a single mother with two kids, I needed money to pay the rent, put food on the table and build a life for my fractured little family.  

So I did. 

And, as one job led to another, I went from living paycheck-to-paycheck to actually having a little more than I needed to keep my head above water.  Things got even better when I met and married my husband Martin. A Uruguayan immigrant who’d shelved his own artistic aspirations in exchange for a body-crushing but lucrative job in the construction industry, he went from working full-time making $10 a day at age 15 to building a profitable small business.

As our careers took off and our coffers filled, our quest for the American Dream began to take shape.  Sure, we noticed that there was less and less time to do the things we loved, but we thought that was just the price of growing up and getting ahead. 

I can’t pinpoint the moment when we crossed the line from working-to-live to living-to-work—or when accumulating things took priority over having time to relax or create or spend unencumbered time with our kids.  But cross that line we did. 

The houses got bigger, the investments more substantial and our dreams of a simple, creative life became a distant memory. We worked all the time and were dead tired when we were off.  But somehow it seemed like working ourselves into the ground was a fair exchange for the security, prestige and stuff that came with having a healthy disposable income. 

The money that had once served our needs had somehow become our master. 

So, about five years ago, we made a change.  Stepping out in faith, we took some bold steps, left our careers and began to pursue our passions.  As a result, we have more time, more peace and a lot less money.  We haven’t taken a vow of poverty. We’re actually quite hopeful that our new endeavors will bear monetary fruit one of these days.  But if they do, I believe we’ll handle it far, far differently. 

Repost from Sept 13, 2008.  Happy New Year all…

I don’t think I am remotely cool enough to roll with the new Christians. I’m forty-two and I sometimes watch mindless television. I wear pointy high heels and makeup and I don’t drink beer.

Of course, I used to be cool enough. Back when I sat on the roof of my apartment smoking cigarettes, reading A Clockwork Orange and looking down my nose at the people who didn’t get it. Back when I didn’t wear shoes or makeup but I did drink beer…and rye whiskey, which I preferred.

When I was cool God was in the poetry of the Bhagavad Gita or captured in a rose quartz crystal or dancing next to me at a Grateful Dead show. God was in a kiss or on a breeze or buried in the deep recesses of my mind when I’d created the perfect chemical storm.

And then, once I’d applied my considerable intellect and more considerable arrogance to the question, God was nowhere. I stopped searching and I was alone.

Fast forward a couple of years, a couple of kids and a couple of drinks and God became a “power greater than myself.” And, armed with a hint of humility I began to change.

Jesus had not called me yet—but I think he was watching.

When he came it was unannounced and uninvited. There was no frenzied altar call or sinner’s prayer. There was no hip pastor or tail-kicking band. No French roast coffee or modern art. There were no candles and no incense. No Power Point presentation or fill-in-the-blank bible study. It wasn’t even a particularly welcoming environment.

No, my Damascus Road was not modern or post-modern or denominational. It was God doing what God does wherever and whenever God wants to do it. Once I assured myself that the pain in my chest, inability to breathe and nausea was reverential fear and not a heart attack, I somehow knew that I believed something and that I would never be the same.

Of course I knew nothing of Christianity or Jesus or the Bible at the time. I thought I did, having debated the atheist party line for years. But, in the true spirit of Amazing Grace, I went from blindness to sight in a moment and was compelled to learn.

This story could go on for pages—and it eventually will—but I need to get back to my original premise, why I am not cool enough to be a new Christian.

It has been a little more than five years since I came to believe. In that time I have had some of the most wonderful and some of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I have learned from everyone—the whole mismatched Christian family—including televangelists, silver-haired, hymn-lovers, Southern Baptists, emergents, people who used to believe and Mike Seaver from Growing Pains.

While I might not share their style, or their politics or their history or their views on what it means to be a Christian (or a follower of Christ), each and every conversation, sermon or rant is a gift from God. These folks— like it or not—are my new family. And I am learning to love this new family; every quirky one of them. Even when I don’t really like what they say or how they act or what they claim to believe.

This unconditionally loving approach to life is brand new for me and it makes little sense. It is often uncomfortable and always counter intuitive. Sometimes I fail miserably. But sometimes I don’t. And when I don’t I have come to believe it is a gift from God.

Because, back when I was cool, I loved conditionally, starting with myself and extending to a small group of people who also read A Clockwork Orange and smoked cigarettes and drank beer…or rye whiskey…and looked down their nose at people who just don’t get it.

Thankfully, I’m just not that cool anymore.