The Joy Of New, The Joy Of Old

 

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The old and new are colliding. Merging. Blending. I am coming back. To my writing after a long period of silence, here. My writing home. I joke that I lost my blog. It is a joke which is humorless. I have a new computer. That helps. And I have new hope and new joy. They are infusing me with renewed passion, purpose, energy. Funneling life-giving fuel to my soul which  is finding its way to my fingertips. Onto the page.

The fog is lifting. The marvel, mystery and curiosity about the ordinary are returning.

Many would say that the muse left me or that I lost my muse. I wouldn’t say that. That gives the muse too much credit, perhaps. The broken computer, the lack of an essential tool. That created white space. I think the time of rest would have come. Broken computer or not. I may never know.

 I have written here, on my newsletter. But only very recently. I began my most recent tiny letter there with an apology. It should be extended to you too. It feels worthy of a sincere “I am sorry I disappeared after you so graciously chose to follow along on my writing journey.”

If you are still here, that means you waited. I hope your wait was worth the wait. I hope we can see through the lens of grace and beauty, together. I hope we can unveil the hidden beauty in the simplest of stories. In the lines of poetry. And in the paragraphs of prose. Here. Together. (I am still turning over and over again and again, the idea of a book. I will turn these ideas over here too. For your consideration and feedback.)

I have written here too. At Gracetable.org, where I am honored to be a contributor. And where I write in some detail about my time away. If you are interested in some of my story of fading into a quiet place, I tell a bit about it there.

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As my writing waned, so did many aspects of my writing life. This is not as much a confessional as it may sound. Nor is it whining for whining’s sake. It is actually a story. Of new beginnings and fresh starts and regeneration. Those are always good to pour out. In the pouring out others, even just one other, may find hope and slivers of optimism in the words.

Sometimes when we connect the dots, others begin to connect their own.

I have been wanting to read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I enjoyed hearing her speak once. And I somewhat followed the build up to the release of this new book of hers on creativity. So many books have been left in the wake of my sabbatical. Will I ever catch up on where I want to be with my reading and with my art.

Eager for a little of the book and yet knowing that we are at somewhat different places in terms of our faith perspectives and perhaps life views, I downloaded a sample on my Kindle. Of all the samples Kindle could have offered up to me, I received the story of a poet. The beautiful story of Jack Gilbert. More fuel. I will move “Big Magic” up higher on my list of books on creativity and inspiration. Elizabeth Gilbert writes this of Jack Gilbert, poet:

“He seemed to live in a state of uninterrupted marvel, and he encouraged them [his students] to do the same. He didn’t so much teach them how to write poetry, they said, but why: because of delight. Because of stubborn gladness. He told them that they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world.”

So maybe that is it. I have rediscovered delight. I am called to press into the gladness, with determination. With persistence. With poetry.

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One sample, one book, one sliver, one other poet’s words.

One fresh start.

Here’s to new adventures on a rather old blog. Here’s to the old and the new. And to the beauty in the simple, the beauty of grace, and to a gentle flame, a fire in the belly of a creative. And as Jack Gilbert wrote to fighting back against the “ruthless furnace of this world.”

With a keen and unblinking eye on the beauty which He has created for us and in us. And to its revealing.

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On Being A Writer – An Interview With Ann Kroeker

wpid-screenshot_2015-01-21-13-15-20-1.pngWelcome. Ya’ll are in for a treat.

Those who know me well, know that I ask a lot of questions. My children give me a questions quota. Their fear is I may not stop inquiring, prodding and asking. So they lovingly tease me and throw up red flags when I am approaching “question overload”.

Thankfully my friend, writer, editor, author Ann Kroeker was generous and approachable in my interview with her.

For many reasons, I am simply enthralled and captivated by the wisdom on writing found in her new book “On Being A Writer” written with co-author Charity Singleton Craig.This new title from TS Poetry Press originated in part from a Tweetspeak Poetry workshop. I was a participant in this 12 week writing workshop which was a pivotal turning point in my life as a writer.

Grab a cup of coffee or tea and listen in to our discussion on writing and the writing life. And before you leave because you are not a writer, consider Ann’s wisdom and insights about life and any art. All art.

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Ann: Thank you for inviting me into your space, Elizabeth. Your gracious personality is so welcoming. I’m honored to be here.

Elizabeth: Ann, can you speak to the concept of dry periods in a writer’s life? Those seasons when we feel unproductive, uncreative or like our best work is not coming forth when we sit down to write? As a part of that, do you find it works best for you to push through these periods or to pause and give into the dryness?

Ann: Whether ideas aren’t coming in a broad sense (if I can’t seem to make progress on any project at all), or a particular piece of writing is creatively dry (maybe I’m struggling to compose an opener for an article or the last line of a poem), the worst thing I can do is fret. When my anxiety level rises, I shut down completely. Better to relax, walk the dogs, visit a museum, read a well-written book outside my preferred genre. That’s a kind of pause in the work.

Elizabeth: In the book you have a chapter titled Rest. You recommend writers stop and do other things.

Ann: Exactly. Rest can be defined in different ways. It can be where we pause, whether for an hour, a day, a week. Or we can literally rest by sitting and napping or we can rest figuratively, from the writing, through non-writing activities. The break can help. In fact, I try to incorporate rest into my writing life as a regular practice and it helps me come back  refreshed and sometimes refueled with ideas.

Elizabeth: Refueled. I like that. Tell me more.

Ann: I recently came across a quote attributed to Anne Lamott: “Sometimes you’re not blocked; you’re empty.” Could it be that a dry time is an empty time and a writer needs refilling and refueling? I was at a conference long ago and one of the speakers advised those of us in attendance to fill the library of our minds with beauty, creativity, art, and inspiration. I’ve always remembered that. In fact, I was reading the Good News Translation of Philippians 4:8, which gives similar advice: “fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honorable.” When I fill my mind with things like that, I find I often have things to say again-the dry creek bed of creativity begins to trickle and flow.

Elizabeth: Can you give some examples of things you fill the library of your mind with?

Ann: Sure! A lot of activities fit that description: listen to a symphony, read two poems, turn on NPR to hear Radiolab or This American Life, listen to a Daily Audio Bible reading. Another breakthrough solution for when I’m blocked is to play: daydream, play a game, bake cookies, visit a nature center, do a word search. After pausing to refuel and play, I can return to the keyboard, sit down and write-or at least try to write. Maybe I’ll write with renewed energy and power or maybe I’ll write slowly and poorly, but I go ahead and write. After all, I can always go back and edit. And edit. And edit.

Elizabeth: If you could write an additional chapter or begin a sequel or follow-up to “On Being A Writer” what comes to mind as a beginning point? How would you build on this important resource, extrapolate it out further. Add to these rich chapters that you and Charity have thought through so thoroughly?

Ann: I’m glad On Being A Writer  covers so much of the writing life by grouping things under those 12 habits, because within each of them a writer can explore a variety of specific issues, questions, and challenges. Charity and I could have gone into more detail with any of the topics, but we’re finding it’s fun to discuss more specifically during interviews like this or as we write in other spaces.

I enjoy researching the role of health and play in the writer’s life. Also, I think in Chapter 2, Arrange, and Chapter 10, Plan, we addressed flexibility on some level. For example, on page 34 we ask “How flexible is your lifestyle?” I’d like to write more personally and specifically about how important flexibility has been in my writing life. You know about my pink backpack? That’s my portable office, and it’s allowed me to be flexible enough to get lots done even when I am away from my desk. I’ve edited articles, written chapters, and run the business side of my writing life from the tools stuffed into that backpack and toted around town. I’ve taken road trips with that backpack, keeping up with my work while barreling down the highway.

Elizabeth: But you have a writing space, don’t you. I remember you saying you wished for doors!

Ann: Yes! You’re absolutely right. I have an office with no doors-and I’d prefer to sit at my desk and work, but having that portable, flexible option helps me stay productive when life pulls me away. Another aspect of flexibility is being willing to try new things, especially if an unexpected opportunity arises outside one’s preferred genre or plan. Like I said earlier, I think we hit that in Chapter 10, but even in the past two weeks I’ve been considering opportunities that can expand my writing life even more…if I remain flexible.

Elizabeth: I am fascinated by the Wendell Berry quote about the tension between art and real life. “The real values of art and life are perhaps best defined and felt in the tension between them.” What about this statement have you found intriguing in your own writing life? What does this tension look life for you personally and how does it influence your work?

Ann: What does the tension look life? It means on one day, to meet a deadline, I’ll stay home while the rest of my family goes to the movies. Another day, I’ll jump on my bike and join them for a bike ride into town. The tension means I won’t always make the right choice. I’ve lived long enough to agree with Mr. Berry where he says in that quote you’re referencing that the conflicts can possibly “be resolved ( if that is the word) only in…a principled unwillingness to let go of either, or to sacrifice either to the other” (p.34-35). I don’t want to let go of either family relationships or my writing life, but I’m also not willing to sacrifice either to the other.

Elizabeth: How does your family add to the tension? How do they view your writing life? Are they supportive or is that a source of frustration?

Ann: I can usually tell when my family needs or wants my company, and I think the family understands my needs and career enough to let me work. There’s tension; it’s an experiment. I’m grateful for my immediate family’s generous attitude toward my writing. They really respect my writing life and make space and time for me to work. Not everyone has such supportive circumstances.

Elizabeth: Ann, wow! I believe this is one of my favorite topics, this writing life. Have I reached my question quota? You have been so generous with your thoughtful answers to my questions. I hope you will come back again and discuss art and writing with me….and your next book! Thank you again. I am so very grateful to have had you at my writing home.

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Meet Ann —Ann graduated from Indiana University as an English Major with a creative writing emphasis. She launched her freelance writing career as a young adult and has been working for over two decades as a writer, editor and most recently as a writing coach. Author of two books and editor for both Tweetspeak Poetry and The High Calling, Ann is a sought-after resource for editorial guidance. She continues to explore new writing opportunities, speak in a range of venues, maintain connections in the publishing world, and work with writers to help then take the next step in their writing careers. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter@annkroeker.

The Gift Of Words – Guest Post: Charity Singleton Craig

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Charity Singleton Craig has been and continues to be a gift to me and to my life as a writer. What joy and delight to discover her words here include a reference to an online workshop (which she lead with Ann Kroeker. Those twelve women and twelve weeks significantly impacted my writing life. Welcome my friend, Charity. She is a jewel. And so are her words and her newly published book (order it on Amazon for the writer friends in your life.)

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As I held a copy of On Being A Writer in my hands for the first time, I thought about all the years of hard work that culminated in this book. The stories told, the lessons learned, even the words on the page: these were born out of struggle and perserverance. Books aren’t born easily, I’ve learned. Just as lives aren’t lived easily, either.

But as I ran my fingers over the smooth cover and flipped through the tight, crisp pages my prevailing thought turned on this one word: gratitude. On Being A Writer is a gift.

Not in the logistical sense, of course. This book began with a contract and has become a commodity, something you can buy on Amazon, a product we sell at events. Publishers, editors, printers, bookstores, authors: we will all recognize some small profit from these words on the page.

But the process of seeing an idea come to life, the investment of friends and colleagues nurturing a project that began with a “what if?” in an email: that is a gift.

The twelve women in twelve weeks who workshopped together over the book’s central themes and in the process helped form it: that is a gift.

The excitement of family and friends, readers and colleagues celebrating the launch of this singular book into a world already full of ideas: that is a gift.

Working with a co-author whose experience and perspective turned vague ideas into specific stories with practical application for readers: that is a gift.

The support of a husband who joined his story to my story that ended up as our story on the printed page: that is a gift.

The remarkable thing about this book, however, is that the gift didn’t end at publication. When people buy the book and read it, that is a gift, too, of course. But even the conversations that result from talking with people about their writing lives, from engaging writers of all levels about a life of words, that, too, is the gift this book keeps on giving, even if the transaction is less financial and more relational.

As we enter the gift-giving season, what gifts of words can you give? How can your words become the gift that keeps on giving?

When you pay your restaurant bill, leave a big tip and write a big compliment right on the check.

When you head to a holiday party, wrap a note of appreciation around that bottle of wine you present to the hostess.

When you check off your children’s wish list, write your own Christmas list of the hopes you wish for them.

When you mail out your Christmas cards, write blessings and poems and knock knock jokes along with your name.

And when you are shopping for something to wrap and place under the tree, think books, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and bookstore gift cards.

Because though words can hurt and maim and paralyze, words can also bring healing and hope and life. And I want my words – the ones spoken as well as the ones written – to be a gift to those who hear and read.

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Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, bringing words to life through essays, stories, blog posts, and books. She is the coauthor of On Being A Writer  (T.S. Poetry Press, October 2014), and she has contributed essays to three books, including Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self. She is regularly published at various venues, including The Curator, where she is a staff writer; The High Calling, where she is a content and copy editor; and TweetSpeak Poetry, where she is a contributing writrs. She lives with her husband and three step-sons in central Indiana. You can find her online at charitysingletoncraig.com, on Twitter @charityscraig and on Facebook.

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Joining Laura today.

The Winter Of A Potential Malcontent

wpid-20140212_145037.jpgFor a long and frozen moment
Moments of dark and cold fall over us
Weapons of malcontent
I might have known
War zone trauma
Traumatized by Pax
So close to peace, its wretched name
Trees break, grunt, moan
Fall from the sky, war wounded
Like bombs extinguishing
Life from the day
Exploding
Last week’s tulips bow in mourning
My shoulders
Rise to my ears in fear
A mortar of pine and oak, ice and pine
Will land on this
World of mine
Repetition of a death march
Battle weary are we

The talking head said
To fight cabin fever
Stay hydrated, move,
Stimulate your mind
All creativity is drying up
Going up in smoke with the fire
That is now our world, hovering round
The hearth of the home
2014 reeks of 1814

No power no water
No light
Disconnection sets in
Dirty and cold

The piano, frozen
As am I
Spoiled by Pandora and Spotify
Times like this we wish
We could remember to play
Ebony and ivory

The winter will not be a victor
I refuse to bow down and give in
Lonely and cold
Dark and restlessness
Quiet and routine bully my soul
My white flag, were I to raise it
Would not be seen

We are adrift in a sea of white
And grays color the soul

Though I know Spring, like the tide will rise
And the sun will burn
Ice will melt
And yes
We will dance and feast, warm our souls
On the heat of the earth
The tyranny of the urgent is ruling the day
Heavy handed and cruel
I will not lie down in defeat

For these are the days
The right here times
When the battle is on
And in full swing
I armor up with
Flashlight in hand
And the words
Always
Words will shift the balance of power
Ravenous and hungry
I devour her words.

At first I sat with “Booked”
In my hands
Propped in the threshold of the front door
Squeezing the light out of the day
As the earth stood nearly still
When an early visitor came to call
Nightfall
And darkness
And I like a child rolled up in a ball
Fought hard against tears
Formed from the  words
As they lept from the page

I battle-scarred

Seeking solace
I remain
Held captive, nearly numb
Frozen in place

Now thawed by Prior
And her words
Held
In a warm embrace
Safe from Pax, seeking
Peace
Inside the pages

Of “Booked”