Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Cool Women on Crutches

Just looking at these women empowers me today... but then the pain comes and humbles me and the prayer returns to my heart, "Lord, have mercy."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Letting Go, Again....

Just read Anna Michael's post over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, and had to link to it here. Bless her heart, she's got vertigo and still took time to blog when it was her turn at the Southern Authors's Blog! It's about, "Nature, Writing and Vertigo," but I love what she says about letting go.

I'm such a control freak, but as we all know, control is an illusion. So when I broke my ankle while on vacation in Gulf Shores last week, I panicked. How on earth was I supposed to do everything I need to do for my daughter's wedding (May 7 on the beach) now?

Thank God, today's doctor report was so good: it's a tiny fracture (of the distal fibula) that doesn't need surgery or a cast! I'm in this boot, which is much better than a cast, and hope to be in something less cumbersome by the wedding.

God is good. Thanks to everyone for your Facebook wishes! I'm going to get some rest now and hope to have a longer post later this week.

hugs to everyone.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fairhope Writers

What a treat I had on Wednesday, when Ren Hinote invited me to join the Fairhope Writers for their weekly (yes!) writing critique group meeting in her lovely home near the Mobile Bay in Fairhope, Alabama. I drove over from Gulf Shores and spent the afternoon with seven folks who are all actively working on memoir or fiction writing.

Writing group member, P. T. Paul’s book, To Live and Write in Dixie, blends poetry and prose to offer the reader an insightful look at the South through the eyes of a true artist. P. T. got her MFA in creative writing at the University of South Alabama, and she lends a wonderful expertise to this group of very active writers.

Ren Hinote, the hostess for this week’s meeting, is a delightful woman whom I met in Oxford in November at the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference. Ren, and fellow writing group member, Robert O’Daniel, have already registered for the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonficiton Workshop in September. Robert is writing about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s, and Ren is writing a gripping memoir. Robert was generous to loan me his copy of Labrinthe by Kate Mosse, after he read the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, saying that it might help me to see how another writer blended the lives of characters from different time periods, as I’m attempting to do with Cherry Bomb. I just love how writers reach out and help one another. (That's Ren, Robert and me in the photo.)

As we went around the room, each member read from their recent work-in-progress and received encouraging comments from the other members, as we enjoyed coffee, soft drinks, cookies, and fresh fruit in Ren’s beautiful den. Although the Mobile Bay isn’t visible from the windows, just knowing it was out there, close by, gave an added beauty to the afternoon.

Sonya, Bob, Tootie, and Kaki rounded out this week’s gathering, and I enjoyed everyone’s writing so much. And not just their writing, but the company of like-minded folks who get it—the importance of the written word in sharing our stories. One member laughed as she told of making copies of the book review she had published and sent to “all her friends who think she’s wasting her time writing.” We all laughed and nodded, like folks at a twelve-steps meeting when such a universal feeling is shared. Another member read his historical narrative about the Grand Hotel at Point Clear, and then his revised version once he applied the principals of creative nonfiction he was learning from the group, and the story began to really sing. (It was more interesting to hear, knowing that his ancestors were once owners of the Grand Hotel.)

These folks are part of a larger writing group in Fairhope called the Fairhope Pensters, which was organized in 1965 and meets monthly, usually drawing about 45 people. I’m so honored to be invited to speak to their group next February. I’m in the company of past speakers like T. K. Thorne, whose debut novel, Noah’s Wife, won the 2009 Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction.

When they learned that I’m Orthodox and write icons, they asked me if I had ever visited the Malbis Plantation Greek Orthodox Church, which I had not even heard of. Once an active parish and monastery, this beautiful Byzantine building is now a museum, full of mosaics and iconography. One member in the group said, “it’s like being inside a cloisanne egg.” I was planning on stopping by on the drive home to Memphis tomorrow, but that was before I broke my ankle.

I’m tempted just to end this post with that last sentence, but I hate it when writers leave me hanging like that so, here’s the story.

Thursday afternoon I was on a boat in Orange Beach which was about to embark on a sunset dolphin cruise, when I missed a step moving to the front of the boat (well, the step was about 2 feet deep) and twisted my ankle. Five hours later (after 4 hours in the emergency room) I was headed back to the condo with my foot in a splint, and a non-displaced fracture of the distal fibula. I’ve got an appointment at Campbell Clinic in Memphis on Monday to find out whether or not it will need surgery.

And so my wonderful spring break vacation in Gulf Shores ends on a tough note. But I’m so grateful to my friend, Daphne, and her kids, who are taking such good care of me and will drive me home to Memphis tomorrow. I’m trying to look on the bright side (which is hard to do, with my daughter’s wedding in 6 weeks and the possibility of surgery and a cast)… if I’m laid up for a while, maybe I’ll get some writing done and make the Fairhope Writers proud.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Friends

Daphne and me on the beach at Gulf Shores, second day of spring break...

Katherine and me on the deck at the Fly Creek Cafe, Fairhope, third day of spring break. (Katherine is my Goddaughter who moved to Gulfport.)

I'm headed back to Fairhope today to meet with a writing group there, so maybe my Friday post won't be "wordless." HUGS, everyone!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Into Green!

No time to blog from the beach today, so I'm sharing some exciting news on this FIRST DAY OF SPRING:

My dear friend (and Goddaughter) Sue Brownlow will have paintings at the Spring Into Green juried art sale and silent auction at Shelby Farms on April 2!

Hope to see lots of you there!!!

Weather is gorgeous here at Gulf Shores, so it's time to get away from the computer and back out there. Shrimp at Lulu's at sunset last night. Here we are on the dock at Lulu's waiting for our table. Check Facebook for more photos:-)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Exploring the Genre (of Creative Nonfiction)

I'm packing for a week at the beach (leaving early tomorrow morning)...
... so please forgive me for "borrowing" my post from my 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction site today:

"Exploring the Genre."

Whether you're writing essay, memoir or other forms of creative nonfiction, or even if you are just an "informed reader" of these genres, I hope you enjoy the post and leave a comment over at the CNF blog.

Have a great weekend everyone! Hopefully I'll be blogging from the beach by Monday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Struggle of Man Against Himself

"The struggle upon which we are engaged is full of hardships, full of dangers, for it is the struggle of man against himself."
- Saint Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland

Holy Saint Patrick, pray to God for us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Spring Break!

Can't wait to get to the beach on Saturday for Spring Break with my best friend, Daphne, and her kids! Memories from last year (below)... you should have seen it in color....

Dancing at a concert on the green in Seaside, March 10, 2010: Briana, Hallie, Me, Susan, Virginia and Zain. (Hallie is Daphne's daughter. Susan will also be at Spring Break 2011 with us!)

Daphne's "kids": Will, Simon, Ian and Hallie.

Briana, Hallie and Susan

Me and Daphne

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why I’m Retiring from Iconography: A Shift from WRITING Icons to WRITING Books

Yesterday was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which celebrates the triumph of icons over the iconoclasts, reinstating them for use in the liturgical worship of the Church. As I watched dozens of children from three different Orthodox churches here in Memphis process around the nave at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church and heard the proclamation, “This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers,” I felt a strange mix of joy and sadness wash over me.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a number of folks ask me if I’m still doing icons on commission. And just last week I had a request from a potential student for another icon workshop. I always answer these questions with a vague reply like, “I’m not really doing iconography any more,” or “I’m not leading workshops any more,” but I never give a more specific answer. Because it’s complicated. But today I want to write about it. Maybe it’s because I’m about to “take down” my icon studio, which covers the second floor landing above the den in our home, which I’m staging to put on the market soon, possibly by summer. (We’re looking for a house for this stage of our life—fewer bedrooms, larger entertaining area, and separate office/workspaces for my husband and me.)

So, here goes. First a little background on why I began studying iconography. (And here’s a link to an article I wrote that was published in First Things back in 2007: “Icons Will Save the World,” for those who want to read more.) In the mid 1990s I went through what I call the “nun phase” of my spiritual life. Having come out of a dark time, spiritually, I threw myself into a radical, ascetic lifestyle for about five years. It was my way of going to the desert, like my patron saint, Mary of Egypt. During those years I removed myself from secular life, spending as much time as possible reading spiritual literature, praying, visiting monasteries, going to Church every day, wearing a head covering, no makeup, plain clothes, and basically withdrawing from worldly activities as much as possible. Maybe some of that was helpful in healing the wounds from my dark years, but in retrospect, I’m not sure how authentic some of those practices were. I recently heard Father Thomas Hopko speak about the “Vices and Virtues,” and he warned about using religion as a vice. He spoke about the dangers of over-emersion in religious activities, including clergy in his concerns. He spoke about dealing with our own personal histories and bringing our whole selves to be healed. And although I think that’s what I was trying to do during those years, somehow I found myself still trying to please people, rather than God.

I have always wanted to write. And paint. I’ve been drawn to abstract art all my life, and to novels. But some of the more severe Orthodox spiritual literature warns against these activities, and so I felt uncomfortable pursing secular art and writing for most of my life. Even as I began to come out of my “nun phase,” in the late 1990s, I looked for a place to pursue my art that would be “approved.” And so I began to study iconography. Painting icons is called “writing” because you are writing the life of the saint who is portrayed in the icon (or of Christ or the Mother of God, etc.) but you are writing it with color rather than with words. I studied under Russians, Romanians, Greeks and Americans over a period of years, and then I began to do commissioned icons and to teach icon classes in my home studio and workshops at St. John Orthodox Church, my parish. (Read about one of those workshops here,here, here,and here.)

I painted over 40 icons during those years, and taught dozens of students in my workshops. I gave presentations on iconography at churches, college, and schools. And yes, there was great blessing in doing this. But I also began to realize that writing icons is so tied into my spiritual life that there were even times when I felt “blocked” from writing icons. My essay, “Blocked,” which addresses this, was a finalist in the 2007 Santa Fe Writers Project’s Literary Awards.

The more I moved back “towards center” in my personal, spiritual, and emotional/psychological life, the more I realized that I had backed into iconography, doing “the approved art” rather than what I really wanted to do. And so I began to experiment with abstract art a bit, and representational art using gouache (opaque water color) but quickly realized that I didn’t have the training for it. (In order to abstract something, you must first know how to paint it classically. Picasso and most of the other great abstract painters were first classical painters.) I did enjoy a few monthly gatherings with the “Mixed Bag Ladies,” who are all serious, trained artists, but welcomed me into the fold.

And so I returned to my love for writing, which had been there all along. I started by writing a novel, in 2006. (It’s in a drawer, needing much work.) Then I began to write essays. (8 have been published.) Then memoirs (two are in drawers) and finally another novel, which is in the works now. Then blogging (Pen and Palette plus two blogs where I guest post monthly). Then organizing writing conferences and workshops. And so I’ve come to realize that I can’t do both—write books and icons. And I’m really not in a place, spiritually, to continue to write icons. Traditionally this work has been done by monastics, who focus on fasting and prayer and the strict ascetic life that lends itself to the liturgical art that iconography is. While I’m thankful for everything I learned during those years of studying and sharing this spiritual art with others, it’s time for me to leave it to others. It’s time for me to clean out my icon studio, physically, and to mentally prepare the space that iconography has taken up in my heart for the words that I long to write and to publish. I still love icons. I say my morning and evening prayers before the icons in the corner of our dining room, and I venerate the icons when I worship at church. They will always be “windows to heaven” and an important part of my spiritual life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Stuff of Good Creative Nonfiction

Check out Darrelyn Saloom's wonderful post, "The Best Education for Writing Memoir."

Want to learn how to write like that?

Join us for the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop, September 23-25, 2011.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Blog Crawl

Busy week for me and not much time for another blog post, so today I offer you links to several other blogs you might enjoy. Kind of a “blog crawl.” There’s lots of diversity here—some about Lent and spirituality, others about writing, others humorous—so if you don’t like something, just quit reading it and click on the next one.

My friend, River Jordan’s guest post at Psychology Today, “Reflections on Lent, Charlie Sheen and Our Possibilities.”

Another friend, Scott Cairns, the Orthodox poet and writer, has a piece at the Huffington Post today called, “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer.”

Patricia Sprinkle’s
post over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, “Spring and Resurrection.”

Father Steven Freeman’s post today, “The Journey Towards Love,” on his blog, Glory to God For All Things.

Jennifer Gardner’s
hilarious post at Girlfriend’s Book Club, “There Sure Are Some Monster Jobs Out There.”

Mary Demuth’s guest post on Michael Hyatt’s blog, “What Cheap Grace May Be Costing Your Organization.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cranes, Peacocks and Kindness on Rebirthday

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
I always thought those words were cheesy. Until today.

Until my daughter told me that the Chinese believe that each life span is sixty years, and so you celebrate your 60th birthday with much pomp and then you start over.

Your rebirth begins in your 61st year.

And so this morning I awoke and pecked my way out of the sac, prying my eyes open and pushing through the messy film that surrounded me. I could hear the phone ringing on the other side of the shell. With my eyes barely open and the fog still enveloping me, I answered, and listened to the voice of my dear friend, Daphne, singing Happy Birthday to me from 135 miles away.

And then my sweet husband brought me coffee in bed, followed by more singing, a wonderful “Grey’s Anatomy” birthday card (which plays “Cosy in the Rockets” when you open it—the soundtrack from the show) The inside says, "I recommend the second, but that's just my professional opinion."

And then came the presentation of the gift Daphne had left for me when she was here this weekend, with instructions to open it on my birthday. Inside the box was a beautiful peacock lamp. The peacock—a symbol of the resurrection. Perfect. (She and I collect peacocks.)

I hope Robert Goolrick is wrong. I hope he’s wrong about how we’ll never be okay—those of us who had our childhoods stolen from us by people who were supposed to love and protect us. After reading his brilliantly dark memoir, The End of the World As We Know It, I just finished his best-selling novel, A Reliable Wife, where the darkness continues and he writes about

“… the pain and the bitterness of what happens to you when you’re small and have no defense but still know evil when it happens….” and about people who “become trapped inside the bitter walls of memories they wished they had never had.”

As Goolrick himself says, in the very last line of the novel:

“It was just a story about despair.”

I was hoping for something redemptive, and yes, it does contain elements of redemption:

“… people who hurt themselves, who wreck their own lives and then go on to wreck the lives of those around them, who cannot be helped or assuaged by love or kindness or luck or charm, who forget kindness, the feeling and practice of it, and how it can save even the worst, most misshapen life from despair.”

Kindness—the feeling and practice of it—can save even the most misshapen life from despair.

And so as I continue my rebirth, I will try very hard to feel and practice kindness. Like my husband and daughter and friends practiced kindness to me with all the gifts and celebrations this weekend, including an amazing dinner at Flight on Saturday evening...

... and a surprise party at my Goddaughter, Sophie's house on Sunday afternoon. (We didn't think to take a photo of the group until a number of people had already left. Thanks for the amazing food, wine, and kindness, Reem and Nawar!)

My daughter brought with her (from Denver) a hand-made (by her!) printer’s tray, with sixty little windows in it, each containing an element that represented something significant from those sixty years—a picture of my daughter and me on her first morning in this country from South Korea, a soccer ball to remind me of my years as her soccer mom, a Mary Chapin Carpenter album cover, a car, a paint palette, an icon—all beautiful handmade and placed inside the printer’s tray.

And then she made this beautiful little book which had an explanation about each of the 60 pieces in the tray, and a personal note and a quote to go with each, and computer art throughout the book. She hand-stitched the book together. I think my favorite quote is on page 53:

“Yes, Mother, I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.”
Alice Walker (And my daughter didn’t know, when she included this quote in the book, that Alice Walker and I share a special bond—we both have essays coming out in an anthology on Southern women and spirituality next year. I am honored. I love her words, “Hard times require furious dancing.”)

Oh, and then there’s the “lei” that Beth made me, from 60 origami cranes (she folded them all) tied together on a string. The Japanese believe that the crane is the symbol for prosperity and good health and long life. Cranes are also said to symbolize arcane wisdom, balance, communication, independence, knowledge, solitude, and vigilance. They are often used as symbolic decorations at weddings, to bless the life of the couple being married.

I love this origami crane tattoo…. (No, that’s not me... but then again....)

My son, Jason, and his wife, See, sent me this amazing photo album filled with dozens of photographs of my two precious granddaughters, Grace and Anna Susan.

And then there’s the cancer. Ten years ago TODAY I had surgery for endometrial cancer. Yes—on my 50th birthday. And so today I celebrate ten years of being cancer free. A huge gift from the God I struggle and fight against so much.

So many blessings as I clean off the birth fluid and waddle around on my brand new feet today, listening to Carpenter sing, “Passionate Kisses” and then Jon Foreman singing “Your Love is Strong.”

So this is what it feels like to be reborn. Maybe this is better than a do-over.

Friday, March 4, 2011

(the) Help!

My monthly guest post is up at Jane Friedman's Writer's Digest blog, "There Are No Rules."

"Fact vs. Truth in Writing Fiction"

Read all about the lawsuit against my fellow native Jackson, Mississippian, Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, in my Q & A with literary agent and intellectual properties attorney, John D. Mason, one of the faculty for the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop slated for September 23-25.

As always, I love to receive COMMENTS!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: We Were Not Orphans

Okay, it's "Wordless Wednesday" again, but as usual, I can't seem to just post a picture and leave it at that. But I'll be brief. I was just made aware of Sherry Matthews' new release, We Were Not Orphans (from the University of Texas Press).

When you've got 15 minutes, grab a cup of coffee and watch this incredible video, about the children whose parents dumped them at the Waco State Home where they lived during the 1920s through 1970s. At the home they suffered physical and sexual abuse, military discipline, and plantation-style labor. Interviews with the author and survivors are riveting. (The author's brothers were left there when she was three.)

And then buy the book. It's the best way to honor these people and their stories.