Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Taking a longer, deeper view

I’ve had the blessing this year of accompanying several thoughtful writers as they advance their book-writing process.

Each of their projects is soul-sized, and each is the unique distillation that only that particular writer could bring forth from experience, observation, inspiration, and the facets of creating that help bring a story to life.

My experience of living within the worlds in their pages has me reflecting once again on the power of expression in our world, the double-edged qualities of words and speech, the timeless gifts that good questions and good listening can bring us, and the potential of art to convey the wholeness of our experience.

As I do, I’m inspired by words like the following ones from writers with soul-sized perspectives.

In the company of focused writers in a workshop of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG).

“Writing about one’s own or another’s life poses serious challenges. A writer trying to represent his life in a book engages himself in ongoing negotiations about what information to include and what to withhold, what he believes is true and what he wants readers to think is true,” says Helena Hjalmarsson.

“The need for synthesis–coherence, connections between past and present–is a constant struggle … ” Hjalmarsson notes.

“Often, the sense of life as a logical, purposeful unfolding becomes more important to the autobiographer than objective truth.

“Also vital to writers of autobiographies is the drive to make their work relevant and accessible to their readership–as well as a desire for connection, a social and spiritual need to ‘reincarnate,’ to have their hard-won perspective exist outside themselves.”

Courtesy Justice St. Rain

Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life.

“And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself.

“Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’ ” Lahiri cuts right to the core of the matter, in this.

Author Elizabeth Sims shared timely words about this process in a blog post called “A Real Writer’s Duty”:

“These days when extraordinary, historic events occur, everybody becomes a writer. Social media enables all of us to spew impassioned opinions—joy, outrage, elation, despair—if we want to. And so many do. And free speech is great. 

“But a real writer of either fiction or nonfiction takes a much longer and deeper view of human affairs and human nature than most people.” (How I love this. Indeed, I live for it.)

“A real writer is more curious than defensive,” she continues.

“A real writer explores. A real writer is ready to be surprised. A real writer never panics. A real writer knows the world is in the work.”

 

Find Elizabeth’s Zestful Writing Blog here:

http://esimsauthor.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-real-writers-duty.html

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Setting a course for Soul-sized expression

photoAs I celebrate another year in The Munich Girl’s life, and my own, I’m pondering the power of expression in the world, the double-edged qualities of speech, the timeless gifts of questions and listening, and the potential of art to convey the wholeness of our experience.

I’m revisiting the path along which the novel led me, hoping to mine some reflective memoir. As I do, I’m inspired by words like the following ones from writers with soul-sized perspectives.

“Writing about one’s own or another’s life poses serious challenges. A writer trying to represent his life in a book engages himself in ongoing negotiations about what information to include and what to withhold, what he believes is true and what he wants readers to think is true,” says Helena Hjalmarsson. Meme1959335_758163877584949_5796047359521828465_n

“The need for synthesis – coherence, connections between past and present – is a constant struggle … ” Hjalmarsson notes. “Often, the sense of life as a logical, purposeful unfolding becomes more important to the autobiographer than objective truth. Also vital to writers of autobiographies is the drive to make their work relevant and accessible to their readership – as well as a desire for connection, a social and spiritual need to ‘reincarnate,’ to have their hard-won perspective exist outside themselves.”

Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life.

sprgbluphoto 3

Painting: Judy Wright

“And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’ ” Lahiri cuts right to the core, in this.

Elizabeth Sims recently shared timely words about this process in a blog post called “A Real Writer’s Duty”:

“These days when extraordinary, historic events occur, everybody becomes a writer. Social media enables all of us to spew impassioned opinions—joy, outrage, elation, despair—if we want to. And so many do. And free speech is great.  the soul ajar_congdon2

“But a real writer of either fiction or nonfiction takes a much longer and deeper view of human affairs and human nature than most people.” (How I love this. Indeed, I live for it.)

“A real writer is more curious than defensive,” she continues. “A real writer explores. A real writer is ready to be surprised. A real writer never panics. A real writer knows the world is in the work.”

Find Elizabeth’s Zestful Writing Blog here:

http://esimsauthor.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-real-writers-duty.html

 

 

 


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Tending the smoldering fire

photo 2

Artwork: Judy Wright

The use — and misuse — of the power of speech has certainly been in the spotlight lately. At what point, I wonder, might our collective values rise to a high enough level to affirm that freedom of speech was never intended as license to debase others — and ourselves?

The Bible calls the tongue a double-edged sword.

Baha’u’llah encouraged refraining from idle talk, reminding that, “the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison.

Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.”

There’s one childhood memory that continues to serve as a reminder about policing my speech. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summ (13)

My best friend’s father was one of my favorite people, the quintessential great dad. He was kind, soft-spoken, gently humorous and thoughtful. A hard-working man with a big family, he always made time to interact with his kids and their friends, whether drawing caricatures of us as we watched, giggling, or hunkering down his 6-foot-6-inch frame to help us construct the miniature villages that took over his living-room floor. Whenever he spoke with me, as he always made time to do, I felt supremely special, as though I truly mattered.

One day, this kind dad gave me a real gift, even though it felt like something quite different at the time. I was riding in the back seat of his wood-paneled station wagon after he picked up a small gang of us from a Girl-Scout party. We were all comparing the gifts we’d drawn in the gift exchange, and I wasn’t very happy with mine. When one of my peers leaned over and observed under her breath that someone had obviously spent the low end of the price range for it, I felt license to begin holding forth on how worthless and disappointing it was and how unfair that I got it. I was probably enjoying my companions’ attention as I bewailed my plight and began berating both the gift and the giver. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summ (32)

I’ll never forget the look in that dad’s eyes as they met mine in the rear-view mirror and he said evenly but firmly, “Hey now, that’s enough.” I’d never heard this man raise his voice, and he didn’t this time — just set an unmistakable limit. Although I wanted to disappear in that moment, I’m as thankful today for this unexpected disciplinary action as I am for the hundreds of kindnesses he bestowed on me.

Knowing that he was disappointed and displeased with my behavior had an enormous impact on me. I was stunned and then, appropriately, embarrassed and remorseful.

He didn’t need to point out things like how potentially hurtful what I was saying was, how the donor of that gift could have been sitting in the car, for all I knew. Awareness of all of this came very quickly once I was jolted out of my little rant. Iceland, China, Sandra's Christmas & School Spring-Summe (3)

All he had to tell me, this man whose opinion I cared about so much, was that it was time to stop, with four words that changed my life forever. He spoke up when my behavior was eroding into meanness and helped set a limit for me that has somehow become internally reinforcing. I believe that he helped activate my healthy sense of shame, and I’m eternally grateful.

Obviously, we’re responsible first for our own behavior. But what kind of change might we effect if, as adults, we accept the role and authority that maturity supposedly confers and determine to intervene and intercept that deadly poison of hurtful speech, even if it’s awkward to do so?

Some people I know creatively interrupt such things by leaving the room, creating a distraction, or changing the subject.

KBb5664cfca316d0ef0b0103802430026aThe always-thoughtful Kindness Blog is posting installments called The Year of Speaking Kindly. As I take more responsibility for the power of speech, I’m finding it a helpful companion:

http://kindnessblog.com/2015/01/02/the-year-of-speaking-kindly-day-2-by-mike-oconnor/

coverthumbBlog post adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details –

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=16JVJ8Z8AKN1RT1M5ZMV