I have been grappling with—what the hell, that makes it sound so sophisticated; I’ve been moping around the house wondering—the “Why?” question. Actually, it’s a “What?” question. What am I doing with my life right now that matters?
When I was facilitating the Door of HopeWriting Group, the answer to this question was easy: I’m bringing to a group of folks who might not otherwise have it a tool to understand and speak their truth into the world.
Even earlier, when Paraclete Press published Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God, and I conducted ALL THOSE WORKSHOPS, I could tangibly see what I was doing: giving a tool to folks for them to better understand their relationship with God.
So, okay—maybe the problem is my history of “purpose” sets the bar kind of high.
Be that as it may, even when I was recording my short story collection, I knew exactly why I was doing it: to transition from everyone knowing me as “the cross lady” to seeing me as a fiction writer. And I paired the stories with charitable contributions, so all was good.
And—here’s the important part—that venture was laying the foundation for Something Big. For my novel. Which would be Full of Importance. Even if the Importance was wrapped in words and plot that were funny as hell. It would Matter.
But as my telescope narrows to focus on my own writing career, I’m getting lost. Yeah, TRACKING HAPPINESS has as a major theme being nice to chickens. Raise them humanely. Treat them like living animals sharing the planet with us. But still. It’s mostly funny. And fun. It’s not earth-shattering. Where is the “What?” of it?
Then I read this article entitled Teaching and Purpose by Jon Chopan on the Glimmertrain website sent to me by the Jane Friedman emails (total aside: her emails are great; if you’re a writer and don’t already get them, you should sign up.) Mr. Chopan said a lot of things (though the essay is mercifully short), but he quotes Tim Seibles as saying, “I certainly don’t want my poems to be in cahoots with the nightmare.”
I read this and thought, ahhh, that’s it: my purpose is to not be in cahoots with the nightmare. And it’s enough. (Are poets the smartest ones among us?) I can go with that. To gently ask us to be kind to chickens. To explicate grief rather than shoving it aside. To offer folks an escape, if just for a moment, from the grind of our lives. This I can do. Thank you, Jon Chopan and Tim Seibles. Thank you.
Thank you to my friend and neighbor Susan Cushman for tagging me at Pen and Palette to answer some questions about my writing. If you don’t follow Susan’s blog, go take a look. Susan blogs regularly on writing, mental health, and faith; her post on Shrinking the Monsters discusses her own writing process. Susan is a wonderful supporter of the writing community in Memphis, and we are all grateful for the wisdom and energy she offers us.
My goal today, should I choose to accept it, is to describe my writing life; what I’m working on; and why I do this thing called writing. I tend to mull over these questions a lot so I already have a metaphor (!) for my writing life: the spinning plates in the circus.
I wrote six novels seriatim. Having thrown these manuscripts in the air, I’m now revising them all at once. The novel TRAIN TRIP: LUCINDA MAE’S QUEST FOR LOVE, HONOR, AND THE CHICKENS is the first manuscript to survive this process. Two agents are currently reading the full story (YAY!!!!) while I continue to methodically send out queries.
The next manuscript on the conveyor belt is an amateur sleuth mystery (MODEL FOR DECEPTION: when her model partner disappears, a Memphis fashion model uses her “clothes whisperer” skills to investigate the case, only to discover clues to the murder of her long-lost favorite cousin). This story is currently with the paid editor who is helping me with these revision projects. While the editor works (and I send out queries on TRAIN TRIP) I’m thoughtfully revising IN THE NAME OF MISSISSIPPI (a young documentarian returns to the South to film a historic civil rights reparations lawsuit, but when the case begins to fall apart, the mixed-race young man must examine his own place in the world.) “Thoughtfully,” I say, because even though this novel was a semifinalist in the James Jones First Novel Competition, it was also the first novel I wrote, and I’m taking my time picking through what is on the page.
THE BONE TRENCH—which mixes Mother Mary and Jesus with the private prison industry—is far enough along to have been a Short List Finalist, Novel-in-progress, in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Competition, but it needs more attention . . . as soon as I can give it. I can’t wait to get back to my most-recently-drafted-novel, a Hurricane Katrina story about JAZZY, a young girl who evacuates New Orleans to ride out the storm with her dead dad’s crazy family in Mississippi. If I’m still alive, kicking, and writing, I’ll also revise my tear-jerker 1011 ST. LAWRENCE STREET, which explores the different lives led by two young North Carolina cousins—Casey, the beautiful outcast and Emily, the reluctant family favorite.
As I pursue the novel revisions, I continue to promote my short story collection released in audio which you can listen to at CAIN’T DO NOTHING WITH LOVE. From time to time, I also lead workshops based on my book MAKING CROSSES: A CREATIVE CONNECTION TO GOD (Paraclete Press, 2009). And, of course, I love to slap my thoughts onto this blog.
Spinning plates—I told you.
Why I write—the physical act of writing; the creating; the editing; the sitting down at the computer and banging away—is a question easy for me to answer: I write because it makes time stand still. The passage of time strikes me as the saddest fact of the universe. While writing, I cheat the ever-ticking clock. The harder question for me goes to the issue of the time and energy I’m spending trying to get published, something I pondered about the collective conversation of life.
On a final note, a conversation about my writing life wouldn’t be complete without my mentioning the weekly writing group I co-facilitate, the members of which have all experienced homelessness. I was the editor of the group’s ezine—The Advocate: A Voice of Experience—for three years. I also edited the group’s book WRITING OUR WAY HOME: A GROUP JOURNEY OUT OF HOMELESSNESS, which will be published by Triton Press later this summer. Regardless of whatever else happens with my writing life, if I’m in Memphis, you can find me every Wednesday at 1:00 writing with the group.
For the next entry on this blog tour, I’ve chosen quality over quantity. Next Monday, Marisa Whitsett Baker will be blogging about her own writing journey. Marisa has a beautiful blog at The Unwritten Word. You might catch a funny piece about her unpredictable aching back, an informational piece about gorgeous inks, or a beautiful entry about what she’s learned from her well-examined life. Enjoy.