Living the Questions with Amy Frykholm

Amy Frykholm, author of Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography; See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity; Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America; Christian Understandings of the Future: The Historical Trajectory and Associate Editor of the Christian Century magazine visited my campus last week and spoke to us of her call to “live the questions.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, writes:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

This passage inspired Frykholm to pursue a vocation of writing, or as she sees it, a life spent living the questions.

I was able to sit down with Amy for an interview on our college’s radio station.  During our thirty minutes on air, I asked Amy about her religious and spiritual background, her call to write, and how writing might serve as a spiritual practice.

Listen to our conversation here on WPFS – Proud Fighting Scots Radio.

God as an annihilating silence

Annihilate (verb): destroy utterly; obliterate; defeat

Christian Wiman describes God as an “annihilating silence” in My Bright Abyss.

What does Wiman mean by this?  That God is a soundless, destructive force?  That God is an unapprehensible energy moving among us?  Or, that God is a SILENCE that can destroy all the NOISE of our life, all the CHAOS and CACOPHONY that exists in our world and turns us from God?

As I sit here, pen to clean pad of paper, writing what I think and thinking as I write, SILENCE focuses me, SILENCE guides me, SILENCE destroys the doubt and distraction that inevitably rise but cannot flourish within the absence of noise.  God is in this annihilating SILENCE and I am in God.

[Feature Image: “Silence” by Giulia van Pelt]

 

My Favorite Writing Podcasts (at the moment)

Every once in a while I get sucked into an advertisement for a writing conference…ten days….in a beautiful retreat house…overlooking a lake…in Guatemala…eating organic food…practicing yoga…for $3,000 (housing and travel not included.) Yikes!  Price tags like this are good reality checks.  Seriously, what does it take to grow in your writing craft?  Pen, paper, butt in chair, and some opportunities to get feedback on your work.  I also listen to a variety of podcasts (all free!) that keep me inspired and keep me learning.  Here are my current favorites:

Writing Class Radio

My new favorite. This well-edited podcast (good editing goes a long way in podcasting!) takes you inside a writing class to hear the students respond to different writing prompts. You can also respond to the prompt and post on their website. This podcast also includes helpful interviews of writers reading their work and explaining the decisions they made as they wrote and edited.

PodLit: The Podcast of Creative Nonfiction

Lee Gutkind, the editor of Creative Nonfiction, is the host. His interview-style feels a bit awkward to me. But I appreciate the information that is shared through this podcast and the people interviewed.

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

I should listen to this podcast more.  There is great content here.  And the podcasts are short.  I just find myself enjoying the other podcasts in this list more.

The Fail Safe: A podcast about writing and failure.

I love the concept of this podcast–the way it explores how successful writers grapple with and learn from failure. It is hosted by the Iowa Writers’ House and Draft: the Journal of Process.  Also, the soundtrack is hilarious.  Give it a listen.

Brevity Podcast

I am a huge fan of Brevity and everything they produce. Allison K. Williams is a great host / interviewer for their podcast. I always get something out of these and eagerly anticipate each new podcast.

Tin House Podcast

I don’t know that I’ll ever be good enough to get accepted to the Tin House writing conference. In the meantime, I will listen to the presentations and lectures that are given at the conference through their podcast. This is an excellent, free resource for continuing education.

Ten Reasons I am Grateful for AWP

This week I attended my second AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) annual conference in Washington, D.C.  Here are ten reasons why I am grateful for this experience:

  1. Meeting writers and editors in person who I only knew through blogging and social media such as, Allison K Williams (read my post about her amazing book, Get Published in Literary Magazines) and Kim Brown, aka The Confident Writer, who is also the Founder and Editor of Minerva Rising Press and Donna Talarico, the founder and editor of Hippocampus Magazine that will be publishing an essay of mine in March.
  2. Getting great advice. Like, if you get a personal rejection, be grateful. A personal rejection means your work was read and considered. Don’t follow up on that personal rejection, though, by asking for more feedback. Editors are too busy for that. (Whoops.) Also, wait three days before emailing the editor you met at the bar. I got this piece of advice just in time. Otherwise overeager, stalker-Teri would have emailed the editor seconds after returning to my hotel room. SO GREAT TO MEET YOU!!!! #willyoupublishme?
  3. Learning about amazing women in literature you should know but whose words simply haven’t graced your path like Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde. Read Lorde’s poem “Power” and Rich’s poem “What Kind of Times Are These.”
  4. The chance to get to know editors, strike up conversation, and realize they are not just critics who reject your work, but real people who have hopes and dreams too. One editor I met invests her own money to keep the dream of her independent journal alive (which, I realize, is probably not uncommon.)
  5. The chance to pass out the super cute cards you made on MOO.com with your contact info and blog address.
  6. AWP discounts that help you subscribe to new journals such as Under the Gum Tree, Fourth Genre, Kenyon Review, and Rock & Sling. I also subscribed to the Journal of the Month to familiarize myself with new journals.
  7. Inspiring readings that give you the itch to write.
  8. A few hours to write in a quiet hotel room.
  9. The chance to be a good literary citizen and blog about an AWP panel for Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. I’ll be blogging about the panel “Following the Thread of Thought” moderated by Steven Harvey (The Humble Essayist). It was an excellent panel about reflective essay writing that included wise words from Phillip Lopate, author of “To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction.
  10. The chance to get your picture taken with Phillip Lopate.

    Teri (excited fan girl) with Phillip Lopate

    Teri (excited fan girl) with Phillip Lopate

Getting Back to Work

4890955_337d8bf744_oI woke up Wednesday morning with no words. I could not post to Facebook. I could not Tweet. I could not even begin to scratch out my thoughts in the battered green notebook I carry to catch my writing. I did read, though. I read the Facebook posts of friends who were reeling in disappointment, anger, and utter disbelief that Donald Trump is our President-elect. And I read posts by students who were afraid of the world in which they were now living.

When I got to the campus where I serve as Chaplain, I abandoned all that I needed to get done and just started walking. I came across a student who had recently come out as gay. He laughed at the absurdity of this election, the surreal feeling that this couldn’t possibly be life as we know it. But tears welled as he spoke, spilling freely down his cheeks onto the sidewalk we shared. I caught a professor outside of the mailroom, he too, in tears. How do I teach today, he asked? How do we just go on? Then, I started knocking on dorm room doors. I wanted to see my Latina student whose family is still in the process of becoming citizens. And our Muslim Syrian students, here on special scholarships, beloved by our community, yet wondering now if they will be rejected from this place of refuge. And the African-American student whose rage lit up Facebook, his fiery words highlighting his feelings of betrayal, once again, by White America.

As I walked and met people on the sidewalk, in their dorm rooms, in their offices and at the mailboxes, I had no words to reassure, no explanation that would make this okay, no wisdom, not even any prayers. I was as hurt, shocked, and disappointed as they. I kept crying too.

I am not among the most vulnerable in this new land of Trump. But as a woman with career aspirations, a woman who knows how it feels to be touched inappropriately by a man, a woman who started wearing a clerical collar because she was so tired of being demeaned and disrespected in her profession, I woke up Wednesday morning with a clearer understanding that this is still a white man’s world. I thought we were better than this. So I had no words to offer my students and my community who were in pain. All I could do was be with them and cry with them—which was probably more a comfort to me than it was them.

Then, on Thursday morning I read this Brevity blog post by Allison K. Williams about beginning to write again after the trauma of Tuesday night. Williams’ writes:

We sit down again. We tinker. We find the rhythm, we find that yes, it matters to say something, anything, on the page. That we are not just artists but craftsmen, and craftsmen go to work. We have spent—or are spending—our lives sharpening our tools, and they are not just for fine days. Our tools—our words—matter not for how we use them when all is well, but how we use them to shore up the levee when the waters rise.”

Williams’ also reminded me of this wise parable:

The novice says to the master, “What does one do before enlightenment?”

“Chop wood. Carry water,” replies the master.

The novice asks, “What, then, does one do after enlightenment?”

“Chop wood. Carry water.”

And I realized that I needed to get back to work. The chores of justice have not changed, regardless of this election.   What has changed, for me at least, is that the need for justice is clearer.  So I begin by putting pen to paper in my battered green notebook and by adding my voice to all the voices saying “No” to misogyny, racism, prejudice, hate, and xenophobia. I chop wood. I carry water. Understanding that my load isn’t nearly as heavy as others. Understanding, too, that the burden of injustice is a burden for all.

[Feature Image: Paul Fosselman]

Interested in Publishing?

get-published-in-literary-magazines-the-indispensable-guide-to-preparing-submitting-and-writing-better-by-allison-williams-1945736011Just a quick post this week for those interested in writing and publishing. I discovered, Allison K. Williams’ book Get Published in Literary Magazines: The Indispensable Guide to Preparing, Submitting…and Writing Better through the Brevity magazine’s blog last week. It looked great, so I ordered it and promptly devoured the book this week—reading in every spare moment. It’s a short, quick read, but Williams’ shares a ton of valuable information about the submission process, what editors think, and how to grow in your writing. If your goal is to publish what you write and you are somewhat new to the process, I definitely recommend this book.

Intentionally Blank

In an article from The Write Practice, Jeff Elkins offers tips on how to find your “Thoughtful Spot.” This is a trick, Elkins writes, that he learned from Winnie the Pooh. “His Thoughtful Spot was a log under a tree marked by a sign that read, ‘Pooh’s thotful spot.’ It was the place where Pooh did his best thinking. It was where he got his inspiration when his well ran dry.”

After reading this article, I wandered across campus to one of my Thoughtful Spots, our college’s art gallery. I love walking through this gallery—slowly, attentively—when no one else is around. As I move from piece to piece my mind clears of the to-do list that has been oppressing me. I feel myself softening and opening in that creative space as I consider and contemplate the art. How did the artist create this piece? What inspired her? What materials did he use and why did he choose this medium? What does this piece mean to the artist? What does it mean to me?

Then I came to this piece, entitled, “Training” by my artist friend Stephanie Baugh.

image

I love Stephanie’s collages. She pulls together images that always give me pause. This piece, in particular, caught my attention because of the white label with the words, “Intentionally Blank” typed in bold, capital letters. This sticker placed in the sky above the contemplative figurines seemed playful and humorous. It made me smile. It also reminded me of an important lesson I have learned through my meditation and writing practices: I need to make space for new thoughts and ideas to emerge. I need to find my way to “thoughtful spots.” I need to calm and clear my frantic, monkey-mind that climbs every distraction. I need to set aside my oppressive to-do list and clear away the clutter if I want the Muse (or as I like to call her, the Holy Spirit) to move and speak. I recently heard a writer say that we have to serve the Muse, if we want the Muse to serve us. This means giving Her our time and attention, clearing space for Her, leaving a part of ourselves intentionally blank, so we can receive what She offers. Our creative well will continue to run dry if we are not intentional about this practice.

Good Habits

6526240277_91faae6158_oWhen I am too busy or too tired at night to read, I rely on podcasts to take in content that will keep me thinking and creating. Last night, I was so exhausted after a week of opening activities at my college that I was tempted to go to bed along with my kids at 8:00pm. But that post-bedtime hour and a half felt too precious to only be used for sleep. I had to do something. So I stretched out on my bed, turned out the lights and listened to a podcast called Beautiful Writers on my cellphone. Gretchen Rubin, the best selling author of Better than Before, a book about changing habits, was being interviewed.

Answering a question about how to meet writing deadlines, Rubin explained that there are two types of people when it comes to getting work done—marathoners and sprinters. A marathoner likes to start well in advance of the deadline and have plenty of time to work steadily, taking the project a little bit at a time. This slow and steady process is what ignites their creativity. They need time to ruminate. Sprinters, by contrast, are people who prefer to work up against a deadline. They like the adrenaline of the final push and feel like that’s when they do their best work. If they start too early they can burn out or lose interest. Rubin added that even though sprinters and procrastinators can look alike, they are very different. Sprinters actually prefer to work up against a deadline. Whereas, if you ask procrastinators later if that is what they wish they had done, they oftentimes bitterly regret it and think to themselves that they could have done a much better job had they allowed for more time.

I discussed this podcast with my husband this morning. I am definitely a marathoner. I like to get up each morning and put in a half an hour to an hour on my writing. Then, I need to set it aside and ruminate until the next morning. This is the way I chip away at a project. It makes me very anxious when I don’t have the time I need to create. My husband is more of a sprinter. He ruminates a lot on his morning walks, then sits down and writes a whole sermon or a whole academic essay in one or two sittings. This blows me away. I could never work that fast. But knowing yourself, how you produce your best work, and how your creativity is sparked, makes getting things done and accomplishing your goals a lot easier.

Here are a few more of my favorite podcasts that I listen to while driving, washing dishes, folding laundry, and other mindless chores:

The Author’s Voice: New Fiction from The New Yorker.  I love listening to these stories, then reading them later (if I have time) in The New Yorker.  It’s a great study in writing to listen and then read.

Preachers on Preaching by The Christian Century.  An excellent resource for preachers.

Common Knowledge by the Interfaith Youth Core.  Lifts up positive stories of interfaith cooperation and action.  You can learn a lot about different religions by listening to this podcast.

Beyond your Blog–this is a great podcast about moving beyond blogging into the publishing world.  Unfortunately, new podcasts are not being added any more.  But the feed is still full of great interviews with editors.

The Accidental Creative–I learned about this podcast from a comic.  Todd Henry gives tips on how to stay prolific, brilliant and healthy in life and in work.  Some good stuff here and the podcasts are short–great for a 15 minute commute.

 

[Feature Image: Terry Freedman]

Is the hard work worth it?

8355036023_f4a5a9eaa7_oOur seven-year-old daughter has been learning to play the cello for the past two years. We are fortunate to have a Suzuki cello teacher at our college who makes learning music fun. But Ella still has to practice every day, even when she doesn’t want to. Being good at something like music takes persistent, hard work. I’m glad our daughter is learning this invaluable lesson early in her life.

The temptation to give up when things get difficult or when you fail to succeed at your goals follows you throughout life. I felt this temptation recently. After working hard at my writing all summer, it was defeating to get a number of rejection notices from magazines and journals that I felt sure would accept my work. But the other day I was reminded that I write for more reasons than the hope of publication. I reshaped my last blog post about the march in Chicago into a talk for our college’s Resident Assistants about how we can and should foster communities of respect and prophetic welcome. I also know that the work I have put into my writing over the past few years has not only made me a better writer, but a better thinker and communicator. Oftentimes what I begin here on my blog finds its way into a sermon or a program or a conversation with a student I am counseling. Is all this writing work hard? Yes. But is the hard work worth it? Most definitely. I just need to remember this when the next rejection notice hits my inbox.

 

[Feature Image: Jeff Sass]

 

A Virtual Placeholder

3368979605_70ec416e7f_oLast night I ransacked my recently cleaned home office in search of a poem I wrote two years ago about a sweet moment with my daughter. During a week when I am trying to write a sermon, a wedding homily and a first draft of my new essay, I thought it would be the perfect, easy blog post. I literally paged through ten notebooks full of writing (wow, I’ve written a lot in the last two years!) before I found the poem that turned out to be not as beautiful as the moment that inspired it. But I will still post it. I remember how the urge to write came to me after my then 4-year-old daughter gave me a hug and kiss goodbye before bouncing off to daycare. I wanted to put words to that sweet moment so I could remember how it felt when my daughter is grown.

Here’s what I wrote:

She leaned in for a delicate kiss,
her arms, wrapped around my neck,
as we said our morning goodbyes.
She’s longer now, at four years,
the pudge of her belly
not as pronounced.
But her eyes still round with
innocence—innocence I fiercely desire
to protect. Her laugh is wild
and stubborn. Her head strong.
I couldn’t love her more; my wild,
woman child, who will grow to be
I don’t know what—but surely amazing
in all her feminine glory.
Watch out world, my Ella Grace,
is a lioness in the making.

A few friends and a blog I have enjoyed following recently shut down their sites. Blogging isn’t for everyone and there are lots of different reasons to keep at it. I think what keeps me going is that Something to Say is mostly for myself—and if anyone else gets something from it, that is a wonderful bonus. I really love, though, how my blog is a virtual placeholder for my thoughts and memories. This poem, which I wanted to save, would have soon been tossed in the trash in a de-cluttering frenzy. Now that it is here on my blog, though, as well as other memories (like this post about my son putting on his sunblock) I can search for it, pull up this post and reread it anytime. Who knows, maybe even my children and my grandchildren will be searching through this blog someday. Scrapbooking was never my thing. This is. Thank you, WordPress.com, for the space.

 

[Feature Image: Kari Bluff]