Attending the Lotus

Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh tells this story:

A young man wanted to learn how to draw lotus flowers, so he went to a master to apprentice with him. The master took him to a lotus pond and invited him to sit there. The young man saw flowers bloom when the sun was high, and he watched them return into buds when night fell. Then next morning, he did the same. When one lotus flower wilted and its petals fell into the water, he just looked at the stalk, the stamen, and the rest of the flower, and then moved on to another lotus. He did that for ten days. On the eleventh day, the master asked him, “Are you ready?” and he replied, “I will try.” The master gave him a brush, and although the young man’s style was childlike, the lotus he drew was beautiful. He had become the lotus, and the painting came forth from him. You could see his naïveté concerning technique, but deep beauty was there. (more…)

Goodness Gracious

img_0571I can’t tell you how many times writers hand me a stack of pages and ask, “Is it any good?”

I’ve stopped answering this question. Sure, some writing is better than others. Sure, I have strong opinions about what makes a good story. But I’ve become increasingly wary of writers’ need to ask this question and my ability to answer it.

When a work-in-progress is deemed “good” by a reader, what purpose does this serve? All artists—all humans—want and need external affirmation; to continue hard work, we need our efforts affirmed and the essence of our endeavors recognized. (more…)

The Interior Hearth

ColdGwynHighs in the negative digits. Ice so cold it squeaks when you skate on it. Gwyn pedaling the tagalong with a scarf completely covering her face. Minnesota January: Not for the fainthearted.

But it’s perfect for those (like myself) who love hearth and home, who in the glory days of summer dreamt about sorting photos in front of the fireplace on some dark winter night and who like nothing better than to creep down the cold stairs at 5:30 a.m., build a fire, drink tea, and read. My book of choice these days is Mirabai Starr’s translation of The Interior Castle, a fresh, feminist, contemplative take on Teresa of Avila’s classic. Starr has purged the text of its fustiness—most of Teresa’s self-denigration before the eyes of the Inquisition and all its outdated theological language. Teresa now has a podium to address the twenty-first century, and for that I’m grateful. (more…)

Coming Alive

Immortal DiamondI can’t remember the last time I finished a book, thought to myself, “I will never be the same again,” and began rereading to figure out why. Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond did this to me.

What changed? Rohr reframed the story of Jesus—the Christian story—as an invitation for human transformation. Writing this makes it sound obvious, but the real implications are huge, for Christians and everyone who has to live in our pseudo-Christian culture. (more…)

Tending Home

Image 3Emily and I recently had one of our two garages torn down (for the sake of more garden) and replaced the hole in our house with a magnificent bay window. The immediate consequences of this project is a house full of dust and a tremendous amount of painting. In my every spare minute I’m sanding and priming. And in my dreams beyond the high rafters the drywall is bare and unreachable, the task of covering it overwhelming. Some part inside me needs painting, too. (more…)

Accepting Rejection, Rejecting Acceptance

(A big thanks to participants in the Book Binders’ Salon for a stimulating conversation last night about rejection. I’m indebted to you for most of this post!)

Grungy Text Abstract“Rejections slips,” wrote Isaac Asimov, “however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.”

The hard reality for every writer is that we face rejection prior to publication—from grantors, contests, agents, and publishers—and after publication, in the form of bad reviews (if we’re lucky enough to have our work reviewed), readers’ scorn, and sales numbers. These “lacerations of the soul” are a given. We fear their sting long before we feel it. Once we’re rejected, and rejected repeatedly, it’s impossible not to be affected. We believe the rejections, we form a thick skin, we reject our writing prematurely so others don’t have to do it for us, we despair, we rebel and self-publish, we lash out at the publishing industry, and (hopefully) we return to our desks to continue writing.

It’s so easy to get thrown off kilter. (more…)