On Tending Art, Heart, & Hearth:

Reflections from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

 

 

The Grief of Discovery

Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.

Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye. read more…

Six Ways Blogging Helps You Be A Better Writer—And Person

deskwdaffodilsTwenty-two years ago I started writing a monthly column for my church newsletter. I appreciated the immediate feedback. If a member of my congregation disagreed with something I’d written, I’d hear about it on Sunday. Usually I received a lot of encouragement.

As people outside church expressed interest, I sold subscriptions to the column for $12 a year, printed out copies, and put them in the mail. Eventually the internet arrived, and the blogging phenomenon; I posted my “column” for years before I deigned to call it a “blog.” Nine years ago I added a second monthly entry on writing. A tally of my slow and steady posts is around 370—a figure that stuns me today. Here are some thoughts on the hidden value of all that writing: read more…

For Behold

As light as a feather, free as a bird.

“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.

I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. read more…

Seeing Again—and Again, and Again…

bly-editsWhenever I speak about writing and inevitably mention revision, people roll their eyes. Even experienced writers. Even published writers. A few years ago I pitched my book about revision to a series of editors at the Associated Writing Program’s conference; each and every one laughed at me.

Revision is dreaded, universally. Even those like myself who thrive in revision understand the sentiment. Change is hard. Changing the way we see our creations and then changing the creations themselves is especially challenging. But it’s even worse than that. To change the way we see our creations, we ourselves have to change. We have to willingly step away, shift positions and perspective, and look again. Ugh! read more…

Entering Shadowland

pokahoesunset16-04Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.

But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. read 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. read more…

Liberating Stories

bknecklaceFirst thing in the morning I make my tea, sit in the red chair, and read the early Christian mystics. Then Gwyn wakes, curls in my lap, and we read Greek myths. I bustle off to work where I write stories, read emerging writers’ stories, review published stories, and teach others how to create effective stories. I return home to Gwyn listening to an audio book. I read magazines on the toilet. I listen to Gwyn read her homework. I tell her a bedtime story. Finally, exhausted, I curl up with a good novel.

I’m steeped in stories.

When I take the stuff of my life and make it into a story, I feel myself and my world transformed. I come alive. I participate in ongoing creation. One of my greatest delights is that I get to support others in this work. When I teach writing, I help others know the “aliveness” that, as Ann Belford Ulanov says, “springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.”

Is it any wonder, then, that my most intimate name for God is Story? read more…

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