Thursday, June 26, 2014

Please Keep My Writing in Your Thoughts





Hello All,
Good news! Last Friday I sent a New York agent an e-mail query about a cat fantasy gift book. It’s part of a proposed trilogy I’ve been working on for a while. At the end of the query I gave the URL for this on-line memoir.

Friday evening the agent responded, saying she was enchanted by the gift book sample I’d pasted into the query and by my blog postings. She also said that she liked historical fiction. At the end of her e-mail, she invited me to call her.

We connected this past Tuesday evening. Over the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday I worked to polish my historical-fiction manuscript. When we spoke Tuesday evening, the agent asked to see three manuscripts:

·      the entire cat manuscript
·      the historical novel The Reluctant Spy
·      the convent memoir on which I’ve been working.



Yesterday—Wednesday—I sent her the first two manuscripts. Now I need to get a partial of the memoir in good shape. To do that, I need to copy all my convent postings and paste them into one document. Then I’ll add any necessary transition. I’m going to attempt getting this partial completed before I take two weeks off in July.

The manuscript will be a partial because I’ve posted only the novitiate and the scholasticate stories. I need to write about the four years of being professed and I won’t get that writing done for several weeks.

This means, of course, that I won’t be reading blogs or posting for a while. I know you all understand and are rooting for me. Thank you.


When I return to posting, I’ll pick up the Dayton story and share with you my three meetings with the psychiatrist whom Sister Mary Dennis found for me back in March 1967. He really catapulted me into feminism.

Between now and later in July please take care. Be gracious to yourselves. While you’re doing that, I’ll be writing and simply enjoying this event of having an agent express interest in my work.

Please surround my daily writing with your best thoughts, visualizations, vibes, and prayers—whatever you do when you are hoping that something good will manifest itself in a friend’s life.
Thank you.

Of course, the agent needs to read examples of my writing before offering me a contract to sign. So perhaps you can visualize her reading and being amused or intrigued or inspired by what I write and then offering me a contract. And then, how about visualizing me signing one!

Peace.

Photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Help with Taking Baby Steps




Several comments last week asked what statement of mine Sister Mary Dennis quoted on that March Sunday back in 1967. I have only a vague recollection that I’d said something about higher education; something that she felt was “patronizing.”

I can remember being confused when she’d quoted to me what I’d said. I didn’t see how I’d been smug. But clearly that was how she saw the exchange I’d had with her friends.

By 1967 I had a bachelor’s degree in English with minors in mathematics, history, and philosophy. That degree had been conferred on me when I graduated from Mount Saint Scholastic College in May 1958, right before entering the convent next door.

While in the convent I’d spent four summers taking classes at the Mount so as to become certified in Kansas and Nebraska for teaching.

The following three summers I’d gone away to study for two master’s degrees. I spent one summer at Marquette in Wisconsin taking English courses. For two summers I studied Benedictine spirituality at St. John’s University in Minnesota. However, I left the convent before completing either degree.

So in March 1967, when I spoke with those women who were studying for doctorates, I can’t imagine what I said that would have been condescending. There were far ahead of me educationally and arrogance had always been abhorrent to me. But I can vaguely remember Sister Mary Dennis saying something about how what I’d said disparaged their family background and roots.

That didn’t make sense to me. She quoted me and yet the import of what I’d said eluded me. What I remember are foggy tendrils gliding ominously into the labyrinth of my brain. Suddenly, then, I  fell apart—as I explained last week.

At some deep level, my anguish touched Sister Mary Dennis. Immediately and instinctively, she put her arm around my waist and led me over to a nearby bench where we sat together. I continued to sob uncontrollably.

She didn’t try to persuade me to stop crying. She simply waited, holding my hand. Gently.


The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassatt

Finally, I began taking deep, gulping breaths. My tears waned to a simple trickle. It was then my friend spoke.

“What’s this about, Dee?” she asked. “This seems out of proportion to what I said to you.”

I was unable to explain because I truly didn’t understand why I was crying. I just knew fear consumed me. Fear of what? I didn’t know. Several years passed before, with help, I unblocked the memory of when I was five and felt abandoned.

“I don’t know what’s wrong, Mary. I’m just so afraid. I don’t know why.”

“Has this happened before?

“This is the first time I’ve cried since the day I left the convent.”

“I’m worried about you,” she said. “Worried you might be in the midst of a breakdown.”

I looked at the concern on her face and simply nodded. I felt like a baby, crawling into a new idea. Unable to walk independently. “What do I do?” I asked. I trusted she knew and could tell me.

“I think you need to see a psychiatrist.”

“Here?”

“No, back in Dayton.”

“I don’t know how to find one.” I remember gazing at her, sure that she’d know. Sure that she knew so much that I’d never know.

“You go back to Dayton and I’ll ask around and I’ll find someone there.”

Child in a Straw Hat by Mary Cassatt

That’s what happened. The following week I received a letter in which she gave me the name of a Dayton psychiatrist. Next week I’ll share with you what happened when he and I met.

Photographs and paintings from Wikipedia.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Being "Scolded" in Washington, D. C.


Today it’s back to Dayton in March of 1967. By then, I’d worked at Pflaum Publishing for nearly two months. As each day passed, I discovered anew how to engage in the give-and-take of conversation.

Sister Mary Dennis—the Benedictine nun who’d recommended me for an editing position after I’d left the convent—was working on her doctorate at Catholic University in Washington, D. C. She now invited me to visit her.


I have no memory of whether the details of travel seemed daunting. Nor do I remember whether, upon my arrival at the Washington airport, I worried about how to get to her residence hall at Catholic University. Did she meet me at the airport?

All I remember of sightseeing is that on Saturday we visited Georgetown and ate in the paved back garden of a restaurant that featured sculptures. What else did we see? Did I tour the campus? That’s all been lost to me.


The Old Stone House, built in 1765,
is one of the oldest buildings in Washington, D. C.

What I do remember is that on Sunday morning I met several of her nun friends who were studying for graduate degrees. They were in their late twenties and early thirties—eager to learn, excited about the Second Vatican Council that had convened in Rome in October 1962 and concluded in December 1965.

Wikipedia describes the outcomes of the council as follows:

Several institutional changes resulted from the council, such as the renewal of consecrated life with a revised charism, and ecumenical effort towards dialogue with other religions, . . . and the expressive participation of laity in various religious activities.



A painting by Armand Gautier of three nuns 
in the portal of a church.
As a result of Vatican II, many religious orders in the late 1960s
 put aside their traditional “habits” and began to wear contemporary clothing. When the story behind today’s posting takes place, the nuns are still wearing habits.

More than a year had passed since the council had ended and the winds of change were blowing through the Roman Catholic Church. These changes excited Sister Mary Dennis and her friends, who were eager to discover my impressions of change. 

I can remember their excitement and spirited discussion. What I don’t remember is what I said that so riled Sister Mary Dennis. Whatever it was, only a few minutes later she excused us to her friends, and she and I began a silent walk back to her residence hall.


After the first block, she said, her voice irate, “How could you say that to my friends?”

“What did I say?” I asked, puzzled.

A vociferous scolding followed. She accused me of being condescending and of insulting her friends. Not understanding even then what had been so bad about what I said, I stammered an apology, feeling stupid. Inept. Insensitive. A lout.

My whole life came rushing back, flooding me with the fear that I would be abandoned again. That this friend now knew just how despicable I was and how unworthy of love. And that she would have nothing more to do with me.

That had been my fear since my parents had seemingly abandoned me when I was five and entering kindergarten. When they’d moved to Parsons, Kansas, where Dad had found work in a munitions factory, they left me behind with a married couple who were their friends. My grandmother insisted they’d abandoned me.

Ultimately, they returned to Kansas City but for much of the rest of my life I feared abandonment. Feared that I’d say something or do something that would—for unknown reasons—anger my parents or my friends and they’d discard me.

Sister Mary Denise’s scathing staccato of blame brought that fear surging back and I began to sob. Deep, gulping sobs racked my body. Uncontrollable sobs. Sobs so deep I had to fight for breath.

I stood on the sidewalk wailing. For long minutes—long, long minutes that felt taken out of time—I sobbed. It was then she made a suggestion that influenced the rest of my life. Next week, I hope to share that change in my life. Peace.

All photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

One of Life's Great Blessings


Hello All on a sunny day here in western Missouri where we’ve had rain several times this past week and where grass grows sweetly. This is going to be a rather short posting as the week and day got away from me with doctor appointments and the day-li-ness of living and preparing for a visit from Minnesota friends.

I just want to share with you something that just happened to me.

A few minutes ago, I woke from a nap to find Matthew, the tiger feline, sleeping in the brown, corduroy-upholstered, easy chair across the room from me.


 In another easy chair lay Ellie, brindle clad, paws against her face.


And next to me on the couch stretched Maggie, the longhaired calico cat, who hasn’t told me—because she’d of course have to kill me—that she once worked as a spy for the CIA.


 I woke then to gratitude for my life and for all that cats have meant and been for me since I first began living with Dulcy back in April 1972. She taught me many things, one of which I’m sharing with you today: to look beyond myself.



 You may know that being single and without children and with no partner can lead a person to become selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. I’ve managed, due to the upbringing Mom and Dad gave me, to mostly avoid the first two of this stultifying trio. But often enough I have become self-absorbed.

And when that’s happened it’s often the cats who help me become aware that I’m not thinking beyond my own needs or beyond the thoughts I’ve been pondering so assiduously.

When I enter the world of analyzing all my feelings and thoughts, I move into self-absorption. That may last for a few days or even more, but ultimately the cats demand that I leave that land of blindness and respond to their needs. Now.

Since February my home has been an armed camp. Only one combatant boasted razor-sharp claws—Matthew. The other, Ellie, had been declawed before we met at the Humane Shelter. Maggie and I became the befuddled witnesses to Matthew’s siege and to his forays into his chosen enemy’s camp.

Daily—and nightly—Maggie and I cowered before the din of battles pierced by horrifying yowls. The flash of gleaming claws. The intimidation by the bully who, in better days, had been known as Matthew “the shy one.” For some unknown reason, after four years of living peaceably together, he decided to oust Ellie from harmony and isolate her to the darkness of the garage.

For four months this went on—four months of trying to protect Ellie and wringing my hands, wondering what to do. Then, in the past two weeks, when I kept Ellie inside the house, out of the garage, all this changed.

And so today, when I woke to the three of them napping with me in the living room, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for their working it out between them and for all they have done to help remind me that I can’t go off into a mirrored room where only Dee Ready and her reflection live.

I must take care of these three felines who have entrusted their lives to me and in doing that I learn to respond to others as well.

Cats have always been a blessing in my life. Peace.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Mysterious Arc of Time . . . And Love


In the school year 1972-73, six years after leaving the convent, I taught high school juniors in Claremont, New Hampshire. Their syllabus included Look to the Mountain, a historical novel written by LeGrand Cannon, Jr. It is an engrossing story about Whit—a taciturn pioneer with great good sense, strength of mind and body, and a tenacity bred by a hardscrabble upbringing.

Entering the wilderness with him is Melissa. Together, they canoe far up river to claim land near Sandwich. The novel, which takes place between 1769 and 1777, captures the background in which these two—Whit and Melissa—settle and raise a family as a revolution begins to brew in far-off Boston.  


I enjoyed the book, which was new to me, as much as the students did. We were thunderstruck by the paucity of “things” on the frontier. We empathized with Melissa as she longed for the companionship of another woman; we were impressed by Whit’s know-how. A few students had seen that area of New Hampshire so they could describe the differences two hundred years had made on the landscape.

That summer, while visiting Dad here in Missouri, I told him about the book. “Your mom always enjoyed a good historical,” he said when I’d finished my long-winded summary.
He got up, left the room, and came back carrying two of Mom’s books: The Spider King, a historical novel about Louis XI and . . . you guessed it! . . . Look to the Mountain. I’d had no idea my mom had read it.

“Here, you take them,” Dad said. “You enjoy a good read just like your mother did.”

For thirty-eight years the two novels sat on a bookshelf in Stillwater, Minnesota. When I moved back to Missouri, I shelved them again. I’d read neither since the day Dad gave them to me. To be truthful, I didn’t even think about the fact that Mom had handled and read both of them.

Then this past Monday I wanted to read something about the Revolutionary War. All these years—forty-one—since I left Claremont, I’d remembered two scenes from Look to the Mountain: the mowing contest and Whit going off to war, carrying his prized rifle.


So I removed Mom’s copy from the bookshelf and began, once again, to read the words that so compellingly brought to life the inhabitants of Kettleford and Sandwich, New Hampshire. After all these years, they sprang forth from the pages to greet me as an old friend.

In the quiet after midnight, as I entered Whit and Melissa’s world, I idly looked at the copyright page to see when the book had been published. 1942. Then it was that realization unfolded within me: My mom must have bought the book brand new in Parsons, Kansas, where she lived in a refurbished chicken coop with my little brother while Dad worked at the nearby munitions factory. I was in Kansas City, attending kindergarten.

Last night I saw my mother—my brother and Dad asleep while she read late in the night, missing me, I believe, and hoping that my asthma wasn’t acting up.

She had turned the pages of that book just as I was turning them. Both of us—night owls—found solace and retreat in a historical novel. Both of us felt the heft both of the story and the hardbound book with the mountain on the cover. That mountain encouraged Whit to venture into the wilderness.


Seventy-two years ago my mother completed that book and sat within its story. She, too, had left her home and entrusted her life to another.  

Early this morning, seventy-two years later, I laid the book aside with a deep sigh of satisfaction. Partly from the story and partly because I knew that Mom had reached out across a vast space of time with its arc of love and had spoken to me of the ties that bind us together as One. She spoke; I listened.

There is much to be grateful for as we age. This is one of those things. Peace.

All photographs from Wikipedia except for book cover, which is from Amazon.