Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Need to Control

The past few years of my life can be summed up with an old Yiddish expression: “Man plans. God laughs.” For the past thirty-five years, I think God has been guffawing at my detailed plans for writing and getting published.

I’d like to explore that with you in this post and several that will follow. This is a big issue in my life—one that I’m grappling with since I had serious major back surgery in March. Health issues have accompanied me for many years, and I’m wondering if they are an indicator of what’s amiss with my life.

Let’s begin with a confession: I’ve always been a planner. That is to say, I’ve always tried to control the events of my life. I make schedules, routines, regimes—all those things that indicate doing this before that and getting this done today and that tomorrow.

All my long life, I have been a person who gave herself deadlines. By such and such a time, a day, a month, a year I will have accomplished this or that—mostly with regard to writing. That was necessary when I worked as an editor and had projects with deadlines that had to be met for publication purposes. But those deadlines are no more.

Now there are self-imposed deadlines that encompass my whole day: Walking. (How far? How often? Which route?) Doing core exercises. (Three or five times a week? All or just a few of the twelve the doctor gave me? Morning or afternoon?) Polishing a convent memoir I want to self-publish. (A chapter a day? Add more incidents? Explain more? Learn to use social media? Read books about marketing? And by when do I need to know everything? What kind of research regime do I need to establish?)

When I took the Myers-Briggs Inventory way back in the 1980s, my chart showed I was strongly intuitive, that details flummoxed me. But as the years have passed, I seem to rely much more on details. Details piled on details. I’ve lost—or misplaced—my trusty intuition.

No one, except myself, is standing over me wearing a hardhat, wielding a clipboard, and checking off the detailed items I accomplish each day. I have become my own taskmaster. And my thoughts don’t leap—intuitive-wise—to the next step: I need to have it writing done, planned.

With regard to writing I am struggling with throwing in the proverbial towel. I’ve been boxing my own shadows for the last thirty-five years.

I have planned and planned for how to get published and yet little has happened. My trying to control the outcome of my writing—and there has been only one acceptable outcome—being published—has resulted only in frustration.

Something is amiss. If I am meant to be published, then why—if I do the work—doesn’t that happen?

All my plans have led to disappointment. And it’s really sad that I’m unable to appreciate just being able to write.

So what is the answer?

I think it’s letting go. Going with the flow. Surrendering.

Next week I’ll share with you where I am with that.

Note that I’m “planning” to post again next Sunday. You see, I just can’t stop planning and scheduling. I’m steeped in a lifetime of control.

I wish you peace, pressed down and overflowing. I wish the same for myself.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Process for Producing My Memoir

Three weeks have passed since I posted the announcement that I’d asked nine readers to assess my recently completed convent memoir. I’ve heard from four of them. By the end of the month I hope to know what the others think about the story. Today I’ll detail how I got to the fourth draft that I sent them.
      In my last posting, I explained that I began the memoir back in July 2014. By October, I had a first draft of 65,000 words. Everything was there, I thought, except for the ending. It didn’t share itself with me.
      I decided to take a month off. In that way, I might come back to the manuscript as if the words didn’t belong to me. Then I could see more easily how to edit it into a second draft.
       In fact, three months passed before I returned to writing. During that time, I experienced a severe allergic reaction to medication, deepening concern about my rising glaucoma pressure, and two bouts of pneumonia. None of this was conducive to assessing that first draft.
     By mid-February 2015, I felt healthy enough to begin work on a second draft. As I mused about those long-ago convent days, I added newly remembered anecdotes. However, my work was sporadic because within six weeks, I was in Emergency with a back problem that left me unable to sit at the computer for more than ten minutes at a time.
      In May, I completed that second draft. It was now 92,000 words. Once again I planned on taking a month off and then beginning a third, and possibly, final draft. However, new health problems waylaid that plan.
      By mid-August I began to feel equal to writing again. To begin, I read the second draft. It was ponderous and repetitious. I realized then that I could spend many more months, maybe years, fooling around with the memoir. It might never get done. So I decided to impose a deadline on myself. To do so, I contacted readers to ask if they’d have time during the month of November to read the memoir.            
      With that self-imposed deadline, I began the proposed third draft in which I hoped to rid the manuscript of repetition. By mid-October, I had cut 10,000 words and was down to 82,000. That still seemed long to me. I wanted to get in the 70-75,000 range.
      Now I had only a week to clear my mind before I began a final pass-through. I spent the final two weeks of October working on the fourth draft. That eye-opening experience revealed haphazard writing. I found countless extraneous words. Rambling sentences. Poor transition and organization.
      Also, because many sentences gravitated between who I was in 1958 and who I am now, readers would be torn between two time periods. I wanted to draw them into the world of 1958-1966 and keep them there for the duration of the memoir.
      With these problems in mind, I ruthlessly cut the third draft to create a fourth one. By October 31, 2015, I had a 74,000-word manuscript that represented what Dee Ready/Sister Innocence thought and felt nearly fifty years ago. It was as authentic as I could make it.
       Now I need to trust my readers to tell me if I’ve succeeded in my attempt to capture that young woman’s joy and angst. In my next posting, I’ll let you know how those readers have responded to the memoir.  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Waiting Is—I Tell You—Hard

Over a month ago, I posted for the first time in ten months. My plan was to begin posting and reading blogs again on a regular basis. What I’ve learned in a rather long life is that plans “oft go awry”! What I hadn’t planned for is the time necessary for completing a memoir.

I began this memoir—one centered on my years in the convent—back in July 2014. I’ve now written four drafts of it. And as Wordsworth would say, “My heart leaps up when I behold” a completed manuscript!

Sister Innocence. Age twenty-three. 

This particular 74,000-word memoir originated with a request from an agent way back in June 2014. I’d sent her a query about my cat fantasy manuscript—The Gift of Nine Lives. While exploring my blog, she discovered I’d been in the convent.

The same day I e-mailed the query, she responded, asking me if I’d ever considered writing a convent memoir. If so, she said, she’d be interested in looking at it.

My friends in Minnesota call me “no-grass-grows-under-her-feet Ready!” That was never truer than with this memoir. I sat down at the computer and for two weeks didn’t even brew my daily shots of tea. By the end of that time, I had twenty polished pages to show her.

I pasted them into an e-mail and sent it to the agent. I never heard from her again.

Recently, I looked at those twenty pages and could see why she’d expressed no interest in pursuing the idea. The writing was amateurish. Wordy. Dull. A lot of telling and not much showing; a lot of explaining; a lot of philosophizing. A lot of boring detail. You got it—Lousy!  

Despite the agent’s lack of interest, a friend who knew quite a bit about publishing encouraged me to continue. “Dee,” she said, “you want to get published. A convent memoir just might get an agent’s attention. More so I think than your first-century Palestine novel. Or the one about Bronze-Age Greece.”

“But those two grabbed me. Doing something about the convent sounds boring.”

“It won’t once you get into it.”

“It’s ancient history. Who’d be interested?”

“Your blog readers liked your convent stories. I bet there’s lots more readers out there who’d read it.”

“But what about the novels?”

“Get the memoir done and published. Then readers will want more from you. That’s when you’ll get the novels published.”

“You think?”

“It’s worth a try.”

She was right. It was worth a try. And I did have some basic questions niggling my inquisitive brain. I’d been twenty-two when I entered the convent; nearly thirty-one when I left. Who was I then? Why had I entered? And more importantly, why had I left when so many stayed?

I opened myself to memories. Welcoming my summons, they came. With some came tears. With others, a great lassitude. With still others I felt the wonder of being young and in love with the idea of monasticism.

Next Sunday, I’ll write more about the months that followed. Today I’ll close by saying that nine readers—of various ages and background—are now reading/assessing the manuscript. I hope that before the end of November, I’ll know their thoughts. The big questions are, of course, does the story have an audience? Is the writing strong enough to interest that audience? Does it grab the reader?

In writing for all those months, I got lost in a thicket of words. I no longer have an objective view of what’s in that manuscript. I hope by the end of this month I will.

Waiting, my friends, is hard!!!!!


Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Return to Normality

After ten months of mostly silence from this computer, I want to greet all of you with a joyous “Hello!!!” I hope you are well and that the past year brought you great growth in the human spirit of compassion both toward others and yourself.
         I planned on posting a memoir story today, but as I am more and more aware of—Man proposes, but God disposes. That saying is sexist and doesn’t reflect my present theology but it does sum up the lack of control any of us have over the vicissitudes of our lives.
         So instead of posting a new story today, I’m simply posting a recent exchange between Arleen and myself. As many of you know, she is a friend over at Starting Over, Accepting Changes. Her blog name nails where I am in my life right now.
         Last Saturday—September 20, 2015—Arleen wrote the following comment on my blog: Dear Dee, please let us know if you are OK. So many of us are concerned. You have made an imprint on our lives.
This, of course, touched me deeply as I’ve been away from blogging—reading and commenting on your stories and writing my own—for so long that I’m amazed people remember my writing and me.

So I immediately wrote the following response to Arleen’s welcomed comment: Dear Arleen, thank you for this note of concern and also for the one in June. I want to assure you that I am okay. Since I last posted . . . I have had one health concern after another. The most recent involved "high dose" radiation, which was effective and successful. 

However, all this has left me very tired. Weary actually of dealing with these tedious blips in my life. The good news for me is that I am now going to take up the reins of my life again and return to a daily routine. That means that I will continue to work on my convent memoir, look for an agent, and . . . begin to read and comment on blogs again as well as post stories of my own.
. . .  I've missed knowing what was happening in the lives of people—like you—whom I've come to care about. And so I'm eager to begin reading about what's going on in the wide world beyond my own home where I've spent so much time in the past ten months. I am so touched by your concern.          
           Truly all is well. And as Julian of Norwich said from her anchorage so many centuries ago: "And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well." 

I hope that you, too, are well. I will be eighty on April 1 next year and I'm thinking that this past year with all these health concerns has simply provided the measure for how wonderful the next decade will be. I look forward to more and better writing and to embracing the possibilities that the future holds for me to embrace growth in every way.
Let us both be gracious to ourselves. Peace.
If all goes well, I plan to begin reading blogs again tomorrow—Monday the 28th. I’m not going to pressure myself next week to get to every blog I follow. I do plan, however, to read several each day until I’ve reacquainted myself with each of you.
I’m not sure if any of you whom I used to follow are reading this posting right now. If you are, please leave a comment. Let me know if there are any postings or any series of posting in the past ten months you’d like me to read. I don’t have the time or energy to read everything you’ve posted during this past year, but I would like to know the highlights—and lows—of your lives.
In my first posting, I meant to share the highs and lows of my own life since last November. But on reflection I realized that no sane person would want to spend time with me as I droned on about ten month’s of ill health. So just be assured that, as I said to Arleen, “All is well.” And I so hope that all is well with you.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Letter Filled with Concern

Last week I shared with you the gift of a cache of letters and documents—eight in all—that I recently discovered in my safety deposit box. Among the documents was the “Permission for Exclaustration,” which you read last week.
Several of you who left comments noted how formal it sounded and that’s true. It was in a sense a legal document that permitted me to leave the convent for a year. I’d professed a vowed commitment to that convent on January 1963 and so this document was a formal recognition of that and a permission to leave the Mount for a year and live beyond the convent itself.
 The vow I’d taken—along with poverty, chastity, obedience, and conversion of morals—was one of “stability.” That is, I would be a part of that Community of Benedictines for the rest of my life. I was walking away for a year and so I needed permission to depart the convent and leave the Community.
This week, I’m sharing with you the following letter that Mother Mary Austin wrote to me on December 23, 1966, the day I signed the above document. That was the day before I left the convent.

Late as it is, I cannot resist writing a brief note to you. In my own name and that of the Community, I wish to express my appreciation for the contribution you have made to our apostolic work.
Even though you are leaving us, please be assured that the Mount Benedictines are not breaking their bond with you. You will be included daily in our remembrance of the “absent brethren.”
Know too, Sister, that I have faith in you as a person. I believe that you are trying sincerely to bear witness to Christ in the way that seems best for you. Know also, Sister, that if after you have tried to live outside the convent and find that you would like to return, we will gladly welcome you back. In the interim we will always have a prayerful and loving remembrance of you.
I hope you will find the peace and happiness that you are seeking. God bless you through the coming year. Please remember me and the Community in your prayers.
With love in the Holy Child,
Mother Mary Austin OSB

I don’t remember Mother Mary Austin giving me this letter. My memory of her attitude has always been that she was deeply annoyed with me. And she was annoyed on the evening of December 5 when I’d sought her out and said I needed to leave. But it’s clear from this letter that her annoyance was only momentary and perhaps she felt it only because she was powerless to give me peace from my torments. It was only in myself that I could find the happiness I sought.
I had become, in today’s parlance, somewhat of a zombie. I taught my high school religion and English lit classes enthusiastically. I participated devoutly in the monastic prayer of Benedictines. I listened intently to the students asking for advice.
I did all that was asked of me and yet I felt nothing. I was simply acting the role. It was a performance. I had lost between ten and fifteen pounds; I had no appetite; and I wasn’t sleeping. Truly I walked as the living dead from Thanksgiving on.
So I suspect now that I gave only a cursory glance at the document I signed on December 23 and at this letter from Mother Mary Austin. I’m not sure why I kept them or the other six documents I’ll share with you. I was acting on “autopilot” for many months after leaving and somehow these letters and documents must have held meaning for me even though I never again read them.
Note that at the end of her letter, Mother Mary Austin—of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB)—asked me to remember her and the Community in my prayers. The truth is that rather quickly I ceased attending Sunday Mass and seldom prayed. I felt I was drowning in despair. I suppose my only prayer was “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” (Psalm 130)
I did sorely miss the many friends I’d made in the convent—women who laughed a lot and showed compassion toward all and cared with deep concern about our world. Many of them are dead now, but I’m still in touch with several nuns who became dear to me during those convent years.
I think the truth may be that I was in such anguish for many months after leaving that I drew in on myself—except for when I had to put on a performance of normality at work and with the new friends I’d made at the Loretta Guild for Working Women.

I tell you now that I figuratively died during that time. I existed merely as a puppet, although I don’t know whose hand animated me. Many years passed before—like Pinocchio the marionette—the current of life pulsed within me.

I always think of that when I read newspaper stories about the Magicicada cicadas of eastern North America. They spend most of their life underground. Then after thirteen or seventeen years the mature cicadas emerge and live for several weeks, singing their unique song.
I, too, finally emerged from the dark loam of uncertainty. I left the convent in 1966 between my 30th and 31st year. But I think I did not truly live as a whole person until 1976 when I met Doctor Nimlos, who literally saved my life.
For everything there is a season. Peace.

PS: These past two weeks have not been—for me—the season for blogging. I’ve had two bouts of pink eye, a cold, and a sinus infection. I’m hoping that by next Monday I’ll be back to my routines. Peace.

Photographs from Wikipedia.