Category Archives: Ars

Art, craft, and such.

Trying to Say God – Reading List

It’s been quite a weekend.  I have had the privilege of visiting the University of Notre Dame (also known as “my old stomping grounds”) for three days.  By myself.  It was great.  

So before I gush about how excited I am to hug my kids again, you might want to know what on earth was so exciting it could get me on an airplane for the first time in 10 years?

A number of equally excited people joined me in South Bend this weekend for the “Trying to Say God” conference…basically a bunch of Catholics-who-happen-to-be-writers and writers-who-happen-to-be-Catholics (and people who consider themselves to be both with equal ferocity) trying to scratch out a vision for what “Catholic literature”* was, is, and will be.

*This is maddeningly hard to define, and I’m not going to try.  If it includes some component of “Catholic” and some component “writer,” for now, it counts.

I will not bore you with the details…yet.  First, the take away.

If you looked into any of the essays I posted here, you know the debate.  If you didn’t, here’s the jist:  Why isn’t anyone today being Flannery O’Connor???  (That means: writing literary, challenging fiction with Catholic sensibilities and themes which is published by the major publishing houses and read by the multitudes.  No pressure.)

There are myriad answers to the question, but I’d like to focus on a different angle of it.  What we found this weekend was that the writers are out there.  I think the readers are out there.  At least, I know a few in my own small friend group.  Why can’t the writers and readers find each other?

Well, here perhaps I can help.  For the eight or so of you who still read this on occasion, I will share some of the amazing authors I met or heard about this weekend.  I will make the effort to find the small Catholic presses, the literary journals, and yes, the chapbooks of whoever is working toward goodness, truth, and beauty in their writing.  

Will you join me?


So that’s my manifesto…and here is installment #1.  Probably the longest one I’ll ever do, since I have three days worth of awesome to lay out for you.  So here goes.

Novels

I was privileged to hear a reading by Randy Boyagoda from his forthcoming book Original Prin.  It included pickleball.  I was sold.  The bad news is, it doesn’t come out until Fall 2018.  I will be holding my breath.  He does have two previous books, Governor of the Northern Province and Beggar’s Feast.

After hearing Suzanne Wolfe speak, I’m also ready to pick up Confessions of X.  And get a subscription to Image, to which I arrive at shamefully late.

I am currently working on Valerie Sayers’ The Powers and loving it.  Be aware it is not as fast-paced as some novels, but I fell in love with the grandma at once, and was bowled over to read about the Catholic-worker wanna-be and his encounters with Dorothy Day.  Who writes about that?!?  Valerie Sayers does.  I’m only three chapters in…but I’m recommending it anyway.

David Russell Mosley’s On the Edges of Elfland sounds like a party to me.  Starting to realize I may have all my reading for the rest of the year planned out after this post…

A great surprise was to find that my friend from Baton Rouge, Karen Ullo, was not only at the conference, but on the panels and selling her book.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but Jennifer the Damned follows an orphan vampire raised by nuns.  “Why a vampire book?” I asked.  “Because no one deals with the importance (and implications) of the Church in these vampire stories.”  Karen does.  Be warned: it is scary.  I might let Craig read this one.  But if you want horror with depth, this might be the book for you.

 

Poetry

I have been trying to add poetry to my diet, but wasn’t sure where to look.  Problem solved!  The bookstore sold out of Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine, so I am ordering it.  I was on the verge of tears three times listening to her insights from studying images of the Annunciation, and the poems which they inspired for her.

I skipped it, unfortunately, but many people were blown away by Natalie Diaz’s talk.  Check out When My Brother Was an Aztec.

 

Children’s/ Middle Grade/ YA

Amy Cattapan has written a highly-acclaimed book on teen suicide, Angelhood, which she hopes will succeed in opening up conversations about such a difficult topic between teens and their parents.  Again, haven’t read it (yet), but Amy is amazing.  Excited to get to this one.

 

Non-Fiction

Heather King delivered a beautiful, encouraging, kick-in-the-pants address for the conference.  I can recommend her post here unabashedly, and I can’t wait to read more of her gorgeous writing in Parched, Redeemed, or Shirt of Flame.  

Ken Garcia has a memoir coming out soon called Pilgrim River about finding God in the wilderness.  His reading at the conference included a geologist who cursed in geological terms…my favorite might have included the words “tiny precambrian brain.”  I was rolling.

The Strange Pilgrims blog duo, Jessica Mesman-Griffith and Jonathan Ryan are coming out with Strange Journey: How Two Homesick Pilgrims Stumbled Back into the Catholic Church.  Again, the reading was wonderful, and I’m looking forward to the rest.  This is not your grandmother’s come-to-Jesus story.  

 

Other Stuff worth checking out

Film: In Pursuit of Silence (forthcoming)

Commonweal (magazine)

Image (literary journal)

Dappled Things (literary journal)

Sick Pilgrims (blog thingy)

Wiseblood Books (publisher)


So.  I guess that’s a start.  Looks like I will be busy.  There are amazing, holy (well, mostly holy – like any of us!), engaging writers out there in the Catholic world.  Come, read their stories with me, and be transformed!

Summer Planshttps://www.tryingtosaygod.com/

I fear this blog is digressing into writing conference memoranda and book reviews.  

I guess it could be worse.

On that note, my summer plans include a visit to South Bend for a Catholic Writer’s Conference:

Trying to Say God

So it turns out that I’m not just lacking in talent for finding Catholic publishers…there are very few of them out there.  And few reviewers.  And few “Catholic” writers who claim the title and write with a “Catholic” worldview.

Why the “quotes”?  I’ve been doing the suggested reading to prep for the conference (see below), and this is one of the big questions: what does a “Catholic” writer look like and write about in 2017?  It’s easy to look back (Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Tolkein, and friends are mentioned constantly) but that’s not particularly helpful when faced with the challenge of how to address our current challenges and a church, as writers, and as readers.  So what’s a budding children’s author to do?

Thus the conference…maybe I’ll have some answers afterwards.  But if you need some reading (including lists of the American Catholics authors you may or may not have missed in your public high school American lit class), check out the links below, courtesy of Kenneth Garcia, who is hosting the conference.

And seats were still available last I heard…come join me!

 

Dana Gioia,  “The Catholic Writer Today,” Dec. 2013, First Things (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/12/the-catholic-writer-today)

 

Paul Elie, “Has Fiction Lost its Faith?”  New York Times, Dec. 19, 2012  (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/books/review/has-fiction-lost-its-faith.html)

 

Kaya Oakes, “Writers Blocked: The State of Catholic Writing Today,” America, April 28, 2014 (http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/writers-blocked)

 

Randy Boyagoda, “Faith in Fiction,” First Things, August 2013 (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/08/faith-in-fiction)

 

Francis Spufford, “Spiritual Literature for Atheists,” First Things, November 2015 (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/11/spiritual-literature-for-atheists)

Blame it on Spring Fever

In an attempt to make up for the long, long silence, here are some pictures.  First, the “man pit” that Craig build over the old (dug out hole in the grass) fire pit.  It is now an oven and stove.  I picked up the brick off the curb, in my church clothes, no less.  Dad would be proud.

The roasted (in brick oven) vegetable quesidillas (cooked on brick stove) were really, really good.

We have done a little planting.  We’ve had several dafodills bloom, and the tulips and iris are ready to bust.

In other garden news, an orange bell pepper, orange mint, dill, lemon balm, dill, and chives are in the ground.  The lettuce which over-wintered is going crazy, and some of it tastes like bacon.  I don’t know what it is, because it’s from a mixed lettuce seed packet, and process of elimination hasn’t worked it out yet.  But it’s bacon-lettuce.  Who knew.

In Lucy news, she is fiesty as ever.  Wants to watch a movie every day, and rarely gets to.  But she likes “writing” scribbles and “reading” books she has memorized, or just looking at the pictures.  And she loves the zoo.

In Samantha news, she is getting the last four pesky teeth through.  She is running.  And she has a nice long list of words now, including Da, dog (which also means cat), doll, bowl (which also seems to mean spoon and basket), Papa, Ma, banana (which is sometimes “ba” and sometimes “nana”), ball, no, diaper, book, door, open, hot…those are all that come to mind at the moment.  She has been walking around the house “reading” books out loud over the last couple of days, which is really, really cute.

So that’s the update.  Craig’s working a lot, and I spent the day baking.  Which reminds me, happy St. Joseph’s Day.  Here’s the bread I made:

It’s supposed to look like St. Joseph’s beard.  Judge for yourself.  I also made egg-free chocolate chip cookies (surprisingly delicious, once you make it past the cookie dough that acts like toasted bread crumbs), vegetable broth, two pans of bread pudding, and dinner today.  I wish I could say days like this were the reason I haven’t written in so long, but it’s really been more a combination of distraction and laziness.  So hopefully more interesting things will happen soon for me to share with you, and I’ll feel like sharing it.  In the mean time, here’s a pic of the girls with their friend Cylis to hold you over.

Christmas Cards!

Here are the first photos from the Great Christmas Card Photo Round-up.  Thanks, Veronica, Tom, and Clark!  If you want to send a cool family picture with your home-made card by Lucy (or if you have not received your card and want to remind me to hurry up!) send me an email.

Greenwells and Christmas card

And here’s the card with their lovely description:

Greenwell's Christmas card

“I think it looks like Winnie the poo walking towards the right while holding a stick with a beehive on it, and bees following him.”

This was one where Lucy got her hands on the glue with out supervision…but at least it is appreciated!  Keep the pics coming!

Christmas Cards

So I was thinking…we didn’t take any pictures of the Christmas cards that Lucy is making before we sent them out. But it would be really cool if she got to see who they went to, so…if/when you get yours (there are still a lot to go in the mail and if you think I forgot you or don’t have your address, just email me) if you could send a picture of you and your family with the card, I could post them on the blog (if you don’t mind, of course) and that would be really, really cool. Maybe we could put up a map too, and make this a regular geography thing. Anyway, I would enjoy seeing your beautiful faces with Lucy’s beautiful artwork. : )

Poetry II

Well, I thought I needed more poetry in my life, so I wrote some.  (By some, I mean one short poem.)  And subscribed to the Writer’s Almanac RSS feed.  I’m not done being grumpy with NPR, but it’s hard for me to stay mad a Garrison Keillor for long.  In other news, the girls and I have all had a simultaneous cold, but the suffering should be over soon.  As should school – two more days and exams for me!  Despite how ready I was for the end, it has snuck up very quickly.  And without further adieu or any more sentences beginning with conjunctions (don’t tell my English teacher)…here is the poem, incomplete, perhaps, and titleless as yet, but my first in a very long time. 

On my hip
is where you belong,
little one.
 
Between these hips you rode
quietly
for nine long
(short) months;
 
Through these hips you passed
Turning that long
(short) night
into morning;

 

On this hip,
now right,
now left,
you sit watching, learning,
reaching with your short
(long) arms
for what catches your eye.

 

In my arms,
on my hip,
is where you belong,
little one.

 

 

Poetry…

…is something I think I need more of in my life.  Fortunately, Karen Edmisten puts a little something up every Friday.  I thought this one was worth passing on.  I’m going to have to look for more of Anne Porter’s work!

Somehow a Frog Finds a Pond

So I have found a new almost-all-consuming pastime. (!)  Searching for kid-friendly, good music which does not involve Disney or the same fifteen songs over and over.  Or anyone licking up baby bumble bees.  That’s just weird.

And I should profess again my love for NPR.  Last weekend we were driving to Baton Rouge and happened to hear the music review at the end of the Friday edition of All Things Considered.  Lucy was dancing in her car seat, and I was cracking up.

So apparently Stefan Shepherd‘s review has catapulted the South Carolina band Lunch Money to semi-stardom.  We ordered the CD almost as soon as we got to Baton Rouge.  And I love it.  And Craig doesn’t mind it.  And Lucy dances to it, and is already singing “Are You a Rabbit” around the house.  The lyrics are witty, without sacrificing good vocabulary (reticulated python!).  I love the fun, fast sound that dominates the CD, and the slower and calmer songs just make me happy.

So Samantha is no longer sleeping, so I guess I’m done, but if you are looking for some fun, clean music, check out Lunch Money.  Goodnight all!

Immaculate Mary

I wish everyone had gotten to hear the homily I heard tonight for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Father took us through Mary’s life, from her “Yes” to becoming the mother of God, through a desperate journey to Egypt, through giving up her son to his public ministry, to watching him die on the cross. I had to imagine giving birth in a stable – suddenly a hospital doesn’t look so bad! I highly recommend this as a spiritual exercise, especially for mothers. Put yourself in the Blessed Mother’s place for some of these events. Remember losing sight of your child at the park? Imagine losing him in Jerusalem! Anyone know of a book or web site which does this well? If I can’t find one, maybe I’ll have to write it!

The Power to Write

It’s strange to have the impulse to write again. For so long, I would say years, in fact, I have felt that not only do I not have anything to say, but even if I did have a topic to address, my words were doomed to inadequacy. Somehow, the birth of my second child has cured me of this fear, even if it has not given my words any more actual potency. read more »