Tag Archives: Writing

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!

And…we’re back

Re-opening the blog attempt #…

yeah, I don’t know either.

The whole keeping-up-frequent-posts-with-no-home-internet thing is a bit of a drag.  It requires discipline.  Which I sometimes lack.

But here goes again, anyway.

I went to my first writer’s conference this weekend.  The Louisiana-Mississippi region of SCBWI held its first ever KidLit conference Saturday at Sacred Heart Academy in New Orleans.  It was lovely.

The take-away:  Write for yourself, revise for your readers.  Thank you, Cheryl Klein.  

We also got to meet Angie Thomas, four days after her debut novel The Hate U Give hit #1 on the NY Times bestseller list.  Needless to say, she was glowing.  Though I suspect that is usual for her.  She was definitely an inspiration.  Yes, I bought the book.  No, I haven’t read it yet.  Really have to finish Octavian Nothing Part II before I take on anything else.  And that may be a while.  

I also got to meet Carrel Muller, who is the lower school librarian at Sacred Heart.  I want my girls to go to school there so she can be their librarian.  She is lovely!  She convinced me I need to go back and fill in all the holes in my folklore and mythology education.  And read do the same with my kids.  She also read a piece of mine (in the First Look part of the program where they read and critique the openings of several submissions), and it was exactly as I would dream of a children’s librarian reading it to little ones.  So that was a very cool moment.  Now if I can just convince someone out there to publish it…

Right.  So on that note, I could use prayers for persistence – to keep showing up at the page, and to keep sending things out, despite the piles of rejections.  Blah.

For those of you who are here less for the minutiae of my writing life, and more for cute baby stories, the lovely children are well.  I’ve picked up two Latin classes at JPG in the mornings, so they are spending the mornings with a friend and coming home for lunch, naps, etc. in the afternoons.

Just through May.  If the headmaster asks, you can assure him I still do not want to come on full time next year.  This experience has been a good reminder of where I want to be.  Home.  Period.  Which, of course, includes the library and the park.  But mostly home.

I thought our chickens had stopped laying, but it turns out they laid all their eggs in the bushes for a while.  Under the blackberry brambles, to be precise.  We found 24 one day, and 7 the next.  We have three chickens.  Three eggs a day, at best.  So it was a jubilee.  They seem to have figured out the purpose of the nesting boxes again, though.  Which is easier, but less exciting.  You can’t have everything, I guess.

We planted some vegetables and flowers last weekend.  (Thanks to Fr. Sam for the seeds!  The wildflower bed is well on it’s way!)  Hopefully there will be pictures…when I get better at technology.  Maybe next spring.  
Book of the week: This Is Not My Hat by John Klassen.  Hilarious.  It should be used in film classes as a study in dramatic irony, and in writers’ workshops as and example of how the pictures and text work together.  No redundancy – each does its own part towards a flawlessly integrated whole.  And it’s soooo funny.

I hope that there will be more posts soon.   And that is not intended as ironic, but whether it is or not remains to be seen.

Somebody could have pointed out to me…

I guess I’m supposed to keep up with these things, but I just realized the About page hasn’t been updated since I started this blog 2 1/2 years ago.  So now it has.  Tempus fugit!

October 1, 2010

Homeschooling journal:

Trip to the library this morning for fairy-tale books.  The castle was closed so the girls actually looked at books and did the coloring sheets instead of running around in it.

Lucy spent close to an hour sitting on the couch looking at (non-library) books before lunch.

We went to the Pax Christi peace liturgy – time for socialization, cookie sampling, music watching, saint statue and stained glass identifying, and liturgical experiencing.  Part of the evening is that everyone processes to the front to sign in a book that they pledge to live peacefully in the coming year, and Lucy signed her name.  And she actually tried to write it, not just draw a squiggle like she usually does.  There was a definite “L”, an upside-down “u”, about three attempts at a “c”, and finally a nice “y”.  I was very proud.  Samantha signed her name with a squiggle that looked like Lucy’s usual work, which was also impressive for her.  This is the first time Lucy has really attempted to write her name on her own like that.  So it was an exciting day, all in all.

The house is mine!

[evil laugh]  Craig and the girls are out, so I am free to eat ice cream before dinner, sew, and write on my blog!  Sweet freedom!

But ice cream aside, (or inside, as the case may be), I now have the problem of which of the hundred things I’ve thought about writing about in the last few weeks will actually make it on the page.  Well, enough stalling.

These days, Lucy is busy making Christmas cards.  Watch your mailbox, they are scheduled to arrive sometime before Epiphany.  In two days, I think we’ve completed about eight.  And I’m a slug about digging out addresses, so I can’t blame it all on Lucy, or on the fact that we can only work when Samantha is asleep.  She prefers scattering the stamps, glitter, etc. all around the room rather than putting them on the cards.  Maybe next year she will be more helpful.  If we attempt this again next year.

And to those of you who get the glitter cards, I apologize in advance about the mess.  You may want to display this artwork outside.

Craig has been busy saving the world.  He had his first official youth function last Wednesday (did I mention that he’s now a youth minister at a parish 1 1/2 hours away from us?  Well he is, at St. Jean, the parish he attended in high school, and where we ran confirmation retreats while we were at Tulane.  This means lots more time with the BR grandparents.)  It was a walloping success – I made 76 or so cupcakes, we ordered 6 extra-large pizzas (I didn’t know they made extra-large!) and had four youth and four adults show up.  That’s counting Craig and me.  We are still eating cupcakes.  But don’t be dismayed by the small numbers, they were a lively and interested group which is more than we usually expect from high schoolers, and way more than we should be allowed to expect, considering that there have been no non-mandatory youth events at this parish in two years.  At any rate, the eight of us are off to a good start.

Craig also had to speak at all five masses this weekend, which went well except for the exhaustion.  He’s feeling extra holy this week (between that and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), so he volunteered himself and several of the boys he teaches to help an elderly woman who was being evicted move out yesterday.  He got home at 10 pm.  Which is actually better than I was expecting.  They moved her whole house in under six hours, and the new place was about half an hour’s drive away, and they made two trips.  I think they did quite well.

And here’s the moral delimma:  if she was evicted because the house is condemned, and the house is condemned because the landlord refuses to make the repairs necessary to keep it in livable condition, shouldn’t the landlord at least have to pay for the moving truck?

Ah, well, that’s why we didn’t buy the piano the guys standing outside Guitar Center were trying to sell the other night.

But if you know of a free or nearly-free piano in our general area, let us know.  Craig has taken up violin (on my grandfather’s violin, which we brought home from Texas after Thanksgiving), and it’d be nice to be able to accompany him.

Oh yeah, and Lucy turned three last Thursday, so we had a party for both the girls in BR on Sunday.  (Which was amazing, since the annual family Christmas party had been at Craig’s parents the night before, and that involved weeks and weeks of planning, test cooking, decorating, cooking…our party involved one run to Party City and leftover cupcakes.)  But that was fun and the girls enjoyed it, and the new toys and clothes.  And I’ve added those thank you notes to the pile of Christmas cards and other things I need to get in the mail…sigh.  I guess I should get busy with some of that.

So when I say we’ve been busy, well, I guess we actually have.  If I’m forgetting something, Mom, or somebody, feel free to add it in the comments.  Hopefully, things will be settling down soon.  But I feel like I say that often.  At least we don’t spend much time being bored.

Requiem

Sorry, everyone, for the long silence.  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I promised myself I wouldn’t write until I could be reasonably sure I wouldn’t be immediately interrupted.  We spent most of last week in Texas, because on October 21 my father passed away.  Even though we knew he had cancer and this was possible, it was not expected at the time or in the way that it happened, so it has still been a bit of a shock.

The Thursday before he died, Dad was feeling really well.  Then he started running a slight fever, which, because of the chemo, meant he had to go to the hospital.  They kept him over the weekend, and I last talked to him on Saturday.  He sounded good and was watching the Texas-OU game.  I didn’t call Monday or Tuesday to see if he was out of the hospital yet, and on Wednesday Mom called me.

When Mom left the hospital Tuesday night, Dad was fine.  He had not gone home yet because his white cell count was low, and when it got back up, his platelet count was still low.  Wednesday morning the hospital called Mom to tell her that Dad had had a fall during the night, and was now in the ICU.  She rushed over, and found that the hospital staff had spent most of the night trying to get Dad back to consciousness and figure out what was wrong.  This went on until around 2:30 in the afternoon, when he let go with my Mom, his brother, and his brother’s wife and daughter at his side.

I missed Mom’s call the first time, but something (my angel?) told me to check the cell phone just a few minutes later, so I talked to her before they had even finished taking out all the tubes and IVs and such.  I took the girls outside and we waited for Craig.  (Actually, I called several people to try and tell him not to go to his Campus Ministry meeting, but it had been canceled anyway.)  I must have explained to Lucy twenty times that Grandpa had died while I pushed her on the swing.  I think that helped it sink in, having to say it over and over to her.

Well, we packed up and went to Baton Rouge and Craig’s parents’ house for the night, and then drove on to Fort Worth Thursday.  We were able to see Dad that evening, then he was cremated and there was a graveside service the following Wednesday.  We think there were between seventy and a hundred people at the service.  Apparently that is a lot, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to, since I had never even been to a graveside service before.  For some reason, my parents thought they could sneak their funerals by without anyone noticing.  My dad taught almost everyone in our town, and two and even three generations of some families.  Sneaking by was really not possible.  The ladies at St. Peter’s put on a nice lunch for the family and a few of our friends, and the next day we drove back to Baton Rouge.  The girls and I stayed there, while Craig went back to N.O. for school on Friday, then joined us in B.R. for a baby shower, birthday party, and Trick-or-Treating.  And finally we are home again, the house is back in some semblance of order, and life is returning to “normal”.

Those are the basics of what happened, but there was so much more.  The outpouring of love, plants, prayers, and food was nearly overwhelming.  (And thank you for all those things!)  Knowing how much my Dad was loved and respected is wonderful, but in some ways I think it makes it even harder to miss him now, and to wonder if I appreciated him while he was here.  Believe me, it’s hard to write, or even think, anything of substance without tears.  There are a thousand little things to miss.  I know I haven’t even discovered so many of them yet.

I wrote down thoughts as all this was going on, on a note card which I’ve pinned to the bulletin board above the computer screen.  They are some of the things I’ll be thinking about and working out over the coming weeks.  But the most glaring thing I’ve noticed is, how can anyone grieve with little children around?  When they aren’t keeping you busy with diapers and other basic demands, they are snuggling, laughing, and doing outrageous things that keep your mind from wandering.  There is little room for moping, or sitting and thinking.  I’m having to devise a new way of grieving, both for a new kind of loss and a new situation.  It’s different.  I feel almost guilty for the hours I spend without a thought of my Dad, and the joy that wells up so often in spite of what I think I “should” feel, but the moments of realization are strong and effecatious.  I’m sure that is the wrong word, but I can’t think of anything closer.  And I remind myself that maybe now Dad’s enjoying watching Samantha walk (which she started doing in earnest in Texas), and Lucy run and laugh and learn more than he ever could here on earth.

And I question why I ever wanted to be so far away from my family, what pride made me think I was too good for my hometown and needed a bigger, better place.

Meanwhile, Samantha is walking.  She’s a different baby (toddler!) from when Dad last saw her.  Craig got a part-time youth ministry job in B.R. at his parish from high school, St. Jean Vianney.  Which means our ends really do meet again, and our schedules will be getting tighter.  The JustFaith group I was possibly going to lead fell through, which in light of Craig’s new job may actually be a blessing.  Life goes on.  This might be the hardest part to deal with so far.  The world doesn’t stop when someone dies, even someone very special and very important, at least to me.  My girls keep growing, the boys Craig teaches keep being boys, bills are still due, Fall keeps marching towards Winter.  The Saints keep winning.  We still need groceries and diapers and soap.  And tomorrow is Samantha’s first birthday.  It is difficult to keep it all in perspective, or even to hold it in (or near) my mind all at once.

So for now, we press on.  It seems anti-climatic, and maybe it is.  Where is the climax to this story?  Where was the climax to Dad’s story?  I’m not sure he thought he had even reached it yet.  Do our stories even fit the narrative structure we learn in literature classes?  Maybe it’s not the building to a climatic moment, but rather the small, quiet nows that make up a life.  The story might not play well on screen, but it wasn’t designed to.  It was designed to play in a human body, in a family, among friends and a community.  There is an online guestbook attached to the obituary in the newspaper, and there are so many people who commented that Dad touched them as a teacher or principal.  They were just small moments for him.  But clearly each of those small moments, each of those few words, each of the smiles he gave so generously made a difference.

If it is the small moments that matter, I have a lot of work to do.  If our magnum opus is not so much a single tower as a meandering pathway made of small, carefully laid bricks, I must be much more careful how I make breakfast in the morning, how I speak to my girls, how I welcome my husband home, how I treat the lady working the check-out.  Merton, among others, speaks of focusing on living in the “now”, being present to the people and situations around us at a given moment.  That seems especially hard right now, but also especially important.  I can’t change anything I said to my Dad, no matter how much I dwell on it.  But I can still decide how I treat people today and tomorrow and the next day.  I can make them feel special and important like Dad did for so many of his students.

It’s good to write, even if it gets to be rambling.  I don’t realize what I’m thinking sometimes until I see it on the screen, and there it all works itself out.  It’s a strange way to think.  But anyway, thank you for your patience, and especially for your prayers.  Please keep praying for me and my family.  We are missing a large part of our selves right now.  But I don’t doubt that the prayers help.  I know that they are that little push I get when I need it most these days.  So thank you.  Believe it or not, I don’t have anything else to say!

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 »