Category Archives: Discipline
Away on retreat on a different Gulf, I missed some of the news of revolution spreading throughout the Persian Gulf and northern Africa. My heart hurts for the people of Libya suffering such vicious violence against them by Qaddafi. He is saying “People who don’t love me don’t deserve to live” and “I rule over you or I will kill you,” promising to make his country a “living hell.” Yet the people rise up, protest, brave the mercenaries firing on unarmed civilians with automatic weapons. Most of the violence in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Libya seems to be coming from the people in power who are desperate to cling to their power and wealth. The level of courageous non-violent protest on the part of the people in areas of the world that have experienced little democracy is truly amazing. The uprisings in the Middle East seem to also be encouraging our own teachers, state workers and union members whose rights are threatened in the U.S. These protests are very encouraging to those of us who dedicated our lives to ending war, poverty and racism in the sixties and seventies.
Non-violent protest takes tremendous courage, resilience, perseverance, hope and love. Satyagraha, Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent action, is far more powerful than any violent regime. He said that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness more manly than punishment. Non-violence is not meant for saints but for common people. It is the conquest of physical might by spiritual strength. I pray that the people of Libya will be able to withstand the violence being carried out upon them by a desperate dictator. One our country has supported for the sake of its oil.
How encouraging, heart nourishing and inspiring are the people who are standing up for their rights, for a life of greater freedom. If they use the right means, the ends will take care of themselves, Gandhi says.
This is true for each one of us in this day. Is there violence or desperation in our hearts? Fear that we might lose what we have or not get something we want? Are we willing to harm someone who is expressing their needs to us or someone who no longer loves us as we wish? Perhaps we need to look first in our hearts for dictators to overthrow. Are our hearts are full of joy, peace and freedom? Are we ready to practice non-violence in speech and action today?
Today I had all morning and all afternoon to work on my book, focusing on Day Two and Day Three of our DC-9 trial. I’m bushed. It was a grueling experience in 1970 and practically wore me out again in the re-writing of it. Judge Pratt had taken a page from the lessons of the Conspiracy Eight trial in Chicago – shut them up, gag them if they try to interrupt with questions. Never let them cross-examine witnesses, even if they fire their lawyers.
I have been fighting a cold too for the last several days. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to use the hours available to me, a clear, phone-interruption free day! What a gift!
I also feel gratitude for the opportunity we had in 1970 to confront the court system, to speak out against war, injustice and corporate murder of innocent people. I can feel the feelings I felt then, over 40 years ago. I suppose that is why I keep writing, to bring alive the scenes, the defiance we exhibited, the fire in our hearts to struggle together for justice and peace.
Now I can rest, rest my cold, rest the work energy, rest the feelings and trust the great spirits of today’s young people to carry on the fight for justice, peace and real rest for all people.
For the last six mornings, I have worked on my book. I have felt very productive. Sunday we had an “art camp” session with Pat creating new guitar pieces downstairs while I wrote upstairs in the office. We find it helpful to carve out special days when we support each other in our art. Then on Tuesday and Thursday, I missed my regular meditation group due to concern that I would become ill again from the freezing temperature in the room. I stayed home to meditate and do Qi Gong with Pat, which gave me two extra mornings to work. Morning is still my best, most productive writing time, but it has been quite a while since I have had six in a row to write.
My writing had been interrupted by illness but also by the quandary about how to continue the book if I take the suggestion of my teacher to begin with the DC-9 action. This would be my fifth version of Chapter One. I know that the reader needs a dramatic beginning to be drawn in, so I plunged right into the “action”:
Hearts beating fast, almost in unison it seemed, the nine of us circled in a group hug in front of the glass doors of the Dow Chemical lobbying office on 15th and L St. NW, Washington, DC. We were close enough that I could smell Art’s breakfast coffee on his breath and Bob’s cologne as we gave each other our last embrace and smile….
Part of what had me stumped was the dilemma of “explaining” what we were doing and why without the five chapters that had preceded this one in the first four drafts of my book. Would readers understand who we were, why a nun, ex-nun, draft resister and six priests would be destroying Dow property? Not only my personal background, my reasons for joining the convent, my gradual politicization process but also the background of the anti-war movement, changes in the Catholic Church, everything before this defining moment would become “back story.” Was it really the right place to begin? Or a sacrifice of meaning to drama?
I hope I have found a way during this week of hibernation, intense writing, reorganizing and pause in my blogging to flow from the DC Nine action to scenes that happened in earlier historical periods. I did this by answering questions posed by Catherine Melville in DC Women’s Detention Center about my convent experience and political development. I found myself able to experiment with letting go of the earliest two chapters on my childhood, education and religious upbringing (although the old versions will be gifts to my family). By Friday, I had finished a fairly major revision of the first four chapters with more “showing” than “telling,” more dialogue, more scenes. I will proceed with chapter five on Monday.
Although this reworking of the beginning of the book has been extremely time consuming and difficult, Pat reminds me of Robert Fripp‘s aphorism “We begin again constantly.” Perhaps this is a metaphor for life.
Has there been any “beginning again” in your life?
What I actually write for publication is such a CHOICE. I’m at that point with my book. I have to focus and choose what to keep and what to drop. I have to find a way to weave my early childhood, my motivations for joining the convent into “backstory.” It might mean changing the whole chronological way I approached the book, possibly a total re-writing! UGH!!!!!!!! But I’ve known that just rearranging the first three chapters, while cutting out NOTHING of the childhood, education, joining the convent parts wouldn’t work. I need to focus on the real heart of the story, the time from 1968-70 and find my beginning! I know the end, of that I’m very certain. It was like a revelation to see the end of the book-our sentencing in 1970. And it helped to have Pat’s suggestion about beginning each chapter of the book with a progressive “tease” from the sentencing. The action, trial and sentencing are important, the public parts of the story. But perhaps I need to also look at the beginning, middle and end of the story of my other very personal decision. How are the two interwoven? It would have been lovely to know this part of the structure of my book beforehand, but the writing process began where it did – first with journaling and telling pieces of the story to classes orally. Then I just wanted to get the whole of the story into the computer. The final book clearly has to be more selective in order to appeal to a wide range of readers, to grab and hold the reader.
The class last night (‘Narrative History and Biography: Works in Progress” taught at the Writer’s Center by Ken Ackerman) has already been helpful. He asked two of us to give our “elevator speeches” as if we had three minutes to tell a publisher about our books. I had a little warning, so I practiced with Pat as if I had met Gina Contrello from Ballantine Books. But Ken stopped me right away when I launched into the description of the book to ask “where are you now?” It threw me off. Why? Oh, I guess I’m in a class and being introduced to these other nine people. So, I said a bit about my difficulty giving up teaching and making this book a huge priority in the last three years, that I have a completed third draft and am waiting for an agent and need some critical feedback.
Ken talked for about an hour about how to find the “narrative arc” (beginning/end) of the story and showed us dozens of different books to illustrate that this can now happen in many different ways. “A Night to Remember,” 31 Days, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire each choose a particular time frame, a limitation. Reality is infinite. We are using story telling tools to tell the truth, so we need to find the core conflict and its resolution. The story can begin at the end, as does a biography of Emma Goldman – with her exile to Russia. There is a lot of freedom now, even with all the changes in the publishing business.
Then we looked at the two handouts, beginnings of books by members of the class, and gave them feedback. The lecture on “narrative arc” helped us focus on telling the story, finding its beginning and end point, the passion that drives us to write this particular book. In a week I will give the class copies of my first chapters to read!
I had to write this version as best I could for my family if nothing else. I wanted all the details in there someplace. I wanted to tell a woman’s version of the Berrigan-style Catholic Left actions. But the final published book will probably have to be more spare, more focused. I’m really hoping that one of the people in the class can become a possible reader for me.
What choices are you making today? Do they involve letting go? Limiting?
This is too beautiful a day to be indoors, so this blog post will be very short. I just want to report that I “shipped” in a fashion – signed up for another course at the Writer’s Center. This one is called “Narrative History and Biography: Works in Progress.” I hope it will meet my goal of sharing my book with other writers, gaining their feedback and guidance from our author/teacher on understanding publishing.
Each of these tasks seem so small. Just as the sandpiper moves each grain of sand standing in the way of the next little crab. Yet our “lizard brains,” our fears and resistance to our own success can hold us back from just taking that small step. Now, having finished my “work” for the day, I’m off to take a walk along my favorite creek. One day at a time, one step at a time, the tiny grains of sand become a shore.
Today we slept in until 8:00am, very late for us. I am suffering a bit from poison ivy on my chin and throat and pain in my arthritic hip, perhaps from walking in the sand. It was throbbing by the time we reached our temporary home after a lovely walk on the beach last night. So, my energy level is lower than it was yesterday. I don’t feel as productive. What do I do with discomfort?
I pay attention first to my body, to signals that I might need a bit more rest or the regular exercise I am missing (weight-lifting, biking and swimming). Then I scan my feelings, my mind, do some meditation and seek that “emptiness” that invites solutions to my discomfort. I continue with the routines that ground me – writing my dreams and morning feelings and insights, doing some inspirational reading (Light as a Feather by Ruth Fishel, prayer, Qi Gong and meditation. What a delight to be able to do the Qi Gong in the sun, surf and sand!
Then I turn to the tasks I wrote down to do today – read more of Linchpin, write this blog, sign up for a course at the Writer’s Center. Keep moving ahead, discomfort or none. Looking at the discomfort as an opportunity to grow, to lean into it as Pema Chodron suggests in Comfortable with Uncertainty.
Find the pages in Linchpin that inspire me with the discomfort of taking risks in seeking an agent, publishing my book. Seth says (p. 116) “Inevitably we exaggerate just how uncomfortable we are…that embracing the discomfort that others fear is likely to deliver real rewards. Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re busy hiding out in the comfortable zone.”
So, I did my morning writing, meditation and exercise routine, felt pain dissolve, signed up for the class, comforted a suffering friend, read my assignment, checked to see if the agent had responded and wrote this blog. I took risks doing some things I didn’t feel like doing, sharing discomfort, leaning into it.
What do you do with discomfort? Physical, emotional, spiritual?
Seth Godin‘s blog today gave me the last kick of courage I needed to do it! Press SEND on the email to my first potential agent! I am away from my home internet service, so the typeface wasn’t quite right. I cannot access my home phone to receive an instant reply. But I am in a beautiful place with the freedom, time and space to draft this version of my query letter. It is, actually, the reason for this working vacation, our “art camp.” I have been reading Seth’s book Linchpin at the suggestion of my friend Tom who IS a linchpin. A “linchpin” is “an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create and make things happen.” Every worthwhile institution has indispensable people who make differences like these. Tom’s courage in searching for an agent for his book-and finding one- bolsters mine.
Godin also urges us to not only create, invent and choose to work without a map, but also to “SHIP” – that is, “hitting the publish button on your blog, showing a presentation to the sales team, answering the phone, selling the muffins, sending out your references.” “Shipping” is the collision between your work and the outside world.
In his blog today, he explains how most of us waste time on the small gap between being a novice at something and an expert. I’ll never become an expert at sending query letters if I don’t start SENDING them! And is that even my goal? No, I want an agent, not expertise on finding one.
“We diddle around in the novice stage because we’re afraid. We polish (but not too much) and go to meetings (plenty of them) and look for deniability, spending hours and hours instead of shipping. And the product, in the end, is not so much better.
I’m all for expertise. Experts, people who push through and make something stunning–we need more of them. But let’s be honest, if you’re not in the habit of being an expert, it’s unlikely your current mode of operation is going to change that any time soon.
Go, give a speech. Go, start a blog. Go, ship that thing that you’ve been hiding. Begin, begin, begin and then improve. Being a novice is way overrated.” Check out the whole blog.