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Monthly Archives: September 2010

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?

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups and nations…” This is the fourth mindfulness training in the Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Last night my meditation group, the Washington Mindfulness Community, recited the Five Mindfulness Trainings, as we do every three weeks. I shared that our retreat at the beach was filled with even more silence than our usual life, in which we have a great deal of space for silence and meditation. The silence and immersion in nature allowed me to quiet my mind and ready me for hours of deep listening to friends last night and today.

As we let go of the visible ocean waves, we tried to carry them into our “work week routine.” My husband returned to his day job and I to tasks relating to the women’s meditation retreat I am organizing for early October. I enjoyed returning to my regular meeting schedule and to three appointments involving listening to women friends. This is one of the greatest gifts of my life – opportunities to listen deeply to others who are suffering from the death of a parent, a battle with alcohol, or simply the ever changing challenges of relationships. I love having the space in my life to listen to others, to work on my motherly instincts to “fix” or “help.” Just listen, Joann. Remember the waves, the clouds. They don’t always speak, respond, answer. They just flow gently. They ARE. Is that sometimes enough? The Diversity Workshop, a program I led for almost twenty years for high school students, taught me that just listening can often give great relief to the sufferer sharing her story.

One friend asked me what to do when other people won’t listen, when dearly beloved friends fight and can’t speak kindly to each other? When words have caused harm, how do we make amends? How do we restrain ourselves from making the communication more difficult by defending ourselves? How do we listen not only to the words that are said but also to the language of the eyes, the body, the tone of voice? Can we respond with our hearts to the fear of a dying parent who is saying hurtful things to us? I observe how much my heart opens when I can breathe three times, feel the suffering of the other person, seek to understand rather than be understood. Do I always do this? No. But it is my path to peace.

by Joann

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.

Photo by Joann

“No coming, no going, no after, no before.
I hold you close to me. I release you to be so free.
Because I am in you and you are in me,
because I am in you and you are in me.”

This song always lightens my heart when I am letting go of something or someone I am enjoying, especially when I part for a time from my husband or granddaughter. We sang it at the beach this morning. Then – holding the sound of the waves in our ears, the feel of sand and salt water on our bodies, the sight of blue sky and gentle white clouds over the ocean in our mind’s eye – we said goodbye to the sea for awhile. I do believe what scientists are now finding, that our bodies hold and remember experiences whether or not our conscious minds remember. If our bodies or hearts have suffered, how critical it is to nourish healing experiences in ourselves. (For more on this, see The Heart’s Code by Paul Pearsall).

Each moment is so important to live as deeply and fully as possible, as if it is the only moment available to us, which it is. Doing this is the way I can now fill my body, mind and heart with positive experiences, each day allowing them to become stronger than any negative experiences my body and spirit have absorbed.

So, I hold my dear one in my arms and breathe with awareness that I will not always hold him. I breathe in the salt air, fill my eyes with the beauty of the ocean and wave goodbye for now. I know that my body and mind will remember this precious moment and carry the sea – its power and calm- into every other moment of my life. We “inter-are” with the sun, the water, the sand, the sky. Without them we could not exist. They are in us and we are in them, part of a vast and beautiful universe.

My heart is light and happy. I am deeply grateful for the privilege of this week on the beach, deeply grateful for my beloved, for my life. We sing a song we have learned from retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh:

“No coming, no going, no after, no before.
I hold you close to me. I release you to be so free.
Because I am in you and you are in me,
because I am in you and you are in me.”

poonomo

My wonderful husband Patrick just led us in a guided meditation that moved from fear to freedom. We have developed the habit of silence in our mornings, a respect for each other’s needs to move gently from the dream/waking state to human interaction. I need to write my dreams as soon as I awaken, to connect to the Mind that is greater than myself, perhaps the “collective unconscious” that Jung describes. The word God is the most common word in our society to describe this connection .

We are also silent much of the day on this retreat we have created for ourselves, free to write, create new music, read, nap, sit quietly at the edge of the ocean watching waves. We do speak to one another too, but we allow comfortable space and silence in our lives. It was one of the aspects of his personality that attracted me many years ago when we were becoming friends. We could take a hike up a mountain for hours, comfortable in silence, absorbing the sounds of birds and wind in the laurel bushes.

From this silence comes the sound of his guitar, the ideas for our blogs, urges to communicate with you, reflections on our lives and gifts, the sound of the ocean and wind. Silence is the cup that holds all awareness.

How do you relate to silence?

Photo by Joann

What a glorious day! Blue skies, light clouds shifting, some slowly, some quickly. Warm breezes over the ocean. We varied our routine today – after writing and meditation, we rode our bikes to the ocean for an early swim. To be honest, Pat swam while I wobbled through the onslaught of waves. We stretched on a sheet on the sand to dry, meditating on the changing shapes of the clouds. Sometimes when I am meditating indoors, I observe my mind as a clear blue sky with each thought, feeling or sensation drifting and changing as it migrates across my mind. I know that my mind can be expanded, stretched as wide as this sky today, connected to whatever One Mind might be. The clouds of physical pain, distraction, worry and fear rise, move slowly or quickly and disappear. Impermanence is so wonderful, so freeing. No need to cling to the delightful because something more delightful might be waiting to take its place. No need to worry that pain will remain forever. Nothing does.

So, I am writing my blog later in the day than I have other days this week. Now clouds have suddenly filled the sky. The weather can change so quickly, just as our physical aches, our emotions, our thoughts change. Yesterday I struggled with discomfort and had difficulty working. Today, I woke feeling terrific, without pain, energetic. I could have plunged into completing my writing/publishing tasks first as we have on other days, and left my reading and sunning until now. But this beautiful morning summoned us and we responded. I don’t regret the choice. It is such a privilege to have this week to combine rest and work as we choose, sometimes shifting like the clouds moment to moment.

c@rljones

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?

Merijin Hoek

“It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential…you have brilliance in you, your contribution is valuable, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must. I’m hoping you’ll stand up and choose to make a difference.” (Linchpin, Seth Godin).

Why am I, Joann Malone, ex-nun, ex high school teacher, so obsessed with this marketing/business guy Seth Godin? Blame Patrick, my husband, who is very serious about not only creating his music on a daily basis but also sharing it with the world. He’s a philosopher. He’s very into Seth, reads his blog everyday. Today’s blog is on Self-Delusion and Self-Loathing. Seth is a philosopher, too, in addition to being a world class businessman, writer, speaker and successful author.

The more I read of Linchpin, the more I realize that his message is very similar to the one I preached as a rebel, hippie nun in the sixties. I felt the same need to wake people up to the mess our government and social institutions were creating for human beings. Seth says that the system we grew up with is a mess. Back in 1968-69, I was saying similar things on college campuses and at draft card burning rallies – “Stop! Listen to what our government is saying and doing! Listen to the messages of our schools – conform, be afraid, fear people from other countries, fear Communism, fear anyone who thinks for themselves, kill them. Is that really the way you want to live? In fear? In mistrust of others? Believing whatever teachers, priests or military recruiters tell you? No! Think for yourself. Stand up! Resist! Stop the war.”

If you don’t do it, who will? If we don’t question our system’s spending, policies and actions, who will? If we don’t look at our own lives, decide what is really important to us and DO IT, who will? There are some things that only YOU can do, aren’t there? Love your child unconditionally. Breathe the air coming into your nostrils at this moment. Live your life. Be right where you are right now, as fully as possible. This doesn’t mean that we are disconnected from others, totally unique. Yet only I can live MY LIFE. I can’t wait for someone to tell me how to do it. That I still believe, although I pray every day for guidance from a Higher Power and check my brilliant ideas with friends and family who know and love me. But I never want to lose that fire in the belly I had as a rebel nun, urging young people to do what only they can do, live life fully NOW!

Do you feel alive right now? Doing what you are doing? Being the person you are being? Is it true that only YOU can do it?

Goombay

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.

By elycefeliz

As I draft this version of a letter to an agent a writer friend of mine has recommended, my “lizard brain” fear says, “Joann, just who do you think you are! You read great writers. Does that make you one of them? So many wonderful writers have been rejected by agents and publishers. Why are you doing this to yourself?

Then I read the words of a memoir writer I admire, one of the most successful in the world at the moment and take hope. If I don’t believe enough in myself and my writing, I’m rejecting it before the agents and publishers have even had a chance to look at my book for themselves. How unfair – to myself, to them and to the world! Thank you, Elizabeth, for encouraging us fellow writers.

Some Thoughts on Writing (by Elizabeth Gilbert)

http://tumblr.com/xsjhoypn1

“Back around the age of 19, I had started sending my short stories out for publication. My goal was to publish something (anything, anywhere) before I died. I collected only massive piles of rejection notes for years. I cannot explain exactly why I had the confidence to be sending off my short stories at the age of 19 to, say, The New Yorker, or why it did not destroy me when I was inevitably rejected. I sort of figured I’d be rejected. But I also thought: “Hey – somebody has to write all those stories: why not me?” I didn’t love being rejected, but my expectations were low and my patience was high. (Again – the goal was to get published before death. And I was young and healthy.) It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism. Wasn’t that the point of the creation – to communicate something to the world? So PUT IT OUT THERE. Send your work off to editors and agents as much as possible, show it to your neighbors, plaster it on the walls of the bus stops – just don’t sit on your work and suffocate it. At least try. And when the powers-that-be send you back your manuscript (and they will), take a deep breath and try again. I often hear people say, “I’m not good enough yet to be published.” That’s quite possible. Probable, even. All I’m saying is: Let someone else decide that. Magazines, editors, agents – they all employ young people making $22,000 a year whose job it is to read through piles of manuscripts and send you back letters telling you that you aren’t good enough yet: LET THEM DO IT. Don’t pre-reject yourself. That’s their job, not yours. Your job is only to write your heart out, and let destiny take care of the rest.”

See http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/writing.htm for her website and appearances.