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Category Archives: Taking risks

MLK monument

Many of my great teachers are small in stature but huge in spirit, in courage, in their actions for peace and social justice.  This photo of Martin Luther King, I took last week at his memorial reminds me of the importance of standing up to current insanity, lies and blatant greed in our government, to the harm planned by gutting the Medicaid program for millions.  A powerful reading from Together We are ONE by Thich Nhat Hanh this morning reminded me that Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa were physically small people with actions that still resound around the world and in our hearts.    Larry Ward’s article in that wonderful book was a call to action – huge action by each one of us.  He asked the question, “How can we NOT be as big” as our teachers?  We stand on the shoulders of giants!  Their courage and insights are in us.  “Our actions matter, our thoughts matter, our speech matters, because they live on when we have disappeared.  Our actions, our thoughts, our speech are continued in the stream of time and space, and also go beyond time and space.” (p. 131).

Photo by pcephotography

My manuscript for The Power of Love will arrive in the hands of an agent today.
Putting it in the mail felt like sending my child off to school on his first day of kindergarten.
Should he wear a coat? Have more fruit in his lunchbox? Will the teachers like him?
Will he like them?

These were some of the sentiments I expressed to the agent who comes highly recommended from a friend who has worked with him on two of her books. My narrative non-fiction book is an account of attacking the Dow Chemical office in DC in 1969 (while a nun) to try to prevent and expose their sale of napalm for the Vietnam war. While it is not the usual genre that this agent shepherds to publishers, he was interested in the spiritual journey of a nun turned federal felon. What moved me to do such a radical action? Knowing that it might carry as much as 40 years in prison. What transformation took place inside me? How did my decisions affect my religious order, the private girls’ school where I taught, my family, my life? What universal messages emerge in the book that will speak to hearts searching for courage and purpose?

The invitation to read the manuscript came as I was leaving the house for a weekend retreat, from which I emerged with a bad case of bronchitis. However, as soon as I was able, I devoted my daily dose of energy to one last read-through/edit before sending out the manuscript. I hope he has time to read some of it before departing for the London Book Fair.

My conversation with him convinced me that my little one is in good, kind hands.

Have you experienced sharing your creations with the world?

To the publishing industry. In an earlier blog, I used a rather global comparison to dictators holding onto former wealth and power. Opps. The old dualistic, black/white, sometimes extremist me coming out. An entire industry could not be Qaddafi-like. Sorry. The more investigation of agents and publishers I do, the more normal and decent the individuals seem to be. Isn’t that true almost anywhere? Good people abound. Stop me the next time I make any statement that contains the hint of an “always,” “never” or “all,” even in the subtext.

An article I read in the Writer’s Yearbook 2011 by Linda Formichelli – “2010: The Year in Review” – gave some factual and analytical perspective that helped me soften my tone and raise my hopes of getting my book published. She maintains that “the publishing industry is slowly struggling out of the recession” and that major publishers are seeing leaps in operating profit over the last two years. Some types of magazines have taken a serious hit, but sales by major publishers – including those to e-readers – are up. One survey also showed that e-readers buy more magazines than the average American.

So, less fear….more hope, more courage to just keep “shipping,” generously putting out our gifts to the world, knowing that there will always be readers, people who buy and read books in many forms. In that spirit, I sent out yet another query letter to a local agent.

Photo at White House by Messay

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?

Early tomorrow morning our world will experience an event that has not occurred in 372 years – a lunar eclipse that coincides with the Winter Solstice. Most of us will sleep through it. How often do I sleep through amazing opportunities in my life? Or sleepwalk, only vaguely aware of changes in my world, in my heart?

If I tell my body to wake me for this event, will it? (I never use alarms, don’t believe in them). The short days are difficult for me and for many animals. The bears learn to stop urinating all winter and hide in caves. Some frogs become totally frozen to survive the cold. My body and my spirit respond so automatically to changes in light and temperature. But I also protect myself against the long winter nights: I wear long underwear, turn on lots of lights and read more novels. But tonight this incredible reversal begins that will lengthen the days and shorten the nights until the longest day of the year in June.

Amazing that the universe adjusts, changes and takes care of itself without human input. I am part of Life much greater than my small body. I am connected to the moon and can participate in this dance of life….if I am awake.

Photo by djmccrady.


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?

by Alice Popkorn

One email and a week of illness slowed down my writing and my desire to publish my book. How did I become so afraid of doing what I have been moving toward for these past three years? The email stirred up images of the FBI trailing my every move again, of negative reactions to revelations I intend to share in the book, of paparazzi disturbing my family and my peaceful life. Crazy? It seems so, now that my health and energy are returning, now that I cannot find the email that started my downward spiral. There will be negative reactions to the story of a nun committing five federal felonies. The hate mail flowed in 1969. It will come electronically this time.

Should these fears keep me from sharing my story with the world? My husband says fear is my “lizard brain” talking, limiting me from taking chances. He and another favorite author gave me pep talks, encouraged me to keep writing, keep revising. Fear is often “false evidence appearing real.” Perhaps the FBI has more important things to do these days than hassle an anti-war protester.

Seth Godin says, “Be a generous artist, even if it doesn’t work.” What do you do when it doesn’t work? Make more art. Give more gifts. Overcome fear with a generous heart.

Does generosity motivate you, soften your heart, create more gratitude in the world, melt fear?

After helping to lead an amazing women’s meditation retreat this weekend, I turned my attention to my homework assignment for class at the Writer’s Center last night. I had the opportunity to submit a draft proposal of my book (for publishers) and sample chapters for my teacher and classmates to read and critique. Picking up where the last blog left off – at the choice for a new beginning for the book – I explored possibilities. Which story would grab the reader, whether a busy publisher or agent, or a person in the bookstore flipping through the first page of my book?

Instead of using the chapter “Journey to Loretto” as my beginning (in which I travel by train from Kansas City to Louisville, Kentucky, then by bus to the Loretto Motherhouse at age 17 to join the convent), I decided to jump ahead to the incident that stimulated my first batch of hate mail. The chapter begins with a phone call from a leader of the Black Liberators in St. Louis in 1968 asking me to find a way to free him from police headquarters before the cops killed him. I had to organize a protest of 50 nuns and the press to get the attention of the police chief. You’ll find out what happens when you read the book.

A gripping beginning. But it shortens the action of the whole story to just 17 months of my life! Is that enough? It is the most “action-packed” and public part of the story, covered in the press in Missouri, Washington, DC and eventually throughout the country and other parts of the world. But it might leave out some of you who are reading this blog!

Will I be able to weave in the “backstory” that explains “How a regular nun, high school teacher, committed to her vows and to religious life, became a revolutionary?” I will need to establish the “ordinariness” of my life, the progression of the radical changes in my thinking, awareness and behavior and also the changes that were happening in our society in the late sixties. I had established these changes in the original first five chapters of my book, so I also included some excerpts from those chapters for class critique.

Again, a waiting period until our next (delayed) class in two weeks!
What do I do while waiting? More WRITING, revising, cutting!

What are you doing this week? Any writing? Revising? Cutting of anything?

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.


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?