Saying Yes to Writing

For the past week, I’ve been immersed in my writing life and am just beginning to re-enter and re-integrate it with the rest of my life. I attended an advanced memoir workshop, and it was a time-out-of-time. For five days I retreated to a house at the end of Lake Chelan with writing teacher Ana Maria Spagna (see previous post about her new book, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus) and six other women (thank you, Tee for the photo). We read, discussed, and analyzed writing craft in poetry, fiction, essay, and screen-writing followed by prompts by Ana Maria using some of the techniques in those genres in our memoir writing:

Write a sonnet (14 lines in iambic pentameter)

Write a paragraph about God, sex, or death. Then use line breaks to turn it into a poem. Next, make your paragraph into a scene.

Take a scene and write it just in dialogue.

Now I’m back home, commuting to another island for my part-time job as a school nurse, clerking the Epistle Committee for my Yearly Meeting (our task is to write a letter to Quakers around the world summarizing our annual gathering coming up in July in Montana), and preparing for my presentation at next week’s Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference (http://pnwquakerwomen.org/wordpress/).

It’s that last task, my upcoming presentation (Saying Yes to Writing as a Path to Spirit), that is grounding me most about how writing fits into my life and how it leads me to Spirit.

For most of my adult life, writing has been a vehicle for me to understand what I believe, feel, question, and know. But when I felt called to nursing, the writing I did was technical and health care-related. Over the next twenty years, I journaled and wrote sporadically for self-discovery until, in the early 1990s, I acknowledged my passion for nursing was fading. I took two years away from nursing (way far away with my family to a remote mountain village in Washington’s North Cascades) to discern if I was being led to different work. I also attended more to my creativity through writing, music, and art.

A few years later, at a Writing as Ministry workshop at Pendle Hill Quaker Conference Center, I said yes to writing as a spiritual path and as the work I’m called to do. At the workshop, led by Tom Mullen, participants did writing exercises, read each other’s work, and received critique from Tom. Something shifted for me at that workshop, in the way I’ve often experienced Spirit moving in me, a seemingly sudden clarity and knowing deep in my bones about a next step. Ever since then I’ve thought of my writing as my work. That means I’ve treated it with the same respect as a paying job, reserving time for it Monday through Friday on my calendar.

For four years I devoted that writing time to a collection of stories about people who work with their hands and in 2009 published my first book, Hands at Work (www.handsworking.com). That project arose from an exhibit of black-and-white photographs of people’s hands by photographer Summer Moon Scriver. The images of the hands of a baker, a knitter, a spinner, and a gardener spoke to me of a passion for work that I had once had and lost and that I know is missing for many other people. I wanted to give voice to those stories of satisfaction with work.

The interviewing, writing, and editing brought me much joy. The people profiled expressed their gratitude for being listened to and for having their work honored. I hoped the stories and images would speak to others as well, though I recognized that was out of my hands. It’s a thrill every time people tell me the book has moved or inspired them.

Now I’m at work on my own story, a memoir of my journey to discern where Spirit leads me. Most of the time I’m clear that I’m called to write this particular story both as a way to Spirit and as a ministry to others, though I still struggle with outward expression of my interior search. The workshop last week offered some new tools to write my way toward Spirit. This experiment in blogging provides another avenue to “publishing” my truth and opens the possibility of dialogue (ministry?) with readers.

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