During an author event nearly one month post the “birth” of my essay collection, Writer in a Life Vest, I received the question I’d been dreading:
“What’s your next writing project?”
I fumbled a bit with an answer, even though I’d spent some time thinking about how I’d respond to the inevitable query. In the book’s introduction (which I generally read an excerpt from at talks), I described having felt compelled to write about the Salish Sea and how it’s being affected by the current climate crisis:
I’d studied the effects of warming waters and sea-level rise. I knew Southern Resident Killer Whales—also known as orca whales—neared extinction due to toxins and plastics in the water, vessel noise, and a 60 percent reduction in their main source of nutrition—Chinook, or king salmon. I’d seen evidence of sea star wasting. I’d read that 30 percent of birds and 38 percent of mammals are listed as threatened, endangered, or candidates for these designations. I’d written agencies and government officials to urge them to prevent the risk of spills from increased oil transit. I became certain it was time to focus my writing on protecting and preserving the water and life that surrounded my home.
The question before me that night was about where I’m going to focus my writing now.
But weighing even more heavy for me is the uncertainty of whether writing in general is what I’m called to do now.
When clarity eludes me, I typically turn to, well, writing—mine and that of others. One of the books I’ve been reading, re-reading, turning down page corners, and underlining is Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times by J. Brent Bill. The slim paperback’s subtitle especially called to me: “Lessons from the Quakers on Blending Faith, Daily Life, and Activism.”
Just after the book’s mid-point, Brent raised the question that is at the heart of my uncertainty about a next writing project. In fact, he devoted all of Chapter 5 to it: “What is Ours to Do?”
Like me, Brent can get overwhelmed by that question. He explains, “…I want to do most everything…A new need greets me almost every day. Or hour. And I want to go to work on it.”
My underlining reveals how Brent’s experience speaks to me:
“…I need to remember to ask, ‘What’s mine to do?’ before just rushing and doing something that may not be the right thing—for the need or for me. Taking time to center myself in the Spirit not only gives me direction regarding what is mine to do, but often opens a fresh, new way of doing it… something that had not occurred to me in my rushing.”
Brent’s words weren’t a surprise to me. For nearly forty years I’ve cherished and deepened in the Quaker practice of discernment, or searching for truth and staying open to wisdom beyond myself. He succinctly described some of “the signs of work that is ours,” including sensations such as love and energy, caring, beauty, persistence, alignment with who we are, and a feeling of harmony with the Divine. What I most needed to hear, though, was Brent’s further explanation that discernment “is continuous and ongoing—like a spiritual Möbius strip.”
It’s evident from essays I’ve posted here over the past dozen years that discernment about what’s mine to do is, like a Möbius strip, continuous and ongoing.
In 2010, I wrote about my discernment process to “Say Yes to Writing”. Four months later, I again reflected about writing and new ways I was being called to commit more deeply. My focus in that post, “Calls Not Answered,” was on what I’d have to turn away from in order to commit to what I’d discerned was a leading. A year later, I was weighing how to balance contemplation and action, much like the way I’d pull and pause when paddling my kayak.
After my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, was published in 2017, I again wondered about whether I was still being called to write. In my post, “Sick of the News and Wondering—Why Write?” I turned to Quaker author and activist Eileen Flanagan and Quaker artist Carol Sexton who were also wrestling with questions about whether their art was the right path to respond to the troubles of the day (of which there were plenty in 2017).
I’m sure if I combed my posts more thoroughly, I’d find several more on the Möbius Strip of discerning next steps. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m back on it again, now that I’ve finished a project I poured heart and soul into for nearly four years. Today I needed nearly 800 words to just explain this journey. Before my next author event, I hope I can pare it down when I’m asked what I’m going to work on next.
Do you think I can get away with saying I’m making my way on the Spiritual Möbius Strip?