*Afterthought #56 Clearness Committee How-To

In my forthcoming memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I write about how my husband and I requested a clearness committee  from our Quaker meeting to help us find clarity on a major decision about work and home. In Afterthought #53, I posted a recent QuakerSpeak video about what’s involved with being a member of a clearness committee. This month, QuakerSpeak presented a how-to for being a “focus person” of a clearness committee – that is, what this process is like for the individual (or couple) seeking clarity about a question. These Friends express well the strength and comfort I’ve received from participation in clearness committees.



*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

“The Twenty-Year Memoir”: Re-blog from BREVITY

In the early years of my work to write a memoir, I heard Barbara Kingsolver talk about her novel, The Poisonwood Bible. She explained it sat in the bottom drawer of her file cabinet  for twenty years, and referred to it as her “damn Africa book.”

As my unfinished manuscript inched toward the two-decade mark, I often called it my “damn Stehekin book” and took some comfort in knowing that Kingsolver, whose writing I admire, toiled many years, too.

When I first began to write what turned into Hiking Naked  (forthcoming from Homebound Publications, September 2017), I naively thought I could finish it in a year.  But as weary and frustrated as I often felt, I’m glad I put in the time to, as Marc Nieson suggests, “to grow into” my words. I appreciate his insights on his  journey to write Schoolhouse  (follow the link below) and am eager to read his “quiet memoir.”

By Marc Nieson Growing up, I delivered newspapers after school. Every day, for some ten years. And forty years later, I can still remember the front stoops and names of many of those customers. Some nights I’ll even dream about that paper route. One spring afternoon, though, stands out above all the rest. I was […]

via Finish Work: The Twenty-Year Memoir — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog


Undoubtedly you’ve heard (or said) the expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” While I agree with the saying’s assertion that you can’t know what something or someone is like based only on appearance, as an author, publisher, and bookseller, I believe that the literal interpretation isn’t completely accurate. When it comes to books, the cover can determine whether someone looks right past it or picks it up and thumbs through the pages. And if it’s your book waiting to be snatched up, you want to be sure that the cover calls out to anyone who glances its way.

Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House Publishing Group, summed up the book cover’s significance in an interview with Mashable, a global media and entertainment company. “The most intriguing designs don’t give too much away, and you absolutely can judge many things about the book by its cover,” Schiff says.

I came to understand the importance of covers with my first book, Hands at Work. Photographer Summer Moon Scriver and I knew that not only the book’s cover, but the entire layout design, was as important as our words and images in telling the stories of people passionate about working with their hands. When we consulted with Bob Lanphear of Lanphear Design, we knew we’d found the right person when he said, “This book will tell us what it wants to be.”

Other authors had warned me that settling on a cover can be one of the hardest—and most important—tasks in book publishing. There’s added stress to this decision because it’s usually made quite late in the process—after the book has told you “what it wants to be.”

 Mashable presented a vivid perspective on covers in a post in March 2015 entitled, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover ‘til You See How Long It Takes to Design.” The article includes a video for Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum, in which Random House “offers a rare peek into the book design process.” The clip cycles through a dizzying number of drafts of the hardcover book’s jacket, giving readers an idea of what designers go through to create a cover that does the work it needs to do. A quick online search reveals that the paperback ended up with a different cover.

For Hands at Work, Bob offered numerous design ideas (though nowhere near the number as Random House did for Hausfrau). Since the book depicts a couple dozen different kinds of work, we steered away from using a single image of someone’s hands (even though we had many stunning photographs to choose from). We didn’t want to give the impression that the book was all about baking, or weaving, or automotive repair. Summer and I knew the right one when we saw it, though.

H@W Cover LG (2)

In recent weeks, I’ve again focused on covers for two forthcoming books I’ve been working on. The first, BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, will be released to the public on Friday, October 21. Published by the Lopez Community Land Trust, the 124-page book combines color photographs, profiles, and recipes for twenty-eight Lopez Island farms and farmers to present an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to bring food from earth to table on Lopez Island.

BOUNTY Project Director Sue Roundy recognized the same challenge that Summer, Bob, and I faced with Hands at Work of selecting a single image to represent the diversity of farms and farmers portrayed in the book’s pages. With hundreds of photographs to choose from, Sue felt that one of The Sweetbriar Farm by Robert S. Harrison best communicated the book’s themes. Jane Jeszeck designed the layout to create a cover that I think readers will find irresistible.


Though still farther off from publication, the cover for my memoir, Hiking Naked, has been mocked up by my publisher, Homebound Publications. This small press’s founder, Leslie M. Browning, has an artistic eye and usually designs authors’ book covers in addition to all of her other duties as a publisher (and author, with a new novel, The Castoff Children). I’m delighted with the cover Leslie proposed using a photograph by Nancy Barnhart of Stehekin, WA (the book’s setting).


Thanks to the artists I’ve had the privilege to work with, I’m quite content for people to judge my books by their covers.





Now that I’ve let my nursing license expire, and I’m finishing up two major writing projects (BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community and my memoir, Hiking Naked), I’ve been reflecting on what I’m being led to next. I yearn for the kind of certainty I felt forty years ago when I sensed a clear calling (though I didn’t use that term at the time) to enter nursing school. Or the flash of insight I experienced at a writing workshop over fifteen years ago.

In October of 2000, instead of attending the annual fall public health conference as I usually did, I enrolled in a weeklong writing course by Tom Mullen at Pendle Hill Quaker Center. Tom was a former Quaker pastor and former Dean of Earlham School of Religion (ESR). He was the inspiration behind the ESR Ministry of Writing Program, as he himself was a writer who ministered through the written word. That’s what Tom did for me during that workshop and as he critiqued my writing.

During a group discussion about how to fit writing into our lives, I realized that a number of my nursing consultation contracts would be completed by the end of the year. I saw an opening then to try a new schedule. Why not fit consulting work around writing instead of the other way around?   I announced to my fifteen workshop classmates that in January 2001 I would start a new job—writer. Ever since then, I’ve treated writing as my work, or at least part of my work, and have made time for it nearly every weekday.

languageSo far, though, such clarity about future work has been elusive. As so often happens when I acknowledge my seeking and uncertainty, I learned about a book that intrigued me—A Language for the Inward Landscape by Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, Jr. Both authors had studied old Quaker journals in which early Friends described their inward states and their experience of faithful life. They talked of how some of the words and phrases these journalers used were “both puzzling and full of implication” and provided a rich vocabulary to describe those experiences. Taber was especially drawn to the range and complexity of Quaker spirituality conveyed in these writings and called it “a language for the inward landscape.” A couple of years after Taber died, Drayton agreed to delve into Taber’s “the Language” materials and ultimately wrote this book drawing on Taber’s notes and his own study and understanding.

I’m part of the book’s audience of modern seekers who continue to wrestle with putting our spiritual experiences into words, and this book—a combination of history, biography, and dictionary—has broadened my vocabulary to describe my inward journey. Though I don’t feel a clear leading about my next steps, I’ve had some inklings, or wonderings, about what might call to me. A Language for the Inward Landscape offers a term that describes how I feel guided right now:

Nudge – “… though it is mostly synonymous with ‘leading,’ nudge lays emphasis upon the often very small and tentative beginnings of some spiritual development. A nudge is gentle, and often doesn’t convey its ultimate meaning clearly; meaning may unfold as the path unfolds.”

Quaker Charlotte Lyman Fardelmann identified some key signs of authenticity of a nudge:

  • it leads to love and light
  • it comes with clarity, or grows in clarity as it is lived with
  • it resonates with deep desires
  • it leads into service to others
  • it requires rest
  • it leads to more love and joy.

My nudges are definitely small and tentative right now, with the strongest urge being to conserve my energy to complete the projects I’m involved in; there’s still plenty to do to bring my two books into the world. But thanks to A Language for the Inward Landscape, I draw strength and hope from the wisdom of others that my path will unfold.