Happy 10th!

boxes (1)Rain fell sideways on a November night ten years ago as half a dozen friends formed a chain between a U-Haul and a storage unit. The light from headlamps danced as bodies swung, passing twenty-pound cartons hand-to-hand. Photographer Summer Moon Scriver and I had barely made it onto the last ferry of the night, me behind the wheel of a truck packed with 300 boxes of books. book box (1)

That night was the culmination of four years of collaboration for Summer, book designer Bob Lanphear, and me to produce Hands at Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands.

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The project arose from an exhibit of black-and-white photographs of people’s hands by Summer. 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.

In The Reinvention of Work, Matthew Fox writes, “When work moved from farm to city, from land to concrete, from hands to machine—in short, when the industrial revolution redefined the meaning of work for us—much was lost. Perhaps the greatest loss was the sense of cosmic wonder, of interrelationship with the universe, with nature, with the stars and breezes and plants and animals that was integral to workers on the land. No paycheck can make up for that loss.” 45The people featured in Hands at Work have found a way to make up for this loss: they use their hands to shape, slice, birth, repair, heal, communicate, and harvest.

10They talk of living in their hands and needing to get their hands dirty, cold, or wet.

For them, the materials they use are alive and responsive; their hands teach them things they didn’t know and connect them to different times, places, and people. 21

We had no difficulty creating a list of people who rely on their hands for their work in our small, rural community on Lopez Island in northwest Washington, though we did venture beyond our home for a few profiles.   Whenever we made the first call to ask people to participate, most were humble, doubting that their work, their stories, and their hands could be of any interest or importance. We followed up by sending a written description of the process, and when people agreed (and everyone we asked ultimately did), we scheduled an interview and photo session at their places of work.

Summer and I arrived with lights, cameras, black backdrops, notebooks, pens, and the gift of a jar of locally-made, soothing hand salve. As Summer set up equipment, I explained that our goal was to engage in this process of documenting their work like ballroom dancers, leading and following as gracefully as possible. At times, I helped Summer with photographing by moving lights or suggesting shots to illustrate the subjects’ words about their work. Often, Summer added her own questions to the interview as she viewed the work through her camera lens.

Most of the time, it was graceful; every time, it was fun. Like the day we met with Irene Skyriver in her garden.

“What comes to mind with the title?” I asked.

36“I’ve always thought of my hands as rototillers in the dirt,” Irene said, scooping out a shallow hole for the corn seedling she was planting. Summer squatted beside Irene, focusing her camera lens on Irene’s calloused hands. Click. Click.

“How would you describe yourself and the kind of work you do with your hands?” I asked, crouching in the dirt and balancing my notepad on my knee.

Irene stayed focused on the task before her. “I’m not a studied gardener,” she said. “There are so many things I don’t know about gardening. I’ve never read one gardening book – it’s just not my style. Trial and error is.”   My left hand slid across the page, scrawling as many of Irene’s words as possible.

17As we talked with and photographed people at work, their fervor for painting, weaving, fishing, cooking, quilting, sculpting, boat-building, puppeteering, and even car repair was palpable and exhilarating. All expressed gratitude for being watched and listened to as they went about the work that feeds their souls. We recognized how rare it is for any of us to spend that much time talking about our work.

The sessions typically lasted two hours. Then Summer and I each went to our home offices, Summer downloading photographs to her computer for editing, and me transcribing my hand-written notes to my computer. What followed were hours and hours of mostly solitary work shaping pictures into portraits and words into stories. Sometimes one or both of us needed to do some follow-up – more photographs, more questions. Then we repeated the process with the next person on the list.

Four years later, Summer and I saw the results of our work transferred by fork lift from a warehouse into a rental truck. For the next few hours, the rhythm of windshield wipers accompanied our conversation on the drive to the ferry terminal. A few days later, we launched the words and images into the world at a celebration at our local community center.

I’m celebrating again as I think back over the decade since the book’s release. It was a joy to talk with people about their work, and I still feel a thrill when people tell me Hands at Work moves and inspires them. I continue to believe it remains timeless.

So. Here’s a math equation for you to consider:

4 years to write X 10 years since publication = 40% off

That means Hands at Work, originally $34, is available for $20 (tax and shipping included) until December 16 if you order online here. Hands at Work just might be a perfect gift for someone in this holiday season.

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*All black-and-white photographs by Summer Moon Scriver©

89 Names – Book Review

In my memoir, Hiking Naked , I write about how I turned to theologian Matthew Fox’s writings when I was in turmoil about the work I was meant to do. Fox’s book, The Reinvention of Work, spoke to me during some of my most uncertain times. “Work comes from inside out; work is the expression of our soul, our inner being. It is unique to the individual; it is creative. Work is an expression of the Spirit at work in the world through us.” I still intermittently refer to my worn, annotated copy of his book.

bookNow, I have another of his books, Naming the Unnameable—89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God. It’s already starting to show some of the telltale signs of a well-loved book.

Just released by Homebound Publications, Fox’s new book is one of the most recent by the independent press’s imprint, Little Bound Books . Fox drew on his expansive knowledge of sacred scriptures, the mystics, and science throughout history and from around the globe (such as Meister Eckhart, Aquinas, Deepak Chopra, the Bible, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Berry, and Hildegard of Bingen to name just a few) to identify “80 Names for God” and “9 Names for the God Without a Name.” At just under 150 pages (excluding the End Notes and Appendix), the 5-by-7 inch soft cover, with just one or two pages to define each name, is the perfect companion during my morning time of silence.

Undoubtedly, there are many readers who, like me, struggle to find the word or words that adequately describe our experiences of God. And I know I’m not alone in believing that the word “God” carries too much baggage­—it’s both too limiting and too varied to speak to everyone. In Fox’s introduction, “God Has a Trillion Faces,” he asks who he, or any of us, are, to choose only 89. “Well, first of all,” he writes, “this book is unfinished.” And that’s why he’s included blank pages at the end of each section so, “you may add our own most wonderful and useful names for God.”

Fox further invites readers to interact with the book with “practices” for each part. For example, for the 80 names described in the first part, he suggests that readers “pick out ten that are most meaningful and useful to you personally at this time in your journey” and then to reflect and journal about them. He also recommends, “pick out ten that you feel are most meaningful and useful to culture at large today” and to consider how culture would change if people were to experience God this way. Deepak Chopra succinctly summarized the book’s value this way: “Matthew Fox elegantly offers a contemplative practice that transforms the names of God to the experience of God.”

As a Quaker, I had no trouble relating to #33 God is Light. Fox claims, “it is one of the most universal names for God,” with references from science, the Bible, mystics, and many religions. Numerous other names were equally familiar to me including: Spirit, Breath, Joy, Wisdom, Beauty, and The Great Mystery. Others, though, open me to new understandings: Greening Power, the Artist of Artists, The Beyond, The Form Without Form, and The Newest and Youngest Thing in the Universe.

Fox_Feature-ImageIn a profile by Theodore Richards in The Wayfarer Magazine , Fox admits Naming the Unnameable, “…may be my most radical book I’ve written.” That’s quite a statement from this author of 35 books. His definitions and practices make the book reader-friendly, but its radicalness shines through. “I’m trying to set off fireworks in people’s minds about how wonderfully alive our language could be for divinity… I’m hoping that this book penetrates and opens up people’s hearts, minds, and consciousness to new meanings, which are based on experiences of the divine, not some kind of frozen dogmas about who God is and isn’t.”

Naming the Unnameable is available online here as well as everywhere books are sold. With those blank pages Fox leaves for us to add our own most wonderful and useful names, perhaps there will be a second volume in the future.

A Long Journey, A New Novel

Guest Post by Connie Hampton Connally

songs we hide cover, larger for social media

 

No, I haven’t written a novel, but writing friend Connie Hampton Connally has. I invited her tell us about her new book, The Songs We Hide, just released by Coffeetown Press. Congratulations, Connie! I look forward to reading your book. And thanks for this behind-the-scenes look at your new title.

 

 

The novel was a long time in the making—almost ten years from the initial idea to the printed-and-bound book. If I had known at the outset what an uphill climb this project would turn into, I probably would have been scared off and abandoned the idea. I’m glad I didn’t know. Though The Songs We Hide has been the hardest project of my life, it’s also been the most fulfilling. 

No, wait—the task of raising my children outstrips the book in both grit and joy. But still… here is a brief synopsis of the novel:

In 1951, a grim hush has settled over Hungary. After a lost war and a brutal transition to communism, the people live under constant threat of blacklisting, property confiscation, arrest, imprisonment, and worse. In this milieu of dread, the best land of Péter Benedek’s peasant family is seized and his life upended. Moving to Budapest for a manual labor job, Péter meets Katalin Varga, an unwed mother whose baby’s father has vanished, most likely at the hands of the secret police. Both Péter and Katalin keep their heads down and their mouths clamped shut, because silence is the only safety they know. 

 The two have something in common besides fear: they are singers whose very natures make the silence unbearable. When Katalin starts giving Péter voice lessons, they take an intrepid step out of hiding by making music together. Little by little they tell each other what they cannot tell others. In their bond of trust, they find relief and unexpected happiness.

Yet the hurts and threats in their lives remain, waiting. As harsh reality assaults them again, is hope even possible? Facing their hardest trials yet, Péter and Katalin learn to carve dignity and beauty out of pain.

author photo medium
Connie Hampton Connally

zoltan-kodaly-69-22-46People often wonder what attracted me to writing about Hungary. They ask if I’m Hungarian. I’m not. My interest in Hungary grew out of my love of music. Through music, I discovered the story of Zoltán Kodály, a twentieth-century Hungarian composer who spread music in his nation despite totalitarianism and two world wars.

Kodály’s example gripped me, and I couldn’t let go of that idea: what is it like to offer beauty in a milieu of fear? Wanting to work with that setting and theme, I began researching Hungary.

When I first embarked on the research, I thought that a year’s reading would do it. I was wrong. I can’t begin to calculate how long the research took. I read history books, memoirs, ethnographies, books on farming, travel books, and Hungarian literature in translation, when I could find it. I watched movies and YouTube clips and listened to music. I traveled three times to Hungary. I interviewed Hungarians (mostly in the U.S.) who lived through the Stalinist era, and the fact-finding took on poignant, personal depth.

The research went on throughout the writing and rewriting because, on every page, new questions arose. Some were small—Would this character’s family have had a telephone? Was soda pop available? What time of year was wheat harvested?—but other questions were larger and so embedded in central European culture that I, as an American, didn’t even recognize them as questions. Hungarian beta readers pointed them out to me. These questions had to do with class distinctions, social mobility or the lack of it, issues of pride or shame. I had to acknowledge how different my New World assumptions were from those of Europeans whose Old World was disintegrating.

Wasn’t it Malcolm Gladwell who said that it takes 10,000 hours to master something and really do it fluently? I’m pretty sure I spent more than 10,000 hours working on The Songs We Hide. (And I’m absolutely sure I haven’t mastered writing.) However, I carry a deep conviction that those countless hours were worth it. That conviction doesn’t just come from finally seeing a completed book. It comes from what took hold in me. I’ve been touched by the music and literature of a culture not my own. I’ve listened to the griefs of others, and I’ve been deepened. I have told someone else’s story, and somewhere along the way that story became part of me. As I look back on these years of work, that is what I treasure. Now with the publication of The Songs We Hide, the story will spread to others, and I hope that in some way it will become part of them, too.

 

Screen Time, Take Two – Reblog by Heidi Barr

Fellow Homebound Publications author Heidi Barr has become a voice I listen to regularly. She often puts into words my own seeking, wondering, and musing. Her latest post, “Screen Time, Take Two,” and re-blogged here, especially spoke to me.

bosuMaintaining balance with my use of screen time, as well as many other behaviors that drift off-center, is like the BOSU ball I use in my fitness workouts. I can be standing solid on the rounded, ribbed surface, and a small shift sets my legs wobbling. With focus and perhaps an equally slight alteration, I regain my steady stance. Sometimes, though, I lunge forward, arms flailing, feet sliding to the flat, steady floor. I take a few deep breaths and step up again onto the tippy ball, knowing that sustaining equilibrium requires constant adjustments.

Thank you, Heidi, for your honesty, wisdom, and help to name one of the big challenges I face.

Heidi Barr | Author

I wrote the following post four years ago.  The issues outlined in it are still a struggle, but we can only change what we name, right?  Right.  So, here it is again, slightly modified to fit the present. 

I spend too much time looking at screens.

I have decided this before, but it screens have proved very persistent at creeping back into the limelight.  They have become a central part of my days, and I am realizing that my balance is off.  I have been crafting my definition of what “simple living” means to me for a long time now.   But even with a mindset that is pretty solidly committed to principals of simplicity or “enough but not too much”, it still seems like screens have been taking center stage.   I need to figure out how much screen time is enough, but not too much.

Generally, when I think about living…

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