Tag Archives: inspiration

The Flame Within Us

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At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

Albert Schweitzer

Beginnings

It’s the time of year to think about beginnings.  And endings.

We on this globe—at least those who live some distance from the unchanging belt around the middle—live in a world of constant beginnings and endings.  The snow blesses then gives way to flowers.  The leaves unfurl then tumble into dust.  The sun rises then withdraws its bounty.

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The essence of our Earth is change, a world constantly remaking itself in earthquake and volcano, in fire and flood, in life evolved and life eradicated.  Even the seeming constant stars die, and planets are born in their fiery deaths.  In the midst of this birthing and dying of everything we know, you and I enter, breathe for a brief patch, and are gone.

And while we are breathing we keep starting over.  And over.  And over.

There was a time when I thought my life was meant to be a straight line toward some distinct and thoroughly desirable goal.  What goal I didn’t know, but I was certain I would arrive there.  Otherwise, what was the point?

Today I look back across nearly eight decades and find a different truth.    My life has been—still is—crammed with discovery, with dreams, with joy more sweet than anything I’d ever been told I deserved.  It has also been littered with missteps, mischance, misperceptions, misunderstandings, mischoices.  Perhaps that dichotomy shapes every life, but certainly it shapes of mine.

To my own credit I can say that I have learned along the way.  Not everything.  Perhaps not even enough.  But the learning goes on, even in age.

Now, already deep into a century I found unimaginable when I was a child, I stand at the threshold of another New Year starting over once more.  Not just nodding to an artificially declared holiday but truly starting over.  So much in my life is new, is being done over, tried again.

New work.  Work I have never dared attempt before.  Hard work, even harrowing sometimes, but good, so good.  Will it find a place in the world out there?  I have no way of knowing, but it calls and I tiptoe after.

New understanding.  So much I thought I knew seems unimportant from the vantage point of age.  So much I understood has been proven wrong.  Or if it isn’t wrong, it has moved on to become something I can no longer fathom.  What to do in the face of my ignorance?  The only answer seems to be declare my incompetence and open myself to discovery.

New peace.  Not the kind of peace from which the chaos of the world doesn’t matter, but a struggling peace, one that seeks openness before the intractable, quiet in the midst of noise, caring against a world of indifference.

And love.  A new love.  Sweetest of all, this new love.

What have I learned as I start over once more after so many other startings?  One thing that I can name.

I eschew regret.

My mistakes have formed me as deeply—perhaps even more deeply—than my gifts.  And here I come carrying it all, mistakes and gifts together, into another day.  Another precious day.

What can I possibly do but rejoice?

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The One Hidden Story

kitchen-table-wisdomHidden in all stories is the One story. The more we listen, the clearer that [universal] Story becomes. Our true identity, who we are, why we are here, what sustains us, is in this story.  The stories at every kitchen table are about the same things, stories of owning, having and losing, stories of sex, of power, of pain, of wounding, of courage, hope and healing, of loneliness and the end of loneliness. Stories about God.  In telling them, we are telling each other the human story.

                                                     

       Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

The Secrets of Our Hearts

heart lock

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In my last blog I talked about knowing ourselves, about using that knowledge as the basis of all we choose to write, even nonfiction.  I talked about knowing what we love, because that’s where all writing starts, with what we love, what gives us energy, what gives us hope.

But when it comes to writing fiction, we need to reach beyond what we consciously love.  We need to draw from the hidden parts of ourselves, the secrets of our hearts.
The first novel I ever wrote was called Foster Child.  Looking back now I see it as a well-meaning, overloaded, somewhat clumsy attempt to deal with important topics.  (Both religious and sexual abuse.)  It was, however, written with heart, the kind of heart that captured attention when it appeared in the world.  It also broke taboos so powerful in 1977 that they didn’t even need to be spoken, which, no doubt, contributed even more to the attention it received.

The topics came to me naturally.  As a clergy wife then, I had strong feelings about the proper and improper uses religion can be put to.  I had also fostered several children and had learned that foster children too often endure sexual abuse in the homes that rescue them.  I had strong feelings about that, too.  Riding on the energy of those feelings, I wrote my first novel.

7_29FosterChildInterestingly, though, it didn’t occur to me until years later to consider why I was so passionate about those abused foster children, passionate enough to spend months framing imagined experience into a story that I knew might be too controversial to ever be published.

The truth was, my passion came from a much deeper place than my surface knowledge of the abuse suffered by children in foster care.  It came from my own experience.  I had grown up in an intact family.  I had been constantly and routinely protected, as middle-class girls routinely were in the 40’s and 50’s.  Nonetheless, I had been sexually abused, my abuser my trusted godfather and family physician.

When I pounded out that first novel, I hadn’t forgotten that experience.  The memory has never gone underground.  But strange as it seems, I never thought about it as I wrote.  Not once.  Not consciously anyway.  Rather I thought about and felt passionate about abused foster children.  I transferred my own powerlessness, my impotent rage to my character.

I suspect that’s the way knowing informs stories for most writers.  We work not so much from conscious knowledge as from a magnetized core in our psyches, one that is at least partially hidden to us. Stories fly to that core like iron filings to a magnet.

In those stories we mine our own ferocity, our own passion, our own knowing.  And that knowing brings our characters to life, creates the illusion—sometimes even for us—that they live quite separately from us.  But whatever skins we dress them in, they are us.

Often they are the us we are struggling to know.

How might Foster Child have been different if I had been aware as I was writing that I was telling my own story?  I suspect I never would have made my way to the end.  I would have felt too vulnerable, too exposed.  My attempt at writing a first novel probably would have died, frozen by self-awareness.

In recent years I have begun from time to time to shed the protective scrim of fiction, to tell my own story in a straightforward way.  Does it make for a better story that way?  I’m not sure I can answer that.

I do know, though, that the garments of story have made it possible to spin my small personal experience into a much larger story, a varied and repeating one, and that’s good for a career.

Maybe it’s good for the stories, too.

The Heart Has Secrets

heart

Heart

Often we are reminded that the heart has secrets which it cannot share with anyone, not even with itself. This is true because there is in each one of us lingering desires that have long since spent themselves in overt or direct action; there are the throbs of impulses that have not become sufficiently articulate to define themselves; there are vague reactions to experiences that are so much a part of our very substance that we cannot distinguish them from our true selves. And yet, all these and more are a part of the secrets of the heart. The secrets of the heart are the raw material of the genuine spirit of the individual. They are the stuff of the Spirit that dwells deep within each one of us.

Howard Thurman