Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gardening ... or the Lack Thereof

Usually April and May find me puttering in my garden, clearing away the dead and frozen stalks and foliage from our mountain plants and planting seeds and new six-packs of dianthus, pansies, violas, and stocks. I'm usually outside watering every day it doesn't rain, trying to make up for our mere 18 inches of annual rainfall, or else I'm trimming back rose branches, chopping dead hollyhock stalks that I allow to go to seed in the autumn and winter, clearing away the pine straw around my lavender plants.

But not this spring.

I'm not really certain what happened. I love gardening as much as ever. Actually, I should rephrase that last sentence: I love the idea of gardening as much as ever. I have only planted my front porch pots this spring, and I did that back in early February, and now that the sun beats down with relentless afternoon heat, the cool-loving pansies and stocks are rapidly shriveling and browning, fading by the minute right before my eyes. And that's the extent of my spring gardening.

Why have I neglected one of my favorite activities? I ask myself the same question as I peer out the window beside my desk at the tangle of unpruned roses and wildly out-of-control onithera (Mexican primrose). I have been in more pain than usual this spring, the result of stress and busy-ness. But even if I had been feeling better, I'm not sure I would have taken the precious time to work outside. Too much work needs to be done -- writing, grading, teaching, homeschooling, facilitating online classes, tutoring, keeping up web sites and blogs, keeping the house running on a somewhat-regular schedule, etc. I simply haven't had the time (or the money, to be truthful) to invest in gardening.

However, with school waning (our final day is June 12), I really won't have too much of an excuse. Yes, I have a busy, busy summer ahead of me with facilitating Brave Writer at the Movies, proofreading language arts subscriptions for Julie, and perhaps working my class lectures into book form. I also would like to work on my other writing projects as well. And we want to go to the beach ... LOTS.

I miss digging my hands into the cool, loamy earth. I miss arranging colors in my flower beds, and watering them, watching them grow day by day. The interview I did on Monday with Lori at the nearby Guatay Mountain Nursery for our local paper, The Valley Views also enticed me into the spirit of gardening. As I questioned Lori, a Cal-Poly trained horticulturist and expert on native plants of San Diego, I felt my fingers almost itching to work the ground. I have so many things I would LOVE to do with our garden if money weren't such a concern (along with my physical limitations). I would love to rid ourselves of our front "lawn" and plant wildflowers with little gravel or brick paths running through them. I would love to add flower beds along the northern fence and a vegetable garden (raised beds to keep out the critters) south of the driveway.

Sigh. Well, once school is out, I am going to get outside with clippers in hand and trim back roses and hollyhocks, remove dead lavender stalks so the new ones have room to grow, and see if my peppermint patch took over the entire herb garden. It will be worth the aching muscles and stiff neck to get back to work in my garden, even if I can only work in it for twenty minutes per day unless I want a pain-fest to last for several days....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Venerable Bede

I've been so swamped with homeschool co-op student conferences on their MLA research papers that I've barely had time to breathe, much less blog lately. I have my final two Intermediate Writing students coming this afternoon, and their final exams (the MLA research paper) is due Thursday. I have to grade each MLA paper, taking into account MLA formatting, content, and usage -- about an hour a paper and longer if there are major problems. I check sources, thumb through note cards and source cards, and consider the persuasiveness of each point they make. Then I need to add up all the grades from September until now and compute their final class grade. I have ten students in this class. And five in my Advanced (honors) class, who are starting their conferences next week and are turning in their final papers on our final Class Day, June 11, and our last day of school is June 12. One of the students is graduating June 13, so I need to grade hers overnight so I can call the school in the morning and tell them her final grade for the class. Oh, and I'm teaching an online Shakespeare class at right now, too.

But I do wish to pause for a moment and recognize a saint whom I've come to admire greatly: the Venerable Bede. I read his major work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People last year, and I studied excerpts of it in my Christian Traditions class at Point Loma Nazarene University as an undergrad. As my literature major required the fewest number of classes in my major, I fulfilled my upper division credits with classes in philosophy and American History, mostly because Dr. Sam Powell and Dr. Dwayne Little were two of the most interesting professors on campus and I so enjoyed their mode of teaching. Christian Tradition was taught by Dr. Powell, and unlike his previous classes I had taken, this one was a required religion class. Well, so much the better.

Perhaps it was a result of my already obsessive Anglophilia, or my first church history class (church history is a current passion of mine as well), or Dr. Powell's interesting lectures, but I somehow "took to" Bede as if he were a long-long brother. And even now, over (cough!)twenty years later, Bede still entrances me, and I look forward to celebrating his saint day all month.

So what's so different about Bede, compared to the burgeoning trade in medieval saints? I think it's his attitude. While being an incredible scholar, studying so many fields as a true Renaissance Man a few centuries too late, Bede didn't allow his vast knowledge to inflate his self-importance. On the contrary, Bede retained a childlike innocence and excitement in all branches of his expertise. And his favorite study: the Scriptures. Bede was an extremely knowledgeable man, but that knowledge never "puffed him up" but allowed him to simply keep following this ribbon of knowledge or that one, ever eager and child-like in his pursuit of God and His natural world. And he is the only native Britain to receive the appellation "Doctor of the Church" (St. Anselm was born in Italy).

The closing words of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People display his simplicity of faith: "And I pray thee, loving Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously given me to drink in with delight the words of Thy knowledge, so Thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to Thee, the fountain of all wisdom and to appear forever before Thy face."

Britannica Biographies gives us some background information regarding Bede:
Within the walls of the imposing Norman Cathedral of Durham lies the simple tomb of a Christian monk who has earned the title as "Father of English History."

Bede was born at Tyne, in County Durham, and was taken as a child of seven to the monastery of Wearmouth. Shortly afterwards he was moved to become one of the first members of the monastic community at Jarrow. Here, he was ordained a deacon when he was 19 and a priest when he was 30; and here he spent the rest of his life. He never travelled outside of this area but yet, became one of the most learned men of Europe.

The scholarship and culture of Italy had been brought to Britain where it was transported to Jarrow. Here it was combined with the simpler traditions, devotions and evangelism of the Celtic church. In this setting Bede learned the love of scholarship, personal devotion and discipline . He mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew and had a good knowledge of the classical scholars and early church fathers.

Bede's writings cover a broad spectrum including natural history, poetry, Biblical translation and exposition of the scriptures. His earliest Biblical commentary was probably that on the book of the Revelation. He is credited with writing three known Latin hymns.

He is remembered chiefly for his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People." This five volume work records events in Britain from the raids by Julius Caesar in 55-54 BC to the arrival of the first missionary from Rome, Saint Augustine in 597. Bede's writings are considered the best summary of this period of history ever prepared. Some have called it "the finest historical work of the early Middle Ages."

Bede's motive for recording history reminds us of his deepest desires. He clearly states his purpose in his writings when he says, "For if history records good things of good men, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good; or if it records evil of wicked men, the good, religious reader or listener is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse, and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God."

As we celebrate the new millennium, we are indebted to Bede, as it is to this man that we owe, from his historical accounts, our dating of years from the birth of Christ.

From's "Saint of the Day" for May 25:
St. Bede the Venerable (672?-735)

Bede is one of the few saints honored as such even during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a Church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches.

At an early age Bede was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the Monastery of St. Paul, Jarrow. The happy combination of genius and the instruction of scholarly, saintly monks produced a saint and an extraordinary scholar, perhaps the most outstanding one of his day. He was deeply versed in all the sciences of his times: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints and, especially, Holy Scripture. From the time of his ordination to the priesthood at 30 (he had been ordained deacon at 19) till his death, he was ever occupied with learning, writing and teaching. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed 45 of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.

Although eagerly sought by kings and other notables, even Pope Sergius, Bede managed to remain in his own monastery till his death. Only once did he leave for a few months in order to teach in the school of the archbishop of York. Bede died in 735 praying his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As in the beginning, so now, and forever.”

His Ecclesiastical History of the English People is commonly regarded as of decisive importance in the art and science of writing history. A golden age was coming to an end at the time of Bede’s death: It had fulfilled its purpose of preparing Western Christianity to assimilate the non-Roman barbarian North. Bede recognized the opening to a new day in the life of the Church even as it was happening.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blog Changes and Real Life

Yes, between a bunch of Google articles and Keith's Photo Shop expertise, I was able to get my blog looking mostly the way I want it to. It's not perfect, but it's 90% how I envisioned it.

I started blogging coming up on three years ago on a home school moms' blog set-up, and I've had essentially the same template since I started with Blogger in January of 2007. I felt it was really time for a change -- for something less cluttered, more crisp and clean. And I'm quite happy with it. I should be, after spending so much time on it last night and today.

It's been an exhausting week of student conferences on MLA research papers plus homeschooling my own four kids (the boys and I have been reading Beowulf lately, the wonderful Seamus Heaney translation that I am wild about, of course), teaching a writing class in our home with my two older boys and the oldest daughter of my friend Sheri, tutoring three students one-on-one in the afternoons, working on Dr. Burns' website, and facilitating a Shakespeare class at So taking time to play with my blog and getting it set up -- which passes for "me time" lately -- was a nice break yesterday and today.

And now ... back to work when I get home from church tomorrow! I have to finish my Brave Writer posts on Act V of Twelfth Night and post Dr. Burns' bio on his website before heading back down the hill to my friend Kim's Post-Kentucky Derby Party where she will recount the highlights of her trip to Derby and Thomas Merton country. At least with the holiday weekend we don't have school on Monday, but three MLA conferences (an hour long each) plus tutoring Jack afterward for an hour and also having two students drop off their finished MLA papers for me to grade means that Monday won't be much of a holiday for me. But at least I don't have to be concerned with cajoling my own four to do their work when summertime is calling to them so sweetly.

A Few Changes

I've decided to change my blog a bit -- after seeing a few blogs that are lighter and cleaner, I thought I'd take a stab. I'm having problems getting my header set, though -- I want to use a different font than the six I have to choose from for text, but only for the header.

I've spent close to four hours trying to figure it out, so if you know how to use a separate font(s) for just the header on Blogger, please let me know.

More changes coming soon!!!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day, forty days after Christ's Resurrection, when He gave His final earthly encouragement and directions to His disciples before Ascending to the right hand of the Father. Today's Epistle reading is from Acts 1:

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (English Standard Version)
The Gospel reading relates the same event, also told by Luke at the close of his gospel account:

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. (ESV)
The Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is rather formal and convoluted, so I'm using today the Collect from the New Zealand BCP from Bosco Peter's Liturgy site:

Eternal and gracious God,
we believe your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to have ascended with triumph
into your kingdom in heaven;
may we also in heart and mind
ascend to where he is,
and with him continually dwell;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and forever.
Father Peters' reflection on Ascension can be read here: Ascension Day.

On Twitter this morning, Father Peters noted that Ascension Day is a holiday in several European countries, such as France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. Yet we in America hardly even know of this Biblical holy day, at least among American evangelicals. Part of Eastertide which lasts until Pentecost (just ten more days!), Ascension is obviously noted in Scripture as being forty days after Christ's Resurrection. This holy day has been celebrated since the early years of the Church, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. The Pilgrimage of Sylvia (Peregrinatio Etheriae) speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ was born (Duchesne, Christian Worship, 491-515). It may be that prior to the fifth century the fact narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost.... Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the fifth century.
You may read the full article from the Catholic Encyclopedia here: Feast of the Ascension.

I just don't really understand why American evangelical churches do not celebrate these Biblical festivals, or at least Pentecost if not Ascension. Pentecost lands on a Sunday every time, so there's really no excuse not to at least mention it, if not read the Scriptures recounting the gift of the Holy Spirit to the waiting disciples and perhaps even preach on the subject. Yes, every day of our earthly existence should be a celebration of what Christ has done for us, and every Sunday should indeed be a celebration of the Resurrection power and love of Jesus. But noting and celebrating these other Biblical holy days seems like a wonderful idea to me, one in which we can live in the footsteps of our Risen Lord.

Okay, okay, getting down off my soapbox and putting it away. For now. ;)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Summertime Blues, or Blahs -- a.k.a. I Hate Summer

I really don't like summer. I don't like heat. I hate sweating, or "perspiring" -- the word my grandmother insisted I use instead of "sweating." ("Men perspire and women glow." Urgh.) I like being off school, the free time, the lazy resting and occasional swimming. But I really, really don't like summer. I think the poem makes it obvious through the very delicate use of hyperbole.

The Dreaded Season

Summer treads heavily,
breathing hot threats
down the back of my neck.
Wiping sweat from my face,
I groan as searing droplets
form against my will across
my arms, my neck, my chest.

Everywhere I go,
the earthy stench
of perspiring bodies
surrounds me.
I draw my sweat-stiffened hair
into a crooked ponytail,
sealing it flatly
against my skull and
blessedly off my neck.

When driving to the beach
my thighs glue themselves
to the vinyl seat of the car.
Windows rolled down,
hot gusts toss my hair wildly as
we travel the mirages of freeway.

In July and August
thunderheads sprawl
over the mountains,
pregnant with frustrated tears
which hiss as they strike
the steaming asphalt.
The temperature drops
twenty degrees in ten minutes.
I drag in cleansing gulps
of tangy-cool air,

Too soon the sun returns,
blazing between purple-gray clouds --
blinding, parching, scorching.
Each afternoon I burn at the stake,
praying for the sun to slip below the horizon,
praying for autumn to rescue me.

(c) 2009 Susanne Barrett

Monday, May 18, 2009

An Afternoon of Opera ... Opera??????

I met Richard Kinsey in Colorado in September 2006. My dear poet friend Judith invited me to her annual Christian Artists' retreat, Ad Lib, to do a children's program. Richard Kinsey and his equally-talented wife Susan attended and provided a musical program that was simply amazing. Although I spent most of the time with the kids (including the Kinseys' delightful daughter), I was able to occasionally sneak in with the adults and enjoy the artistic discussions among fellow believers. It was incredibly affirming time to share with other Christian artists not just regarding the arts but about the place of the arts in the Church as a whole.

Earlier this week Judith contacted me about driving up to the Escondido Center of the Performing Arts for a concert in which Richard Kinsey would be singing. I had no idea until we arrived that opera was on the menu. I don't mind opera, but I don't love it, either. I don't like listening to it on the radio -- I guess it's something you have to see and hear in order to appreciate it.

Well, we had a bit of an adventure in getting to the Performing Arts Center in Escondido. (Somehow I always get lost in Escondido. It's an unlucky place for me to wander, I suppose.) Judith and I were talking so much that we drove all the way through Escondido before we realized that we had mixed our exit. So, quite glad we had left 30 minutes early, we turned around at Lawrence Welk Way and headed back south, this time carefully watching the exits. We were still confident as we approached our correct exit number ... and then realized that it was closed for construction. We took the next exit we could and then tried to figure out where we were. I had a map of the San Diego area unfolded in my lap, but the detail was insufficient to tell us much. We drove north but realized that we were also traveling east; on a hunch, we took 17th Avenue westward and happened to end up on the correct street with five minutes to go before the performance! Aha, a fighting chance! But then we realized when we couldn't locate 340 Escondido Blvd. that we were on South Escondido Blvd, not North Escondido Blvd.

We drove further north ... and found our way blocked by a Street Fair that closed down the center downtown area. We looped east then north, then back west and finally arrived at the Performing Arts Center. We had to wait until the first number was finished before we could seat ourselves in the orchestra section. Then our horror: our seats were in the very center of a loooooooong row of people, and we would have to step over every single one of them to get to our seats, and we had to move rapidly before the next aria started! We scooted, apologizing, to our seats and plopped into them, breathless and red-faced. We didn't dare move even during the Intermission, just in case.

But the songs were beautifully done, and with humor, too. The conductor, Jung-Ho Pak, was delightfully lighthearted and informative. We had missed only Die Fledermaus Overture, and enjoyed selections from The Merry Widow by Lehar, a couple of Offenbach arias including the hilarious "The Doll's Song" in which the soprano moved jerkily like a doll and had to be wound up twice by the tenor and baritone. Richard performed "Figaro" from Rossini's The Barber of Seville wonderfully well, and we enjoyed Mozart arias as well. After the intermission, we settled in to hear mostly Bizet and Pucchini, including the wonderful tenor aria "Nessun dorma" from Turandot sung quite famously last year in the TV show Britain's Got Talent, and this tenor was just as good. The program concluded with the toasting song from Verdi's La Traviata. Such a wonderful, wonderful program!

Judith and I had a short visit with Richard Kinsey after the show. He's such an incredible Christian man, and his face glowed as he spoke to us about how God has grown his faith in the difficulties of this past year as he has had so little work. Richard is perhaps best known for his role as Inspector Javert in Les Miserables on Broadway and around the world. To see his other roles in film and on stage, you may check out his website here: Richard Kinsey.

After our visit with Richard, Judith and I enjoyed a very nice dinner at a Chinese restaurant just across the street from the concert hall before trekking back into San Diego and from thence up the mountain to Pine Valley -- a little over an hour's drive. It was such a lovely, lovely afternoon with excellent music, wonderful food, and plenty of time to chat with Judith. What a delightful treat from my usually family-oriented life. I adore my family, but one does need a break once in a while, and enjoying such an arts-centered afternoon was a lovely diversion before returning home to our final four weeks of home education with four spring-fevered students and their teacher suffering from the identical malady.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Eastertide Continues: "On Pascha"

Some of my Protestant and Evangelical friends may be a bit kerflummoxed that Easter is still be celebrated by many Christians around the world. As you can see by the little poster in my sidebar, provided by, Easter Is 50 Days. How can we thoroughly rejoice in the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour in a single day? Yes, the joy of the Resurrection should be celebrated every single day of the year and for the remainder of our lives, both earthly and heavenly, but the Resurrection should be especially remembered for the fifty days following Easter Sunday. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate certain feasts for days (and even weeks) on end. Thus the fifty day celebration of the Resurrection follows in that tradition, starting on Easter Sunday and proceeding through Ascension Day (40 days after Easter Sunday) to Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, the Jewish holy day in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of Christ. The "Comforter" that Jesus had promised had arrived and remains with us still until Jesus returns to earth, a promise of eternal life for us in the present.

Pascha, the word for Eastertide still in use by Eastern Christians, was celebrated very early in the history of the church. Following is a poem written by an early Christian, Melito of Sardis who died in 180 A.D., that celebrates the Paschal Season. I discovered this while on Twitter (of all places) after I decided to follow "Twiturgy" which took me to the blog of the Asbury Theological Seminary. And there I discovered and read the poem "On Pascha":

"On Pascha" - Melito of Sardis (2nd Century)

This is the one who comes from heaven onto
the earth for us suffering ones,
and wraps himself in the suffering one
through a virgin womb
and comes as a human.
He accepted the suffering of us suffering ones,
through suffering in a body which could suffer,
and set free the flesh from suffering.
Through the spirit which cannot die
he slew the human-slayer death.

He is the one led like a lamb
and slaughtered like a sheep;
He ransomed us from the worship of the world
as from the land of Egypt,
and He set us free from the slavery of the devil
as from the hand of Pharaoh,
and sealed our souls with His own spirit,
and the members of our body with His blood.

This is the one who clad death in shame
and, as Moses did to Pharaoh,
made the devil grieve.
This is the one who struck down lawlessness
and made injustice childless,
as Moses did in Egypt,
This is the one delivered us from slavery to freedom,
from darkness into light,
from death into life,
from tyranny into an eternal Kingdom,
and made us a new priesthood,
and a people everlasting for himself.

This is the Pascha of our salvation:
this is the one who in many people endured many things.
This is the one who was murdered in Abel,
tied up in Isaac,
exiled in Jacob,
sold in Joseph,
exposed in Moses,
slaughtered in the lamb,
hunted down in David,
dishonored in the prophets.

This is the one made flesh in a virgin
who was hanged on a tree
who was buried in the earth,
who was raised from the dead,
who was exalted to the heights of heaven.

This is the lamb slain,
this is the speechless lamb,
this is the one born of Mary the fair ewe,
this is the one taken from the flock,
and led to slaughter.
Who was sacrificed in the evening,
and buried at night;
who was not broken on the tree;
who was not undone in the earth,
who rose from the dead and resurrected humankind from the grave below.

O mystifying murder! O mystifying injustice!
The master is obscured by his body exposed,
and is not held worth of a veil to shield him from view.
For this reason the great lights turned away,
and the day was turned to darkness;
to hide the one denuded on the tree,
obscuring not the body of the Lord but human eyes.

For when the people did not tremble, the earth shook.
When the people did not fear, the heavens were afraid.
When the people did not rend their garments, the angel rent his own.
When the people did not lament, the Lord thundered from heaven,
and the most high gave voice.

"Who takes issue with me? Let him stand before me.
I set free the condemned.
I gave life to the dead.
I raise up the entombed.
Who will contradict me?

"It is I," says the Christ,
"I am he who destroys death
and triumphs over the enemy,
and crushes Hades,
and binds the strong man,
and bears humanity off to the heavenly heights."
The Feast of the Ascension is coming up this Thursday, May 21, and Pentecost on Sunday, May 31. I will be remembering these dates here on my blog, but also I suggest taking time yourself to ponder the significance of what Christ has done for you and for every human who has ever taken breath on this earth and will in the future. The rest of our lives is not long enough to celebrate the everlasting joys of Christ's Resurrection, but taking the fifty days after Easter Sunday to do so is hardly a poor idea.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Drafts and the Writing Process "Bird by Bird"

I'm not a writer who really enjoys reading books about writing. I've been teaching writing for so long -- 17 years formally and much tutoring before that -- that most "how to" books on writing simply bore me. But that was before I ran across two books, one old and one new. The old one (1930s), Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer, I wrote about here, and one more recent book (1994), Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Lamott has been one of my favorite writers since I first read her pivotal nonfiction book, Traveling Mercies, a collection of autobiographical sketches/essays about her life, her faith, her politics, all wrapped up with a dry, sarcastic wit that won me over even if our politics are polar opposites. I attended her second interview with Dean Nelson of Point Loma Nazarene University at the Writers Symposium by the Sea a couple of years ago, and she is just as transparent, genuine, and funny as her books are. I have purchased and read her subsequent books in the same genre, Plan B and Grace Eventually as well as reading her novel Blue Shoes. Her writing entrances me -- it is simply THAT good.

So I suppose that, despite my iffy attitude toward books on writing, it was fated that I would indeed purchase and read her book on writing, Bird by Bird, which was composed long before she became the success that she is after her three autobiographical/faith-related essay collections. And indeed, her book on writing parallels her books of personal essays simply because she is writing from her core. From the heart, if you will. A longtime teacher of writing, she offers some extremely practical advice about the process of writing, again with her signature dry wit that while cracking me up, also speaks Truth. Here's a selection from her chapter entitled "Shitty First Drafts":

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. [italics mine]. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her....

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.
I can't tell you how freeing this process is to me as a writer. And I'm sure that those of you who are writers are either nodding sagely along with Lamott's wisdom here or are splitting a gut laughing. Or both. Recently I have written about this idea of writing crappy first drafts when it comes to poetry as a guest writer on Kathy Grubb's The 10 Minute Writer blog. In fact, I wrote so much that she had to post it in two parts. You can click here for the first post, and here for the second.

Yesterday my high school college prep writing class at our homeschool group's co-op Class Day had completed rough drafts of their MLA research papers, a culmination of over a month's work of researching, paraphrasing information, outlining, and finally drafting their five to seven pages of persuasive material. They were so proud to be done with the intense research, parenthetical citations, and Works Cited, Although they groaned at the idea of having read-arounds in which they were to read and comment on each other's papers, they were pretty self-satisfied about being "done" with this project.

And then I read them the same passage I quoted above, plus a little more of the chapter in the same vein. Of course, this being a Christian school, I substituted "crappy" for "shitty." As I looked up after reading the passages aloud, their proud smiles had been wiped from their faces, and several sets of eyes held a sense of panic. "Did I scare you?" I questioned, and several nodded. Silently.


They have two weeks until their final projects are due. And I want them to do more than simply edit their five-to-seven pages for typos, spelling, and punctuation errors. I want them to revise their papers. I love the word "revision" -- it's a re-seeing of a piece of writing, looking at it from all angles and seeing it anew. The ability to re-see their writing, acknowledging the portions that work well and bolstering those that need work is the heart and soul of good writing. Novelist James Michener wrote, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." And that's why his novels, long as they are, simply sing. Because he puts all he is as a writer into re-seeing every aspect of his work. He cut what didn't work, smoothed what begged for better flow, added needed detail, and then cuts out more unnecessary stuff. And that's the role of revising our work. It's something I've been trying to get across to my students all year, every year: revision is the different between mediocre writing and good writing. To put it in language easily understood by high school students, especially homeschooled ones who are eager to score good grades: "Revising makes the difference between a 'C' paper and an 'A' paper."

After my students have written their rough drafts of their MLA research papers, I offer them the opportunity to come to my home where I will comb through their entire draft with them, side by side. We'll look over their title page, outline, formatting, introduction, body, conclusion, and Works Cited together while I note areas that need editing and revision. This way I have the assurance that they fully understand the MLA format and have developed their ideas to the best of their ability, and they have the assurance of receiving a grade that will make them happy and please their parents. It's a win-win situation, even if I do spend about an hour per student times 20 students in a one-month period.

But revision is the key. I think that reading this section of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird has scared them a little and will help them to fully understand the importance of revision to the writing process.

I hope they get it. I really hope they do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dancing with the Stars

Elizabeth and I have been addicted to ABC's popular Dancing with the Stars since mid-way through the first season. Only once did our favorite not win, and that was John O'Hurley in Season 1. Usually we go into the finals perfectly sure of whom we are supporting, dialing away on both landline and cell phones to vote each week and help determine the outcome.

Not this season.

We simply haven't landed on an absolute favorite dancer although we agree that all three couples in the Finals next Monday night deserve to be there. Ty & Chelsie should have gone and did go last night, ending a spectacular run of the most improved couple of the Season 8. Ty is so real, so humble, and works so hard that I felt he indeed deserved to make it to the semi-finals last week. But no further.

We both like Melissa & Tony and Shawn & Mark, but it seems too hard to choose between them. Melissa came into the competition with only four days' notice and has been a strong competitor despite multiple injuries that nearly sidelined her. Shawn has been a determined dancer, working hard as an Olympic Gold Medalist. Melissa is graceful and fluid while Shawn is precise and perky but can be intense when she wants to be. Or needs to be. We're happy with either of them winning.

Gilles is handsome and a good dancer, but I just don't see much improvement in his dancing. He came out in Week One in first place, and he remains in first place going into the finals. He doesn't show as much personality in his dancing, according to Elizabeth -- maybe it's a European thing. But we prefer the young ladies to win -- either of them.

So I guess we'll watch the finals on Monday and decide for whom we will vote. Elizabeth is leaning toward voting for Melissa; I'm undecided. It should definitely an exciting finals of the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Sin of Anxiety

Like most book addicts, I have a teetering pile of books next to my bed, waiting to be read. In that teetering pile is a copy of a book I have been wanting to read for a very long time: Introduction to the Devout Life by Saint Francis de Sales. I just haven't had time to start it.

But last night I ran across a quotation from the book on Jen's Conversion Diary blog. And it was one of the most convicting sentences I have read. Ever. Jen wrote about her battle with this issue, and it's a battle I need to face, too.

"With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul." - St. Francis de Sales.
Jen wrote about how for Lent this year she decided to attempt to not be anxious each day. She prayed about it each morning, asking God's help to keep her from being anxious not forever, not for the immediate future, but for the ability to not be anxious that day. Only that day. And no matter how well or poorly she did, she asked God the next morning for the same thing: not to be anxious that day. And so on. It was a day-to-day battle in her mind to not allow anxiety for the future to steal her joy, to harden her soul.

Anxiety has always been a difficult feeling for me to kick. Once it gets a hold of me, my imagination runs away, imagining all sorts of horrors. And it's been especially bad for the past year as Keith's work slowed down more and more, as we've been unable to pay our creditors the minimum balances, as we've had to pay bills late, as we've had to scrounge the cupboards for creative ideas for feeding four growing kids, two of them teens. The anxiety has been disheartening at best, and paralyzing at worst. I won't tell you all of the scenarios I have imagined, but I'm sure you can guess at most of them, especially if your family has been hit hard by the recession as well.

I try to distract myself to keep me from arranging constant scenarios in my head. I watch TV in the evenings, read books, write, blog, watch movies, etc. But distraction simply isn't enough. It's a lame attempt to cover up the elephant in the middle of the room with a flowered sheet rather than escorting the thing outside into the garden. I need to be more proactive in this war with anxiety than simply distracting myself from thinking about it.

So reading this simple sentence on Jen's blog last night was like being slapped across the face. I finally realized how dire my spiritual situation is as a result of constant anxiety, which really is just another way of saying that I am not trusting God with the events and people in my life. And right then I resolved to indeed try, with God's assistance, to not be anxious each day. In fact, I may have to start with each hour, or until the next meal, because not being anxious for an entire day seems like too big a bite to take right now; I need a mouthful, not a stomach-ful.

I would greatly appreciate prayer in conquering this Hydra-like (I hope I have my metaphor correct!) challenge of anxiety in which I cut off one head and seven more appear in its place. It will take a great war and all of my effort to slay the foe of anxiety, and I have made some real strides over the past few years. But now I need to focus in on the KILL. I need to unhinge its attachment to my mind, slay it, bury it, and never allow its resurrection.

The Canadian Book of Common Prayer contains a Collect (collective prayer) against anxiety that I wish to pray for myself and for others who find themselves under the thumb of anxiety:

ALMIGHTY God, who art afflicted in the afflictions of thy people: Regard with thy tender compassion those in anxiety and distress; bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their manifold needs; and help both them and us to put our whole trust and confidence in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I'll report back and let you know how God is working in my life.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

This was my Poem of the Day from -- a great source of reading contemporary poetry, which is definitely one of my weak points as I usually hang out with the poets of long ago. At least I've heard of Lawrence Ferlinghetti as one of the "Beat" poets along with Ginsburg and others who developed City Lights, so he's not exactly contemporary. (But much closer than those I usually read!)

Overall, I am enjoying reading some very intriguing poets. And one of the best ways to grow as a poet is to read more poetry, especially that of our contemporaries.

Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age? What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....

Such wonderful encouragement for us who write poetry, isn't it? To challenge the downfall of the world through our words. What a challenge!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Twilight Series

I started reading the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer only a week ago. Over the last year or two, I simply haven't understood the obsession that tween- and teen-aged girls have for these books, and I have been even more surprised that some of my own acquaintances and friends have also found themselves addicted to the books. Currently four books have been published in the series: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn; the next book is "on hold indefinitely," according to the author.

Elizabeth started reading the series in mid-December and received the four books of the series for Christmas, either as gifts or purchased with gift cards. And she was nearly as thrilled (and addicted) to them as she has been about the Harry Potter series, an addiction that I also share. So, I finally broke down and started reading the series last Wednesday.

Today, a week later, I have read two books and am two-thirds of the way through the third, Eclipse. I will admit it: I am completely hooked. The books keep me on the edge of my seat with quick action, deeply-realized characters, and a complex plot that twists and turns more than Highway 101 up the California coastline. The writing on occasion gets a little hackneyed, but for what it is supposed to be (an action-packed story), it's fine. We aren't expecting Jane Austen quality, after all.

The books are very hard to put down -- the mysterious plot keeps me turning pages, loathe to close the book even at the end of a chapter. And the characters are so intriguing: Bella, who is physically weak but emotionally and mentally strong; Edward the cold-as-ice vampire who falls in love with her and who wants her to remain human for her own sake because he hates being a "monster" who must kill to survive; Jacob who also morphs into a horror-movie character and is also in love with Bella, but whom Bella loves only as a best friend.

Then the other "vegetarian" vampires who hunt animals rather than people are very interesting: Dr. Carlisle Cullen, his "wife" Esme, and their "adopted children" Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, and especially little Alice -- all of these had no choice when they became vampires and don't understand Bella's decision to become like them. Then there are the "other" vampires, the "non-vegetarians" who feed on human flesh. Battles rage between these normal vampires and the peace-loving Cullen "family." The Cullens are forced to work together with Jacob and the other "special" Quileute tribe (I don't want to give anything away) in order to protect the humans of Forks, their town, especially Bella and her father, Charlie.

The movie version of the first book is pretty good -- it follows the book fairly well and definitely picks up the tension well, even if it loses much of Bella's dry sense of humor and innate intelligence. The next movie, New Moon, is due out in November of this year, and Eclipse in June of 2010. I saw the film version before reading the books, and thus Bella will always be Kristen Stewart from the movie for me and Edward always Rob Pattinson (a.k.a. Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films). But I can handle that. In certain ways, I think it works just fine, in fact.

If you are a lover of fast-paced mysteries and/or deep characterization, then the Twilight novels may surprise you as much as they did me. I can't wait to get back into Eclipse and see what happens as the big battle for Forks (the human town near the Quileute reservation) nears. And I also can't wait to get a good night's sleep and not stay up far too late into the night reading.

UPDATE @ 9:00 p.m.: Finished Eclipse and will be starting Breaking Dawn tonight. Elizabeth has lent her copy to a friend, but fortunately, the local library had a copy. And as it doesn't belong to E (who is extremely picky about her books and wouldn't let me read them in the Jacuzzi because of possible steam damage), I can read it tonight in the spa! See ya. L.A.T.E.R.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On NaPoWriMo at 10 Minute Writer

My friend Kathy at the 10 Minute Writer blog has been very kind in posting a two-part series I wrote about my experience of writing thirty poems in thirty days during April, National Poetry Month. Obviously, the poems are more rough drafts than anything -- rarely did I manage more than a quick proofreading to locate typos before posting them. If you would like to read some, you may scroll down through the blog entries or click on the "Poetry" option in the Labels Archive near the bottom of the sidebar.

You may read Part 1 of my poetry-writing experience by clicking here: Can You Write a Poem a Day for Thirty Days?

Thanks, Kathy, for being willing to post my writing! Her blog is really helpful for those of us trying to scrape a few minutes to write out of our busy days; I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Weekend Recital

The boys had a rather impromptu piano recital on Saturday afternoon. They were a bit out of practice after not having lessons for a month or so, but they've made arrangements to walk the teacher's rambunctious dog and do a little yardwork in exchange for piano lessons, so they're starting up again. They have been playing for three years in August and really enjoy it.

T played "Pagoda Tree"

J played two of my favorites: "Sea Mist" and "Landscape." Lovely!

J and Jack, who are both part of Father Acker's Free Teen Guitar Class, also played a couple of duets on guitar including "La Bamba"; unfortunately, my angle for taking photos was not good. I'll post a photo if Jack's parents send me some.

Approximately nine students played during the recital; one girl played flute as well as piano, performing a duet as she played flute and Teri, the teacher, played piano. Lovely! I wish I could afford to have B start lessons in the fall as he'll be in 4th grade; we'll have to see what kind of a bartering arrangement we can work out. Teri is a wonderful teacher, and the boys really like her. I wish I had time to take lessons myself; learning piano has always been one of my B-HAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).

Star Wars Day!

I was quite surprised today to see something about today being Star Wars Day on Twitter, so I went to the ever-faithful Google to check it out. Wikipedia quickly informed me that May 4th, 2008, was the first Star Wars day. I thought it must be the anniversary of the first Star Wars film, now called A New Hope but back in 1977 when I stood in a long line that snaked around the huge movie theatre in Mission valley on a hot Saturday in June, it was merely called Star Wars.

But as I read the Wikipedia article, a very different reason for celebrating May 4th as Star Wars day was revealed. And it's quite funny. And PUNny.

It's a play on words: "May the 4th" becomes "May the 4th be with you." Punny indeed.

With three boys between the ages of nine and fourteen, we practically live and breathe Star Wars around here, and they are excited about this celebration of their favorite movie series. Besides having all six DVDs, the boys own nine Star Wars X-Box games, plus two more Star Wars games for their Nintendo DS systems. I can't count the number of Star Wars Lego sets they own, plus about thirty Star Wars action figures and at least six ships. Star War posters hang on their bedroom walls, and they each have an assortment of light sabers; J's collection numbers ten different light sabers. And they often try "force persuasion" on each other and even on me: ("We are done with school today. We will play X-Box instead to doing grammar." Doesn't work, but it is amusing.) Obviously, Star Wars is serious stuff around here.

So "May the 4th be with you" fans on this Star Wars Day. (And keep your "force persuasion" to a minimum, please.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Publishing Our Work

As writers, we of course want our work published. We dream of a spot on the New York Times Bestseller List and signing copies of our book with a gorgeously airbrushed photo of us on the back cover.

But when reality settles around us, I just want to publish a small collection of poetry. But there are definitely bogus publishers out there who want to sell us books rather than actually publish them; yes, I had one of my poems published by the International Library of Poetry through last year and am still getting spam about buying books, medals, certificates, etc. I learned my lesson; it took only once.

But tonight someone called Utmost Christian started following me on Twitter, and I followed him back to his website which deals with quality Christian poetry. He has a great article on how to legitimately publish poems in journals and in book form. I highly recommend my poetry-writing friends to check out the Utmost Christian Writers website and especially the article on publishing poetry.

I have much revising of my own poetry that I drafted during NaPoWriMo, but most of that will have to wait until I have finished teaching my online Shakespeare Class at which will last all month.

But I will get back to my own writing. I will. In June, I sincerely hope. Oops, then I will have at least fifteen MLA research papers to grade for my Class Day courses. Okay, after June 12, our last day of homeschooling. I will work on revising my poems after school lets out.

I hope....

Friday, May 1, 2009

U2's New Single: Magnificent!

Next week U2 will be releasing their second single from this year's new album No Line on the Horizon; according to, it's been remixed not once but four times since the album itself was released. "Get on Your Boots," their first single, was a fun dance tune, but "Magnificent" in a whole 'nuther league -- absolutely incredible. Based on the "Magnificat" that is often prayed in Catholic and Anglican churches -- Mary's song of praise after the news Gabriel tells her of being the Mother of His Son (Luke 1:47-55), "Magnificent" is also a song of praise straight from U2's heart to the truly Magnificent One. The video was filmed in Morocco, and I can't wait to see it when it, too, is released; photos of filming the video are available here:



I was born
I was born to be with you
In this space and time
After that and ever after I haven't had a clue
Only to break rhyme
This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue

Only love, only love can leave such a mark

But only love, only love can heal such a scar

I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise ...

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love unites our hearts

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent



Blog Widget by LinkWithin