Saturday, March 27, 2010

An Evening with Kathleen Norris

On Wednesday night I attended Point Loma Nazarene University's Writers Symposium by the Sea with dear poet friends Kathryn Belsey and Judith Dupree. We came to hear poet and writer Kathleen Norris speak on her newest book, Acedia & Me, and on writing in general.

As usual at the Writers Symposium, Dean Nelson, Head of the Journalism Department, interviews the writer, and Kathleen Norris and Dean had a very lively discussion. Norris mentioned that she was raised to believe that one could not be both a writer and a Christian, but she had to put both writing and faith together in order to become a successful author. Her first book, Dakota,had a first run of only 8500 copies but eventually sold over 200,000. Cloister Walk discussed monasticism as a Christian tradition before the "splits" that tore Christendom into pieces.

Her latest book, Acedia & Me consists of ideas about the "malady" of acedia which she describes as "an inability to care"--a supreme indifference characterized by restlessness and boredom. Norris calls it "a nasty condition" with dissatisfaction and irritability with sadness--she first experienced acedia at age 15. Later she read about acedia and realized it was first written about in 400 AD and is placed in the category of sloth in the Seven Deadly Sins. When asked about the cause of acedia, Norris replied, "Being human." She stated that acedia rejects the bore of the daily grind and calls it the "national disease" that afflicts American society.

The opposite of acedia is zeal, enthusiasm--love. Love says, "Yes, it matters" and requires commitment.

Later in her interview, Norris mentioned three subjects that have been taught so badly that "it's a miracle that anyone survives them" because teachers teach only the rules and not the joy of creation:
1. Christian faith
2. Poetry
3. Math and sciences

She also laments the fact that in Christianity, our differences are seen as being much more importance than our similarities. Our current problems in the Christian Church, she says, are nothing new; in fact, they are the same problems that plagued the Early Church.

Norris also gave some excellent advice to writers, especially to young writers--advice I shared with both of my co-op classes, the 4th-6th graders and the 10th-12th graders. She advised:
1. Read a lot--all different kinds of writings
2. Learn to self-edit our work
3. Love revision more than writing

Dean reminded her that a theologian called her "a modern Augustine." Her response, to general laughter: "What was he smoking?" Others have compared her to Elvis--more laughter from the audience.

The funniest story she told was about her husband's death, believe it or not. Norris says that something funny always happens in serious moments in her family. She continued with the story of her husband's last day or two in the hospital before his death, and a kind-hearted chaplain came to David's room, offering to read Psalm 27. But Kathleen Norris, knowing her poet's husband's love of language, asked which translation the chaplain's Bible was. When he replied, "NIV," she replied, "I'm sorry, but that's not acceptable." She explained that her husband would only appreciate the Psalms in the King James Version. She pulled out a Book of Common Prayer that was "close enough" to KJV, and the chaplain finally was able to sit down and read Psalm 27 from the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer (which I assume was 1928 as the Psalter is from the 1540 Great Bible).

Kathleen Norris provided a wonderful evening of poetry, prose, and Christian writing at Point Loma Nazarene University, another lovely Writers Symposium by the Sea.


Anne said...

I love Kathleen Norris! How lucky you are to have had an opportunity to hear her speak!

Dancingirl said...

Thanks for sharing what she said with us!


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