Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

This is my attempt to pounce on and then shape the words I breathe.

Please join me with your comments and make this a dialogue . . . and visit Susan's Poetry!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Writing with Jen, Parable of the Sower, and Radical Faithfulness

Thank you for Visiting!
At Shutterfly

Up at 4:15am.  

Thinking of three amazing things which I lay out below.

Yesterday I sent this letter to Jen, missing our Friday morning writing while she is in Kentucky to be with her aging parents and troubled family.  Working with her--a friend writer, a Friend writer and loving person--all rolled into one--brought me this far toward being faithful to my leading to write.  She and I created Taking a Walk with God together and will create more books as way opens:  
Dear Jen,
I'm taking our writing time today to start two new chapters in my novel Alice in Wonder. One is on Alice's great loves and one is on why she doesn't go to Quaker meeting.  Since she's getting both from my life history, I am starting in long hand and on paper in my journal writing to these myself.  The theme is loss. 
  1. The loss of a long partnership with a woman because of heterosexual issues, it seemed, tho' the end was brewing for a long time; and the loss of a long term partnership with a man.  20 years ago now.   I'll start here. 
  2. The second topic is harder because I have not stopped attending Quaker meeting--but I did for a while. I hadn't thought that would need to be a topic in my novel, but when Alice loses her job she wonders where to continue her ministry and considers going back to meeting.  I want the decision to parallel the decision she has to make about whether to go to the Women's Theatre reunion.   I find her loss of a place to tell her stories is like me leaving teaching.  Different reasons. But like me, she is considering whether writing could replace her lifelong ministry.  I think she will have to tell stories and I will have to teach--the only question being in what context.  For me, writing is becoming a leading.  For her, performer as she is, writing will never replace having a live audience.  Off the stage she's a hermit and a complete introvert. (Imagine that! Hahaha.)
As for me, I have found new life in Quaker meeting as an anchor in my relationship with God and community.   One need is becoming clearer--the need for a small group to continue with me after I leave Pendle Hill, a group to help me remain faithful and nurture my novel and book of poetry into publication. . . .  I haven't clarified yet how to work with such a group though I imagine it would involve reading my work.  Here, no one has to read it--tho' here and there it is happening through my blog.  I'll be giving a presentation at the end of this Residency, and hope you'll be here.  
After writing this, I packed a handbag with money and journal and went to a cafe to write on love and loss.  I wrote for two hours--through lunch and lots of coffee, wishing I were still a smoker to suck up some of the emotion.  After all that, I know I will use none of "my own stuff."  ("Give me back my stuff" is a line of a jilted lover in ntozake shange's  for colored girls.) What I know will inform what I make up for her, but I am writing a novel.  No one's life need be riffled through and commented on, least of all mine. But what a marvelous day!  I needed to do that.

And the day was capped with story:  I attended the "Finishing Ceremony" of the Radical Faithfulness Program here at Pendle Hill and listened to 6--no 7 stories, counting Eileen Flanagan's, the commencement speaker.  Using non-violent direct action to live their faithfulness, these amazing people have step by step entered a way of life they know because they have prepared the ground. Their choice of cause is personal, their engagement is community, and their protest is creative.  They believe they can succeed.  In this their faith deepens.  Finally, I understand Jesus Christ's Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13, elucidated in fiction by Octavia Butler.   This was the text of Matthew Armstead's address last night as he sang to close the ceremonies. Wow!

Given my life trajectory, what I am doing now also requires a radical faithfulness, though of a different kind.  Envy will not give back what God has given me to do.

I will write more as way opens.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Writing into Mystery

To write autobiographically is to write into the mystery of self. This is a new discovery.  I'm not trying to do it.  My character, Alice, is reaching for God's messages in her little spirit womb of an apartment where she talks to her cat, a "familiar" of sorts, a companion whose proximity prevents her from being fully and blindly human.  She is not consciously a witch; she's consciously Christian in a liberal Quaker way.  By that I mean she loves Jesus and welcomes him into her home, sets a place for him at the table, and sees him as God's attempt to be known by human kind and to, conversely, know humanity.  So she doesn't hide that she and I have tried paganism and Judaism and Buddhism as a dilettante might try drugs. They've left their traces, but since entering the mystery through Jesus she/I cannot debate them any longer. We are what we are. And so she helps me to write into the mystery.

Is it a special irony that she loses her calling of storytelling as I have lost mine of teaching?  No.  To write autobiographically is to write into the mystery of me.  My character Alice and I both have the means and time to write and try it on as a new ministry. We don't know where the boundary is between our old feminism based in anger and our new faith based in love.  We only know that we have crossed the border or absorbed it.  We don't know if this writing is a ministry at all or a step toward one.  We grieve leaving leadings that were so clear,  and we wait for a sign.  We don't know what the sign will be, but have faith that clarity will come.

I have given Alice pieces of my past that I believe the world doesn't know enough about.  Without exception these are experiments in community building.  I feel called upon to write about these moments of radical feminism and theatre.  I have also given her my solo performances, stories I am intimate with that more or less subtly take apart aspects of war and non-violence, war and peace, and war and gender and identity politics.  I am not an expert on any of these, but I am an authority on my experience of them.  

But Alice has developed a sense of humor despite me, it seems. She is self assured and confident around little children and puppies, which I am not. She gets much of her self confidence from a life of economic security, which has eluded me.  I enjoy keeping her free from the struggle to pay her way as it allows her a level of peace that is freeing.  I enjoy imagining a freedom to be creative that is not burdened by an overwhelming need to remain vigilant.  In a way, I have given her what I would have wanted to give a child of my own.  

So Alice is privileged in a way I have noticed in many Quakers. Through her I am learning to relax around people who have that advantage.  And she has never regretted not having her own children, never wished she has stayed anywhere that she has left behind.  In that way, she is a forward-looking Sagittarius while I am a glancing-back relic-gathering Cancer.  

But I started this blog post to think about "the mystery" and "writing into the mystery."  In her book How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Pat Schneider uses the word "mystery" to mean the Great Spirit or God.  Tanya Taylor Rubenstein speaks of "mystery" as that which we trust behind the creative process, which, as for the healing process, "is the foundation of your work and its integrity."  On this she quotes Rachel Naomi Remen, MD:

"At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity."                                         
And this has been my experience, so far.  When I distrust/doubt that mystery guides me in each step of this process, I falter.  When I ask if my writing is Quaker enough, I falter. When I think of how to embed enough Quaker lingo, reference and explanation in my novel to make it an acceptable project for a Minnie Jane Artist in residence at Pendle Hill, I falter.  And this is not to say that I know my work will be accepted as Quaker.  Instead, it is to say that I know I am making my way as I must, trusting the same source that has been guiding me at least since I became aware of it in the early 1980s.  And if, as Alice Walker asserts in her novel of self-awareness, The Color Purple, God is forever trying to please us, "mystery" is responsible for the joy I feel writing this and here and now. 

I will write more as way opens.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chapter 13 and Valentine's Day and Prayer

I am at Pendle Hill on Valentine's Day Sunday.

I woke at 5 am to wrestle with Chapter 13 of Alice in Wonder.  I have moved back to page 60.  That's right. Yes, I know I had 90 pages, and some of the rest may go back in, but now I have to pick a story for Alice to tell, a story that tips the warnings about sticking to material suitable for children into a genuine warning that she will no longer be allowed to run her story hour if she persists with her odd creativity.  I'm thinking of using "the Emperor's New Clothes." I want Chapter 13 to be a major turning point in the story and I find I am struggling to figure it out.  (Every odd-numbered chapter is her in her story hour.  Every even numbered chapter is Alice's present life.)

As a Valentine to the readers of my blog, here is Chapter 12:

Chapter Twelve: 

Alice needs to write through her anxiety about going to a women’s center reunion. It has been a long time since she’s had such an intrusion into her peace, such a foreign object in her mind to blister herself on.   Free writing has worked for her in the past, so she decides to buy a blank-book journal and a set of Bic Flairs as well, knowing that the pleasurable aspects of writing will get and keep her going: the creamy feel of the paper, the flow and colors of the ink, greens and purples, the place in which she writes. 
Here Alice pauses mid-aisle.  She is at the Chestnut Street Staples on the second floor, but suddenly she needs to know where she will write: at her dining room table?  What color room would be best?  Alice travels through her five rooms in her head: tulip, rose, iris, sea and daffodil.
Her living room is tulip crimson with white doors and white framed windows.  She loves her red velvet couch and chair, her tiled fireplace and built-in bookshelves, her bank of sparkling windows and the photos all round.  This is where she relaxes to watch television and commune with her cat.  But the closet where she stores the boxes she has accumulated over the years opens into this room, and the closet, door opened or closed, unlocked or locked, is too close for comfortable writing. 
Amid the trees of the daffodil yellow kitchen?    Too small.   And her Iris blue bedroom and sea-jewel bathroom are set up for direct and immediate functionality.   Neither should carry the air of indecision.
The rose pink dining room also has its function and set routine.  It must be ready to serve a sandwich, a cup of tea, a salad, spaghetti, and multiple glasses of water set and waiting.  Alice fills six 10-ounce glasses in the morning of every day so she won’t forget to drink them before nightfall.  This is the least used of her rooms, really, just a passageway to the kitchen.  She rarely opens the walnut china cabinet that displays relics of her mother and grandmother’s dining finery.  The still lifes on the rosy walls relax and slow her.  The table’s clean and inviting surface could serve another function.  And she never has company anyway.
            Her six glasses of water could accompany the writing.  The rose room, with dining room table, china cabinet and side bar would surround her with uncooked food and their utensils, framed and looking at her hopefully from the walls.  Her feet would be comforted by the most richly colored of the fake orientals and her eyes would be cushioned by the real oak table and chairs, the dark stain rich against rosy walls and maybe--
            “Can I help you find something?”
A young man interrupts her thoughts, and she, startled, pulls at her purple lock with one hand and waves her basket with the other.  
“I’m all set,” she says and scoots, carefully picking her way down the steep stairs to the checkout counter.
Later, she stands in her dining room and admires her preparations.  She has moved her tray of water glasses to the kitchen door arc of the table which, with its extra board, was now oval.  Farthest from both kitchen and living room door, she has placed her open notebook, its faintly-lined pages already marked with the day’s date.  White star lilies spike out from the bulging bouquet in the center vase, and a matching crystal cup holds the flairs.  She pulls out her chair and sits.
My name is Dr. Alice Deed.  She writes in black for fact.
I almost earned a degree in library science forty-some years ago.
So what?  She writes in pink to chide herself.
So I can work in libraries, nitwit!  She writes in blue for answers.
She stops and crosses out the “nitwit” with red.
I love to tell stories.  She writes in purple for pleasure.
Whatever for?  She writes in pink.
I don’t know--which leads me to believe I have a leading from God.  She notes in her answering color of cool blue.
Haha!  Hello!  She laughs at the first of many dashes she will use if she writes with a flowing regularity.  But now she means to reason through whether or not to go to the theatre company and women’s center reunion.
PROS and CONS.  
She provides headings in black ink for the next page and then giggles again.  What would con-artists say if they had to read enough prose to turn around and write it themselves?  Nobody used to get her jokes back in the day.   She duly makes her entry under CONS: No-one laughed at my jokes. She has written with a red Flair, so now the die is cast, red for caution and green for go, go, GO.
An hour and two glasses of ice water later, Alice’s list looks like this:
I’m a little curious about the people I worked with.
No-one laughed at my jokes.
I’m a little curious about layers in that drama. 
Going would destroy my happy anonymity and solitude.
The door has opened.
Some women I would not want to see again, they intimidated me so.

Some events I don’t want to relive; they took so much energy.

Everything took so much energy!  Especially accountability.

They will question my Christian faith, something that I did too back then, but it is no longer debatable to me.

They most likely will be all white.  And if the Black company members came, none of the white ones will be honest  about racism in the company. Would I be honest?

I’ll feel self-conscious, since I haven’t been a lesbian in years.

I don’t want to go.

I can’t

Alice nearly writes that she cannot afford to go, but that isn’t true.  She hasn’t taken a trip in years, and she knows the money is just sitting in the bank and in one of many hiding places in her home.  Her eyes involuntarily look at one vase in the china cabinet, but then she hears Miracle Kitty fussing in the kitchen.
“Must be time for dinner,” she murmurs and pushes back her chair to prepare food in the kitchen, popcorn for her and Greenies for kitty. 

Now that her list is made, the only step left in her decision making is prayer. Not that she hasn’t been praying all along, formally or not.   Disturbances in her peace have the same source as the creativity of storytelling: faith in action.  Today was exhausting.  But now she also has the joy of starting a new journal.  It’s been awhile, quite a few years.  Alice is smiling by the time she is sitting in front of her TV with Miracle, both munching happily.


I think "The Emperor's New Clothes" would allow her to examine arrogance and insecurity and find out how her favorite innocent kids would punish such a tricky king, or in the fictional Alice's case, a person who feared others who really are just like her.  In all her sessions, the listeners fill n the details and ask lots of questions

Happy Valentine's Day.

What makes this day different for me is the input from the last two days--seeing Michael Moore's film Where to Invade Next and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Twelfth Night with two friends and then receiving Pamela Haine's annual Valentine's Day letter.

The theme is the many varieties of LOVE.  

Michael Moore's marvelous reminder to the USA that it used to have values that inspired others and it could have them again--or it can persist in war, torture and destruction.  Oh yes, I see his work as love, love of the kind that Aristophanes gave ancient Greece through theatre. Moore makes some questionable choices in depicting racism, but but but ....  Back in ancient Greece, if historians are to be believed, politics revered poets' voices as messages from God.  (See the film when you can.)

And the RSC rediscovered play and the possibilities of community in their production.  They threw out the 3-hour script religiously and dogmatically adhered to by many and turned the evening into improvised play with the audience.  The music and singing was stimulating.  The actors had us talking, dancing, playing with balls. The two love stories became mere background to frolic, while the practical joke on Malvolio--the pretentious and lecherous figure of morality--a Tartuffe--took center stage.  Here was an emperor in new clothes, indeed.  (See the show if you can.)

And the two friends!  

I took Nancy to dinner and a movie for her 62nd birthday which is today.  With Nancy there is the loving comfort of almost 40 years of friendship.  I know she'll be here tomorrow and tomorrow.  And we can talk of pasts and food and family and home like no others. Rosie met at the theatre--we'd had the tickets for months and I decided to go despite being "too busy." With Rosie there is the support of writer to writer, creative to creative, both of us also struggle with the physical nature of that toil--taking care of backs and nerves and muscles when we sit over books and computers most of the time.  Plus, we have the comfort of both being Quakers and able to suggest to each other that there is a role for meditation, a role for prayer.  And we both needed this work-break so very much!

Where to go next in my writing? Why not prayer as a first instinct to lay on the heart instead of mental anguish?  I am at Pendle Hill, after all, a place where, as Artist in Residence, I have an opportunity to deepen my faith. This is actually more important than finishing my book on schedule.

Which brings me to Pamela Haine's Valentine Letter.  I felt so honored to get it, to hear of all the contributions members of her family are making to the world and each other through right relations to resources and sharing of skill and love and time.   I am moved and not a little awed. She starts out:  

Dear loved ones near and far,
We are always glad to take this time to reconnect, knowing that our ultimate security—as well as our current happiness!—lies in the living networks of which we are a part.
And she ends with:
We are acutely aware of all the injustice and peril in our world, and the power imbalances in which our lives are embedded.  We try to stay grounded in the midst of it all, stretching to be ever more powerful while not losing sight of the daily, small things that give us joy and keep us whole.  We wish you the same.
Thank you, Pamela!  Thank you for your wisdom as well as your contributions.  (Pamela blogs at Living in this World.)

And there you have it, folks.  In answering God's call, my book is--yes, it is--an important pulling together and giving back of experience in the power networks of my time.  I've got to stop measuring my preoccupations against others.  I have nothing to prove but to live faithfully.  And to deepen the faith, prayer is the answer, not struggle.

Take that last paragraph and replace "me" with "you," and you have my Valentine's Day message to you:  Live faithfully to your calling, valuing your place in time.  Yes.  Value and love YOU.

I will write more as way opens.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Does Your Life Support You in Your Creative Process?

Deep Creativity 365
I've been writing to Tanya's free prompts.  

This is the one for Day 33:
WRITE:How do I get beyond my own perceived limitations? How do I get down to my own core creative process? How can I begin and complete something meaningful?How to I open to discover/receive my breakthrough? What most needs to be broken through?I hope to God that you have begun working on your dream project, one baby step at a time if necessary. Don’t waste this year. Don’t waste this support.
For the love of story,Tanya

After reading Tanya's entire story and considering the prompt in my thought journal, I wrote to Tanya:
This post left me crying.  For the first time in my life I can say YES, YES, YES, I have the three spaces needed for my creative process: physical, psychic and emotional.  I feel the baby steps and the breakthrough--not always what I expected, but YAY!   Good, Golly, Ms. Tanya--you are the spirit guide at the right time for me, you are my lucky star, and all you need to do is keep being who you are and doing what you are led to do.  Thank you for giving, thank you for baring your heart and risking vulnerability--I know there is no other way--in the service of creativity.  This is a marvelous book you are writing.  And I can't even say I am doing it everyday, but do you know why?  Because it is working!! I am creating one of my dream works.  I am not scattered, but on a path.  Posts like this one help me to recognize and to affirm it, but I love them all. 
Hugs.Love, Susan
I want to remember that I felt this way today after the doubt I felt all weekend.  I spent over an hour today telling Israa stories from my novel because when I went to the basement to do my laundry I found her sorting piles of linens.  I immediately thought of the Miller's daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, who is charged with turning a room full of straw into gold.  (I want to include a retelling of this story in my novel.)  Israa's response was that she wants to read my book.  Wow.  Better finish it quick for Israa!  

Stories already in my novel are: Wendy's Laughter, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I Never Went to Paris (Helene's Story), The Singing Cowboys, The Frozen Words and . . . did I include a version of The Three Little Pigs?  of my Joan Jet performance? The other one I researched to use is The Emperor's New Clothes. I'm thinking to include another Greek myth, Philomela (The Story of the Nightingale).

I'll write more as way opens.

God is Not a Man ~ The Color Purple Music Video

What a brilliant song!  Why didn't I listen to it before?

Jennifer Hudson & Cynthia Erivo

For years I heard about the God of man
but it took an Alice Walker to show
in her Color Purple over and over
that God is in me and all that I know.

The year was nineteen eighty-three
and now she’s here again singing to me—
thirty-three years later I still can see
the mystery her book made real for me:

All nature’s forms are filled with that of God
and visible to all who want to see
direct or through the artistry we share
with our creator who is always here.

I find my meters gallop strong tonight
and don’t think I’ll like them at break of day
yet I still trust nature’s indwelling Light
I found because a writer showed the way.  

Copyright © 2016 Susan L. Chast

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Seeing what Love Can Do

O 175x360
O, photo from Pendle Hill

This is the end of my second week at Pendle Hill.  Time flies!  I’ve created the floor plan and imagined the colors of my character Alice’s home—so very different from my own.  She loves colors and moves into daffodil yellow, rose pink, tulip crimson, iris blue or sea green as the spirit moves her.  In contrast, my own rooms are eggshell white.  (Oh!  That may be where my 5-part eggshell poem* comes from. Hmmm.) 

I’ve written a few new pieces and revised some old that I clumsily lost in transferring them from Google drive to drop box in search of a program I could call up on any computer without worrying about privacy.  And—due to being here, and to a certain extent to a First Monday talk by the amazing “O,” prophet of “Love is the answer”—I remained calm inwardly as well as outwardly.**  

I am amazed to be less explosive.  I once saw my spontaneity as a positive tool of passion, and I still am unable or unwilling to mask my feelings.  But, following O (and Amanda Kemp’s meditation challenge), I find I breathe as a first impulse and that breath can inspire more choices.  O invited us to love, recognizing that she can’t command it.  She invited us to “Let us BE what Love will do.”  Let us be love!  Much of her talk/performance was calculated to make us feel—invite us to feel—the truths in these two Bible passages:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” —Matthew 22: 34-40

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands on neighbor love: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” —Matthew 5: 44-45

O helped us to breathe in the words, especially “love” and to grow into a deeper awareness of the meaning of the choices in front of us.  She told us that the heart is the first working organ of an embryo and that nothing was more difficult than growing to be who we are from something so small.  Since we have done the impossible already, we can love as the first choice (after breathing and then diffusing situations). 

I totally agree with O, as did most of the attendees, but fear prevents me from being that loving and giving, especially where I have been hurt or fear hurt.  As Frank Herbert wrote in the ‘60’s cult classic Dune, “Fear is the mind killer.”  And yet I know that to change the structures that cause and maintain inequality in the world, I have to be willing to face death.  Like the Quaker man who immolated himself as an anti-Vietnam war protest.  Like the activist woman who stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Like the Freedom Riders who bused through the USA South to register Black people to vote.   As an ally of Black Lives Matter, I should be willing to stand up even if standing means a bullet or a beating.  If love matters, debilitating fear is its opposite.  I could bear feeling fear if it still allowed me to choose to act in love.   My holding back is partly my age and disability, but when I am less worn out—which I will be—I will no longer have an excuse not to act. 

How does being a Quaker with both a radical tradition and a direct line to God help me with this choice?  O’s answer is to realize that we die daily whenever the love we offer is rejected and that we are resurrected every day by love (and debriefing) from our friends.  True death, then, is a matter of degree.  

          Today in the break from a traditional monthly workday at Pendle Hill, we heard that the man who burned to death in protest of the USA-led war and destruction in Vietnam was at Pendle Hill the week before. One of us had known him and his wife, who wrote about her husband's action.*** We sat in silent reflection. There were no words. But I thought about the similarities and differences of the love that causes one to be willing to die vs. the suicide bombers who are willing to die in order to (or along with) killing others.  Can willingness to die remain a non-violent action?

          I am adding these thoughts to my meditations as I worship here at Pendle Hill and write my novel “Alice in Wonder," write blog posts and construct what is turning out to be almost a poem a day!

          I'll write more as way opens.

*"Walking Egg Shells," Part One, Part TwoPart ThreePart 4 and Part 5.  I have found that they have a different impact when read in reverse order, the way they show up on my poetry blog with the most recent poem first.

**I decided I need a reliable laptop so I don’t have to use community computers and have taken steps to purchase one with a reliable Word program.  I won’t use it for much else.

***Fire of the Heart: Norman Morrison’s Legacy in Viet Nam and at Home By Anne Morrison Welsh, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #381 (2005).  See also "Norman R. Morrison 1933-1965: A Light Cuts Through the Fog of War" which contains the poem " Dear Emily" written in memorial by Tố Hữu.