Book Review: World Enough & Time

I picked up this book from an end table at my sister Joan’s house in Florida. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop, and she generously offered to let me take it home.

worl enough

The timing was perfect. World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen, was all about slowing down, something I’ve never been particularly good at.

This was the first real vacation I’ve ever taken. Any other traveling I’ve done has been for workshops, conferences, public speaking, or some other work-related trip. I’ve never traveled just for fun. I wasn’t sure I could ‘just be.’ A visit to the beach convinced me otherwise.

beach.jpg

Yes, I just sat and closed my eyes, listening to the sound of the ocean waves.

McEwan claims it is solitude, quiet, introspection, and slowing down that begets creativity, and while I understand the concept, there was very little time for any of that those many years while I was raising small children, yet I managed to create.

Even on vacation, I snuck in some writing time, staying up after everyone else one night to write an essay for the journal that will be published next spring. I also began three of the four mornings spent at my sister and brother-in-law’s house writing a letter to Mary, as a way to share my trip with her. McEwen would understand.

“I surrender to the pleasures of old-fashioned epistolary friendship: warmed by my friends’ kindness, their imagined company, even before I begin to write.”- Christian McEwen

She was, of course, talking about the pleasures of letter writing, something she often does on an airplane.

Other topics included in this book are obvious from chapter titles such as these: “The Art of Looking,” “In Praise of Walking,” “Learning to Pause,” and “Across the Bridge of Dreams.” (regarding the importance of getting enough sleep, something else I need to take to heart)

You can read more about the author on her website Christian McEwen, which coincidentally, includes a beach scene at the top of the webpage.

 

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Book Review: Walking on Water

Madeleine L’Engle has long been one of my favorite authors, but not for the book her name is most associated with; A Wrinkle in Time. I was in my late 30’s when I read A Circle of Quiet, identifying with the writer who was also a mother, a woman who “escaped” the cacophony of a noisy household to burn garbage in the back yard. I often did the same. Like Madeleine on her 40th birthday, I was at a point in my life where I sometimes wondered if I was wasting my time by choosing to write every morning, when my husband worked so hard to pay bills and I wasn’t making any money with my writing, outside of the small checks I was getting for some freelance work  I did for a local newspaper. Mostly, I identified with her need to write. I couldn’t imagine a life without writing. I still can’t.

A few years later, I would pick up The Irrational Season. I read her Two-Part Invention during my husband David’s cancer treatment in 2006. I vividly remember sobbing on the couch as I read about her husband’s death. Two-Part Invention was one of the first books I read after David died in 2012. Glimpses of Grace and Reflections on a Writing Life, written with Carole Chase, are prominently displayed on a shelf in my bedroom.

And it was L’Engle’s Friends for the Journey, written with her dear friend Luci Shaw, that served as inspiration for our Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink. (NOTE: available for a special holiday price of just $6 through the publisher right now. Click on the title for more information)

Madeleine L’Engle’s words touched my heart and soul so deeply, I mentioned her several times in my book  Refined By Fire; A Journey of Grief and Grace. Her granddaughter Lena Roy, was kind enough to endorse it.

lena

For all these reasons, I was especially thrilled to get my hands on a new edition of Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art, by Madeleine, originally published in 1980, the year I gave birth to my first child. It was only when reading it, I realized Lena was the granddaughter of Madeleine’s that had been hit by a truck when she was a young child!

walking-on-water

On page 2, I was instantly enthralled, reading these words;

“I sit on my favourite rock, looking over the brook, to take time away from busyness, time to be. I’ve long since stopped feeling guilty about taking being time; it’s something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don’t take enough of it.”

And this:

“And then there is the time in which to be, simply to be, that time in which God quietly tells us who we are and who he wants us to be. It is then that God can take out emptiness and fill it up with what he wants and drain away the business with which we inevitably get involved in the dailiness of human living.” (page 162)

I’ve so rarely allowed myself that special time of just being, particularly during those years of raising young children. There was no quiet in a house full of babies and toddlers, much less time to just sit and be.  Yet, despite a distinct lack of time, I wrote. Now, my youngest is eight years old, and while I enjoy more quiet, reflective time, I also have an office to go to every weekday.

I’m working on the manuscript for a grief journal that will include my short essays along with quotes from other authors who have walked down the path of grief, including L’Engle. I was slightly dismayed when I found myself admitting in one of the essays that I occasionally missed the slow paced days of those early months of grieving, and the quiet stillness of mornings when I didn’t have to be anywhere or go anyplace. I wrote my way through much of those mornings.

When I signed a contract for this journal, I was well aware that this would be the first book-length project I would be working on without the luxury of the morning writing hours I had counted on for more than 25 years. So I’ve learned to utilize my weekend mornings and snatched moments here and there, just like I did as a mother with young children. I’d sit on the lid of the toilet to write while toddlers splashed in the bathtub, pull over to the curb and write when an infant fell asleep in the car seat. As was true back then, I don’t have hours of uninterrupted time to write. I have to find the time.

“To work on a book is for me very much the same thing as to pray. Both involve discipline. If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.” (page 140)
L’Engle shares these words of Rilke’s from his “Letters to a Young Poet” that she’d jotted down in her journal:

“You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether if is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all- ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: Must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must,’ then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and testimony to it.”

Must I write?

In this wonderful book, L’Engle says she would answer in the affirmative.

Just another thing L’Engle and I have in common. Me too.

NOTE: I am excited to report that Lena Roy and her sister, Charlotte, are working on a biography of their grandmother. Read more about that by clicking HERE.

Book Review: Dear Mister Essay Guy

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy,
This was my review on Goodreads a few months ago when I read your book for the first time:

Mildly amusing, but only mildly. And I normally like Moore’s essays and articles on essay-writing but this book had zero helpful advice for writers, so maybe it was my expectations, but I was very disappointed.

A few days ago I decided to give it a second look before I added it to the box of books headed to the HalfPrice bookstore that pays cash for my cast-offs.

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals is written in LETTER format. Yes, questions written to author Dinty W. Moore, followed by his humorous, though dubiously helpful, answers.

As an avid reader on the writing craft, I still maintain that there isn’t as much substance to this book as there is to your articles on the art of the essay. That said, I did find the humor a bit more palatable the second time around.

While this book wasn’t for me, it does have merit, and there are fledgling writers who might get more out of it than I did.

dinty-moorereviewed by Mary Potter Kenyon

 

Life at Home After a Writing Conference

by Mary Jedlicka Humston

An air of magic settles over a conference hall or classroom at a writing workshop. It nurtures a cocoon-like feel, a separation from real life, and the ability to focus on what is directly in front of you instead of the revolving door at home, a ringing telephone, email, TV, errands, and obligations.

mary at conference
It transcends the mundane, allowing attendees to experience the great events and minds centered on the same topic: writing. It is easy to soak up the creative ambience in a room filled with writers. Hob-knobbing allows the unique avenue of networking and a sharing of ideas, encouragement, and addresses. Classes, workshops, and presentations are beneficial, but so are the conversations at lunch, with seatmates at conference tables, lingering after sessions, and, yes, even waiting in line during bathroom breaks.
Arriving home from a writing conference is difficult. Minds have been inundated with ideas, ideas, ideas. So many of them. Time is needed to settle in amid the noisy re-entry of the real world.
That’s what I’m trying to do after attending the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop this past week where I presented two different workshops. I also taught a 90-minute workshop in Des Moines at the “Wonder of Words Festival” the day afterward.

conference presenters

photos courtesy of Cherie Dargan, pictured here (seated 2nd row, right) with other presenters at this year’s Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Workshop, where both Marys (back row) did workshops

 

If you’ve attended a conference lately, how has your re-entry gone? What ideas came home with you? What can you implement now? What plans are you putting into action?
Drop us a line and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

Eccentricities of Writers

Readers of Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink are well aware of the foibles of the two authors. Both drank copious amounts of tea during the writing and editing of the book, though one Mary (Potter Kenyon) also begins every morning with coffee.
Both Marys love paper, though it could be argued that one acts on her obsession more than the other.
When Mary mentions our mutual love of paper and pens, I wonder if she knows the extent of my obsession. Would she be shocked at the contents of the cabinet where I store our school and office supplies? Three of the shelves hold paper; there are reams of white copy paper, stacks of colorful notebooks, bins of cute notepads, and brand-new boxes of stationery. Then there is the seven-drawer plastic storage unit next to my desk. The bottom drawer holds scratch paper for grandchildren to scribble on, but the other six are crammed with vintage stationery, decorated printer sheets, and a wide assortment of note cards. I do have preferences: smaller stationery to the larger printer size, thinner sheets to the thicker ones, and vintage styles to newer ones. Thin air-mail sheets satisfy nearly all my senses. I feel a thrill of satisfaction when I fold the letter in half and hear the crinkling as I insert it in the envelope. Sometimes I take it out to re-read it just to feel and hear the paper again before mailing. A scent of patchouli emanates from the incense sticks and soap bars I store inside the drawers of paper.” -Mary Potter Kenyon, page 171

stationery

And there is definitely a preference when it comes to favorite pens.

My love for the write stuff stems, I’m sure, from my country-school days. I remember shopping trips in late summer to nearby Tipton, a larger town where we’d purchase supplies for the new year. Lined-paper tablets smelled luscious. Pencils stood as sentinels: crisp, smart-looking, and ready for action. Sharpening them provided another delicious scent. Then, there was glue. Erasers. Rulers. Ballpoint pens as I got older. All of it excited me. Is it any wonder I grew up to be a paper, pen, and pencil aficionado? I like gel writers or any pen that has a good grip. Having a multitude of free pens, it seems silly to purchase more. However, once in a while, I do. I can’t help it.”- Mary Jedlicka Humston, page 177

My favorite pen changes, but I consistently have detested any fine-tip utensils or colored gel pens. I abhor erasable ink pens. I love the thick pens that are free promotional items from businesses. I wrote much of the first draft of this chapter using a fat ink pen with a comfort grip. “Iowa Prison Industries” is emblazoned on the side.”-Mary Potter Kenyon, page 172

pen
And both writers have a favorite time or place to write.

When? There is no ideal, perfect time when I write Mary. I have dashed off letters at all times of the day, though the wee hours of the night are sacrosanct. Working around active children in the beginning probably aided in my flexibility to write pretty much whenever I want.”-Mary Jedlicka Humston, page 174

So, how do I write? What’s my routine? I’d love to say I’m very organized and have everything filed in its proper place, easily accessible at a moment’s notice. However, I have ideas scribbled on notepad slips, the backs of envelopes, scratch paper, and printed off the computer. I don’t have an office or a private desk, just a computer desk in the front room. Because of that, papers are cluttered into organized (to me, that is) piles by the computer, the counter by our landline telephone, and in drawers. Some are even in the laundry room. Sharp number 2 pencils and old scrap paper for my rough drafts are my go-to pieces of equipment. Composing on the computer occasionally happens, but typically it’s the pencil and paper that gets my brain clicking and ticking.”- Mary Jedlicka Humston, page 75
OR
I pen most of my correspondence in the early hours of the morning. It’s my preferred start to the day. I also like to write a letter to ease into work on a book or essay. Since my husband’s death, I have also added Bible reading to my morning ritual, but the bulk of my pre-lunch hours includes writing of some sort.-Mary Potter Kenyon (page 173)
I never minded being asked to sit near a bed while one of my children went to sleep. Most of them learned to fall asleep to the soft sound of pen on paper. Now, I usually sit on the couch, a cup of coffee (or tea if it is afternoon) nearby. When David was alive, I often wrote at breakfast while he sat companionably silent on the other side of the table, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper or a book.”-Mary Potter Kenyon (page 173)

Both Marys admit to some eccentricities in their mode of writing, utilizing paper and pen or pencil for the majority of their rough drafts. Of course, the particular eccentricities of writers can change, and sometimes must. When I (Potter Kenyon) was hired as a reporter for the local newspaper last September, I lost my free mornings of relaxed reading and writing. No more yoga pants clad mornings, curled up on the couch, with a muse fueled by coffee. I’ve traded them for well-dressed mornings sitting in an office chair, though still fueled by coffee. As a newspaper columnist on a deadline, I’ve had to abandon my old habit of hand-writing my rough drafts. For more than 20 years, I’ve conducted the same morning routine of writing in ink on legal pads. Never the yellow legal pad, mind you. Those seemed to stifle my creativity. Instead, I stocked up on white legal pads, buying them in bulk. I’m not fully convinced my new method of using the computer for rough drafts would work for me in another book project, however. I’d have to pull out the white legal pads again.

legal pads
If you read either of the two books I’ve just completed reading, you might find our writing habits quite tame in comparison to other authors.
Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors, by Celia Blue Johnson is a fun read peppered with facts like this:
• Virginia Woolf used purple ink for love letters and diary entries, and to pen her novel “Mrs. Dalloway.” While in her twenties, she preferred to write while standing up.
• Eudora Welty evaluated her work with a scissors handy. If anything needed to be moved, she cut it right out of the page. She’d use pins to put the snipped section in its new place.
• Friedrich Schiller kept a drawer full of rotten apples in his study. He couldn’t work without their pungent odor.
• Honore De Balzac consumed up to fifty cups of coffee a day and would sometimes chew on raw beans when he needed a quick fix.

odd type writers

Daily Rituals: How Artist Work, by Mason Currey, is a similar read, though it includes painters, poets, playwrights, and musical composers, with an insight into the daily schedules of these creative people, and a few very interesting photos. Let’s just say that I’ll never consider my desk as messy after getting a glimpse into Francis Bacon’s London studio.

franci bacon

What I found most revealing, and somewhat annoying, was how often the writer had someone else serving them food or drinks, and how easily they could leave the house for an afternoon of walking to clear their head. I began to wonder if I’d be a more prolific writer chain-smoking or swigging whiskey to fuel my muse. Could so many of these authors afford to lie in bed all day writing? Literally in bed, that is, as some of the writers wrote lying down.

daily rituals

There’s hope for writers like me, who have to work for a living. Not all of the authors featured in this book were funded by someone else’s money.  Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 in the evenings after work, writing longhand on a yellow legal pad. Toni Morrison, a single mom, held down a job and raised two sons while finding time to write in the evenings.

For a peek into the creative life, and perhaps some inspiration to jumpstart your own, these two books are entertaining reads.

Now hand me a glass of whiskey and a good cigar~