Sunday, April 25, 2010

Serenity Prayer

I've known the Serenity Prayer since my childhood, but didn't realize it was only the beginning of a longer prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1926). And so I'm sharing this gem that I cut out from the latest Progress.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

~~Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971)

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Whew! After being with 400 people at the conference and having company and talking and blogging, it's time again to retreat into silence and finish my book. I found Rachelle Gardner's post on embracing silence very inspiring. It's exactly what I needed to read. I find I write best when I have a quiet place and a quiet mind.

I almost always write in first person to capture the main character's voice. But now that I know the story, I feel hampered by it. I need a bit of distance, a larger perspective, and have switched to third person. What a difference it makes. And so, when I'm not taking care of my family or teaching, I'll be writing. That means being offline even though I enjoy the online writing community so very much. Wish me well. I can finally see the end of this exploratory draft.

I need to tape these two quotes to my computer:

Shut up and write. ~ Natalie Goldberg
Write the damn book. ~ Jane Yolen


Friday, April 23, 2010

Weep for Yourselves

I often cry when I pray the Sorrowful Mysteries or the Stations of the Cross. The magnitude of God's love is incomprehensible. Jesus loves us so much that he takes on the sins of the world for all time. He loves us so much that that he dies for us. He is the ultimate sacrifice. It makes me want to be good, so that I'm not the one who is driving the thorn deeper into his head. But every time I come to the 8th Station:

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ ~ Luke 23:28

I am startled to realize how accurately it portrays our modern times. Many people consider children a burden, not only to parents and society, but also earth. I was one of those women who wanted to have it all and did, but only now realize how much I slipped down the slippery slope of calling that which is bad good, and vice versa. We're crawling up and out, but not without knowing that some things are irreversible.

Msgr. Charles Pope writes eloquently on this passage here.



Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Science Fair

I've never blogged this much before ... It's probably due to a combination of the Lenten retreat and the conference. My mind is full and I'm thankful to have a few people with whom I can discuss these things. I should channel some of this energy into my book as well.

My daughter has not been well this week (nothing specific) so I'm keeping her home. Of course, she's not resting much, but playing and reading and in general having a good time with all our pets. I thought I'd share her experiments with our dog, given that the science fair is coming up in a month.

Last year, my daughter tried to figure out whether it's more efficient to brush the dog with a comb or brush.

This year she's testing what kind of food the dog likes best. Seems she likes everything except lettuce. This is just the beginning ... I wonder what else she will find out. I'm just glad she's not trying to figure out how to harness static electricity generated by cats ...

Here's a hilarious video on An Engineer's Guide to Cats.



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Christian Unity

Over the conference weekend, I realized a problem regarding Christian unity. We wanted to worship with our guests, but they did not feel they could take Holy Communion in the Catholic church, even though they are Christian (Presbyterian). I felt that since they believe, they can partake. After all, nobody who believes should be denied the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so we went together and prayed. And received Holy Communion together.

Since it is the Easter season, the readings are taken from Acts of the Apostles, which are about the establishment of Christ's Church. The homily, given passionately by our seminarian, Dwight Lewis, was about leaving the Church because of sinful humans. Yes, some priests have done despicable things like abusing children. And those priests should be punished. But what Dwight focused on was our responsibility as Catholics. Are we going to leave? Or stay?

As for our family, we will stay in the Church. I am aware that the Church, although established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, is still run by humans who are fallible.

But it got me thinking about the earliest separations. I can't remember how or why, but the Eastern bishops separated from the Roman Catholic Church a thousand years ago. Martin Luther fought against the corruption in the Church that eventually led to a schism -- it is dramatized in a wonderful movie. Then there's Henry VIII: he wanted to have a divorce but the Church would not allow it. So he broke away as well. And so it goes.

Cannot have abortion; leave the Church. Cannot have same-sex marriage; leave the Church. Women cannot be priests; leave the Church. Of course, it's not so flippant as I make it out to be. I know people think about these things long and hard before they make a decision to leave, and often the Catholic church is considered uncompromising. For good or for bad, people separated, the Church reformed, but the ones who separated didn't return to the fold. This is truly sad. But I have faith that one day we will all be united one day.

I know it sounds terribly presumptuous on my part to think that my church is the one true church. After all, I'm no scholar or theologian. Pray, do not take it in that light. I was baptized in a Methodist church and grew up as an Episcopalian. In India, Christians are a minority (probably 2-3%) and to me we were all Christians, united. It's only after I came to this country that I discovered the numerous denominations and only now am realizing the differences.

I left for 30 years, calling myself an atheist (but my friend Molly says I was the world's worst atheist) and finally started talking to God again. Mostly arguments. All one-sided, of course. Finally I shut up and started to listen and let the Holy Spirit guide me. And this is where I am.

My cursory studies into the history of the Catholic church shows me how it has been steadfast in upholding all the teachings throughout the ages, even when it is counter-cultural. I disagree or don't like certain things (and that's a topic for another day) but I am starting to understand the wisdom behind those doctrines. No longer am I a rebellious child, but one who is finally growing up. I feel as though I've come home.

So back to communion. The catechism says that non-Catholics shouldn't take communion in a Catholic church because their churches are not in communion with the Catholic church. They teach doctrines opposing the Church's teachings. Of course, many Catholics do not follow the teachings either. The Catholic church would be empty if we only allowed non-sinners.

And so I pray for Christian unity.

Here's a quote from St. Cyprian of Carthage who captures what I think.

We don't say "My Father, who art in heaven," nor "Give me this day my daily bread;" nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation and may be delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one.

Please do sing along with me: One Bread, One Body


Monday, April 19, 2010

Writing Vision

I never did get to hear Mitali Perkins at her keynote because I was at church. Many people told me how very inspiring she was and I was truly sorry to have missed her talk. I popped over to her blog to see if she'd posted some tidbits and did she ever! She spoke about having a vision for your future ... oh, go read it yourselves.

It reminded me very much of St. Francis of Assisi's prayer of peace.

So, I thought very quickly about why I write and the answer was there all along from the very beginning: to give a voice to the voiceless.

The novels that I write and will publish in the future are all about people who are forgotten, or on the margins of society. Children are especially vulnerable. They are often unseen and unheard, their needs unmet.

I also like to write about science, because if bugs and leaves and rocks could talk, they would tell amazing stories. And since they don't, I like to bring attention to them.

What is your writing vision?


Plot and Pacing

My mind is full. I've been struggling with pacing my novel -- either I race through everything or linger over details that only I care about -- and however it has happened, at the conference, several of the presenters touched on exactly that. Plot, pacing and suspense. Yeah!

In my quest to be efficient (after all, I write short stories) I have managed to write about the various plot threads running in my current novel all in the first chapter. But EN spoke about the importance of having a slower revelation. After his critique, listening to Jay Asher talk about how to build suspense made a lot of sense and I'm eager to apply this in the last third of my book. The basic idea is to ramp up the tension on one plot thread as you're resolving another. That's what keeps the people turning the pages. Of course, the middle can get very tangled, as is the case with my manuscript.

Laini Taylor has generously posted her talk on plotting here. And she has a wonderful site for her writing process (titled Not for Robots). I've found it very helpful. So check them out. Also, a while back there was a discussion on plotting here and here on the Blueboards. All good stuff. Lois Peterson even made a three-in-one plot diagram that shows how three different methods dovetail. Edited to add the link.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Shiny New Tools

The SCBWI-WWA team always hosts a great conference. I didn't realize that the Chinook Update was being updated live ... so go here for juicy tidbits and shiny new tools.

I love catching up with the larger writing community in the Pacific NW. I always come away inspired with new tools in my writer's toolbox. This time I have some concrete methods to try for pacing my novel, thanks to the excellent advice of Laini Taylor, Jay Asher and Edward Necarsulmer IV.

I enjoyed the Blueboard+ dinner Saturday night. What a crowd! I almost didn't go because of a severe headache, but luckily I had some medicine with me. So if anybody thought I had a pained expression on my face, please don't think you were the cause of it. Thanks to Janeen Adil and Loralee Leavitt for taking care of me.

And now it's time to catch up on my teaching and get back to my novel -- I have shiny new tools to play with.

Monday, April 5, 2010

SCBWI WWA Conference

Not only is Lent over ... but this weekend, our local SCBWI chapter is hosting its annual conference. Check out the details here.

Blueboarders and others who'd like to join us for Sat. evening for dinner, please walk over to the Indian restaurant Mehfil at 7 pm.



Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

I am reading a wonderful book by Richard Neuhaus: Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross.

Here they are:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."

"Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother."

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

"I thirst."

"It is finished."

"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

Last year, on Good Friday, during the veneration of the Cross, we sang the sentence that one of the thieves says to Jesus as he is dying on the cross: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. It is a haunting melody. Listen to it here. I am like that thief. I never want to be separated from Jesus. The second Word is Jesus reassuring him (and me and all of us).

Last week I attended Palm Sunday services in Texas with my sister. What joy! It's been years and years since we've prayed and sung together and I'd forgotten how beautifully our voices blend. The fourth Word: My God, my God ... is actually the beginning of Psalm 22. I was struck listening to the verses how prophetic it was. And now, here we are ... Good Friday.

Paraphrasing Neuhaus: Do not rush to Easter. Stay awhile at the foot of the cross. Let your heart be broken.