Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Michelle DeRusha Gets Real


Want to know the name of one my favorite nonfiction books? I’m not only going to give you the name of the book, I’m hooking you up with my interview with the author today.
Michelle DeRusha & SPIRITUAL MISFIT...
 

Wendy: As a native New Englander I could relate with your apprehension about moving to the Midwest. We’ve moved all over the country, but settled down in Ohio for several years. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your transition to Nebraska. I loved the line, “In New England…God was not discussed over coffee and blueberry muffins.” What do you think it would be like if you moved back to New England? You mention how much a place can define us. Do you still feel as though you’re partially defined by your New England roots?

Michelle: I am definitely still defined by my New England heritage and by my Catholic roots as well. Once a Catholic New Englander, always a Catholic New Englander, apparently! In all seriousness, though, when I visit Massachusetts, it still feels like my true home, mainly because my whole extended family is there. I’ve realized that’s the key for me: home isn’t so much a place as it is a people.
That said, I’m sure I also romanticize and sentimentalize New England because I don’t live there anymore. Truthfully, there are plenty of aspects I notice now when I visit that don’t appeal to me: like the wild, tailgating drivers (including my own mother!), the frenetic pace and the “keeping up with the Jones” mentality that seems a little more prevalent there than here in Nebraska.
Now that I am more spiritually grounded it would be interesting to see how I would navigate faith and religion in Massachusetts if we were to move back. I suspect, even though religion is a little less overt in New England, that I would eventually find my niche there, too.

Wendy:  One of my favorite lines is “I’m beginning to think he gives us these ordinary miracles, these small blessings, these ‘Why not?’ moments in the midst of the everyday instead, so we will learn to open our eyes and see him not just in the wild, over-the-top, media-worthy miracles, but in the hundreds of everyday miracles as well.”
In Spiritual Misfit you detail a wonderful encounter with a Klee Klee. Could you explain the significance of that encounter and why you included it in your book?

Michelle:  Oh my word, I love the Klee Klee story, and it’s about a bug, for heaven’s sake! That experience in the garden was an “ah-ha” instant for me. It was as if everything dialed back into slow-motion, and I was suddenly aware that beautiful, albeit tiny, miracles were unfolding almost every moment of every day.
I included that story in the book because it was a spiritual turning point for me. I’d always yearned for the big, splashy miracle – the road-to-Damascus experience, the lightning strike moment. The whole time I was waiting for the grandiose, I’d missed the thousands of miracles taking place every day in my very own life. The day I sat on the curb and watched, mesmerized, as Klee Klee the bug crawled daintily over Rowan’s shirt, I realized I’d missed the big picture all along.

Wendy: I love how your book isn’t a three-step guide to faith. Instead, you are raw and real about how your understanding of God manifested as John Wesley describes a “heart strangely warmed.” This is so freeing, to be reminded there is no one size fits all type of faith out there. As a fellow “wrestler” I’m grateful for your candid account of warming to God. Gary Thomas wrote a book called SACRED PATHWAYS that really spoke to me about how we can all receive God quite differently. Some best through music, interaction with others, Bible reading, nature…the list goes on. When do you feel your heart is warmest to God?  

Michelle: I am most connected to God outdoors in nature. Whenever I feel spiritually disconnected or dry, I try to make a point to step outside, even for just a few minutes, and even if it’s only into my own backyard or neighborhood. Sometimes I take my camera, because snapping photos encourages me to hunker down and get close to creation, and that helps me feel God’s presence in a real, palpable way. That’s also why I prefer to run outdoors instead of indoors on a treadmill. I don’t even wear headphones, because I like to listen to the bird calls and hear myself think. 

I feel like the “right answer” to your question should be that I receive God most clearly through Scripture, and while that’s true a lot of the time, there are also times when I feel restless or even agitated when reading the Bible. Stepping into the outdoors, on the other hand, nearly always offers me a connection to God.

Wendy: You conclude your book confessing how you often still feel like a spiritual misfit. Then you remind us that “Jesus chose the outcasts and loved the misfits.” Why do you think this is so difficult for our current culture to perceive—or for any culture to perceive for that matter? What is the most pressing message you want readers to “get” from your book?
Michelle: Our culture emphasizes success, achievement and ambition, but Jesus emphasized the exact opposite. He was all about downward mobility, but because we face a constant barrage of messages that insist on the opposite, it’s difficult for us to understand, accept and live out “less is more” in our own lives.
I, think, too, that misfits – whether spiritual misfits, social misfits or any “other” for that matter – make us uncomfortable. They don’t fit into the comfortable boxes we have established for ourselves; they threaten us with their differentness.
As for the message, I hope readers finish this book realizing that faith and doubt can indeed co-exist, that questions can remain unanswered and that faith doesn’t have to be all wrapped up nice and neat and tied with a shiny, red ribbon. I want readers to know that faith is messy and that messy is okay.    
~
Thanks Michelle for answering each question with such thought and attention! I loved your openness to my asking them. And I am a huge fan of your book. I know it will impact many.

My review of SPIRITUAL MISFIT:

I’ve never encountered a book with such an insightful blend of humor and poignancy. I’ve been waiting to read DeRusha’s work in print for years. SPIRITUAL MISFIT exceeded my expectations. By tackling probing questions like can doubt and faith coexist, DeRusha writes a necessary book with a brave and witty voice that is sure to engage many wrestling and “misfit” souls.

I’ve been enthusiastically recommending SPIRITUAL MISFIT to friends and family. I’m eager to read more from DeRusha!

***

What are you waiting for? Go buy it.

*I almost forgot (actually, I did forget & I came back and edited this...life is a bit crazy) I have a copy of SPIRITUAL MISFIT to give away. Comment for a chance to win your own copy!

 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Taming the Chimera Within

Every writer is intimately acquainted with the inner chimera. Greek mythology describes a chimera
as an animal made up of parts from three unique animals. A goat. A snake. And a lion. Totally believable, right? Well, what seems absurd almost always makes sense to a writer. Writer imaginations can conceptualize anything.

In the Iliad, Homer paints a picture of a chimera this way, “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.”

And this well-describes what authors sometimes turn into while reflecting upon our work, a concentric mess of beliefs about our talent and giftedness.

Let’s explore.

We have our goat days.

“I rock. This is the best prose I’ve ever read. New York Times best seller list here I come. I can quit my day job. I can start booking a world tour. I think I’ll give Picoult a call to let her know how super fantastic this is.”

I blame goat days on an overdose of caffeine and neglecting to pick up a book or being lazy by not reading words other than our own.

Then we have snake days.

Our rattling tail shakes the following thoughts around our heads, taunting.

“This is uglier than cat vomit. What was I thinking dedicating time to writing? My sentences reek of donkey doo. No one would want to read this. I don’t even want to read this. I should quit. I will quit. Drop the pen. Flee from the chair. Give up. Give in.”

Thankfully, we also have lion days.

“There’s something glimmering in this, something I can bat around with my paws. I think I might actually be able to work with this, mold it. It’s worth it to invest my time. To harness discipline and technique. To study and make a vow of tenacity.”

{Lion promptly roars into the bloated overfed ego of the goat belly while simultaneously chomping down hard on the snake’s tail. Silencing them both.}

As writers, we not only need to study the craft of creating stories. If we want to continue to succeed with integrity and grit, we must also learn how to tame the chimera within. There’s so much more that goes into being a writer than the art of ordering words on the page. There’s the reshaping of our souls at work. You may not have a chimera in your soul, but I bet you anything one lives inside your brain teasing out goat, snake, and lion messages.

It’s up to you which one you’ll listen to.

Personally, I’ve always benefitted from unleashing the lion. It’s how I tame my inner chimera.
How do you tame your inner chimera?

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Announcing Another Book Baby


You asked for more. I’m delivering…
 
 
 Late this May I’m releasing my first full-length novel,
THE FLOWER GIRLS.
Stay tuned for more details to come.
*A nod to Sarah Thompson who designed an exquisitely spot-on cover!!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Get Ready


Just getting you ready for a ginormous announcement
next Wednesday!





*Spring, please show up so we can believe again that you really do exist

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Grocery Store Grace


 
I’m devouring Michelle DeRusha’s book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith. Seriously hoping MD writes a hundred more memoirs for me to laugh my way through and reflect upon. I love the way Michelle writes. (More on this another day.)

In Spiritual Misfit Michelle depicts some grocery story accounts that hit close to home. I’m talking baseball ball cracking the window to smithereens close to home. Michelle shares of a run in with an intrusive woman at the grocery store she’s dubbed Owl Spectacles. Good ole OS has a thing or two to say about Michelle’s children.
Man, have I been there.

Picture this. I’m hustling my youngest (three at the time) into Stop & Shop to buy lettuce. Yup, that’s all I needed. I agreed to bring a salad to a get together in T minus two hours. It had been months since my husband and I had done anything considered social. I was desperate to get out of the house sans children.

Of course I allotted myself the smallest window of time to purchase the one item I couldn’t find in my fridge, the item essential to a salad—lettuce.

Let us go, then, I said to the young skipping child. Not two feet into the store, right near the shiny apples, young skipping child turned on me. Feel free to imagine the spinning head from The Exorcist. I know I was. Flailing. Low guttural noises spewing. Well, not quite. But you get the gist.

Along comes a spider (scratch that) a cheerful elderly woman who apparently wanted to do nothing but help assist me with my little “problem child.” I briefly explained my predicament, already frayed (or couldn’t you tell by I HAD TO GET OUT OF MY HOUSE comment above) to the Mother Teresa lady.

She gleefully offered to watch young swinging one while I dashed to snatch up a bag of lettuce. I hesitated, then thought, If only there were more women like her in the world. I reasoned, they’d remain within eyesight the entire time. I grabbed the greens, watching Mother Goose calm my child with Julie Andrews attentiveness. As I prepared to bolt, I thanked the woman profusely, gushing over her unexpected kindness. Meanwhile, I worked to grasp young slippery one in the same breath.

I must have thanked her too profusely because this is when she got all passive aggressive on me. I’m warning you, it isn’t pretty.

“Well,” she huffed, “You’re certainly not going to win the mother of the year award.” She stared me down as though I’d dropped my child to the bottom of a well instead of spontaneously deciding to put my faith in the Mother Teresa kindness of a stranger.

Then I did what most women would want to do at this moment. I slammed my fist into her . . . Okay, so no, I didn’t. I cried. That’s what I did. I tackled my child, somehow made my way to the checkout aisle, and whipped out my credit card with tears streaming down my cheeks. The checkout clerk said something nice, but of course that didn’t stay with me.

Fake Mother T’s words did. I internalized what she said. And I felt small. I could have recited the following lines from Spiritual Misfit word for word four years ago standing outside of Stop & Shop.

“But it was people—people with their comments and their judgments and their good intentions—who taxed my ability to behave as I should. My fellow human beings made the whole Christian attitude thing very, very difficult to achieve.”

I hated that I let Fake Mother T’s words sink so deep, hated that I’d handed over that power, hated how I was so skilled at internalizing everything—even the lies and things that sliced into me.

After reading Michelle’s grocery store tribulation it hit me. This Stop & Shop slaughter was an opportunity for me to grant grace, not only to Fake Mother T, but also to grant myself some grace.

Three takeaways from this post:

1.       Buy Michelle DeRusha’s book.

2.       Beware of Fake Mother T’s trolling the produce aisle at the grocery store.

3.       Know that every interaction, every hurt, every lingering sadness presents an opportunity to grant grace and to finally let go.


So tell me, do you have any grace-filled grocery store stories?

“Grace does not make sense. It’s not supposed to make sense. Grace cannot be calculated or formulated…it is all grace. It is all a gift. Life itself is grace. And when it comes to grace, the word deserve isn’t even part of the equation.” ~ Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means.” ~ Brennan Manning

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Wish You Had Never Been Born



Two days ago I came across an article with the words “Wish . . . Had Never Been Born” in the title. I immediately flashed back to my preteen years, hearing these words shouted at me an incalculable number of my times by my strung out, mentally ill older sister. She wishes I’d never been born. Ingrained in me. Wrestled through. Words that stuck.

More than twenty years later, The New Yorker releases an article with a similar statement from Adam Lanza’s father regarding his son. Peter wishes Adam, his son, had never been born.

And while the sight of those words pierced me to my core, I can attest to how heartrending it is to be related to someone with a destructive mental illness. The embarrassing arrests. The suicide attempts. The lashing out I feared would or could one day lead to murder. As shocking as they sound, I will not judge Peter for his words.

The Newtown tragedy hit close to home for me for other reasons. It occurred in my native state the year all three of my girls were attending elementary school. Adam murdered twenty-six people.

Just as with the shootings at Columbine, everyone scuttles about what the parents did wrong. What could have been done to prevent these heinous acts? Good questions to ask. But sometimes more problematic to answer than it might originally seem.

A year or so ago I read an article listing all the ways a troubled actress had been acting out. Toward the end of the article the reporter wrote she just wished the actress’s family would be more involved, would help her straighten up. When I set the magazine down, I was overcome with a mixture of anger and guilt.

Don’t people get it? Don’t they see that we’ve done everything we possibly can? This is an illness! There are some situations that don’t have simplistic remedies. Some causes that can’t be pinpointed adequately enough—satisfying the need for someone to blame.

This brings to mind Defending Jacob, an excellent book club choice, portraying a father having to come to terms with what he believes about his own son’s guilt in a local murder case.

And it challenges my thoughts about how we as a culture need to continue to get more honest about mental illness. We need to be mindful enough to know that most people struggling with mental illnesses won’t walk into a school and mow down dozens of children. However, also be conscious enough to realize how haunting and disturbing it can be to live with someone whose mind is sick.

We need to stop blaming, work harder to understand, engage in honest dialogue, seek help when or perhaps even before necessary, and empathize more than we judge.

One of my book groups recently discussed Still Alice, a novel about a successful Harvard professor who begins to demonstrate early onset signs of Alzheimer’s. In one scene Alice expresses her shame about what she’s dealing with, how if she had cancer people wouldn’t be afraid to sit next to her as though it were contagious.

I wish I could fix my sister’s illness. Wish I could bring her back to the vibrant young teenager I remember her as before all kinds of chaos infiltrated and shattered her mental understanding of the world.

Sometimes I wish I could slide into her shoes to fight her demons off for her. But I can’t. And there is no easy fix, no easy cure for her. This breaks my heart every second I’m alive.

It is with unending gratitude that I can say I’m thankful I was born. And I’m grateful my sister was born, too.

 I may not understand why our roads are paved so differently. But I don’t have to understand.

I just have to do as Bono My Bono sings, “Walk on, walk on.”
 

*I realize Alzheimer’s disease isn’t a mental illness, but included the Still Alice point because people often treat anything influencing the brain, as opposed to the body, differently.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Writing Gets Physiological


As writers we tap into our inner child more often than we think. Every time we sit to write we act out a rendition of the beloved, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes.” Don’t believe me? Read on to see how.

We use our HEAD when we. . .
Let our imaginations run wild. There’s no brain like a writer’s brain. We’re constantly absorbing. Loved ones doubt we’re listening, but in actuality we’re not only listening, we’re taking mental notes about every facet of the environment around us. When we bang out words on the keyboard we’re transferring splices of these notes from brain to page. Synapses unite!

We use our SHOULDERS when we. . .
Use those painful experiences that have made us feel like we’ve carried the weight of the world on our backs. We’re more equipped to empathize with our characters when we’re honest about what has triggered royal cricks in our own necks.

We use our KNEES when we. . .
Walk the walk. When we practice our craft.

Knees are one of the largest, most complex joints in the body. There are ligaments in the knee that keep bones from sliding backward, forward, or from side to side.

Writers get physiological in the knees when we refuse to go BACKWARD with our work and our careers. We push on. We develop skills. We learn during every committed writing session.

We also take care not to shift awkwardly FORWARD. We don’t rush the process. By taking needed time we honor the story. We don’t simply throw in a quick fix or a convenient save. We respect the organic evolution of the narrative.

Writers are knee-conscious as our ligaments keep us from crunching from SIDE TO SIDE. We do this when we focus on our own craft. Avoiding the comparison trap keeps us from rubbing others the wrong way.

Knees also have cartilage that works as shock absorbers. In the current publishing climate we need a lot of shock absorbers.

We use our TOES when we. . .
Take what we’ve learned out in the world and incorporate it into our manuscripts. Our toes enable us to use life experiences—the miles and missteps our shoes have tromped. Each step or misstep offers ripe material. Oh, the tales our toes could tell. Bunions, hammertoes, warts  & all.


When is the last time you got physiological as a writer?