Writer’s Block In Spite of a Beautiful Day

For most of the day, I sat in my backyard writing.  Boise summer warmth relaxed my morning muscles.  Birds chirped, chattered, and hummed.  Hummingbirds, fueling up for their _____ -mile migration to Mexico  visited the feeders every ten or 15 minutes, it seemed.  The Westies lay contentedly at my feet as happy. A perfectly beautiful day.  But not perfectly inspiring.  My muscles ached from an interrupted night’s sleep.  My brain played keep away.  My need for an income distracted me.  And my coffee, even with Coffee Mate hazelnut creamer, was too strong. 

I had major revision decision to make and the ideas were blocked.  So, I watered the garden, pulled a few weeds, scooped some poop, and watched the Dog whisperer.  Then I prayed–Why hadn’t I prayed sooner?–and got back to the revisions.  And it happened.  I saw the problems and I saw the solutions.  Now Chapter 9, fifth revision, is almost complete.

to offend or not to offend

In college, I took a memoir-writing class. At that time, I did not even know about a genre called memoir. I loved the class and did well at it. In fact, the full-length book I am working on today began as an essay from that memoir-writing class. I’m thinking that the journaling I have done since 1971 contributed to my natural flow in this genre. One thing I learned in my memoir-writing class, a thing I had, to some extent forgotten, is that there comes a point in a memoir that the author must decide between truth (I like the use Tristan Rainer’s term “emotional truth”) and keeping the peace. Because truth, even emotional truth, which is actually the only truth people can recall, is likely to offend somebody. I have already experienced this and the book isn’t even completely done, let alone published. At first, my immediate, people-pleasing, I’m-sorry-and-will-immediately-change-the-part-you-don’t-like reaction automatically kicked into gear. I was willing to compromise my truth just to keep people happy. I want them to read the book, don’t I? Of course, I want them to read the book, but if they don’t read the book somebody else will. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t consider what people say. Whether I like what they say or not, I should listen to what they say. And I do. But I don’t HAVE to agree! I don’t have to change my emotional truth to keep people happy. If I do, the book I will be like the person in the Bible “…[s]he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6b). Besides, unless they have written documentation of the literal truth, they are basing their reaction on THEIR emotional truth). So, I keep writing memoir knowing that despite my best efforts, something I write will offend someone.

Sent!

What does it feel like to send a book proposal that has taken months to write to a literary agent AT HER REQUEST? The answer is incredible! Completing my proposal and first chapter after this much time is a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  Sure, sure I know that it’s not truly complete until the editor, agent, and publisher says ‘it’s done.”  But honey, for now it’s done.  Addressing the envelope, purchasing the postage, and handing those pages + SASE to the postal clerk is like a fresh, cold Coke on a 94 degree day. As a matter-of-fact, that’s exactly what I did when I walked out of the post office. I purchased a cold 20 ounce Coca-Cola Zero.

Stuck & Discouraged

Since I know it happens to writers all the time, I shall be transperant and share with my readership that I am doubting my ability to do this.  Do what? To write this book well enough.  I’ve written the book and it is good, but good is not good enough.  I need outstanding and I don’t think I’m there.  Do I have the heart to take it back a notch or two, take a big breath,  and write extraordinarily?

Corn Bread, Black-Eyed Peas, and Turnip Greens: an excerpt

Corn Bread, Black-Eyed Peas, and Turnip Greens

Chapter Seven

1974 – 1975

Back home, with King and Josh running alongside, I rode my bike in a neighborhood I would not have ventured into without my dogs.  People stared at the strange sight of a white woman riding a bicycle in a dress with two German Shepherds, but their stares didn’t deter me. I was determined to go to church with people who shared my new faith.

At the corner of Derby and California streets, I approached a white stucco building that, even in its simplicity, seemed to illuminate the corner where it stood.  Half an hour earlier members, called saints, mingled around the porch visiting, but service had already begun and the porch was empty. So, while almost 200 pounds of German Shepherds waited for me outside, I walked into Bethlehem Temple. 

When I entered the congregation, people twisted in their seats to see who had come in late.  Several saints sitting in the rear of the church moved aside to make room for me on a hard wooden bench against the rear wall.  I wedged between them, our bodies touching slightly and placed my hands upon my lap. 

A wrinkled elderly woman in a bright pink hat with violet flowers poking out of the hat like a freshly-picked bouquet stood up from her seat and shouted, “The Lord woke me up this morning.”

Nobody in the church I visited in Boise stood up shouted their business for the entire congregation to hear.

Praise the Lord! Another woman in the congregation shouted.

”And he gave me the strength to get out of bed,” the first woman continued, this time waving her right hand at the ceiling. “Glory-to-God.”

Hallelujah!

The woman sat down and another person stood up.  “He got me a job the day before my rent was due.” Glory to God!

Hallelujah!

I’d arrived to the church during testimonies, a time in the service when members share their blessings with the congregation.

After testimonies, the choir sang:

We’ve come too far to turn around.

The devils on my tracks and he tries to turn me back. 

But we’ve come too far to turn around.

The choir swayed; the congregation clapped; the piano pounded a lively accompaniment as the choir repeated the verse for the next twenty minutes. At that time, a solidly-build black man in his early fifties stepped up to the pulpit as the choir returned to their seats. The man gazed at us with such intensity that I self-consciously looked at my skirt to smooth a fictitious wrinkle. 

“The devil may be on my back, but I’ve decided I’m not going back,” the man said. “God’s strength is my strength. He says, ‘I’m gonna let you use my strength.  I’m gonna let you get up.  Let you go on your journey.’  That’s the kind of God he is. Hallelujah! I thank God today.”

A lady in front of me stood to her feet and shouted, “Thank ya Jesus.”

Others followed her in spontaneous praise.

Hallelujah!

Glory to God!

Praise Jesus!

The preacher’s sermon had only just begun.  

***

 I had walked into a rich world where Christ wasn’t religion, but life, a spiritual connection made alive through an unwavering faith in an unseen God. The pastor, Elder Willie J. Burns, a self-taught “holiness” preacher from Mississippi and father to 11 children, preached with conviction and fervor. 

And I was a three-week old baby Christian beginning the adventure of my life.