Proofing the Typeset Proof

Things are now moving along quickly with my forthcoming book, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life. Two weeks ago I received the “typeset proof.” It was simultaneously exciting and bizarre to see my name on the title page, on the copyright page. I shared those pages with some of classes, and as I told my Creative Writing students, “this could be you some day.” They brightened at the possibility.

The book is a time capsule, a record of my years spent working on the poems. All of my pieces of writing (published or unpublished) are time capsules. When I reread those capsules, I see myself at a different point in time, even if the work is fiction. The oldest poem in the book, “Calcutta to Canon Beach,” is an artifact from my first PhD workshop in October 2007.

These forty poems are a record of my attempts to bring together the spiritual with the pastoral, place-based elements typical of my poetry. I strove to mesh my two poetic impulses. These forty poems are also a record of my spiritual discipline from Lent 2014 when I drafted a poem a day. In fact, over half of the poems in the book were drafted in that time.

This week I’ll be reviewing the proof–checking for formatting, rereading the poems for pleasure’s sake. I’ll send back my finalized version well before the deadline of December 19, excited to see the next stages of the book development (especially the cover). And in the coming weeks and months leading up to the release, I’ll be sharing more about the book.

 

Title Page

 

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Summer-Writing Recap

As the fall semester begins this week at my university, I’m pondering my writing over the past 3 1/2 months. In my last post, I noted how difficult July was (in terms of doing any sustained writing). I’ve learned that teaching 2 summer classes will complicate a writing life. (Big surprise!)

In those 7 weeks between end of spring semester and the start of my summer classes, I did make some substantial progress on two projects.

“The Essay”

I signed a freelance contract to write a 1,500-word essay on a passage from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest. The essay will be included in an anthology that commemorates the 100th anniversary of Chambers’ death.

This essay was arguably one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever worked on. Over May and June, I completed at least 5 drafts, most of them at my local Panera. I consumed many cups of coffee during the process.

Part of the reason that it was so difficult was that I’ve never written anything quite like this: part theological reflection, part personal narrative, and all aimed towards a broad audience.

Don’t misunderstand me: I like to be challenged as a writer. I enjoy taking on a writing project that stretches me. It was refreshing to revisit Chambers’ book and its impact upon me. However, it was also a relief to send the essay off to an editor.

I do count it as a type of “warm-up” piece towards a future project. (See below.)

“The Poems”

I received a summer research grant from  my university to work on a poetry manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life. Most days from early May through the end of June I wrestled with a different poem each day.

I would ponder a single word in a single line of a poem, change the word, ponder more, and then change the word back. Other mornings or afternoons, I would ponder a line break, play with different possibilities, and then change the line break back. Sometimes, my approach would involve the radical actions of cutting one line (or more), cutting one stanza (or more).

By mid-June, I had revised over 2/3 of the poems. I dug through the remaining poems, and weeded out another half dozen to arrive at 40, a good biblical number. By the end of June, the time had come for the organizing portion.

I spent a couple of hours one afternoon, a big glass of iced coffee within reach, and sorted through the poems, looking for connections among them. Single sheets of paper were scattered around my home office. I began gathering them in small bunches. I was trying to create a meaningful sequence, and I organized the manuscript around the church calendar and certain repeating subjects.

Once I had created that order and copied the drafts into one document, I sent it to an editor. Back in April I’d had a conversation with this editor while attending a faith-based writing conference. I had told him about my manuscript, what my plans were, and asked him if he’d be interested in seeing the project at some later date. He had said, yes.

He and I are now working on the manuscript. He has suggested I attempt certain types of revisions to the poems, and I understand where he’s coming from with those suggestions. I’m excited about the future of this project, seeing that some of these poems go back 9 years.

*

“What’s next?”

I’ll be working on these poems for several months.

I’ll draft and/or revise a short story (or two).

I’ll be writing more material for a book-length memoir.

That’s enough to keep me occupied, I think.

What I’m Working On–5.9.16

Grades are done for spring semester, and graduation has passed. I start teaching two summer classes in seven weeks, and once those commence there will be time for little else. In this interim I’ll be preparing for those classes, as well as my fall courses.

But from now until the end of June I’ll be focusing on two major writing projects:

1) Writing an essay for an anthology.

1917 marks the 100-year anniversary of the death of Oswald Chambers, and through a contact in a Facebook group, I learned of an upcoming anthology of essayists writing about a specific passage from his classic work, My Utmost for His Highest. Chambers’s book was foundational to my spiritual growth, and my copy has sentences underlined in almost every entry. I queried the editor and received a spot in the forthcoming book.

The next challenge was finding a passage upon which to write my essay. Over several evenings, I reread the book, starring many passages that might serve as an effective springboard for extended reflection. Finally, I found the passage that fit perfectly with some of the topics I’ve been exploring in my posts over at altarwork.com.

Although the length of the essay (1,500 words) is manageable, I’ve never done something quite like this before. There’s a nervous excitement about this project. We’ll see what happens.

2) Revising and organizing a poetry manuscript.

Just as in 2014, I received a summer research grant from my university to work on a book-length project. Unlike last time when my focus was a short-story collection, this summer’s project involves a manuscript of forty-plus poems, tentatively titled, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life.

I wrote the majority of these poems during Lent 2014 when I decided to draft a poem a day, narrowing my subject matter to prayer and the church. Those poems, along with less than a dozen others, constitute

Each day I’ll be working on a poem or two and also attempting a sequencing of the poems. I have some initial ideas about how the collection might be organized, but I have no dominate ideas. As a result, I’ll be passing on the poems to a writer friend for his suggestions on organizing and further revising them.

*

Beyond these two major projects, I’ll be blogging in this space each Monday, and blogging over at Altarwork.com each Friday. I relish in the challenge of writing something each week, feeling as though I’m some kind of newspaper columnist. The weekly writings help me stay grounded and well-practiced.

I’m grateful for this time of year that affords me the space to pursue these projects. Toward the end of May, I will be gone for six days, spending part of the time with a writing friend and her family and attending a writing retreat where I hope to work on these two projects even more diligently.

It’s going to be a good summer.

Confronting the Darkness

Night-Driving-Synchroblog

My writing in this space over these 6 years has focused mainly on writing, reading, and place. Occasionally I’ve ventured beyond those core topics (such as with music or running or teaching), and today is another venture, one that is long overdue.

I just finished reading Addie Zierman’s Night Driving, her second memoir, released on Tuesday. It is a thoughtful, honest book that doesn’t flinch in the face of darkness, silence, or ambiguity. Moreover, it has urged me to begin my own memoir, one that will deal largely with my own darkness. But first, I have to acknowledge that her first book, When We Were on Fire, helped me realize I had my own unacknowledged darkness. More bluntly, through rereading and teaching the book last summer I was finally able to admit something: I have an eating disorder.

These words after the colon are not necessarily “easy” words to write, but in so doing, I am speaking truth to the lie that I am who I am because of how/when/what I eat (and/or don’t eat). And I know that I am surely not the only middle-aged man who has confronted such an issue, but one wouldn’t necessarily know that from the ways eating disorders are frequently discussed.

So I am in therapy, yes, and I have made substantial progress since July, but I also know that I have further to go and that I have to guard against relapses, against the return to prior destructive patterns of behavior. There is a sense that therapy has, for me, cast its own searching beam through the hallways and rooms of my past, illuminating choices and situations that contributed to the disorder I now fight. At the same time, this detective work, as uncomfortable as it has been at times, has provided more freedom and joy than I thought possible.

I have learned that my disorder doesn’t define who I am. No, my definition, my identity, my worth stems from this truth: Imago Dei. So I press on, watching the landscape around me gradually lighten, sometimes barely perceptibly, but enough for me to keep on towards my destination.

(You can read this piece where I first confronted this issue here: http://www.altarwork.com/the-night-it-culminates/)