Thomas Merton once wrote that all of the moments of our lives are opportunities for us to learn about our true selves, and that we must be open to self-discovery if we wish to live in harmony. Moving beyond blind imitation and what we think we know can often lead us to that place where truth is simply always waiting, with a quiet sort
of peace that is ever-present at the depths, whatever may stir the surface of our lives.
Author and psychologist Harriet Lerner has said that in order for us to grow in self-knowledge, we must learn to go beyond
the myths generated by the dominant cultures, which are transmitted through family and then internalized within the thoughts and beliefs of individuals. Sharing information about “the way things really are for us” is a big part of the way that we can “reconnect” ourselves with something greater, and move beyond those myths.
The writing life plays a part, and offers a path, in this process. For many, it's a vital component of that personal search, growth, and reconnection that Merton and Lerner have described.
It's also often a solitary pursuit, and the act of writing itself is a real expression of courage. Whatever the path we must go alone, it helps to stay in touch with others along the way. Stop back from time to time for a changing assortment of articles, support, and encouragement about the writing life. And enjoy happy writing hours in between.
ONLINE INTERVIEW, March 13, 2008
Long Ridge Writer's Group
Freelancing and Inspirational Writing
ARTICLES ABOUT WRITING AND THE FREELANCE LIFE
Power Tools for Professional Interviews
Just Say No
Catch a Poet’s Draft
Long Ridge Writer's Group
What About a Sidebar with That?
Write From Home
Local Pages Good News for Writers
Going Along for the Ride: Characters Drive Our Stories
"IN HER OWN WORDS " Profile
Network Journal of the International Women’s Writing Guild
Phyllis Edgerly Ring writes from Exeter, New Hampshire, and occasionally from her childhood home of Wertheim, Germany. Her articles and essays have appeared in several dozen publications that include Mamm, Ms., The World & I, and Writer’s Digest. She is an instructor for the Long Ridge Writers Group and columnist for United Press International’s www.religionandspirituality.com. She has worked as nurse, newspaper editor, conference-program coordinator, and taught English to kindergartners in Shanghai. A collection of her essays, Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details, was released by Bahá’í Publishing.
When I discovered the manuscript pages in my mother’s desk drawer, I didn’t know what they were. And, at 9, I’d never heard the word “numinous.”
Yet they were just that: spiritual, magical -- supernatural. What was this neat typing that formed a doorway into an entire world? The story itself helped me understood why my mother was sometimes so sad.
When I later asked her for some paper, wondered shyly whether I might also use her precious typewriter, she responded with obvious pleasure, as though she’d been waiting for me to ask; waiting for me to discover that world, too.
This was how I came of age in a houseful of writers. My older sister was 14 when she won Ingenue magazine’s annual writing contest. She later worked as a magazine freelancer and, more amazingly to me, wrote incisive editorials on behalf of Capitol-Hill politicians from whom she held the precisely opposite view.
Even my military-career father, more storyteller than writer, whose tales could captivate a roomful of strangers, had his photograph in the local newspaper when he won a major competition with his wartime vignette.
And my mother’s manuscripts didn’t simply languish in her drawer. On top of them was a folder of women’s magazines in which her words appeared on glossy pages under her name. Long before I understood very much about writing, I got the message that acceptance, publication, and achievement seemed to be the primary goals involved.
By 16, I knew that I could write, too, when that local newspaper invited me to be its school reporter. In college, others asked me to write their papers for them. Instead, I became the midwife assisting at the birth of what only they could express, which I knew made their effort infinitely more valuable.
And I gradually accumulated pages of my own writing. But I didn’t share, or submit, or even tell anyone about them. Publishing remained, for me, something that felt too distant to reach for. Besides, I needed a real job, which is how, like so many in my generation, I came to be a nurse by the age of 22.
Then, when my husband and I welcomed our first child, she arrived with a very difficult birth defect. Whatever self-doubt I might have felt as new mother was eclipsed by long hours in doctors’ offices, surgeries that left her needing “perhaps just one more.” And stifled terror that made prayer more important than I’d ever know it to be.
“Why don’t you write about it?” a kind friend invited one day. She published a small magazine for parents, one that encouraged looking for the light each child brings into the world, and its family’s life.
Indeed, I wrote -- and wrote. Disappeared into some inner ocean as though finding it for the first time. And surfaced feeling – restored; reunited. Found.
It is from that point that I can measure the welding of writing and living, for me. It became the route by which I re-encountered my self, and opened up to what unfailingly comes to meet me in that process. I’d had a conditioned sense of what I understood spirituality to be. But I hadn’t yet found the made-whole possibilities within it. Writing was the key in that lock. Appropriately enough, that’s when the Guild appeared in my life, too.
Because I had worked as a typesetter for a small women’s newspaper, the friend who’d invited me to write about my experience with our daughter asked me to help her assemble the issue in which my article would appear. As I tapped away, she read my story again as it unfurled from the printer, one of those cumbersome ’80s contraptions that developed pages photo-style by dragging them through a puddle of chemicals.
“I think we have a real writer here,” she proclaimed as she finished.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d been waiting for that sort of acknowledgement and companionship. Contrary to what I’d believed, publication wasn’t what made writing “real”, made it matter. It was having someone to receive it, with whom to come into relation through the experience of sharing it.
That’s when writing began to pour forth onto pages and computer disks as I dove deeper into that ocean whose shores I’d only skirted. By now, our daughter had a baby brother and even fragments of writing time were a sweet reprieve in the pleasure of my own company. It was a daily oasis before I trekked through sleep-deprived days as first-responder and bedside comforter, both at home and at work. I understood a little better now just what those pages in my mother’s drawer had represented in her life, which never had a room of its own.
Ironically, from the time I discovered the inner importance writing had for me, the publication that I’d somehow avoided looking for came and found me. It seemed as though anyone who heard that writing was part of my life had something that I could be paid for writing, or knew someone who did. By the time our daughter went to school, I’d shifted from writing short stories and essays in favor of the regular paychecks I was receiving from articles I wrote for a variety of regional and parenting magazines.
Then a five-year stint with a local newspaper helped me get to know the editor’s side of the desk, and hone a wide range of skills as my journalistic training was distilled into a seat-of-pants crash course.
In time, I also diversified the kinds of writing I did in order to maximize my chances of publication, and of selling reprints. One writer friend called me the “queen of resale”. I was especially grateful when I sold versions of one article 14 times. We had bills to pay, after all, and any success I had at freelancing meant that eventually I could get out of the workplace, and stop having (or being) anybody’s boss. The articles poured out, and into print, by the hundreds.
During this journeywoman phase of my writing life, I came to recognize what made me get up each day with a thirst to write, and what did not. The latter felt the way meaningless assignments had in school. The former was always transporting — often surprisingly so — and brought with it some sort of new awareness too.
In hundreds of interviews with dozens of people, I pursued the practice of listening as attentively as I could for what the soul had to say. If I waited patiently enough, that light always gleamed through in what they shared to illumine even the darkest corners of any situation or circumstance.
Now I knew what my spiritual mission statement was: to keep watch for that, and use writing to reflect it back as best I could. I also wanted to encourage the truth of that in others’ work, as they sat down all alone to face the page. I felt a reverence for the sacredness of their effort, the same one I had perceived in those hidden pages of my mother’s all those years ago.
It was at about that time that one insightful editor urged, “Why not write about what you want to, in your own voice, out of your own life?” It was exactly what I craved most, and she gave me a monthly slot to do just that.
Most of the feature-writing I’d already done for her had found other published homes, which had boosted my freelancing life considerably. One of those was a religious magazine whose editor not only purchased several articles but also wondered whether I’d like to share some essay-style reflections of my own — an opportunity that dovetailed perfectly with that column-writing the other editor had already encouraged.
Over the next six years, in dozens of pieces of this type, I explored that reality I prize most — the abundant evidence with which the spiritual side of life surrounds us every day, no matter how deep in the world’s trenches we may find ourselves. Next spring, a collection of those essays and columns, Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the
Details, will be released by Bahá’í Publishing. I’m thankful that this didn’t come one moment sooner, as my heart knows without a doubt that the time is finally right, for my own little life, most of all.
This was reflected back to me when I sought the help of those whose comments will appear on the book’s cover. Much like those fables in which the heroine must complete a series of tasks and meet a certain quota of characters who will help her, these wise souls have accompanied me on my writers’ path. Each has also increased my understanding about the ways in which writing and spirituality shape each other, and us.
Author Linda Kavelin Popov turned my life in a whole new direction when I heard her speak nearly 20 years ago. More than anyone else, her work and exploration in the series of publications associated with The Virtues Project has informed my own desire to move through life with inner and outer eyes wide open in search of the divine in the details.
In several of the most companionable interviews I’ve experienced, Dr. Larry Dossey helped me come to believe more deeply in the power of good to transcend all earthly barriers. His understanding of the sovereignty of love and the interrelatedness of science and spirituality are big gifts to many readers.
But it is Dolores Kendrick, the gifted writer who’s now Washington D.C.’s Poet Laureate, who helped me understand that when my writing and spiritual lives are in sync, a kind of spiritual reciprocity just seems to flow from that. After interviews with her that were also some of my most favorite conversations ever, I wrote several articles about her, one of which was slated to run in a magazine with a fairly large national circulation. By this time, Dolores had become a true and mentoring friend.
Then I got the news that the magazine had undergone a change in leadership and was going to scrap my article. It was deeply disappointing news, and I couldn’t find the will to call and tell her that day.
The next morning, I awoke with the thought of another similar publication, one actually better-established, with an even larger circulation. Something seemed to be saying very directly: Contact them now.
The email query I sent that day brought a response within the hour. The editor took a look at the manuscript and bought it to fill a space that had opened up in their very next issue.
I called Dolores with this far happier news, astonished by this turnaround hand-delivered by the universe.
But I didn’t know that half of it. About a week after that article was published, the dean of an East-Coast university saw it and called to share compliments and ask how he might contact Dolores to invite her to be the school’s commencement speaker that year. In addition, he told me, because hers was such a long and distinguished career, they also wanted to award her an honorary master’s degree.
I’ll never forget the call I made after that, in which she and I were each as excited as writers receiving a first acceptance. We both agreed it was remarkable grace.
This is what writing represents most, for me — the vehicle by which larger things can do their work, both within me and without. It’s both the path and the companion that helps me remember how unerring — and trustworthy — the rhythms of life’s mysteries always are.