Sunday, February 15, 2015

beginning again

I think I got in over my head when I took on a book about faith. Writing a book about faith, that is. I've been puttering around with it for over a year, grasping every opportunity to avoid working on it, a sure sign something is wrong.

For months I've been telling myself that sooner or later I will be inspired and everything will fall into place for me. Whether I thought that inspiration would come from The Author of Everything Himself (who I blame for coming up with this crazy idea in the first place), or from a magnificent sunrise, or from the dog, I don't know. But I believed it would eventually come to me. Eventually being the operative word.

Image result for inspiration

It's not that I haven't been trying. At a writing conference about six months ago I met with an editor who really got me thinking...
First, she asked me what my book was about.

"Navigating life's darkest moments without giving up on God," I replied in under ten words. Yay!

"What image will your readers come away with when they read your book?" she said.

Image? I met her gaze with a blank stare. I'd never thought about that. I hadn't heard it mentioned in any of the workshops I'd taken or in the books I'd read. She suggested I come up with a theme to use as a framework for my narrative, for the cover of the book, even its title. Let's say gardening, or quilting, or collecting seashells...something people like. Something they'll remember.

I filed her suggestion under "things to think about" even though I had no idea where to begin. I had a 30,000 word rough draft that, even to me, sounded disorganized, repetitive, and decidedly uninspired. It needed some structure.

I've been on the verge of letting this one go for months. Then, this week an idea came to me literally out of nowhere. How does that happen? I have been laboring over this for months, wracking my brain without success, and then--BAM!--it just appears?

Image result for magic

So, this is the thing. I'm writing about people I know who have been through some terrible times--through illness, loss, and grief--but still cling to the image of God as a kind and all-powerful deity. Their faith remains energetic, devout, and contagious despite what they have endured. One of them is the personification of humility, one the image of joy, another the face of forgiveness, and another, of hope. They are the embodiment of the attributes that describe faith. I will probably rename the book, "Ten Faces of Faith" as I sketch out their lives and what we can learn about faith from their experience.

It remains to be seen how this will work out, but I feel as though the inspiration I have been waiting for has arrived, and just in the nick of time.

Image result for revision quotes
How long do you give a project before you decide it isn't worth pursuing? How long are you willing to wait for the inspiration you need to move forward with it? 

Is your WIP wrapped around an image that the reader can easily visualize and identify with? Are you writing with this in mind?
"I may not be there yet,
but I'm closer than I was."
I hope you are staying safe and warm this week. As for me, I am sitting next to a heater with my hands wrapped around a mug of hot coffee. Write on!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

how to beat the winter blues

Winter got you down? Tired of dealing with drifting snow and sooty slush? Then, do what I do:

  • Peruse this spring's seed catalogs. They should be arriving in the mail any time now. If you start early, you'll have plenty of time to plan out the lush, perfectly groomed flower beds and foundation plantings that will have your neighbors wide-eyed with envy. This way, when it's 90 degrees outside, and you're weeding and edging and trimming away, you'll be reminded how lovely it was in the winter when all you had to do was spread a little Ice Melt every couple of days.
  • Start your search for the perfect beach house to rent for your vacation. Think about all the money you'll save if you go in the off-season this year, say in September rather than July--during peak hurricane season, which is an altogether different kind of adventure.
  • Check out the fashions that will be all the rage this summer. If the thought of appearing in public in a swimsuit is more than you can bear, instead of a house on the beach this summer, consider renting a cabin in the woods where denim and hiking boots are always in style.
  • Take a walk. If the thermometer inches up over 30 degrees, and you dress for it, you should be able to embrace the outdoors without risk of frostbite or hypothermia. Feel some compassion for the birds and squirrels and the deer who are stuck out in the cold day and night without recourse to a warm meal or a soft warm bed. And don't forget to enjoy the beauty.
  • If that doesn't appeal to you, you can always brew a cup of good strong coffee, add a splash of Baileys or six, wrap yourself in a nice warm blanket, and settle yourself next to the fireplace. There, you can read a good book...
...or write one.
To paraphrase my favorite poet:
"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
but I have promises to keep,
and pages to write before I sleep. 
And pages to write before I sleep."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

theoretical physics and the origins of confusion

My mind has turned to mush. In my post last week I mentioned that I had just finished reading "The End of Unbelief" by Shane Hayes. That book brought me closer to belief in God than I have ever been. No, wait. Make that closer to accepting the possibility that God exists than I've ever been. Still that's quite a step for me, a practicing Catholic who nonetheless takes the agnostic view that God is unknowable.

Putting aside the issue of God's nature and being, and all the theories about the origins and evolution of the universe, I was still left wondering how the very first bit of matter, whatever it was, could have appeared out of nowhere, out of nothing. I needed to know what the physicists said about it. If not from the hand God, then how do they explain it?

Which is why, this week I tackled Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."

The book was a #1 New York Times bestseller, implying that it sold thousands of copies. According to the back cover, it "explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin--and what made its start possible?"

Bingo--just what I was looking for. It promised to explore concepts like black holes and quarks, antimatter, the big bang, and the question of God "in language we can all understand."

I beg to differ.

I barely understood a word of it even though I've taken courses in physics and calculus. I mean, I understand the fact that when we observe the night sky we are seeing it as it was millions of years ago because it takes that long for light from the stars to reach us. It makes sense to me that if you could travel faster than the speed of light you would go back in time.

But Hawking lost me when he said that time is subject to the pull of gravity. It passes more slowly the closer you are to a large mass such as a planet. Meaning that if you took twins at birth and raised one of them on the top of a mountain and raised the other one on the valley floor, the twin on the mountain top would age more quickly. Paradoxically, if you sent him off into space at nearly the speed of light, he would age more slowly than the twin he left behind, and would be much younger when he returned. Because time and space are relative. Or something like that. Theoretically.

I really got hung up when he explained that light is subject to gravitational forces. Black holes are formed when the gravitational pull of a massive star bends light and attracts it with such force that none of the light can escape. So we can't see the star anymore because its light can't reach us, but we know it's there because of its gravitational pull on other objects in the universe.

He talked about antiparticles, event horizons, singularities, pulsars, imaginary time, quantum mechanics, wormholes, and string theory. He described these concepts without burdening the reader with the mathematical formulas that prove them. I don't even want to go there...

This is impossible...

The ultimate goal in theoretical physics is to develop a unified theory that explains all the processes in the universe and the laws that govern them so that we can understand its origins and predict its future. According to Hawking, due to the limitations that the "principle of uncertainty" in quantum mechanics imposes on our powers of prediction, that will never happen. Even if it did, even if we understood how the universe evolved and where it is going, we would still be left to wonder why it unfolded the way it did, and how our own existence fits in.
The bottom line, I believe, is that the universe is real (we have evidence for that), but unknowable. It's a stretch of faith to believe that God is real, but unknowable. We can't see God. Nevertheless, like the gravitational pull of the star we can't see in the black hole, we can observe the impact He/She/It exerts on our lives. Theoretically.

I don't know how many of the people who bought this book read it. I can't imagine many of them understood what they read. I bow down to anyone who did. I still haven't decided whether I think theoretical physicists are geniuses, or if they are simply delusional.

But then they might think the same of me. I have an aversion to mathematics. Perhaps they have an aversion to writing. They'd think it strange, indeed, that anyone could sit in front of a laptop hour after hour, day after day, for no better reason than to tweak a word or agonize over the proper placement of a comma, and enjoy doing it. Welcome to my life.
"The universe is not required
to be in perfect harmony with human ambition."
~Carl Sagan~
Good. We've solved that problem. And I'm ready for the next theoretical storm, due to arrive later today. I have the coffee and cookies, the wine, and plenty of birdseed. Now I just have to decide which book is next, "Wild" or "Adultery," or a little bit of both.