Saturday, July 29, 2017

Writing Retreat

I spent the better part of this week at The Porches, a retreat for writers.  It was my birthday present to myself, to escape for a few days to the mountains to work on my book and to rest and to hike.  I did a bit of all three.  One of the other writers staying there came to the shared' kitchen while I was eating breakfast on my last day.  She was amused at the human capacity to forget what we've learned.  She was remembering how it takes some time to settle down to a writing rhythm, how she's learned that before and how she always forgets.  I also forget that.  The first day, I was so exhausted that all I could do was sleep.  And then I was disappointed in myself for not writing much.  The second day I got up early and took a walk and puttered and did some writing, but it was hard to settle in.  By the third day, I got right up and started writing.  When I do these retreats, I need to remember to plan to stay for a whole week if I really want to get something done.  Especially if I also want to hike.

My goal had been to finish the current draft of my book.  I knew I needed to finish some editing on the 2nd section and complete the third section and Epilogue.  At the beginning of the retreat the book was about 112 pages.  Now it is 135.  I did do a bit of polishing of the second section.  Now I'm thinking there may be 4 sections instead of three and the Epilogue turned into part of the 4th section, and I need to add a whole new beginning to the second section, and I wrote a bunch of new material that reads like a diary - first this then this then that happened.  So that will need lots more revision.  It's like a big sticky gooey mess, and I don't know how to clean it up.

Sermons.  They're not easy, but I can hold them in my head.  They are 4-5 pages, space and a half, 14 pt. font.  I haven't forgotten the beginning by the time I get to the end.  I have a scripture passage to work with, and I understand the structure.  Books are long, and I forget what I've already said.  This piece started out as a short essay for a magazine.  But it has grown and grown and grown, and I can't wrap my brain around it.

It reminds me of a time at my parents' house when my mother was trying some kind of hash brown/potato dish in the microwave.  The microwave was new to us at the time.  Now usually we had real potatoes, but I guess she was trying something new.  At any rate, the hash browns never cooked.  They kept growing and growing, and the more she cooked them, the more they expanded like paste.  We laughed so hard.  I think she had to throw the whole thing out.  Hopefully that won't happen with my book!

After writing all morning on the third day, I treated myself to a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a hike to Crabtree Falls.  I wanted to get into my body in a way that only a strenuous hike can do.  The first time I hiked Crabtree Falls was with two guy friends of mine on a cold November day in 2003.  Over the years I've hiked them many more times.  The trail is 1.7 miles straight up with switch backs that carry you close to the falls and then away through the trees and then back to the rushing water once again.  At the top there's a view of the surrounding mountains.  I don't always make it to the top, but this time I did.  Whenever I'm in the area, I can't resist returning to the Falls; they are like a magnet pulling me in and restoring me.

Now it's time to get back to my sticky, expanding book and hope that I can knead it into something readable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Comedy is Hard

I wish I were funny.

Seriously.  Being able to make people laugh is such an awesome superpower.  Think about how humor can cheer people up, lighten a heavy mood, diffuse tension, help people relax.  Laughter is healing.  It helps people take things (and themselves) less seriously.  It provides release.

Having a little humor at the beginning of a sermon (as long as it actually relates to the sermon) helps the congregation settle in and trust the preacher.  It opens people up and makes them more receptive to the deeper message that's coming.

But I'm not funny.

I try to be funny.  Jan cringes on the rare occasions when I get to make the Sunday morning announcements at Bruton parish because my brain thinks I'm supposed to be funny.  And inside my own head, I'm hilarious.  Only, the words don't come out right and I end up rushing through the rest of what I have to say because people are looking at me with a blend of confusion and compassion with a dash of irritation and I know I'm taking too long and I just want it to be over with so we can start singing a hymn and I can go back to reading the words of the Prayer Book which definitely don't require me to be funny.  Sometimes Jan reminds me on my way to make announcements, "Remember, you don't have to be funny."

I want to be funny.

But I'm not.  I'm earnest.  Earnest isn't funny.  At least not intentionally.  I did bring down the house one Sunday morning last fall.  It was the Sunday prior to our pet blessing.  It was also the Sunday before the parish oyster roast.  As I was advertising both events, I was struck with the irony that we were saying special blessings for pets in the morning and then eating oysters and shrimp in the afternoon.  What came out of my mouth was something like, "Next week we will have our annual pet blessing at the 9:15 service.  Those who have pets may bring them for a blessing, and if you're allergic to some of God's creatures, you might want to choose a different service.  In the afternoon we'll have our oyster roast where you can eat some of God's creatures like oysters and shrimp."  It just popped out!  Judging from the roar of laughter, most people seemed to be amused, but I was afraid I might be fired for being too ridiculous during announcements. And there were a few looks of horror at the thought of eating our beloved pets.

Another problem with earnest is that I often don't know when other people are being funny.  I don't hear the sarcasm in the question, and I start explaining.  Or I don't realize someone is joking and I'm giving an honest answer.  It's not funny when people have to tell you they're being funny.  Then I have to sort of fake laugh and try to make a joke about my own inability to understand a joke.  And I'm still not funny.  Sigh...

I know that being earnest has its moments.  Although I want to use humor to lighten the mood when I'm making a hospital visit, and sometimes I do, I've found that a little bit of earnest care and concern goes a long way toward helping someone in a vulnerable and frightening position feel more comfortable.  Laughter can be healing, but it can also be a way to deflect what's really going on.  In my attempt to be funny I may miss someone's cry to be heard and seen.

My high school drama teacher frequently used the quote, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," when she was talking about acting.  In life, it doesn't seem like dying is easy for most people, and yet I understand the sentiment.  Earnest is easy for me.  Sincere comes with little effort.  But comedy?  Man, I wish I could be funny.