Coming from my priest’s homilies, it means being aware of the presence of God in your life. I’ve started reading Love in a Paper Sack by Father David McBriar, one of the priests in my Parish who is frankly old and knows a lot about the ways of the world (in my opinion). Then again, most of my priests do. Father Mark was a Chaplain in Afghanistan and so he has moments of political awareness, and war awareness, and reflections on peace in his homilies. I especially like when he gets fervent about local political; topics like the Wake County School Board, or the lack of money towards education in our State. Father Bill is the beer-drinking priest. He walks into Harris Teeter in his cut-off and sweaty gym shirt, strutting his priestly, veined muscles and buying a twelve-pack. I don’t think you’d experience something like him in any other church, but Catholics are allowed to drink, and have muscles for what it’s worth. (Sometimes, we even get these muscles from dancing, heaven forbid). Anyway, I started reading the book, one homily at a time, because I don’t frequently attend church (Twice a month probably, if I’m being honest).
My mother says cleanliness is next to Godliness which means she takes the day to clean the house (scrub the inner rims of each and every toilet) instead of attending service. Even though she has the award for Most Perfect Attendance in our family.
Otherwise, I actually don’t know what “sense” it is that makes you pick up your scribbled through King James, but I’m going to go with peace, or presence, or wholeness.
Father David starts out with a homily for advent where he discusses the voice and man, Martin Luther King Jr. He talks about how King knew that he would never feel peace, feel wholeness, feel full, until the world felt these things. If there is a homeless man on the street who is starving and blistered, you can not be fleshy, pink and dined until he is (this is the jist of it). The part that really stuck out for me during the homily is this:
“How aware are you? What level of life are you living on? How do you think of yourself? Are you the car you drive; the house you own; the clothes you wear; the gifts you give? Are you this family you have; this partner; this job; this career? How aware are you of that deep center within yourself where all is still? Do you turn to it? In the face of anger, or low self-esteem, in the face of insecurity, or fear, in the face of routine’s boredom, of the chaos of this season (advent) do you seek to enter that place of rest where, wonder of wonders, God speaks to you? All perspectives arise from that center. There is where you hear the call.” (13, McBriar).
I think the following speech by King is the one that most aligns with what Father David was discussing:
Father McBriar didn’t help me answer any “Who am I” or “Are You There God, It’s Me, Cassie?” questions, per se, but he is helping me think about them. I just had such a good feeling in my gut about that homily passage. What do I define myself by? I definitely define myself by my cat, books and poems, my ability to reach teenagers, or at least try. I think I define myself with a pen. If I had my portrait painted in the late 1600’s I would be holding a feather and ink, maybe have a bow in my hair, and a cat draped over my shoulder like a shawl.
Then, after stewing all morning with my tea, cat and homily passage, I was reading Creative Nonfiction and Susan Orlean was talking about awareness in creative nonfiction. I have to be honest and say I haven’t even read a single book of hers, but she had such valid points. Back in the day, the Keroac’s, Balaban’s, and Orlean’s, would drive the distance of the US on their bikes, with tongues hanging out car windows-gaping at the women, or with their transistor radios, and they would write about what they saw. They would write about the diners, the flat tires, the rows of tree shadows that look like a protest of people along the dark highways. Obviously, I don’t have the gumption to up and leave everything I know and travel the length of the United States, and after many Law & Order:SVU episodes I would be very afraid of imminent death. However, is my lack of ambition to move killing my writing? I thought my being well-read would really give my writing that extra edge, but turns out it’s also experience. The double edged sword of experience and expertise.
PANK Magazine , for instance, takes a lot of creative nonfiction about ex-boyfriends and sex. It’s just a fact; they publish a lot of women, and often it’s got some sort of relation to either the past loves, or the past sexual romps. It sometimes feels like a longer, more thought out version of Texts From Last Night. (They do publish more than this, I just think about 50% of what they publish revolves around one or two of these things. Also, nothing is wrong with that, I just feel like Creative Nonfiction is publishing Nonfiction about current controversies, or issues pertaining to the public as a whole (even to the boy who may not be sexually active yet, but is still politically active. They publish Creative Nonfiction about the dirt on your feet).
What Susan Orleans interview basically came down to was the writer’s awareness of the world. Where are writer’s getting their information today? What is pushing them to write and want to publish infamous articles in The New Yorker. Are they traveling out of their safe place and marveling at the top hats in Amish Country.
(Side Note): I’ve been itching to write a story about the Amish for quite some time now, or at least my experience with them in a Buffalo bus terminal. There were all kinds of races, religions and cultures there; it was the melting pot America so dreamily wants to be. A bus terminal; Amish women with beards. I was weirded out, I was judging, I was feeling the scalp of my chin and wondering how long it has been since I plucked that sucker. These were my thoughts. They all happened in probably a ten-second span, but what good non-fiction I could write (not as bias obviously) if I were to just sit in that bus terminal for a few weeks, even just a few days; at different times of day.
I’d be able to waft in the smells of Indian culture.
I’d see bonneted Amish children. How did they get there if not on wagon and why are they riding a bus filled with electrics? See how little I know about the Amish so far.
I can’t count the amount of times on this blog I’ve mentioned one ex-boyfriend or the other. They probably all blend together for those of you who have been following for a while. So, what has stopped me from writing about a bus terminal? Heck, Raleigh has bus terminals – I’m sure characters in my next book, hang out there daily.
(End Side Note).
And what this all comes down to is being aware of the world. Am I aware? No. Do I think I’m aware? Yes. Am I going to try to do better? We’ll see. I can talk all day, but actually doing, well, I’d rather just hide in my room with my cat.
I wanted to write this, although very confusing at this point (I’ve jumped around a bit) because I think maybe you, or you, or you, hide like me. I don’t think anyone can truly say they feel comfortable out among the masses of skin and hair, than they do on their couch watching Dancing with the Stars. In writing though, where is Dancing with the Stars going to get you unless you’re writing a novel about a famous person, who goes on a dancing show, and you need to somehow describe their facial expression when they begin to lose step (see: Chynna Phillips).
I’m going to go to Church this week and instead of being aware of the coughing, baby crying, foot sweeping noises in the Church, I’m going to try to be more aware of the people. And I don’t mean what they are wearing, or how cute the skirt is on the girl in front of me, but just the people. What are they feeling? Are they aware? Are they happy, most importantly?
And then I’m going to go somewhere in the next week where people are. Maybe the grocery store – I feel like a great story can start in the grocery store, and you can spend many an hour there without looking like a total crazy. Maybe I’ll even bring my dad’s coupon box and really look like I belong. (Or test out another television show: Extreme Couponing). Either way, I’m going to go somewhere, where I’m forced to be around people and forced to be aware of what I’m doing, what I’m thinking and later what I’m going to write. And I’m going to especially think about how I define myself in that space, around all of those people, because only then will I really know what Webster’s has listed under Cassie M.
Here are some links that deal in some way with this blog: