Writing as a spiritual path and an exercise in trust

From the window seat in our master bedroom, looking through the French doors into my study, I can see the white bookcases, lining one wall. They remind me of honeycombs we kept on the farm, books now the honey that my bees/mind goes after.  They also are why I write, so I may add my own work to that collection.

Working on this current novel is an exercise in trust, writing and seeing where it all leads, believing that if I create interesting characters, that’s enough. Letting go of my expectations to impress or create an important work. Otherwise, I’ll be giving weight to the negative old man from my recent dream that wanted the women to be made up, unable to see or appreciate their natural beauty.  I must remember primary processes, to get beneath all the shoulds to where something fresh and original lives.

Poetry is the one thing I write that I could do forever and not worry about publishing it.  I have a very different relationship with poetry than I do with fiction, say, or non-fiction. The act itself is so satisfying that it doesn’t matter to me if the poem has an audience or not, though, of course, I do publish my poems, and I have a book of poetry coming out in September.  But they don’t have the urgency that the other genres do to get out in the world; I don’t feel I need to prove anything in poetry.

I’m reminded of something I read in the Summer 1995 issue of Parabola:

“…an inclination embodies or mirrors an unexplored capacity in us which, if allowed to flourish, might lead us further into wholeness.  But very often the capacity itself is never left alone—the joy of singing is extended into a dream of being recorded, the transformative process of writing is extended into a need to be published. Ironically, the innate ability to recognize and put things together, no matter what form it takes, is often diverted into an insatiable need to be recognized.

In this way, a passion for a particular way of being turns into a grand goal of becoming, as if life did not reside in who we are but only in the dream of what we might become.  Here, in the same way that the loved one is seen as the keeper of the gift, the idealized ambition—becoming a rock star or a famous writer or a wealthy businessman—is seen as the keeper of the gift that will unleash true living” (18).

Writing for me is a necessity, a spiritual path, if you will.  It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, unrelated to my life.  It is my life, more fully so at times than what I do in the world—teaching, being a wife and mother, interacting with friends.  Not that these activities aren’t fulfilling and terribly important.  But I’m discovering just how interrelated all my various selves are. Writing is the way I come to know myself, one method for recovering and integrating the disparate parts of my psyche.

An interview I read in Border Crossings with Canadian artist Betty Goodwin expresses something similar:

“A work is a deeply personal mixture of your earlier experiences and also your life at the present in this world.  But I can’t shred it and say it’s absolutely this or that.  It’s based in something you don’t even realize yourself until it gives you back information.  It’s like you’re pulling and pulling and trying to get something.  And then there’s that magic time when it begins to pull you.  If that doesn’t happen, you can’t push it any more and it dies.”

This quote captures my feelings about how my writing connects with my on-going life, that somehow its shaping me as I shape it, just as dreams do.  It’s essential to have this dialogue with the work and my life.


Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.

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