Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Process

Because I am a writer, people ask me a lot of questions. 

You know?  About writing.

The exchange generally goes something like this:

Person:  “You’re such a great writer!”

Me (nonplussed):  “Thank you.”

Person:  “I wish I could write like you.  Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”

Me (even more nonplussed and generally thinking about some sort of sandwich): “No, not at all.”

Person:  “Why are you a writer?”

Let’s stop here for a moment.

The first thing you should know about writers is that we are liars. 

We’re so good at it that we dream up characters and situations that are boldface lies – and then we call those lies ‘stories’.  People love stories, but they hate liars. 

A good liar learns to write early.

What I want to say is: “I am a boldfaced liar who needed a profession that might never involve prison.”

Back to the scene.

Me: “I enjoy telling stories, and I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.”

(Nice save, Redwine.)

Person (beaming):  “Oh, great!  Well, what I was wondering is do you collaborate with other writers, or do you come up with ideas…I mean, how do you come up with ideas exactly?  How is it that you actually write?”

Me (squirming and staring at my shoes, trying my best to be altruistic and not hungry): “Um…well, sometimes I collaborate, yes…”

Person:  “But what I really mean is how EXACTLY do you do it?  Do you have some sort of ritual that you do to make the words flow?  What is your process?”

Let’s stop again, remembering that I am a boldfaced liar. 

Truthfully, I have a collection of papers, notebooks, texts, mini yellow legal pads, Facebook statuses (my own), and memories that I sift through from time to time to see if there’s anything worth sharing with a larger audience.

This sifting happens best when I am trying not to do housework, balance a checkbook, or some other evil that life requires for food, clothing, shelter, and marital bliss. 

Or at 3 AM when a child has decided to invade my bed by shoving me out of it, claiming the spoils by lying perpendicular to my body, and implanting their wee little feet into my kidneys. 

Then I sit down with a pen and a legal pad and start writing things down.  A series of phrases that will generally jog my memory.   This is best done with some sort of snack.

Also – a moment of truth – I bore myself a lot. 

So after two or three minutes, I go digging around social media to think about what other people are thinking.  

Or I read a book or an article, generally completely unrelated to any of the phrases that I scribbled down.

And then I forget all about what I’ve scribbled down and shame myself into some housework.

I have this strange problem in that I hate to clean things, but I also hate clutter.

So I tackle some domestic project, seeing it through to completion.  For a few minutes, I entertain the thought of never writing another word.  I am just going to fritter away my time in domestic tranquility.  Simplicity shall be my motto.  I shall master my domicile with love, genius, and ninja-like stain fighting skills.

Almost immediately, I find myself weeping at a boring life of housewifery and plunge into a “is this all I’m really worth?” kind of self-pity.  “For this, my feminist forebearers burned their bras.  I’m a disgrace to their cause.”

At this point, I generally make the mistake of looking in the mirror.  I have pores on my nose the size of half-dollars.  I have split ends.  My eyebrows need landscaping.  My skin is both dry and oily and pasty white.  I glow, but for the wrong reasons. 

I am so old.

If you’re following this flowchart of the writing process, this can go one of three ways. Either a) decide that exercise will solve everything and lace up my running shoes,

Or b) I say ‘who the hell cares anymore?’, pour myself a nice glass of wine or (out of desperation) swig a shot of peppermint extract, and sob into a pile of baby clothes,

Or c) I happen to glance at the legal pad and remember that I am more than a mere domestic goddess.  I.  Am.  A. Writer.

As an aside, a and b often are a precursor to c. 

Now, I have gone through periods when I actually got up at 5 AM with an explosion of story in my brain.  And I have written late, late into the night.  But this isn’t my usual process.  That kind of muse entertaining is hard to sustain with four children.

So back to our wide-eyed person and their questions about the process.
Person:  “But what I really mean is how EXACTLY do you do it?  Do you have some sort of ritual that you do to make the words flow?  What is your process?”

Me (still staring at my shoes):  “Well, I prewrite, using an outline of sorts, and…”

Did I mention that this person is generally a teacher that wants to replicate this experience in her (it’s always a ‘her’) classroom? 

Those poor children.  May they do anything else but write for a living.
Do you get why I lie?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What I Am Is What I Am

I wrote and co-produced this film called Paradise Recovered.  And I've been really busy at it, building an audience, networking with independent film people and spiritual abuse survivors and advocates alike.  It's been the most rewarding and brutal work I've ever done, and it has rocked me to my very core.

Fortunately, I've had some strong champions shoring me up throughout the whole process.  They keep me sane, and they keep me calm.

Some people wonder what my motives were/are in creating this film.  Some answers:

I am not anti-Jesus, nor am I anti-church. I belong to a church. I enjoy the people there, and I feel very free. Sure, there are things I'd change. There are things I'd change about my marriage and my family as well. There are things I need to work on.  We're all works in progress.   

What I am against is a church controlling people, demanding allegiance to something that is more akin to a human resources model than a *biblical* one, and denying people their human rights as free thinkers.

But that's not all. 

I grew up in a very controlling, legalistic church.  I never met the men to whom my family gave 30% of their pre-tax income.  My only experiences were with the middle management, so to speak, and the lay members.  On the whole, these people were some of the finest people I have ever known.

These well-intentioned, salt of the earth people, systematically recruited by this abusive cult, were taught that they and they alone were specially and uniquely called to be a part of God's End Time Work.  That a doomsday was coming, and we were going to be whisked away to a place of safety if we were faithful to our leader and his edicts.

They believed that our leader was an apostle and a prophet and that he alone had the key to understanding the bible.

If we did what the leader said, we were rewarded.  If we did not, we were cast out.  

In other words, if we questioned authority, God had no use for us at all.

So, additionally, I am against spiritual leaders who claim omniscience and make fallible people feel like dirt for making the mistake of thinking freely, all while claiming that their way is the only way.  

Their claim to speak for God is also a bit of a problem.

I can tell you about friends that I saw one week at a worship service, and then never saw again.  Why?  Because they had dared to question.  And it was like they never existed.  We never spoke of them again.

I never forgot those people.  Never.

It's amazing to a lot of people that after such an experience, I remain a Christian.  But my faith and practice looks quite a bit different than it did growing up.  Growing up, we rarely talked about Jesus, for example.  Learning about the person of Jesus and how he loved broken, forgotten people informs my faith.  

As a result, I err on the side of grace.  Always.

For me, Jesus is the model for dealing with spiritual abuse. He called the Pharisees on the carpet. He took a bullwhip to some moneychangers who were telling people that their sacrifices were substandard. He fought for children and prostitutes and people who couldn't walk and Gentiles. And he championed them, calling them 'faithful,' even when the religious authorities called them 'sinners.' 

He asked a ton of questions.

He told stories about running fathers and parties where everyone was invited and derelict Samaritans who were more faithful than preachers.

And the Pharisees plotted to kill him. Why? Because he questioned their power and authority.  Because he made them look bad.  Because they lost money.

And so they did kill him.  They hatched a plot and killed him.  To shut him up permanently.  Or so they thought.

I believe in the power of the resurrection. Because you can't kill truth. It might be buried for a short time...all hope may indeed seem lost...but then the stone gets rolled away.

In creating Paradise Recovered, I talked to over 100 survivors from 18 different abusive churches.  Since that time, I've had the opportunity to talk with a great many more.  And while the doctrines and practices of their congregations and groups differ, the elements of narcissism and control are nearly identical.

The fact that people have trusted me with their stories of pain at the hands of pastors...the fact that former pastors have shared with me their stories of pain at what they did to serve an abusive system...the fact that pastors have shared with me how they've been hurt by congregations...the fact that I have been loved by people who didn't understand my pain but who sought to love me in spite of me...all of this is truly humbling.

And these stories are terribly real.

No amount of marketing or slickness can make them less real.

The abuse needs to stop. Doctrine and dogma should never trump a person. A pastor might inspire you, but s/he has no greater standing than you do when it comes to understanding spiritual matters.

And if you need help, or if you have a friend that needs help, I'm here.  Along with the rest of my team at Paradise Recovered.  And we believe you. 

We believe every word.

E-mail me if you want at producer@paradiserecovered.com.  All of your e-mails will be kept in the strictest confidence.

Thank you for reading.