On January 2nd, my newest work [and first children’s book] will be released with Black Rose Writing! It’s titled The Scary, Gray Shark. This book is a culmination of being a first-time parent, seeing our family change and grow, and moving to Charleston, SC in 2019. It’s protagonist, a bull shark called Zella, is given my daughter’s namesake, and it covers topics such as bullying and isolation in the ocean. The artwork is done by Katerina Dotneboya of Finland. [Earlier press release for the book here and here.] I’m more than willing to sign copies sent to me and will ship back. Also, when the first box arrives from the publisher, I will gladly sign copies and mail them direct. Just let me know your reading needs and address!
The pre-order discount is still being accepted (PREORDER2019) at Black Rose’s website until January 1st. Get copies of this book for your family and friends and share the gift of ‘story time’ with others.
Also, stay tuned for reading events to be shared soon [both locally in Charleston and outside of South Carolina]. I do readings and am happy to talk about writing topics with your English classroom/group/church/business.
“Such beautiful artwork on each and every page. I love sharks – and it’s wonderful to see Zella make friends…find respect instead of fear in our ocean ecosystems. It is wonderful to see people speaking up for sharks.”
Ocean Ramsey operates One Ocean Diving, LLC in Hawaii, a company which facilitates dives with marine life. She gained international media attention for free diving with sharks, including great white sharks, to bring attention to shark conservation. Ramsey is based in Hawaii, and has dived with 32 species of sharks around the world as of 2013.
This newest work by Austin Kleon really hit me – at a time I needed it most.
2019 – Move to a new city
2019 – Renting in said city
2019 – Baby turns 1 year old
2019 – New job in city
2019 – New church
2019 – New routine
In the busiest season of our lives, this is a book that can help us grapple with the need to live, grow, and continue in the creative pursuits we started.
If you have a project, a non-profit, a mission, a manuscript, a quilt, whatever it is – let this be an encouragement to finish it.
When you feel stuck in a rut simply ask: What’s next?
Joseph Campbell encouraged what he called “creative incubation” in a safe place. Where is yours?
Kleon talks about the importance of action and says it’s not about being a writer (noun) but following the influence to write (verb).
He also states the importance of making gifts (as play). In a world where we’re trained to heap marketing phrases [even on our friends], our hobbies have been replaced by side hustles. This is never ideal. Remember fun things you did as a kid and revisit those.
Kleon points out Corita Kent’s life as a nun/artist as someone who found joy in everyday life.
There will inevitably be push back from what Jenny Offill calls ‘art monsters.’ And we’re encouraged to slay those monsters and never become one!
Kleon goes on to express the importance of changing our mindset as needed, and if the creative life becomes too cumbersome, to pause and tidy up, as tidying can be a form of exploration.
If the world inside your creative shell is too cramped (and demons are pushing in), he says “to exercise is to exorcise.” The solution: take a walk and get some fresh air. The stuff will be there when you get back to it.
Kleon relates a really interesting story of how gardening is a great example of his final point (Spend Time on Something that Will Outlast Them(meaning those demons). He describes how during the impending conflict of WWII, Leonard Woolf was planting flowers and his wife Virginia Woolf calls out to him (from his book Downhill All the Way) –
“Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: “Hitler is making a speech.” I shouted back, “I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.”
Last March, twenty-one years after Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, a few of those violet flowers still flowered under the apple-tree in the orchard.”
It’s vital that we have things that will long outlast the hate, the violence that fuels this consumer-driven world.
My question(s): what is your iris? have you planted it yet?
Our math teachers (I’m looking at you Allyson Upchurch Tucker, Teresa Rankin, and Michael Whittenburg) taught us to “show your work” in each step to solving a mathematical equation. It permitted us to see the process from beginning to end.
It also helped us prepare for scary acronyms like the ACTs & SATs.
Sure the graphing calculator could do a lot of the work for us, but it didn’t necessarily teach us how we arrived at the final number on our screen.
They (our teachers) encouraged us to write it out by hand.
The hand is tied to memory formation. When we scribbled down an idea in our notebook, it connected to our brain in a way the keyboard could not.
Much like Austin Kleon’s previous book, Steal Like an Artist, his Show Your Work manuscript expressed the importance of sharing, too.
It’s when we give away something, collaborate, take a trip together, that memories are shaped in ways that really stick (sometimes for life).
Much like in mathematics class, we don’t need to be a genius to:
This is information I’d have loved to hear in my collegiate years. It is all helpful (even beyond the creative process).
And what’s best of all?
He practices what he preaches. In reference to #6 on his list – The Secret: Do good work and share it with people – he practices what he preaches and does just that by making all these things available online – www.steallikeanartist.com.
Prayer has frequently crept into a back corner for me. The ‘I’m too busy’s take over. I look, leap, fall. I fall hard and awkwardly. (Picture Jim Carrey falling off the jetway and landing with legs splayed. That’s me.)
But, recently, I came across a book, published in 2018, that I missed and never heard any press about. (Self-help books all-too-often clog the bestseller shelves and do anything, if rarely, help.) I’ll chalk this discovery of rediscovery to divine appointment.
It’s called The Prayer Wheel.
It originated in a 12th century monastery, only recently resurfaced in a small private library in 2015 (NYC), and is known as The Liesborn Prayer Wheel.
It features concentric circles, featuring:
Petitions from the Lord’s Prayer,
then, Gifts of the Holy Spirit,
followed by events in Christ’s life,
then, a Beatitude blessing,
and finally its corresponding Beatitude promise.
Each of these circles begin and end with ‘Praying the whole path.’ Much like the circular design, it’s meant to be endless and perfect in design. It’s outermost ring has the inscription The Order of the Diagram Written Here Teaches The Return Home. It feels very Middle-Earthian, and it taps into the creativity at which God permits people to visit Him.
I never knew this tool existed, and I’m so thankful the wheel was rediscovered near New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art!
The Prayer Wheel website does a much better job describing its formation, usage, and application. How people are returning to these monastic practices, such as: fixed-hour prayer (divine office), labyrinths (walking prayer), and lectio divina (meditative scripture reading). Their site even features a downloadable wheel you can use!
But I love the foreword by James Martin, SJ, who writes, there’s no ‘one’ right way to use the wheel, much like there’s no ‘one’ right way to pray.
And, I’m constantly feeling the necessity to return to the ancient paths mentioned in the verse above. It shows me the importance of contemplation in my own life. These are divine appointments each and every time.
New isn’t always better, and in this case, the origin story, is as important as anything else in our daily lives.
No. Not just important.
I pray this tool helps you in your prayer life today!
Author Jim Forest’s account of meeting Thomas Merton for the first time is one of my all-time favorite stories about meeting your hero.
Think of yours.
Think of how you’d expect them to act.
Then scramble that notion, and you might gain a whole new respect.
In Forest’s account, he and another Catholic Worker member have traveled from New York to Merton’s Trappist monastery in Kentucky.
They are tired. They’ve traveled what feels like forever to get there.
And despite his dogged stated, Forest goes to the monastery’s chapel to pray. He begins, and his prayer is loudly interrupted.
An unusual sound for what he thought would be a reserved, somber place.
The origin, I discovered was [my friend’s] room. As I opened the door the laughter was still going on, a kind of gale of joy. The major source was the red-faced man lying on the floor wearing [the Trappist habit], his knees in the air, hands clutching his belly…I realized instantly that the man on the floor laughing with such abandon must be Thomas Merton…And the inspiration for the laughter? It proved to be the intensely strong smell of feet that had been kept in shoes all the way from the Lower East Side to [the monastery] and were now out in the open air.
Merton was bent over double, laughing at the smell.
And that is why other novices (approximately 200) often couldn’t identify him when they first joined the monastery themselves.
Thomas Merton, while being the most well-known monk of his day, often went unnoticed.
One said, “If you had asked me which one he was, he would have been the second to last one I picked.”
The reason for this:
He adds, “He was always laughing! And I had an idea that a monk should be very serious.”
It causes me to think of that opening scene in the film Amadeus. Where Mozart is running around like a wild child, and the much older, Antonio Salieri, is looking for this divine musical prodigy.
When he’s told that the immature child is, in fact, Mozart, he’s appalled.
I love this barrier that is broken. It’s the shining moment when fact and fiction collide. The hero is right there.
Questions to consider:
What are our often preconceived notions of others?
How can we change them to see through a different lens?
And if we do, how will this free us to experience personal joy in brand new ways?
I firmly believe writing is now an exercise in faith for me.
Would I have said this 5 years ago?
But the more time I log at a desk, ideas hit me, I see something greater at work.
What strengthens you?
In Greek, the root word for faith, offers us both a noun – pistis and a verb – pistueo (believe).
I love the duality of such a word. It involves our heart and our hands. It isn’t simply verse memorization or Sunday School bible trivia. Faith requires exponentially more.
A pastor, at a new church we attended last week, spoke on just this. He differentiated on two terms I use often.
He said, “Hope is future-oriented and faith is today.”
I immediately thought of the scripture, as so many of us can recite by heart: Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
And I thought of so much Thomas Merton literature I’ve read since last year. He went into far greater depths than this blog (a lifelong quest really) to serve as a witness that faith was applied daily. It was growth at a much more practical level than anything I’d done prior. He emphasized how any act could be an act of service, a chance to serve One greater.
Merton likened his writing testimony to Christ’s sacrifice:
To be as good a monk as I can and to remain myself and to write about it. To put myself down on paper, in such a situation, with the most complete simplicity and integrity, masking nothing, confusing no issue: this is very hard because I am all mixed up with illusions and attachments…
One of the results of all this could well be a complete and holy transparency: living, praying, and writing in the light of the Holy Spirit, losing myself entirely by becoming public property just as Jesus is public property in the Mass. Perhaps this is an important aspect of my priesthood—my living of my Mass: to become as plain as a Host in the hands of everybody. Perhaps it is this, after all, that is to be my way of solitude.
And from this quote so many things jump out –
the importance of being ourselves
showing transparency (in life, prayers, everything)
writing as a form of worship
losing ourselves in One greater
And if that list doesn’t startle us to action, then I must share this other Mertonism: Faith relies completely on him in perfect trust … letting him take care of us without knowing how he will do so.
Whether in word or deed, everything matters.
Now I admit, many things can be chalked up as trivial in our day-to-day lives – hair products, favorite brands of peanut butter, type of GPS we use to get from place to place. But faith is learning to see beyond these things and learning to sink our teeth into something more indiscernible, something less mundane.
Communion with others …and communion with God while being with others (and being intentionally alone) is something very much in this realm and also the spiritual.
Every time I type on a keyboard, write a note by hand, this is a moment to give. It’s a chance to grow. It’s service to you, to others, and ultimately Him.
Think about your life. Where you’re currently at. How can you grow your faith where you stand, sit, sleep, eat?
If you coach soccer, or cook dinner for the family, or service hundreds of screaming kids at VBS/church, this is faith. It’s a chance to do more than Disney wish or blindly hope.