Monday, October 23, 2017

The Birth of a Story

I started writing professionally while living in Ireland seven years ago. My wife and I were WWOOFing and needed some sort of income. I found a place to write how-to articles online that would pay me for it. So after spending the day working on the farm I would spend the evening writing articles about whatever I could explain quickly enough to make it worth the pay. It was good work, especially in its flexibility, but it also created a growing need in me to do more with my words. How-to articles are an okay way to make some money, but they don't do much to scratch the creative itch.

I had tried NaNoWriMo the year before (let us never speak of that manuscript again), but there was something missing in my writing. I didn't know what it was (in many ways I'm still learning). But on the nineteenth day of June I began to discern what it was. I had lost the way from my head to my heart. I wasn't reading for pleasure. My thoughts weren't connected to my passions. Something was broken, I realized, and needed to be mended.

Reading for pleasure after a day of farming in Ireland, kept company by Nala the dog.
It was there,  looking out over the fields and farms in the fading light of a long summer day, that I first realized that while studying theology in seminary had been a great experience, I hadn't maintained a connection to my feelings as I engaged with my thoughts (and the thoughts of others). One of the simple indicators was that I hadn't been reading for pleasure. Books, that used to be my joy and refuge, had become toil. I started to fix that while sitting in a field in Ireland.

In many ways that's where the story that became The Exiled Monk was born. I still had far to go before it would become the story it is today, because I had far to go to become the writer I am today. Stories are, to be sure, a plot with characters. They are sentences and paragraphs and chapters arranged together in a particular way. They are all of that, but they are also more. Stories are the resonance of experience and empathy shared in such a way that they connect people together. I had to relearn this truth by relearning my own story as both a series of events with characters, and also a connection to myself--a reconnection of my head and my heart--shared in a way that connects with others.

For me faith had become an intellectual exercise. I had studied and exegeted and researched and understood the history and logic of my faith, but I had lost the feeling of my faith. But it was in that losing, that disorientation, that I began to understand my own story. The faith I grew up with had been a steadfast support for me. When I didn't have a place to belong in school I always knew I belonged at church. When the expression of emotion felt dangerous, I could always emote through religious practices. But when those were all analyzed, systematized, and circumscribed by intellect I lost the way to belonging, support, and vulnerability. It would take me years to begin to find the way through, the way to reconnect my head and my heart, and this story helped me to navigate that wilderness.

I'll share more about the creation of The Exiled Monk in the coming days.

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