Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Writer's Anxiety

Cross in Needle Dress

I've been culling my year-long Secret Place journal, pulling out images and thoughts, as I prepare to write my next book. Today, I found this entry from last winter, which I really like, because it reminds me that the beginning of a writing project is always an anxious time...

I am like my children, with the sun umbrella, but it is night and I am in the woods... with the rain pop-pop-popping and fff-fffing onto my pants (cold drops that melt into the cloth with a wet slur). I lie here, a night beachcomber, combing the mass of pine branches for some treasure, some insight on what I will eventually write.

How will I get it all down? My brain is a bound Ezekiel, watching the feet of people scuffling by. I think of Psalm 139, "how vast are your thoughts...I come to the end, I am still with you." I pray a half-baked sort of prayer for God's vast thoughts to hold all this together, to shake it up and pour it out in some design, to replace what I'm holding in my palm right now... a jumble of senseless marbles, shells, musings on pine trees and night beaches.

And so it goes. My writer's anxiety, my hope that a Mind bigger than mine will guide me in and onward.

Cross in Needle Dress photo, by L.L. Barkat. (Sometimes it takes a moment for us to see it, but then we do see... a design in the mess.)

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Friday, April 25, 2008


LL on the Way

I wake to a barely white Sunday. The sun, it seems, rises later here. My time is now very short. And it is time. Time to return... to an elder daughter who, last night, began weeping over my absence... to a spouse who has been ill... to my littlest, who just wants to touch me over and over again and look in my eyes.

It is time.

Even though I will still meet Denise Frame Harlan on the plane (she will later remember that she already knew of me from Byron Borger), and sit directly behind poet Scott Cairns (I wonder, did I kick the back of his seat unawares?).

It is time.

Yes, I will chat with Kent Curry all the way through security and beyond. I will close my eyes on the plane and remember (fondly), my long talk with artist Steve Prince. I will make a list of all the things I need to do when I get home (reminding myself who I am... laundry, kiss the kids, read aloud, cook, get gift for spouse to celebrate new job). Yes and yes and yes. But right now...

It is time...


Sift sort toss fold tissues
paper, scarves (silk), socks
black assortments (under type),
wool slacks, wrinkled after hours
of walk talk flash laugh.
Poke into sleeveless tee, shiver into
soft blouse with dusty-rose camellias
and moss-green leaves sprawling. Slide
into black cotton stretch pants, wrong length
and loose at the knees, dawning white with wear
and clearly coming undone at the hems. Breathe
in, slow; breathe out, slow. Blink... yawn... and roll away.

LL photo by L.L. Barkat.


LL's Penultimate Potpourri Sans Poetry

LL's Looking for Lil

LL's Body of Water

LL's Solo at the Red Sun

LL's Leaving

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Penultimate Potpourri Sans Poetry

Smoking Area

By the penultimate day (next morning I simply get ready to fly out), I'm tired. I haven't actually slept a full night the entire time I've been here. Who can write poetry in this state? Tomorrow will be another day.

I go to hear Krista Tippett. She reads from her book. I remember the lines even as she says them, perhaps because her writing is so beautifully crafted, and I find myself reciting passages in my mind, along with the cadence of her voice. In a way, this experience sums up my time at Calvin. It has been about people, really hearing them, taking them in, celebrating them, reciting the good stuff to myself so I can remember it.

Similarly, I attend a session where Ed Gilbreath is on a panel, discussing "writing towards social justice." I mostly enjoy hearing him say things I've heard him say before in his book. Again, I feel a sense of celebration.

And then there is Lil. I find her at the appointed time. We meet. We talk literature and writing, though not much about publishing; it is not our main purpose. I find her to be quietly luminous. Short, straight red hair. Almost transparent milky skin. A soft strength. If we never do business together it won't matter. This encounter has also been a sort of celebration at the end of a busy time.

It seems appropriate to finish the day with an actual celebration. Ed Gilbreath takes me out to dinner to celebrate the debut of Stone Crossings. We talk honestly. We talk as peers. It is refreshing, relaxing. A happy time.

Ed G and LL

[pic: LL and Ed Gilbreath]

After dinner, we come back to Calvin and find a surprising sign (see top of post). Who would expect this at a Christian college? But there it is. "Smoking Area." I simply can't resist taking a picture of Stone Crossings in this unorthodox place.

We walk beside the marsh. I take a video of me reading an excerpt of Stone Crossings. Ed keeps trying to get out of my way as I move the camera, which amuses me even as I'm filming. I wonder if he thinks I'm totally weird. Apparently I don't care enough to let it stop me from doing this little ritual of mine... reading SC in different places and sharing it with you.

Then we walk on a nearby running path, and I try to take a picture of a lemon yellow moon rising, but instead I get the blob below. For a real understanding of what the moon looked like, one could hop on over to Kirsten's.


Night has come. Time is short. We talk just a little bit more, have a cup of tea in the Prince Conference Center, then the day is done. "See you in 2010?" Ed says.

Yes, I'd like that. See you in 2010.

Photos by L.L. Barkat. "Sans" is French for "without."


LL's Looking for Lil

LL's Body of Water

LL's Solo at the Red Sun

LL's Leaving

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Looking for Lil

Ann and I Feet

[pic: Ann Kroeker and L.L.]

This day will be defined, partly, by what I miss— Vinita Hampton Wright, Lil Copan, Mary Karr, Helena Maria Viramontes, Luci Shaw, Hugh Cook, Phylllis Tickle, Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Yann Martel. Thankfully, Ed Gilbreath persuades me to hear Rob Bell at the end of the day. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Far before Rob sprawls on the stage and talks about spontaneous combustion and intestinal fortitude, I race through the day like a kid hopping from one intriguing rock to another. I delight in each moment, midair or touching down. (Someone asks me at one juncture if I'm going to meet anyone important next. I say that anyone who desires to meet and connect is important, even if he or she is not a "person of supposed consequence." Then I apologize, not meaning to minimize the question.)

Ann and I Feet and Hands

[pic: Ann Kroeker and L.L.]

Ann Beautiful

[pic: Ann Kroeker... beautiful, but this barely captures her]

Still, who knows the "importance" that will arise from meeting with an agent at 9:30 am. Or dear Ann Kroeker at lunch time and beyond (eyes like green seaglass, heart and mind like the pounding ocean, smile like the sun). Who knows what may come of encouragements from a Moody editor, who sat to say, "You have a real gift. Remember me." Or dinner with Rosalie and Llama Mama, who frankly bears no resemblance to a long-necked mountain creature (but instead is small, gentle, also green-eyed like Ann but with a softer green that reminds me of beautiful lichen.) Yes, who knows.

Feet at Olives

[pic: Rosalie (Llama Mama's poet friend), Llama Mama, Me]

Returning from dinner the long way (Llama Mama has told me she has no sense of direction; after this ride I see she is an honest soul), I begin looking for Lil. She has hastily set up a meeting with me (after I hesitated yesterday to introduce myself at a session and she stopped me midsentence to exclaim, "You're here!" Apparently, Scot McKnight had urged her to meet me, but I never got her email.)

In the end, I form an impromptu "Looking for Lil" club with poet John Leax, as we wait in the internet cafe for the elusive Lil. This too has its laughter and beauty, as John declares Mark Goodyear a very good poet; as I meet Sister Antonia (another Paraclete person who ends up calling Lil and rescheduling us for the next day); as I laugh with English Professor Paul Willis who, as it turns out, also knows my father-in-law and remembers him fondly.

At some point, Ed Gilbreath passes by and invites me to hear Rob Bell. Why not, I think. Why not end the day listening to some guy who speaks the language of teenagers. I am not disappointed. Rob is totally entertaining. He says that writing takes intestinal fortitude. I agree. He says that people write best when they feel they will otherwise spontaneously combust holding in a particular idea. I get a chance to be contrary. Because I remember this is not why I write. I write to love. I write because, in some metaphorical way, I am looking for Lil... the wanderers of the world I long to take under my wings.

Photos by L.L. Barkat


LL's Body of Water

LL's Solo at the Red Sun

LL's Leaving

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Body of Water

Calvin Prince Conference Center

First day of the conference, I take it easy. Wake up late. This will turn out to be a good move.

On the shuttle over to the Prince Conference Center, I meet a former college president who incidentally knows my father-in-law and likes him a great deal. We hit it off and end up attending Mary Gordon's opening talk together: Is Fiction Moral? I am reminded of the post I did right before leaving, which suggested that words have the power to preserve life.

Gordon's talk is so intelligent and moving, I can hardly keep up. The long and short of it: she begins by arguing that fiction is not moral. It's not where she goes when she wants to consider how to behave... but she ends by arguing that fiction is moral, if one considers compassion to be a kind of morality.

This converges with the reading I've been doing since embarking on the trip... a book called Missing Mountains, which approaches the issue of mountaintop removal not only through essay but also through poetry and short story... perhaps as a way to develop compassion for "the children who do not have good water to drink or bathe in, the people who travel unsafe roads or live beneath sites that have already sent boulders through their homes."

After the opening session, I am accosted (in an oh-so-friendly-and-welcome-way) by Ann Kroeker, as I'm walking through the tunnel that goes over the highway. She has bought my book and the IVP people have apparently described me with great accuracy. I sign her book. We chat. It is clear we will need more time together. We agree to have lunch the next day. (More on that tomorrow.) My camera batteries are dead, so I use her camera to take a picture of her, which Mark Goodyear finds it in his heart to call artsy and wonky (or maybe those words were really to describe me).

I float through the afternoon, chatting and exploring. I attend only one more seminar, where I end up making unexpected plans with someone from Paraclete Press. (I can be this way at conferences... skipping seminars. A while back I decided that relationship is more important than information; this will reach its height the next day!). I write a poem about relationship. The image is that of rain falling on a body of water. Maybe a lake or a pond or a stream. I am feeling like the lake, the pond. Others are the rain.

"Body of Water"

rain comes, rings
fan out collide
die and resurrect
in liquid ridges,
tensions releases
ride beyond
perception, yet...

LL and IVP Marketing Friends

Around 5:00 pm, my publishing company (see feet above!) takes me out to celebrate Stone Crossings. I am a slow eater and end up sitting with a group of very patient people who are quite done, while I am still working on greens with gorgonzola and cranberry walnut bread. Overall we have a great time, but I feel an odd sense of tension as I have also come to the conference having just received a contract offer from IVP for God in the Yard. This is not simply a celebration; it is potentially a next step too, and that feels strange.

After dinner, I decide to skip the plenary session. In a little while, Ted and Deb will come to meet me at my hotel and bless me deeply with their presence and prayer. An hour later, we will say our goodbyes. Then I will return to my quiet room. And put my body of water into a small body of water in the bare hotel bathroom. It will have been good to relax, as I discover the following day.


LL's Solo at the Red Sun

LL's Leaving

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Solo at the Red Sun

Red Sun Buffet

On the way to Calvin, I temporarily lost a necklace. I'd gone through security, laid the jewelry on my jacket, and put both into a gray plastic tub to send them through the x-ray machine. After walking through the metal detector, I began chatting with one of the security people while I tried to reassemble my belongings and get dressed again (it feels like one has to undress these days to walk through security!).

About 10 minutes later, after I'd settled into eating yogurt with strawberries while waiting to board, I saw a woman waving a necklace around, "Did anybody leave a necklace?!"

I retrieved it.

When I am distracted by conversation, I clearly lose track of details. But when I am alone, they press in from every side. Being alone, then, is a special gift...though it may not feel that way at the time.

Today I offer two poems from my gift of going solo to the Red Sun Buffet. Arriving a day early for the Calvin conference always means I'll be eating alone. I consider, in retrospect, that this set me up for a few days of keen awareness of details; it also meant that my singleness made me more connected to the longing that seemed inherent in the waitress and the buffet setting itself...

"Solo at the Red Sun Buffet"

Signs: sushi, grill, barb-q,
in green, orange neon.
Trill and hum of fridges
ovens, clack of friers.
Red crustaceans stacked
near fried rice, their eyes
black and fixed, like the gaze
of the leaning waitress; silent
in faux pink silk, she follows
every sip of my hot and sour,
each bite into my slight,
stale spring roll.

When I finished with my odd buffet (I ate things I don't usually eat— shrimp, chocolate pudding, fried rice— along with things I generally do... salad, green beans, tofu, soup), the waitress who had spent her time watching me brought the check and one fortune cookie. Upon reading the fortune, I immediately decided there was a poem in it. And there was a bit of prophecy too, as the days to follow would confirm...

"Fortune at the Red Sun Buffet"

will now come your way.

Tomorrow I'll begin to consider the flip side of going solo. Since a conference also offers the gift of connection.


LL's Leaving

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Sunday, April 20, 2008


Fasten Seat Belts

It is good to sometimes go, travel alone, find myself in extended solitude that asks me to face an empty hand, a quiet bed, a table for one and no one to pour the tea.

This solitude opens me, jigs my mind, shakes things from the far side of my limbs, gives me permission to think things I may not ordinarily think. In short, though I rarely welcome my leavings at the entrance side, I generally come babbling out the exit experience... reshaped, renewed and full of imaginings.

Going to Calvin was no different.

For the next week, I'll share the journey as I remember it, or as I was careful enough to write down along the way. To start, I'll give you this five-line poem that I found at Chicago O'Hare. It was just there, waiting to express what it feels like when life seems predictable and all wrapped up and figured out... only to be turned on its head, opened and directed towards possibility. The poem is called "Belle Nanon", which has a bit of French history behind it, but which is more simply a kind of pink rose.

"Belle Nanon"

at this late hour,
that I should begin to
blush, surge, open
to young dew.

Later, on the plane, I found another poem, after the woman next to me shut the window shade so I could take a picture of the tray table. I'm sure she was wondering if I was suffering from a lack of lunch. I tried to explain that I wanted the picture to illustrate something I was thinking of writing.

Then the poem, which is not what I was thinking of writing, presented itself. Here it is...


Fasten seatbelt while seated, not while
kneeling yawning chatting spitting kissing
standing or (God forbid) walking to the lavatory.
If you fail to secure yourself and experience
unexpected turbulence, you can always use
your bottom cushion for flotation device.

That's it. Two little appetizer poems. Tomorrow I'll share some that I found when I got to my hotel and walked across the street to eat alone at the Red Sun Buffet.

Tray Table photo by L.L. Barkat.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Life Words

Sara's Stream

My spouse gave a beautiful sermon today, about taking a stand. This was no easy task, considering how well-worn the assigned passage was — the three men in the fiery furnace ("Rack, Shack and Benny," as Veggie Tales affectionately calls them).

I listened intently enough throughout, but it was a small bit at the end that really spoke.

At some point in the message, the story had been told, of a Japanese diplomat named Chiune Sugihara,* who'd been ordered to leave Lithuania in the summer of 1940. It was wartime. The diplomat packed his bags, but upon looking out his window noticed crowds pressed up against his fence... Jews who wanted exit visas, who wanted life.

The long and short of it is that Sugihara defied his government and handwrote visas, 300 a day for 29 days. And here's the bit that spoke: "His small act impacted the lives of thousands of people....And all he did was sit down and write, every day, for 29 days."

All he did was sit down and write.

It occurred to me, there in the morning light, in my little log cabin church, that this is my charge. To sit down and write, whether it be blog posts or notes, emails or books. For 29 days, or weeks, or years... who knows. I may defy nothing in this act. Or I may defy many things. The choice is mine.

What shall I do with my 29 days, or weeks or years?

I want to sit down and write. Life words.

*Click on "watch trailer" to see a brief clip about Sugihara

Stream photo by Sara. Used with permission.

Note: I leave for the Calvin Festival on Wednesday. So I'll not be writing here again until next week. I have many people to meet and decisions to make, so if you might, keep me in your prayers.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Three Questions

"Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world."

So says the old turtle to the boy, in answer to three questions.

The three questions, if answered, the boy had thought, would help him be the good person he desired to be.

When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?

The children's tale that poses these questions and gives answer through story is based on Tolstoy's "The Three Questions." On reading the tale, I found myself alternately thinking, "This is absolutely it!" and "This is no good at all." For sometimes we should wait, not act; the time is later. Sometimes the most important person is away, not near. Sometimes the good we need to do concerns those who are invisible, not perceived at our side.

Then, as I say, I would suddenly think, "But if I act as if this very moment is most urgent, and attend keenly to the ones I am with, and do good to the one who's standing by my side, would not all the rest fall into place? Would I not know when to wait, would I not do justice to those far away, would I not do good to the invisible?"

You see what I mean. For a story of only three questions, it pushed me to a world of wondering.

The Way photo, by Martin Stickland. Used with permission.


LL's thoughts on using or losing our gifts, Don't Give Your Gifts a Haircut, at the The High Calling

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Hard Commodity in the Blogosphere


I am still making my way slowly through Krista Tippett's Speaking of Faith. It's as good as any story, the way it moves forward through the framework of Tippett's life while discussing science and faith, life and death, doubt and devotion.

Last night, I related to this passage quite keenly...

I have always been invested in ideas, in words, in the presentation of words. The people on Wooster II took me out of my head. They taught me the gravity of nonverbal presence— of eye contact and touch. I learned to accept silence, not to fill it with talk, to respect the immensity of what eyes and hands alone could express. The writings of Margaret Spufford came back to me on that dementia ward— the notion that in the end, the reality of God is most powerfully expressed not in ideas and proclamations but in presence. I sometimes felt that presence palpably in silence and the inchoate, searching bond of raw togetherness between us. p.118

As I considered Tippett's words, they resonated. And they pained me, regarding my blog relationships. What, really, can I do to be present in this way, this raw togetherness way, over a bunch of wires and through signals? Not much. I can only wait for the chance to be together, in some cases again, in other cases for the very first time.

Not that I find no community here. I've said before that I think I do. But presence is a hard, perhaps impossible commodity to truly find in the blogosphere.

Together Photo, by Sara. Used with permission.


At the High Calling this week, Don't Give Your Gifts a Haircut


A post on a lighter note, from Long Island Express Girl

Thoughts on silent words, from Janet Collins' OnWords

Jane Emmert at Inspiration and Art

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Little Stone Crossings Housekeeping

Stone Crossings Mantle

Without fanfare, on April 1, Stone Crossings officially released. Maybe it's good that the book came quietly onto the scene, considering it was April Fool's Day.

Early-bird copies had been floating around since I went to Mount Hermon. And some enterprising friends figured out that Amazon would deliver before the release date.

One such friend, when the book arrived, had a friendly "fight" with her spouse, over who'd get first dibs. She won and proceeded to read the book in two hours; at 11:30 pm, she considered calling to tell me her thoughts on it, but must have remembered too well how much I love my sleep. She called me the following day.

Another friend has been happily walking around for about two weeks and hasn't cracked it open yet. Everyone reads differently — some gulp, some sip, some have to go through a courtship. It fascinates me to see the variation in reading ways and responses.

There have been some kind words, like these from IVCF Area Director Jason Gaboury, "Best travelogue on Christian spirituality I've read since Traveling Mercies, but deeper, more profound, subtler." Bryron Borger's generous review at Hearts and Minds Books is also appreciated.

For virtual friends who want to share about Stone Crossings, here are a few things to keep in mind...

- Stone Crossings Blog Post Tool Kit has Stone Crossings links

- I'll put a link here if you do an SC post and let me know about it

- if you take a photo of SC and provide a small story to go with it, I'll put a permanent link featuring it in my sidebar... I'll also feature your photo and story in a regular post (see Links for Art for more information)

That's it. I don't prefer housekeeping, but somebody's got to pick up the broom occasionally. Today, it fell to me.


Jim Martin's An Incredible Grace
Dennis Mullen's A Difficult Grace
Ann Kroeker's Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and HIdden Places
Ann Kroeker's Author Interview: L.L. Barkat
Ann Voskamp's Finding Grace in Hard Places
Life in the Making's Thoughts Gathered
Heather Goodman's Stone Crossings Video
Marcus Goodyear's A Good Book About Grace
Heidi's Interview and Giveaway post
Diane's Recommended Weekend Reading for Christian Direction
Marcus's 12 Lists of Christmas: 8 Great Books
Center for Parent/Youth Understanding Bookshelf's Book Awards: Best Books Read in 2008
Vonette Bright's Hard Life Journey
Laura's Stone Crossings Reflections
CPYU Bookshelf's Giveaway
Jim Martin's And the Book Goes to...
Ann's Hard Grace
Deb's Unearth
Billy's My First Giveaway
The Reluctant Homefront's Stone Crossings
Glynn's Broken Ribs and Stone Crossings
Bradley's Your Life is Perfect
Mary DeMuth's Advent Reflection: When the Boulder Became a Pebble
Glynn's Crossing Some Stones
Monica's Reflections
Bonnie's Stone Crossings


Greg Jao's Seasoned Reflections
Eugene Pratt's Beauty from Pain
Bryron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books
Alease Brown's Highly Recommend
Kansas City Baptist Temple's Stone Crossings Review
Jeff's Review: Stone Crossings
Andrea's gentle Book Review
Jennifer's 5 Minutes For Mom: Stone Crossings
High Calling Blogs' Find Grace in Hard and Hidden Places
Ruth's Stone Crossings Book Review
Katrina's Book Review: Stone Crossings
Englewood Review of Books picks up Byron Borger's Catapult review of Stone Crossings
Wendy's Book Review: Stone Crossings
InCourage's L.L. Barkat's Stone Crossings

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