I enjoy the One Word project. Instead of a resolution, one asks God for a prophetic word as a guide for the year.
My word for 2014 was alignment. I have chosen Joy as the word to return to this year. When I find myself stressed, distressed, angry, worried or simply sad, I am learning to stop what I am doing, and pray until peace and clarity returns, accepting the things I cannot change, changing the things I can…
One word, alas, can be constraining for a woman whose work is words…
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My biggest trauma of 2014 was colon cancer. It was not metastatic, thankfully, but because lymph nodes were involved, I was given an estimate of my chances of being alive in 5 years!!
Anyway, fortunately, the median is not the message as Stephen Jay Gould wrote in this popular essay. He was given 8 months to live aged 40, and lived for 20 years, dying at 60 of an unrelated cancer. He writes
Attitude clearly matters in fighting cancer. We don’t know why (from my old-style materialistic perspective, I suspect that mental states feed back upon the immune system). But match people with the same cancer for age, class, health, socioeconomic status, and, in general, those with positive attitudes, with a strong will and purpose for living, with commitment to struggle, with an active response to aiding their own treatment and not just a passive acceptance of anything doctors say, tend to live longer. A few months later I asked Sir Peter Medawar, my personal scientific guru and a Nobelist in immunology, what the best prescription for success against cancer might be. “A sanguine personality,” he replied.
And God, the great mathematician, is known to upset human stats. (Consider Janet Walton given 104 billion to 1 odds of bearing healthy sextuplets. Which was exactly what she did.)
However, estimates of your chances of being alive—even decent odds, as in my case–focuses the mind. “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Dr. Johnson wrote.
In the first shock and sadness after the diagnosis, I wandered through the house, looking at the books I had not yet read, but really wanted to; the documentaries I had not watched, but really wanted to; the books I had not written, but really wanted to; thinking of the places to which I had never travelled, but rather wanted to. I did not want to die. I was in love with life.
I was sad.
Then, who knows how, I snapped out of sadness.
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I had prayed with faith for healing. Why should I proceed as if God was definitely ignore my prayers? That’s crazy behaviour for a believer. God is my Father; why should I hurt his feelings by doubting his goodness.
Fifty springs are little room to look at things in bloom, the poet A. C. Housman wrote. So since, in the Upper Room discourse at the Last Supper, Jesus repeatedly urges us to ask for anything we wish, I asked, playfully, for 50 additional years of life, which would get me to the age at which my great-grandmother Julianna died. (I come from a line of long-lived woman on both sides of the family, thriving into their nineties, often living past a hundred, women who lived on ancestral diets–not the Western diet I have indulged in for the last 30 years.)
And so, while I am steadily changing my diet in the direction of optimum nutrition, and steadily increasing my exercise, I decided to plunge back into work I really wanted to do. Work one loves–a great and mysterious extender of life.
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I started work on a memoir in 1991—an account of a Catholic childhood in Jamshedpur, a Zoroashtrian company town; rebellious years in a boarding school in Nainital, in the foothills of the Himalayas, run by German and Irish nuns; and then working with Mother Teresa at Calcutta.
However, I shelved it numerous times: to write essays; to teach Creative Writing at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg; for four years to establish a business; and then for another five years, I barely worked on it while I blogged.
Chapters have met with success. They have won a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; a Minnesota State Arts Board fellowship; a Jerome Fellowship: have won “Writer of Unusual Promise” awards to writing conferences, have been published in Best Spiritual Writing, Commonweal, London Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Notre Dame Magazine. I am certain that it will be a good book–though a long one in the first draft (which will definitely need a good editor).
I realized that if I died without finishing it, and publishing it (I am thinking of indie publishing the first longer version) I would feel enormous, almost unbearable sadness and regret, because it took me time and sacrifice to get a good first draft.
But if I died without developing my blog to dizzy heights, so be it. C’est la vie. Blogging has been enormously rewarding in psychological, spiritual, creative, personal growth, social and career ways…a trip to Cambodia, for instance… Who would have guessed? It has brought me nearly 10,000 readers a month, some of whom have become real life friends. The confidence and support a large and steady readership brings cannot be underestimated.
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So I will work on the memoir first, writing 500 words a day. A long memoir averages 120,000 words, which means I could be done with it in less than 8 months; much has already been written, and I already have a first draft. Sounds good, huh?
I will shoot for 500 words rather than 1000, for that will leave time for walking, gardening, housework, prayer, family life, friendships as well as gas in the tank for another day’s writing.
500 words… I might be able to write that in an hour if I focus. Perhaps two hours if I shoot for beautiful words. In a widely shared piece, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet attributed their success to that fact that they knew how to focus.
And that is my work goal for 2015: Focus
I am using an app called Freedom to turn off the internet when I write. I really enjoy the quiet and concentration of being in the zone, and get so much done when the internet is off.
So I will write my 500 words, and then blog–a blog or two or three a week as the Lord gives me strength and energy.
I had a mentor, whose book I edited. He said he would write as the Lord provided time. I thought privately, “One can’t write like that!” But both his books are still read in a world in which bloggers publish books to a three week buzz, books which are often dead in six months, and forgotten in a year.
Apparently relying on the Lord for words and time is a very good work strategy indeed!