Reverb day 1: the lists of false prerequisites

I’m starting Advent in a terribly contrary mood. At first I was irritated because all the Advent calendars and all the Advent candles in the shops, and all the Advent books that I have in the house, start on 1 December, and Advent started yesterday, and that left two days unobserved at the beginning. Yesterday wasn’t a problem – I saw Advent in with a cup of mulled wine and the Palestrina Matin Responsory, as is entirely proper – but today I was going to have to scratch around to fill in the gaps.

But I’d forgotten about the time difference, and the first prompt of Reverb popped up in my inbox a couple of hours ago. And now here I am with a perfectly good observance – because why shouldn’t day 1 of Reverb be 30 November? – and I’m finding that I’m not ready for Advent; I’ve got far too much to do.

It’s a good thing that this prompt is about lists, that’s all I can say.

In her seventh ever blog post, all the way back in March 2003(!), the inimitable Andrea Scher wrote: “Maybe lists are like prayers.”

What sorts of lists do you have on the go at the moment? What do they suggest you are praying for?

Let’s start with my mental to-do list for this evening.

Done: email my aunt to thank her for my birthday present; eat supper; wrap up my brother’s birthday present; wrap up a gift for an internet acquaintance; get the box of Christmas decorations down; get the crib out; piano practice.

Not done: take a bath; read a poem; catch up on comments on my writing community; type up the bits of story I’ve been writing in longhand over the last week or so; sort out and upload a week’s worth of daily photos.

This evening, at least, I’m praying for a bit of time to myself, for some reprieve from the tasks that pile up and shriek that they have to be done before I can move on to the part where I can take care of myself. I like to think that I’m getting better at declining to carry the burdens of the world outside, at carving out time where I can stop, and rest, and reflect, but tonight that isn’t the case.

But it’s tough. Here we are. It’s Advent. I’m going to stop.

In my head I have a list of editors who are polishing various aspects of my novel for me, of the steps that need to be taken (proofread, format) before I can move on to other, more exciting steps (cover), before I can put the thing out into the world and call it done. And yes, I am praying for it to be done, and done well.

I have a rather daunting list of the activities that are occupying every weekend until Christmas. Individually, they are fun things that I want to do. Collectively, I’m dreading them.

I am having to remind myself that Advent is a time of preparation, and that nobody is expecting me to have everything right this early in the season. I am reminding myself that not every item has to be crossed off the list, that maybe it doesn’t matter if I don’t do the washing up tonight. If my lists are prayers, I think they’re rather crude, pathetic ones: if I do all these things, will you leave me alone? Please, I want some freedom. And that’s not how prayer works, not really.

What’s on my lists? I mean, what is really on my lists? What am I praying for? I’m praying for: balance; creativity; flow; rest; recuperation; connection; boundaries; and celebration.

Amen.

Open letter to my bishop

Dear Bishop,

I write to express my profound discomfort with various aspects of the Church of England’s conduct over the past few days, as the news story regarding the ‘Just Pray’ advertisement has unfolded.

Firstly, I note that the DCM agency was entirely within its rights to run or not to run any advertisement it chose. I think that its blanket policy to avoid religious or political material is sensible, and, one assumes, designed to avoid exactly this kind of mess. It is no great effort to imagine the reaction in the tabloid press had another faith group or a secular body attempted to run a similar advertisement. I consider that the Church’s attempt to present this decision as a ‘ban’ and an ‘attack on free speech’ is dishonest and I am ashamed to be associated with this disingenuous act.

Since the agency’s policy is to avoid religious or political content, the question of whether the advert is, in fact, offensive, is not particularly relevant, and I have been equally disappointed by the Church’s emphasis on this aspect. However, I would take this opportunity to make it clear, from my perspective as a practising Anglican, that I would have been extremely uncomfortable had I been in a cinema where this advert had been played. I find the idea of involving non-consenting strangers in my religious practice distasteful in the extreme.

I find the attempt to attack the agency’s decision by using the Equality Act 2010 hypocritical, to say the least, given that the Church has obtained several exemptions from it (much to the distress of myself and numerous other Anglicans). I am equally disappointed that the Bishop of Chelmsford has mooted the possibility of taking advantage of his position in the House of Lords to place political weight on the question – an abuse of privilege, so far as I am concerned, which contradicts any assertion of ‘persecution’.

Lastly, I have been deeply concerned today by the sight of some emails between DCM agency and Rev Arun Arora which give the impression that the Church of England was aware of the likelihood that the advertisement would not run as early as 3 August this year. If these are genuine, this gives the lie to its claim to have been ‘bewildered’ on 22 November, and the hypocrisy and cynicism is revolting.

I would urge the Church to make the true position clear as swiftly as possible.

Yours sincerely

Kathleen Jowitt

All-Purpose Build Your Own Socially Liberal Christian Rant

I had this in another place, and today seems as good a day as any to wheel it out again, with a couple of updates and additions. If anyone was in any doubt as to my feelings on the subject, I think that:

a. a cinema is not an appropriate outlet for an advertisement exhorting people to pray, because:

b. I would feel deeply uncomfortable involving non-consenting strangers in my own religious practice, which would in effect be the result of showing the ‘Just Pray’ advertisement;

b. the Church of England has not been discriminated against in any way, shape or form (see Miss S. B.’s excellent post for more on this).

 

There is a limited pool of news stories on Christian issues, and the talking heads are tiresomely predictable. Now my outraged response can be tiresomely predictable, too!

Link to offending article (unless it belongs to a known click-baiter, in which case, summarise). Select response(s) as appropriate from the below list:

George Carey says something – OH GEORGE CAREY NO

George Carey says something else – no really you are not Archbishop any more NO ONE CARES and also YOU ARE WRONG

Michael Nazir-Ali says something – see above

Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern says something – well I am a Christian and damn straight I’m concerned about this woman SPEWING HATE AND BIGOTRY

Christians are persecuted in this country! – no, Christians are treated the same as most and better than many. Try Egypt.

David Cameron claims to endorse Christian values – see Isaiah 58:3-7

Pope does something – aha I approve of this Pope

Pope says something about poverty – at least SOMEONE remembers the point of the Church (see Isaiah 58:3-7)

Pope says something about sex or gender – yes, well, that’s why I’m an Anglican… oh, wait.

House of Bishops says something about poverty – at least SOMEONE remembers the point of the Church (see Isaiah 58:3-7)

House of Bishops says something anything else – FFS hurry up and disestablish so I can get out of this with a clear conscience

Daily Mail is concerned about erosion of traditional Christian values – someone must be doing something right

Archbishop of Canterbury goes too far – Archbishop of Canterbury does not go too far enough!

Women bishops – and about time

LGBT clergy – can we stop treating them as second-class citizens?

Fundamentally changing the nature of marriage – like Marriage With Deceased Wife’s Sister; see also shellfish, mixed fibre clothing, what Jesus said about marriage ahem ahem

Destroying the institution of marriage – possibly this would be a good thing?

Mention of Anglican Mainstream – No, it’s not mainstream

Mention of Church of England Newspaper – No, it’s not representative of the Church of England. Try the Church Times.

Find someone who is talking sense. Alan Wilson is usually a good bet; so is Vicky Beeching.

Consider, rhetorically, whether they are clinging to their crosses where the Breton boat-fleet tosses.

Include appropriate Dave Walker cartoon.

Post.

Where I am with Speak Its Name

I saw this floating around Twitter a few days ago:

It made me wince in recognition. I have seen some truly terrible self-published books. (I have also seen some truly terrible traditionally published books, and in most cases I muttered, ‘Get a proper editor!’ and in one I appended, ‘And make it someone who knows that low-church bishops don’t wear soutanes, or at least don’t call them that!’)

It made me smile. On this count, at least, I have nothing for which to reproach myself, except perhaps for only paying my army of editors in promises of gin.

At present Speak Its Name is with five different people. Two of them are looking at overall language and structure and hunting plot holes. Another two are nitpicking: searching for errors in my portrayal of the High and Low Church wings of university Christianity respectively (though the word ‘soutane’ is not used in my book).

And the fifth is telling me where things just don’t make sense. He opened his critique with the words ‘I am probably one of the most critical people you will meet’, so I was expecting it to be dire; in actual fact it was rather like being savaged by a very fluffy kitten, particularly after the first general editor had suggested I cut half the first chapter. Having said that, I’d cut forty thousand words off my own bat, before any of this crowd got to look at it, because I knew those bits just didn’t work.

I’m working on incorporating all those people’s suggestions into my text. I’m waiting on some of their suggestions; these are all people who have day jobs and/or children, and I’m only paying them in gin! I’m also glumly aware that I need to standardise my inverted commas, some of which are straight and some of which are curly, depending on which program I was using when I wrote the scene in question. I’ve already fixed all the en dashes that should have been em dashes.

The inverted commas are going to be tedious, but they’ve got to be done. It’s all got to be done. In a little while – perhaps a month, perhaps longer – people will start reading it, not because they are kindly pulling it to pieces for me, but because they want to read it. Now, that’s scary.

Was it all worth it?

St Mary Major, Ilchester

St Mary Major, Ilchester

I was talking to one of my former colleagues the other day.

‘Kathleen,’ he said, ‘you read a lot. Have you ever thought about writing?’

‘Well, um, yes,’ I said. ‘In fact…’ And I went into the whole thing. Novel. Started out as Trollope-esque ecclesiastical comedy. Ended up as Christian lesbian coming-of-age. Written. Currently editing. Self-publishing. Likely to be read by all of seventeen people, but I don’t give a damn. And all the rest of it. This was a fairly significant conversation, because it was the first time I’d let on to anyone in the ‘real world’ about it.

As it turned out, he was about four thousand words into what sounds like a very interesting sci-fi thriller. I was impressed at his being willing to talk about it at such an early stage. I’ve been writing mine for years and am only just getting over the temptation to deny everything.

I think he was quite impressed by my having a finished novel, and a little bit horrified by how much I’ve deleted. At present, Speak Its Name stands at just under 80,000 words. At one point it was over 115,000, and that doesn’t include the huge chunks of earlier drafts that I didn’t deem worthy of copy/pasting into ‘Speak Its Name FINAL’, ‘Speak Its Name FINAL 2’ or ‘Speak Its Name FINAL 3’.

(I really do hope FINAL 3 is the last one. I want it off my hands!)

‘So…’ he said, ‘if you had known, back when you started, that you’d be cutting all these words, that you’d be self-publishing, would you still have written this book, as opposed to a different subject?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, because I needed to write it, because this needed writing about.’

And – I didn’t say – because I simply wouldn’t have believed it. Over the years I’ve read plenty of books, articles, blog posts, whatever, that told me how hard a writer has to work and how difficult it is to get published.  I ignored all of them. If I went back to the October of 2007, found my twenty-two year old self sitting at her aunt’s dining table and writing detailed character profiles in colour-coded ink, and told her that she’d have to rewrite the whole thing from the perspective of somebody’s love interest, lose about 40,000 words in the process, and that even at the end of it she’d have to publish the thing herself, she’d have said, ‘Oh, really?’ and kept right on doing what she was doing.

Was it worth writing 40,000 words that will never see the light of day? Was it worth all that time, all that effort, writing a novel that I’m having to self-publish because it falls between several mutually exclusive genres?

Well, if nothing else, I’ve learned how to write a novel. I’ve learned how to combine characters and plot, and dialogue and description, and what needs to go in, and what needs to come out.

And I’ve learned by doing it for myself. I could have read the theory until I was blue in the face, but I wouldn’t have understood it at the level I do now. Those moments where I went, ‘oh, but Becky needs to be the one who sets this going’, or ‘well, how about I just take out everything that’s not from Lydia’s point of view and then see what’s missing?’, those moments of deep insight whose profundity I can’t put into words, would have been worth a very expensive creative writing course.

And writing this particular book was a lot more helpful than any counselling session, in working out how to be bisexual and Christian myself. (None of the characters are me, but most of them have at least one of my issues.)

And I’ve written a book that I’m proud of, that I think is worth putting out into the world.

And I’ve developed the confidence along the way to take responsibility for that myself and not give a damn what anyone else thinks.

Any one of those on its own would have meant I hadn’t wasted the past eight years. Combined – hell, yes, it was worth it.