Stand Up for Life This Weekend

GimmeShelterPosterLargerIf you are you looking for a way to stand up for life during this week of the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, take someone with you to see the movie Gimme Shelter, which opens tomorrow, January 24th in a somewhat limited release. (Hopefully it will roll out in the next few weeks to more theaters.) Based on the true stories of several homeless teenagers, the film focuses on Apple Bailey, who at sixteen years old works up the courage to leave her addicted, abusive mother, but ends up on the street pregnant and homeless.

Director Ronald Krauss gives us a film that is not meant to make us comfortable, bravely taking us beyond predictable “Hollywood” choices. Gimme Shelter demands a lot of its audience with its realism, extreme close-ups, intense emotional scenes, and unrelenting honesty. In return, we are rewarded with a film that draws us immediately into the depths of what it might really be like to be a pregnant teen who finds herself on the streets. The filming and acting is superb and includes the convincing, often understated performances of Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, and James Earl Jones.

The film is powerful yet restrained enough that younger teens who are mature enough to appreciate the storyline could greatly benefit from seeing it. The theme of honoring life is beautifully portrayed throughout the film, as well as the themes of the meaning of family (even when it’s broken), finding family outside of one’s own home, and the importance of outreach and ministries such as Several Sources Shelters, whose founder, Kathy DiFiore, is compellingly portrayed by Ann Dowd.

I rejoiced in the many details of being Catholic that this film gets right—and without preaching! While in some ways Gimme Shelter could be considered a “message movie” because of its many powerful, life- and family-affirming themes, it uses the power of film artistically to draw us in close to Apple’s experience. This is not your typical Christian “message movie” that we need to cringe at the artistry…it’s way beyond that.

Gimme Shelter isn’t a perfect film. I would have appreciated a protagonist with a better defined character arc that is less passive, as well as  tighter dialogue with more subtext. But given the challenges that arise in making a true-to-life film on such a demanding topic accessible to a wide audience, Gimme Shelter is a solid film, offering an insightful story that rewards and enriches on both a human and spiritual level. Going to see this movie on its opening weekend is one way that we can promote Gospel and human values, building up a civilization of love.

Living in a Spirit of Wonder

Despite good intentions, it has become ridiculously challenging for me to find time to post here. For a few months, I’ve been praying about what to do–I’ve even prayed about letting the blog go entirely! Only now can I see a bit of light of how the Lord might be inviting me to continue blogging here. I enjoy writing the blogposts, and even more I really appreciate how this blog helps me to stay connected with what makes me a better writer.

IMG_20131222_151102988Today on the Feast of the Epiphany, we were blessed to have a good friend of our community, Bishop Richard Lennon, celebrate Mass with us. He gave a wonderful homily which I won’t repeat here (too bad I didn’t record it!), but which highlighted the importance of letting the mystery of Christmas touch our hearts and fill us with wonder. It’s a message I always need to hear, because so often I let myself get too busy about too many things. But in this time of transition, it has special resonance: I think I’m so focused on the basics that I have missed a bit of the spirit of wonder in both my spiritual and writing life. So as 2014 starts, I’d like to focus a bit on living in a spirit of wonder. How can I make 2014 a Year of Wonder? All of the things I thought of imply my daily prayer commitment and a deepening of faith on a personal level, but I thought I’d share here the results of my brainstorming (not in order of importance):

  • Start every day thanking God for the gift of this day
  • Catch the sunrise a couple times a week
  • Shift my perspective on the challenges I’m facing: instead of seeing them as occasions for suffering, try to discover what I can learn from them
  • Renew (or return) the focus of my life on my relationship with God as often as I need to, so that I can keep it there
  • Take time to write my blog (and other projects) that help me to reflect more deeply on what I’m living right now
  • Ask Mary, the Queen of Apostles (Queen of communicators), to live her spirit of “treasuring” her experiences and “pondering them in her heart” (cf. Luke 2:19)

How do you cultivate the spirit of awe and wonder? I’d enjoy hearing your suggestions in the comments below!

Picking a Movie To Watch as a Family at Christmas

Last year, I offered a list of five great Christmas movies to watch–a list I still stand by. But  great films that are not specifically about Christmas can also become a cherished part of a Christmas family tradition.  Cinematic artistry, the way a film resonates with our human experience, and its thematic connection to the mystery of the Incarnation can make a great film especially meaningful to watch together. 

Watching a great movie together at Christmas can become an annual family tradition. It can be a way for you and your family:

  • to take a break from the noise and bustle of Christmas
  • to slow down
  • to allow some space for silence or reflection
  • to share something meaningful

This is especially true if you take time to talk about the film together afterwards.

However, if your family is like mine, picking a movie that the whole family can enjoy watching together can be a challenge! It needs to be artistic, entertaining, engaging, and appropriate for all ages. Here are a few of my favorite picks to see together at Christmas, which I shared with Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann on this week’s Christmas show on Salt + Light Radio. 

Family
Christmas is a season where we celebrate the Holy Family—a family that goes  through crisis after crisis: from unexpected pregnancy, to traveling with an expectant mother, to not being able to find shelter for the birth of the Baby, to the persecution of Herod and exile. Yet they overcome these obstacles through their faith in God and their love for each other. These three entertaining family movies offer us the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the gift and vocation of belonging to our family.

SoundofMusicDVDThe Sound of Music (1965) is one of my favorite films of all time for so many reasons—its story, music, performances, etc.…. In addition to its artistry, The Sound of Music beautifully and subtly explores many Christian themes. It’s at the top of my list here because of its portrayal of what it means to be family that is wounded and healing, close and joyful. The film also proposes a Catholic worldview of our purpose in life and vocation—both individually and as a family.

LionKingDVDDisney’s The Lion King (1994), abounds in symbolism about family, fathers and sons, and finding redemption. Its superficial parallels to the life of Christ (especially the great rejoicing over Simba’s birth, quickly followed by his exile) make this a natural fit for the Christmas season, but Simba’s journey to becoming the king he is meant to be, also resounds with themes of friendship, love, and self-sacrifice.

IncrediblesFor a fun take on what it means to be family, The Incredibles (2004) is a wonderful choice, as each family member discovers the importance of his or her part within the family and in their family’s mission to help make the world a better place.

The Unexpected Visitor
Christmas is also a season which encourages us to be mindful of the unexpected visitor. The Son of God “pitching His tent among us,” as Isaiah said, is the most unexpected visitor. How do we welcome the unexpected visitor, and do we find the face of God there?

It was difficult to choose only two films with this theme, but here they are: 

ETDVDE.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) is a great choice that provides both fun and touching moments. Spielberg’s imaginative story of how an alien from another planet transforms the life of a troubled young boy offers interesting insights and parallels into the Incarnation and salvation history.

VisitorDVDIn 2007’s low-key independent film, The Visitor, Richard Jenkins brilliantly plays a lonely college professor who finds an unexpected immigrant couple living in his apartment. His initial reaction, his surprising reception of the couple, and the way the visitors change his life make this a real treasure to watch. The backdrop of the film is the struggle of the immigrant here in the U.S. Rated PG-13 for language, this gem of a movie could be watched by a family with older children. Don’t let the slow beginning stop you from this rewarding film.

Light in the Darkness
Christmas is the season of light because Christ  brings the light–and is Himself our Light. Films that explore what it means to live in the light of truth, living with integrity in times of darkness, can be particularly rewarding to watch.  

LOTRFellowshipDVDFor me, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) can be watched any time, any where, for any occasion. But it can become a wonderful family Christmas tradition, especially for its portrayal of light overcoming darkness, the humility of the hobbits, and the way that the fellowship work together and share their mission of living the light. With the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien providing multiple layers of meaning and a dazzling visual cinematic narrative, each film is greatly rewarding. (The war scenes and the complex themes make this a movie for families with older children.)

SimonBirchDVDSimon Birch (1998) is a small but moving film about a young boy who, despite his struggles with dwarfism and the ridicule of others, is convinced he has a particular mission from God. This poignant film may bring tears, but the way young Simon lives the truth of who he is in very trying circumstances is inspiring. And the story of a child who brings light to the little town he lives in resonates also with the season.

ManforAllSeasonsDVDMan for All Seasons (1966) is truly a movie for all seasons, as St. Thomas More struggles to be faithful to the light of Christ through growing pressure, threats, imprisonment, and death. In many ways, St. Thomas More’s martyrdom is a defense of the sacredness of marriage. While it might seen strange to watch a film about a martyr during Christmas, it fits the Christmas season, as the feast of St. Stephen the first martyr falls on Dec. 26th, the day after Christmas.  A deeply powerful film about a radiant saint and martyr, Man for All Seasons won six Oscars. It is also my very favorite “saint movie.” If you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favor and watch it this Christmas with your family!

I’d love to hear your what you watch with your family at Christmas! Please share below.

Five Thoughtful–and Fun!–Movies To Watch at Christmas

Last Christmas, I developed my list of top five Christmas movies that can add to your family’s joy and meditation every Christmas. Originally broadcast during the Christmas show of Salt + Light Radio last year, I never actually posted the list on my blog. Since I refer to it in this year’s Christmas show of Salt + Light Radio, I decided I better put it up. So here it is! 

EdwardScissorhandsDVD5. Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s moving fable about a gentle human-like creature whose inventor dies before he had time to complete him, so Edward has scissors for hands. He lives isolated and alone until a kind woman discovers him and brings him back to her suburb, where Edward is at first welcomed, but eventually becomes persecuted as an outsider. In addition to the Christmas references, the story of gentlehearted Edward entering into a suburban community and his ultimate rejection can help us to reflect on the Incarnation, and the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the powerful, such as Herod, who seek to destroy him. (Rated PG, I recommend this somewhat gothically-styled fairy tale for adults and adolescents.)

MillionsDVD4. Millions is a wonderful, less-known film directed by Danny Boyle, who has directed some great films, probably most famous for Slumdog Millionaire. Millions is set at the end of the year when the UK was changing currency from pounds to Euros. It’s the story of Damien and Anthony, two little boys who terribly miss their mother who has recently passed away. Damien, the younger of the two, is playing out in a field and a huge bag of money—worth millions of pounds—flies through the air and lands on his cardboard playhouse. Damien believes it’s a miracle, and he wants to give the money to whoever needs it, while Anthony wants to keep the money for their family.

Damien’s generosity, poverty of spirit, and innocence make him the wisest when it comes to dealing with the burden of millions of dollars. Damien has frequent conversations with the saints, asking them if they’ve seen his mother, St. Maureen, in heaven—because he wants to know that she is okay. Even though the Christmas theme is more of a setting than developed, this wonderful story  explores themes of faith, heaven, the trap of materialism, grief, holiness, and miracles. (Rated PG, not for really young children, but for young adolescents and up.)

NativityStory3. The Nativity Story—which, for now, is the only film that centers entirely around the story leading up to Jesus’ Birth. There are so many beautiful moments in this film which gives easy access to meditating on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. The Nativity Story ignores many traditions about the extraordinary graces that Mary received as the Mother of God, and focuses much more on Mary’s humanity. (For example, the film doesn’t assume that Mary took a vow of virginity before the Annunciation, something which is not explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. As Catholics, we believe that Mary remained a virgin, but from the Scriptures it isn’t exactly clear when she made that decision.) Yet, it offers us a context in which we can more fully understand the risk that Mary took in saying her generous “yes” at the Annunciation. For those of us who tend to put Mary on a pedestal, or can’t get beyond the statues of her in church, the grounded Marian focus of this film provides a rich alternative source for prayer and meditation.

My favorite part of the film, however, is the growing relationship between Mary and Joseph. Joseph is often neglected in the Christmas story, but here is a beautiful portrayal of what it might have meant for him to take Mary as his wife, and welcome Jesus as his foster son. This is a must-see Christmas film, if you’ve never seen it, and excellent to revisit every couple of years. (Not for young children, due to several scenes of violence—including the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.)

ScroogeDVD2. An adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: 

  • whether it’s the animated version, the muppet version, or the dating version–Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
  • or my personal favorite, the musical 1970 version entitled Scrooge and starring Albert Finney
  • For a less familiar adaptation suited for adults, not children, try the entertaining, Family Man with Nicholas Cage (2000)

This classic story of conversion is rooted less in the mystery of the Incarnation and more on Christmas as a family celebration of love. Scrooge converts when he looks closely at the consequences of his past and present choices. Very often this conversion is triggered by an encounter with an innocent child, or people who reach out to the protagonist in compassion. What I’m still waiting for: A Christmas Carol adaptation where a woman plays Scrooge!

ItsAWonderfulLife1. It’s a Wonderful Life has some similarities with A Christmas Carol, in that a supernatural visitor—in this case an angel—comes to visit a good man and takes him on a journey to the past and future to help him recognize that the life that he now feels trapped in is truly wonderful.

This 1947 black and white film starring Jimmy Stewart was not that well-received when it first came out. Over the years, its repeated TV showings have made it perhaps the Christmas movie in North America. George Baily, the generous man who blessed the lives of all his neighbors by sacrificing his own dreams, but who finally ends up in crisis himself, is a hero worth rooting for.

One of the reasons it’s my first choice is its bittersweetness: the sufferings of others–and especially of George Bailey–are very real, something that we can identify with, especially because George has come  to the point that he has lost hope and can no longer see the meaning of his sacrifices, which makes the ending of the movie both bitter and sweet.  (Full two hours, has serious themes, but is a great choice for a family Christmas film.)

I hope you share your own Christmas favorites in the comments!

Re-Telling the Story of God’s Love

Christmas Concert from the Choir Loft! (taken by novice Sr. Chelsea)

Christmas Concert from the Choir Loft! (taken by novice Sr. Chelsea)

Every Christmas, the Daughters of St. Paul Choir go on tour with a beautiful concert that is much more than just a musical experience. The photos  can’t capture what it’s like to be sung to by this group of talented women dedicated to Christ and to communicating Christ.

It’s been ten years since I’ve been to one of their concerts, and, as always, I am profoundly touched by how the sisters’ singing becomes a channel or opening for the grace of Christ. You can feel the presence of God as the sisters sing.

I know these sisters personally and have lived in community with many of them. They are wonderful, talented women truly dedicated to their vocation to living and communicating Christ. They are also really normal, human, flawed women who struggle with the same things that you and I struggle with every day. The gift that they make of themselves in these concerts allows God to bless their goodness and littleness–their letting Him in–so that He can shine His light and love through them.

Concert PhotoThis year, I was also struck by how each song is a re-telling of the story of God’s love for humanity; of God taking on human flesh and becoming a baby for love of us. Of course, the choir chooses each song carefully for its meaning and beauty, but the songs and their styles are quite diverse–from traditional hymns such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “O Holy Night,” to an upbeat version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” to the “doo-wops” of “A Perfect Christmas Night.” Yet, each Christmas song is a unique re-telling of the story of God’s love for us.

The Nativity story has inspired the creativity of countless artists through the ages. This Advent and Christmas, while I enjoy the beauty of Christmas music and art that surrounds me, I’m going to deepen my joy by wearing my “writer’s hat” and observing how each Christmas expression–ornament, song, decorations, cards, and more–creatively tells a piece of the story of how God’s love touches the earth.

To the Wonder: Cinematic Homage to 1 Corinthians 13

The second film I wanted to highlight on the Salt + Light Radio Hour this week also offers tremendous hope, and a beautiful vision of human nature.

If you saw filmmaker Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, you have a good idea of the cinematic journey into art and human nature that Malick attempts to bring us on in To the Wonder. As you might remember, I absolutely loved The Tree of Life (earlier blogpost). To the Wonder is remarkably similar, with many of the same elements. For me, Malick’s style in these last two films is a kind of cinematic impressionism, where we enter into the details of the characters’ lives at just a few points, but so closely as to almost live these moments with them. The narrative structure is more defined in To the Wonder than in The Tree of Life, but is still quite simple and nonlinear. (For those unfamiliar with Malick’s latest films, the narrative line might seem almost nonexistent.) Nevertheless, the narrative tension moves the film forward—several times I found myself tensely wondering how the characters were going to end up. But at its core, To the Wonder is not so much about telling one love story as it seems to be about telling the story of love itself, opening up for us a meditative space where we can contemplate about one of the greatest mysteries—and gifts—of life.

To the Wonder’s love story explores the true nature of marital love and reminded me specifically of Pope Benedict’s letter, God Is Love, (Deus Caritas Est), which beautifully describes love. For me, To the Wonder is like a cinematic 1 Corinthians 13—a canticle of praise about the gift of love in our lives, and also an exploration about the true nature of love, what love isn’t, how love can be twisted into hate, or reduced into something very small—like lust which is self-centered and doesn’t have much to do with romantic love at all. And yet, how we all yearn to be loved and to love. And that once we learn to love, life is forever changed for us.

To the Wonder is rated R in the U.S. because of some sexuality and nudity. Because To the Wonder is for the most part celebrating the beauty of the human body in a lyrically artistic way, I think a lesser rating would have been more appropriate (as they gave it in Canada, where it’s rated 14A). 

The film also explores the relationship between love and faith (both the virtue of faith and the quality of trust or faith in the beloved), both in the main story but also with a number of moving scenes about a priest who is going through a spiritual dark night. But above all, this seems to be a film that delves deep into the vocation of marriage. (I would bet that those who are studying Theology of the Body would really benefit from seeing the film.) 

Malick’s images are exquisite, of course. But the sparse dialogue—or better, monologues typical of Malick’s films—contain many of my favorite parts, perhaps because I’m a writer. (The authenticity that comes from including the monologues in the characters’ original languages is a beautiful touch, although most have English subtitles.) At least two of the characters talk to God as their Great Lover, the Lover of all humanity, whom He is indeed for all of us. Perhaps my favorite line is a reflection from the priest, who is preaching about loving fidelity: “If you fear your love has died, then perhaps it is waiting to be transformed into something higher.”

To the Wonder is definitely a film for lovers of the art of cinema and of Malick’s work, for philosophers and for those who enjoy pondering the meaning of love, which is central to our very existence as human beings. As a film with a more experimental, limited-narrative style, it’s not for everyone. While I really liked this meditative film in my first viewing, I recommend:

1) seeing it on the big screen if at all possible (I know I would have appreciated it more) and

2) afterwards taking time to discuss how this film sheds light on our understanding and living out our vocations to love

Man of Steel: Offers Gritty Hope

As we begin November with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, our gaze is moved in a different direction than usual—towards eternity. For my segment with Salt + Light Radio this week, I chose to focus on two films that offer us a larger viewpoint than our usual mundane perspective, a viewpoint based on hope that takes us beyond what we see, hear, and feel in the moment. 

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that Superman on the screen is almost a genre for me—a  favorite genre! I’ve seen just about every live-action depiction of Superman available for the screen, from the original TV series with George Reeves, up till this year’s Man of Steel. The reason that Superman continues to be my favorite super-hero—even though his movies are not always the best-made superhero films—is that he is one of our pop culture’s best representations of a Christ-figure. A spiritual layer of meaning is easy for people of faith to see, and it often seems to be intentionally included in the films. There are many superficial parallels that make Superman a Christ-figure, but some of the essential ones are:

  • He always chooses to do the right thing—or almost always. Even when he makes big mistakes (hello Smallville!) his intentions are always good.
  • He was sent to earth to help humanity discover their dignity and their true identity of greatness; to help humanity find the way to live out of that dignity; and to offer hope.
  • In many screen versions, although Superman fights, his is not a story about violence, nor about might making right. In many of my favorite stories, Superman chooses to resolve the situation without violence, which usually takes greater strength.
  • Above all, Superman’s self-sacrificing love for others makes him a Christ-figure.

This month’s DVD release of Man of Steel has a lot going for it as a gritty version of Superman. As a real Superman aficionado, I truly enjoyed about 75% of the film on the big screen. Very well-cast, the actors give great performances and the characters are well-written: I definitely want to see more of these characters in the next film! I especially enjoyed Henry Cavill as Clark Kent, Amy Adams’s strong and intelligent Lois Lane who is never stupidly blind to Clark’s true identity and is wise enough to keep his secret.

The special effects are excellent and exciting, but the somber color palette of the film helps us hone in on Clark Kent’s lonely struggles: as an outsider, as an alien, as someone “different,” as an adopted child… This grittier version of Superman is appealing and makes his choices all the more heroic. For me, the moral strength of Clark Kent comes from family: not only from his Kryptonian heritage (Russell Crowe was amazing as Jor-El), but particularly from being raised by his earthly parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (also convincingly portrayed by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Man of Steel is very much a father-son film, as we see Clark’s relationship develop with both of his fathers, who offer guidance but do not so much tell Clark what to do as encourage him to make his own choices—to deliberately choose who he is to become.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I was hugely disappointed at the end of the film. Act Three is primarily made up of a way-too-long, gratuitously violent and repetitive super-fight between Superman and super-villain Zod, where it seems that half the city is destroyed. (Did the people in the skyscrapers really have a chance to get away before the fight started, and how is Superman so clueless about the destruction he is causing in a metropolis? But that’s more of a background detail I can overlook.) My big disappointment is that Superman makes a moral choice that I feel contradicts his true nature and calling. In a way, the blame falls on the screenwriters for not allowing Superman to come up with a third solution to the either/or dilemma he faced. So the ending—which becomes somewhat predictable—was really spoiled  for me. And without a strong ending, the entire film is compromised, and this screen version of Superman is no longer as  compelling of a Christ-figure.

Nevertheless, with its strong direction by Zack Snyder, absorbing development of so many of the characters (both in the writing and performances), and the humanizing approach to Superman, this film offers much to think about. I remain hopeful that the next Superman movie—for there will be one—will better reflect  Superman’s true nature and the blazing hope that he offers to humanity. Rated PG-13 in the US and  PG in Canada, due to the violence—even if it’s comic-book violence—Man of Steel is a film for older kids and adults.

The second film that offers a hope-filled perspective couldn’t be more different from Man of Steel. For my commentary on Terrence Malick’s beautiful To the Wonder, check back for my next post.

Multi-Writing

Everyone multi-tasks nowadays, but many of us do it specifically with writing, aka multi-writing.

Multi-writing and multi-creating have been my experience this past intense month. October has been full of new events and landmarks as I transition:

  • Transfer from Toronto to my new community in Boston, MA
  • Promoting my new releases, Saints Alive: The Faith Proclaimed and Saints Alive: the Gospel Witnessed here in Boston with a lecture and book-signing with Sr. Mary Lea at our Pauline Books & Media Center in Dedham
  • New apostolate: from writing books (or half-books) mostly solo, to collaboratively working with the development of new video and digital projects
  • Putting together the Discover Hope newsletter for the first time last week—you can read my reflection, Love Answers Prayers, here.
  • My author website is partially up!
  • Revision for my new book on the Eucharist is complete! This revision has haunted me for several months as I couldn’t see clearly what I needed to do
A beautiful image of transition!

A beautiful image of transition!

All of these events have required different forms of creativity and focus. Now, as I go into November and my transition continues, it’s looking just as exciting and intense:

  • November is “Saints Month,” so I’ll help to promote my newly-released books, Saints Alive! via social media every day. As I’m still learning twitter, just starting to figure out what I can do with  my author page on Facebook, and naturally prefer long-form writing to short-form, this will be quite the challenge.
  • My upcoming book-signing for See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations to Grow in Self-Esteem at our Dedham Pauline Book & Media Center. (Although the book has been out four years, I never had a chance to share my workshop here.)
  • Author website—put up all those free resources I’ve developed!
  • Proofread Eucharist manuscript before turning in to editor—a tedious but much-needed task
  • Brainstorming/developing new scripts for our Video Studio—we have some exciting ideas that we’ve talked about that I can’t wait to start brainstorming.
  • Persevering daily with creative writing routine for NaNoWriMo children’s novel

And there’s much more, but enough of my laundry lists… I wanted to share at least this much with you so that my reflection on juggling creative tasks has a context. Here are a few strategies I’m trying out–to conserve creative energy where I can so that I can “spend it all” where I feel called to.

  1. Prioritize. I’m blessed to be focusing mostly on the creative development of projects. Other tasks that come up—usually the technical stuff—goes lower on my priority list. “Can it wait a day, or a week?” I ask myself. For juggling the various creative projects, I always try to find out (or predict) which projects are urgent or will develop deadlines; those go at the top of my list. While I schedule time for email and other tasks on a daily basis, I do them after I’ve put in a good chunk of time on the top creative project(s). If I have any doubts about what to put first, I bring it to my daily Hour of Adoration. Jesus and I seem to come up with good decisions together.
  2. Organize my work space well. Having a new, empty office is simply invaluable, but I haven’t taken full advantage of that yet. I want to set up the drawers and shelves that I have, so that by the end of this week, I’ll have an accessible place for every project and also for the department business that comes up. Thoughtful organization of files on my computer is essential, too—finding what I need quickly. (I sense an upcoming photo op when I’m done!)
  3. Choose to collaborate with other creative people when possible. I can’t precisely describe my instinctive working style, as I seem to adapt to my situation. However, for the past ten years I’ve mostly worked solo. Writing a book—even co-authoring  the way Sr. Mary Lea and I did—is mostly researching and writing on my own. But my new assignment involves working closely with two different creative teams. I no longer have to put out all the creative energy, nor do I have to push a project to completion on my own. Our team shares that responsibility. I believe the secret to collaboration is to see and cherish the gifts that God has given to each person. If I can understand and trust what each person can best offer to the project and process, then I can allow that to happen organically. This approach both focuses me to offer my best, and frees me from trying to do all the creative weight-lifting. We’re in this together.
  4. Take time to nurture my creativity—the time it deserves. I can’t forget that, with the many projects and demands on my time, my task is to respond creatively. So it’s critical to take the time both to think through each project and to charge the creative “batteries.” For me, that might mean bringing a project to prayer, taking an afternoon to brainstorm and research before diving in to a project, journaling so that I can get below the surface, taking a prayer-walk to clear my head and reset my priorities in the light of faith, or sneaking in forty minutes a day on a creative project “just for fun” like a NaNoWriMo novel.

All of us are committed in many directions. In light of yesterday’s (Sunday) reading from 1 Thessalonians, how do we discern God’s will for us and the gifts He has given us when we multi-task and multi-write? For me, being “in flow” doesn’t just refer to a creativity that carries me through a writing session, but, more importantly, feeling that I’m fulfilling my personal vocation and doing what God intends me to do:

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 1:11-12).

How do you keep your creativity flowing and give priority to your personal mission?

Happy Feast Day to All Saints-in-the-Making!

I just had to share this little video–I can’t re-post it here, but it’s definitely worth the click-through. A few sisters from my community the Daughters of St. Paul share who their favorite saint is:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=538993656169426

Of course, after co-authoring Saints Alive! with Sr. Mary Lea Hill, I have too many favorite saints to count, but I shared a few of my very, very top favorites on the Facebook page anyway…

saints-faithsaints-gospel

Using NaNoWriMo as a Creative Support

NanowrimoLogoUsing NaNoWriMo as a support, this month I’m setting up a routine that will really nurture my writing life. For those of you who are not familiar with it, National Novel Writing Month (which is a misnomer since NaNoWriMo is quite international) is a non-profit organization which supports writers both new and experienced, encouraging them to write the first draft of a novel—at least 50,000 words—in one month. NaNoWriMo gives writers all kinds of resources and encouragement to write, and with very active writing forums, it is a great place to connect with other writers.

NaNoWriMo is a real commitment, as 50,000 words in a month breaks down to a daily goal of 1,667 words a day. It’s not undoable for me to hit that daily goal by any means, but even during my strongest writing times, I can rarely take the time to write first-draft work seven days a week.

It’s particularly important to me in my new writing apostolate that I nurture creativity, because it seems that initially much of my writing is going to be short pieces, on-assignment, without much narrative to them. While this requires effort, craft, and creativity, it’s not the same for me as writing the longer, deeper, and narrative-driven pieces, which are both harder to write and feel more to the “core” of my God-given mission as a writer.

I will be called on to do this deeper writing, yet actually doing it and honing my skills and creativity for it will get pushed to the side if I’m not attentive, because there’s always other “urgent” stuff to write—but being urgent doesn’t necessarily make it more important. Deeper writing also nurtures my writing craft overall, so the “everyday” kind of writing that I’m currently doing will benefit hugely.

Since my role as writer for the Digital Publishing and Pauline Studios is still developing—I have barely scratched the surface in my first month here!—I find it exciting that I can shape it around the needs of the people we are trying to reach with the Gospel. NaNoWriMo gives me the perfect opportunity to set up creative routine, providing goals, challenges, resources, and a writing community.

My Motto for NaNoWriMo 2013

My Motto for NaNoWriMo 2013

So, my plans and goals for NaNoWriMo 2013 are:

◆ Rise earlier to pray so that I can take 45-60 minutes every morning for creative writing on my NaNoWriMo project

◆ Take an hour at least 5 evenings a week for NaNoWriMo.

◆ Write creatively every day, at least 500 words. I’m not so worried about quantity as quality, which is counter to NaNoWriMo’s culture. But a low word count goal works for me. I’ve never “won” NaNoWriMo; at least one time hitting that higher word count was so problematic for me that I just gave up early in the month. At 500 words a day, my word count/goal is actually quite low: only 15,000. That doesn’t take into account the writing that I’ll be doing during my usual day, nor the evenings I’m taking to do final edits on my latest nonfiction book. My goal is to write every day, not to complete my children’s novel. But I’m actually hoping that by setting my goal so low, I’ll exceed it. Won’t that be fun! (Word wars, anybody?)

◆ I may actually try to jump into a local NaNoWriMo write-in. Now that I have moved to Boston, I have to connect with new writers. Ideally, I’d love to find or form a local writing circle—either for narrative (screenplays and novels) or for nonfiction. If anyone is in the area, let’s connect!

The NaNoWriMo widget is on the sidebar and will display my daily word count, so if you’d like, you can follow my progress. If you are doing NaNoWriMo and would like to connect, send me an email or you can find me on the NaNoWriMo site as “paulwriter.”