Marathon at Pratt–“The Least of These”

As I’ve posted previously (see here), a Writers Marathon can be a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with one’s muse, especially after emotional or trying times.  While unable to join the recent excursion to Lemon Park in Pratt, Kansas, I’m privileged to share Nancy Sturm’s brief essay inspired by her experience in the sunshine that day.

BIO:  After teaching high school English for 21 years, Nancy decided to retire. Now she’s pursuing some free-lance writing and has published a few articles. She also works part-time as a co-director for the South Central Kansas Writing Project. If you would like to read more of her work, she blogs regularly at Looking at the Son.

“The Least of These” by Nancy Hamilton Sturm

Even at 10 am this late June morning, the air is hot and heavy with moisture. Today’s expected high is 106 degrees. Fortunately, I sit in the park, surrounded by huge, leafy green canopies. The cottonwoods, oak, and sycamores provide some protection and relief from the sun’s rays.

All around me I hear Spring’s mating calls: the cardinals sing, hoping to attract a mate. Cicadas’ harsh calls sound from my left, then the answering calls echo to my right. I sit on a bench under the shade of a wooden gazebo, soaking in the calm atmosphere.

My mind drifts. Instead of enjoying the beauty and quiet of Lemon Park in Pratt, Kansas, my mind drifts back a few days. I’m in downtown Wichita, on a Sunday evening in 100 degree heat. Here, too, I’m seeking shade, but for a different reason.

With six gentlemen friends, I seek shade not for myself, but for others. We’re on a quest, seeking the homeless. Surely, on this hot day, they seek relief from the oppressive heat in a shaded spot or grassy, tree-lined park.

My friends and I aren’t disappointed. We find the homeless trying to keep cool in sheltered spots: under the Kellogg overpass, in the shade of a gazebo in Old Town, and in the shadows of the downtown library. We offer our small gifts—a sandwich, a bag of chips, a cookie, a pack of gum, some toiletries, and a bottle of water. They seem such a small gifts. We chat for a few moments with each group. Invariably we are thanked, often with a sincere, “God bless you.”

Then we climb back into our air-conditioned vehicles and search for others who are hot, thirsty, and displaced. The irony of our finding some respite from the heat in an air-conditioned vehicle does not escape me. The 70 or so people appreciate the gifts, but our gesture seems so small, like using a teaspoon to dig the foundation of a house. But we will continue to dig that foundation, providing what we can. One sandwich and one water bottle at a time, we’ll provide small gifts for our brothers. One small gift is better than nothing.

Mark 12:29-31 The most important [commandment] …is this… ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Matthew 25:40b Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did your for me.

Where the Hell is that Writing Process thingy anyway??

One of the most frustrating things I’ve discovered about my own writing process is that I don’t have one.

Okay, let me explain that a little more thoroughly.  I HAVE discovered my own personal writing practice for poetry that stems directly from my personal philosophy about what poetry should be.  So while revision of my poems requires quiet and concentration, the initial pulse of energy comes from life, wherever I’m at–right then.  To be able to take advantage of that, I notice that there are times when my ‘poetic’ vision is strong, and in those moments  I can be extremely prolific.  I always carry around a little notebook in my purse–and even once, scribbled line after line on bar napkins I swiped from the impatient waitress.  While that poem needs revision, the title, “The Bar Tab Chronicles” sounds promising.

Fiction is a whole other place, and ironically, the area where I’ve received the most ‘formal’ training.  Unfortunately, despite the wealth of suggestions out there on process, I have tried many and find none that seem to ‘fit’ comfortably.  When I was in school and had the luxury of keeping my own night-owl hours, I wrote continuously, fully immersed.  Many first drafts of 5,000-7,000 word stories were completed in one long session.  I would also chain-smoke, burning black spots into my keyboard.

That process prepared me zilch for writing in the real world.  Writer H.B. Berlow does an excellent job of explaining this crash of the FANTASY of what a writer does (or wishes we were doing), versus the reality of simply living, working, shopping, and cleaning.  You can read his idea of the merging of The Complete writer this month on the KWA blog here.  Even as I tackle my own dream of completing a first draft (completely) of a LONG work, I find myself struggling to identify exactly how this will be done for me–I am essentially trying to discover how I will blend these two aspects.  I have a strong feeling I will wrestle with this one for some time.

Will I write in spurts, turning off my internal editor? (and how DOES one do that exactly??)

Will I schedule chunks of days, so that I can immerse myself in the novel? (only this time I’m pregnant, have a 4-year-old, bills and responsibilities, a husband that might like to see me, and let’s not forget that I actually quit smoking 5 years ago)

Will I simply rewrite and revise the first 5,000 words over and over? (so I’ve already ruled this one OUT as completely unproductive and unsatisfying at this time)

Today, I added new material and revised old material.  I’m pleased.

word count: 4,180