Joyce Hinnefeld


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gaggle and Rookery

I was invited to offer the prayer at one of last December's Moravian College Christmas Vespers concerts. It's a gorgeous event each year, with my friend Paula Zerkle conducting the College Choir, and I was thrilled to join Chaplain Hopeton Clennon and others on the dais of Central Moravian Church that evening and look out on the sea of lit candles that fill the sanctuary and balcony at the end of the service.

Thought I'd share the prayer I wrote here, since it didn't actually have that much to do with Christmas per se. Somehow I managed to get birds in there instead.

To begin, the words of a Sabbath poem by writer Wendell Berry:

Teach me work that honors Thy work, 
the true economies of goods and words,
to make my arts compatible 
with the songs of the local birds

Teach me patience beyond work
and, beyond patience, the blest
Sabbath of Thy unresting love
which lights all things and gives rest.

Let us pray.

Dear Giver of light, and of rest; dear Source of pure songs rising from this dark season,

Thank you for these songs--these glorious voices, these cherished instruments, from quietest flute to unstopped organ. Thank you for the youthful hopes and dreams of our students, your children here and throughout the world, who sing and play and praise you, in sounds that are beautifully compatible with the songs of the local birds.

Sustain their hopes and dreams, with your unresting love, even in dark times.

With your unresting love, teach us all--all of us gathered here tonight, all of us throughout the world--to honor true economies of goods and words. To respect and revere both the makers of art and music and the makers, and maintainers, of our communities and our homes. Those who care for our children and our elders. Those who teach, those who govern, those who build, those who cook, and clean, and nourish. 

In this season of dark and quiet, teach us to rest in your unresting love. To acknowledge, and attend to, the needs of others. To attend to, and to value, the boundless gifts of the natural world. To listen with restful patience, and deep appreciation, to tonight’s sublime music, but also to the raucous cries of a gaggle of geese or a rookery of crows.

We are grateful to you for the opportunity to rest, tonight, in the beautiful light of this sanctuary and in these sounds of heartfelt praise. Help us, when we leave, to carry this light and these sounds with us, and to share both, in whatever ways we are able, with others.


P.S.: I'm certainly no videographer, especially with an iPhone that I don't use very intelligently, but I did try recently to capture some of these remarkable groups of crows that descend on the treetops of center city Bethlehem at dusk each day. So I'll include that little bit of video here. (Pardon the roar of traffic; the fact that you can still hear the crows over the noise of cars gives you some sense of how loud they are.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"I Thought You Were a Dwarf"

There are writers and artists that I turn to, often in the cold and dark winter months, to remind me of why it’s important to persist. Persist in the work of writing fiction, or any work of making something that isn’t particularly profitable. “Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for,” wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own--not necessarily approving of this state of affairs, of course.

But there you have it: that nagging sense of something that’s “unpaid for” being frivolous. The reason, no doubt, that I devoted much more time to editing and then teaching, from my twenties through my forties, than to my own writing. 

There are ways to make money as a writer, but I haven’t been good at honing those skills. Jokes about “slutting it up” (in my friend and fellow Quaker Rick’s words at a meeting last night) and “inserting a vampire or two” aside, I seem constitutionally incapable of devising hair-raising plots. Or even--in language I’m hearing a lot of lately, as my agent begins submitting a new novel manuscript, with pretty clear trepidation-- “a strong through-line narrative.” I know, I want to tell her: Gone Girl it’s not. I’m sorry, but I don’t really think I can help it.

My impulse is to get whiny and defensive at these moments. Maybe to fall back on the old “They’d never say that to a man” response. (And yes, I can hear how hollow that rings in answer to the charge of a weak “through-line narrative.”) But how about the charge of “too much autobiography”--which, yes, I’ve already heard in response to this new manuscript. (What’s particularly upsetting is that this isn’t even true.)

But a better path, for me, than the angry, arched-spine, “when-did-you-last-say-something-like-that-about-a-male-writer’s-work” posture I’m prone to, is to read someone like Ursula Hegi, in a piece called “Did This Really Happen to You?” that appeared on the Glimmer Train site some time ago. “Giving a character one of my experiences changes the experience,” Hegi writes. “Brings me into the character from an angle I have experienced. Opens up anew the mystery of how it all comes together.”

Give me that “mystery of how it all comes together” over the manipulation of a heavily plotted thriller or vampire story any day. 

And also, please give me Ursula Hegi’s calm and gracious equipoise in the face of repeated versions of the question “Did this really happen to you?” When, after publishing Stones from the River, Hegi encountered readers who told her, “I thought you were a dwarf,” her answer was a simple one. She thanked them.