Ritual and Repetition

On yesterday’s post about making writing sacred, Marcella commented that she was working on this and that she thought ritual and repetition were key.

Oh yes, yes, yes.

If we’re going to continue to use religious practice as a model, that is absolutely the method used worldwide to create sacred space. I think it’s useful to look to religious and spiritual practices because, regardless of your personal beliefs, they are the ways people approach raising themselves up, trying to be the best they can be.

Almost all spiritual pursuits rely heavily on ritual and repetition. Muslims pray five times a day, facing Mecca. Hasidic Jews have prayers for every moment of the day and less conservative branches of Judaism still use repetition, such as the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, or simply observing Sabbath every Friday evening. Catholic Mass has followed the same ritual for over a thousand years. Protestants attend services at the same time every week, following the same pattern. Buddhists meditate in certain ways at certain times. Even the less structured practices like Taoism incorporate repetition with arts like Tai Chi.

What ritual and repetition do is set the stage for what we’d like to have occur. Both spirituality and creativity come from a part of us that must be coaxed out and given a safe place to bloom. Whether you think of this as shutting down the left brain so the right brain can be heard, or quieting the conscious mind so the subconscious can operate, really doesn’t matter. What you’re doing is creating the practice, so the rest will follow.

Interestingly, the Hasidic Jews hold that it’s not necessary to believe. The Hasidics say you must practice. If you practice, belief will eventually follow, because practice creates faith.

What does this mean for the writer?

Yeah, I know you don’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear it either.

That’s right: write every day. Write at the same time every day, if you can. Set your rituals and follow them, ahem, religiously.

Maybe you’re more Hasidic and take your many times a day to write, just a bit. Or more like a Muslim, with carefully orchestrated sessions throughout the day. Maybe you’re more Catholic, like me, and observe the practice in one long session every morning.

Regardless, if you want to create a sacred space for writing, this is the way to do it.

Believe me, I know how hard this is. I know most of our lives do not accommodate any kind of daily ritual, especially one that requires peace and silencing of all the tumult.

That’s where the sacrifice comes in. KAK said yesterday that she pictures me like a Valkyrie, destroying anything that threatens the sacred space. It’s a good analogy because I am that fierce about it. I think we have to be. If we aren’t, before you know it, the temple is full of merchants and money-lenders and there’s no room for anything else.

I always liked the line from Jesus Christ Superstar: “A temple should be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”

If there are thieves in your temple, then yes, kick them all out.

Find your ritual and repeat as necessary.

Writing as Sacred Space

I got to talking with my writing buddy, Laura Bickle, last night. She’s gearing up for the release of Rogue Oracle, the second in her forensic Tarot series that she writes as Alayna Williams.

Dealing with the selling end of stuff is not so fun. Especially for those of us who were never really inclined to be marketers in the first place. Those occasional writers who also love to find more and better ways to get their books out there are blessed with a lucky combination of talents. However, most of the time, the personality and skill combination that makes us good at sitting by ourselves, dreaming up stories is not ideal for the high-octane racetrack of American supply and demand.

It’s a challenge.

As we discussed her plans, I made an offhand comment about at least keeping the writing time sacred. The word struck her, because she’d never thought of it that way before.

I tend to think more in terms of the sacred, perhaps because I was a religious studies major in college. The commonalities among religions across the world fascinated me and I searched out those those themes. The sacred is that which is consecrated, from the Latin sacrāre, to devote. It simply means “reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object.” Other definitions carry ideas about deities or the divine or the holy. But in its purest sense, the sacred is about devotion.

Not many of us starting writing for the money. We write first and foremost out of love. Love of the stories we’ve read, longing to tell stories of our own. If the writing itself isn’t kept sacred, it can get eroded by the clamor and tumult of the world.

It’s not easy, to keep the writing sacred.

It requires sacrifice, a word that comes from the same beginnings as sacred. We all know there’s no such thing as something for nothing. Sometimes keeping the writing space sacred means giving up a pleasure, like computer games. Or relinquishing the idea that we can be everything to everyone. Sacrifice is painful, by definition.

Sometimes I think of it as, to create the sacred space, I have to destroy what’s occupying that space. It might be something I really enjoy. An overriding idea through many spiritual practices is that greater sacrifices yield greater returns.

That’s what creates the sacred.

Piecing It Together

I used to sew a lot. My grandmother was a great seamstress, so I suppose I come by it naturally. In my twenties, I really got into quilting. Some of them turned out pretty fabulous, too, including a King-Size Wedding-Ring quilt I made for a college roomie.

Eventually I had to quit. I quilted more than I wrote, so I finally gave it up. Following a dream requires sacrifices and that was one of mine.

When we moved, I even gave away my sewing machine, along with bags and boxes and piles of fabric. It really kind of broke my heart to see it go. But it was one of those table sewing machines and I absolutely knew there would be no place for it in the new house. Plus I wasn’t sewing. I let it go with a pang, and a promise that if I did want to start sewing again, I’d get a snazzy portable machine.

I really hadn’t given sewing much thought lately, largely because my attention has been on novel-writing, as it should be. But I used the old family Christmas-tree skirt this year, the one my mom forced me to take when we cleaned out her house. That’s the skirt in the top picture. It used to be a white felt skirt, that my mom had everyone in the family sign. Then she embroidered the names in red yarn. We did that when I was about six or seven. Over the years, the white got dingy and stained from various pets and accidents. My mom asked me to cut it up, saving the embroidered names and make a new skirt that matched her living room. Which was *not* red and white.

So I pieced a skirt of mauve silk and burgundy velvet and appliqued the names with a bit of lace edging. I totally don’t remember doing this, just that I did. So this Christmas I used it, as I hadn’t thought I would. It took a bit of cleaning up and so I noticed what a good job I did on it. The seams are strong. It lays nicely, holding up well these twenty years later. I used beads from one of my grandmother’s necklaces as buttons, with satin loops to hook them. Most of the people who signed it are dead now, so I’m glad we saved it.

It’s funny to me to think that I probably could not do as good of a job on it today.

But I’m taking this class, with Alexandra Sokoloff, in an effort to learn her screenwriting tricks to better structure my novel. I needed to make a storyboard and, rather than run to the office supply store, I pulled out my grandmother’s cutting and measuring board.

It’s one of the few pieces of sewing equipment I kept, not only for sentiment, but because it’s a really useful tool that is nearly impossible to find these days.
And now I’m laying out The Body Gift events on it. I’ve only just completed Act I and already I see things I couldn’t before. Blue is the heroine’s POV (point of view, for the uninitiated) and yellow is the hero’s.

Yeah – I’m thinking I’m going to lose his POV altogether. A shocking move that may be exactly what the book needs. Then I’ll applique and embroider in what’s missing.

My grandmother loved to read, too.

It’s the Little Things

This is actually a sunrise picture. Ha! Tricked you, didn’t I?

Yeah, the sun here, it goes up, it goes down. Sometimes with clouds, sometimes without. Always doing something.

I have this friend whose marriage has been going bad for the last several years. It was one of those long-time coming deals. He’d been a drinker until she told him his choices were rehab or divorce. He’d had a couple of affairs in the past, but they’d worked it out and moved on. They’d reached a point where he wasn’t drinking and they were trying to make things work, but the little things still pointed to fundamental cracks in caring for each other.

It’s funny which things really get to people.

She’d already put up with far more than I would have, more than a lot of people would have, when the whole truck thing happened.

He drove her to the next city over – about an hour – to buy the truck when her old one died. She’s the kind of gal who plans ahead, who saves. She knew her vehicle was on its last legs so she’d saved her money and researched dealerships. They went and she bought exactly what she wanted. A rare treat.

Except it ended up costing a bit extra because the husband asked the dealership to add a decal to the rear window of the truck of an eagle and an American flag. Several hundred dollars worth of decal.

Then he wanted to drive the new truck home and have her drive the old one.

She was so mad.

I mean, this is a gal who rarely complains. She likes everyone to get along. I don’t know if she’s ever been in a shouting-mad fight. But she fumed over this. The audacity of him thinking he’d drive her truck home. Oh, and how she hated that decal she had to pay for. It had the added bonus of blocking her sightlines out the rear window.

When things finally got bad enough to blow the top – when she discovered he was involved in yet another affair – they split. He moved out. She kept her truck, of course. We all said, Now you can have that decal removed.

But it turned out to be expensive to take off, too, and she decided it wasn’t worth it. She hoped a rock on the highway might break the window and she could just replace the whole thing with insurance help. When we visited, we discussed sneaking out at night and smashing it with a baseball bat, making it look like vandalism.

Unfortunately, none of us have ever shattered a car window with a baseball bat. Sure, it looks easy in the movies, but… we chickened out.

He’s been gone a couple of years now and her life is better.

The other night, for her birthday, she went out in the evening to meet friends. She emailed me the next morning saying she’d be out for a while, taking her truck in to get fixed. Turns out she backed into her friend’s steel flatbed truck. Didn’t scratch it, but put $2700 worth of hurt to her pickup.

It was raining, she said, and had she ever mentioned that the dammed decal has bubbles in it that catch water. She couldn’t see a thing through the water-filled eagle and flag.

The good news is, she’s having the decal removed. The daughter is overjoyed, too. There are different ways to measure cost.

It’s about time.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Flesh


So, the last few days turned out to be crazy.

Par for the course in my life, you say? Yeah yeah yeah.

There’s this idea that the more something is worth doing, the more difficult it is. That the universe makes you pay for what you want, in sweat and pain. The old idea of blood sacrifice: if you truly want something you have to sacrifice your life blood to it. Sacrifice, of course, derived partially from the word for blood, for you word whores out there.

The idea is that if you are trying to do something, the universe will throw obstacles in your path, to see if you can be distracted.

If you can be? Alas, you are unworthy.

I’m not sure I believe this. But I’m so close to finishing the Ruthless Revision. Within ten pages, I think. And every time I think I’m there something happens to stop me.

So Jeffe, you ask, why are you writing this blog post instead of those ten pages?

Because I’ve got to be at full power to wind everything up in the elegant way I envision and the meter is running low today.

After a few days in New Jersey and another day downtown working with new clients, I thought I was in striking distance of finishing. And then a big DC muckety-muck had to call a state muckety-muck and I had to be called in. All very exciting and now people are sending glowing emails about how admirable I am.

It’s great to have the career validation. It truly is. And I’m not just saying that because I know my boss reads this blog.

The invidious thing is, nobody asks if I’ve finished the book yet. At least, not because they need it and are anxiously waiting for me to deliver it.

I’m really the only one who cares that I haven’t.

I’ve talked about this before, haven’t I?

At any rate, Allison has had a crazy few days also, with an offer of a book contract and four agents now circling her juicy self. It’s a great problem to have, no doubt, but she’s overwhelmed, sorting details and doing her best to make the best decision, not just for now, but for her foreseeable career.

Which brings me back to something I’ve also said before, that the most rewarding part of writing really occurs between you and your work. That’s the most uncomplicated thrill. It’s intimate and lovely.

Maybe I’ll finish tomorrow and keep it a secret.