Lots of us are here at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I’ve heard and seen:
Laughter. We sometimes pigeonhole authors into this uber-serious, scholarly, research-happy, deep-thinking model, but Gene Luen Yang shows a funny picture of his childrens’ fingers slipping under closed doors, trying to invade his writing space. Pam Muñoz Ryan regales us for almost ten minutes with funny and touching letters from young fans. Anne Lamott tells us about pants that don’t fit anymore and about trying to “cover up the abyss with a cute area rug from Ikea.”
Awkward laughter. The session is entitled “Writing Faithfully About Sex.” It imagines itself to be an honest and blunt discussion about how to tackle sexual topics in religious writing, but it ends up being a room full of prudish religious people talking circles around sex and laughing hot-cheeked. It fails to shed much light on the subject. But that’s okay because…
“It’s okay to fail. There will always be someone better than you.” — James McBride
“If you never fail at anything, you are setting your goals too low.” — Pam Muñoz Ryan
The rustle of everyone sitting up straighter and reaching for a pen when an author says something profound. Those pens scratching on paper in unison. It’s like in church when we pass out little pieces of bread and tiny glasses of grape juice. We eat and drink together; hands lift, mouths chew, lips sip. The tinkling sound of those tiny glasses being stacked and set aside.
“Jesus didn’t say ‘take and figure it out.’ He said ‘take and eat.’” — Anne Lamott
Making a living versus making a life.
Pondering whose you are, not who you are.
“I don’t try to write with a particular religious view. I try to write about what it’s like to have a soul.” — Christopher Beha
Several women—I imagine they are teachers because they nod and get a little teary-eyed when a young adult author thanks teachers for their work of showing students how to look beyond themselves—knitting while listening to a writer. Some people might think it’s distracting or disrespectful, but I love the sense of comfort and ease these women have, as if they’re just sitting at home listening to a dear friend.
“Not every memoir by a woman has to be Eat, Pray, Love.” Paraphrased, Carlene Bauer and Christine Byl
Etymology. The word companion has its roots in the words for bread. A companion is literally a bread-fellow. No wonder we like to share meals.
The lone clapper who can’t help but put her hands together because a presenter has said something with which she resonates deeply. The literary equivalent of “Amen!”
Helpful people. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more polite, sweet, helpful group of 2,000 than at a religious reading and writing conference in the Midwest. Every door is held open, every piece of trash picked up. Everyone gives directions (or at least tries to). Your mouth hurts from smiling. Free coffee abounds.
“If you want your kids to have an adventure, don’t take them on a sailboat. Send them to be teachers in Detroit.” — James McBride
Collaboration. “Have you read _______’s book? I think you’d like it.” “Sure, I’ll look over your manuscript. Here’s my card.” “I’ll go to this session, you go to that one, and we can exchange notes over lunch.” “I’ll let you know if we have job openings.”
Old friends rejoicing.
Piles and stacks and boxes of books.
The sun. Finally, the sun.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.