Memories of the Festival of Faith & Writing are beginning to dim, and you’re probably losing interest in my April literary adventure.But before memories fade altogether, I thought I’d share the last of my notes from a panel discussion featuring Luci Shaw, James Schaap, and Robert Siegel (and no, he is not Robert Siegel, co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered; this is Robert Siegel the poet).Forgive me for offering only tidbits; I scribbled as fast as I could with pen on paper. I did my best to keep up by means of antiquated technology (all the while coveting those attendees tapping away on netbooks and Macs), and these are the nuggets I scratched onto the page: Luci Shaw: “Sometimes doubt and worry build a nest in my mind and keep me from seeing the stars.”
Luci sitting between Robert Siegel (L) and Eugene Peterson (R)
Robert Siegel explained that when doing research on a topic you know little about, start by reading children’s books, because children’s books zero in on what’s most important (and they’re more interesting to read). Later, you can move up to the more dull books for adults to get more detail.Luci said that she takes pictures in order to have a digital memory … to remind her to do something with it later. She always carries a journal and writes everything in it—all her notes and thoughts. Tip: Be sure to write your name and address inside the cover of your journal. If you ever lose it (she lost hers once), it can find its way home (hers did).
Left to right (or maybe it’s more circular, starting bottom left curving up and around to the right): Part of Scott Cairns’ face, Robert Siegel, Luci Shaw, Eugene Peterson, and James Schaap. Scott Cairns and Eugene Peterson joined the others following the panel discussion.
James Schaap quoted Annie Dillard when she spoke at a previous Festival, saying, “You’ll never run out of ideas.” He wondered if that was true. “Really? ‘You’ll never run out of ideas’?” But as he has committed to the discipline of composing a daily blog post, he has come to see that Annie Dillard was right. He has not run out of ideas.He also paraphrased something Flannery O’Connor said: “I have to write to discover what I am doing … I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say.” Robert Siegel said that he spends about nine hours of revision for every one hour draft of a poem or novel. “A writer has to love the process,” he said.Schaap, a photographer as well as an author and teacher, said, “One needs to look for beauty. I find that as I get older, that’s more true. Photography has been a means to purposefully look for beauty. I have to look.”Luci Shaw offered a different perspective; after practicing poetry all these years, “Paying attention and being aware are automatic for me.”Robert Siegel quoted Theodore Roethke, “A mind too active is no mind at all.” Siegel said that his mind sometimes goes off in all directions; he needs to slow it down and meditate in order to focus.Luci said, “I’m not a very disciplined writer … so having deadlines helps me get to work.”
Left to right: Luci Shaw, Eugene Peterson, James Schaap.
These photos were taken about twenty minutes later at another location, where the three panelists were joined by Eugene Peterson and Scott Cairns for a “Chrysostom Society” book signing.Not realizing a book signing was scheduled, I arrived unprepared. Book-less.So I thought through the contents of my backpack and came up with what seemed at the moment to be a clever solution.I pulled out my business cards, and when it was my turn, dealt them out like playing cards at a poker table—swish, swish, swish, swish, swish! As the cards zoomed across the table directly in front of each author, I explained that I came without books but wanted to meet them, say hello, and have them sign something. “For years and years, I’ve wanted to meet members of the Chrysostom Society,” I said, “so when they announced you were going to be here, I realized this was my chance. But I’m so sorry—I don’t have any books. So I wondered if you would sign the front of my business card, because, as you can see, my name is printed on the front with the word ‘writer,’ and then your name would be there, too, and it’s like in some small way we’re sharing the space. Your name. My name…”The more I talked, the more stupid the idea sounded. And the more I must have seemed like a crazed fan. But did I stop? “Years ago I heard Madeleine L’Engle speak,” I continued when none of them responded. “She mentioned the ‘Chrysostom Society,’ and I thought if someday I could just meet some of you … and now, here you are, and here I am … and…”Thankfully and mercifully, at this point I managed to stop, trailing off mid-sentence.They signed the cards and slid them back across the table to me without comment. Were they annoyed? Bemused? Tired?I’m not sure, but I got the impression they were done with me.Unfortunately, their pens didn’t soak into the glossy card stock. Scott Cairns took a few extra seconds to blow on the ink and speed the drying, but as I gathered up the cards, stacking one on top of the other, most of their names smeared a little:Luci Shaw,Robert Siegel,Scott Cairns,James Schaap,and Eugene Peterson.Will they remember the chatty fan with the paper wad business cards?Let’s hope not.(Anyone want to quickly design a new logo for me?)