River Caught Sunlight: Excerpt

Normanskill

The Normans Kill. Photography by Roberta Lawrence. Used by permission.

Here is an excerpt from The River Caught Sunlight. Just after making funeral arrangements of her mother, Janice needs to walk away. Marcel is her brother’s girlfriend. You’ll find the novel’s title here as well:

“Back at The Farm, a warm wind coasted between the big barn and little barn, the aiming hairs for storms. If Janice saw the sky between them blacken, she knew they’d get a bad one. But today, it was plain blue. Nobody needed her, not Jim for his story, not her father and brother to mow the lawn, not Marcel who went home for a few hours. Janice walked out between the barns, following the horse trails until they disappeared in the lush, uneaten pasture. Marcel’s horses swung their heads up, chewing, tails swishing, then dropped them back to grazing. The dogs ran underfoot and away in the surging uneven circles of border collies, their bodies breaking the weeds and grass.

She walked over the small hillock at the far end of the field. The people who built their farmhouse were buried where she stepped, the gravestones plowed under by an earlier farmer tired of keeping the plot trimmed. She walked, but with each step, the ground dropped from her feet. That’s how losing her mother felt, like she was stepping onto air without a safety net. On top of the hillock a round apple tree spread its branches, fat red apples bending down. Janice walked up to a lower branch and pulled one off, her hand barely reaching around it. Arthur and King nudged her in the back of the thigh with their noses and flopped down in the shade. Janice took a bite, tasting the sweetness of an heirloom apple.

Janice wasn’t hungry enough to keep eating, so she tossed it in the field, both dogs diving for it, King reaching it first and tossing it up in his mouth. Then he circled back at Janice, holding it in his mouth, dropping it, stepping back for her to toss it again. She shook her head and walked past the tree to the taut barbed wire fence, pressing her foot down, bending the wire as far down as it would go. She slipped between the strands, a barb catching her shirt. She stopped, thought about it and slipped back, unhooking the barb. She tucked her shirt tight into her jeans and tried again.

When she stood, she stood on the cow path that would take her down to the Normans Kill valley. Legend had it the Normanskill was named after Albert Bradt de Noorman. Janice imagined a big man, eyes pale against his red face, pale red hair, deep red brows and beard, with biceps big as the small trees he left for the wide virgin timber of his river’s valley, the smell of freshly sawn wood biting his nostrils, his shouts. He teased his children and wife, making promises he never kept because the extra money went into the mill and the exhaustion of the work, driving him to use his fists on his people. She wondered what the community would remember about her mother or any of them three hundred years from now. What stories would be passed down?

00309831840120110320074559575She looked up at the Helderbergs, the escarpment resembling a small blue wave on the horizon. How many would remember the school she started and how the Clear Mountain Study Center taught them a love for learning or the land or the arts?

Janice walked down the hill, swinging her arms to the hill’s downward pull. She looked at the valley to her right, maple trees and a clear forest floor with nothing but leaves down there. The Greens, who owned the farm before her parents, said Native Americans camped in this bowl, and that they had to chase them away.

A voice that seemed to rise from the land itself ran through Janice’s head. It sounded like wind running through hay just before it’s cut. “Keep The Farm no matter what. It’s the most beautiful place on earth and you are the daughter. You are an heir.”

What about Dad? What if he needs nursing care? How will those bills be paid?

The voice ignored her questions. “Build a house at the head of the road or fix up the upstairs; make an apartment.”

What about this work I’m called to do?

You belong here, taking care of us.

And who might we be?

The voices went silent, the wind crackling over the dried grasses that made Janice think of snakeskins.

Didn’t Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting settle this valley? Did they bring their memories of bloody rivers when they watched the Normans Kill flowing quietly, full of sturgeon, bass, clams, its currents voluptuous and brown, the memories leaving their minds, drifting into the fields, settling into the timbers of these houses as the men and women notched them together? Did they haunt the valley, keeping it wild, long after it had been settled to the fine tune of electric wires, gas lines, telephone poles? Is that what she heard just now? The voice that her parents called the fierce Normanskill people, possessive of their land.

The wind circled her throat, squeezed her rib cage. She panted. Who’s owning who? It scared her. Walk. Walk. Let those feelings out. Your mother is dead.

But all Janice felt was her grief plugged behind a calm that deepened as she walked.

IMG_0210Janice ducked around a thorn apple tree, the branches full of inch long thorns. To her left the ridge dropped down to a farm road and shale cliffs. The cow path she was following would eventually join the road, leading to a foundation hole where a house once stood, built by the same family that built the house Janice grew up in. She looked down at the mud trail for clay rings that were shaped by the rain and a pebble, but the ones she found were broken in half. She stooped down and picked one up, felt the half moon edge, stuck her finger through the hole. Even as a kid, when she could pick them up any time, these clay rings seemed as mysterious as this valley.

When the ridge flattened and widened to a pasture, she picked mint leaves and smelled them, then followed the stream to the Normanskill where two mallards lifted off. A huge willow grew in the bank—the willow she’d wished for when she put her arms around her mother and she wasn’t there, wide and healthy. Janice spread her hands as far as she could reach around it. It would take two, three more people to make fingertips touch. The river whirled around its roots. There was the crackle of the river, fat and sassy, and the trickle of the water playing by the bank. Chips of light flickered on the opposite bank. The river caught sunlight, tossed it back in the weeds. She dipped the perfume bottle into the water, feeling the coolness run over her hand. She capped it and sat down to watch the light, the sand molding to her bottom, cool. Arthur and King lapped the water, bounding away into the dense growth of reforested pines that her parents planted to hold onto the hillside. Then they came running back.

Janice tried to grieve because this was the perfect time and a very private, beautiful place. No one would hear her sobs or shouts or coughing, but all she felt was calm, an inexplicable knowing that death is dead. She felt it in her bones. It didn’t make sense because she’d not felt close to God these days. Her mother was about to be buried, but Janice felt like she had already jumped out of the grave, that Jesus was calling the dead to rise. It was a trick of time Janice didn’t understand, but she felt it as real as the cool sand she was sitting on. Death was not the last word on her mother or any of them.

00309831840120110320074605948She fell asleep and dreamed her mother stood in front of an assembly in heaven, holding a bouquet of yellow roses. There were no straight, grim lines on her face, only a wide smile that made Janice sigh over how radiant her mother looked. Her mother turned to a man whose back was straight and sure, who was dressed in a white linen suit. Was it Janice’s father, who by that same trick of time, was there already? Or was it someone who was more husband to her mother than Kurt? The man reached up with his thumb and wiped her cheek. Janice felt like a rose, her own yellow rose, bloomed in her chest.

The breeze rattled the willow leaves waking Janice. It was time she got back and made supper for everyone. She stood and leaned against the wide willow, her cheek scraped by the bark, hugging hard. She pushed away from the tree and walked back up the trail, stepping on the clay rings, feeling them crunch under her feet.

The River Caught Sunlight is available on sale for $1.99 in the following editions: Nook, Kindle, ibook through the month of November. The print version is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.

 

 

 

Posted in Reflections on the ground, Spirituality, The River Caught Sunlight | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Meditation on the Constellation Orion

1.

Stepped out on the porch, and into Orion’s belt, long before dawn. I was on my way to do chores, only I ran into these stars, my nose burning, with his rich, redolent stink. He stood, legs spread, like I’ve seen my brother stand, defiant, A carcass flopped by his side. “Excuse me,” I said as I stepped down to walk the yard to the horses and lights in the barn. The sun hadn’t even shown up yet. But he kept stepping in my way. But I don’t have time. I have horses to feed, work to get ready for.

IMG_0215It was a relief to stop at the threshold of the barn, pause and tell my horses, “Ready, ready. I’m going to turn on the lights.” I step into the warm light, the barn, the wood and cobwebs, the chickens roosting on Tessie’s stall between me and the sky. But the mares blink their eyes hard. The brightness burns their eyes. I pick up my currycomb and hoof pick and walk in Tessie’s stall. She drops her head to the floor, eyes straight ahead asking for grain. Morgen watches from across the barn, taking everything in. Tessie’s coat is soft as angora as I brush off the shavings from the night. I swipe under her belly and she lays her ears back. I see that I have to put her back on my beet pulp gruel, a concoction that seems to sooth their stomachs. Morgen’s upper lip hooks in anticipation of the pellets I give to thank her for moving lightly to the side, her body lovely as it arches away from just a touch.

IMG_0303I open the big barn doors and turn them out, but they turn to come back in, looking for hay. I stuff their hay bags, while Bruce picks out the stalls. Orion is nowhere to be found, but the sun shoulders the horizon, liquid fire that makes me blink.

2.

Around midnight, I stepped down the road, Orion throwing his thigh over the horizon. Jets swarmed around O’Hare. I was trying to ease out of the grief that has settled over me as the sun as gone south and giving the dogs one last break before bed. Something about reading my novel for the first time has opened up my sorrows. All right I’ll climb onto your shoulder. He stooped down, so I straddled his neck. He lifted me up, holding my ankles, his hands warm.  I rode into the sky. It didn’t take but twenty feet before I screamed I wanted down, please put me down, but when you mess with mortals turned into stars you are shit out of luck. So up we went, the wind blowing past my ears, air not too easy to breathe.

Eternity stretched out as far as the farthest, oldest galaxy weighs on me as hard as dirt piled over a box. But I’m told eternity has already started, that the Reign of God is here, now, and that it might be good to practice those habits Jesus talks about when he talks about parties. Like saying yes to the invitation for one thing  and wearing the right clothes for another. I think of the sayings, “put on Jesus,” like a beautiful white linen suit. I don’t have to wear the old behaviors rooted in fear. I can come dressed in love and joy and patience and generosity because his stories about parties seem to come with stories about giving away our stuff and forgiveness.

After all rain falls on all kinds of people’s land, drawing plants and wealth right out of the ground. At the party, I think I will be seated with my enemies, so I’d better work on that forgiveness thing, here, now.

Orion hoisted me as far as something you’d see on Google Earth when the dogs stopped to sniff a coyote trail. He leaned over gently, set me back on the road. The terror still flickers like heat lightning threads a thunder cloud.

3.

I was mixing feed when Bruce tapped my shoulder, called me outside to look at the sunset, magenta lining shallow cloud bellies. The sun gone by now from a day so quiet you could hear the corn rattling into the combine a good mile away.

How about you, when has the world touched you with its presence?

If you’d like to read more of my writing The River Caught Sunlight is available on sale for $1.99 in the following editions: Nook, Kindle, ibook through the month of November. The print version is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.

This is linked over at Kelli Woodford’s Unforced Rhythms.

 

 

 

Posted in Horses, Reflections on the ground, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The River Caught Sunlight Ebook is on Sale

10501973_10152105058479364_8469810569532488887_nAbout The River Caught Sunlight, blogger Winn Collier says, “Katie Andraski spent years in the Christian publishing world (which isn’t always so Christian). She survived, and now she has her own story, recasting the narrative in her debut novel, a tale of place and longing and recovery from some of the darker sides of religion. Congrats, Katie.”

And now the ebook version of The River Caught Sunlight is on sale for $1.99.

For Nook: Click Here.

For Kindle: Click Here.

For ibooks: Click Here.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October Journal

SaucyTessieOR

Photo by Chris Mothkovich

Wednesday,The day greeted by a blood moon, Oct. 8

At dawn, a string of geese, the pink light of an early sun, tipping their wings. A cedar waxwing knocked dead by our window, the yellow tips on her wings still bright. The moon bruised, a second blood moon, at dawn. I looked out the window and slid back to the covers.

The wind pummeling us as we rode the Oak Ridge loop. The wind hard rattling the corn. I was rattled and tired, not able to drop into calm, the ride more chore than delight, but if I waited until I felt rested I might wait a very long time, so I hauled Tessie to the park, saddled her and headed out.

TessieOR

Photo by Chris Mothkovich

Tessie was rattled, walking faster than normal, feeling tense enough to blow. I needed to keep my reins lose but when I gathered her reins because I know she wanted to run up a small hill behind the horse ahead, she bucked! A cute little crow hop in protest. I am loud when Tessie startles me under saddle. Maybe it’s her shot of adrenalin hitting my body or my fear that so often runs through me when I ride, bursting into my voice. “Don’t you do that. You,” I scolded her the same way I would if I were standing on the ground. Cheeky horse.

The world had tipped, weather was changing, the sunlight brittle, and the wind furious, wild, no longing to it, like the very old poem cries for their beloved to be home again. The fields are ready for harvest. Farmers have started their picking, though it seems late this year. I’ve been thinking about grief, loss, wondering if our time at the farm is coming to an end. I see Bruce’s eyes are tired from the work of this place. Our home feels like a humped up horse, tense, ready to throw us. There has been a spirit here that throws dust in my mind, has kept me without focus, kept me from my writing work. I have started singing hymns in the barn and when I walk the dogs because friends have said that singing cleans the land, and funny thing that sense of overwhelm has eased.

On good days I think we’re here to redeem our house, barns and land by tending them. But there’s so much that keeps going wrong, like twenty five pines that up and died in a drought and now Bruce is cutting them one by one; like the crack in the barn’s foundation, the air between two corner beams. And then there’s the roof that just happened to have crap shingles tacked on, that need replacing. And a friend who showed us some listings in Vermont and a window has opened. It’s spring air I smell.

IMG_0199Tessie is a jealous mare because we’ve mostly chosen Morgan and left Tessie crying for us in the paddock. When I ride out, she will grab for grass, hauling me to the side of the trail. Yes, I’ve spoiled her, but it’s a good sign when they can eat because they’ve not gone over threshold into fear that obliterates their mind.

With the wind rattling the prairie grasses, a person could think of the roar of the Spirit, Jesus’ comparison to wind blowing wherever the hell she wants. But I felt battered and as uneasy as Tessie about what might ride up behind us. For all the friendship we’ve worked out between us I wondered where the horse that runs from the bottom of the paddock to come to me, disappeared.  I know if you make friends with your horse, they will take care of you, that a mare’s loyalty is worth gold,but in that wild west wind, I felt a pony that could chuck it all and bolt back to the trailer, her body so stiff it would be hard to ride. My friend doesn’t see the danger I feel.

When I pulled her saddle I saw the hair brushed back the wrong way, how the saddle must have shifted forward pulling those hairs. One thing I know about Tessie is, she doesn’t like her winter coat pulled on. So maybe she did take care of me after all, containing herself, even though the girth was pulling her coat.

Friday, October 9

We drove Morgen when the shadows grew long. Like wind, evening time, can be an uneasy time for a horse. Predators begin to shift out of their dens. And maybe Morgen senses how the film between this world and the next thins. Once at this time of day, she bucked all eight acres of our field as I walked her back home.

When we passed our neighbor’s paddock, we sighed, because their little bull was nowhere to be seen. But there he was bolting towards us. “Easy. Easy,” I told Morgen before she saw him. Then she did. She sank low in the traces, ready to spring, but stayed still. She started a slow trot past and out beyond him, about by the neighbors’ mail box she blew a snort.

The whole time we drove I told Bruce and her what a good pony she was. But when we came up to the railroad tracks, Morgen stopped, ears pricked. I tried to get her to walk ahead and she yawed to one side, then then the other. Bruce stepped out and walked with her. There was a pool of shadow in the ditch by the signal arm, that put her on edge. She’s walked over those tracks many times with confidence but that deep darkness scared her like the dogs up the road. Who knows but that maybe a demon crouched there.

All the way I chattered about how I prefer driving to riding, how Klaus gave me the tools to come out here and put miles on Morgen, how it was just plain good to share the beauty of our neighborhood with Bruce, in quiet, except for the rattling of the corn.

But that pool of shadow morphed into a bull calf who came charging back at her and Morgen dug deep and bolted down the road. I’d left too much slack and shouted for Bruce to grab the reins. He did and yelled at Morgen to slow down. She listened and stopped. He got out and patted her and that minute I loved him. He thought we should go back right then, but I’d had enough. Of the bull, he said, “He’s just a young un. We’ll have to think about it and go back and try again. We’ll figure it out.” That’s another reason I love driving, Bruce lends me his confidence.IMG_0185

So we drove her again on Saturday in full sunlight, prepared for the little guy to come charging but he didn’t bust out of his shed. We walked her, turning right, then left and right again up a long quiet road. The dogs barked hard at her on the other side of the fence. On the way home she cranked up, shook her head, jogged, wanted me to let her run. Once past I asked for a slow trot, lost myself in listening for a slow rhythmic beat, asking for it gently, which she gave. As for the bull, he was lying out there, chewing his cud. Bruce steadied her, walked with her, and she didn’t leap away when he stood up. They tell me this is how you give a horse a good mind.

Wednesday, October 16

Number Seven, the chicken the others peck at, seems to have disappeared. Number Six roosted in the barn last night. I grabbed her and carried her to the chicken house, feeling her shake in my arms, feeling her warmth, and not a little sad, that we probably lost the little pecked on hen.

But no, Bruce opened the sliding door to the other room and there she was. “I asked if you saw her.” “I thought I saw her on Sunday night.” So no she and Number Six are roosting together on Tessie’s stall, Number Seven no longer alone.

My Birthday Weekend

We rode our horses into the cold, damp day, outlining the whole park to the tune of 8 miles and cold seeping through my Carhart jacket and vest, into my bones, but still we walked through the woods. Some trees glowed with yellows and golds and ambers but most were stripped.

With a new non slip saddle pad that kept the girth from chafing her, Tessie was her confident self, that same self I felt when I first stepped up and rode her, her confidence welling up. I felt my heart thaw, felt how much fun she was to ride.

 

 

Posted in Horses, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Good Gifts

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The starlings sounded like hard rain coming across the corn. Out here you hear that rain a mile away, sweeping closer, until the drops fall on your head and shoulders. But no, it was birds who’d stepped on our trees, gathering, talking so loud I could hear them in the house. I have seen them do that murmuration thing, where they sweep here, sweep there like a broom clearing dust in the sky, but this day they were landed, chattering.  The cat didn’t know if he wanted to go inside or out. One starling defying him might be all right but not a whole tree full. I didn’t want to walk under those trees either.

IMG_0169This morning I gathered twenty eggs. They clinked together like fine china in the manure bucket. I upended them on the pile, let the heat take them, and felt guilty as hell. I thought of people starving for protein. Thought of that old parental admonition, think about the people starving in India or Africa or South America, if you don’t eat your peas. I thought about Bruce and I, how we might be starving, how we might be sorry for this waste. (There’s a terrifying stretch of verses in Isaiah that pulls me up short, where the prophet talks about people having all the gold they could want, but no food, no none at all. I can feel that prophesy, can feel it coming like so much rain rattling corn I hear a mile away.)

But these eggs are too many for us to eat and we’re not sure how healthy they are to sell or give away because our chickens peck at whitewash that might be lead based. Our neighbor didn’t want them for his pigs. And we’re not sure we want to draw coyotes or racoons by dropping them along the fence line.

We’re saying no to the humility of our chickens, the humility of the gift they are giving, in payment for free range on our yard. (Bruce wants them gone, but I call them–Chickee, Chickaboom, Chickaboom, Boom, Boom. Humble chickens running on two legs, when they want four, from all corners of the yard. The rooster gathers his hens, rapes them, leads them, but for one who stays in the barn that we call Seven. She hides behind plywood when they come in. We empathize with her staying by herself.)

IMG_0171This farm, the horses, are gifts I can’t begin to recieve. Too many days I’ve been stunned into Facebook, scrolling through people’s news, while the sun wheeled overhead and Bruce gives me dirty looks, wondering why I’m wasting the day. But it’s not a waste, it’s marketing my novel. (The more I do this, the more I wonder about how healthy it is to be yanked over to social media, angling up to strangers, commenting, so I can sell the book. It doesn’t feel good. It feels like addiction, like ducking my own thoughts, while others pack theirs in my head. And ducking the brilliance of this beautiful world for the pale screen under my eyes.)

Sunny days are a reproach if I need to stay in and write or edit because they will close down soon, and it cold will bite, darkness is already swarming at the edges of our days. The mares  call from the paddock, wondering where I am. They nicker when I walk into the barn. Tessie’s a mere whisper through her nostrils, Morgen’s a long, rolling call, that reminds me of thunder. Tessie the day after I rode her in the pasture, was all over me like a cat circling my legs, and Morgen lifted off the green grass on the other side of the fence to come when I called her off it.

Even Bruce, for years, it took me years, to accept that he loves me, just plain loves me. Old preacher voices ran through my head: if you don’t make love to him whenever he wants, you’ll lose him. Those voices laced our marriage with fear until women challenged them on the radio and I thought these guys don’t even have an answer. Abandonment terrors that stretch back to the days before I had language rise up, though it took years for them to dull. Thank God his mother’s fear, was worse than mine, thank God she made me seem familiar but not as bad, so he could love me, we could love each other. Any other man would have run.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just this weekend, I read a tribute to Dallas Willard by John Ortberg. The following grabbed me.”God will certainly let everyone into heaven that can possibly stand it.” Yes, that’s how I feel. Everyone is welcome, but there is mercy because not every one can stand it. (I’m not going to answer for the person who might never have heard, or the atheist who left a fundamentalism that was so sick, they had to reject it to live. I’m not going to answer do you think they’re going to hell?)

So how can I stand heaven, the raw presence of the giver of all good things–my husband, Bruce, Tessie, Morgen, the roll of the land, dappled by clouds and colors brighter than I’ve seen, colors calling me to look, really look and remember, the chicken eggs that click together like porcelain? How can I stand it, if I can’t accept these presents, here, now? I think of T.S. Eliot’s lines, “Ecstasy is too much pain” and Gerard Manley Hopkins who says, “each day dies with sleep.”

IMG_0168And then there’s the stillness of clipping pants and shirts to a line in the bright sunlight, a cricket chirping.

 

 

My social media guy told me to post a link to my novel so if you’d like to read more of my writing you can find The River Caught Sunlight here: http://amzn.to/1r6IpVW

I’ve linked this to Kelli’s Place.

 

 

 

Posted in Horses, Reflections on the ground, Spirituality, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The First Week of Class

IMG_0165

My classroom. Imagine young people sitting. Imagine their tired energy.

I held their index cards stating their name, phone number, counselor as if I was holding a candle, in a candle light service with everyone holding a candle.  I had to be careful not to spill it or touch it to someone’s dress. I thought about the fire hazard, why  churches don’t burn with so many people holding fire, inside. I didn’t actually think this at the time, I was in a hurry, reading before I went to class, but I am trying to give you a picture of what it’s like reading students’ dreams, simply stated in a one line answer to the question: Why did you come to college?

“To become successful. To be a well rounded adult. To study nursing, or fashion merchandising, or psychology. To graduate. To continue my education,” they said.

I flipped through the brightly colored cards. I grew silent. Here were young men and women hoping to learn how to write, already agreeing that it is a foundation for their work in college and life. Some admitted they hated it because they don’t like writing under a teacher’s deadline. They don’t like writing about something they don’t know anything about, or that they have to research. Well, neither do I. “The trick is to make those assignments your own,” I scrawl in the margins. Like last year’s students, they know how to handle their sentences. Sure there are comma splices and fragments, but they don’t overwhelm the writing. Could it be Race to the Top is doing some good? Or is my university admitting better students?

We sat in computer lab on the second day, doing that old grade school exercise: “Show and Tell.” I wanted students to introduce themselves by sharing something important from their lives. They revealed themselves, more than they knew. We watched some inspiration like Rocky Balboa telling his son that he’s better than being cowed by others’ opinions or Eric Thomas’ saying you’ve got to want success as bad as you want to breathe. One young woman shared “The Gummy Bear” song, light hearted, goofy and irritating enough to become an ear worm, until she shared that she picked this because she had a Teddy bear in her room, that she’d held when she was little, stuck in a hospital, way too long. Another young woman showed “Let’s Go Build a Snowman” a song from the movie Frozen, about friendship and play in the wake of deep sadness. A young man showed the glorious beauty of a body builder, who had shaped his muscles like the round stones shaped by water in a stream. Another showed the beauty in the violence of special effects of the video game Battlefield Four.

As adults we think today’s kids are hard, edged with violence, but they’re not. Even though they are first year students in college, some from difficult neighborhoods, they are children determined to work hard, to make those dreams they wrote on cards come true.

IMG_0164But one young man showed a day in the life of his homies, a video set in California. He said it was funny, about fashion. I thought we’d see something like the sweet Nike commercial where a man gives his girl a pair of Nike’s for her birthday. They linger over the beauty of her feet.  But no. This was a group of boys being boys, chests out, full of themselves, proud, but rough and tough. After the first “fuck” the class turned at me with burning eyes. I’d just said, “no swearing in class” on syllabus day. And then the word “bitches” and finally the “N” word. He skipped through the video.

He didn’t sugar coat his world, but the students’ stares, well I didn’t know what to do, so I sat there, gave him his peace, hoping my face didn’t reveal my discomfort with their stares, hoping they wouldn’t think the video itself made me uncomfortable. Do they think I’ve never seen videos like this? Did they take me seriously when I said no swearing, nothing too graphic? When have students listened to their teacher? (I think, from reading how their papers followed directions, this group.) But this isn’t graphic, just full of slang. (When I think graphic, I think dull knives, throats cut.) Did the women feel disrespected by the use of “bitches”? Other students by the use of the “n” word even though it wasn’t white folks saying it?  Afterwards I said I was honored he showed us his world but I missed the jokes. I asked them do they talk like this? Is this kid language? They said yes they do talk like this. I said I didn’t get the jokes. And then class was done, my day was done.

The next class, I asked, why the violent langauge? Why do they adopt a sexist’s words, a racist’s? And as for “fuck” well, using it every other word, saps the shock from a word that can zing with anger or sexuality or both at once. They told me it was all in tone, that women can call each other the “b word,” that close friends can call each other the “n word” but if a man calls a woman out or a white person, well watch out. They said these can be words of endearment or cursing. It’s all in tone. But still, if I can’t say those words, why should they? And I contradict myself by telling them that yes, they can use these words in their writing, especially in dialogue.

I left the first week of class full of awe and the thrill of fear, like I’ve felt watching the popular video of someone riding a bike down a mountain, on a trail barely wider than the bicycle itself. As a teacher I must keep that sucker balanced, not look over the  drops, ride confidence through the terror, through the responsibility holding their dreams in my hands.

 

 

 

Posted in Teaching, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Story of my novel: When I was “called” to write

August 10, 2014 (A week after my novel officially entered the world)

IMG_0157I just took a nap and woke up wanting to comment on Nadia Bolz Weber’s sermon about the five loaves and two fishes. I wanted to ask could she, would she, possibly read my novel, because I this story was part of my call to write. But when sleep faded, I got reticent, eased away from asking for anything in her thread.

Since The Feeding of the 5,000 was the gospel reading for the week, I’ve been coming across people’s meditations. I suppose “nap” is my mental connector to this because I nap in church and last Saturday evening I closed my eyes to Pastor Kinnear’s voice. In my dream state, my stomach gurgled with chips and salsa were at least an hour away, and my butt was crinkled by grass and the sun was finding the horizon. I wanted to reach up with my hands and hold his words, both Pastor’s and Jesus’.

My phone dinged, and dinged again, a mute sound that I have set for when someone is sending me a message. I reached over and took a look. Rachel Simon wrote that she’d received The River Caught Sunlight and would treasure the signed copy. She had bought her own copy and would find someone talkative to give it to.  I slipped the phone back in my purse to pay attention, pleased Rachel took the time to let me know she’d recieved my book and that she’d even bought a copy. She has been a long time friend and encouragement, since we started corresponding when I taught Riding the Bus with My Sister, which asked what does it mean to live a life? Do we have to live a big one for it to be fulfilling? These are questions I was asking then, that I’m asking now.

River Caught Sunlight at the Sycamore Barnes and Noble

River Caught Sunlight at the Sycamore Barnes and Noble

My pastor’s voice sounded like footsteps on gravel. “Don’t you know, all these parables we’re studying are about God’s extravagance? In the parable of the sower he spreads the seeds everywhere, whether the soil is good soil or barren. In this parable everyone is fed and there are baskets of leftovers. God is a God of abundance.”

Years ago a verse in Isaiah shook me when I first read it, “He longs to bless you” because this was a different view of God than I knew as a kid, where preachers thundered about our lack and dangled us over fire. Guilt was how I connected with God; often I repeated, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Even to people I say,  “I am sorry” when it’s not my fault, when I had nothing to do with their trouble but I drew their guilt to me anyway. Even now the ancient Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” anchors me.

I opened my eyes and felt the pew against my back because I was called to be a poet under this parable of loaves and fish.

My classes spring semester of my freshman year at Wheaton college  seemed to merge into one class about creativity and writing. Dr. McClatchey did a brilliant explication of “The Windover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I can hear his voice now, “Buckle!” The hawk, the lover, Jesus, the poet, must all fall to earth, must all yield their glorious flight to this great fall, this great giving of oneself. He explained how the world turned radiant in that moment “gash gold vermillion..”

The River Caught Sunlight at the Rockford Barnes and Noble.

The River Caught Sunlight at the Rockford Barnes and Noble.

The world turned radiant for me. I was tossed into an exhausting ecstasy where a Rottweiller crossing campus looked like a king and Madeleine L’engle who came to visit, radiated regal glory. (I walked with her back to her guest room and told her I was called to be a poet. I don’t remember what she said but it had to be kind or I would have pushed back some way. I want to remember her response was “and so you are” because I believe anyone who writes as a practice is a writer. In later years L’Engle  did affirm my gift by  saying, “These poems are strong and tender and beautiful. She is a poet.”)

That semester Dr. Lorentzen played a recording where the author quoted Rilke, “Ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, ‘I must,’ then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.” I answered, “Yes I must write.”

(An answer I return to, even now, because my thoughts back up like so much water, pushing against me, so I can’t think, if I don’t release them onto the page. This is something I forgot in the relief of not writing anything more than Facebook statuses, since we moved to the farm. )

I worked late into the night on a poem, the lack of sleep an easy sacrifice for my art. Dr. Lorentzen cleared his throat and said, “Your talent is like the loaves and two fishes that the Lord will use.” I could hear in his voice that what I had was pretty humble but I also heard that God would use my gift–something little, broken, to feed a whole hillside full of people. My belly was lit. I had to write, so I designed my life around this desire.

As I walked out of church I shook Pastor’s hand how I wasn’t sure much would come of my novel. (I’d looked at my stats on Author Central.) Pastor Kinnear said, “Remember, what I said, God is a God of abundance.” But that abundance might not mean that The River Caught Sunlight will be a bestseller. We were told at Wheaton to strive to be the best, and for me, that meant publishing in The Atlantic or The New Yorker. It meant hitting the bestseller list hard, otherwise you haven’t served.

It’s taken years to let that go, to bless this small, quiet work. L.L.Barkat in Rumors of Water offers a very wise insight, When she asks “Can you find a small audience?” She notes that many young writers want to be published in a big way before they have written for their grandmother. She says, “I did not realize that these small audiences were preparing me for my professional writing life. It’s probably better that I didn’t. I was free to use the casual, red-checkered cloth of my life and my thoughts without making something ‘important’ happen. “

The River Caught Sunlight at Barnes and Noble in Westport, CT thanks to Tricia Tierney

The River Caught Sunlight at Barnes and Noble in Westport, CT thanks to Tricia Tierney.

God’s idea of abundance reminds me of Annie Dillard writing about the fecundity  of the world in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “If an aphid lays a million eggs, several might survive.” If I spend years writing a book, if I spend money publishing and promoting that book and even more hours trying to find readers, God’s idea of abundance might mean that I only sell a few copies but those copies might find their way to readers who take heart from my words, and that might be all its meant to do. But still, after years of writing for polite rejection slips, the readers I’ve found here and through my novel, are reading my words, well that feels like deep, clean breaths that reach down and satisfy.

This is linked at Kelli Woodford’s place.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Spirituality, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How I Trashed Frank Schaeffer in my Novel as an American Hitler and Why He’s Promoting It: Guest BLOG by the Former Schaeffer Family Crossway Books Publicist

How I Trashed Frank Schaeffer in my Novel as an American Hitler and Why He’s Promoting It: Guest BLOG by the Former Schaeffer Family Crossway Books Publicist

H142711

Here’s what Frank says, “Katie sent me this essay about trashing me. It’s good so I’m publishing it as a guest blog here. Also: I come out okay by the end! Back in the early 1980s as a very young woman Katie Andraski worked as a publicist in big time Christian publishing at Crossway Books. She did what few evangelical publicity people ever managed to do: Katie convinced editors at Newsweek, The New York Times, and the NBC “Today Show” to publicize the Schaeffer family as we emerged as leaders in the religious right. In those days we Schaeffers all had books at Crossway. Katie helped make us famous.

“There was only one problem: Katie was very good at what she did but didn’t agree with one word we were saying! We reconnected more than 30 years later… here’s the fascinating result!”

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2014/08/how-i-trashed-frank-schaeffer-in-my-novel-as-an-american-hitler-and-why-hes-promoting-it-guest-blog-by-the-former-schaeffer-family-crossway-books-publicist/#ixzz3ATS5zCmx

Posted in Friendship, Spirituality, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Journal: Super moon, Friendship

IMG_0064Friday, August 8, 2014

I swear this super moon pulled on anybody with water wrapped  in their flesh and it didn’t even need to be full. People wrote on Facebook how they couldn’t sleep. The dog nudged me awake, so I had to put the leash on and walk him around the yard. The moon flirted with low clouds, felt too bright, woke me up as hard as if I’d opened my iphone. And the fireflies lit up low to the ground in concert. It took awhile for sleep to find me.

Continue reading

Posted in Friendship, Horses, Reflections on the ground, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The River Caught Sunlight is officially Born today

IMG_0071Well, today is the pub date of The River Caught Sunlight, so it has officially gone from my hands into yours. It no longer is the comfortable school master  I could return to again and again, learning new things each time, I rewrote it. There was real joy in the final editing of the book, where Joe Coccaro knew what to cut to make it read fast and knew what I needed to add to pull my reader in. Thank goodness I had the material already written and could find it in old files. Thank goodness I could do this final revision during spring break.

To celebrate, Bruce and I drove Morgen down the road. She’s doing better because Bruce thought we should keep our drives with as little trauma/drama as possible. So that’s what we’ve been doing. She’s now walking by the neighbor’s two heifers and another neighbor’s dogs calmly enough, and the mules too.

But also in celebration of River Caught Sunlight‘s pub date, I’d like to thank the people who have reviewed it on Amazon and share what they’ve said, so you know it’s not just me saying it’s a good book. C. Mothkovich says, “Using rich prose and striking imagery, the author explores the problems arising from family loyalties and rivalries, unrequited love, and conflicts of conscience…”

The River Caught Sunlight is a vivid, moving and beautifully written story filled with adventure, romance and culture clashes,” says Deborah Rogers, while Noe2rs says, “Katie Andraski is a gentle and not In-Your-Face Christian. In her book, Katie gives a perspective, of the behind the scene story, of the radical, right wing movement, that has come about over the past three decades.”

“I hope many come to find this gem of a story,” says Sheri Potmesil, “It has reminded me what a vacation from everyday stress one can find in a really good story written by a grand storyteller.”

“This book is a treasure!” says Rose Ciacco, “Shows real life in farming area of upstate New York and to anyone who has questioned their faith, God is there for you.”

Finally, Lynda Gorniewicz says, “I highly recommend it for your next book club selection…Katie Andraski is a gifted writer who paints pictures with her words.” And to be honest, I’d love to visit with book clubs about this book. I am so close to it, I’m not sure I know what it’s about any more, so I’d be interested in your insights.

Chris, Deb, Sheri, Carri, Rose, and Lynda, thank you for your kindness, for being mid wives, gentle, encouraging, as the book leaves my hands and goes to yours.

It’s been a difficult month, with the book arriving before I was ready, but it looks like you’ve graciously brought food and drinks and cleared the table of papers, sat yourselves down and enjoyed the story. Thank you. Deeply, I say it again thank you to you and the readers who are finding your way to my words. I’ve been so alone with my words, not knowing if anyone else would hear them. I’ve been afraid of my readers all these years, and here you are, sitting across the table, and we’re swapping stories, eating and drinking.

Blessings and all good things.

This is linked over at Kelli Woodford’s place. (You have got to read the stunning essay she has posted there.)

Posted in Horses, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments