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I Am a Writer

April 3, 2013

If you ask, I will tell you that I am a writer. Intellectually, I know that I am. I am comfortable saying it now, embracing it. I am a writer. That is part of my essence.

What about from a practical standpoint?

I am learning much from my faith that resonates throughout the rest of my life. Imagine that.

In my faith, I have discovered the necessity to “die” to oneself on a daily basis, maybe even an hourly basis. Some days a minute by minute basis. I must turn away from that which constrains me, that which binds me to this temporal existence in order to transcend, to elevate, to fly.

I am discovering that this applies to my creativity as well. I can call myself a Christian but what am I doing this morning other than claiming a name? I can call myself a writer but what am I doing right now that earns that distinction?

I wake up with my mind full of ideas and thoughts wanting to be expressed, needing to be committed to a more permanent form. But I also wake up knowing my responsibilities, the “what must be dones,” that escort me from my bed, through my day, back to my bed, and, on occasion, wake me here and there throughout my nights, to remind me of my failures and to point out the futility of my attempts.

If left to their own devices, they will lull me with promises that I can do better if I just give them more time. If I just make more checklists. If I just…

There is an exquisite balance that must be reached for things must be done. People must be cared for. Houses and lawns must be kept up and maintained. Dogs must be fed and groomed. Babies must be held.

But the Responsibilities are never ending and are ever unyielding. When the fact is grasped that one could literally work on Responsibilities from sun up to midnight, seven days a week, and never finish, that “things” shall always be left undone or worse, continue to “undo” themselves even as you work, one begins to understand the need for this balance.

And so, at least for this day, I have decided to die to myself, to the pride that says I can do it all, that if it were not for me, my little part of the world could not function. I am deciding for this minute on this day to stretch to find the balance that gives me room to breathe, to transcend, to create. I shall take counsel from the Responsibilities and make my decisions rather than being governed by them.

This is my commitment for this day. This is how I shall be a more spiritual person for the next few hours. This is how I will claim my life as a writer on this Wednesday.

And tomorrow I shall be required to do it again. And the next day. And if on succession of my remaining days I am successful, I shall have had a most wonderful life.

Guest Post: Charlotte Rains Dixon, author of Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior

February 18, 2013

Terry’s note – I am very excited to be hosting a guest blog post by my good friend and colleague, Charlotte Rains Dixon. I have known Charlotte for a decade now as a mentor, a fellow Spalding MFA in Writing alum, a Co-Program Director of The Writer’s Loft at Middle Tennessee State University, an author, a co-writer for literary magazine 2nd & Church, and most importantly, a friend. She and I both are currently mentors in The Writer’s Loft creative writing program and are planning literary events for 2013 and 2014 for the middle Tennessee area. She writes an essential newsletter for creatives that you can sign up for at her website www.charlotterainsdixon.com and regularly conducts workshops, retreats and virtual classes.

Her latest novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior is being released this month and I couldn’t be happier for her. So without further ado…Here’s Charlotte!

Finding My Own True North

By Charlotte Rains Dixon (www.charlotterainsdixon.com)

One of the things I love about Terry’s site is his tag line: finding true north.  To me, this conjures up a romantic image of celestial navigation—standing on the deck of a ship at night, looking up at millions of sparkling stars.   While I’ve been a writer for years, it took me a while to navigate through the stars to find my own current true north of novelist, blogger and teacher.

I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was a child, but once I grew up, something in my subconscious decided this wasn’t a serious enough goal.  I mean, entertaining people as my life’s work?  Come on.  And yet, writing seemed to be the only thing I could commit to over the long haul, so I turned to more “serious” writing and pursued free-lance journalism.

Later, as my career morphed, I took up ghostwriting for business people, and out of that a natural outgrowth was coaching those who couldn’t afford the ghost writing.   This was good—I was writing, and making a modest living at it.  But I was confused.  I’d earned my MFA in creative writing and rose early nearly every morning to work on a novel.  Plus, I wrote a blog about creative writing.  And taught it at a Tennessee university.

Which was the real me?  Which arena should I focus on?  Should I go for love (creative writing) or money (working with business people)?  I felt like I was sailing for two different worlds, without a star in sight to guide me.   I decided (not all that consciously) that helping business people was what I should do—it was more practical and more lucrative to boot.  And so I signed up for a program that would show me how to do this at a higher level, reaching more people and making lots more money.

And I was immediately miserable.  The thing that made me happiest was that hour in the morning, when I rose early to work on editing my novel.   I was even starting to submit it to agents and publishers.  And I still spent a lot of time on my blog, where I attempted to write about creative writing and writing for business. During the day, I’d go back to my “official” self, striving to be a ghostwriter and coach to small business people.

Here’s the funny thing—I wasn’t very successful at helping business people.  The promised riches and clients didn’t appear.  And one day I sat down and looked hard at what I was doing.   It hit me—I didn’t have to be all things to all people!  I could just be me.  If only I could figure out what me really wanted.

The answer came immediately, as it always does when we slow down enough to listen.  Me wanted to be a novelist, and a blogger, and to help creative writers, not business people.

And so I switched focus back to my own true north, with my inner critic screaming all the way that I’d be broke and never get my novel published.  But I’m happy to report that, though the ride has had a few bumps, it is all working out.  Vagabondage Press published my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, on February 12th, and now I can call myself exactly what my heart desires—a novelist, blogger and teacher.

So pay heed to Terry’s call to find your true north, because it will guide you exactly where you need to go.

The Next Big Thing: Not Exactly According to Plan by Cindy L. Corpier

January 28, 2013

Note from Terry:  I am honored to host another talented writer’s responses to The Next Big Thing. I met Cindy Corpier in Paris last summer during the Spalding MFA in Writing summer study abroad program. She is funny, fascinating, intelligent, and talented and I am proud to call her a friend and colleague. I’m no doctor nor do I play one on television but I’m willing to bet that “Not Exactly According to Plan” will be the perfect prescription to those searching for a good read. And now, here’s Cindy!

What is the working title of your book?

Not Exactly According to Plan

 Where did the idea come from for the book? 

From my experience training as a physician in the 1980’s at the Texas Medical Center in Houston and from my life in medicine since.  Also from reading a book known to almost all doctors called The House of God.  This novel was published in 1978 and is still in print.  As funny and heartbreaking and true as the novel is, it was written from a male physician’s perspective.  I wanted to write about the experience from a women’s point of view—from the trauma of watching patients die, to the salvation of friendship, to the numbing exhaustion that gives rise to bad romantic decisions and ultimately, to inner strength and the grace of forgiveness.

 What genre does your book fall under?

Mainstream fiction or Women’s fiction

 What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The main character, Courtney Doucet is confident on the outside and constantly second-guessing on the inside.  I like to think Ellen Page or Emma Stone could pull her off beautifully.  Wyatt, her main romantic interest, is handsome and privileged, maybe Ryan Gosling.  Carter Murdock, the dangerous older man, could be Clive Owen or (why not?) George Clooney.

 What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young doctor is seeing her professional and romantic dreams come true when she makes a series of choices that sabotage both and she must face losing everything.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will seek representation this year.

 How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About nine months for the first draft.

 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Both Emily Giffin and Anna Quindlen have written books with complex female heroines navigating the demands of career and love.

 Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

I graduated from medical school at the age of twenty-three with the boundless confidence of the truly naïve and took on the awesome responsibility of caring for sick people long before I was fully mature.  This story is part-insider view of the world of medicine, part-tribute to the patients I’ve known, and part-love letter to my younger self.

 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Not Exactly According to Plan will be attractive to book lovers who want an insider view of medicine and are forced to watch House or reruns of Scrubs and E.R. to get their fix.

The Next Big Thing: Three Ways to Disappear by Katy Yocom

January 21, 2013

Note from Terry:  It is my honor and good fortune to host the wonderful Katy Yocom’s responses to The Next Big Thing. She is amazingly talented in so many ways but she is a gifted writer and storyteller. I have been privileged to know about her novel for some time now and I’ve followed it’s progress from first draft through the current agent representation. I’m so excited to look forward to seeing it in print and and am proud that you can learn more about Katy and her work on my blog. Katy…take it away!

Huge thanks to the kind and talented fiction writer Terry Price for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing. Not only is Terry a wonderful friend, he was also kind enough to host my answers on his blog. So if you’re here, you probably already know what a prince of a guy he is.

Without further ado…

What is your working title of your book?

Three Ways to Disappear. It’s a reference to the three siblings at the heart of the book—Sarah, her twin brother Marcus, and their older sister, Quinn—American children who were raised in India by their parents. Marcus’s sudden death at age seven is one disappearance, a loss that informs his sisters’ lives forever. The other two “ways to disappear” can be taken to reference the ways Sarah and Quinn each cope, as adults, with the legacy of the tragedy. But disappearance is also a theme because tigers—a species on the verge of extinction—play a central role in the story.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It began with tigers. A few years ago, a tigress at our zoo had a litter of cubs. From the moment I learned of their existence, I was obsessed. I visited the cubs weekly—soaked them up the way you’d soak up a painting at a museum. I always thought of my tiger obsession as something slightly embarrassing. At the same time, I was hungering to write a novel, but my brain kept telling me, “Katy, you can’t write a novel about tigers” … until one day a friend told me: “You know, actually, you can.” Two days later, I was on my deck, planting impatiens, and the first line of the novel whispered itself to me. And then the second line. I set down my gardening spade and raced inside to my computer. An hour later, I had a beginning and a good idea of the arc of the entire novel.

It’s a story of family, love, and loss. But tigers, both real and metaphorical, do figure prominently in the story. Tigers are fierce predators, but as a species they are critically endangered. Their wildness and vulnerability echoes that of my characters, particularly of Sarah, my protagonist.

What genre does your book fall under?

I like to think it will be considered literary fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sarah, the protagonist, is impulsive, fearless, large-hearted, and determined. A little reckless sometimes. Up to now, she has traveled the world as an itinerant journalist in war zones. Now, she’s back in India to work in a tiger conservation organization. Jessica Chastain has Sarah’s strength, ferocity and vulnerability.

Quinn, Sarah’s sister, has a stable home and family in America. She struggles with fear that the tragedy might repeat itself in her children’s generation. Naomi Watts would play her well.

Ursula is British and very, very crusty. I’d love to see Helen Mirren in her role.

William is an aging Brit with a certain sadness and loneliness about him. William Hurt could capture his melancholy.

For Sanjay, I’d cast Naveen Andrews. Sanjay is a man cut off by fate from love and children. It’s a role that requires longing and intensity, and Andrews amply demonstrated that smoldering quality as Sayid on Lost. Plus, he’s gorgeous, and what can I say? I’d like Sanjay to be gorgeous.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After a nomadic existence constantly embracing risk, American journalist Sarah DeVaughan returns to the country of her childhood—a place of unspeakable family tragedy—to preserve the Bengal tigers of India, while her sister Quinn, also deeply scarred by the past and herself a keeper of secrets, looks to forge a new connection with her sibling by casting aside her fears that India will also be Sarah’s undoing; in the end, the gifts India bestows and the price it exacts leave the sisters’ lives changed forever.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have the incredible good fortune to be represented by Lisa Gallagher of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates literary agency. The novel is currently on submission.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year and a half. After I had the initial idea, I quickly realized there was no way I could write this story without traveling to India. I spent three weeks there visiting tiger preserves. It was a stunning experience—I never imagined I’d be lucky enough to see tigers living in the wild in some of the most beautiful spots on earth. The trip still seems like a dream to me—even more so, the fact that it was funded by grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to these organizations, which do so much to bring art into the world.

After traveling to India, it took me months to process everything I’d seen and experienced, including a number of close-up tiger sightings. Success in the form of a completed draft finally came at a writing residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City, Nebraska—another organization to which I owe a huge debt of gratitude.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

When I tell people my book involves tigers, people inevitably reference Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, though the stories are very different.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The tiger cubs at the zoo get direct credit! As for the family tragedy, Sarah’s life as an itinerant journalist, the events that unfold in India—I’m not sure. Inspiration is a mysterious thing.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A forbidden love affair, a suggestion of magical realism, a collective of village women lifting themselves out of poverty. Characters torn from their families who make unorthodox new families of their own. A family of Bengal tigers struggling to survive. And then India itself—the sights, the smells, the sounds, the amazing people. A lot has been written about the India of cities and slums. The India I write about is rural India, where villagers compete with endangered tigers for food and water. I loved the people I met there, and I hope that shows in the book.

Next up for the Next Big Thing:

Cindy Corpier – find her on Facebook!

The Next Big Thing: An Angel’s Share

January 14, 2013

NOTE: The Next Big Thing is a blog series, winding its way through the internet. I was graciously asked to participate by authors Bren McClain and K. L. Cook. 

Brenda McClain is the author of “One Good Mama Bone.” Her website is http://brenmcclain.com and you can find her responses to these questions there.

K. L. Cook is the author of three books, the Spokane Prize-winning collection Love Songs for the Quarantined, the collection Last Call, which was the inaugural winner of the Prairie Schooner Prize for fiction, and the novel, The Girl from Charnelle, which received the 2007 WILLA Award for contemporary fiction. His story “Filament” appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2012 and his “Bonnie and Clyde in the Backyard” appears in Best of the West 2011.  His answers to the questions below can be found at http://schuster.blog.com and his website is http://www.klcook.net

I am beholden to both of these wonderful writers and people for so many things.

So, here goes!

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book? The working title of my novel-in-progress is An Angel’s Share. When distilled spirits, such as whiskey and bourbon, are aged in barrels, over time there is a loss of volume due to evaporation. The story is that while the liquor is aging, the angel comes and takes its share thus explaining the reduction in amount when the barrels are opened.

Where did the idea come from for the book?  It’s been brewing for some time. When I submitted stories for my creative thesis to my Spalding MFA in Writing mentor, the afore mentioned K. L. Cook, he pointed out that every story had an obvious reference to fathers missing from the life of the sons. Some were obvious, some were subtle but it was consistent throughout all of the short stories. I had never picked up on this. The main thrusts of the stories weren’t about the absence of fathers but there was a subtext there. My birth father was not in my life and died when I was very young. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. So I believe that subconsciously I was processing these facts of my life through my stories. And so I decided to write a novel about the relationships between fathers and sons and set it in Nashville. The novel takes place between 1926 and 1969 so there is a historical fiction element to it that, to be candid, has been a tremendous amount of work to research, but also very rewarding. I’m hoping that the city of Nashville also resonates as a type of “character” of its own in the book.

What genre does your book fall under?  I think I flatter myself by saying it’s literary historical fiction. We’ll see how literary it turns out to be.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  What a great question because I haven’t thought about it. I have a pretty clear idea of who my characters are (although they constantly surprise me) but I’m not sure I have a mental image of them. Since the novel takes place over a seventy year period it would take different actors to play the characters at different stages of life but as adults, I would love for Colin Firth to play the lead character if he could pull off a Nashville accent or maybe Tommy Lee Jones. He’s already played Loretta Lynn’s husband in Coal Miner’s Daughter.  Chip Esten would be perfect but he’s already playing a similar role in the current series, Nashville, on ABC. Maybe Melissa Leo as his older sister.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? There are bonds between fathers and sons that are permanent and eternal, regardless of physical absence or presence, of time and place, regardless of the recognition of the bonds or the pretense of their non-existence and the quality of our lives largely depends on elements of grace, forgiveness, love and chance with regard to these bonds. It is a story of flawed human beings who try and fail, who then try to make sense and find a measure of forgiveness and redemption from the ashes.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? My hope is to submit the manuscript to an agent by the end of 2013.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I’ll let you know when I finish! It’s about a year and a half in serious process right now.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? The books that have inspired me more than others are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund, and A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. All deal with social justice and individual relationships and family. I flatter myself by even answering with these books but if my manuscript could touch some small measure of these works, I’ll be very happy.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? You’ll get a sense of this by reading the above but I would add that my birth father’s sister (who is the inspiration for the lead female character) probably did more to inspire the narrative than others. She basically raised my birth father and loved him dearly in spite of all of his flaws. She loved him past his death, until hers and she grieved until her last breath feeling somehow that she had failed him. She didn’t but that didn’t comfort her any.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Since the story takes place in and around Nashville, I’m working hard to include local history, attractions, legendary events and locations. I’m hoping that those who know Nashville will smile and nod with recognition. I’m equally hoping that those who don’t know Nashville will be intrigued enough to come for a visit. I’m hoping all readers will understand by the end of the book why it takes place in Nashville.

Here are the excellent writers I get to tag for interviews, all highly recommended:

Carolyn Flynn – http://www.carolynflynn.com

Bonnie Johnson – http://bonnieomer.wordpress.com

Katy Yocom – Right here at http://www.anangelsshareblog.com

Roy Burkhead – (details to come!)

Dave DeGolyer – (details to come!)

Welcome to a New Year

January 5, 2013

I love new beginnings. I think most of us do. We look at what we’ve done or haven’t done and want to start over. That’s why New Year’s is so popular.

It’s a new beginning. We can blame our shortcomings and deficiencies on the old year. Yes! It was 2012’s fault that we weren’t at our best. But now…now…2013! So ripe and full of promise. You won’t let us down now will you?

The truth is every day is a new beginning. It’s a chance to start anew. I didn’t get done all that I wanted to yesterday.But, as Scarlett famously said, tomorrow is another day. There is always hope. A new chance. A new beginning.

So make your resolutions. Make your plans. Make your lists of all you want to do and want to be. But don’t put them away until 2014. Don’t put them away, period. What is it you wish to be on this day? What is it you wish to do? I want to finish my novel. I can’t do that all today but by gosh I can write some pages. And I will. I want to learn Italian and freshen up my French. But it would be a terrible mistake to think I could do that in a day with all of the Rosetta Stones at my disposal. But I could learn ten vocabulary words today. And I will.

And if I don’t?

Tomorrow is a new beginning.

I am a long distance cyclist and a hiker. What I am not is a bike racer and a sprinter. I’m the tortoise not the hare. You don’t “beat” a cycling century (100 miles) or the Appalachian Trail. You outlast them. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. And I use that cliché and others because there is truth to them. The 100 mile bike ride is one pedal stroke after another, thousands and thousands, that culminate at the top of Grandfather Mountain, if you keep going. The Appalachian Trail is one step after another, tens of thousands, that culminate at the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine for north bounders if you keep going.

2013 is made up of one day after another, 365 in all, that will culminate in…what?

You get to decide.

As I said earlier, I’m going to finish my novel and have it ready to send out to an agent or editor. I’m going to learn more Italian and French. I’m going to lose twenty-five pounds and am going to ride and finish some cycling centuries this year. I’m going to work on how to figure out ways to be a better husband, father and, now, a grandfather. I’m going to figure out ways to be a better friend, a better colleague and a better citizen of this grand world in which we live.

What will you do? And just as importantly, when will you begin?

Right now is a new beginning. Do your best. Try your hardest. Reward yourself for your victories and forgive yourself for your failures. Recognize your shortcomings but don’t embrace them. You may never beat them but you can outlast them.

Today is a new beginning. But always remember. So is tomorrow.

New Podcasts on Submitting Your Stories from Terry Price and Carolyn Flynn

October 17, 2012

Are you unsure as to whether your work is ready to be submitted or maybe you’re ready but not sure how to go about it? Then join Terry and Carolyn for their weekly podcast series on submitting your work! Catch the two most recent episodes either at the iTunes Store or by going to the following link and listening online! http://www.terryprice.net/Terry_Price/Podcast/Podcast.html

A New Podcast With Carolyn and Terry – The Agency of Character

August 9, 2012

Terry and Carolyn posted their most recent podcast of a lively discussion about the agency of character and the differences between having circumstances act upon your characters and having your characters make deliberate decisions that affect their lives. To listen to this weeks podcast, click here! And don’t forget that all podcasts are on the website and you can subscribe and automatically download them each week through the iTunes store. Just search for Terry Price and Carolyn Flynn under podcasts! See you next week.

Walking a Labyrinth

August 8, 2012

I recently returned from a trip of a lifetime to Paris. I come from a blue-collar background and may be the first from either side of my family to travel back to Europe since my ancestors arrived hundreds of years ago. Believing, as a child growing up, that I might one day travel to some of the great European capitals would be akin to, say, believing that I might travel to Mars. But that did not stop me from yearning to go.

The first time I began to sense that it could actually happen was when I was in seventh grade. First, one of my teachers was very well traveled and brought her slides of Europe to class to show us. Here, before our very eyes, was a woman who had decided to go to France, not just once, but many times. She had Kodachrome slides to prove it. The skies were bluer in Paris, the flowers redder, grasses were greener on the other side. Second, I was encouraged to take a foreign language. Our choices were Spanish and French but for me there was no choice. I had seen the slides. I rode a bike, for gosh sakes, and this was the home of the Tour de France. And so began a lifelong journey as a Francophile. Mais oui!

A little over a year ago, I learned that the Spalding MFA in Writing program, from which I graduated, would be traveling to Paris for their study abroad residency this July. Last year I was able to travel with a group of alumni to Rome and Tuscany and had a wonderful time. I knew I had to go this year with the program to Paris and the program was kind enough to work with me to allow it to happen.

I will write more about the trip in general in future blogs. I took many notes and photographs but for this piece I want to share a bit about my side trip to Chartres and to the Cathedral. The program offered a side trip to Chartres but it took place on a Wednesday. Through my research, I learned that the labyrinth in the Cathedral was covered in chairs except for Fridays when it was open to the public to walk. I made sure my schedule was open on the last Friday of our trip and took the Metro to the Gare Montparnasse where I caught a train to Chartres. The train ride was wonderfully uneventful and I alternated looking at the French fields, trees and patches of houses along with reading my tour book to be as prepared as I could be for the Cathedral. Upon arrival, I left the train station and walked the street up a hill toward the spires you could see from most everywhere in Chartres.Cathedral at Chartres

The Cathedral was magnificent and became increasingly so as I drew closer. I took a few photos of the outside and then headed straight for the entrance. There were several tour groups gathered around outside, receiving their introductions from the respective tour leaders before entering. I skirted around these and went inside.

As with most cathedrals I have visited in Europe, it is dark and cool which lends to a quiet and spiritual atmosphere. I wonder if my research had been right, will the labyrinth be uncovered and will I be allowed to walk it? After wading though a few initial groups of visitors, I receive my answer. Right in front of me is the open labyrinth and several visitors are already walking it, people of different ages, men and women, each walking in his or her own way. Some walk quietly, in an even pace, keeping their eyes on the path. Others walk and stop and close their eyes at different points, some at the turns, some at seemingly random points. Another stops every time she faces the stained glass of the Cathedral, raises her hands and her eyes and mouths something that only she and God know.

I notice several are walking the labyrinth with bare feet. I had always wanted to do this when walking labyrinths in the past, but had resisted. I am not sure this is the time or place. I had already walked the streets of Paris for the first four days of the trip, so much so, that my feet are not in great shape. I put my reluctance aside and find a dark wooden chair, taking my right shoe and then my sock off, taking care to see if I am causing a panic. When it appears that I am not, I remove the left shoe and sock and place all beneath my seat, stand and lay my backpack in the seat.

The labyrinth in the Cathedral at ChartresThe stone floor is cool and feels wonderful, almost as if I have put my feet into a shallow stream. My feet had been so bundled in the socks and walking shoes, bundled to protect them from the surfaces that I had forgotten what it feels like to walk barefooted. I stand there at my chair, my feet solidly standing on smooth stone, realizing I was in one of the most famous and ancient sanctuaries of pilgrimage. Records indicate that there has been a church at this site since the 4th century A.D.

The labyrinth itself was constructed in the 13th century and measures a hair over 42 feet in diameter. It is an eleven-circuit design divided into four quadrants. In the center is a design called a rosette, a center circle surrounded by six “petals.” When looking down upon the labyrinth at Chartres one can easily see a flower whose stem is the entrance and exit. The turns of each quadrant are such that one can see a cross when looking down. One walks the path that meanders through each of the four quadrants until reaching the center and the rosette. Walking the labyrinth is symbolic of pilgrimages – a symbolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land and back, a pilgrimage to God, a pilgrimage to one’s own center perhaps. In early years, Christians could not easily travel to Jerusalem so they would designate a holy place they could travel to, such as the Cathedral at Chartres, as a substitute. Once reaching the cathedral, they would finish their pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth.

I realize I am a pilgrim too.

But I am not here seeking a place, rather I walk the labyrinth to find questions and answers that will help give my life and art direction. Step by step my bare feet take me away from my backpack that contains my traveling possessions. I have been warned about thieves and pickpockets but know I cannot walk the labyrinth weighed down. I leave it behind. Standing at the entrance of the immense circle, I become aware of my breathing and slow it down, deliberately. I stare at the stone, the path ahead, and offer a prayer of anticipation, of gratitude and, as always when I walk a labyrinth, a prayer for forgiveness. I take the first step, my right foot steps firmly into the path. My walking is as slow and deliberate as my breathing.

I try to clear my mind of all thoughts as I am usually able to do when walking labyrinths in the States but I am having trouble. I am quite aware of where I am and it is nearly impossible to separate that from my walk. I wonder if I should try and separate it. I shall walk other labyrinths again, ones that I can get lost into. Is it not okay to be aware of where I am? Is it even desirable to understand and ponder that I am in France, that I am walking, arguably, the most famous labyrinth in the world? But then I ask myself, is this a spiritual experience or a tourist experience? I think about the history of this cathedral, the history of this labyrinth, the thousands and thousands of pilgrims’ feet before me and the thousands that will come after. And I begin to settle in to my walk. I begin to open up.

Then I notice those around me, the ones walking the labyrinth and I become aware that we are all at different points in our walks, some traveling inward but at a different pace, some traveling outward. There is an etiquette when walking a labyrinth, a dance if you will, when you encounter others, where you sense how to move, to pass or to be passed, to step outside of the path to allow others through. There are no rules but somehow there is no confusion, pilgrims begin to converge and steps are taken, allowing each to continue without interruption. It is a beautiful thing to experience with strangers.

But then I become aware of others in the cathedral, others on the labyrinth. Children running along the paths, chasing each other without getting outside the lines, running right up behind you until you move aside to allow them through. A middle aged man with a camera walks, oblivious, through the middle looking for the best vantage point to shoot the stained glass. A young woman in a ball cap with her blonde ponytail, like a fountain pouring from the back, her thumbs securing the straps of her backpack, stops on her way across the labyrinth and turns in all directions. An older couple, speaking what sounds like German, strolls toward the front of the cathedral, taking the most direct route through the labyrinth. A tour guide brings her group of about thirty-five, wearing headphones, to the very center of the labyrinth where they surround her as she describes the interior of the nave to them, in French, through her wireless microphone. After just a couple of minutes, someone from the cathedral comes to the tour guide and tells her what is going on and instructs the tour members to stand in a circle outside of the labyrinth, observing us, while the tour guide continues to speak that lovely language.

I must confess that at first I was disappointed at best and irritated at worst at the insensitivity of people. How could they not know something was taking place? How could they not see that we were engaged in a spiritual walk, one that required some semblance of reverence and quiet? I continued to walk, like the others, stepping aside when necessary, pausing when required, never uttering a word.

I then thought, this experience is what it is. I decided to practice mindfulness. I would not be robbed of this moment. I meditated and prayed, like I always do when walking any labyrinth – what am I supposed to learn from this walk? What am I to experience, what insights do I need? And I walked.

And the words of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in my adopted state of Kentucky, began to bubble up within me. One day Merton was standing on the corner of Fourth and Walnut (now Mohammad Ali Boulevard) in Louisville, when he suddenly had an epiphany that he loved all of the people around him, everyone on the sidewalks, in the cars, everyone, that they were his and he was theirs, that “we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers…”

I continue to walk the path until I reach the center, of the labyrinth, of the ring of tourists, of me. And I pause and close my eyes, and I feel their eyes on me.

And then my epiphany comes. This is life. This is my life. And in my life there are many people, all on different paths. There are few days that I walk my path when I am not interrupted, few that the world does not enter into, sometimes giving me pause, sometimes knocking me off course. There are days I know I am called to write. It is the first thing I think of when awakening, but phones ring and people knock. Crises arise, there are hugs to be given and received, hands that need to be held. Creditors smile and stomachs growl like little puppies waiting to be fed, customers to be satisfied, friends to be visited.

I do not live in a solitary world.

Then again, I realize, I do not wish to.

Those who are running and rambling about this labyrinth are no more oblivious to my walk than I am to theirs. Those walking on the labyrinth are not any more spiritual than those walking across it. We are all walking our own paths and in a way I am interrupting theirs by maintaining my route. This is the world in which I live, in which we all live. And if I can only find my spiritual connection, if I can only find my muse, my words, when there is silence, then it is unlikely I will ever succeed.

As I travel from the inside of the labyrinth toward the outside, I experience a tremendous sense of love for these pilgrims all around me, all of us traveling to different places, arriving at different destinations at different times, but at the same time each of us travels together. I will continue to find inspiration in the silence but I will miss out on so much if I neglect to find connection among the noise and activity. A little girl, arms waving and fists clinching, skips and sings down the labyrinth path toward me and I step aside. She is also barefoot and looks up and smiles and it is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on my journey. She continues, happiness radiating outward like the circuits of the labyrinth on which she dances.

I resist the urge to hug those across whose path I come the rest of the way but it is difficult.

I come to the opening of the labyrinth, the same from which I entered and I turn back and face the interior of the Cathedral and watch all who are in my view, just for a moment. I too am smiling and with open eyes I pray a prayer of gratitude and anticipation and a prayer for forgiveness.

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