Today is the last day of my sabbatical from Christian Peacemaker Teams, which began June 1, 2012. I ran a search on Google images for “sabbatical” and most of them involved beaches.
I wanted to write my novel Shea, which for biblically-interested people is a retelling of the Hosea-Gomer narrative with the gender roles reversed, and a fascist theocratic government running the U.S. instead of a theocratic government that had adopted elements of Canaanite fertility religions running ancient Israel. For those not interested in the biblical aspect, it is the memoir of Islam Goldberg-Jones, written from prison, telling of how he, his wife Hoshea “Shea” Weber, their family and comrades brought down the Christian Republic that ruled the United States from 2065-2087. He also writes about how he betrayed Shea with three increasingly heartbreaking affairs (which is the parallel of Gomer having three children—although to be fair to her only one was officially by another man.) Mission accomplished.
I wanted to get Because the Angels formatted as an E-book. Mission accomplished.
I wanted to get a website set up. Mission accomplished.
I learned how to use Twitter. I have NOT learned how to spend only fifteen minutes a day on Twitter.
What I didn’t get done
I wanted to help a friend who was a dissident in Iran under the Shah and Khomeini regimes write her memoir. The process turned out to be too painful for her so we had to let it go.
I did not finish filing all the papers in the boxes in the hall upstairs, but I have made good progress in throwing out things that don’t need to be filed anymore.
I still have a room full of my mother’s stuff that needs to be listed on Ebay.
I did not work on my Arabic language study AT ALL.
I did not do a retreat with my spiritual director.
So what have I learned? I’ve been on a cycle over the years where I would become overwhelmed with CPT work, get depressed because I didn’t have time to write the novel that was in me, and then had to leave CPT to do it. I need to figure out a way to take depression out of that equation. And that probably means that I need to actually assign times for CPT work, time for housework, and time for writing work. And within the CPT work, I need to assign time for filing, time for e-mail, and time for Arabic language study, or they won’t get done.
So am I happy to be going back? Not sure. I’m not great with transitions. But having spent a year saying that I do human rights work without actually having done any, it will be nice now to be saying it for real. And I will enjoy interacting with my colleagues again and following what’s going on in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Palestine, and the Indigenous communities we work with. And I’m pretty sure the idea for my next novel will come to me while I am working, as all the others have.
But oh the conference calls; I have not missed the conference calls at all, or the personality conflicts that arise because we tend to attract intensely committed people, and when you get all that intensity in the same room, well, sometimes people of goodwill can be very hard on each other.
I’ve had the good fortune, at the end of my sabbatical, to find a writer friend with whom I can exchange manuscripts for critique. The writer’s group I wanted to get together at the beginning of the sabbatical fell through. I met Sara Selznick through She Writes, a forum for women writers—one of the sabbatical indulgences I’m afraid I will have to put aside when I start work again tomorrow. We had applied for the same fellowship and received identical, “you’re very talented and we hope you apply again, but no” rejections. After we exchanged applications, we became a two-woman writer’s critique group. You will find a description of her writing project The Color of Safety on her blog Three Kinds of Pie.
When I edit colleagues writing for CPTnet, I am doing more than one role. My main role is to make sure they provide a voice to our local partners and communicate the realities of their work effectively. But it is also my job to encourage them to become better writers. Their work in the field is the vital part of what we do. Our writer/editor relationship is a vehicle to enhance that work; the writing is not an end in itself. So I generally DO pull punches. I am not blunt about the deficits in their writing (although some of my colleagues may disagree.)
For my novel, Shea, I don’t want someone trying to tiptoe around my feelings. I need people to say, “This doesn’t work for me.”; “I don’t understand what you’re saying here.” “I hate this character.” My regular manuscript readers, who know me personally, tell me when something bothers them, but they usually will pull punches. Other writers won’t. I may choose not to change something based on a critique (one writer friend and I have what we call the Jane Austen—William Faulkner spectrum, with his taste leaning heavily toward the latter), but I want to hear it. I will consider it. And I find it liberating to dispense the critiques as well. I suppose I should check in with Sara to see whether she’s as happy with the arrangement as I have been, because I’ve been more on the dispensing end. But let me just say this: her novel is more than 200,000 words long and I was never bored.
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