Monday, May 24, 2010

Small, Courageous Acts

Over the weekend, my husband and I hosted our long-time friend, Ana Maria Spagna, and her partner, Laurie, as part of Ana Maria’s tour promoting her new book, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus – A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey. I’ve read the book once just for the pleasure of learning the story of Ana Maria’s path to understanding her father’s involvement in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott. I’m reading it a second time to learn from this skillful writer how to tell a multi-layered story like Test Ride. Ana Maria uses literary techniques to, as she says, “braid” the stories of her father, who died when she was eleven; her own discovery of her father’s past that had not been discussed in her family; and her mother’s experience with cancer (find out more at

One of the joys of hearing an author read and talk about her own work is to be able to learn more about her process and what she discovered about herself through her research and writing. I was fortunate to get two of those opportunities during Ana Maia’s visit – both at her public reading and earlier in the day when I interviewed her for our local low power FM radio station.

I heard about how she starts her writing day first reading someone else’s writing that inspires her. Then she re-reads what she wrote the day before. “Sometimes I think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written,” Ana Maria said. “At those times, I allow myself to just close that file without hitting the delete button, and move on to something else I’m working on. That’s the benefit of working on more than one project at a time.” Then she writes for a few hours, or revises if that’s the stage she’s at on a piece. “I’m pretty unproductive at writing after two or three in the afternoon,” she says, “so I shift to preparing for a writing workshop or the on-line teaching I do for a writing program.” Ah yes, the reality for most writers of having a “day job” (or two or three).

Ana Maria also talked about the two years of research she did about the civil rights movement and especially about the Tallahassee bus boycott and her father’s role in it. Here’s a synopsis of what she learned about the latter.

One Saturday morning in Tallahassee, Florida in January 1957, three black men and three white—my father, Joe Spagna, among them—gathered outside Speed’s, a small corner grocery, to wait for a city bus. Their plan was simple enough, to ride the bus together, but it was dangerous as hell.”

Through her research, Ana Maria got answers to many of her questions about what happened after that bus ride, questions she had wanted to ask her father but couldn’t because he had died when she was eleven years old. She also learned a part of U.S. history in much more depth and much more personally than she’d ever understood. As Ana Maria shared about that learning, she ministered to me.

“I had grown up with such a limited view of what happened during the civil rights movement,” she said. “I’m embarrassed to admit I had accepted that condensed version I’d been taught in school – the stories of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the four young black children who had integrated an all-white school. What I learned is there were hundreds and hundreds of people who did courageous acts, large and small, to try to bring about justice.”

Hundreds and hundreds of people doing small, courageous acts to bring about justice. I’m just as guilty as Ana Maria of looking at only the well known, headline-making actions of people working for peace and justice—and holding myself to that standard. While it’s true that change usually requires that some people take action that gets lots of attention and demands huge sacrifice, sometimes even loss of life, I’m grateful for the reminder from Ana Maria’s story about the importance of the small things many of us do every day. I’m open (most of the time) to the possibility that someday I’ll be called to act in a big way, and I pray I’ll have the courage to follow such a leading. There really are so many examples, though, so many stories, of the small, courageous actions within our families, our communities, and our own hearts that contribute to peace and justice. Ana Maria learned about many of them that never made it into any history books or newspaper headlines. I’m grateful she had the courage to share some of them through her writing. They support me to put my energy into remaining faithful to the opportunities the Spirit provides me and trusting that those small actions, combined with others, will make a difference.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An update on my experiment with blogging. I spent more time than I would have liked this morning figuring out how to include the image of the cover of Test Ride in this post, but that’s part of the learning of a new skill. I’m discovering some unexpected ways this medium connects me to other people. For example, a couple of the people who have commented on my posts have included information about their own or others’ blogs. When those links appear in their posts or profiles, it’s easy for me to click on them and encounter some people and ideas I hadn’t known about before.

Having set a goal to post every week is supporting me to focus my journaling and meditation time and going deeper into some of the ideas that surface. I’m also getting practice at disciplining myself to use this tool for that deepening rather than as a way to avoid it by getting diverted to other sites.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I'm not a birthright blogger

I’m not a birthright blogger. Unlike some of my younger Quaker friends who were born in the electronic social media age, I’ve come to this mode of sharing ideas after years of devotion to pen and paper and face-to-face conversation. It’s those younger friends, though, who have convinced me that I need to be on board with blogging (and other electronic media) in order to nurture and connect with the next generation of Quakers. That was the message I heard over and over again from young Friends (and a few older ones) at the QUIP (Quakers Uniting in Publications) conference.

I’ve concluded that entering the blogosphere really isn’t all that revolutionary. I got my first hint of that at the opening plenary at the QUIP conference when Tom Hamm, a professor of history at Earlham College, spoke about “The Significance and Influence of Quaker Writing Throughout Our History.” He claims that the history of Quakerism IS the history of writing and publishing by Friends. For 350 years, Quakers have been publishing in some form or another to proclaim our beliefs to the world; to engage in controversy; to engage with each other; and to entertain. Throughout the conference, bloggers, journalists, editors, poets, and fiction and non-fiction writers talked about Quaker writing in the future. I came away energized by the potential for new avenues for wider and more diverse dialogue.

I also came away with concerns.

Do I want to spend more of my already-full life in front of the computer screen engaging in this virtual, but distant, way with others?

I treasure my quiet, centered daily meditation time in my comfortable rocker by the window, journaling with a wooden pen made by a dear friend in the blank book I bound by hand. Will my electronic journaling feed me in the same way?

What about those for whom words and images that can be transmitted electronically aren’t their media of expression?

This blog is one way I’m testing my evolving beliefs about the future of Quaker publishing and my own ministry of writing. I intend to post something once a week, writing a little more polished than what I journal during my daily meditation but a little more raw than writing I might submit for print publication. I’ll be sharing my journey with this new publishing mechanism as well as my personal faith journey. That last part is scary. What if nobody reads my blog? What if somebody does?


In a less personal vein, I also plan to write about the process of blogging. So far, I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to learn the mechanics. I began by going to I already had a yahoo e-mail account, so I was able to log in with that address and password (if you don’t have one, it’s easy and free to set up). Then I watched the tutorial and followed the step-by-step instructions to create a blog. I played around a bit with layout design sampling the templates the site provides.

I composed today’s entry in Word on my desktop computer. Now I’ll sign in to my blog, click on the NEW POST bar, and cut and paste this text into the window that pops up. I can still edit once I paste this in, I can preview it, and it won’t appear on my blog site until I click on the orange PUBLISH button. Pretty simple.

I’m also going to start contacting friends I think might be interested in this blog to let them know about my latest project. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you got an e-mail from me inviting you to join me on this journey. I look forward to reading comments and seeing what it’s like to dialogue in this way.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I've been convinced to blog!

I was at the QUIP (Quakers Uniting in Publications) Writers' Conference and Meeting in April and had some great discussions with Quakers (young and old alike) about the future of writing. One panel discussion about entering the blogosphere convinced me that blogging will be/is just another medium to share our writing - like old Quaker journals of the past, contemporary Quaker publications, books, etc. So, I'm venturing into this world and will share my journey.

Today, I'm having my hand held by my writing group members on our annual retreat. I needed their moral support to take this first step. I'm eager to see how this looks and will enter more soon. I look forward to sharing the joys and challenges of this new medium and hearing others' reactions.