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The Pen and the Bell
During many years of my work as a public health nurse, I started most days to the voice of Bob Edwards on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” Edwards’s deep voice updated me about events of the previous twenty-four hours and reminded me of my connection to the wider world. I especially looked forward to his Friday morning chats with retired baseball announcer, Red Barber. I never was much of a baseball fan, but I enjoyed listening to Red and Bob; it was like eavesdropping on a friendship.
“Good morning, Red,” Edwards would say over the phone line from his studio in Washington, DC to Barber’s home in Tallahassee.
“Good morning, Colonel,” Barber always drawled, using the nickname to acknowledge Edwards’s home state of Kentucky. Barber usually followed up with a report about the camellias in his garden or news of his wife, Lylah.
For a number of years, my preparation several mornings a week also included lap swimming at the YMCA. I’d pack my swim cap, goggles, flip-flops, towel, and change of clothes for work the night before. Bob Edwards’s voice signaled 6 am and cheered me as I tugged my swimsuit over the goose bumps on my hips and tried to dull the pain of the morning air with socks, a pair of leggings and a turtleneck.
Usually only one other woman would be in the dressing room when I arrived at the pool. The smell of disinfectant still lingered from the night cleaning crew. I’d shiver again as I took off my pants, shirt, and socks, flip-flopped my way to the shower, and turned the handle to hot.
Wide awake then in the cool, chlorine-scented air, I’d adjust my swim cap and goggles and do a shallow dive into an empty lane. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. All I could hear was the slap of my arms and feet in the water and my gulps for air. At the end of the lane, I’d curl into a ball, roll my body and connect my feet to the concrete wall, push off, and resume the rhythm of strokes, kicks, and breaths. This time of quiet and routine helped prepare me for whatever challenges the rest of the day held.
Before I begin the hour of silent Quaker worship on Sundays, I need to prepare, too. I’m much more open to Spirit if I spend some minutes before I enter the worship space in quiet anticipation—that means no phone calls, no listening to the news on the radio, no checking e-mails. My meeting reinforces the value of preparation with a sign at the entrance, reminding us to come in worshipfully. Silently leaving my shoes at the door signals my brain to leave my thinking and fretting there, too.
A discipline of preparation also serves my writing. There’s no pool on my island home for morning laps, so now I wake my mind and my muscles with a Pilates workout or a walk with my yellow lab, Buddy. Bob Edwards is long-retired from NPR, so most mornings I light a candle and read a short bit of writing that inspires me. These days I’m working my way through The Pen and the Bell by Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes. I often do a 10-15 minute timed writing exercise in my journal, before opening the lid of my laptop. A waste of valuable writing time? With deadlines and messages to be productive, it’s tempting to skip my preparation routines, to get right to the “real work” of tapping out words for the essay or chapter I’m working on. Brenda Miller writes,
“We have to do the small tasks so that the big work will emerge on its
own terms. All of it is preparation for the work—and it’s the work itself.”
The pool, the walks in the woods, leaving my shoes at the worship room door, moving my pen across the page—these teach me that preparation is part of the work.
How do you prepare for your work?