The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, May 18, 2016:


“The accomplished hermit stays in the town; the immature hermit hides in the mountain.”

Zen koan

Some decades ago, advice columnist Ann Landers responded to a question about loneliness and being alone with the statement that one does not equal the other.  She went on to say (I’m paraphrasing) that if you don’t like yourself enough to be alone with yourself for half an hour, then few others will either.

It makes sense, then, that immature hermits don’t realize they can’t lose themselves in the paucity of company in the mountain.  Accomplished hermits know they don’t need to lose themselves in the town.

A familiar stereotypical image of writers, of course, is that we are solitary, reclusive, or eremitic folk.  Many may be one or more, but there is a big difference among the three types.  We tend to work or live by ourselves, solitary but not necessarily alone – family, neighbors, or colleagues are frequently nearby.  On the other hand, a recluse is usually one who removes him/herself from people and doesn’t want to interact with people, sometimes going to great lengths to keep others away.

Mystic hermits such as Dame Julian of Norwich and the Desert Mothers and Fathers actually welcomed company when it came around and were as hospitable as their circumstances allowed.  They knew the point of going off alone is not to lose oneself.  The point is to find the best of one’s self.

Usually that is done in community, working out and through our difficulties and differences in such a way that benefits both and all parties.  At the same time, though, we must work through the darker, uncomfortable parts of ourselves, and often that means taking what I call ‘hermit time’ as we live and work to find those places.

This hermit, for instance, always struggles to reconcile myself to the noises and disruptions of the town – such as the neighbors’ leafblower that whines all day at least once a week for three seasons of the year, and delivery trucks, and loud cars – while, at the same time, I enjoy the people around me.  I love getting to know people, about their lives.  Just this morning I enjoyed meeting two evangelists who came to the door.  We had a good, substantive conversation – so much so, the two women asked if they could come back.  I look forward to seeing them again so we can talk some more and I can get to know them better.  These are, after all, the instances from which we often glean fodder for our writing.

We don’t need to hide in the mountain for a mountaintop experience.  As much of a hermit as I tend to be, some of my own best ‘mountaintops’ have come when I’ve been in the company of others.  Other people are where we most often find the Other, which will – when we put in the effort to make it so – lead us to that place of otherness within ourselves that we want to spend time with.  Even Ann Landers would want to be with us then.

The Prompter Room

For Saturday, April 16, 2016:


“Three thousand miles away: another one who knows.” – Zen koan

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage reborn.” – Anne Frank

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” – T. S. Eliot

A friend of mine is trying to make it through an unbearable sadness from an unknown source.  It occurred to me that perhaps she is sensitive enough to pick up on the distress of the Japanese people who have been and are affected by the two earthquakes this week.

This happens to me on occasion, too.  Sometimes it’s from natural disasters and I presume that’s the source of my unexpected sadness, tears, and heavy heart.  Other times I can’t identify the why, what, or whom, but I’ve learned to live into the sorrow on behalf of an ‘other’ or others whose names and situations I don’t know and hope I can support them with my thoughts and prayers.

One of the things that helps me get through these times is to write about them.  If I am picking up despair from elsewhere, I can just imagine how overwhelming it must be for the person(s) going through the distress themselves.  So I write what I’m feeling and then try to multiply it for the ones I feel I’m tapping into.  It’s like Buddhist prayer flags in a way, as if I’m sending healing out into the universe with my words.

Writing longhand works best for me in these instances.  The physicality – and reduced speed – of putting pen to paper is a deeper experience than typing on a keyboard.  And for the last few years, I’ve slowed down the process even more by using my non-dominant hand.

It is a process, this diving into an unknown emotional darkness, but the non-dominant vehicle of my left hand connects up with my right brain and makes it a process that is also creative.  I believe this makes it more therapeutic, too – for me, yes, but more importantly for those whose heartache and confusion I’m trying to reach.

Somehow I feel like the bit of time and energy I expend on behalf of someones I don’t know is a creative force that will make at least a little bit of a difference.  If I can feel their suffering from 3000 miles or more away – or just next door – perhaps they can feel my attempts as well, and, I hope, find some small measure of comfort.

The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, March 30, 2016:


“The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.”

Martin Buber

Though not an atheist, I spend more time staring out windows now than I do with my prayer book and Bible.  That’s not to say I don’t use them on occasion, because I do.  I just see more of God around me than in the words I’ve known, loved, and still love from the time I was a little girl.  Because I’m looking out of the windows, I also see – and this is important, I think – where God appears to be absent.

I believe God is everywhere, whether we see or feel her or not.  At the same time, though, there are times and instances where some who claim to be believers don’t live or act or speak as if they are.  This is not the place to get overly theological or political, or go too far with social commentary – readers are welcome to  comment below, however! – but I am thinking of the state of the world today when I say that.  I don’t speak in judgment, I hope, but, rather, as evaluation.  There is so much that needs fixing in our world, and I believe that sometimes the better ‘fixers’ are those who do so with clearer eyes than those who see and act only through their false images, whatever form they may take.  We can thank those false images for the Crusades, the Inquisition, for genocides past and present, the slow destruction of the environment, and so much more.

So what does all this have to do with writing?  It’s a matter of perspective, I think.  We can so clutter up our minds and our minds’ eyes that we lose sight of what’s in front of us.  There are so many things, so many images, that threaten to crowd out or hide the little things, the quiet ones.  That’s going to affect our writing.

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The Prompter Room

For Friday, March 25, 2016:


“The great road has no gate; a thousand crossings lead there.”

Zen koan

For those who observe it, today is Good Friday, the most somber day of the Christian liturgical calendar.  Though I don’t go to church anymore, I do try to join in with the communion’s thoughts and prayers as we prepare to enter into the mysteries of this day and those that follow.  So I will leave you with the koan above – I think it’s appropriate.  Maybe you can find a poem there, or a meditation reflection if you feel so called.

Back tomorrow … Many blessings!

~~ Genie