Monday, October 5, 2009

Grace Is Nothing Less Than Everything

by Sophie

I think I might have been the one to suggest this subject.

Lisa's been a faithful scribe; whenever any combination of Pens gets together and someone interrupts herself with a stray thought to say "hey! That's a subject for the blog!" Lisa always emails herself on the spot, and it's a good thing too because I can't possibly keep track of anyone else's tangents, much less my own. I'm no good that way.

But my friends are. They fill in the blanks. They're bountiful where I lack. And that is just one example of the grace that is, I believe, the engine that fuels me.

I'm not here to dictate anyone else's spiritual instruction manual, so please don't read any proselytizing in what follows. But grace is the force that has gotten me through every difficult moment in my life and has allowed me to start to learn to claim the lovely ones.

Shall we just agree that when I say "God" we all immediately substitute "as I understand Him, or him or her or them or it, as the case may be"? Yes? We can do that?

Okay...then I will say that grace, to me, is God's gentle presence in everything I do. It is at its strongest when I'm tempted to deny it; it appears when I am not expecting it; it is always present when I am not aware of it.

Instances of grace are everywhere, but they are also ephemeral. You can repudiate or disprove any example I give you easily, so I concede. If you wish to call those moments happenstance or coincidence or mad chaos, you're right. You're right! I agree! And yet - at the end of the day - that stubborn tendril remains; I am more than the sum of myself plus where I find me.

I spend my professional life in an often dark, sometimes angry, sometimes vulgar, and nearly always uncooperative place. I'm delighted when I can make a reader laugh, but just as often I write scenes that tear me up, so I can only imagine what they do to unsuspecting readers. I write about human ugliness and pain and the damage we do to each other. And yet - for the close reader - I maintain that there is always a seed of grace within.

I have an ongoing debate with a writing friend about the nature of our work. He's adamant that it should entertain, and nothing more. I disagree. I think that fiction should present both an honest reflection of life's messy chaos, and - in the very best examples - a glimpse of the way to something better. I don't care how raw someone the end of the day, if you walk away feeling that s/he has moved you, I will bet that it's the presence of grace that made a difference for you.

Look at Pete Dexter, Ken Bruen, Denise Mina...those are the easy examples, those whose native tongue is "unfiltered" and whose natural pace is "straight to the core." But then look at your own library with a thoughtful, critical eye, and I think that your own favorite authors have been slipping in grace when you were not looking. It's easy to confuse with redemption; but redemption to me has the distinction of having had to work for it; redemption is the payoff for suffering and striving. Grace is something else entirely - it's given freely by that God-concept we discussed earlier. It's there for the most irredeemable and occasionally elusive for the most humble.

This post was a bit like tossing pebbles into a lake: a fleeting impression quickly covered over by the laws of surface tension and gravity and I don't even know what else. But I do think it deserves mention every now and again. Because we all struggle...we all consider giving up...we all rail and then feel guilty. Grace forgives all that. Grace can't wait to see what you'll do next.

The photos of the Diablo foothills - not too far from where I live - were taken by Matt Granz.


Tom Neely said...

I've gotta agree with you on books needing to do more than just entertain. There are plenty of strictly entertaining books out there that i've read but they weren't keepers. The ones that i've read a few times and still line my shelves are multi-layered and satisfy on deeper than a "fun read" level. There's room for both, of course, but the books that makes folks want to be writers are the keepers.

Rachael Herron said...

I like heading for entertaining in my own writing and accidentally landing on grace. That's the promised land for me. Sometimes it happens, and I kiss the keyboard.

Terri Thayer said...

I think the key is you can't set out to consciously do more. If you do, it'll feel preachy and won't get read.

I heard from a fan that one of my books touched her in a very important way. I thought I was just getting my character to work out some shit in her own life. Turned out the reader was working through the same very important issues and my protag's insights led her to her own. Her relaying her story to me was a powerful moment. A moment of grace, in fact. All the more so because I'd never anticipated it.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Regarding kissing the keyboard...i actually kissed a *book* this weekend (R, you know which one) because I loved it so much. And it was *exactly* because of the presence of grace within, even though it was also enormously entertaining.

Preachy...never. Preachy is like the opposite, I think. You are right, Terri, as long as you work unconsciously all the good stuff elbows its way in! (i think) so cool that you touched a reader that way.

Juliet Blackwell said...

I think you bring grace to everything you do and everyone you love. And preachy? Never!

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