June 28, 2019

The girls’ race at the Heraia at Olympia (Detail from 6th Century B.C. black-figure hydria)

Dear Tribe of Readers, Seekers, and Imaginers,

It’s always a pleasure to sit down and write to you. I recently asked a friend, “What would interest you as the subject of my Tiny Letter.” She replied, “I’d like to know more about what it’s like for you to write a novel.” In pondering her query, this question came to me: how do we find our aliveness and continue to explore it?

Twice a week, I drive to my friend’s house and work out with her in her basement. She gets the credit for keeping my heart pumping at a steady clip and my brain synapses snapping. She is also my motivator-in-chief. She goads me to explore my strength and agility beyond what I perceive to be my physical abilities and comfort zone. What makes her a fantastic coach is that she embodies what she believes; her vitality and confidence are contagious.

I asked her for some inspiring words to share with you:

“My advice to anyone is that you can do more than you think you can. Facing fear head on and conquering something unimaginable is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.”

She knows what she’s talking about. She has completed thirteen Ironman triathlons, six hundred-mile endurance marathons, and scores of ultra-marathons—all while raising a family and coaching others. Courage, perseverance—Caroline Spencer has got those in spades.

What strikes me is that the process of writing a novel is very much like a hundred-mile run. For one thing, there is the training, years of it, learning the craft and skill of your sport, learning your talents and weaknesses. If writing a poem is a sprint or a 100-yard dash, writing a novel is an endurance marathon through deep woods over icy slopes, sometimes in the dead of night. To even consider undertaking such a grueling challenge requires determination and a driving passion. I believe there’s a mystery to what attracts us and to what we are called to do. Our lives present us with so many opportunities and possibilities. Why do we choose one job or partner or adventure over another? Our rational mind has no answer.

Writing a novel and being an endurance athlete require disciplined minds that are able to surmount the inescapable hurdles of self-doubt and mental exhaustion, the niggling fears of disappointment, frustration, failure, and outright fatigue. Loneliness is a given. Again and again, one has to invent strategies to persevere over the long haul. None of this is possible without deep trust that something larger than fame or financial success is at stake. This is the key point: trust in oneself, trust in the process, trust that life is offering some further unfolding of self-awareness and enlightenment. A marathon is more than a marathon; writing a novel is more than telling a story. The endeavors are also the vehicles to something more, something beyond the immediate, tangible experience.

Caroline asked me what fuels my passion for writing another novel. One way I can answer is to say that the story of this second novel has been given to me and only me. I feel bound by care and responsibility to tell the characters’ stories. They have granted me the privilege of bearing witness to their deepest yearnings, fears and loves. To abandon them would be to abandon something vital and alive and unspoken that wants to be said. It may sound a bit mad, but I hold this as a kind of sacred trust. A little madness may be absolutely necessary for all of us, to get into our depths and balance our over-rational minds.

In closing, I’d like to share some lovely opportunities that have come my way recently. Many of you know I’ve had a long-standing interest in Carl Jung. I frequently write about “things Jungian” in my monthly contributions to “” on Psychology Today. I’m honored to be invited to contribute an essay to the fourth volume of , edited by Murray Stein and Thomas Arzt, and published by Chiron Publications. I’m very excited to begin research on the subject and to delve into the wisdom Jung gleaned from his descent into himself in search of his soul.

Another wonderful surprise comes as an invitation to participate in September in the 56th Belgrade International Writers’ Assembly. I will be contributing to panels and doing readings in and around Belgrade and Serbia. I was a visiting writer in the former Yugoslavia right before the Balkan War, and I am hugely interested in what I will encounter post-breakup of that country.

For those interested, in March the University of Massachusetts Press published, the wonderful anthology that includes my essay on Mary Magdalene. What connects the pieces are “inevitable occurrences that arise out of chaos.” The reviewer for the Boston Globe found it a “moving, muscular collection” that “holds an unexpected sort of magic.” On a separate front, I hope to get my book of poems to the publisher early in 2020.

That is all about me, but what I welcome is a dialogue with you. Please let us continue to converse, to inquire together, to keep seeking and questioning and telling our stories. Drop me an email if you care to engage.

Sending you warmest wishes for good juju!