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Festival of Faith and Writing, From a Distance

This week I’ve been watching #FFWgr tweets. The Festival of Faith and Writing is a Christian writers’ conference that happens every two years. In 2014, I watched the tweets, too. At that point, I’d been trying to be a Christian blogger for at least two years. I blogged three times a week, had published several essays in spiritual journals and websites, read and commented on other spiritual blogs, and connected with other Christian writers and bloggers on Twitter. I was also attempting to write a spiritual memoir – not just write one, publish one!

I remember a photo that a couple of blogger friends shared last time: A bunch of Christian writers I knew from the internet gathered into a group picture at a coffee shop. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be part of that group. I wanted someone to say to me, “Hey, I love your blog!” I wanted to be part of the club. I swore to myself that I’d attend the Festival in 2016.

More motivated than ever, I went away to a cabin in July of that year to try to finish my book, Transfigured Faith, a story about my entrance into the Eastern Orthodox Church, which I had been working on for two years, getting up at 4 am to write before work. Here’s what happened at the cabin: I was bored. Yes, I wrote. I spent many hours in a chair at a desk. But I was tired of my own words. On the last day at the cabin when I read the manuscript for the final time and said I was done, I felt nothing. I didn’t feel exuberant. I didn’t feel relieved. I felt nothing.

I went back home and blogged and acted excited. I wrote a book proposal. I sent it to my top three agents. I sent it to a few small publishers. And I heard nothing. The school year began, and I tried getting up at 4 am again. It didn’t work. I was exhausted. And I knew it wasn’t just the early mornings. Something was wrong. I finally realized that

1) I’d spent more time and effort trying to make a name for myself and impress people with my writing than trying to create a well-crafted work of art.

And

2) The book I’d written wasn’t my story anymore.

In the process of writing a faith memoir about my movement from evangelical Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy, I started to lose my faith.

Maybe it was seeing my teenage guilt in all my old journals that I’d mined through during the writing process. I was the godliest goody-two-shoes you could find when I was a teen. And yet I felt so guilty about everything.

Maybe it was the miscarriage I had halfway through writing my book and the way it taught me about creative failure and creative power in women and then led me to feminism.

Maybe it was the changing tides of culture and the increasing judgmental attitudes that kept Christians in the news and made me ashamed to be one.

Maybe it was the Christian blogs I was reading, many of which seemed to reflect a more open and vulnerable faith.

Maybe it was simply the process of trying to write my faith out. Flannery O’Connor famously said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

Perhaps it took writing it down to realize that my faith was floundering.

So I put my printed copies of Transfigured Faith away in a drawer. I stopped writing faith essays and started writing poetry again. After I while, I quit writing publicly about faith and I quit reading most of the spiritual blogs I’d followed for so long. And then I came to realization that I no longer wanted to blog.

I wanted time to focus on my other writing pursuits: poetry and and a long-dreamed-about novel. I wanted to work on the art of it. I wanted to create. But I was tired of creating in the middle of a public arena. I wanted to disconnect from the circle of spiritual writers I’d once so desperately tried to be a part of.

So here I am, no longer a Christian blogger, no longer a blogger at all really, “watching” #FFWgr from my couch again this year. My 2014 dreams are gone, but it seems that I still like to talk about and think about faith, even if I don’t have much.

The truth is that spirituality is still an undercurrent in my writing. I have a whole stack of faith-wrestling poems that haven’t been published yet. I even address spirituality a bit in the novel I’m working on. Perhaps, no matter what Christian dogmas I accept or reject, the pull of belief will always have a hold on me.

While I’ve enjoyed keeping up with the Festival of Faith and Writing this year, I’m also reflecting on the distance. I see now that I’ve needed some distance from everything I was reading and writing two years ago. I’ve needed quiet time for my soul and psyche to process all of my feelings and struggles. I’m still processing. I’ve needed to get away from that constant push toward self-promotion and social media connections. I’m still trying to deeply understand the strength of silence.

Congratulations to all my writer friends who attended or presented at #FFWgr! Thanks for letting me spy on you for a couple of days through Twitter! I might be there one day, or I might not. You never know. For now, I’m keeping my head down and working on my art.

 

 

 

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11 comments

  1. I so relate with this. I’ve never thought of myself as a “Christian” blogger. I’m a blogger/writer who is a Christian. I also don’t fit a protestant category. I recently wrote to Rachel Jones that I tend to be badly behaved in all Christian contexts – maybe it’s the missionary kid part of me; the part that protested going to strange churches when I was younger. So I relate with all that. But what also resonates so deeply is the wanting to create to create – not for a platform, not for a finished product, not for fame or glory, but to use the creative part of me that I know is God-given, his image in me. And it all gets muddled together in our public world. I so respect what you are doing. And thank you for writing about it here.

    • Thanks! You write about such a great variety of things that appeal to Christians and people of other faiths. And LOL about being a Christian behaving badly! Ha! Yeah, the platform thing just really started getting to me. I’m glad I went through the experience of writing that memoir, and parts of it might be salvageable, but most importantly I learned that true art takes time and silence, not constant social media promotion. I still self-promote and participate on Twitter some – it’s hard to completely disconnect – but distancing myself from that public arena has really helped me create better, richer writing. I’ve also participated in three different writing workshops over the past year, and getting that feedback on my work has been great. That’s the community I need, not the platform/branding/pageviews craziness of the internet!!

      • Rachel Jones says:

        Oh.my.gosh. This almost made me cry. Is that weird? Maybe a bit of an exaggeration? But you’ve captured so much of what I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about lately, almost on the same timeline as well. I have so much to think about from this, your words have sparked something – the realization that I need to figure this out. Or at least think about it, which for us means, write about it. Even if just for myself, to understand. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable here.

  2. Bree says:

    I felt your emotion in this Karissa, the longing to BELONG, to be a part of the club and the in-crowd. The feeling like you are just pushing upstream among so much other noise and wondering whether you have anything to say that hasn’t been said before and what’s the point of it all anyway?!

    Well, I think you nailed it – the point of it all is often not for others, the point of it is for ourselves, to KNOW ourselves.

    And this: “In the process of writing a faith memoir about my movement from evangelical Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy, I started to lose my faith.”

    I can’t wait to read that story.

    • I want to write that story! But I’m not quite ready yet. Still going through it. Pushing upstream is a great way to describe what I feel. I’m happier now, I’m writing better stuff, and I have better relationships in my real life. Platform and all that stuff is overrated.

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