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I was reading an article this week on tips for obtaining a literary agent. What struck me was the author’s authoritative insistence that without a “perfect” manuscript, drafted and redrafted and redrafted yet again, a writer is doomed to be ignored and never to be published. If that is true, I am wondering why so many books are out there, indie and traditionally published alike, because I am yet to read a “perfect” one. Have you?

I myself hate the cult of “perfectionism” because it creates a myth that victimizes the rest of us who are just trying to do our best work. Note that “ best work” is not “perfect work.” In between learning that Dance For A Dead Princess had been nominated by Foreward Reviews for its Book of the Year Award in Romance and learning Dance was the sole Finalist for the Beverly Hills Book Award in Romance, I got an e-mail one morning informing me my “review was ready” from a indie author book review service I had contacted ages ago. I scrolled down and read absolutely the nastiest, snarkiest review of my book imaginable. No, let me rephrase that. The nastiest, snarkiest review of any book imaginable. Apparently I’d unwittingly fallen into the hands of the High Priestess of Perfection. So while munching my slightly underdone egg and overdone toast, and drinking a less than perfectly brewed cup of coffee (but happy to have a warm breakfast anyway), I learned that the High Priestess found my plot “contrived,” thought the use of the diary to tell the inner story was “the oldest literary cliche” out there, and was just outraged because the word “lame” got into the text without an accent over the e. Oh, whoops, my eternal bad. High Priestess said nothing about my ability to draw a reader vividly into a scene. (A New York editor had given me that accolade years ago.) High Priestess had nothing to say about all the readers on GoodReads and Amazon who had stayed up at night to find out what happened. And, of course, she had no idea what the judges at Foreward thought of Dance for A Dead Princess. No, she was dead set in her opinion that Dance wasn’t perfect and therefore not worthy of anyone’s time of day.

Well, I agreed with her. If perfect is your bag, Dance is not for you. But, then, neither are the rest of the books out there. Wonder if High Priestess has given that much thought?

Fortunately, I’ve been a writer long enough to know what I do well, and where I can improve. I listen to honest reader feedback. I learn. I grow. But I have not one single aspiration to be Perfect. My heart was broken enough times on that wheel growing up, and I have no intention of the punched-in-the-gut feeling that comes from hours and hours of working and hoping for that “Perfect” accolade, only to find all effort wasted because the accent mark didn’t find its home over the “e.”

I think it is useless and wrong to preach the religion of “Perfectionism.” One Christmas I went to a luncheon here in San Diego that a local group of attorneys sponsored in honor of the season. We sat in a semi-dark cavern of a room, at fifty or sixty round tables covered in spotless linen (or the lights were dimmed to hide the spots, take your choice), and potted poinsettias were plopped in the center of the table (to give the proceedings that “festive” air, I guess). We ate rubbery chicken with a glob of gravy on top, dressing that I swear was made out of old newspapers, and green beans that had been run through a pot of boiling water for ten seconds flat. (I assumed those beans spoke French.)

Since I was starving, I opted to search for food value in the wilted lemon meringue pie that had probably been parked by each diner’s place around 8:30 that morning. And as I sent my blood sugar soaring on an empty stomach, I listened to the speaker, a middle-aged attorney in a bright purple suit, who was presenting a writing award to a student from one of the local law schools. What interested me was the Speaker’s awe-inspired assurance that this student was “Perfect” because she put every one of her writing projects through at least ten drafts. Had Madame Middle-Aged Purple Suit taken leave of her senses, I wondered. Which one of her clients would have paid the hourly rate of a junior attorney who couldn’t produce a fileable document (fileable, not perfect) in one draft and a final? No client on earth is going to pay for ten drafts. Nor should he or she have to. What unreasonable and unworkable standard of the cult of “Perfectionism” was Purple Suit advocating in the midst of stultifying boredom?

Perhaps Miss Ten Drafts went on to be a disciple of the High Priestess, I don’t know. I never went to another holiday luncheon. I’m not perfect, my books are perfect, my readers aren’t perfect, and I love us all just the way we are. I’m throwing my hat in the ring to stamp out the religion of Perfectionism!

The High Priestess

The High Priestess

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Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Conference after more than sixty years. He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher, and he is a profoundly and sincerely religious man. But his reason for leaving the Southern Baptists: the church’s increasing rigidity over the equality of women. Relying on certain passages of scripture, the Southern Baptists insist upon a wife’s subjugation to her husband. And they no longer allow women in the ministry.

Southern Baptists are the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, with 15.9 million members. I doubt that people who have not lived in the South understand what a powerful presence they are in Southern society and culture. My own grandfather was a rigid Southern Baptist who believed in eternal damnation for setting foot in any other church. As a child, I was bundled off to Sunday School and kindergarten at the Southern Baptist church that literally sat on our doorstep. (Eventually they would buy the house I grew up in and turn it into a parking lot, an act of destruction that has always left me profoundly sad.)

I was lucky that my early contact with the mighty Southern Baptist conference had nothing to do with doctrine and everything to do with my parents not wanting to go to church themselves. They shuffled me across the street, Sunday after Sunday, and then went home to put their feet up, read the paper, and drink coffee until it was time to pick me up. The perfect example of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Eventually, though, being Southern parents, mine were forced to decide about their children’s Religious Affiliation. Southerners have to have some sort of Religious Affiliation to use on Easter and Christmas. And to get married and buried.

Since I had not been baptized as an infant – a practice my Southern Baptist father would never have agreed to and my Methodist mother had no opinion about – I necessarily would have to be baptized as a pre-teen or teen. But the point was, I was a daughter of the South and so I had to be baptized somehow, to avoid going to hell, of course. (Hell at that point was thought to be populated by Northerners, at least unreconstructed Southerners thought so. I didn’t give it much thought since I never planned to wind up there. And it did seem to me that the Civil War had been over for quite some time.)

My parents eventually lit upon a sect of Presbyterians who conducted services as if they were Episcopalians minus kneeling, the sign of the cross, and robes on the minister. For some reason, these Presbys were taken with the beauty of the Anglican liturgy (me, too, by the way) and they adopted it as their own. My father quit being a Southern Baptist and my mother quit being a Methodist, and I got baptized and turned into a Presbyterian by having a red carnation dipped into a bowl of water and squashed on top of my head. Whew! Eternal Damnation avoided! (I fully believe God has a sense of humor because He gave me one.)

By and by, to the absolute horror of my parents, I became an Episcopalian. This required yet another baptism for technical Episcopalian reasons. In their world, water on top of the head doesn’t save you. It has to cross your forehead. So to make absolutely sure I was good and baptized for all time, the priest poured water from a silver shell over my forehead. Killed the hairdo, but now Nothing stood between me, Saint Peter, and those Pearly Gates.

At first, I wanted to be an Episcopalian so that I could walk into any Anglican communion anywhere and hear the beautiful words of the liturgy. I loved that feeling of community when the priest intoned that gorgeous subjunctive phase, “The Lord be with you.” And we answered, “And also with you.” If I went to a Presbyterian church, other than the one I grew up in, I would not hear the liturgy. Then, by and by, my first child turned out to be a daughter. And I wanted her to grow up in a church where women could be priests if they wanted to be. I couldn’t see the point of a religion that told women from the get-go, you’re not good enough.

I have admired Mr. Carter always. He is a man of integrity in a world where integrity is in short supply. And I know what a hard decision he had to make. A Southern Baptist heritage is like being bound by tentacles.

For me, I chose well. You can be anything, anyone, anybody and be an Episcopalian. We have women priests, men priests, gay priests, lesbian priests, and yes, married priests, hetero and gay. Oh, and Bishops, too, come in all varieties. We are the ones the Catholics come to when divorce makes them ineligible to be Catholics anymore. We don’t have to stand on street corners and preach (Southern Baptists did this when I was growing up) and we don’t condemn anyone else’s religion. We are pretty sure God doesn’t either. And we are absolutely sure that women are equal in this world and the next. Back in the day, the Baptist Sunday School taught me to sing this song, which doesn’t say anything about having to be a male child to gain the All Access Pass to Heaven.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

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