Category Archives: Writing

National Novel Writing Month: My Personal Day 1 Challenge

In September 2006 my eldest daughter, Ruth, challenged me to utilize National Novel Writing Month to fulfill my life long dream of writing science fiction. Each year since I have participated in the daunting challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. What an exhilarating experience seeing my stories come alive and discover where my characters would lead me.

I take time off early in the month to concentrate on writing and get a jump start toward the goal. Even though the fewest words I have written is 75,000, I still feel insecure each November 1 and worry about reaching my goal. Something might happen to thwart my goal.

That “something” happened November 1, 2010. My heart was not in my writing. The prior Wednesday my mother entered the hospital with what was determined to be a rapid onset leukemia. On Saturday the Doctor told my brother that Mom had 24-48 hours left. So, Monday I dreaded the call, which came at 1:30 PM. When my brother couldn’t finish “Hi Dave…” I knew the end had come. My mother now slept in the hope of the resurrection.

Unlike the year prior when I wrote over 5,200 words on November 1st, in 2010 I wrote just over 2,700. More than that my heart was not in the writing, so distracted was I waiting for the news. Amid the travel to Florida for the funeral, participating in the arrangements, grieving with family, and the funeral service, I wrote some each day. I wanted to retain some connection with my writing even as I was connecting with and grieving with my family.

By the time I returned home on November 6 I had reached just over 6,100 words. That is a lot of words but when compared to the year before I was way behind my output of 36242. Even in grief life goes on and I found the habit of writing in November assisted my ability to focus on something other than my grief and I did exceed the 50,000-word goal. I also knew my mother had been pleased with my writing so I also wrote in part to honor her memory.

But November 1st remains difficult. The year after Mom’s death I told a friend my concern about writing on November first. She suggested I incorporate some of my mother’s characteristics into a character and so honor both my mother and my writing. That I did and exceeded my output from the prior year. Since then the malaise of grief hung over my first day of writing. I found myself procrastinating, checking email, Facebook, and games on my phone fascinated me. My reaction to this was self-recrimination. How could I waste this much time when I really want to write?

How? Because I am still grieving over the loss of my mother and five years later the loss of my father. After the excellent advice from my friend the first Nano after Mom’s death, I went into denial. As if by not thinking about or acknowledging the reality of November 1, 2010 I could somehow participate in the writing month as I had the years prior.

But grief does not work that way. No matter what I do to suppress my grief, it will rise to the surface one way or another. My procrastination in subsequent years was my subconscious grief telling me things were not the same as before—that things will never be the same. That’s what the transitions of life, especially death of a parent, do. They tell us of the inexorable progress, as a popular film expressed it: the circle of life.

Mom was the family matriarch as Dad was the patriarch. They lived to see the first of their great-grandchildren. Now in my family I am the patriarch and my wife the matriarch. We recently learned that grandchild number six is due next May around Mother’s Day. How better to honor my parent’s legacy than to provide a similar legacy to my children and grandchildren. I relish the time with my family and long to see them all grow, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

To that end I will spend time with them, share my life with them, model life and living (including grieving), and shower them with love.

By facing my personal November 1 challenge, by acknowledging my grief and loss, by writing about it as I have here, my challenge becomes an opportunity to grow into the person I desire to be.

But –

I still miss you Mom.

I still miss you Dad.

I’ll see you both in the morning!

Leave a comment

Filed under Grandparent, Worldview, Writing

America Through My Eyes

Yesterday afternoon the mail delivered my copy of Rania Zeithar’s book: America Through My Eyes: Experiences of An Egyptian American Muslim Woman. Rania is a member of my local writers group and she honored me by asking me to write a preface. I included my preface below and highly recommend ordering the book from Amazon.

Foreward: The Pleasure of Civil Discourse

By Rev. David E. Dean

Our world needs more civil discourse. In this volume, instead of caustic language, broad generalizations, abusive and derogatory accusations, and authoritarian adversarial broadsides, Rania provides reasoned, personal, and enlightened observations of life in America during the volatile years since 9/11.

Like most Americans I felt the shock, bewilderment, and the onset of terror when the Muslim extremists attacked the Twin Towers. Much of my perception of Muslims and Islam was formulated in the ensuing news coverage and heightened awareness of the role of Islam in our world. Unlike many in my country I believed I already possessed a foundational knowledge of Islam. Had I not studied world religions in college and seminary? I unquestioningly believed I grasped the complexities of Islamic terrorism and my country’s appropriate response.

Then I met Rania Zeithar, a Muslim American woman from Egypt. She joined the writers group I attend because she wanted feedback on her blogs, since English is her second language. In getting the groups feedback, Rania shattered my preconceived ideas regarding Muslim women in particular. I wondered what the impact would be on my view of Muslims in general. Soon I realized how insightfully she observed American culture and found many of her insights encouraging and refreshing.

Take the hijab, for example. Before Rania shared her blog on the hijab, I felt an uneasy sympathy with a common impression found on social media. The hijab represented repression of women and somehow didn’t fit American culture. I say I had an uneasy sympathy. That hesitation came from my understanding of my own Christian faith.

Did not my scriptures in 1 Corinthians 11:6 instruct women to keep their heads covered? Yet, the same people who condemn the hijab are the ones who dismiss the Biblical injunction as culturally irrelevant. They do this without considering the possibility of other people finding a head covering culturally relevant.

I also know that within the broad Protestant Christian faith tradition, there are groups – including some Mennonites and the Amish – among whom the women cover their heads with special bonnets. Although not exactly like the hijab, they serve a similar function. Yet I have never heard anyone state the Amish bonnet should be banned in courtrooms. And in the Christian faith traditions, which have religious orders, frequently nuns wear head coverings. In many cases the religious habit covers more than the hijab but not quite as much as the common portrayal of the burka, which only has an opening for they eyes. Yet, despite the similarities, I have not heard calls to ban nun from wearing habits.

Rania’s blog about the hijab produced a profound reorientation of my views on Islamic culture. I felt so deeply about this I responded in my blog, which Rania has graciously included that in this volume.

Without getting to know Rania as a person, I would have missed out on the pleasure of genuine civil discourse. As if accompanying her on her adventure in America, I felt sadness at discrimination, joy at self-discovery, and love of family and faith. Had I not been willing to listen (which is an admonition of my own faith in James 1:19) I would have missed this opportunity as well as a fresh glimpse into my own culture.

Like many Americans I discounted the opinions of people from other cultural backgrounds. I believed they hated America and Americans. Perhaps I had seen too many news clips of crowds holding placards stating “Down with America.” Yet, through the civil discourse Rania offered I came to understand that some of “them” actually appreciate American culture and see our cultural glass as half full.

I suspect a partial reason why Americans downplay the opinions of other countries is because we inwardly believe we are deficient. We filter our view of ourselves through the lens of what we believe we should be and we find ourselves lacking. For example consider the raging debates about our current health care situation. The discourse around this topic is anything but civil. In our passion to improve we disparage what we have as well as those who disagree with us. Or consider the handicapped in our country. Can’t we do more for them than simply reserve parking places? Shouldn’t we do more for those will mental illnesses? The debate rages on. Discourse often less than civil. Or consider diversity. We view our country as fragmented into isolated groups. Discussion around the diversity within our country frequently focuses on who has what, who has deprived whom of what, and how to rectify the injustice. The lack of civil discourse has degenerated into violence far too frequently.

Most of us want to improve these situations, yet we remain divided. When we promote our positons as the only ones we stifle civil discourse. By viewing our cultural cup as half empty we strive harder to get others to agree with us. How engaging to hear Rania present in these pages a different perspective. She sees America’s cultural cup as half full. Without hearing her I would have missed considering American life and culture from a fresh perspective. To see my world with new eyes is a precious gift of civil discourse.

When I spoke of my pleasure over Rania’s civil discourse, some of my acquaintances expressed concern. “Don’t you realize,” (I paraphrase) “that it’s all a part of an Islamic plot to destroy our way of life? Isis claims to represent Islam. They engage in extreme acts of terrorism. Therefore all Muslims are willing to do anything to destroy Western culture.” This way of thinking clearly represents the lack of civil discourse. The logic is also deeply flawed. If I changed the name of the group, here’s the logic: “The Klu Klux Klan claims to be Christian. They engage in extreme acts of racial discrimination. Therefore all Christians practice radical racial discrimination.”

As a Christian I find this logic offensive because the faith I practice and the Bible I read does not promote the extreme behavior of the KKK. That is exactly why groups like Isis and the KKK are called extremist groups. They do not represent the mainstream. Isn’t it about time to stop labeling one another and instead listen to each other?

The heart of civil discourse is listening to what people say for and about themselves. Uncivil discourse tells other people what they believe. Let’s redirect American discourse back to heart of civility: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Civil discourse does not mean agreement. Rania and I disagree on some major points, among which are: who the Lord Jesus Christ is and who the Prophet Mohammed is. This does not mean that I cannot listen to, respect, and interact with Rania with civility and so receive the gift of her insights and perspectives.

So, if you are ready for a journey into civil discourse; if you are ready to hear Rania speak for herself; if you are ready to have your preconceptions challenged; if you are open to broadening you understanding and knowledge: then continue reading.

Civil discourse – Let the adventure begin.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Worldview, Writing

Delightful writing drudgery

Any aspiring writers who read this title might wonder what on earth I am talking about. For those who talk about writing may just be enamored with the glamor of writing success. There is something heady—I agree—about seeing your name on a book’s cover. Even if that cover adorns a proof copy, for several years the “reward” of winning Nano. Aspiring writers, especially those who never have gotten around to actually writing, don’t understand most writing comes from drudgery.

I am at the stage of my month of writing that the initial fun of writing is over. I’ve trudged through thousands of words amid the daily grind of living. My story is coming along well and I like how it is developing. Especially the unexpected.

A simple writing prompt phrase turned into an idea for an entire chapter. I had not planned or plotted the chapter but now I am just about to conclude it. It fits in nicely with both the character development as well as furthering my plot. Surprises are nice.

But unplotted story for me takes work. Work can be drudgery. The need to concentrate and focus increases as I think and write. At times like this I push myself to write. As three quarters of the month is over I need to push and plod on in my writing. It’s no fun, let me tell you, to prop my computer bag on my lap, place my laptop on it and write for my two hour daily commute.

But this drudger is also delightful. Why? Because a story is developing. Without the daily grind I would not be moving along in my story. I wouldn’t see my character grow and the tension build. Only through the drudgery does the reward come to me, the writer. The reward of a finished story.

Today I trudged on knowing that only by passing through this drudgery will I ever achieve my desired rewards—a book cover with my name on it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing