Monday, December 21, 2009

Passion and Dandelion Seed: A Monday Matters . . . You Do, Too, Interview (Part 1)

In November, I introduced the first in a new series called "Monday Matters . . . You Do, Too" — interviews with people who do not make their living as professional art-makers (for those features, please see my All Art Friday Special Editions) but who nonetheless may, and usually do, have one or more noteworthy artistic talents. Through my periodic "Monday Matters" posts, you get to meet online the people I think you should get to know. I make the selections, write the questions, and do the interviews. You get to read and comment.

For this, my second "Monday Matters" interview, I am delighted to present my chat with L.L. Barkat, which I conducted via e-mail and which I've divided into two parts, both to keep things interesting and to make sure you come back next week.

I've never met L.L., although we've exchanged a number of e-mails, some before the idea for "Monday Matters" got stuck in my head and some since. My first electronic communication with her was to find out how I could join a group of online poets who caught my fancy. To do that, I had to create a blog and . . . well, that blog led to other blogs and Twitter and twoems (poems written on Twitter) and now I'm part of a vast conspiracy of wonderful writers and poets who feel like they know one another but aren't averse to learning more.

L.L., as some of my readers already know, is the author of the well-received spiritual memoir Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places (IVP, 2008) and a poet whose beautiful collection InsideOut was released this month. She blogs at Seedlings in Stone, Love Notes to Yahweh, God in the Yard, and Green Inventions Central and helped found TweetSpeakPoetry, the Twitter poetry group I joined. A former magazine designer, art director, editorial consultant, and ad copywriter, she's currently managing editor at High Calling Blogs and a staff writer for Curator magazine, a Web publication of International Arts Movement (IAM). L.L. also is a popular speaker for WTW Ministry, a New York Bible teaching ministry, manages Social Issues Reading Clubs, and is an adept Social Media user. She lives in New York State and has two daughters whom she home-schools. She also likes to bring out her pastels. Those swirls she creates look like afternoon storms of autumn leaves that, like dancers at the barre or on stage, bend in deep plies, do a few fouettes rond de jambe en tournant, and then rise for the finale, a grand tour en l'air.

Those are the basics. If you poke around the Web long enough, you yourself could find out and piece together these facts, and even scare up a photo of L.L. What you won't find out, however, are her answers to my interview questions, which are published here for the first time. My intention is for you to learn something about L.L. that you don't already know, like, maybe, passion and dandelion seed.

Passion and Dandelion Seed:
A Monday Matters . . . You Do, Too,
Interview With L.L. Barkat

Part 1 of 2

I don't love to write so much as I write to love.
~ L.L. Barkat

Maureen Doallas: When I interviewed him for my first "Monday Matters" interview, I enjoyed asking our mutual friend Glynn Young what one word he thought best described him. Given all that you do, L.L. — and we'll be talking about some of it during this interview — what one word describes you? (And feel free to elaborate on your choice of word.)

L.L. Barkat: Passion. You might not guess it, if you met me. I'm sort of your average dark-haired, slight-of-build woman. But it's true.

MD: You list in your resume your talents as both "author" and "writer". What, for you, is the distinction between these terms?

LLB: Hmmm. . . well, I forgot to employ my editor on that one.

In a sense, all writers should be called authors, published or unpublished. Author, after all, is originator, creator, maker; writers specifically create with written words.

Still, when my kids verbally "play story" for two hours, I tell them they've been writing, because they've been composing. What is composing but originating, creating, making?

Maybe I should get back to you on this one (and go change my resume).

MD: You hold a master's degree in English and American literature from New York University. What was behind this choice for post-graduate study: love of literature, desire to teach?

LLB: I fancied I would get a Ph.D. some day. I pictured myself teaching. I'm perfectly happy that I never did that. I would much rather learn from sitting in my backyard and watching the mourning doves nest in the hemlocks. And because I spend my time doing such things, I write about them. And because I write about them, why, oddly enough, now I "teach" through my career online and in public speaking.

MD: At High Calling Blogs, where you have been managing editor since 2008, you help in setting editorial direction. What does that particular responsibility require of you?

LLB: High Calling Blogs has been a marvelous place. It doesn't require things of me, so much as let me experiment with what works in the online world, in accordance with its vision of nurturing people in their daily lives and work. The writing I initiate, the projects I organize, the networking I do for HCB: [all] feel like play and parties. [That] is the best sort of job, I think.

MD: You also recruit, manage, and mentor writers and editors. One, do writers seek you out or vice-versa? Two, what does it mean to you to "mentor" a writer? Three, in what ways does mentoring a writer differ from mentoring an editor? Four, what is required to produce a successful mentoring relationship?

LLB: I enjoy flexible relationships with our writers and editors, [each group of which] provides articles for us. Sometimes, they seek me out for feedback. I rarely edit a piece without being asked; more likely, I'll say, "Would you consider [whatever it is that might improve the piece]?" Really, we've brought on amazing people who can direct their own writing and be responsible for their own growth.

However, to assist their process, I make it a point to share, with both our writers and editors, very specifically when something shines and why. I guess I've always flourished best under managers who take such an approach, so that's my goal when I work with others.

My hope would be that our editors would take a similar approach when interacting with our writers. The editor's job is not to edit particular pieces (unless asked) but to make sure we have articles every day and to promote our writers' sense that they are part of a vital community (which, I sincerely hope, is true!).

To mentor, in my mind, is to model and point to the good stuff. That's all I try to do. And, truth be told, I am mentored by the High Calling Blogs community as well.

MD: Have you yourself had the privilege of being mentored? If yes, what was the experience like? What have you taken from that past experience that you apply in your own mentoring today, or as lessons for your own writing?

LLB: I can't say I've ever had what felt like a formal mentoring experience. I do know that the months I spent with my editor Cindy Bunch at InterVarsity Press, refining Stone Crossings, was very important for me. [Cindy] knew how to say, "This is working; do more of this." And I would go off and do it. That was formative.

MD: What advice do you give those who say, "I want to be a writer"?

LLB: Oh, the stand-by answer: read, read, read and write, write, write. Beyond that, if seeking publication, buy a sturdy umbrella. Rejection comes often, and it feels like a storm.

These days, though, the blog world provides some nice, tidy short-cuts. If you're good, you're likely to be "called out" by the communities you participate in. Well, so that's part of the advice. . . find communities. Join places like High Calling Blogs (and that's not just an advertising pitch; it works as a way to promote your writing).

. . . I definitely write for both sexes.
~ L.L. Barkat

MD: You write in the early hours of the morning and often in the dark. Indulge me. Do you have a room of your own where you write? If you don't but think you'd like one some day, what would that room look like, what would be in it?

LLB: I wish I could describe the room of my mind for you. It is where I write. Poems, articles, chapters . . . they take almost their full shape in the room in my head. The curtains are velvet, by the way, the color of wine.

MD: Do you need a certain kind of environment or conditions to write?

LLB: Nope! I'm pretty good about ignoring the world and going into my head.

MD: You're a culture columnist for High Calling Blogs and a staff writer for Curator magazine. You've written a spiritual memoir and reflection, Stone Crossings. You write poetry and have just published your first book of poems, InsideOut. You also have numerous blogs. All this writing, and yet you list writing on your resume as "interest" and you are quoted as saying, "I don't love to write so much as I write to love." I think this "writing to love" is something you feel deeply. What does it mean, to be able to "write to love"?

LLB: I kind of wish I could offer a complicated and profound answer. It's just that I'm motivated by people, by giving them something they can hold on to, fight with, or collapse into. It's why I couldn't sustain a career in business writing. I just didn't like writing that much, and because I wasn't writing about baby wipes (or air fresheners or film brands) for anyone in particular, I became intensely bored and gave up writing to become a teacher.

MD: What was your first professional experience as a writer?

LLB: I had my own business [in] graphic design and writing. I formed the business after my employer was bought out. To that point, I'd been the editorial assistant in a technical writing department. Needless to say, at that job, I'd mostly been charged with taking commas out until the writers decided to put them back in. So, I count my business as my first real professional writing experience.

MD: Your writing and books are signed "L.L. Barkat" rather than "Laura L. Barkat". Do you have any particular reason for using your initials and not your full name as your by-line?

LLB: Well, I do like how it looks. And, it's memorable. Those are my graphic design roots speaking.

I also like how it reads neither male nor female; after all, I definitely write for both sexes.

MD: Do you hold back in your writing? In other words, do you draw a zone of privacy around Barkat the writer and author and Barkat the wife, mother, home-schooler, friend, etc.? Do you use your writing in a private way, to better understand yourself or to find a way to bridge gaps in your understanding of yourself or others or what is happening to you?

LLB: I hold nothing back in my poems. Yet, the poems aren't simply about me. The beauty of poetry is that others can enter in and bring their own interpretations.

In Stone Crossings, I was pretty straightforward about my family life, my personal struggles and failures, but these aren't really the focus. It's hard to explain. I wrestle with life and I shape and turn it in my writing and it's, ultimately, . . . like you said before. . . about giving love to whomever would like to accept it. In that way, I suppose I'm kind of like Walt Whitman: ever speaking to the universal "you", the "reader", whoever he or she might be.

MD: Is writing a kind of witnessing?

LLB: Only in the sense that it bears witness to my particular life, as lived in this particular place, as guided by both friends and God. I don't try to be evangelistic in my writing, if that's what you mean.

Next Monday, December 28, I'll return with Part 2 of my Monday Matters . . . You Do, Too interview with L.L. Barkat. I'll have some questions about Stone Crossings, poetry-writing, and what's next for L.L. And if you've been wondering about that title for my interview, Passion and Dandelion Seed, be sure to stop by. It will all become clear, or a little clearer. I promise.


Tracey Clarke said...

This is really fascinating, Maureen. Thanks for posting....

RissaRoo said...

Wow, thanks for posting this! LL is one of my favorite people, she's a beautiful writer and a very encouraging mentor...It's fun to read an interview with her. Many of the questions you presented were exactly what I'd want to ask, too! Looking forward to the next installment!

Laura said...

Fascinating. I can just hear her voice (it is the youthful voice of an old soul, you know). Very thoughtful questions, Maureen. I enjoyed the reading.

Unknown said...

Thanks for bring us closer to L.L. , Maureen.
And L.L., thanks for indulging.

@LaurenEdwardsSV said...

Great questions, Maureen. Thanks for doing this. She's a lovely model for all of us.

Anonymous said...

When I grow up, I want to be LLBarkat.

She's smart. Funny. Artistic. Deep. Clever. Compassionate. Creative.

It's an honor to know her, and a delight to learn more details about her in this interview!

Thanks for drawing her out, Maureen.

Anonymous said...