Birthing My Book: Bringing Delight in Disorder to Life

Having conceived and nurtured a memoir for almost a year, only to have it soundly rejected, it felt much like a miscarriage. I went a year without writing a word. It was only when I enrolled in an intensive discipleship training program that I again started to bring words to life, or, more accurately, let the Word come to life by cultivating the soil of stories.

Still, I wasn’t ready to come back to my memoir. It was too personal, too painful, too raw. Instead, I moved onto fiction – drafting a trilogy of short stories – “Life,” “Liberty,” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  More than the quality of the narrative (which is still quite unfinished), the discipline of daily writing as I created characters, developed dialogue, and polished plot, gave me increasing confidence that I had a “way with words.”

Then a very tragic thing happened. A young man I had never met committed suicide. He was playing family board games one minute and the next he was in his room shooting himself. The young man’s name was Matthew, son of Rick Warren renowned pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling Purpose-Driven Life.

My initial reaction was to take to my bed. I didn’t get up for three days. I read what people within the church and outside of it were saying. Some of it trying to be nice and compassion. Some of it downright ugly and mean. Nearly all of it lacking a clear Biblical understanding of mental illness that would drive a person to suicide.

I decided I needed to re-write my memoir. I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I shared the idea with Leanne Sype, a blogging friend and editor, to whom I had pitched my trilogy. Very soon, she became as passionate about the project as I did. With Leanne’s help, I worked through a second draft, and a third (and in some cases fourth and fifth). With Leanne’s guidance, I pitched it to an agent and went to a writer’s conference to see about pursuing conventional publishing.

We prayed for a clear sign and got it almost immediately. A resounding no. Undeterred, Leanne encouraged me to pursue self-publishing, helped me navigate around some shark-invested waters of vanity publishers. She introduced me to graphic artist Nicole Miller who also has a heart for the Lord and a distinct eye for graphic design. Soon, we had a book cover. Nicole then moved on to a video for our indiegogo campaign where we exceeded our goal.

Along came another young faithful servant, Christina Tarabochia, who took the text and shaped it into various formats uploaded at Smashwords (and soon, for Amazon and Barnes & Noble). Christina helped explain some of the technical aspects of getting our book in the hands of the readers and has been an invaluable resource.

Now that we have a downloadable e-book (soon to be in print), we are only entering another season of the larger “Delight in Disorder” mission. Over the past few days I have been contacted mental health and church leaders from across the country to help us spread the word — to bridge the distance between faith and mental illness. I’ve already received two speaking invitations and am building some very fruitful relationships.

Much has been done — Facebook author page, Twitter account (indy_tony), media kit, business card design, e-mail and phone contact) and much remains to be done (website upgrade, speaking engagements, reviews). I have no idea where God will lead now that the book has been birthed. I only pray I’ll do my part to be a faithful stewardship of the Word calling me to share divine delight in the disorder of the world.

Write your favorite scripture on a canvas for your dorm room. It fills up wall space and it will be a good encouragement.

Share “Delight in Disorder” with the World

Having served in ministry with madness, I now have a mission.  And I can use your help.

Help me share Delight in Disorder with the world.

Delight in Disorder is a resource we have long needed. We all need to hear from people who have struggled with mental illness and have found, indeed, that nothing can separate us from God’s great and redeeming love. This book is honest about the experience of living with bipolar disorder, and it’s full of compassion toward the many people whose own moods betray them so treacherously. It’s also full of hope—not the cheap kind we use to varnish over the truth about ourselves and about this life we live. But the only kind of hope that can stand when everything else falls: hope in Christ and his grace.  Amy Simpson — Author, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

We are on a mission to share the hope of Christ with people who, like me, wrestle with mental illness.  Our mission is also to foster the compassion of Christ within the faith community towards those that have often been  like bruised reeds broken by false accusations and wrongful judgments.

To find out more about our mission and, as the Spirit leads, offer your support, go to our indiegogo site by clicking on the following link –

May you be blessed as you are a blessing,
book cover 1

Good Work in God’s Hands

robert bellah

In his latest book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s WorkTimothy Keller quotes Robert Bellah from his book I remember as required reading in grad school called Habits of the Heart.  Bellah observes that modern “expressive individualism” eats away at the cohesiveness that ties us together as a people and makes our work meaningful and productive.  Something more is needed.  He writes –

To make a real difference [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.

Reflecting on this, Keller identifies streams within the Christian Scriptures and particularly in his own Reformed Christian tradition.  One of these streams flows from Martin Luther.  Keller notes –

The headwaters of Lutheran theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that God cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor.  When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, “the fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others.

What an invigorating thought!

When you are changing the dressing on an elderly woman’s wound, you are touching her with the fingers of God.

When you are serving up yet another macaroni-and-cheese dinner for your cute yet often ungrateful 3-year old, the fingers of God are wrapped around the serving spoon.

When you are replacing a cracked window on a neighbor’s house to keep the December winds from blowing in, those cold, numb fingers are God’s.

Yes, it’s clear when we labor with our hands doing something constructive for the common good, we are agents of God’s love.  But what about so much other “work” we do?

What about the work of writing?  Is writing the work of God that builds community or part of the “expressive individualism” that eats away at the common good?

I think both.  Certainly, when we write we are expressing an aspect of ourselves in the hope that we might be noticed, affirmed, “liked”.  Yet, another key desire is to connect with others and perhaps even offer a word of hope in a lonely, discouraging word.

Writing is meaningless drivel when our aim is to inflict our selfish desires on a world that doesn’t really care.  Writing becomes God’s work when we reach out beyond ourselves and find a way to speak a good word to a lonely soul.

(photo of Robert Bellah from “On Being“, some rights reserved)

Sharing Delight in Disorder

Delight

Over four years in the making, my spiritual memoir – Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission has finally grown legs and is moving forward thanks in large part to an incredible team of young, creative, faithful artists I’m dubbing “Team Delight.”

Team Delight is comprised of….

Leanne came on board as editor back in March and has help shape a disordered collection of meditations into a delightful house of prayer.  She is now directing our indiegogo campaign to raise money for publishing costs and 100 advance copies.

Lyn has been a faithful reader and a strong supporter for many months.  She has recently become a prayer partner.  She will serve as the “prayer captain” for our Delight in Disorder mission.

Matthew  is a young Australian poet whose words both inspire and console.  He has contributed seven of his poems to Delight in Disorder.

Nicole was recommended by Leanne as a graphic artist who could design our book cover.  Working diligently and faithfully, she has conceived and produced a visual representation of Delight in Disorder that is riveting.  We have now contracted with her to produce a promotional video for our book.

David Zucker, a mental health advocate with University Presbyterian Church in Seattle has agreed to write the foreword.

Kevin – This past weekend, I had the pleasure of staying with Kevin and his lovely wife Megan.  We talked about Delight in Disorder.  On the drive home, I was inspired to contact Kevin and he has agreed to serve as musical consultant for our promotional video.  Kevin is also doing a beta-reading of my autobiographical prelude.

This is the current “starting six” for Team Delight.  There are others actively contributing to the mission, including –

– Pastor Andy, Gary G., Gary M are doing a “theological beta-reading” and serving as spiritual advisers.

Jen is doing a beta-reading.

I have also received offers to help from –

Katie of White Fence Media.

Iona of A Whispered Wind.

Chris from The Musings of C.p. Singleton42′s mind.

Rara of rarasaur

I have been tremendously blessed by this group of people.  I would encourage you to check out their websites and blogs.  If you pray, please pray for each of them.  I may be delusional (in fact, I have paperwork to prove it), but I also know there are very real “powers and principalities” at work preventing hope from reaching those struggling with mental illness.  Please pray for our mission – to share delight with those wrestling with disorder.

(image above from Hannah Zapf)

Find Who You Are Writing For

“For my first book, the target audience is primarily people with Bipolar and those who love them.  The fact that I am writing as a former pastor and exploring questions of faith may lead some to assume it would fit best in the Christian publishing world, yet I am finding as I promote the book on-line and in person that non-Christians, agnostics, even atheists become engaged in my writing.  They may not always agree, but they appreciate my first-hand perspective.”

To read more, click on the title below —

“Who Are You Writing For?”

A woman writing

“A woman writing” from Flynn “Knihova” Carson in Junk Bookshop

God Speaks Through WordPress, G-Mail, LinkedIn and Facebook

In a post yesterday afternoon, (“Writer for Hire: has “A Way With Words”) I revealed that I was fully embarking on a career as a writer.

Last night, a Toronto psychologist (Richard Amaral of Psychology for Growth) sent me an e-mail asking if I would be interested in editing his book.  We discussed the terms today and, when I checked my e-mail this afternoon – there it was, ready for me to review.

In some LinkedIn messages last night, I put out word that I was exploring doing freelance work (and possibly an internship) doing projects  related to writing (Technical Writing, Copywriting, Marketing, Editing, Social Media, etc…)

This morning I had a message back from Elizabeth Mellencamp Johnson of The Mediation Point, asking if I might be interested in helping her with the launch of her upcoming book.

Yesterday, I sent a message to a Facebook friend David Anderson of Dave Anderson & Associates inviting him to lunch to discuss ways I might better market my writing and editing services.  Over baguette sandwiches, Dave offered a wealth of helpful information and agreed to help me set up a website.

God’s timing is impeccable, wouldn’t you say?

Not all our prayers are answered so quickly, of course.  Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is, “Wait.”  Sometimes it is, “No.”  There are times, however, when God’s answer to our prayers is “Here you go.”  And what glorious moments those are!

“Answered prayer” from Opal Massey in Inspiration — God is Love

Note about my new blog sub-title:  You may notice that my sub-title has changed (again).  What once was “God is ‘I Am’, Therefore I Think (and write)”  is now “Writing for Well-Being”.  I made this change not because I wanted to take God out (in fact, God is still present in writing and must be present for well-being).  No, I made this change to be less philosophical and more practical.  “Writing for Well-Being” describes both the therapeutic aspect of blogging for me as well as, I hope, the positive impact good writing has on readers.

I’m interested to hear from you – “What do you think of the change?”

Madness in Media

I’m currently working on “The Study” chapter of my book Delight in Disorder: Meditations of a Bipolar Mind in which I will reflect on a few books that have had a significant impact on my understanding of my mental illness.  I also plan to include an “On the Shelves” section in which I list more resources (literature, visual art, movies, music) worth further exploration.

This is where I could use your help.  Below I’ve listed some of the resources I will either review or list.  I’d love to hear your experience with “media-depicted madness”.  Have any of these works touched you, or do you know of other works I might explore?

Books

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney

Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness  by Patty Duke

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher

Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight

Movies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Dream Team

Benny & Joon

Shine

A Beautiful Mind

The Soloist

Music

Vincent (Starry Starry Night) – Don McLean

Visual Arts

“Scream”  – Edward Munch

“Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Spirit of the Dead Watching” – Paul Gaugin

 

What would you recommend?

 

(image above “Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night” from Rae Leff in Art I love)

Flannery O’Connor: A Beautiful Mind in a Broken Body

Flannery O'Connor with one of her many beloved peacocks

Flannery O’Connor wrote some of the greatest short stories ever published.  Most of her writing life, she was confined to her family farm house, Andalusia, outside of Milledgeville, Georgia.  Yet, her stories reveal a vibrant moral and literary imagination unparalleled by much more travelled authors.

When I was struggling through the “rock-bottom” phase of my life, I read a number of contemporary novels which consumed my time and attention, but nothing lifted my spirit like The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor.  This charming, witty, spiritual, wise woman who wrote her last letter about a month after I was born spoke directly to me as she reflected on literature, art, God, partridges, and (only infrequently) her illness.

Her illness – the “thorn in her flesh” – was lupus.  It caused her excruciating pain and greatly hindered her productivity.  Yet, it did not rule her mind or her spirit.  She died as she lived – full of faith and hope and the promise of a better life to come.

In this afternoon’s mail, I received a copy of The Habit of Being and I’ve already started thumbing through its pages.  I thought I’d share a few choice quotes to give you a sense of this beautiful mind in a broken body –

I didn’t mean to suggest that science is unreliable, but only that we can’t judge God by the limits of our knowledge of natural things.  This is a fundamental difference in your belief and mine: I see God as all perfect, all complete, all powerful.  God is Love and I would not believe Love efficacious if I believed there were negative stages or imperfections in it.  (To “A” 15 September ’55)

I am learning to walk on crutches and I feel like a large stiff anthropoid ape who has no cause to be thinking of St. Thomas or Aristotle, however, you are making me more of a Thomist than I ever was before and an Aristotelian where I never was before.  I am one, of course, who believes that man is created in the image and likeness of God…  (To “A”, 24 September, ’55)

The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction.  I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.  She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.  (To Maryat Lee, 31 May ’60)

I’m sorry the book [The Violent Bear It Away] didn’t come off for you but I think it is no wonder it didn’t since you see everything in terms of sex symbols, and in a way that would not enter my head -… Your criticism sounds to me as if you have read too many critical books and are too smart in an artificial, destructive, and very limited way.  (To William Sessions, 13 September ’60)

I asked the doctor if I could sit up at the electric typewriter and work.  You can work, says he, but you can’t exert yourself.  I haven’t quite figured this out yet; anyway, I am confined to these two rooms and the porch so far and ain’t allowed to wash the dishes. I guess that is exerting yourself where writing is officially not. (To “A”, 15 Sept ’55)

(photo above “Flannery O’Connor with one of her many beloved peacocks” from Kobo in Animal Muses)

A Day in The Life of the Unemployed

I will admit since being on disability, there have been days I’ve gotten next to nothing done.  Today was not one of them.

After a bowl of honey-nut cheerios and a banana, I filled a travel mug of coffee and set up a card table to start organizing my book Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind to prepare for the second draft.  As my editor, Leanne Sype, recommended I put the meditations into “rooms” of the “house” that is my bipolar mind.  I was hoping to come up with 7 (the number of completion), but wound up with 6 – “The Front Porch”, “The Family Room”, “The Living Room”, “The Basement”, “The Prayer Closet”, and “The Kitchen”.  I managed to complete the introduction for “The Front Porch” and arrange the meditations on it bef0re it was time for lunch.

I decided I wasn’t really hungry yet, so I packed a peanut butter-and-honey sandwich along with some tortilla chips and hummus and headed for Bloomington.  On the way I stopped at Best Buy to question a charge.  Evidently, my sister paid a $160 hard-drive warranty on my laptop.  So, if I get mad at something I read on another blog and slam the computer against the wall, I’m covered.

I went to the Monroe County Public Library hoping to download an audio book and do some work on-line.  I picked out Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.  I had trouble accessing the Internet and nobody at the library or on the Best Buy Geek Squad call-in line could fix it, so I abandoned the project and headed to the Scholars Inn Bakehouse to meet a pastor friend for coffee.

I got there early, filled up my travel mug with the House Blend then looked at the posters for something I might do this weekend.  I noticed that The Bloomington Storytelling Project was hosting an event called “In the Beginning” at the Bishop tomorrow night (April 26) from 8-10 p.m..  I thought I might just go.  Then I noticed at the bottom of the poster that storytellers were welcome.  I thought I might just tell a story.

I sat down at a table and started putting meditations in order within their respective rooms.  I was so engrossed in this project that I didn’t see my friend Dan pass by.  When I looked up at the clock, it was 15 minutes after the time we were set to meet, so I started to text him.  At the same time, he saw me and came over and invited me to his table.

We caught up on our lives since the last time we met for coffee (a couple months back).  He asked about my writing.  I asked about his church.   Dan is part of an effort currently called The Bloomington Project “to become a community of grace in the city of Bloomington in order to speak grace to the people of Bloomington.”  Dan is a very bright and compassionate man who has a heart for Christ and a desire to reach out to others.  We talked about many things and before we left Dan prayed for me and my family, for which I am grateful.

On the ride home, I made some calls.  It looks very good that the friend I had mentioned in earlier posts is pursuing valuable treatment and her housing needs are being met.  God has provided bountifully (through insurance coverage), such that the financial burden shouldn’t weigh heavily on her or others in the family.  Praise the Lord!

I also spoke to my Dad and it looks as though my step-mom will be coming home tomorrow (after having successful knee replacement surgery).  Dad celebrated by making a donation to his favorite cause – the casino.

I got back in time to pick up my brother-in-law and take him to the auto repair shop where he picked up his car.  I took my laptop to the in-house geek squad and it appeared as if he fixed it (though it still doesn’t work at home).

I had baked potato (actually, microwaved) with chili and cheese on top for supper.   We updated each other on our days and I asked if one of them might go with me to the Storytelling Event (to keep me awake on the drive home – 10 p.m. is almost passed my bedtime).

Now, I’m sitting here reflecting on my day, listening to John Prine singing “The Late John Garfield Blues”

John Prine

An old man sleeps with his conscience at night
Young kids sleep with their dreams
While the mentally ill sit perfectly still
And live through life’s in-betweens

What a day!  It doesn’t get much better than this.

(photo of John Prine from colleen onto I heard there was a secret chord)

Leanne Sype, Literary Structural Engineer

The difference between editing and proofreading
As some of you know, I am currently writing a book called Delight in Disorder: Meditations of a Bipolar Mind.  I recently established a relationship with Leanne Sype of Writings and Ruminations who has offered to serve as a beta-reader and (possibly) an editor for the project.  I just sent Leanne a completed first draft of the manuscript yesterday.  Today, I got a lengthy response.  She had read my first 31 pages and reviewed the e-mail responses I had given about the book.   Her response is absolutely lyrical –
     Your story is like a beautiful historic building–perhaps even think long-lost (precious) ancient ruins– that no one else has discovered. You are the only one who knows about this building and upon moving into it as it is, you have learned what every floor, every room, every structural beam, every wall is for and how they are relevant to the building. You know the story behind the building; you’ve studied it… the purpose of why it was built, what it was used for, who used to occupy it, and what happened to it. Now that you have lived in this building for many years and you know it… you are ready to reveal it to everyone. You are ready to invite everyone in to hear the story, admire the beauty in the details, to understand the history of this building. 
 
But, the building structure is unsafe for people to walk through let alone understand why it’s so important. It’s a beautiful building with rich history,  but the floors, the rooms, the structural beams, and the walls are not in working order. There’s holes in the walls, sunken floors, falling beams, cracks in the foundation threatening the overall strength… all effects of medication. But like with any historical building that needs renovation, there’s “good bones,” there are precious elements that have been preserved…
She goes on from there to provide an absolutely thorough, engaging, and on-the-spot analysis of the manuscript (as it currently stands).  I immediately responded to contract her services as editor and propose a working timeline with the goal of July for submission.
God is so good.  I feel like I’m back as a freshman in high school, a first-year tennis player bursting with enthusiasm and a fair amount of athletic ability but next-to-no knowledge of the game, connecting with a coach who believes in me and knows what steps I need to take to become a top-notch player.
Leanne, I can’t thank you enough.  I look forward to where God leads us in this project in the coming days, weeks, and months.  I trust the journey will be as gratifying as the destination.
(image above from Pen to Paper Communications website)