November 16, 2022

Quaker Conduits

         I have a short story published this month in Friends Journal, which is a Quaker magazine.  As a Quaker, all of my stories come from that perspective and are influenced to some degree by my beliefs, experiences, and background.  This much is true of every author.  In addition, however, I’m often a little more deliberate in working Quaker messages into the stories I write.  Non-violence is a recurring theme for me, plus looking for the Light in others, and trying to practice integrity, as well as elements of Quakerism such as “following leadings” and “discernment.”  Despite all this, however, I never mention Quakerism in my fiction, or write about explicitly Quaker characters.  There are a few reasons for this.  The Otherworld Series, for example, is a high fantasy set in a secondary world in which there’s no such thing as Quakerism, or any other real Earth religion.  The Bad Advice of Grandma Hasenfuss, on the other hand, is set in the real world, and our hero even goes to church on Sunday.  Why church and not meeting for worship?  I chose something that would seem relatively unremarkable, and hopefully relateable or at least understandable.  Danny is an “ordinary” kid, and Quakerism is not particularly mainstream.  To stick it into the story would only be distracting.
        But this short story “The Conduits” is different.  It features a girl in Quaker meeting for worship, experiencing a Quaker sort of magic.  The speculative element that makes this story some sort of fantasy is simply the What If of imagining that a metaphor I think about all the time were actually, physically, tangibly true.  Although Quakers are not the only people in the world who use this sort of metaphor or experience this sort of divine connection among people, this time I wrote my story in a Quaker setting and with a specifically Quaker perspective because the way I imagine it is most definitely coming from my own personal experience.
        Like many stories, there’s certainly a bit of wish-fulfillment - I wish I could have Maggie’s superpower, even if just for a taste.  (And while that’s a bit of fantasy for me, I’ve been surprised by the number of people who have told me they have had an experience that is at least a glimpse of something like this.)  There are definitely autobiographical elements in the story - like counting things when I was bored in meeting for worship as a child.  There are elements based on real people - like the welcoming warmth of some, and the coldness of others.  (But I do have to point out in my mother’s defense that Maggie’s well-meaning but oblivious mother is not based on mine!)
        Writing is often an act of vulnerability, because we give the world glimpses into our bare souls.  Feeling for the element of Divine love and light in the world is another tender endeavor, all too easily misunderstood, mocked, or dismissed.  To share it in writing can be vulnerable indeed.  Beyond that, progressives are often particularly shy of sharing our faith, because we’re trying so hard not to be the sort of people who are not tender with their dogmas, who shove their religion into other people’s faces or, worse yet, use it as a weapon.  But despite the Quaker setting, this story is not actually about religion, or at least not about any particular religion; it’s about love.  If you’re curious, you can read the story at Friends Journal (and enjoy the lovely illustrations by Cristina Conti.  It’s cool to have someone else illustrate my work for a change!)  You can also hear me reading the story aloud, and you can hear me talk very briefly about the story on the inaugural episode of the Friends Journal podcast “Quakers Today.”

[Picture: digital illustration by AEGN, 2022.]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Thank you for telling about your background. I as a Catholic in Denmark stand out the same way, and am also careful not to be too stand-out-ish or distracting. I simply love it when you write: "Why church and not meeting for worship? I chose something that would seem relatively unremarkable, and hopefully relateable or at least understandable. Danny is an “ordinary” kid, and Quakerism is not particularly mainstream. To stick it into the story would only be distracting." How I wish that more writers with strong beliefs or convictions would stick to this.

I read your story, "The Conducts", and it reminded me of a poem from a Dutch nun, I read many years ago "Ik sta in Uw licht" - the 'conducts' in that poem is more from her to God and back, but the feel if I can say so, is the same.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for sharing, Charlotte! Even when I want my story to make a point, I still try to let the story lead. Here in the blog I can state opinions, but a story's a story. =)