The Evolution of a Writer/Blogger

blogging

  1. Dream about writing
  2. Write beginnings of articles and books in your mind
  3. Dream more about writing
  4. Write copious amounts in your journal
  5. Realize that blogging is a thing
  6. Read other people’s blogs and think “I want to blog”
  7. Consider starting a blog
  8. Talk to daughter about starting a blog
  9. Listen to daughter’s advice about said blog
  10. Start a blog on New Year’s Day
  11. Write your first blog and hit “Publish”
  12. Get a phone call from your mom who read your first blog
  13. Write your second blog and hit “Publish”
  14. Realize that there is something called “stats” that will tell you how many people have read your blog
  15. Write your third blog and see that two people have read it: Your mom and your husband
  16. Blog and realize your mom, your husband, and a lot of old friends from Pakistan have read your blog
  17. Blog and realize your mom, your husband, your friends from Pakistan and a whole lot of strangers have read your blog
  18. Get terrified
  19. Think that you’re supposed to blog about everything that happens everywhere
  20. Get exhausted at pretending you have a voice and knowledge about everything everywhere
  21. Get comments and emails from strangers who, amazingly, really like your writing
  22. Write a blog that gets a lot of response from a group you love
  23. Write, Write, Write and realize that even when people don’t read it, you really love to write
  24. Settle into a happy little corner of the big, wide, interwebz
  25. Write a blog that goes viral (it was bound to happen considering the sheer volume you write) and get mad because you know that other things you have written are better, but this one was the one that went BAM!
  26. Go to conference and have a stranger recognize you
  27. Write a book from your blog posts
  28. Go to another conference and watch the speaker click to a slide with a quote from YOUR BOOK (whisper to all the strangers around you “That’s me!”)
  29. Continually struggle with envy when others seem to have a bigger platform
  30. Confess said envy and take a break from blogging
  31. Go back to blogging refreshed and realizing that you are developing your own style and voice
  32. Realize that your blog will never send you rejection letters, so you should probably branch out to other magazines in order to grow as a writer
  33. Branch out and get a rejection email.
  34. Publish the rejected blog post on your own blog
  35. Decide that you are a terrible writer and no one should be reading you anyway because you’re a sheer waste of time
  36. Get an email that says “I never comment, but I love your writing!”
  37. Decide maybe you’re still a terrible writer, but someone loves you, and if even one person loves you – then maybe it’s worth it.
  38. Branch out again and send out more articles to magazines and journals
  39. Get articles accepted and work with editor that doesn’t know you or your writing
  40. Be humbled as you write and rewrite sentences and paragraphs
  41. See your work published outside of your own blog
  42. Proudly send out more articles
  43. Get email saying “You are a solid writer, but we won’t be using your article”
  44. Scream with rage “I DO NOT WANT TO BE A SOLID WRITER. I WANT TO BE AN EXCELLENT WRITER”
  45. Cry
  46. Pray
  47. Realize that your missing ingredient is generosity
  48. Seek to be generous with your writing, your platform, and your praise and affirmation of other writers
  49. Be humbled
  50. Continue writing because the heart of all of this is that you absolutely love putting letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into thoughts and ideas. YOU LOVE IT – and no one can ever take that away from you. No one. Ever. 

PS – Oh, and also realize that when you first started blogging you linked everything to Wikipedia, and only found out about when your daughter said to you one day “Mom, why do you link everything to Wikipedia?”  So you lie and said “I don’t” and then secretly late at night you go through 120 blog posts and take out all the Wikipedia links…..

About a Book….aka Kill Those Darlings!

Worlds apart promo

Some of you may remember a big announcement last year. It was about a book. A book that I was so excited about. I talked about it on the blog and on social media sites. I had a book reading and signing. But something just wasn’t right.

That book, that precious book where I let my childhood memories in all their vulnerability out into the world, did not sell. Meanwhile, my previous book kept on selling.

I couldn’t figure it out. It was so defeating and so depressing. I had been writing that book for eight years. What happened? Why was it so poorly received? I didn’t talk to anyone about it, because when you love writing and you want people to receive your words….well you don’t talk about the hard stuff.

Right after the book came out I had major surgery. While I had hoped to spend my recuperating days writing, instead I ended up just healing. It was the hardest and most humbling work I’ve ever done, and it was a fulltime job. Soon after that, I realized that my dad was entering into his final illness. I needed to spend as much time as I was able with my mom and dad, which is never enough time. He died in October, and soon after that, some of the stuff you never talk about on a blog happened.

And the book got lost in all of the stuff that was happening. But I would still think about this book. Why on earth did I write it? What did I expect? Dear friends from Pakistan were writing me regularly telling me they would never read the book. It was just too hard for them. So what was it for anyway?

I realized I hadn’t written it for them. I had written it for a far more general audience, but the book didn’t reflect that. I also realized some things about writing. Just as an artist puts their heart and soul into their art, we who write put our heart and soul into our words. We craft and recraft sentences. We look for meaning behind things that happen to us and we invite others into those events, hoping they too will find meaning. As Joan Didion says: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live….We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices….” 

Writing helped me to understand more about how important stories are to our understanding of others and ourselves. I thought more specifically about the third culture kid’s journey, the stories behind the arrivals and departures, the narrative that captured the sweetness of hello and the bitterness of goodbye.*

In the middle of all these life events, I did a book reading.  It was there that one of my friends asked me about the title. She said it so graciously, but I took the words to heart. “What about the title?” she asked. “Why did you choose to call it that?”

My friend is Israeli and Jewish – in other words, we come from different countries and different faiths, but she loved the book. Her words took root in my heart.

It was in early winter that Doorlight Publications reached out to me. They wanted to reprint the book. It wasn’t selling well. What did I think about retitling the book and adding a foreword as well as a section that would take the reader from reading about my story to writing about their own journey?

There is a phrase in the writing world that talks about killing your darlings. In other words, the things that you hold onto the most in writing sometimes need to be killed off, taken out, severed from the body of the book.

The title was my darling. I so wanted ‘Pakistan’ to be in the title. And it seemed to make sense that I would put faith in it. But it narrowed the focus of the book too much. The book was my journey through my developmental years in Pakistan and included so much more than Pakistan and faith. Would I be willing to kill my darling?

I would, and I did.

Just last week the book was re-released under the title Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey. I love it. I love the cover. I love the foreword by Rachel Pieh Jones, who is writing her own book to be released in 2019 by Plough Publishing. I love the ‘Mapping Your TCK Journey’ at the end, followed by book resources.

And I’m excited for this new start. You don’t always get another chance with a book, but I did with this one.

So would you give it a chance? Would you consider buying the book? I would love it if you did!

I would love to have you purchase the book! It’s on sale through Amazon and available wherever books are sold.

*Page 184 Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey


barnes and noble

amazon logo

books a million


Passages Through Pakistan – Film & Reviews

The train rounds a bend.
The rest of the cars appear one by one,
all tied to one another
far into the distance.
It comes as a surprise to be tied to things so far back

Human Landscapes from My Country

by Nazım Hikmet

____________________________________________________

passages-cover

As many of you know, Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith was released in early March.

Below is a short video about the book with some amazing pictures of Pakistan taken by a couple of friends, as well as me. Enjoy!

 

Passages Through Pakistan from Marilyn Gardner on Vimeo.

Advance Praise for Passages Through Pakistan
“Passages Through Pakistan tells the captivating story of Marilyn Gardner’s childhood as a ‘third-culture kid’, raised by her Christian, American missionary parents in the heart of Pakistan. Gardner’s eloquent story of the trials, tribulations, and lessons of growing up as a bridge between these rich cultures serves as an important lens through which Americans and Pakistanis can learn more about one another and their important long-term partnership in a time when the gap between the two nations seems to be growing ever larger. By shedding light on how our faiths, our cultures, and our worlds are far more alike than different, Gardner’s story is a must read for those wanting to build bridges.”Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University,Washington, DC
*********

Marilyn demonstrates sensitivity and understanding toward an often misunderstood part of the world…

“Marilyn Gardner’s Passages Through Pakistan is a wonderful book, presenting in both a descriptive and reflective way the wonder of her childhood that took place in the mountains of northern Pakistan, the villages and deserts of southern Pakistan and the small towns of New England, along with some of the places in between.
As the only daughter in a remarkable family that included four brothers, Marilyn emerges as a sensitive observer with an impressive eye for detail as well as a well developed memory for the small anecdote that often reveals a much larger meaning.

Part spiritual reflection, part childhood reminiscence and part travelogue, Marilyn’s book will be especially welcomed by those trying to make sense of their own personal stories, especially if they involve transitions across multiple cultures and geographic locations.

A deeply moving observer of the places, people and events that have surrounded her, she demonstrates sensitivity and understanding toward an often misunderstood part of the world, presenting the sights, sounds, landscapes and peoples of Pakistan in ways that are largely absent in both newspaper headlines and superficial social media accounts that all too often know little and understand even less.

Americans growing up in Asia and Asians growing up in America will especially gravitate toward this account, capturing as it does the complexity as well as the wonder and astonishment of childhoods spent in unlikely places. It will also resonate strongly with missionary kids and third culture kids everywhere.” – Jonathan Addleton, former US Ambassador to Mongolia, is the author of several books including The Dust of Kandahar:

A Diplomat Among Warriors in Afghanistan and Some Far and Distant Place

Passages Through Pakistan is available at the following locations:

An Angry Diva and a Fragile Psyche

Yesterday my book, Passages Through Pakistan, was released. I have been looking forward to this day – a day when my 8-year-old baby is born and the world sees it. I’ve also been nervous. This journey of writing is a vulnerable journey. Whenever we put words on paper and they are released to the world there is a chance that they will not be well received. That’s life and it comes with any public creative process.

Advance copies were sent to several folks who would assist with the book launch. Everything was ready. Until we realized that the advance copies were poorly printed, the font color uneven and distracting.

It’s a small thing, but to my fragile psyche it felt huge. Emails and messages flew back and forth yesterday afternoon and I couldn’t rest. I became an Angry Diva, convincing myself that this was the most important thing that anyone could or should think about.

At seven o’clock, I collapsed on the couch in tears. My book baby with its eight year gestation had birth spots. Suddenly I wanted to pull the whole thing. Uneven color font be damned, I was done. Why on earth did I think I could write anyway? Why did I even try?

The downward spiral didn’t stop. Instead it continued and soon I moved on from questioning my ability to write to questioning why I existed. I was questioning my worth as a mom, as a wife, as an employee, and ultimately as a human being.

Earlier in February my husband and I watched an interesting film featuring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. The film is called Florence Foster Jenkins after a historical person of the same name. Florence Foster Jenkins was an opera singer who lived in New York. She had inherited a lot of money and no talent.

“The historian Stephen Pile ranked her ‘the world’s worst opera singer’. ‘No one, before or since,’ he wrote, ‘has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.’*

The movie portrays the way her partner, a Shakespearean actor, protects her. He hides reviews of her concerts so she doesn’t see the criticism; he pays other reviewers to write glowing and effusive reviews; he even pays people to attend her concerts.

As you can imagine, one day the charade crashes. You can only hide the truth for so long. Sooner or later it will be revealed. So Florence reads some nasty reviews, and she is shaken to the core.

In a poignant scene toward the end of the film, she looks at her partner and says to him: “They may say I can’t sing, but they can never say I didn’t sing.” 

This morning as I was reflecting on how I acted like a diva to disguise my fragile ego, how I suddenly began questioning my worth in every area of my life, I began thinking about Florence Foster Jenkins and how her spirit was wounded, but not completely crushed when she realized the truth. And I thought about my writing, how its been an unexpected gift these past eight years, how no matter what happens with this book – it has been a cathartic, healing process.

I have put down memories and feelings. I have revisited my faith. I have processed boarding school joy and pain. And I have met incredible people in the process.

So in the spirit of Florence Foster Jenkins I give you the honesty of an angry diva, the humiliation of a fragile psyche, and the words “They may say I can’t write, but they can never say I didn’t write.” 

Also, the printing problem is almost corrected, so I can assure you that you will get a good copy should you choose to stroke my ego and buy my words! And I would love, love, love it if you did.

*

Physical Therapy, Editing, and Sanctification

 

correcting-1870721_1280

I try to relax as a skilled professional stretches my muscles. My leg goes up, far above my head; far higher than I could imagine. He holds it in place for 30 seconds, teaching me, explaining what he is doing and why. He has me lie on my left side and works the muscles on my right leg. His name is Alex and he is a gifted therapist and teacher. I have already done the bike and the leg press machine. This physical therapy is hard work. I want it to be easy. I want a quick fix. But instead, it is a slow and arduous process. But I see results. They are small and don’t seem significant, but to me they are huge steps forward. Yesterday, for the first time in two months, I did not limp to work. I breathe deeply as Alex stretches my muscles again. There are so many times when I want to give up, when I want to admit defeat and say “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” But I keep on going and my leg gets stronger.

///

This past year I have watched an initially chaotic set of writings become an actual book that is almost ready to be birthed into the world. Good editors have taken my words and they have worked and reworked them like Alex works my muscles. I have had to give up control and let others take away words and sentences and then tell me to add other words and sentences. The goal: that a cohesive story emerges and my voice is not lost in the process. It has been a difficult but essential process. The final proof to my book arrived last week. There have been months, weeks, and days of wanting to give up, wanting to admit defeat and say “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” But I keep on going, and a book is born.

///

I went to confession last Friday. It has been weeks since I have gone. This process of admitting sin, admitting wrong doing – it is so hard. But when I finally go, I breathe a sigh of relief. This is not something that will get me to Heaven, it isn’t a litmus test, but it is so healthy and freeing. Like the Psalmist David, I can say “Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight…” My spiritual muscles have been weak and mushy. Like my physical muscles, they need work – stretching to make them stronger. Like physical therapy, there are many exercises that I have learned. There’s confession, spiritual direction, prayer, meditation, being a part of a faith community that challenges you and forces you to forgive and grow. There is a big word for this used by theologians – sanctification. It is the “act or process of being made holy.”  There are so many times when I want to give up, when I want to admit defeat and say “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” But I keep on going – because to give up would be to deny what I believe and love. So I keep on going and slowly, my faith gets stronger.

My body, my book, my beliefs – they have more in common than I could ever imagine.

“Technical Issues”

By Robynn


 I think my computer is beginning to show its age. This machine came to me secondhand by very generous friends. I’m not sure how old it was when I got it and really I’ve only had it for two and a half years but lately it’s been a little ornery and difficult to work with. The poor thing starts up nicely but then freezes. I will just settle my fingers on the keys and she clams up. I guess she startles easily. 

At any rate, I’ve had the hardest time sitting down to write lately. It’s disheartening to think that any minute the computer might shut down. The last piece I started I just can’t complete. What I was able to complete—maybe three or four paragraphs on Psalm 136– is there, started, safely saved in my documents, but I can’t convince my computer to let me have access to it. (Even now I’m typing this up on my husband’s machine.) 

Have you noticed how people always have their stated reasons for doing something but often there lurks a deeper reason, the truer explanation, for the choices they make. It’s like they don’t realize they have complete freedom to make whatever choice they want to make. Instead they cloak it and cover it with some other rationalization.

We’re leaving town so our daughter can get the medical care he needs.

​These visas won’t work for us long term so we need to leave the country now.

We have theological differences.

​I didn’t like the music style so I left my church.

Typically the given reason is one that others can easily understand. It makes sense. Of course you’d leave for the sake of your son, or your family’s sense of security or because of your theology or to find a more familiar worship style. That makes complete sense. Those reasons gather empathy and garner support. The community will rally around those reasons. There will be a send-off, a farewell party, a proper goodbye. The departee can hold their head high as they leave, the victim of unfortunate circumstances. 

It would be much more painful and require too much vulnerability to admit the real reason behind the decision.

​We’re deeply hurting. Our hearts are breaking with disappointment. Our ​​​marriage is in shambles.

​Our expectations have been dashed. We realize we made a mistake. What on ​​​earth were we thinking? We can’t possibly live here.

​You hurt me so horribly. I’m not sure I can ever get past this.

​I’m terribly lonely. My feelings have been hurt. I feel isolated and alone. 

“Technical Issues” is the reason I’m using for the writer’s constipation I’ve been experiencing in my blog posts. My computer isn’t working.  

If I’m being completely honest, if I peel back the layers of acceptable justifications, I would have to admit to a deeper cause for my wee writing crisis. I’ve been at a loss for words for several months now. The election process has overwhelmed me. This wasn’t your normal partisan divide. Meanness has seeped up through the mud. The creepy crawlies of cruelty have been released. Things are different now. I know I’ve written of this before. It’s as if the entire nation has a low-grade fever that we just can’t shake. There’s no getting over it. There’s no going back to how things were.

The wider world is chronically ill too. Aleppo has been obliterated while we all stand by and hopelessly, helplessly watch. Bombings in Italy, Turkey, Cairo bring death and destruction. ISIS continues to exert itself in Iraq. The Philippines continues to use violence to purge itself of their drug war. South Sudan is engaging in ethnic cleansing. Myanmar is guilty of active genocide too. If you think about it at all, if you let your heart wander to peer over the edge of your own bubble for even just a tiny time, it’s too much. It’s just way too much.

(For the other piece I was trying to write on my computer I made the mistake of Google searching acts of terrorism in 2016. Did you know that Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to that? Each month in 2016 is given it’s own spreadsheet. There were acts of terror around the world on nearly every single day of the year. It’s beyond horrifying and overwhelming.) 

At some point, I know, we do have to learn to live with this malaise. We have to learn to walk with a limp. We’re still called to faith and endurance. There is still joy to be found. Beauty still surrounds us and invites us to worship the Creator. There are countless blessings to be enjoyed. We have enough to generously give away. But for those who have eyes to see below the surface, for those whose ears hear the pain underneath the veneer, for those whose hearts break with the weight of sin and injustice, and hatred, it might take some time.

In the meantime….I’m having “Technical Issues.”

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it for a time.

“Give Your Pen to Me”

coffee-1246511_1280

 

Our public world is not the way to define our relationship with God. Who we are is defined when no one is looking. –Jennie Allen

 

“Give your pen to me” he says.

I slowly hand it over, unsure as to whether I really want to.

He is gentle with me, but daily I hear the same thing: “Give your pen to me.” 

*****

When I began writing, every day I would pray.

I would pray “Let my words tell your story. Let my words be bigger than I am, bear witness to a greater reality.” It didn’t matter whether people read or not, I wanted my words to reflect God’s glory.

Slowly, people began to read. I was so grateful. Then more people read, and I was excited and grateful.

But I lost sight of my original intent. I became a better writer, a more popular blogger, and a worse person. It began to be more about me, more about statistics, more about popularity. I lost sight of whose pen was in my hand and I focused on who I was.

I lost sight of God in the midst of my own noise. So I burned out. Because when it’s all about me, it’s uninteresting and unsustainable.

I wanted to blame it on others; I wanted to point the finger. But over and over the fingers pointed back at me.

Slowly I began to realize what I was doing. Slowly I began giving my heart and my pen back to God.

Slowly I am making my way back to the beginning, back to the bigger and better story, back to the Author.

And my longing grows stronger by the day – to bear witness to a greater reality.

*****

“Give your pen to me” he says.

Exhausted with self effort, I finally hand it over willingly. I – a slow learner, he – a patient teacher.

The pen is no longer in my hand and I sigh, realizing it was never mine to begin with.